Monthly Archives: December 2006

Jack Kent Cooke’s letter to me about “success”

jack kent cookeIn 1993, as a 25 year-old middle school teacher, I wrote a letter to every owner of every major sports franchise (hockey, basketball, baseball, football) along with every MLB general manager, introducing myself and asking for advice on “how to be successful.” At the time, I aspired to own a team or become an MLB general manager.


I received about ten personalized letters or phone calls in return, including great letters from Daniel Rooney, president of the Steelers (“Since the Steelers were founded by my father in 1933, I happened to have an “in” with the owner”), John Schuerholz, GM of the Atlanta Braves (“I am somewhat dismayed that a person with the amount of passion you display for teaching and the great rewards it offers might be motivated to leave that great profession for other pursuits”), and kind and supportive calls from Bob Watson (then-GM of the Houston Astros) and Bob Harlan (Chairman and CEO of the Green Bay Packers). But the big daddy of all responses came from Jack Kent Cooke (1912-1997) (pictured above), the former owner of the Los Angeles Lakers and Washington Redskins.


His letter is one of the best – if not THE best letter – I have ever received. I wish you could hold it in your hands – the ivory-colored stationery itself is truly awesome, with an old-time Redskins helment at the top and ‘The Redskins’ in snazzy red letters. At the bottom of the stationery are Super Bowl banners: “Super Bowl XVII Champions – Super Bowl XXII Champions – Super Bowl XXVI Champions,” and at the end of the letter is Mr. Cooke’s elegant John Hancock, signed with his own pen. I’ll share the letter in its entirety here, in its exact original format; it’s the kind of letter that would be sinful to keep to myself:


December 2, 1993


Dear Mr. Crawford


Thank you for your pleasant letter of November 27th, which I received today. I regret that I cannot come up with an easy, simple recipe for success since I believe there’s not a surefire method of reaching the top. But for starters I believe that humanity is divided into three parts:


a) Those who make things happen, b) Those who watch things happen, and c) Those who don’t know what’s happening.


In the course of my life I’ve run across maxims which seem to relate to success. But don’t forget that success frequently is a state of mind rather than a material pinnacle. So, here are a few of those thoughts I have found helpful:



Robert Burns: “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for.”

Dizzy Dean: “It ain’t braggin’ if ya done it.”



John Dryden: “I am a little hurt but I am not slain and I will lay me down for to bleed a while then I’ll rise and fight with you again.”



Branch Rickey: “Luck is the residue of the design.”

Lord Thomson of Fleet: “Funny thing, the harder I work the luckier I get.”

Eubie Blake: “Be grateful for luck. Pay the thunder no mind – listen to the birds. And don’t hate nobody.”

Louis Pasteur: “Fortune smiles on the man who is prepared.”


Practices vs. Theory

Anonymous: “Some Greeks had been sitting on a wall for over a week theorizing which would fall first, a feather or a pellet of lead of the same weight. A Roman came along, listened a few minutes and said, ‘For God’s sake, drop them and find out’.”



Admiral Horatio Nelson: Said he owed his success to “Being there five minutes ahead of the other chaps.”



The Bible: “That which is essential cannot be seen with the eye. Only with the heart can one know it rightly.”


The Future

Shakespeare: “Things without all remedy should be without regard. What’s done is done.”



Churchill: a) “It’s no use saying, ‘We are doing our best.’ You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary.” b) “Never talk monkey when the organ grinder is in the room.”

Henley: “Out of the night that covers me, Black as the pitch from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be, For my unconquerable soul.”



Anonymous: “Enthusiasm is akin to genius.”



Satchel Paige: “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?” b) “Age is a matter of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”


All The Rules Rolled Into One

Satchel Paige: a) “Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood.” b) “Avoid running at all times. Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”

Carl Rowan: “Every sickness ain’t death, and every goodbye ain’t gone.”

