Let the Ball Come to You

Over the past 90+ essays on this blog, I have often written about surprising and unexpected learning moments. Whether in a cab in Bakersfield (“The Story of Clarissa”), a walk in Des Moines (“Long look Garden”) or at a summer job many years ago (“The story of Floyd”), I have had a life filled with little stories and moments of insights and learning’s. Well last weekend that list continued to grow at my 30th college reunion.

My wife Jennie and I both graduated from The College of Wooster class of ‘83 (learn more at: www.ctcl.org/colleges/wooster ) 30 years ago this spring. We both deeply enjoyed our time there and look back on that fine liberal arts experience as a powerful foundation for our adult lives. Thinking about the reunion, we looked forward to getting back to campus, seeing old friends, telling a few old stories, showing off the campus to our kids for the first time, and getting caught up on all the positive things happening at the college. Jennie had a very active role in planning the events for the reunion and the entire weekend was packed.

Well the weekend was a ball, the campus was beautiful and the whole experience was a huge success! We haven’t laughed that hard in years (which is a reminder to actually work harder to stay connected with life-long friends …. More on that idea in an upcoming essay.) At one of the evening events I ran into a fellow alumnus from the class of ‘88 who was a member of my fraternity. After a few stories about mutual friends (those stories will NOT be featured in any future essays) we shared a bit about our current professional lives. I talked about my journey after Wooster, through an MBA at Vanderbilt, and on through marketing and sales career at Kimberly Clark, Kraft Foods, The Coca-Cola Company and now my current fun at Bolthouse Farms. He shared that he had recently left a long career in the publishing industry and he was pushing hard to make the “next thing” happen and he just wasn’t sure what that was going to like. There was clearly a bit of stress in his voice when he shared the story of his recent job change.

This poignant moment occurred late one night last weekend after a great beer tasting event; having just met this guy what was my next move? Well without too much deliberation I shared a piece of advice that I had been given many years before, which was to … “let the ball come to you.” In the late 80’s I had been at a crossroads in my career, wanting to make a change but not finding the right role/right company/right town/right boss/etc. It seemed that the harder I pushed, the less successful I became. Think about the idea of “professional quicksand”, the more you struggle, the faster you sink. Well I was pushing and really getting nowhere. A friend who was working in the sports broadcasting field at the time said, “Bill, run your route. You can’t be the quarterback AND the receiver. Run your route and let the ball come to you.” At that moment I thought the advice was too simple, and maybe off track. I had to do everything in my power to create and close on opportunities, … right??? Wasn’t that what I was taught at B-school? Wasn’t that the American model of Capitalism???

To say the least I did indeed heed that advice, and in a few months I had an interview at The Coca-Cola Company, for a role that was perfect, for a boss that was great, in a city that I loved, that I nailed!! (Because I was ready to “catch that ball”) I shared that whole story with my fellow alum and while I am not sure what he is going to do with that story, it reminded me of how poignant that message was for me. In the scope of life we often think we have to be both quarterback and receiver on so many fronts. Maybe if we could all take just a little breath (any maybe one more sip at the beer tasting, ha!) and focus on running our “routes” of life well and being really prepared to make a great catch when “the ball comes to you”, we might all find a bit more peace and a bit more success as we face the challenges ahead.