We all want to make an impact. We all want to not only be heard, but we want to influence people to see things our way, to do things that we would like them to do.
Scientists, in a number of independent studies, have come to the conclusion that more than 80% of people follow a very predictable pattern of positivity, energy, and attention. Four out of five people are more receptive and optimistic during the morning, turning far more closed and negative in the afternoon, and then become a bit more positive in the evening. A person’s openness follows a classic “hype curve” pattern.
I think many of us “know this” biorhythm from our own experiences and common sense. Unfortunately, our logical brain often overrides common sense when we schedule an important customer meeting at 1:30 pm on a Thursday or when we pitch our new idea to our manager right before quitting time.
Timing matters. Imagine that you could bat .333 vs. .250 on moments when you try to influence others, over the course of a 40 year professional career. What would be the domino effect of one additional positive outcome, one more decision in your favor, 50 times per year? Career momentum builds over time, just like compounding returns in the stock market.
Schedule your meetings at 9 am, 10 am, and 11 am. You might have to wait a few more days to land the favored time slot, but that’s ok. Would you prefer that your doctor is more attentive or less attentive as she diagnoses your problem? Would you prefer that your boss decide that you deserve the raise now or decides to push you off until the following year? Would you prefer to sell your spouse on your idea for a vacation this year? It is actually surprisingly simple to let natural rhythms work in your favor.
It doesn’t have to be hard to be effective. Optimism combined with good timing is a winning strategy.
If there is one good thing that will come out of Covid, it’s that we recognize the need to use our time wisely, to make the most of each day. Before Covid, we often heard someone say ‘just wasting time…’ when asked what they are doing right now. I now understand, more than ever before, that each day is precious, each hour is precious, and making the most of moments matters.
Tom Hanks agrees with me. Here is how he put it in an article I read recently: “Covid-19 has taught us that life and health are precarious—that the tiniest bit of our physical world, like a virus, can rob us of vitality, community, family and purpose, whether we got sick or not. This pandemic affected us all, costing so much, too much. Our time is limited and finite. Solitaire squanders what is precious. Don’t ever play solitaire again.“
The good news is that Covid taught the world how to quarantine, how to wear masks, how to endure some inconveniences for the health of our fellow man. A clear benefit is that the human race is more ready for a pandemic than we ever have been in history. Although this is important, I think the greatest lesson that Covid taught us is to be mindful about how we use our time, to appreciate the little things in life, to recognize how precious moments and time really are, and to be grateful for the time we have with friends and family.
PS. Small idea for you: Set a recurring calendar alert / paste in this link / and watch this fun video once a month. We need to keep our priorities straight and take proactive action to make our lives better. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4kaG95ZIjHQ
Here’s is an awesome comic from the website / webpblog xkcd — if you have not seen Randall’s work and wit, definitely check it out at xkcd.com.
Recently, I’ve decided that I want to lose some weight. There is nothing super unique about having such a goal, I know, in an America that is trending toward XL. I’m a believer in making sure you have a written “why” to go with a goal and mine is straightforward: I really want to be a super-spry old guy, most spry old guys tend to be slim and trim, and I figure it’s a bad idea to start becoming spry when you are actually, officially old. Today, I still feel as young, enthusiastic, and energetic as I did when I was 25, although my vertical while playing hoops is less than half of what it used to be, but who knows if that changes when your grandkids are hopefully born someday. My grandfather raced me in a 60 yard dash when I was in grade school and I want to do the same.
But COVID hit, schedules, gyms, hoops, racquetball, squash, all that stuff got torpedoed. No excuses, right? So I started my home version — bought some weights, fixed up the treadmill, got a rower, cleaned up my mountain bike, started tracking calories with the MyPlate app. I’ve been now doing this routine for months, and my weight… wait for it… has not changed an ounce.
I just realized that one of the things I espouse all the time is the definition of crazy: doing the same things and expecting different results. For the last 90 days or more, I’ve been doing the same things and nothing has changed: Losing the 10 – 12 pounds is not happening. There is only one logical conclusion — do something different, do something more and / or eat less, or all of the above. Find a Plan B that actually shows measurable progress in reasonable time. Wishful thinking and misguided expectations are not changing a thing.
When you want something, and the Plan A that you are repeatedly trying is not working, it is time to face the reality and make some changes. Why is something so obvious so often forgotten? Maybe I need to find some stairs to spend 3 sessions on per week… seems like a good social distancing idea.
If you are a regular reader, you know that I’ve been railing against watching worthless TV and streaming media for years. But not all media is created the same and of course there is wonderful stuff too. John Krasinski — in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic — just proved that the message within the “content” matters much more than the money invested in professional production. It also helps to have a positive attitude and a can-do belief in yourself.
I recommend spending the next hour+ watching these episodes in order. It is a brilliant display of optimism, when we need it. The lesson is simple — optimism always matters. We should not forget this lesson a few years from now, when a lot of people will start to forget and go back to complaining about traffic and all the banalities of daily life.
Thanks everyone, especially John, for illustrating the power of optimism.
This is a “re-post” of a great article, just so that it doesn’t disappear someday. It appears on a new (not sure how new) site that IMHO has a lot of promise: https://www.theplayerstribune.com/en-us (definitely suggest checking in out).
Overcoming adversity, especially in the dense fog of other people’s expectations — expectations greatly exaggerated by the media — is something few people experience to the level that Chauncey Billups has.
Chauncey is one of my favorite basketball players of all time. I would love to have lunch with him one day. His journey in the NBA was extraordinary, as was his optimism. Here he is in his own words, and there is a lot to learn from him. The original is posted on the web, but I posted it here, just in case some misguided webmaster takes it down someday. This story should not be lost.
Letter to My Younger Self
by Chauncey Billups
Dear Young Chaunce,
We’re not coming back to L.A.
We’re not coming back to L.A.
We’re. Not. Coming. Back. To. L.A.
It’s June 8, 2004, about 11 p.m. in Los Angeles. You’ve just lost the most important game of your 28-year-old life. And you’re about to walk onto the Detroit Pistons team bus.
You’re going to leave Staples Center on that bus. You’re going to hop on a plane. And sometime early in the morning, hours from now, you’re going to arrive at home — tied with the Lakers, one game apiece, in the NBA Finals. Yeah, those Lakers: Shaq. Kobe. Payton. Malone. The Zen Master. The three-time, dynasty-building, world-beating champs.
But we’ll get to that later. Right now, we’ve gotta focus on this bus — this bus full of teammates, of brothers, of Deee-troit Baaa-sketball. This bus full of guys who are coming off the most brutal loss of their lives, just like you. And they need you.
They need their point guard.
They need you to calmly, sternly tell Coach Brown — bless him — to miss everyone with that Philly talk. To not even let him finish when he starts in, dejectedly, on, “When this happened last time.” To just cut him off (with love), and tell him, point blank: “Don’t care, L.B.” To make sure he understands — the whole team understands — that no one should care, at all, about what happened to the Sixers in ‘01. And that, when Coach Brown says, “last time” — nah. Nah. There was no last time.
This is y’all’s first time. And this ain’t Philly.
This is Detroit.
Or it will be in a few hours, anyway. But right now, like I said, it’s only a bus leaving Staples Center — and you’ve just gotten on it. And I need you to walk to the back of it — where everyone can see you, can hear you — and I need you to look at your team. I need you to look at all of them — at Ben, at Rip, at Tay, at Sheed — and wait until you have their attention.
And then I need you to say it.
We’re not coming back to L.A.
We’re not coming back to L.A.
We’re. Not. Coming. Back. To. L.A.
Yes. Good. Just like that.
And then, listen, Chaunce: I need you to sit down. I need you to put some music on. Enjoy what’s left of the bus ride. Get a little sleep on that flight. Go home.
And win a fucking championship.
But first thing’s first. Let’s back up a little.
Let’s back up to before you’re a Piston, or a leader, or a winner, or a Big Shot — before any of that.
You know what? Let’s back up to before you’re even a point guard.
Let’s back up a full six-and-a-half years. To when you’re a 21-year-old, in Boston, with a bad haircut and a rookie contract.
Let’s back up to … now. When you’re reading this.
Why ’97? Well — I have some bad news, my dude.
You’re getting traded.
I know, Chaunce. I know.
Everyone agrees — it’s messed up. You’re just a rookie, and not just any rookie: A few months ago, you were the third overall pick in the NBA Draft. Third overall. Third overall picks don’t get traded midseason. It doesn’t happen.
