Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Dumb Enough to Believe It's Important

"...one of those things that you need to be smart enough to do it well but dumb enough to believe it's important."

While the original quote referred to coaching and politics, it can be applied to nearly everything that I do. Whether it's teaching graduate students about Analysis of Variance or writing a SAS macro to create programs more efficiently or teaching junior high school students how to do an armbar, it takes two things to accomplish it well. The first is technical knowledge and the second is commitment.

Dennis Conner, the skipper who won the America Cup, wrote that commitment made everything easier. Once you make a commitment to be a great programmer, to establish a training center or to become a recognized expert in your field, the rest of the way is easy. The sacrifices don't really seem like sacrifices because they are steps on a path you have chosen.

This is what keeps many people tied to a competitive athletic career long after their physical prime. They have made a commitment that drove every decision for years and to retire from competition, they would need to find something new.

Renewing your commitment is not as easy as it sounds. I am going through just such a choice right now. In a few months, I'll retire from the consulting business after 22 years. It is time for a change, and probably far past time. Much of those twenty-two years I have held two or even three jobs. I've won awards for excellence in statistical programming, teaching graduate students and coaching judo.

Now what? I enjoy programming. I find it very peaceful. Probably sounds crazy, but it's true. With all the chaos life can bring, there is something very calming about sitting down in a quiet office, working out a difficult problem step by step and having it all come out exactly to meet what the customer wanted. Peace,quiet, interesting work and money. How can you possibly beat that?

Then there is teaching. As I warn all my classes - I love this stuff. Research is fascinating to do alone and in collaboration. Graduate students always are full of interesting questions. The reason they are in graduate schools is because they have a passion for a particular field, but much of the methods and theories are new to them. Teaching gives me a chance to question the findings I have taken for granted and, in answering student questions, to draw connections between different areas of research. I am very lucky in having worked as a consultant in business, psychology and education, and having done research that crossed disciplines. Teaching lets me put it all together and try to help the people who will be our leaders in the future make better decisions.

Consulting offers variety all of the time. I can jump from one project to another and use skills in areas from writing to programming to research design. One day I can be looking at Internet usage on Indian reservations and the next at standardized test scores of students in California. After over twenty years, I am pretty good at it. And people pay me so I can buy stuff like iPhones and tickets to the Bahamas.

Judo is just about the most fun you can have without getting naked. And, at my age, no one wants to see you naked. Coaching is a way for me to repay all of the people who helped me and to give other people a chance at some of the greatest experiences in life. There is nothing in the world to match standing on a podium and hearing the Star-Spangled Banner play and watch the American flag go up. Is it important on the scale of curing cancer or finding world peace? Not really, but I go by the starfish theory. You know, the little boy who when told it made no difference to throw starfishes back into the ocean because there were thousands that were dying on the beach. He answered, as he tossed the next one out to sea,

"It made a difference to that one."

I know that judo makes a difference in lives. People learn about strength, discipline, courage, fear, success, friendship and failure. All of the lessons they learn in judo will help them throughout life. Unfortunately, there isn't a country in the world, where even the national coach makes close to the income of a pretty good programmer.

I've thought about retiring and just teaching judo, or learning to knit. Okay well, maybe not knit. Still, going to the county fair like I did last week makes me aware all over again of the huge number of things in the world I would like to learn to do or learn to do better. Everything from cooking to interior design to art - there is a whole world of activities that I haven't even scratched the surface. That is one reason to look forward to old age and retirement. Or, I could retire next year, read all of those books I want to read, walk to the beach - oh, who am I kidding? My longest non-working vacation in the last twenty years has been 72 hours.

Actually, in writing this blog, I have figured out the answer. And no, I am not going to tell you.
----------------------REQUIRED JUDO TIP ------------------------
Learn some armbars. Learn some armbars that work. I see people do the same move over and over like they all want to be little Jimmy Pedro, Jr. clones. Now, that move Jimmy did where you hook the arm, switch arms, turn toward the hips, pull the person's leg over you , lean back, tickle their feet, put your left thumb behind your right ear and kiss them on the tip of the nose (okay, well maybe I added a few steps) - that move worked for him but wouldn't you think most people would have seen it by now? Even if it works perfectly for you, don't you think you ought to have a second move? There are two reasons. First, maybe the person won't be considerate enough to be on her hands and knees. Maybe she will be on her back or her stomach or you will be on your back. I have armbarred so many people in the last week with yoko shiho to ude garame, kesa gatame to ude garame, tomoe nage to juji gatame and every other possible combination. That is the second reason to do more armbars. If you have a better offense you will have a better defense because you will see that armbar coming.

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