Inhale (deeply and slowly). Exhale. Do 10 repetitions. Now, give yourself a high five! Why? Because you’ve been given the GREATEST GIFT of all, a gift that 6,744 Americans received yesterday, but did not receive today: The gift of a NEW DAY! And the best part is you get to choose how to use it. For some it will be a chance for a new beginning, to forgive or be forgiven, an opportunity for much needed rest and re-charging. For others, a chance to inspire or be inspired, to serve as an instrument of change or hope – one day further removed from a past they’d just as soon forget and one closer to the person they aspire to be. Maybe it will be enough for some to simply “live it” and in doing so choose Life! Whatever it is you choose to do with it, I encourage you to do it with gratitude and the uncluttered heart of a child on Christmas morning.
Stand in front of a mirror and repeat after me: “I am enough!” Do as many repetitions as are required to allow those three words to seep into and ultimately find a home in your soul. I realize it will be a bit challenging at first, but hopefully, in time you (and your heart) will get used to it – and the smile and sense of peace that come with it. Remember that #wordsmatter, especially the ones we say to ourselves.
au•then•tic [aw-then-tik] adjective – 1. Not false or copied; genuine; real.
Last Sunday, 29 year-old Martin Kaymer won the U.S. Open, arguably the most prestigious and difficult of golf’s four major championships. He did so in record-breaking fashion, leading from wire-to-wire, setting and then duplicating the record for the lowest 18-hole score ever carded at Pinehurst No. 2 in a major championship (65), smashing the tournament’s 36-hole scoring record (65, 65 – 130), recording the second lowest 72-hole total in U.S. Open history (271) and finishing 8 strokes ahead of his nearest competitor, the 4th largest margin of victory in a U.S. Open behind Tiger Woods’ 15 shot victory at Pebble Beach (and two old guys no one’s ever heard of). As if all that weren’t impressive enough, Kaymer did all of this just weeks after another dominating, wire-to-wire victory at the Players Championship, generally thought to be the “5th Major” among touring professionals. In doing so, Kaymer joined Seve Ballesteros, Ernie Els, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy as the only players to win two majors and be No. 1 in the world before turning 30 since the world rankings began in 1986.
Still, had you asked those “in the know” back in 2010 to speculate on the probability of Kaymer capturing what I like to refer to as the “Parental Slam” (the Players and the Open crown their champions on Mother’s and Father’s Day, respectively) most of them likely would have given Kaymer fairly good odds. After all, he had just won the PGA Championship (at age 25!) and when two other victories followed in quick succession, overtaken Tiger Woods as the No. 2 player in the world and, ultimately, Lee Westwood as the world No. 1. But had you asked those same prognosticators for the odds of it happening just 3 years later (in 2013) none would have given Kaymer a chance! Why? because shortly after becoming the No. 1 player in the world, Kaymer decided he needed to change his swing, that his natural, left to right ball flight made him too one dimensional – unable to adapt to, let alone conquer certain courses, including the famed Augusta National, home of the Masters! The result: Kaymer plummeted in the World Rankings and commentators began to openly question whether he was a “one hit wonder.”
Truth be told, Kaymer was not alone. In fact, the professional golf landscape is littered with immensely talented and once highly touted players for whom good, bordering on great seemingly wasn’t good enough. David Gossett is a case in point. When he was only a sophomore at the University of Texas, Gossett won the 1999 U.S. Amateur by the largest margin in the preceding 33 years (9 & 8). Two years later, he won the first PGA Tour event he entered, the 2001 John Deere Classic, an almost unheard of feat, at the ripe “old” of 22. He would go on to log 7 top 10 finishes on Tour over the next 2½ years and amass more than $2.2 million in prize money. But for reasons known only to Gossett, he wasn’t as successful as he wanted to/thought he should be, so he began to fiddle with his swing. Golf carnage followed: 23 missed cuts in 25 events in 2004 with total earnings for the year just over $21,000 and the loss of his playing privileges on Tour. The next 5 years were no better (14 missed cuts in just 16 Tour events) and the road back has not been any more glamorous – lots of hard work, grinding at mini-tour events and Monday Qualifiers – all in search of what he already had: his Authentic Swing.
