Tag Archives: work ethic

The Choice Is Yours (Or, If the Horse Is Dead, Dismount; But If It’s Still Alive, You Might as Well Learn How to Ride It)

e20816c1dce70514b76bc07c6327d641--jimmy-v-quotes-inspirational-cancer-quotesPeyton Manning hosted the 25th annual ESPY Awards about twenty-five miles from my television set a couple of nights ago in downtown Los Angeles. The ESPY phenomenon was conceived as the MTV Awards for sports, but the original show in 1993 instantly became so much more when Jim Valvano — Jimmy V — delivered his heroic speech less than two months before he died from bone cancer.  He was 47 years old.  Guess which birthday I’m looking at?

I remember that inspirational speech quite well because I had just completed my first season as a high school basketball coach and was scheduled to attend a Nike coaching clinic in Chicago later that summer where Jimmy V was a featured speaker — legendary Villanova coach, Rollie Massimino, had to fill in following his good friend’s untimely death.

The entire clinic was a heady experience for a baby basketball coach from small-town Arkansas like me what with Rollie eulogizing Jimmy V, foul-mouthed John Chaney stringing together profanities like an auctioneer, classy Lute Olson sharing Arizona’s secrets, a potentially inebriated P.J. Carlesimo basically phoning it in, and upstart Cincinnati head coach Bob Huggins sharing a story that has helped shape the trajectory of my adult life.

Huggins was just a year removed from a shocking run to the Final Four in Minneapolis where his Bearcats lost by four points to the uber-talented Fab Five from Michigan. Following the loss, a dejected Coach Huggins walked the cavernous halls of the Metrodome and bumped into his father, who himself had been a successful high school basketball coach.  Huggins told us that he expected his dad to give him a hug or something but instead heard him say, “If you would have rebounded better you would have won.”

Thanks, dad.  Huggins reported that he was furious.  Until he thought about it and determined that if they would have rebounded better they would have won.  So that’s what he set out to work on instead.

I needed to hear that at the time and have needed to hear it again on many occasions ever since.  Feeling sorry for yourself is easy work that feels surprisingly good and well-deserved, but that and a dollar can rent you a movie on iTunes.  It is far more productive to figure out what you can control and get to work on that instead.

Work Ethic

Remember Haydn’s 104 symphonies.  Not all of them
were great.  But there were 104 of them.
– Raymond Carver¹

Americans have a reputation for being workaholics.  This makes me feel patriotic.  It is Labor Day, presumably a day off from work in honor of work, yet I am eager to get some work completed today free from meetings and the steady onslaught of email.  I may have a problem.

The term “work ethic” implies that there is some moral element to work, a right and a wrong if you will, and I’m not exactly sure who has cornered the market on figuring that out.  I’m pretty sure that it isn’t me.

A couple years back Pepperdine Law hosted a lunchtime presentation featuring Lieutenant General Flora D. Darpino, the thirty-ninth Judge Advocate General (“JAG”) of the United States Army, and the first female to hold that prestigious post.  From her impressive presentation, what stuck with me most was her dislike for the phrase “work-life balance”—an implication that (a) work and life are mutually exclusive; and (b) navigating the two involves walking a precarious tightrope.  Lt. Gen. Darpino argued that we just have “life” and that work is simply one of its many components.  I liked that a lot.

I like work.  So much that I do too much of it sometimes.  The idea of retirement, with no disrespect for those who enjoy it nor to those who long for it, never has appealed to me.  I want to keep contributing to this old world as long as possible.  To be productive.  To create.

I’ll write about the need to rest on some other day, but today, in honor of Labor Day, I celebrate work.  May those of us blessed to have it do it well.


¹ Excerpted from His Bathrobe Pockets Stuffed with Notes by Raymond Carver, in A New Path to the Waterfall (1989).