Random life lessons from sports or other interests

Whether it is playing an individual or team sport, marching in a band, or working in some group effort, life lessons abound. These lessons may not be earth-moving, but they will serve you well, if you heed them and use them elsewhere. In no particular order:

  • Sporting activities teach us how to handle failure. The best baseball hitters will fail seven times out of ten. Think about that. What you do when you fail is of vital importance.
  • Specific to golf, it is a terrific metaphor for life. Golf is a game of managing your mistakes. The worse the golfer, the wider array of outcomes to any given shot. The next shot is of importance, but also managing that six inches of area between your ears. The just completed bad shot needs to shoved out of your mind before the next one.
  • Marching band is hard work and involves a lot of team work. Think about playing an instrument while weaving in and out of patterns avoiding other marchers. And, doing that until you get it right for the day.
  • Any team member knows we each have a role on the team. Not everyone can be star or lead the effort. We just need to roll up our sleeves and do our part. In basketball, teams with too much talent are not necessarily the ones who win. There is only one basketball, so someone has to pass the ball, rebound the ball, play defense,…
  • You cannot change the past, only the present and future. The great baseball pitcher Orel Hershiser said when he starts out, he wants to throw a no-hitter. Once the opponent gets its first hit, he sets out to throw a one-hitter and so on. He said he was good at putting the past behind him, as I mention about golf in the earlier example.
  • Life is not fair. Neither is sports or music. No matter how hard you practice, there will be some who are more talented than you. So, just do your best, work hard and find a way to contribute. There is an old lesson that the best coaches are the former players who had to work harder to succeed. Think about that.
  • Practice the things you do not do as well, not what you do well. This is a common mistake. Practice is good, but practicing what you need to practice is better. Also, do not shirk on practice efforts. Work hard to improve as if you do not, then you are only cheating yourself.
  • Focus on sustainability as you practice or work out. What are your goals? Then work toward them. Whether it is better chipping, more accurate free throw shooting, or more aerobic exercising, work toward those goals.
  • Play the game the right way treating all participants and team mates the way you want to be treated. Recently, I wrote about Dean Smith teaching his basketball players to thank the person who passed the ball leading to their basket. Also, trash talking serves no constructive purpose. Win and lose with class.

There are so many more life lessons that can be mentioned. Please share your thoughts and other lessons you took away from such interests.

Class Matters – Socio-economic class that is (a reprise from 2012)

The following post was written almost nine years ago, but still applies today. I wrote recently how America has fallen in the global rankings on socio-economic mobility This story will shed some light as to why.

When you read this title, there are several interpretations that come to mind. While I am a firm believer in acting in a classy way, treating others like you want to be treated, the “class” I am referring to here is socio-economic class. There is a body of work spawned by research conducted by the New York Times, which led to the publishing of a book under this same title – “Class Matters.” It also led to a revolution of thought and I would encourage you to visit “www.classmatters.org for more information.

In essence, the term class matters refers to the tenet that your socio-economic class is a key factor in your ability to ask questions of those who are trying to serve you. The higher strata of socio-economic class is highly correlated with better education and more confidence. This translates into the greater ability and lesser reluctance to question things. On the converse, those in lower socio-economic classes tend to have lesser education and more self-esteem issues. They have a greater inability and lack of confidence to question those in power or who are trying to serve them.  As a result, those in the lower classes often make poorly informed decisions as they are:

  • too scared to ask questions,
  • feel threatened if they do so,
  • feel they will show their ignorance if they do,
  • do not know the right questions to ask, and/or
  • fall into a trusting mode, whether legitimate or not, that the person serving them knows what they are doing as they are wearing a doctor’s coat or suit and tie.

To illustrate this concept using a real life occurrence, the current housing crisis we are facing has many areas of cause from the lenders to rating agencies to investment managers to developers to buyers. At the heart of the problem, we had too many developers and realtors selling houses to people who could not afford that price of house and mortgage lenders providing mortgages to people who should not have that level of mortgage or who did not fully understand the terms of the loan. The buyers did not understand what a variable mortgage is or, using one of the lender’s terms, what a “pick-a-payment” or flexible payment mortgage entailed. The concept of negative amortization is term that was not well-explained or fully understood. In “House of Cards” a line that resonates with me is lenders were providing money to people who could “fog a mirror.” Then, they packaged up all of these poor risks in collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) and sold them to investors who thought they were buying a less risky product. The rating agencies did not help by stamping these CDOs with a AAA rating.

