My soccer career started on a team called the Orange Crushers. I didn’t know what “irony” was at seven years old but our name epitomized it. We crushed nothing and it seemed as though our purpose in the league was for us to be crushed by others. My memories of that season are a complete blur except for one game. In one of our final games of the season, we won and I scored. I was so glad when it happened. The other team from town, Blue Bombers, was filled with friends and classmates and they were undefeated. So that lone victory was important for me because I’d received some ribbing at school. Perhaps that lone victory kept me hanging on despite the poor start to my soccer career.
As the years went on, there was a slow dance that went on between winning and I. One year my team would be a success. The next we were knocked back down a peg. By the time I reached my senior year in high school, I had figured out who I was as a player. I was one of the kids who wouldn’t quit. That was my first year as a complete “success”. Conference and County Championships were the first two real trophies that any of my teams had ever won. As I thought back to that team, I realized that not one player from the Blue Bombers remained. They had all stopped playing soccer or switched to other sports.
Knowing how to lose and not quit or to persevere through tough times are skills that you acquire from a poor start. These skills are invaluable because no one maintains success forever. Using memories of our failures as stepping-stones is the way we make a staircase toward our success. The examples of poor starts are woven throughout the history of the United States. Lincoln, Ford and Carnegie are three that instantly pop to mind but one of my favorites from the present day is Stallone.
When Sylvester Stallone sold the script of Rocky, the studio wanted to make the film but with someone else playing Rocky. At the time he was completely broke and refused a series of offers from the studio for hundreds of thousands of dollars. He stuck to his guns. He knew how to survive and live with failure but he saw this film as his one ticket to ultimate success. So with very long odds, he bet on himself and won. I used to watch the Rocky films regularly when I was in high school. Later I learned just how much the movies mirror Stallone’s life. In Rocky Balboa, Rocky tells his son that life is about “how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” My guess is Stallone learned this early and never forgot.
A poor start is not something to be embarrassed about. It is something to be embraced. The power of a poor start comes in the fact that you know where you began is not where you’re going to end. The power of a poor start comes from realizing that failure did not put poison inside you, it put fire inside you. The only negative to a poor start is if you quit and make your start, your end.
It’s ok to start poorly, if you finish strong.
Hollywood is regularly churning out super hero movies and their sequels. At the moment they seem to be almost a sure thing at the box office. Iron Man, Spider Man, Batman and Captain America all seem to capture the imagination of the people as they pay big movie theater prices to see these super humans. It is obvious that “super” is what the people want to see.
What if there was a hero named Mediocrity Man? He had super powers that were inside of him but he was afraid of them. Any time that he saw himself do something out of the ordinary, he would instantly recoil and deny his abilities. Rather than keeping his secret identity from everyone else, he would hide or deny his powers to himself. What if Clark Kent never changed into Superman? Would you watch that movie? Of course not.
If this hero existed, why would he hide his powers? The reasons would be the same that you or I don’t do the things that would produce greatness.
- It’s too hard.
- It will take too long.
- I might not succeed.
- Or worse, I might succeed and the people would expect more out of me.
- I don’t want people to make fun of me.
- No one in my family, town, state or country has ever done it before, who am I to be first?
Imagine the Earth being filled with superheroes. What if people were getting most out of themselves every single day? What would that look like? I’ve been Mediocrity Man. I’ve traded in my cape for a t-shirt on a regular basis. Feeling comfortable in the cape is difficult because I know all of my faults, all of my weaknesses and every way that I have ever screwed up. The hero in the movie never falls for long. He gets his super powers and continues on until the world is safe again. For us regular heroes, it’s not a magic movie moment involving a radioactive spider or the destruction of Krypton that begins our ascent. It’s a consistent decision to be the best form of ourselves.
As we are moving past the time when most people have given up on their New Year’s Resolutions, I offer this subtle reminder. THIS IS WHAT YOU WANTED. It is sometimes a difficult thing to swallow. Goals and resolutions are pretty and shiny when we create them. Everything will go great! You’ll be able to maintain this level of excitement until you get to the end! The problem is that we usually forget or don’t know the following.
When you set up a goal or make a resolution it is much like ordering your favorite dessert. For me that would be the classic chocolate milkshake. Unfortunately you forgot to read the fine print. Before you will be served your delicious dessert, you have an appetizer of pain coming. That will be followed by a main course of discipline with self-sacrifice sauce and side order of humility. Once you are able to choke down those mammoth size helpings of something that YOU DIDN’T ORDER, you’ll finally get that thing that you wanted.
Just remember that THIS IS WHAT YOU WANTED, all of it is part of the deal. Embrace it. You’ll actually find at some point halfway through the main course that you like the taste of it. Those things that you overlooked on the menu are actually something that you want for yourself. The problem is that most people retreat too early because THIS IS NOT WHAT I WANTED! At the end of the meal you’ll have to settle up the check. If you stuffed yourself full with meal and goal, the bill is paid with PRIDE. If you left your meal unfinished, then you have a debt of REGRET that is difficult to wipe away.
Decide on what you want from the menu!
