Larry Bird’s Hall of Fame Habit

6 07 2014

The Work Ethic of Larry BirdIn 1979, Larry Joe Bird, “the hick from French Lick (Indiana)”, first broke into the NBA, the beginning of a long and spectacular career with the Boston Celtics.  Larry had a practice regimen that he faithfully observed throughout his career.  He would arrive at the venue at least two hours before game time and, with the help of a ball boy, shoot baskets.  Over and over.  Before every single game.  Larry said that through hard work and self-discipline, he was able to go farther in his career than other guys who had better natural gifts but didn’t work hard developing their talents.  Though Bird was tall (6’9”), he couldn’t run or jump well.  But he could outshoot and outthink his opponents.  This he did time and time again.

We all come into life with certain aptitudes, advantages and challenges.  What we do with what we’ve been given determine the kinds of lives we make for ourselves.  Quality and success in life do not come automatically.  You may have superior intelligence, even brilliance.  But if you neglect the hard work of study, learning, practice and productivity, your potential will remain unfulfilled.  That software developer, entrepeneur, author, cardiologist or Grammy Award-winning musician inside you does not emerge automatically.

Some years ago a friend of mine was working on his Ph.D (in education).  When asked what types of students earn their doctorates (versus those who don’t), he remarked, “The Einsteins wash out.” Why? “Because you can’t outsmart the work.”  That was the secret of Thomas Edison’s genius.  “It’s plain hard work that does it.”

Similarly, you may have come into life with health problems in your family tree.  Those challenges do not have to define or limit your life.  You may have obesity, heart disease or high blood pressure in your family line but their effects are not necessarily inevitable.  Again, it takes work—the hard but fruitful work of exercising, eating carefully, avoiding unhealthy behaviors and stuff.

Life is what we make it.  It’s a canvas to paint on.  Like Larry Bird, with hard work and self-discipline, we can take modest giftings, even disadvantages and turn them into a Hall of Fame life.

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Rocky, Telling It Like It Is

19 02 2014

rocky-balboa-trailerMy wife and I are huge fans of the “Rocky” movies.  In this moving scene from “Rocky Balboa,” Rocky gives his grown son powerful advice about taking personal responsibility for one’s life, career, dreams and choices.

Enjoy!

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Uneven Performance and Excellence

29 09 2013

Uneven PerformanceDerek Jeter, throughout a stellar career in Major League Baseball that has spanned eighteen seasons, gets a hit—on average—only three times for every ten at-bats.  And he is destined for induction in the Hall of Fame, probably the first ballot, five years after he retires.

Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball player to step onto an NBA court, has missed more shots than he’s taken.  That’s an admission out of his own mouth and a matter of statistical fact.  And he’s Michael Jordan—a Hall of Famer and the standard by which professional hoopsters are judged.

Thomas Edison had over a thousand failures before he perfected the incandescent light bulb.  He kept at it until he got it right.

None of us is perfect.  We are all uneven performers in every conceivable area of life.  And yet we are capable of excellence and being outstanding in those things to which we put our hands.  Think about that.

Excellence does not mean never making a mistake, striking out, dropping a pass or making a train wreck of a meeting or conversation.  It does mean, however, getting up and dusting off, stepping back into the batter’s box, and calling someone and saying, “I’m sorry.  I blew it.  Please forgive me.”

Failed recently?  Join the club.  You are not a god and neither am I.  We are uneven often, perhaps most of the time.  But we keep at it.  We don’t stop trying.  We double down and give better effort and evaluate failure points as well as those times where we succeeded.

Okay now—no self-pity.  Don’t take yourself too seriously.  Bruised egos are not fatal by any means.  Get back on that horse and charge!

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Running and Mojo Recovery

14 08 2013

Running and Mojo RecoveryIt’s your thirtieth birthday.  The date:  August 23, 1992.  You have a successful career as a marketing executive in the San Francisco Bay area.  You wake up strangely unexcited.  You have lunch with your wife whom you adore.  Later, you and your wife gather with friends in a local bar for dinner and drinks, in celebration of your big day.

