About Conversation Kindling

The purpose of this blog is to share stories, metaphors, quotes, songs, humor, etc. in hopes they'll be used to spark authentic and rewarding conversations about working and living fruitfully. There are at least three things you can gain by getting involved in these conversations. First, you'll discover new and important things about yourself through the process of thinking out loud. Second, you'll deepen your relationships with others who participate by swapping thoughts, feelings, and stories with them. Finally, you'll learn that robust dialogue centered on stories and experiences is the best way to build new knowledge and generate innovative answers to the questions that both life and work ask.

I write another blog called My Spare Brain. This is where I am "storing" ideas for use in future books, articles, blog posts, speeches, and workshops. There is little rhyme or reason for what I post there. I do this to encourage visitors to come as treasure hunters looking for new ways of seeing and thinking vs. researchers looking for new or better answers to questions they already know how to ask.

29 July 2009

Who Doesn't Want to Be a Millionaire?

Joe Paterno has been head football coach at Penn State since 1966. His team has won 383 games - including 23 bowl wins - and two national championships. He is one of four active coaches who have been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. In addition to winning football games, Paterno is known for emphasizing academics along with athletics; his four-year Graduation Success Rate as reported by the NCAA is 78 percent. He is also a philanthropist. He and his wife Sue have contributed over $4 million to various colleges and departments at the University. He also helped raise $13.5 million to expand its Pattee Library.

JoePa - as he is often called - holds the record for most years as head coach at a single institution. He has had many chances to leave the Nittany Lions during his tenure there, as you might guess, but has been tempted on only one occasion. It was 1972 when that call came. He relates the story in Paterno: By the Book, which was published in 1989. His co-author was Bernard Asbell.
I remember the day I was forced to decide who I am. All night I lay awake wrestling with my past, trying to make sense of my future. It was December 1972. I had been head football coach at Penn State for almost seven years, and thought I was content.

Then that unexpected phone call had come – an offer to make me a rich man if I left the school I loved. The man on the phone was Bill Sullivan, former president and principal owner of the New England Patriots. "I want to meet with you to talk about coaching my team," he said. I told Sullivan I’d had other offers and wasn’t much interested in coaching in the pros. Then he hit me with his package - $1.3 million, plus part ownership of the franchise and a $100,000 bonus for signing.

At Penn State my pay was a grand total of $35,000. The money had always satisfied my family – but Sullivan’s offer made me dizzy. In the end, I told my wife I had to take the job. "Joe, whatever you want to do will be fine with me," Sue replied.

I called Sullivan and told him we had a deal. When Sue and I went to bed that evening, I said, "Okay, kid. Tonight you get to sleep with a millionaire."

At 2:00 a.m., Sue was sitting in her rocking chair nursing our baby. I’m sure she thought I was asleep. She had never said she didn’t want to go to Boston. But now tears were slipping down her face.

I lay there thinking about the life I was leaving. I saw the school where I had met my wife, the only home our five kids had ever known. I saw the students, the granite statue of our mascot, the Nittany Lion, and my thick-necked, fragile-hearted football players. What had made me tell Sullivan I’d come? Yes, Boston was a great city. It was a new challenge. But it was … the money.

Suddenly, I knew what I had to do, what it was I wanted to do. In the morning, I told Sue, "You went to bed with a millionaire, but you woke up with me." Her first thought she later told me was, "Oh, thank God."

From the moment of that nighttime revelation, I knew what college means to me - and what pro football could never mean. I love winning games as much as any coach does, but I know there’s something that counts more than victory or defeat. I get to watch my players grow - in their personal discipline, in their educational development, and as human beings. That is a deep lasting reward that I could never get in pro ball.
When author and philosopher Tom Morris appeared at the Masters Forum, one of them many things he shared with us was his view on setting goals.

First, he said we need to be very clear about what we want:
"Aristotle said 'Every human being needs a target to shoot at.' Without that a person’s life is literally aimless. Aristotle understood that the first condition for success is a clear conception of what we want; in any endeavor, in any enterprise, in any relationship we need a vivid vision, a goal clearly imagined. Aristotle didn’t think that in every situation we need to be thinking about what we want to receive – what we want to get out of it – but what we want to make happen; what result we want to achieve as a consequence of our actions."
It took a night of tossing and turning, but by the break of dawn Joe Paterno had reclaimed his compass.

Second, he said we need to articulate our goals:
"Much is written today about the importance of setting goals. And, at the top of the list of suggestions provided by most experts in the field is to write your goals out. They say you are much more apt to achieve them if you do. Is there any magic in writing your goals down? No. But, do you know what’s almost magical? The power of articulation; using the discipline of language to articulate where you want to go - whether spoken or written."
In the last paragraph of the story related above, Paterno did a wonderful job of articulating his goals for the future: he wanted to work with college kids and help them grow as athletes, students, and human beings.

Third, he said our goals must be personal:
"The most important advice on goal setting was given to us by Socrates. It is, simply, 'Know thyself.' Every exercise is goal setting should be an exercise in self-knowledge. So many people fail in life because they set goals that are right for somebody else, but not for them. Find the goals that are right for you."
In the final analysis, Paterno knew himself well enough to second-guess his initial decision and then make the right one ... for him. I would also be willing to bet that he hasn't looked back since. And that is the way of the warrior. To quote Carlos Castaneda:
"The most effective way to live is as a warrior. A warrior may worry and think before making any decision, but once he makes it, he goes his way, free from worries or thoughts; there will be a million other decisions still awaiting him. That’s the warrior’s way."

Answer the following questions to set clear, articulated, and personal goals.
  • What result do you want to create?
  • Why is this important to you? Describe the benefits you and others will receive if you succeed. Describe the impact on your job, your career, and your life.
  • How will you do it? Describe the specific steps you will take. Include dates, people, events, evaluation (how will you know when you are succeeding) and resources (materials and people.)
"There are two sentences inscribed upon the Delphic oracle, hugely accommodated to the usage of man's life: Know Thyself and Nothing Too Much; and upon these all other precepts depend." - Plutarch
"In this country we used to have a culture of conversation. People talked to each other; families over the dinner table; neighbors over the fence or on the front porch. We don’t talk to each other anymore about our hopes and dreams and aspirations the way we used to, and as a result we are not clarifying for ourselves what we really want." - Tom Morris
"Every universe, our own included, begins in conversation. Every golem in the history of the world, from Rabbi Hanina's delectable goat to the river-clay Frankenstein of Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, was summoned into existence through language, through murmuring, recital, and kabbalistic chitchat - was, literally, talked into life." - Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
"In our playpens and high chairs, we are rarely far from displaying either hysterical happiness or savage disappointment, love or rage, mania or exhaustion - and, despite the growth of a more temperate exterior in adulthood, we seldom succeed in laying claim to lasting equilibrium. Our innate imbalances are further aggravated by practical demands. Our jobs make relentless calls on a narrow band of our faculties, reducing our chances of achieving rounded personalities and leaving us to suspect (often in the gathering darkness of a Sunday evening) that much of who we are, or could be, has gone unexplored." - Alain de Botton, The Architecture of Happiness
"Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want. Everything else is secondary. - Steve Jobs - commencement address, Stanford University, 2005

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