Except, it does.
It’s funny — for the rest of your career, people are going to imagine that you had this terrible relationship with Coach Pitino. But the truth is, the two of you will get along pretty well. And I’ll tell you what: When the trade happens, Coach Pitino will — if nothing else — be honest with you. He’ll at least be that.
(This is already better than you’ll get from some GMs.)
Coach will take you aside, and tell you that there’s a lot of pressure on him to make the playoffs — even in his first year with the team. He’ll tell you that, in order to contend, he feels like the team needed a veteran point guard. He’ll tell you that he’s always been a fan of Kenny Anderson’s — I don’t know, I guess the whole New York thing. He’ll tell you that he still feels you’re going to be a great player — but that, with the pressure on him, and the current roster, he’s gotta do what he’s gotta do.
Finding out about that trade will be a complete shock. No warning, no nothing. You’re going to feel hurt, and betrayed, and confused. You’re going to feel a lot of things — none of ’em good.
But here’s my advice: Just don’t be embarrassed.
I know that doesn’t sound like much. And I know, I know — it’s easier said than done. But that’s the way you’re going to get through this, Chauncey: by remembering that you get to play basketball … for a living.
And then holding your head up high.
You’re going to get through this, simply put, by not being embarrassed. And by understanding that you have nothing, and I mean nothing, to be embarrassed about.
Oh, and here’s what else I can tell you:
That trade will be a blessing in disguise. It’s not going to seem like one at the time — actually, to be honest, it’s not going to seem like one for a very long time.
But I promise: It will be a blessing.
You just have to stay patient.
In the meanwhile, though … Chaunce, I won’t sugarcoat it: it’s going to be tough.
It’s going to be you, on your own, in the basketball wilderness. Boston to Toronto … Toronto to Denver.
“Stud prospect” to “journeyman” in less than two years.
Or that will be the perception, anyhow.
It’s crazy how misperceptions get started.
But in a league that’s covered 24/7, with rabid fan-bases and evolving media: Perception is always going to be an interesting thing. In the NBA, everything needs a story attached to it — a rumor, a label, a whatever. I know that sucks, in moments like this. I wish I had some advice for you on it. But it’s one of those things that you’re simply going to have to accept and move on from. Perception is going to bite you a few times, Chaunce. That’s just real.
I’ll give you an example.
In Denver, you’re going to play for Coach Mike D’Antoni. This will be Coach D before those Phoenix years, before “Seven Seconds or Less,” before all of his accolades — but he’s still going to be that same experimenter, that same thinker, that same outside-the-box type of guy. Y’all are going to have Nick Van Exel — a veteran, and a really good player still — entrenched at the point on that team.
But Coach D will have an idea.
He’ll say, “You know what, screw it — I’m just starting my two best guards, period. I don’t care what positions: The one, the two, it doesn’t matter. I want the guys who can play to play.”
And you’ll take him up on that offer.
You’ll fight like hell, you’ll adapt, and pretty soon you’ll be starting on that Nuggets team — in the backcourt, at shooting guard, opposite Nick. You’re going to be incredibly proud of yourself for that, Chaunce. And between us: You should be. It’s going to take a lot of guts to make those adjustments as a young player, and a lot of talent. When you make that first start at shooting guard, it’ll be a big accomplishment. But here’s the crazy thing about it: That accomplishment is going to dog you for years.
I can already hear you — reading this and thinking to yourself: What do you mean, “dog me” — I thought you said it’s an accomplishment?
Like I said, Chaunce, this league is all about perception. And as bizarre as it is to say: No one around the league is going to care about the adjustments you made, or the versatility you showed, or the skill set you displayed, that made your coach want to start you at shooting guard. No. What people will focus on is this: Chauncey isn’t a point guard.
They’ll see the trade for Kenny Anderson in Boston. They’ll see the short stint and the second trade in Toronto. They’ll see “Chauncey Billups, Shooting Guard” in Denver. You probably won’t even hear it; it’ll just be a whisper. You see they moved Chauncey off the ball? Yeah, he tried, but he’s not a point. And sometimes a whisper is all it takes to manufacture reality. It’s crazy, I know. But that’s the league.
Chauncey isn’t a point guard. That’s what they’ll say.
They’ll be wrong.
The other thing that’s going to be tough about Denver is that it’s home. When you arrive, of course, people are going to make a big deal out of it. You’re the best basketball player in Colorado history, probably, so for you to land with the Nuggets is going to be big news on a local level. They’ll write things like, Hometown savior, or, This is the change of scenery that Chauncey Billups needs.
But in reality, playing at home as a 23-year-old professional is going to be less blessing and more curse. (There’s perception, again, for you.) It’s as simple as this: You’re just not going to be ready for Denver to be Your City. You’re going to think you’re ready — and they are too — but, trust me, you won’t be. You’re still going to be so young. You’re still going to be hanging out with your boys, doing your old thing. There are going to be those … hometown distractions. And those distractions will add up.
And you have to understand, Chaunce: It’s not just that you made it. It’s that your whole neighborhood is going to feel like they made it. All of Park Hill is going to feel like they made it. And don’t get me wrong — that’s special. But at the wrong age, it can also be tough. It can be a lot to handle. And you’re going to be at that wrong age. You’re not going to be mature enough yet, or developed enough yet, to take on that mix of environments, those responsibilities, that role.
You’re not going to be ready to lead.
During your next stop, in Orlando … you’re not even going to be ready to play. A shoulder problem will keep you out for the rest of that season. Three trades, four teams — and, now, one injury.
And that’s when it’s going to hit you.
It’s going to hit you hard, like bricks, and stop you dead in your tracks. When it first enters your mind, you’re going to want to dismiss it. You’re going to want to think, Nah, I’m 24, that can’t be right. You’re going to try to ignore it, to push it away.
But at some point, during that offseason, you’re going to let it hit you.
You need that.
In fact: Why don’t you go look in the mirror, right now, and say it out loud. Go ahead, Chaunce — say it:
This could be your last chance.
Please internalize that, Chauncey. Please internalize it, and accept it, and grasp the urgency of your situation. And choose your next team wisely.
That’s right — your old buddy Kevin Garnett. He and you go way back, all the way to high school.
Well, the end of high school. For most of your childhoods, you’d only heard about each other: always neck-and-neck on the same prospect lists, the same class rankings. But you’d never actually met. Then, finally, senior year, you were named to the same McDonald’s All-American Team — for that ‘95 game in St. Louis. (You, Garnett and Pierce, all on one team — not bad for high school, right?)
As luck would have it, after the game, your flight and Kevin’s flight both got delayed. And so you ended up with some time to kill at the airport, just the two of you.
And man … you guys just … got to talking. And talking. And talking. Probably two, three hours, you guys spent in that airport. Just a pair of 17-year-old kids: chatting, joking around, asking each other stuff — you know, cutting through the bullshit. About hoops. About life. About the big decisions that you both had upcoming.
That was the first time you really got to have a heart-to-heart with someone who was on your level as an athlete — and who was going through the same growing pains that you were, both as a person and as a kind of celebrity. When your flights finally arrived, the two of you exchanged info and went your separate directions. But that conversation … in this strange way … meant everything.
And Kevin became a friend for life.
And so, with your career hanging in the balance, now, Chauncey — it’s time to align yourself with the people in this world you can actually trust. It’s time to go play with your best friend in the league. It’s time do your thing, and work your tail off.
And see what happens.
Don’t worry, you’ll have help.
You’ll have Sam Mitchell, a.k.a. “Unc,” and he’s going to be invaluable in teaching you what it means to be a pro. Those little adjustments, those little maturations — those subtle lessons that you didn’t even know you hadn’t learned? That’s Sam. That’s Unc.
Ninety-nine percent of communication is nonverbal, Chaunce. This, Chaunce, is how you dress like a professional. This is how you act on the road, Chaunce; this is how you act at home.
That’s that old head, cool uncle, Sam Mitchell knowledge. And you’ll never forget it.
You’ll have Flip Saunders — and, listen: That’s probably a whole other letter. But all I’ll say, for now, is this: Chauncey, respect that man. And cherish him. As coaches go … he’ll be one of the good ones. And as people go … he’ll be one of the great ones.
(But don’t waste a big goodbye on him in Minnesota. You’ll meet him again later.)
