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.
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.
Despite being a 41 year old man, I really like the Harry Potter movies and watch them regularly. My wife would say that it’s because of Emma Watson but that’s not quite the truth. The story itself is what draws me in. It’s a pretty classic story of good vs. evil with enough twists and turns to make it unique. I’m also very interested in young people and how they learn to find their way through the world. Obviously completely fictitious but in parallel to the real world, one major failing of Hogwarts is to maintain a consistent Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. In that world, the imminent danger of Voldemort made that post important. In our much less magical world, the danger does not come from a completely evil dark lord but rather other young people trying to find their way in the world.
Just prior to sitting down to write, I was watching the Today Show and their guests were the parents of the twelve year old girl who killed herself in Rockaway, NJ. With an eleven year old son and many young people in my life, I truly feel for these parents as they’ve gone through the worst pain that a parent can bear. That story is not fiction and no matter the result of the lawsuit, it will not end completely happily.
I do not believe that social media is inherently bad or evil. It does create a loosely guarded gateway for evils to be perpetrated. While most of the focus is on stopping cyber-bulling and the perpetrators, I’d suggest that young (and older) people need to learn how to defend themselves against the dark arts of bullying. Let me say here, I am not condoning bullying in any way shape or form. Schools and organizations need to respond to these types of actions. Unfortunately the adults in a child’s life can only protect them so much. At a certain point, a child (or adult) is going to need to know how to protect themselves; not just from bullies but from friends, strangers, rejection, failure and loss. Knowing how to cope with and defeat these “dark arts” is crucial but rarely taught or even discussed. The two best Defence Against the Dark Arts teachers were Remus Lupin and Harry himself. Both were effective because they were practical in their approach. They did not deny that their students might face dark times like Dolores Umbridge. The beauty of the Order of the Phoenix is that students organize in order to protect themselves because they know that danger is out there.
In the real world, young people are increasingly living their lives in a virtual world where the perceived becomes as important or more important than the real. So they are fighting in a world of perception when they are still learning how to perceive themselves. If you know of someone who is struggling to manage the world, here are some starting points:
- Keep your phone/iPad/etc. in another room while you sleep.
- Do not log onto your device of choice for the first 30 minutes of your day.
- During that 30 minutes, take about 15 to do the following:
- Write down or think of people, things, experiences that you’re grateful for.
- Write down or think of the positive things that you’d like to have happen today (things that depend more on you than other people)
- Write down or think of the person you want to be in the future. Don’t get caught up in the space between where you are and where you want to be. Allow yourself to be in the future.
- After you’ve made these first 3 a habit, add in some form of body movement. Enough to get your blood pumping above a resting rate.
The point behind all of these items is to focus your mind on the things that matter most to you before it gets distracted by the desires of others. Decide what it is that you want out of your life/day before anyone else gets to add their input. If you need a helping hand, my email address is email@example.com.
Have a great day people!
The thought of school being like prison is not a new one. I’m sure that most students have thought it or said it at one point. It’s an easy enough correlation to make: brick walls, questionable food, time to be served and other ne’er do wells in the same boat. Although I’ve visited a prison before, most of my frame of reference comes from books and movies. The most prevalent being The Shawshank Redemption. While this book/movie is completely fictitious, conceived in the mind of Stephen King, there is value in the exercise of comparing the fiction to the reality.
Most prisoners in the story are simply waiting out the term of their sentence. Like the character Brooks in the movie, they wait for many years and then are utterly lost when they are released. This is not unlike many high school students. Their years in captivity are spent waiting for their time to be up but not fully conceiving what they might do with their freedom.
The one outlier in Shawshank Prison is Andy Dufresne. A former banker that does not endure his time in the prison but uses it. Although his sentence is life, he always has an idea of what he’ll do with his life when he gets out. Slowly and methodically he uses time as his ally to dig his way out of prison and to his desired future. While this makes for a good movie, it is just fiction, isn’t it? A quick read of the story of a young Bill Gates shows a great example of art imitating life imitating art.
Prison is a place where a person is confined. It is possible to be in physical prison and be free mentally. The much more common situation seems to be people that are physically free but mentally imprisoned. They are shackled to self-limiting thoughts and habitual attitudes that keep them from living freely. If you feel like you’re in prison, take a look around and try to find the warden. There really isn’t one. Just systems that can be endured or used to improve your station when you’re done with your time. Don’t let a situation that you don’t like turn your life into one that you don’t like. The only one who can give permission for your mind to be a prison is you.
Be free today!
It’s official! The paperwork just came in from the state and my son’s name is officially Lionel Messi! I fully anticipate that his goal total will skyrocket in the coming seasons. If you’ve not screamed “You’re an idiot!” yet, you’ve at least thought it. I felt stupid just typing it! A name is not particularly an indicator of quality, it’s a way to differentiate one person from millions of other similar people. This truth is so easy to realize when talking about a person’s talent. Then why do so many people trap themselves into the soccer club name game? Like soccer, the answer is simple but at the same time complex. Perception helps us form our reality.
