Wednesday, February 26, 2014

You're Fired. Your Hired

The movie Invincible is based on the true story of Vince Papale, a 30-year old bartender who gets a late-in-life chance to join the Philadelphia Eagles professional football team.  In the film, Vince has lost his teaching job, his marriage has ended, and he’s contemplating going to the Eagles’ open tryout.  His father is a blue-collar pragmatist, and suggests Vince not get his hopes up because, “a man can only take so much failure.”  Vince goes anyway, earns an invitation to pre-season training, and makes the cut to formally join the team, ultimately becoming a central force in revitalizing them.  This week’s story says similar things about how failure can drive us…

When young Pete would call his friends, he’d speak a single word into the phone: “ballgame.”  Not “hi” or “it’s Pete,” just “ballgame.”  Growing up in the bay-area town of Larkspur, California, Pete was consumed with sports.  When he’d call and say “ballgame,” there was no telling what he meant—an all-day basketball marathon at the local school, a San Francisco excursion to watch baseball from the cheap seats at Candlestick Park, or a gathering at his house to see whatever big game was on TV.  The only certainty was that it would be fun.

A talented athlete, Pete excelled as a boy in Pop Warner youth football.  However, he faced his first disappointment in high school, when his lack of physical growth left him a slender 110 pounds as an incoming freshman.  Initially told he was too small to play, Pete wasted no time obtaining special clearance from his doctor.  After that initial speed bump, Pete became a three-sport standout, playing basketball, baseball, and nearly every position on the football team.  He washed dishes to pay his way to football camp the summer after his junior year, and received his school’s Athlete of the Year award as a senior.

Pete went on to play football in college, earning numerous athletic honors while getting his Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration.  After graduating, he tried out for a professional team, but didn’t make it due to his small size.  He got a job as a roofer, and entered the first period of his life without football.  It wouldn’t last long.

Pete wanted to find a way back into the game.  Starting as an assistant, he began a long climb through a series of coaching positions.  His enthusiasm for the game and ability to empathize with players at every position earned him high regard as he gained experience.  After 18 years in a variety of roles, Pete finally got a coaching position at the professional level, as head coach of the New York Jets.  But the dream job was short-lived:  after just one disappointing season, Pete was fired.

After two seasons as an NFL defensive coordinator, Pete got another head coaching opportunity, this time at the helm of the New England Patriots.  However, his style didn’t mesh with the goals of the ownership, and after three seasons in New England, Pete was fired again.  With the unfortunate label of “damaged goods” beginning to follow him around, Pete spent a year consulting for pro and college teams, writing a football column, and doing charitable work for the NFL.  In that time, his sense of competition intensified, and he began doing everything he could to prepare for his next opportunity.

When USC took a chance on Pete, who wasn’t their first, second, or even third choice, he was ready, and credits his firings as a huge part of making him a better coach.  He must be right.  Under Pete Carroll as head coach, the USC Trojans established a record of 96 wins and only 19 losses in 9 years, during which time they won two national championships.  This set the stage for Pete’s return to professional football, becoming head coach of the Seattle Seahawks in 2010.  Pete completely revamped the Seahawks roster and built the team that, just three years later, advanced to Seattle’s first-ever Super Bowl and a victory in 2014.

Pete Carroll’s path to football greatness was a checkered one, and says much about the critical, life-enhancing value of failure as a component to future success.  Failing seems like something we should avoid, but the simple truth is, some of the most important experiences we’ll need to live our best lives can only be gained by enduring and learning from failure.  Don’t give up, view failure as a source of constructive feedback, and you can coach yourself to the top of your game!

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Changing the Game

Malcolm Gladwell is an author and journalist who has written five New York Times bestselling books about a variety of human conditions, from the sharing of ideas to the basis for success.  In his latest book, David and Goliath, he talks about how underdogs throughout history have secured victory by overcoming disadvantages and changing the rules of the contest.  One of his examples is the subject of this week's story...

When he volunteered to coach his 12-year-old daughter's Redwood City basketball team, Vivek had never even touched a basketball.  Having missed the draft selection, he found that his team was made up of the girls who weren’t picked by the other dads and coaches, most of whom were ex-basketball players themselves.  He didn’t want to make a fool of himself, so on the first day of practice, he had his team do nothing but run.  That night, he went home and studied the game.

Vivek had grown up in Mumbai, India.  He knew from an early age that he wanted to attend MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, because he’d seen a documentary on the school and decided that it was perfect for him.  At the age of 16, he applied to MIT and was admitted, but the Indian government had a policy which required their authorization to release foreign currency for study abroad.  Undeterred, Vivek camped outside the office of the governor of the Reserve Bank of India until they gave him $50 to take to the United States.  Vivek went on to graduate with a bachelor’s and master’s degree from MIT, and, after working for several major companies, he founded his own Silicon Valley business that pioneered the use of “real-time” data processing.

