On July 10th, my high school golf coach, Loren St. Lawrence passed away. He had valiantly fought cancer for the past eight years. As St. Lawrence put it, “I got cancer but cancer didn’t get me.”

It had been many years since I had last seen “Coach”. We stayed in touch primarily through writing. He was a regular encourager of me even years after he moved back to his home in Oregon and would almost always write back commenting on this blog.

He lived a “brilliant life”.

He was a devoted husband to his wife Barbara.

He was an acclaimed and adventurous race car driver.

He was a tenacious marketer.

He was a fine, honorable golfer.

He was a counselor and mentor to numerous high school students.

He was a successful high school golf coach, leading my high school team to State.

He was not a father per se but he adopted countless high school students through mentoring.

I am one of those students. To me, he was “Coach”, my mentor. 

 

John Marecek, Rick Ewing, and I with Coach at the 1996 State tournament with Coach.

John Marecek, Rick Ewing, and I with Coach at the 1996 State tournament with Coach.

The very first day I moved from Kansas City to St. Louis in 1993, he found me and brought me into his office. I felt little hope before that time as a lost, shy freshman. He immediately plugged me in with Rick Ewing and the golf team and the rest is history. The next four years, Coach invested in me and helped shape me into a confident leader, eventually captaining our team. I am writing this while Open Championship (The British Open) is being played, which is fitting. Coach called me “Radar” because I had the uncanny ability to find missing golf balls. It always makes me laugh because I have lousy eyesight and I just thought I was lucky.
My friend Rick Ewing hanging out with Coach in his office in-between classes.

My friend Rick Ewing hanging out with Coach in his office in-between classes.

Our high school was a public school and our golf team had to compete with the most elite private schools of the St. Louis area. We had a big chip on our shoulder because of this fact and were driven to win but we didn’t know how. Coach recognized this and when he took over as coach he was committed to making our program as elite or better than the private schools. He was impeccably organized to ensure we trained well to compete. He tracked details of how we scored in our rounds including fairways hit, greens in regulation, and tracking putts. These details were usually only captured by college coaches. He even made us look good with better uniforms, bags and club covers. Coach organized spring break trips (with the great help of parents) to go to Florida to play when it was snowing back home. This helped us to keep our game sharp before the heat to the Spring season and were prepared to win. We won our conference tournament four years in a row, sent team members to state every year, and eventually sent our whole team there our senior year. Our senior year he began a new tournament that would serve as a mid-season NIT and we invited all of the top teams in St. Louis to compete. We won that tournament and it prepared us to beat those teams again in the District championship thus taking us to the State tournament.
After four hard-working years, the 1997 Webster Groves High School Golf team wins the District title (the best team in St. Louis)

After four hard-working years, the 1997 Webster Groves High School Golf team wins the District title (the best team in St. Louis)

To young men who played under Coach may not have recognized how blessed they were at the time but as they reflected on their experience later in life, I am sure they recognized how well they had it under Coach’s leadership.
There is not a day I do not go back to my days on the golf course with him or his office talking about life and golf or the random fun of the day. Although I do not play much golf anymore since my family takes up my time, I still cherish those years in the golf course with Coach. I think he would appreciate that and make sure I knew that golf is a game that I will be able to play until the day I die. After all, Coach had played all the way up until the past few years.
Coach’s wisdom and encouragement stay and have fueled me to live life with honor, humility and great adventure on and off the golf course..
Thank you, Coach for believing in me and all of us. Thank you for living well. See you on the links in heaven.
Godspeed,
Radar
Coach's Obituary that appeared in Salem, Oregon.

Coach’s Obituary that appeared in Salem, Oregon.

This summer, our team at work has had the pleasure of working with a handful of interns. They are all 20-22 year olds and eager to gain experience before they head out into ‘real world.’ This generation is known as “Generation Y” or referred to as “Millennials.”

It’s hard not to read the internet or watch the news and hear negative things about this generation. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve met some very entitled people from this group. I’ve also met those people from older generations, especially my own, Generation X.

