Biz Break is a blog that discusses the wisdom and stories that define the human experience. And by human experience, I’m referring to the collection of everyday events that humans endure in life, including happiness, sadness, love, heartbreak, work, play, expectations, and failures.
My first introduction to the phenomena framed in the context of “human experience” happened decades ago when I was working on my undergraduate degree. Part of my required reading for a World Literature class was to evaluate Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s book, “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.” Talk about human experience – Solzhenitsyn’s book was actually about human endurance. I won’t give the plot away, in case you want to read the book, but the story is about a man named Ivan who was sent to the Russian Gulags and spent his days living in and trying to survive a work camp – in Siberia.
One quote from the book that has always stuck in my mind and speaks, at least in part, to the idea of the ‘human experience is: “How can you expect a man who’s warm to understand one who’s cold?” Those who are cold – now I’m talking about severe cold – and have to work outside in such extremes, gain a new perspective on life. Things like that are part of the human experience.
I grew up in Central Idaho. I know the cold. I’ve milked cows, chopped wood, and fixed fence in the bitter cold – well below zero when your breath would freeze to your face. One time, I had to walk a couple miles in 20 below zero weather – in the middle of the night. I nearly froze to death. When I finally made it to my destination, I could barely get the key in the lock to open the door; it took both hands and brute force to do what is usually a simple task, but I made it, barely. Thankfully, on the other side of the door was a warm bed with an electric blanket! It saved my life.
So, when we refer to the human experience, that’s part of it. Those experiences combine to give us wisdom. And it’s fun and intriguing to discuss some of those stories. Sometimes those stories are just funny, and we all get a good laugh.
So, as a lead-in to this idea of the human experience, I think we can all stipulate that all humans, on one level or another, must recognize the question of ideals and personal values. Those two things, I suggest, are the primary ingredients in a person’s makeup. It’s how people are viewed in relation to their public and private personas – discover what a person’s values and ideals are and you will understand what motivates them. And you will have a good idea what their responses will be in any given circumstance. Values and ideals arguably dictate what a person stands for. I’ve known a lot of people that I highly respect and admire because they stand for something.
In today’s blog, I want to discuss my nephew, Teren Christensen and also talk about his dad, Todd. They were two people who stood for something. Let’s talk about Teren first. He was born with spina bifida and by age 12, had to spend his days in a wheelchair. But you never heard him complain. Just the opposite, he was often the voice of reason and always a source of strength to everyone in the room.
Teren had a goal as a young man to do what he could to keep his body in shape, so he ate right and went to the gym. His dad, Todd Christensen helped him get acclimated to the gym life and how everything worked. He concentrated on the upper body muscle groups during his workouts, since his legs didn’t work. You should watch the social media videos of him doing pull-ups still strapped in his wheelchair. Talk about an indomitable spirit! That’s the spirit that most impressed me about Teren.
He had a following on social media – mainly on Twitter and Instagram. He represented his convictions – those values and ideals discussed earlier. For one thing, I was always impressed with Teren’s ability to kindly and firmly stand up for his Christian religion and Jesus Christ, despite some folks who questioned him and even a few that spewed some vitriol. He didn’t appear to be fazed, though, and just sent off replies with a confirmation of his beliefs, which often included an open invitation for anyone who wanted to study the life of Jesus Christ and make up their own mind. People who stand firm in their convictions but maintain their perpetual friendliness and kindness are those who deserve respect and admiration.
Last July, Teren came down with a headache that seemed to linger. He even posted on Twitter his desire that whoever of his followers who wanted should pray for him. It was something that concerned him and his family. The doctor checked his symptoms, ran some tests, and concluded there was nothing to worry about. A few days later, Teren died in his sleep. His family was beside themselves with grief; that’s happens when a loved one passes completely unexpected. Teren was laid to rest and his memory and legacy will live on.
Teren’s dad, Todd, was kind of a larger-than-life individual. He was a celebrity. He was drafted by the Oakland Raiders after an uneventful year at the Dallas Cowboys. After his days playing with the Raiders, Todd ventured into broadcasting and also did some television stuff. Some of you might remember him as a host on American Gladiator. He was also an NFL color commentator for NBC. He had a huge vocabulary and often used words that I’m sure some of his listeners had to go to the dictionary to find the meaning! He was also a poet and talented singer.
I remember the moment I first met Todd. It was around 1979 or 80 and I was visiting my girlfriend – the younger sister of Todd’s wife. I was sitting in the kitchen visiting with the family, and he came in to introduce himself. In those days, I was just a high school kid and thought I was the best defensive cornerback to play football in the state of Idaho!
As I was shaking Todd’s hand, I remember thinking, “I could cover this guy – easy!” Funny what goes through a kid’s mind. The young human male, full of testosterone, and always in competition. It didn’t matter what. Everything was a contest.
As I became more familiar with Todd and his life off the football field, I realized he was more than just a pro football player. He was a great father, husband, and friend; and he was comfortable talking about his religious life. His religious convictions seemed as much a part of him as his ability to catch a football and run. As we talked, I realized Todd also had a genuineness about him; he possessed this virtue that made everyone around him feel like they were the most important person in the room.
Shortly before he passed away during a liver transplant operation, he and I visited about his early days with the Raiders. He told me something I didn’t know. After being waived by the Cowboys, he was eventually claimed by the Oakland Raiders. He didn’t get a spot on the Raiders team as a tight end, he was picked up because of his long-snapping abilities. They needed a long snapper! So, he got his chance by starting out on special teams. It wasn’t long before he earned a spot as a tight end and the rest is history. He’s recognized as the one of the top NFL tight ends of all time. After football, Todd distinguished himself in the Masters Track and Field where he set an age-group world record in the Heptathlon.
There’s a good lesson wrapped up in Todd’s story. Don’t be a ‘one-trick’ pony! If it wasn’t for Todd’s long snapping skills, he may not have gotten his chance with the Raiders. Become an expert in more than one skill. Doing so will guarantee you a place at the table in your chosen industry. We all know the wisdom in keeping that strategic edge by keeping up with technology and understanding the best practices for our chosen field. You don’t have to excel in sports; get recognized as a ‘professional’ in your company or with your favorite hobby.
One of Todd Christensen’s favorite quotes was one by Winston Churchill: “Sometimes our best isn’t good enough; sometimes we have to do what is required.”
That quote rings true to me; I’ve followed its foundational principle a few times in my own career path. One time I took over a failed business and was taxed with the challenge to make the business profitable and restore its respected reputation and brand in the community. There are arguably a few requirements to rebuild a failed business.
One of the requirements I instituted right out of the gates was having and maintaining a passion for the business and the product we produced. That passion had a direct influence on mine and my team’s actions, which include:
- Relations with our customers
- Solid direction and focus for the company’s success
- Motivation to stay in the game and not give up even when things got hard
That passion led to great success! We rebuilt the brand and captured a major portion of the market share. Doing what is required, especially in the context of a personal or business goal, is likely a measurable pursuit that will eventually lead to success.
Standing for something should be a requirement for everyone. Pick something that has great meaning to you – something you can hang your hat on. Then add that value or ideal to your list of personal treasures that define who your are, and don’t be afraid to let others know who you really are. Good luck; you can do it!
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