nature-of-the-beastBy John Pellegrini

Don Quixote. Tilting away at windmills, not recognizing the immobile object for what it is. Do you ever feel this way at your job?  Why?

I have a friend who has just completed a Doctorate in Emergency Medicine and Trauma Care. There were indications early in her college years that she wasn’t going to like doing this for the rest of her life, but she chose to continue nonetheless. As she went into her residency, it became apparent that she was not suited for this field of medical care, and would be much better suited to family practice. She continued with her original choice nonetheless. She graduated, and now is a Doctor in an Urgent Care Clinic group, and totally miserable. Hates the work, and hates the situation she is in. Yet, when given numerous opportunities to go elsewhere, to a situation where she would be much happier, she refuses. “I just don’t want to start over,” she says. Why?

Why do people persist in situations that they know are horrible? Why do people continue to work in jobs or careers that they know they absolutely hate? Why do people have so little faith in themselves that they won’t lift a finger to improve their situation, especially when they know exactly what needs to be done to change things for the better? Is it a matter of courage, or is it something else?

So often, people don’t want to take any responsibility for themselves. They would rather blame others for their predicament, because if they had to admit responsibility, then they would have to admit they made a mistake.

The hardest thing for anyone to admit, these days, seems to be that the decisions you have made that brought you to where you are right now, were wrong. Whether intended this way or not. Yet, if the results are not what you expected what other conclusion is there? You often hear people blaming their circumstances, others that stood in the way, numerous obstacles that caused things to turn out the way they did. Yet, if those obstacles were apparent when you were working toward this goal, then why weren’t they dealt with at the time so that they wouldn’t be a problem now?  Hindsight is always 20/20, but hindsight isn’t any good if you refuse to recognize what you see.

Excuses are quite an interesting phenomenon. They enable us to boldly take responsibility away from ourselves. The interesting thing about them is, they never fix anything. Excuses never solve any problems. That’s why the old phrase is true, “any excuse will do,” because the cause isn’t important at all. Miss a couple of production orders, which caused a few spots to miss on air, which caused a few dollars to be lost? Any excuse will do. “Giant garden slugs ate the tape.” “Martians abducted my grandmother.” “We’ve run out of powdered toast.” “Mudslides, earthquakes, famine, droughts, locusts, a cow on the tracks, I hadda go to the bathroom.”  Whatever.

Not seeing the handwriting on the wall is another interesting phenomenon. I have another friend, in this very business I might mention. This person was a disk jockey in a major market station. But he wasn’t satisfied with the amount of recognition he felt he deserved. There were a couple of instances when his ego led to problems with management.  There were also a couple of instances when his ego lead to nasty comments directed towards members of his audience.  The station’s management tried to get him to cool down, and act more civilized. His reaction was to become more hostile and immature.  He was fired.  He was totally shocked at the outcome. How could they fire him?  Don’t they realize how stupid they were to fire him?  Don’t they realize how much talent he has, and how great an addition to the station his genius was?  He’s since been fired from every job he’s had in radio as an air personality, and he’s currently “on the beach” as they say. He’s also embittered and holding a grudge against everyone who ever slighted him.  Pretty sad way to live your life, if you ask me, considering that he’s responsible for putting himself there in the first place.

There’s the story of a middle-aged man who went to hear a motivational speaker. The man had some problems. His wife had left him. His job was a dead end, and it looked like he would be laid off soon. He was behind on his mortgage. His credit was shot, and he was pretty much a miserable guy. The motivational speaker wasn’t all that good, as far as the man was concerned, but there was one thing the speaker said that shocked this man. The speaker said, “Right now, everything you have in your life is exactly what you want.”

At first, the man was outraged. “How dare this stranger say something that stupid!?”, he thought to himself. “How could this imbecile understand all the horrible things that have happened to me?! All the pain and suffering I’ve been through! As if I want my life to be this way?!”

