Two score and nine years ago, it seems almost trivial now, my frustration level playing high school basketball in 1991. Our team was winning quite a few games, I think we went something like 17-9, but we lost to our cross-town rival four times and the season ended much sooner than it should have. Our team was missing two key ingredients: perseverance and passion.
Grab one stick at a time in the woods and each will break with ease; grab five sticks together and they can't be broken. Our team had too many individual sticks. I actually performed the stick-breaking metaphor in a team meeting after being drilled by a slow mullet-sporting squad from Kentucky in a Christmas tournament. It helped for a game or two, but selfishness and jealousy won out in close games and we ended up on the wrong side of the score when it counted most. This drove me nuts.
My dad knew I was frustrated and wrote a letter to me. I have his letter to this day and still read it often. I was discouraged over basketball in 1991, but life finds ways to dish out new problems with each coming year. We think the new problems are bigger and more important, but relatively speaking, they're usually not. They're just problems and each has an answer, we just have to find them. My dad's letter is timeless and the lesson he taught is universal.
He wrote it's a rare person who doesn't become discouraged. The only way out centers on one word: perseverance. He added there was no better example of perseverance than in the life story of the following man. My dad listed this man's record from ages 22-49. This guy failed in business twice, his fiancé died, his 3-year-old son died after he was married, he had a nervous breakdown, and he lost nine different political elections.
The man's name was Abraham Lincoln.
I was distraught trying to bring one high school basketball team together. Abe Lincoln was tasked with an entire country at war with each other.
I moved to River Falls in 2005 to start a business. I would work until about 7:30 p.m. most days, go home to have dinner with my family, and when my wife and kids went to sleep, I would head back to work until the wee hours of the morning. This was my routine for many years.
Most nights I wouldn't feel like coming back to work at first. I would sit in my car in the driveway for a minute trying to justify needing some sleep. The checking account at Security Financial Bank said otherwise.
‘Livin’ on a Prayer’
This may sound ridiculous, but I would play a "mixed-CD" my wife, Jenna, had made me and I listened to the acoustic slowed-down version of "Livin' On A Prayer." About the time Tommy sings to Gina, "Take my hand, we'll make I swear, whoa, we're livin' on a prayer," I would put my car in drive and head back to work. My business was losing money for years while I was building it and Jenna (a.k.a Gina) was "workin' the diner all day" as a kindergarten teacher.
I've had the same job for the last 15 years until last month. I did persevere like my dad told me to do but I was like a fly trapped in a house trying to break through the window to get outside. I kept ramming into the window for 15 years and then in June my 19-year-old daughter wrote a text message telling me to do whatever makes my heart sing after over-hearing me talk with my brother on the phone.
My dad, the wily veteran, preached perseverance. My daughter, the college sophomore, gave me a much-needed dose of passion.
Passion can open your eyes and give you an entirely different view of a situation. When perseverance is combined with passion, when your heart sings, the fly can realize to simply turn around and leave through the open door to freedom.
On my last day at the old job, I felt like Andy Dufresne in "The Shawshank Redemption" when he's in the river reaching to the heavens after secretly digging a tunnel for 19 years and then escaping through a 500-yard-long sewage pipe. I got in my car that last day and, right hand on the truth-teller, "Livin' On A Prayer" was on the radio as I turned the key. Ole' Andy escaped in 19 years; it only took me 15.
Dufresne's story has ended and he has his charter fishing boat in Zihuatanejo with Red, but for me, the movie isn't over yet. It's a new job and a new movie setting.
I'm going to bring it back to basketball and the movie "Hoosiers," one of my all-time favorites. I'm not playing anymore; so now I'm the coach, Norman Dale, and building a team. I do have Shooter in place to run the "picket fence" and Ollie to hit the clutch free throws, but after what my daughter, Mattie, wrote to me about making my heart sing, it's going to take the Indiana National Guard to make me leave.
If anyone out there thinks they can play the role of Jimmy Chitwood, let me know, we’re hiring. The roar after Chitwood heading off to make a big sale saying, “I’ll make it,” would be heard from Terhune to Cedar Knob.
As the Hickory Huskers say after breaking the huddle, "TEAM!"
The best part about this up-and-coming movie is Jenna is much better looking than Myra Fleener.