Sunday, August 25, 2013

Pep Talk: "A Cue from Kyle"

I’ve always admired folks with guts. My son has guts. Good for him.

Those thoughts were rummaging around in my head while driving toward Denver International Airport. I was meeting darling fiancee there for a trip to Los Angeles to visit with my son Kyle, who’s working hard to make a mark in the entertainment world.

The drive came on the heels of presenting a Pep Talk to about 70 Kaiser Permanente employees. These are wild times in health care, with major reform already underway. We talked at length about the importance of staying united in the daunting task of achieving goals and overcoming challenges in a controversial industry. We also talked about the importance of shoving fear and self-doubt aside and allowing courage and wonderment to win. Kaiser Permanente and other providers are at ground zero of America’s attempt to fix a broken system. Some out-of-the-box thinking is required. Guts.

Which takes us back to my 23-year-old son Kyle. Back in his middle and high school days, the talented thespian starred in many productions. Performed quite well, especially as a character actor. I’ll never forget, with perfect inflection and accent while starring in a play named after its lead character, Kyle pronouncing, “The name’s Malone. Bugsy Malone.” Awesome.

But it was another lead role that especially speaks to guts. He had to play Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls. The role required him to sing Frank Sinatra’s hit song, Luck Be A Lady. Kyle really had no interest in singing, but to secure the lead it was required. He threw caution to the wind and, while auditioning, acted and sang well enough to earn the marquee spot.

At that time many years ago, I started listening to Sinatra’s song all the time while driving heretofore around the Denver metro area. I have always loved Sinatra, but considering my teenage son had to sing one of his well-known numbers for the show, this song took on new meaning. Even today, every time I hear that song, it makes me think of Kyle.

Opening night. The theatre is packed. Kyle and other youngsters are entertaining the heck out of an adoring crowd. The moments nears where the middle-schooler must sing his solo while serenading the female lead. Kyle would be the first to say it could have gone a little better, but man, what an effort.

I sat there with tears in my eyes. Overwhelmed and bursting with pride and admiration for the courage and guts a young man displayed in plunging into the great unknown. He took a big leap of faith. No guarantee of success, but what the heck, nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

After the Kaiser presentation, I was visiting with one of the audience members. A delightful woman wanted this simple dude from Missouri to repeat a quote from Shakespeare that’s frequently muttered when having the privilege to stand before a group and offer encouragement for the road ahead.

When imploring crowds to not allow fear to sidetrack goals. I joke, “If you don’t believe me, how about Shakespeare?” I love what the literary icon had to say about the subject when proclaiming: “Our doubts are traitors that make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.” Amen brother.

Life is often complex and the thought about casting fear aside and allowing wonderment to win can seem the last thing to consider. Do it anyway. But don’t try this alone. Engage with like-minded folks and encourage one another to persevere on what, probably, will be a bumpy journey toward achieving goals and overcome challenges. Rarely is it easy.

Take a cue from Kyle and leap into the future. Since that moment about a decade ago, his interests have taken him behind the scenes, which these days include a lot of comedy production for Russell Brand, Nick Kroll and shows like HBO’s Veep and the critically acclaimed Arrested Development. 

Along Kyle’s journey, impressive intestinal fortitude continues to emerge: few thought the sharp young man would gain entry into New York University or land consistent employment once he departed the storied film school and headed west to Hollywood. All of them were wrong.

Despite setbacks along the way, the funny guy has stayed focused on working hard and not allowing challenges to extinguish the fire to succeed in the tough and competitive entertainment industry.

We all have those moments where we must decide. It might revolve around home, work or elsewhere. Those times in life where we must declare, “Opportunity’s knockin’ and I’m casting fear aside and allowing wonderment to win!”

This week, take a cue from Kyle. Dig deep and tap into some intestinal fortitude. It might take you to a new frontier never before imagined. Good luck!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Pep Talk: "Betterment of Others"

The lively crowd had begun to settle in as I offered this to those celebrating Make-A-Wish Colorado’s 30th anniversary: “I’ve got a big crush on Joan. I love our lunches. She doesn’t pull any punches!”

The crowd gathered at the Colorado History Museum (a beautiful venue for events, by the way) chuckled a bit while the organization’s founder looked at me with one of those “Are you crazy?” looks. This simple dude from Missouri gets them often from a woman who has dedicated life to toiling for the betterment of others.

Admirable indeed.

Most people know the Make-A-Wish brand pretty well. It’s a national organization, founded in 1980 in Arizona. Two law enforcement officers started a chain reaction of events that would lead to a terminally-ill seven-year-old boy receiving a great wish: being a cop and catching the “bad guys.” An organization was born. It’s mission to make life better for kids with life-threatening illnesses. Kids and families being touched by Wish’s magic now number more than 300,000.  Admirable indeed.

The Colorado chapter was started by Joan Mazak back in 1983 to honor her daughter, Jennifer. A liver condition robbed her of life at the age of seven, far too young. 

A distraught mother had a critical decision to make: allow this tragedy to sour her view of life, or inspire her to help others deal with the one thing all parents fear: burying children. It’s not supposed to happen that way.

