Friday, September 26, 2014

"Unceasing Pressure"

Annapolis, Maryland

It’s all about “pressure” said the man. “Constant, unceasing pressure – which often leads to failure, then recovery. And resilience.”

I gaped in total, utter astonishment. The Nellie Theorem had just been enunciated to 1,800 serious-minded adults. Two things were at major odds here: 1. It wasn’t me speaking; and 2. People were listening. Intently.

Readers of the Nellie Blawg know that in between the monograph I’m writing on the synergistic modalities in “Caddyshack” and “Animal House,” I am a cheerful advocate of an expansive and cunning worldview composed of small, precise habits. These are the aspects of personal conduct – endurance, decisiveness, quick assessment and adaptation, empathy, and reliability -- I have inculcated in the lives of My Three Sons.

On those rare occasions when parents and colleagues have asked about the paths of the boys, I have responded with a delightful summation about self-control and resistance to obstacles – all in the worldview -- as the foundations for success. Of course, these same people have then looked at me with a measure of sympathy, maybe even a certain amount of sorrow. Poor man, they surmise: Having squandered his professional life with slow horses in fast political races, he's a hopeless sideline Nietzschiean. Undaunted, I have pressed onwards.

Pressure, adversity, conflict – they are all constant and crucial proving grounds. The themes are eternal, whether its Barnabas and Paul taking on the heathen in Iconium and Lustra in Acts, or Brett Favre with the Vikings in the NFL playoffs. In fact, in speaking once to a fellow QB, Ron Jaworski, Favre said, “Jaws, you know that if you’re panicked under pressure, you’re not prepared.” Simple, true, enduring.

Hence, this was behind the reasons for wanting my kids on defense when the score was tied, the offense had the ball, and there was a minute left in the game. Or emphasizing to them that the four-hour test they were about to take held almost as much weight as three years of classroom grades. Or conduct in a tight spot in a social situation – here’s one: Leaving them at a bar mitzvah where they know two people and telling them that the world doesn’t belong to the shy or lonely.

Feeling that pressure is essential to gradually beating it. To be prepared, as Barnabas or Favre, a kid must build up muscle memory through hours of drudgery doing homework, or throwing a ball against a wall, or memorizing a script for a play, or running miles and miles, or practicing an instrument, or -- you fill in the blank.

When the pressure to perform is then on, there indeed might be failure, but there’s going to be recovery and as the man said, resilience for next time. Repetition builds character.

In a self-absorbed age and way, I’ve often thought of postponing the Shack/House Ph.D. thesis and writing instead a book – “My Three Sons: A Crazy Dad’s Guide to Parenting.” It will be filled with the sparkling aphorisms I routinely inflict on my sons, such as “If you’re five minutes early, you’re late.” And, “Just get the damn thing to midfield.” Or, “If you aren't baggin', you aren't mowin'." Then there’s my personal favorite: “If this was EASY, every geek in the nation would be starting at linebacker!”

Pressure. Failure. Recovery. Resilience. In fact, the man speaking this mantra was a Navy Captain, addressing the parents of 1,191 Midshipmen in the Class of 2018 at the United States Naval Academy, in Annapolis, Maryland. “Unceasing pressure” was my favorite line. Words to live by.

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