Rule #8: Some Days You’re The Windshield, Some Days You’re The Bug
Here are the realties: Bad things happen. They will happen to you. The world does not always play fair. When these realties strike, don’t bother telling people your
problems. Ninety percent won’t care and the other ten percent will be glad you have them.
Let’s add some perspective to these realties. As far as I know, I don’t have an incurable disease. I know I have never been run over by a bus, and (knock on wood), I have never been in a bad car accident. All of my airplane rides have terminated in safe landings, and I have never had to call a lifeguard to pull me from fifteen foot waves off of Wailea. Therefore, this chapter will pale in comparison to some of my fellow authors who tie their lessons to some real doozies of disasters. Just the same, I’m here to tell you that some bad things are going to happen to you just as they have happened to me. The key is how you react. By whining? Or, by taking QVC President, Barry Diller’s, mindset:
“They won. We lost. Who’s next? (Bring him on!)”
Feel free to skip this chapter if you are pressed for time. (I like to read it whenever I want to feel sorry for myself.) Compared to the possibilities of the Big Show, my “disasters” are really nickel and dime stuff. But I’m betting that most of your “troubles” in life probably amount to chump change. You be the judge.
Dems Da Breaks
I didn’t realize it at the time, but playing football while attending college on an athletic scholarship was a job. It was a real money saver for my family, but make no mistake about it, this was work.
The deal was this: The University of Massachusetts would pay for my books, board and tuition. It was entirely up to me if there was a degree at the end of my senior year. No guarantees here. In return, I would provide sweat, tears and what later would become a great deal of blood and broken bone tissue for a shot at a free education and a gray athletic T-shirt with matching shorts which read “Athletic Department.” At the impressionable age of eighteen this sounded like a sweetheart of a deal.
When I arrived on campus, I thought (along with every other student-athlete) that I was something special. I was coming to U. Mass to show these athletes how the game of football was meant to be played.
The guy playing my position on the U. Mass team at the time was Greg Landry, who later would graduate and mold a pretty impressive twenty-year career in the National Football League. At the time I was not impressed. I was the new Broadway Joe Namath from New Jersey (call me “Main Street Mike”), and I was about to ply my trade.
Until . . . a mere eight days into my freshman season I very unceremoniously broke my ankle during a practice scrimmage. Bad break #1.
In the blink of an eye, Main Street Mike was crawling to the side of the practice field like a baby, without a single sign of sympathy from anybody. I became an early season casualty . . . expected . . . budgeted for . . . and dealt with on a business-as-usual basis at the college level of play. The terse response from the Head coach: ”Who’s next?”
I wasn’t around long enough to get the showmanship part down and break the gul-dang thing during a game. I ended my freshman season on the practice field. No fans. No deathly silence from the standing-room-only crowd. No polite ovation as they carried me off the field. No nothing.
For the next thirteen weeks I spent most of my waking hours trying to coerce co-eds into signing my left foot. I learned a lot during those thirteen weeks but the two things that have always stayed with me were: (1) chemistry teachers don’t give a hoot about football players on crutches (“Get to class on time Marchev or get an F”); and (2) playing the game was a lot more fun than watching from row 25. But as the popular saying goes, there was always next year
I prided myself on being a quick study. I decided to learn from my freshman “mistake.” So year two, I decided that if I was going to break anything from here on out, I would make sure it was during a game. I very wisely waited for a Saturday afternoon game in Rhode Island before I separated my shoulder, bringing my come-back season to an abrupt halt. Break #2.
At that point, my combined two year college offensive totals to date were: 3 yards rushing, 0 passing, 1 broken ankle and 1 separated shoulder. I realized right then and there that if I was ever going to win the Heisman Trophy, I needed a lot more yardage the following year and a little more playing time. Even my momma didn’t tell me there would be days like these!
For those of you who believe that lightening doesn’t strike twice in the same place, I have some information to share with you. I had to kiss year #2 good-bye as fast as you could say, “Who was that 270 pound lineman with the lightening bolt on his helmet?” Unknown to me at the time, my medical chart was just getting interesting.
I was outfitted with a shoulder harness which conveniently strapped my throwing wing tightly to my chest. For the second time in two years, I became a football statistic and an early season spectator. Two tries . . . two season-ending injuries.
But, I am one of those up -beat people who always looks for the silver lining in every rain cloud. The good news was that I never had the opportunity to play long enough in the first two years to prove to my coaches or to the student body that I wasn’t any good. Smart thinking! As a result, I still enjoyed favorable press in the Daily Collegian campus newspaper and the glances of quite a few co-eds. Although I had only taken three snaps in two years, I was still the quarterback.
