I was in 8th grade, and we were playing basketball away from home. It had been a really scrappy game with lots of fouls called, and every shot took the lead.
A girl from the other team was shooting free throws, and I was on the three-point line. I started cleaning off my shoes--the gym floor was dirty, so we kept sliding on it--and hitting them on the ground to see if they had enough traction.
The whistle blew.
The ref said I was intentionally squeaking my shoes to distract the free-throw shooter.
It was my fourth foul.
I had one foul left, but Coach pulled me from the game, despite my refusal and attempt to convince him that I was really just cleaning my shoes.
I can't remember if we lost that game, but I won't ever forget being called out for an intention that wasn't mine and reaping the consequences based on a perception. I won't ever forget that my coach didn't try to understand me.
I also didn't realize that circumstance was setting me up for the rest of my life.
Like in basketball, I'm a little scrappy at life. My offense isn't super great, so I work really hard to seem confident. I can do anything, my body language screams, while my mind and heart are on overdrive making sure I get things done.
On defense, however, my game is strong. I can point blame and push you into a corner until you just give it up. Comply, defer.
But, sometimes, I'm not playing offense or defense; I'm minding my own business, cleaning my own mess, and it looks like I'm trying to push someone off-course. Someone sees me in the corner trying to deal with myself, and they assume my intentions are wrong.
Let's be honest, sometimes they are.
But most times in my life, when I've been benched, my intentions were to simply take care of myself. To fix something happening in my own life.
And in the middle of fixing myself, the whistle blows, the accusation is made, and the leaders in my life don't listen.
When that happens, I’ve learned what that moment on the bench taught me: cheer for my team.
I’m not always great at cheering for them because I’m stuck in my own self, but when I get out of my funk, I cheer. I cheer for the person who took my position, throwing out pointers about the opposition, giving advice about how I handled a similar situation.
I cheer for the leader of the group, learning another team member’s style and adjusting to a new face on the team.
I cheer for my old teammates picking up the pieces I once carried, reminding them they can do it and hoping they’ll believe me.
What I’m still learning, however, is to cheer on my coach. To remember that his role is to put the best team on the court, a team who works together for his goal, for their goal. I’m not always great at cheering on my coach, but I’m learning, especially when I’m benched.
Do you feel benched in any area of your life? First, I want to tell you, benched doesn’t mean disqualified. The season isn’t over for you. There will be more games, and if you cheer on your team and your coach, you can have another chance.
Secondly, you’re not alone. I’ve been benched too many times to count—in relationships, in leadership, in jobs—and will be benched again. And if you want a safe space to talk about being benched, I would love to be that for you.