But then, the man began to think of his life, and all the choices he had made that lead him to this point. And that was when he realized what the speaker said was true. He had made all the choices; he had decided to do the things that resulted in his present situation. No one had held a gun to his head. No one had forced him to do what he did. He did it all himself. Yet, rather than be depressed about this realization, the man was excited. Because he now knew that, since he was responsible for his current situation, he could also become responsible for getting out of it, and getting what he really wanted. Of course, it took years and years and years, but eventually the man became a multi-millionaire and wrote his own successful motivational books.

Impressive story, isn’t it? Especially when it’s told in only a few short paragraphs. More impressive would be to relate the entire story of how the man did it, hour by hour, day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year. But that would take forever. People want answers NOW!  They want immediate gratification, and they want it NOW!

I’ll tell you why I admire Michael Jordan. I don’t admire Michael Jordan because he is (or was) the greatest basketball player in the history of the game. I don’t admire Michael Jordan because he’s the wealthiest professional athlete of all time. I don’t admire Michael Jordan because his face is all over the TV, newspapers, magazines, billboards, and elsewhere. I don’t admire Michael Jordan because he won 6 world championships with the Bulls. I don’t admire Michael Jordan because he retired at his peak, and left the game before he became a shell of his former self. Truth be told, I’ve gotten a little tired of the Michael Jordan overkill in the media.  No, I admire Michael Jordan because of something he did in early 1997.

At the start of the ’97-’98 season, when the Bulls were going to go for the 6th championship, Michael was playing his usual spectacular game. Except for one problem. His free throws were off. Not greatly off, not terrible, but he just wasn’t sinking as many of them as he usually did in years past. No big deal, you might think. After all, he IS Michael Jordan, the highest scoring basketball player ever. So what if his free throw average is a little off. He was still making more free throws than most of the other NBA players. Big deal.

Well, it was a big deal. A big deal to Michael, at least. So, on his day off, on the day he wasn’t getting paid to work out, on the day that the rest of the team was home with their families, Michael went over to the Berto Center where the Bulls practice. Sure, he could have stayed home, after all, he gets paid more money than any other athlete gets, and his contract is guaranteed no matter what his season is like, but he didn’t. He suited up, wheeled out a couple of carts of basketballs, stood at the free-throw line, and shot 2,000 free throws. Not 100, Not 200, not 500, not 1,000. He shot 2,000 free throws in a row, because that’s how much he felt it would take for him to shoot until his average would be consistent. It took him 6 hours to do it. He didn’t stop. He didn’t take a break. He didn’t eat or drink. He just stood at the line and shot 2,000 free throws. No coaches, no trainers, no media circus to feed his ego, no nothing. Just him and 2,000 free throws. In truth, if it weren’t for the fact that he told some of the other players that he did it in order to motivate them to work on their games, we wouldn’t know about this story at all.

Now, if you’re thinking, “well if I was getting paid as much as Michael Jordan, I’d throw 2,000 free throws in a row on one day, too,” then you’ve completely missed the point. It is precisely because you’re not willing to shoot 2,000 free throws in one day, that you aren’t Michael Jordan. If you ask any physician who’s examined Michael, they’ll tell you that the physical difference in his body structure, compared to yours is minimal. Oh, sure, he’s in better shape than most of us are, but that’s due to continual exercise. The real reason why Michael Jordan is a superstar, and you’re not, is that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to make sure he’s the best player, period. Even if that means going in on his day off and shooting 2,000 free throws in a row.

When he was younger, and less well known, he had a special permission clause in his contract with the Bulls that allowed him to go out after games and play in neighborhood playground pickup games. One of the biggest factors in why so many Chicagoans love the guy is that many Chicagoans have played, or know someone who played against him in one of those pickup games. Why did he do that? Because he couldn’t get in enough practice time with the Bulls regular practice schedule to help him keep his edge. He felt it was necessary to play a full game of basketball every day, sometimes twice a day. Why did he play so much?  When he was in high school, he was cut from the basketball team in his freshman year. He was told he wasn’t good enough. He decided he would never be told that again. So every day after in high school and college, he was playing basketball more than 8 hours a day. His friends went to parties; he played basketball. His friends went on dates; he played basketball. His friends went to the movies or went to concerts or listened to music or watched TV or went to sleep; he played basketball.

