Nike founder Phil Knight earned his MBA from Stanford's Graduate School of Business in 1962. Earlier this year, speaking at the same school's graduation ceremony, he said: "Now that you have graduated, the goal should not be to seek a job, or even a career, but to seek a calling."
Chip Conley, founder of the Joie de Vivre Hotel chain, has also invoked the concept of a "calling" (as opposed to a mere "job" or a "vocation") as the ideal thing a company can provide to its employees. A key first step in this process is for the founder to feel as if his or her entrepreneurial pursuit is also a calling. This is essential if you're going to become the empathetic provider of callings for your employees. "You ought to think of yourself as your company's chief emotional officer," Conley has said.
All of which begs the obvious question: How can you tell if your career is your calling? The question is especially confusing in an era when technology has made work-life binaries a moot concept. Still, there are telltale behaviors you can use as indicators. How do you act when you're not at work? How curious are you to learn from the great achievers in your field? These are a few of the recurring tendencies chronicled in Parcells: A Football Life, the new authorized biography of legendary (and legendarily passionate) coach Bill Parcells written by former Sports Illustrated writer Nunyo Demasio.
Among the many leadership, management, and team-building topics the book addresses, one thing is clear: Parcells's passion not only benefited his own five-decade career, it also benefited the careers of his players, his assistant coaches, and his employers. Parcells's teams won two Super Bowls; the coaches he groomed (Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin, and Sean Payton) went on to win six more. Here are seven reasons it was clear that coaching was Parcells's calling, drawn from his life story. By diving into the details of Parcells's calling, you're bound to find clues to your own.
1. You're eager to learn from the great achievers in your field. Long before he first reached the NFL as an assistant coach in 1979, Parcells never wasted an opportunity to observe a successful coach at work. In 1965, when he was a 24-year-old assistant at Wichita State University, he made the short trip to Liberty, Mo., to watch the training camp of the AFL's Kansas City Chiefs, led by future Hall of Fame coach Hank Stram.
In 1967, when Parcells was an assistant coach at Army, he made the short trip from West Point to Peekskill, N.Y., where the AFL's New York Jets held training camp. The Jets camp was led by future Hall of Fame Coach Weeb Ewbank.
This essential curiosity continued throughout his career, during which time Parcells would seize every chance to learn from successful pro and college coaches. Others he studied (both firsthand and from a distance) included Paul "Bear" Bryant, Al Davis, Woody Hayes, Chuck Knox, John McKay, Ara Parseghian, Darrell Royal, Bo Schembechler, and Bud Wilkinson.
2. You're miserable when you're not working. Four months after Parcells first joined the staff of the New York Giants in February 1979, he left the job at the request of his wife, Judy. Her reasons were understandable: The family had already moved seven different times over the past 15 years, as Parcells went from job to job. Judy did not want to move the family yet again. So after four months on the job, away from his family, Parcells abandoned his dream opportunity with the Giants--his favorite team as a boy--and flew back home to Colorado Springs, Colo. (Belichick, also an assistant with the Giants at the time, drove him to the airport.)
Parcells wept on the flight home. Once he was back, he worked in real estate sales. At first, he was happy with his mornings free. He spent lots of time with his wife and daughters. But by late July, when NFL training camps began to open, his sense of withdrawal was pronounced. "Reading the sports pages every morning was like getting knifed," Parcells says in the book.
He became increasingly moody. Judy noticed. "You're driving me nuts, Bill," she told him, before saying she'd be fine with his return to coaching--even if it meant moving the family once again.
3. You're unable to stay away from the work. Within weeks of his return to Colorado Springs, Parcells began working on the sly for Davis's Oakland Raiders. His job--which Judy was unaware of--was to write scouting reports on the Raiders' rivals. He was able to do this by attending Denver Broncos home games. Judy thought her husband's note-taking was strictly for his own mental stimulation. Which it was--but it was also a job he was doing for Davis.
