Vail Daily column: Will you run for greatness?
At age 14, his father was laid off from work. Jim was just a boy, but in those days, boys could still work. A regular eight-hour shift in a factory after school helped out the family. He didn’t picture himself a factory worker, though. Using his life experience and one of his only outlets, “The Carol Burnett Show,” as inspiration, he decided to become a comedian. He was onstage for the first time at age 15 in a suit that had been hand-made by his mother. The gig was a reported failure. By age 16, he had dropped out of school, and shortly thereafter, moved to L.A. to chase his dream. In those years sometime, he wrote himself a check for $10 million. In the memo line it said, “for acting services rendered.” It was dated for November of 1995. In 1994, non-coincidentally, Jim cashed that check, when his first big movie, “Dumb and Dumber,” hit the public.
Jim’s story is far more complicated and unreasonable than the above summary would suggest. It’s impossible to truly know what it took to win. In our society, though, we like to simplify the Cinderella story. He came from nothing, worked hard and won big. We like it when people give everything they’ve got. All of these success stories are much more complicated than a paragraph can outline though, and at the same time, can still be narrowed down to one small truth: To win we must first be willing to lose.
What was at stake for Jim when he made the decision to run down this particular dream? How many Jims moved to L.A. during that time and didn’t win? What did he lose by winning at this? We can quickly think through what it might have been like to drop out of school to chase the dream. It couldn’t have been easy — or maybe it was easy, because that was simply who Jim was — and maybe that’s why he won — and maybe, just maybe, the real win was something completely different than a payday. Hang in there with me for a second.
I once knew a young man who didn’t have much going for him. He was broke and uneducated. He could hardly carry on a conversation with an adult, and barely looked people in the eye. He lacked charisma, wit and talent. On top of all of this, he had a challenge with speech and with learning.
I remember sitting next to him in meetings. He couldn’t stay engaged. As I would drone on, flexing my sales muscles, he would doze off. He would snap back into the conversation after I would kick his shoe under the table. He and I became one of the best teams within our organization, and he was easily my favorite person to bring to a meeting. We became one of the most tenured partnerships in the region. The reason was simple: When he spoke, he spoke the truth with passion and humility. He taught me what it meant to be committed to an ideal in spite of shortcomings. He taught me what it meant, at age 20, to be a man.
I’ll point out this special thing as it happens in our lives as blatantly as possible. We seem to discount it a bit too much, and I think it’s important we don’t miss it. Sports analogies work well for this lesson, so I’m going to talk about baseball for a second.
Professional outfielders are fast. They have a lot of ground to cover, and they cover it well. There are numerous catches during the course of a game that are easy. A high fly ball right to the glove — easy. There are other catches, though, that require that the pro take off running toward the ball. Even at top speed, there are balls that are still out of reach if the player remains on his feet. There’s a moment during a great catch when the player has to decide to lay out. He’s going to hit the ground, and it’s going to hurt like crazy. Laying out completely to make the catch is the price that must be paid. It is the act of paying this price that separates the typical outfielders from the legends. They must decide how far they are willing to go to make the catch.
Sometimes it’s unreasonable, unpopular and downright painful to lay out for the ball. The pros risk injury and embarrassment. It’s not like you can just hop back on your feet if you miss the catch. I guess all of us have to decide whether it might make sense to surround ourselves with those unreasonable people — the people that go for it. Admittedly, it’s much easier to just stand in the outfield and wait for the balls to come to you. That’s not really how legends are made, though. So, how far are you really willing to go? You really want to play at this level for the rest of your life, or are you ready to go for a little unreasonable run?
Ben Gochberg is a commercial lender and business finance consultant. He plays, lives, works and is trying to do a little good in Eagle County. He can be reached for business inquiries or free consultation at 970-471-3546.