Many, many times.
I’ve struck out with bases loaded. I’ve missed clutch free throws. I’ve been laid off. I’ve failed as a friend, father, husband, son, soldier, employee…etc. In fact, my life is littered with failure.
The good news – I’m used to it.
The better news – I actually get a hit from time to time. And every now and then – it’s a clutch hit.
Our lives are a constant struggle. The key is to keep stepping up to the plate and taking another hack at it. It’s not often we have a group of teammates standing at the plate waiting to tackle us – but it does happen. Maybe you knocked in the winning run in a softball tournament and your friends dowse you with Bud Light. Maybe you won the office Fantasy Football League after starting the season 0-4. Or maybe you finally landed a job after months of failed interviews – you look down at your sleeping children with tear-soaked eyes and a sense of relief runs so deeply within you it tugs at the soul.
That’s why I love re-watching the clips of David Freese in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series. His heroics that cold, October night forever changed my outlook on life by reminding me that when my hours were the darkest – the dawn eventually arrived. Those clutch hits also made me realize that no matter how deeply I’m convinced that I’m losing in life – that none of those “big dreams” I had as a child will get realized – this game’s not over until that final out.
Life is more like baseball than any other sport (sorry Bagger Vance). In baseball, you don’t run out of time as you would in football, soccer, and basketball. No matter what the score, no matter how much the odds are stacked against you – you don’t lose a baseball game until that final out.
But you must step up to the plate to have a chance.
You can’t just mull it over from the Sno-Cone stand or theorize about it from the dugout. You have to physically make it happen. And even if you do give up and run away crying from the pressure – they’ll make someone else bat for you. So you might as well take a deep breath and get your ass up there.
Sure, you’ll probably make the final out. The odds scream that you will. You might hit a weak dribbler to the pitcher. You might scorch a liner right into the third baseman’s mitt. You might even crush one deep to right, to the warning track…only to be caught. Even worse – you might strike out.
Then again – you just might find the gap or put it over the fence – and make history.
In Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, the St. Louis Cardinals were down to their final strike – twice – and still won. This was the first time in World Series history that a team was down to its final strike twice and came back to win. In fact, only three times has a team been down to one strike and came back to win a World Series game – two of those belong to the Cardinals – in this game!
Did this game really happen? This is not the Super Bowl – this history goes back to 1903 – when people still went to games on a horse. In fact, the odds of the Cardinals even making the postseason stood at 1.3% in late August (source:Wikipedia). Baseball is filled to the brim with statistics and odds – and most of them indicate failure much more than success. That’s what makes the game so much like real life.
Think about it for a moment – David Freese was on a team that was:
10 games out with 31 to play
8 games out with 21 to play
3 games out with 5 to play
For almost two months – this team faced elimination.
The Cardinals reaching the playoffs after being so far out of it, so late in the season – along with David Freese’s triple and home run (as well as Lance Berkman’s clutch hit) remind us that it’s never too late to come through – to deliver something special.
As long as you have one more pitch coming, you have a chance to make a positive difference in your life – and in the lives of those around you. Until you let out that final breath, there’s still an opportunity to give the rest of us trudging through our days a glimmer of hope and sense of wonder.
But you must step up to the plate. You must move. Even Jesus demanded people perform some action (picking up mat, filling concrete jars…) before they received their miracle. Baseball and life demand the same thing.
Stepping up to the plate is built into your DNA – you have to forcibly shut it off.
…And do not get discouraged when you strike out.
Because you will.
You see, Game 6 of the 2011 World Series also reminds us that most of the time we don’t deliver that crucial hit or track down the fly ball to end the game (Nelson Cruz). Even worse, we sometimes commit that horrendous error that actually causes a loss (see Bill Buckner 1986 World Series).
In baseball, failure is the norm. Even the very best hitters in the history of the sport fail about 70 percent of the time. Hundreds of baseball heroes have come up to the plate in that important, tension-filled moment – and struck out.
David Freese hit .297 in the 2011 regular season (decent, but not historic). Like all of us, his failures outnumbered his successes. In fact, his game tying triple in the 9th inning should have been caught. But it wasn’t.
Because David Freese stepped up to the plate, because he swung the bat and put the ball in play – he delivered one of the most magical moments in the history of sports. And to top it off – he repeated the magic two innings later.
These treasured events brilliantly demonstrate that no matter how low late it is in the game, no matter how many runs you’re behind – you must step up to the plate and swing at a decent opportunity or two.