T.S. Eliot: a) “Humility is the most difficult of all virtues to achieve.” b) “Nothing dies harder than the desire to think well of oneself.”


I can only add that it has always seemed to me that if you want something more than anyone else in the world wants it, and that if you’re willing to exercise the utmost intelligence and industry to get it, it will be yours.


Best wishes for success.


Yours very truly


Jack Kent Cooke (personally signed, with the flair of a king)


(Now, do you see what I mean about it being one of the best letters of all time? I have repeated Mr. Cooke’s philosophy on the three parts of humanity, and his final sentence about wanting something more than anyone else, many times to many people. Now, I have finally shared it with everyone else in the world.)

Heart surgery’s lessons about the power of others’ attitudes

As described in my previous post, in 2001, at the age of 33, with one small child and another on the way, I was diagnosed with a heart aneurysm. And it had already burst. Slowly dying, I was scheduled for immediate heart surgery. In the previous post, I listed the main lessons about dying and living that this experience taught me. But there were other lessons – about the influence on me of other people’s attitudes during my time of greatest vulnerability.

1. There is incredible power in the support of friends, family, and acquaintances during a personal health crisis. Their cards, emails, calls, and visits – before and after surgery – are a secret weapon against the pernicious health threat. People I hardly knew wrote that they were praying for me. I was surprised at how much strength this gave me.

2. The professionalism and self-confidence exhibited by surgeons and doctors prior to surgery bring constant waves of calmness and humility that swell your soul with gratitude and awe. You realize that they are artists – craftsmen – whose hands and judgment are instruments of God. You have no choice but to surrender your life and your future to these strangers in white coats. And the act of doing so is humbling beyond belief, yet also freeing.

3. Likewise, nurses play unbelievably critical roles in recovery care. They are the angels who bring the necessary pain medicine at 2 in the morning, with a sympathetic and loving smile. Their incessant energy, enthusiasm, hopefulness, and optimism gets injected directly into your blood every time they walk into the room. When you are down, they are your heroes. The value to the world of a great nurse cannot be underestimated.

Clearly, my heart was fixed through the technical expertise of well-trained surgeons. Their mechanical actions – sawing open my chest, sewing up the tear, then putting my chest back together again – saved my life. But I believe that my physical and mental condition before, during, and after the surgery gave me the best chance for a successful outcome, and I know that it was the positive attitudes of the people I communicated with that week that put me in an optimal state.

Lessons from heart surgery on living and dying

storm approaching beachIn 2001, at the age of 33, with one young son and another on the way, I went to the doctor for a check-up and was diagnosed with a heart aneurysm. And it had already burst. Feeling perfectly fine but in fact slowly dying, I was scheduled for immediate heart surgery. I spent a week in the hospital, getting ready for surgery and recovering. A month later, I was healthy and back at work, albeit with a totally new outlook on my life and the lives of others. Since that surgery five years ago, I have said often, “I would wish open heart surgery for all my friends.” A strange wish, I know. But the lessons I learned from this medical crisis have enriched my life enormously. Here they are, sprinkled with five years of perspective:

1. You and I are going to die. Someday. My death is going to happen. Your death is going to happen. My wife and children are all going to die, too. It’s not a matter of “if.”

2. Death might be right around the corner. Today, tomorrow, or the next day. You and I might have only three days, and we might have 60 more years (21,900 “last days to live”).

3. Every day is a gift, every friendship is a gift, every child and every interaction with your children is a precious, fleeting gift.

4. Be kind and loving to everyone. From your spouse and children to the guy at Dunkin’ Donuts who gives you your coffee at the drive-thru. Tell people whom you love that you love them. Reveal to people their own greatness – NOW. It might be your last week on the planet, and it might be their last week on the planet.

5. Perceive the time you spend with loved ones, or working on projects you’re passionate about, through the imaginary lens of a home video camera. Savor everyday moments with loved ones. Record them on film in your brain and thank God for these memories that you’re experiencing first-hand right now. Laugh often at how fast time goes by, and be grateful that it doesn’t fly by even faster. Ironically, this will slow down time.

