Tag Archives: principles

Rhyme, Reason and The Things That Drive Us

 Little Slice of Heaven

I’m likely going to be taking a bit of a baseball and coaching theme with my posts in the near future. This stems from both the fact that Little League coaching begins soon (I find out my team on Saturday) and that it’s a rich source of inspiration for posts. Kids have an uncanny ability to teach adults a lot if those adults are paying attention.

It reminds me of a conversation a year or so ago while helping out with All-Stars practice one day and one of the players, Shamus, strolled on up to me as I watched a drill. He stood next to me for a few moments, watching the same drill and the following conversation ensued:

Shamus: Hey coach… are you married?

Me: No, Shamus, I’m not.

*brief pause*

Shamus: Got a girlfriend?

Me: No, Shamus, I don’t right now.

*longer, more thoughtful pause*

Shamus: Gettin’ kind of late…

You can’t make this stuff up. Hence, the wisdom of the youngins.

What I’m thinking most about with the season so close to starting is what drives me as a coach. The biggest piece is the fact I coach my nephews and have been doing so for 7 or 8 years, ever since my older brother was volunteered by his lovely bride and… well… he wasn’t going to do it solo. Suddenly, Assistant Coach Kevin was born!

But what about beyond that? What am I trying to accomplish? What’s my goal? My mission? My philosophy? Gosh darn it, don’t I have a vision statement with a 5 year plan developed by Wharton-educated consultants?!?!?  *ahem*  Wow… that got scary for a second.  Thankfully, I’m back and I can answer these questions fairly simply:

I coach with my Little League self in mind as much as I possibly can with the dual purpose of helping my players get better and (more importantly), enjoy the hell out of playing baseball.

THAT right there is my mission statement.

I think of my Little League self because I was never the most confident of baseball players, although I had some ability that could have become something nice if got out of my own way. Instead, I probably spent a lot of time thinking I would never be like my older brother who was fantastic at baseball, would end up being All-State in high school and playing in college.  I can actually remember a time when I was in 4th or 5th grade where I was at bat, it was raining and T.J. Church was pitching to me… and all I kept saying to myself was “Please just strike me out.” Yup… that truly happened and I can almost feel that pit in my stomach just thinking of that moment where I wanted to be anywhere but at the plate trying to hit. Not a great moment, but one indelibly burned in my memory.

I never, EVER want a kid that plays for me to feel that way, not even for a moment. I can’t even totally say why I was feeling that way – my parents were always really supportive. I just felt miserable out there and wasn’t having fun, at least not on that day. I would do better when I got to high school and played baseball all 4 years… but I often suffered from the greatest shortcoming any young athlete can have:

I was far more worried about messing up than the upside of laying it out there, possibly achieving something magical or great and feeling the joy of doing well. That’s a missed opportunity and I don’t want it repeated under my watch if I can help it.

So that drives me and it’s really why this entire coaching experience means so much to me. I think a lot about how that felt for me as a kid and, oddly enough, the kids I will be coaching this year will be in exactly that same age range as me during that day in the rain.

No matter how I need to scramble out of work early for a game or changing up my weekend schedule because of games… it just doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. Hey, don’t misunderstand me – I am not some noble saint for taking this position. I do all of this because it’s just so much damn fun – I get at least as much out of it as the kids do. It’s not really work. It’s not a grind. It’s just… well… fun.

Here’s to the start of the upcoming season with a watchful eye towards the why of coaching… maybe the most important aspect of all.

Dissatisfaction and The Value of Your Life

I’ve never seen the movie “Network“, but I’ve seen the pivotal scene from the film more than a few times and I was drawn to finding it today on YouTube.  If you’ve never seen it, here it is:

But what was it that brought me to this?

This is seemingly the 3rd post that jumps to mind for me that deals with some kind of rage (see “Choking On Our Own Rage”) or being pissed off (see “Non-Stop, Full Tilt, Every Day Mayhem” with Ray Lewis’s speech on being “pissed off for greatness”) or today about being mad as hell.  Am I just some kind of bitter angry person?  One of those cranky old curmudgeons who shakes his fist on his front porch at the kids to gell off of his lawn?  The guy who finds nothing to be happy about, but more than a little to complain about?  Thankfully, no… I am none of these things… although who doesn’t enjoy a good moment of declaring how things were so much tougher/better when they were growing up and how kids have it SO easy these days?  It’s damn therapeutic, I tell ya.

