[Life Back West] June 2013 – “Judgement Day”

Supreme Court of the United States Seal

It’s judgement day for the Smith-Wallis household.

Bad news, good news?

We’ve got the company of the estimated 17,999 other households in California impacted by the US Supreme Court’s rendering of a Proposition 8 decision next week. Millions of us inside and outside of California are affected by the companion Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) ruling which will also be announced.

The backlog of issues (home refinancing, tax filings, property title changes, etc.) that have been accumulating in our household will get some closure. Whether gay couples get the same civil rights as everyone else – the real cloud that’s been hanging overhead – will be another matter.

But while it’s not a SCOTUS ruling, we all have “judgement days” throughout our lives. Whether it’s too short, too tall, not smart enough, “A” player or not, right or wrong school attended, grade school or college entrance applications, people make  decisions about you all the time.

Guess what? You make decisions about other people as well.

The judgment others make is their business; what you do about it is yours.

It helps to understand that at best any judgment is simply a snapshot in time. The list of people pronounced unworthy – missing the mark so to speak – whose successful careers made a mockery of early assessments is long and legendary: would “never amount to much” (Albert Einstein), “lacked imagination and had no original ideas”  (Walt Disney), auditioned for All My Children and got rejected (Julia Roberts), and was cut from the high school basketball team, went home, locked himself in his room and cried (Michael Jordan).

It also helps to consider the track record of people passing judgement. In the case of the Supreme Court, it’s the same court that said it’s OK to round up and imprison 110,000 people because they looked like the potential would-be foreign invaders (Korematsu v. United States), declare black people non-persons (Dred Scott v. Sanford), and that the ” threat of interracial relationships would cause serious harm to white marriages” (Pace v. Alabama).

While the latter two cases were eventually reversed, Korematus is still on the books. In short, the court’s track record is shoddy enough to give anyone trepidation.

What you can do when it’s your turn to judge others is to try to do so as well and as humanely as possible. Sometimes, as my colleague and friend M. J. Whitehouse reminded me this week, it’s “If you can’t be kind [in your assessment], at least have the decency to be vague” – a lesson I relearned this past month.

And if you’re being judged? Remember that it’s just that snapshot in time. Take any feedback for the gift it might be, and remember that the picture of you may have been with a faulty lens.

When my spouse interviewed for a Rhodes Scholarship years ago, one of the panel interviewers asked him why US pro football had become so much more popular than baseball. As he tells the story, he smartly answered that it was because “baseball was so incredibly boring.”  What he didn’t know is that the questioner was a former collegiate All-American baseball player, and that he’d tanked his chance on that judgement day at becoming part of select group of honorees.

No Rhodes Scholarship led him to his particular path, including being the parent of a terrific almost 11 year-old who is our son. Had he answered the question differently on that “judgement day” his life – mine too – would likely never have intersected.

Sometimes you don’t realize that the judgement you’ve been handed is a gift horse because it feels like you’ve been kicked in the face.

It still may be a kick in the face. But it doesn’t mean that it won’t turn out to be a gift.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.

Supreme Court of the United States Seal (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

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