Sometimes success means stepping into the batters box

Success. That word carries a lot of weight, especially in modern American society. We are obsessed with success. It is so much a part of the air we breathe that we don’t even stop to think about it. Movies, social media and the news are filled with stories that either celebrate the accomplishments of individuals or point a finger at their failures and subsequent demise.

If we aren’t careful, we can subtly fall prey to thinking that we are only worthwhile if everything we touch turns to gold. The problem is nobody has the secret “Midas touch”. Even if they did, that old fable reminds us that the results wouldn’t be as glorious as we envision.

We desperately need reminders of the true meaning of “success”. In my life, one of the places I have learned the most is through baseball.

I was reading an article about statistics in baseball on ESPN.com last week. I’ve added the link to it here.

The article talks about a player and manager named Cap Anson. This is a excerpt…

The legend goes that Cap Anson, asked what he’d like his tombstone to say, replied, “I guess one line will be enough: ‘Here lies a man that batted .300.’

 There are three reasons we care, for our purposes today, about Anson’s response. The first is the throat-clearing opener: “one line will be enough.” Anson had one of the game’s most extraordinary and complicated major league baseball careers. He was baseball’s first superstar, rapped 3,435 hits, won five pennants and almost 1,300 games as a manager, and played a prominent and despicable role in preserving segregation in the sport. A book could probably be written about any one of his 27 seasons. In his estimation, one line would be enough. That’s how powerful “batted .300” has been in baseball.

The article goes on to talk at length about why batting .300 is a significant accomplishment.

With all due respect to the author, I think he may have actually missed Cap’s main point.

It may offend our modern sensibilities but what if Cap wasn’t talking about the game of baseball at all? How about if he was talking about life? That certainly reframes the way I read his quote.

In the batter’s box of life, there are always opportunities to hit a home run or strike out. There are also times that you hit a nice single up the middle or you crush the ball but a fielder makes a nice play. No one succeeds in everything even when you are doing everything “right”.

No hot streak lasts forever and no slump defines what you are able to do at your next at bat. In the end, batting .300 in life is probably a very reasonable “batting percentage”.

I wouldn’t characterize my success in life in home runs, stolen bases or runs scored. I think the best way to judge my success is if I’m willing to get into the batter’s box day after day.

Am I willing to swing away even when I struck out my last time up? Can I stare down each pitch as it comes my way and give it my best shot? Can I take the occasional fastball to my arm or back?

In life, having the courage to step into the batters box is half the battle. After all, nobody bats 1.000.

Gaston and the Beast

A couple of nights ago, our family finally got around to seeing the latest rendition of the Disney classic, “Beauty and the Beast”.

As expected, it was a visually compelling movie. I thought they actually did justice to two of the most memorable scenes from the first film.

“Be Our Guest” used cutting edge computer animation to capture the sense of excitement and wonder displayed in the original film.

The iconic scene of Belle dancing with the Beast was also done extremely well. In the cartoon version of the movie, that scene was so inspiring that one of my friend’s little girls turned to him and whispered wistfully, “Daddy. Someday I dance with a doggie?” I imagine similar sentences were uttered again in theaters across the country.

A lot has been written about this film from a ton of angles. I guess that’s what proves it is a good work of art. There are so many themes to discuss that it could be it’s own college level class.

Our family Cinema 101 discussion started as we were exiting the theater. Turning to my daughter I said, “Don’t ever marry a guy like Gaston!” (I think that one should be fairly obvious but it needed to be said). I went on to say, “Don’t marry a Beast either”. A guy who needs you to fix him isn’t worthy of your energy.

“After all”, I said, “What’s the difference between Gaston and the Beast? Isn’t it just the fact that Belle took the time to help one and not the other?”

By this time we were in our car and a big debate ensued. My son injected “No! It was that the Beast was open to change but Gaston wasn’t!” Wisely, my wife affirmed his observation.

Perhaps because we hadn’t been in an argument in two hours, I decided to challenge my son’s assertion. “But how do we know? Belle never gave Gaston a chance.”

I might as well have lit a match to a bunch of bottle rockets by the way the ideas were flying around the car.

In the end, one of the easiest ways to see how open Gaston and the Beast were to change was when trials came.

When Gaston discovers he can’t have Belle, he manipulates in whatever way he can to get his way. He sweet talks, he lies, oh yeah and he attempts murder! The whole time he deflects criticism away from himself.

Meanwhile, when the Beast is faced with the same situation, he chooses to let Belle go. This means a cruel fate for him and all the singing furniture in his house. This selflessness is the soil where true love grows.

My hope is that my kids will experience this kind of love in their lives. They won’t be caught in dysfunctional relationships centered in selfishness. I pray they will be people who are open to change and healing and they will find other people committed to the same.

