Culture and Chemistry Matter

football fansOctober 30, 2014

Wow… that was an unbelievable World Series!  If you watched it passionately as I did, you know what I’m talking about.  Even if you didn’t and you don’t know or care that much about baseball or sports, there are a number of things that made this World Series remarkable and also some important things we can learn from it that go way beyond baseball and sports in general.

First of all, the San Francisco Giants won their third World Series title in five years.  That is almost impossible to do, especially in this day and age in pro baseball and also because each of the three Giants teams that have won the World Series in recent years (2010, 2012, 2014) didn’t have the most talent, the best record, or the numbers to “justify” their success.

Second of all, no one expected the Giants or their World Series opponent, the Kansas City Royals, to be in the World Series this year.  The Giants had a stretch of about two months this season where they were literally the worst team in baseball and they barely even made the playoffs.  The Royals as an organization hadn’t made it to the playoffs in 29 years, had almost no players on their roster with post season experience, and also barely made the playoffs themselves.  Both teams were “underdogs” the whole way and beat teams that were supposed to beat them.  Even when they were playing each other, it seemed like they were both underdogs in the World Series.

Third of all, and probably most important, what we learned from this post season, this World Series, and especially from these two remarkable teams who both “over-achieved” is that culture and chemistry matter!  In fact, they both showed that these things are actually more important than talent, statistics, and conventional wisdom.

I’ve had the honor of working with the San Francisco Giants organization since early in the season in 2010 and I’ve seen first-hand how they have built an incredible culture throughout their entire organization.  While some of the core players have stayed the same, a good number of players have changed throughout this incredible run. What hasn’t changed, and has only increased, is their focus on culture and chemistry, and the way they come together as a team at the most important moments.  It is not an accident they have had so much success over the past five seasons.

I had the honor of playing in the Kansas City Royals organization – they drafted me out of Stanford in 1995 and gave me the opportunity of a lifetime to play pro baseball.  I played three seasons in their minor league system before an arm injury ended my playing career.  And while I no longer have many personal connections to the organization, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the Royals organization and for Kansas City.  They have great fans and they haven’t had much to cheer about with the Royals for the past 29 years.

What I loved seeing and learning about this Royals team was how much heart, passion, and joy they played the game with… and how much they embraced the moment and enjoyed the incredible ride they were on.  In the post game interviews after losing a heart-breaking game 7 by a score of 3-2 (with the tying run just 90 feet away from scoring), many of the Royals players and their manager talked about how much fun they had, how proud they were of themselves and each other, and how amazing the fans in Kansas City are.  Of course they were disappointed, but they focused on some of the incredible aspects of what they had accomplished and what they appreciated about the experience.  That was not only classy of them, but remarkable and inspiring!

There are so many things we can learn from these two teams and from this World Series.  Whether in sports, business, or life – we have all had experiences of being around a group of people where the talent was strong, but the team wasn’t.  And, on the flip side, we’ve all been involved with groups of people where we may not have had “all stars” in every spot, but there was something special about how our team came together and performed as a unit.  This is the magic of culture and chemistry and it is as important as anything to our success… we just sometimes forget how important it is and spend way too much time and energy focused on talent, action, statistics, and outcomes.

Here are a few things we can remember and that the Giants and Royals taught us about the importance of culture and chemistry:

1) Appreciate what you are doing – Having fun is essential, even when we are faced with stressful or difficult tasks.  While baseball is a game, at the professional level and especially in the World Series, it is a HUGE deal.  There is a lot at stake on many levels for both teams, all the players, and everyone involved.  If you watched any of the World Series, you could see that these guys were having fun and appreciating what they were doing, in the midst of the tension.  Before he came to bat for the first time in game 7 of the World Series, the Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval smiled and winked at the camera, looking as though he didn’t have a care in the world.  He ended up getting three hits and was on base all four times during the game.

2)  Leave it all on the field – I remember my pitching coach Dean Stotz at Stanford saying to us, “Men, in baseball and in life, there are really only two things you can control, your attitude and your effort.  Everything else is out of your control.”  We spend a lot of time and energy focused on and worried about things that are out of our control.  However, showing up and playing whatever game we are playing with passion and, as we say in baseball, “leaving it all on the field,” are essential to creating a winning culture and the chemistry it takes to be a champion.  At the end of the final game of the World Series, you could see how exhausted both teams were, even though they were still playing with as much passion as possible.  They had truly left it all out on the field and it was a beautiful thing to see.

