It’s definitely an oversimplification but in essence there are two ways to play a game: playing to your strengths or stifling the strengths of your opponents. The beauty of this oversimplification is that it brings to light a few things. Stifling ones opponent takes the art out of the game and makes it a pragmatic results focused exercise. There is nothing particularly wrong with this. It is inherently a means to an end. However it does not inspire or capture the imagination.
I’ve written many times about the fact that sports are a metaphor for life. The question then becomes do we live with this same amount of pragmatism? How often? And why? What is a result that is worth subduing our natural talents? Perhaps I did oversimplify a bit too much because within a game it is possible to self-express and stifle. Eventually one becomes the dominant strategy though.
Make your life an inspired performance rather than stifled slog.
Six weeks…..That’s all she was. This was not part of the plan. Or the standard operating procedure. It was fear, anxiety and an entire host of emotions that coalesced into waves that could not be stopped but also could not be indulged. The fever had spiked for no apparent reason. And we, as new parents to a peanut of a little girl, took her to the hospital without delay. After a few attempts to lower her fever were unsuccessful, the doctors asked which one of us was going to stay with her. My wife had to leave. It was written on her face. I had to stay. Not because I wanted to and not for some macho reason that “I can handle anything.” I had to stay because my daughter would not be in a room of strangers as she had a spinal tap. My right hand clasped her little legs and feet. Under her head went my left palm. Gently but deliberately I folded her legs above her head, so the doctor could insert the needle into her back. Never before or since have I been so aware of my every motion and trying to subdue even my heartbeat as much as possible. The fever broke the next day and the spinal tap came back clear.
There are times when we get to choose to be a leader. Other times, leadership is thrust upon us. When we sign up for roles like coach, spouse, parent, teacher, etc., we tend to imagine the circumstances that we’ll face in terms of best case scenarios. Events that we not only can deal with, but that we want to. Life does not let the best case scenarios last for very long. At that point we must choose who we are going to be and the example that we set for those around us. It is our choices that define who we are.
One of my favorite comparisons to make is between Darth Vader and Teddy Roosevelt. They have something crucial in common. Both lost their mother and wife tragically. Roosevelt’s wife and mother actually died less than twenty-four hours apart. One chose to become the evil henchman to a diabolical tyrant. The other chose to become one of our greatest presidents.
Leadership is a choice that we make. Over and over again, we are confronted with circumstances. Our choices define us and the example that we set for others which is the strongest way to lead. Every single one of us is a leader, even if we are only leading ourselves.
“Regret is momentary pain made permanent through inaction.” I first wrote that as part of a post called “The Fearometer“. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the momentary decisions that we make and how they carry forward. Decisions are forks in the road that take us in a particular direction. While some decisions only make us veer slightly one way or the other, it’s possible to take abrupt turns or even turn fully around. Without a GPS, it can be easy to get lost with so many possibilities. So more than anything, it is important to know where you want to end up.
Many of us (including me) spend our days in almost constant avoidance of momentary “pain.” This is a great strategy UNTIL it’s not. Each of us has a myriad of destinations in front of us. Would we choose the path that is leading to the most physical, mental or emotional pain? Or would we choose long term physical, mental and emotional comfort? My guess is that the choice is pretty obvious. However our momentary decisions may be cutting us off from that possibility. Avoiding that exercise program or food decision is leading you down a path that will be painful in the long run. Unfortunately we are not programmed to think that far ahead. We are set up to think about the here and now.
So it is on you to break from your programming in order to avoid that eventual pain that is on the horizon. Cancer, loneliness, heart disease, divorce, alcoholism, obesity, addiction or any other destination that you’d rather not visit. This is not my call for a return of the straight-edge movement. It’s simply a recognition of the fact that we carry these momentary decisions with us, especially when they become consistent. Regret is momentary pain made permanent through inaction. Decide who your future self is going to be. Then work your way backwards to the decisions of today. People usually know the right thing to do. However they have difficulty short circuiting the emotion of the moment. Put the power in the plan rather than the moment!
As children we have a sense of misplaced optimism, we believe that we can do anything. Unfortunately as we grow, that overblown optimism is not tempered into realism. Usually it is downgraded into a form of protective pessimism. Either we overtly believe that we “can’t” do things or avoid trying the new and difficult due to judgement. The court of public opinion has a reputation for being harsh against people who are less than perfect.
This pessimistic viewpoint leads to adolescents and teenagers who believe that they can’t. Whether it is a lack of skill, nerve, smarts, money or anything else; falling short is not something to be endured. My message is very straightforward and clear.
Don’t assume that you’re weak just because you haven’t found your strength yet. The safe path of anonymity holds no prizes at its end. Every single one of us had dreams of being an astronaut, cowboy, movie star or a million other things. Some dreams deserve to die, no doubt. It shouldn’t be the ones that we wanted but were too afraid to breath life into them.
Most likely it’s not too late! Pound on the chest of that dream! Blow air into its lungs! Get out the AED paddles and clear everyone away! Every moment that you delay, the less chance that you’ll have to revive it. Unfortunately you can’t expect a miraculous recovery, it will take time and persistence. You might be breathing life into this thing for years. Or you can let it die a quiet death because you labeled yourself too weak to save it.