It was a fun night of wonderful stories from Wish kids, celebration of sustained success and loving tributes. I was honored to host the event and exalt Mazak for somehow finding the strength and conviction to turn a truly lousy moment in life into something positive. That ol’ “lemons into margaritas” kinda deal.

I know from our enjoyable lunches and other chats that the pain of losing a child at such a tender age will, in some ways, never fade. We all have those moments in life, right? Those, “What the heck is going on around here?” kinda moments that have us believing nobody could have it any worse than we do.

Joan poured that energy into helping others. Just a while back, Make-A-Wish Colorado - the state organizations operate in partnership with the national office - granted its 4,000th wish. Through it all (and Joan would be the first to admit there’s been plenty of turbulence along the way), through passion and perseverance, and with a great team of staff and supporters, MAW-Colorado has brought respite and joy to the lives of sick kids and their families.

Many have defied the odds and survived despite the dire prognosis. Who knows, maybe the granting of their “wish” had something to do with the miraculous health reversal? Who knows?

This much we do know. Joan Mazak’s story is a good reminder. Yep. It’s a good reminder to the power of a mindset focused on the betterment of others. Nothing was going to erase the fact a mother had lost a seven-year-old daughter. The big question was, “How would Joan react?” She poured pain and sorrow into helping others, in similar straits, try to do something to find joy despite what ails. Wish it away. At least for a while.

As the talented and funny auctioneer wrapped up his duties toward the end of the evening, I glanced around the venue where many had gathered. Love was present for sure. The throng heard a wonderful story about a wish kid who wanted to write a book about cancer. That was her request. No fancy trips, no exotic shopping sprees or role playing for a day. This young lady, Jenna, wanted to have a team help her write a book about cancer.

An editor, illustrator, publisher and others helped this incredible spirit, who also survived, to write a book. A huge Colorado Rockies fan, Jenna, in her darkest hours, also thought in terms of the betterment of others.

It is not an easy task, thinking of the betterment of others. That darn thing called life sucks sometimes, and we like to throw pity parties. Eventually, however, attendance seems to decline at such affairs.

But based upon the big crowd hugging Joan, Jenna and the other champions celebrating 30 years of success for Make-A-Wish Colorado, living with a spirit centered on utilizing challenges for the betterment of others seems to be admired and effective.

It might serve us well this week too. Good luck!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Pep Talk: "Prevail Against What Ails"

Chats with Patty. They’ve become cherished events of late.

The latest occurred while cresting the hill along Highway 36 heading into Boulder, Colorado. The scenic overlook area alongside the highway, a wonderful stopping spot for many as they head into the beautiful Boulder Valley of the Centennial State. Home to the city of Boulder and the University of Colorado’s main campus. This aging jock was headed there for media day for the school’s fall programs.

I was describing the beauty of the scene with a 78-year-old woman who gave me birth and continues to give me an earful of opinion about a variety of subjects. In our frequent chats, we talk often about what a blessing it is for us. Nearing eight decades on the planet, when many others’ her age struggle with cognitive and memory issues the daughter of Charles Perry is still sharp as a tack. Equally as sharp with the tongue. The huge sports fan would make Jim Rome quite proud. “She has a take.”

In a court of law, I would call my radio co-host Eric Goodman as first witness. He’s felt Patsy’s wrath more than once as she calls into the show to offer opinion. His look of “Oh no, what’s gonna happen now?” as I bellow, “Chatty Patty you’re on Afternoon Drive!” is priceless. She’s fun to debate.

As we continued our conversation and moved beyond my description of the beauty before me, we began to talk about something many families in America face these days; When is it time for independent, but aging and becoming more fragile, people to seriously consider moving to an assisted living facility?

The mother of four has a fiercely independent spirit and has been flying solo for quite some time. The thought of asking for help is a foreign to Patsy Sue as a day without a cigarette. Rare. She’s trying like heck to stop the latter and I’m hoping like heck she’ll try the former.

“Ma, how about this? How about we set a goal for a date that we could set in concrete as to when we’re moving?” Right now, the devout gardner lives in a rural-type setting in a quaint little home just yards from her landlords. I’m very grateful for this husband and wife team. They keep tabs on mom.

Transitions in life. They are not easy. I have always been a big fan of William Bridges. He’s one of the world’s leading experts on change. The former university professor has spent more than two decades lecturing and writing about effectively dealing with life’s expected, and unexpected, detours.

A favorite story from my first book, Kids Teach the Dardnest Things, centers on my daughter. When the, now, almost 17-year-old was much younger, like six or seven. We were flying into Kansas City, Missouri, my hometown, to visit family. The current volleyball standout at East High in Denver, had a window seat. As we approached KCI she noticed a meandering body that flows near the airport. The longest river in North America is in full-view upon final approach. “Dad, what’s that?” I said, “Sweetie that’s the Missouri River.”

At the time I was in transition after a painful divorce from this precious princesses’ mother and thinking of Bridges. I had just read one of his books, The Way of Transitions. In it, the author speaks about dealing with his wife’s death from cancer. It was tough. He was beating himself up a bit. Ya know, “Hey, I’m the ‘Transitions Guy’ I should be handling this better?” The California-based consultant was flying west toward home after business on the East Coast.

