Lessons from the World Cup (that have nothing to do with soccer)

Two friends and I spent the first two weeks of the World Cup in Rio de Janeiro.  As soccer fanatics, we had a wonderful experience.  We saw four games live and got to watch team USA survive the “group of death” with another 20,000 Americans on Copacabana Beach.  But soccer aside, my Brazilian travel taught me some new lessons and reminded me of important things I already knew.

The Media is Always Wrong. 

Before I left, all I heard about the World Cup on the news was how people were rioting in the streets, the stadiums were going to fall down, the transportation was poor, and Brazil was generally dangerous.  I experienced none of this.  The people were friendly and gracious. I saw no riots, although I did see one peaceful protest consisting of about twenty people waving anti-government signs.  The cabs, trains and buses were safe and punctual.  After Chile defeated reigning World Cup champion Spain 2-0, seventy-two Chilean fans tried to break into their team’s locker room.  They didn’t intend violence; they were so excited they just wanted to love on their team.  They were exported.  There were 75,000 people in the stadium that day.  That’s less than a 1% problem.  I give that an A+.

Every Time You Step Outside your Comfort Zone, You are Changed for the Better. 

One of the best things about the World Cup is that it attracts so many different people from all over the World.  I hung out with people from Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and all over South America.  Many people were on month-long or longer trips across South America, and I was reminded of how Americans work too much and take too little time off compared to the rest of the World.  I was reminded that you can have very little material possessions and be very happy. You can have little money and still see the World.  I met a rural farmer from Ecuador who was there with his grandson to support his country in the Cup. He had been saving up for close to twenty years for the trip.  I was reminded that people are essentially good, generous, and want the best for you.  The people in Brazil proved this in spades.

It’s Energizing to Engage With Your Tribe.

I’ve written about finding your tribe before, but I didn’t have to look hard to find my tribe at the World Cup because I was surrounded by them.  It was easy to start a conversation with anyone because you shared the same passion and they wanted to talk about it as much as I did.  The only casualty of the trip was that I lost my sunglasses after an exuberant USA fan picked me up and swung me around after the US scored against Portugal.  It was a small price to pay.  I’m lucky that my tribe is big because of the popularity of the sport, but I’m sure people who go to NASCAR races or Comi-Con or join boating clubs feel the same way.

A few days after I returned I stopped at gas station.  While waiting in line to pay, the man working behind the counter noticed I was wearing a France national team jersey that I bought in Brazil. He asked me about it and I told him the story of my trip.  It turned out he was a French citizen of African descent, and he was so surprised and pleased that someone in Dayton, Ohio would be supporting his home team he came around the counter and gave me a big hug, to the bewilderment of the people waiting in line behind me.  That’s my tribe.  This little exchange—this connection—made my day.  This reminded me of the importance of seeking out the things, even if it is only one thing, that links and binds us to those out there living similar or very different lives than mine. Take the time to engage your fellow tribesmen.  It’s good for the soul—both yours and theirs.