"Sometimes I think life is just a rodeo
The trick is to ride and make it to the bell"
-John Fogerty, Rock and Roll Girls
As the holiday season makes its annual comet-like appearance and 2021 quickly draws to a close, I hope the year has been good to you and you are brimming with excitement for 2022. Some years are more memorable than others, and the past couple of years won’t soon be forgotten.
So, I’m curious. How would you rate your 2021 on the goat scale? Was it a GOAT, or a goat?
Huh? Have I suddenly taken up small animal farming? No, not even close.
Both GOAT and goat are a part of sports terminology, and they can be confusing as they hold opposite meanings. One is a hero, and the other a villain.
When I think of a goat, lower case g, I think of the word scapegoat, as in someone who makes a mistake and is blamed and often ridiculed for something that has gone awry. Sometimes the blame sticks forever, fairly, or unfairly. I’ve wondered, for instance, if we’re still mad at William Seward for purchasing Alaska from Russia in 1867 for $7 million. Did anyone still think of Alaska as Seward’s Folly or Seward’s Icebox after gold was found in the Yukon in the late 1890’s? Probably not, but unfortunately, Seward didn’t live to see his name vindicated.
If you happen to be a Red Sox fan, the first name that comes to mind when you think of a goat, lower case g, might be Bill Buckner, the Red Sox first baseman who allowed a late inning grounder to roll between his legs in game six of the 1986 World Series. It was a disaster for the Red Sox who went on to lose that game, and the series, after coming so close. It took Boston fans nearly 20 years, and an eventual 2004 World Series victory, to forgive Buckner. 1986 certainly must have felt like a goat year for him.
What about GOAT? GOAT is an acronym and stands for greatest of all time. It reportedly originated with Muhammed Ali, who referred to himself as The Greatest. In the world of sports, the term GOAT is often associated with Ali, Tom Brady, and Tiger Woods. I’d throw Larry Bird in there just for argument’s sake, but plenty of others would name Michael Jordan or LeBron James. You get the point.
Would you say the year 2021 was GOAT or goat? Or was it yet another combination of joy and frustration, laughter and tears, victories and losses, and with any luck, some wisdom and insight acquired along the way, like it was for so many of us? Perhaps you made some new connections or found out just who would be there to offer a caring hand up if you made a crucial tenth inning error and just sat there, alone, in disbelief, to a haunting chorus of boos.
As I listen to daily sports commentary, I think about what it must be like to be a professional athlete and have every move and performance reviewed, play by play, minute by minute, with endless critique and chatter about your body, skill level, and decision-making. One day Tom Brady is the GOAT, and another day he’s a washed-up traitor whose jersey you burn in disgust. The thing about sports that is that an athlete is only as good as their last play, last championship, or last press conference.
We place athletes on pedestals and analyze every word and deed, building our favorite athletes up as invincible heroes, then we are disappointed to find that they are human just like we are. They have a better jump shot or golf swing and earn millions more than we do, and that apparently gives us the right to have our say. Tiger Woods may be the GOAT in professional golf, but people seem to relish tearing him down for his personal foibles. How dare he be human? It simply does not live up to the hero narrative that we thrust upon famous people.
Along that same line, what about Simone Biles, the incredibly talented Olympic gymnast who stepped aside from her Olympic events in Tokyo, where she was predicted to win several gold medals, to protect herself physically and mentally? As one of the most decorated gymnasts or all time, she has also been called the GOAT, with a few high difficulty level skills named after her. She is also considered by a few to be the goat, lower case g, because they viewed her withdrawal decision to be “quitting” on her team and her country.
Over the past couple of years as we have been adjusting to the new pandemic normal, maybe we are all finding out how to embrace the GOAT events in our lives as well as giving ourselves, and others, a break for the times when we may, indeed, be seen as goats. Or maybe we are just realizing that we are all in this together. Our lives, our relationships, and our careers are truly made up of both great moments and times of struggle.
It may be in the most difficult years that we learn the most because the challenges can teach us empathy and understanding. Time magazine named Simone Biles the 2021 athlete of the year for her contribution not just to sport, but to destigmatizing mental health challenges. If there is a lesson in her experience for all, it is to remember, even during the most difficult times, we are enough and owe no explanation to those who have not walked in our shoes.
I will look back at 2021 as a memorable year because I lost my mom. That’s a difficult experience for anyone. If we are lucky, our moms are often our biggest cheerleaders. They see the best in us, have been with us since we drew our first breath and picked out our clothes for kindergarten. They dried our tears and sent us back out to try again. Even as my mom became increasingly ill and we struggled to find the right diagnosis and care, every time I saw her, I was greeted with “There’s my beautiful daughter.” Every. Single. Time.
We did not expect her life to end this year, but the unexpected happened. We know that we did our best to make her last days loving and comfortable, and that was the best we could do. It was more than enough.
Some years tell a story of change, or of loss, or of redemption. Some years have all of that and more. As we turn the calendar to 2022, I wish you the wisdom and perspective that another challenging year can bring, and the hope for new opportunities and joy ahead.
Seriously, if at any time things feel overwhelming and stressful, lean into one of those true friends who has always believed in you, GOAT or goat, even when you might be struggling to believe in yourself. If you know someone who is struggling, offer that hand up and listening ear that we all need now and again.
And, if all else fails, take a few moments to look up baby goats on YouTube. It’s going to be a great year ahead; I just know it. Please take some time to breathe, smile, and watch the world go by. I can’t wait to find out how it goes.
If I had my way, I’d shuffle off to Buffalo
Sit by the lake and watch the world go by
-John Fogerty, Rock and Roll Girls
Thank you for reading. Feedback is welcome and appreciated.
Deb Sparrow worked in financial services senior leadership for over 25 years. She is a firm believer that "the universe always falls in love with a stubborn heart" as she explores the fork in the road and writes about it from time to time. She is a graduate of Bowdoin College and Priority Learning's inaugural Executive Leadership series. Follow her on LinkedIn at Deb Sparrow worked in financial services senior leadership for over 25 years. She is a firm believer that "the universe always falls in love with a stubborn heart" as she explores the fork in the road and writes about it from time to time. She is a graduate of Bowdoin College and Priority Learning's inaugural Executive Leadership series. Follow her on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/deborah-sparrow/.