Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Any Given Sunday

When my wife and I first moved to Atlanta, I took her to a football game because her favorite team, the San Francisco 49ers, was playing the Atlanta Falcons.  It was a televised Monday night game, and she wore a 49ers jersey even though we were sitting with the Falcons’ fans.  San Francisco clobbered Atlanta that game, and the only person cheering in our section was my wife.  I think that was the last time we went to a game together.

As a new season of football begins here in the United States, I thought it might be interesting to look to the past and learn the story of how one of the most popular professional sports in America got started on the road to becoming the frenzied national spectacle it is today…

It began in Pennsylvania in the 1890s, when matches between local athletic clubs were so competitive that one of them, the Allegheny Athletic Association, hired a Yale football star to play for them in a game against a rival club.  William "Pudge" Heffelfinger was paid $25 to play, along with a $500 bonus if they won.  He scored the only touchdown, won the bonus, and became the first official professional football player. Within four years, the entire Allegheny team was made up of paid players.  As football became more popular, teams were organized all over the country.

Despite its growth, football was considered a secondary sport for the next few decades, being overshadowed by boxing, horseracing, and baseball.  It drew crowds as a spectator sport, but lack of organization and vision were keeping it from realizing its potential.

In 1920, a young athlete named George moved to Decatur, Illinois to take a sales position with Staley Starch after a hip injury ended his professional baseball career.  George had played a bit of football as well, and he became the player-coach of the company football team.  The team had 13 wins and just one loss under George in his first season.

In August of that year, four Ohio football team owners met in an automobile showroom in Canton, Ohio to form a new professional league.  They nominated legendary decathlete and football star Jim Thorpe to be its president, hoping his fame would help get the league taken seriously.  On September 17, a second meeting was held in Canton, and George was present on behalf of the Decatur Staleys.  Sitting on the running boards of cars, the men officially formed the American Professional Football Association, made up of 14 teams.  Within 2 years, the APFA changed its name to the National Football League, and Staley Starch turned over control of its team to George. 

George moved the team to Chicago and renamed them the Bears.  Over the course of nearly five decades, George Halas made huge contributions to what would eventually become the most popular sports league in North America.  He helped perfect the T Formation, an offensive approach that redefined the sport by making it more fluid and exciting to watch.  He achieved numerous coaching records, and participated in not just the creation of the league, but in helping get the sport televised.  He had the kind of impact that only perseverance, along with talent and intelligence, can make possible.

Thinking about George’s lifetime as an NFL coach makes me think about patience.  Most people don’t have enough of it when it comes to getting where they want to be in life.  And while it’s easy to say “just have patience,” we all know it’s never really that easy.  I’ll admit that even I’m not always the most patient person.

As hard as it is to be patient, it’s vital to realize that everything that happens is going to help you in some way.  If you’re trying to move forward in your education but it feels like it’s never going to end, try to recognize that every single thing you learn is positively impacting your personal growth.  If you’re trying to progress in your career, remind yourself that every experience is building you into the person who’ll be ready to seize that big opportunity when it comes your way. 

Today, September 17th, the NFL celebrates its 94th anniversary as a league built on stamina, resilience, patience and passion.  It’s a good time to remember that, even if something doesn’t appear relevant now, you may be surprised at how it comes back around to help you at just the right time.  Your big chance may be just around the corner, and no matter who your team is, I’ll be rooting for you this Sunday!

Until next week…

Live Your Dreams,

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Wish I Was Here

At the age of eleven, Zachary went to summer acting camp.  It was the first place he’d ever been where it wasn’t unusual to care more about acting than sports, and he loved it.  There, Zachary was noticed by a talent manager who encouraged him to begin auditioning.  He only landed one small role during his teens, but learned a lot about the process of putting on shows and organizing film and TV productions.

Zachary studied film in college, during which time he also got his first role in a major movie.  He was wide-eyed and terrified to be in a scene with several big Hollywood figures, but made the most of the experience. He also earned a significant role in a theatrical production of Macbeth, but acting work was so scarce that he eventually decided to try his luck out west.

Zachary relocated to Hollywood, and got a job waiting tables in a French-Vietnamese restaurant.  That year, three very small independent films in which he appeared were released, the last of which got him some positive attention.  Restaurant guests would say, “We just saw your movie!” to which he’d answer, “Thanks… now let me tell you about our specials.”