In college, I worked at a beer and wine store. On the beer side of the store, I got very few questions. Occasionally someone would ask about a new micro-brew but generally people knew what they were looking for. The Coors guy would rarely change things up and would walk in grab a case, pay and walk out. On the wine side of the store, there were much more questions and a posturing of perception. If a wine was highlighted in the “Wine Spectator” magazine, we were likely to sell out of it especially if it was priced under $30. Most of the people looking for the popular wine. Even if they had never tasted it and often it wasn’t even their favorite varietal. They had been sold on a perception not their own reality. Being seen as a person who knew about wine was much more important than getting what they wanted in a wine.
At the moment in the soccer world, we’re going through a similar perception economy. Names are just a part of the equation that includes trainers, sponsors, equipment, etc. The name is just the asset with no inherent value other than perception. It’s a longstanding joke with a coach friend of mine that we are going to start a club with all of the standard soccer club cliches of quality. My most recent version is “Select Elite Academy Soccer International Club Kickers” or S.E.A.S.I.C.K. for short. I’m sure that the players of SEASICK would be bursting with pride in the fact that they were playing for an “elite academy”, though they might be neither. Since they tried out, that would make it “select”. Although they might be confused by the “international” tag but I’m sure we’d find an English or Dutch trainer to squelch that thought. Finally I’m sure that they would have preferred to be an FC but let’s face it, you can’t fight the draw of a good acronym! Again I’m being ridiculous but not inaccurate.
The youth soccer world is based heavily on perception but with more real consequences than my wine example. This is not a mistake of serving chardonnay with steak (which is actually fine if that’s what you like). It’s a mistake of hanging children’s self-worth on a false status. It may not be prudent to invest a child’s one non-renewable resource (time) into a pursuit of athletic “excellence” rather than personal development. Does an “elite” soccer player translate this time and financial commitment into love from his/her parents? Do they have the tight bonds of friendship on their elite team that they have with kids from their school? Are the elite coaches also elite role models of how to be a good person? If these questions were all asked and well considered before the tryout, then stay the course. However my fear is that many people have blinders on with a very narrow view of the course that they are putting their children on. By age 25, most people’s playing careers are over but their lives are not yet close to half done. Will memories of warm-up jackets embroidered with half true adjectives be enough to sustain them through their adult life? Or are the actions, relationships and mentors of the individual the true creators of great memories?
Eventually the packaging fades away and the true substance of what’s been sold shines through. Go in with an idea of what you really want and see past the packaging. The world is filled with people who will sell you something for their own benefit rather than yours. Not everyone is elite but anyone can receive the gifts that the game has to offer without a price tag.
As usual Rocky has a good take on the subject.
I have a very clear recollection of the day that I passed the test that told me that I was ready to be a father. I was on the bottom floor of my in-laws’ house on a lake in Virginia. A strange sound came from outside that I didn’t recognize. A few seconds later my wife screamed my name. It was the kind of scream that I knew something was wrong. I jumped up and sprinted out the door. When I reached my wife on the deck outside, I quickly found out the source of the sound and why she screamed. Our dog, Kelme, was pinned down by another dog that was attacking him. The two dogs were about ten feet below the deck on the rocks that sloped down toward the lake. Without a moment’s hesitation, I jumped over the deck’s railing and dropped the ten feet landing next to the two dogs. Luckily my sudden appearance and loud shouts were enough to scare the dog off without my having to fight him. I picked up Kelme and raced him to the vet with my wife. His wounds were very minor and he made a full and energetic recovery. It was after that incident that I knew for sure that I could be a father.
Not everyone gets that type of real life test that tells them something important about themselves. Generally people have to take a leap of faith that they can handle the situation. The phrase there is not unimportant, “leap”. I can’t say for certain whether I would have gotten the same type of self-assurance from that situation had I run down the stairs to Kelme’s aid. The jump was important because it separated me completely from safety and put me directly into harm’s way: both from the rocks and the dog. The willingness to take the risk of the leap was key. Lives don’t need to be at stake. Broken limbs and dog attacks don’t need to be risked.
The keys to any endeavor of creation: child, book, movie, relationship, song, poem, etc. are the leap and the foregoing of self. Neither is particularly easy to do. Leaping requires a detachment from the stability of the known world for something much more uncertain. Putting something else before ourselves is also an exercise in chance. With both, fear is a major opposing force. While fear is an emotion that is intended to protect us from pain, it is often the force that keeps us from living fully. A full life is one that requires creation and therefore risk. There are no diplomas, courses or tests that can prepare you to live fully. It is something that needs to be done on the fly everyday with consistent action. The act of leaping may never become completely comfortable but it may just become completely worth it.
