Friday, March 18, 2011

Readiness: Pass it On

Ever see those "DRIVE: Pass it On" ads? Today I drove past one: Babe Ruth, post swing, ostensibly watching the ball vanish into the stratosphere; though, more likely, he was posing for a good photo. This photographic trickery reminds me that we sell an illusion of success and we don't prepare people for the reality they find if they achieve it. We push our kids to strive, but we don't prepare them for life at the top, should they get there.

Note the slogan next to The Babe. Ultimately, it's a good message: anyone can rise to greatness from whatever unfortunate circumstances they are born into. (I can't think of a better example than Frederick Douglass -- I wonder if they have a billboard for him.)

Babe Ruth was arguably the greatest baseball player of all time. But what are his stats on person-hood? Right: stats like that don't exist; but social ripples and reputations do. The Babe had his demons, along with a bunch of big character flaws, to boot. But, by comparison to a lot of other successes, he was pretty good. But you will have the Charlie Sheens, won't you?

I know -- people are sick of hearing his name. But here is a guy riding a successful career and he is disintegrating before out eyes. (Sad, yet, apparently, darkly entertaining.) But the list goes deeper than Sheen. We all know this. How many artists can you think of who have fallen into drugs, broken marriages, booze, gambling and you-name-what-else? There is a reason for this.

So I'm thinking that maybe we need to start adding an element to what we teach our kids about "drive" and the quest for "success". It's great to tell them to try their best -- shoot for the stars and all that. For the average kid who won't be a Babe Ruth or a Tiger Woods or a Judy Dench or a Robert Deniro, that's enough. But maybe we should teach lessons geared toward the exceptional kids, including the ones who haven't distinguished themselves yet. (One life in a thousand is worth a little overkill, right?) Maybe we need to say: push yourself toward success, but if you get to the top, here are the challenges you will face. Maybe I can write a little outline for a class on it -- something we can teach in high school health classes.

If you reach the top, remember:

1) No achievement is the answer to of all your wishes, because wishes change in different life stages.
2) Not everything that made you happy at six makes you happy now, so why do you think something achieved as twenty will make you happy at forty-five?
3) Ego might goad you to cling a situation you have achieved even after it no longer makes you happy. Holding on to something you don't like, because of pride, is stupid. It can cause feelings of futility and those feelings are devastating.
4) Holding onto something you have achieved that doesn't make you happy might lead you into seeking immediate forms of escape. If you choose the wrong escapes, they can kill you or, maybe worse, break you.
5) Audiences don't love you. What you see is not love, it's adoration. Adoration is no substitute for real love.
6) You can share your talents with the world, but if you don't give time to the ones you love, all has been wasted.
7) Failing to consider these things can lead to feelings of emptiness, which can lead to self-destruction and collateral damage to the ones around you. The former makes you a sad case; the latter makes you a selfish, lazy creep.
As I get older, I realize the profundity of many simple things. One of them is this: most problems are a result of not being prepared, emotionally and intellectually. Walking into new life situations unprepared (or even walking into familiar situations, unprepared) can be like waking into Death Valley with no water supply and no clothes. The bright lights of success, when you think about it, can easily be that desert's sun.


  1. 5) Audiences don't love you. What you see is not love, it's adoration. Adoration is no substitute for real love.

    Can we mass email this to all of hollywood, and anywhere else quasi famous jerks reside?


  2. Meh. They won't listen. Gotta get to them before they make it there . . .

  3. "most problems are a result of not being prepared, emotionally and intellectually."

    And there in a nutshell is why the divorce rate in this country is so high... (I would add that both divorce and celebrity demons are also the result of an unwillingness to work through difficulty)

    The devil's advocate in me contests that it's impossible to be "prepared" for life, however. This, along with your last post, reminds me of the following, from the documentary "The Fog of War." Robert McNamara is talking about how he was talked into accepting the role of Secretary of Defense:

    "It was snowing. The Secret Service took me in to the house by the back way. I can still see it. There's a love seat, two armchairs with a lamp table in between. Jack Kennedy is sitting in one armchair and Bobby Kennedy's sitting in the other.

    'Mr. President, it's absurd, I'm not qualified.' (said McNamara)

    'Look, Bob,' he said, 'I don't think there's any school for Presidents either.'"

    *bumble bumble bumble*

  4. Yeah, THC -- it WILL happen that we are unprepared, time and again. I think you are dead-on with marriage. There are so many things that we can prepare for that we don't: marriage, parenthood and, quite possibly, fame, to name a few.