There are some who firmly believe in the concept of “let the buyer beware.” In their minds, the people who bought these houses and took out these loans should have been more aware “like I would have been.”  As a consequence, they believe the buyers should be held entirely responsible for the housing crisis. This school of thought has some merit, but misses two greater issues. First, if you have ever bought a house, you are asked to sign more papers than in any other transaction. I would wager that an exceedingly high percentage of buyers do not read every word of what they are signing. The legalese is too complex. More often than  not, they will ask the attorneys to explain simply what they are signing. I would also wager that in these transactions people actually sign papers they do not fully understand.

Second, with that context, people in a lower socio-economic class will be even more trusting of those in suits and ties. They would ask even fewer questions and understand even less of what they are signing. When the American Dream is to own a home and people in suits and ties paint a picture that you can afford this home, the buyers believed them more times than they should have. In some cases, the seller put “perfume on a pig” to dress up the sale as best as possible. Individuals were shown monthly payment numbers and did not realize those numbers could dramatically change every two years. In some cases, their income and wealth numbers were inflated to show they could afford a house and mortgage they otherwise would not. The buyers trusted people showing these numbers and signed on the many dotted lines.

Two true stories will embellish these points. The poster child for one extreme end of what happened was a builder based in Atlanta. The CEO and CFO were convicted of criminal and unethical actions they helped perpetuate with home buyers. In essence, the company-realtors representing  new developments did not represent they would make an extra bonus if you bought in this new neighborhood. They did not represent the inspector was being paid off to inflate the price of the house and show no problems existed. They did not represent that the mortgage lender they recommended was affiliated with the developer. So, along comes the buyer who does not know this, does not know to ask these questions and who sees a financial representation that they can afford this house. Even people above the lower socio-economic classes were taken in by this criminal behavior, yet the lower class people did not stand a chance.

The other anecdote took down a bank of which I was shareholder. This bank bought  a mortgage bank who had developed the concept of the “pick-a-payment” mortgage. This flexible payment mortgage concept was geared for a very astute buyer, not the masses of people who bought it. Mortgage people at this bank wondered why the CEO of the acquirer was pushing these mortgages even up to six months before the bank was destined to fail.  A mortgage person for that bank said we are having “pick-a-payment parties” to promote the sale of these mortgages. We are selling these mortgages to people who do not know what they are buying. They do not understand when they do not pay enough, their mortgage principal increases. Like with the above example, the lower socio-economic class buyers did not stand a chance. The people in higher classes suffered as well.

Yet, the class matters concept goes beyond these examples. It happens in everyday life, whether it is visiting the doctor, buying a car or something on credit or being served by the bank on other issues. We have people who will go into debt as they do not know the exposure they are adding with each purchase. In today’s world, there is a dearth of customer service. You have to be the navigator of your own customer service experience. Many people do not realize this as the case and tend to delegate the responsibility to the customer service person. We don’t ask enough questions of doctors seeking alternative treatments or payment plans. We accept the terms of a store credit card without knowing that if we fail to make one of the 30-60-90 day payments, we will pay back interest to the point of sale. We do not understand that we need to pay more than the minimum credit card payment as it will take 30 years to pay off a washer and dryer purchase. We do not ask the question, do I really need yet another credit card? We do not realize we have the power to say “no.”

I tell my children “people want your money, so you need to understand that.” Sometimes, they want it by legitimate means. Sometimes they have enticing commercials which are too good to be true. And, sometimes they will try to steal it from you online or by lying to you in person. You have to guard against this. With this backdrop, someone in a  lower socio-economic class will not ask enough questions to be served. They will take that extra credit card that arrives in the mail. They will sign up for the 30-60-90 day store plan to get a 10% discount not knowing the full ramifications of the transaction. I have also witnessed in helping homeless families, budgeting skills could be improved and asking questions about “must have” purchases are not done often enough. Sometimes these “needs” are actually “wants” and could be postponed. They do not know how to zealously navigate the use of coupons or the best times to buy products. They do not ask for the manager or supervisor when being ill-served.

