Monday, January 14, 2013

From these ashes a great power will rise

As a lifelong Notre Dame fan who attended the 2013 championship game which Alabama won 42-14, I was thrilled to see the photo to the left from the beach in Miami. ND is all in!

After the ND loss, many platitudes whirl around my brain this week, especially these five:

Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect. 
This thought came to mind within the first five minutes of last Monday’s game. Both teams had the same amount of time to prepare for the game, yet Alabama, the victor in the 42-14 game, prepared better. Notre Dame hasn’t played in a title game in 24 years, but Alabama has been to the championship three times in the last four years. They knew what to do to prepare because they have won consistently at the top level of college football. ND can learn from their preparation shortcomings and alter accordingly when they return to the championship game next year (hey, I said I was an ND fan…I have hope!).

Life is 10% how you make it and 90% how you take it. 
At the beginning of the season, ND was not ranked. It ended the season ranked #1, with nine of its twelve opponents in bowl games. All of ND’s opponents are BCS teams, none are in the Division formerly known as II. Alabama entered the season ranked second, as the defending National Champion. Even with a schedule that includes three non-BCS-conference teams (called “cupcakes” by sports announcers) and only seven opponents who went to bowl games, everyone who pays attention to college football knows about Alabama’s recent domination of the game—and most, including me, respect it.

With all of that in mind, I was surprised to hear from fans who watched the game at their homes that the game announcers continued to call the game “humiliating.” Alabama was clearly bigger, faster, more talented, and better coached Monday night. Losing to them is not humiliating. (As an aside, did they call it humiliating when LSU lost without scoring a point against Alabama in the championship last year?)

I do not accept the banner of “humiliation” from the announcers. It was heart-breaking, humbling, and horrible. It was not humiliating, and I hope none of the current players who worked hard all year will look at it as such. Their perspective is up to them, and I hope they look back on this season and realize the impact they had on Notre Dame and its football program. They will have empathy for the disappointing performance in that game, but they will be appreciated for their impact on the community.

The most humiliating thing I heard from the television viewers was how one of the announcers, 73 year-old Brent Musburger, constantly ogled a player’s 23-year-old girlfriend rather than commenting about the game, teams, or sport. His employer, ESPN, acknowledged the offensive behavior and issued an apology. Only one organization had to issue an apology after Monday night’s performance: ESPN. That’s humiliating!

If life is mostly about how you take it, I say Notre Dame’s team takes the game as insight into the gap between it and the national champion. I say they take the season as a tremendous success!

Losses have propelled me to even bigger places, so I understand the importance of losing. 
(V. Williams)
ND’s players and coaches were very upset after losing to Alabama, especially considering how poorly ND played. Watch this video to see one of the players express his sadness: More than half of this year’s starters return next season, and they will remember the level of despair felt Monday night. If they never knew what losing felt like, they might not know why they should avoid it so much. Now they know, and they will remember. Feeling such pain often propels people to greatness beyond what they imagined before the despair.

It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get up. 
Winners in all walks of life often talk about their defeats, yet they became winners because the defeats didn’t hold them back. Hank Aaron holds the MLB record for most career runs batted and most extra base hits, yet he’s also in the top 100 for most strikeouts. Thomas Edison has patents for hundreds of inventions that didn’t change the world like the light bulb has. Abraham Lincoln lost at least seven elections, failed at business twice, and didn’t get in to law school before he became President of the United States. No one reaches the pinnacle of his field without experiencing failure. Everyone who reaches the pinnacle does so by learning from the failed performance and moving forward. ND can do the same. ND will get up and they will rise from the ashes of Monday’s performance.

Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value. 
The 80,120 people who attended the championship game, along with the hundreds of players, coaches, and administrators with both teams, measured success one way: points. The team with more points would be the victor, and to the victor go the spoils. Everyone in the stadium knew that Monday night, including me.

But, success is measured in a variety of ways beyond the score of a game. Once the buzz about the game dies down and these feelings of sadness lift, many people will forget the score of the game. ND fans will remember the way this team came together this year. We will remember how the team’s attitude and spirit propelled it to victory when defeat seemed more likely. We will remember the names of players and will be glad to meet them, help them, and work with them in their careers after football. 

Real success in life does not come down to one football game, whether we won or lost. The young players might not realize it yet, but some day they will know what older people know: life is about more than football. ND’s players will go on to live successful lives of value because of their experience on this team. 

ND ranks as the #1 school for its graduation rate of athletes. Some schools do not consider the college degree essential to their athletes. Some do not honor the scholarship commitment made to all players who join their teams. ND considers its graduation rate important because ND knows about success in life and that it exists far beyond the football field.

I am no Pollyanna blind ND fan who has guzzled the Brian Kelly kool-aid for three years and expected to win the championship because of the luck of the Irish. I was furious with Brian Kelly within five minutes of the game, and I was shocked at the team’s performance. While I was certain the coach had worked hard in the last several weeks, I was mad he did not work accurately. We saw the previous coach work hard too, yet it didn’t pay off much. What has helped me return to a sane state following the heartbreaking loss is remembering that Coach Kelly learned from last year and changed this year. If he does that again, the team will succeed.

Now that this ND team knows what it’s like to play in the championship game and to play against the high-caliber Alabama team, they will know what to expect next season. Coach Kelly and the team have 230 days to prepare. Go Irish!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2013: Prioritize, simplify, and specify

Happy New Year! It’s day two of the new year…have you set your resolutions? According to a study published last month, 45% of Americans set resolutions yet, only 8% successfully accomplish their resolutions. With numbers like that, it’s no wonder many people opt out of the annual ritual.

I opt in to the annual practice. A mentor taught me useful techniques that make the annual practice one of my favorite events of the year. I share a few with you, whether you opt in or not, because they can help you become part of the 8% who accomplish resolutions that matter to them.

