Sunday, October 27, 2013

Pep Talk: "Relish Failing"

“Every night when we’d sit down at the dinner table Dad would ask, ‘Where did you fail this week?’” offered the successful entrepreneur. “It inspired us to always try new things because we didn’t fear failure.”

Wow. I wanna meet Sara Blakely’s father, a trial lawyer by profession. I like the way that dude thinks. He taught his kids that it’s far more important to focus on trying than failing. We don’t know until we try, right? Who knows, we just might succeed!

All this was flying through my aging cranium while grinding away at Kinetics Fitness Studio a while back. The founder of Spanx and the youngest self-made female billionaire EVER was knocking it out of the park during a cable network business show. The Florida State grad was sharing the stage with Warren Buffett. They were talking about many things including the Giving Pledge program. Buffett and Bill Gates founded the advocacy agency in 2010 to encourage the world’s billionaires to donate half their fortunes to charitable causes. Good for them.

Anyway, while I was sweating away, the woman who wanted to be a lawyer but couldn’t nail the LSAT exam was telling the story of her great success. It’s grounded in the courage to try. To be focused on putting fear aside and allowing wonderment to win. It’s what her father challenged her to do daily around the family dinner table in Clearwater, Florida.

After earning a communications degree and realizing a law career was not in the cards, Blakely went to work at Disney World. The dynamo dreamed of portraying Goofy. “They said I was too short. I ended up being Minnie Mouse.”

The Delta Delta Delta sorority sister - had to include this fact considering your scribe, while at Mizzou, had the fun-loving Tri Delts living next door – was also flirting with standup comedy. Guts to try with no fear of failure. Admirable.

Then, the real world. “I was selling fax machines door-to-door when the idea hit me,” the married mother of a little boy shared. “I had $5,000 dollars to my name and invested it all in the business.”

I couldn’t sell one fax machine, but Blakely sure could. She was the company’s national sales manager by the age of 25. Persuasive would be a good word to describe the 2012 member of TIME Magazine’s most influential people in the world. But she had a problem: Florida’s humidity and panty hose were not a good match. I’m getting way over my skis here, but according to Wikipedia, Blakely hated wearing seamed-foot panty hose with open-toed shoes. Amen to that. But the energetic soul loved that the control-top eliminated panty lines and held the body firmer.

A few attempts at cutting off the bottom of panty hose proved frustrating. The remaining hose kept running up her legs. There had to be a better way. Again, we’re talking about a woman who does not fear failure.

Eventually coming up with a solution, Blakely wrote her own patent from a textbook and incorporated the company under the name Spanx. The rest is history. The Atlanta-based company now also sells undergarments for men. Who knew?

My workout and the interview ended simultaneously. I stepped from the elliptical machine with a sense of gratitude for the other person in the gym’s cardio area. The man peddling furiously on a stationary bike nearby had been watching the channel when I walked in. Had the room been empty, I probably would have turned the television to ESPN and missed the interview. Timing is everything, right?

A short while later, while departing the gym and wandering into the crisp early-morning Centennial State air, I kept drifting back to Blakely’s father. This man encouraged his kids to throw caution to the wind and go for it. If you fail, who cares? It’s far more important to focus on trying than worry about failure.

What about us? Are we encouraging those we influence - home, work, school or elsewhere - to fear failure, or embrace trying? Are we talking ourselves into dwelling in that yucky former spot or the invigorating latter?

If these are challenging times it might help to remember that question always offered at the Blakely family dinner table. Let’s relish failing, knowing that at least we tried.

It sure worked for a Sara. It might work for us, too.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Pep Talk: "Run To Daylight"

We dived into our first math tutoring session: “DeMaryius Thomas minus Peyton Manning?” The young man knew immediately that meant 88-18. “What about Knowshon  Moreno times Champ Bailey?” The fourth grader instantly wrote down 27 times 24. With a little help the Greenlee Elementary student figured out that problem, too.

