Notes from Napa

Monday, July 19, 2010



For centuries, western man arose each morning and went to the fields or factories and toiled long hours in the hopes of earning enough that he might be able to put sufficient food on the table to prevent his family from starving. For most members of society, if one didn’t grow his own, this was no mean feat. It was certainly no fun. It was work. Play was for children, or perhaps occasional Sundays.

Then the 60’s came along and due to an unprecedented economic boom anteceding World War II, we got it into a mindset that work should be fun. Suddenly, like never before, athletes, rock musicians, journalists and the like were idolized because they were “playing while they worked” and “working while they played.”

It wasn’t just a goal. Young men and women began to look down their noses at parents who toiled long hours at jobs that were not glamorous or “fun”. It was a 180 turn-around from the pre-war, depression days.

Work back then, like all rare commodities, was admired. It was an honor to hold a job -- any job--and a mark of shame to turn one down.

By definition, everyone “works” for someone else. There is always someone else (even if it’s just the market place) calling the shots--telling one what to do, dictating where to go and when to do it.

It’s why being on a high school team is such good training for youngsters. No doubt each kid (and without doubt his parents) feel the kid isn’t playing enough--touching the ball enough - or scoring enough.

This is good. It forces a child to adapt to a system that is not ego-centric, like his home. A stranger (the coach) who has no vested interest in the kid, calls the shots--and he definitely calls them differently than Mom or Dad would.

He’s, in effect, the Boss. The person the kid is going to have to deal with in the real world when he leaves the nest.

I got a good taste of it some 22 years ago in New York. I was a copy writer on Madison Avenue. I was new. I knew just about all there was to know. My boss, a 30 year old woman, sexually harassed me (at least that is what they would call it today). My main boss verbally abused me—again by today’s standards. (I wonder what the statue of limitations is?)

Fresh out of Cal I was busy saving the world. In pique of self-rightness indignation (for different reasons than mentioned above) I wrote a scathing memo and resigned.

The C.E.O. called me into his office. “Jeff, let’s assume you are right. Do you want me to turn this whole office upside down for one 26 year old kid?” What could I say?

Andy, my Wall Street friend said, “In every job you’re always going to go a couple of years under a boss who’s a jerk. You’ve got to adjust--not the company.”

That had never occurred to me. I also assumed I’d have a corner office with a view, a bar and a private secretary. I just hadn’t thought it through.

That’s where parents can help their kids who are dissatisfied with playing time. Instead of going to the coach and trying to get more minutes, they should welcome the opportunity to use this valuable time as a tool to teach children how to deal with the ugly, unfair landscape they will meet in the working world. Remember, there are thousands upon thousands of kids who never play a minute, yet have great athletic experience.

Playing is so much more fun, when people understand their role and derive satisfaction (if not joy) from their work.

Being a part of a team. Knowing that eventually your time will come. Learning from your cohorts. Overcoming tense and difficult situations. Navigating troublesome office politics. There is an endless list of skill one can learn while in a job one can’t wait to leave.

Team sports offer a similar arena where a child can learn a similar skill set, if we just let them alone and allow them to adapt to the politics and dynamics of their particular team.

We do them no favors by stepping in and influencing the coaches decision regarding playing times or positions.

There are times when it is appropriate to talk to the coach. If you can sincerely impart some information which the coach may not know which could help the coach in his evaluation of your kid, that’s fair. Otherwise—keep out of it.

Like some many things with children. You often help your kid the least when you think you are helping him or her the most.

Good one, Jeffrey.
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