Monthly Archives: March 2007

Dropped Back Into The Year 2007

PolaroidOne of the main reasons I am more passionate about parenthood and family life than most parents is that I experience family moments through the eyes of myself as an old man, or as though I’m watching current moments unfold forty years from now on a movie screen. Imagine how exciting it would be for a parent of grown adults to go back in time and re-experience some of his best days with his wife and young children. Imagine how precious every moment would be. That’s how I approach each day now, with my family.

When one of my children runs to me as I walk in the door from work, calls out “Daddy!” and hugs my legs, I record the details of that moment in my memory because I know it will be long gone in the snap of my fingers. When I’m driving and one of my children asks me a random question like, “Why did God give humans toenails?” it clicks in my head that this is a moment I’ll long for when my kids are grown up with their own kids, and I savor the ensuing conversation. When I’m reading bedtime stories to my children and part of me wants to be watching the beginning of the baseball game on TV, I simply remind myself that, when I’m 80, I’ll wish I could come back to this intimate, personal moment with my child, reading and discussing books at the day’s end. And then I experience the moment as though I’m reliving it, 40 years from now, reunited with my five year-old son before he became an adult.

Certainly, my heart surgery in 2001 intensified my awareness of the passing of time and the remarkable gifts embedded in each moment I spend with my family. But I have always possessed an acute appreciation of the present. I recall, at age 18 and 19, singing with my band and being aware of the fleeting nature of the joy I was experiencing on that stage. I recall, as a baseball player in my 20s, standing on the mound, gazing up at the lights towering above the field moments before throwing the first pitch of every game. I would memorize that view and that feeling of excited anticipation and express gratitude for the opportunity to compete and to excel.

I don’t know where or when I learned to see my life as though I had been dropped back into the present from the future. But I do know that this perspective is a spectacular gift that enables me to suck the marrow out of life while I’m here.

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Professionals

I remember when I was a young boy, sometimes in the summer my father and I would walk down to the baseball field in Cleveland Circle to watch a men’s amateur league game. We’d stand right behind the backstop, and I vividly remember the terrifying velocity on those fastballs, and I can hear in my head the deafening wham of the ball smashing into catcher’s mitt, and I recall watching hitters barely flinch when a pitch went zinging by, and I remember the exact feeling I had watching all this. I thought, “These guys are so incredibly, inconceivably good. And they’re not even professionals.”Collings guitar

In my 20s, I actually played in that men’s amateur baseball league and enjoyed several good years pitching for Avi Nelson Club. But even the best players among us were not nearly good enough to play at the lowest levels of minor league baseball. There were no scouts at our games. We were all amateurs. Happy amateurs.

I was reminded of this amateur-professional idea last Wednesday night, when I had the good fortune to accompany my friend, songwriter Dan Page, on guitar and background vocals at his show in New York City. Dan is widely admired in music circles, and about fifteen of his musical friends (including the amazing Mark Nadler and many members of the extraordinary Sullivan family) came from all over the country to perform in this show, which featured Dan’s most enduring compositions. Dan asked me to back him up on two songs – the first two songs of the show – and, humbled and honored, I quickly agreed.

The thing is, I was the only amateur musician who participated. Everyone else that plugged into an amp or sang into a mike that night was a pro. And, my God, was I out of my league.

I played all the chords just fine, and I sang my harmony nicely. But I had prepared only for things to go exactly as we had rehearsed, and that’s rarely the way things go when the show is on. The order of verses can get switched without warning, the bridge can get skipped, the pause before the final chorus can get extended, etc. Pros handle these “invisible blunders” with grace and ease. I think they actually love it when things don’t go according to plan. I may have risen to the occasion last Wednesday night, but I sure didn’t feel like a pro when the surprises came along.

The bass player that night, Ritt Henn, was a true pro. He was reading the sheet music for all of these songs for the first time, on stage, and not only performing the songs flawlessly, but adding flourishes at just the right moments and rolling with all the “invisible blunders” of the guitarists, pianists, and vocalists with which he shared the stage – and doing it all with a big smile on his face. (I wrote to Ritt and referred to him as “the Derek Jeter of bass players,” and he wrote back, “Hey, wait a minute…you guys are Red Sox fans, right? Is that some kind of insult or something? (insert appropriate smiley faced icon here) Thanks for the kind words…it’s fun winging it, and it was a kick playing with all those different folks, and thank you (and the entire Red Sox Nation) for recognizing and admiring Mr. Jeter’s prowess…. y’know, the year you guys won, I was actually rooting for you.”)