You can’t play that much basketball and not somehow get good at it. That’s the level of dedication he was willing, and is still willing to put into the game, and that’s why he’s Michael Jordan and you’re not.

Now, how does this little rant fit in with YOUR career? Well, how’s your career going? Not the way you want? Feel like your stuck in the mud? Can’t seem to get anywhere? Feel frustrated? Feel depressed? Shame on you! Your life right now is exactly the way you want it to be. If it isn’t, then change it! You know exactly what you must do in order to get what you want. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t even be reading this magazine. The only reason why you haven’t put your career together the way you want it to go, is because you haven’t done whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing.

Here are 4 simple steps to solving all your problems. Doesn’t matter what the problem is, or how serious it is. Here is how you do it.

Step One: State the Problem. State it as concisely as possible and keep the excuses out.  Example: “I hate my job.”  Many people don’t even want to admit they have a problem.

Step Two: State the Solution to the Problem. The main reason why your problem is such a problem is because you refuse to acknowledge that you know what the solution is, even though you do. Therefore, state the solution. Example: “I need to find a job I’ll like better.”

Step Three: Implement the Solution. The second reason why your problem is such a problem is that you won’t do anything about your problem. So get to work, and correct the problem by implementing the solution.

Step Four:  Never Speak About the Problem Again. Since you have solved your problem, and you have implemented the solution, then it is no longer a problem; it is merely a project to be finished.

   If you refuse to do those steps, then you don’t have a problem at all, so quit whining. People who are constantly whining about problems don’t really have problems; they simply have a maturity issue. They don’t want to grow up and act responsibly. That’s not a problem; that’s a character flaw. It is up to them to decide how important their character is to them.

Sure, you can hear Dr. Laura say stuff like this every day, and you can also see naked pictures of her on the Internet. So What? Why haven’t you fixed your problems yet?

The nature of the beast is ourselves, and our refusal to face up to our own responsibility. Walt Kelly said it in 1955, “We has met the enemy, and they is us.” The beauty of the situation is that we are responsible, and we can control our own destiny.  I was reading the other day, some TV critic, who was criticizing a guest on “The Oprah” for suggesting that everyone has within himself or herself the ability to write a best selling novel. The critic said that was a pile of garbage. The critic is wrong.  Everyone does have within himself or herself the ability to write a best selling novel, an incredible opera, a blockbuster hit movie, or invent a hugely successful business. How do I know this is true? Because we all learned how to do it in school.  The only reason why we haven’t yet, is because we haven’t.  Not because we can’t but because we haven’t. We have yet to believe that we should do it.

“Oh sure,” you say, “Just like that I’m going to write a Tom Clancy Novel?”  Of course not. Tom Clancy didn’t, why should you? Have you ever noticed that no one ever publishes the first stories or novels that authors write (unless it’s long after the author became successful and has decided to re-write those stories into something more acceptable)? Do you think it’s because the first stories they wrote weren’t very good in the first place? You bet they weren’t. But the authors kept on working at it, until one day they had a good one. The only difference between you and them is you haven’t done the amount of work they have.

It’s beginning to sound like a broken record, isn’t it? The only reason why you don’t have what you want, is that you haven’t done what it takes to get what you want, or if you have, you haven’t done enough of it yet. I can’t answer all the details; that’s your responsibility. You’ll have to decide whether what you want is worth the effort you must put into getting it.  And for everyone who says,
“it’s not worth it,” I say, “The heck it’s not!”  Anything that requires working hard to achieve is worth it in the end.  You can delude yourself all you want, much like Aesop’s Fox and the Grapes fable, but the reality is, everything you want to work to achieve is worth the effort. The choice is yours to make the effort or not. But if you choose not to, remember, it’s your choice. So don’t come whining to me about it.