3)  Love your teammates – This may be the most important element of all… love your teammates.  Last year when the Giants all-star right fielder Hunter Pence gave a speech at AT&T Park after receiving an award, he said about his teammates, “I love every minute of playing with you guys.  I know some of you don’t like it when I say ‘I love you,’ you think it’s soft… but I think it’s the strongest thing we’ve got.”  He’s right – love is the most powerful force in the universe and the most important ingredient to culture, chemistry, and success.

After the final out of the World Series, the Giants’ catcher Buster Posey, who is their best overall player (although he struggled in this World Series in terms of results), and their pitcher Madison Bumgarner, who had just completed one of the greatest performances in World Series history, embraced in the middle of the field.  It was beautiful to see.  Both of these young men (Posey is 27 and Bumgarner is 25) have played together since they were in the minor leagues and have been key contributors on all three of the Giants’ World Series winning teams.  But, in that moment, it wasn’t about their statistics, their contracts, or even their results (although they were celebrating the ultimate results… winning the World Series), it was about their relationship and connection to each other, their team, and the entire fan base of the San Francisco Giants.  And, if you looked closely you could see Bumgarner say to Posey in his ear, “I love you, man!”  To me, it was the best highlight of the night and it epitomized not only the amazing culture and chemistry of the San Francisco Giants, but what it takes to be a true championship team!

Where in your life are you focused more on talent, action, and results than culture and chemistry?  What can you do to put more attention on culture and chemistry in a way that can benefit you and those around you?  Leave a comment here on my blog about this.

Are You In The Game?

guantone baseballOctober 9, 2014

I’ve been fascinated by the Major League Baseball playoffs, which started a little over a week ago.  As a former baseball player and lifelong fan, I usually watch the post season games…especially when one of our local teams here in the Bay Area is involved.  This year, both local teams (the Oakland A’s and the San Francisco Giants) made it to the playoffs.  Unfortunately, The A’s got knocked out right away.  The Giants, on the other hand, are still alive and playing quite well…they seem to have some real October magic the past few years.

Although my personal interest and allegiance to the teams I like are what drew me to pay attention to the playoffs this year, I’m seeing, yet again, so many great life lessons involved in these games.  What’s been remarkable about the baseball post season so far this year is how many close games, twists and turns, and unexpected outcomes there have been.  None of the four teams left in the playoffs were favored.  In other words, each post season series has involved an upset, including seeing the Kansas City Royals, the organization which I played for back in 90s, advance for the first time in 29 years.

While these close games, upsets, and unexpected outcomes have been exciting for the fans of the teams still alive (and baseball fans in general), they have also involved a number of very successful teams and players not performing up to the level which was expected of them.  As a former player myself, I always think about the individuals and teams who lose and fail, and my heart goes out to them, because I know how disappointing, embarrassing, and downright painful that can be.  However, that’s all part of the game – someone wins and someone loses.  And, in all sports which have an ultimate “champion,” everyone involved, except for the members of the championship team, ends up losing.

Of course this is just the nature of baseball, and life in many cases.  And, as important as we take pro sports in our culture, at the end of the day, most of us realize it’s not a matter of life and death (although when our team is involved, it’s easy to forget that).  However, this fear of failing and losing, and specifically doing so publicly, is something that impacts most of us at some level personally.  We go to extraordinary lengths in our lives to make sure we don’t fail or lose, and to definitely make sure we don’t do so publicly.

Unfortunately, in baseball, like in life, if we aren’t willing to fail and lose, and even to do so publicly, we’ve probably signed up for the wrong game.  There’s nowhere to run and nowhere to hide – playing the game of baseball, just like living life, is ultimately a dangerous and vulnerable endeavor.  It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past or how talented you are, on any given day you can lose and cost your team the game, and possibly the entire season.

Clayton Kershaw who pitches for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and is considered my most experts to be the best pitcher in baseball, not only signed a 7-year, $215 million contract before the start of the season, had one of the best seasons by a pitcher in recent history this year.  He’s going to win the Cy Young award for the best pitcher in the league, and may also win the MVP (Most Valuable Player) award (which is rarely given to pitchers).  He lost both of the games he started in the Dodgers’ series against the St. Louis Cardinals and didn’t pitch anywhere nearly as well as he did all season long.  He failed.  He lost.  He did so in a big, public way.  His team got eliminated, even though they were expected to advance.

However, with all of this thought about failing and losing, and doing so publicly…as the saying goes, “We can’t win if we don’t play.”  And, even worse than losing or failing, is that we often don’t even show up for the game.  Or, if we do, we sit in the stands and comment on the game, instead of actually getting in there and playing.  Life happens in the game, no on the sidelines.  It can be scary in the game.  Sometimes you get hurt.  Sometimes you don’t get what you want.  Sometimes you fail.  And sometimes you even lose, and do so in a public, painful, and humiliating way.  But, so what?  We’ve all played and lost…and survived.  What are we so afraid of?