In the spring of my sophomore year I decided to try out for the baseball team . . . a sport a little less physical and one for which my delicate 175 pound frame was better suited. After all, baseball had always been my first true love. In fact, “bazeball had always been bedy, bedy good to me.”
Prior to launching my record (and bone) shattering career at U. Mass football, I was in courtship with Oklahoma State University and their varsity baseball team, the Cowboys of OSU, which earned its way to the College World Series in Omaha every year. I had always dreamed about jacking one out of the park in the seventh game of the College World Series in Nebraska. But a partial scholarship to OSU didn’t fuel my ego at the time, so I opted for the full boat to U. Mass.
I was known as a “walk-on” on the baseball team at U. Mass. That is someone who was not recruited to play and who asked for permission to audition his talents. The odds of a walk-on making the team are always quite slim. But to everyone’s surprise but my own, the cocky kid from New Jersey made the team and waited for the opportunity to squeeze into the starting line up.
One evening, after practice, I reminded the coach that I was not only eager but was prepared to help the team at a number of positions. This might be a good story to place in a chapter entitled “The Power of Asking” because the very next week I was called to play right field during a game at Williams College.
“Marchev is back!” I chanted to myself as I trotted out to assume my position next to my good friend and fraternity brother Mitch Salnick, who was in my eyes the great Willie Mays incarnated. I was ready. I was poised. I was well-trained and correctly positioned. When . . . Crack! A soft fly ball to right field. This ball is a can of corn . . . an easy out. No, maybe not. It is sinking fast. I better quicken my step. Dive Marchev! Diiivvve . . . Craaaaaack!
The first crack was the sound of ball meeting bat. The second crack was the sound of New Jersey bone tissue breaking in half. (I obviously still lacked the showmanship part. I didn’t even make the catch. And quite frankly, at the point of impact, I really didn’t much care that the guy was jogging into third with an uncontested stand up three-bagger.)
It was April 28th, and I was finished competing at the collegiate varsity level . . . for the third time in two years. Main Street Mike was Marchev the Mutt. Mr. Big Shot Athlete from New Jersey and his athletic career were going down the tubes in a blazing streak, complete with thrown objects and abundant profanities. I came to college as a high school success story, and I was going to compete in two sports. Then I was dealt a triple dose of how cruel and unbiased life can be to people with nothing but good intentions. I remember like it was yesterday, lying in a bed at the university infirmary, with warm tears streaming down the side of my face . . . asking no one in particular . . .
“Why did this have to happen to me? Why me?”
Have you ever heard yourself muttering these same words?
The final blow came a few weeks later, when I saw the headlines: “U. Mass to play in College World Series in Omaha.” My team earned a berth at the National College World Series. They were going to the big show . . . without Main Street Mike.
I know now that in the scheme of things my setbacks were just a drop in the bucket of life’s small disappointments. But just the same, I learned two valuable lessons from my university breakdowns.
First, life doesn’t unwind in a carefully written script. Life is a day-to-day adventure, and you had better be prepared for both the ups and the downs. My lessons were gentle compared with the litany of curve balls life can throw at most people — loss of family . . . loss of limb . . . loss of reputation . . . loss of a loved one.
Second, regardless of the apparent severity of the situation, the crisis shall pass. And hopefully, if you don’t keep your head between your hands for too long, you become a tad stronger from each negative experience you’re introduced to. As long as you keep your sights on the horizon and keep on keeping on, you will look back at these lessons and see some humor or hope in it all.
Face it! There is little logic in living in the past, lamenting life’s unfair situations. Life is sometimes unfair. Go with it. For most of us, our “big hurts” are nothing more than small blisters. The key to a healthy existence is to accept life as it unfolds.
Ann Lamott, the author of Bird by Bird, said it very nicely when she wrote, “Bad things happen to good people.” Today, thirty years after my “break dance,” I have matured and seasoned enough to categorize these experiences as little “inconveniences.”
It’s Deja Vu All Over Again
Here’s one of life’s comic post-scripts. While out on a training ride getting ready for the 1997 Ironman competition, my bike’s steering mechanism loosened up and I went over the handle bars and landed shoulder first. CRAAAACK! “I recognize that sound,” I immediately said to myself. But this time the feeling was not new to me. I had been there before. Fifteen weeks later, and a few sleepless nights, I was back in the saddle. I finished the Ironman in the allotted time in 8th place . . . counting from the back.