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.

Competition with Balance

I am, by nature, a somewhat competitive person.  I don’t care too much for losing (few do), but I find that where I care more is about the showing up and actually competing.  If I go out and give my best or if my team goes out and leaves it all out on the field, then I’m good no matter the final result… but I would surely prefer the win over that ugly and often nagging feeling of defeat.

My competitive drive also varies based on the activity at hand.  I’m not going to get some kind of red-eyed rage if I’m playing Blokus with my family during Thanksgiving… and obviously, they would seem to share my view as this picture so perfectly illustrates:

Thanksgiving Blokus

Now, when I did that strongman competition last year, I was really and truly competitive.  Oh sure, I wanted the learning experience of it… to better understand what it’s like to be in the strongman arena… and that’s all true… but damn it, I wanted to do well.  Really well.  I did ehh and not much better than that.  It still bothers me a bit to this day because I know I could have and should have done better.  I view the experience as an overall positive… but damn it, I wanted a lot more out of myself that cold December day.


Of late I have been giving more and more thought on what it means to compete… the value of competition… when competition is more of a negative than a positive… and how important it is to win.  I touched on this a bit in my post on greatness a few years back.

I believe this is, in part, driven by what has been going on in the news with the sex abuse scandals at Penn State and Syracuse… although really more by the Penn State situation where it seems painfully clear that a culture was created where as long as football wins (and the dollars associated with such wins) were coming fast and furious, then even the horrific could somehow be acceptable.  It all just left me feeling disgusted, as should surprise no one.

It then got me thinking about how I treat competition in my own life.  I remember one of my teammates on my soccer team saying that his high school coach would tell them, “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.”

In the most charitable of interpretations, that quote could mean that you have to go out, play hard, push the boundaries to the utmost and leave it up to the refs to make the foul calls.

But there’s such a fine line between playing a very physical brand of soccer and take a lunge at someone’s knee during a slide tackle from behind.  And regardless, the quote is just an utterly horrible thing to say as a leader to a group of teenagers.  Nothing good can come of it.

My take on competition and winning has changed over the years and now that I stand with 39 years on Earth, I think I have it sorted out in a way that is philosophically consistent with my principles:

Outside of things done strictly for fun, I enjoy the act of competing and competing hard.  To quote Vince Lombardi from his “What It Takes to Be Number 1” speech, “The object is to win fairly, squarely, by the rules – but to win.”  I enjoy giving my all until the buzzer sounds, the bell rings or the whistle blows, regardless of the score.

Because in the end… my ultimate opponent… the one I try to best each and every time… is who I was yesterday.

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.

That’s Just How You Play The Game… Right?


A few weeks ago, two friends of mine came over for dinner and to relax a bit on a Monday night.  It was nothing formal – just a little bit of respite from the week.  One of them arrived a little later than the other and just a bit before 8 PM, came charging into my house and wanted to be sure we were all ready for the show at 8.  Show?  What show?  Ladies and gentlemen… it came to my attention that we would be watching a little thing called “Bachelor Pad” that evening, brought to us by the fine folks at the American Broadcast Company.  God help me.

“Bachelor Pad” is fairly similar to most reality TV shows where contestants are competing for some kind of cash prize at the end: there are roughly two different groups (in this case, men and women who did not make the cut in either “The Bachelor” or “The Bachelorette”) who compete in weekly competitions to gain immunity from being kicked off the show/out of the house/off the island, etc. There’s nothing remarkable in any of that – that’s the formula with the only real wrinkle being that almost every person on the show is really attractive and there are all sorts of… err… “romantic” entanglements.

Now, I try to avoid reality TV shows like the plague – I just find them absolutely awful on almost any level I can think of.  I will allow for a bit of leeway on a show that is really structured more like an on-going documentary (such as past seasons of “Hard Knocks” on HBO or something to that effect), but things like “Jersey Shore” just make my skin crawl since it’s really just a glorification of the worst elements of people’s lives recorded, cut down to the juicy bits and plastered on TV for viewing like a train wreck of biblical proportions.  I know, I know… that made no sense since there were no trains to be wrecked in the Bible, but don’t lie… you got the picture anyway.  Don’t get sassy with me, my friend.

Wait, where was I?  Oh yes – reality TV.  And you thought you could completely get me off traffic, didn’t ya?

The competition shows are probably what bother me a little more than the antics of other reality programs because there is this common theme that runs through all of them that just makes me nuts: every act of lying, backstabbing and conniving is justified under the notion “Hey, this is just part of the game.  I’m just doing what I need to do to win.”

*shudder*  Nails on a blackboard every time I hear it.

Lest you think I’m being puritanical, I get the idea of hard-fought competition and it’s one of the things I truly love about sports and such.  It reminds me of a passage from Vince Lombardi’s “What It Takes To Be Number One” speech:

It is a reality of life that men are competitive and the most competitive games draw the most competitive men. That’s why they are there – to compete. The object is to win fairly, squarely, by the rules – but to win.

On any reality TV competition show like “Bachelor Pad”, there’s always a focus on the win part and seldom more than a passing nod to the notion of winning fairly, squarely and by the rules… and maybe that’s just it.  These shows really don’t have any rules about how you play the game.  And why would they?  A big chunk of the reason people are watching in the first place is to see the lying, backstabbing and conniving that occurs week in and week out.  I guess that’s the “fun”.

