Saturday, January 25, 2014

You don't have to bloom where you're planted

Yesterday, someone was talking to me about boys on small town North Dakota basketball teams. Many communities are full of fans of the local sports. The boys have a lot of exceptions made for them. Teachers look the other way when they skip school or don't do homework. Local police wink at drinking under age. There's no shortage of girls interested in them. Then, he said something that pulled me up short,
"For most of those guys, that's going to be as good as it ever gets."
What a sad, but often true, statement. Many of these boys turn into young men with low academics, no work experience or job skills. The girls who got pregnant by these boys are in the same situation often, with being a single mother added on top of it.

I see the same kids 10 or 20 years later, waiting on tables, working odd jobs on construction sites, driving home in a 15-year-old rusty car to a poorly-heated apartment and drinking too much.

How sad is it that the peak of their lives was in high school and it was down hill for the next 70 years. It doesn't have to be this way.
If you find yourself in a bad situation, a common piece of advice is to,

"Bloom where you're planted."

That is, if you have a better attitude, you can be happy even if you are living in poverty surrounded by assholes. Maybe that's true, but I have a better suggestion ...

"If you aren't happy where you are with what you've got, figure out what you want, where it is and go get it."
When I was 15 years old, living in a small town and very unhappy, I moved to a big city, got a job and an apartment. It was HARD and at the beginning it totally sucked. I was going to high school, working for minimum wage at night and frequently broke. A year later, I was in college, which was better than high school, but still difficult. I was still working nights, still usually broke and also competing in judo around the country. Not much social life and very little money. People around me were wearing designer clothes while a few of mine were from Target and the rest from Goodwill.

At 19 years old, I finished my bachelors degree, moved to Minneapolis to get an MBA and train at judo. I still didn't have much money or social life and it was unbelievably cold in the winter. By 21, I had graduated again, got a good job and within a few years, I bought my first house and won a couple of medals in Europe.

At 23, I moved briefly to Colorado Springs to train in judo, then to San Diego where I worked as an engineer, bought my first car, won a world judo championships and had my first baby.

At 27, after having been divorced, remarried and pregnant with my second child, I moved to Riverside, where I bought another house, earned a Ph.D. and had two more children.

At 31, I moved to North Dakota, where I was a professor and statistical consultant for seven years.

At 38, I moved back to California, even though I was widowed with three children, owned two houses in North Dakota, had a full-time job and was up for a promotion to full professor in the fall. I went into consulting full time and have been doing it ever since.

I'm no longer poor, I have four wonderful children, I live somewhere that it hasn't snowed since the last ice age,  I love my work.

My point is that at each one of those moves, well-meaning people tried to convince me that I should bloom where I was planted. Maybe I could go to a small college in Illinois instead of Washington University in St. Louis. If I just tried a little harder to fit in, I could be happy living in a small town. I just needed to work on my attitude. I had a good job and was started on a career path, and should just accept that I wouldn't be winning a world championships or figure out how to do it with the coach I had even if he was crazier than two loons under a full moon. North Dakota has it's good points. Maybe I should learn to cross-country ski. Regardless, moving when I was so settled and had three children was just out of the question  - wasn't it?

There are a few key points to becoming more than what is expected of you:
  1. Don't be defined by other people's expectations of you. I used to tell myself all of the time, If you do what people have always done, you'll get what people have always gotten, and is that enough for you?
  2. Don't confuse wishes with plans.
  3. Recognize that success takes hard work, that there will be times when it's hard and painful. As trite as it is, it is true that tough times don't last - IF YOU DON'T GIVE UP - but tough people do.
  4. Never, never, never, never give up.
So, I guess now we know what my next four post will be about, don't we?


Unknown said...

"You don't have to bloom where you're planted."

I have never heard that phrase before but it makes sense. We're the ones who limit ourselves sometimes. I just want to say that you and your daughter are really special and I love how driven you both are.

By the way, I emailed you for my Ronda Rousey poster from the free rice competition, but I think it may have went to your spam folder because I typed the word "free" in the subject line.

Anonymous said...

Another timely blog of your. Thanks for sharing your experience and advice. I really needed to hear that.

Dr. AnnMaria said...

Hi, Daniel -

I was out of town and the first 3 weeks of prizes for the UFC 170 contest just got mailed out on Monday.

Let me know if you don't get it in a couple of weeks.