If you can’t join them, beat them

In 1979, the Ann Arbor Arsenal soccer team held tryouts. Twelve boys showed up to compete for a single open spot on the team. I was one of them.

kids soccer

The morning started with demonstrations of individual skills. We passed, trapped, dribbled, and shot the ball. Bonus points went to anyone who could juggle more than ten times on his head. Truth be told, the specifics of what we did have receded into memory. The passage of twenty five years can do that. What I do remember clearly is how much all of us wanted to win that spot on the team. So much that we fought hard to show that we were better, faster, and stronger than the kid next to us. For me, the other eleven boys were the enemy. If one of them got picked for the team, that would mean that I hadn’t. And I would be team-less.

In the zone…with the boss

Recently, I sat down with a leader I’ve been coaching and his boss to discuss the leader’s progress in raising his game. The leader–let’s call him Bill–was in the zone: confident, visionary, and fully engaged. He spoke with conviction, asked questions with curiosity, and had three times more “executive presence” than in any of our previous 2-on-1 meetings. As we walked out afterwards, I said to him, “Wow, you were on fire!”

What’s remarkable isn’t that Bill did this–after all, he is a visionary with a passion for ideas–but that he did it in the presence of his boss.

And Bill isn’t alone. Have you ever noticed how often talented people lose their mojo when talking with their bosses? Why is this? And what allows people to buck the trend and stay in the zone?

Seeing Possibility While Being Real

In my left hand, I’m holding Authentic Happiness, a book about how to use positive psychology to improve your life. Glancing at the cover leaves me content and hopeful. This feels good.

In my right hand I’m holding Hoodwinked, a story about the “predatory mutant virus” of capitalism as it is practiced today. The image on the cover of an economic hit man warms my chest, too, but in a different way. The uncovering of the forces behind the world’s economic woes brings a sense of indignation and clarity. This feels real.

I put the two books down in front of me and take a deep breath. What’s going on here? How is it that a book about being happy and a book about how the world is screwed up both feel like they belong in my hands?