If you’re over 40 (or any age for that matter) and can’t find a job or seem stuck in your current role – you probably feel like the game is lost. For you, it seems like it’s always the bottom of the ninth and you’re perpetually batting with two outs, two strikes, and nobody on-base.
I could tell you that you should learn meditation, play an instrument, and eat low-carb. All good things. However, the best practical advice I can give you is something I applied to my own life: learn to write code, any code. (I use the words coding and programming very loosely here. Essentially, I mean any ability to manipulate software – whether it’s actually writing lines of code, scripting a batch file, creating tables in a database, modifying an application, changing the theme of a website…etc.)
Programming courses are all over the Internet. And most are free. It only takes a few weeks to learn the basics. As a matter of fact – many people with a graduate Computer Science degree take these courses to keep current. Perhaps you can jump into something that’s still emerging and doesn’t have enough warm-bodies to fill the void (Ruby on Rails, Scala, HTML5…etc). Search Monster for the languages that are in demand or fits the sort of industry you prefer – and go learn it.
What’s the best way to learn to code? Finish a few small-scale coding projects. Download the code of an existing open source project and tweak it. Complete dozens of tutorials. Read the forums. There are so many free tools available for you it’s almost impossible to comprehend why they exist in the first place. It’s as if the universe is begging and pleading you to learn how to code. So do it. Then start applying for positions. Even if you think you’re not ready (because you’re not, and that’s okay).
And expect to strike out. Often. But pay attention to the questions – identify the skills they really need and then prepare for the next at-bat.
You don’t need to be a super-hacker to land a junior-level job. And guess what? – many of these jobs are remote, so you won’t have to uproot the family.
Yes, for most of you taking a junior-level programming job means a pay cut – at least for awhile. So what. It’s better than no paycheck at all. And it won’t take long before you really know what you’re doing and your income is back on track. High incomes are overrated anyway – but that’s another post.
By merging your budding coding skills with your prior work experience (finance, marketing, project management…) – you’ll be in a better position than you realize. Employers are desperate for programmers that actually know their company’s industry.
If you’re already employed and looking to create a new position – or make a significant contribution to your field – programming will enable you to develop a new application that will streamline a process or a create website that becomes a “think-tank” for your peers. However, I’m compelled to remind you – most of your projects will fall flat. Nobody will care it or it just won’t work. So what. Keep at it. With every at-bat you’re leveling-up your skills.
What’s that? You don’t like “desk” jobs? You love being on the floor with the fellas or out in the field? The recent emergence of technologies such as home automation and 3D printing opens all sorts of programming opportunities. Someone needs to install, configure, and maintain these things – why not you? The programming for these devices range from clicking a few buttons to writing custom code that interfaces with other web services.
Are you an environmentalist? Learn the software that monitors wind turbines.
A wanna-be scientist without a degree? Learn to program robots or help a more established scientist connect his project to a web portal.
An Infantry soldier? Create a website for your unit (even if it is FOUO) or write a mobile app that tracks non-sensitive inventory and basic personnel metrics. You’ll improve your unit and you’ll have a marketable skill when you decide to get out.
Perhaps this sounds too good to be true. Perhaps this seems too daunting to be achieved.
It’s not. But I understand how you feel.
To you, it seems like you’re 10 games back with 11 to play. I’ve been there, brother. More than a few times. But I kept waking up – kept learning – kept looking for skills to develop that improved my current job or future employment chances. Since the beginning of the War on Terror, I suspect that being a part-time soldier has cost me jobs and promotions (legally this isn’t allowed – but my reserve component brothers know what I’m talking about). Of course, it’s possible that this had nothing to with the stalls in my career.
Perhaps I’m just a horrible self-promoter – or I just choke in interviews. Perhaps my “Emotional Intelligence” is low. Perhaps I wasn’t as skilled as I thought I was. Either way – it doesn’t really matter does it? It just means I have to interview more often and develop some more skills than the next guy.
Truth is – I know I’m not exceptional at much of anything. I might be functionally adequate at many things, but I’m not an expert at any one thing. I can spend hours watching very cool Civil War animated maps (check this out), reading classical philosophy, playing Lego Star Wars with my son, staring blankly at Algebra homework with my stepdaughter, watching Big Bang Theory reruns with my wife, studying Army field manuals, or writing horrible science fiction. I love it all.