Everybody seems to be a Denver Broncos’ fan these days. None more than a nine-year-old who is part of the Whiz Kids’ after-school mentoring program. Why not test his expertise with the players’ numbers and weave it into some equations to improve math skills like addition, multiplication and subtraction?

Denver’s west side reminds me a lot of south Texas almost 30 years ago. My first sports television job was in Harlingen, Texas. Located in the Rio Grande Valley about 40 miles northwest of Brownsville and the tip of the Lone Star State, it’s right along the Mexican/American border. At the time, the population was 95% Hispanic, half of which didn’t even speak English. It seemed more like northern Mexico than it did the southern United States.

Large families often headed by single mothers. Rampant poverty. Educational opportunities scarce. It’s what permeates the Mile High City’s near west side today. My mind often wanders back to a family of eight that was the focus of a “Christmas For The Needy” piece I did for KGBT-TV. A mom, dad and six kids living in a cardboard shack. No plumbing or electricity. The family drew water from a nearby well. Two king-sized beds dominated the structure. No one spoke English. My heart broke for the kids.

We know education is the best chance children have to escape poverty. Whiz Kids provides math and reading tutoring in a faith-based setting. A handsome young man with big chocolate chip eyes looked at me, ready to shift away. “Can we read a book?”

We tore into his selection about insects and science. We quickly grew bored with the text. I offered, “You want to read one of my books?” His eyes grew wide, “You write books?” I pulled Kids Teach The Darndest Things: Life Lessons From Our Little Ones from my satchel. “Yep.” He randomly picked Finish The Task.

Ironically, it was centered around the Denver Broncos and my daughter. It chronicled, many years ago, her involvement with the Junior Denver Broncos’ Cheerleaders. The group had performed with the adult cheerleaders before a home game against the Kansas City Chiefs. We had sat in the stands afterward to watch some of the action.

Early in the fourth quarter, with the Broncos comfortably ahead of their divisional rival, I suggested to the precious princess, “Sweetie, let’s get out of here early and beat the traffic.” She looked at me, much like she does today as a budding young woman at 17, and countered, “Are you crazy?”

Apparently I am. “Dad, we can’t leave the game. The cheerleaders are still working.” We stayed to the bitter end. Later, while driving home with an exhausted child fast asleep in the back seat, the lesson hit home: Finish what we start.

My daughter long ago reminded me of this, and now a new buddy, about the same age as she was then, was reading, pretty darn well, the prose describing the moment and the message within it.

“Wow, that was a fun story. Do you have any other books?” I smiled and offered, “Yep.” As he gulped water and munched healthy snacks during a break in the action, Marco wondered, “What are they called?”

“Well, my second book is called Run to Daylight.” Those big brown eyes grew wider once again. “What’s it about?” I tossed his short-cropped, thick black hair and offered, “It’s about encouraging you to believe in yourself and chase dreams. Go for it. Ya know, run to daylight.” A slightly puzzled look crept across his face. It appeared he was preparing to respond when the silence was broken. “Time for club!”

Marco leaped from the chair and sprinted toward group activities that consume the final 30 minutes of our weekly 90 minutes together. While watching the energetic young guy disappear around the corner, the thought hit me: In pursuit of play, he was running to daylight. 

May a similar spirit pervade each area of his world. Yours too. This week embrace Shakespeare’s wise words stated long ago: “All glory comes from daring to begin.”

Get going. Run to daylight!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Pep Talk: "Guts To Follow Through"

“Sweetie,” joked my darling fiancee, “Sorry to say, but you turn into a pumpkin again real soon.”

It was her parting shot as she slid into first-class on a Denver-bound flight from Kansas City. This simple dude from Missouri, who adores the Chicago native, was headed for a spot in coach. It’s the way we travel. It works quite well for us.

We were returning from an incredible weekend celebrating the community of Raytown, Missouri. Where I grew up. It’s a prideful place. Founded around 1848 byh a blacksmith named William Ray, it borders Kansas City and Independence, home to our nation’s 33rd president Harry S. Truman. It’s located east and south of the Truman Sports Complex - home to Arrowhead and Kauffman Stadiums - for sports fans scoring at home.

