Tag Archives: ambition

Where Have You Gone, Ernest Hemingway? Of Baseball, Tanking, Winning, Trying, And Life…

This essay is only incidentally about baseball, but like so many things that sieve through my brain, it was sparked by a conversation about baseball. On the satellite radio MLB channel, one of the interchangeable hosts—I really have trouble telling them apart: some are ex-general managers who nobody will hire, some are ex-players, and a few are sportswriters, but they all seem to say the same things, though one says them with a bilateral lisp—was interviewing a New York sportswriter. That alone would normally prompt me to switch to the Beatles Channel (or the weather), but as I reached for the dial I caught one of the writer’s comments. He was talking about the fact that the New York Yankees’ opponent at the time, the Tampa Bay Rays, were almost a .500 team, and were competing despite a tiny payroll, unlike many other teams this year, which have adopted the controversial strategy of fielding cheap and crummy teams (called “tanking’) in the hopes of getting high draft choices as a reward for  miserable won-lost records.

“I guess you have to admire the Rays,” he said, “though in this day and age, it makes no sense to try to be a .500 team.”

What a nauseating, unethical position, and how characteristic of the downward trend in American values and spirituality!  It makes no sense to try be a .500 team? This sentiment warps so much in American life today. It translates into the envy, resentment and anger that typical, normal, healthy Americans lug around on their souls all day because they aren’t rich like the people they see on TV, or the neighbor down the street who had wealthy parents and left him a bundle.

It makes sense for the Rays to try to be a .500 team because it means the team is doing the best it can, despite limitations beyond its control, to give its fans something to cheer and care about. It makes sense to try to be a .500 team for the same reason it makes sense to aspire to be the kind of steady, honest, hard-working middle class American who raises happy and well-adjusted children in a stable home but will never win any major awards or be the subject of features in their local newspapers. It makes sense to try to be a .500 team for the same reason it is right to work hard and well no matter what your salary, or whether you are being paid at all.

Ambition is a great motivator, as long as one understands that achieving one’s goals is often as dependent on chance and chaos as it is on industry and talent, and if you prepare yourself to be bitter about that, bitter is how you are likely to wind up.

I learned to love baseball passionately following a .500 baseball team–indeed a sub-.500 baseball team— that seemed like it would never be anything but. This was in an era where the New York Yankees literally won the pennant every year, with a rare exception now and then. The system was rigged to favor them, and had been for decades. The Boston Red Sox began every season knowing that getting to the World Series was a pipe dream, and their fans knew it too. Nevertheless, they tried. As an almost good team, they had a chance to win every game—not a great chance, when they were playing the Yankees, but a chance. Often the Sox made a good fight of it while going down: our hopes were raised, and there was that wonderful-horrible moment that is the beating heart of baseball where anything can happen from a miracle to a tragedy as the ball is hurtling toward the plate and fate’s resolution. Life is like that, and the sooner you realize and accept it, the better off you are.

The best hitters make outs 60% of the time, and the best teams still lose at least 35% of their games. The typical players and teams do worse than that, just like the typical American, indeed human being, loses a lot more often than he or she wins. The important thing, the thing that undergirds ethics, and integrity, and responsibility, and honor, is that you do the best you can, and pick yourself up when you fail, and try again. It’s not a bromide. It’s the only way to live without going crazy, becoming a serial killer, or surrendering to despair. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Daily Life, Ethics Heroes, Literature, Religion and Philosophy, U.S. Society

Comment Of The Day: “Megyn Kelly, William Saroyan, Ethics, Me, And Us: A Rueful Essay” (#2)

The second of the Comments of the Day sparked by my musings on Megyn Kelly’s descision to move from a job where she excelled to a completely different assignment at which, at least so far, she is crashing and burning like the Hindenburg. The first, by  Extradimensional Cephalopod, was very different, an abstract analysis of the phenomenon that bedevils Kelly, and many of us. The second, a personal account of the dilemma in action, is no less enlightening, but very different.