You can do it or you can’t! More than anything that’s up to you!
Although I’ve been a teacher for almost two decades, I’m not a huge believer in many of the standard operating procedures that we associate with school. We live in a world with rules and norms that are very different from the ones that we learn in school. This is not an indictment of the education system. There is still a reason for the system to exist and although it could be improved, we don’t seem to be able to agree on how to pivot. My point is actually on a much more personal level. For each and every one of us, the test is never tomorrow. It’s right now.
In school we are usually moving toward some form of informational crescendo where we will have a quiz, test or exam. Eventually we amass enough of these to warrant a graduation or certification. The documents that we accept are a proof of past knowledge. Passing a test on the War of 1812 would be pretty tough at the moment. However we’ve accepted this system to give ourselves titles of high school graduate, bachelor, or PHD. No matter whether we passed with flying colors or barely scraped by, we still hold the title. It is part of our identity and helps to form beliefs about who we are.
Each and every one of us has a variety of identities that we would use to classify ourselves. I’m a father, husband, teacher, coach, blogger, author, speaker, uncle, etc. Depending on the moment, I could be filling any one of those roles. Let’s dissect this, starting from the base and working our way up.
When I am being a coach, it’s possible that I’m 100% ignoring my role as an uncle. Does that mean that I’m a horrible uncle? No, just like in school, it’s possible to take multiple classes in order to be “well rounded” while majoring in other things. If I only had one role for myself, that role would get boring quickly.
Following along from the point above. Even though diversification of roles is important to stave off boredom, your attitude toward each role is going to usually determine your success more than your aptitude. A soccer player who pours his/her heart and soul into training and matches will often get farther than a similar level one who sees it as drudgery. (Another reason to revamp school)
The next step up is that very few of the tests in life are going to be based on extremely predictable information that we are just regurgitating from past situations. We need to interpret new circumstances and apply past knowledge while adapting with changes. It’s almost never multiple choice. Usually it’s multiple intertwined problems that we’ve never seen before and people are watching while we work.
Life’s tests are almost always “pop quizzes.” You’re rarely going to know when they are coming up. They are almost never representations of our cumulative knowledge in an area. Little combinations of information and skill are needed to navigate situations. There is almost no way to predict what tests are coming your way and what will be on them. There is no curve and often, you’ll never truly know if you passed or failed.
Life is less like school and more like juggling. You don’t pass or win at juggling. Invariably everything is going to fall down at some point. Some objects that you are trying to keep up will be more fragile or heavy. The only way to get better at juggling is to juggle, to chance the missteps and off balance situations. The performance and the practice are the same exact thing except one has an audience. Ultimately many of the variables can be changed but you are the constant. If you drop everything, it’s on you to pick up the pieces and start again. A teacher can tell you how to be a better juggler but it’s on you to make the throws.
This long post really only has one point. Now and you are all that you have. If you’re not ready for the tests/pins/bowling balls that life is throwing at you, then you need to use this moment to practice for the next time. Don’t expect it to be easy or that you’ll get extra time or extra help. If they come, great but they’re not a given, this isn’t school!
Quotes like this captivate our imagination because they simplify things to a singular thought. LIFE (and especially your life) is much more nuanced and complicated. Sayings like this are easy to put on posters and Instagram posts but much more difficult to live up to, especially when they are not true. In this case, the truth is that winners quit things all the time. Winners quit making excuses! Winners quit holding low standards for themselves! Winner quit doing unimportant things! Yes! This more nuanced approach is less evident and harder to put on a poster. However it is definitely more powerful. No longer is an average person like you or me under the pressure of “NEVER.”
“Knowledge is power!” is the next lie that I’d like to unpack. Knowledge is not power. It is is only potential power. Knowledge without action is like gasoline without a flame. It has the potential to make a big explosion but is inert on its own. The person with the knowledge must do something with it in order to extract its power. The equation for power is work over time. No doubt that in the real world, knowledge can reduce the time and the work in order to make that equation more powerful. Knowledge is something but it’s far from the only thing. Many people scour books and the internet for all the knowledge that they can find but their inaction keeps them stagnant.
So as you encounter these sayings, dig a little deeper because under the surface is all of the value. Think it through and make it apply to you. Grandiose is often not practical. We all need tools that we can use, not just sayings that look good next to the picture of a famous person. Life is supposed to be meaningful, not just quotable!
This morning I was honored to be able to speak at the memorial service for my former college professor. Most professors are people that you know for a semester or two, then they are out of your life. My relationship with Dr. Knowles spanned twenty-five years. He spoke at my wedding. His mentoring and teaching lasted long after our classes together were done.
