As 2021 draws to a close, one of the year’s bright spots for me was the AppleTV show, Ted Lasso. At a superficial level, the show is a fish-out-of-water comedy about a small town American football coach who moves to England to coach a Premier League soccer team, and despite knowing nothing about the sport, wins over the hearts and minds of his players through his relentless positivity.
But for those willing to take a closer look, the show offers a compelling exploration of deeper truths about human nature—in particular, our collective obsession with outcomes, and who we choose to be in pursuit of those outcomes.
The show’s title character, Ted, has a noticeably different way of being. Not just different from the typical coach or because he’s affable. Rather, how he shows up in relationships is different: with deep humility and seeing worth and value in every person, no matter whether they’re aligned with his worldview and his goals or not.
Ted’s story is not that of the inspiring nice guy who wins everyone over in the end. In Ted Lasso, as in life, doing the right thing and acting with kindness isn’t always enough to achieve the outcome he wants. Kindness isn’t a magic bullet for Ted… and yet, there is still value in showing up with empathy, curiosity, humility, and acceptance in the way he does. His way of being is ultimately an end in and of itself, as important as his measurable accomplishments.
I am a recovering goal-aholic. I have spent most of my adult life in steadfast pursuit of accomplishments I can measure, ranging from the grades I got in law school to how much money I could raise for the nonprofit organizations I worked for, regardless of whether those goals really reflected the change I wanted to see in myself and in the world.
But in the past few years, I’ve started to think about the world and my place in it in a different way. Instead of focusing only on what principles I stand for, what I am going to do about it, and how I’m going to measure progress, I have realized that who I am being along the way matters as much as what I accomplish.
What I saw in Ted Lasso wasn’t someone focused only on doing big things, but rather someone who committed to a particular way of being in the world. And his ability to be authentic, vulnerable, and in community with the people around him left those people feeling inspired to be their best selves.
In philanthropy we sometimes have an unhealthy relationship with outcomes. Though some funders are thoughtfully setting goals that are meaningful, the pursuit of outcomes ultimately comes down to doing or achieving. Too few philanthropists are thinking about who they are being relative to other philanthropists, to their grantees, and most importantly to the communities they hope to impact. When philanthropists focus on who they are being, rather than only what they are achieving, their impact can be deeper and lasting.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that simply “being nice” gets better results. But, in my work with funders, I’ve seen that when philanthropists pay attention to how they show up, they open themselves up to new understandings of and connection to the communities they aim to support. That is as important as any programmatic result they can measure.
Nor am I writing off the idea that measurable goals are helpful. In fact, day in and day out I work with thoughtful clients to set meaningful goals and measure progress toward them. But, when those proxies for where we want to go become the end in and of themselves, and when we ignore how we show up along the way in pursuit of those goals, we often undermine the very outcomes we hope to achieve.
In just a few short weeks, many of us will shift from writing Christmas lists to New Years Resolutions. Indeed, there are few opportunities to satiate our appetite for measurable outcomes better than chronicling how many books we read or how many times we make it to the gym. But this year, I’m challenging myself and my clients to pull a “Ted Lasso” and think about more than what we want to accomplish. I intend to think about who I want to be and who I can help my clients to be, along the way.
On behalf of all of us at Building Impact, have a happy, healthy, and rejuvenating holiday season!