But for me, it’s just nothing I can get behind.  It’s like the old rap adage of “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.”  Except here’s the problem: regardless of the game, every person has the opportunity to make choices for themselves and who they want to be in that game.  And hell, you chose to be in the game (whatever that game may be).

I don’t rush to view shows like “Bachelor Pad” as yet another sign that we are steadily marching towards the Apocalypse – I’m just not that prone to Chicken Little thinking like that.  I think every society goes through those kinds of moments where some new thing causes everyone to be convinced that everything is falling apart… and then it doesn’t really happen.

I just hate to think that our model for how to compete is increasingly becoming this kind of programming we see on TV, which would be sad.  And while sports is not perfect, I think it tends to get competition right a lot of the time and at least there is something or someone keeping most of it in check.

So pick your arena of competition.  Go out and seek to win.  But never, ever try to sell me on the eggshell thin notion that how you compete is somehow out of your hands.  The choice is your own.

Fighting For A Noble Purpose… Or Just A Sucker?

This past Sunday marked the end of the outdoor soccer season for me with the next season not starting until the week after Labor Day in September.  Over the past… hmm… 5 or 6 years I have been the captain of this particular merry band of soccer players.  My ascension to this role was not one borne out of a brilliant level of play or a transcendent mind for soccer strategy.  Ohhh no… it was all about organization.  Pretty inspirational, right?

When I first joined the team, I was just doing my best to play my best and not embarrass myself horribly.  I only picked up soccer in earnest around age 30 and that was comprised of playing indoor with some co-workers.  The move to outdoor when a friend’s team needed someone felt more official.  I mean, hell… that’s real soccer.  No walls to bail you out when you just kick the bejeezus out of a ball instead of laying down a crisp pass directly to the feet of your streaking midfielder.

Well, as one of our weekend games approached, I noticed a change in the schedule on the league Web site and promptly sent a note to the team to let them know.  Simple stuff.  I get to the field that Sunday and the current captain takes me aside and says,”Dude… that was a GREAT e-mail… do you want to be the captain in the Fall?”  I cannot even imagine the look that crossed my face at that point.  Me?  Captain of a soccer team?  I guess my expression of blank horror seemed to suggest a yes and then the words just fell out of my mouth of, “Sure… why not.”

Over these past few years, the role of captain has had its ups and downs.  Overall it has been a positive for sure.  My team is a great bunch and I love them all to pieces.  I feel very fortunate to be a part of this squad, let alone be their captain.

But here’s the thing… honestly?  Being captain is just not fun.  It’s a hassle.  You get to go to the league meetings which can be fine (I give a ton of credit to our league board members for all they do), but often there is an inordinate amount of debate about items that just don’t matter.  I want to get in, chat about a few things, pay for the season and get the hell out as fast as possible.  Then there is the matter of chasing your friends for money.  I can assure you that is decidedly less than good times.  Add to that making sure everyone shows up to games on Sunday mornings which usually involves multiple text messages the morning of the game to give directions, tell people what jersey colors to wear, etc.  To top it all off, trying to be the leader can be a no-win situation too.  If I am too quiet, I get people on me for not speaking up.  When I yell, I get told to shut up.  It’s really a lot of fun.

Now before this entire post to degrades into a complete diatribe of crying and moaning by me, let’s put this all back into context for a moment.  The fact I am still healthy enough to play competitive soccer with a great group of friends on Sunday morning is pretty awesome.  Period.  I know I’ve got it pretty good.

My point is simply this: being the captain of the team is just a pretty good example of how I find myself doing the least wanted job or role because no one else wants to and I tend to be eager to please.  Sometimes I get a lot of satisfaction out of this.  To me, it can be a mark of character to get in, take on the tough task that no one else wants and do it well.  I think that can be a mark of integrity.

I feel your pain, Captain.

What I am struggling a bit with is my tendency to take on things that I know I am not going to like (or even continuing with something I am really not liking) because I convince myself either no one else will do it or no one else will do it right.  It’s an odd kind of mindset: it’s both a combination of being a bit egotistical (“Well I obviously need to do it because NO ONE else will do it right.”) and a bit of an enabler (if I keep stepping up to do these things, no one else will ever feel like they need to).

At some level, we all need to do things we don’t like.  That’s a given and something in life to be accepted.  But what about beyond that?  How does one properly keep the balance between taking things on that might be less-than-joy-inducing, but that are important/needed to do and you own personal self-interest?  I can say from my own standpoint that it’s tough because I will always lean toward taking it on and then feeling like pulling out a Jean-Luc Picard facepalm when I realize, “Good Lord… what have I gotten myself into again?”

In the end, I think it’s a matter of finding your own sweet spot on the continuum of importance.  You will need to and probably should take on those things that either you are best-suited for or that are just more important, even if they are not something to make you fire up a happy dance while doing.  The other stuff?  Sometimes you just need to let it go and get comfortable with the simple “No thanks.”

So where does being a soccer captain fall for me?  I honestly am not sure.  I do love my team, but this past year was a tough one for me personally.  I know it’s for fun and all… but still… kind of a bleah session and I put a big chunk of the blame on me (since that’s what captains must do).  I will likely be back in this role in the Fall, but it’s also getting close to some young buck to step up and inject some fresh blood into things.

Although I would feel bad for anyone who becomes captain after me.  I mean, if nothing else… they are not going to top my handsomeness.  For real.

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:


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!

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