More than this, Parcells routinely attended games at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. He even became a color commentator for a local radio station's broadcasts of high school games. The point? He was a football junkie. "I was dying. I was dying to coach," he says in the book.
4. You're inquisitive about every last detail. In 1987, when cornerback Harvey Clayton was practicing with the Giants for the first time after four seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Parcells observed a crucial nuance in the player's man-to-man coverage technique. Clayton used his outside arm to tip the strap of the wide receiver's shoulder pad, knocking the receiver off balance.
Parcells had never seen anything like it. He asked Clayton where he'd learned it. Clayton told Parcells he'd learned it from Tony Dungy, who was then the Steelers' defensive coordinator. Parcells was intrigued, and continued to press Clayton with questions about Dungy. All of which led to Parcells calling Dungy immediately and offering him a job after the Steelers fired Dungy in 1988.
Dungy, as it turned out, was reluctant to move his family to the New York area. He went on to win a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts in 2007. But the lesson here is less about recruiting talent than it is about identifying it. Parcells's passion for the differentiating details of his profession enabled him to immediately recognize--20 years before Dungy won the Super Bowl--that Dungy was no ordinary coach.
5. You're still passionate after decades in the field. When Parcells met Hayes for the first time in 1978, Hayes was 68 years old and had coached at Ohio State since 1951. Yet he was still incredibly passionate about the profession. He sat with Parcells for several hours and explained his philosophies about staffing, practice setup, maximizing talent, and preparation for playing in all sorts of weather.
"It was heaven," Parcells observed.
More than this, Parcells himself would come to embody the same thing: An older head coach whose passion remained strong. In 2007, when Parcells was 66, his Dallas Cowboys squad lost a heartbreaking playoff game to the Seattle Seahawks because of a last-second blunder. Parcells's pain on the flight home from Seattle is palpable. "Parcells realized that details of the setback would remain etched in his mind for the rest of his life," notes the book.
6. You're confident gambling on yourself. After Judy encouraged Parcells to return to coaching, Parcells tried landing a job as soon as he could. He was so committed to his return that he put their Colorado Springs home up for sale in December 1979. He found a buyer who committed to moving in on February 13, 1980.
On February 7, he traveled to Foxborough, Mass., for an interview with the NFL's New England Patriots. Though he had a standing offer from former colleague Steve Sloan at the University of Mississippi, he still had nothing in the NFL--which is what he really wanted.
On February 8, the Patriots offered Parcells a job. Just a few days later, he and Judy found a house in the Boston suburb of Norfolk. The point here is not to spontaneously put your house up for sale in pursuit of a dream. It's to simply observe: You know you're passionate about your profession if you're willing to move for it. Especially if the potential for relocation means putting your house on the market before you're sure where you're going next.
7. You're not quitting, even under extreme adversity. In 1983, Parcells's first year as head coach of the Giants, almost nothing went right. On the field, the team played terribly, finishing with a record of 3-12-1. Off the field, Parcells's life changed dramatically. In the same week that his mother died, his father underwent double bypass surgery. Between games, Parcells went from hospital to hospital. His father passed in early 1984.
On top of all this, Parcells lost two close friends. One was Giants running backs coach Bob Ledbetter. The other was Rex Dockery, who had coached with Parcells at Texas Tech and Vanderbilt. To make matters worse, with the team losing, his youngest daughter pretended to be sick on Mondays, so she could avoid her schoolmates' insults of the Giants and her father.
In addition, Parcells learned that the Giants front office--specifically, general manager George Young--was secretly courting a new coach (the University of Miami's Howard Schnellenberger) to replace him. He knew the team was underperforming, but he didn't think the Giants would be courting his replacement during his first year on the job.
Through it all, Parcells endured. Schnellenberger rebuffed Young. The Giants rebounded to 9-7 in 1984, winning a playoff game before losing to the eventual Super Bowl winners, the San Francisco 49ers.
Two seasons later, Parcells won his first Super Bowl. He raised the Super Bowl trophy high with both hands. "We buried all the ghosts today," were the first words he said. "They're all gone."