I’ve heard it said that relationships give us a mirror to see ourselves, and boy was that true for me last week at my regular Sunday drop-in volleyball group in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Here’s what happened.
If you travel as much as I do, you know that airports can be pretty boring places—especially when you have a long lay-over. After all, how many frozen yogurts can you consume? (Okay, in my case, quite a few!) So there I was in Orlando International airport last week, killing time between flights, and my path led me into a book store.
Some years back while teaching English in Japan, I found myself speeding along on a bullet train down to Nagasaki to visit a friend whom, I’ll admit, I had a bit of a crush on. While there, my friend introduced me to one of her buddies: a successful, local architect who shared with me an intriguing tenet of his design philosophy: “Always include something inconvenient.” It didn’t take long for me to understand what he was talking about.
I played a lot of sports in my school days – football, basketball and tennis, mostly — and at least once a season, like clockwork, one of my coaches could be relied upon to get up on his soapbox and declare, “There is no ‘I’ in team!” Know-it-alls that we were, my buddies and I would just roll our eyes, thinking, “We get it, already. We’re not dummies! There’s no room for a prima donna in team sports.”
At nearly six-feet tall, 6th grader Jim has always excelled at basketball. Half way through his final season at Meadows Elementary School , however, Jim accidentally steps on another player’s foot and breaks his ankle. The doctor informs Jim that he’ll need to wear a cast for the next 6 weeks, but not to worry. His ankle will be right as rain by the time the big final game rolls around, the one in which all the high school scouts will be in attendance. As the weeks progress, however, Jim ruefully mulls over his prospects. You see, adults have always told him that he has star potential, that the sky’s the limit for a big, coordinated kid like him. But Jim doesn’t see it that way. His internal voice – his “gremlin” — is telling him, “You’re not good enough, Jimbo . You’re slow. You can’t jump. Your shot is flawed. Oh, sure, you’re a big fish here in elementary school, where no one is taller than 5’9”, but in junior and senior high, you’ll be competing against players your own height, or taller. Real athletes, too! Playing against that competition, you’re bound to fail. And what about your family? The only time your parents stop fighting is when they’re in the stands, rooting for you at basketball games.”
The more Jim thinks about it, the less and less he wants to risk playing in the big game (and all that it entails). So when the time comes for him to get his cast off, Jim says, “No thanks, Doctor. I’m keeping it on!”
Back in 2000, the Kevin Space movie Pay it Forward popularized the idea that giving can be viral. In the film, young Trevor McKinney (Haley Joel Osmont) receives a school assignment to somehow “change the world”. In response, Trevor comes up with an innovative plan: to encourage people to pay a favor forward…not just once, but three times. The rules of his scheme are:
#1 It (the good deed) has to be something that really helps people.
#2 It must be something they can’t do by themselves.
#3 I (the giver) will do it for them, then they will do a similar deed for three other people.
Although I found the movie at times a bit too saccharine for my taste, I certainly appreciated the sentiment: Giving not only feels good, but it can jump start a contagion of philanthropic behavior.
I first met today’s guest writer, New York jazzman Tim Armacost, in college almost 30 years ago, at a time when both of us were grappling not only with what kind of careers we wanted to pursue, but also with what kind of adults we wanted to become. While I eventually chose team development, training and coaching, Tim has been traveling the globe these last 25 years, pursuing a career as a professional tenor saxophonist — living in such exotic locations as Amsterdam, Delhi, and Tokyo. His CDs, including Live at Smalls, The Wishing Well, and Brightly Dark, have received high praise from the Washington Post and the Jazz Times. Fluent in Japanese, Tim is also a longtime student of Zen Buddhism; his meditation practice infuses his music and contributes strongly to his relaxed yet passionate performance style.
Today I asked Tim to share a few of his thoughts on team leadership from a jazz improv perspective. Here are his insightful comments:
“You’re either a mistake maker or a life learner.”
Given that over 120 million viewers were watching the end of Super Bowl XLIX this past Sunday, the chances are fairly good that at least some (if not most) of you witnessed the puzzling play calling from Seattle Seahawks’ coach, Pete Carroll. Here was the situation. Down by four points with less than a minute to play in the fourth quarter, the Seahawks have possession of the ball with one yard separating them from the end zone and, most likely, their second consecutive Super Bowl victory. The common-sense call is to run the ball with Marshawn Lynch, a bowling ball of a human being with the nickname “Beast Mode”. Lynch who, on the previous play, pounded ahead for four yards, has already run for over 100 yards in the game, demonstrating time and again that the Patriots can’t mount much resistance when a short gain is required of him. Everyone in the stadium (including this writer) is expecting a safe, off-tackle plunge from Lynch. But then something remarkable happens; the Seahawks’ brilliant young quarterback, Russell Wilson, unexpectedly drops back for a pass and slings the ball over the middle in the direction of wide receiver Ricardo Lockette, knifing towards the goal line. Against all odds, Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler steps in front of Lockette and intercepts the ball, essentially ending the game and handing New
England their 4th Super Bowl victory.
What could Pete Carroll have been thinking?
Back in 1987, while wrapping up a stint as an English teacher in Japan, my college buddy Tim came out to Tokyo for a visit. An old-Japan hand from childhood when his father was a diplomat in the country, Tim (now a jazz musician in New York) knew a great deal, first hand, about the sometimes alienating aspects of living in Japan as an ex-patriot. I doubt if he was overly-surprised, then, to find the 24-year-old me in a negative state regarding the local culture and society.
Me: “Boy am I glad to be getting out of here soon! This place is crazy.”
A noted samurai general in old Japan visits a venerable Zen master at his temple in imperial Kyoto. Says the samurai: “Master, I have spent my entire adult life waging war after war with my enemies. I am ready now to turn my attention to my salvation.
The Zen master — bald, 70 years old, with wisdom lines twinkling around his eyes — famed throughout the country for his sage teachings, responds: “Visit me again in one month. During that time, meditate 90 minutes a day.”