The comment also reminded me that I have never posted about the Japanese concept of Ikigai, and I should have. There is no English equivalent for the word: ikigai  combines the Japanese words ikiru, meaning “to live”, and kai, meaning “the realization of what one hopes for.” Together the words encompass the concept of “a reason to live” or the idea of having a purpose in life. Ikigai also invokes a mental and spiritual state where individuals feel that their lives have value—to them, to loved ones, to society.

Ikigai odes not spring from actions we are forced to take, but from natural, voluntary and spontaneous actions. In his article titled  “Ikigai — jibun no kanosei, kaikasaseru katei” (“Ikigai: the process of allowing the self’s possibilities to blossom”) Japanese wrter Kobayashi Tsukasa says that “people can feel real ikigai only when, on the basis of personal maturity, the satisfaction of various desires, love and happiness, encounters with others, and a sense of the value of life, they proceed toward self-realization.”

Sounds simple.

It isn’t.

Here is Alex’s Comment of the Day on the post, Megyn Kelly, William Saroyan, Ethics, Me, And Us: A Rueful Essay:

This topic is close to my heart, so time for some confessions and public reflections.

As I’ve previously mentioned I’m a software engineer, over a decade of experience, and modesty aside, a darned good one at what I do. The main areas of work I’ve been involved in are speech recognition, accessibility and development runtimes (think along the lines of the Java runtime). It was not necessarily world transforming work, but it had an impact and passionate following by our users. Pay was good if slightly low for the experience I had, and as of late I was getting tired of the work and wanted to try something new – also, a reasonable salary increase was not going to hurt.

So I start my job hunt, both internally and externally. At the end it comes down to two very good offers: One working for a social media giant with at a still-to-be-determined role with extremely good pay and no clear route for advancement. The other working closer to hardware (I’m an EE but never worked on it professionally) with lower pay (still an improvement over my previous job) at a clearly defined role with an advancement development plan and with the goal of putting people in space.

Putting it like this it sounds like a home run, but with a family in the line – I’m a single earner with three kids – the financial sides are a big consideration. There were so many things to balance: money, prospects for advancement, happiness, commute time, personal fulfillment, and yes, societal value of my work. It was not an easy decision, there were difficult conversations with my wife and even more than a year later some days I wonder if this was the right call (I went with the space company…Yay!) Continue reading

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Filed under Comment of the Day, Daily Life, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Family, Religion and Philosophy, Workplace

Comment Of The Day: “Megyn Kelly, William Saroyan, Ethics, Me, And Us: A Rueful Essay” (#1)

My post over the weekend, one long in germination, regarding the personal and societal dilemma of balancing one’s duty to oneself, one’s duty to be useful  and the infuriating hard-wired human tendency to always seek something different and better, received a gratifying response and at least two Comments of the Day.

This is the first, by frequent COTD auteur Extradimensional Cephalopod, is a marvelous supplement to my post, and I wish I had written it myself, except I couldn’t have.

Here is EC’s Comment of the Day on the post, Megyn Kelly, William Saroyan, Ethics, Me, And Us: A Rueful Essay:

One of the central principles of Buddhism is “life is suffering”. Clarified, it means that conscious beings inherently have some concept of how they want the world to be that is different from how it actually is. Alternatively, if the world is already how they want it to be, either the chaos in the world will bring it out of alignment with their desires, or they will eventually become dissatisfied as their minds develop further. This is what the bartender in Saroyan’s story is referring to. It’s the existential condition; “condemned to be free”, as Sartre put it.

Having studied desire and motivation from an existential point of view, I’ve codified eight motivations that lead people to form goals. They are based on three dichotomies: experience versus control, greater and lesser quantity, and order versus chaos.

