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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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,

 

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.

Make me smile

Humorous things pop up when you least expect them. In this spirit, here are a few surprising and funny things that make me smile. I hope you will as well.

We called my grandmother Big Mama which was not an unusual moniker in the south. While Big Mama had a piano, I never saw her play. One day she saw me chop-sticking and sat down. When she obliged my request to play, I expected something classical. What I heard was flat out boogie-woogie. And, it was well-played. She added to my surprise saying she played by ear.

My mother surprised me by telling of the time my father was visiting her at a pond near the female college dorms while they were dating. Lingering near the female dorms was frowned upon in the late 1940s at this small college. When she espied the female dean watching them, she playfully pushed him and he fell into the pond. That certainly disarmed the situation.

My date and I were at a community theatre which was held in a church hall. The audience sat in fold out chairs on chorus risers. We were in the last row about eighteen inches off the ground. After intermission, unbeknownst to me, one of my rear chair legs moved off the riser. As I sipped my wine, my date appeared to be going forward, but actually I was falling backward and crashed on the floor with a loud boom. Everyone turned. I was not hurt, but it sure was funny later.

Finally, another date became offended when I asked if we could use her car, so my visiting friend could borrow mine. Unfortunately, she told me she did not want to go out after I arrived. In a huff, I tried to back down her diagonal and downhill driveway. Unfortunately, I backed into a rock garden and got stuck. Her father had to tow me off the garden with her watching from the living room window. Oops. It was funny by the time I told my friend, but at the time…

What are your unexpected funny stories?

A funny thing happened

Work does not sound like fun, but it offers plenty of comic relief. We need to find moments to laugh at ourselves to break the monotony. Here are few true stories to earn a grin or chuckle.

Two people I knew at a client were arguing over an issue. The funny thing is without the other knowing, each one called me to ask for my input on the argument. Through this process, I was able inch them closer together to see the other’s point. “You know Fred, Andy is making a reasonable point.”

A colleague was looking into a past precedence on a process a client was using that did not make much sense. He shared with me what he found in the archived files. I asked “Who would ever give such advice?” He showed me the email, “You did.” Oops.

This story ended well, but it offered an opportunity to tease a demanding colleague who had a high sense of self-worth. Our senior consultant was meeting with a client who had traveled from London. He was a heavy-set man and began to profusely perspire and get red-faced during the meeting. Our colleague felt he was having a heart attack and called the ambulance. The client turned out to be fine, but it was scary. Our colleague was a perfectionist which made him a good consultant, but a demanding one. After this episode, when he was extra hard on us, we would feign a heart attack in front of him acting like comedian Redd Foxx would on “Sanford and Son.” He did not find this amusing. “Elizabeth…I’m coming to join you!”

When I went to work for one of my clients, we had a greatly appreciated employee wellness program including mobile mammograms and health screenings. The woman who ran the program shared with me all the upcoming wonderful plans for Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. As I described it to my boss and a few others, I left off the word “cancer” by mistake. She slowly corrected me, that would be Breast CANCER Awareness Month.

Our firm bought another with some highly paid consultants. My boss, who I have written about before, looked over the compensation data and uttered one of his folksy sayings. “We sure are peeing in the tall grass with the big dogs now.”

Finally, I had a colleague who was getting final quotes from various insurance companies for a bidding process for a client. He had not heard from one, so he called around 6:30 pm to see if they wanted to improve their quote. Apparently, the night janitor picked up the phone. After listening to my colleague explain what he needed, the man uttered, “I told you as much as I know when I said hello.”

Let me know of some of your funny stories at work. Please change the names to protect the innocent. I might throw in a couple of more in the comments.

Alcoholism – Feherty, Watson and me

I am an alcoholic, yet I am approaching the twelfth anniversary of my last drink. I bring this up today as I learned in an interview yesterday that David Feherty, a retired golfer, golf announcer and truly comical person, is also an alcoholic, along with some other demons he has to manage.

Several things about Feherty’s interview with Real Sports host Bryant Gumbel are worth noting. First, he credits his second wife for her tough love – after a final straw, she said you have 30 days to get clean or I am gone.

He also credits Tom Watson, one of golf’s greatest players, whose own career was almost derailed by alcoholism. As Feherty was interviewing Watson, the latter asked Feherty if he was alright. Feherty said he was not, but asked how could he tell? Watson said “I saw it in your eyes.” He then answered Feherty’s question of what did he see? Watson said bluntly, “I saw myself.”

Watson invited Feherty to his home and helped him through managing his demons. Feherty was sober for ten years, but fell off the wagon when his son took his own life after fighting a losing battle with the same demons his father faced. It should be noted Feherty’s alcoholism masked that he was clinically depressed and bipolar. His son inherited the problems. After renewing the fight, Feherty has returned to being sober.

Alcoholism or any addiction are tough enemies. You never fully defeat them. You put a lid on them, but they still simmer on the back of the stove. Over time, the heat is turned down, but it never is fully extinguished. In my case, I still want to have a drink, but it is a fainter flame today.

The key lesson I learned from a colleague, whose husband fought alcoholism, is to say this mantra – I am not going to drink today. This is a key reason recovering alcoholics know how many days they have been sober. The other piece of advice is to find a substitute for the alcohol. It may be green tea, fruit, fruit juice, near-beer, tonic or soda water or a piece of candy. Now, for me, it is hot tea and all kinds of fruit, dried or fresh.

Life is hard. It is not uncommon for some people to use some form of anesthetic to sand the edges off difficulty. If you think you may have a problem, you do. Be honest with yourself, first, but be honest with your spouse or partner and your doctor. Most addicts lie to all of the above.

People ask me what was my trigger to change? Another colleague’s wife, who was as vivacious and funny as David Feherty, died from complications due to alcoholism. She was only 59, one year less than I am today. I was a train wreck waiting to happen. So, I got off the train. It was and still is hard. But, remember the mantra, I am not going to drink today. Then, don’t and say it again tomorrow.