The evening wears on and your wife decides to go home and turn in.  You elect to stay with your friends.  As you mingle, an attractive woman begins making overtures, coming on to you.  Her message is clear.

What do you do?

You excuse yourself to go to the bathroom, located towards the back of the bar.  You find a rear exit and leave.  Without any goodbyes.  You walk home, to the house occupied by the wife you adore, now sleeping.

Something needs to be worked out of you.  Thirty is a watershed.  You should be happy but aren’t.  You need to clear your head.

What do you do?

You strip down to your skivvies and t-shirt, find an old pair of running shoes in the garage and put them on.  You let your wife sleep.  Clad only in your underwear, shirt, socks and sneakers, you begin running.

You haven’t run in fifteen years.  You gave it up when an arrogant track and field coach laughed at you.  You were, after all, a cross-country guy who ran with heart and had served another coach with heart.  But he retired.

You run thirty miles without stopping except to grab burritos and a Coke and press on.  People think you’re crazy.  And you probably are.

That night is a rebirth for you.

That’s what you do if you’re Dean Karnazes.

Read his book Ultramarathon Man: Confessions Of An All-Night Runner.  The whole story and much more is there.  You won’t regret it.  You may even begin to think about what really matters in life.  It ain’t prestige, position or the other trappings of Yuppiedom.

Dean got his mojo back that night and hasn’t stopped running.  That was almost twenty-one years ago.

What will it take to get your mojo back, to recover your heart?

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Cheating: Don’t

5 08 2013

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Major League Baseball handed down sizeable suspensions to a number of players today who’ve either admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs or have tested positive for such substances.  It is a sorry day for the sport.  You can read about it here.

People cheat to get a leg up on the competition.  People cheat for the thrill of risk of exposure.  People cheat to save money.  They are losers, all.

Recent U.S. history is awash in stories of cheating by high-profile individuals in every conceivable arena where there is competition or some other advantage to gain.  Finance (Bernie Madoff, Michael Milken), sports (list is endless—see the above link), sexual (politicians, preachers, actors and actresses too numerous to mention).  It is a problem.

No, it is a plague.  An epidemic.

Business owners routinely keep two sets of books, paying people under the table or taking elaborate or not-so-subtle steps to avoid paying employee and business taxes owed the government.  Regular folks like you and me are put to the test every tax season:  Will we declare all of our non-gifted income?  Many of us fail the test.  Spouses and couples often cheat one another through outright affairs, flirting, or pornographic indulgences.  Universities are often finding whole groups of students who cheat their way through exams or try to pass off written material as their own.

Cheaters usually get caught.  With technology today, it’s easier than ever both to cheat and to get snared in the act.

Cheaters have an asterisk next to their name in their annals—whether sports records or an otherwise remarkable career.  What do you think of when you hear the names Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, Eliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner, and Enron?  Sports?  Governance and politics?  Big business?  No, I don’t either.

Cheaters, ultimately, cheat themselves.  In the end, they only fool the person they see in the bathroom mirror each morning.  I know.  I’ve cheated before.  One makes good and bad choices in half a century of life.  And I lost.  The scorn cheaters earn for coloring outside the lines is just that:  Earned.  Actions have consequences.

Thinking about cheating, then?

Don’t.

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Ambition, Talent, and Plain Hard Work

26 07 2013

talent-is-overratedPeople tend to get quite uneasy at the mention of the word ambition in context of discussions about career, calling, vocation.  The classic stereotype is the self-centered man or woman who claw their way to the top of the corporate ladder stepping on anybody and everybody who happens to be perched on the rungs below–and in their way.  Ego, indifference to time-honored virtues, and bullying are all.

This is unfortunate.  Frankly, ambition has gotten a bad rap.  In fact, without it you will not hit any of your goals, whether personal and professional.

Last year, some friends and I discussed healthy ambition and its importance.. We focused on moving up in one’s career and becoming the best in one’s chosen field.  There is cost, effort, and sacrifice expended to make this happen.  There’s no such thing as a free lunch.  The pursuit of a highly valued station of influence and achievement takes patience, focus and a lot of hard work.  Those who take shortcuts are cheating themselves and are usually found out.

