Victory by Accident


Was the Ravens victory last Sunday a fluke? All but three points that we scored came from capitalizing on turnovers, giving us tortured fans that uneasy feeling of “victory by accident”. Not a good mental state when facing the Patriots and the Superbowl is on the line.

What do you do when your own life feels like the Ravens game? Do you tend to question whether your personal accomplishments are a fluke? Do you feel like an imposter in your own life? I bet the Ravens have well-paid sports psychologists working overtime this week, trying to drill into these guys that their victory was deserved. After all, they created the pressure on that third string quarterback to throw those interceptions, and they caught the passes thrown to the defenders, right? They could have blown it, but they didn’t! I don’t know, it’s a shaky confidence, at best.

As I wonder what emotional harangues these players have to deal with this week, I think of how no matter what our profession or stage in life, this challenge presents itself to all of us. It takes a lot of courage to look squarely at life and sit with the uncertainty of whether we fairly beat the competition or snaked in by someone’s mistake. And sometimes we never figure it out. But how do we live in the meantime? As imposters, as over-inflated victors, or as sober realists? What doors has God opened to you and how are you settling with yourself as you walk through them? I would love to hear how you have managed the tension of not always quite knowing if you’ve gotten where you are by discernable merit, or by a shaky set of circumstances that tipped in your favor.


  1. Good article. Funny how those in the press/stands didn’t play a single down, but feel justified in questioning the merit of those actually on the field. The times that I find myself most successful are the times where I recognize that nearly all achievement requires a healthy dose of “luck” or unmerited good fortune. If I recognize that I am not the only participant in my success, it’s easier to avoid feeling an urge to “pose”, criticize others or worry about not measuring up. Rarely do we earn every break which brings us to point of a successful outcome. Questioning whether I “belong” or taking too much credit for achivement only feeds the notion that I am soley the captain of my ship and leads to isolation, fear or bitterness. Truth is, only two teams make it to the AFC Championship every year. Many circumstances must fall into place for any team to make it. The Ravens belong on the field for no other reason than they are there. As the players and coach have said, yesterday is gone and Sunday is a new game with a totally different team and circumstances, some earned some not. Neither team can use any points from prior games to help on Sunday. So, for good or ill, the slate is clean. Today signals a fresh start. Same holds true for me, if I let it.

  2. Well thought out article.

    The topic reminds me of one of my favorite lines from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If”

    “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;”

    We naturally place a lot of significance on our earthly successes. Our victories stoke our inflated sense of ourselves and we make too much of our failures.

  3. Great post Janice. And I really appreciated Rob and Jim’s comments. One of my first bosses, who was himself an extremely successful person, used to constantly remind me of this:

    “Success has many fathers but failure dies an orphan.”

    I really resonated with Jim’s quote: “Our victories stoke our inflated sense of ourselves and we make too much of our failures.”

    Great words to remembers.

  4. Janice,

    great post Janice!

    I was listening to Steve Young being interviewed yesterday and in his conversations with Trent Dilfer and other members of the Ravens organization the problem is less one of self-doubt on the offense, but enforced risk-averse behavior bc of the Kingdom of Ray Lewis and the defensive unit. The word is that Mr. Lewis and the other leaders of the defense subtly and overtly tell the offensive players, “Don’t screw it up for us! Check down to the safe receiver. Don’t take risks Flaco!” Thus, you heard Ed Reed last week criticize his QB in public, a major no-no in NFL locker room etiquite.
    There is a toxic level of distrust between the defense for the offense and bc Ray Lewis and many of the other veteran defensive players rule the locker room, the great skill players the team has, esp. Flaco, walk around literally in fear of failure on every series.
    Young says the great teams trust the other unit to succeed or at least manage their own business. How easy it would be for these veterans to say to young Flaco and the offense, “We trust you guys to win for us. Let it rip. We have your back!” But, the defensive guys only look at the game through their own eyes. Their job is to create mayhem. An offense in sync is like a ballet or dance team. You can’t do high risk ballet moves when you fear getting your head bitten off. That rhythm and creativity that you see with the Patriots, the Saints, the Giants, and the Packers is all based on a high trust locker room. You saw that last week with the terrible Patriot defense rising up to support their high flying offense, something they haven’t done most of the year. You saw the Giants’ defense do the same for Eli.
    How many marriages, parent/child relationships, organization relationships are like the distrust the Ravens’ defense has for their offense? How do we help those who live in a climate of distrust and project that all around them realize the problem is exacerbated by them?
    I think the Ravens’ defense, over the last 10 years has been amazingly good, too bad they have kept their offense in chains of fear for the same period of time. Good luck to the Ravens trying to win a Superbowl with such distrust!

