Today is the day that is set aside to memorialize the men and women who have died in military service of this country. Like many holidays, the meaning is often overshadowed by the modern traditions. Although we all enjoy a day off from work or a barbecue with family and friends, these momentary things mask the greater meaning of the day. This year especially, the meaning is near the surface for me.
About a month ago, my Uncle Joe passed away. Although he served in the Air Force for many years, it was not a war but cancer that took his life. Despite the fact that he did not die serving our country, he is the person that will most be on my mind this Memorial Day. It was actually his funeral service that truly hammered home the unspoken meaning of this day.
Memorial Day is intended for us to remember the fallen and we should. I was recently speaking to a student about the “Fearometer” (subject for another blog). The basic concept is rating the amount of fear caused by a situation on a scale of 1-10. Personally I believe that being a soldier on a boat about to storm the beach at Normandy would be a 10. Walking into a situation of almost certain death is something that many of our service men and women have faced throughout history. The underlying motivation for overcoming that fear was protecting the freedoms that we enjoy every day including Memorial Day. So using this day to remember these brave souls who paid the ultimate price is completely deserved.
The unspoken meaning that my Uncle Joe’s passing made so clear to me is that in remembering those that have fallen, we need to realize what it means for us. There is space to be filled. The loss of my Uncle left a hole in the world that we all have to find some way to fill: not his job or his money but his spirit, his kindness. The unique gifts, he brought into the world. It is incumbent upon us all to fill in the space that he left behind. We cannot replace those who went before us but only hope to carry on their legacy by following the example that they set.
So remember today and remember to act tomorrow.
When I was in college, I was very fortunate to have a professor, Dr. Knowles, who took me under his wing. We would often have long chats about a variety of things. On one particular occasion we discussed this equation, which has served me well through the years.
The equation was P – I = R or Potential – Interference = Results. It was a simple enough equation that I’m pretty sure he borrowed from someone else. At the time that it was given to me, I was letting Interference run my life. This is a pretty common thing for any of us to do. Interference is easy because it is everywhere and it comes in so many forms that it is easy to focus on. Unfortunately in the PIR equation, the I is the only place that you don’t want your focus. If you emphasize the I in PIR, it is said PYRE as in the materials used to burn a corpse. You don’t want to focus on the I.
If you focus slightly on the P and emphasize the R in PIR, you end up with PURR, which is what you want your life to do. When you focus on your Potential and the Result in front of you, things will purr along.
As a language teacher, I think about languages all of the time. Language is a representation of thought. There are some words that do a very effective job of representing the concepts that they portray. Some words do a very poor job. One of the good (and bad) things about speaking a language like English in a country like the United States is that the language is still very alive. We can decide on adopting new words and phrases and discard the unneeded
The words that we use represent the thoughts that we have and they also change the way that we look at the world. For example imagine trying to paint a sunset, with only blue paint. It would be almost impossible to create an accurate representation because the tools that you are working with limit your possibilities. Conversely imagine trying to paint a midnight sky with only yellow and orange. I think about this a lot when I hear languages like French and German. In my mind, I can’t imagine a punk rock song in French because the language doesn’t represent anger well. Nor can I imagine a romantic movie in German, the language sound just doesn’t seem to fit (I’m sure both of these things exist).
So my suggestion is to replace TODAY and TOMORROW. These are truly neutral words that carry no emotion with them. However they should. Today is all that we have. It should have a word that truly represents what we should be doing with it. My suggestion would be something like “SOWDAY” or “HUNTDAY”. In historical terms, farmers and hunters needed to do something today in order to eat tomorrow. They truly understood something that we’ve lost in modern times, the idea that now is precious. My replacement for tomorrow is “REAPDAY”. As we all know, tomorrow never truly arrives; it is always one day ahead of SOWDAY. Therefore it pushes gratification off into the future at all times. By using a word like this we would anticipate that now is not about taking, now is about doing. Receiving is in the future and only comes if we did the things we needed to do on SOWDAY. I actually prefer HUNTDAY but sow and reap go together better.
So even if you don’t change your vocabulary to include: HUNTDAY, SOWDAY or REAPDAY, I would suggest that you put the idea into your head. Today is your chance to do. Tomorrow is only your opportunity to get if you did the work today. Get out there and make today happen.
My soccer career started on a team called the Orange Crushers. I didn’t know what “irony” was at seven years old but our name epitomized it. We crushed nothing and it seemed as though our purpose in the league was for us to be crushed by others. My memories of that season are a complete blur except for one game. In one of our final games of the season, we won and I scored. I was so glad when it happened. The other team from town, Blue Bombers, was filled with friends and classmates and they were undefeated. So that lone victory was important for me because I’d received some ribbing at school. Perhaps that lone victory kept me hanging on despite the poor start to my soccer career.
As the years went on, there was a slow dance that went on between winning and I. One year my team would be a success. The next we were knocked back down a peg. By the time I reached my senior year in high school, I had figured out who I was as a player. I was one of the kids who wouldn’t quit. That was my first year as a complete “success”. Conference and County Championships were the first two real trophies that any of my teams had ever won. As I thought back to that team, I realized that not one player from the Blue Bombers remained. They had all stopped playing soccer or switched to other sports.
