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YALI REFLECTION: Clear It: A Lesson from Northwestern University Football

Twenty-five young African professionals have spent the last six weeks journeying through a business institute directed by the Mandela Washington Fellowship program. In that time, the Farley Center and Northwestern’s Program of African Studies guided them through an academic seminar, community service projects, cultural and civic and site visits Evanston and Chicago. In this blog series, some of our fellows share their highlights from their time with us and what lessons they’ll take back home and build on in the future.

Patience ChasingaClear it! is a phrase that was and is still trending among Mandela Washington Fellows at Northwestern University after a visit to the varsity football stadium, Ryan Field. What was meant to be an ordinary presentation by NU sports coaches about leadership on and off the field turned out to be a motivating discussion on how to move on after failure in life, not only professionally but personally as well.

The coaches shared with us how teamwork and embracing diversity is fundamental in their work. I recall one of them describing how every year they work with athletes from different backgrounds and cultures and how embracing each one’s needs, strengths and failures unites the team. As they shared some of the lessons they have learnt working as team leaders, I reflected on how their principles apply in other spheres of life: appreciating the little successes that you and your team make and realizing how celebrating these successes energizes your team. Making your team know that their hard work and input is indeed paying off. Oftentimes things go wrong and we are quick to point out these wrongs and throw tantrums. But what about when one makes a good decision or has an idea that grows into something that helps the team achieve certain goals? How often do we pat this person on the back and say, “well done”?

Now I can only imagine what goes on in the mind and heart of a coach when, after training for months, putting in your best and ensuring that your team is ready, they lose a game. I thought of how often this happens to them. How often they blame themselves for the loss and how often they get upset at their team members for not doing their best to win a game. An interesting theory was shared with us: Clear it! After losing a game, look at what you did wrong, what you did right, learn from it and move on to preparing for your next game. Clear it. Focus on your next game and not your loss, because fixating on failure will take away from learning. And if you lose the next game, clear it again. Keep at it because it is a continuous learning cycle. Every day is a learning opportunity. Is your list full of failures and things you should have done better? Today is the time to clear it and let go.

I hope these thoughts from our discussion inspire you as they inspired us!

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