March Bench Talk: "How Do You Approach Life?"

Two Fridays ago, many of us in this room were riveted by the girls’ basketball team’s heroic victory in the Morris County Finals. The image of Bridget driving the length of the court and Christina’s history-making shot at the buzzer will be forever etched in our minds. It was a defensive battle. Both teams showed grit and determination but, in the end, after trailing for much of the game, MBS prevailed. 

But what I would like to talk about today, is not the game or the starting players who fought so valiantly, but the steps along the way – the process - what the support players did and how they approached the game and the season that made the difference. It is a good lesson, I think, about how we can make an impact regardless of our position, if we approach a task with the right mindset.


WATCH: Headmaster Peter Caldwell's March Bench Talk


The idea for this talk sprang from two different sources. Earlier in the season, Mrs. Caldwell and I had watched a girls’ basketball game, and we were struck by the routine of the players coming off the court – they would high five the entire bench, and then receive water from Daisuke – only then, would they go for instruction from the coach. The support from the bench was palpable and affirming regardless of whether or not they came off the court after scoring a three-pointer or having thrown an interception. As a result, the team seemed unflappable.

In this particular game, unlike the Championship game, the starters had built up a sizable lead and in the fourth quarter, most of the substitutes went in. They played with the same intensity, and received the same enthusiastic support from the bench, that the starters had enjoyed. To me, this was an indication that all players understood and valued their role on the team. After all, the entire team sat through endless scouting reports and bi-weekly sessions watching films in preparation for each game.

The other source of inspiration came from an article that Dr. Boynton sent to me about job satisfaction and why so many people are not happy in their jobs, especially if they do not feel that the work that they do is meaningful. The part of the article that struck me most significantly was a study that was conducted in a large hospital. The study centered around why some janitors loved their jobs more than others. The researchers began conducting interviews and what they found was that, by design and habit, some janitors saw their jobs not just as cleaning but as a form of helping and healing. One woman, for instance, mopped rooms inside a brain injury unit where many residents were comatose. The woman’s duties were basic: change bedpans, pick up trash, wipe down all surfaces.  But she would also take the initiative to swap around pictures on the walls because she believed that the subtle stimulation of change in the unconscious patient’s environment might speed their recovery.

She talked to other convalescents about their lives. “I enjoy entertaining the patients,” she told the researchers. “That is not really part of my job description, but I enjoy putting on a show for them.” She enjoyed telling jokes to family members sitting vigil to try to cheer them up or distract them from the pain and uncertainty that they were feeling.

In another case, a custodian told the story of cleaning the same room twice in order to ease the mind of a distraught father.  The room did not need to be cleaned a second time, but the custodian knew his presence was helpful to the grief-filled father.  

Clearly, how you approach a job or a task has a huge impact on how you feel about that particular job – that seems rather obvious. Why is it then, that so many people can’t find worth in what they do?

If the girls on the bench found no worth in their role on the team because they were not the stars, would they have been as supportive and critical to the success of the team? I would submit that they would not.

Unfortunately, too often we do not find value in trying hard at something unless we are rewarded. Rewarded by a starting position, the lead in the play, getting a lot of “likes” on our Instagram posts. How often have we heard of someone quitting a team or not participating in the school play because they are not getting the reward or glory that they crave?

What this team taught us, is that each member was valued and critical to the team’s success.  Each member knew they had an important role whether or not they were on the floor when the buzzer ended the game. 

So my message today is that if you approach a task with the right frame of mind, if you play because you love to play regardless of how much playing time you get, if you work hard at the process regardless of the final grade or a superficial reward, you will find meaning and value in what you do, and in the end, this perspective and approach will give you satisfaction and fulfillment not only at MBS, but more importantly, in life.


More News from Morristown-Beard School