Play Out of Your League, But Keep Your Mouth Shut

Today I played as a linebacker in two games of contact flag football. I was near the bottom of the rung in strength and size. I was definitely at the bottom for skill and awareness. These were some hard dudes I was playing with – many of whom had been playing since they were kids, at least one of whom was accepted onto the team of a major university.

I was way out of my league. And there were three ways I could have responded.

Talking a big game or pretending to be a football pro (“faking it till I make it”) would have backfired. These guys would have seen through me in seconds if not minutes. A loud, boisterous attitude may seem like a good strategy to fit in, but it is liable to make you look like an idiot.

Me blabbering out loud or apologizing about my confusion and questions wouldn’t have helped much anyway. Most of my questions got answered in time, or they didn’t matter all that much. Most of my failures were pointed out (gently enough) by others, or I silently went about correcting them. Laughing at myself or self-deprecating would only have signaled a lack of intelligence and competence.

Fortunately, I chose to (mostly) keep my mouth shut.

I played, I watched, and I learned. I wasn’t a great player, I made some mistakes, but I did get through two games as a useful team member. And (most importantly) I have enough credibility with these guys to come back and play again.

This is a good general rule: if you are punching above your weight in something and don’t want to be eaten alive, just be quiet and do it. Until you’re really good, your mouth will only get you in trouble.

James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

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