After several years of waiting tables and auditioning, Zachary landed the starring role in a major TV series.  He immediately quit his serving job, then learned that the series wouldn’t start filming for several months.  With almost no money, he panicked, realizing he may have quit too early.  Ultimately, though, he decided it was a sign that he needed to stop procrastinating, and finally work on writing the movie script he’d been thinking about for some time.

His script focused on a mostly out-of-work Los Angeles actor who returns to his New Jersey home for his mother's funeral.  It garnered little studio interest.  Zachary’s TV show was doing well, but almost every production house he pitched passed on his movie due to his unwillingness to change what they felt were basic structural problems.  Finally, Zachary managed to find a financial backer for his project who had no experience whatsoever in the entertainment industry.  It was perfect, because the novice producer did something no major studio would have done:  he agreed to let Zachary star in the movie, direct it, and have final approval over the finished film.

Zachary “Zach” Braff’s first movie, Garden State, transformed his life.  He had become recognizable as the likeably-bumbling star of NBC’s Scrubs, but the positive reviews and enormous financial success of Garden State marked him as a filmmaker to be taken seriously.  Moreover, he had done it without sacrificing his vision for the movie, something few first-time filmmakers get the chance to do.  But even so, repeating the success of that process wouldn’t be easy.

Over the next eight years, Zach pursued numerous filmmaking projects, and learned that getting a movie made the normal Hollywood way wasn’t easy.  In one case, he had a commitment to direct one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, until that star called back to say that his wife didn’t want him to work that year.  On another occasion, Zach was scouting locations for a film and got word that he had lost his star to a bigger, more famous director.  Two other times, he was set to make movies at major studios, but his champion at the studio was fired.  Without a champion to fight for a project and studio resources, a production was as good as done before it began.

In 2013, Zach decided to stop trying to do things the Hollywood way, and went back to what had worked for him the first time:  going outside the system.  Instead of looking for major film studio backing, Zach appealed to all the fans he had made with his first movie, inviting them to help fund turning the new script he and his brother had written into a movie.  It was an overwhelming success.  Surpassing his funding goals by over a million dollars, Zach was able to direct and star in Wish I Was Here, a movie that would have hardly been recognizable if he had let Hollywood do it their way.

Sometimes we let other people dictate how our dreams are supposed to turn out.  I hope Zach’s story will remind you that your future is yours to write. If nothing could get in your way, what dream would you pursue next?  Lights… camera… action!

Until Next Week,

Live Your Dreams!

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Failing Forward

Failure is a loaded word.  When most people think of failure, they think of loss, things not accomplished, unfulfilled potential, or not achieving a goal.  That outlook may be getting in the way of people realizing their dreams. Failing forward is a concept that encourages everyone to seek success in the face of adversity, to look for the upside when we fall down, and to turn failure into positive feedback. Here are a few examples to illustrate the point

At age 22, a young reporter was fired from her job co-anchoring the 6pm Baltimore nightly news after her program received low ratings.  Told that she was "unfit for TV," she was demoted, and she later called the experience "the first and worst failure of her TV career.”  That reporter was future talk show and lifestyle mogul Oprah Winfrey.

Timothy Ferris was an unknown author working in the nutritional supplement world, and received 25 rejections while trying to find a publisher for his first book.  When the 26th publisher finally took a chance on it, his book, The 4-Hour Workweek, reached #1 on both the New York Times bestseller list and the Wall Street Journal bestseller list. 

When singer Stefani Germanotta signed a record deal with the Def Jam label to release her debut album, she thought she’d made it as a musician.  But the label dropped her just three months later, before the album was even released, leaving her devastated.  Nevertheless, within a few short years, Germanotta, better known as Lady Gaga, was a household name, being selected as one of the world's most influential people by Time Magazine.

Here’s a less famous example:  My brother founded and operated a record label right after he finished college.  During that time, he also started a band, serving as the lead singer.  He loved both his job and singing in his band, and was certain he was doing what he was meant to be doing with his life.  He had no other plans for his future, because he was sure that his life and career would have something to do with music.  One way or the other, he was confident that either his record label or his band would be his future.

Well, after ten years, he still enjoyed his work, but the changing industry and declining album sales persuaded him to sell the company.  And his band, as many bands do, eventually broke up due to the different ideas and personalities of its members.  Abruptly, my brother’s certainty about his future was shattered.  He was no longer in the music business.

