I am privileged to have an international readership and so realize that part of today’s post may be a bit of a stretch for my non-American readers. Bare with me though – I think the lessons will be clear enough even without knowing a lot about American Football – lessons for bloggers, entrepreneurs, and yes, language learners.
I enjoy a good football game. I am not a rabid fan of any one team, I don’t own any jerseys and I generally don’t stay up late here in Istanbul to watch the week’s games. But I grew up an athlete, playing football, basketball and baseball in high school and then continued to play baseball at university. My dad was a college coach of all of those sports and so I have a good knowledge of the game of football.
While I enjoy sports, I also love a good story – especially stories of the underdog.
- David, a fourteen year old kid, defeats Goliath, a seasoned warrior and a giant.
- Gandalf chooses Frodo, a small, scared hobbit to carry the ring and save the world of Middle Earth.
- William Wallace leads tiny Scotland into battle against the power of England. Everyone loves Braveheart.
It’s why when the U.S. mens basketball team plays in the Olympics, I find myself rooting for Lithuania to knock them off – all guts and determination and scrappy play.
And it is why I like the Tim Tebow story, why for the first time in four years of living in Turkey, I stayed up until 2:00 AM to watch an NFL game. You see, according to the experts, Tim Tebow isn’t supposed to be any good. He shouldn’t be winning any games. He shouldn’t be in the playoffs and for goodness sakes, he shouldn’t have beat the Pittsburg Steelers in the first round of the playoffs. But he does and he has.
You see Tim Tebow plays quarterback, arguably the most important position in the game of football. But he is not the prototypical quarterback. He’s not the status quo and this rankles analysts and fans alike who think there is one way and one way only to be a good quarterback in the NFL.
The First Lesson
Tim Tebow is a different kind of quarterback. He doesn’t do all of the things that experts say a quarterback must be able to do to win. But he does other things, things not normal to the position and he has “IT.” “IT” being a will to win like no other and an unflappable confidence in himself.
And here is the first lesson in Tim Tebow’s story.
Had coach John Fox insisted on playing Tebow like a traditional quarterback, had he kept the same playbook that was used with the preceding quarterback, Denver might possibly have continued in their losing ways.
But he didn’t. He adapted and began to create an offensive system that suited the strengths of Tebow. Despite the warnings of doom and gloom and the futility of building an offense around Tim’s strengths, Fox and the Denver coaching staff began to do just that. And Denver began to win.
Lesson Number One: There are no silver bullets. Ignore the experts and adapt to your strengths.
The Second Lesson
Watching this story unfold week after week reveals a second lesson as well. After each game Denver played with Tebow at the helm, the experts would come on to elucidate all the reasons why it wouldn’t work. “It” being the way they played in that game. The assumption was that they had seen the final product, the way Denver and Tim Tebow would forever play. But the coaches were experimenting, formulating new ideas, trying them out and I think having a lot of fun in the process. And it was fun to watch too – okay sometimes it was ugly – but it was something new and it was evolving and is still evolving.
Lesson Number Two: Adaption isn’t one and done. It is experimenting and refining and figuring out through trial and error what works for you.
The Third Lesson
Despite his success this year, few experts are willing to say that Tim Tebow will continue his winning ways as the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos in the future. Fans of Tebow get extremely upset at this, but it really is a fair stance to take. Innovation is always viewed skeptically until the body of work grows large enough to warrant accolade and acceptance. Some innovations succeed, others fail miserably. And only time and experience can tell us which it will be.
The Denver coaching staff will continue to adapt, continue to ride the Tebow train until they believe it will work or it won’t. But they can’t know now what the future will hold with any real certainty. Innovation and adaption is always that way.
And after Tim Tebow and the Bronco’s season came to a quick and crushing end today with a defeat to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the second round of the playoffs, they continue to live with that uncertainty.
Lesson Number Three: Embrace uncertainty. Only time can tell if your adaptions will work or not.
How This Works As A Blogger
I fancy to call myself a blogger and a language coach and am working to create a viable business from The Everyday Language Learner. I am doing this because I find real purpose and passion in being able to help people learn languages and I’d like to continue to be able to do that. I love coaching more than anything, helping people be more effective, more efficient and have more fun learning another language. I love coaching folks doing good work for NGOs and non-profit organizations even more and through that, get to be a part of helping them be more effective in their work. It is tremendously rewarding. It feels like a convergence of purpose and my giftings and and my desire to help others. And that is cool.
On the business side though, the setting up of a blog and figuring out things like SEO, affiliate marketing and monetization, I have a lot to learn. I’ve traveled the journey for a year now and see the lessons of Tim Tebow working themselves out almost daily.
I’ve learned the hard way that there are no silver bullets. I’ll often listen to a podcast by some Internet marketing guru and try out the suggestion only to find I can’t make it work because I don’t have the technical skills. So I adapt the idea, working it out on my own. And then I adapt some more.