What does any of this have to do with us, with Life, with getting unstuck? Umm, pretty much everything – I think! You see, the more hearts I listen to, read about or observe from a distance the more convinced I become that all of us come into this world living (or wanting to live), doing, dreaming, loving (and needing to be loved) in ways that are unique to us – they are our “authentic swing.” As children, we begin to discover and explore the many facets of that swing and experience its spontaneous and unfiltered joys. We feel its power. Regrettably, however, over time, many of us start to question whether our swing is flexible enough, strong enough, valuable enough, aesthetically pleasing enough, well-rounded enough to be part of the group we want, get the job we want, find the mate we want, have the lifestyle we want, earn the degree we want, have the friends we want, etc. – and, invariably, we begin to tinker with it, some of us even go so far as to box it up like the remainder of an unfinished gourmet meal and stick it in the deep freeze, forgetting that it’s even there.
The farther we move away from the “sweet spot” of our authentic swing the more impenetrable the accompanying “darkness” seems to get. The sense of joy we once knew is replaced with often overwhelming feelings of discouragement, disappointment, sadness, loneliness, frustration – a loss of control). Where do those feelings come from? They (and the behaviors associated with trying to numb them) are an inevitable by-product of our becoming disconnected from our “authentic swing.” If I’m right (and I think I am), the journey back is less about change (http://tinyurl.com/lsl9nue) than it is about re-discovery and “re-connection” – a two-step process that first requires identifying the “you” that came into this world followed by a passionate and undistractable commitment to welcoming that person and all that they have to offer back into your life! Simply put, the pre-worldly-adorned “you” is precisely, uniquely, beautifully the person you were intended to be and you and the world desperately need to be “re-introduced” to her (or him)!
The good news is: Because it is an integral part of who we are, we can be assured that, regardless of where we may be on our life journey when we make the choice and commit to the “work” necessary to find our way back home, our authentic self will be eagerly waiting in the doorway for our arrival with warm, welcoming and open arms. But, don’t just take my word for it – take Martin’s or, better yet, take a fictional caddy’s!
In the history of the National Basketball Association, no team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the Finals to win a 7-game series and claim the championship trophy. So, when the final buzzer sounded on San Antonio’s Game 4 shellacking of the Miami Heat, giving the visiting Spurs a 3 to 1 lead in the series, the following question by a Miami Heat beat writer in the post-game news conference with Heat stars LeBron James and Duane Wade was fairly predictable: “LeBron, obviously it’s not over, but you know the numbers as well as anybody in the league. You know that nobody in the Finals has ever come back from 3-1 down. That being the case, what’s the attitude right now? Is it just about Sunday (Game 5)? Is it about making history? Or is it about something else?” What was somewhat less predictable was LeBron’s response: “We’ve put ourselves in a position where making history is the only option left.” As soon as I heard it, I wondered if anyone in the room paused as I did to consider how profoundly important and insightful LeBron’s seemingly simple sentiment was, not only in the context of the Heat’s immediate struggle, but for all who are struggling against seemingly insurmountable obstacles and odds.
LeBron’s right. Whether we’re talking about sports, medicine, education, science, the prospect of realizing our dreams, the likelihood of succeeding in business, etc., we tend to look to the past and assume that it is a valid predictor of the future. “No one’s ever come from x number of strokes back after 54 holes at the British or U.S. Opens and won the tournament.” “No one’s ever been able to find a cure for x.” “No x year-old has ever qualified to do y?” “No one who’s suffered an x type of injury has ever walked again.” “No one’s ever climbed x mountain.” “No one’s ever survived more than x years after being diagnosed with this disease.” “No one from this family has ever graduated from college.” “No one born this premature has ever lived, let alone lived a normal life.” And yet, that same history has taught us, time and time again, that it is being “re-made” in each of those arenas (and dozens of others) with every passing moment. World and other sporting records are being broken, cures for diseases previously believed to be incurable are being discovered, people are outliving their prognoses, those once thought incapable of hearing, speaking, seeing, accomplishing, etc. are doing all of those things and more. In short, “champions” are being crowned and celebrated every day – often in the most historically improbable of circumstances.
