Friday, December 10, 2010

Pleasures, Power, Possessions

I’m a firm believer in rewards for hard work; it’s ingrained into our nature to work for some form of approval. Randy Alcorn, founder of Eternal Perspective Ministries, summarizes the natural (and God-inspired) human desire for rewards with the alliterative phrase “pleasures, power, and possessions.”  Think of it: all human pursuits, good and evil, can be summarized by the motivation for one of those three end-goals. Often times, intangible rewards (i.e., pleasures & power) far outweigh tangible rewards (i.e., possessions). Forward-thinking interns and #1 workers (the phrase I use for our Assistants & Coaches to describe an initiator) know this and work hard despite limited, if any, immediate rewards.

I can relate to Colin Revere’s unpaid internship this fall.  In 1991, I initiated a summer internship as a producers’ assistant at WCCO Radio.  I worked eight hours a day, three days a week all summer and extended my service sporadically through the fall.  Possessions? The only pay I received was for supervising the broadcast center for seven weekdays at the State Fair; the only gifts (gratefully received) were a dual cassette player and a Christmas dinner.  However, power and pleasures were my main motivation at ‘CCO: I received “real-world” experience in rubbing shoulders with world-class radio talent and guests, with supervisory experience leading to my manager position at KIDS Club in Edina. I also had the satisfaction of writing “Good Neighbor” radio scripts, setting up entire show line-ups of guests, and being commended by the news director, producers, and my supervisor.  It’s said “the best things in life are free;” by the same token, I believe some of the best experiences in life are unpaid now but will pay dividends (pleasures, power, and/or possessions) later.

As I looked for work coming off of my unpaid internship and college graduation in ‘91, my brother, Tom, advised me to not worry about making money; “work hard, and the money will follow.”  That’s good advice, and I try to pass that along to my coaches, assistants and members through my actions and my words.  Life experience (and the satisfaction of a job well done) trumps immediate tangible rewards.  Keep working hard: in school, work, juggling, and life.  One never knows who is looking or how it will be of benefit, in any number of ways, later on Earth and even in eternity on the New Earth.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Virtue of Doing Hard Things

One of Coach Billy Watson’s favorite phrases of late is “It’s a virtue to do hard things.”  Two years ago, I read an excellent book by that same title by twin brothers Alex & Brett Harris, and the principle shared by both the adage and the book is that some things, though uncomfortable, are worth pursuing; and some comforts are worth giving up.  For instance, it’s not easy to run a marathon, but tens of thousands do so every year for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is conquering an objective challenge and achieving a higher level of personal fitness along the way.  By the same virtue, it’s not easy to master (or even begin learning) a new language, leadership skills, a musical instrument, or even juggling, but the learning process itself has its own reward.  Brain fitness, a deep sense of accomplishment for even small steps of improvement, and a broader range of physical and social skills all accompany the effort to do such hard things. 

My brother, Jim, learned two new languages at age 29 in order to work for seven years in extreme rural (and extremely poor) East Africa; he began working on Mandarin Chinese at age 44 for two more years’ work overseas. My nephew, Ben, is in his third year as as a cadet in the U.S. Air Force Academy, and despite his Eagle Scout and valedictorian feats in high school, he attests that getting through his “doolie” (freshman) year was the hardest thing he’s ever done (so far).  He’s training to be an Officer, and they teach that the best way to learn to lead is to learn to follow.  Since late summer, I’ve committed to daily efforts at beginning banjo playing, dedicating a portion of my time, money and patience to do this “hard thing” (however frivolous it may seem for a 40-something Northerner). Physical, mental, and artistic benefits are a lifelong motivation, but this skill will certainly go further than getting into yet another TV show, video game, or tech fad. 

So, when I encourage the Jugheads to stick with juggling—even for just one year—it’s not for enrollment quotas or surface promises. It’s for their overall development.  Humans are designed to be constantly challenged (consider our muscular, skeletal and immune systems), and in areas such as language, leadership, music, or juggling, it indeed is virtuous to choose the narrow, hard path for the promise of long-term reward.

The Big Picture: Prioritizing Goals

Distance running has represented a significant portion of my daily life and well-being since 2007 (and on-and-off since ‘85), and few athletic endeavors better epitomize goal-setting than the marathon.  I’ve run five marathons in the past two years.  For the middle three races, I tried my utmost to break 3:21 and achieve a Boston Qualifer (BQ).  During each of those attempts, I not only fell short, I fell WAY short: by 37, 57, and 78 minutes, to be exact.  By contrast, my goal for Twin Cities ‘10 was to simply beat 3:45.  My resulting 3:42 on Oct. 3 was strong and consistent, and proved a better experience.  Having failed multiple times and then finally adjusted my goal for a BQ, the blessing is that I’m reminded about true goal of my running: character over qualifying.

During and after my first serious BQ attempts in ‘96 (3:23) and ‘04 (3:34), I over-trained, got injured, quit running, and gained 40 pounds—twice.  Sure, I gave it my all, but I gave it too much, winding up losing more than I had gained through the actual accomplishment. Now that I’m not as young and not as unwise, my race-day results are not as lofty, but my major goals are intact.  I like to keep lists, and I have a Top Five List of why I prioritize fitness.  I steward my body for my: 1) God; 2) marriage; 3) career; 4) quality of life (daily function); and 5) quantity of life (longetivity).  If I didn’t have this list and the guidance of these primary goals, I’d be tempted to give up after every disappointment involving an unmet secondary goal (i.e., the ego rush of a fast(er) time to impress people).  This list also kept me balanced through my more recent failed BQ attempts.

I’m both a romantic and a realist.  On the one hand, movies like Rudy inspire me, seeing a man daring to dream beyond logic and counsel.  On the other hand, sometimes the most inspirational stories involve lives whose consistent faithfulness and perseverance overcome less dramactic but more effective goals in the long run (no pun intended).  I’ll continue running, but it’ll be my Top 5 List, not a BQ, that will drive me across the finish line every day.  That’s precisely why character development at JUGHEADS always trumps medals, awards, and other temporal forms of prestige.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

JH: Bigger than one man, class, or era

I’m a nostalgic, sensitive, and statistical type guy--the triple threat when waxing eloquent about our company’s uniqueness and history.  In this brief space, I’ll kick off the new school year by simply reminding my leaders, parents, veterans, and rookies alike that JH is bigger than any one factor.  Yes, I founded it/direct it and Wendy organizes it, but we do so dependent on our coaching staff, parent volunteers and student assistants.  Yes, I’m thrilled by seeing so many kids choose to stay Jugheads through H.S. graduation, but even with a record-tying 12 seniors this year, they still represent less than 9% of our roster.  Yes, many would say that a certain year or Juggle Jam or IJA Festival was “the best ever,” but remember that there have already been many pinnacles, firsts, and notable eras in our 16 year history, and the beauty of each is truly in the eye of the beholder.  When I’m tempted to grow weary of directing this company, I’ll remember that JH is really one big team, much larger than my career and empowered by God’s grace to fulfill His will.  I thank God for JH, from the simple joys of a contented beginner discovering a new skill/social niche to the profound experience of a young adult whose life was forever changed here. May we all cherish this juggling year, which could be another “best ever”—even for just one child.