Shake it up!
Determined to shake myself out of lethargy

However, the video came to mind for me as I thought about the power of never feeling too satisfied with the state of things.  We all get incredibly busy with work, family, friends and rushing around at a hectic pace.  I may be just imagining it and maybe its just my own life, but everything feels to be at an accelerated pace over the last year or so.  More to do and less time to do it.  Doing this for a few days or weeks is manageable, but over longer periods of time, it’s easy to forget about everything going on around you… because you haven’t really stopped to take a look.

And that’s why… every once in a while… we each need to feel truly dissatisfied and maybe get mad as hell.  Not angry in the sense of being pissed off at your fellow man or mindlessly shouting to the heavens for some kind of ephemeral justice.  No, it needs to be that dissatisfaction with our own lots, lives or situations where we get pissed and think, “No more senseless autopilot… there’s got to be something better out there…”  Or in the words of on-the-edge news anchor Howard Beale in the video above, you need to say “I’m a human being, goddammit! My life has value!”

Because when you get to that point of being dissatisfied, you suddenly improve the opportunity for a change to really occur.  Really and truly to happen.  The alternative is to just feel that nothing will ever improve and whatever you are experiencing at this moment is just as good as it’s going to get.  Is that what you want?  I don’t want that for me and I certainly don’t want that for you.

So the next time you feel that gnawing sense in your gut that you should be able to have something better… there should be more than what is immediately in front of you… don’t stifle it out as a kneejerk reaction and don’t feed it as anger for the sake of anger.  Both are senseless and can be destructive (or in Stars Wars, lead to the path of the dark side).  Instead, let’s make it that extra push to shake us from our complacency and get a little more for ourselves, our families, our friends and anyone else we care about.

The present may be tough, but since the only constant in life is change… why not make that work for us?  We’re human beings.  Our lives have value. And settling belittles all of us a little bit at a time.

Life Shall Give Thee No Mulligans

Bonsai ballGolf is a delightful game.  Sure, it’s completely maddening and harder than almost any other sport I can think of, but when approach with a good attitude, it is treeeemendous.  And yes, that’s how I am spelling that word right now.  You want to spell it differently?  Start your own snappy blog but on this blog, we sometimes like to mess with English.  Just because we can.  We also like to use the pronoun “we” even though this blog is the effort of one person… me.  Again, see previous disclaimer on getting your own damn blog.

I got to play for the first time this past season on Good Friday and what a good day it was.  Granted, my level of play varied from “Sweet mother of God… don’t look straight at that shot since you may turn to stone!” to something akin to transcendent beauty (at least in my eyes).

One of the things that came up with the guys I was playing with was whether we would be using any mulligans since it was the very first round of the season.  For those of you not steeped in the rich tradition of golf parlance, a mulligan is just an exceedingly fancy word for a do-over.  Yes, besides being an utterly challenging game, golf thoroughly enjoys a language all its own that conjures up all sorts of snooty country club images.

The decision was to allow one mulligan per 9 holes.  I ended up using one after a drove one into some godforsaken part of the course from which the ball would never return, but my honestly?  I tend to hate mulligans.  HATE them.  I let one slide this time, but even then I didn’t like it all that much and for one simple reason:

When you give yourself do-overs, you never know where you really stand.  And that makes me crazy.

Perhaps I should explain.  If I am going to play a sport, I really don’t like shortcuts… because at some point and in some place, I may be competing… and there are few things worse than an inflated sense of self.  When I play golf, I want to count every single shot and I want to putt out every putt to completion.  When I lift weights, I don’t want to do partial lifts just so I can brag about all of the Interwebz about my  gargantuan strength (hence my vlog post on “Many Steps Back” where I talk about rebuilding one of my lifts after hitting an all-time best).

Maybe this is just part of my job as an ethics officer rubbing off on everything else I do, but I want to know how good I am as precisely as possible… not so I can measuring myself against others, but really so I can measure against myself.

And for one more reason – life gives no do-overs.  Ever.  The moments that slip past you will never return again.  If given the chance, do I want to half-ass it just so I can brag about an empty accomplishment?  Yeah, not so much for this handsome kid over here.

Are people who use mulligans somehow weak or bad people?  Oh hardly at all.  If it makes you enjoy golf all the more (and it’s not being used to cheat against others), go crazy.  You won’t find me playing morals police with how you choose to enjoy the game.

I just never want to fall into a habit… in anything… of relying on a second chance, especially one I created to give myself an insincere pat on the back.  I’m OK with less-than-perfect or even fall-on-my-face failures the first time around since even when ugly, they are all mine.