Why? Because sometimes, when history is the only option left “funny” things happen – not the least of which is that everyone involved in the process begins to wonder why it is that x has never happened before and, more importantly, to focus on what’s required to change that, to make it happen now – to be the first in history to do it. On occasion, that sense of wonder turns to resolve, a commitment not to rest until the barrier has been broken and history made. In the midst of those struggles, we begin to discover, likely for the first time, how truly courageous, capable and resilient we are – and that, in itself, is worth the battle whether the ultimate goal is accomplished or not. I’m not suggesting for a minute that the Miami Heat are poised to become the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3 to 1 deficit, beat the Spurs in 3 straight games and hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy as the 2014 NBA Champions. What I am saying is: If they don’t do it this year it won’t be just because no one in history has ever done it before or for lack of effort, nor will it mean that the next team that finds themselves down 3 to 1 in the Finals won’t be the first. It will be because this year the Spurs proved to have what it takes to be champions – nothing more, nothing less.
Heck, you need not look beyond the 2013 Finals to appreciate that. After all, I’m quite certain prior to that series, no team in NBA Finals history had ever been down 5 points with 28.2 seconds left and won a Game 6 – or any Finals game for that matter – and yet, the Heat did just that (http://tinyurl.com/kwrfo9j)!
When I was a teenager, I used to love to watch ABC’s Wide World of Sports with Jim McKay on Saturday afternoons. Why? Because, back in the day (the 1970’s), it was one of the few ways an insatiable sports fan could catch a glimpse of “non-mainstream” sporting events in the U.S. and elsewhere. In fact, the show’s intro promised that its producers would had “spanned the globe” to bring viewers the “constant variety of sport,” the “human drama of athletic competition,” the “thrill of victory” and the “agony of defeat” – and they seldom disappointed. Unlike my friends, I didn’t particularly like the “agony of defeat” stuff. I never was much of a rubbernecker. I tuned in mostly for the “thrill of victory” segments. But, every now and then a piece captured both (i.e., the agony of defeat and the thrill of victory) in the same event or person and, when it did, it was truly captivating.
I remember one such segment in particular. It was a piece on a national weightlifting competition that would decide who would earn a coveted spot on the U.S. team for the upcoming Summer Olympics. I’m not very well-versed in the intricacies of weight-lifting competitions, but, in general terms, the competition organizers set a preliminary weight for each weight class and type of lift. Each competitor is then given three opportunities to successfully complete the lift; those who do advance to the next weight and the next until there is only one competitor left and that person is crowned champion. There’s only one wrinkle: If a competitor misses his first two lifts at a given weight and all of his fellow competitors have successfully completed it, the twice-failed lifter is given the option of making a 3rd attempt at the existing weight or “passing it” and attempting a higher weight, which, if successful, his competitors would then have to match.
The focus of the piece was a competitor whose name you’ll forgive me for not remembering (it was 40+ years ago!). What I do remember is that he came into the competition as the American Record Holder in his weight class and was generally believed to be a “lock” for the American team, if not a spot on the Olympic medal podium. However, it was obvious from the outset that, on the day that mattered most, something was terribly wrong. I’m not sure what demons had crept into his psyche, but he had struggled with even the preliminary weight and those struggles only intensified as the weights increased. Eventually, he missed his first two attempts at a weight well below his American Record – a weight that his two remaining competitors had lifted with relative ease. One more “miss” and he would be out of the competition – his life-long dreams of Olympic glory shattered.
Moments before the lift, the camera panned to the staging area where he was having a heated discussion with his handlers. As the bell sounded signaling the time for the final attempt, the handlers walked onto the stage and to the shock of everyone in the auditorium increased the weight on the bar not to what would have been the next designated level, but to a number well above his current American Record! It seemed like competitive suicide (likely the reason for the disagreement among with his team), but the young man knew if he could manage the weight it was a virtual certainty that his fellow competitors would not and he would be crowned champion. I’ll never forget the alternating looks of doubt and determination on his face as he circled that bar, the hush that fell over the auditorium as he reached for it or the smile and deafening roar that erupted when he cleanly/proudly lifted it high over his head.
