Important Life Lessons from Ted Lasso

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                                                                      By Siobhan Fitzpatrick Austin

One afternoon late last year while relaxing at home on a comfy couch, my laptop balancing on my knees and pondering possible New Year’s resolutions, horrific images began crossing my computer screen, photos that underscored the day’s top headlines. The usual me could compartmentalize such a day’s tragic news, pretty much a prerequisite to live on Planet Earth, but not this day. It contrasted too starkly with my peaceful surroundings: a pretty, twinkling Christmas tree, my cat curled up next to me, and a soothing cup of tea on the way.

I quickly spiraled into an existential meltdown: how was it possible that humankind could commit such atrocities? And how could I celebrate the yuletide when innocent victims would soon be six feet under? I felt helpless, helpless that I didn’t have the ability to make any substantial difference in a crisis that was far from the sunny shores of South Florida.

Suddenly, my potential resolutions for 2024: to eat better, keep the house neater and exercise more, seemed pointless and shallow, and I said as much to my husband. “Go swimming,” he responded.

So, I did go for a dip in the Atlantic, and as usual, I did feel a bit better as the salt water buoyed me, and I gazed at the azure blue sky above, grateful.

But the next day, my helplessness – and hopelessness – returned and nothing worked. Not swimming or yoga or praying or reading a good book. Not even homemade chocolate chip cookie dough, which was when I knew I was in trouble – I needed to snap out of this funk – fast. 

“Watch something upbeat,” my mom suggested. I didn’t put much stock in this panacea, but then remembered my brother raving about a “feel-good” series streaming on Hulu, Ted Lasso, the story of an American high school football coach who is hired to coach a professional English football (soccer) team, something he’s never done before. The twist is, the woman who hired Ted, Rebecca, who is also the team’s owner, secretly wants him to fail and is confident with his dearth of experience, he will, ensuring the misery of her cheating ex-husband, the team’s former owner who lost his still-beloved club in the divorce settlement.

I began to watch the Emmy-award winning show – and am sure glad I did. Because Ted Lasso does what art of all genres at its best has the potential to do, inspire and remind us of our shared humanity. And sometimes, it can remind us of the importance of being kind, the way Ted Lasso, the character, is. He’s pretty much the opposite of the typical male hero lauded in society. Meaning, winning is far from everything to him. And it’s not that he doesn’t want to, he just knows it’s not the be-all and end-all, a renegade stance when you’re the coach of a competitive, professional English football club. And a renegade stance in a world where success is measured by achievement, money and power.   

That doesn’t mean Ted doesn’t give his all as a coach, he does and then some; his players know he has their backs. And when they’re losing a match, Ted empathizes and advises, but it still doesn’t stop him from conveying his beautiful truth. A great example is in the final episode when Coach Lasso says to his despondent players at halftime, “Regarding this second half, yeah, I don’t know what’s gonna happen, no one does…I know we’re down a couple of goals, but I’m telling you, man, if you all play hard, play smart, play together and just you know, do what you all do, then we’ll go out with the peace of mind knowing we did our best, that we tried.”

And for Ted Lasso, that’s enough, more than enough, for inner peace and joy. And he’s no Pollyanna; he is well aware the world is full of heartache. The very reason he accepted a job several thousand miles away from his home in Kansas where his beloved young son and wife live is because his wife wants to end their marriage, breaking his heart, and he needs an ocean of separation to cope. In short, Ted Lasso knows the world is an imperfect place, but despite that, he consciously lives his life doing his small part to make it better. And better he does, positively impacting all those around him.

And he does it in a very human way, making plenty of fumbles en route. Case in point: he is clearly in denial about the emotional pain he’s experiencing from his broken marriage as well as from another tragedy, his late father’s suicide when he was a teen – his panic attacks don’t lie. But it takes him more than a few attempts to seek the help from a mental health counselor that he desperately needs. But ultimately, he does get help, showing not only vulnerability, something men in society are not encouraged to display, but also humility. And it is this humble self-awareness of his frailty, his limitations, that imbues him with the clarity and capacity to forgive those who have greatly wronged him, including his boss, Rebecca, and a former coach, Nate, who Ted had treated with respect and friendship only to be betrayed by him multiple times. And yet when given a chance to take vengeance on Nate, who by then is coaching a rival team, Ted demurs and takes the high road; not only does he forgive him, but when Nate’s professional world implodes, he hires him back.

That’s because Ted believes in people’s inherent goodness, with ‘believe’ being the operative word. It’s Ted’s holy grail. And everyone on the team knows this because he posted a big ‘BELIEVE’ sign in the locker room on day one. But as his players learn, it’s not ‘believe’ simply to win; it’s belief in themselves, that if they show up and give it their all, anything is possible on the field and off – as long as they do it with integrity. That may mean they don’t win the football game, but they can still ‘win’ at life if they realize what’s truly important.

For Ted Lasso, that’s being kind, generous, forgiving, compassionate, and not being judgmental. It’s giving second chances and not sweating the small stuff, something he conveys in his typical witty Midwestern way when he says, “You know who the happiest animal in the world is? A goldfish. Why? It’s got a 10-second memory.” 

It’s also knowing you’re human and going to mess up. In Ted’s world, that’s a-okay as long as you learn the lesson. (Note to self: 1. Be polite the next time I call Comcast’s help line. 2.  Don’t flip other drivers the bird when they cut me off.)

I don’t think Ted Lasso is going to solve the world’s crises, but if each of us can be just a little bit more like him, and hopefully, a lot more, even if this means getting out of our comfort zone – a real challenge sometimes – maybe we can be the change we wish to see in the world, as Mahatma Gandhi said. And maybe one day, with each ‘right’ action tilting the globe in an ever more loving, unified direction, humankind will achieve world peace.

This is what I choose to believe. And that’s why this year I have only one New Year’s resolution: when I’m feeling emotionally charged and on the verge of making a bad decision, or I simply don’t know which way to turn, to take a moment and ask myself what would Ted Lasso do?

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