Locking the Golden Door

I don’t believe this but maybe you will. Probably you won’t believe it either.

The time is now, and the place is a yet undiscovered planet toward the edge of the Milky way. Of course, the beings who live on this planet know who they are and where they live. By undiscovered, I mean that other than you and I, no one who doesn’t live on the planet knows about it; and even if they did, it and the people living on it would be of little to no interest. Neither they nor their planet is anything special in the scheme of the universe, at least the universe where they find themselves.

On this insignificant planet, there are areas and divisions that seem fairly arbitrary but are of great significance to the planet’s people. For the sake of simplicity, let’s refer to these arbitrary areas as countries. The current count is 195 countries, with seven and a half billion people inhabiting the 195 countries.

If each country got its fair share of the planet’s people, each would have nearly 40 million citizens, but not much is fair on this planet. I won’t bore you with a list of everything that is not fair but just know that it would be much easier to catalog what is fair. That would be a tiny catalog indeed.

Hang in there with me. I’m getting to the crux of this tale. One of the 195 countries – call it USA – sprawls between two of the Planet’s oceans between two other countries: Canada and Mexico. USA has states and territories beyond these boundaries, but the only point is that it is really big and has way more than its fair share of resources and people: 327 million.

Press play to hear the full story.

Helping Is My Highest Priority

Have you ever had an experience that just defied any attempt to reduce it to a few words? Well the incident that goes with the play button comes pretty close. It’s one of those frustrating encounters we have all had in one version or another. There is nothing for it but for you to have a listen and see if there isn’t something there that you have personally suffered through. I’ve been there to and didn’t like it much either.

Return to Cleveland

This story starts when I was seventeen and if the truth be told, even more full of myself than most seventeen-year-olds. There I was a senior in high school and on an airplane flying from Columbus to Cleveland. It was a very big deal; but before I get too far ahead of myself, a little perspective is necessary.

At my high school, I had some status: class president, a good student, a drummer in the marching band and teacher’s pet, at least for a couple of the teachers. Life was good, at least as good as it gets when you are seventeen.

Let me sharpen the perspective. My senior class had a grand total of 63 students and my hometown had 900 residents, assuming everyone was home. We did have one traffic light and a courthouse, if you were thinking there was nothing special about the place.

It happened that one of those couple of teachers I mentioned was responsible for the plays that were presented by students once or twice each school year. My teacher’s pet status partially depended on having a role whenever it was play time. I still don’t quite understand how being in those plays seemed to automatically mean that I would also participate in speech contests, but it did.

Well, one of those contests involved writing and memorizing a speech on democracy. The writing part was tough but successful, with a lot of extra help from the history teacher. – No, pet status with the history teacher was not in the cards. – . At any rate, the speech got written and the memorizing part was no harder than learning a part in one of the plays. I was ready for the contest.

I was to compete in one of the seven districts in the state. I think there were three or four rounds leading to the final round. You do recall that I was full of myself, don’t you? I think I had just assumed that I would probably win, so I was neither surprised nor impressed When I was given the democracy medal at a school assembly.

That should suffice for perspective. My mother and I were flying to Cleveland for the state contest. Two points are enough to let you get the full picture. First, the contest was in a downtown hotel where I had to wait for a half hour or so until the contest started. I was sitting with the other contestants who seemed to me to all be sophisticated city kids. Does fish out of water clarify the picture? I think it was my first experience with being totally intimidated.

Second – and here’s the kicker – I left a full paragraph out of the middle of my speech. And to make the kick even straighter to the gut, one of the judges told my mother after the contest that I would have easily won, but omitting the paragraph was an automatic disqualification. No trip to Dallas to the national contest for me.

I never made it to Dallas, but I did get another crack at Cleveland. Granted, it took twenty years, but my day came. I was invited to give a presentation to 200 or so sophisticated city folks at the very same hotel where I blew my chance to make the trip to Dallas. I have given talks from Las Vegas to Boston; but none were quite as sweet as my return to that downtown hotel in Cleveland.

I’m probably supposed to draw some profound conclusion or share a witty insight from my teenage stumble but nothing profound or witty comes to mind. Perhaps you might expect to learn how much I learned and grew from my humbling Cleveland experience. Sorry to disappoint. The best I can do is to assure you that now and then the stars do align, as they did for me the day I returned to Cleveland. – Count on it.

Now you know so there you go.