    Peace to all (and Thank God football is just a game),

    Mark P-H

    1. Mark, I love how well you think organizationally….you have always been able to see these dynamics and I never would have put it like you do as an issue within the organization of trust. You have great insight and I fear you may have the right hunch about Sunday’s outcome…..

  5. I can not tell you how TIMELY this blog post is for me!
    Thanks for inspiring me – always inspiring me – to think about these bigger picture things Janice.

  6. Thanks everybody, for this fantastic input. You add a lot to my thinking…..reminds me of something Richard Rohr says, “success has nothing to teach us after age 30.” I’m not sure I completely agree, I certainly do thing that holding our successes and failures in the right balance is hard to do. Keep the quotes and wisdom coming!

  7. These are great posts. I enjoy your blog, Janice. Esp. love Rob’s comments.
    All of us are dependent on “a shaky set of circumstances that seem to tip in our favor.” I prefer to look at this favor as God’s grace on my behalf…completely unmerited by definition. At times I can appear to deserve my reward, but again, rewards don’t always come in the way we want to see them and our best efforts may seem to go unnoticed. Equally I often receive rewards I don’t necessarily deserve. Striving for success is honorable as long as it doesn’t come at others’ expense. I find myself at peace trusting in God’s sovereignty to direct my paths, and accomplish his purposes for me. I have no illusions; I know that I am completely dependent on unmerited favor from God, my family, friends and coworkers because as hard as I may try, I fail and disappoint. Furthermore, I am just as dependent on God’s grace in my times of perceived success or ease as I am in my more difficult and challenging times. It’s easy to be presumptious and even arrogant when things are going our way.

    I think that if I really felt that my success and security in life is completely dependent on any meritous performance, I would constantly fear the day and the moments when I could no longer perform at an acceptable level to maintain my perceived success or security. I am so thankful that God’s grace and mercies are new every morning. I rest in his unfailing grace.

    Seeing how these “shaky set of circumstances tip in our favor” can be a great catalyst for gratitude and celebration of God’s work in and around us.

    Go Ravens.

    1. I like your thinking about what happens if we become dependent on successes and good performance. Because, you’re right, it will most likely fade. Then you really see what you have underneath those successes. That complete dependence on God’s grace is something we can all grow to be aware of. Sometimes our successes can dupe us into thinking His grace is irrelevant.

  8. Very timely article, as I won the USA National Championship 50K racewalk on January 7th, passing my nearest competitor at the 42km mark; however, the victory was only sealed when she had to stop for an emergency restroom visit. I could choose to 1) assume that I’d have won anyway and take full credit, 2) assume that I’d have lost if she didn’t stop, denigrating my accomplishment, or 3) accept that I did win the race on that day against those competitors and those circumstances, give thanks for the grace of God that brought me this far, and look forward to another chance to race this very worthy competitor. I have chosen option #3 and it seems to be settling well for the moment – after all, everything we are or do is by the grace of God, and yes, we need to put in our own effort, but in the end we do not control our own destiny.

    1. Well put, Tammy and WOW!!!! You’re a national champion! I love your perspective on it. I think that it will challenge folks to hear how you’re thinking about your victory.

  9. Surely, a good defense is the best offense in some cases. But the Ravens are too long in tooth and the salt has lost its flavor.

  10. Wow. Just checked back to see the discussion and it is a great one. A note of interest with the Ravens and Patriots. This year, the Patriots beat only 2 different teams with a winning record and haven’t played a defense rated higher than 8th since November. By contrast, the Ravens have played 5 teams with winning records, three of them twice, and 7 times has beaten a defense ranked in the top 7. They swept their division which placed 3 of four teams in the playoffs. All respect to Steve Young, but he has to create a conflicted story line to gin up interest in their coverage of the game. It’s a far better offense, today, than the 2000 champions, which carried the same “don’t make a mistake” burden laid on a far worse QB in Trent Dilfer. I don’t think the Ravens are as weak as one might be lead to believe simply looking at yards gained or points scored. Will be fun to watch a legendary defense play a legendary offense. Usually defense wins. Here’s hoping the generalization holds.

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