I will take owning my own failures every time over faking my own successes. Every.  Single.  Time.

A Little Less Every Day

I feel rather fortunate to have some good friends and connections on Facebook who have a gift for providing interesting status updates or thought-provoking links. It’s one of those areas where I find Facebook can really shine as more than just a nice tool to give updates to friends on how you’re doing and really become an amazing means of sharing wisdom.

I can almost hear the groans from here at positing Facebook as a portal through which intelligence can be shared… especially since so much of Facebook can degrade into really mindless (but potentially fun) nonsense.

An excellent example is this link my buddy Chris posted a little while ago:

The post is interesting in its own right as it peers into those closing moments of life where people finally let down their guards and get honest with themselves and those around them.

However, this post was especially interesting to me since I’ve spent the last few days thinking about the same concept in point #1: the importance of living a life true to yourself and your own principles as opposed to constantly striving to only serve the expectations of others.  In a way, this is a bit of a link to my previous post because being nice does not mean kowtowing to the interests of others in hopes of winning their approval, especially if you compromise yourself in the process.

It’s why I am striving to care just a little bit less every day what others think of me, how they judge me or how my actions can be improperly shaped by opinions or views not my own.  This is a tricky process… umm, but I am guessing you knew that.  No matter how noble our intentions, it can be hard not to be affected by friend, family and colleagues.  Heck, Madison Avenue is none of those things and yet has made a borderline science to influencing consumers into purchasing all manner of goods (whether we need them or not).

I’ve found a few interesting benefits to this practice.  One that jumps most readily to mind is how it affects me giving presentations at work.  I’ve actually enjoyed public speaking to a certain degree anyway… I’m a bit of a ham, when you get right down to my core.  But what’s made it even better is an attitude of “Let it rip…”  In doing so, I find myself less concerned about “Oh my God… but… but… what if I MESS IT ALL UP?!?!?!?  THEN WHAT?!?!?!?  I will be shunned forever!  Looked down upon as a blighted soul not fit for human contact!”  You know… or something like that.  But that has not been the case – instead, it has given me a renewed kick in the pants.  Not bad, right?

But in reality, the most important part is each little step will hopefully bring me that much closer to an aligned sense of living with my own values… and as a person profoundly affected by my own personal values, that is hugely important.  If I feel out of whack on this, absolutely nothing feels right.

And it’s a process.  No one just wakes up one day after a particularly good night’s sleep and is just in perfect alignment.  It’s not something you acquire, set back and think, “Ahh… to live out my days as a consistent human being in all ways possible.  Thank goodness for that extra bit of shut-eye.  That hit the spot!”

2010-02-08 - Snowboarding

So here’s to peering down the slope and taking on the ultimate and most worthwhile challenge: being yourself.  Ride hard.  Fall a few times.  Ride again.  It won’t be easy, but you will never regret it.

Nice Guys Finish…

I recently attended a great strength and conditioning seminar down in New Jersey hosted by one of my favorite coaches, Jason Ferruggia. I’ve always enjoyed these kinds of events because of how much I learn and also because of the interactions you have with the other participants.

In one of the Facebook threads following the seminar, a comment was made about me that I could possibly be the “nicest guy you will ever meet.”  I must admit that this is not the first time someone has made this remark to me and every time I have ever heard it, I’ve always had the same reaction: humbled, but with a little bit of a shoulder shrug because I just do not know any other way. It’s how I was raised.

Believe me – I don’t say any of this as a means to brag, boast or pat myself on the back.  Far from it.  I lack the ego to sit around and do that kind of thing anyway.

But it does make me think quite a bit about what it means to be a nice person and the Leo Durocher saying of “Nice guys finish last.”  Heck, as I glanced through the Wikipedia entry for “nice guy” (seriously… there is one) and let me tell you… whoever wrote that, they didn’t look too fondly upon the archetypal nice guy.Marcus Aurelius

I basically chuckle at the entire notion of how someone described as a nice guy is viewed in popular culture.  The guy who never really gets the girl in the end.  The doormat in the office that everyone dumps everything on.  The guy so easily taken advantage of by less-than-true friends.

There are certainly people who fall into all of that, but it’s never fit how I like to see myself.

For me, it’s a fairly simple sort of approach: a combination of (1) the Golden Rule of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you and (2) a smattering of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius.

If you are suddenly finding yourself thinking, “Umm… and that would mean?”, hopefully I can explain.

