Monday, November 19, 2007

Winning and Losing and Remembering

If you picked up a newspaper today, you'll read that Michigan head football coach Lloyd Carr retired today. Some articles will discuss his National Championship in 1997, his 1-6 record the last six years versus Ohio State, his 0-4 record in recent bowl games, the fact that he increased the winning percentage of college football's winningest program, etc. However, I have yet to read an article that did not discuss Coach Carr in the context of character and integrity. In his column today, Mitch Albom wrote, "[Coach Carr] has never been defined by his job and he never will be." Albom also concluded his article, "In an Ann Arbor autumn where losses were a familiar topic, this is the biggest loss of them all."

I choose not to elaborate on Lloyd Carr and his legacy; rather, I wish to look at today's coverage of an illustrious and controversial career in the context of our own lives and the legacy we leave to ourselves.

Winning and Losing and Remembering

Sometimes winning is a function of skill and ability; other times winning is a function of drive and determination. Sometimes we lose to the adept despite our passion; sometimes we defeat the wholehearted using only our natural superiority. Ultimately, our predisposition to victory or defeat casts the judgement on the outcome of the match. Expectations dictate reactions.

After losing to Oregon and starting this season 0-2, Coach Carr closed his press conference with the following remarks (Please excuse that these are taken out of context): "Just play every day as hard as you can, and regardless of what the outcome of those games are, you keep your head high. Because if you're doing everything you can to the best of your ability, you have nothing to be embarrassed about.” There is no arguing with this statement, and it is very powerful. The fact that Coach Carr will be remembered as a "Michigan Man" and for the character of his program only adds substance to his not-so-empty words. But often it's not a question of embarassment, and our reflections often bury the story of the man behind the story of his life...

Everyday, in the office or in a bar, in the classroom or on the field, in friendships or in relationships, in seizing the important or the unimportant, we win or we lose. Some battles are bigger than others, and some battles are more important, but we win or we lose every single one of them. Yes, at the end of the day more important than the victories is the character of the victor. Yet, when we look at today, and we look at yesterday, and we look at the trail our life has left, it is a trail of memories. Some of those memories are wins and some are losses, but they are the story of our life when we stop and think.

You don't believe me? I don't believe you. How many times have we said to ourselves "what if?" or "I should have"? I'm not talking about regret. Absolutely not. Most of us are not judged by the media, but we are all judged by a far harsher critic - ourselves. And if there is anyone guilty of looking past the value in the character of accomplishment and failure it is the person staring at back at us in the mirror.

Of course, we will reminisce with friends about the celebrations and the victories, those nights when we went to bed with a smile so big it hurt. There will pass too many days, too many hours, when we catch ourself in thought and self-reflection. These are the moments when we judge ourselves, the moments where we are our own measure of our life. We don't think about the times we were beat, but we'll never stop thinking about the days we lost. And ironically enough, it seems like the men and women who never quit are the individuals we commend for their character.

Passion is a crazy concept. It's rare. It's unique. It doesn't always makes sense. It needs to be harnessed and treasured and never take for granted. The battles we're passionate about, those are the losses that stare us in the mirror. Accept that we will all lose, and that we will all be beaten. However, when you find those rare passions that get you up in the morning and keep you up at night, don't stop fighting until you're beat, and you'll never regret it.

Monday, October 22, 2007

You have to know when to hold 'em... Know when to fold 'em...

As we grow older the answers to the most difficult questions seemingly come to us with greater ease. Yet, when it comes to risk, I'm not sure the deliberation process is any simpler or any clearer. When do you push your chips to the middle of the table? When do you go for it on fourth down? When do you tell the hitter to swing on a three ball - no strike count? To the outsider, the answers seem obvious: Let it ride. Go for it. Look for your pitch and let her rip... Yet, the game is much more complex when you have everything to win and even more to lose.

We all want to win big, but not all of us are willing to lose big. Everyone wants the million dollar idea, but they're not all willing to stray from their path to make it a reality. Every guy stares at the beautiful girl at the bar, but most aren't willing to face the fear of rejection. Every hitter wants to hit the game winning home run on a 3-2 pitch, but it's easier to pray for the walk. Life is this simple - if you want to win big, you need to prepare yourself to lose big. If you're not willing to lose it all, then accept that road more often travelled has clear and defined destinations.

Unfortunately, the question is not as simple as "are you willing to lose it all?" Any gambler knows that you're going to lose some great bets, and you're going to win some stupid ones. In life, however, we're risking more than chips, more than money, more than pride. We're gambling with our futures - careers for dreams, stability for memories, friendship for love... So how do we "know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em"?