The trilogy is not truly the king of cinema but rather stack-able stories. There’s no magical power to the number three. The key component to the greatest movie series is the way that the stories fit together and one movie can be catapulted based on the strengths of its predecessor. While I’m a huge movie fan and have been since my childhood, there is something that’s missing from the great movies that are being released today. Kids aren’t stacking them into their own lives.
Han Solo was my guy from about 4 until 10 years old. In the VHS culture of the day, my brothers and I would watch Star Wars and then play Star Wars for hours afterward. I was Han Solo for hours on end and it gave me a chance to wear his overconfident skin for a while. His character was stacked onto my personality for a bit and I’m sure that some of it stuck. After Han, there was Rocky Balboa. I never climbed in a ring or drank a cup of raw eggs but I got up at 6 am religiously and ran. Training for events or just life became part of my stroy.
While I think that the present day movie technology puts the 70s and 80s to shame, the greater shame is that since Iron Man’s mask is so readily available in the store, kids don’t need to wear his skin. Everything is prepackaged and fabricated to perfection so much that a young person is always separated from their heroes by a layer of plastic that none of the residue rubs off.
The human race has reached its place in the world through the stories that we tell ourselves. Thousands of years ago it started with a group of cavemen believing that they could collectively beat a saber tooth. Then a man told himself that steam could move machines. Now children are being told the most elaborate stories of all time but they are not stacking them like they used to. The story is a ceiling rather than a staircase. So if you are young or have contact with young people, stack those stories and attach them to your soul or the soul of someone else. It’s not just entertainment. It’s ENTERtrainMENT. A new world you can enter to train your mental image of yourself. So if you go out to the movies, be sure to go out afterwards and wear something new.
The story of Superman becomes very boring without Kryptonite. A man who is super strong, fast, invulnerable, can fly and shoots lasers from his eyes is not a compelling story. His abilities make him unbeatable. So defeating evil-doers is not a matter of ability, it’s a matter of time. Without Kryptonite, Superman’s story becomes one of an interplanetary janitor who is here to clean up our biggest societal messes. A completely infallible hero is difficult to sell but exposing his Achilles heel makes him a star.
The recognition of Kryptonite as the fuel that drives the story of Superman is not just comic book pontificating. It is the realization of exactly what makes our own lives worth living. Our Kryptonite is death. It may seem like the enemy but it is the thing that makes the moments of our lives matter. Without death, time is an inexhaustible currency that has no value to us personally. Frittering away minutes, hours or even years would be meaningless to the person who will live forever. The intrigue is gone because there is nothing at stake. This is great news!
The time that you do have is a gift. It has value to both you and the people that you touch throughout your life. Don’t become crippled by the fact that you will die some day. Be empowered by the fuel that it can give you to live with purpose and passion. Your existence is only a drop in the ocean of eternity. Make that drop count! The fact that your Kryptonite is out there somewhere in the future makes you both: powerful and meaningful. You’ve got one shot at this . Go for it!
Have a SUPER day! (Yes! That was cheesy! But what the hell!)
One of the best movies from a pure story standpoint that I’ve seen is “The Usual Suspects”. The film takes you on a ride where you’re continuously led down paths for particular reasons. A main reason for the perplexing nature of the film is the doubt surrounding the myth of Keyser Söze. For those unfamiliar with the film, Keyser Söze is a purported crime boss who controls the sale of drugs, weapons, etc. from the shadows of anonymity. At one point he is portrayed as a “spook story” that thieves tell their children, “Rat on your Pop and Keyser Söze will come get you.”
Personally I never heard that version of spook story when I was a kid but I can see its usefulness to some people. The fairy tales and legends that we are told as children vary greatly depending on the desired outcome from our upbringing. Aspirational and cautionary tales alike are used to push the child in particular directions. Keep on trying courtesy of “The Little Engine that Could”. Be prepared by “The Three Little Pigs”. Don’t be sexually promiscuous by “Little Red Riding Hood” (Didn’t know until I talked to a German teacher). These stories were all fashioned to get a result.
The thing about all of these stories is that they are made up. Complete fabrications from the imagination of someone long ago. They’ve been changed, updated, amended, forgotten and remembered. The reason that they still exist is that they were effective through the years. “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” got me to stop going to the nurse’s office every day in 3rd grade. So since stories are effective if they’re told enough and have the desired message, what is the story that you tell yourself about yourself? The Myth of Keyser Söze was that he was an almost superhuman figure who was powerful and ruthless. Before that story could be spread, he had to at least partially tell it to himself.
Now it is your turn. Tell the story of you to yourself. Adapt it, amend it, change it to fit your needs. The endpoint that you desire to have should be attained through some form of work mixed with an optimistic attitude to never give up. The story is out there in the realm of possibility. Now you just need to write it, tell it and live it.
Tell your story!