It was a beautiful and clear day as the jetliner, carrying Bridges and others toward San Francisco, streaked across our nation’s skies. He also had a window seat and began to reflect on the country’s great rivers visible from 35,000 feet above America’s Heartland: 

The Ohio, Mississippi and Missouri to name a few. Suddenly it hit him: Rivers meander. They twist and turn. Quite often, at those twists and turns, fertile sediment is dropped. Most of our food grows close to these rivers in soil made rich from the river’s meandering.

Could it also be true about life? The meandering, the twists and turns, the pokes-in-the-eye, kinda moments could also provide fertile soil for wonderful things - relationships, careers and health - to grow abundantly in our lives?

It takes a lot of courage to look at life’s detours with that type of attitude. It helped Bridges effectively move beyond his wife’s death and love again. It’s helped me deal with stuff and can help you too. I know, real simple to talk about, looking at life’s detours as opportunity, far more difficult to execute.

Let’s try like heck to give it a go this week. You. Me. Chatty Patty. When thrown into transition, those “What the heck is going on around here moments?”, cast fear and self-doubt aside and allow courage and wonderment to win. There is no guarantee of success but we’ll be better for the effort.

But don’t do it alone. Find some like-minded folks and encourage one another to prevail against what ails. We draw strength from one another for the journey. Good luck!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Pep Talk: "Trusted Advisors"

A mentor. What does that look like? According to the Oxford American Dictionary it means we’re, “A trusted advisor.” If someone walked up to a person and asked, about you, me or others, “Are they good mentors?” what would be the response? Yes? No? Often? Sometimes? Rarely? Never?

That thought jumped into the scrambled brain of an aging jock from Missouri recently while staring at a sheet of paper. I was pondering a question. It came from the Raytown, MO., Schools Hall of Fame. In a few months, a blessed father of two great kids and writer of this Pep Talk is being inducted along with five others. The Hall wants information.

The election crew wanted to know this: “What are the top three to five honors or accomplishments you SPECIFICALLY want to mention as we create our programs?” The question sent brain zipping back through time. A few things came immediately to mind.

However, the question sent me into deep reflection while duties as facilities manager required errand trips on a scorching hot Centennial State weekend day in early August. Time to think about this. Okay, they’re inducting you into a Hall of Fame and they want to know the top three to five honors and accomplishments from more than five decades on the planet?

It took a while, but during a stroll through Home Depot - I’m gonna work there one day - looking for some wire mesh for gardening issues, it hit me like a ton of bricks. The number one honor or accomplishment? I’ve had great mentors.

All along the way. From a sports-dominated childhood in a wonderful community, to crazy college after the injury, to devoted friends who encouraged me to chase sportscasting dreams, to supportive friends who demanded perseverance despite the pain of family breakup, to like-minded parents passionate about caring for teachers to everyone, like you, who reads these Pep Talks and support Victory Productions. I’ve been blessed with great mentors along the way. Thanks!

As the list became clearer, it dawned in my mind that the remaining honors and accomplishments, after great mentors, were a result of the leadoff hitter. Encouraged, cajoled and instructed, through great mentors - parents, coaches, teachers, advisors, friends and others - to go for it. As I like to say in live Pep Talk presentations, “Run to Daylight.” Here’s the rest of the list: spark the creation of a foundation supporting teachers, a company dedicated to helping others achieve goals and overcome challenges, help deserved kids receive quality after-school activities and through many twists and turns, enjoy a long-time Denver television and radio career. The endeavors have ranged from wildly successful to no longer in existence. What a ride.

All along the way, often with me stubbornly resisting, great mentors have been trusted advisors giving me hope and confidence for the sometimes rocky road. Life rarely goes as planned, right? That train carrying those best-laid plans gets knocked from the tracks. Derailed. It’s good to have folks around who lift our spirits, apply salve to the wound and kick us in the butt while saying, “What the heck are you doing knucklehead?”

Great mentors. What an honor to possess. It’s number one of my list. You?

While driving back home from also picking up a new print cartridge a reality crashed into cranium: Are we trying like heck, despite the distractions of life, to be THAT kind of mentor to someone else?

Mentors, call ‘em trusted advisors, are so necessary for our success. We can’t do anything alone. We need folks along the way to light our path. Shelter us from the storms. Pull us away from the cliff. Join us in a leap of faith in casting fear and self-doubt aside and allowing courage and wonderment to win in moving beyond life’s challenging moments.

Great mentors. The question becomes, will that define our lives this week? Will we light another’s path? Shelter someone from the physical, emotional or financial storm? Pull someone from the cliff of despair? Stand shoulder to shoulder with another in getting a big running jump and LEAPING into the future with a sense of wonderment to the possibilities?

A great mentor. We just never know what kind of healthy and productive influence we can have on another’s life. I can only speak for myself but, man, what a blessing to have such support. This Hall of Fame’s for them.

Trusted advisors. Let’s be one this week!

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