A Leader Choose Vulnerability in a Moment of Change
In Powered by Storytelling, Murray Nossel, Ph.D., documents over a series of chapters the story he developed with Craig Kostelic, Chief Business Officer, US Advertising Revenue and Head of Global Advertising Solutions at Condé Nast. He uses the story as a means to demonstrate the stages of the Narativ Method, but also the process of coaching. A storytelling coach provides expert “listening,” so that the person being coached can explore their experiences and slowly craft them into a story.
During a period of dramatic change at Condé Nast, Craig chose to tell a story about a realization he gained while playing high school football because he wanted a way to show the employees in his divisions that “he’d been there,” he’d fallen, gotten up, and carried a profound lesson with him into the rest of his life.
I’m seven years old, sitting in my bedroom with my ear against the door so I can eavesdrop on the conversation my parents are having in the kitchen. “It’s not a safe sport, Chuck. He could get hurt,” my mother says.
“We have to let him try things out and explore, Paul. He’ll be fine,” my father says.
Growing up, every Sunday afternoon in the fall meant the entire family huddled around the TV draped in black and gold from head to toe. My mother, Paulette, is fussing around in the kitchen with Aunt Chic, ordering pizza and making her famous buffalo chicken dip. My father, Chuck, is fixing a shot and a beer for Uncle Joe while telling him, “You know, I think this year is our year.”
It’s midsummer 1999, and I am on my back deck. “You won’t be the captain. You probably won’t even play that much,” my dad tells me. “Playing with the older kids will force me to play against bigger and faster competition, and it will get me used to the speed of the game for high school,” I tell my father.
“I think you’re making the right decision, but it won’t be easy,” my father says as he finishes his glass of red wine and gives me a strong pat on the back.
The first scrimmage in junior high was on a hot summer afternoon in late August against the Elwood City Wolverines. Our locker room was a mile from the field where the scrimmages took place. I put on my helmet and snapped my chinstrap on while the team got in a two-by-two formation. I remember the metal spikes clanking on the pavement road in unison as we made our way to Sarge Alberts Field.
Thirty minutes into the scrimmage, “Second-team defense out!” Coach Beatrice yelled as I sprinted onto the field. As the offense broke the huddle and lined up in formation, I started pumping my knees to my chest, like I’d seen Jack Lambert do in the old Pittsburgh Steelers tapes I used to watch with my father. “Down, set, hut!” the quarterback screamed, as he took the ball from the center and handed it to the running back. From the field, I could hear the “oohs” from the people in the stands as I drove the crown of my helmet into the facemask of the ball carrier the moment he got the ball. “Number 10 showed up to play today!” Coach Beatrice screamed from the sidelines, as my teammates pulled me off the ground and slapped me on the helmet.
Two years later, “Starting at middle linebacker for the Center Trojans, sophomore Craig Kostelic,” I heard from the loudspeaker, as I ran onto the field for my first varsity game under the Friday night lights.
We lost that game to the Mohawk Indians 49 to 7.
Three days later, the team gathered on the practice field. “The tape doesn’t lie,” Coach Boyle said. “Effort and discipline take zero talent. Look in the mirror and ask yourself if you played all four quarters on Friday night. I want players who give it everything they’ve got every second they are on the field.”
Five days later, I watched from the sidelines while my team beat the Freedom Bulldogs 20 to 7.
After the game, while my teammates celebrated our first victory, I took off my pads and was the first one out of the locker room. I went home and got in the shower, sat on the floor, and cried.
The rest of the season went by without me seeing the field again.
“Coach Boyle is a piece of shit. To hell with him. He’s jealous and resentful that he was never good enough. I want to move school districts,” I said to my father.
“You want me to move our family because you weren’t good enough to stay on the field?” my father shot back at me. “Son, you have some physical talent, but you aren’t mentally strong. One thing didn’t go your way, and you shut down on your coaches and teammates. You took the easy way out. Most people run away from failure; they want to deny its existence. If you want to be successful, not just in football but in life, embrace your failure. Own it. Understand it. Learn from it. Let it be the reason you wake up for workouts earlier than anyone else, why you’re the last one on the practice field every single day. Failure—when used properly—is the single greatest gift you can ever ask for.”
“Blessed Is He Who Accepts Failure Without Despair” is a tattoo in cursive over my heart. I had that done after finishing my high school career and accepting a scholarship to play linebacker at Bucknell University.