A few weeks ago I was a guest lecturer at a journalism class at the University of Oregon.
The classroom was largely full of young grad students, engaged in spirited conversation on the issues of the day. I enjoyed listening to them debate.
There was one particular student who caught my eye. He was older than the rest, with a shaved head and an Adidas shirt. He looked like my football coach from high school. His name was Mike. The kids called him Old Man, and he didn’t seem to mind that designation at all.
Mike seemed like a thoughtful guy. His answers to student questions were measured and intelligent. He kept up with the “kids”, spot on with his analysis. I have been in the media business long enough to know when someone “gets it”. Mike clearly did.
When the class was finished, the students dribbled out into a courtyard. I approached Mike, calling out, “Hey, Old Man!”. He turned and faced me.
“You are going to be a great sports talk show host,” I announced.
He looked at me in that way a dog looks at you when it’s curious, that twist of the head…
“Really?” He looked more interested now than quizzical.
“Yes, you are. Sports talk is overloaded with fat, sweaty, crude neanderthals who live in their mom’s basement and run 9 fantasy teams. They wear oversized pro football uniforms and gobble Carl’s Jr. triple cheeseburgers. They’re idiots, many of them. You’re not one of them, I can tell. Your knowledge of the medium and your takes are intelligent without being precious. You know what you’re talking about.”
Mike’s eyes locked on mine. ” I was a high school coach for several years, multiple sports. I want to do sports journalism.”
I asked Mike for his email address. ” I want to connect you with a guy in San Francisco who will listen to the demo you are going to produce for him. He’ll give you feedback and might even be able to hook you up with some people in the business who can help you get where you want to go.”
Genuine in his appreciation, Mike shook my hand with a firm grip. “Thanks. I appreciate that.”
“I’m happy to help. I wish someone had done it for me, back in the day.”
I have had similar conversations with students and interns over the years. Almost none of them followed up with me. They didn’t follow through.
Less than a week later, I received an email from Mike, asking about next steps. I connected him with my friend Tony at KNBR, San Francisco’s sports talk powerhouse. Mike sent demos, as he pledged he would.
He’s moving ahead, capitalizing on opportunities given to him. This is not going to be easy; Mike is the father of two young children, a single dad with full custody. He told me his children are his top priority…then his career.
Mike is a winner, because he knows what matters. Mike is a winner because he seizes the day. Mike is a winner because even though a successful career in sports is hardly a sure bet, he’s trying. He’s following through.
Your good ideas and aspirations are meaningless if you don’t follow through. To stand idly by, complaining you can’t get what you want because the world is so ‘unfair’ is frankly pretty annoying.
I like Mike. He’s doing what he needs to do. What a joy to offer help to someone who is more than happy to accept it.