I’m married to a Seattle girl. I love that city and its suburbs. I love the food, the artistic landscape (there’s art and music everywhere), the open embrace of diversity, the “green all year” climate, the Pike Place Market, the Puget Sound, the fresh salmon, coffee everywhere, and – oh, yes – the woman who fell in love with me and moved along with her daughter (whom I also love dearly) to Illinois to marry me. I love Tiffany’s whole family. I love her dad in Great Falls, Montana and how he reminds me of my own dad in so many ways. I love her mom and her stepdad in Seattle. I also love Tiff’s ex-husband, her daughter’s father, who is gracious, caring, and sweet.
And there’s the football. Tiff’s friends and family are Seahawks fans. I didn’t really follow (or even understand) football have a team prior to our marriage, but we’ve been excited to watch the Hawks these last few years.
Our family had a great time Sunday night watching the Seattle Seahawks beat the San Francisco 49ers to advance to the Super Bowl this past Sunday night. It was an exciting game, a real nail-biter. It literally came down to the last play in the final seconds of the game. Colin Kaepernick threw what looked for all the world like a touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree in the corner of the end zone. But Richard Sherman sprang up and got a hand on the ball before it could hit Crabtree, forcing an interception by Malcolm Smith that helped the Seahawks hold the lead until the clock ran out.
Then Sherman gave the interview. You know the one. And the internet blew up. It’s still blowing up. Everybody has an opinion on Richard Sherman’s sportsmanship, character, and attitude.
And I’m about to give you mine.
This reflection is based on a book I am currently reading. It’s called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. The essential thesis of the book is simple. There are two basic mindsets that one can adopt, two attitudes toward success and failure that play a huge role in one’s approach to problem-solving and career-building. The first is called a “fixed” mindset, and it’s the attitude that things like intelligence, problem-solving ability, and talent are innate, fixed characteristics. Success and failure reflect upon the intelligence, character, and innate abilities of the person. The second is identified as the “growth” mindset. Failure is perceived not as a reflection upon one’s character or talent, but as a challenge to learn from and overcome. Dweck reflects upon the lives and careers of athletes, businesspersons, academics, and others who represent, to one degree or another, each of the two mindsets.
To make a long story short, failure sends a fixed-mindset person to the cry room. The fixed-mindset person will make excuses or try and cover up his/her failures. She or he will take every failure, every loss personally as if it reflects poorly upon their character, talents, and abilities. On the other hand, failure sends a growth-mindset person to the practice field or the woodshed.
(Of course, this is an oversimplification. Success begins with an interplay between one’s innate characteristics and chosen mindset, along with a dose of advantages/disadvantages that are beyond each individual’s control. Those with a growth mindset may be limited to some degree by external disadvantages, but refuse to be defined by them.)
Something tells me that Stanford professor Carol Dweck would place Stanford graduate Richard Sherman in the “growth-mindset” category.
I started thinking that when I saw this article pop up on my Facebook feed. From the article:
Sherman thrived on the field, as well. He played tight end for Dominguez [note: his high school] and attracted scholarship offers (as a receiver) from numerous colleges. Stanford’s academic reputation hooked Beverly [his mother], and its status as a bottom feeder appealed to Sherman’s competitive streak.
“I wanted to go somewhere and be part of the change rather than a place that was already winning,” he said.
He chose to attend an academically challenging school and committed himself to doing his part to turn around their football program. I interpret this as a growth mindset challenge. Rather than join a team that was steamrolling the competition, Sherman chose a team where he’d have to learn to win.
Sherman’s unrelenting need to prove people wrong developed early. His older brother, Branton, who now serves as full-time business manager, was always his part-time instigator.
“He used to piss me off all the time,” Sherman said with a smile. “He still does. He’ll say, ‘This guy’s way better than you are. He’s going to beat the heck out of you.’
“And I just go out to prove him wrong, like: ‘Shut up! Shut your mouth! I stopped this dude. I stopped that dude.’
“But no matter who I stop, he’ll say, ‘This guy’s rated here. He’s going to go for 200 on you today. He’s better. He’s waaaay better than you.”
It’s that mindset, that attitude that sends Sherman to the practice field, that motivates him to push himself harder, work longer hours, to face each game as a challenge to rise to and an obstacle to overcome.
Sherman grew up and attended high school in Compton. He was a straight-A student, salutatorian of his graduating class, completed his Communications degree at Stanford, chose to play a defensive position because, in his words, at defense “you’re in control of your own destiny,” rose above the expectation that he’d be an average NFL player, and pushes himself at every opportunity to improve his game. After retiring from the NFL, he plans to put his communications degree to use as a sports commentator (he has well-defined career goals for someone who is 25 years old!)
So maybe he comes across as a loudmouth. But maybe running his mouth is his way of setting goals for himself, raising the bar of success so that he’s continually challenged to rise above. And maybe there’s something we can all learn from that.