He had been raised with cricket and soccer, so Vivek was puzzled by American basketball.  The amount of time each team gave the other team to get their offense ready made no sense.  Team A would score, then immediately return to the other end of the court and wait.  Team B would inbound the ball, dribble down the court, and attempt to execute a carefully constructed play.  Then the process would reverse.  Most of the time, a team would only defend the last twenty-four feet of the seventy-foot court.  It seemed like an antiquated ritual, as foolish as boxing was before boxers learned to weave and dodge their opponent’s punches. 

To Vivek, it was simple:  Good teams had players who were tall and could dribble and shoot well.  So it made no sense for weaker, less-skilled teams to play in a way that let the good teams do those things that made them good.  Redwood City’s team had two serious basketball players, but most of the others had never played before.  They weren’t tall, and couldn’t shoot or dribble well.  Vivek knew that if they let their opponents dribble the ball up the court without opposition, they would almost certainly lose.  So he decided that they would play the game differently.  If they couldn’t be the most skilled team, they would be the most fit, and they would defend every inch of the court, every game, all the time.

Redwood City did constant running drills to improve their stamina.  They worked on defending every pass, including the first pass to bring the ball inbound.  Often, their opponents couldn’t make the inbound pass within the five-second time limit, or the inbounding players would panic as the clock expired and end up throwing the ball away.  The defense of the otherwise-inexperienced Redwood City girls was relentless, preventing their opponents from using their superior shooting and ball-handling skills.  Frequently, Redwood City would intercept key inbound passes, allowing them to score easy layups.  Vivek’s strategy worked.  The opposing coaches were dumbfounded.  And Redwood City’s team was winning.

What began as simply a way to spend more time with his daughter led to a love of basketball that would see Vivek Ranadivé become the co-owner of two professional NBA teams, first the Golden State Warriors, and more recently the Sacramento Kings in 2013.  But this story also demonstrates that a key trait among the world’s most successful people is recognizing when challenging situations can be turned to one’s advantage.  If Redwood City had tried to play skill against skill in the way most teams did, they might never have won.  But thanks to Vivek’s unique approach, his daughter’s team turned apparent disadvantage into triumph. 

Try to view life’s challenges as opportunities for success, and you’ll find that changing the game to your own advantage is as satisfying as an easy layup after a stolen inbound pass!

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

What Goes Around Comes Around

Sometimes when I’m driving, I see a car stopped in the road, often with someone inside who’s trying to figure out what to do.  I’ve been in that situation more than once myself, and know what a frustrating and even scary experience it can be to have a car stall or shut down, so I’ve made it a personal rule to pull over and try to help.  Is it easy to do that every time?  No.  I don’t know much about engines, and I’m almost always hurrying to something important.  But I know what a relief it is to be in that situation and have someone stop and offer to help.  No matter what each of us has going on, we’re all in this life together, and it’s important to remember that when we see someone in need of help.  Like in this week’s story...

Jonny was ten years old when he first started experiencing the symptoms of schizophrenia.  It was also around that age when he first began to feel attraction to others of the same sex.  But these weren’t happy, pleasant feelings.  In fact, what he felt most was an enormous sense of shame.  Being Jewish, Jonny had been taught that homosexuality was a sin, so he did his best to deny any existence of his feelings for other young men throughout his teenage years.

At the age of twenty, Jonny became deeply unwell with psychosis.  He believed he was being possessed by the devil, and that it was happening to him because he had done something seriously wrong.  After being admitted to a hospital, Jonny was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder.  And as treatment began, his psychiatrist naturally began asking questions about his previous relationships. 

No one ever discussed the possibility of complete recovery from schizophrenia, nor had anyone in Jonny’s life ever proposed that it was acceptable to be gay.  His background just didn’t allow for it.  But as the conversations with his psychiatrist progressed, Jonny began to recall the memory of being a ten year old boy experiencing attraction to another male.  The feelings were unbearable, and his immediate thought was, "I'm going to kill myself."

At around 10am on the 14th of January, 2008, Jonny went to Waterloo Bridge in central London, feeling distressed and hopeless.  Unable to come to terms with his circumstances, he had decided to end his life.  He climbed over the railing, readying himself to jump off the bridge.

Before he could jump, he was approached by a passerby.  The man, a total stranger, was on his way to work when he saw Jonny.  It was clear what Jonny’s intentions were.  The man was very calm as he walked up, and he simply said, ‘Please don’t do this.  I've been where you are and you can get better.  Let's have a coffee and we can talk about this.”  The man’s words reminded Jonny of what people do every day, and he found the normality of it inviting.  He climbed back over the railing to safety, where police were waiting to take him for medical attention.  He never got to know the stranger’s name.