Here are five things interns have impressed me with this summer:

  • Their willingness to learn.
  • Their humility in recognizing that they don’t have the knowledge or wisdom (yet) to do certain things
  • Their tech-savvyness rivals all of us
  • They seem confident about themselves in a positive way
  • They grew up on change so interruptions don’t bother them.

Buzzfeed recently published a great quiz about quotes referring to specific generations. http://www.buzzfeed.com/chelseamarshall/youths

For fun, here is a sampling of it so guess which generation these quotes come from (don’t cheat, answers are at the bottom of the post).

Does each quote come from Generation Y or “another generation”?

1.  “They are lazy, entitled, narcissists”

2.  “The youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority.”  

3.  “They have trouble making decisions. They would rather hike the Himalayas than climb the corporate ladder.”

4.  “a period that will become known as the “Me” Decade.” 

5.  “A generation of effeminate, self-admiring, emaciated dribbles.”

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Each generation has the opportunity to rise up to answer the call to the time. By that, they leave a unique mark on history. I look at Generation Y and realize that I’m witnessing history. I’m proud of these people and am committed to helping them to be as successful as they want to be.

This generation doesn’t need critics.

It needs someone to believe in them.

The words from some of the most admired people of the past 60 years resonates best in how we should view and help our youngest generations.

“We have the power to make this the best generation of mankind in the history of the world or to make it the last.” – John F. Kennedy
“Each generation goes further than the generation preceding it because it stands on the shoulders of that generation. You will have opportunities beyond anything we’ve ever known.” - Ronald Reagan
“Each generation faces different issues and challenges, but our standard must always be measured by God’s word.” – Billy Graham

In scripture, Jesus wanted the children to come to him. He wanted this because he knew their faith was stronger than the older generations around them. They were full of hope and a willingness to worship him and serve with gladness.

That is my hope for this generation. 

 

 

 

 

——————————————–

Key:

1. Joel Stein, from 2013 TIME Magazine piece on “The Me Me Me Generation”

2. Socrates

3. 1990 issue of TIME Magazine

4. Tom Wolfe from his 1976 book The ‘Me’ decade and the Third Great Awakening”

5. 1771 description of the “hipsters” of the day.

 

 

The human race has never had access to more information at our fingertips than ever before. There is no practical reason to visit any of the places we learn about in life. But, I am reminded again of the conversation between Robin Williams’ and Matt Damon’s characters in Good Will Hunting.

“So if I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right? But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling; seen that.”

Williams’ character is pointing out how important it is to live and breathe places and experiences as opposed to being on the sideline to comment about it.

Since the earliest days of time, man embarked on pilgrimages.

A pilgrimage is defined as a journey, especially a long one, made to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion.

There are many types of pilgrimages.

  • Pilgrimages to see where we grew up
  • Pilgrimages to visit world history events
  • Pilgrimages to see the last live show the Beatles ever played
  • Pilgrimages to see old friends
  • Pilgrimages to remind you of your faith (and strengthen it)

History is a mere textbook without visiting in person because humans were meant for pilgrimages. 

My mother and father are about to embark on their own pilgrimage. My dad spends much of his time in St. Louis serving with a group of veterans whom are part of an organization called Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge. Although my father served during the Vietnam era in the Army, he does this for those who served before him, especially his now deceased father, my grandfather Branch . It is a miracle that my grandfather even survived The Battle of the Bulge in December 1944 since he was severely wounded from shrapnel during one of the early days of the battle. My father has realized that their story is worth telling and more importantly to him, it is necessary in order to more fully understand our family and human history, to visit these hallowed grounds.

In 1999 while I was in college I had embarked on a similar pilgrimage to visit Normandy with my friend Heath Hildebrandt. Normandy is only an hour train ride from Paris and an essential visit for any American. I remember the how beautiful it was there but learned how it wasn’t then and how dire the circumstance were for the Allies attempting a foothold in Europe to repel Nazi Germany. This invasion was so critical and risky that Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote a letter in advance to acknowledge defeat if needed they failed to secure the beach. Thankfully the allies did secure the beach. You’d be surprised to learn that securing the beach was a first step of many and it took another month to actually push-off of the beach. I wrote about it in an earlier post called After D-Day.

