DEFLATED PAY

As a native “New Englanda” it was especially easy for me to watch the entirety of Tom Brady’s career unfold. Season after season I wanted to quit being a spectator of the sport, and not because I don’t love football – I do.  Yet there is a longing to invest that time elsewhere.  I have been unsuccessful at shaking the game (cheesy pun, I know), I just can’t help but watch someone who has mastered their craft.  Even you haters out there can’t deny the fact that Tom’s records are unbelievable, and that’s not counting 6 super bowl wins.  Just to list a few:

  • Best touchdown to interception ratio in a single season: 28:2
  • Most games won by a quarterback: 237
  • Most Super Bowl appearances: 9
  • Most Super Bowl MVP awards: 4
  • Most passing yards in a Super Bowl: 505
  • Most playoff wins: 30
  • Most career passing yards, regular season and postseason: 81,683
  • Most career passing touchdowns, regular season and postseason: 590
  • Most Pro Bowl selections: 14 (tied)

While it is more important to master my own craft and set my own records, I always felt that there would be a lesson I could take away from the GOAT. The lesson I was looking for finally surfaced, “take a pay cut!”

There are a number of key elements that allowed Tom Brady to be so good for so long. It was a perfect storm.  A perfect coach quarterback combination, a perfect competitor to get overlooked in the draft, a perfect time to enter the game as a starter, a perfect combination of winning teammates, a perfect division of teams that couldn’t sustain winning seasons, etc. etc.

Nobody knows for sure what would have happened if Tom left the Patriots to chase the money. My guess is some more winning.  Why?  Because winners win.  However, I believe it would not have reached the level of success sustained with a single team, a single owner, and a single head coach.

Instead, Tom restructured his contracts multiple times leaving an estimated $60 million (low end) on the table. You might be thinking, “That’s easy to do when you are already financially free for life.”  True, I’ll give you that.  But is there a lesson here for us?  What does a pay cut mean to you and me?

Remember the fly in the movie “A Bug’s Life?” He said it best, “I only got 24 hours to live and I aint gunna spend it here!”  This is a lesson I haven’t fully learned.  Mortality has an expiration date.  If we were acutely aware of our limited time on earth, we’d be more judicious with our time.  We would do what matters most.  We’d be more than willing to take a pay cut.

Everyone (at one point or another) takes a pay cut, even if that point is death. But no matter how high you climb the corporate ladder, there is still room for growth.  No matter how big you grow your business, you can still expand, or at least start another business.  Whatever level people stop at, they accept a pay cut.

Once you’ve met the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter – how much more do you need? What would happen if you were more like Tom Brady and gave your special talent the “hometown discount?”  How good can you get if you stop playing for money and start playing for the love of the game?

THE CHALLENGE: I understand in life you have to “Do what you have to do, so you can eventually do what you want to do.”  If you’ve been in this position for awhile, maybe now is the time to go all in.  If the promotion comes, take it…but don’t chase it.  If you chase two rabbits, both will escape.  If you only had 24 hours to live, would you take a pay cut?  What records would you set?  What statistics would your fans appreciate?  How many times would you win the big game?

THE COTTON HARVEST

At a recent Black History month celebration I was privileged to hear a wonderful speaker relate a few stories from his life and the cultural changes he has observed in the work place over the years.

He shared a story of Grandma taking the grandkids to a plantation to pick cotton. While family history is not my focus today, this is brilliant from a genealogical standpoint.  Generational teachings aside, I believe there is a lesson for all of us from this loving grandmother.

I have never harvested cotton. I don’t know what it is like and I most certainly don’t pretend to know what it is like to be a slave or to suffer the burden of bondage from a taskmaster.  Fortunately though, I’ve been fertilized by some “high grade manure.”  I have had a chance to carry out tasks that are both unpleasant and beyond the threshold of comfort for most Americans.  In every job there is a “rectal exam” – something not very glamorous – something you’d rather not do.  These jobs contain valuable lessons – usually in hindsight.  Today, I’m referring to such tasks as cotton picking.

I believe when it comes to being great at something , when it comes to being your very best, there are times when you must drive yourself. Your goals must become the taskmaster.  Your goal must morph into a living breathing thing, so strict and without feeling that it compels your body to obey your very will.  In other words, you force yourself to pick the day’s cotton.