In his fascinating book Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers From Everybody Else, author Geoff Colvin–Senior Editor-At-Large of Fortune magazine shatters a number of myths about “natural” talent, genius and how pros become such.  These are usually echoed in statements like this: “Well, Tiger Woods was born to play golf.  He’s a natural.”

Here’s something you may not know. Tiger Woods and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart both had fathers who started them on the paths of golf and music from infancy.  Earl Woods had a putter in Tiger’s hands before he was a year old.  Leopold Mozart was an established musician and composer before his son was born.  He set Wolfgang on a very focused and intense vocation in musical performance and composition from childhood.  Neither Tiger Woods nor W. A. Mozart were geniuses in common parlance and legend.  They spent many years mastering their crafts.

Peak performers in any discipline acquire that position through untold hours of deliberate practice.  Not just practice, but focused periods of review and goal setting with specific objectives in mind.  When Tiger Woods goes to the driving range, he doesn’t simply pull out a driver and see how far he can hit the ball.  Instead he might take a five iron out and practice hitting the ball not more than sixty-five yards.  There is much more intense energy and concentration that attends deliberate practice.

Here are some steps that are crucial for you to rise to the top of your calling:

  • You must be a lifelong learner.  This means college, vocational school, online seminars, or training at the feet of a master whether a cabinet-maker or a jazz pianist.  It will cost time, discipline, sacrifice, and money.  Make the investment.
  • Saying yes also means saying no.  Getting to the top of the classical guitar world meant that a teenage Christopher Parkening was unable to play baseball with his pals as much as he’d like to have done.  His father, Duke, had him executing deliberate practice from the age of eleven.  Up at 5:00 AM to practice before school.  More practice when school was over.  Choosing mastery in an enterprise means you will not be able to say yes to lots of other pursuits simply because of the time and focus it takes to excel in your chosen field.
  • You must move past the drudgery curve.  A woman once told the great pianist Ignace Jan Paderewski, “You are a genius.”  His reply: “Madame, before I was a genius, I was a drudge.”  The driving range, the woodshop, the music room are not glamorous environments but it is in such places, over long hours, that one becomes a master.

When asked about his remarkable success as an inventor, Thomas Edison–who only had a third-grade education–remarked, “It’s plain hard work that does it.”

Well.

The world is looking for individuals who are outstanding at what they do.  Mediocrity, for such as these, grates against every instinct inside them.  You are called to such excellence. The sky is the limit.  Focus and move forward.

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Risk and Returns

18 07 2013

evel-knievelAs a kid, growing up in the ’70′s, I looked forward each week to ABC’s Wide World of Sports.  In those days, you really could not get a good idea of what was to be featured in each week’s broadcast of a certain program.  Every Saturday, I waited breathlessly hoping that Evel Knievel, the motorcycle jumping daredevil, would be on the show, jumping again.

I was impressionable, young, and dumb.  And Evel took hold of me.  I’d watch his jumps–successful and wrecks–and then go out and try to imitate on my bike with banana seat and long handlebars.  Some of you are smiling because you remember.  And did the same.

Evel Knievel was a hero to me because he took great risks.  His magnum opus was attempting to jump over the Snake River Canyon in Idaho (he failed).  My bedroom sported an Evel Knievel poster.  And I was thrilled when the movie came out about him, George Hamilton in the title role.

You will not get far in life without taking risk.  Evel Knievel’s risks were extreme, even foolhardy, to be sure.  But his was not a dull life.  Nor a dull career to follow.  And he always got back up after a wreck until it was time to call it a career and turn the reins over to his son, Captain Robbie Knievel.

Jesus once told a story about three men who were given talents (a large sum of money in those days).  Two of the men took risks and were able to generate an increase on the investment.  One man, however, hedged his bets and played it safe.  No risk.  He put his master’s money in the ground.  To “keep it safe.”

When the master returned, he rewarded the two who took risk and generated a return.  But he punished the man who played it safe.  Hedging his bets cost him dearly.

You will not get far in life unless you are willing to take risk.  Live adventurously.  Are you willing?

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