By visiting these vast beaches of Normandy stretching dozens of miles, I learned more about D-Day and its importance than decades of history classes and World War II shows on HIstory channel.

It was a pilgrimage that I’ll never forget. 

Sadly, in 2001 I also visited Bastogne in Belgium and sites where The Battle of the Bulge occurred but my camera was stolen with the precious photographs. I am excited my dad can complete that pilgrimage with photographs to share. Perhaps the pilgrimage will be complete with him?

 

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In the middle of the Normandy National Cemetery and Memorial.

 

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Omaha Beach, Normandy

What has been your most meaningful pilgrimage? What did you learn about yourself and the place you visited/ 

What pilgrimage to yearn to go on and what do you hope to learn?

Recently I read an excellent book by Kai Bird called The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert AmesI also re-watched the movie Munich, starring Eric Bana and directed by Steven Spielberg.

These stories reminded me of why I appreciate a good spy story whether they are fiction or non-fiction. Anyone who knows me well is used to me quoting Austin Powers now and then too so spy stories are ingrained in our culture.

These names are ingrained in our culture: James Bond, Jason Bourne, Ethan Hunt, Jack Ryan, even Austin Powers.

Who doesn’t love a good spy movie or its complementing spoof?

I have compiled some of the best spy movies that exist and hope you all will go out and see them if you have not. I don’t expect you to agree with the entire list but my hope is you will be motivated to watch one of them or pick up a similar book.

I have created three categories of spy movies; fictional, historical, and comedies.

TOP FICTIONAL SPY MOVIES

1. Casino Royale

This was the return of “Serious Bond” and yet again resurrected the character through Daniel Craig. The world fell in love again with Bond. I grew up with Sean Connery and Roger Moore, my mom fell in love with Pierce Brosnan’s Bond, but Daniel Craig has sealed the serious bond that the world wants today. This whole post could be filled with James Bond films and it is worth a separate post in the future.

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M: “I knew it was too early to promote you.”

Bond: “Well, I understand double 0s have a very short life expectancy… so your mistake will be short-lived.”

2. Mission Impossible

With any good series, you have to start at the beginning. I had to watch this three or four times to make sure I picked up on all of the details of this meticulously created movie series based on the original tv series. Ethan Hunt continues on in the latest and a close second favorite, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.

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Eugene Kittridge: I understand you’re very upset.

Ethan Hunt: Kittridge, you’ve never seen me very upset.

Eugene Kittridge: All right, Hunt. Enough is enough. You have bribed, cajoled, and killed, and you have done it using loyalties on the inside. You want to shake hands with the devil, that’s fine with me. I just want to make sure that you do it in hell!

3. The Jason Bourne Series

If I were to recommend one, I would say to start with The Bourne IdentityRobert Ludlum created an amazing trilogy and it has even evolved into the latest notable extension, The Bourne Legacy starring Jeremy Renner.

bourne

Jason Bourne: Who am I?

Conklin: You’re U.S. Government property. You’re a malfunctioning $30 million weapon. You’re a total catastrophe, and by God, if it kills me, you’re going to tell me how this happened.

4. The Hunt for Red October

This movie captures the brilliance of the Cold War through the lens of CIA analyst Jack Ryan. Created by author Tom Clancy, Ryan’s character evolves throughout the other books and movies but this is the first one that does him best justice. Since Alec Baldwin launched this franchise, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck continued the character well. I fear the character may take a rest after a poor showing of the Chris Pine new version in January 2014.

