Tag Archives: failure

Thinking About Annabeth Gish

I was watching the (scary, excellent) Netflix series “The Haunting of Hill House,” and it took four episodes to notice that the housekeeper was played by Annabeth Gish. She was not considered stellar enough to include in the opening credits, and her name slipped by quickly at the end. But it was good to see her name.

Annabeth Gish! She’s nearing 50 now, but back in 1988 she was a stunning teenager being groomed for can’t miss stardom. The Hollywood PR machine worked diligently to present her as can’t miss Hollywood royalty, the descendants of silent movie legends Dorothy and Lillian Gish, the latter actress being both alive and actively singing Annabeth’s praises. (In truth, they were unrelated, two random Gishes in the wind.) Annabeth was awarded top billing in a major studio coming-of-age comedy, “Mystic Pizza.” The movie was a critical and box office hit, too, but Gish’s career promise was slammed in the face by a two-by-four named Julia Roberts, who had the “it” factor in such abundance that Gish, despite a more prominent role and a competent performance, seemed palid and outmatched by comparison. She never got a starring role in a major film again, because, as was immediately apparent, Annabeth Gish wasn’t a star. She was just a smart, attractive, hard-working young actress, and that was all she would ever be until she became a a smart, attractive, hard-working middle-aged actress.

Most of us have to face the reality that our greatest aspirations and potential not only won’t be realized, but that we will never approach them.  When that awful moment of enlightenment arrives, the ethical response is to just keep charging ahead, trying to get better, work harder, be a good co-worker, colleague, neighbor, friend, parent, spouse, family member, whatever it takes. That moment is disappointing, sure, but it need not be devastating, nor should it be seen as a brand of failure. We succeed in life, and become ethical human beings, not by becoming the best, most powerful, most famous, but by doing the best we can do. What levels of success others achieve is not our standard, except to recognize a fellow Earth occupant’s good work.

Annabeth Gish, like Moonlight Graham says in “Field of Dreams,”  came “this close” to her dream and then watched it brush past her “like a stranger in a crowd.” I know what it feels like; you probably do too. I’ve had the proverbial brass ring this close to my grasp, only to have the Merry-Go-Round sweep past, and to see someone else take the prize. That’s just life—my father’s favorite expression. You win by going on, not looking back, not being poisoned by regret. self-recriminations or fury at the universe.

Annabelle Gish has won. She has almost hundred TV and movie credits, and is still a working actress: A new film, “The Rum of the World,” is in pre-production. She’s been happily married for 15 years—no easy accomplishment in her field—and has two sons. She does charity work, and can look at her life so far as being positive and productive, even if she isn’t among the elite of her profession, or any profession. If we are lucky, and learn the right lessons from life’s mistakes, traps and bad jokes, most of us are Annabeth Gish. You’re Annabeth Gish. I’m Annabeth Gish. Annabeth Gish is Annabeth Gish.

Good for her.

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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

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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Hard Workplace Truths From “The Evil HR Lady”

unhappy-worker

Susan Lucas is an human resources veteran who shares her abundant workplace wisdom on her blog, a truly excellent one, Evil HR Lady.

She has written an invaluable list she calls “Problems at Work? 10 Signs That It’s Not Them, It’s You.”  It can be literally a life-saver for frustrated career failures, disheartened underlings, especially, perhaps, those encouraged by warped parents, teachers, mentors and  peers to always avoid blame, accountability and responsibility by attributing it to prejudice, bias and personal animus.

Some highlights: Continue reading

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Boehner, Leadership And The Consequentialism Exception

At the end of John Beohner’s press conference responding to his sudden resignation, there was this exchange:

QUESTION: Can you talk about what you think your legacy is as you’re leaving? What are your most important accomplishments, and what are you going to do on November 1st? Are you moving to Florida?

BOEHNER: I was never in the legacy business. You all heard me say it, I’m a regular guy with a big job. And I never thought I’d be in Congress much less I’d ever be speaker. But people know me as being fair, being honest, being straightforward and trying to do the right thing every day on behalf of the country. I don’t need any more on that.