It's so easy to recognize that we have to do it. It's so easy to see it in ourselves that we need to do more than follow the trail. How do we decide any loss is worth what we can possibly gain? How do we truly tell ourselves that what we have can be lost? Most of us are not alone in this life. The consequences of our actions fall on the shoulders of those closest to us. Their confidence, their faith, their care makes it even more difficult for us to turn away the satisfactory in the hope of something greater.

Part of me feels obligated to risk it all. How many people took a chance on me? It's easy to remember the people that chance their stakes on us and succeed, but how many have we let down over the years? I'm confident that in the end it balances out, but it still obligates us take a chance for those that took a chance for us.

I'm at an intersting juncture, and I feel that I'm not alone. I know what I want from life, here and now. I mean everything. I have the vision for the road to those dreams, but I also see the potential failures along the way, and they are abundant. I find myself convincing myself to move forward with the following logic: No regrets. "You can't win what you don't put in the pot". Pick your moment, and don't look back. Most importantly, even if all is lost, you still have people you care about, people who care about you, and hope that life will still offer you another shot at the title.

Since I'm a big fan of quotes and sports, I think the following quote from one of my favorite movies offers an appropriate conclusion.

"Either you define the moment, or the moment defines you." ~ Kevin Costner, Tin Cup

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


The last couple of days have been a bit more brisk than usual. People have started wearing a light jacket to the office. I can nap on my living room couch without the air conditioner on. The baseball season only has a couple of weeks remaining. Autumn is upon us.

More so than any time in recent memory, I find people are lost in routine. It's not that life isn't great or that they're bored; rather, life's new cyclical nature is harder to break than ever before. So I inquire, what are the obstacles to busting this monotony? The obstacles are too simple not to be overcome: "It's too much money"... "I don't have time"... "It's too far"... I don't believe it's that people (and when I say people, I know I'm as guilty as the rest of the crowd) are weak; I think they need to remind themselves.

There is always tomorrow, until one day there isn't. There is always the chance to fly here or fly there for the weekend, until one day there we have too much responsibility to do so. There is always the random night at the random place with th random crowd, until we don't do that as much.

"It's too much money...", but it's only money. You're going to have more of it at some point.

"It's too far" and "I'm too tired..." Sleep is for the tired and this life has hardly grown tiresome.

"I don't have time..." Make time. Time is ours, and what we do with it is of our own choosing.

When the sun rises tomorrow, all that remains of today is memories. Obstacles are meant to be averted and hurdles meant to be jumped. It just takes a little effort. On that note, I'll leave with a quote:

"Come on now
Stay up and make some memories
Yeah, with us now
Roll the red carpet out with friends
To whom, to love and roll on"

~Dave Matthews

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


To quote the great American philosopher, Neil Diamond:

"Money talks
But it don't sing and dance
And it don't walk"

Why is it that we crave money so greatly? Perhaps this can be justified, but why is there such an urgency to have money as young as possible? After all, it's only money...

Walking around New York City, I watch recent graduates commit themselves to corporate slavery. Of course they don't talk about their bonuses as much in person as they do over blackberries. And yet, I understand this. There is something to be said for the desire to be 23 years old, in the greatest city in the world, with enough financial support to take advantage of all that this city has to offer. Hell, I even put myself in this category.

I'm talking about the next step. Forget about making enough money to comfortably enjoy the life in the big city at a young age. I'm talking about people with their eyes on "the prize". I'm talking about those who put Gordon Gecco on a pedastol and find value solely in assets. Why? What is it that they want? Is it the status? Is it the toys? Is it the power? Maybe it is all of these things, but will they really derive happiness and a sense of accomplishment from wealth?

Pretend that you are 23 and living in New York City. Your salary triples, or even quadruples, tomorrow. What would be different? I'd probably live in a little nicer place, buy some nicer clothes, travel a bit more, attend more events, and buy more rounds of drinks at the bar (we all know I greatly miss buying rounds of drinks). Yet, the smiles and laughter of life would be the same if I were drinking 25 year old scotch as if I were drinking a $4 beer. I would enjoy the football game as much from the upper-deck as from the fifty yard line.

I have one defense for the money hungry: One of life's greatest joys is the smiles we lend to others. Specifically, we give out of selfishness to our friends and family. The craving of wealth to protect the people we love and care about is tough to overcome. We don't want money to be an obstacle for our children and their educations, or their childrens' educations. We want more for them than whatever we had for ourselves. For many, like myself, it is important to secure this protection before we go out into the world to make a difference. Bend the words and justifications any way you like, it's selfish.

We need to keep perspective. We need to remember that money is only money. We need to move forward knowing that there is a point at which we can say, it's enough. "Comfort" must have its boundaries and at some point it should be an obligation of the educated mass to give back to the greater good. Perhaps it's okay to money hungry for a while, so long as we are not entirely hungry for ourselves. The question is whether or not we'll remember feeling this way when the day comes that we can move on?