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“I’m not an agent, I just write books for the CIA.” – Jack Ryan

TOP HISTORICAL SPY MOVIES

1. Munich

I recently re-watched Munich and appreciate it so much because it shows the modern-day blurred lines of fighting terrorism. After Black September’s assassination of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972, Prime Minister Golda Meir okays a black-box operation to hunt down and kill all involved. A team of five gathers in Switzerland led by Avner, a low-level Mossad techie whose father was a war hero and whose wife is pregnant. It’s an expendable team, but relying on paid informants, they track and kill several in Europe and Lebanon. They must constantly look over their shoulders for the CIA, KGB, PLO, and their own sources. As the body count mounts — with retribution following retribution — so do questions, doubts, and sleepless nights. Loyalties blur.

munich-dvd

Golda Meir: Every civilization finds it necessary to negotiate compromises with its own values.

Avner: We can’t afford to be that decent anymore.

Robert: I don’t know if we were ever that decent.

2. The Good Shepherd

This is one of my favorite spy movies because it chronicles the tumultuous early history of the Central Intelligence Agency. Many of the characters are based on actual agents and the movie is brilliantly casted with Matt Damon, Robert DeNiro, and William Hurt.

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Edward Wilson: [Negotiating with an aging mobster] I could take the government off your back if you could help us,

Joseph Palmi: You’re the guys that scare me. You’re the people that make big wars.

Edward Wilson: No, we make sure the wars are small ones, Mr. Palmi.

3. Zero Dark Thirty

A chronicle of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the September 2001 attacks, and his death at the hands of the Navy S.E.A.L. Team 6 in May 2011. The beauty of the story is that is focuses on the young female CIA analyst ‘Maya’ whose extreme dedication to finding Bin Laden is keeps you hooked. If you want to learn more about the actual mission to kill Bin Laden, read No Easy Day from one of the members of S.E.A.L. Team 6.

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Maya: So, you agree with me now, this is important?

Tim – Station Chief: No, I just learned from my predecessor that life is better when I don’t disagree with you.

TOP COMEDY/SPOOF SPY MOVIES

1. True Lies

This is Schwarzenegger at his finest in the early 90s. Nothing beats the faux-spy Bill Paxton trying to explain himself to the agents.

truelies.jpg

Helen (his wife): Have you ever killed anyone?

Harry (Arnold): Yeah, but they were all bad.

2. Austin Powers: The International Man of Mystery

Austin Powers in the late 90s captured the silliness of James Bond. The real star of the show was Dr. Evil, based on Dr. No but Mike Myers said the voice idea came from SNL’s creator, Lorne Michaels.

austin-powers-international-man-of-mystery-movie-poster

Dr. Evil: You know, I have one simple request. And that is to have sharks with frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads! Now evidently my cycloptic colleague informs me that that cannot be done. Ah, would you remind me what I pay you people for, honestly? Throw me a bone here! What do we have?

Number Two: Sea Bass.

Dr. Evil: [pause] Right.

Number Two: They’re mutated sea bass.

Dr. Evil: Are they ill tempered?

Number Two: Absolutely.

Dr. Evil: Oh well, that’s a start.

3. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me

Who doesn’t love Fat Bastard and Mini-me? Nothing like adding an overweight Scottish brute to the mix and Dr. Evil small clone to make it fun.

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Number Two: Why not use your knowledge of the future to play the stock markets? We could make trillions.
Dr. Evil: Why make a trillion when we could make… billions?
Scott: A trillion’s more than a billion, numbnuts.

4. Top Secret!

Top Secret is the best of the best from the Zucker brothers. It has the Naked Gun ridiculous humor and plays off some of the best spy and World War II films. Skeet shooting USA!

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Hillary Flammond: I know a little German. He’s sitting over there.

[Introducing his men]

Du Quois: This is Chevalier, Montage, Detente, Avant Garde, and Deja Vu.

Deja Vu: Haven’t we met before monsieur ?

Nick Rivers: I don’t think so.

Du Quois: Over there, Croissant, Souffle, Escargot, and Chocolate Mousse.

HONORABLE MENTION

Patriot Games and Clear and Present Dangerr, Skyfall, North by NorthwestConfessions of a Dangerous MindSyriannaArgoNo Way Out and Spy Game.

And I love The Departed but it is more of an undercover copy movie as opposed to a spy movie.

Biggest Disappointments: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and anything with Timothy Dalton in it.

