When I first started to write this blog a couple of years ago, I explained in detail (anyone who read it would probably say “painstaking detail”) how I came up with the name of this blog.
I retold my Free Falling experience, in part, because it happened an AMAZING third time and in order to recount my close encounter of the third time, I had to recount encounters one and two.
I’ve recently been giving some thought to a few of the other posts that I need to rehash – and one of the things about having a near photographic memory (and not being THAT prolific in my writing) is I probably know the general theme of most of the posts from CTB 1.0.
I’m not sure how active I will be with these posts going forward. Unlike someone who writes a regular column for a newspaper (they still exist, don’t they?) or some online publisher, I don’t have anything forcing me to produce X number of pieces or X,XXX number of words in any giving time period. Sometimes the muse hits me, and sometimes it goes right past me (or I go right past it).
So before I go any further with this, I thought I should go back to the beginning. I’ll try to do it in a little bit more condensed version – the Reader’s Digest edition (does THAT still exist?) if you will. And since it will HOPEFULLY be shorter, I’ll also try to include both the background story on the origin of Climb the Buddha and on the subsequent “life after” which I initially did as a follow on to the original So, About the Name post (because, you know, it was so FRICKIN long the first time, I had to do it in two parts).
OK, so Climb the Buddha . . . what the hell is that supposed to mean?
In Free Falling – Again, I explained some of the details that led me to be in a VERY bad place in the Fall of 2001 – including seeing my career at the NFL going down the tubes. As all that was going on, we rolled into the annual holiday season. Given that this was only three months after September 11, it was not your usual festive mood. It was all pretty somber.
On December 17 (at least I think it was December 17, it may have been a few days earlier, I’m not sure – but I know, with absolute certainty, that December 17, 2001 was the day that the later events occurred), I attended the funeral of George Young. George was a great guy and a colorful character. After a long career at various NFL teams including the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants (where as General Manager he was credited with building the teams that won two Super Bowls), George was finishing his career in a position at the NFL headquarters in New York. And it was during this time that I got to know him better and developed a fondness for him, his wit, his earnestness, and his humility.
I had already been to too many funerals that Fall. George’s death was unexpected and shocking – I’m not sure how one could be shocked by anything after September 11, but nonetheless, it was shocking.
It wouldn’t have been shocking nine years earlier, the first time I met George. That was in the Summer of 1992, at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Camden Yards in Baltimore. I was there as part of the NFL expansion process evaluation team and George, a Baltimore native, was there in support of Baltimore’s bid for an expansion team.
At the time George weighed (I don’t know, I’m guessing) – between 350 and 400 pounds. He was like some of those guys you see now on the Biggest Loser on TV. He was absolutely HUGE. If I found out a couple days after I first met him that George had keeled over and died, I wouldn’t have been surprised in the slightest.
Apparently George wouldn’t have been surprised either. Because not too long after that, he went on a very serious diet and got his weight under control. By the time he came to work at the NFL in 1998, he was probably around 180 pounds. One day in December 2001, he went into the hospital for a routine procedure – and then was dead.
I have never been good at dealing with death. And so George’s funeral, on top of all the other funerals related to September 11 that I had attended from late September through mid-November, was kind of the last straw. Between that and the career thing, I’d pretty much had it.
In v1.0 of this post, I referred to what happened next as a Really Stupid and Futile Gesture (a reference to the final swan song of the boys of the Delta fraternity in Animal House).
The NFL Christmas party that year was at the recently opened Tao restaurant in midtown Manhattan. Anyone who has been to the original Tao, or to its sister restaurant in Las Vegas, knows that the focal point of the interior is a twenty-foot tall Buddha statue that sits in the center of the restaurant. On December 17, 2001, my really stupid and futile gesture (of the middle finger variety, if you will) was my attempt to Climb the Buddha at Tao, twice.
You have to be REALLY drunk, REALLY stupid, or REALLY crazy to attempt such a feat. That evening, I was all three. I knew my NFL career was over and that along with the other emotions that I was feeling at the end of 2001 (again, detailed here) combined for a toxic cocktail (pun intended). I decided I wasn’t going to let anyone else tear my career down, slowly, like a Chinese water torture. Instead, I just burned the whole f ing thing to the ground. In one (actually two) fell swoop(s).
In hindsight, it felt like a bad move. A REALLY bad move. If I had played my cards differently, I probably could have found a way to leverage the situation (ie role at the NFL coming to an end) into something new. “Failing upward” in this manner is not completely uncommon. I know of one person, for example, who managed to turn a complete fiasco of a Super Bowl halftime show into a team president position. And when he was found unfit for that role, he again failed upward, into a senior position at another sports league.
If I hadn’t been so rash with my Buddha climbing exploits, perhaps I could have managed a similar career advancement. But that was not the path I chose.
And so I sunk further into despair. For a long time, I would circle back to the evening of December 17, 2001 and find a way to blame all my problems and all my anguish on my decision to Climb the Buddha.
At some point (I don’t know if it was an “aha moment” or something that developed over time) I realized that I needed to reframe that night and that fateful decision. That if I didn’t think of it differently, it would always be the albatross hanging around my neck and the excuse for failing to reach my aspirations.
So rather than thinking about it as the end of something (my NFL career) I committed to thinking about Climbing the Buddha as the beginning of a new life that I was figuring out with each passing day. I OWNED that decision and redefined it as a positive moment in my life, rather than as a critical moment of failure. And it became a mantra for each subsequent challenge I faced – each obstacle was another chance to Climb the Buddha and begin anew.
When I decided to start sharing some experiences and opinions, the name for this blog came naturally, with nary a thought.
Whatever is holding you back right now, whether it is a twenty-foot tall statue of a fat, bald man or something a little less easy to picture, take responsibility for it. OWN IT. And don’t let it stop you from reaching your dreams. Every day IS a new beginning – so commit to making the most out of it.