Monthly Archives: February 2014

I Didn’t Get A Trophy

We were terrible! One winter, as a young boy in the suburbs of Minneapolis, I played on a peewee hockey team. I use the term “played” lightly, for I was by far the worst player on the team. I wasn’t a strong skater; when the team skated north with the puck, I was still headed south. When we lined up for a face-off, the referee often had to direct me to the proper position for my forward position. I loved the game, but didn’t really understand it. We were the Red Wings of the Coon Rapids municipal hockey league, and we were terrible. We won one game – the last game of the season.

Today, as I watch the winter Olympic games from Sochi, Russia I am impressed with the skill and athleticism on display in each of the winter sports. You know what impresses me the most? It’s the desire to win, and the effort put forth in order to achieve a place on the medal podium. The last skier in the final run knows the time to beat, and she does what she has to do to beat it. The aerialist on the half-pipe knows the score he has to surpass, and he adds a difficult maneuver in order to surpass it. The figure skaters know their position in the standings, and add the flair and precision to their performance to achieve their goal. It’s competition. Competition breeds excellence. If you doubt that, tune in for one evening and see how competition breeds motivation and, in turn, motivation breeds improvement and success.

When my son was four, we enrolled him in T-ball. We parents standing along the base paths could identify rather quickly the kids who “got” the game and those who didn’t. Some were bored, drawing intricate designs in the infield dirt as their team was playing defense. I was rather surprised to learn at our first game that no score is kept. “Everyone’s a winner,” the coaches proclaimed proudly. Even my four year-old son was puzzled when he’d ask me after a game, “did we win, Dad?” I secretly kept score and shared the results with him. We weren’t supposed to do that, but I did it anyway. If they lost, I’d tell him where they could improve next time and if they won I’d tell him how a good winner celebrates his achievement. Because they didn’t keep score, because there were no winners or losers, the T-ball league missed the opportunity to teach our kids a valuable life lesson. Sure enough, at the end of the season everyone got a trophy. While the kids were taught the rudiments of baseball, they learned nothing about competition – what it means to work as a team to achieve a goal.

The notion that “everyone’s a winner” is well intended, but it misses an important life lesson. In sports and in business, even in life itself, competition breeds excellence while the absence of competition breeds mediocrity. Think about it: if there was no podium, if every slalom skier received the same Certificate of Participation, would the athletes put themselves out there on that final run as they do today? Would they give it all they’ve got and then some, or would they instead complete the final run in a defensive manner, just to keep from falling?

Competition breeds success. Competition teaches valuable life lessons. Avoiding competition to preserve self-esteem can actually damage self-esteem later in life for the individual who has never been taught to compete. I’ve seen it – many people enter the workforce expecting to be handed a paycheck just for showing up, and looking at the boss as if she is from Mars when asked to do just a little bit more. After a short time on the job, the promotion is expected and they’re shocked when it’s given to someone else. They’ve not been taught to compete; they’ve not been taught to give their all. Don’t misunderstand me – competition is not a nasty thing, nor does it have to be mean-spirited. While teaching competition, we must also teach fair play, sportsmanship, and consideration. The competitor who masters those skills will find himself at the top of the podium and, later, at the helm of a successful career.

I didn’t get a trophy for playing peewee hockey. We were the worst team in the league; we didn’t earn a trophy. I did, however, learn some valuable lessons that I carry with me today. I learned what it means to be on a team that is striving for constant improvement. By watching my teammates, I learned to skate backwards, even able to change direction on the fly! I learned that those around me have something to offer and I can learn from them, just as I can learn from my coaches. And, when all that hard work paid off and we finally achieved that elusive victory, I learned what the joy of success feels like. I try to carry those lessons into my workplace each and every day.

As a society, let us not shun competition; let us teach it properly. If we embrace healthy competition, even at a very young age, our kids will learn where they are talented and where they are not. They will discover their skills, their likes, and their dislikes. They will learn to work with others to achieve a common goal and enjoy the success of having achieved it. If we embrace healthy competition in all phases of life, our kids and we will be more productive adults and our society will be better positioned for long-term prosperity and success.

Our Lovely Day of Rest – Naples, FL

Yesterday I set out to journal the amazing day of rest my wife and I enjoyed on Saturday, and instead the words flowed concerning the acquisition of my employer and the new “normal” my coworkers and I face. Well, given the turmoil the transition period put on my work plans, I was so looking forward to resting for a day, and finally got what I wanted last Saturday at the Ritz Carleton Beach Resort in Naples, Florida.

First, I’ll say that the Ritz has mastered serving their guests. Their response to every request is a cheerful “we can do that,” or “my pleasure!” They greet you upon each arrival and bid you well on each departure. The grounds are immaculate and the setting pristine. We were fortunate that the cost of our accommodations were covered, for the Ritz is very pricey. But, as a wise person once said, “you get what you pay for.”

As for our day of rest, I’ll allow a few photos to speak for me.

New “Normal” Begins Today!

With my employer’s announcement on January 16 of the company’s acquisition by a private equity firm, my work schedule imploded. There were special projects and additional meetings as we worked with our future owners to gather documents needed to complete the sale. There were temporary changes in procedure, which although necessary, were often disruptive. Some in the office were stressed and worried while others did their jobs without any evidence of worry or concern. Not a worrier by nature, I fell into the latter group as I handled the workflow changes and calendar disruptions as they came while I looked forward to the scheduled February 14 close. Fortunately, the sale closed as scheduled and I now look forward to our new “normal”.

