My father was an avid Yankee fan. He was also an insurance salesman. As an only child, and a girl, I watched him from afar because he shared none of his sports interests with me. Nor did he ever discuss his job. He went to eighth grade. I went to college. He and I were from different worlds.
What I did observe, however, was that he could be pretty moody. There were times when he would exult over a big personal accomplishment only to plummet to the depths of despair over a period of failed effort. Yet, there he would sit, night after night, glued to the TV of the fifties and sixties, as the Yankees would serve to either thrill or infuriate him further, often sending him off to bed early, gripped by disappointment.
Needless to say, I lived a pretty lonely life as the daughter of a manic depressive, forty years older than I, and unwilling to relate to me and my generation. I had my own interests, however, which included academic, musical and artistic achievements. Little did I know then, though, that so much of my father would eventually influence me, as I aspired toward the culmination of my professional life. In effect, I became my father.
Yes, I too am a Yankee fan. It crept up on me and took me by surprise. In the middle of my life, having replaced my interest in the FM rock radio of my youth with an interest in following the stock market gyrations on AM News Radio, I was intrigued by the periodic sports reports, which opened my eyes to a universe completely outside my realm of awareness. Add to that the prevalence of the Internet and Yahoo Sports which lured me into reading about the games, watching the scores, the stats, the individual players, the wins, the losses. Then I began to take an interest in other teams as they related to the Yankees’ performance, becoming aware of their scores and stats, wins and losses. The more I read, the more I remembered. It became a story of the big leagues, and gradually extended to other sports, like tennis and golf, basketball and football. It didn’t seem to matter as long as there were winners to celebrate. And emulate.
Day after day, I’d go to my job and navigate the rollercoaster emotions of my profession, accomplishment and failure alike, just as my father had. Concurrently, I would suffer through the indignities, the humiliations, the shame of my team’s losses as if they reflected on me personally.
While my childhood and education had concentrated in the arts and academics, my career ironically had become one that specialized in the art of selling, the very essence of business, something which I must have learned through sheer paternal proximity. Yet what I did for a living was something my father could not understand. Marketing was just not on his radar, as a survivor of the Great Depression, having come from a large Italian family where masonry was his father’s trade.
Still, like my father, I would spend days mourning a stretch of bad baseball games. From the moment I would awaken, it would have me in its clutches like an abominable drug addiction, unable to escape its sickening grasp. While the wins were a relief, they only reminded me that the next episode of painful withdrawal was just around the next corner. Not only did I dread the next game, I ended up dreading the whole season. The possibility of defeat was a real threat day in and day out. I tried not keeping track. But it was too much to give up. I lived for the Sports section in the paper, reading it last so I could savor every detail, the way I remembered my unapproachable father behind his Sports section for what seemed like an eternity, every day of his life. I was a victim of the jingle that preceded the Sports report on the radio. Like Pavlov’s dog, my ears would perk up in hopeful anticipation of some update which could rock my world and lift my spirits. Unfortunately, I was equally vulnerable to swooning into the pits of gloom, rivaling the soul-wrenching repercussions of news about a bad day on the stock market. Fortunately, I found that reading or hearing about a defeat was half the battle to getting to the other side and moving on, as painful as the knowledge could be. Major stock market loss? If you can just weather the storm and wait for the next sunny day, it’s possible to come out ahead. Lesson learned.
This differentiates me from my father. I am motivated by positive thinking, something else I stumbled upon through the course of my life, rocky as it has been. While my newfound interest in sports and my reluctant admission to being a loyal fan of certain teams or players may seem like a casual pastime or diversion, a relief from the challenges of the business world I am also addicted to, it is in fact the inspiration which defines my very devoted work ethic.
Through my exposure to the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” I’ve realized how important it is to be able to put the losses behind you and start all over again with renewed enthusiasm for the very next effort. Watching baseball stars struggle through inexplicable slumps, or pitchers who throw one bad pitch to lose the deciding game of the World Series, has taught me how the enormous pain of a seemingly insurmountable defeat must be confronted and accepted in order to move on to the next challenge. It has also shown me that being a fan of one team unites, rather than separates, me from fans of other teams, many of whom I do business with. How? We share a common link to the experience of glory one day, and anguish the next, rising and falling with our personal heroes’ latest claim to fame, bursting with pride one moment, utterly lovesick the next.
If they on an international stage can do it, certainly I, in my own small world of business, should be able to do it. And, even more importantly, when the economy robs your financial security and leaves you standing like a deer in the headlights, or when a personal relationship goes bad, this is the secret to human survival. Picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, and starting all over again, with hope as your motivation.
While that may seem too trivial a comparison to what is needed in the wake of what could be interpreted as a life-threatening financial meltdown, it is the principle, the faith, that is important. Some people may take this truth from their religion. I, on the other hand, take it from some of the best role models I see in sports. Perhaps I am putting too much importance on the performance of certain human beings, who have the potential to also let me down. And they do from time to time. But it is my faith in the human spirit, the belief that a positive attitude can bring about the success you seek, whether it is in everyday business, in your bank account or on the sports field. I only wish I had known this truth back then so I could have communicated it to my father while he was still alive, so many years ago. I think he could have been a much happier man.