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.
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.
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.
Seinfeld is one of my favorite TV shows of all time. It has so many memorable episodes and characters. Despite my love for the series, I’m not a huge fan of the early episodes. Many of the episodes, I just don’t find funny at all or they feel forced. This is not surprising in the slightest. It took those early episodes in order to get to the later ones. Early failures lead to better episodes later. A few of the story-lines were even repeated with better effect the second time around. The early episodes of Seinfeld were not a good indication of where the series was going.
Despite all of the examples of enduring early hardship, there is still a pervasive desire for instantaneous results. People want to be hit right away, if not sooner. The perception of overnight success is usually due to the glossing over of the hard work done before the big break. Sylvester Stallone was a breakout start with Rocky! After he was a starving actor who had to deny a big pay day in order to star in his own movie. J.K. Rowling had the blockbuster Harry Potter book series followed by movies. After she was on welfare and had her book rejected by many publishers. Most of us are looking for the triumph without the trials. It seems that it doesn’t usually work that way.
The road to success in anything will most likely be filled with potholes, detours and poorly constructed bridges. The sports car or limo that you’ve imagined yourself arriving in will probably not make the trip. In fact you’ll probably have to go most of the way on foot. Are you willing to make that trip? Or will you take the easy road to Nowhere Near Where You Want To Be? It sounds like a town that many people live in while they dream about being someplace else.
Get on the road today!
About a year ago, I was having a discussion with a friend and she said she had hit “bock-rottom”. It was a moment of mental dyslexia. I really liked the word but wasn’t sure what it should mean. This morning on my run it became obvious what bock-rottom was. Rock-bottom is the place lowest point that a person can hit. “Hitting bock-rottom” is the act of hitting your lowest point, bouncing up and hitting the lowest point again. It is so disorienting that it mixes up the letters.
Negative circumstances can be so discouraging that they thwart positive action. Even worse is the discouragement of getting up from poor circumstances only to be knocked down again. Look at that word again “discourage”. Break it apart “dis-courage”. The situation has taken away courage. The thing is that courage is not created by circumstance, courage is created by people, INSIDE. It is a choice to be courageous and one that can be made at any time. Even in the worst of circumstances, courage is possible but are you really at bock-rottom?
If you’re reading this blog, chances are that you’re not at bock-rottom. You’re most likely in the “pit of perception”. You’ve made the hole that you’re in seem deeper inside your head. Or you have a negative situation but you’re ignoring all of the positives that are working in your favor. If you’re reading this, you have advantages that you’re probably ignoring because you’re focused on how bad it is. You can read, you have internet access, you probably live in the US (but a shout out to my friends in India & Brazil), you have a mind that is searching for answers. These are all advantages that can be used as weapons in the battle with your poor circumstances. Complaining, whining and sulking are not going to help you. Depression is not a strategy! It’s an emotional state. Just like a hole, you can climb out of it.
So take a moment to see where you are, since most of us are not truly at bock-rottom. We’re in a bad spot that we need to get out of. The fight is yours to make. Is there any value in giving up? Don’t surrender to circumstances. Make your circumstances! Here’s the theatrical version!
Make today a better day!
This photo was taken on January 18th 2015 at approximately 7:15am. If you don’t recognize the location, this is the top of the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art affectionately known as the “Rocky Steps”. The relevance of the time and the date is that it was lightly raining that morning but the temperature dropped suddenly and the steps became extremely slick. About thirty seconds after I took this photo, I started my descent, slipped and fell on the steps. My upper back and pelvis both hit the points of two steps. I lay there on my back for a moment with no air in my lungs trying to decide just how hurt I was. Thirty seconds after standing on a spot of personal inspiration, I was on my back wondering if I could get up.
After peeling myself off the ground and determining that I was battered but not broken, I slowly worked my way back to my hotel. As I walked, I thought of how close I could have been to real injury. The “what if” question ran through my mind several times when finally, my thoughts rested on George Lucas. His fate was changed by a near fatal car accident. It changed his entire perspective on his life and what he was doing. Many people have near death experiences that change their lives forever.
The key to the near death experience is that it reminds us how temporary life is. We often forget for long stretches of time that in essence we’re dying. The number of tomorrows that we will get is limited. So today’s value is enhanced because we got so close to not having a tomorrow.
Rather than waiting for that experience to come, shouldn’t we just choose it instead. Choosing a life that recognizes how close death could be. What if your actions of today were what determined whether or not you got a tomorrow? How would you live? Would you have any doubts about the things that were priorities? It all becomes clear when tomorrow isn’t a guarantee.