Ultimately, I have learned that if I die today, what a great life I’ve had! Because of my gratitude for life and my moment-to-moment appreciation of relationships, experiences, the wind blowing and the rain falling, I am literally ready to die at all times. I can imagine the future moment when I’m lying in a bed or on the ground, knowing I am about to die, and I imagine smiling, feeling no surprise or regret (though I also imagine the enormous sadness of leaving my family behind).

I live every day with the realization that any additional time that I am granted is stolen time. After all, had I been born at any other time in history, before current heart surgery technology and know-how, I would have been dead at age 33, two of my children would be fatherless, and the other two would not have been born.

My appreciation of life is greater than that of 99% of my friends. And I have open heart surgery to thank for that.

The War of Art – Turning Pro

The second section in The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield, exposes all of us artists (well, almost all of us) for what we really are – amateurs – and explains the simple but profound differences between an “amateur” and a “professional.” These are the terms Pressfield uses to label dabbling hobbyists vs. dedicated, focused, disciplined craftsmen. (Nomar Garciaparra, by the way, is one of my favorite pros. A hard-working dude who’s an artist with the bat and glove.) I can’t resist sharing a few excerpts:

“The amateur is a weekend warrior. The professional is there seven days a week. …The professional loves [his game] so much, he commits his life to it…. Resistance hates it when we turn pro.”

“Do I really believe that my work is crucial to the planet’s survival? Of course not. But it’s as important to me as catching that mouse is to the hawk circling outside my window. He’s hungry. He needs a kill. So do I.”

“The payoff of playing-the-game-for-money is not the money (which you may never see anyway, even after you turn pro). The payoff is that playing the game for money produces the proper professional attitude. It inculcates the lunch-pail mentality, the hard-core, hard-head, hard-hat state of mind that shows up for work despite rain or snow or dark of night and slugs it out day after day.”

“The pro understands that all creative endeavor is holy, but she doesn’t dwell on it…. She concentrates on technique. The professional masters how, and leaves what and why to the gods…. The sign of the amateur is overglorification of and preoccupation with the mystery. The professional shuts up. She doesn’t talk about it. She does her work.”

“The professional conducts his business in the real world. Adversity, injustice, bad hops and rotten calls, even good breaks and lucky bounces all comprise the ground over which the campaign must be waged. The field is level, the professional understands, only in heaven.”

“The professional is prepared, each day, to confront his own self-sabotage. He understands that Resistance is fertile and ingenious. It will throw stuff at him that he’s never seen before. ….His goal is not victory (success will come by itself when it wants to) but to handle himself, his insides, as sturdily and steadily as he can.”

“The professional cannot take rejection personally because to do so reinforces Resistance. Editors are not the enemy; critics are not the enemy. Resistance is the enemy. The battle is inside our own heads. We cannot let external criticism, even if it’s true, fortify our internal foe….. The Bhagavad Gita tells us we have a right only to our labor, not to the fruits of our labor. All the warrior can give is his life; all the athlete can do is leave everything on the field….. The professional gives an ear to criticism, seeking to learn and grow. But she never forgets that Resistance is using criticism against her on a far more diabolical level.”

“An amateur lets the negative opinion of others unman him. He takes external criticism to heart, allowing it to trump his own belief in himself and his work. Resistance loves this.”

“The professional cannot allow the actions of others to define his reality. Tomorrow morning the critic will be gone, but the writer will still be there facing the blank page. Nothing matters but that he keep working…..The professional blows off critics. He doesn’t even hear them.”

“The professional endures adversity. He lets the birdcrap splash down on his slicker, remembering that it comes clean with a heavy-duty hosing. He himself, his creative center, cannot be buried, even beneath a mountain of guano. His core is bulletproof. Nothing can touch it unless he lets it.”