Identify priorities.

"I do know that when I am 60, I should be attempting to achieve different personal goals than those which had priority at age 20.”
Warren Buffett

My sixth grade teacher made our class write a list of one hundred things we want to do in our lives. My list included ride a camel (done at the zoo at age 24), visit every state in the USA (done), live on the beach (not done). Lou Holtz has talked about the same kind of list for dozens of years. It became famous with the 2007 movie The Bucket List staring starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. Many of you have completed the list in some of our sessions over the years.

Write your list. Where do you want to go? Who do you want to meet? What do you want to learn, teach, experience, feel, taste, smell, touch, hear? Without analyzing, take twenty minutes this week to write your list.

The list is important because it helps you live your life on purpose. Each year, you can review your list to see which items you accomplished last year and which two or three you want to do this year. Dreaming about life is not good enough. Make the dreams come true.
For example, if you’ve dreamed about going to Australia, make it happen. If your budget doesn’t have room for it, make this the year you get rid of cable television and put that money in a fund for the big trip. You will feel great every time you skip a show viewing because you are saving for something more important to you. The sacrifice will build momentum and you won’t regret it one bit.

The list can help you make decisions too. For example, if your list includes a desire to have a close relationship with your grandparents, and you have a dinner scheduled with them, nothing will cause you to miss that dinner. Friends could call with other options, your spouse might not want to attend, or maybe you are tired from a long week—you will see those as excuses and will keep your dinner date. Once you know your priorities, you make decisions to accomplish them and resist the urge to allow excuses to get in the way.

Simplify your life.

"Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated."

Simplify your life by being extremely selective about how you spend your time. Don’t fill your time with mind-numbing, energy-draining friends, hobbies, or media. For example, if you are a fan of the Kansas City Chiefs, don’t take the coaching change personally. Or, if you are in to politics, limit viewing of the pundit battles to less than an hour a day. Or, if you have friends who complain all the time, stop hanging out with them.

Just this morning, I de-friended a lifelong complainer on Facebook. It’s only the second day of the year, and she’s complaining about her job already. It occurred to me just this morning that she complains every day, so I double-checked her Facebook page. Sure enough: all complaints masked as humorous insights into things like family, the postal system, taxes, work. It took me a few years to figure this out, but I finally realized she is an energy vampire who contributes nothing. Delete. Figure your vampires out sooner than I did. Your life will be simplified by not having such negative drivel occupy your mind or Facebook feed.

Another way to simplify your life is to clean out closets to simplify the number of clothing options you have each day. I recently saw a photo of a Paula Abdul’s closet full of shoes, handbags, scarfs,  and other items. The smug look on her face seems to indicate that she assumes every woman would envy her fabulous shoe collection. Sure, it was pretty. But, I don’t want to spend thirty minutes putting an outfit together. I don’t want to have fifty, sixty, three hundred boxes of shoes only worn once.

Many of you probably agree with me. But, what is in your closet that you don’t need? Get rid of clothes that don’t fit, haven’t been altered in three years, or are too far out of style.

(Men, this applies to you too.)

“Possessions, outward success, publicity, luxury - 
to me these have always been contemptible. 
I believe that a simple and unassuming manner of life is best for everyone, 
best for both the body and the mind.”
― Albert Einstein

Take the closet cleaning a step further and get rid of stuff in other areas of the home. According to the Self Storage Association, the country now possesses 2.24 billion square feet of personal storage. All this space is contained in nearly 50,000 facilities. It took the self storage industry more than 25 years to build its first billion square feet of space; it added the second billion square feet in just 8 years (1998-2005). (Source: Don’t even get me started on the television shows spawned from the growth of this industry!

How much stuff do we really need? Is it useful stuff anyway? I’ve seen people attempt to write on a flip chart at work and don’t even throw away the dried up marker. The point is to simplify, so even if something is useful, consider giving it away if you don’t use it regularly. Make this the year to get rid of all the extra stuff that fills closets, garages, kitchen cabinets, and storage units.

Simplify your time and surroundings to simplify your life.

Be specific about what you want.

"If you don't know where you are going,
you'll end up someplace else."
Yogi Berra

One of the reasons for the dismal resolution success rate is because the resolutions are not specific enough and many people don’t know how to turn resolutions in to goals. Below is the list of the Top 10 resolutions from last year.

Rank      Top 10 New Years resolutions for 2012
1             Lose Weight
2             Getting Organized
3             Spend Less, Save More
4             Enjoy Life to the Fullest
5             Staying Fit and Healthy
6             Learn Something Exciting
7             Quit Smoking
8             Help Others in Their Dreams
9             Fall in Love
10           Spend More Time with Family

If you want to lose weight (#1) or stay fit and healthy (#5), increase your chance of success by being more specific. Take the resolution a step further by adding tactics like the following:
  • First quarter: Get a physical. Take five 30-minute walks a week. Take a healthy cooking class. Learn about vitamins and identify which would be helpful. Reduce soda consumption to five per week.
  • Second quarter: Continue the walks and add 15 minutes to each. Eliminate soda. Assess nutrition and identify three additional changes to make.
  • Third quarter: Add weight lifting to fitness routine. Take three different fitness classes to see if any are interesting or helpful enough to add to your schedule.
  • Fourth quarter: Take a fitness class or run a 5k in another city.
Whether you identify tactics quarterly or monthly, be specific. The most common resolutions listed in the chart are too general. Set yourself up for success, not failure.

It’s the beginning of a brand new year. The slate is clean. Decide today how you want the year to be described on its last day. When you prioritize, simplify, and specify, you live your life with purpose on purpose.

“I advance in life, I grow more simple, and 
I become more and more patriotic for humanity.”
Victor Hugo, Les Misérables