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A Torn Public: To Love or Loathe Michael Vick?

Michael VickInmate 33765-183 is free. He is running down fields, passing, playing better football than probably any quarterback playing today. For those unacquainted with Michael Vick, or American football in general, let me introduce you. Your career may depend on it.

Michael Vick is a prodigy. Two years ago, then-28-year-old Vick belonged to an elite class of athletes, professional quarterbacks, those dexterous enough to play the most pivotal position on an American football team. He did not stand out from his crowd. But he was not really trying. He was the last to arrive at practice and first to finish; he spent evenings partying while his peers watched game tape; he lived on raw talent rather than discipline and practice. Yet Vick played as well as those who tried much harder. He was like that annoying genius in your class who never studied but still knew every answer.

Then Vick was sentenced to 19 months in prison for raising, fighting, and killing dogs. Public outrage followed and would not subside. Even two years after his conviction, after Vick served his time and signed on to Philadelphia’s football team, mention of Vick spontaneously whipped up anger and protests.

But today Vick is approaching a pivotal moment in his career. He has risen from Philadelphia’s third-string quarterback to their star, he is at 30 years old breaking other quarterbacks’ life-time records, and he may win the prestigious Most Valuable Player award this year.

The public has not yet fully gotten behind him. I was in Philadelphia over Thanksgiving and can tell you that Philadelphia fans are torn. On one hand they are thrilled with the promise and excitement he injected into their team. But on the other, they are not ready to support an animal rights abuser. Over the next few days, I will dissect how Vick has reached this point and what will happen next, while highlighting four career lessons you should consider.

Michael VickThe context in which people observe you—the people you sit next to, the rooms you occupy—has an enormous impact on their perceptions of you. This is why politicians are so particular about the symbolism that surrounds them.

When Michael Vick first started playing for the Eagles, he commuted from his Virginia home. He hung out with the same people in the same places as before his conviction. His career started turning around only after he moved to Philadelphia. Once in a new context, people's perceptions and his behavior began to shift. Is your context—your office, where you eat lunch, where you meet, where you sit—communicating what you want people to know about you? Does your after-work behavior complement your business persona?

Over the last week I have used the story of Michael Vick to discussed four ways to help your career. By working on these—guarding your story, picking your plot, getting noticed, and controlling your backdrop—you can have a profound impact on how people perceive you and on the trajectory of your career. These principles can explain why stars like Michael Vick, Tom Cruise, Carly Fiorina, Michael Phelps, or Chris Brown fall and why some of them rise again.

Read the leadership lessons from Michael Vick

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