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Life's simple pleasures...

I was in a department store today with friend. As we went to check out, the gentleman at the register inquired if we were in college. After we told him we had just graduated he replied, "College. Best years of your life." Way to put a damper on my Sunday, Old Man...

College is certainly the most unique four years of one's life. The freedom granted to an 18 year old undergraduate is an invitation for either great success or great failure. Few scenarios will present the opportunity to open as many doors and forge as many relationships as does the life of an undergraduate. Campus life is perhaps the last chance for a young adult to evade commitment. If you don't like your concentration, switch. If you are unhappy with something, protest. If you find you're not passionate or do not enjoy the extracurricular work you are doing, do something different. The "real world" is not so accomodating.

I work in an office. Unlike the college semester, I will not switch offices every semester. The number of people I have the opportunity to create friendships with is limited. It certainly takes more effort. If I did not like my job, I could quit. What if I didn't like my next job? Or the one after that? It would be fairly difficult to get hired. The timeline for achieving a position of leadership in this world is much longer than three years. Yet, I do not believe the discrepency in lifestyles qualifies college as the "best years of my life" (though they were amazing).

In college, we are always anticipating what is next. The next step is always clear and tangible in every aspect of life. Scheduled exams serve as a measure of your acadmic achievement. Groups and organizations have regular meetings, annual events, and scheduled recruitment periods. There is always excitement for the next date party or formal or Thursday night and whatever bar. In the "real world" there is clear "next" nor is there a timetable for it. I do not know how long I will stay at my job (I hope it will be a place I call home for many years). I do not know when or how I will meet people. Anticipation has been replaced by uncertainty, and that is the surprising virtue of life after college.

Saturday afternoon I watched Alex Rodriguez become the youngest player in history to hit 500 home runs. I watched the Yankees pound the Royal's pitching staff for 16 runs and 21 hits. And yet, neither contributed to the day's magic.

It was the fourth inning. Our seats were on the first base line in the shade. It was an absolutely perfect day outside. I had a hot dog in one hand and a beer in the other. My friend and I were discussing everything from finance, to politics, to relationships. In that moment, there was nothing in the world that could have brought me more satisfaction; there was nothing that could have been more enjoyable or more serene. Baseball, a hot dog, a beer, and a great friend - nothing could have made the day more perfect.

My excessive enjoyment from a Saturday afternoon at the ballpark sparked some self-reflection. Was this a sign that I was maturing? No. Definitely not. I came to the conclusion that for as long as I can remember, I've been running. In college, there was always somewhere to run to - a party, an exam, a football game, an election, a big meeting. The lifestyle and culture on a college campus gears us to look forward. We are trying to promote change in the world tomorrow. We are preparing ourselves for life after our undergraduate years. Part of the University of Michigan's mission is to "enrich the future". We were so busy worrying about tomorrow and the moments that we now call memories that simple pleasures in life were an afterthought.

Now there is nowhere to run, so we walk. Life is still busy. There is still anticipation, but anticipation for what? Sometimes we know what's next, but sometimes we don't. Even if we do know what is next, we're not sure when or how it will approach us. This uncertainty is new, because we've never experienced it before. However, it allows to enjoy a sunny day, or a walk in the park, or a conversation with an old friend in a way we never have before. Maybe uncertainty isn't so bad...

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

ARod, is $30 million too much? Too much for what?

Like most of America's children, my dreams were shattered early. I'm not playing shortstop for the New York Yankees, nor am I quarterbacking in the Superbowl, nor did I hit the game winning three pointer to win March Madness.

To say I've let go of those dreams would be a lie. I still love sports as much as I did when I watched my first Rose Bowl or went to my first Knicks game. I'm more excited for my company softball game this week than I am for the bar on Friday (and we all know how much I love the bar). For those of us that have fallen short of our childhood fantasy, we live through vicariously as fans. We erupt when Michigan beats Ohio State. We crumble when the Yankees blow a 3-0 lead to the Red Sox in the ALCS.

As a young adult, the emotional roller coaster trailing our sports icons becomes less volatile. When I was twelve I was an encyclopedia of worthless sports knowledge compared to my self acclaimed B+ sports intellect today. Perhaps this is because we grow older and our lives become more complicated as our goals take shape (we also come to care about more important things... like women). My thoughts here are a little disorganized, but I want to create a sense of perspective about my night tonight and my night roughly eleven years ago. I want to compare the kid that would have played the game for free, to the young man that is not sure he could satisfy his thirst for life with a game.