At one time or another all of us will experience moments not unlike the one that unfolded before the eyes of millions of WWS viewers that unforgettable Saturday afternoon – “moments of darkness” when we sense that all we have worked for is slipping from our grasp and all we have sacrificed and endured to achieve it was for naught. The genesis of those moments will take many forms and their intensity and duration will vary greatly from one person to the next. For some, the darkness will emanate from rejection, a breach of trust, abandonment, a love or friendship lost. For others, it will be borne of trauma, illness or the death of a loved one. More often than not, those moments will be temporary, like an early morning fog that engulfs everything in its reach only to burn off hours later to reveal the true magnificence of the landscape beneath. On occasion, however, the darkness that accompanies those moments will linger and seem impenetrable, all consuming, suffocating.
I have to believe that in the midst of what likely was the darkest moment of his young life, as he circled that bar bearing more weight than any American in history had ever lifted, that young weightlifter had an epiphany that all of us must have when we confront our own, namely that: (1) no matter how skilled, accomplished or put together we may be (or think we are!), none of us are immune from such moments; (2) no matter when they come or how long they may last, we simply cannot allow those moments to obscure our view of the truth about who we are, let alone supplant that truth; (3) in the span of a lifetime, the significance of a moment ago, whether the “ago” be 5 seconds, 5 minutes, 5 months or 5 years pales in comparison to the significance of the next 5 minutes; and (4) in the end, it doesn’t matter how long we have to spend flailing around in the darkness in search of our truth, what matters is that we ultimately find it, embrace it, triumphantly raise it up for all the world to see and then take a well-deserved and hard-earned moment to bask in the “thrill of victory” with a knowing smile as bold and radiant as the one that lit up television screens around the world that magical Saturday afternoon!
Hang on! Fight on!
I wonder if you ever paused to consider the “messages” you were sending (and the pain you were inflicting) as you shuffled us off to bed in the waning sunlight of beautiful South Florida summer afternoons well into our middle school years and headed out the door to meet up with your neighborhood drinking buddy for your daily afternoon Scotches. Because, intended or not, the messages were as clear to me as the air on those same summer days: “The drinks are more important to me than your dad, than your brother, than your sister – than you.” “I’d rather spend my time (hours each day) with them, than spend it loving any of you, holding you, listening to you – encouraging you.”
I wonder if you knew how many times I fantasized about you turning around, blasting back through my closed bedroom door and saying “NOT TODAY!” “Today, I want to know how you’re doing, about the girl who got away, about your fears. I want to listen to your heart, to your poetry – to learn what brings you joy and makes you sad.” “Today, instead of simply dropping you off at the driving range, I want to stay and watch you hit balls, find out why it is you love the game so much, what it is the teaching pros “see” that has them insisting that their students pay careful attention to your swing – and whether there’s something I can do to support your talent.”
“Today, rather than spend another afternoon in a haze, I want to do what YOU want to do.” “Maybe we could catch a movie, grab a pizza or some ice cream?” “Maybe we could go bowling (even though I’m not very good at it!) or simply talk about whatever’s on your mind?” I know now, of course, that it was much more complicated than that – that what may well have started out as a “choice” borne of your own heartache became a disease that would require hard work to overcome. But, I also know you had to be the one to take the first step, to decide that there was someone or something in your life more important to you than the next drink.
You could’ve done the work, mom – used the courage and the toughness it took to survive all those wounds to embrace and rise above the scars they left behind – to “show them who was the boss around here,” rather than always trying to show us. You could’ve run towards, rather than away from the voids in your soul and filled them with so many things other than Scotch (the pursuit of your dreams, encouraging and inspiring us to reach for ours, real hugs, genuine smiles, service to others) and, in the process, set an example for us – taught us that brokenness is only the beginning, the cocoon in which true beauty resides and, if we will allow it, from which it ultimately emerges.
I still wonder why you never took that step. Why you never even admitted you had a problem, let alone asked for help and support in battling it – help and support I’m certain dad would unhesitatingly have provided if given the chance and the prospect of regaining his wife/life? But most of all, I wonder why, long after you could see the debris field left in the wake of it all, you never once said you were sorry. I gave you every chance to at least do that, right up to your last breath and all you did was leave me wondering (still): Why couldn’t you see that YOU were important enough? Why weren’t WE important enough? Why wasn’t I important enough?
Your Middle Son
P.S. It took me awhile to fill in the gaps – and truth be told I still have a ways to go, a few wounds of my own to patch up, lots more to learn where empathy and vulnerability are concerned. But, all things considered, I think you’d be (mostly) proud of the man I became . . . at least I hope so.