Life Lessons from Snoop and Papi

Last week we somehow found ourselves watching an interview-style documentary with Snoop Dogg** that highlighted different stages of his life and career. As we watched the colorful depiction of Snoop’s life and success, I couldn’t help but think, “Man this guy is never stressed out.” I mean if you were Snoop, what on earth would be stressful for you? The guy’s a millionaire with an entertaining career and I’m pretty sure he’s been high for the past three decades. Even though his life is far from what I’d ever desire for myself, I still found myself with a nonsensical pinch of envy.

It went something like this: Snoop never has to worry about anything. I want to never have to worry. Snoop has millions of dollars and an entourage. I want millions of dollars and an entourage. This whole thing is embarrassing and ridiculous, especially because as I recant the moment in my head, my own voice sounds like Veruca Salt’s British whine. The point is, I was having a bit of a blah day and fell into the vulnerable place of comparison.

A few minutes later, the musical score became darker as the topic changed to Snoop’s convictions of felony drug possession and subsequent murder charges in the 90s. And just like that I no longer wanted to be like Snoop.

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The point here? There are a few. Comparison is a dangerous and pointless game. The grass that appears greener is often astro turf, and no one has a life without challenges. The highlight-reel glimpses we get into each other’s lives tend to convince us there are no bloopers or outtakes, but there are. There ALWAYS are. And personally I really like bloopers.

**Saw him in concert in Tucson in 2001. He showed up four hours late to HIS OWN SHOW.

Moving right along, I figure if you can extract life lessons from rappers, why not also find a few from pro athletes.

I’ve watched hundreds of baseball games in my life; seen some incredible plays and disastrous gaffes. The Red Sox hold a special place in my heart, and with that love comes an engrained affinity for tenured stars like David Ortiz, Big Papi.

During yesterday’s game, Papi struck out in the seventh inning with two runners on base, losing an opportunity to take the lead in a series the team was trailing. While unfortunate, there was nothing that significant about the moment; all batters strike out, it’s part of the game. Still, I was hit with a realization that this is one of baseball’s greatest, most-esteemed hitters, and when he struck out, everyone just moved on. It didn’t tarnish his history of success and no one held it against him.

I was suddenly astonished with the fact that someone who’s defied incredible odds to rise to the elite ranks of professional baseball, someone who earns gazillions of dollars and is a national icon, can still strike out/screw up/have an off day. And it’s just a blip on the radar…no one dies, life goes on.

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Later in the game Ortiz hit a homer, driving in three runs to win the game. He effortlessly did precisely what he failed to achieve just minutes earlier, and all was well in Red Sox Nation once again. You can watch below, it’s a thing of beauty:

Here’s what I walked away with though–people who are the best in the world at what they do still mess up sometimes. And they get through their flubs not by obsessing or over analyzing, but by staying confident and refocusing on the next opportunity.

There are days and weeks when I know I’m not on my game and I tend to get down on myself about it, but the best way through the downturns is staying forward focused. Yesterday’s game was a reminder than everyone hits bumps in the road and it’s no reason to chastise yourself. People remember your golden moments, and a strong reputation won’t be tarnished by a single strike out.

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It’s amazing, the whole losing thing.

You know what I love about baseball? There’s always a winner and a loser. No matter how seasoned players are, how long teams have played together or how exorbitant a salary budget is, one team will categorically lose every game.

It’s amazing, the whole losing thing. Because when you become a professional athlete you’re at the top of your game. Pun intended. Yet despite decades of experience and the best coaches and trainers in the world, there will still be strikeouts, wild pitches and blooper-worthy errors.

At one time or another, every player will make a bad throw, drop a fly ball or be tagged out. And despite it all, the game continues.

Even when a team is losing by embarrassing standards. Even when conditions are terrible and the odds stacked against you.

No matter what, one team will lose every game. It’s a painfully simple lesson in perspective.

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Growing up I can’t tell you how many times I was reminded that, “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” As I’ve gotten older and developed a career (note: not in major league baseball**), I think I’ve forgotten that it really is about how we play, not just who wins.

I put a ton of pressure on myself to do everything right without mistakes or revisions. Which is kind of dumb. It’s an impossible standard that makes it harder to learn and work productively. Looking back, I’ve had far greater success in the moments where I took a reasonable risk and did what instinctually felt right, than in the instances where every action was carefully planned and measured.

After watching a lot of baseball over the past few weeks I’m reminded that making mistakes isn’t just part of learning, it’s the foundation of learning. If I had to recall the biggest mistakes or worst decisions I’ve made at work, each one taught me a huge lesson. This isn’t to say it’s wise to intentionally flounder around in the interest of gaining new skills, it just means that it’s ok to screw up if your heart’s in the right place and you’re trying your best. At least, that’s my theory.