And then, finally: you’ll have Terrell Brandon.
Terrell will be a star point guard, in his prime, when you arrive in Minnesota — which means that you’re not going to start at the one right away.
But this isn’t about “right away,” Chauncey. Not anymore.
No, this is about building a foundation, now, and earning yourself a career. You want to be a point guard, Chaunce? Then be a backup point guard. Start at the two-spot when they need you, sure — but don’t shy away from the word “backup,” either. Embrace it. Learn from the star vet. Learn from Terrell. And then build something of your own from scratch.
Build the best Chauncey Billups possible.
You couldn’t have a better mentor than Terrell — so make sure you soak it all in. Pay attention to how smart he is, how diligent and patient. Pay attention to his midrange game: a lost art among point guards — and the sort of skill that could come in handy, during a playoff game or two down the road. Pay attention to his court vision, and the thought he puts into each of his passes — never flashy, always purposeful. Chauncey: Soak in all of that.
And that’s just the intro class. Those are just the basics, young fella. Get ready for the advanced lessons, as well.
“Chauncey,” Terrell will say, during one of your daily film sessions. “I’m not just the leader of this team — I’m the guy with the ball in my hands. That’s not to be taken lightly. That’s a status, and it comes with responsibility.”
And then he’ll break it down for you.
“You’ve got K.G., who’s our best scorer — 21, 22 per. You’ve got Wally, who’s our second-best scorer — 17, 18 per. If K.G. don’t have 12-to-14 points at halftime, and if Wally don’t have 8 or 9 — then I’m not doing my job. End of story. There isn’t a moment that goes by during the game where I’m not thinking to myself, What am I doing to fulfill my responsibility as a point guard?”
That’s going to be a very big moment for you, Chaunce. A “wow” moment. Before Terrell, your attitude going into games is going to be unsophisticated at best: Play well, and win the game. That’s it. But Terrell is going to put you on this whole other level. Now it’s, When does Kevin want the ball? Where does Wally like to catch it? What specific play do I have to call … to get this specific guy the ball … in this specific spot? When, and where, and how, is it best to get mine?
Now you won’t just be playing hoops.
You’ll be playing point.
If your first season with the T-Wolves is going to be Terrell Brandon University, then your second season is going to be the final exam. Because that’s when T.B. will go down with a season-ending knee injury … and you’ll be thrust into the role you’ve been preparing for, working toward, all this time: starting point guard.
Before we get to that, though: Read this next part carefully, Chaunce. Because it might be the most important lesson in this entire letter.
A lot of people are going to say that you got your opportunity to start at the point because of Terrell Brandon’s injury. Hell — in the moment, as it’s happening, you might even think that yourself. But here’s the truth: You got your opportunity because of Terrell Brandon’s generosity.
You’re not going to understand this, yet, I know. You’re too young. But one day you will. One day, when you’re knocking on the door of 40, and looking back on this moment … you’ll understand. You’ll understand how, most of those stories people hear, you know, about the vet helping the young guy along? They’re myths.
Trust me. 80-percent, 90-percent, damn-near 100-percent of the time: The guy in Terrell Brandon’s position would not root for you to succeed. Not for one second. I promise you that.
The truth is: This league is built on a game — but it runs as a business. And a lot of guys are real nice, real nice … right up until the moment where you threaten their spot.
As soon as Terrell goes down, he’s going to know that you’re a threat. In fact, he’s going to know that better than anyone — because he’s going to know, better than anyone, what you’re capable of.
But I’ll tell you what: The first thing he’s going to say to you, when you see him on those crutches after his surgery — you’ll never forget it. He’s going to walk up to you, put his hand on your shoulder, look you square in the eye … and say, “Chaunce. It’s your turn.”
And he won’t stop there. Every time he sees you going forward — every morning at practice, every afternoon shootaround, every night before tipoff — he’s going to have those same four words for you. That will be Terrell’s refrain, that whole rest of the season — and it’s going to help you, more than you can imagine, every time he says it.
“Chaunce. It’s your turn.”
“Chaunce. It’s your turn.”
“Chaunce. It’s your turn.”
Once Terrell gets injured … yeah, you’re going to play starting point guard, with or without his blessing. But you’re not going to be starting point guard. For that, you need Terrell. And that difference, of having Terrell’s support — it’s going to mean everything to you.
Oh, yeah, and about that final exam?
You pass — with flying colors.
Later that summer, you’re going to sign with Detroit.
A little advice on the jersey: pick No. 1.
No, not because you’re the best — nothing corny. Pick No. 1, as in … one shot. Detroit is the one shot they’re going to give you — this league, that almost spit you out, is going to give you — at greatness. At running your own show. This will be it, and then that will be that.
If you blow it? Hey — you had a good run in Minnesota, Chaunce. It’s not like you’ll be unemployed or anything. You’ll still be a proven role player, no matter what, and you’ll be able to go right back to that.
But you won’t want to go back to that. You’ll have worked too hard, and overcome too much, to go back to that. And that’s what No. 1 will mean. You’ll have been to Boston. Toronto. Denver. Orlando. And, finally, Minnesota. That’s a lot of pit stops in five years.
No. 1, Chaunce, will mean your one shot … at doing better than a pit stop.
At making everything else the journey.
And Detroit the destination.
The thing about a destination, of course, is that everyone has a different story of how they got there. You’ll have yours, and it’s a wild one. But the best part about Detroit will be the way that each guy’s story on that team seems even wilder than the next.
Take Ben Wallace.
Who? Trust me — give it a few years. You’ll know. You think that you’ve gotten up off the mat, Chaunce, from being third overall? This dude is going to go undrafted — out of Virginia Union — and is going to find a way to stick in the league. This dude is a 6’9 center — a 6’9 center — and is going to become the best defensive big in the NBA.
And sure, he’ll seem a little mean, at first … but only on the court. You’ll love him, I promise. Ben will be y’all’s protector, in every sense of the word — and will embody all of the traits that [deep breath] Deee-troit Baaa-sketball will come to represent. Hard-working. Battle-tested. Self-made. A cast-off of some kind.
And, of course, defense-first.
Oh, yeah, and that mean-looking face? That’ll be the face of your franchise — and you wouldn’t have it any other way.
Take Tayshaun Prince.
Who? Trust me — give it a few years. You’ll know. He’ll be the young guy of the group — you’ll call him “Nephew.” (Hard to believe, I know. You’ll be The Vet — the “Unc” — to someone soon.) Tay will be that shy, quiet guy. Not going to do a lot of talking. At first, if you don’t see him — I mean, physically see him — in the locker room, you won’t even know he’s there. That’ll just be his way. But give him some time. Let the kid grow. Eventually, he’ll open up a little, and turn out to be one of the funnier guys you’ll ever meet. Yeah, that’s right — Tay’ll have jokes. Who knew?
On the court, Tayshaun will be truly unique. There will just be something about his game, that no one can quite put their finger on. He’ll be like this silent assassin.
And, like any good silent assassin …
… they won’t know he’s coming until it’s too late.
In a lot of ways, as crazy as it sounds, Tayshaun will be the future of basketball. The future — bottled up into one, wiry, 6’9, 200-pound frame. He’ll be the prototype: a guy with long-ass arms, who can guard 1-through-4, and kill a team’s spirit with a single defensive play. And at the same time: a guy with a feathery touch, who can fill it up effortlessly from deep over the reach of even the most athletic wing. Ten years after Tay, everyone in the league will be trying to copy that blueprint.
But there’ll be only one original. And you’ll call him Nephew.
Take Richard Hamilton.
Who? Trust me — give it a few years. You’ll know. Chaunce — you know all of those years you spent, building yourself, and building yourself, into the best possible point guard? In a way, it will turn out that that was all to prepare you for teaming with one, single player: Rip. Rip is going to be the perfect shooting guard for the point guard you’ll become. And — thanks, Wizards — he’s going to fall into your lap at the perfect time.
Y’all’s games are going to be tailor-made to fit one another’s. And your demeanors, too: You’ll be that calm, laid-back, cerebral kind of player, that steady hand at the point. Whereas Rip — that boy is going to have a motor on him. He’s going to want to cut, and curl, and run, and shake free … all … day … long. That’s that raw energy, that Rip will bring to the table. He’ll be the kind of player who thinks he’s open every single play — like he’s got this rare shooting instrument that never turns off.
