Friday, March 25, 2011

What 100% Looks Like

Submitted by today's guest blogger:

There is a great scene in the Bill Murray classic, "The Man Who Knew Too Little." In this scene the oblivious Murray, playing the clueless Wally Ritchey, believes he is acting in an elaborate audience participation drama, despite being a real-life hostage. At one point, after accidentally knocking his captors unconscious, Murray criticizes their lack of effort with the words,"Come on! Ya have to give it 100%. Let me show you what 100% looks like." He then, while tied to a chair and his hands tied behind his back, flops down onto the ground, digs out the knife from one captor's sleeve and cuts himself loose.

Growing up playing sports, I thought I knew a little something about giving 100%. In fact, as one having little natural ability, I prided myself on always working as hard as I could. Coaches often talked about this concept of giving 100%. By high school, giving 100% apparently wasn't good enough and before I knew it I had a sticker with 101% on my football helmet.

With time, even 101% wasn't enough and the cliche became "give 110%!" With a few of my more intelligent teammates it became a sort of inside joke that no matter what we did, it was never going to be enough. When I gave 100% the coach wanted 101%, when I gave 101% he wanted 110%. I even remember a professional basketball player who gave an interview where he said all he wanted to do was "go out and give 1000%." It made me want to go out there and give a million percent, a google-plex percent, or maybe an infinity percent. I got to the point where for me, the "give 100%" cliche became like most other cliches, overcooked and meaningless. It became difficult for me to see what giving 100% really looked like.

Then I grew up. . .

I remember coaches saying their goal in coaching was to teach players how to be good husbands, fathers, and contributing members to society. I never anticipated the realization of why I ran so many sprints, spent so many hours practicing my jump shot, and dedicated such a huge percentage of my adolescent years to sports, would suddenly make sense as I stood at Disneyland as a 30 year-old father of three.

I am a slow learner, but it was there I finally fully grasped why learning to give 100% in sports was such an essential lesson to learn.

My wife and I had been trying to get our family to Disneyland for awhile and the trip for our kids, 7, 5, and 2 was highly anticipated. We went on all the traditional rides, and because of the time of year and the soggy weather, we avoided the lines most anticipate finding at Disneyland. We did Space Mountain and Thunder Mountain Railroad half a dozen times and went on every major ride at least once, most twice. The kids loved everything it seemed, and this Disneyland trip was truly magical.

We had heard a lot about a new attraction, The Magical World of Color. It's a new light show at Disneyland California Adventure Park where favorite Disney movie clips are projected onto a water canvas, beautifully created by an arsenal of synchronized water cannons. We waited in line early one morning to get our "reserved" spots for that evening's show. But when we got held up on another ride, we arrived at the show later than most and found ourselves in the back of our "reserved section." I came to realize that by "reserved," what was actually meant was that you got to stand in a crowded roped off section, rather than standing where you wanted.

As the show began, my wife and I quickly tried to find a realistic way of helping all three of our kids get a glimpse of the show. Because we arrived late and we have a vertically challenged family, I was the only one able to see the show on my own. I started with my boys in my arms and my wife holding our two-year-old daughter. It didn't take long for my seven-year-old son to realize such an arrangement was uncomfortable and silly for a seven-year-old. We tried to adjust them, on my shoulders, to my back, in my arms, even standing inside the stroller, but nothing seemed to work. Finally, after about five minutes the seven-year-old gave up and sat in the stroller for the remainder of the show, missing it almost entirely.

We settled with my daughter in my left arm and my five-year-old son in my right arm. Before too long, my daughter was asleep. Twenty-eight pounds of dead weight in the left arm and my thirty-seven pound five year-old in the other. The show was forty minutes long.

Five minutes into it my back was cramping up in a bad way and my arms were burning worse than they ever did during the last rep of any weightlifting class exercise I remembered. My feet were burning too. As if the pain of "Disneyland feet" weren't enough, I have suffered from plantar fasciitis for the past two years and the pain was nothing short of excruciating. I wanted to set the kids down, but I didn't want to disturb my sleeping princess or distract the one child I had who was actually enjoying the show.

So, there I stood -- arms, back, and feet burning -- for forty minutes frozen it seemed in eternity.

It was at that moment I finally understood what my coaches were trying to teach me with all that 100% talk. It was not the first moment I had ever exercised mental toughness outside of sports. There were lots of times in my studies at law school and as a husband and father where I drew upon my experiences from sports and did something that was hard.

However, it was at that moment standing there in Disneyland when I completely and acutely understood. Had I not given 100% on the last set of lines in basketball practice when it mattered to my team, I never would have been prepared to give 100% when it mattered more to my family. I knew at any moment I could have made the pain stop by putting the kids down. Instead, I drew upon the lessons I had learned from sports and I gave 100%.

As I watched the show in the midst of this pain, I thought back to all of the sacrifices my parents made for me and my many siblings. I realized how much work a Disneyland trip must have been for them with all their children. Even more puzzling was how it was possible for us all to have positive memories of such a trip!

I thought about the mental toughness of my Mom having not been to sleep all night because she was sick, cleaning up the throw-up of the fourth child with the flu that night. I thought about her hands, cracked and bleeding out of service to us.

I thought about how difficult it must have been for my Dad to be a good sport about always doing what everyone else wanted to do, rather than doing anything he wanted. There was his passing up the fancy new car in order for his herd of kids to have clothes and shoes, despite our best efforts to outgrow and destroy them all. I remembered his giving me his last $20 in his wallet to fill up his car with gas I thoughtlessly used. Both were sacrificing literally all their selfish desires for the good of their children.

That is what 100% looks like.

As we left the park that night, our daughter remained asleep on my shoulder. We talked about our favorite things from the day and about the Magic Color show. The seven-year-old was happy about the day and claims to have not missed seeing the show. I think it was his way of not making us feel bad. The five-year-old could not stop talking about how much he loved the show.

At that moment, I felt a sense of satisfaction I always dreamed winning a state championship would bring. Despite the fact two of the three children were oblivious of any sacrifice being made on their behalf, I had been given a precious insight into what it REALLY means to give 100%.

I also learned all it takes is for one to appreciate the sacrifice to make it all worth it.

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