Everyone knows the Golden Rule.  It’s the simple notion that you treat people as you would be treated.  Clean, simple, concise.  So point #1, check.

The Marcus Aurelius piece is a bit of using the philosophy of the classic Stoics that the actions of others, in the end, are meaningless in terms of how I think, feel, respond and conduct myself.  In other words, I am going to always do my best to act according to my principles and if you are a jerk in return… that’s on you, not me.  I think this approach takes more strength as opposed to less because there must always be a vigilance in not allowing others to change who you are or sway you into acting in conflict with your beliefs.

Does this mean I sit back and take whatever garbage people may look to lay on my lap?  Of course not, although I do notice that some people seem to think that since I seek to treat people well, that perhaps I CAN be taken advantage of.  It’s a bit sad to see and when I catch it, that person will always diminish in my eyes.  But how I handle it is simple: I give people the benefit of the doubt and when I see they simply have not earned it, my interactions with them will taper off over time.  Oh and I will continue to be polite when our paths cross… but I am obviously not going to go out of my way for them.  Nice guy should never equal utterly bat guano crazy.

So feel free to be a little nice today while sticking to your guns. It’s surprising how liberating it can be to be to see the good mojo you get in return.  And if you get a healthy dose of jerkiness in return?  Their lost opportunity… not yours.

Proactive Simplicity

Think of some of the best teachers you’ve ever had in your life.  Go ahead… I’ve got loads of time to wait… umm… especially since by the time you read this post, I’ll be all done with it and not literally sitting around waiting for your pondering self.  Win-win for everyone!  But in thinking about those people, what were some of their most notable qualities that made them such good teachers?  For me, I find it tends to boil down to two critical traits: a passion for teaching the subject and the ability to make the complicated simple.  Boom – there ya have it.

With that in mind, I found it interesting as I read some of the negative Amazon.com reviews for the book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey to see what exactly people were complaining about.  The most common gripes were “It’s just common sense!” or “Typical self-help tripe!” and things of that nature.  To me, these can almost be a form of an endorsement for a book of this nature (i.e. self-help or a new way of viewing your own world).  Why?  Because it gets back a little bit to about what makes a good teacher – are you taking a concept and making it simpler or more accessible?  It’s certainly possible that the reviews could be spot on and you read the book only to find out that every page is full of regurgitated platitudes about doing good to others and being a better person.  That’s just an annoying read.

But guess what?  Not the case with this book (at least not for me).  In fact, the gripes people had I found fairly amusing because they focused on the high level themes of each section “Put first things first” and “Think win/win” without delving into the author’s thought process behind those notions. That’s just flat out missing the point, my friends.

For me, I found a nugget that hit very close to home and gave me more than a few minutes pause as I read the book last night in bed.  The first theme/habit of the book is “Be proactive.”  Pretty simple right?  If someone just told you that you needed to “be more proactive” and that was the extent of their advice, you might smile at them, give them a nod of acknowledgment and then walking away thinking “Thanks for that inspired pearl of wisdom, Plato.  No idea how I could have continued life as I know it without that one!”  Ahh, but there is much more to it than that in how Covey talks about it.  Covey’s all about values being one of the true shaping forces for being a better person and a more effective one.

So that’s why this passage I read last night struck me:

The ability to subordinate an impulse to a value is the essence of the proactive person. Reactive people are driven by feelings, by circumstances, by conditions, by their environment. Proactive people are driven by values – carefully thought about, selected and internalized values.

Huh… never quite thought of it that way.  If you are a values/principles-driven person (and I try like heck to be exactly that), being proactive is not just a matter of going out and doing things without being asked to or having the circumstances thrust upon you forcing you to act.  It’s much more than that – it’s acting upon your values as opposed to being driven by your feelings and impulses and the circumstances around you since that is just reacting.

This strikes such a chord for me because it puts such great importance on not being reactive… because being reactive means I would be letting circumstances dictate what I do as opposed to my own set of carefully considered values.  When you look at being proactive in that light, it goes well beyond the rather banal notion of just telling someone “You know… you really should be proactive.”  It gets more to the heart of the WHY and the why is always the more powerful piece of the equation.  What would be the sense of taking the time to carefully construct where you find meaning in life only to ignore all of that and let the world dictate to you?  It’s the kind of thing that makes me re-check myself a bit because the cost to pay for wanting a values-driven life is eternal vigilence… and yes, I totally stole that Barry Goldwater line and tweaked it for myself.  I make no apologies.