Each year the town’s school district honors graduates for distinctive service. I was one of six recognized this year. World-class pianist Thomas Brown, Legendary track coach (posthumously) Bob Craddock, business standout Bob Hudson, yours truly, basketball and public servant superstar Ed Stoll and law enforcement, counter-terrorism expert Kris Turnbow were members of the 2013 Hall of Fame class, the school district’s ninth.

It was a few days of immersion into the wonderful waters of youth - home, school and elsewhere. Kids who grew up in Raytown, Missouri in the 1970’s were lucky. We had role models to follow. Educators, public servants, coaches, parents and others did a great job of showing us the way.

The school district’s community relations department, led by Cathy Allie, did a great job of organizing a variety of events, including: speaking to students at each high school, touring our respective elementary schools, a community-invited luncheon, a visit to the city’s historical society and the actual induction ceremony.

We had great chats with the students. They asked insightful questions. We learned of the issues facing a school district with different demographics and challenges. I was blown away when walking into Southwood Elementary for the first time in 43 years, the tile was the same. Polished beautifully and warming to the heart.

I was blessed to speak to the Ray-South football team before its game against arch rival Raytown. Joining me for the Pep Talk where my two former high-school football coaches: Bruce Johnson and Vance Morris. This aging jock implored the current Cardinals to erase the pain of a disappointing loss to the Blue Jays in the final competitive football game of my life. The Cardinals got the job done with an upset win!

Another event, off the official schedule, was a golf outing. All the dudes that I grew up with playing golf in a two-man best ball on an absolutely gorgeous Missouri fall day, I played with Biff, Geno, Moon and Coop. We had a blast. Doug Maddox was tournament director. If you’re basing victory on what the scoreboard suggested, we got our butts kicked.

Everybody was a winner though for the time spent together. We agreed that a golf outing should be established annually each year on this weekend. Yep. The weekend the school district inducts another class, we have a golf tournament. It will bring us together more consistently.

Everybody was saying afterward, “We have to do this again!”

We do. Then one of the knuckleheads offered up a really good idea. “We should turn this into a charity golf tournament and invite others.” That got everybody’s attention real quick. “The money we raise would go to the Raytown School District and its efforts to provide the type of education each of us was blessed to experience.”


As the airplane streaked through calm skies on the journey home to the Mile High City, a truth dropped into my brain like a long, unexpected, birdie putt. It made me quite giddy. If we have the guts to follow through on what appears to be a pretty good idea, the following scenario could manifest itself: we’d get a chance to play golf at least once a year together, raise money for the school district and, selfishly, get my old man’s spirit off my back.

My late father used to organize, each year, a family and friend golf tournament in the Kansas City-area. So did the Maddox’s. Neither does now. It’s time to change that. It COULD BECOME an annual reunion tied around the Hall of Fame weekend, helps the education effort and allows me to, finally, look skyward and shout, “Pops, the golf tourney is back!”

Connecting with the dudes I grew up with, supporting the schools and honoring my old man. In my book, that’s terrific trio.

It will start with us, collectively, having the guts to follow through on our rhetoric. One thing each of the gathered knuckleheads learned long ago from the Show Me State community is that our actions speak far louder than our words.

Shame on us if we don’t at least try. What about you? Is there an opportunity knocking - home, work, school, community or elsewhere - requiring you to have the guts to follow through? Go for it. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!

The guts to follow through. It’s what turns pumpkins into yummy pumpkin pie and far more important than first class or coach, right?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Pep Talk: "It's Our Spirit"

Keep it simple, stupid. It’s a phrase I learned many years ago as a graduate student at the University of Missouri’s renowned School of Journalism.

It’s a phrase that came crashing back into my cranium while seeking solace from the afternoon heat. I was hunkered down in the comfy and dark confines in a neighborhood hangout, The Cherry Cricket in Denver’s Cherry Creek North area. It was the first weekday afternoon since retiring from the Denver media world after 25 years. Time to celebrate the beginning of a new voyage. A cold beer on a surprisingly hot final day of September seemed appropriate. 