If I look back on my life since I met him, I am awestruck by the direct impact that he has had on major decisions, beliefs and mindsets that I have. While I was his student, long conversations about academics, life and everything in between were a constant. One of the great loves of his life was the story of Don Quijote. Regardless the subject, he could find a way to work the Quijote into the conversation. His generosity allowed me to study in Ecuador for a winter semester when I could not afford it. After he retired, my yearly visits to his home in North Carolina became a mental litmus test for me to figure out whether or not I was progressing. He never really gave much input into my personal life. It was the feeling of telling him what I was doing. The sensation that I had as I described my life to someone that I respected was the input that I needed. As distance, children and life made our visits less frequent, we talked on the phone, through email or letters. About a year ago, I got the sense that I did not have much time left with my mentor. So I pushed for us to get together but life got in the way. So I was too late.
After a day of spending time with his family and friends, it was obvious that he had a similar effect on everyone that he touched. This man, who loved the story of a knight who saw the world differently, had helped so many people experience the world differently through his association. On the drive home, it hit me. We are all fighting windmills!
In probably his most famous adventure, Don Quijote sees windmills in the distance. Through his adventure focused mind, he thinks that they are giants flailing their arms. He attacks and gets himself caught in the mill’s sail. In the end he is turned upside down in a heap with his squire explaining the error of his ways to him. The undeterred Quijote tells his squire that a wizard had changed the giants to windmills.
The modern human condition in many parts of the world is all about making giants out of windmills. Once a person has enough food to eat, water to drink and shelter from danger; humans create the scenarios to make their lives meaningful. All that Don Quijote did was take an existence that was extremely normal and turned it into something spectacular because he chose to see the world differently. At a certain point we all make decisions about the world that we live in. It can be a world full of wonderful adventures to be shared with other distinguished people on their own personal quest. Or it can be filled with the mundane elements that seem more and more drab as they continuously repeat through the years.
The question is not whether or not we are fighting windmills. The windmills are all around us waiting to be fought. Almost every task in this world could be characterized as foolish when put in the proper context. So it is not whether we do it, it is how that we do it. We have a choice every day, which windmills will we focus on and how fervently we will fight. I was so extremely fortunate that Dr. Knowles chose to fight the battle of educating young minds with a joy and passion that it was infectious. At all times, the possibility existed that he was going to be ridiculed and branded a fool for his constant belief in the abilities of young people but I’m glad to say that his campaign was a success. A life well lived, finding and fighting windmills that most other people never saw. Don Juan Canoles, you will missed!
At a certain point too much of something becomes its opposite. The drug that could save your life becomes poison. Too much time and attention from a significant other, no longer feels warm and fuzzy, it feels weird and creepy. The key to keeping this from happening is to keep from overdosing on something. At the moment, if I’m being honest, I’m LIKED out.
Growing up in the ’80s and the “Valley Girl” movement, you would have thought that it would have happened earlier. However it is only recently that the word like has become so pervasive that it feels like its opposite. No longer do I want to ‘like’ anything because it feels meaningless, a throw away compliment because it’s time to move onto the next thing. Perhaps it is time to dismiss the notion of ‘liking’ every thing that you like and only ‘like’ the things that you love. By putting this plan into action, it reduces the number of ‘likes’ to go around. Only the truly special will be donned with this moniker.
In life our most precious resource is our time. If all we do is like the time that we spend on this earth, then maybe we should hold out for more loves rather than drowning in likes. They might take some more effort to find but at least everything won’t feel like different flavors of vanilla.
It has been said many times that soccer is a “religion”. While this may be taken as an exaggeration or possibly a slight against religion, there is reason to take the claim with a certain amount of seriousness. Although the sport does not call for the fealty to a superhuman controlling power, it could be considered a form of faith and worship. Routinely throughout the year, people flock by the thousands to sport cathedrals to have their faith tested by the team of their choosing. Much like a religion, an individual must decide to keep believing in the face of conflict. Although the teams, managers and players are the facilitators, it is actually the mass’s belief in the sport itself that makes it most like a religion.
The belief structure of soccer is not something that is written in a holy book but there are some universals that are worth mentioning as they relate heavily to life.
You’re never fully in control. Although the ball can be “possessed” by anyone on the field, that possession is tenuous at best. Even the goalkeeper has a time limit on their ability to hold the ball.
Progress and protection must be balanced. Even the most forward thinking teams recognize the need for a form of balance. Those who do not recognize the need for balance pay the price eventually.
No one can stand alone. Even the best players in history needed a supporting cast in order to be successful. Much like life, the individual is part of a larger whole and therefore is dependent on others.
There are many ways to meet your aims. Style of play, formations, personnel and other components are merely ingredients to an eventual product. The path does not always follow the plan or the map but actually doing is the key.
The tools may be finite but the possibilities are infinite. Each player has a finite number of tools to use but their ability to respond to the situation with those tools is what brings people back repeatedly.
These are not commandments or any form of religious doctrine but rather a few ideas that are inherent to the game. It is because of these ideas and many more that the game of soccer is so universally beloved. It mirrors life in so many ways that the people who love it may not even realize the overlaps. The game encapsulates in ninety minutes (or thereabouts) the struggle of what it means to be alive. Collectively and individually we are all caught in a struggle and the game is an available guidepost to help us along the road.