THE CHALLENGE: What is your “cotton?”  Is it hitting the snooze button on the alarm clock?  Avoiding a phone call or email?  Proper diet and exercise?  Loving more?  Forgiving?  Being taken advantage of?  Or is it simply mastering your craft?  Identify an area in your life that you want to improve but continually procrastinate.  Now, implement the following immediately:  STOP BEING SO NICE TO YOURSELF!  DEMAND MORE.  DEMAND BETTER.  DEMAND RESULTS.  Stop giving yourself another chance or another tomorrow.  Start picking cotton!  There is a lot of acreage on whatever plantation you are avoiding.  Get out and get to work.  Get blisters.  Get sunburned.  Get lashed.  Get hungry.  Get thirsty.  Get fatigue.  Do this and you will get stronger.  Get progress.  Get results.  Get paid.  Get healthy.  Get happy.  Get what your heart desires!

A Smart Question Never Asked

If you hear the term “winter fun” you might think of ski slopes and snowball fights.  For me, I prefer the beach.  No crowds, no kids dusting your towel with sand, and no barrage of seagulls stealing your snacks because the person next to you tossed out their chili cheese fries like it’s a petting zoo.  Sure it’s too cold to swim, but the vistas are all mine, the shoreline can be scavenged at will for all manner of treasures and the golden winter sunlight can’t be rivaled.

I remember Memorial Day weekend growing up in Rhode Island.  For some reason, we thought this was a good day for an annual trip to the beach.  It wasn’t – but I didn’t know that as a kid.  I thought a beach was supposed to be crowded, that you were supposed to sit in traffic for hours, that you were supposed to wait in long lines for food or to use the restroom.  I never asked the smart question, “Why are we doing this on the busiest day of the year?”

Guess what just passed?  Memorial Day Weekend.  I live five miles from the ocean and visit year round.  I didn’t think much of it.  Seemed like just another good day for me to walk the dog.  Somehow I overlooked the fact that this holiday would bring out all the beach bums.

Roughly three miles into the walk my dog quit.  She had enough of the sun, got a drink from the doggy fountain and plopped onto the sand beneath the pier – the one spot that nobody occupies due to the foul smell and lack of sunshine.

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Not two minutes pass by before a cop drives up to me, delivers a dirty look and states, “You can’t have your dog on the beach.”  Was I disappointed that the officer could not see the forest through the trees?  Of course!  He failed to ask the smart question.

Obviously, it wasn’t my choice to stand in the most inconvenient location beneath the pier.  Obviously, my dog was preventing heat exhaustion.  Obviously, nobody would ever use that section of beach.  But the officer was simply doing his job.  He waited for me to pick my dog up and place her back on the sun-baked pavement.  If it was winter time (or any other time of year) I would never have this problem.  The cops come out when the crowds come out.

APPLICATION:  My life is best lived when I abide by strict boundaries.  It makes me happy when I don’t have to rethink my decisions or compromise my standards.  My life is most enriched when I protect my goals the way this cop protected the beach.  He never had to ask the “smart question” because he had a job to do.

THE CHALLENGE:  If you intend to make a difference in this world, you also have a job to do.  Avoid asking questions that compromise the integrity of your decisions.  Get your dang “dog” off the beach!  You know it shouldn’t be there in the first place.  Perhaps the only smart question to ask right now is, “How can I be more like that cop?”  At the end of the day, excuses don’t alter performance.  When something creeps in on your goals and tries to steal your attention, give it a dirty look and wait for it to “get back on the pavement.”

Photo by: Chris Yarzab

Ignore That Too!

My mother-in-law has many gifts and talents, among which is a passion for quilting.  Browsing through the used bookstore recently, I picked up a title that I thought would help me better understand what makes a quilt worthy of regard.

“Plain and Simple” is a true story of an urban California woman, Sue Bender, who developed an obsession for the Amish and eventually lived among their people to discover their unique culture for herself.  The curiosity was initiated in the 1960s over a spectacular Amish quilt hanging in a department store.  Years later, in the fall of 1981, Sue found three strange looking dolls in a folk art gallery store.  She learned these dolls originated from the Amish and over a six month period received twelve of these dolls from seven different women.

Sue observed that the dolls had no face.  They were silent and serene.  There was no pecking order.  None was better or worse than the others.  They didn’t have to perform or prove anything.  No voice said, “Be happy, cute, or pretty.”  No voice said, “Be a star.”

She continues… “In my world, everyone has a face, and many of us try to stand out.  In their simplicity, these faceless dolls said more with less.  They left more to the imagination.  Maybe accepting who they are, they don’t waste their strength trying to change or compete.”

I’m reading this book to my daughters.  My twelve year old has developed a talent for crocheting.  She has made dozens of her own stuffed animals and other clever creations.  Yesterday, she presented me with a surprise gift, a faceless doll.