But you’ll be ready. You’ll have graduated with honors from Terrell Brandon University, and you’ll be ready. You’ll be that orchestra conductor with the ball in your hands. And you’ll conduct Rip’s instrument to perfection. Sometimes you’ll turn him down. Sometimes you’ll turn him up. Sometimes you’ll do both, within a single possession. You’ll just have this unbelievable chemistry together.
Y’all are going to be great friends off the court, too.
But on it, Chaunce? You’re going to be the best backcourt in the world.
And last, but not least, take Rasheed Wallace.
Who? Nah, just kidding. With Sheed, you’ll know who. But you won’t really know. In fact, before the trade, you’ll only know Sheed by reputation: some of it good … some of it not so good. The good will be great: This is a guy who will have been through wars, in the Western Conference, against all of those great power forwards: from Duncan, to Webber, to McDyess, to your good friend K.G. And he’ll be one of the very few guys in those wars who could say he won as many as he lost.
But then you’ll also hear things — mostly from the media, and mostly out of context — that will give you a little bit of pause. Bad attitude. Weird personality. Short temper. You know — all of the usual stuff about Sheed. As the leader of a team that places a high value on chemistry, those won’t be things you’ll take lightly.
And so, when you find out that The Infamous Rasheed Wallace is coming onboard … you won’t quite know whether you should be fully excited.
You should be fully excited.
When Sheed arrives, you’re going to know almost instantly: This is the guy who’s going to take y’all from contender to champion. You’re not even going to need a single game to figure that out. For real — it won’t take y’all but a couple of practices.
Sheed will just … walk in the door, and blow you away.
Talking, talking, talking on defense. Quarterbacking that back line, that sacred back line of y’all’s D, like he’s been there for years. Calling out plays. Letting guys know where the screen’s coming from. He’ll literally be predicting, perfectly, where the play is going — every time. Go over here. I need you over there. Watch the corner, Ben. Watch the ball, Chaunce. And then, on offense … being unselfish at every turn: seamlessly fitting into the flow — while single-handedly making the flow that much better.
After that first practice with Sheed, the other four of you — yourself, Rip, Ben and Tay — are going to just … stand there, looking at each other … smiling slyly, in awe. Your eyes are going to be lit up from inside. Your jaws are going to be on the floor. No one will have to say the words. But silently, you’ll all be thinking them:
This guy is a genius.
And then the next words — you won’t be able to help it, Chaunce — you’ll say out loud:
The rest of the league is in trouble, y’all. They in trouble now.
So stay patient, young fella.
Like I said at the beginning … just stay patient.
When you get traded, out of the blue, as a rookie in Boston. When you feel confused, and frustrated, and discouraged, in Toronto. When you hear the whispers that Chauncey’s not a point guard in Denver. When the injury bug hits you, at the time you least can afford it, in Orlando. And when you check into the Last Chance Hotel in Minnesota. Stay patient.
Stay patient, Chauncey.
Because that — all of that — is your journey.
And Detroit is your destination.
In Detroit, you’ll have a group of teammates who are nothing like you … and yet somehow, also, just like you. You’ll have a family of brothers who have been through adversity — and come out the other side. You’ll have Ben, and you’ll have Tay, and you’ll have Rip, and you’ll have Sheed. And when you step onto that floor with them … you’ll feel it. You’ll know it: that Deee-troit Baaa-sketball won’t just be your one shot at greatness. It will be theirs, too.
It will be all of yours — together.
And that will make all of the difference.
We’re not coming back to L.A.
We’re not coming back to L.A.
We’re. Not. Coming. Back. To. L.A.
It’s June 8th, 2004, about 11 p.m. in Los Angeles. You’ve just lost the most important game of your 28-year-old life. And you’re about to walk onto the Detroit Pistons team bus.
You’re going to leave Staples Center on that bus. You’re going to hop on a plane. And sometime early in the morning, hours from now, you’re going to arrive at home — tied with the Lakers, one game apiece, in the NBA Finals. Yeah, those Lakers: Shaq. Kobe. Payton. Malone. The Zen Master. The three-time, dynasty-building, world-beating champs.
And as you walk onto that bus — climb those big ol’ bus stairs — you’re going to think about how far you’ve come.
You’ve come pretty far, Chauncey.
And you should feel good about that.
As you walk onto that bus, I’m telling you: You should take a second, a real second, and just … feel good about that.
And you should understand what it will mean to have made it to here. You should know how proud I am of you, for everything you’ve been through, and fought through — and you should know that in advance.
But I also want you to understand that there’s still a long way to go.
That you’ll play over 1,000 games — 1,000 games — before it’s all said and done in your career. But that none of them will be as important as these next three right in front of you.
These next three at home.
To win these next three, Chauncey, you’re going to need all hands on deck.
You’re going to need those Deee-troit fans, in their Palace, at Auburn Hills. You’re going to need Coach Brown, god bless him, in all of his brilliance and crazy. You’re going to need your resilient bench, those unsung heroes, from Corliss Williamson on down. And you’re going to need your brothers … your family … your once-in-a-lifetime starting five.
But they’re going to need you too, Chaunce.
And they need you right now. Right here. On this big ol’ bus.
They need their point guard.
And when you take that next step, Chaunce — that’s just what you’ll give them.
You’ll look at Ben, at Rip, at Tay, at Sheed. And they’ll nod. You’ll promise, We’re winning Games 3 through 5. And you will. You’ll tell them, We’re. Not. Coming. Back. To. L.A. And you won’t.
I’m a believer in feeding your mind “good stuff” just as we feed our bodies “good food” to maintain health. Below is perhaps one of the best commencement speeches of all time, given by the late David Foster Wallace at Kenyon College in 2005.
Don’t confuse “the best” with the “most entertaining” for there is a difference. This is not the most entertaining commencement speech. Most commencement speeches follow a tried and true motivational formula, oft focused on love of neighbor and staying true to your purpose and passions. This is not that, either. But I believe it is well-worthy of 30 minutes of quiet contemplation.
Please note that David is clearly a brilliant writer — and that is a diversion — too many people admire writing for the clever prose itself. Don’t get distracted by it — its not the quality of writing that makes this commencement speech one of the best. The message is what matters.
One important question: Are you willing to dedicate 30 minutes without your iPhone? Do you have the will to leave it in another room, silenced?
“Greetings parents and congratulations to Kenyon’s graduating class of 2005. There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”
This is a standard requirement of US commencement speeches, the deployment of didactic little parable-ish stories. The story thing turns out to be one of the better, less bullshitty conventions of the genre, but if you’re worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise, older fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don’t be. I am not the wise old fish. The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude, but the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance, or so I wish to suggest to you on this dry and lovely morning.
Of course the main requirement of speeches like this is that I’m supposed to talk about your liberal arts education’s meaning, to try to explain why the degree you are about to receive has actual human value instead of just a material payoff. So let’s talk about the single most pervasive cliché in the commencement speech genre, which is that a liberal arts education is not so much about filling you up with knowledge as it is about “teaching you how to think.” If you’re like me as a student, you’ve never liked hearing this, and you tend to feel a bit insulted by the claim that you needed anybody to teach you how to think, since the fact that you even got admitted to a college this good seems like proof that you already know how to think. But I’m going to posit to you that the liberal arts cliché turns out not to be insulting at all, because the really significant education in thinking that we’re supposed to get in a place like this isn’t really about the capacity to think, but rather about the choice of what to think about. If your total freedom of choice regarding what to think about seems too obvious to waste time discussing, I’d ask you to think about fish and water, and to bracket for just a few minutes your scepticism about the value of the totally obvious.
Here’s another didactic little story. There are these two guys sitting together in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness. One of the guys is religious, the other is an atheist, and the two are arguing about the existence of God with that special intensity that comes after about the fourth beer. And the atheist says: “Look, it’s not like I don’t have actual reasons for not believing in God. It’s not like I haven’t ever experimented with the whole God and prayer thing. Just last month I got caught away from the camp in that terrible blizzard, and I was totally lost and I couldn’t see a thing, and it was 50 below, and so I tried it: I fell to my knees in the snow and cried out ‘Oh, God, if there is a God, I’m lost in this blizzard, and I’m gonna die if you don’t help me.’” And now, in the bar, the religious guy looks at the atheist all puzzled. “Well then you must believe now,” he says, “After all, here you are, alive.” The atheist just rolls his eyes. “No, man, all that was was a couple Eskimos happened to come wandering by and showed me the way back to camp.”