As a mentor of mine said years ago, “You’re living your life as though you’re trying to survive it.  You have to remember, no one ever has.”

Let’s stop trying to simply survive life, let’s get in the game and play.  And, if we have the courage to play, we may as well leave it all on the field and play with passion, heart, and authenticity.  Because when we do that, whether we “win” or “lose,” we can take pride in the fact that we showed up, put ourselves out there, and had the courage to go for it.

Where in your life are you in the game?  Where in your life can you put yourself in the game (even if you’re scared)?  Leave a comment here on my blog about this.

Are You Avoiding a Difficult Conversation?

KrakowSeptember 4, 2014

A number of years ago a mentor of mine said something really important to me.  “Mike,” he said, “do you know what stands between you and the kind of relationships you really want to have?”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“It’s probably just a ten minute, sweaty-palmed conversation you’re too afraid to have.  If you get good at those ten minute, sweaty-palmed conversations, you’ll have fantastic relationships.  But, if you do like most of us and avoid them, you’ll end up being a ‘victim’ of the people and situations in your life… and you’ll also give away a lot of your power to others,” he said.

His wisdom and insight was spot on, and I’ve been sharing it with others ever since he said it to me.  And although I’ve had my fair share of sweaty-palmed conversations over the years, and in most cases they have gone quite well, allowed me to resolve conflicts with others, and created a deeper level of trust and connection in my relationships, I’m still amazed at how easy it is for me to avoid having conversations that I assume will be uncomfortable.

There are a few specific situations and relationships in my life right now that clearly require these types of conversations, and I’ve been finding all kinds of creative justifications for not having them, which, as I’ve learned many times in the past, doesn’t serve me and takes an enormous amount of energy.

So why do we do this?  Why do we avoid difficult conversations, or worse, end up gossiping, complaining, and actively blaming others for our own discomfort?  I think there are a number of reasons we do this, but here are a few of the big ones.

First of all, we live in a culture of blame and avoidance.  It’s much easier and frankly more socially acceptable to blame others when something happens we don’t like or to simply avoid dealing with a conflict or difficult situation.  Most of us weren’t taught in school, at home, or as we’ve moved into our adult lives how to effectively deal with conflict in a healthy and productive way, so we aren’t all that well-equipped to address it.

Second of all, we’ve all had painful experiences in our past trying to deal with difficult situations and conversations.  From the most extreme to the somewhat mild, each of us has experienced pain, hurt, disappointment, shame, failure, and more in our attempts to address a conflict, stand up for ourselves, or engage in a touchy discussion.  These experiences often cause us to protect ourselves in one way or another.

Third of all, talking about stuff like this makes us vulnerable and it can be quite scary, both because of our past experiences and also because by doing so we expose ourselves to those specific things we don’t want to experience – pain, hurt, disappointment, shame, failure, and more.

It takes courage to have those ten minute, sweaty-palmed conversations (which sometimes take more than ten minutes, of course).  More often than not, we’d rather be “safe” than risk looking bad, making things worse, or doing damage to ourselves, our relationships, and others.

However, usually what’s at risk is just our ego.  And although there are no guarantees and it does take guts to engage in these types of conversations, each of us knows deep within us that we’ll be fine no matter what happens, and in fact, we also know that not being willing to have these types of conversations is ultimately way more damaging to us, our relationships, and everyone around us than taking the risk and speaking our truth.

Here are a few things to think about and remember when dealing with a conflict or difficult conversation:

1) Take responsibility – It always “takes two to tango.” Taking responsibility is not about being at fault or blaming the other person, it’s about owning up to the situation and recognizing that we are a part of the issue.  It’s also about honestly feeling and expressing our emotions with authenticity.

2) Address the conflict directly – Conflicts are always handled most successfully when they’re dealt with directly and promptly. Be real and vulnerable when you approach someone with an issue, but make sure to do so as soon as possible, don’t let it fester.

3) Seek first to understand – As challenging as it can be, the best approach in any conflict situation is to listen with as much understanding, compassion, and empathy as possible – even and especially when we’re feeling angry or defensive. If we can understand where the other person is coming from, even if we don’t agree, we have a good chance of being able to work things out.

4) Use “I” statements – If someone does or says something and I have a specific reaction to it, that’s real. If I judge someone, make a generalization about them, or accuse them of something, not only is it not “true” (it’s just my opinion) it will most likely trigger a defensive response from them. We must own our feedback as ours, not speak it like the “truth.”  Using “I” statements allows us to speak from a place of truth, ideally without blame or judgment.