Something Was Not Right

I was already running late when I downed a quick cup of coffee, snagged my keys on the way out and automatically pushed the button to open the garage door. As I hesitated to make sure the door from the kitchen locked, I more sensed than noticed that something was not right. The garage door rumbled up about halfway and the outside light was replacing the darkness. That’s the instant I was very sure that something was not right but making sense of the picture was beyond me.

The lawn mower was in the corner where I keep it. The gas can was there too. The trash ben was along the inside wall and the back of the garage was cluttered with the usual collection of disorganized stuff. I even had the passing thought that I really should get around to straightening up the clutter. But still, something was not right.

I knew what was not right, but nothing computed. For that instant, I didn’t want to know what was not right, I didn’t want it to compute. I just wanted the picture to change, wanted the video to move along a few frames to where nothing is not right, to where my car is just sitting in the middle of my garage where it’s supposed to be. I could get in, start the car and calmly back out of the garage and head off to my meeting.

I was back in the kitchen and thinking I should call someone – maybe the police – when the text tone beeped on my cell. “I was running quite late and your garage door was down. Thought you might have already called it a night so left your car in the drive. Will bring your key over after work. You said it was a spare so you should be good to go. If that’s a problem, text me and I will get it to you now. Thanks for letting me use your ride. You are a lifesaver.”

I just shook my head and wondered if I might be losing it. I could have pondered that possibility for a while but was now running even later. A quick check to be sure I closed the garage door and I was off … again. I don’t really want to share what I was mumbling to myself as I checked to make sure the front door locked and got into my car that was sitting patiently in my driveway.

“Yes officer, I now realize that I didn’t come to a full stop at that stop sign.”

“Yes, I do understand how dangerous not coming to a full stop can be.”

“No, I do not have a good excuse for running the stop sign.”

“Thank you. I will definitely slow down and be more careful.”

“Do I have to appear, or can I just pay the ticket by mail?”

Now you know so there you go.

Down the Rabbit Hole

How clever is it to start a story with “Once upon a time?” I doubt if that opening would ever be confused with cleverness. Even so, it may be as good as anything else if I have no interest in being clever. Some people can pull off being clever but I’m not among those (Dare I say?) clever types. I’m more aligned with those who just say what they have to say and let it go at that.

A few years back, I had the notion that I could teach myself to play the organ. I’m not talking about the kind of organ that fills a church or great hall with powerful music. I am just referring to a little organ that is smaller than most pianos. It wasn’t a toy but definitely less than the real deal.

I know. “A few years back” is pretty close to once upon a time but I’ve already admitted that something more clever is not in the cards for me. My only goal is to get you into the picture where I’m trying to play the organ. Are you there with me? I’ll just assume you are so we can move on.

Every day for nearly six months, I spent an hour or so teaching myself to play, and gradually I learned. I could play a few songs, press the right keys, and some days I believed that I was even making music. I admit that even I didn’t think it was great, but it was some better than nothing. Not a lot better, but some better.

I don’t recall the day specifically, but one day somewhere in month six, I realized that, no matter how long I worked at it, I was never going to be more than an organ player, and not a very good organ player at that.

To compound the insight, I realized that I didn’t particularly enjoy organ music all that much. Here is the point. I could play the organ but was never going to be an organist; I liked some types of music but was never going to be a musician. If the truth be known, I didn’t enjoy trying to learn to play the organ all that much either. It was just something I was forcing myself to do.

That insight got me to wondering how often I start down that particular rabbit hole. How often do I get invested in doing something only to discover that I am not very good at it and am unlikely to ever get very good at it? I’ve definitely been there a few times over the years and don’t figure that I am any better off for the time and energy spent going down those rabbit holes. Here’s the problem. I often have no good way of knowing whether something that peaks my interest is a rabbit hole or a real opportunity without investing in it enough to test out its potential.

It might be easy to conclude from all of this that it’s all just one big crap shoot. The best I can do is to just keep trying this and that, hoping that I stumble into more opportunities than rabbit holes. Fortunately, I came up with what is for me, a much better strategy. It starts with knowing what I’m already good at. Note that I didn’t say knowing what I’m already great at. I just inventoried the few things I was good at. For each of those things, I personally know someone who is better at it than I am. This means that I can’t hang my success on being great and certainly not the best at any of the things I am good at. So what’s the better strategy?
Continue reading “Down the Rabbit Hole”