It’s easy to run this story through kind of a standard liberal arts analysis: the exact same experience can mean two totally different things to two different people, given those people’s two different belief templates and two different ways of constructing meaning from experience. Because we prize tolerance and diversity of belief, nowhere in our liberal arts analysis do we want to claim that one guy’s interpretation is true and the other guy’s is false or bad. Which is fine, except we also never end up talking about just where these individual templates and beliefs come from. Meaning, where they come from INSIDE the two guys. As if a person’s most basic orientation toward the world, and the meaning of his experience were somehow just hard-wired, like height or shoe-size; or automatically absorbed from the culture, like language. As if how we construct meaning were not actually a matter of personal, intentional choice. Plus, there’s the whole matter of arrogance. The nonreligious guy is so totally certain in his dismissal of the possibility that the passing Eskimos had anything to do with his prayer for help. True, there are plenty of religious people who seem arrogant and certain of their own interpretations, too. They’re probably even more repulsive than atheists, at least to most of us. But religious dogmatists’ problem is exactly the same as the story’s unbeliever: blind certainty, a close-mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn’t even know he’s locked up.
The point here is that I think this is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. I have learned this the hard way, as I predict you graduates will, too.
Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute centre of the universe; the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centredness because it’s so socially repulsive. But it’s pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute centre of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.
Please don’t worry that I’m getting ready to lecture you about compassion or other-directedness or all the so-called virtues. This is not a matter of virtue. It’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting which is to be deeply and literally self-centered and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self. People who can adjust their natural default setting this way are often described as being “well-adjusted”, which I suggest to you is not an accidental term.
Given the triumphant academic setting here, an obvious question is how much of this work of adjusting our default setting involves actual knowledge or intellect. This question gets very tricky. Probably the most dangerous thing about an academic education–least in my own case–is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualise stuff, to get lost in abstract argument inside my head, instead of simply paying attention to what is going on right in front of me, paying attention to what is going on inside me.
As I’m sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotised by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about “the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.”
This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.
And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. Let’s get concrete. The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what “day in day out” really means. There happen to be whole, large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine and petty frustration. The parents and older folks here will know all too well what I’m talking about.
By way of example, let’s say it’s an average adult day, and you get up in the morning, go to your challenging, white-collar, college-graduate job, and you work hard for eight or ten hours, and at the end of the day you’re tired and somewhat stressed and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for an hour, and then hit the sack early because, of course, you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there’s no food at home. You haven’t had time to shop this week because of your challenging job, and so now after work you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It’s the end of the work day and the traffic is apt to be: very bad. So getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there, the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it’s the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping. And the store is hideously lit and infused with soul-killing muzak or corporate pop and it’s pretty much the last place you want to be but you can’t just get in and quickly out; you have to wander all over the huge, over-lit store’s confusing aisles to find the stuff you want and you have to manoeuvre your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts (et cetera, et cetera, cutting stuff out because this is a long ceremony) and eventually you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren’t enough check-out lanes open even though it’s the end-of-the-day rush. So the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating. But you can’t take your frustration out on the frantic lady working the register, who is overworked at a job whose daily tedium and meaninglessness surpasses the imagination of any of us here at a prestigious college.
But anyway, you finally get to the checkout line’s front, and you pay for your food, and you get told to “Have a nice day” in a voice that is the absolute voice of death. Then you have to take your creepy, flimsy, plastic bags of groceries in your cart with the one crazy wheel that pulls maddeningly to the left, all the way out through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive, rush-hour traffic, et cetera et cetera.
Everyone here has done this, of course. But it hasn’t yet been part of you graduates’ actual life routine, day after week after month after year.
But it will be. And many more dreary, annoying, seemingly meaningless routines besides. But that is not the point. The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing is gonna come in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I’m gonna be pissed and miserable every time I have to shop. Because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is.
Or, of course, if I’m in a more socially conscious liberal arts form of my default setting, I can spend time in the end-of-the-day traffic being disgusted about all the huge, stupid, lane-blocking SUV’s and Hummers and V-12 pickup trucks, burning their wasteful, selfish, 40-gallon tanks of gas, and I can dwell on the fact that the patriotic or religious bumper-stickers always seem to be on the biggest, most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest [responding here to loud applause] — this is an example of how NOT to think, though — most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest, most inconsiderate and aggressive drivers. And I can think about how our children’s children will despise us for wasting all the future’s fuel, and probably screwing up the climate, and how spoiled and stupid and selfish and disgusting we all are, and how modern consumer society just sucks, and so forth and so on.
You get the idea.
If I choose to think this way in a store and on the freeway, fine. Lots of us do. Except thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic that it doesn’t have to be a choice. It is my natural default setting. It’s the automatic way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I’m operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the centre of the world, and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world’s priorities.
The thing is that, of course, there are totally different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stopped and idling in my way, it’s not impossible that some of these people in SUV’s have been in horrible auto accidents in the past, and now find driving so terrifying that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive. Or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he’s trying to get this kid to the hospital, and he’s in a bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am: it is actually I who am in HIS way.
Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket’s checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do.
Again, please don’t think that I’m giving you moral advice, or that I’m saying you are supposed to think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it. Because it’s hard. It takes will and effort, and if you are like me, some days you won’t be able to do it, or you just flat out won’t want to.
But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.
Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it.
This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship.
Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship–be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles–is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.
Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.
They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.
And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.
That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.
I know that this stuff probably doesn’t sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational the way a commencement speech is supposed to sound. What it is, as far as I can see, is the capital-T Truth, with a whole lot of rhetorical niceties stripped away. You are, of course, free to think of it whatever you wish. But please don’t just dismiss it as just some finger-wagging Dr Laura sermon. None of this stuff is really about morality or religion or dogma or big fancy questions of life after death.
The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death.
It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:
“This is water.”
“This is water.”
It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now.
I wish you way more than luck.
— David Foster Wallace
I hope that you learned something, discovered something, today.
We live in a culture currently obsessed with “perseverance” — and I have no doubt that perseverance is a great aspect of people that succeed. Best sellers like Grit by Angela Duckworth are flying off the digital shelves. Watch this short presentation by Angela for a sense of the message.
There is a problem, however. Deciding when to change gears, when to find a new job, when to sell a stock position, when to try a new method, when to get off the hamster wheel is not nearly as heralded but, in my mind, just as important. I have plenty of examples of when I stuck-to-it far too long, wasting valuable time and resources when the writing was on the wall.
If I had a superpower, I would want it to be the ability to make the right decision at the opportune time. What decision have you been putting off that needs to be made? Chasing the wrong thing is very much akin to climbing the ladder of success for years, only to later find out that it is leaning against the wrong wall.
The old Kenny Rogers song extolled that…”You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, Know when to fold ’em, Know when to walk away, And know when to run” in the context of poker, and life. Optimism is much easier to develop and keep when you are zen-aligned with a pursuit that really fits your passion and purpose.
Don’t wait too long to make those decisions. I think it is high time that I sell Schlumberger stock.
Having a great idea is not the same as making your idea happen. Having great intent to help is not the same as being of great assistance. Having a awesome goal is not the same as accomplishing it.
In this age of social media, daily posts, and group texts, we are more likely than ever to announce our intent. I believe this is counter-productive and will often torpedo your accomplishment. Why? Because all your friends and colleagues will give you positive feedback right away. “Great idea!” “Fantastic goal!” “You are the best!”
Reality check: most goals, ideas, and projects take time — lots and lots of time and determination. If you have already basked in the glow of recognition, what will help you persist? What will help you adapt and overcome? What will drive you to the finish line?
Don’t announce it. Do it first. Well done is much better than well said.
Success in life is simple but expect it will be hard. You have to be up to the challenge. Discipline matters. The world does not owe success to you — you must adapt, overcome, and never give up. You must be optimistic, you must believe that you can. All this and more is captured in Admiral McRaven’s brilliant address at University of Texas’ 2014 graduation. You can watch it on YouTube but I believe it is more memorable if you read it.
“Make Your Bed”
This speech was delivered by Admiral McRaven as the commencement address to the graduates of The University of Texas at Austin on May 17, 2014.
President Powers, Provost Fenves, Deans, members of the faculty, family and friends and most importantly, the class of 2014. Congratulations on your achievement.