This week I read a series on the inability of hospitals to uniformly offer reduction or the abatement in cost to those without health insurance and in an impoverished state. Someone wrote in that they successfully navigated payment options from one of the studied hospitals asking why couldn’t others have done that. When I read the letter critical of the people short-changed, the concept of class matters entered into my head. The people in need did not navigate the system as they did not know or have the confidence to ask the right questions. They did not relentlessly pursue options. This is exacerbated by the lack of transparency of the payment system, so it takes a concerted effort to understand what is happening even for people in higher classes. There are other examples in our society where you have to make a concerted effort to understand the details.

In closing, my hope is for more people to understand that class matters in getting proper help and service. We have to make it easier for people to ask questions, search for answers and be better served or, at least avoid being ill-served. It is OK to ask questions. As the teachers often say “the only dumb question is the one not asked.”  Please help others remember that. Offer to go with someone to the doctor to help ask the right questions. Or, encourage people to write their questions down beforehand. Encourage people to not get into credit exposure beyond their means.  Share your wisdom of purchasing or not purchasing items. Sources like Consumer Reports, BBB , Angie’s List,  http://www.cars.com are vital tools, e.g. Yet, I guess the big take away is to not assume people are like you. You may have avoided stepping  in the hole, but you would have asked more questions. Not everyone will. Offer them your help and understanding.

Workouts need not be long to add value

Having spent more than fifty years working out in some fashion, I have learned that workouts need not be elongated affairs to add value to your body and mind. The key is to do something that is sustainable, something you can do with regularity. And, the amount of time needed can vary based on age, body style, health, etc.

I would also encourage you to start slow and build up to the routine that makes the most sense, listening to your body. Don’t do things that will cause harm – backs, knees and hips are very dear, eg. I am very careful with my back as I am tall.

For several years now, I have gravitated to a routine that makes sense for me. I workout for fifteen minutes AFTER I shower in the morning, so it is not too intense. The shower loosens the muscles and my back. I vary the daily routine between three workouts based on Yoga, Pilates, isometrics, calisthenics and light weigh-lifting using two 20 pound dumb bells as a maximum, but the weight can vary and be effective for you.

But, a key to each of these workouts is breathing. Since these exercises are not heavy duty, I breath in and out through my nose. If you feel the need for more oxygen, try breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. I used to do more of the latter, but have learned I snore less at night when breathing more naturally during exercise. On repetition exercises, breath in on the lesser portion of the exercise and out on when you exert.

The first set of exercises are standing stretches, a series of about a dozen exercises, but for those who cannot stand well, several can be done while seated. I will highlight two of the more productive exercises.

  • The Yoga warrior pose is one of the best exercises, which is a stretch and hold routine to twelve nice breaths. varying my arms three times for a total of 36 counted breaths. One leg is out front with foot pointed, the other leg being behind with foot slightly perpendicular to your body as you bend into the front leg. I start with my arms over each leg with palms down, then arms over my head and ending with arms out palms up. Then, I switch sides and do 36 more. It is one you can start with a count of three and build.
  • The other is a calisthenics exercise. Standing up put both arms over your head straight up from your shoulder. Then bring one leg up bending at the knee as you lower your arms. Then raise your arms again as you lower your leg. Then do the same with the other leg. You breath out when you raise your leg and in when you lower it. I do 24 of these.

The second set of exercises for the following day is a floor routine of about a dozen exercises, as well. These focus more on the legs and core areas. Let me focus on two exercises.

  • On your back, bend your legs so that your knees are are up and feet on the floor. Now, gradually swing both legs toward the right, not touching the ground with your knees and then swing them to the other side. Breath out when your knees approach the ground and breath in when you move them up. I do a count of 24 of these. Try to be smooth with your movements.
  • Again on your back, do stomach crunches which is an easier way to do sit-ups and not hurt your back. While bending your legs at the knee with your feet on the ground, put your hands behind your neck and lift your chin up and part of your upper torso off the ground. The key is to make your stomach muscles feel the exertion. Then, return your torso to the ground. Breath out when you exert and in when you let you head back down. I do 24 of these, but like the above start with a few and build up.

The third set for the next day is light-weight lifting exercises.

