For much of his life, something stood between Benjamin Watson and success.
Sure, the National Football League player, author and 2003 Terry College graduate has flourished in every arena he’s tried. Now a tight end for the Baltimore Ravens, Watson enters his 14th season in a league where the average career lasts 3.3 years. He’s published one book, with another on the way and started the One More Foundation with his wife, Kirsten Vaughn Watson (BBA ’03).
But outward signs of success can’t be trusted, he told a packed house at a recent Terry Leadership Speaker Series event. Real worth, he said, comes from the inside.
“One of the biggest obstacles I had to overcome was perfectionism. I always wanted to be the best at everything I do. Then I was drafted to New England, which had very high standards,” he said. “My expectations for myself were way too high. I was too scared to make mistakes, which meant I never took risks. I didn’t want to be the guy on the video messing up, and that meant that I was also never the guy on the video making big plays.”
The same drive that made Watson an All-Southeastern Conference standout and first-round draft pick prevented him from succeeding and growing as a player.
He realized he only felt good about himself when performing well at work. A bad day at work meant going home unhappy and frustrated. It wasn’t the way he wanted his life to look. So, he made a change.
“Your worth as a person can never be tied to how well you do your job,” he said. “That kind of thinking will put you in bondage. You may have a great paycheck. You may be successful. You may have lots of people who look up to you and ask you for advice. But if you see your worth as being tied to how well you perform, you will be in bondage.”
The only way to break free from those trappings is bringing value to other people, he said. That can mean doing things that make you uncomfortable for the good of others.
“A lot of leadership is understanding your role. Not every leader is the one you see on television, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less important,” Watson said. “Leadership is understanding what needs to be done at a specific time, and, even if that’s not in your realm, still getting it done.”
Watson’s organization — One More Foundation — promotes Christian-based values through charitable initiatives and educational opportunities. His first book “Under Our Skin” explores the topic of race and how everyone approaches it differently.
The running theme throughout his work, including his off-the-field mentoring, is the importance of integrity and servant leadership. Following the model of his father, still his hero and role model, Watson encourages people to look beyond their differences and work to support one another.
“Part of the culture of an NFL team is how well the veterans build relationships with the new people coming in. At the Ravens, they actually have a mentorship program where they match a rookie with a veteran, although a lot of times it happens organically,” he said. “A rookie has so much going on in his life. There’s a lot to know. I went to college here and I got drafted to Boston. I didn’t have a winter coat. I didn’t know what a snow shovel was. … [Mentoring] is a really positive thing because you feel like you have a real opportunity to help those who are coming up.”
He advised students to take the NFL lessons he learned and apply them to their time in college and beyond.
“[New England Patriots Coach] Bill Belichick had a sign on the wall. It would say, ‘When you come here, pay attention, do your job, put the team first, and be on time.’ That could apply to anything,” Watson said. “Do your job and do it well. That’s it. No more, no less. Each of us has a specific job, even students, and the point is that you work best with your team when you do your job and do it well.”