March 13, 2016

LEE | Tom Brady and Having a Chip on Your Shoulder

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It’s easy to hate a guy like Tom Brady. He’s one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time on a team that is inherently hateable, is married to supermodel Gisele Bundchen and just generally lives an incredibly enviable life.

But before he was Mr. Perfect, Brady was overlooked. Even after all four Super Bowls, all of the records, all of the general life success, Brady still feels like he has something to prove. Before the 2014 season, Brady reminded people that despite everything that he has now, he still thinks about being chosen 199th overall in the NFL draft, the seventh quarterback taken in the 2000 draft after stars like Giovanni Carmazzi, Chris Redman, Tee Martin and Spergon Wynn.

“If you want to be special at this game, you have to do what it takes,” Brady said. “Some things come a little more naturally to some people than others. The mental part came naturally for me. I think I’ve really had to work hard on the physical part, what it takes to be an NFL player. There was a reason I was a sixth-round pick. I didn’t have much ability. I have to try to work hard to improve those things over the years, while still keeping my mental game sharp.”

Here’s what’s key to what Brady identified about his situation. Yes, it’s important to have a motivation to be great, to be the best you can be and to maximize whatever God-given gifts you have, but there needs to be self awareness as well. Brady knew that he wasn’t the most athletically-gifted quarterback in the world. It’s the reason why two-sport professional athlete Drew Stanton started over him at Michigan. Brady identified his weaknesses, fueled himself to work hard based on his draft position and became one of the best, if not the best, to ever play football.

The term “chip on shoulder” originates from the 18th century where grunt men in London shipyard put wood chips on their shoulders and asked other workers to knock their block off. The physical manifestation represents the idea of someone challenging others and proving time and time again that they can best other people, signaling a deep wound, now part of someone’s character, that can never heal.

The idea of a chip on a shoulder is an overdrawn cliche, especially in the context of sports. It’s often brought up when an athlete feels as if they need to prove themselves or need to draw from an additionally source of motivation. It’s a story that’s written countless times every year when a player feels disrespected by a former team, is passed over by team after team in the draft (just look at Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady) or an athlete is just generally undersized (Danny Woodhead, Isaiah Thomas, Wes Welker, the list goes on and on).

Being doubted is a really interesting form of motivation that’s applicable beyond just the sports world; it’s way that people motivate themselves generally in life and becomes a source of pride, self identification and gravitas. Hell, the Golden State Warriors, despite winning the NBA title last season, built their entire motivation for this season off of people believing last year’s championship run was a fluke. And now they seem all but destined to post the record in the history of the NBA.

Motivation in general can be a hard thing to pin down. I’ve discovered that a lot of what drives a person comes from within. Nobody can force you to work hard. You have to give yourself a reason to work your ass off. Sometimes, the internal reasons and motivation to do something are pretty simple: to not fail a class, to not piss off a significant other, to make our family proud. At other times, that motivation came stem from a place of self-inflicted delusion: everyone in the world doesn’t believe in me, everyone in the world is out to get me, everyone wants me to fail.

You would have to be delusional to believe, at this point in Brady’s career, to not think he’s one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time. But Brady needs his reasons to continue to push himself, to push himself to get better. I think that there’s a small bit of delusion that plays into him continuing to use his draft position to fuel his success.

Complacency, whether that’s in school, work or just life in general, is the worst place to be in, and a chip on the shoulder can often be a cure for this. I pride myself for generally being a realistic optimist. I don’t want to delude myself of thinking things are better or worse than things are.

But sometimes, a little delusion might not be a bad thing.