March 10, 2011

Batter Up

It is that fabulous time of year when major league baseball teams are in the Phoenix area for Cactus League spring training. The weather is warm, the skies generally clear, and winds calm. Nearly 60% of those attending the 5 week long season are from out of town, giving the state a desperately needed shot of revenue.

Occasionally I will step away from the computer, the yard chores, and the other stuff that makes up my life, grab a hat, a wife, the sunscreen and go. It is just a game and sometimes with second string players. But, the experience is delightful and even contains some life lessons if one pays attention.

Fifteen teams, ten stadiums, hundreds of thousands of people, unlimited quantities of  (over-priced) hot dogs and beer, and a few hours in the sun. Like all good things in life the season is much too short for the fans. It only lasts from the last few days of February through the end of  March. By then the players are ready to have the games count, and the owners are ready for 40,000 people per game instead of 8,000. But, the fans miss the lower cost and easier contact with the players.

In that sense spring training is like the rest of my life: some of the most enjoyable and memorable times are too short and not repeatable. The days my kids were born, the arrival of our grandchildren, a two week family Christmas vacation on Maui, scuba diving with my wife in Bermuda...the kind of things that form a life's scrapbook are quite finite and can never be reproduced. The exact combination of factors that make an event what it is only happens that one time. Sure, one can go back. But, whatever the original experience was, the second time will not be the same. it can't. The real trick is to take everything possible from each experience and not complain when it ends.

Baseball is an unusual sport. There is no clock. The game continues until there is a winner, though in spring training there are special rules that allow tie scores. But, during the regular season there is no quitting until one team prevails. In 1984 a game lasted over 8 hours and extended over parts of two days.

Shouldn't our approach to retirement be the same? There is no quitting until a goal is achieved. Too often someone abandons a project or a goal because it is taking longer than anticipated. Or, the amount of effort seems too great. But, I wonder how often something is halted just before a breakthrough. Thomas Edison is famous for inventing the light bulb. He stuck with it even after thousands of failed attempts. He knew what he wanted to accomplish; every failure put him one step closer to his goal.

In baseball if someone fails to get on base 70% of the time he will be rewarded with millions of dollars. In today's insane world of athletic salaries he can fail closer to 75% and still get the cash. You and I probably won't get millions of dollars, but like baseball life rewards effort. Sometimes fairly, sometimes not. But by stepping up to the plate we all have the chance to be successful in our own way. Like the lottery cliché, "You can't win if you don't play" the same can be said of life. Baseball rewards a particular skill set that still fails the majority of times. Life rewards you when you spend each day working as hard as you can to move forward in whatever way is important to you. You may fail more than you succeed; I contend you win just by trying.

A pitcher stands 60 feet 6 inches away from the batter and throws a small hard ball directly at that person. If the pitch is a curve or a sinker or a splitter it misses the batter and goes where it is supposed to - over the plate. Occasionally, a pitcher doesn't have perfect control (or maybe he does) and it strikes the batter if he can't duck quickly enough. It is very rare for the batter to be injured to the point where he doesn't walk to first base. Heavens, most of them won't even rub the spot that must ache like crazy.

Life throws hard pitches at us all day, everyday. Sometimes we dodge the ball and sometimes we get plunked, and it hurts. If that ball is thrown with enough force it can injure us. A serious health issue, being in an auto accident, losing a loved one, or being fired are life's pitches that can knock us out of the game for a time.

But, usually we get a slight bruise or a sore muscle. We shake it off and stand back in the batters box and wait for the next pitch...wait for the next chance to hit it out of the park. The human condition is one with a combination of joy and pain. You can't avoid the pain, you can only get back up and wait for the next pitch.

I could continue with baseball-life analogies but you see the point. Life is not that different from a sporting event. There are winners and losers, there are those who try to be their best everyday and those who don't. There are those who constantly want to improve some part of what they do or who they are, and then there are those who are content to be passed by. A satisfying retirement is defined by effort and attitude. Get in the game.

Your turn: make a comment, throw one at my head and see if I can duck out of the way!

"Building a Satisfying Retirement- How to Make the Most of This New Phase of Your Life" e-book is now available. Send an e-mail with "Free Book" in the subject line to satisfyingretirement for your copy. There is no cost or obligation.

Here is the image Keith sent with his comment below. It is worth sharing.


  1. My own sports analogy is this: Every day is a Mountain

    to put that into (overdrawn) context. :

    I love being in the mountains....just so happens that "The Big Man" lives up there.

    The view from the top is incredible, but so is the view each step up

    It takes lots and lots of preparation, mental, physical to summit a mountain. The more prep, the easier, safer and more apt to succeed

    It's a wonderful climb even if you don't summit

    Sometimes turning back is what saves your life

    Unbelievable bonds are created while climbing

    It's not always fun, but it always brings happiness

    Going down may be faster, but it can be harder and more dangerous than going up

    A climb generates great stories.

    It can make you feel special and proud when you accomplish the summit. You earned it

    It can reinforce humility and perspective when you don,t.

    I could go on for many pages,but it works well for me, every day, big task or small, a job, a trip, a funeral, a birth, a marriage or just getting your butt out of bed for an early morning workout. Retirement too

  2. Keith,

    That is great. I love the word picture you painted. The photo of climbing the mountain last year that you attched to the e-mail says it all: 2 of you up there, 20 million down below. Where would you rather spend you time?

  3. Bob, as you know, I am all for being Gutsy and moving along. The discipline of working out at my gym (with heavy weights, none of that 3-5 pound dumbbell stuff, HAHAHA) keeps me going.

    Your comment: "Too often someone abandons a project or a goal because it is taking longer than anticipated. Or, the amount of effort seems too great. But, I wonder how often something is halted just before a breakthrough," is very true. I need to reread this as I query agents. I've put in five years to get to the point of a final manuscript. Cannot stop now, even though it's hard work getting noticed. Thanks for your upbeat attitude.

  4. Hi Sonia,

    A good friend of mine has his first novel coming out in hardcover in June. He's been working for at least 5 years and will have a national roll out in a few months. He is a good example of perseverance. I should have him talk with you about whatever he did to finally break through.

    Have a great day, and stay gutsy!