I tried putting up ads on the side of the blog for my guides and for others. I tried – as the experts instructed – to get my guides in front the reader’s eyes as much as possible – to be a better salesman. And then one day I came across this comment on another blog:
I like the Everyday Language Learning Guy better, but he doesn’t take as many risks with his writing. After a while you stop seeing the ads for the e-books. Stop noticing them, I mean. They don’t disappear.
The writer does say a lot of nice things about my writing and blog in the rest of the comments, but, OUCH! that stung. That is not who I am or what I want to be about, so I made more changes – and I’ll continue to make changes and experiment and try new things to see if they work.
It’s delicate work I realize and the third lesson is hanging over me these days. Will I figure it out? Will I be able to create the perfect balance of consistently creating really helpful content and being able to make a living from what I do here? Only time will tell.
But thankfully I am not in it alone. Tim Tebow has a coaching staff around him and together they work week after week to make the adjustments necessary to zero in on what works best for his particular skill set.
I also get reader feedback and would ask for more. I want to make EDLL an amazing resource for helping regular people learn languages. Any ideas you have – suggestions, words of encouragement, complaints or observations – all help me know how to do this better.
How This Works As A Language Learner
But this is a blog about language learning and so I need as well to share how the lessons of Tim Tebow might look applied to the language learning journey.
As a language coach, it is exciting to help learners discover what works best for them and then adapt all available resources to maximize the language learning journey.
Like Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos, good language learners adapt to their strengths, experiment with and refine those adaptations and then give it all enough time to figure out what works or not.
Lesson 1: Ignore the Experts and Adapt to Your Strengths
Many of my coaching clients here in Istanbul have been told that if they use the Defense Language Institute (DLI) material with a language helper, they will have the most success in learning Turkish. And so they have set off on their own to work through the twenty some workbooks of practice sentences, dialogues, translation exercises and a lot of other material. DLI is comprehensive. Those who go through it are exposed to nearly every Turkish grammar form and get a lot of practice using them.
But I have watched a lot of friends and clients burn out trying to do this. Why? Because saying that DLI is a one size fits all remedy for fluency is a bit like making Tim Tebow use Tom Brady’s playbook. It certainly has worked for some learners, but for many there are better ways that fit their strengths and learning styles and life situations.
Helping my clients figure this out has for many been the difference between a slow death of tedious boredom in frustrated drudgery and the abundant life of success and enjoyment on the language learning journey. So now, one client uses DLI only as reference. One dropped DLI all together and enrolled in language school. And one has stuck to moving through DLI chapter by chapter because it gives her the structure she needs. She works at it in her own way though and together we work to maximize and adapt the material so she can get the most bang for her buck.
By ignoring what the experts have told them is the “best way”, these learners have been able to work to their strengths and are having a much more effective, efficient and fun journey toward fluency.
Lesson 2: Experiment, Refine and Continue to Adapt
As I meet with folks more than once, it is exciting to see them try a new idea and then begin to adapt and change the idea to work to their strengths. For this reason, I hold all of my ideas lightly knowing that any suggestions I give might begin to morph with time and experimentation and become something different than what I envisioned, but better for the learner. It is the same with what I write here at The Everyday Language Learner. Take the ideas and experiment and find out what works best for you.
Lesson 3: Embrace Uncertainty
At times, I’ll make a suggestion to a learner that involves an unknown outcome. One thing isn’t working and so we look to try something else. When one of my clients was struggling with the whole concept of being in charge of planning what he would do in his lesson time with a native speaking language helper, I suggested trying a language school. Language school held no guarantee that it would be better though. It was an experiment and only time would tell.
Happily, he came alive in the group atmosphere, had a really great instructor and began for the first time to enjoy the language learning journey. But there was no way to know if this would be the case when he began. And there is no way to know if it will continue to be the case as he continues. He has to keep experimenting, keep trying new things, keep evaluating the journey.
We Are All Underdogs
When it comes down to it, we are all underdogs. The systems of this world demand conformity and bucking against those systems can be a lonely adventure filled with criticism, doubt and at times fear.
I think we all realize that systems work for a reason, that emulating those who have succeeded is often a better idea than trying to continually reinvent the wheel. We cannot disregard this fact. But those who truly succeed aren’t afraid of tweaking things, of adapting and experimenting – even with tried and true formulas – to gain an advantage and work all things to their strengths.
In the end, it’s not the formulas for success that work. It is not the best methods or most efficient systems or the perfect technique. In the end, success is found in discovering what works best for you. A coach or mentor or friend can help you discover this, but in the end it’s your play – you the underdog.
Will Tim Tebow continue to be successful as an NFL quarterback and one day win a championship? I have no idea. But I do know that he and his coaches will continue to adapt and experiment and work to reach their full potential until they find out.
So how about you? What is something you can adapt or experiment with this week to better reach your full potential?
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