Rule # 41: Pressure makes diamonds ( the recently renamed JoPa rule)
When I first started in business I had an early mentor, Sam, who gave me two pieces of advice that served me well in life.
1. That all you important decisions in you life will come down less than 5 critical moments.
2. That these moments will be extreme pressure and they will either mold you into a diamond or flatten you into dust.
At the time I first heard this advice I was only 27 years old and thought I knew what Sam was taking to me about because I thought I had made a couple of those decisions already. I thought he was talking about the decisions such as, which woman I was going to marry, which college I was going to attend or what job I took.
I lacked the wisdom that only Sam a old former marine officer who served three tours of duty in Vietnam could have learned in only 45 years of life. He wasn’t talking about choices of what I wanted to do or whom I wanted to do it with, he was talking about the BIG choices that defined a life.
One of the best explanations for what Sam was talking about came from that great fictional philosopher, Lt. Col. Frank Slade in his famous speech in defence of his young friend Charlie, at the end of 1992’s “Scent of a Woman”;
“Now I have come to the crossroads in my life. I always knew what the right path was. Without exception, I knew. But I never took it. You know why? It was too damn hard. Now here’s Charlie. He’s come to the crossroads. He has chosen a path. It’s the right path. It’s a path made of principle that leads to character.”
What both Sam and Frank were saying was that there will be critical moments where we are faced with hard decisions that have real consequences that will cost us dearly and we will have to make a decision as to if we are to keep what we have, or risk losing everything to serve an ideal of who we want to be.
I think war and combat must force those decisions to occur at a speed and severity that can not be experienced elsewhere. Where values such of protecting the safety of your unit and defending the freedoms of others can come at a personal price of a life long disability or loss of life. To jump in the line of fire not only when you think you may be shot, but when you know that you will likely die, requires a level of understanding that I can not fully appreciate because I have never been in that situation.
What inspired me to again write in this neglected blog is that recent events at my Alma Mater, Penn State. They have caused me to reflect hard on the words of Sam and to do some introspection on the critical moments I have had so far in my life.
Joseph Vincent Paterno was as close to a demigod in my life as anyone. I was never a fan of football in high school, and actually never really followed too closely any professional sports team. Yes, I know the big stories and key players in most sports, but never got emotional invested in any team. But Penn State football has been an exception.
It became so because “JoPa” defined his teams in terms of character and not wins. I actually have never been a fan of his coaching or old school team management styles, but gain respect for what he was building.
“Success with honor” wasn’t about football, football was just a living metaphor for what the school was about. JoPa got it. It made sense.
But what Sam and Frank knew, and that JoPa apparently did not, was that in our lives we will be faced with these critical decisions which will make everything else you have done in your life look virtually unimportant.
Let’s face it JoPa did great things- following his “Grand Experiment” he transformed not only a football team but the university that surrounded it.
Sure he was 84 and should have retired a decade ago, but this man was on a mission from God. If he wanted to have losing teams and coach to 100 I felt that if anyone deserved to die on the field, this man did.
As I read the never ending stories about the seriel child molester, Sandusky, I at first could not believe that our JoPa, MY beloved JoPa, could have known anything about this man’s evil nature.
But as the decades of abuse allegations have unfolded in the news headlines I am left with the certainty that over the 20+yrs of rumors and and incidents in a community as small town-like as State College there was no way this could have gone unnoticed or unreported to its elder statesman. JoPa faced one of these critical moments at sometime.
Maybe it was in 1998 when the first shower incidents occurred.
Maybe it was in 2002 when then Graduate Assistant McQueary came to his home to report a child’s rape.
Maybe it wasn’t until he was called into the Grand Jury earlier this year.
But I seem certain that regardless of when it happen, JoPa was faced with one of these critical decision moments and made a terrible decision. A decision so wrong in its scope that it made the libraries he built, the awards he had won and the legend look like pebbles being crushed by a bulldozer of failure.
JoPa was faced with a moment of decision to do ” right thing”, the “hard thing”.
And instead of leadership he did his best Jack Sparrow imitation and “waved at them as they pass by”.
Incidents like this will happen in your lives where you will see people you have learned to love and admire over the years disappoint you by making a making a wrong choice in their lives at a critical decision point. I hope it is only a JoePa like sport figure and not your spouse or worse yet me as your father. But I do know that you will see these decisions in your life and be impacted by others critical decisions.
There isn’t much good that comes out of a JoPa fall from grace decision mistake, but it can a least help each of us to reflect our critical decisions and be ready for the decisions when they really matter.
I know you as my children will be left reading this with the question, what were my Dad’s critical questions? Unfortunately I’m not really sure yet, because the consequences of my “big” decisions have yet to fully play out in life. I can’t yet tell if what I think was important was really that important.
If JoPa had gone to the police at some point(any point), although newsworthy at the time would not be remembered as some great decision on act of heroism. It would only be remembered as a man doing the right thing when it was expected of him.
Sadly, most of our real successes of doing the “right thing” go unnoticed most of the time. It is only the failures that become obvious.