End Well on a Low Note

It’s been two seasons since Jake Arrieta played for the 2016 World Series winning Chicago Cubs, and he still gets standing ovations as an opposing pitcher at Wrigley Field. This may seem insignificant, especially if you’re not a baseball fan. But, there’s a world class leadership lesson to be learned from a former Cubbie who knows how to end well on a low note.

On March 12, 2018, Arrieta penned and posted a letter to his former team and its fans. The highs of his 2016 season took a downturn in 2017, so when he became a free agent it wasn’t a huge surprise when he got traded. What was surprising was how Arrieta closed his Chicago Cubs chapter. He honored the people, the adventure, and the finish line. No wonder he’s still so deeply appreciated when he comes to town in a ballpark that he once called home.

If you’ve been part of a winning team, you know the thrill of celebration that follows. This is true in sports, education, business, family life—anywhere goals are set and achieved. Unfortunately, the time to celebrate passes quickly. You’re soon on to whatever needs to be tackled next. Leaders know this full well and typically stop partying over past successes first. It’s on the backside of a big win where the rubber meets the road, particularly if your trajectory takes a turn for the worse.

When yesterday’s W gets followed by a series of losses, it’s easy to do damage instead of walking away well when the moment comes. Beyond that, as Arrieta’s legacy shows, it’s possible and invaluable to be welcomed back with dignity even if you’re on a different team. The question is, “How do you end well on a low note?”

Honor people – they’re what matter most.

You don’t need video play-by-play to know that Chicago Cubs management and players don’t always get along. Arrieta played for the team starting in 2013, and as the saying goes, “Baseball is family.” Rather than air dirty laundry, Arrieta’s farewell letter took the high road. He spoke sincerely of what people meant to him, how they shaped his character, and his high hopes for everyone long into the future. These sentiments make sense while riding the winning World Series wave, but they’re harder to say when your contract ends and you’re on your way out.

If you end on a low note, always honor people. They helped you get where you are today. Speak of people with appreciation and admiration, even the ones that got under your skin. People always matter way more than your organization or accomplishments.

Honor the adventure – highs and lows are part of the journey.

As time passes, people easily start remembering the “good ol’ days” as mostly good. However, everyone knows that highs and lows are both parts of every journey. Arrieta’s letter to the Cubs calls attention to his own challenges coming onto the team and their collective “blood, sweat, and tears.” The Cubbies' road to the World Series took 108 years, and Arrieta was just one of many who helped bring home a win in over a century of highs and lows. His exit from the team was anything other than spectacular, but rather than a letdown, he treated it as a positive part of the journey.

Unlike trophies, adventure stories don’t collect dust. Instead of talking about the big wins, honor the highs and lows of the journey. Point out what made a difference in your own life and leadership, even if it was hard. If you end on a low note, accept responsibility for what’s yours to own and invite people into the next chapter.

Honor the finish line – you never know who you’ll face next.

Arrieta’s letter didn’t shy away from the finish line or the future: “I will miss going to battle with all of you, [sic] but look forward to competing on opposite sides moving forward.” He could have moved on without recognizing the finish line or that he’d be returning to Wrigley in a different uniform. Instead, Arrieta chose a path with no regrets and the least amount of awkward eye-contact with former colleagues.

When you end on a low note, burn no bridges. You may work together again, need a reference, favor, or friend. Whatever the case, affirm the last chapter is over and that you’re willing to start a new one with no bad blood holding you back.

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