I will frequently inveigh here against the fallacy of consequentialism, the mistake of believing that whether conduct is ethical or not can be judged by its results. This leads inexorably to an “ends justifies the means” orientation and a misunderstanding of ethics. The ethical nature of an act can only be weighed according to how it was arrived at, its intent, and whether the conduct itself meets the tests of one or more ethical systems. Then moral luck takes over: an ethical decision can have catastrophic consequences and still be ethical, and the most unethical conduct can have wonderful results.

In life, however, and especially in some fields, ethics isn’t enough, and we all know it, or should. This is why consequentialism can’t be snuffed out of our thinking. There are fields of endeavor in which results are the primary standard by which we can—and should— judge whether someone was competent in the role he or she took on for themselves when others could have done the job better. In these fields being ethical isn’t enough, and often is grossly inadequate.  If one is a leader, for example, it cannot be right to lead those behind you to disaster, indeed to fail. In a field that is defined by the successful completion of a task that affects others, failure and ethics are incompatible. A failed leader is a bad leader. The objective in leadership is not just to “do the right thing,” but to succeed at ethical objectives in the right way. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Government & Politics, History, Leadership

Ethics Hero, Ghost Of Christmas Past Edition: Dwight Gooden

Dwight-Gooden

For me, Christmas triggers not only memories fond and bittersweet, but also regrets, realizations, and discovered clarity about where I have been and how I got where I am. This was really what Charles Dickens was expressing in “A Christmas Carol, and why it resonates even with the kinds of people who would be tempted to put a zombie Nativity on their front lawn.

Last week, former New York Mets pitching ace Dwight Gooden, known in his prime as “Doctor K” (a “K” is a strikeout, and if you didn’t know that—wow) and eventually just “Doc,”penned a brave and inspiring piece for The Player’s Tribune, in which he addressed his younger self, warning the young, cocky kid with the world seemingly begging to be his playground and cheering section in 1984 about the traps and landmines lying in his path.

Gooden, for those of you who face life every day without the accumulated wisdom bestowed by the love of baseball, and who somehow live through cruel winter without the promise of Spring Training warming your nights, looked like he might become the greatest, coolest, most unhittable pitcher in baseball history when he arrived on the big league scene in ’84, winning 17 games with a deadly curve and a 98 mile per hour fastball at the tender age of 19. He became the youngest player ever to pitch in an All-Star Game that year (he struck out the side), and the next season, at 20, he won 24 games, lost only four, and led the National League with a miniscule 1.53 earned run average.

And he was never that good again. He began losing speed on his fastball the next year, and steadily declined thereafter. Eventually there were drug problems, alcoholism  and other embarrassments, and Doc Gooden, instead of being the lock for the Hall of Fame that he seemed at 20, was washed-up at 35, and an unofficial member of the Pantheon of Disappointing and Fallen Sports Heroes.

Today, as the former pitcher nears 50, Gooden is a dedicated father and grandfather to  his children and grandchildren. He is the president of Best of the Best Sports Management, where he works with his oldest son, Dwight Jr. and is also a spokesman for PinkTie.org , a Long Island-based charity dedicated to fighting breast cancer.

In his essay, titled, “Letter to my Younger Self,” Gooden is frank, uncompromising, wistful, self-critical, funny, and never indulges in self-pity. He ends it this way:

Drugs and alcohol are only a false sense of security. Neither thing will fill the void you feel. Unfortunately it might take you a few missed Christmas Days with your family to learn this.

You will want to try to fix your issues on your own. This is how you think a man handles his problems. It isn’t. Being a man is about reaching out for help when you need it. If your curveball isn’t working, you’ll know how to fix that. If the control on your pitches is off, you’ll know how to fix that. But you will face a lot of hardship because of your inability to realize that you can’t fix yourself.

Finally, please know this: I love you. It’s going to take you a long time and a lot of pain to realize this, but accepting it will go a long way towards healing. The journey will be trying, but it ends in a good place.

Keep getting those Ks,

You’re a hero after all, Doc.

Merry Christmas.

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Filed under Character, Ethics Heroes, Sports