Adding to the depth of her message, and a lesson for all, was a message born of pure childlike innocence best explained in her handwritten letter.

“P.S. I know the bag says, ‘Happy Birthday’ on it, just ignore it!”

“P.P.S. I also know it says, ‘To Skyla, Love Grammy and Grampy on it, ignore that too!”

“P.P.P.S. I LOVE YOU!”

What a great way to magnify the message of a faceless doll.  We just need to learn what to ignore.  Truth be told, I didn’t even notice the elements of the bag she was asking me to overlook.  Fancy bows and glittery gifts stopped catching my eye many years ago, but there is a lot more work to do in the art of “overlooking.”  Even though I know we are all crafted from crooked timber, I still spend too much time marveling over the incompetence of humanity at large.

THE CHALLENGE: Noah’s ark couldn’t have smelled very appealing, but it was much safer inside than out in the storm.  Maybe your workplace stinks.  Maybe your family stinks.  Maybe your school stinks. When a patch or stitch in your quilt stinks, approach it like an ark.  Approach it like a faceless doll.  Approach it like the wise innocence of a twelve-year-old child who knows what to look beyond in order to get to the real gift and message!  A “faceless” approach will allow you to “FACE LESS” of the unnecessary noise, drama, and distractions of a turbulent world.

Three Halloween Observations

(1) The rich know how to give.
(2) Opportunities to teach children are abundant.
(3) It’s a great chance to get to know your neighbors.

I will not write about these lessons independently but will share a quick (mostly incoherent) snapshot that hopefully captures the essence of each lesson.

“Let’s go to the rich neighborhood” we used to say as trick-or-treaters.  Not a Halloween went by without some discussion of potentially getting a full sized Snickers bar.  We never made it to “those” neighborhoods.  In fact, no matter where we went there were punk kids stealing bags of hard-earned candy.  (Ironically, I doubt those thieves will ever be in a position to hand out the aforementioned Snickers bars.)

My children love sweets just like anyone else, but they are also no strangers to moderation and healthy food choices.  For this reason, they have been content over the years to just fill up their Halloween buckets and call it a night.  This year they even seemed a bit uninterested, skipping houses that were decorated and had porch lights on.  I was shocked.  How could this be?!?!  “Kid’s we’re going to the rich neighborhood.  Tonight you are going to learn how to hustle!”

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We jumped in the car, drove off the military base and down the road a couple of miles.  I explained that “when dad was a youngster” we used to run door to door filling up pillowcases full of candy.  I concluded my unsolicited history lesson and parked the car. We started to pound the pavement, albeit slow at first.  It took the kids an hour to really find their groove.

How rich was the neighborhood you ask?  Depends on your definition of “rich”.  Very small homes were selling for 1.3 million.  Every yard was perfectly manicured.  Most driveways were adorned with luxury vehicles and many families were driving door to door in golf carts.  One family was even driving through the streets giving out candy.  We ended up with 20 “full sized” treats between 3 kids.  (Score!)

There are undoubtedly snobs in this world who happen to be rich and therefore give the wealthy a bad name.  But, my experience last night was remarkable.  There was not a single home in which we were not greeted with exceptional warmth and kindness.  Almost every homeowner interacted with the kids commenting and inquiring about their costumes.  I asked some of the homeowners about a piece of art that I saw hanging up on the wall and they invited me in without hesitation.  There were home builders, artisans, orthodontists, and retirees.  Roughly 50% of the homes held out a bowl of candy and told the kids to “take what you want” and/or “take some more.”  It is evident that the financially independent have become so for a reason.  Most have worked very hard to get where they are, they have learned gratitude and are quick to give back and share, whether it be advice, friendship, material goods or services.

I found plenty of opportunities to teach the kids.  From safety, to hard work, to manners.  My boy is still a bit too young to use a filter and is often brutally honest (as a child should be).  At one home he told an older gentleman that he didn’t like trail mix.  The man’s feelings were hurt, based on the words he murmured under his breath.  I noted the address and will have my son mail him a handwritten apology letter.  My parents and grandparents never tolerated a lack of manners and that has trickled down to their posterity.

THE CHALLENGE:  First, if you think the wealthy segment of the population is a bunch of detestable shmucks, STOP!  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  Isolated incidents do not represent the masses.

Second, teach the rising generation.  They need to learn social skills.  They need to learn principles of safety.  They need to have fun, create good memories and spend time with mom and dad.  They need to learn how to work hard.  Halloween is a perfect opportunity for all of these.  Last night was not at all about the candy, it was about the children.  It was about the education.