It’s been almost 37 years to the day that I graduated from UT. I remember a lot of things about that day. I remember I had throbbing headache from a party the night before. I remember I had a serious girlfriend, whom I later married — that’s important to remember by the way — and I remember that I was getting commissioned in the Navy that day.
But of all the things I remember, I don’t have a clue who the commencement speaker was that evening, and I certainly don’t remember anything they said. So, acknowledging that fact, if I can’t make this commencement speech memorable, I will at least try to make it short.
The University’s slogan is, “What starts here changes the world.” I have to admit — I kinda like it. “What starts here changes the world.”
Tonight there are almost 8,000 students graduating from UT. That great paragon of analytical rigor, Ask.Com, says that the average American will meet 10,000 people in their lifetime. That’s a lot of folks. But, if every one of you changed the lives of just 10 people — and each one of those folks changed the lives of another 10 people — just 10 — then in five generations — 125 years — the class of 2014 will have changed the lives of 800 million people.
800 million people — think of it — over twice the population of the United States. Go one more generation and you can change the entire population of the world — eight billion people.
If you think it’s hard to change the lives of 10 people — change their lives forever — you’re wrong. I saw it happen every day in Iraq and Afghanistan: A young Army officer makes a decision to go left instead of right down a road in Baghdad and the 10 soldiers in his squad are saved from close-in ambush. In Kandahar province, Afghanistan, a non-commissioned officer from the Female Engagement Team senses something isn’t right and directs the infantry platoon away from a 500-pound IED, saving the lives of a dozen soldiers.
But, if you think about it, not only were these soldiers saved by the decisions of one person, but their children yet unborn were also saved. And their children’s children were saved. Generations were saved by one decision, by one person.
But changing the world can happen anywhere and anyone can do it. So, what starts here can indeed change the world, but the question is — what will the world look like after you change it?
Well, I am confident that it will look much, much better. But if you will humor this old sailor for just a moment, I have a few suggestions that may help you on your way to a better a world. And while these lessons were learned during my time in the military, I can assure you that it matters not whether you ever served a day in uniform. It matters not your gender, your ethnic or religious background, your orientation or your social status.
Our struggles in this world are similar, and the lessons to overcome those struggles and to move forward — changing ourselves and the world around us — will apply equally to all.
I have been a Navy SEAL for 36 years. But it all began when I left UT for Basic SEAL training in Coronado, California. Basic SEAL training is six months of long torturous runs in the soft sand, midnight swims in the cold water off San Diego, obstacles courses, unending calisthenics, days without sleep and always being cold, wet and miserable. It is six months of being constantly harrassed by professionally trained warriors who seek to find the weak of mind and body and eliminate them from ever becoming a Navy SEAL.
But, the training also seeks to find those students who can lead in an environment of constant stress, chaos, failure and hardships. To me basic SEAL training was a lifetime of challenges crammed into six months.
So, here are the 10 lessons I learned from basic SEAL training that hopefully will be of value to you as you move forward in life.
Every morning in basic SEAL training, my instructors, who at the time were all Vietnam veterans, would show up in my barracks room and the first thing they would inspect was your bed. If you did it right, the corners would be square, the covers pulled tight, the pillow centered just under the headboard and the extra blanket folded neatly at the foot of the rack — that’s Navy talk for bed.
It was a simple task — mundane at best. But every morning we were required to make our bed to perfection. It seemed a little ridiculous at the time, particularly in light of the fact that were aspiring to be real warriors, tough battle-hardened SEALs, but the wisdom of this simple act has been proven to me many times over.
If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.
And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made — that you made — and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.
If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.
During SEAL training the students are broken down into boat crews. Each crew is seven students — three on each side of a small rubber boat and one coxswain to help guide the dingy. Every day your boat crew forms up on the beach and is instructed to get through the surfzone and paddle several miles down the coast. In the winter, the surf off San Diego can get to be 8 to 10 feet high and it is exceedingly difficult to paddle through the plunging surf unless everyone digs in. Every paddle must be synchronized to the stroke count of the coxswain. Everyone must exert equal effort or the boat will turn against the wave and be unceremoniously tossed back on the beach.
For the boat to make it to its destination, everyone must paddle. You can’t change the world alone — you will need some help — and to truly get from your starting point to your destination takes friends, colleagues, the good will of strangers and a strong coxswain to guide them.
If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle.
Over a few weeks of difficult training my SEAL class, which started with 150 men, was down to just 35. There were now six boat crews of seven men each. I was in the boat with the tall guys, but the best boat crew we had was made up of the the little guys — the munchkin crew we called them — no one was over about five-foot-five.
The munchkin boat crew had one American Indian, one African American, one Polish American, one Greek American, one Italian American, and two tough kids from the midwest. They out-paddled, out-ran and out-swam all the other boat crews. The big men in the other boat crews would always make good-natured fun of the tiny little flippers the munchkins put on their tiny little feet prior to every swim. But somehow these little guys, from every corner of the nation and the world, always had the last laugh — swimming faster than everyone and reaching the shore long before the rest of us.
SEAL training was a great equalizer. Nothing mattered but your will to succeed. Not your color, not your ethnic background, not your education and not your social status.
If you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers.
Several times a week, the instructors would line up the class and do a uniform inspection. It was exceptionally thorough. Your hat had to be perfectly starched, your uniform immaculately pressed and your belt buckle shiny and void of any smudges. But it seemed that no matter how much effort you put into starching your hat, or pressing your uniform or polishing your belt buckle — it just wasn’t good enough. The instructors would find “something” wrong.
For failing the uniform inspection, the student had to run, fully clothed into the surfzone and then, wet from head to toe, roll around on the beach until every part of your body was covered with sand. The effect was known as a “sugar cookie.” You stayed in that uniform the rest of the day — cold, wet and sandy.
There were many a student who just couldn’t accept the fact that all their effort was in vain. That no matter how hard they tried to get the uniform right, it was unappreciated. Those students didn’t make it through training. Those students didn’t understand the purpose of the drill. You were never going to succeed. You were never going to have a perfect uniform.
Sometimes no matter how well you prepare or how well you perform you still end up as a sugar cookie. It’s just the way life is sometimes.
If you want to change the world get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.
Every day during training you were challenged with multiple physical events — long runs, long swims, obstacle courses, hours of calisthenics — something designed to test your mettle. Every event had standards — times you had to meet. If you failed to meet those standards your name was posted on a list, and at the end of the day those on the list were invited to a “circus.” A circus was two hours of additional calisthenics designed to wear you down, to break your spirit, to force you to quit.
No one wanted a circus.
A circus meant that for that day you didn’t measure up. A circus meant more fatigue — and more fatigue meant that the following day would be more difficult — and more circuses were likely. But at some time during SEAL training, everyone — everyone — made the circus list.
But an interesting thing happened to those who were constantly on the list. Over time those students — who did two hours of extra calisthenics — got stronger and stronger. The pain of the circuses built inner strength, built physical resiliency.
Life is filled with circuses. You will fail. You will likely fail often. It will be painful. It will be discouraging. At times it will test you to your very core.
But if you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of the circuses.
At least twice a week, the trainees were required to run the obstacle course. The obstacle course contained 25 obstacles including a 10-foot high wall, a 30-foot cargo net and a barbed wire crawl, to name a few. But the most challenging obstacle was the slide for life. It had a three-level 30-foot tower at one end and a one-level tower at the other. In between was a 200-foot-long rope. You had to climb the three-tiered tower and once at the top, you grabbed the rope, swung underneath the rope and pulled yourself hand over hand until you got to the other end.
The record for the obstacle course had stood for years when my class began training in 1977. The record seemed unbeatable, until one day, a student decided to go down the slide for life head first. Instead of swinging his body underneath the rope and inching his way down, he bravely mounted the TOP of the rope and thrust himself forward.
It was a dangerous move — seemingly foolish, and fraught with risk. Failure could mean injury and being dropped from the training. Without hesitation the student slid down the rope perilously fast. Instead of several minutes, it only took him half that time and by the end of the course he had broken the record.
If you want to change the world sometimes you have to slide down the obstacle head first.
During the land warfare phase of training, the students are flown out to San Clemente Island which lies off the coast of San Diego. The waters off San Clemente are a breeding ground for the great white sharks. To pass SEAL training there are a series of long swims that must be completed. One is the night swim.