In this extremely fast paced world, it’s easy to get distracted from that which is important in favor of that which seems important. It is the reason why we make shopping lists and set reminders for ourselves. Getting caught up in the moment is not only normal, it seems to be a way of life. Despite all of the technological and societal distractions, it would seem as though we might have accidentally thrown out all of our babies in order to make room for more bathwater. Perhaps it is time to decide what is truly important and focus on it.
There are plenty of people who will get married this year. They will painstaking search for a great venue, a photographer, delicious food, the right guest-list and register for the perfect gifts. But before they did all of that hard work, they forgot to find someone worth spending their life with.
We have access to amazing communication devices in our pockets and at our fingertips. There is the capability to reach the other side of the world, translate to almost any language and do it instantaneously. But we rarely say things that mean much of anything. There is so much coming at us that it all becomes devalued. We tend to only listen in order to respond, not to understand or empathize.
Students and teachers are no longer bound by the bricks in the walls of their buildings. All facts are available at a moment’s notice and the greatest minds are within reach. Yet our young people are worried about grades that will soon not matter and facts that have little value. The word educate comes from the root educe which means to bring out or develop. The cramming information in might not be the best way to draw out our young people’s genius.
These are just three examples where we seem to be so caught up in the process that we have forgotten why the process was invented. When broken down to the core, the world is a relatively simple place. We are here to survive first. Once that is taken care of we look to progress and we do both more effectively together. So get back to the core of what you do and why it is done at all. If you are in school, then learn, regardless of the grades. If you’re in a relationship, then relate, give of yourself and be willing to be changed. The superficialities of life can only sustain us for so long. Our true progress depends on depth of experience and it needs to be found again. Right now are you focused on ANYTHING BUT THE THINGS THAT MATTER?
There are plenty of commercials from my childhood that stick out. Growing up at the beginning of the Super Bowl Commercial craze gave us plenty of memorable advertisements. “Where’s the beef?” from Wendy’s. Bird vs Jordan shooting contest. This is your brain on drugs. These all caught my attention because they were either clever or memorable for positive reasons.
One commercial that stood out for another reason was for GOYA beans. The catch phrase “GOYA, oh boya!” was so inane that it stuck. Inevitably when I am food shopping for my family, the big letters G O Y A stick out and remind me of the stupid tag line. So I have decided to associate something new to that can and the beans that sit inside. GOYA is now an acronym. It stands for “Get Off Your ASS!”
It is a call to action and action is all that matters after all. The commercials that are running in our minds should be moving us forward. I’m sure that if you’re anything like me, there are commercials running for sleep, junk-food, relaxation, sex and beer… sweet beer. The commercials for these things are not hard to run because they represent our surface level desires. At a much deeper level, we want to have health, wealth and good relationships. These things require a much greater effort than the shallow desires of the moment. So it is up to us to stick deliberately put in those commercials for beans, ACTION BEANS. Those less than sexy items that we need in order to get where we really want to go. You’re running the show and when you stop for a word from the sponsors, make sure they’re the ones taking you in the right direction!
G.O.Y.A! And do it!
Stories are an integral part of our society and have been for thousands of years. Whether the Odyssey, the Bible, Star Wars or Romeo & Juliet, the stories of the present and past have almost all been intended to tell us something. Not particularly something about the past although many are historical in nature. More often than not, stories are trying to tell us something about the human condition. Although a form of entertainment, they can also be instructive.
Characters are not just imaginary people to play make believe for us real humans. They represent a myriad of possible traits, life courses and mindsets. Whether Han Solo, Jesus, the Lorax or Hector, each one offers the gift of possibility. The idea of a life slightly different from our own. They offer themselves up in front of us on the screen or the page in order for us to judge them and their value. At that point their power or lack there of is left up to us.
What’s missing from the story is you. If you only admire the heroism of Han Solo or the kindness of Jesus but never transfer it into your own life, then these characters truly are lifeless. However, if you’re willing to take up their plight from the page, then they truly do live. It is not enough for heroism, kindness and love to exist in movies and books because evil and hatred are alive in the real world. So if you truly love a movie or book, then show it by becoming an actor. A person who acts in the stead of those imaginary people. The world is waiting for your story to be told and you’re the only thing that’s missing.
In kindergarten (at least according to my recollection), I was the fastest kid in Mrs. Palma’s class. The reason that I know this is that we often had races across the blacktop outside of the classroom. I won everyone that I ran in. Although my memory is extremely fuzzy about that time period, I can make this statement for a few reasons with little fear of repercussion. First, it’s possible that it is true. I definitely wasn’t the slowest in the class. Second, everyone else’s memory is probably as fuzzy if not fuzzier than mine. Finally and most important, IT DOESN’T MATTER! While this may have been extremely relevant over thirty years ago, it’s importance has taken a nose dive down to zero.
Throughout our lives we re-calibrate the things that we build our self-esteem around. In a young person’s world, the focus is almost exclusively on short term races. Winning, the game, getting the right answer, having the newest outfit and other activities are momentary wins that give a quick burst of self-esteem. Most are not meant to be long lasting nor remembered years later. They are the icing on the cake because most of your life is about other things.