So dismiss not the simple… especially if it is backed up by a depth that may not be readily apparent at a casual glance.  Those darn casual glances… always leaving the wrong impression.

Toby

Unlike this handsome fella – always leaves a good impression. (Not mine – just a houseguest until tomorrow).

Everyone Else Is Doing It

Ethics.  It’s a word that can certainly grab your attention and one that actually gets bandied about quite a bit in the news the last few years.  Ethics goes to more than just what the law requires (although it certainly encompasses that) and goes to the seemingly nebulous idea of “what is right”.  My full-time “real” job is completely comprised of handling business ethics where I work.  I know, I know… you’re thinking to yourself that it seems impossible that someone with my chiseled features and build is not making a living as an inspiration of nouveau sculptures of Greek gods, but there’s really a lot less of that kind of work than you would think.  Quite a bummer.

I believe very strongly that ethics is not just something that’s “good to do”, but in the business world, it’s also a competitive advantage.  Don’t believe me?  Think of the car mechanic your family swears by because he does great work, doesn’t overcharge and genuinely lets you know when something is wrong with your vehicle.  We will tend to gravitate much more strongly towards those who give us a square deal and we do not feel completely slimy after a business transaction with them.  Plus, a business committed to acting ethically is also going to be a place that is very well-run anyway.

If there is something in the world of ethics (whether business or just personal) that makes my gray matter light up with red flags, it would have to be someone using my all-time favorite justification for unethical conduct.  Yes, that’s right good people… “Everyone else is doing it!” *shudder*  Remember trying that one on your mom?  Remember how that went?  Yeah, me too.

This is why I was so struck by this piece over at Time Out New York from this past Summer.  There is a Broadway revival of The Fantasticks and Ben Brantley from The New York Times went to it and wrote a review.  Generally speaking, he didn’t care for it.  But he did have a little bit of positive reaction to one actor in the piece, Tom Jones:

Unlike much of the rest of this production, he feels like the real thing… [he] gives a perfectly pitched, disarmingly sincere performance that captures why The Fantasticks became the enduring favorite it did.

Mr. Brantley also went on to conclude with an observation of how he thought when he saw the original piece at age 9, he was enchanted.  So on this piece he writes:

And who knows? There may be a few 9-year-olds out there…who will conclude that The Fantasticks is the last word in theatrical sophistication.

Easy enough.  He did not care for the piece, one actor had the feel and spark of the original production and maybe some 9 year olds will think it is a sophisticated piece of theater.

Here’s the problem… the photo below is what was posted outside the theater as a quote from this reviewer:

photo-225x300

Umm… what?  That’s not even in the ZIP code of what the review was and yet, somehow this is what Broadway shows apparently do.  I have seen a bit more of this in terms of selected quotes for movie reviews, but this may be the most blatant example I have seen of cobbling together bits and piece of someone’s words to create a meaning that was simply not present.

To top it off, one of the people responding to this Time Out New York piece in the comments wrote the following:

Mr Brantley’s quote is the reason I bought a ticket to The Fantasticks last week. In a single word The Fantastciks is magical. It is a simple musical, love story, poetically played by a wonderful cast. I have seen The Fantasticks several times, and this production currently playing at The Snapple Theater Center is the best I have seen. But that isn’t why you have attacked this quote and theater is it? I would like you to show me any Broadway, or Off Broadway show that doesn’t pull words from sentences in order to bring in audiences. Why not let the public decide. When I saw the show last week, it was to a sold out house.I don’t care who wrote it, or even didn’t write it. The fact is that it is a true statement. Now really, there must be more news worthy stories out there for you.

Really?  Is there where we have come to?  That if the ends justify the means (i.e. this one woman enjoyed it based on the review so it becomes a “true statement”) so all is right with the world?  Or because other Broadway shows dissect a review done to get enough words in a proper order to create a positive review, we should shrug our shoulders?

Maybe this seems like I am blowing out of proportion something small, but it is something I believe that should matter to each of us as individuals.  Your integrity is yours and yours alone to nurture, protect and develop.  Trust is hard to develop, easy to ruin and then near impossible to build back up depending on the magnitude of the let down.  Just a lesson that if you want to work towards respect (personal or professional), it’s not a sometime thing… it’s an all the time thing.  And the world’s worst attempted shortcut when deciding how to work through a dilemma is what everyone else may be doing.

And before you demand I get off my highest of horses… it’s not about being perfect, but it is about doing your best… and this was not someone’s best or anywhere close to it.  A little effort, people!