These are simple exercises, again about a dozen of them. I warm up with an 8 pound medicine ball, then move to one dumb bell then two, each weighing 20 pounds. But, use weight that is comfortable to you. The key is the technique and repetition more than the weight. Just picking two:

  • Take a small medicine ball and while standing hold it in front of your waist in both hands. Rotate the ball to each side with a small twist breathing out as you do. Swing it to the other side, breathing in, then breathing out. This works on your love handles. I do fifty of these, 25 on each side. If you don’t have a medicine ball, you can use a small dumb bell or just interlock your wrists and twist.
  • Using one of your dumb bells, kneel down with your left knee and place you left hand on the floor. Using your right hand, lift the dumb bell up like you are slowly pulling a lawn mower cord. Breath out when you pull up the weight, breathing down when you lower it – don’t drop the weight, lower it. Build up to fifteen of these. Then switch legs and arms and do fifteen more. Start slow and with a light weight. This is the best way to work your back lateral muscles without harming your back.

Remember to start slow with fewer reps and lesser weight. The key is to use smooth movements and get your breathing right. Also, please check with your doctor or a trainer if you need to get counsel. Even five minutes will help each day, but whatever you do keep it sustainable. I have had many routines in the past that would wane after a few months. I have been doing a variation of these for more than five years.

How you leave a job is vitally important

As a former manager of people, I have observed extremely professional and unprofessional behavior. In exiting a company, I have seen people leave with dignity and class, even when they have been asked to leave with some downsizing, rightsizing or reduction-in-force. I have also seen people trash their company and not give much notice wanting the company to have problems in the transition, even when the person is pulling the rip cord to leave.

I have shared with my kids, their friends and children of my friends, how you leave a job is vitally important. Our business worlds can be small, so your reputation matters. Your name is your greatest asset. It can also be your worst liability. Your former co-workers see how you conducted yourself. Your new company also will get wind of it. So, what do you want them to hear?

Leaving a company with dignity and class is also common sensical. If your new job does not work out, you have left an avenue to return. If you trashed that place, not only do you not have such an avenue, you may have damaged a referral to yet a new job.

I have shared this story about a very talented consultant who gave us a three day notice. He was not very helpful on projects that he was working on, just giving us his notes and a quick summary. It was highly unprofessional and he wanted us to fail to serve his former clients well. It should be noted he tended to be a prima donna, so others had to acquiesce to him more so than the other way around. About three years later, he wanted to return to our firm, and was stunned to learn he was not welcome.

I mention all of the above given what has transpired over the last two months and, in particular, the last two days. If the outgoing president had handled his election loss with dignity and class. he could have assured his place to re-run again in 2024. He could have still asked for recounts and even pursued some litigation with evidence. But, he could have handled the process with class and seriousness of purpose.

Instead, he announced on election night that he had won and proceeded with a narrative the election was being stolen from, an action he had staged and planned for six months. Sadly, he continued this false claim even as the evidence mounted against him and people who took their jobs seriously said he lost time and again.. Now, with the actions of his extreme followers which he wound up, invited and encouraged, he put people in danger and four have died.

How you leave a place is vitally important. Burning it all down is unprofessional and dangerous. And, the outgoing president has no one else to blame but the person in the mirror who looks back when he shaves. People do not emulate this behavior.

More on that kindness thing

Following up on my previous post about “fierce kindness,” I think many of us could look to our mothers, fathers, teachers, mentors, etc. as exemplars. A blogging friend lost her mother this month and she said her mother’s final words to her were be kind to others. That is profound and telling advice.

Even with the ravages of Alzheimer’s, my mother and mother-in-law remained kind. Yes, Alzheimer’s can cause a brief temper snap, but it is more due to confusion or as a defense mechanism. Both mothers were heavily involved in outreach for the churches to which they belonged. They helped others through tough times.

At the memory unit of the long tern care facility, the teacher in my mother always showed through. She would help the facilitator by first paying attention, but also in participating and helping others do so. To her, it would be rude to ignore the facilitator who went to great lengths to be there.

One of my late memories of my mother-in-law is we took her to my daughter’s school function in a large hall. I remember her telling one of the mothers, who must have come from work, as she was well dressed, how lovely she looked. This woman just beamed. That was not an unusual occurrence.