Trot NixonPerforming with Ritt Henn and all those pros was like being asked to play right field for two innings of a Major League Baseball game. I thought, “I can catch a fly ball. I’ve done this a million times.” But in real games, easy flies are intermingled with screaming line drives in the gap, violently bad hops, jeering Yankee fans (see photo), and split-second decisions about which base to throw to. Pros react to these unpredictable challenges as though they expected them — because they’ve practiced for the unexpected their whole lives — and even in the most unusual situations, they execute flawlessly. A pro hits his tee shot into the sand on the 18th hole at Augusta National — and still saves par.

That’s what I learned last Wednesday night in New York. I may know how to play those chords and sing that harmony – I may know how to catch a fly ball – I may know how to drive a golf ball into the fairway – but I’m an amateur. A happy amateur. (Although it sure is fun to hang out with and learn from professionals…)

Never Say “I Could Have Done That”

Creative ideas.

Images of a different, better future.

We all have five or ten compelling ones every day. Sometimes they hit us in the shower. Sometimes while we’re driving. Sometimes when we’re sitting in a meeting oMJ on the Baronsr while talking with a friend. Sometimes they wake us up at 3 in the morning.

And I bet at least one idea we have per day is one that, if acted on, could make a quantum, dramatic difference in our lives or the lives of others. It’s one that could help define our lives and our purpose on this planet if we could execute it. If only these gem-like ideas could be highlighted for us, and we could be guided by a higher power to follow-through on them immediately….

Frequently, I see the work someone else has done – the book or song they wrote that I know I could have created as well, the product they invented that I had the concept for a few years ago, the eye-opening presentation they gave at the conference, the physical condition they’ve gotten themselves into and the accomplishments they’ve achieved because of this – and my impulse is to say, “Well, I had could have done that, too.”

But I didn’t, and that is all that really matters. I may have had the idea. I may have had the ability. I may have had the desire and even the intention. But all the credit goes to the one who takes the idea and, at the very least, strives to forge it into a real thing, a real accomplishment, a real victory, a real process, a real piece of art, a real conversation, a real relationship, a real habit, a real action.

The line between “having an idea” and “executing an idea” is thin – and yet the difference in value between the two is infinite. An idea or goal that stays in your head is as good as an idea or goal that never existed.

I love the example of Michael Jordan’s short baseball career for two reasons:

1. Michael says he always dreamed of being a major league baseball player and believed he could compete at the highest levels in that sport. Most of us forget that he retired from the NBA as reigning MVP in order to follow through on this dream and start a new career in baseball. Is there a better example of never saying, ‘I could have done that?’ That was one of the most inspiring career leaps I’ve ever seen.

2. M.J. never made it to the majors, but you won’t hear Michael say, “I could have done that,” while watching David Ortiz or Ichiro Suzuki hit a 97-mph tailing fastball for a game-winning hit. He tested out his idea and learned that baseball was much harder than he imagined. But, at least with regard to this single idea, Michael can sleep at night knowing he didn’t let it die in his head.

Then there’s my sister-in-law, Christina Harding. She heard about the Antarctica Marathon a couple of years ago and said to herself, “I never want to just say, ‘I could have done that.’ Therefore, I must do it.” Last week, she competed in the Antarctica Marathon. Like Michael Jordan, she can now say, “I followed through on my idea.” Unlike Michael Jordan, Christina can also say, “And I reached the pinnacle.” Because she won, defeating all other female entrants in the race and passing two competitors in the race’s final two miles of glacier-covered terrain. Incredible.

I have learned to never say, ‘I could have done that.’ Because I didn’t.

Swamped+Exhausted=Happy

climbing cliffI am swamped. Work. Family. Volunteer work. Creative projects. It’s a feeling of overwhelm that keeps me awake at night. There’s a fear that originates somewhere in my large intestine that whispers, “You can’t get it all done in a ‘good enough’ way – you can’t be everything to everyone you’ve committed to.” This is a level of busyness that can squeeze exercise, sleep, good eating, and thinking time right out of my life – for a period.

But I chose this. This is what I signed up for. Would I change my situation at work? No. We’re talking exciting, challenging projects with smart, interesting, talented people. Would I change my family situation? Are you kidding? I am blessed and my family is my greatest joy by far. Would I change my volunteer commitments? No way, I’m involved with great people at great organizations making a one-of-a-kind impact. Would I dump my creative projects? Well, these would be the easiest things to clear off my plate, but creative projects are the icing on the cake. Do I really want to scrape the icing off my cake? No.

The truth is, this feeling of overwhelm and exhaustion is a pure form of happiness. Winning the lottery wouldn’t hold a candle to this state of challenge, usefulness, connectivity, creativity, synergy, and struggle. This is what we live for. I’m in the middle of the soccer field with the ball rifling towards me and other players yelling my name. The game is on, baby.