Greed/ambition: the desire for more control or more accomplishment (acquiring more possessions or becoming more important).
Gluttony/celebration: the desire for more of an experience (greater intensities or more constant access).
Wrath/boldness: the desire to break through limits by exerting control (disregarding rules or doing the impossible).
Lust/curiosity: the desire to remove limits on one’s experiences (experiencing the unknown).
Hubris/scrupulousness: the desire to impose limits through one’s control (absolute, perfect control over something).
Envy/dedication: the desire to impose limits on one’s experiences (obsession or tunnel vision).
Sloth/contentment: the desire to have less control (having responsibility or having to pay less attention).
Cowardice/prudence: the desire to have less of an experience (avoiding pain or discomfort). Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Comment of the Day, Daily Life, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Religion and Philosophy

Megyn Kelly, William Saroyan, Ethics, Me, And Us: A Rueful Essay

I have been following Megyn Kelly’s ongoing career crash with interest and reflection. She spurned a more lucrative contract from Fox News to jump to NBC, where she was made the star of a “Today Show” shake-up. Critics have been brutal; ratings have plunged. Reportedly celebrities refuse to be booked for interviews with her–they are all progressives, you see, and fear they will get cooties from Megyn, or something.  Conservatives are mocking her as a turncoat getting her just desserts, and the Left already hated her. She has no constituency now; literally none.

You never know; Megyn might rebound. Nevertheless, she is a cautionary tale with ethics implications. Kelly has an unusual set of skills and talents.  She is actress/model beautiful in face and physique; she is very intelligent; she has a great broadcast voice. She is a lawyer as well as a journalist, articulate, and has guts. There are many paths she could take that would make use of her abilities and achieve fame, wealth, popularity or power.

This is fortunate fortunate, but it also is a trap. Choices involve the risk of error, failure, lost opportunities and disappointment. Those who have a limited number of skills also have a limited number of choices, or none at all. There is some serenity in this. My entire professional life has been spent jumping back and forth, in and out among the many areas that interest and engage me, and in which I have had some measurable talent and success. In the end, and I am far closer to the end than the beginning, mine will be substantially a life of underachievement and waste, in great part because I never made a committed choice, or made the wrong ones.

My heroes have always been those remarkable, versatile people who somehow contrived to make major contributions to culture, society and civilization in multiple fields. Theodore Roosevelt, a historian, naturalist, and political leader. Clarence Darrow, a lawyer, writer, and philosopher. Hedy Lamarr, the sexy actress and pin-up who developed a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes, a bomb-sight,and whose inventions are now incorporated into modern Wi-Fi, CDMA, and Bluetooth technology. Paul Winchell, the popular ventriloquist, kids show host, and voice actor (Tigger!) who also invented medical equipment. Marlene Dietrich, who acted, sang, spied, and defied Hitler.  John Glenn, a fighter pilot, astronaut, and U.S. Senator.  Richard Gil, a tenured Harvard Professor of Economics, and a principal bass with the Metropolitan Opera Company. Michael Crichton, a  novelist, film director and MD, with the gift of philological insights. Ronald Reagan, a movie star and a President of the United States. But their path is perilous. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Journalism & Media, Literature, U.S. Society, Workplace

Toward An Ethical Lottery

Powerball

Powerball, like all government-sponsored lotteries, is unethical in every way except that it is not fixed, at least as far as we know. The excitement over lotteries is also depressing. The whole scenario is like something out of a movie about a dystopian culture in which only a lucky draw can rescue citizens from despair and failure—this, in a society of unique personal freedom and opportunities for success. The worst aspect of lotteries—arguably, since there are so many bad things about them—is that they are cruel cheats. As often as not, indeed more often than not, winning a jackpot just provides conclusive proof of why the individual needed a lottery to achieve even temporary affluence. The poor decision-making skills, inadequate education and self-destructive tendencies of many of these winners lead to disaster and  financial distress incredibly quickly; many have lost all of their winnings within five years or less,.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There are people, many of them, who have the skills, ideas, talents and character to achieve great things for themselves and society if they had a little help, like some spare time and extra cash. Some of these people achieve a great deal without the time or cash, but might do more good for society with some help.