As I sit here on the first Monday morning following the Friday close of sale, I wonder: what is “normal” anyway? What, exactly, am I looking forward to?

Certainly, with new corporate ownership comes change. Working under private equity ownership at various stages in my career has yielded a mixed bag of experiences ranging from stressful and unpleasant (working for a PE firm that focused mainly on cutting costs by reducing head count) to new and refreshing (working for a PE firm that shared growth goals and allowed us the flexibility to work towards achieving them). How will this one conduct itself? Sure, they said all the right things as the transaction was pending, but what will they do now that the sale is final and they are at the helm? What will our new “normal” look like?

Truth be told, it doesn’t matter. They can do what they like. I cannot control or even influence what our new “normal” will be. Many in this situation find that fact downright scary, but I know better.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” ~ Joshua 29:11

When God delivered this message to Israel through the prophet Joshua, Israel had been exiled to Babylon. Talk about a new “normal”, Israel was living it! God promised that He was in control; that there was an end game to their exile. His plan would be revealed in due course. In the meantime, He told them to live their lives – build homes, build families, build careers – God told them to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Joshua 29:7)

I said earlier that I am not, by nature, a worrier. I don’t worry because I trust God’s plan. This aspect of my nature is not my doing; it is a gift from God. Whatever happens, He has an end game in mind. All He expects of me is to work with our new owners in earnest and do my part to execute their plan. God’s plan for me in all of this could be a myriad of things – maybe a promotion, maybe increased job security, perhaps a new career altogether. Whatever it is, it will be grand. So as I head to work on this, the first Monday morning under new corporate ownership, I will stand firmly on the promise that God delivered to an exiled Israel and trust God for my new “normal”. That, my friends, is a relief. God is good, indeed!

Who’s on First: Money or Life?

At a recent campaign event, I participated in a conversation that I found quite troubling. A Republican candidate for Texas Agriculture Commissioner stated, among other things, that he is “pro-life, pro-God, pro-gun…” etc. Upon concluding his remarks, I was introduced to a young lady who was quite upset that the candidate mentioned his pro-life stance. She said that Republicans must drop the abortion issue if they want to succeed in unseating and defeating liberal Democratic opponents. She said that restricting her right to choose an abortion is contradictory to a truly conservative pro-Constitutional stance. If government is to leave us alone, she said, it should not meddle with a woman’s right to choose. She told me that she is a fiscal and a social conservative, but further said that most Republican women, unless they are Evangelicals, are pro-choice. She said the party risks losing their support if conservative members of the party continue to make abortion an election issue.

As I was about to engage her points, which were well conceived and rather persuasive, a gentleman joined our conversation and agreed with her. He said Republicans must put fiscal issues first and avoid discussion of social issues. In other words, if we don’t get our financial house in order, none of the social issues really matter (not a direct quote; rather, my interpretation of his main point). I’ve heard this song before, and I’ve never liked it, for I consider this perspective to be completely backwards.

So what, really, is fundamentally important? Does the accumulation and management of wealth top the list, or is there something even more important than money?

I understand the logic behind the “fiscal first” mentality, and I believe it is well intended. Without a strong economic base and a responsible fiscal policy, our society will ultimately meet its demise. This is, in large part, the burden I carry for our country. Our federal government is grossly negligent in its management of its financial resources. It has constructed an onerous and punitive tax system. It spends far more than it collects. Those whom we have elected to lead, Republicans and Democrats alike, have failed to offer long-term solutions. If we continue down this road, we will surely lose our country.

As much as I agree with the need to elect leaders who will insist upon fiscal responsibility at all levels of government, I do not agree that this is the issue of most importance. America’s social values have evolved over the years, but not for the better. What some call “progress” I call “travesty”.  In the United States, it is legal to terminate the life of a child in the womb for any reason. We euphemize abortion by labeling it as “the right to choose”, an issue of “women’s health”. We rationalize it by arguing that it is somehow compassionate to terminate an “accidental” or “unexpected” pregnancy by not bringing an “unwanted” child into the world. What wiser people would have once considered twisted logic has embedded itself into society’s mainstream to the point at which many who once fought to defend the defenseless are abandoning that fight in the interest of the “fiscal first” philosophy.

Even worse, people on both sides of the abortion debate use this issue as a means to divide and conquer their political opponents. Rather than focus on the innocent lives that are taken and the women whose lives are forever impacted by their decision to abort, we instead use these victims of abortion as ammunition in our political battles. Even as I type these words, I am amazed at how cold and callous our society has become.

Is there something more important than money? Yes, of course there is. You are more important than money. I am more important than money. People are more important than money; yes, even that “unwanted” child who is growing and developing in her mother’s womb is more important than money. If we who advocate for life succumb to the temptation to abandon the fight in favor of “fiscal first” we are no better than the abortionist who coldly takes that innocent life with his instruments of death.

I believe very strongly that a society that advocates and celebrates such misguided social principles cannot survive long-term. For that reason, I will continue to support only those candidates for office who advocate for life. Might we lose a few battles along the way? Perhaps. But in advocating for life I believe we will ultimately win the war.

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