Knowing how to lose and not quit or to persevere through tough times are skills that you acquire from a poor start. These skills are invaluable because no one maintains success forever. Using memories of our failures as stepping-stones is the way we make a staircase toward our success. The examples of poor starts are woven throughout the history of the United States. Lincoln, Ford and Carnegie are three that instantly pop to mind but one of my favorites from the present day is Stallone.
When Sylvester Stallone sold the script of Rocky, the studio wanted to make the film but with someone else playing Rocky. At the time he was completely broke and refused a series of offers from the studio for hundreds of thousands of dollars. He stuck to his guns. He knew how to survive and live with failure but he saw this film as his one ticket to ultimate success. So with very long odds, he bet on himself and won. I used to watch the Rocky films regularly when I was in high school. Later I learned just how much the movies mirror Stallone’s life. In Rocky Balboa, Rocky tells his son that life is about “how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” My guess is Stallone learned this early and never forgot.
A poor start is not something to be embarrassed about. It is something to be embraced. The power of a poor start comes in the fact that you know where you began is not where you’re going to end. The power of a poor start comes from realizing that failure did not put poison inside you, it put fire inside you. The only negative to a poor start is if you quit and make your start, your end.
It’s ok to start poorly, if you finish strong.
Yesterday I described the amazing capability of humans to achieve great things by following in the footsteps of those who have stretched the limits. Unfortunately there is the other side of that coin. Although people can stretch their limits to reach amazing heights, there are just as many people digging toward the depths.
Humans have gone through many different periods of existence. We had the hunting age, the agricultural age, industrial age and possibly the information age. At the moment we seem to be locked in the entertainment age where the sole desire of people is to be entertained for the moment.
Unfortunately this age lacks substance and gives the power of attention to people who don’t really deserve it. Honey Boo Boo, Snookie, the Kardashians and others are much like a lollipop or hard candy. They’re intended to be a quick treat to the senses, not a major part of your diet.
In life there are many types of currency that you will use, two of the most valuable are time and attention. Spend most of your time and pay most of your attention to the people who matter: family, friends and people of substance. When you spend time and pay attention to people of substance, much like your diet you become what you consume.
Although you have a ton people being thrust into your face who seem to lower the bar, it is your choice to let them influence you or not. “Who is more foolish? The fool or the fool who follows him?” –Obi Wan Kenobi
On May 6th in 1954, Roger Bannister broke the World Record for running the mile. He was the first man to run one mile in under four minutes. Many runners had attempted the run but all had failed until Bannister. Although he is remembered for “breaking” something, I contend that what he created was much more important: possibility.
The key to Bannister’s run is that he opened the door of possibility for other people to do the same*. He pushed the edge of what humans were capable of doing. All it takes is one person to show us that our limits are not what we thought they were. Lindberg, Edison, Robinson and countless others swept aside the past to show a brighter future with fewer limits. It seems to be the natural order of things that when the bar is raised, we rise to the occasion to meet it. From my own life, I know that my father was the first in his family to go to college. It is no longer a novelty. All of my brothers and I attended college. The Bannister Effect could be found in many people’s lives.
Is the difference between impossible and possible only a matter of time? How many people told Bannister he couldn’t before he did? How many people scoffed at Lindberg before he was cheered in Paris? How many people turned a blind eye to Edison before they saw the light?
The critics will always be there and their ridicule of your dream will be true, until it’s not. In the end if you give up, they’ll have their “I told you so” moment and everyone will move on. If you persevere and triumph, they’ll stand silent and everyone will move up. I would love to see you rise up rather than give up.
*Additional information: World Records for the mile date back to the 1850s. The time slowly and incrementally decreased over the next ninety years when Gunder Hägg of Sweden ran a 4:01.4. Then it took ten years before Bannister broke through the four-minute barrier. Six weeks later, Bannister’s record was broken. Today his time from 1954 is six seconds slower than the high school record for the mile.
The perfect excuse is difficult to find.
- It needs to be believable but not overly obvious.
- It needs to take all blame and strategically place it somewhere else.
- It cannot offend or degrade anyone that is important to you.
- It must leave your desire completely intact: I wanted to but I couldn’t because…
- It must be new. Reused excuses get tiresome.
- It does not particularly have to be based in reality.
The problem with the search for the perfect excuse is that we might find it. Or worse, we might find it and believe it ourselves.
As a teacher of language, I often find fault with the English language. It falls short in many ways. It breaks its own rules. Pronunciation is ambiguous and changes happen all the time. Probably my biggest gripe with English is that many of the things we say are either misleading or cause us to look at things in a way that does not serve us.
One instance of this vocabulary problem is from my position as a coach. The phrase “we’re winning” needs to go. It is something that I know I’ve said before because it’s what prompted me to write this post. Winning is worthless until you have won. Even worse is that realizing that you’re winning causes a sense of comfort and a change in attitude toward the game.
Until you’ve won, you’re leading. Leading does not imply a result but rather a process. Leading means that you’re ahead of the opponent but they are still there. Leading is something that can be taken away if you let it. Leading is difficult and a struggle. It takes effort and focus to lead until the end but if you want to win, it’s what you have to do.
Don’t let the word trick you. You’re not winning or losing. Either you’re leading or you’re trailing!