Tuesday, June 15, 2010

World Cup - Japan and a trip down memory lane

Yesterday, Japan recorded its first win ever in a World Cup match. While some countries (namely European and South American countries) are expected to win each and every game, for a small island like Japan, getting to the World Cup is a big deal in itself... Think #16 seed in a NCAA tournament. Just happy to be there. We'll do the best we can, knowing that's probably far short of everyone else.

Of course, having said that, I always have hope. Well... that and the fact that I'm demanding. I get this from my dad. Just relentless pursuit of perfection or doing it right. With him, there were numerous times I felt that winning isn't even good enough. It's how you win. Like winning almost becomes a consolation prize... like "well, at least you won. But..." and there would be million things I coulda done better. I always thought that was shitty... until now, I realize that's what I demand from myself and it has made me that much better and stronger, both physically and mentally. I remember back in my freshman year in high school or something. I came home with I think a 3.64 GPA (out of 4.0). For all you "A students" out there, that might be normal but I was your typical "do well when I tried but was always distracted and found ways not to study" guy... in other words, a typical teenager (and back then, we didn't immediately find some random "disease" as an excuse like A.D.D. or whatever). So anyways, I am extremely proud of this report card because before this, I always flirt with the 3.0 line (B average) but that's it and I always have to explain why I got a "B" instead of an "A" and heaven forbid, any of the classes that I get a grade below B, I had to explain why. What did I slack off on, what homework didn't I do, what tests did I not study for, etc etc. I hated report cards. Anyways... I get what I consider a pretty awesome report card and while I can tell he was happy, his comment was "well, we need to be careful because it can only get worse from here."

Now to his defense, he's not doing this to hurt me or to pressure me more. It's more of a defense mechanism for him. He's a pessimist by nature so it's almost like he's always bracing himself for what he considers the inevitable failure. By finding fault in everything, including success (or winning), he'll now at least have a reason as to why they couldn't sustain it.

Anyways, back to soccer... so my dad always thinks Japan sucks (which we do) and that we'll never win (I'm more hopeful). However, back in 1993, leading up to the '94 World Cup, Japan came as close as they ever have in making the World Cup. Japan's professional league called the J-League had just started and everyone was really getting into soccer. The guys who have grinded it out in the 80s when soccer wasn't nearly as popular was getting a chance to be on the center stage and everything was going well. We had our backs against the wall a few times but inspirational plays from unexpected players brought Japan to within one win away punching that ticket to the '94 World Cup.

The game was against Iraq. We were up 2-1 with minutes left in the game. We're approaching the 45th minute of the 2nd half...

When we were watching it, to call that devastating was an understatement. Up until that point in my life (I was a high school senior), I was never so emotionally invested in a team... that was such a painful goal. The goalie couldn't even move or react to the goal. There were ensuing questions about why... why couldn't he dive for it, why couldn't he react... but in reality, you know that there's no one who wanted to save that more than the goalie himself who was a veteran who played through the "dark years" of soccer in Japan. But nonetheless, it was so painful.

So, having that in the background, for Japan to now be pretty much expected to make the World Cup is definitely an improvement. And sure enough, yesterday, against a much talented but very poorly playing Cameroon team, we recorded our first victory on world stage... when no one expected us to...

While I still realize it's a long shot, if we make it to the round of 16, it would be awesome. Next up, the Dutch! GOOOOOOOOOO JAPAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

My old boss

In our lives, we all have people that are extremely influential to who we are today right? I mean the most obvious being your parents... whether they were great parents, shitty parents, were available or were gone, they somehow impact you. Well, and then there are the rest of your family that you might have a special relationship with. Then maybe your friends, teachers, and other social influence. Well, one of my influential people is my former boss...

I spent 8 years in public accounting, working for a regional firm... a good sized firm with visions of moving up by increasing clientele and/or merging with other firms. In my time there, I definitely had visions of the firm succeeding... strangely, I've always been a company guy... when I was with the firm, we had a motto called "One Firm" and I truly embraced that concept. Once I jumped to Capital One, I was a very corporate guy... what was best for the company and what would make sense for the company is a question I always asked myself. And in my new company now, I obviously adopt that motto... what I've now realized is that that makes me unique... but valuable to a company. And, because of that mentality, it becomes normal for me to go above and beyond the normal course of duty. I just try to do what is right.

Well, all that is to say that one reason I am able to think that way AND perform in the way that I believe is the most beneficial to the company is because I had a great boss and now a great friend. A partner in the accounting firm had a significant influence in my formative years as a professional and he was great. He recognized my strengths and weaknesses and enabled me to work in areas that really allowed me to showcase my strengths.

To be honest, so far, despite working for a traditionally conservative accounting firm, then a credit card/banking industry, and now a 100 year old insurance company, I have been blessed with great bosses. Now part of it is definitely me. I have a strong personality and will not cave easily to people, even with higher power. However, generally, I've had bosses that allowed me to run my own show and grow my own way.

Why am I writing all this? Well, my former boss from the accounting firm was in Tampa this week because of work and so I went out to dinner/drinks with him tonight. We talked about family, the firm, my current job, etc... and to be honest, it just reminded me of how much I missed working for him. We share so much when it comes to vision on the "greater good" which in a corporate world is generally geared towards what's best for the company... or at least, that's how we feel it should be. But admittedly, a lot of companies create a silo where each section would be responsible only for their parts and without a strong central leader, there's not enough coordination.

In talking to him, I was reminded of how lucky I was to have spent the 8 years of my 20's working for him and making me who I am today... and giving me the ability to believe in myself and that my values made sense. It's funny how he went from being my boss to being my friend... and to listen to his struggles even in his 50's about working in the firm. This is one perspective I would not have gotten if I stayed in the firm... but on the same token, we did have a lot of discussions around values and strategy and just thoughts about the direction of the company... and I know that every time we talked, we were on the same page. I have since moved on to other companies but one thing that doesn't change is our values. It was just nice to be able to catch up with him and despite the fact that we are 20 years apart and that we only talk like 2-3 times a year, we share very similar values and visions.

And you know he is a great boss when me and I think a few of my friends would go work for him if he were to break off from the firm and needed help from us. Now THAT is loyalty that you can never buy. You'd have to earn that and he certainly has.

I don't miss Richmond at all but I do miss all the people that are still there.