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.
“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?
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.”
As many of you probably know from reading my articles and blogs over the years, I’m a long-time volleyball player. Not that I’m an “A+” player, mind you… At 5’9”, I’m not exactly spiking the ball over people. But whatever the outcome, I do love getting out there and running around with my Sunday group of drop-in volleyballers in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.
Over my 20 years of v-ball Sundays, I’ve been repeatedly astonished by how uncannily the game parallels life and, most particularly, the psycho-social dynamics in the workplace.
Ask most any Canadian and they’ll confirm that Montreal hosts some of the most aggressive drivers in the world. But let me tell you, my Uncle Stan has them all beat.
In spite of anything you’ve heard to the contrary, you ARE a “leader” in your “organization”. There’s just no denying it.
“But wait just a second,” you say. “I’m only an admin…or a mid-level manager…or a soccer mom. I’m no leader.”
This is an understandable reaction, to be sure – and yet completely inaccurate. Leadership is much more than the title you hold or the position you maintain in the company pecking order. Leadership, in fact, is how you interact with everyone, including yourself.
Yoda: Luke! You must complete the training.
Luke Skywalker: I can’t keep the vision out of my head. They’re my friends. I’ve gotta help them.
Yoda: You must not go!
Luke: And sacrifice Han and Leia?
Yoda: If you honor what they fight for, yes!
Obi-Wan: If you choose to face Vader, you will do it alone. I cannot interfere.
Luke: I understand. R2, fire up the converters.
Obi-Wan: Luke. Don’t give in to hate. That leads to the Dark Side.
Yoda: Strong is Vader. Mind what you have learned. Save you it can.
Luke: I will and I’ll return. I promise. [flies off with X-Wing]
Do you remember this scene from the second Star Wars movie, The Empire Strikes Back? (1980) The young Luke Skywalker finds himself at a crossroads, faced with the hero’s eternal dilemma: stay and complete his training, or rush off (before his education is complete) to try and save his friends. As you can see above, Luke chooses to leave Master Yoda’s tutelage well before fully mastering his Jedi skills, hurrying off to battle with Darth Vader before he’s actually up to the challenge. As a result, let’s just say that Luke has his lunch (and his hand) handed to him on a platter.
Although we have no Death Stars to destroy back here on planet Earth, no black-clad, heavy-breathing villains to vanquish, we nevertheless find ourselves continually in predicaments similar to that of Luke’s.
“I was thrown out of college for cheating on the metaphysics exam: I looked into the soul of another boy.” –Woody Allen
It’s funny how the things we learn in elementary school stick in our heads and take on an element of “truth” as we get older. As far back as I can remember, for example, my teachers told me that I should *never* talk to other students while taking a test, for that would be *cheating*.
Trudging up the modest incline yesterday towards Spring Lake – huffing and puffing, chest tight, legs heavy as stones — I feel a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that this run is going to be a momentous struggle. To my utter dismay, this 50-year-old body of mine just isn’t responding the way it had on our last run, when my girlfriend and I had sped around the 6-mile course in Santa Rosa (CA)’s Howarth Park in record time, barely breaking a sweat. On this brisk, fall afternoon, however – red leaves lining our path and picking up the last golden light of the day – I am laboring significantly, my feet unable to lift much higher than a walnut. “This isn’t fair,” I say to myself. “Each of our previous runs over the last two months has been slightly better and measurably stronger than the one preceding it. And our last outing was the best yet. Effortless. So what’s the story today? What gives?”