Although my father had a drinking problem, he was the kindest of men. He went out of his way to bring food to work for pot luck lunches, usually smoking a turkey or ham. Before his drinking got the best of him, he was heavily involved in our sports programs, coaching, practicing, leading and attending. He had a hearty laugh and was helpful to people in need or friends with homework or other problems.

Let me close with a nickname I got on occasion when I followed my parents’ example and fought for people – Don Quixote. I knew I would fail to save someone from being let go in our matrix managed organization, but on certain occasions, I had to try and fight that windmill. I did help save one (who is still there twelve years later), helped lengthen another’s time, but far more often it was for naught. Yet, invariably I would do my best to help these folks get placed elsewhere. When my boss said I was ruffling some feathers (and actually had a comment placed in my HR file), I noted I would do the same for him. I was kind, but firm. And, foolish on more than one occasion.

Kindness is not a weakness. Helping people is a good idea, even if you are not successful. Just trying means something to people. One thing companies fail to realize is how you treat someone when he or she is forced to exit is important. Fellow employees see it. Clients see it. So, even when tough decisions are made or push back is needed, be kind. Treat people like you want to be treated.

Life’s Little Instruction Book – an old gift

On my first Father’s Day many years ago, my wife gave me “Life’s Little Instruction Book” compiled by H. Jackson Browne, Jr. I was leafing through it today as it lay on an upstairs table near my computer. Here are few of the 511 pearls of wisdom that can be found therein.

#454 – Show respect for everyone that works for a living, regardless of how trivial their job.

#276 – Patronize local merchants even if it costs a little more.

#186 – Be insatiably curious. Ask “why” a lot.

#158 – Pray not for things, but for wisdom and courage.

#107 – Smile a lot. It costs nothing and is beyond the price.

#246 – Wave at children on school’s buses.

#426 – Share the credit.

#375 – Take charge of your attitude. Don’t let someone else choose it for you.

#127 – Wear the most audacious of underwear under the most solemn business attire.

#58 – Always accept an outstretched hand.

Many of the above are not among the usual instructions. The first two remind me of what we need to do more of in today’s pandemic. Of course, the more startling one is my favorite about “audacious underwear.”

It reminds me of the a staid company I worked for, where the very dignified manager of a department had an “underwear optional” day for the troops. Going commando was never so much fun.

The last one is hard, but should not be. Why don’t we want to accept help? After 9/11, America’s approval ratings were at its highest. Other countries wanted to help, but we did not accept it very well. That was unwise.

The one I gravitate to the most and often advise is a variation of don’t cede your power to someone else. Take charge of your attitude. You are not offended, if you do not take offense.

Why is the English language so difficult?

In one of life’s ironies, the citizens of the United States speak an Americanized version of the English language, yet so few Americans bother to learn a second language. It has been argued that English is one of the most difficult languages to learn, yet because of the exploration of the English and the success of two large English speaking economies, people feel the need to learn it.

I inherited from my mother a love of Crossword and other word (and number) puzzles. As I wait for my computer to boot up, I will pick up a pocket dictionary close by and just leaf through it, testing myself on words that I may use or need. I do not prefer to know arcane words, as using them will be more pretentious than communicative. There are some editorial writers who prefer to show how smart they are rather than make the reader understand what they are saying.

But, why does English have to be so difficult? Here a few case in points.

Ingenious vs. Ingenuous – the first word means clever or resourceful, while the second word means naive or artless. Only one letter divides an insult from a compliment.

Impunity vs. Impugn – the first word means free from harm or punishment, while the second word means to challenge as false or questionable.

Reproach vs. Rapprochement – the first word means to blame or rebuke, while the second word means an establishing of friendly relations.

Glib vs. Glum – while these words sound like they are similar, the first word means fluent or a good talker of banter, while the latter means gloomy. I have often said glib is one word that means the opposite of what you think.

Curate vs. Curator vs. Curative – the first word means a clergyman helping a vicar, while the second word means a manager of a museum, while the third means having the power to cure or offer remedy.

While I was compiling these words, I was reminded of the great college and NBA basketball player David Robinson. Robinson attended the Naval Academy and served his country after his graduation. A very smart man embodied this 6’11” basketball player. When a reporter asked him why he was good at blocking shots, he said he did not want others driving the lane with “impunity.” The reporters had to go find a dictionary.

