Float Like A Butterfly

This spring, for the first time in 10 years, I don’t have a son playing baseball. Instead, both my 15-year-old, Evan and my 9-year-old, Jonathan have opted to play lacrosse.

Evan, because he wanted to play goalie on the freshman team. Jonathan, because he found out that in lacrosse you wear a helmet, carry a weapon, and are permitted to hit other people as often as you like (a trifecta that he looks for in any social situation).

They’re loving it, and much to my surprise, I am too. Although I have to admit, most of the time, I don’t know what the hell is going on. Lots of running, lots of hitting and lots of yelling, punctuated by the occasional sound of a referee’s whistle in response to some mysterious rule infraction.

One thing I have learned, however, is that learning to keep the ball in your stick as you run down the field past bloodthirsty defenders is a valuable skill. (Ironically, this is referred to as “cradling,” even though it seems to me, this is about the last place you’d want to bring an infant.)

Most kids, even at Evan’s level, are not great at cradling, which means that much of the game involves chasing and attempting to pick up balls that have been dropped. When that happens, there’s so much pushing and shoving and hitting, you’d think you’d wandered onto the set of MSNBC (ba-dum).

But then Brian arrived on the field.

Like my son, Brian is also a freshman. He usually plays one level up, on the junior varsity squad. But that day, for some reason, he was with Evan’s team.

He was amazing to watch. He was so fast, and so smooth that I kept checking to see if his feet were actually touching the ground. He spun in and out of the bewildered defense, never losing control of the ball, until arriving at the goal, he scored.

And then something really interesting happened: The referee stopped the game and asked to see Brian’s stick.

He dropped the ball into the stick’s netting and turned it over a couple of times. Finally, and apparently satisfied that it was neither structurally illegal nor possessed by some kind of Hogwartsian wizardry, he handed it back and signaled the goal.

And then it hit me. Brian had just been paid the ultimate compliment: Someone watches you work and, seeing how skilled you are, assumes that you must be cheating.

And then something else hit me (must have been all the lacrosse). Isn’t this what work should be like for all of us? Shouldn’t we all be doing nothing but floating across the work day, baffling the defense, and standing so far above the crowd that people assume there must be some sort of trick involved?

Don’t you know people like this already? Not famous athletes or rock stars either, but regular people who somehow seem to have found the keys to the universe in the work they do. The carpenter who turns your basement dungeon into a beautiful office. The middle school teacher who’s loved by all the kids. The freshman lacrosse player who looks like he’s playing with an illegal stick.

Don’t you want to be one of these people? I do. Here’s some of what I think is involved in getting there:

  1. Only do work that you’re really good at. It’s much easier to stand out if you’ve got a natural advantage. Take the time to figure out what your things are and put all your eggs in that basket.
  1. Only do work that you really enjoy. If you like something, you’ll spend more time with it, and you’ll just keep getting better and better (not to mention that you’ll have more fun in the process). Take the time to figure out what you love to do… and do more of it.
  1. Stop chasing the money. I know you need to be practical. Me too. But every time I pass on a project because it doesn’t seem to fit, a better, more lucrative one shows up right behind it. Believe me, if you can get a handle on numbers one and two above, you’ll have all the money you need.

Here’s the bottom line. I began the lacrosse season hoping that by the time it was over, I’d understand how the game was played. Thanks to Brian, I think maybe I do.

How about you?

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