My brother turns 40 on Friday, and if you ask if he considers running his label or singing in his band to have been failures, he’ll answer with an emphatic “No!”  He spent ten years putting out records from some of his favorite artists and getting them heard around the world.  He performed onstage for thousands of people in cities throughout Germany, France, Holland, Italy, Belgium, and the U.K., opening for one of his all-time favorite groups.  He learned what it takes to launch and run a business, and got the chance to make music that he still takes a huge amount of pride in.  The only failure would be if he wasn’t grateful for those experiences, or if he’d learned nothing from them that he could put to use in his life. 

For many people, failure is a sign that they shouldn’t have tried, and so they don’t want to try again.  But just because so many people are sidelined by failure doesn’t mean it has to be that way for you. 

Failure is your chance to learn and grow, to understand what works and what doesn’t, all so you can integrate it into your strategy for whatever you attempt next.  As long as you see failure as a roadblock to success, it’s almost certain to be one.  But the happiest, most successful people in the world think of their crushing moments of failure as the times when they figured out exactly what they needed to do in order to reach their goals. 

Michael Jordan once said, “I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career.  I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed.  I've failed over and over and over again in my life.  And that is why I succeed.

It’s up to you to decide: are you getting enough out of your failures?  Are you failing forward?  Happy Birthday to my brother Jadd!  Hope this weekly story is a gift that everyone can find value in.

Until next week…

Live Your Dreams,

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014


I’ll be honest:  I’ve never really had a taste for beer.  Occasionally I enjoy a few small sips, but the rest often goes to waste.  I’m in London this week teaching the 7 Mindsets, and came across an interesting beer that may begin changing my tastes, as well as inspiring this week’s story…

James was a bit of a rebel in school.  He didn’t simply accept the way things had always been done just because no one had thought to change them. He was also quite bright, and decided to study law and economics at Edinburgh University in Scotland. 

While at school, James shared an apartment with his childhood friend Martin, who was learning the art of beer brewing at another nearby college.  Both young men were bored with the flavorless, industrially-brewed lagers and ales that seemed to dominate the market. Martin graduated with honors, and went to work for a small independent brewery.  It was a perfect way to experiment and improve, since he was able to do so with someone else’s money.

When James graduated, he got a job doing entry-level legal work … and he hated it.  It felt so wrong that he left after just two weeks.  In need of income, he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a professional fisherman. 

Obsessed with the lack of any beers being produced in the UK that they wanted to drink, James and Martin would order their favorite inventive craft beers from the USA, and then spend weekends trying to copy the beers themselves at home.  As time passed and they got better, the young men began to think about setting up a brewing business.  They asked a notable beer critic what he thought of their product, and with his encouragement, they decided to take the plunge. 

Using their own savings and a bit of money borrowed from family, James and Martin purchased some second-hand brewing equipment.  However, they couldn’t afford to pay professionals to assemble their brewing system, so they did all the wiring and welding themselves, falling off ladders and weathering electric shocks along the way. 

For the first six months, the pair worked twenty hours a day, making and bottling their beer by hand and trying to sell it around the region.  On an average day, they’d sell four or five cases. 

Growth was slow, and nearly everyone was telling them to make their beer cheaper and milder in order to better compete with the market giants.  But they were committed to the idea of making and selling only beers that they themselves enjoyed.  And they were determined that, if they were going to fail, it would be on their own terms, making the beers they wanted to make.

James sent some samples to a beer competition being held by a national grocery chain.  Amazingly, they finished first, second, third and fourth in the contest, and the chain wanted to put their beers into 600 stores nationwide. James did his best not to let on that the company was just he and his friend filling bottles by hand.  They had four months to figure out how to fill the order. 

Going to the bank, James and Martin explained the huge contract and their need for $150,000 to set up a bottling line.  They had only been in business for six months, though, and the bank representative essentially laughed in their faces.  The answer was no. 

Undeterred, Martin and James walked out and went into a rival bank next door.  With straight faces, they said that their current bank had just offered them an amazing finance deal based on their new grocery contract, but they were willing to switch if this bank could offer better terms.  Amazingly, the new bank liked the idea of getting involved with a young, up and coming company, and agreed to make the loan.  The bottling line was completed two weeks before the grocery order was due, and the first beer was finished just in time to ship.  And with that, their business really took off!

Founded by Martin Dickie and James Watt in 2007 when they were both just 24 years old, BrewDog is Scotland's largest independently-owned brewery, and one of the fastest growing companies in the United Kingdom.  They now export worldwide, and star in their own show about brewing on American TV.  Their mission has always been to make other people as passionate about great beer as they are, and they remain dedicated to doing things their way, no matter what tradition and the rules say.  Now I’ll drink to that!

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams

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