Sometimes comments made in passing carry more weight than we know.

I imagine I’ve always been somewhat of a complement hound. I look for validation while trying to appear to not be concerned in the least what people think. I internalize many things and would consider myself introspective trying to live by my own creed. Hemingway wrote about that a lot and although I’ve never sat down and tried to put it in writing I’ve always measured things by an internal yardstick. This isn’t my friends’ or colleagues’ or even my family’s scale, no, this is just mine. Sometimes it’s much too harsh but nevertheless I know when I’ve hit the mark. Years ago my high school football coach, Riley Harris, validated what that meant. I’ve carried his words with me ever since.

It was during my senior season, probably somewhere near the middle but I could be wrong. The time and circumstances aren’t really relevant. I was leaving the locker room after another long practice but then again, they were all long. Even though I didn’t field punts any longer (a duty that I not terribly reluctantly gave up after my sophomore year because, you know, guys flying at you full speed) I still stayed to shag balls for the punters at the end of the practice. I was a receiver and catching a ball that seemingly dropped out of the heavens was good for my hand/eye coordination and there was the whole idea of being part of the team and everything. There was always that as far as I was concerned whether it was staying late, hitting the weight room in the summer or just gathering up all the balls and equipment at the end of the practice. I was almost always the last one out of the locker room.

So after a decent shower I was heading out with my backpack slung over my shoulder, wet hair and probably shuffling a bit because I was bushed when Coach Harris saw me. I imagine he said “Hello, Gif!” or something to that effect. I suppose I said something pithy like “Hey coach”. To which he replied “You’re the last one out? You stuck around pretty late. Appreciate the example you set for the younger guys.” When I replied with “Just trying to help the team out” coach said something that in the 34 years since it happened I’ve never forgotten. “That’s just Doug Giffin, isn’t it?”

I imagine I shrugged my shoulders and maybe said, “Guess so” or something else equally as appreciative and walked out of the locker room. I may not have realized the kind of complement my coach had just given me and I certainly didn’t (still don’t) quite know how to take praise but it certainly got me thinking.

As I said, my standards were all internal. The marks I tried to hit each day, especially in athletics and the classroom, weren’t the inspirational posters on the wall. They weren’t the rah-rah things some guys yelled before games or at the end of practices. No, I was pretty reserved in that regard. I went about my business in a manner that satisfied my standards. Some of that was duty, some was passion, and some was an ethic I learned from my folks and others around me.

Over the years I’ve been around others that didn’t appear to have those same standards. In most cases that lack comes out in the wash so to speak. They don’t excel; they’re not successful, except when they are. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t question my own credo on those occasions and I’ve been tempted and sometimes given in to the temptation, to not do everything I knew I should. I’ve been guilty of just doing enough to get by or satisfy what others said were the requirements of the job. If I’m trying to justify my behavior I can explain it away that those things I’ve let slip weren’t what I was passionate about, they weren’t “my” things but I know that’s a cop out. I know that at best I’m being lazy. At worst, I’m not being true to myself.

When Coach Harris said so many years ago, “That’s just Doug Giffin” he defined me in a way that I’d never considered before. I just did things to my own personal beat with no thought of the judgment of others. His statement made me realize that far from just being who I was I had an impact; I stood for something. Even though my leadership wasn’t vocal it was visible. His comment was the first time I had ever considered what kind of leader I was meant to be.

Since then I’ve been in different leadership roles, some out in front, some behind the scenes. I’ve had opportunities to voice my opinion and opportunities to be part of the pack just doing my job. I’m still most comfortable just doing the work, contributing to the team and going the extra mile to hopefully inspire or lift others up day to day. It’s not that I can’t be the vocal leader; it’s just that that’s not “Doug Giffin”.

Today, whenever I find myself wishing I was a different way or had different talents or different personality traits I’m reminded of Coach Harris’s comment. It gives me solace that even back then someone recognized who I was and how I operated and they were all right with it. My coach’s comment might have seemed like a small thing to say at the time but the ripples it spread throughout my life are undeniable. So, thanks Coach, just like I know you did and continue to do with so many young men over the years, you gave me something that I know I’ll never lose and I’m forever grateful for it.

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