And that’s alongside a full-time job (happy to have one at the moment), strengthening my own coding skills, mountain biking, running, making music, drill weekends, Call of Duty, kid’s soccer games, birthday parties, dates with wife, time with extended family, preparing Op Orders for the next battle assembly, writing a blog few will read…etc.
I’ve accepted I’m probably not an entrepreneur. I’m not the next Mark Zuckerberg. I’m just me. And world needs men like me – just like it needs men like you.
The world needs men over 40 with a wide range of experience and a desire to learn how to apply it to this rapidly changing world. You can’t teach experience. You have to live it. We’ve been around the block. We’ve been beaten up a few times. We watched great musicians come and go. We’ve witnessed Hall of Famers break into the Big Leagues and eventually retire. We’ve seen companies rise and fall and beauty blossom and fade. We’ve had our hearts ripped out and hopes laid waste. We’ve been through the dot.com boom and bust. Same with real-estate. Our retirement funds grew then dissolved into nothing overnight. We remember the scent of those worksheets from the ditto machine. We were the first gamers. We jumped ramps with BMX bikes without helmets. Our skateboards were insanely thin and almost impossible to steer. As boys, we spent our entire summers roaming the town unsupervised and without being kidnapped or arrested. Our generation has been through the Cold War, Gulf War, and the War on Terror. We kick ass. That’s what we do. America is realizing once again that having a few scars, some gray hair, and lines on your face is an attribute.
Yes, I was young once (my kids simply refuse to believe that those pics of that kid with the mullet and acid-washed jeans is me). But, I wasn’t any sort of prodigy. I took 10-plus years to get through college (I think I went to 4 different schools and changed majors 7 or 8 times – maybe more). I went to OCS in my mid-30′s even though I was surrounded by men in their early 20′s. I’m just like most of you – a husband and father trying to remain employed and employable. I’ve been playing the employment game for over 20 years now (not counting bussing tables and flipping a burger or two in high school).
After my first real career stall (translation – laid off) – I thought that getting an MBA was the answer to job security. It wasn’t. It’s not a horrible thing to have (I do wish I had that money back) – but an actual “pull-up-your-sleeves-to-get-the-job-done” skill will make you far more employable than a graduate degree. I’ve been in Information Technology for most of my civilian career, but I was always a project manager or an implementation lead. I was the liaison between the business suits and the tech monkeys. In other words – the sort of position that didn’t want to face the “Bobs” from Office Space.
Unfortunately, I didn’t take the time to look under the hood of the technology that surrounded me. That was a failed at-bat. Well, after another “stall” I finally dove in and actually learned how to customize some popular applications and went through numerous online tutorials. By combining my past experience with some marketable skills – I actually had several offers on the table for the fist time since the dot.com era.
A clutch single!
For me – that moment was probably more comparable to Lance Berkman’s (a fellow old-timer) hit in the 10th inning – it’s not quite the game winning homer, but necessary to keep the game going so I can have more at-bats. That’s no small thing.
And one day – I will have my David Freese moment.
Or, since I’m a bit older…
…my Roy Hobbs moment!
I know the trend rah-rah speech is that you must “find your passion” – and make that your career. Well, for most of us that just isn’t practical. Maybe it’ll be an option as we approach the Singularity – but for now, just doing something that is mentally challenging, a little fun, and offers enough pay so you can rent a clean home in a halfway decent neighborhood will have to suffice.
And guess what – it turns out coding isn’t half-bad. You’ll feel that small sense of security that comes with having an employable skill (which is all we can hope for in a post-2008-401k-crushing-economy). Even better – your new skill as a programmer might match up perfectly with one of your main interests or hobbies – and you will indeed – find your passion. But you won’t know unless you grab the bat and step up to the plate.
Yes, I realize that many of you are annoyed by all these kids out there hacking and coming up with world-changing, billion dollar companies. My advice – don’t dwell on that. Age just doesn’t matter. Companies need people to get the job done. It’s that simple. Focus on that. If some bright kid in the cubicle next to you seems a bit too cocky – gently remind him that the most frequent age bracket for Physics Nobel Laureates is 45-49. (source)
You might be wondering if there are other skills the world needs besides programming. Of course there is. If you see one you like, go learn it and step up to the plate. I suggest coding because it seems like the most cost/time efficient bat in the rack. Whatever bat you decide on – just grab it and take some swings.
I promise, with enough at-bats, you’ll eventually make contact and send that ball flying over the fence and into that cold, October night. Maybe not in the World Series, but in the ongoing battle we call daily life.
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