Before the swim the instructors joyfully brief the trainees on all the species of sharks that inhabit the waters off San Clemente. They assure you, however, that no student has ever been eaten by a shark — at least not recently. But, you are also taught that if a shark begins to circle your position — stand your ground. Do not swim away. Do not act afraid. And if the shark, hungry for a midnight snack, darts towards you — then summon up all your strength and punch him in the snout, and he will turn and swim away.
There are a lot of sharks in the world. If you hope to complete the swim you will have to deal with them.
So, if you want to change the world, don’t back down from the sharks.
As Navy SEALs one of our jobs is to conduct underwater attacks against enemy shipping. We practiced this technique extensively during basic training. The ship attack mission is where a pair of SEAL divers is dropped off outside an enemy harbor and then swims well over two miles — underwater — using nothing but a depth gauge and a compass to get to their target.
During the entire swim, even well below the surface, there is some light that comes through. It is comforting to know that there is open water above you. But as you approach the ship, which is tied to a pier, the light begins to fade. The steel structure of the ship blocks the moonlight, it blocks the surrounding street lamps, it blocks all ambient light.
To be successful in your mission, you have to swim under the ship and find the keel — the centerline and the deepest part of the ship. This is your objective. But the keel is also the darkest part of the ship — where you cannot see your hand in front of your face, where the noise from the ship’s machinery is deafening and where it is easy to get disoriented and fail.
Every SEAL knows that under the keel, at the darkest moment of the mission, is the time when you must be calm, composed — when all your tactical skills, your physical power and all your inner strength must be brought to bear.
If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in the darkest moment.
The ninth week of training is referred to as “Hell Week.” It is six days of no sleep, constant physical and mental harassment, and one special day at the Mud Flats. The Mud Flats are area between San Diego and Tijuana where the water runs off and creates the Tijuana slues, a swampy patch of terrain where the mud will engulf you.
It is on Wednesday of Hell Week that you paddle down to the mud flats and spend the next 15 hours trying to survive the freezing cold mud, the howling wind and the incessant pressure to quit from the instructors. As the sun began to set that Wednesday evening, my training class, having committed some “egregious infraction of the rules” was ordered into the mud.
The mud consumed each man till there was nothing visible but our heads. The instructors told us we could leave the mud if only five men would quit — just five men — and we could get out of the oppressive cold. Looking around the mud flat it was apparent that some students were about to give up. It was still over eight hours till the sun came up — eight more hours of bone-chilling cold.
The chattering teeth and shivering moans of the trainees were so loud it was hard to hear anything. And then, one voice began to echo through the night, one voice raised in song. The song was terribly out of tune, but sung with great enthusiasm. One voice became two and two became three and before long everyone in the class was singing. We knew that if one man could rise above the misery then others could as well.
The instructors threatened us with more time in the mud if we kept up the singingbut the singing persisted. And somehow the mud seemed a little warmer, the wind a little tamer and the dawn not so far away.
If I have learned anything in my time traveling the world, it is the power of hope. The power of one person — Washington, Lincoln, King, Mandela and even a young girl from Pakistan, Malala — one person can change the world by giving people hope.
So, if you want to change the world, start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.
Finally, in SEAL training there is a bell. A brass bell that hangs in the center of the compound for all the students to see. All you have to do to quit is ring the bell.
Ring the bell and you no longer have to wake up at 5 o’clock. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the freezing cold swims. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the runs, the obstacle course, the PT — and you no longer have to endure the hardships of training. Just ring the bell.
If you want to change the world don’t ever, ever ring the bell.
To the graduating class of 2014, you are moments away from graduating. Moments away from beginning your journey through life. Moments away from starting to change the world — for the better. It will not be easy.
But, YOU are the class of 2014, the class that can affect the lives of 800 million people in the next century.
Start each day with a task completed. Find someone to help you through life. Respect everyone.
Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often. But if take you take some risks, step up when the times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up — if you do these things, then the next generation and the generations that follow will live in a world far better than the one we have today.
And what started here will indeed have changed the world — for the better.
What brands are you happy to wear on your t-shirt?
This is an interesting question. The older I get, the more I realize that the brands we are willing to wear on a t-shirt define how we see ourselves. In the incredibly successful society that we live in in America, most of us effectively have no problem getting yet another t-shirt. So what we choose to is a reflection about who we are, or at least the impression we want to make to others.
I find that very few brands make it to my shirts. Nike is a mainstay, because I love the ‘just do it’ message. NYSE? Sure, I love engaging with anyone interested in investments. Gucci? Not so much… definitely not me. What t-shirts do you wear or would you like to wear if you found them in a store?
Now, what does it take to build such a brand? A brand that customers are happy to display on their chest? What can you do to help your company win chest-billboard-embrace? If your company can make this leap, it really is a difference maker. It is actually an extraordinary goal.
This is an interesting speech by Dr. Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University who has been studying stress and its effects on people’s health.
In short, studies found that stress can cause harm to your health IF YOU BELIEVE that stress is causing you harm. But in new experiments, for people who believe that stress is a normal part of life, people who believe that the stress symptoms that they feel are simply messages that their body is preparing to help them perform and succeed in a stressful situation, stress doesn’t appear to cause the same harm. Clearly, the mind is more powerful than we realize.
Please watch this video as the theory is well worth considering. Toward the end, Kelly points out that helping others and being socially involved are great antidotes to harm from stress, because it releases hormones that help your body recover from any damage that might have been caused.
I very much believe that your mind is far more powerful than most people realize, and that you can train your mind to react positively in almost any situation.
Most people don’t appreciate that we code our own brain’s “operating system” by choice. A more common way to articulate this is that we are a product of our habits, and most of us find that habits are difficult to change.
But they are well worth considering, designing, and changing. Aristotle observed quite accurately that “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
I have found a trick that really works to build new (good) habits. If you associate a triggerwith doing a new habit, the next time you encounter the trigger, you will be reminded of the habit. For example, lets say that you decide to complete a thorough stretch routine every morning when getting up. Associate brushing your teeth with the stretching that you hope to make a new good habit. Given that you are (hopefully) already in the habit of brushing your teeth first thing in the morning, you will quickly and more easily adopt the stretching, because brushing will connect the dots for you. Put a note on your Sonicare if necessary.
There a plenty of triggers available in your life already. Chaining one thing to another makes building new habits much easier.
In the bigger picture, we become a product of our own habits (good or bad), and our habits become our own chosen operating system. Let’s say that you struggle with stress and the road rage of traffic. Why not proactively “code” a productive, positive habit with getting stuck in unexpected traffic jams instead of beating your hands on the steering wheel? Why not have your favorite play list queued up for the next inevitable traffic jam, or perhaps an audio book, or even decide to pray if you are religiously inclined. Traffic jams will continue to happen, but you can use the negative inevitable trigger to react positively, training your OS to deflect the stress instead of blowing a gasket.
Habits are incredibly powerful. Build new ones while getting rid of bad ones and you will be on the road to excellence.
Our ability to do new things, our capacity to learn new skills, is far beyond most people’s imaginations.
The problem is that most people decide to not take action, to not even try. If I had a dollar for every time I overheard the words “I wish I…” I’m certain I’d be a multi-millionaire. People wish that they could speak a second language, or understood and had great investments, or could paint beautiful pictures, or could climb mountains, or run triathlons, or simply lost some excess weight, but have no answer if asked what they have actually done, what actions they have taken about their wishful yearning this week, last week, or last month.
There is nothing wrong with wishful thinking — ideas for accomplishment always start with wishful imagination — but you can have almost anything you want, as long as you convert your wishful thinking into a solid plan and then take decisive action to accomplish your plan, adjusting and overcoming setbacks, without loss of optimism and enthusiasm.
I’ve always wished that I remembered the names of people I meet far better than I do. Last year, I bought a book about memory tricks and techniques of the memory masters. Unfortunately, I only read the first few chapters, I became 50% better at names as I applied active focus to the mission that first month, but I then put the book and the effort aside as I allowed other urgencies overtake my time and focus. It was a perfect example that going from wishful thinking to getting what you want is rarely super-human mission-impossible. It simply takes making a plan, and following through with the actions and focus required. Finishing what you start is priceless, however, and I now have to restart the lessons, but that plan too, is simple and obvious.
Believe that you can, and you will find that you can. Make a great plan, take committed action, and follow the footsteps of others who succeeded before you.
Between occasional big problems and frequent little annoyances, issues dominate our days which can lead to stress, complaints, and unhappiness.
