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.

 

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A lot of stress balls are needed

Dr. Tara Narula on CBS Morning News cited a statistic today from Workforce Initiative that 64% of people feel stressed at work. In an earlier survey, the American Psychological Association noted the following about stress:

“63% – The percentage of Americans who say the future of the nation is a significant source of stress. That’s higher than the percentage who are stressed about money (62 percent), work (61 percent), or violence and crime (51 percent).”

We are a stressed out nation. I actually think these numbers understate the extensiveness of stress, it just may be some folks have been able to put lids on the simmering pots.

I believe stress levels have increased by the divisiveness in our country and a highly contentious president where too many things become issues, when they need not be. He did not create division, but he exploits and perpetuates it on a regular basis. He truly wears me out.

So, what can we do about it? First, we need to disconnect more from our social and work media. On the latter, companies like you working off the clock on their behalf. If you cannot quit cold turkey, manage your activity in set pockets of time. As I told a colleague, it does not impress me that you sent an email at 10:30 pm. Disconnect and take some down time.

As for social media, please recognize when you look at Facebook, Instagram, etc., you are seeing the Sunday dressed version of a person’s life. They tend to post the polished versions of what is happening. They tend not to share the warts that they hide from the public. I recognize some folks over share, but I don’t want to be that aware of another’s life, as you may overreact when it is not wanted or needed.

Second, we need to better govern our news sources. I am guilty of this, but need reduce the hours of watching and reading and focus on reputable sources. I do focus on better sources, but often over-indulge. Watching so-called experts shout at each other is not news. Watch shows that let people talk civilly. Watching night time talk show hosts or high-volume online hosts is not news, it is opinion disguised as news. And, read and watch news that state when they get it wrong.

Third, here are two additional rules of thumb. Be careful of getting news from public figures. Before 24×7 segmented news sources, politicians used to campaign off rhetoric and govern off facts. Now, far too many govern off rhetoric. And, take anything the president says or tweets with a grain of salt. Not only is he noted to be very untruthful by several data sources and former associates, he self-professes a preference not to study issues, bragging on his gut instinct. So, he is not a very good source of news.

Fourth, find healthy, sustainable outlets for stress management and avoidance. The word sustainable is as important as healthy. We are creatures of habits, so we should replace a stress causing habit with a stress reducing one. Doing a walk, jog, yoga, pilates, workout or meditation need not be too time intrusive to help. Or, it could be reading a book or magazine or watching a favorite show.

Stress abounds and there are not enough stress balls. But, before we succumb to that stress, remember the words of advice from Mister Rogers – you do not have to be sensational to be loved.

The catcher was a spy

I caught a movie on Showtime whose title intrigued me, “The catcher was a spy.” The movie is based on tne true story of a major league catcher named Moe Berg who played for the Boston Red Sox before World War II. While an average pro, he became an exceptional spy for the OSS, the precursor to the CIA.

His path to being a spy is not so strange, as Berg was also a professor of history who spoke seven languages, four of them fluently. Since three of those languages were German, Italian and French, he became a rather useful spy. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for confirming the Nazis were not as close to developing a nuclear bomb as the US was. It is still debated whether the lead physicist Werner Heisenberg was purposefully moving slowly or it was a resource issue.

Berg is played believably by Paul Rudd. Mark Strong does justice to Heisenberg. The movie has other high caliber actiors: Jeff Daniels. Sienna Miller, Tom Wilkinson, Paul Giamatti, Guy Pearce, Giancarlo Giannini, Hitoyuki Sanada and Connie Nielson.

If you get a chance to see this excellent movie, please take it. For those who don’t like baseball, don’t worry as it is very light on that part of his career. It is also seasoned by the relationship between Berg and his girl friend Estella Huni, played by Miller. Berg is a close-to-the-vest person, so he is not sufficiently effusive for a relationshlp, yet he does have a depth of feeling.

What is amazing is how Berg’s story is not better known. Yes, he was a spy, but a major league catcher and honored spy? To make him even more mysterious, he did not accept the medal.

