Thanks to my friend John’s decision to get married (or, rather, his fiancée’s acceptance), I had the opportunity to spend the past weekend with a group of 10 guys on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast. The trip was dubbed the “old guy bachelor party” and, at one point, “the lamest bachelor party of all time – in a really good way.” Most of us are married and, in terms of things one would regularly be excited to do at a bachelor party, have been there, done that, bought the t-shirt, and returned it because it just didn’t fit quite right. Rather than conversations about strippers and conquests, rather than tall tales about what we were going to do, we talked about our wives, kids, futures and even exchanged recipes for cocktails and guacamole.
Thanks to hours of semi-lucid conversations with friends – good friends – friends who want to see each other be better men – I made an extremely uncharacteristic decision that I am fairly certain made a real difference in my life.
I went surfing yesterday.
I am an obnoxiously aggressive competitor by nature, but I’m a terrible athlete, a moderately poor swimmer, and am easily embarrassed by doing things at which I’m fairly confident I will perform poorly. When I say embarrassed I mean that I simply, for most of my life, I avoided the event altogether.
That being said – I went surfing yesterday. IN FRONT OF PEOPLE. In front of people who I respect and for whose friendship, admiration and respect I have a truly intense desire to earn. In ridiculously stupid terms – in my mind, they were the Zach Morris to my Screech.
I fell down, beat the living hell out of myself, swallowed a tanker full of salt water, and didn’t get up on a single wave.
By all definitions of surfing, I failed miserably. But for me it was a win. I tried – really hard – to do something that I knew I wasn’t good at, and it was amazing. I didn’t seek approval of those around me. Instead I simply played my heart out.
I have known for years that my two biggest character flaws are that I am a consummate quitter and I am overly concerned with obtaining the approval of others.
The moment where I declared “I am not a quitter anymore” occurred in early 2003. I remember it like it was yesterday That’s for another post.
As for the “trying too hard” part of my personality, it’s been there forever. As Ray Lamontagne might say, I was old before my time – scared to have fun. I am pre-programmed to be an overly serious worrier. If worry truly is, as my grandfather, Bob Krasnoff, says, “the misuse of imagination,” I must have one hell of an imagination.
Growing up I was terrified of playing any game I wasn’t sure I could win. I would find justification for not playing and move on to another activity in a limited window. I was smart, so I stayed inside and played video games, wrote, and listened to music. I was a heavy kid not because I didn’t want to play sports, but because I found ways to avoid the embarrassment I thought was inevitable playing outside with the other kids and losing. I complained to my mother that the “cool kids” didn’t like me because I was bad at sports and was heavy. Truth be told, they didn’t like me because I made the conscious decision not to include myself in their fun. My shyness and fear of rejection manifested themselves as aloofness and arrogance. Looking back, I wouldn’t have cared much for me either.
As a professional musician, I wanted to be the musicians I admired. I tried my best to sound like them – to sing like they would sing. I became so competitive to play the right venues, to meet the right people, to gain approval of the crowd that I forgot to do the two most important things – PRACTICE to improve my craft and ENJOY what I was doing at the time instead of constantly thinking, even while I was mid-song, how I could play somewhere better, bigger, or more prestigious. I was never satisfied with anything I did – spending so much time noticing the flaws of everything I did that I destroyed the joy and appreciation for my accomplishments. I went so far as to make sure no one ever played my recorded music when I was around, because I could only hear the flaws. This part of my personality undoubtedly contributed to me quitting playing music professionally. Looking back, I was inches from the goal line.
In business, I now realize that I have become unappreciative of my talents, my successes, and my accomplishments – simply because they were not as great as those of some others around me. I doubted why anyone would want to work with men when they had the option to work with people who had already achieved the levels of success for which I was striving. I spend my days teaching people to “get out of their comfort zone,” to be bold, but in reality my lack of boldness is my Achilles heel.
Thankfully, the one thing I did not take for granted, are the relationships I have with my people – mostly thanks to my amazing wife and family teaching me that, without relationships, any eventual success is meaningless.
As a husband, I was hesitant to have children out of a fear that I would pass my neuroses along to them. As a soon-to-be father I was scared of what would happen if my kids wanted to learn to play sports. As positively INSANE as it sounds I wondered would they lose respect for me because I was a poor athlete? Would they wish they were someone else’s kid?
I have known this about myself for years but been afraid to work on it. I didn’t know how.
This is my “Screw it, let’s play” moment.
I’m writing this on a plane listening, start to finish, to everything I ever recorded as a musician from the time I was a teenager, and pieces of it are outstanding.
I went surfing yesterday.