Pursuing Your Passion – An Example

Pursuing your passion, American 800 meter runner Nick Symmonds displays that.  Let me tell you a little about him.  And maybe why you need to follow his lead

At age 29, he is a professional track athlete, specializing in the 800 meter run (two times around a standard track).  He is lucky enough to travel the world doing a sport.  While he is a “professional” in name just like football, basketball and baseball players he does not command the million-dollar pay that they do.  But that is the lot of a track runner.  He is lucky – he is pursuing his passion, running – for a living.

But he is more than that.  He is an outspoken advocate for American track athletes in their constant quest for adequate funding.  Most “professional” track athletes do not make enough money to live off their skill.  So they hold “real” jobs while competing around the world.  The bureaucratic USA Track and Field Federation holds all of the rules and regulations.  And like any power-hungry bureaucracy with little to do, it protects its turf very closely.  Athletes may only wear certain clothing.  They may not display logos of non-approved vendors.  On and on.  Symmonds takes a lead role in trying to point out this inequity.  In the meantime, he is a businessman, selling himself and the companies that sponsor him.

He is also a leader.  At the World Championships last week in Moscow, I heard a couple interviews where athletes mentioned him.  In one case, the youngest American runner commented on how Symmonds was encouraging her and providing support.  This made her feel like part of the team.  Another athlete mentioned she had breakfast with him “most days”.  He encouraged her to “go for it” and “not hold back” in the races.  She felt his encouragement helped her racing confidence.

Nick had the opportunity to write blogs post for the most well-known running magazine in the US, Runners’ World.  The posts were well-written and covered a broad spectrum of issues.  He talked about his own preparation.  He talked about the Russian law that forbids homosexuality and his position on it.  It displayed a thoughtful person who is articulate and cares about important issues.

Think about someone you know who is not happy where they are but unwilling to pursue their passion.  We all know someone like that – it probably is or was us!  Life is too short to sit back, “trapped” in a place where we do not want to be.  But it is very hard to imagine a world where we are not where we are now.  That fear of the unknown is so strong.  We all have strengths.  I’m gonna guess that it is not world-class running ability.  Perhaps it is the capability to inspire others.  Maybe it is being an advocate for others.  Maybe you have multiple passions that you can combine.  Is your passion the place you are at now?  Think about it.  Act on it.

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Lincoln’s Assassin

I think most people know that John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre.  Probably most people know he was an actor – actually one of the most famous actors in America.  Perhaps you know that he yelled out “Sic Semper Tyranus” , or “thus always to tyrants” after shooting Lincoln.  You might even know he broke his leg when he jumped onto the stage.

I learned a few other facts in a book about Booth and the search for him after the assassination.  Booth actually decided to kill Lincoln that day upon learning that Lincoln would be at Ford’s Theatre.  He had not planned out the assassination before then (I thought he had it planned out for a long time).  His original plan was to kidnap Lincoln and take him south to Richmond to use as a trade for Southern freedom.  But the Civil War ended quicker than he could execute that plan.  Booth actually was quite near to Lincoln when Lincoln delivered his second Inaugural address (“With malice toward none, with charity for all”).  There is a picture of Lincoln speaking and you can see Booth off to the side.

On the morning of April 14 Booth discovered Lincoln is going to be attending Ford’s Theatre that night.  Originally it was rumored that U.S. Grant was also going to be there, giving Booth two targets.  But Grant changed his mind.  Booth decided this was his chance to kill Lincoln which will inspire the South to rise up and continue the rebellion (even though they have already surrendered).  Booth rounded up some of the people who he originally was going to have as part of the kidnap plot.  One was assigned to kill the Vice President and another the Secretary of State.  Neither one of them was successful in carrying out their killing tasks.  A third was assigned to hold Booth’s horse for him for his get away.  Unfortunately for Booth, that was about the extent of the thinking he did for his escape.  Booth, using the element of surprise, escaped Washington D.C. right after the shooting.

I learned that Booth was on the run for 12 days before he was captured.  Hard to believe that a well-known actor, disabled with a broken leg, could elude the largest manhunt in the history of the US until then (I guess he was happy there were no video cameras back then).  Booth was lucky enough to find a few people to help him along the way.  Other than Dr. Mudd, who helped set his broken leg and provided shelter for one day, none of the people who helped Booth knew him beforehand.

Much of his time was spent hiding in a thick pine forest in Maryland.  The person who hid him there kept it a secret for over 20 years before finally admitting to his role in keeping Booth hidden.  Eventually the slow-moving Booth and his companion were trapped in a barn.  Booth refused to come out.  Eventually he was shot by an over-zealous soldier and died on the spot.

So there you go, hopefully you learned a little bit.

Taxation with Representation?

Anyone who has ever filled out a 1040 tax form has had to deal with the questions about “railroad pensions” and coal miner compensation. The tax code is filled with exceptions and exemptions and exceptions to exemptions.  Why?

The latest is the new Affordable Medical Care Act (Obamacare).  As usual, it started with a good premise – lets make medical care more affordable and more available to more Americans.  But one prominent feature of the law is that, depending on your personal situation, you are eligible for a tax credit.  By one estimate, almost half of all Ohioans would be eligible for the tax credit.  Therein  lies the problem.  If we need to create something that leads to a tax credit for half of all of the people, something is wrong.  Using income tax law to make something else “more fair” or “more affordable” (or to be more truthful, more politically palatable) leads to a more complex income tax code.  That same thing has happened hundreds and hundreds of times over the years, creating the monster that is our income tax code.

One estimate is that 6.1 billion hours are spent complying with the federal tax code.  I know we cannot accurately do ours.  It is a waste of time and money.  And you know that each and every one of those exemptions, deductions and credits support some political interest group – perhaps at the detriment to the rest of us.

Senators Max Baucus (a Democrat) and Orrin Hatch ( a Republican) have proposed that the Senate go to a “blank slate” on income tax.  All deductions and credits – which total more than $1 trillion annually – should be wiped off the tax code.  It would then require legislation to get them back into the tax code.  Given the way our Congress works today, it might be really tough to get anything back on.  Maybe we would find out if the “domestic production activities deduction” and the “educator expenses” deduction are really needed.

I would support it – even if I lost my mortgage income tax deduction, the deduction for state and local income tax and others.  Because I think it would be best for the USA.

 

Deciding not to meet with Putin

Everything I have been taught or read said that it is best to talk through problems – even in times of difficulty.  That is how humans are most successful.  Trying to bury a problem won’t make it go away.

President Obama has decided to not go for a one-day summit with Vladimir Putin, the leader of Russia.  His rationale for doing this has been explained by a bunch of reasons:

  • “Russia has shielded Syria from International sanctions”
  • “Putin signed a law last year banning U.S. adoptions of Russian children”
  • “Russia’s crackdown on gay rights”

and

  • “frustration at the Russian Government for refusing to send Edward Snowden” back to the USA.

Okay, an interesting list.  Certainly ones that specific groups have strong voices and passions about.  And these are issues where we clearly have a disagreement with Russia.  But we have disagreements with a lot of other countries on this same list.  Let’s be honest, Syria and gay rights are huge issues.  The other two are important, but they are NOT critical to world politics or to the future of the world’s success.  Taken together, are they are great reason to choose to NOT speak with the leader of one of the most powerful countries in the world?

It seems in modern politics that not talking is the norm.  Rather than trying to find a middle ground, looking for a consensus, or hashing out issues, there is no conversation.  That has hurt us immensely in this country.  We are getting ready to go through this AGAIN with the debt ceiling.  Now we are doing the same thing on the global level.  The President has to take the heat on this one.  He chose to not talk to an important world leader.  The President, I am sure, feels like he has a lot of charisma and can be very persuasive in one-on-one situations. How else did he get to be President?  So why not use that charisma in a one-on-one situation?  Doesn’t he believe he can make some progress?   I know that the Republicans were shouting at him to not meet with Putin.  If he would have gone forward with the one-day “summit” they would have yelled at him for “giving in”.  Heck, even Democrats were doing the same thing.

To that I say – sometimes the “bigger man” needs to swallow his pride (be a real leader).  Who knows the long term consequences – if any – of choosing not to meet?  All I know is it diminishes our Government – even more –  in my mind.

Thirty Years

Today, Rose and I mark our 30th year of marriage.  I thought it best to reflect on that for a moment.

We are both lucky and blessed.  We share many of the same interests.  We have the same fundamental values.  We complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses – and perhaps most importantly on that subject realize that each of has those strengths and weaknesses.

Neither of us is a very-high maintenance person.  We don’t have to do everything together.  We don’t have to make sure the other one is “okay” with us doing something.  We give each other space and allow each other to pursue our passions (glad Rose understands my need to work out).

I know that we have laughed a lot together over these 30 years.  That has made our marriage so much fun.laugh about a lot of things – each other, the funny things that happen in life and a “smart” remark that is well timed.  Luckily Rose appreciates my sarcasm and puts up with my snide remarks.

Now I know I am “supposed” to be able to provide details of our meeting each other, first date, etc.  Well, I know we met playing volleyball against each other in an NCR volleyball league.  And then we ran into each other at the Marriott some time shortly thereafter.  I was smart enough to ask her out.  Can’t say I remember where we went the first time we went out (movie?, dinner????). But I know it was a special time together.

Now we have seen 30 years pass by very quickly.  We have some great kids who are great adults.  We cannot wait for the moments we get to spend with our kids because they are relatively rare.  We have adjusted pretty well to the “empty nester” existence – mainly because we both stay busy.

(I know some of you are thinking, “how has Rose put up with that guy for 30 minutes let alone 30 years?” I can’t answer that question for you. You will have to ask her!!!!!)

Here’s to another 30 years of fun!

The Cost of Fame part 2

As I wrote in my last post, I wanted to provide a little more reflection on celebrities, fame and our perceptions.

A book I am currently reading titled Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman, provides a very good insight into our  thinking.  I wanted to focus on one item.  He calls it WYSIATI – “what you see is all there is”.  His point is that our minds need to make things simple for us.  Otherwise, we would be overwhelmed with every situation we face.  Kahneman says WYSIATI “explains why we can think fast, and how are able to make sense of partial information in a complex world. Much of the time, the coherent story we put together is close enough to reality to support reasonable action”.  We would be frozen or overwhelmed without it most of the time.  Our mind likes it best when we can put together a coherent story, no matter how few the facts.  So WYSIATI is a defense mechanism, a survival mechanism of our brilliant, complex minds.

Here is an example of WYSIATI in action.  If you hear that Joe is “mild-mannered and soft spoken” and then were asked if Joe was a librarian or a salesman, you would probably say “librarian”.  The very brief description of Joe fits our internal concept of a librarian much better than a salesperson.  We are content.  But we must realize that in this case we are making the determination based on five words!

When WYSIATI can be bad is when we jump to conclusions on the basis of limited information.  For example, someone we know says “this new law is going to cost us more money”.  Since we don’t know anything about the law and its consequences to us, we are left with three choices.  We can ask the person to explain in detail all of the facts they have to support their assertion.  Or, we could leave and do a bunch of research on this new law and ascertain if what we were told is true.  Or, we can put together the limited information we know and reach a conclusion.  Information I know : it is a person I know, who might know something about this because they sounded assertive. Most laws seem to cost me money. I don’t trust my Congressman.  Based on that information, the statement must be true.  The third one is much simpler, takes less time and makes our mind happy.

Obviously we do these three things every day when faced with limited information.  But if we did the first two choices more often, we would be overwhelmed.  So the beauty of it all is knowing that we making the choice to draw a conclusion based on limited information – and stay aware of that.

And that brings me back to Johnnie Manziel, Lindsay Lohan, Miley Cyrus, etc.  Young, wild celebrities get their flaws shown to us quickly by the media.  We can draw a conclusion, if we choose to do so, based on this limited information.  But real recognition comes when we acknowledge that we are simply making a decision based on WYSIATI.  I have to admit that I looked at Johnny and said to myself, “he is going to get what he deserves for not being humble and in control”.  But after having read more about him, I KNOW he has too many unbearable pressures put on him with no training and really no support system in place to deal with them.  He (probably) is not acting the way he is because he is a jerk, he is just living life in a very big spotlight that loves to catch his flaws – and trumpet them to the world.  I appreciate his position a lot more now.

I find it interesting when something that I read causes me to reconsider the way I approach life.

The Cost of Fame

We watch, read and hear about the “famous people” all of the time.  Our society seems to get more and more “celebrity” conscious with each passing day.  There are more TV shows about them.  About the only magazines that seem to survive anymore are ones like People, The Star, US Weekly – those that are focused solely on telling us about who is doing what these days.  Of course, the Internet has exploded the amount of information about famous people.  There is nothing that they do not do that is not recorded, written about or chronicled. And of course, social media provides a forum for people who are famous to make sure they stay in the public eye.

Celebrity or fame comes with people liking you.  Most famous people turn their notoriety into profit.  If you are the least bit narcissistic, fame feeds your need.  So fame seems like a great thing.

But a recent article by Wright Thompson on Johnny Manziell highlighted the other side of fame.  Manziell won the Heisman Trophy (he was voted the best college football player in the USA) last year.  This honor capped his meteoric rise to fame.  Now his every move is closed watched and reported on.  He is a huge celebrity now. To say that Johnny has had a roller coaster-like ride this winter, spring and summer since winning that award is an understatement.  Partying, drinking, showing up at all kinds of major events and some unfortunate social media posts have all been part of the Johnny story.

To be perfectly honest, I have been quick to rush to judgment that he is another no-good, spoiled, pampered athlete who is out of control. Reading this article got me to realize that I need to do some reconsideration

Reading the article, you can see the huge burden fame has put on him.  He can’t go anywhere without people wanting an autograph or to talk to him or get a picture with him.  When he goes home to see his parents, they have a bunch of items for him to autograph for friends, neighbors and business associates.  In fact, his therapist had to put in a restriction that these parental autograph sessions could not last more than 30 minutes.  Imagine needing a third party to tell your parents and you that there needed to be a time limit on an activity.  Perhaps Johnny did not really seek the fame he is now thrust into.  After all, he only got it because he was successful at a sport, football, that has a disproportionate amount of passion in it. It is obvious from the story that he is ill-equipped to handle this fame.  Worse yet, his parents, despite the fact that they are a married, educated, professional couple seem to be equally ill-equipped.  Reading this article, you really see another side to this individual.

I am probably more guilty than most people to rush to judgment about celebrities.  It is easy to categorize them based on my biases and prejudices.  Lindsey Lohan, Miley Cyrus, Johnny Manziell all are rich, famous and out of control.  I read or hear about a couple of indiscretions and it is so easy to categorize them.  In fact, a book I am currently reading Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman, provides a very good insight into this thinking.  I’ll talk about that more in my next post.

There is such a huge cost to fame that most of us cannot fathom.  I don’t think I really want it.