5) Go for a win-win – The only real way to have a conflict resolved authentically is if it’s a true win-win for everyone involved. This doesn’t necessarily mean that each person gets his or her way. It does, however, mean that everyone gets heard, honored, and listened to. And, when and if possible – we make compromises that leave everyone empowered and in partnership.

6) Acknowledge others – Whether it’s a one-on-one conversation or a situation that involves lots of people, acknowledgment is essential to our ability to engage in productive conflict and to be able to resolve it in an authentic and effective way. Thank the other people involved in the conflict for being willing and able to engage. Thank them for their truth.

7)  Get support and have compassion for yourself in the process –  A lot of times these difficult situations and conversations bring up a lot of fear and cut to the core of our most vulnerable insecurities. Because of this, it is important for us to reach out to others for authentic support (not agreement) who can help us both in a practical and emotional sense work through the issue and resolve it in a healthy and responsible way.  It’s also important to have compassion with ourselves as we attempt to engage in these conversations… they aren’t usually fun or easy for most of us.

What can you do right now to have any difficult conversations you have been avoiding in a healthy and authentic way?  What support do you need?  Leave a comment about this here on my blog.

Think Big

August 7, 2014

I’ve had a number of experiences in the past few months which have both inspired me and challenged me to think big (and also to look at the ways in which I don’t.) All too often we let our egos, our fears, our perceived limitations, or our selfish motivations get in our way from thinking big.

In this week’s video blog I talk about this phenomenon and how we can get out of our own way, with compassion, and challenge ourselves to think big in an authentic way.

Check out the video below and feel free to leave a comment here on my blog about it. You can share thoughts, questions, ideas, insights, or anything else that this video inspires.

Are You Addicted to Your Device?

July 9, 2014

This past weekend, while we were away for the 4th of July holiday, I had a profound realization of how addicted I’ve become to my iPhone. While I love many aspects of how technology enhances our lives and allows us to connect with one another in some very cool ways, I’m also aware of the potential dark side of being so connected technologically that we lose connection with ourselves, those around us, and what truly matters.

In this week’s video blog, I talk about this challenge that many of us face these days. I turned my phone off for 24 hours over the weekend.  Although this was simple to do on the surface, it wasn’t all that easy… but some amazing things happened when I did.

Check out the video below and feel free to leave a comment here on my blog about it. You can share thoughts, questions, ideas, insights, or anything else that this video inspires.

If You’re Trying To Prove It, You Don’t Believe It

June 26, 2014

My counselor Eleanor recently said to me, “Mike, if you’re trying to prove something, it means you don’t actually believe it yet.” Her words hit me right between the eyes, as they often do. She was right and as I reflect on certain aspects of my life, I can see that where I’m overly attached to proving myself, it’s because I don’t actually believe in my own skill, talent, or value (i.e. I’m looking for outside validation to “prove” my worth)…maybe you can relate to this?

In this week’s video blog, I talk about this phenomenon and how we can move from “proving” to “believing” in an authentic way.

Check out the video below and feel free to leave a comment here on my blog about it. You can share thoughts, questions, ideas, insights, or anything else that this video inspires.

Remember How Precious Life Is

June 19, 2014

I was deeply saddened to learn about the recent death of Hall of Fame baseball player Tony Gwynn.  Tony was a star for the San Diego Padres in the 1980s and 1990s.  In addition to being an incredibly talented and accomplished athlete, he had an infectious smile and personality.  I didn’t know Tony personally, but he was always someone I respected and admired – both for his skill and for the type of human being he seemed to be.

Given who he was and how he went about things, he seemed almost larger than life in many ways.  Hearing about his death shocked me.  It also had me pause and reflect on the precious nature of life, as I often do when I’m touched by someone’s passing.  In this week’s video blog, I talk about the preciousness of life and how we can live with more conscious awareness of it.

Check out the video below and feel free to leave a comment here on my blog about it.  You can share thoughts, questions, ideas, insights, or anything else that this video inspires.

The Importance of Live Conversations

sitting coupleJune 5, 2014

For this week’s audio podcast, click here.

Have you ever had a conversation, disagreement, or conflict escalate over email or text? Do you sometimes find yourself engaging in difficult or emotional conversations electronically because it seems “easier,” only to regret it later on? If you’re anything like me and most of the people I know and work with, you can probably answer “yes” to both of these questions.