 

What is your favorite spy movie?

From an early age, it has been ingrained in me to love history. My parents and grandparents all stressed the importance of learning about where I came from personally as well the merits of citizenship. Their thought was “If we can not learn from our mistakes, how will we as individuals and a society improve?”

I wish more people could experience history as I did growing up.

History is often the worst-tested subject among high schoolers in the United States.

Kids have voted and they are rejecting history.

Here are the most common complaints about history.

  • It is boring
  • History doesn’t help me in life
  • It is just a bunch of random facts that are difficult to remember

Dr. James Loewen offers a very simple answer to why people are frustrated with history,

“Kids don’t hate history. They hate the way we teach it.”

David McCullough, America’s storyteller and popular historian shares the ‘why’ we should love history,

“History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are.”

What we missed is the beautiful and entertaining narrative of history.

We love stories.

I minored in history in college but my education has not stopped there. When I was 22, I picked up a copy of Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose. It is the book that changed the way I looked at history. Undaunted Courage breathed new life into me and my hope is that others will find that kind of love in history books today.

Here are six books that will make you fall in love with history.

1. Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose

This is the grand story of Lewis and Clark, their commission from President Thomas Jefferson and their triumphant quest to reach the west coast. This is the book that helped make history books popular. Stephen Ambrose gives Lewis & Clark a new narrative and I recommend starting with this book.

UndauntedCourage

2. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

This is the story of Louis Zamperini who ran in the 1936 Olympics in front of Hitler and later crashed in a B-24 during World War II only to float in the Pacific for weeks only to be captured and spend the rest of the war in a Japanese POW camp. Look for the movie starring  to be released this Christmas

unbroken
3. Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley

To fully understand war in its glory, propaganda, and sacrifice, you should read Flags of Our Fathers. It follows the six famous marines who raised the flag on Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima during World War II. The 2006 movie by Clint Eastwood does a nice job capturing the story but the book is where you learn more about the characters, especially from the author James Bradley, son of one of the flag bearers, Doc Bradley.

flagsofourfathers
4. How the Scots Invented the Modern World

This is a fun book that gives a reader a sense of appreciation for the Scots and their incredible innovations that we benefit from today. Their contribution to the world was well beyond kilts and haggis.

how the scots

5. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

Who would have ever thought that a book about a 19th Century midwest World’s Fair would be so interesting? Larson provides readers with the dual storyline of H.H. Holmes, a notorious and inventive serial killer paralleled with the story of the main architect of the Chicago World’s Fair.  Erik Larson is a tremendous storyteller and after you finish Devil int he White City, pick up a copy of In the Garden of Beasts.

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6. April 1865 by Jay Winik

People to this day wonder what the Civil War was fought for. I’ve read dozens of Civil War books but this one by far provided the best context for the war’s beginning ‘s well as how our nation healed to become strong again.

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There are plenty of other great history books out there but if you have not read many before or have had a bad experience in history, I highly recommend you start with this list.

Which other history books do you love and why? 

I recently finished reading Killing Kennedy, an interesting take on the JFK assassination from Bill O’Reilly. I knew some of the indiscretions of Kennedy through reading history but getting a more full picture through the book was eye-opening. It also educated me about the indiscretions of some other well-known leaders of his time.

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Here is a brief history of some of the most well-known people in the world.

  • John F. Kennedy was a serial adulterer
  • So was Martin Luther King, even with prostitutes
  • Nelson Mandela was involved in terrorism early in life
  • George Washington owned slaves
  • Benjamin Franklin slept his way across America and Europe
  • Margaret Thatcher had an incredible short temper
  • John Lennon all but abandoned his son Julien when he married to Yoko Ono
  • Elvis Presley was a drug addict
  • Oprah Winfrey is known to be a diva that expects royal treatment
  • Ronald Reagan was a lousy actor divorced early in life

The list goes on and on and you’ll be surprised to learn some of these things from some of the most admired people in recent history.

One of my favorite authors and historians David McCullough shares a brilliant piece about how we should view our leaders but more importantly, how we should see ourselves.