Most likely, the biggest help I can be to them in that area is to model those things in my life and marriage to my “Beauty”. I want our relationship to point to a “Tale as old as time” that is beyond ourselves.

Good Friday from a chilling perspective

I am a religious leader. I make it a top priority to carefully cultivate a love for God in my life. One of my other primary responsibilities is caring for the people I have been entrusted to guide.

It is a high calling and I do everything within my power to take it seriously. I’ve studied for hours on end. In an attempt to make my words match my actions, I’ve set up a series of rules to help me avoid the appearance of doing anything improper. Naturally, I demand that those who are following me observe the same code of ethics.

There are many threats to this way of life but perhaps the biggest is teachers who lead massive numbers of people astray. It happens all the time. Presumptive leaders tell the crowds what they WANT to hear instead of what they NEED to hear. This gives them a sizeable following. Then, they use that popularity as a way to control and manipulate.

I am always on the lookout for these imposters. I am vigilant about what others teach and compare it to what I have studied for years. If the two don’t match up, I have learned to take action quickly; our country, our independence and our way of life depend on it.

A little over three years ago, one of these false leaders rose from relative obscurity. From the very beginning I suspected that something was wrong with his teaching. He didn’t study under any religious professor but he spoke like a person with authority. He seemed to have unique power but if I didn’t know with certainty where he came from, how could I ever know the origin of his power?!

There were signs that he could be special. Huge crowds gathered because blind people started seeing with 20/20 vision and others who were never able to walk were running around. Thankfully, I knew all this was a façade. After all, occasionally he did these things on a day we weren’t supposed to do any work.

Sometimes this same man would tell people he forgave them of everything they had done wrong in life. This included all their outward behaviors as well as all the attitudes they held in their hearts. Obviously, no one can forgive these things except God.

Finally, this man had the audacity to claim he was equal with God. I knew it was the final straw. We had to take drastic measures to make sure this message didn’t spread further. The worst-case scenario seemed to be a plausible reality. The delicate balance of order and control we had worked diligently to foster with the government could come crumbling down.

Last night, my fellow religious leaders and I had the man arrested in the darkness in order to avoid a scene. When a mob brought him before our council, his fate was a foregone conclusion.

At first I was frustrated. We couldn’t get any witnesses to agree on a crime he had committed. Eventually though he slipped up like I knew he would. He claimed to be God in front of all of us! It was all we needed. We knew that we could convince the government that he was trying to start an insurrection and execute him.

It turns out, that was easier said than done. Government officials didn’t instantly see things our way. They tried using every tactic they could to release him but in a stroke of genius, we found the phrase that finally got them to cave…

“We have no king except for Caesar!”

We all know that only God is our true king but the ends justify the means, right? The man needed to be killed for his blasphemy.

A simple charge hung over him at his execution. He was a king.

Can you imagine if this man was alive? People might surrender to him. I might have to give up my right for influence and importance. His followers might value honoring him more than they value their country, their traditions or the relative peace and comfort we have created.

No. Like I said, I do everything within my power to take my job seriously.

 

Seven Haikus to Celebrate Spring

Creativity and productivity are not mutually exclusive.

A favorite book of mine from last year was written by one of the founders of Pixar, Ed Catmull. “Creativity Inc.” describes the rise of Pixar from a startup company founded on the outrageous idea that computers could be used to make animated films, into the creative force that produced blockbuster hits like “Toy Story”, “Cars”, “Monsters Inc.” and “Up”.

One of the major themes throughout the book is that creativity fuels innovation more effectively than focusing on production alone. When we give our brains the space to think creatively, it can help us develop solutions in totally separate areas.

Because I’d hate for all the lessons in that great book to go to waste (and because I had a hankering to write some haikus) here are seven haikus to celebrate the arrival of spring. 

Grow

Grass is green again

No more white stuff on the ground

My lawnmower waits

Feast

Rain turns dirt to mud

Worms slide across my driveway

It’s a bird buffet

Jacket

Temperatures climb

It’s not freezing anymore

Goodbye winter coat

Weber

Start ignition light

Flames rise beneath metal grates

Burgers. Ribs. Steak. Yum!

Aloe

 Gorgeous day outside

Wear the least clothes possible

First sunburn this year

Retreat

 Flowers start to bloom

Stretching from their winter sleep

Oh no! It’s snow. Retreat.

Tissues

Fresh Air. Breathe it in.

Pollen floats. Sniffle. Sneeze. Sneeze.

Time to take Zyrtec

All right. I’m no T.S. Elliot but it’s fun to try for a day. It also feels strangely energizing.

The next time you need to be really productive, try writing a couple of haikus, painting on a canvas, or even making up your own song (depending on your musical talent, you might want to keep the performance to the shower). Giving yourself permission to be creative in one area might have added benefits in others.