Photo by Philip Hay

 

 

Three Lessons From Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong earned the distinction of being the first man to walk on the moon. What can we learn from him?  Here are my three takeaways.

Armstrong joined the U.S. Navy in 1949 as an aviator and flew combat missions up until 1952. In the last two years of that service, he flew 78 combat missions over Korea. He transitioned to the U.S. Naval Reserve and remained there for eight years until resigning from his commission in 1960. During his time in the Navy, Armstrong logged a total of 2,600 hours in flight, including 1,100 in jet aircraft. He later became an astronaut and the rest is history.

(1)  Find passion in what you do. Would Neil Armstrong have landed on the moon if he did not find a passion for being airborne? Would he have had the confidence to go into unknown territory if he had not risked his life in 78 combat missions? He not only went into outer space but did so with the intent of walking on the moon. I wonder if the thought of “moon walking” ever occurred to him during his first combat flight over Korea. Try not to think about just “getting through the day” but how everything we do can lead to something much bigger than initially supposed.

(2) Contemplate boundaries. Armstrong’s accomplishments reveal so much about boundaries, both literal and perceived. The early colonists in 1775 (at the time of the Navy’s birth) were virtually landlocked.  To the west, they were smothered by thriving forests. To the east, they had the ocean (a mighty long swim before finding a substantial land mass). They may have viewed either direction as their “outer space”, an unknown distance of unexplored territory on one hand and uncharted fathoms of a deadly ocean on the other, not to mention any number of unsympathetic enemies found in both human and animal form. We ought to take inventory of our boundaries, again both literal and perceived. Strive to gain and maintain a firm grasp on the territory in which you may legally operate while keeping in the back of your mind the possibility of breaking out and doing the impossible. America’s early settlers weren’t thinking about exploring the far side of the moon any more than Niel Armstrong was thinking about the world wide web. What possibilities do we presently overlook?

(3) Take a trip for yourself. I personally will never travel to the moon, at least not in a physical sense.  That does not mean I can’t let my mind wander (preferably not at a red light).  For me, it is important to take creative mental expeditions. Refuse to let your mind grow stale. Feed your brain with daily “combat missions.”  Don’t just “veg out” in front of the TV and let others do the thinking for you, don’t be a couch potato.  Find ways to do some mental moonwalking such as book exploration, blogging, journaling, meditation, yoga or some type of art or music. Do whatever it is that sets your mind free and allow yourself time to think outside the box.  Yes, there are infinite prospects to your left and right – just be sure to “look up” from time to time in order to find those overlooked possibilities.

 

Photo by possan

A Stitch in Time, Saves Nine

One of the pivotal books I read this year was “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” This book gave me new eyes to see the value of preservation and upkeep. This is a principle taught in the military, but I failed to meditate upon the idea and it slipped through my fingers. I treated it like tinsel on a Christmas tree, especially with my own belongings. In far too many instances, maintenance is an afterthought rather than the main priority. For me, this is primarily due to my lack of affinity to material possessions.

Still, I consistently hand wash my car, change my own oil and replace brake or headlights. (My problem is the check engine light that goes unheeded…but we won’t dwell on that.) I mentioned oil, so let’s explore, shall we?

I draw a line in the sand when my car is hemorrhaging fluids. I have been astonished at the number of guests that have come to our house over the last four years and left a puddle of oil as a parting gift. I fail to comprehend how people can let that happen, especially after reading the aforementioned book!

I recently noticed a phenomenon at work. I’m often among the last to leave when the parking lot is all but cleared out. The lot is freshly paved and is therefore easy to distinguish fresh oil spots. Care to guess where they are located?

Closest to the door, but away from all the early arrivers. Essentially, the spots that are last to fill up and have the most turnover.

This is not science, but in my estimation, it looks like this. The early birds have a battle rhythm. They beat rush hour traffic, get the spot of their choice, pack their own lunch and rarely have to move their car. The late arrivers procrastinated preparation, hit the snooze button too many times, didn’t pack food and have to leave to get breakfast and again for lunch. In general, those parking spots are married to the most oil. CoincidenceI think not.

THE CHALLENGE: Read or listen to “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” The gems contained therein are well worth the effort.

Take inventory of your car (and all you possess for that matter). What is being neglected? Check engine light perhaps? Do some maintenance. It is worth the effort. Remember, “A stitch in time, saves nine!”

Your nine to five performance is a direct reflection of you five to nine performance. Prepare for tomorrow! It is worth the effort.

Photo by Jenny Downing