Throughout my childhood, the Yankees were awful. My father as a child had the privilige of watching legends like Mantle and Berra grace the field of the House that Ruth built on a nearly perennial basis. My dad promised me that if the Yankees ever made the World Series that he would take me. As it turns out we had season tickets in 1996, but my father quit his job right about the time the Yankees made the World Series. He rescheduled a business trip (he was trying to start his own business) to take me to Game 1, but it was rained out. The Yankees lost game one, and they were demolished in Game 2. When my dad called in the middle of the Braves blowing out the Yankees in the middle of Game 4, I refused to speak to him (I was a bit of a spoiled child, I admit). Then, at 2AM in the pouring rain, Jimmy Leyritz hit a hanging slider off of Mark Wohlers to give the Yankees hope. My dad made it home in time for Game 6, and I can recall that moment like it was yesterday.

I remember Joe Girardi stretching out a triple. I remember the Yankee rookie rounding third to score the go-ahead run (the kid's name was Derek Jeter... I'm not sure you've heard of him). I remember Charlie Hayes catching the last out in foul territory. I remember my dad holding me up in my seat so I could watch Wade Boggs jump on the back of a mounted police horse and Cecil Fielder struggling to do a victory lap around the Stadium. I remember watching Joe Torre cry. I can still feel myself hugging my dad as the city of New York joined the 57,000 in attendance singing along to "New York, New York"...

Alex Rodriguez is one homerun shy of being the youngest player in history to hit 500 homeruns (more notably, he has done so without suspicion of steroid use). At the end of the year he will sign a contract that will pay him between $32 million and $38 million per year. In that moment with my dad, I would have lived in a cardboard box and begged for food to be one of the pinstriped heroes on that field, and he is going to get paid $30 million dollars.

A-Rod is a heroe to countless youths around the country and around the world. His influence in their lives is unparalleled. He has the power to convince a kid to stay in school. He has the voice to convince a kid to go to college. He has the opportunity to drive so many who will fall short of their dreams to create new ones. Alex Rodriguez is an active contributor and participant in the Boys and Girls Club. He's given more money to children's advocacy and educational groups than most of us will earn in a lifetime. Maybe he doesn't deserve that money for playing a kids game. But what is the value of his impact?

What is the value of a role model that does not use drugs, that does not cheat, that demonstrates class and integrity? What is the value of the college education for a kid that might have ended up pumping gas? What price can you put on keeping a kid in school that wouldn't have otherwise? And for those of us that were just kids, admiring their heroes, how much could you pay me to take away that one memory of a kid with his dad on a chilly October night when he was 11? $30 million doesn't even come close

Monday, July 30, 2007

Something different

Starting a blog is something I would never do. However, life is much different than it has ever been before. In the spirit of challenging my own boundaries and trying new things, I present this public anthology of my thoughts.

The existence and conception of this blog is interesting to think about. In theory, I am exactly the person you would expect to write a blog. I'm confident (others like to call this cockiness), opinionated, self-righteous, and welcome any dialogue. Rarely does the opportunity present itself for me to express my perspective. More specifically, my friends know that I welcome the challenge to say something in ten words that can be said in three. Let's be honest, most of these qualities are essential to a disposition that would lead someone to post their random thoughts on the internet and expect people to read them. Nevertheless, a blog posting is certainly out of character.

The conception of this blog is an important reflection of the path my life has taken over the past year. The individuals responsible for convincing / inspiring me to start the blog are surprises in my life's path of the most unlikely sort. They have opened my heart and mind to aspects of life and this world that would have been lost in my periphery. More importantly, I cannot begin to express the influence they've had on me and the degree to which I value their friendship. This leads me to the title of the blog.

As a student in high school and in college, I cannot count how many times subjected to a conversation referencing Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. He prefaces the work with a poem that concludes, "For the strenght of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack." The general interpretation of this line is that the value of the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I've always had a more personal interpretation.

For those close to me, they know how important family is. When I talk about family, I mean it in both a literal and abstract sense. In my life, I feel as if I've experience great triumph as well as great sorrow. The catalyst in the moment has always been those surrounding me. Success is empty without someone to share it with, and pain only hurts if there is no one to catch you when you fall. As three of unexpected additions to my "family" I thought it was only appropriate that the title of this blog somehow commemorate the friends that stand with me during the great uncertainty looming over the new and exciting life I lead.

I also believe this concept has a broader application and a far more important context. At the University of Michigan commencement, President Bill Clinton spoke about interdependency. We live in an interdepent world. The world has serious problems and serious challenges. No one man/woman, nor one powerful nation can solve them alone. In our cities, in our towns, in our nation, and in our world, "go it alone" policies are not enough... For the strenth of wolf is the pack.