**I played one horribly bad season of softball in the fourth grade. I do not wish to discuss it.

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the wave.

Sometimes I consider how funny it is that thousands of strangers can instantly become part of a synchronized effort at baseball games. Despite the fact that most of us avoid conversations – or even eye contact – with people we don’t know, when we’re all together in a giant stadium, we have no qualms about participating in a strange ritual together.

The way I’ve always felt about doing the wave is a little like how I feel about getting older.

I was thinking about this today when I was with some of my closest friends, celebrating the upcoming birth of one’s first baby. As we painted her nursery and cooed over tiny baby clothes, I had to take a mental step back. How on earth are we old enough for this to be happening? It’s crazy to think that I’m nearing the age my parents were when I was born.

Day by day, nothing seems to change, but then all of a sudden – bang! We’re in our thirties. Getting married. Buying houses. Having babies. Building careers.

I vividly remember all the stages and adventures that brought us to this point, but it’s hard to step back and understand how it all happened so fast. I’m not sad about this – not a bit – I love how life keeps evolving. But it’s funny to think about how these dramatic shifts can creep quietly into our lives without warning to sweep us into a new phase of life.

It’s just like doing the wave.

When you first notice it’s happening, it’s still at a distance. It’s significant enough to catch your attention but far enough away not to cause alarm. When it gets closer, there may be some anxiety. Then suddenly – it’s upon you. You become swept up in the excitement, and before you know it, it’s past you. As it continues, you become accustomed to this strange act you’re performing, and start to relax. Something that initially seemed completely foreign, quickly becomes natural as it gains momentum and repeats.

And while I admit it’s a bit of a stretch in terms of analogies, this is how I can process the fact that if you told me five years ago that right now most of my friends would be married, having kids, living all over the country, etc, I might think it sounded totally crazy. But then again, if I’d never been to a baseball game, and you explained to to me that at some random point during the game, people would spontaneously begin standing and waving their arms in sequence, without words or planning, I would think it was just as insane.

And then he said…

Bobby Valentine, on Kevin Youkilis:

I don’t think he’s as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason.

Kevin Youkilis, on Bobby Valentine, on Kevin Youkilis:

I’m more confused than anything, because I think everyone knows I go out and play the game as hard as I can. That’s just my style of play. I never was blessed with the raw tools … so I’ve always had to use playing the game as hard and with full effort my whole life. I don’t know any better, so that’s just the way I play.

Dustin Pedroia, on Bobby Valentine, on Keving Youkilis:

I know that Youk plays as hard as anybody I’ve ever seen in my life. I have his back, and his teammates have his back. We know how hard he plays. I don’t really understand what Bobby’s trying to do. But that’s really not the way we go about our stuff here. I’m sure he’ll figure that out soon.

“pristine corners and possibilities”

Goosebumps. I got goosebumps tonight reading an article in Sports Illustrated of all places.

But if you love to read, and love to write, there’s nothing quite like reading truly amazing writing. The passage below is from an article by Tom Verducci. I love the way he expresses things, especially considering this particular piece is a tribute to my favorite player.

Kelli and Dustin Pedroia and their cheeky two-year-old son, Dylan, live across the street from Fenway Park, and one reason why is clear from the view out their 13th-floor windows. Fenway in the quiet morn, before the sausages sizzle and the pilgrims parade in wearing the liturgical garments of Red Sox Nation, sits below them like an unopened Tiffany box, all neat, pristine corners and possibilities. The Pedroias can see the centerfield scoreboard and, through a crack in the asymmetrical grandstand, first base. They also can spy a large chain-link gate on wheels, which sometime in the middle of the day will be rolled open to Red Sox personnel for the symbolic start of the baseball business day.

[…]

Strip away the television ratings, the attendance figures, the merchandise sales, the gambling, the beer ads and the rest of the variables that measure the import of professional sports in our culture. Think about what’s left: how we connect emotionally with the games. On that level baseball, perhaps not in popularity but in esteem, occupies a unique place. It remains for many children the portal to organized sports, and if they’re lucky, when they grow up they never stop seeing baseball through 10-year-old eyes. It is an uncomplicated, unchanged kid’s game that does not require tremendous height or weight.

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This morning my dad sent me this quote…

Watching Little League World Series playoffs on ESPN, it’s amazing how many players answer “Dustin Pedroia’’ when asked to name their favorite player. “Smart kids,’’ said Pedroia. “They’re teaching them right.’’

My response, accompanied by a pain in my stomach:

I will forever regret not knowing him at ASU! Argh.

Dad’s response:

He told Francona he feels the same way about you I’m sure!

Sigh. At least I have this: