Wednesday walkabout – October 16, 2019

I went for a hike a day early, so I will write with tired legs. I shouldn’t be too tired as I ran into an old friend hiking this weekend on a local trail. He said he was walking after minor surgery, so he could start training for a 50 mile race. Yikes! It put my three mile walk to shame.

I used to run road races, but would never be confused with a fast runner. Once, as I neared the finish line of an 8K race, a girl nudged her father at one of the turns and said “Dad, look at him!” Unfortunately, she was pointing at me. The longest road race I ever ran was a 15K. To my surprise, they put out a list of how we finished. I came in second….from last. I did notice one person who cheated cutting off part of the course, so I actually finished third from last.

I was one of the boys who grew up fast. I was 6’0″ tall in the 8th grade. But, my foot speed was slower than when I was a quick football player in the 6th grade. I did eventually get faster, but would not ever be considered fast.

To my chagrin, my high school basketball coach also coached the cross country team. So, we had to run cross country to train. The coach liked to make us run gassers at the end of a long run. Gassers are finishing off with two 880s, four 440s, and eight 220s. At night, I would sometimes wake up to leg cramps, which was not fun.

This will sound strange, but I would rather run an 880 over a 440 anyday. On the latter, you feel like it is a sprint, so you run out of gas at the end.

So, I think I will leave the running to my friend. Hiking is much more sustainable.

 

Sometimes you have to go for it

Yesterday, golfer Gary Woodland won the US Open at Pebble Beach. For non-golf fans, I will be brief on the golf part. What was most memorable, Woodland decided on a key moment to not play it safe, but be aggressive and play to win. He hit an absolutely brilliant shot that led to a birdie on a par five and put him two shots ahead of the two-time defending champion.

As a former athlete who was limited in talent to playing on high school teams, the act of “going for it,” is an act of courage. You may fall on your face, but by taking a risk, even if it is a measured one, it may make all the difference. Why does the best basketball player usually take the key final shot when the other team is expecting him to do so? Because if you don’t and fail, you may regret not going with your best.

And, as one star basketball player said, I try to take the last shot because I can handle failure better than others. That last statement is vital. Taking a risk is a lot easier if you know you can handle a negative outcome.

There is a great line from the movie “We bought a zoo,” with Matt Damon. His older brother taught him “all you need is twenty seconds of courage.” I think that is priceless advice. In the movie Damon’s character summoned the courage to speak with an enchanting woman he had never met. And, she eventually became his wife. What if we don’t take that chance?

Again, the risk need not be foolish, but sometimes it is more than OK to go for broke. A measured risk is worth the chance. Yet, we often overstate the risk and perceived embarassment of failure, when the actual risk is more measured. As I told my kids, “What if the person says no? No, is just an answer, but it at least it is one.” Without asking, you will never know if there is interest in your company, your resume, your idea, etc.?

So, find that twenty seconds of courage and go for it. The answer may be no, but at least you gave it a shot.

 

The hard work is essential

Watching the college basketball tournament during March Madness, it is the hard work that wins ballgames. As my high school coach often said, you can have a bad shooting game, but defense and rebounding can never take a day off.

This is also a metaphor for life. Hard work pays dividends, even if it does not get notoriety. In basketball, making it difficult for your opponent to score requires determination, focus and hustle. The same goes for rebounding. Holding your opponent to one shot and giving your team more than one by good rebounding, makes a huge difference.

In life, being prepared by doing your homework, anticipating questions, learning and maintaining machinery or software, planning your efforts and asking questions puts you and your team in position to succeed. As legendary golfer Gary Player once said, “I have found the more I practice, the luckier I get.”

In “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell, he notes four attributes of highly successful people or groups. They are talented or smart enough, they are given opportunity, and they recognize and seize such opportunity. The fourth one is they practice, a lot. He noted about 10,000 hours of practice as a key threshhold.

So, think of that last differentiator. Maybe your talent or smarts are average, but you can be much better if you practice. And, that takes effort and hard work. Maybe your opportunities are fewer, but I have found opportunities come to busy and capable people. If you are not busy, learn something, study and make yourself better.

Getting back to basketball, I was not the best shooter or big scorer on the team. If I led a team in scoring, we were not very good. So, I worked my fanny off on playing defense, boxing out and rebounding, and being a good passer to our better shooters. Being a good teammate and playing to your strengths are essential. In basketball, there are five people and only one ball. Play well together. The best five players don’t win; the team playing the best wins.

Work hard. Put the time in. Play to your strengths. And, be willing to pass the ball.

Fast break

With the NCAA March Madness tipping off, let me use fast break as a way to quickly comment on news items. For non-basketball fans, a fast break is an attempt to score before the defense sets up after a possession change.

– Congressman Devin Nunes is suing two Twitter accounts for making fun of his questionable and unethical actions as a Committee chair. Unfortunately, he has brought more followers to the two sites.

– There are a number of experienced and quality candidates running for the Democrat Presidential nomination. Dems need to avoid the “circular firing squad syndrome” which attack candidates’ imperfections. My suggestion is to listen to what each has to offer.

– The US President is headed to Ohio to save face by asking in person for GM not to close two plants hastened by his tariffs and not helping when asked last year. The union leader and two Ohio Senators asked ┬áthe President to help GM retool the plants to build SUVs rather than the sedans last year. Senator Sherrod Brown noted now the President is paying attention as it makes him look bad.

– The Brexit “troubles” continue, but hopefully the EU will agree to the delay. And, Parliament needs to use the time to clearly define what Brexit means versus staying with the EU, something they have not done. This needs to be thoughtful and data-driven. I would hate to see a state leave the US based on politics only to wake up to a terrible hangover.