“Why does Resistance yield to our turning pro? Because Resistance is a bully. Resistance has no strength of its own; its power derives entirely from our fear of it. A bully will back down before the runtiest twerp who stands his ground.”

“The essence of professionalism is the focus upon the work and its demands, while we are doing it, to the exclusion of all else.”

“There’s no mystery to turning pro. It’s a decision brought about by an act of will. We make up our mind to view ourselves as pros and we do it. Simple as that.”

There’s something disarming and inspiring about Pressfield’s stark definitions of amateurs and pros. There’s nowhere to hide – you’re either an amateur, or you’re a pro, and there’s really no in-between. And despite the seemingy superhuman commitment and dedication being a pro requires, we’re all dying to be a pro – at something. OK, so if you’re gonna go pro, what will be your vocation? Pressfield writes, “Look in your own heart. Unless I’m crazy, right now a still small voice is piping up, telling you as it has ten thousand times, the calling that is yours and yours alone. You know it. No one has to tell you.” Acknowledging that voice is scary stuff…. very scary stuff. But so is dying and not having heeded that voice.

The War of Art – Defeating Resistance

My addiction to learning is fueled by those once-a-year books I pick up that literally change the way I perceive things and influence me to think and act differently. The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield, is that book for this year. I read the (short) book over the last few days, then re-read the first half of it again today (I guess I didn’t want it to end).the war of art
This is a book that slams you up ‘side the head with its blunt yet beautiful personification of Resistance (the malevolent force of nature that intentionally diverts the “artist” from sitting down and doing her work) and its description of the differences between a “professional” (someone who stomps on Resistance daily, in order to get work done) and an “amateur” (with whom Resistance has its own way). The final section discusses the “angels and muses” who use you and me as vessels for our art – if we’ll just get out of our own way, sit down, and begin.

The quality of the book that gives its ideas such power is its depiction of Resistance as an evil force that owns us – unless we become aware of its pernicious influence and take steps every day, every hour – whenever it creeps up on us – to actively combat Resistance. Here are some key excerpts from the first section that defines the enemy of Resistance:

“Are you a writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what Resistance is.”

“Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work….It will reason with you like a lawyer or jam a nine-millimeter in your face like a stickup man.”

“Resistance’s goal is not to wound or disable. Resistance aims to kill. Its target is the epicenter of our being: our genius, our soul, the unique and priceless gift we were put on earth to give and that no one else has but us. Resistance means business. When we fight it, we are in a war to the death.”

“Resistance is directly proportional to love. If you’re feeling massive Resistance, the good news is, it means there’s tremendous love there too. If you didn’t love the project that is terrifying you, you wouldn’t feel anything.”

“Rationalization is Resistance’s right-hand man. It’s job is to keep us from feeling the shame we would feel if we truly faced what cowards we are for not doing our work.”

“Rationalization is Resistance’s spin doctor…. Resistance presents us with a series of plausible, rational justifications for why we shouldn’t do our work…. What Resistance leaves out, of course, is that none of this means diddly. Tolstoy had thirteen kids and wrote War and Peace. Lance Armstrong had cancer and won the Tour de France three years and counting.”

“Resistance seems to come from outside ourselves. We locate it in spouses, jobs, bosses, kids…. Resistance is not a peripheral opponent. Resistance arises from within. It is self-generated and self-perpetuated. Resistance is the enemy within.”

Already, since reading The War of Art, I have become much more tuned in to those moments when Resistance is trying to press its claws into me. And perhaps because I have learned to identify Resistance in all its chameleon, sneaky forms, I’m really enjoying kicking its butt. It’s been four straight days of running now, despite all the (true and real) rationalizations you could possibly imagine. Even writing this blog post is a victory over Resistance. Feels good to block the slam dunk of Resistance for one day. The war begins anew tomorrow morning, 5:00am. Bring it on.