Exactly six years after the incident, Jonny Benjamin, who has since learned how to manage his mental illness, undertook a campaign to find the good Samaritan who helped save his life, in hopes of finally being able to thank him.  Calling the man “Mike” because he couldn’t remember his actual name, Jonny spread his #findMike mission through social media, where it was soon trending worldwide, augmented by TV, radio, and newspaper interviews.  Within two weeks, “Mike,” whose real name is Neil Laybourn, had been located.

Speaking about the incident, Neil says, "I did what anyone would do.  I wasn’t trying to fix his problems that day, I just listened."

"He was the first person to give me hope," Jonny says.  "His words actually prompted my recovery, and I can safely say now, on my 27th birthday, that I am truly the happiest I have ever been.  It means the world to me to have finally had the opportunity to say thank you.”

Today, Jonny Benjamin works as a mental health campaigner with an organization called Rethink Mental Illness, and his outlook sums up the We Are Connected Mindset perfectly:  “The impact of someone planting even the tiniest seed of hope can have a profound impact upon the mind that had no hope before.”  When it comes to living your dreams, just remember that we need each other… because if you can achieve your dreams alone, you’re probably not dreaming big enough.

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Making House Calls

Regina grew up in the tiny town of Daphne, Alabama.  Her parents divorced after hard times forced them to sell the family land, and Regina and her brother were raised by their mother, who worked as a maid and waitress.  Out of necessity, the family made frequent trips to the Gulf of Mexico to catch crabs, fish, and shrimp for food.  Regina never even knew she was poor.

As a child, Regina had never thought about being a doctor.  In high school, she heard the term "international lawyer," and liked the way it sounded.  She applied to Yale Law School, who politely told her that she had to go to college before law school was possible.  Regina enrolled at college in New Orleans, and it was there that she met the first African American physician she’d ever encountered.  She had literally never seen a black doctor before, and the encounter opened up her mind to new possibilities.

She decided to pursue a career in medicine.  After earning a Bachelor’s of Science degree, Regina began preparations to attend medical school.  To help pay for her schooling, she signed up with the National Health Service Corps, which pays tuition in return for three years’ work in a place that’s direly in need of doctors.

To fulfill her commitment, Regina found her way to Bayou La Batre, a shrimp-fishing town of just 2,500 people near Alabama’s Gulf Coast.  She established a small health clinic there, and became the only doctor serving its poor community, where 80% of the population lived below the poverty line.  Many of her patients were unable to pay, so Regina would often treat them for free, or simply asked them to pay what they could when they could.  Sometimes, she even accepted pints of locally-harvested oysters as payment!

The little that her patients were able to pay wasn’t enough to cover the costs of nurses, an office manager, or even the overhead of the tiny clinic.  Regina supported some of the financial burden herself by working late-night shifts at emergency rooms around the region, but soon realized that, with the right business knowledge, she might be able to raise money for her clinic.  She began commuting 250 miles twice a week to New Orleans to earn a Master’s Degree in Business Administration.  While in school, she discovered a little-known government health law which provides federal money to clinics operating in places where medical help is badly needed.  Regina had found her answer.

During her time getting the clinic on its feet, Regina’s brother died from AIDS-related complications, and their mother died the following year from lung cancer.  Her father also died from a combination of diabetes and high blood pressure.  With these personal losses driving her, Regina became determined to fight preventable diseases and illness, along with her continued dedication to offer health care and medical attention to populations who couldn’t easily get it.

Over the years, Regina became a recognized leader in her field, receiving calls, letters and visits from others around the country who wanted to do what she had done in their own backwoods towns.  She spoke at seminars and was invited to serve on several state and national medical association panels.  And despite her clinic being destroyed by hurricanes twice in eight years, she declined numerous offers to join big-city practices and hospitals.  Instead, she rolled up her sleeves to rebuild each time, and continued to serve her patients by making house calls in her pickup truck.

Dr. Regina Benjamin was the first physician under age forty to be elected to the American Medical Association (AMA) Board of Trustees.  She was the sole American recipient of the 1998 Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights, and in 2002, she became the first African American female president of a state medical society.  In 2009, President Barack Obama appointed Dr. Regina Benjamin the 18th Surgeon General of the United States.

Giving, caring, and sacrificing for the sake of her patients shows how Regina epitomizes the Live to Give Mindset.  In addition to making house calls for those who wouldn't or couldn't visit a clinic on their own, Benjamin's nurses often saw her paying for medicine out of her own pocket for patients who couldn't afford it.  On paper, her own clinic even owes her hundreds of thousands of dollars in back pay, as she has long worked there without receiving paychecks.  As you go about your day, think about Regina Benjamin, and remember that nothing in life can provide greater rewards than the simple act of giving of yourself!

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams!