Living ‘The Dance’

Garth Brooks just signed a five-year contract to perform on weekends at the Wynn Encore in Las Vegas. Having retired in 2000 to spend more time with his three daughters, the top-selling solo artist of all-time is ready to return to the stage. “He’s been happy being at home attending every soccer game and knowing what his kids like to eat for breakfast,” said Trisha Yearwood, whom he married four years ago. Of course, it helps that Steve Wynn tossed in millions and an 11-seat jet to convince him to perform live again.

While that set-up is likely only available to the rich and wildly famous, the rest of us have a blank whiteboard of opportunities we could pursue with our lives…yet stand in our own way of making them come true, out of fear for what we have to leave behind.

Recently, my wife and I were playing TableTopics, a game of “What If…?” with two couples who are close friends. Among the questions that came up were: “If you got a tattoo, what would it look like and where on your body would it be?” and “If you could belong to any culture, which one would you choose?” Those types of thought-provoking introspections always make for interesting conversations.

Another question we opined on was: “If money were no object, what would you do?” My buddy answered, “I’d get rid of the big house, fancy cars and pressure, and go live quietly somewhere on a beach in Mexico.” His wife said, “I’m right there with him.” When I asked what’s holding them back, he said, “The kids, my parents, responsibilities…the usual ties that bind.” Going into coaching mode, I said, “Why let that stop you?” He turned his head askew and said, “I’m not sure.”

I hope he thinks about that, because they are crystal clear on what would be a wonderful life for them – just unable to take the leap of faith required to make their dream come true. There is no guarantee it would work out, but they won’t find out if they never t try.

And now I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end / The way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance
I could have missed the pain / But I’d have had to miss the dance
~ Garth Brooks, 1990

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This Gun’s for Hire

You may not recall what you were doing exactly 25 years ago tonight…but I remember where I was. At the time, I produced shows for a cable sports channel. That was shortly after MTV debuted, so my co-producer and I decided to take advantage of our access to technology and record music videos for about a month, then throw a party at my apartment complex for our friends to watch them.

A week before the big event, with the help of our director and engineer, we entered the studio after hours and recorded segments to introduce the videos. As amateur versions of J.J. Jackson and Mark Goodman, we named our program “Me and Lee TV.” Once the party rolled around, we were quite surprised – first by the number of people crammed into such a small place, and second that whenever the videos played folks would be loudly socializing…yet as soon as the two of us appeared on the gigantic 24″ screen everyone would run over and listen in silence to our improvisational comedy routine.

The reason I know the date – September 23, 1984 – is because the apogee of our production was the ‘world premiere’ of Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark – and it happened to be in celebration of his 35th birthday. The Boss turned 60 today, which means most of the people at that party soon are hitting 50. While I’m amazed at how fast the years flew, today my thoughts are about lifelong friends who are always just a phone call, e-mail or reunion away, specifically Lee, Chris, Mark and Paul…

Once we made a promise we swore we’d always remember
No retreat, baby, no surrender
Blood brothers in a stormy night
With a vow to defend
No retreat, baby, no surrender

© Bruce Springsteen 1984

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Step Right Up

I played youth baseball for five seasons…and our record always seemed to be 8-8. My team lost the league finals in eighth grade basketball. Through all my years of competitive sports as a kid the only trophies I ever won were in Putt-Putt tournaments, where I had an adept skill of hitting the ball exactly where needed on the orange metal sideboards.

One of my awakenings as a parent was learning this is an ‘Every child gets a trophy’ and “Everybody’s a winner’ world. There is a box in our attic of more than 40 trophies ‘earned’ by our kids. The fact is not one is for winning a championship. Instead, they are for participation – acknowledgment that attending practices and showing up for games is somehow worthy of recognition.

There is a new law on the books here in Texas that a school district “may not require a classroom teacher to assign a minimum grade for an assignment.” Why was it necessary for our leaders to enact this legislation? Seems many districts had policies that set 50 as the lowest grade a student could receive, even if they failed to turn in an assignment or made 30 on an exam. Perhaps those in charge of education are recognizing that the by-product of No Child Left Behind Without A Trophy could be a generation without accountability. One that assumes everything always works out in the end, because they always reward me for just showing up.

I coached my son’s basketball team for six seasons, and the last two we lost the championship game. Some kids cried afterwards, saddened by coming up short for the second straight year. I didn’t know what to say. If I had it to do all over, here’s what I would tell them: “I’m proud of you for growing as a team each week. You listened, practiced hard and are a lot better than you were three months ago. You aren’t always going to win. That’s not how life is. Learn from this, and make changes that make you better.” That lesson would serve them better than some trophy that eventually ends up stored in the attic.

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