Go Down Swinging

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When I was 9 years old, my baseball coach was Coach C.

Coach C. was intimidating.

He was big, strong, deep-voiced and had a handshake that said, “I’m in control here.”

(Or, if he was in a playful mood, he would snap his hand away and brush his hair just as you extended your hand. Thus “leave you hanging.” An even harsher demonstrating of “I’m in control.”)

He was the dad of friends of mine. But he was different than my dad. Coach C. worked with his hands. He built stuff. He repaired things. And he played college baseball when he was younger.

I was intimidated by Coach C. I think everyone was.

His grown son once shared, “I never understood the saying, ‘don’t cry over spilt milk.’ In my house, if you spilled milk, there’s a good chance you’d be crying when dad was done with you.”

Coach C. definitely knew baseball, but he was gruff. And he had all sorts of rules that I found to be maddening. One of them was about watching your third strike. If you were batting, and you watched your 3rd strike without swinging at it, you had to clean up the bats at the end of the game. This seemed crazy to me. “Good eye! Good eye!” was one of the most common things we would shout from the dugout. Why would we be punished for practicing discernment?!

I can remember cleaning up bats after one game and just SEETHING with anger at the coach. And from then on, whenever the count was at 2 strikes, I would blindly swing at the next pitch…out of SPITE.

It took me many years to appreciate Coach C’s rule.

He wasn’t trying to teach some skill in baseball.

He wasn’t trying to educate us on some aspect of sports strategy.

He wasn’t even trying to win the game.

He was trying to teach us about life.

To SWING at opportunities.

To take risks.

To PLAY THE GAME.

That it is better to get knocked down on the field than to watch from the sidelines.

Life is about ACTIVELY giving it your best shot, not PASSIVELY waiting for the optimal opportunity.

There is no shame in striking out.

And there is little glory in getting walked.

Don’t spend your whole life waiting.

Thank you, Coach C.

Spiritual Corruption

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I have no issue with spending money on a spiritual practice. On the contrary, for years I’ve had a monthly “Joy” budget to purchase books, lectures, and classes. And I expect other people to spend money on my spiritual teaching/speaking/writing/whatever.

But it is important to remember that the core elements of a spiritual practice cannot be purchased. They are priceless and personal. That being said, there are all sorts of tools, trainings, teachers and venues that can be helpful and definitely have value.

Capitalism is a communication system. Every dollar spent is a vote saying, “More of this, please.” So spending money on spiritual tools and teachers is a great thing. And it is reasonable for a spiritual expert to charge for their time and skills just like an expert craftsman or lawyer would.

But the commodifying of a spiritual path is a delicate thing.

Due to the vulnerable and trusting nature of a teacher/student relationship, the commercial aspect needs to be scrutinized to ensure there is no exploitation. If a student trusts a teacher to give advice and guidance, is it ethical for the teacher to suggest products and services that the teacher makes money from?

(I’ll use the terms “teacher” and “student.” But it could be “devotee” and “guru,” “client” and “coach,” “seeker” and “guide,” “budding entrepreneur” and “mastermind leader,” etc.)

Consumer Reports (The magazine) knows that keeping a distinct line between advice and commerce is critical for them to maintain integrity. Unfortunately, this line is not as clean in many teacher/student relationships. Is it ethical for a teacher to recommend a training when that teacher gets a commission for every sale? I think so, if it is disclosed that the teacher is an affiliate. I have no doubt that Marie Forleos’s B School is a valuable training. And I know several happy graduates. But when I see so many respected leaders encouraging their fans and students to sign up for the $2000 program, I wonder why they don’t disclose that they are affiliates? If you make $1000 by me signing up from your link, how can that NOT affect your review or endorsement? At the very least, disclose you are getting a commission. I would think that a fan/follower would *want* to support a teacher.

And to their credit, many leaders make a point to disclose their affiliate relationships. In a recent newsletter from Tim Ferris, he recommended 10 products. At the end of every product review it had a link to the product with his affiliate link attached, and then next to it a “non-affiliate link.” The reader could choose if they wanted to support Tim when they purchased and make their own judgement if Tim was being influenced by his desire to sell. (And in being transparent, he earned my trust.)

A different example is Dave Asprey, the Bulletproof Exec. I love Bulletproof Coffee and find value in tons of Dave’s articles. But he is an expert who recommends products that he also sells. Maybe they all work as well as he says, but it is difficult to ignore the inherent motivation. It is like a drug dealer saying, “This stuff is pure, man.”

The influence of financial benefit is pretty obvious. The book “Freakonomics” is full of examples of how, even with our best intentions, people are influenced by incentives. Who hasn’t had the experience of a car mechanic or dentist recommending questionable (and expensive) work?

(I know there are tons of people who sell their own products because they truly believe in what they sell. But I also know there are tons of people who are caught in the BS of a Multi Level Marketing Program.)

It is essentially the same core issue with our political system right now. How can a politician not be influenced by the money they receive? Maybe they recommend a bridge be built in a specific district or support a change in legal wording that benefits certain types of corporations. Those may actually be good actions…but the system’s inherent incentives cause inevitable corruption.

And I fear that there is corruption in the world of coaches, entrepreneurs, and spiritual teachers, too.

Not everywhere. Not everyone. And not even with ill-intent. But without transparency, I find it difficult to trust.

And in the spirit of full disclosure, maybe it is my own issues about charging for my services that is fueling my mistrust. Hmmm…can anyone recommend a good coach? (Affiliate links accepted.)

For related writing that inspired this post, Jesse Gros has been posting brave essays about the coaching industry on his Facebook page

Review of MOPS 2016

“Listening to John Halcyon talk. In addition to flow arts madness, there were speakers at the event, a memorable one being John Halcyon Styn, an 18-year Burning Man veteran who founded HugNation and outreach programs in San Diego, among other ventures. John’s talk on giving, gifting, finding purpose, and facing our deepest emotions truly resonated with the MOPS community. His powerful words gave meaning to our fun-filled weekend, drawing the focus in this tight-knit community towards how we can extend this positivity to the world around us. I was impressed by his ability to connect his stories and wisdom with the experiences of the crowd, and thankful that festival organizers had spiced up the program with an interesting speaker as the sun set Friday evening.”

from Review of MOPS 2016

The Unofficial Blog of John Halcyon Styn