Archives For January 2014

An Experienced Life

January 30, 2014 — Leave a comment

One of my favorite and most inspirational movies of the past twenty years is Good Will Hunting (1997). It has many memorable and important scenes is between Robin Williams’ character as teacher and Matt Damon’s character Will Hunting. Damon’s character had just insulted William’s character so they sat down to have a talk. Watch the movie clip but you can also read part of it that I provided.

“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. If I ask you about women, you’d probably give me a syllabus about your personal favorites. You may have even been laid a few times. But you can’t tell me what it feels like to wake up next to a woman and feel truly happy. You’re a tough kid. And I’d ask you about war, you’d probably throw Shakespeare at me, right, “once more unto the breach dear friends.” But you’ve never been near one. You’ve never held your best friend’s head in your lap, watch him gasp his last breath looking to you for help. I’d ask you about love, you’d probably quote me a sonnet. But you’ve never looked at a woman and been totally vulnerable. Known someone who could level you with her eyes, feeling like God put an angel on earth just for you.”

This is the conversation that guides the story toward action and resolution for Damon’s character. This scene gives me chills every time I watch it. Damon’s character, although clearly brilliant, had not truly lived life in all of its pain and glory. He had been stuck in his neighborhood thinking he knew all there was to know about life. There was a bigger life to experience if he would open himself up. It is hard to  miss that I am like Damon’s character and fear the risk of going out into the world to really experience life.

Recently I visited one of the most infamous city settings in the world: Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas. On November 22nd, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated here. Dealey Plaza rests on the southwest side of downtown Dallas. I’ve read multiple books and watched countless documentaries and movies about the JFK Assassination. But none of his compared to actually being at the site of this tragic event. As Robin Williams mentioned above, there is nothing like visiting it to smell the air, feel the history, and to stand where history changed us forever. It was eerie and it brought a bit of  sadness to me that I didn’t expect to feel. Reading and watching stories about JFK always brought intrigue but rarely did it ever bring emotion like this. Silently, I walked all around the area with my brother-in-law and my wife and toured the JFK 6th Floor Museum. It is an experience I will not forget.

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View from the 7th Floor of the infamous Texas School Book Depository overlooking Dealey Plaza. One floor directly down from me was assassin Lee Harvey Oswald’s sniper nest.

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Standing next to the street where Kennedy was shot. Two “X’s” mark mark on the street where he was shot. To my left is the infamous grassy knoll where conspiracy theories point toward a second gunman.

Walking and visiting the places of history reminds us that we are part of a big story. It is full of beauty, adventure, victory, loss, and tragedy. It should provoke the feelings to make us want to make a lasting impact on this world because we are called to a great story. This trip reminded me that I can live life comfortably at home but if I don’t take a step out to truly explore what God is nudging me to do, I will miss the real life.

“To know there is a better story for your life and to choose something other is to choose to die.” – Donald Miller

Have you ever visited a place of history that gave you the chills?

Does it make you think about how your lasting impact will be on the world?

 

 

When I entered the work world thirteen years ago, the world seemed to be full of traditional occupations: Bankers, teachers, lawyers, stock brokers, doctors, and sales people. I was told in college that most likely the jobs we would have in the future weren’t even created yet. It turns out that the professors were true and with the rise of the internet and so many new types of entrepreneurial businesspeople, the value of new positions has changed drastically. Many specialist positions were created to focus on one single thing in a company or organization.

Specialists are wonderful and thank God for them, especially doctors who focus most of their waking hours on one single treatment or disease.

But, I’m also discovering that with the rise of so many specialists, especially in business, it is difficult to find people with a well-rounded knowledge about business in general.

These people are most commonly referred to as ‘renaissance men’, who are proficient in a variety of subjects. The people of history described as this come from the Renaissance era and have evolved since. People like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Galileo Galilei, Benjamin Franklin, Richard Branson, or despite the humor, someone like James Franco who tackles acting, writing, directing, and other random things while going to graduate school to learn more.

In baseball, this person is called a “utility player.” These players are a manager’s dream because they can play pretty much every position except pitcher and catcher. Whenever a player gets hurt or is not playing up to their game, the utility player can slide in to make a difference. In the major leagues, these people are well-known players like Michael Young, Ben Zobrist, and Hanley Ramirez. To the extreme, there was an amusing game in the 1980s when St. Louis Cardinals player Jose Oquendo played each position through the nine innings.

In the movie Dead Poet’s Society, Robin Williams’ character, Professor Keating encouraged his students to broaden themselves by using poetry as the medium. ”

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”

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So where have the Renaissance people gone? 

I think fear of the unknown is one of the biggest issues. I’ve also discovered even in my profession in publishing, you get looks if you are trying to learn about other jobs. The look is often says, “stick to your specialty, bud”. But, in my career the people I’ve admired the most and seem have the best perspective are the ones who have either done other jobs in publishing or have taken the time to learn about them. That was one of the greatest lessons I learned from my mentor and long-time publisher, David Moberg.

Being a Renaissance person doesn’t mean you give up your specialty. It means you become a more well-rounded person to better help others.

We can reclaim the Renaissance spirit by being explorers of the mind.

Here are five helpful challenges to become today’s Renaissance person.

  • Each month, take out someone you work with who does something different from you and learn about it.
  • Learn a new sport that challenges your physical and mental abilities.
  • Read a book that is outside of your comfort zone. Browse your local bookstore or the library and pick something out.
  • Travel. Visit places you never thought you’d visit and learn the culture, the language, the people.
  • Share your experience with others as you learn.

Be a life-long student.

Be a utility player.

Be today’s renaissance person.

 

What about you?

What do you want to learn that is outside of your specialty?

2014 brought an uneasy beginning to our family. Just before the clock struck midnight, my grandmother Carolyn Martin passed away. My parents, especially my mother, had worked incredibly hard to help my grandmother sell her home in Wilmington, North Carolina and helped her organize and moved to St. Louis. Grandma was very healthy 93-year old but desired to live closer to my parents in St. Louis and enjoy fun times with them without the travel. Only three weeks later she away passed and even though we were shocked, we realized that she lived a full life.

In my childhood each summer, our family would visit North Carolina and our adventure would begin with Grandma and our grandfather, Papa Jack. We would visit the beach, play golf, work on a puzzle, or walk the neighborhood. What I enjoyed most was asking her questions about life, her formative years, and listening to her wisdom. All of her great-grandchildren called her ‘Gigi’ and she took such a great interest in them. Gigi was already teaching them like she taught my sister and I as well as my cousins.

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Through her legacy, my grandmother gave me five crucial lessons about life.

1. Play for Life

My grandma and my grandfather, Papa Jack, bought me my first golf clubs when I was eight years old. Their message to me was that golf is a game that you need to learn because other sports will come and go but you can enjoy golf until he day you die. Golf is a physical game but mostly played with your head so here I am not playing the sports of my youth but golf I know will be with me forever. My grandmother exercised daily at the Y, played in bridge and Mahjong groups, always had a puzzle up on the table to work on and a book by her side to devour. She knew that feeding her mind was a game and essential to live a full life.

2. Laugh.

My grandmother had many difficult circumstances in her life that give every reason to be full of sorrow yet she always found a way to keep pushing forward. What I will remember most is her laughing at a ridiculous movie or at a joke I would tell her. We can choose pain or we can choose joy. She chose joy as much as she could.

3. Know Your History

It’s no secret that I love history and write about it frequently. My love from history comes from my grandmother. In Wilmington, North Carolina she would take our family to see the USS North Carolina, a World War II era battleship. I was fascinated by the military machinery but also what it went through during the war. I also remember our family taking a trip down to Charleston, South Carolina and her showing us Fort Sumter, where the first official shots of the American Civil War took place. Grandma fed my love for history with books, stories, and encouragement to always analyze things in proper context. Two years ago, I gave Grandma a copy of the book, December 1941 and she took the time to read through the cumbersome 600 pages and share where and what she was doing when the war began. History is a part of us and essential to help us learn from our old mistakes and forge ahead. Grandma’s memory will be with me with each new page.

4. Manners Matter. 

When I was young, to my mother’s chagrin, I had a bit of a ‘listening problem’. Despite my mother’s best efforts, I would defy her and be obnoxious at a table. I think my grandmother could see this on our visits and she took time to show me the importance of proper manners. Grandma shows me which fork was which, how to sit properly at the table, and how to behave when other people were talking. My sweet parents must have been exhausted as my wife and I are now with kids so I can imagine my parents welcomed my grandmother’s counsel with open arms.

5. Never Stop Learning.

When my grandmother retired, she audited courses at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. She would take courses in literature, history, and other very unique courses like Feminist Literature. By trade, my grandmother was an English teacher. In her retirement, she tutored for free young disadvantaged women in Wilmington and helped them graduate high school. Her gift was taking her joy of the English language and sharing it with others. After she moved to St. Louis, she was already looking for a new course to audit in the spring semester. I am a writer because my parents encouragement but also because of my grandmother’s example.

The last interaction I had with my grandmother was when she stopped through Nashville and she sat down to read a new kids Bible that we had just introduced to our girls. Grandma kept telling me about how fascinating it was to have questions at the end of each story to help the girls understand the Bible better. I smiled as I listened to her.

I hope to see you again soon Grandma. In the meantime, I will share your legacy with my girls and for those reading this post.

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My mother, me, my youngest Daughter Ainsley, and Grandma in 2010

Gigi blowing bubbles with Madelyn

Gigi blowing bubbles with Madelyn

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Gigi helping Madelyn and Ainsley with their drawings.