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Note, the movie is directed by Ben Lewin and is based on a novel of the same name by Nicholas Dawidoff. Robert Rodat wrote the screenplay. I enjoyed the movies better than the critics. I think it is do to the movie focusing on the complex person Berg was, rather than overplaying his heroics,

 

Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters

I have always appreciated when excellent word smithing matches up with equally marvelous music. And, the pairing need not come from one person, as Elton John and Bernie Taupin demonstrated time and again.

One of their clever songs came off John’s 1972 “Honky Cat” album. “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” is John’s matching Taupin’s direct lyrics about a time in New York City, when it was less safe than it is today. The story is Taupin heard a gun shot outside his hotel room and penned a song to reflect his angst. John wrote sad, but reminiscent music which he sings so well.

Here is the middle portion of the song including its famous chorus.

“This Broadway’s got
It’s got a lot of songs to sing
If I knew the tunes I might join in
I’ll go my way alone
Grow my own, my own seeds shall be sown, in New York City

Subway’s no way for a good man to go down
Rich man can ride and the hobo he can drown
And I thank the Lord for the people I have found
I thank the Lord for the people I have found

While Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters
Sons of bankers, sons of lawyers
Turn around and say good morning to the night
For unless they see the sky
But they can’t and that is why
They know not if it’s dark outside or light”

Several references stand out. The commuters of all persuasions not knowing if it is dark or light. While they may have Mona Lisa painted smiles or the hypertension of a Mad Hatter, they do feel safety in numbers or in a cadre of friends who serve as a port in the storm.

The other reference is to Broadway which offers a glitzier image of New York, a polished apple, so to speak. New York has been reborn, but there was a time when the city needed its underbelly to match the hype. It took a lot of effort through leadership and consistency but is once again quite the destination. I am reminded of the story of a paint crew who would paint over graffiti overnight, then do it again. The consistent effort was symbolic revealing more than an attention to detail,

Maybe we should update the song to reflect our Mona Lisa smiles and Mad Hatter hypertension on social media.

Competition and collaboration

I am reading a wonderful book on the life of Paul Simon. His story of dedication and diligence to his craft is an amazing read. He is a highly competitive, yet very collaborative professional. And, he notices these qualities in others.

Simon noted after meeting the driving forces of The Beatles, he saw how competitive John Lennon and Paul McCartney were. They made each other better trying to outdo the other. But, they also were highly collaborative with each other and other musicians within the band and recording studio.

Don Henley and Glenn Frey of The Eagles were similar. Like Simon and the lead Beatles, Henley and Frey are highly prolific songwriters. Yet, they worked relentlessly on their harmonies. They were as close to flawless as possible. Regardless of who sang the lead, the others contributed to making the music sound even better.

The Beatles were known for their harmonies as well, with numerous takes and much practice. Like The Eagles, regardless of the lead, they all worked together to get the right sound, either vocally or instrumentally. There is a great documentary on the making of Sgt. Pepper that highlights the competition and collaboration which created the most acclaimed album of its time.

Back to Paul Simon, he and Art Garfunkel would practice their harmonies facing each other to watch the other’s mouth as they sang. They even preferred to record singing in one mike because rhey felt it sounded better. And, like The Beatles, Simon constanty pursued makig the music better collaborating with other musicians who brought different styles of music.

Plus, Simon is competitive due to being told he was not tall enough, he wasn’t good enough, he didn’t have the right birthplace to be a folk singer, he wasn’t rock-n-roll enough, he couldn’t sing as well as Garfunkel, etc. Simon just learned his craft behind the scenes even going to England where he was more accepted for his unique style and songwriting.

Competition is a good thing. Yet, checking egos and working together make the product even better. Collaboration is vital, otherwise the competition can become unproductive through sabotage or rooting for failure. The dysfunction in Congress and White House are obvious examples where the absence of collaboration is stifling progress.

So, it is more than fine to compete, but do collaborate. That added seasoning could make all the difference.