What are some of your favorite, confusing English words? Before I leave, my wife and I watch the show “Law and Order – Special Victims Unit.” At the introduction to the show, the narrator mentions the special unit that handles crimes that are “heinous.” Now that is a word that means what it sounds like.

Don’t worry about keeping up with the Jones’ spending

This morning I made the following paraphrased comment on a blogpost which was offering sound advice to budding business owners and young adults (a link is below to “Push through your fear to achieve financial freedom”). It is a variation of a theme I have written a few times about.

As an almost 62 year old fart, part of the theme of this post – “The fear of being ostracized causes us to keep up with the Joneses” caught my eye.

A key word of advice to all people who feel they must spend to buy more things in some level of competition with the infamous Joneses. Ask yourself do you really need this? Will it make you happier if you buy it? I have an attic-full of things we forgot we have, that are obviously not that important anymore.

There is an instructive documentary movie called “I Am” by an action movie director. He wrote and produced it after he realized that buying the biggest of houses, did not make him happy. His realization occurred the moment he entered the house with his new set of keys and closed the door.

The movie reporter speaks with religious, spiritual, psychological and medical folks about what makes us happy. The key conclusion that is revealed is straightforward – money does not make you happy; however, the absence of money does make you unhappy. Once you have enough to put a roof over your heads and feed your family, there is diminishing marginal return to more money. And, more things.

I hope this thought might help. It helped me. So, don’t keep up with the Joneses. And, if you don’t like the above argument about watching your spending, there is book that might interest you called “The Millionaire Next Door.” It is about the person who spent wisely and saved and is now wealthier than you imagined as you were swayed by his ten year-old cars and his beat up lawnmower.

Thirteen years and counting

Yesterday was the thirteenth anniversary of the start of my going alcohol free. The echo still remains, but it is a faint one and usually pops up at certain times in the late afternoon. It is indeed manageable. The following link is to a post I wrote on my sixth anniversary, which remains my most visited post. If you have this issue or know someone who does, I mention some teachings therein I gleaned from others. The key one is “I am not going to drink today.”

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/six-years-alcohol-free-but-still-want-to-drink/

The biggest selling self-help book

On NPR, yesterday, the son of Stephen Covey (who has passed away) was being interviewed for Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” This self-help book made it to number 1 on the non-fiction best sellers’ list in 1989 and stayed there for a long while, selling over 25 million copies. It was also the first audio book to hit 1 million in sales.

So, what is all the fuss about? Covey sought to help us find our “true north” principles. He defined “effectiveness as the balance of obtaining desirable results with caring for that which produces those results.”

His seven habits are grouped under three headings – Independence, Interdependence and Continual Improvement.

Independence

1. Be proactive – take responsibility for your actions.
2. Begin with the end in mind – envision what you want and plan.
3. First things first – here he uses a two dimension matrix organized in four quadrants along level of urgency and importance (do the urgent/ important, plan the important but less urgent, delegate the urgent/ unimportant and eliminate the non-urgent/ unimportant).

Interdependence

4. Think win/ win – look for mutually beneficial solutions; Nobel Laureate economist John Nash said we make more money if we look to collectively win.
5. Seek to understand/ then to be understood – use empathetic listening; this jives with a favorite saying – you have two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion.
6. Synergize with others as a team – there is a great book called “Play to your strengths,” which will help people work with others using their strengths to balance yours for a better outcome.

Continual Improvement

7. Sharpen the sword – seek to improve and grow.

The attached link will give a nice synopsis of each of the above as well as offer better context.

I was struck by the interview with Covey’s son. He used a couple of examples his father used. When the son did not get into a college class he needed, he told his father. His father asked what do you plan to do about it? When he asked for help, the father said contact the professor. He found out there was a waiting list. His father then suggested to go see the professor. The son did and got into the class. He took responsibility and was proactive.

The second example is his father was very much about owning up to mistakes. The son said the father would apologize often. Think about that. He used an example of a family trip when everyone was late and the father lost his temper. The son remembers the father apologizing for losing his cool, when he had every right to be irritated.

If you have not read the book, it is worth the read. If you want a brief glimpse, click on the link below.

http://www.quickmba.com/mgmt/7hab/