I am huge NFL Football fan. Specifically, I’m a fan of the 6-time Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers. I’m enough of a fan to watch with some interest the trades and acquisitions that different teams make during the off-season.
Recently, several sports news outlets reported that Denver Broncos QB, Jay Cutler was mentioned in trade talks. He’s a young, high performance QB, though he’s not won a single playoff game. Denver just hired a new coach, new scheme—totally reasonable for management / ownership to decide if this person was the right fit. Nothing interesting here at all.
What is damaging, and a useful lesson for career management, is the path Cutler chose to follow when this rumor leaked. He came across as publicly upset based on rumors:
“I’m upset. I mean I’m really shocked at this point,” he said. “I could see why they want Cassel. I don’t know if they think I can’t run the system or I don’t have the skills for it. I just don’t get it. Or if they don’t think they can sign me with my next contract. I just don’t know what it is. I’ve heard I’m still on the trading block.”
Wrong thing for your teammates, your coach, your boss, your peers—in sports or in business—to read this stuff in the paper or hear you griping around a water-cooler. This will damage him, and he’ll now need to spend effort doing undoing this.
I think this is a quick and useful cautionary tale. Look, everyone who works at building a high performance career (let alone content with mediocre ones) are going to have breaks that go against you. Someone else will get the promotion. Someone else will get the raise or the recognition or whatever. These things happen. And yes, they can hurt.
But if you think about your career for just a slightly long-term way, it should be clear that complaining about any of this stuff is going to help you in the long-term. The correct response is to say something like “you know what, its a blow, I’d clearly like to think of myself as an elite performer. But I’m not going to focus on the negative, I’m focused on finding ways to continue to drive and improve my performance. You won’t hear any whining from me. Period.”
I wish I could say I always knew this, but I had to learn it. It’s been a valuable lesson.
My advice: whenever you face something that goes against you, find the equivalent of this Jay Cutler’s quote and reflect on what the right thing to say is.