By failing at GTD, I have learned its keys

I read the book, Getting Things Done, in 2001. Since then, I have re-read it several times and integrated many aspects of the program into my life. Unfortunately, I have not been able to attain “black belt” status during the last five years, nor have I come very close. And yet, the intention of working towards a black belt in GTD is always there. And every day I think and act in a bastardized GTD sort of way.

As a GTD believer who has so far failed to go the distance in implementing GTD in my life, I do think I have identified two main pillars of GTD which, of course, have been the toughest things for me to fully integrate.

1. The Weekly Review. This is sort of like eating vegetables and exercising daily. You know it’s good for you, you know you need to do it to be at your best and to live a better life, and yet it just doesn’t happen. My two main obstacles to completing a full-blown Weekly Review are: a) Negotiating with others who need my time to secure personal time I would need for a Weekly Review, and b) Even when I’ve scheduled time for a Weekly Review and am in-process, I have never failed to go down rabbit trails and start working on actions and projects before I’ve completed my Weekly Review. In short, I feel like I need an entire Saturday away from my family to get it done the right way (which I can’t get, because of my parenting priorities). Then, I need someone standing over me saying, “Do NOT start working on that. Write it down and go on to the next thing in your in basket. MOVE ON!”

2. Write down everything, get it all out of your head. Then throw it all into your in-box, to be processed once a day. I have become someone who writes down ALMOST everything, and gets ALMOST everything out of my head. And yet, as David Allen says, if you don’t get it ALL out of your head, if you don’t write it ALL down, you won’t trust your lists and you can’t relax knowing you’re doing exactly what you should be doing at that moment. I do carry around a pad and pen in my wallet and I use them often, but too often I still trust myself to remember ideas I’m having in the shower, while I’m driving, while I’m watching football on TV, etc. And then, I forget these ideas. Doh! And while I do use my in-box as a place to throw my ideas, I don’t go through my in-box frequently enough. There’s so much stuff in there, it repels me during a week of go-go-go implmentation. And then, I trust my lists even less. Because of my many young kids and my heavy parenting responsibilities, I can’t arrive at work earlier than 8 and I can’t leave later than 5:30pm and it’s a major deal to work on the weekends, and yet, what I really feel I need is more time – to process, to think, to plan next actions. I could stop working at 4:00pm and just process the in-box. Perhaps this would be better for my overall effectiveness. But my time for taking action is already so short, I’m loathe to shorten it for processing and thinking’s sake. (And yet, as I write that last sentence, it’s so obvious that it’s what I need to do.)

iPod Nirvana in 4 Steps

I don’t know anyone who has set up his/her iPod in a more “customized to owner” way than I have. I’m sure they’re out there, but I haven’t met them yet. Here are some of the principles I’ve followed, playlists I’ve created, and ways I use the iPod and iTunes to create my customized iPod experience.

1. Be a critical gatekeeper: only include songs on your iPod that you would not want to always skip over. In other words, don’t let one song get onto your iPod if it’s a song you don’t like, or a song you would never want to hear if you were to play your iTunes library randomly. When I put my 500-CD collection onto my iBook G4 in November/December 2004, and then onto my iPod, I did not download entire CDs. I only downloaded songs that passed the above test. Since then, I have downloaded every song that I do not own that I like enough NOT to skip over (about 400 songs purchased). As a result, my iPod is a collection of every single song that I like that is available to me. My iPod yells out to me to push “play” because there is never the possibility that a “blah” song will come on. (Yes, I do skip over songs from time to time, but it’s not because it’s a song I don’t like, just because I don’t want to hear it at that moment.)

A key to creating a perfectly customized music library is to FORGET about what other people might think about you for liking a particular song or artist – if you like Barry Manilow or Cyndi Lauper, get their songs on your iPod! (My library includes 12 Manilow tunes, and 6 Lauper tunes. Damn the critics of my music taste! It’s my iPod!)