That is all for now. I hope your bracket for the tournament is successful. Fast breaks are fun to watch and usually the team doing more of them wins.

A fix up story from my past

A few days ago I wrote a post noting “We are ALL fixer uppers.” I shared a story with my oldest son yesterday about when life knocks you down. This one now seems small, but when it happened to me as a high school senior, it hurt.

I was a varsity basketball player who started for a very good team. I was a co-Captain, but not our best player. I was the one who focused more on defense, rebounding and passing. About 1/3 of the way into the season, I was moved to the second team as we had several pretty good players.

I had two paths in front of me. I could sulk and go throw the motions. Or, I could work hard in practice to make our first team better and try to win back my position or playing time. I chose the latter – life knocked me down and I got up and tried harder.

Everyday in practice scrimmages I would set out to keep our best tall player from scoring. Playing good defense requires effort. It should be noted that our best tall player would only wash his practice jersey periodically, so extra effort was required as I had to stick my nose into a sweaty, smelly jersey as I guarded him.

In short, he got a good practice work out and the coach saw my effort rewarding me ample time as the sixth man, the first substitute. Eventually, I would start again.

I shared this with my son to let him know we all fail. I have failed at other things as well. The key is what we do about it. We can mope or we can get back up, dust ourselves off and keep going. If you do otherwise, you let yourself down. And, you might even let your teammates down.

So, my 2019 wish for everyone is if (and when) life knocks you down, ask yourself the question, “what am I going to do about it?” Then, get up, dust yourself off and keep going.

Win or lose with class

It seems too many of us have lost a sense of fairness in competition. Be it sports or politics, too many of us feel it matters less if the game was fair, as long as my tribe wins. That is unfortunate as we should strive to be like our better angels and win or lose with class.

Whether the sport is a team game or an individual competition, winning means so much more if it is done the right way. Also, if your team gives it a great shot, but falls short, how the loss is handled matters a great deal. As a participant and a fan, I have had my share of heartbreaking losses. I had to learn as a boy to be a better sport, which is a necessary lesson that a coach or parent must impart.

Sports is just a game. For fans, it is entertainment. For participants, it is a way to test yourself and earn a living, if you are very good at it. But, unlike gladiators, no one dies at the end. No one loses a close friend or mother. Yet, people place the utmost importance to their tribe. If their team wins, it elevates them above their routine lives. If their team loses, they feel less about themselves. To be frank, whether my team wins or loses makes me feel one way or the other, but it is about the outcome not my life.

Politics has become the same way, very tribal in nature. My party must win and your party must lose. Doing our business to solve real problems is less relevant than winning. I want real problems solved. I don’t want politicians appeasing funders. But, the more important tribe is the country for which these elected officials represent. That is what matters the most, yet we lose sight of that.

As a player, I have never been a fan of trash talking. It shows poorly on the talker and dishonors fair competition. I feel the same about labeling and name-calling a political opponent. It reveals a lack of character and a poor argument. In politics, it gets in the way of working together. I can assure you as an independent voter and former member of both parties, neither side has all the good ideas, and both have some pretty bad ones. In fact, the good ideas seem to be drowned out by ideas to solve overstated problems. It is essential to work together.

After 9/11, one of the more profound pieces of advice came from a professional basketball announcer named Gerry Vaillancourt. On his talk show after 9/11, the callers discussed what we must do to quickly get back at someone for the four attacks, one which was thwarted. Vaillancourt disagreed. He said we need to be very calm and diligent as we gather our information, taking the necessary time to get it right. Only then, should we act. He said our calmness will be unnerving. I think about his words as they came from an unexpected source and they ring so true. In life and in sport, you should be more wary of the quiet person.

To me, this is in keeping with treating others like you want to be treated. You do your very best to compete with fairness and, win or lose, do so with class. If you cheat or show your hind end, you will be remembered for that as well. And, one thing sports teaches us is how to handle failure. The very best baseball hitters will fail seven times out of ten. Even the best of boxers get knocked down. So, in life, when you do get knocked down, you get back up, dust yourself off and keep going.

A few quick memories of Dad

Happy Father’s Day all! I lost my Dad twelve years ago. Years of smoking did enough damage, even though he had stopped a dozen years before. Ironically, one of his best lessons was not to smoke, as any teen will tell you how could anyone do something that tastes that bad after they sneak a try?

When I think of my Dad, I think of how he loved his grandchildren. He would be the comforter and entertainer to allow us parents to have some needed time. He would invariably tend to children after a meal to let others linger over conversation.

I think of his dutiful pitching in my batting practice. He would throw a bucketful of baseballs and then we would collect them and he would throw them again. Doing that after working all day is a way he showed his devotion to his children.

I think of his company having potluck lunches at work. Dad would smoke a ham and turkey. He would get up during the night to check on the smoking process to keep the meat tender. As I recall, they would do this three or four times a year.

I think of his marvelous roast beef he grilled and terrific BBQ chicken. He would laugh when we told him the chicken did not have any wings. The chef would be sampling said wings outside before he brought the chicken in.

I think of him loving my mother. We kids would sheepishly hide our faces as they hugged and kissed in front of us. I remember the story of how my Dad fell into my Mom’s lap chasing a loose basketball when she arrived late to the college team’s game. She also accidentally pushed him in a pond at college when the Women’s Dean approached.

My Dad was a good man. He was not perfect and had a few demons in smoking and alcohol, but I remember him well. Happy Father’s Day, Dad.