While seated at the bar, I was reading The Seasons Of A Man’s Life. It had been recommended to ponder while venturing toward a new frontier. The book, written by a team of sociologists, psychologists and psychiatrists led by Daniel J. Levinson, dives into the theory that humans certainly have a life span, a life journey, but also have a life cycle. According to the book, at 55, your scribe’s in the “Middle Adulthood” cycle. The book suggests that the middle adulthood designation means, in Levinson’s words, “The main tasks are to make crucial choices, give these choices meaning and commitment, and build a life structure around them.”

Amen to that, buddy.

So off we go into Victory Production’s wild blue yonder with courage and wonderment as our guide in winning the battle against fear and self-doubt. In all the years of speaking, writing and consulting about effectively dealing with change, challenge and adversity, one principle thought has never wavered: Life throws us curveballs when we least expect it. It’s a roller coaster and it’s absolutely critical to keep trying to turn life’s lemons - heck with lemonade - into sweet and savory margaritas. It can be virgin margaritas if necessary. You get the point. Are we going to be students or victims of life? Choose wisely, okay?

How do we do that? How do we somehow, someway, muster the courage and will to persevere through the tough times? Back to the “Keep it simple, stupid” referenced earlier, I believe it starts with our spirit. That intangible force that resides within each of us, if allowed to be activated in healthy and productive fashion.

Life of late has brought many wonderful examples of such spirit. For example: Three adolescent girls working their butts off while receiving loving care at Excelsior Youth Center in Aurora, Colorado to overcome horrific sexual, physical, verbal and emotional abuse. One of the young ladies is getting ready to graduate from the Center’s high school and has big dreams for the future. The other two, 14-years-old, are finally beginning to trust adults. As one of the girls admitted, “To let down our walls.”

The amazing woman who invited this simple dude from Missouri and others to tour the facility also demonstrates an incredible attitude. A woman with a heart bigger than the state she hails from managed to move beyond an abusive childhood featuring a mother who would drag her down the hallway by the ponytail. Compounding the problem? The angry parent would also bang this dynamo’s head against the wall a few times to make sure the insanity made a lasting impression.

Somehow, someway, the Texas native and her siblings persevered. It was not easy. Today Jamie Angelich mentors precious young women to press on despite the unimaginable potholes present. An admirable spirit.

And then there’s a young woman named Sarah. We had lunch together recently and the 33-year-old just knocked my socks off. The sports enthusiast was born with spina bifida but didn’t know it. Yep. The prognosis came late, when Sarah was about 2 1/2 years old. The challenges began to manifest about four years later. Since then, wow, what a ride it’s been: More than 60 surgeries and far too much time spent recovering from them. “It’s real tough to have a normal life when you’re constantly recuperating. I missed a lot of stuff growing up.”

As a high school junior, complications from the genetic disease forced doctors to amputate Sarah’s left leg just below the knee. Life had certainly changed but was progressing nicely until prom night of that year. Then an infection attacked the surgical area. Sarah went into toxic shock. Died. Was revived and spent many days in ICU, deathly ill. Flesh-eating bacteria forced surgeons to remove four more inches of the limb.

 As our time together concluded - organized by an awesome mom by the way - a vibrant woman who epitomizes the word “persevere” dropped this gem on your correspondent. “I don’t want to be known for spina bifida or 60 surgeries. I want to be known for my spirit.”

Amen, sister!

“Want another?” The bartender’s question ended my mind’s wandering. I was back in the moment, sitting inside a favorite watering hole with the book before me. I declined the offer and pondered the book’s passage about middle adulthood:  “The main tasks are to make crucial choices, give these choices meaning and commitment, and build a life structure around them.”

Amended, the phrase could easily read, about life: “The main task is to make the crucial choice to keep a positive spirit despite the unexpected turmoil, give that spirit meaning and commitment, and build a life structure around it.”

Keep it simple. It’s our spirit. That’s the easy part. Keeping the spirit alive and well despite what ails, that’s the real challenge. Good luck!

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