Looking back, the K College choice remains one of the best serendipitous decisions of my soon to be 60 years. As a growing chorus of “experts” takes shots at a liberal arts education and extols the virtues of more “practical” education and earlier career path decisions, I am left to wonder about the collateral damage and lost opportunities driven by this mindset. In my view if one can read with comprehension, write with reasonable clarity, and manage time and ambiguity there are countless paths available. From an “equipping oneself for the future standpoint” these were the most important capabilities I developed at K. The confluence of influences of a K education, the student athlete experience, and a 4 year campus job provided a solid foundation for law school, a business career and over the past decade coaching youth sports.
Whether it was developing an internally driven love for reading and writing or guerilla survival skill adaptation to K, it matters little now 38 years after graduation. What does matter is the flexible mindset, curiosity about needing to know why something is as it is, and the ability to adapt and learn new things that help with novel challenges. While the decision to attend law school occurred during my K years, I had no clear vision on a career path. Perhaps it was bad luck or poor timing, but I found a short stint practicing law with fewer positives than anticipated and gravitated towards the employee relations and human resources field. I had little preparation for the field other than several relevant law school courses and the experience of financing my education working as a union laborer and machinist; I was a proud card carrying member of the Allied Industrial Workers of America. There was much learning about the real world during six summers in a dangerous factory environment that was liberally sprinkled with Viet Nam vets and a supervisory regime with a heavy eastern European influence. One particularly imposing general foreman was reputed to have been a highly decorated participant in Hitler’s youth boxing program. But I digress.
The K background that was enhanced in law school made the steep learning curve of a career path outside a logically charted course manageable and very interesting. Over time learning about labor relations, labor negotiations and strategy was energizing. Later came a deep involvement in startups of manufacturing facilities both foreign and domestic as well as acquisitions and divestitures. In a quick shout out to the business relevance of foreign study, getting chosen for a team to help start up a plant in Mexico would never have occurred without my study in Madrid and the ability to speak some Spanish. An exit strategy from an enjoyable job was driven by family considerations combined with the wear and tear of 2 million air miles. The best way I can describe business travel is that it is like your grandmother’s cookies: one or two will remind you of what is good about your life, but a whole plateful will give you a stomach ache or worse. Now back to the student-athlete influence.
Although I had always wondered about coaching youth sports, a corporate job with heavy travel made it virtually impossible. As my kids got into sports I did a variety of coaching stints that were mostly on weekends, some for sports I knew little about. Shortly after leaving the business world in 2002 I started coaching middle school wrestling and have been doing so ever since. Approaching the BIG 60 there are some obvious issues with physical interaction with middle school kids. While my 134# college weight is not visible in the rear view mirror my biggest wrestler this year weighed 274 pounds and made me cautious. Being less than very careful is not an option given the 4 plates and 8 screws that have been inserted in my knee and back to keep things in place. I can relate to Humpty Dumpty. While there have been several close calls, being an adaptive learner with above average self preservation instincts has helped me avoid being the catalyst for any 911 calls.
As most of us who have reached the age of penalty free IRA withdrawals, I recognize that the body is on the inevitable downward slide. However, I am hoping that the mind may still have some upside. I was fortunate to have had great coaches in high school and at K (Acker and Latora). As the decades have slipped away it has become clear that the student-athlete experience has had an enormously positive impact on me that I could have never have anticipated during my long past competitive years. The life lessons from wrestling are many. Three that stick out that I try to pass along to my kids are individual responsibility, discipline and mental toughness. While using those words would elicit mostly glazed stares from 12-14 year olds I have tried to convey those life skills within the context of teaching a sport. I sometimes succeed. It is quite satisfying to bump into former wrestlers working in the community who ask about wrestling or mention the positive impact the sport has had on him/her. That’s right I said “her.” Talk about a steep learning curve. I have had a half dozen girls over the years. The K experience did little if anything to help prepare me for that. But the influence is clear with pretty much everything else.
Embrace the ambiguity, don’t confuse yourself with trying to figure out what you want to be when you grow up (or whether it is even worth growing up), and look for uncharted waters. At least that is the story I am sticking to.