Friday, June 26, 2015

Going Bold

I’m proficient in chess but no expert. Or maybe I’m not really proficient. Let’s just say I enjoy playing chess. I taught my son when he was little and it was one of the few games we have continued to enjoy together into his teen years.

When he was learning the rules I would help him, making my move and then working with him to outfox me. Once he became proficient he was on his own. For a long time I still usually won. The day he beat me was a happy one (really). The day he beat me twice in a row I doubled down. I got careful. It got personal. And after he beat me three times in a row I didn’t want to play for awhile.

There were a few years where we played very little. I would ask to play but he didn’t want to. He said I took way too long to make a move. I was slow because I was being careful. I plotted every move as if my life depended on it. Or at least my self-respect. The problem is that it didn’t make me any better of a player and it made the game less fun.

Then this past winter we went on vacation and over the long flight I suggested we play chess. It had been a long time - maybe six months since we last played. He was bored enough to say yes. And something changed for me. I got back in touch with the fact that it was only a game. I knew if I lost there would be another game. I also knew if I continued to plot and plod he would get annoyed (happens easily at 16) and it wouldn’t be as much fun. So I got bold. I worried less about defense. I worried less about all the what ifs.

We played many games. His crowning glory was getting me into checkmate in 4 moves. Mine was giving myself the freedom to fail. And in doing so I won more. We played more, I won more, and lost more, and we both had more fun.

I came home thinking this might be the lesson I took from vacation this year. To be bold. I’m over 50. What really do I have to lose? I want to do something for the greater good. My accomplishments are small but I’ve helped bend the arc in my own personal way. I don’t want to let other opportunities pass me by while I play defense. Against what? Failing? Being laughed at? Financial ruin? It’s time to let go of fear and be brave enough to be bold.

Robert Frost said “Freedom lies in being bold.” So does fun, and so does progress. We live in a time that needs bold ideas, bold people, bold moves. There was a time where perhaps caution was advisable. If I didn’t play my cards right I might lose the opportunity to try again. Today there are fewer opportunities to go big and so I will swing for the fences.

Next month is my birthday. My gift to myself will be the freedom to be bold - for all the right reasons. That, and to beat my son at another game of chess.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

To the men (and women) in the arena

My 16-year-old son David hobbled out the door on his way to a whitewater kayak competition. He made finals after competing in three events: downriver, slalom, and freestyle. I cheered him on from the shore back home he dragged himself off to bed shortly after dinner. But he was up and out again the next morning by 7 a.m. without complaint, even though he was limping on a sore foot that he had somehow injured on one of his runs and his hands were bandaged in an attempt to protect skin cracks that wont heal in the constant exposure to cold river water. Bowed but unbroken. Damaged but determined. I dont know if hell win today, and I dont really care. Im more proud of his dedication, his passion, and his dream than I am of how it all ends. And I recognize in my son a kindred spirit

We have different reasons for doing what we each do. He does what he does for fun. When I suggest more sleep, cross-training, or a better diet to help give him a more competitive edge, his 16-year old voice drops an octave and he says, Mom, dont make this not fun.”  

I get it. I started my business with the idea that it would be fun. And it mostly was (in some twisted way), though  eventually, for me, fun wasnt enough. At some point the concepts of meaning and legacy became more important motivating ideas. Thats when I decided to convert Walker to a social enterprise, committing a third of distributed profits and a minimum of 2% of revenues to community. It was also the beginning of reSET which is a nonprofit I started at about that same time to advance the social enterprise sector. And while running a business-or two-is still often fun,  it feels meaningful to have a more important goal to work toward.

The challenge of growing a business or rising up through a sport requires focus and a dogged, sometimes zombielike persistence. Teddy Roosevelt summed it up beautifully in a speech he gave 100 years ago:

It is not the critic who counts;
not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles,
or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena,
whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood;
who strives valiantly;

who errs, who comes short again and again,
because there is no effort without error and shortcoming;
but who does actually strive to do the deeds;

who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions;
who spends himself in a worthy cause;

who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement,
and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly,

so that his place shall never be
with those cold and timid souls
who neither know victory nor defeat.

The first time I read this ode, it made me weep.  We had just tasted defeat at reSET, having failed to pass our package of social enterprise legislation for the second year in a row.  I felt played out. But anything worth doing is worth failing at again and again. So we picked ourselves up and started anew.  And that next year, we finally got our legislation passed. I know there are other fights out there. I know its more likely that Ill go down in the ring rather than retire, and  when I do there will no doubt be critics ready to point out the things  I could have done better. But Im ok with that, because Im proud to be in the game.

more on David and freestyle whitewater kayaking
David has now left again to compete in the National Team trials and a chance to go on to the Worlds.  I wish him  luck , but hes already a winner in my book, as are all the warriors for good -those who are willing to wake up every morning with aches and bruises and too little sleep, but ready to step into the arena and fight the good fight.

Heres to all the men and women in the arena!