2. Rate your songs, then set up smart playlists that reference your ratings. All my songs are rated with either 3, 4, or 5 stars. (If it’s a 2-star song, it doesn’t make it onto my iPod.) The playlists I have set up that use my ratings are: a) 5-star songs. b) 4-star songs. c) 5-star songs played 1 or 0 times. d) 5 and 4-star songs played 1 or 0 times. e) 5 and 4-star country songs.

You might think I would listen to my 5-star playlist most often, but I have found that I am more attracted to my 4-star playlist, and my 4 and 5-star playlist, because there is the promise of greater variety and therefore more surprises. (I have about 350 5-star songs, and 1,650 4-star songs.) My 5-star songs are songs that will always be my all-time favorites, but it also means I have heard them many times already. My 5-star playlist is the one I play when I’m providing the music for a party or social gathering of some kind. Only the best for my guests, and if someone’s going to comment on the music (with compliments or criticism), I want it to be only my precious favorites.

3. Create smart playlists that group songs by playcount. The most played song on my iPod has been played 96 times. (Accidentally In Love, by Counting Crows – my children’s #1 most requested song.) My tenth most-played songs have been played 41 times (Take Me Home, Country Roads, by John Denver – another popular request of my kids – is tied with I’m Comin’ Home, by Robert Earl Keen). My 100th most played: 13 songs tied at 15 times played. My 500th most played: 115 songs tied at 4 times played. My 1,000th most played: 305 songs tied at 3 times played.

I have found that sometimes I want to hear my most played group (top-100), sometimes I want to hear the next tier of most-played (top-101-300), sometimes the next tier (played 3-4 times), and sometimes I want to hear songs hardly ever (or never) played. The playlists I have set up to make this work are: a) 1-100 most-played songs. b) Top-600 most-played songs. c) 101-350 most played songs. d) 350-600 most-played songs. e) 600-1,000 most played songs. f) Top-1,000 most-played songs. g) Songs played 0-1 times.

4. Dig up buried treasure: search iTunes for alternate versions of your 5-star songs, and download those that make you say “Wow!” I have probably downloaded 60 songs that are alternate or live versions – or covers – of my favorite songs. And many of these have become card-carrying members of my 5-star song club! Think about it – if you love a song enough to give it 5 stars, there are probably many musicians out there who have loved it enough to cover it. And often, there’s a live version you never knew existed. Now, most of the alternate/cover/live versions I’ve sampled on iTunes are not good enough to download. But perhaps one out of five is excellent – and then I’ve found buried treasure for my iPod!

Don’t Add Unless You Subtract

mind set I picked up a really interesting book a couple of weeks ago: Mind Set! by John Naisbitt. I’ve never heard of Mr. Naisbitt, but I gather that he is well known for his ability to identify major trends and to give us a glimpse of what the future holds. In this book, he explains the eleven “mindsets” he has developed to synthesize the flood of information he’s exposed to every day (newspapers, media, etc.) and to develop his conclusions about significant trends.

“Don’t add unless you subtract” is one of his most compelling and interesting mindsets. I’ve been thinking about it for about a week now and have found it to be remarkably relevant in my life.

This fall, my staff decreased from five to four (including me) and a major new project (a new full-time job itself) was added to my plate. I added but did not subtract, and all four of us are feeling the effects.

I used to run every morning at 5am in order to be back home before the first of my three small children awoke, to tend to them so my wife could sleep in a little longer. Then came baby #4, and leaving at 5am meant not being around to help at 5:10am when the baby awoke, crying for a bottle. So, I added the baby, and subtracted the run. I have tried many ways to add the run back into my life, but have not been willing (yet) to subtract something else to make it work.

Of course, what I crave is a 25th hour in the day. While I know it doesn’t exist, a part of me thinks I can find it somehow. And it’s that irrational belief that makes me say “yes” to appealing requests for my time, despite my already-full schedule….