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Four life lessons we can all learn from Cam Newton

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton celebrates after beating the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship game.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton celebrates after beating the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship game. David T. Foster III

Cam Newton’s a showboat. Cam Newton’s selfish. Cam Newton dances too much. Cam Newton should man up and marry the mother of his newborn son.

Everybody’s got an opinion about the Carolina Panthers quarterback, and a couple of letters to the editor of this newspaper expressing them have made waves on the Internet during the Panthers’ record-setting run to the Super Bowl this year.

But after Cam’s jaw-dropping performance in the NFC Conference Championship game Sunday, perhaps it’s time to consider that there might be a few important lessons we can learn from him when it comes to getting along and getting ahead in life.

Here are a couple that spring to mind:

No mentor to model yourself after? Maybe that’s a good thing: When Cam came into the NFL, he’d won the collegiate national championship game and the Heisman trophy, but many doubted he’d succeed at the pro level. That’s because he was a 6’5, 250-pound running-passing hybrid no one had ever seen before. Sure, he’s a great athlete, they said. But can he read pro defenses? Can he throw an accurate ball? The main comparison was to JaMarcus Russell, the top draft pick of 2007 and one of the worst busts of recent memory. After the Panthers took Newton No. 1 in the 2011 draft, Cam put on the No. 1 jersey – a not-so-subtle declaration of his own feelings about his worth – and proceeded to become the kind of MVP-caliber quarterback no one has ever seen before. Lesson: somebody’s got to show what’s never been done can in fact be done. Why not you?

It’s better to go the hard route. Cam threw for 422 yards in his first game, the most ever by a rookie quarterback in a debut game. He made it look easy. But there are a lot of great players in the NFL. The losses began piling up for Cam and the Panthers over his first couple of years. His 100-megawatt grin gave way to a mopey scowl. He slumped on the sidelines beneath his ever-present Gatorade towel. But now he and the team have come out the other end, and he’s dancing and grinning more than ever. He learned what we all learn. Life is hard, and so is success. It comes along a lot more like slow-cooked collard greens than instant grits, as Cam-the-philosopher puts it. No matter how special you think you are, someone or something is going to suggest that you’re not. It’s on you to prove the doubters wrong.

You can’t win alone. Cam initially rubbed teammates the wrong way by sulking when things went badly on the field. Former teammate Steve Smith, a famously hyper-emotional guy in his own right, diagnosed the quarterback’s attitude this way: “Cam was angry because he thought he could and should make every play… He has to realize you can’t do it all yourself… You have to give other people a chance to make a play for you, to help you out.” As Cam himself says these days, he knows he was a bad teammate. He learned you can’t do life alone. You need co-workers and friends and family to help, and the more you can blur the lines between those three categories, the better off you’ll be. Before the NFC Championship game, he warmed up in custom-made cleats that had all of his teammates’ names embossed onto them.

When you succeed, dab on them fools. You worked hard on that sales presentation or whatever other important project your boss was crazy enough to trust you with. And you aced it. Take time to savor the accomplishment. Treat yourself to a little celebration. Maybe you don’t go dabbing and dancing all over the office, but why not enjoy a celebratory glass of wine or that juicy steak you’ve been avoiding? What’s the sense of working so hard if all it means is you move on to the next brain-draining project on the list? Say whatever else you will about Cam Newton, but it’s pretty clear the guy thoroughly loves what he does for a living and celebrates accordingly. If you don’t get at least a little bit of that kind of joy out of what you do, maybe it’s time to start thinking about doing something else.

--Eric Frazier

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