“Now those who wrote the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia that fateful summer of 1776 were not superhuman by any means. Every single one had his flaws, his failings, his weaknesses. Some of them ardently disliked others of them. Every one of them did things in his life he regretted. But the fact that they could rise to the occasion as they did, these imperfect human beings, and do what they did is also, of course, a testimony to their humanity. We are not just known by our failings, by our weaknesses, by our sins. We are known by being capable of rising to the occasion and exhibiting not just a sense of direction, but strength.”

Ephesians 1:7 sums it up.

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.”

Thank God for grace and recognition that he sees the potential in all of us and wants us to do good and succeed in his eyes. God sees us as perfect, even in our imperfections and it makes his grace shine brighter than ever.

 

 

“Who we are cannot be separated from where we’re from.” – Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers

In my personal and professional life, there are few days that go by that I don’t notice people who have done incredible things to make an impact. The world sees them as examples of success.

Sometimes, I wonder,

How did they achieve these things?

What made these people different?

After reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, it has become easier to answer these question. He asks the same question in his book and in his research discovered some amazing things about what makes these people unique (or not).

“People don’t rise from nothing….It is only by asking where they are from that we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn’t.”

“Success is not a random act. It arises out of a predictable and powerful set of circumstances and opportunities.”

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Gladwell shares many examples to support this including a personal story about his own mother and how she achieved success as an outlier. Let me explain my story.

When I was eleven years old and beginning my summer vacation before 6th grade, I was asked last-minute to join some friends in a golf tournament. At the time, I did not even remember what the tournament it was except that it was to be played in Kansas City, not far from where I grew up. I had been playing golf for a few years but golf was a distant fourth sport of choice behind baseball, soccer and basketball. I enjoyed the game and was intrigued by it but it wasn’t where I thought I would spend my time.

The night before the tournament it poured down rain in Kansas City. I think the tournament anticipated a hundred kids to play in it but the next morning only about fifteen showed up to play and I was one of them. I was a decent golfer for my age but as I mentioned, it wasn’t my priority sport.

I won the tournament that day. In fact, it made me the Missouri State Champion for the UCT Invitational and they gave me an all expenses paid trip to Victoria, Canada to play in the North American final. Crazy, huh? It was one of many events that propelled me forward in confidence and ability to keep getting better. It took me through high school golf, college golf, and amateur state play throughout the years.

Three years before the tournament that changed my life, my family moved across town in suburban Kansas City and our new house happened to be on the first hole of a small golf course. That particular golf course happened to be one of the best junior golf programs in all of the city, which provided me the best opportunity out of many kids to excel in the sport. My parents were not serious golfers but my grandparents bought me my first set of clubs that year and I took up the game. After given the opportunity to win that tournament, I never looked back and eventually quit my other sports to play more golf.

Lining up with my playing partners at the UCT North American Golf Tournament. That is me in the middle. Nice visor!

Lining up with my playing partners at the UCT North American Golf Tournament. That is me in the middle. Nice visor!

Like Gladwell suggests about Outliers, there was nothing about me that was particularly special except I was put in the right places and encouraged by the right people at the right times to play the game of golf, work hard at it, and excel in it. I was given the right chance to succeed. Gladwell expands the thought,

“Cultural legacies are powerful forces. They have deep roots and long lives. They persist, generation after generation, virtually intact, even as the economic and social and demographic conditions that spawned them have vanished, and they play such a role in directing attitudes and behavior that we cannot make sense of our world without them.”
Gladwell was spot on and my story is more confirmation of it.
What do we do with this?
Is life just a roll of the dice then? 
Gladwell doesn’t draw a specific conclusion on why certain people are chosen but he hints at something greater.
His hint is what strengthens my faith. It is humbling because it means that in life we never achieve success on our own. We need others. We need God to put us in the right places at the right times and guide us in his perfect purpose.
Think about something you’ve excelled at in life. 
How did it happen?
Who helped you?
What did you do about it?
It is there that you see God at work.