In the past few months I’ve had a couple conflicts with important people in my life get blown way out of proportion, mainly because I engaged in them via email, instead of talking live to those involved. As I look back on these and other similar situations I’ve experienced in the past, I can see that it was my fear to connect live and my poor judgment in using written communication that contributed to the increased conflict and lack of resolution.

Why do we do this (even though most of us, myself included, know better?) First of all, email (or other forms of electronic communication – texting, Facebook, Twitter, and more), tends to be the primary mode of communication these days for many of us – both personally and professionally.

Second of all, it can sometimes seem easier for us to be honest and direct in writing because we can say what is true for us without having to worry about the in-the-moment reaction of the other person.

And third, electronic communication (or even one-way verbal communication, i.e. voice mail) takes way less courage than having a live, real conversation with another human being (on the phone or in person). When we talk to people live we have to deal with our fear of rejection, fear of being hurt, and our tendency to “sell out” on ourselves and not speak our full truth. Avoiding the live conversation and choosing to do it in writing sometimes feels “safer” and can allow us to say things we might otherwise withhold.

Regardless of why we choose to engage in important conversations via these one-way forms of communication (email, text, voice mail, etc.), it is much less likely for us to work through conflicts, align with one another, and build trust and connection when we avoid talking to each other live about important stuff.

Anything we’re willing to engage in electronically can usually be resolved much more quickly, effectively, and lovingly by having a live conversation, even if we’re scared to do so. The fear may be real, but most often the “threat” is not.

Here are some things you can do to practice engaging in live conversations with people more often and, ultimately, to resolve your conflicts more successfully.

- Be clear about your intention – Before sending an email, text, etc. (or even leaving a voice mail), ask yourself, “What’s my intention?” If you’re about to engage in something that is in any way emotionally charged, about a conflict, or important on an inter-personal level, check in to make sure you’re not simply sending the message to avoid dealing with it and the person(s) involved directly. Tell the truth to yourself about how you feel, what you want, and why you’re about to engage in the specific type and form of communication you’re choosing.

- Don’t send everything you write – Writing things out without a filter and just letting all of our thoughts and feelings flow can be a very important exercise, especially when we’re dealing with a conflict or something that’s important to us. However, we don’t always have to send everything we write! It’s often a good idea to save an email in your drafts folder and read it again later (maybe after you’ve calmed down a bit or even the following day.)

- Request a call or a meeting – Before engaging in a long, emotional email exchange, it can often be best to simply pick up the phone or send a note to request a specific time to talk about the situation live. Face to face is always best if you can make it happen, but if that poses a big challenge (i.e. you’re busy and it might take a while to set up) or is not possible (i.e. you don’t live close enough to the person to see them easily), talking on the phone is another option. A great email response can simply be, “Thanks for your note, this seems like something that would be better to discuss live than by email, let’s set up a time to talk later today or this week.”

- Speak your truth, without judgment or blame – When you do engage in the live conversation (in person or on the phone), focus on being REAL, not RIGHT. This means that you speak your truth by using “I statements,” (I think, I feel, I notice, I want, etc.) As soon as we move into blame or judgment, we cut off the possibility of any true resolution. Own your judgments and notice if you start to blame the other person(s) involved. If so, acknowledge it, apologize for it, and get back to speaking your truth in a real way, not accusing them of stuff.

- Get support from others – When we’re dealing with emotionally charged conflicts, it’s often a good idea to reach out for support from other people we trust and respect. If at all possible, try to get feedback from people who will be honest with you, won’t just tell you what you want to hear and agree with you no matter what, and who aren’t too emotionally connected to the situation themselves. Whether it is to bounce ideas off of, get specific coaching or feedback, or simply to help you process through your own fear, anger, or tendency to over-react (which many of us do in situations like this), getting support from those around us in the process is essential. We don’t have to do it alone and we’re not the only ones who struggle with things like this.

Living life, doing our work, and interacting with the other human beings around us can be wonderfully exciting and incredibly challenging (or anywhere in between.) Conflicts are a natural and beautiful part of life and relationships. We can learn so much about ourselves and others through engaging in productive conflict and important conversations.

The ultimate goal isn’t to live a conflict-free life; it’s to be able to engage in conflict in a way that is productive, healthy, kind, and effective. When we remember that live conversations, even if they can be scary at first, are always the best way to go, we can save ourselves from needless worry, stress and suffering – and in the process resolve our conflicts much more quickly, easily, and successfully.

Are there situations in your life that require live conversations where you have either been avoiding or emailing – and they’re not getting resolved? What can you do to address these situations directly – and have live conversations with those people? Share your ideas, commitments, thoughts, dreams, and more here on my blog.