 

When memories of loved ones pop up unexpectedly

I watched a poignant video where a young woman was presented with a birthday gift of a talking teddy bear. The bear had a prerecorded voice and she soon realized the voice was her father’s speaking to her using her name. It brought tears as her dad had passed away a year before.

This beautiful story made me think of two poignant movie scenes and a real story. The first movie scene is from “Peggy Sue got married.” Kathleen Turner played Peggy Sue, who went back in time to avoid marrying her boyfriend who eventually left her. The poignant scene occurs when she answers the phone at her mom and dad’s house and hears her grandmother’s voice, who had died years before her time travel occurred. It gives me chills to write this as she spoke to a departed loved one once again.

The other movie scene is from “Field of Dreams,” with Kevin Costner. After building a baseball field in his corn crop, the now deceased players of the Chicago White Sox, who had been banned for gambling, appear to play. But, the real reason he is inspired to build the field is his father comes to play as a young man and former ballplayer. When he asks his dad for a game of catch, it is a very emotional for me as I used to play catch with my father.

While these movies are dramatically poignant, we came across an old cassette tape of my father-in-law singing. Before he passed in 1997, he used to play guitar and sing in clubs, bar mitzvahs, birthday parties, church, senior living centers, etc. So, we just sat and listened to his crooning, as he performed old standards from the 1940 – 60s. It was a treat for my wife and me. One of my favorite memories is returning from New York at night, with him and my mother-in-law singing old songs like these while riding in the back seat.

Cherish your memories, especially when they unexpectedly pop up. Sometimes, all it takes is a prompt – a song, a movie clip, an old friend, or an old piece of clothing – to flush out the memories.

Memorable concert moments

My wife and I have enjoyed many concerts throughtout our almost 35 years together as a couple. I wrote recently about our joy in seeing Joan Osborne in a small venue. Here are a few more memorable moments.

– Tina Turner is high up on a short list of performers. Before ending one of her famous songs, she asked the men in the audience to sing the chorus. She chided, “You’ve been saying this most of your lives.” The song was “What’s love got to do with it?”

– Billy Joel has so many hits, on three occasions during his performsnce, he asked the audience to vote on one of two songs to sing.

– Elvis Costello had this huge spinning wheel on the stage which had his song titles listed. He would ask someone from the audience to spin the wheel to pick the next song.

– Eric Clapton was joined on tour by Derek Trucks and Buddy Guy. Now, that was a treat.

– Bob Seger is one of my favorites. Near the end of his great show, he introduced the band. Don Brewer, the drummer, was a foundjng member of Grand Funk Railroad, a great 1960-70s band.

– Sarah Brightman, the London theatre actress who was once marriied to Andrew Lloyd Webber, can flat out sing. Her version of “The Theme to Titanic” was sung in French. Bravo.

– Elton John has a multi-generational following. It was so cool to see grandmothers, mothers and daughters sing each song word for word.

– Paul McCartney is a treat, anytime, anywhere. From The Beatles to Wings to his solo career, he has a significant body of work. The stories behind some songs were an added treat.

– Heart puts on an amazing concert. Ann Wilson was introduced by her sister Nancy as having one of the greatest Rock-n-Roll voices. No argument here.

– Tony Bennett and kd lang toured together after the cut an album. Her admiration for him was obvious. She offerred a humorous story about a hit song of hers “Constant Craving.” An uninformed fan had referred to it as “Instant Gravy,” which tickled her.

– Two concerts where I took my boys stand out, as Mom did not want to go. ACDC was terrific as we sat above left of the band. Also, Rush was outstanding as three musicians could produce so much sound.

And, there are so many more – Tom Petty, James Taylor. Chicago, Rod Stewart, Steve Winwood, Bonnie Raitt, Janis Ian, Don McLean, etc. But, let me end on a personal note.

We attended an outdoor concert of Jimmy Buffett’s. My brother-in-law went with us and was feeling no pain. Someone from behind was shouting for Buffett to sing “God’s own drunk,” then I realized everyone was looking at us – it was my brother-in-law standing on the bleachers shouting.

Well, that is enough for now. What are some of your favorites? Any amusing memories?