I would like to see a merit, ambition and potential-based “lottery,” which individuals enter with an explanation of their aspirations and some valid support for their ability to achieve them. Have the entrance fee reasonable, say, twenty bucks, and allow nominations to be submitted by others for a lesser amount, say, ten. Wait until the pool reaches an appropriate size, like 20 million dollars, and have a selection committee choose finalists to interview. In the end, a group of  worthy candidates are awarded a million dollars (or more, or less—I’m not designing details here) to see what they do with it. There will be no further strings attached.

Naturally there will be frauds and failures; it will be the job of the selection process to try to sniff out and avoid them, but some duds will slip through. Never mind. This would still be a “lottery” that has a fighting chance of benefiting society rather than a lucky few who spent money on an upscale, state-promoted version of the numbers game they should have been investing in a college fund for their kids or in a degree for themselves.

It would have a chance of making life a little better, rather than worse, which is what the current “games” do.

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Government & Politics, U.S. Society

Unethical Quote of the Day: Jo-Ann Youngblood

“There is nothing wrong with being an average (mediocre) employee. Not everyone aspires to be in management. If the person meets the requirements of their current job, and they like the job and want to stay in the job, so be it. Stop trying to force people to get to the next level. The reality is that work is not the most important thing in everyone’s lives. People have more important things in their life than work. Work is simply a means to get the money we need to pay the mortgage and our other bills. Work is a low-priority event for most people. I’m only willing to do the bare minimum that it takes to get a paycheck every two weeks. As long as I am meeting the requirements of my job, than that is good enough. Don’t expect any more of me because I will not be a slave to any company.”

—-Commenter Jo-Ann Youngblood (of Tulsa, Oklahoma) in response to New York Times small business blogger Jay Golz’s 2011 post, “The Dirty Little Secret of Successful Companies,” in which he concluded that what dragged companies down were what he called “the sixes”—mediocre employees who just weren’t very good at their jobs.

George Costanza, hard at work.

Golz reprinted the comment today in a Times feature selecting highlights from the blog. I like Golz’s answer, which read in part:

“…As the owner of a business, I have the right to avoid hiring someone who only wants to do the bare minimum to get a paycheck. In fact, if I hire too many people with that attitude, I will be out of business. This is Capitalism 101, survival of the fittest. I operate in a very competitive market. I don’t have any patents, any special marketing magic, or any secret recipes. My companies can only exist and grow if they do a much-better-than-average job. Continue reading

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Do Nicer People Earn Less Money? Of Course They Do. And That’s the Way it Should be.

Leo Durocher figured out that "nice guys finish last" 60 years ago, and he never went to college. Now three academics, after extensive research, have "discovered" the same thing. Ah, scholarship!

A study by Cornell professor Beth A. Livingston,  Timothy A. Judge of the University of Notre Dame and Charlice Hurst of the University of Western Ontario study used survey data to examine “agreeableness” and found that disagreeable men made 18%, or $9,772 annually, more in salary than those who are more accommodating. The salary disparity was  less among women, with disagreeable females making 5% or $1,828, more than those who are easier to get along with. Does this shock you? It shouldn’t.

As is depressingly often the case, the academics who come up with such crack-brain studies—I read this one, and will want that wasted hour back when I’m on my death-bed so I can watch one last re-run of “Magnum, P.I.”—have so little experience with the working world and the reality of non-academic cultures that they don’t even comprehend their own research and draw absurd conclusions from it.

“The problem is, many managers often don’t realize they reward disagreeableness,” Livingston told the Wall Street Journal. “You can say this is what you value as a company, but your compensation system may not really reflect that, especially if you leave compensation decisions to individual managers.”

Oh brother. Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Humor and Satire, Leadership, Professions, Research and Scholarship, U.S. Society, Workplace