If you listen to the news, the sky is falling and the world is ending. If you watch your social feeds, it seems like everyone else is living a near perfect, all-too-fun life, and you are missing out most of the time. If you watch the tele, the celebrities are traveling to far away beach resorts, living the dream, spending money as fast as they possibly can — and you are not rich nor famous, worried about your next test grade, or bill to pay, or your 20 pounds to lose.
If you listen too much to the people around you, they are often negative, all complaining about something 90% of the time, because 90% of the people haven’t figured it out. It is all too easy to become a lot like the people you associate with most of the time. If you try to solve other people’s problems, many times you will find that they are unsolvable, or people don’t actually want a solution, and you wind up infecting your own perspective with their negativity. Humans are wired to spend far too much time thinking about fears, uncertainties, and doubts — it is part of survival instinct back when we lived in the wilderness surrounded by dangers, but it is not all that helpful now.
Above all, you have to be comfortable being your independent self, because if you worry about how the crowd judges you, you are sure to bring yourself down. The crowd is — by definition — average, not extraordinary.
There is good news — through it all, a small independent-thinking group of people have found the key to happiness, while most people seem to be pursuing it, confused as to what will make them happy, hoping to find it someday.
The answer is simple: what are you grateful for? You don’t need 100 friends if you are grateful for the one true friend that you have. You don’t need dozens of Jimmy Choos if you are grateful for that one pair that are just right. You don’t need thousands of followers “liking” your posted picture on Instagram, if you are grateful for your sister who loves you with all your heart. If you are grateful for the smallest of things, from a great t-shirt to a puppy that can’t wait to see you, you can be happy. After all, there is no perfection in this world.
The next time you are down, make a list of the good relationships, the family that cares for you, the stuff that you love, the freedoms that you have, the goals and memories you cherish, the awesome popsicle you just had, the fact that you live in America and don’t have to carry water from a well two miles back to your hut. Being grateful for your blessings is the answer to being happy, day in and day out. It is not a pursuit. Thankful people are happy people.
Saving just a few dollars every day can make a big difference, if you invest it. This lesson is lost on many teens, but it is worth talking about. I don’t care how you save it — I’m not trying to pick on Starbucks per se — you can do the same thing by drinking water in restaurants or simply comparing prices of everything you buy on your shopping app — but saving and investing early in your career is crucial, if you want a better financial future.
I created a little spreadsheet to prove my point, downloading the actual returns of the S&P 500 index for the last 40 years, without the added benefits of annual dividends. This is important because actual returns would be quite a bit better than my model, but I thought it would not hurt to be conservative and realistic.
I then decided to save the cost of one Venti Caramel Cocoa Cluster Frappucino per day — roughly $5. Almost anyone, if they pay attention, can find ways to save $5 per day, once out of school and working for a living.
The difference between just saving your money vs. saving and investing it, is stunning.
The ‘saver‘ would save $73,000 over 40 years.
The ‘save and invest‘ person, assuming they religiously purchased the S&P 500 ETF over the 40 years, would have $510,000. The majority of this savings kicks between year 30 ($250,000 at that point) and year 40 (over $510,000), due to powerful nature of compounding. In truth this number would be larger due to dividends, but I think my point is simple enough.
Don’t get into debt, other than possibly debt that has opportunity for appreciation (real estate).
Be careful to save money and invest it. The more you can invest, the better off you are, especially early on. Investing is a matter of engaging, taking a prudent risk, and building a habit for success.
40 years for now, you are quite likely to have 700% more money than savings alone, and much more compared to someone who doesn’t save, or doesn’t save early on. Compounding takes time to work.
Financial success is not brain surgery but it does require a bit of discipline and foresight.
Some might say that saving and investing $5 per day “won’t make me a millionaire.” Well, saving $7 per day would, on the same little spreadsheet that I know is too conservative. Take a quick look at the average net worth of America in this article. Even worse, CNN Money reports that over half of adult Americans don’t have savings to cover a surprise $1,000 expense and would have to rely on credit cards or family members to bail them out, although I find that statistic a bit hard to believe and question how it was determined. But the bottom line is simple — save and invest $150 or more every month, unfailingly, starting the day you start full time work, and you will greatly exceed average.
Speaking of averages, this entire model assumes you will only do “average” as in the S&P 500 average by buying the SPY ETF shares. I don’t believe that average is in your destiny, if you question everything.
PS. The Caramel Cocoa Cluster Frappucino is over 500 calories — it won’t hurt you to miss that too 🙂
Life is too short and there is too much opportunity, to work in the wrong environment.
I’ve had a bit of time to ponder this question, having worked for nearly a dozen managers of all different types, from John Wayne, to Yoda of Sales, to a master ambassador diplomat, to Rambo of customer service, to a micro-manager that meant well, to Action Jackson, and more. Most became lifelong friends and role models, each with an important lesson to teach. Looking for common factors that mattered most to having a positive, empowering environment in which one can succeed, I believe my quote below sums it up:
I have had two chapters of my life when I had the privilege to take the lead and manage others. My theory followed these exact lines, but was summed up simply by Coach Lou Holtz’s simple formula for success in life — (1) Do Right, (2) Do the best you can, and (3) Treat others the way you would like to be treated — in a picture that watched over me at my desk. Anyone that has read my blog knows I admire Coach Lou — here’s a great commencement address if you have never seen Coach speak:
I believe it is the leader’s responsibility to communicate a clear vision and specific goals, then find and inspire the best out of each person entrusted to him or her, first gaining understanding and mutual respect, then adjusting his or her coaching and style to best fit each employee. Unfortunately, we often find ourselves in a ‘my way or the highway’ top-down scenario, where a manager is far more focused on pleasing his or her chain of command, rather than asking good questions and helping the team succeed. People can accomplish great things when they trust you and know you are out for their best interest.
Don’t waste years working for the wrong person. I’ve been fortunate and had great managers who simultaneously taught me important concepts while helping me succeed, inspiring me to think out of the box, take prudent risks, break barriers, and achieve new heights. If necessary, have the courage to make a move. Drawing a couple of new cards to improve your poker hand, trying new things, challenging yourself in mind-invigorating ways, makes life worth living.
PS. Send me your feedback using the contact form. What important aspect did I miss in my quote above?
I have written plenty of articles talking about the value of taking prudent risks and failing forward without loss of enthusiasm, but not in any specific context of helping daughters grow up well. Reshma opened my eyes to an important difference between boys and girls and how they are nurtured, and what must be done to encourage girls to take more risks at an earlier age.
You have a duty and choice: Choose to be a thoughtful, optimistic parent!
If you are a frequent reader of OptimismMan.com, chances are you already realize that I believe there is a significant dark side to social media, beyond just the time that it appropriates rather insidiously. Every technology comes with positives and negatives, but often, the negatives are ignored until the evidence is overwhelming, common sense be damned.
Simon Sinek is one of my favorite thinkers and speakers. In the interview below, he covers an amazing amount of ground, primarily focused on what plagues Millennials in the workplace and in life. Lots of factors have conspired to make this generation have a sense of entitlement without hard work. Simon makes some great common sense connections to the role social media is playing, which results in far less real lasting connections and relationships, which ultimately matters in one’s happiness and gratitude.
All of us daydream with a hopeful attitude from time to time. We imagine ourselves in a different state of life, often fueled by what we see on TV and in print.
Optimism is crucial — you have to believe you can — but it is important to remember to get started before all the lights turn green, be committed to your pursuit with great focus and energy, and finish no matter what for there are no credits, no rewards, no accolades, no windfalls, no satisfaction for those that quit halfway through.
Wishful thinking doesn’t help you…
or loved by others,
or a great investor,
or a millionaire, multi-millionaire, or billionaire,
or learn to speak Spanish,
or play the piano, guitar, or harmonica well,
or speak compellingly in front of a large audience,
or play basketball, or squash, or racketball spledidly,
or do three fantastic magic tricks,
or ski black diamond slopes without breaking limbs,
or become amazing in terms of cardio fitness, or muscular strength,
Today, are you mostly a do-er or a watcher? Do you make up excuses or do you hold yourself accountable? Do you set goals, and then milestones and specific plans to reach those goals? Do you embrace change and risk or do you hide from both. Do you have a burning desire to learn and grow and excel or is being OK good enough for you?
There is no time like today to decide your own DNA.