Loving My Life – Like a 14 Year Old Kid
As a Vistage Chair, I get the opportunity to work with people who are trying to get better every day. I cherish the role, because I’m such a work in progress myself. Been there, screwed it up, learned a lesson. I continue to look for positive examples and people who can make me a better me. One of the role models who helps shape me as a person and a parent is fourteen years old. At least he was forty years ago.
I grew up in Terrace Park, an idyllic village in the suburbs of Cincinnati. (Note: The “idyllic” description may still fit, but other than a fifteen minute drive-through ten years ago, I haven’t been back to Terrace Park in more than thirty years, so I have to describe it in the paste tense.) Everyone in town knew everyone else – in a good way. The annual Labor Day parade included pets and kids on bikes with red, white and blue crepe paper woven through their wheel spokes. On Memorial Day the whole town would turn out at the Village Green and listen to the mayor’s speech and clap for the winners of the sixth grade essay contest. I can’t imagine a better place to grow up.
One of my closest friends was a kid named John Augspurger, but everyone knew him as Johnny Augie. We saw each other at school every day. We both served as acolytes at St. Thomas on Sundays. But we spent most of our time together playing sports. I pitched. He played catcher. I played quarterback. He was the center. We both played basketball at school during the week and for Coach Cadwallader on the weekends. As an athlete, I think I was bigger, faster, and stronger than Johnny. But he was better. In football, he was the Tyrann Mathieu of his day. He went on to become a 155 pound All-State linebacker in high school. He could play any position in baseball. No matter the sport, pre-season workouts and practices weren’t drudgery for Johnny; they weren’t keeping him from doing something more important. They just went with the territory. And so Johnny improved. Every day. And he loved every minute of it.
Other than playing baseball, we went our separate ways in the summer. I hung out at the community swimming pool all day with some buddies, occasionally played tennis on a nearby court, and flirted (poorly!) with the teenage girls at the pool whenever I got the chance. Johnny and his brother Andy stayed busy cutting grass in the summers, and I’d see them pushing their lawn mowers all over town. Cincinnati can be brutally hot and humid in the summers and I always felt sorry for Johnny when I saw him… at least until we talked. He and Andy were constantly laughing and carrying on, and I always walked away feeling like I was the one missing something.
Events at the Augspurgers were always a family affair and invariably included a group of friends. Whenever I participated, it was hard to keep track of which friend was closest with which Augspurger. They all seemed to be great friends with one another. At the awkward ages of 12-14, most of us were trying to avoid our siblings. That was never an option – or apparently a desire – at the Augspurgers. With two older brothers and a younger sister, when you hung out with Johnny, you got used to there always being a couple of Augspurgers around. I probably learned more about form tackling from Kirk in the Augspurger’s back yard than from any coach I ever played for. I’ll always be indebted to Andy for turning me on to Bob Seger and Live Bullet – right after he pounded me into submission with a pair of boxing gloves. Amy was the calm in the eye of the storm and knew how far to push her big brothers, before Mom would need to step in. Johnny’s mom was one of the classiest ladies I’ve ever known and his father was a look-you-in-the-eye, soft-spoken man who engendered trust, whether you were eight or eighty. They were supportive parents, without crossing the line into doting or meddling mode.
When we moved from Elementary School to Junior High School in the seventh grade, it meant getting bused to a different town and meeting a whole new group of kids. I’d known Johnny for years and he’d always played it close to the vest when it came to girls. But after several months at the new school, I sat in the gym one day with Johnny and we watched the most athletic girl either one of us had ever seen fly back and forth on the basketball court. When she came over, Johnny went uncharacteristically into sales mode (in kind of a tongue-tied, red-faced manner, but I tell you, the boy was selling). They started dating two weeks later. Johnny and Shella dated for nine years before getting married, and recently celebrated their thirtieth anniversary.
Johnny didn’t have a lot of time for drama and time-wasting activities. Rather than get sucked into a fight with kids from another school at a Varsity football game, he dragged me into the stands and we watched Terry Ramsey rush for over 200 yards in the game. Rather than sitting in someone’s basement drinking Boone’s Farm rotgut wine, we spent the afternoon sledding down a hill called Devil’s Backbone. You never spent a day with Johnny and thought to yourself, “Now that was a waste of time!”
Through the lens of time, and conscious of some of the mistakes I’ve made as a father, husband and friend, there are some lessons that I continue to draw on from Johnny’s example:
People are drawn to individuals who work hard – but keep their sense of humor and maintain perspective. The adage “work hard and play hard” CAN be viewed positively, but it is not a license to be a jerk or to ignore the people who love you. Work hard to become better personally and professionally; growth is rewarding, and it pulls others along with you. Don’t fall prey to the lie that you have to sacrifice relationships and joy in the moment, so that you can have a more meaningful life in the future. The future is now. The passion that you bring to life should allow your personal and professional lives to merge, creating Michener’s “Master in the Art of Living.”
Get better every day - improvement is the cumulative effect of working on the little things continuously. Legendary basketball coach John Wooden said, “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” Make it a point to grow, stretch and learn. You may get sweaty in the process. It may hurt a bit. But you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.
Invest time in your family and a small circle of friends – Life is not a contest to see who can accumulate the greatest number of relationships. It’s not a numbers game. Quality relationships require an investment of time. Don’t compartmentalize family and friends. You can only maintain a certain number of meaningful relationships – don’t cheat them out of getting to know one another. And when you find the person who can change your life – don’t waste the chance.
Make the most out of today – Life is too short to spend time bitching and moaning about what you don’t have and what went wrong. If you suck life out of the room – or the conversation – eventually you’ll be surrounded by people who resemble Eeyore, Willy Loman, and George Costanza – and they’ll be thinking the same thing when they look at you. Like attracts like. Energy, humor and optimism are all infectious. Your happiness is not someone else’s responsibility. Make each day a new experience and an opportunity to laugh, learn and make someone else’s day brighter.
Johnny was in Fort Lauderdale on business about eight years ago and we went out to dinner. We talked about our families. We told stories about sports. We laughed. He hugged my wife and kids before he left. His visit gave me a lift, as well as a subtle reminder: I need to spend each day loving my life. Just like Johnny Augie.
Note: Just so I don’t allow myself to be a hypocrite, I’ve already put John and Shella on notice that Donna and I intend to visit them this summer. For those of you who read the earlier post, “Seeing It Through Their Eyes,” a trip to visit Mase is in the works as well. :)