Be Real and Compassionate About Money

nothing-changes-until-you-do-pintrest34May 29, 2014

2009 was an extremely challenging year for both Michelle and me. Among the many issues we faced that year, one of the most painful was the difficult financial situation we’d put ourselves into: we were $105,000 in debt and about $300,000 upside down on our house by the end of that year. There were a number of factors that contributed to this, some of which had to do with the economic downturn and the collapse of the housing market, but more had to do with our lack of awareness, understanding, and responsibility with our money.

I grew up without a lot of money. My parents split up when I was three; it was 1977 and my mom hadn’t worked much in the eight years since she had gotten pregnant with my sister, Lori. My dad made a decent living as a radio announcer, but with him gone, my mom was forced to take care of us, find work, and figure out how to navigate life as a single parent, which, as a Catholic girl from Rhode Island who didn’t have any family in California, wasn’t easy.

My dad, who had been pretty actively engaged in our lives the first five years after he and my mom split (we’d see him every other weekend), lost his job in late 1981 when his bipolar disorder got the best of him. We no longer saw him on a regular basis — he slipped into a very deep depression and stopped paying child support. My mom had recently started working for herself at that time as a wholesale sales rep for a few companies that made fashion accessories. She was trying to get her business off the ground so she could work for herself and have flexibility with her schedule. She was doing the best she could to raise us without much support from my dad — emotionally, practically, or financially.

One of the first and most poignant memories I have of realizing we didn’t have a lot of money is of one night during a major rainstorm in February of 1982, just after my eighth birthday. The rain had gotten so intense that the ceiling in our living room started to leak. I remember initially thinking it was fun as my mom had Lori and me run into the kitchen to get some pots and pans and put them down on the floor to catch the water. In the midst of my laughter and excitement, I looked at my mom. It didn’t seem like she was having much fun. All of a sudden, she fell to the floor and began to sob. Lori rushed over to her to comfort her, and I followed, confused by what was going on. She looked up at us through her tears and said, “I don’t know what we’re going to do.” She then told us we didn’t have the money to take care of the leaky roof on our house. My mom was scared and overwhelmed, and, in that moment, so was I.

Over the next few years, and throughout most of my childhood and adolescence, money (or lack thereof) became a major source of stress, worry, and disappointment in my family. I heard the words we can’t afford it so often as a child that by the time I became a teenager, I mostly stopped asking for things. While my mom’s business did grow a bit, we essentially lived hand to mouth, and it was hard. We had no savings, no college funds, and no financial plan of any kind. We didn’t go on vacation, and when things around the house broke, they often weren’t fixed or replaced. I was constantly aware of what many of my friends had and what they were able to do in comparison to me.

I got into Stanford and was able to go, thanks, in part, to my success in baseball and also to the enormous financial aid package I was offered. While I wasn’t super focused on money, I definitely wanted to have a different and more abundant financial experience when I got older. I hoped one day I would be rich, and part of my motivation to make it to the major leagues was to dramatically change my financial reality. When I got drafted by the Kansas City Royals in 1995 after my junior year at Stanford, I received a $35,000 signing bonus. It was the first time in my life I actually had a little money of my own. I was elated, but also scared—not sure what to do with it. After buying a car and a few other things, paying my taxes, and trying to live on the very small amount of money I was paid in the minor leagues, most of that money was gone within a year. When my playing career ended just a few years later, without having made it to the big leagues or making much money, I was forced to figure out what to do with my life and how I would make money. I had no clue about either.

In the summer of 2004, after Michelle and I had been living together in San Francisco for two years, we got engaged. We were excited about getting married, although scared at the same time. Even though I was starting to make a little bit of money and my speaking and coaching business was gaining some momentum, we didn’t have any money saved. In fact, we were both in debt and didn’t have a financial plan at all. Even with our lean financial situation, given the economic climate at the time, we were pre-qualified for a $650,000 home loan and were told we could “buy” a house without having to put down any money, which is what we did in early 2005.

Although I didn’t feel ready to buy a house and didn’t think we were in a healthy financial position to do so (which, in hindsight, we weren’t), my decision to go ahead with it was based almost completely on fear. I was scared that if we didn’t buy a house at that time we’d get priced out of the market given how much home prices were going up. I was scared to disappoint Michelle because she really wanted a house as we were getting ready to get married and hoping to start a family. I was scared to admit my fear and to acknowledge that I didn’t think I was ready for the responsibility of owning a home—both financially and energetically. I was scared to admit that I wasn’t really sure how to make money, save money, combine my finances with Michelle’s, and become the primary breadwinner for our family. My deepest fear was that I would continue my legacy of financial struggle and always live hand to mouth, since that was all I’d ever known.

Over the next few years, I did the best I could to pay the mortgage and all of our bills, expand my business, and provide for our family. Life was intense and exciting—two babies, two books, lots of travel, and an enormous amount of activity. Although things were going well and I was making a lot more money, we kept spending more to keep up with our expanding life and my expanding business. I felt a great deal of pressure and things felt out of control, financially and otherwise. We didn’t have a plan and I still didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing, but there didn’t seem to be time to slow down to think about it, talk about it, or do anything about it. I figured if I just kept making more money, it would all work out.

Then 2009 happened. Not only did I lose a great deal of work to the economic meltdown (many of my corporate clients canceled their events and cut their training budgets), I also invested a lot of money into my business and the launch of my second book. The timing was terrible for us, and by the end of that year we found ourselves in a real mess. And while it didn’t happen overnight, we were humbled by how quickly it seemed like we had put ourselves in such a hole, baffled by how we got there, and totally confused about how to get ourselves out. It felt eerily similar to that moment when I was eight, on the floor with my mom and sister surrounded by pots and pans.

Somewhat miraculously, less than two years later, we were completely debt-free, out from under the weight of our house situation, and on track in a positive direction with our finances. How we were able to do this was based on a variety of things. And while there were a lot of practical things we did and there was a lot of hard work involved on our part, the two most important things we did were on a personal and internal level: we learned to get real and to have compassion for ourselves.

Getting real wasn’t fun or easy, especially at first, and it was quite humbling. We had to look at the reality of where we were, get specific about the numbers themselves, and investigate how we’d gotten there in the first place. Basically, we’d consistently spent more money than we’d made for many years. We also had not done a very good job planning or tracking our finances, which seemed increasingly complicated for us now that we had a family of four, a house, and lots of new expenses, as well as a business that generated significantly inconsistent amounts of income and required large chunks of money to be spent at certain times.

We started talking about our situation, in detail, to each other and to a few important people close to us. We told them about our debt, our house, and our specific challenges. We did this with people we felt we could trust and who might be able to help. It felt scary, embarrassing, and vulnerable, but at the same time, also liberating and empowering. Getting real like this forced us to “sober up,” start taking a deeper level of responsibility, and begin the process of turning things around financially.

We also did our best to have compassion for ourselves and to look for the gifts in the situation. More difficult even than the specifics of what we were facing financially was the emotional impact. Both of us were dealing with an enormous amount of shame, embarrassment, guilt, and more. Michelle felt guilty that she had been so adamant about us buying our house when we did, which in hindsight we realized was one of the key factors that caused the mess we were in. She also felt a certain degree of helplessness due to the fact that she was at home taking care of the girls and couldn’t directly impact our income. I, on the other hand, felt like a loser and blamed myself for our being in this bad of a spot. I clearly wasn’t making enough money and since that was one of my primary responsibilities in our family, I felt embarrassed and like I was letting down Michelle and the girls big-time.

We both realized that the harsh judgments we had about ourselves, which we would sometimes project onto each other, were not only harmful but also were making a difficult situation even worse. We each dug deep in search of self-compassion, did our best to forgive ourselves and each other, and made a commitment to continually look for the “gifts” from what we were going through. We both did a lot of inner forgiveness work, in addition to outward practical work (with coaches, mentors, and others), that helped lead not only to our financial turnaround, but to our personal healing as well.

Money is one of the most emotionally charged issues we contend with, especially these days. Many of us have some real baggage about money that we bring with us into our relationships, our work, and most aspects of our lives. And, because of our feelings of shame, guilt, confusion, judgment, fear, arrogance, and embarrassment about money, we often don’t talk about it in a real way. Our lack of comfort with authentic discussions about money is one of the biggest reasons it continues to be such a source of stress and confusion for so many of us. We also tend to be very secretive about money. As the saying goes, “We’re only as sick as our secrets.”

This is an excerpt from my new book, Nothing Changes Until You Do, with permission.  The book is published by Hay House and is available now online or in bookstores. 

Leave a comment here on my blog about how this relates to your life and/or any questions you have about it.

Swing Hard (Just in Case You Hit It)

nothing-changes-until-you-do-pintrest21May 22, 2014

In July of 1992, the summer between my senior year in high school and my freshman year at Stanford, I got invited to play in the U.S. Junior National Baseball Championship tournament in Boise, Idaho. It was a pretty big deal. Some of the top high school players in the country were there, including a 16-year-old shortstop from Miami named Alex Rodriguez. So there we were, a group of pretty talented and confident (i.e., cocky) high school baseball players, but beneath the outward cockiness was a deep sense of insecurity, especially being around other players of this caliber.

The first day we were on the field, they sent us down to the batting cage. We were all standing around watching as each of us took turns hitting. Given the nature of the tournament, the group, and the fact that this was the first time we were on the field together, we were all definitely trying to impress one another. While we were all pretty good ballplayers and relatively impressive, there was one guy on our team, named Geoff Jenkins, who was literally like a man among boys when he stepped into the batting cage.

Geoff was an unbelievably talented player, and I’d played against him in summer ball the year before. He had this huge swing. Lots of coaches and scouts would comment on it, saying,”He won’t be able to get away with that huge swing at the next level.” Geoff was heading to play at University of Southern California that fall and since I was going to Stanford, we were going to be facing one another in the coming years at the college level.

As he was in the batting cage that day, he was putting on such an incredible display of hitting that, even in the midst of our cockiness and posturing, we were all looking around at each other in amazement at what he was doing. At one point, toward the end of his round of batting practice, Geoff swung so hard that on his backswing when he slammed the bat down, he actually cracked the wooden platform under his feet. I’d never seen anyone do that. He had to stop early and come out of the cage. The maintenance crew had to go in and try to figure out what they needed to do-either fix or remove the platform.

As Geoff walked out of the cage with his bat over his shoulder, knowing that he’d just been quite impressive, he had a sly, pleased-with-himself look on his face. One of the other guys on our team said, “Geoff, dude, why do you swing so hard?” Geoff stopped, spit, looked back at him, and, after a long pause, said, “Just in case I hit it.”

I remember thinking, Wow, that’s not how I usually approach baseball, or life for that matter.

Geoff went on to be an all-American while playing at USC and then a first-round draft pick of the Milwaukee Brewers. By the age of 23, he was a starter in the major leagues, where he played for 11 seasons – including winning a World Series ring with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008, his final year. He never stopped swinging hard, and throughout his very successful major league career, he got quite a few hits (1,293 total) and hit a lot of home runs (221 total). He also struck out 1,186 times.

Far too often we hold back and play safe in life – worrying that we might fail, mess up, or embarrass ourselves. Some of this we do consciously, but much of it is unconscious; it’s almost hardwired into us to do whatever we can to avoid looking bad.

A number of years ago, I was running in my neighborhood. In those days, when Samantha was still very young and before Rosie was even born, I used to get up before anyone was awake and go for a morning run. I was coming to my favorite part of the run (the end) and whenever I would get to the corner near our house, I would kick it into high gear, so I could “finish strong.” That morning I was having a pretty good run and was really into the song on my iPod, so when I got to the corner, I took off even faster than normal.

Sadly, I wasn’t paying attention to the ground and didn’t notice a big lip in the sidewalk. I hit it with my foot, and I went down-hard! I hadn’t fallen down that hard in years. My iPod flew out of my hand, my hat came off my head, and I caught myself inches before hitting my chin on the pavement. As shocked as I was to have fallen, as I was lying there on the ground, before I stopped to assess my physical condition, I immediately looked up to see if anyone had seen what had happened. It was a reflex. Once I saw that there were no cars driving by and no one else on the street, I finally took a moment to think about my injuries. I was a little scraped up, although not that bad, and I had bumped my knee pretty good on the ground, but it didn’t seem to be actually injured, just a little sore. I got up, brushed myself off, and, as I limped the rest of the way home, all I thought was, Well, at least no one saw that. It was a painful and humbling reminder of my own attachment to looking good (or, at the very least, not looking bad).

What if we weren’t so concerned with messing up or looking bad? This is about being willing to take risks, be bold, and “swing hard” in our lives. And although this concept is pretty simple and we all understand it, like many things in life, understanding something is quite different from actually practicing it. In other words, it’s much easier said than done.

Being bold, while scary and challenging at times, is essential to living an authentic and fulfilling life. Boldness is about stepping up and stepping out onto our “edge”-pushing the limits of what we think is possible for us. It’s about living with courage and passion, and letting go of our attachment to the outcome along with the perceptions and opinions of others (including our gremlin). Living this way is not only thrilling, it’s how we consciously evolve as human beings.

Will we swing and miss sometimes? Yes. Might we fall down and embarrass ourselves? Of course we will. But, as Wayne Gretzky famously said, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.”

This is an excerpt from my new book Nothing Changes Until You Do, published with permission. The book is published by Hay House and available now online or in bookstores. 

Leave a comment here on my blog about how this post relates to your life and/or any questions you have about it.

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