On the television show “Married…With Children” Ed O’Neill played the role of Al Bundy. Al was a hapless shoe salesman who always reflected back to his glory days when he played high school football for Polk High. If you were a fan of the show, you certainly remember Al’s #33 jersey and his tall tales of scoring 4 touchdowns in one game.
Sometimes I feel a bit like Al because I often talk of my own high school baseball career, but not for any specific positive reasons. I was one of three freshmen to make the varsity team at Taylor Allderdice High School in the spring of 1994. One of the other people who secured a varsity spot was my good friend, Chris Meaner. The plan was pretty simple in my eyes. We would both backup terrific seniors for the first year and become two of the marquee players in the region the next year when I would start at first base and he would start at catcher. In my head, I even saw us playing in Major League Baseball against one another.
This plan was majorly sidelined when Chris hurt his shoulder during our freshman season and he was moved to a position that required less throwing, like first base.
Due to his injury we ended up platooning at first base during our sophomore year, I became a utility player during junior year, and by senior year I opted to be in the school play instead of playing baseball. This was a pretty far drop-off for someone who had hoped and intended to play college baseball and beyond. I still catch myself thinking “what if” all the time about these years every time I go to see a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game.
During our sophomore year Chris was pretty awful to me and made it very obvious that the position was and should be his. I can’t repeat some of our exchanges here but let’s just say it wasn’t pleasant.
When I look back on this experience what I regret more than anything is that I didn’t have the intuitiveness to simply find a new position where I could stay relevant and get in the every game lineup instead of becoming a benchwarmer and a non-factor. Instead of changing what I was comfortable doing and learning something new, I resorted to apathy.
Within your own service life on campus you probably already have gone or in the future will go through a similar situation in which an ally becomes a competitor. The more that we get involved within our school the tougher it can be sometimes to always stay upbeat and positive. Sometimes it will feel like people are intentionally trying to hijack your plan or stifle your ambitions, as I felt with Chris.
The key is to not let it get you down and to either stick with your original plan and fight like crazy or come up with a new direction of how you could find comparable and equally rewarding and empowering success and opportunities. These many years later I recognize that this is precisely what I should have done in my high school baseball experience.
The positive result of this situation with Chris is that I became involved in a number of other activities and organizations in high school which has catapulted me into dozens of enriching experiences in my life. There was a certain moment when I found myself campaigning for student council and stumping for election votes while on the bench at a game when I knew my priorities had changed.
It also motivated me to take control of my own circumstances and not just assume that good opportunities were going to be handed to me. Probably most important, is that I didn’t lose my temper or cool with my friend and competitor, Chris Meaner. We remained close through the rest of high school and still are good friends today. In fact, when my first book came out in early 2008 Chris was the first person to ask me to keynote a leadership event and he even was instrumental in making my book the common reading for all first year students at Carlow University. He also was helpful when I ran for School Board in 2005 and worked a poll for us in the primary and general election, attended events, and put up a yard sign.
While I have regrets about our high school experience I usually do think about the all of the good things that have resulted because of it. It should remind all of us of two things: 1) the importance of being flexible and willing to change and 2) the value in not ending friendships over competitive environments within organizations and teams.
We need to grow our groups and not let in-fighting and bickering force each other out. It is increasingly vital to put personality and ego aside and worry about the betterment and mission of our campus clubs and organizations first and foremost. Find a way to empower and collaborate with your own personal “campus Chris Meaner” sometime soon!
Since the release of “Get Involved! Making the Most of Your 20s and 30s“ in February 2008 Tom Baker has spoken with over 17,500 students and civic leaders at over 100 colleges, companies, and community organizations and inspired thousands to give back and make a difference. As a college speaker and former student body and fraternity president during his college days, Tom shares a terrific set of stories and proven strategies with students and inspires them to GET INVOLVED! Website. Facebook. Twitter. Email. Amazon