The real substance of life is made up by those things that we do on a regular basis. The more generalized self-esteem comes from all of the little things. Those thoughts, words and actions make us either proud or disappointed in who we are as people. It is not a competition to be better than someone else but rather a verification that we are living up to our own principles. Through the years the layers of who we are can either become a cake filled with robust flavor or a turd that needs to be covered in icing to hide its true taste. These are not the only two options but reality’s limits are informed by the extremes.
So the daily choice comes down to you. Choose who it is that you want to be and take the time to deliberately define the ingredients that you’ll allow into your life. Or use any icing that you can find in order to cover up the distaste that you have for yourself. Unfortunately both work but the latter will leave you malnourished and unable to run the long race of life with anything more than fits and spurts. Everyone needs to feel good about themselves but a life made mainly of fluff will most likely not sustain.
It was an absolute revelation! Never before and not since had I ever seen a short part of a movie and instantly gone to Blockbuster to rent it (Even more difficult to do now that BB is out of business). The movie was Swingers and the scene was when Mike’s friends are trying to help him with his abilities talking to women. The scene is mildly inconsequential but the idea could be life changing.
Mike had just failed at an attempt to make conversation with a girl at a bar. He returns to his friends dejected, saying that “she didn’t like me.” His friends, Trent and Sue (a guy), explain that he’s a bigger catch than he thinks (in a much more comical way). They compare him to a bear and the girl to a bunny. Armed with this new perspective and self-image, he goes back up to the girl and is able to get her phone number. Watch the clip for the full picture.
This scene was extremely helpful from two perspectives. First, I got a clearer picture of how I was presenting myself in those situations. Second, I recognized that in those situations, the girl was not rejecting me but rather her perception of me. I could do some things to influence that perception but ultimately accepted or rejected, it was only a perception.
The only person who knows every single: thought, action and intention of yours is you. Keep that in mind at all times. Your life is going to be filled with people who will pass judgment on their perception of you, not the real you. So choose deliberately who you will and will not allow to affect your perception of yourself. It’s the most important relationship that you have, so know yourself as best as you can. Maintain a positive relationship and know yourself well enough to be able to predict your own behavior. When someone gets the wrong idea about you, consider their perspective but only let them change your perspective on you if it’s in your interest, not particularly theirs.
You’re a big bear man!
Idols are supposed to be held in high esteem, the very personification of the things that we want to be. It hit me like a lightning bolt this morning that Mr. Magoo is truly an American idol for so many people. For those youngsters out there, Mr. Magoo was a cartoon character whose poor eyesight routinely got him into precarious situations but he always escapes unscathed and sometimes falls into good fortune. Feel free to watch one Mr. Magoo cartoon on YouTube. Once you’ve seen one, you’ve basically seen them all (minus little details). The overarching idea behind Mr. Magoo is that his problem would be easily fixed if he were just to put on his glasses but he wants to deny his problem rather than face it.
Although it isn’t pretty, this seems to be a scarily accurate description of how many of us live our lives. We recognize our problem but are too damn stubborn, lazy or indifferent to do anything about it. Seemingly our greatest hope is that we can meander through life blind to our inadequacies and not have them bite us in the ass. While this makes for a mildly amusing cartoon, it is a disastrous strategy for living a life of fulfillment and progress.
Rather than turning a blind eye to your inadequacies, stare at them with crystal clear vision, even put them under a microscope if need be. Decide what you truly want: to feel good in the moment or feel good long term. If you want the Magoo life, then by all means turn the blind eye. BUT if you want more from your life, then you and you alone will need to make the decision to systematically work on your areas of weakness until they can no longer hurt you. Maybe it’s something as simple as putting on glasses but perhaps it will take years or even decades to overcome. Regardless, it’s up to you to Magoo or not.
It wasn’t a 100% binary equation. Gladiators could win, lose or “tie”. Not even all of the defeated were condemned to death. Despite these extenuating circumstances, one thing is most definitely certain, bad gladiators died. I have no desire to bring back gladiatorial games or anything of the sort but in some ways our pendulum has swung too far in the other direction.
In modern society the crowd would seemingly want every gladiator to feel like a winner. Swords would be made of foam rubber but helmets would still be worn just in case. Gladiators would be paired by skill level and the most likely death would come from boredom of the truly talented gladiators. While I am not a fan of truly “zero sum games”, there have to be stakes. Gladiators got good because they had to. Everyone knew that bad gladiators die, the gladiators knew this best.
By all accounts we do not live in a gladiatorial society nor would I truly want to. A bloodthirsty mob looking to revel in the pain of the vanquished is not where we need to go. However a world without stakes has no incentive to move forward. The same holds for an individual. What is at stake for you today? Have you set yourself up in a game where you can win, lose or tie? Or is nothing at stake today? Are you armed with your foam rubber sword hacking away at the same meaningless opponent that you fought yesterday? Bad gladiators of the past got to die quickly. Bad gladiators today die slowly while trying to reassure themselves that they would be lethal if not for this foam rubber. The price of finding out if you’re good or not is to risk the possibility of dying on the metaphorical sword. That might be embarrassment, finances, time or many other things but something needs to be at stake. So step into the arena, put something on the line and see what you’re made of!
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena!