On how you will be remembered?


Who’s to say, really? None of us knows how we’ll be remembered. We have some general ideas, for the most part, but it will depend completely upon the kindness of others that will determine how or even if we’ll be remembered. The mask that we have so cleverly donned when meeting those we thought we knew and respected us has fallen away for all to see.

That slight-of-hand that you used pulling off in your business dealings fooled no one other than yourself. People talk. People always talk. And it was only a matter of time before they started comparing notes about the way you handled yourself.

Were you the one who spent all the waking hours at the office with no time for your family or friends? Your time away from your loved ones cannot be stock-piled like next year’s firewood. Is it a small wonder that when you finally did decide to put your feet up there was no one there to share it with? Weren’t you the one who wanted to sit in the first or second pew in church on Sunday and then (screw) everyone during the week and asked for forgiveness the following week? Who knows how much of that your children picked up on?

Did you give your love willingly to those who loved you or were there strings, clauses and stipulations attached? When your friends asked for counsel or advice, did you give it freely and openly or did you smother their plans and/or dreams and then explain that you were neither an optimist nor a pessimist, you were a realist? Did you bolster their confidence or were they muttering to themselves when they left? Did you constantly push those around you to be the best they could be or were you lackadaisical in your tutelage knowing then that they would never outshine you?

Winners build up. Losers tear down. Which one were you? When meeting a stranger on the street with his hand out, did you give him a smile and a kind word and maybe something for his stomach or did you wave him/her off and tell yourself that they choose to live like that and it’s not up to you to save the world? Were you the type of person that all types were attracted to or were you the one everyone went out of their way to avoid? My grandparents used to say that some people cause happiness wherever they go and some cause happiness whenever they go. Which one were you? Which slot did you fit into?

When people walk away from you, is there an added bounce in their step or are their shoulders slumped and do they regret the time they spent with you? Make ‘em glad they met you, Michael, make ‘em glad. Ease their burden if for only a minute or two. And make ‘em smile. (More advice from my grandparents). But in retrospect, it doesn’t boil down to how you’re remembered, does it? You’ll be dead. The real trick is in how you walked this earth when you had your chance. Even if you do the best you possibly can at best it’s still a crap-shoot. The important part, what they will talk about is how you lived your life and that, my friend, is entirely in your hands. Make ‘em glad they met you. Make ‘em glad and make ‘em smile. You still have time. At least, that’s the way I see it. God bless. ML Proko (2011) more at www.mikeproko.com

Published in: on October 24, 2011 at 6:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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On the circle of life


  • ·         What goes around comes around.
  • ·         All that you do comes back to you.
  • ·         You will always reap what you sow.
  • ·         As you do so shall you get.

 

Call it Karma, call it what you will, whatever you plant on this day will be returned to you one day. That’s the way we were taught and it made sense to a whole lot of us. But being from the big city, there was a thing or two that was not explained to us about ‘harvest time’. Even if you’re from the country, you may not yet realize how that ‘circle of life’ thing works itself out.

When a seed is planted, its yield is exponential, which means that if you plant 10 seeds then you will garner 1,000 plants [10x10x10=1,000]. As those plants continue to grow and multiply, it yields according to an ‘exponential curve.’ Sticking with the planting metaphor, if you sow seeds of trust, hope and love, others will also sow those seeds so you can only imagine what you shall one day reap. Conversely, if you are sowing the seeds of hate, greed and ignorance, others will sow those same seeds and not only will you attract that back to yourself, you’ll have mountains of it the rest of your days. Which begs the obvious question: which would you rather plant? Or to put it in more selfish terms: which would you rather harvest?

An aged misconception is that you can act one way in the marketplace and act completely different at home. Never does this work because now you’ve changed the dynamic of the paradigm. Now, instead of reaping what you’ve sowed (good or bad) you’ve put your family on the firing line at the same time. You might think that you’re sitting in the cherry orchard but eventually one of your loved ones is going to end up in the briar patch.

There will always be those who can shrug off this type of logic with a wave of a limp wrist and just chalk it up to hocus-pocus but eventually you will get back exactly what you put in. It may take time for your success to materialize as it must until you stop making the same mistakes but you WILL hit that mark that you’re aiming for. On the other hand, if you’re planting the bad seeds, you may hit your mark but sooner or later you, too, will garner what you have planted. You must. These are natural laws here and natural laws never fail.

‘The Circle of Life’ is not intended to be a lesson in morality. Far from it. We have all made mistakes throughout our entire lifetime and the smart ones can look back and give you a thought or two about what to do and what not to do. This whole business of life isn’t all that difficult; just treat people the way that you’d like to be treated. Rather than behaving like all of the chips on the table are yours, make sure you leave some for everybody else. Treat strangers like they’re part of your family but make sure you treat your family better than you do strangers. We like to think that we are down here on this earth islands unto ourselves, but we aren’t. There are thousands and thousands who will be impacted by what we do TOMORROW. Just make sure what you’re sowing is what you want to reap. At least, that’s the way I see it. Take care. God bless. MLProko (2011)

more available at www.mikeproko.com

Published in: on October 24, 2011 at 6:37 pm  Comments (1)  
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On servant leadership


  • Small businesses use it, much to their advantage. Large businesses cannot adapt to it, much to their disadvantage.
  • ‘The old way has worked for years, why change just for the sake of change?’
  • ‘Never mind what I do. Just do as I say, not as I do!’

 

Servant leadership has been around for eons. Proponents of the practice trace it back to the time of Christ where he would actually wash the feet of his followers as their servant. I can’t imagine any of our country’s leaders or the movers/shakers doing such a thing. Wait! Wait a minute! Yes, I can imagine Warren Buffett doing such a thing if only because everyone else was not doing it. That, combined with his age, allows him to get away with just about anything. Could you honestly see Trump doing something like that?

I had touched on variations of the servant-style of leadership owning my own business for 40 years, keeping things that worked and tossing out what didn’t. My dad wanted me to use his autocratic style where you’re the boss and everyone should be beholding to you for their employment, but that style just wouldn’t jive with me. But my style served me well when I partnered with a parish in Chicago mentoring kids from their neighborhood. Gang life and drugs were staring these young men in the face on a daily basis. Not only was I asked to teach them a trade, but I would act as a ‘father’ figure in addition to mentoring. And boy, did we have a good time. I think that the fact that I had had my own run-ins with the law when I was younger helped cement the relationship I had with these guys. You can’t bullshit a bullshitter. But every one of them did try and when they figured out that wasn’t going to work, they tended to take care of business.

When the program started, there had to be 300 businesses on board. They would come in with money and talent and their own ‘brand’ of rules and, one by one, they would all fall on their face. They were all used to the autocratic way of doing business and these kids [16, 18, 20 years of age] wouldn’t play that way. Most of them didn’t trust those with authority and they certainly were not going to be part of any ‘categorical imperative’ work program. A year and a half into the project, the 300 had been whittled down to 10. The kids had to be heart-broken when they saw how many people gave up on them; so much for giving back to the community. I didn’t have the benefit of a business-school education, but I can so of figure out what works, what doesn’t and why. Like Geo. Bush used to say: you don’t have to be a rocket surgeon to figure that one out.

Now, they give it a fancy name, Servant Leadership, but back when my grandparents had their own business it was just good old-fashioned business sense: someone had a problem, you listened. If you could figure out a solution together, you had loyalty for life; persuade rather than dictate; use empathy rather than sympathy; instill in your workers your foresight combined with their concept and then turn ‘em loose. Those little tid-bits will separate the wheat from the chaff. It’s up to them to follow you and if they do then they will become like their leader and the cycle will continue which in the end will be a plus for your business, big or small. The same old same old doesn’t work anymore. And don’t ever be afraid of doing the sh·· work, it’s good for business. At least, that’s the way I see it. MLProko (2011) more at www.mikeproko.com

Published in: on October 24, 2011 at 6:30 pm  Comments (3)  
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On being the best you can be


            The list is endless, from every sport, in every country on the face of the earth touting everything from tobacco to Chevy’s, from cereal to cell-phones, from National defense to credit cards: be the best you can be and MORE. And our media guru’s handle all of these guys like they were our national treasures: Kobe, Magic, Woods, Jordan, A-Rod and on and on. The best? Did you ever see the size of their paychecks? They should be the best for the kind of money they get. Well, yah, but the way they figure for entertainers is not the same sliding scale they use for the rest of us.

            If any one of you batted .325 at your job, you’d be in the unemployment line tomorrow. If anyone of you lost more than you one, not only would you be out of a job, you might end up switching careers just to feed your families. The best you can be? You wouldn’t want most of the guys that they give the big bucks to in any sport going out with your sister or daughter. Very rarely do you find a ‘great thinker’ in the bunch. Most of them are like warm vanilla, its o.k. but what, what, what was that? They’re good at what they do, but in the real world most couldn’t get a job flipping burgers. And to listen to them talk, you’re better off having a conversation with a bag of French fries.

            Which brings us to the other end of the spectrum—the weekend warrior. We were all brought up the same way; we were taught the love of a sport by a father, grandfather or an uncle, if you were lucky enough, maybe you had a coach who saw something special in you. And it was taught that we always had to give it our best shot, which is the way we teach our children and our grandchildren, but somehow we never got to take that shot, that one shot that was the difference between winning and losing, the difference between winning it all or just going home. How can that be? We trained just as hard as those others, we spilled our blood, sweat and tears on any court or any field just to come up short time and time again. But every now and then you get a glimpse of what might have been; you might be out shooting some hoops or throwing the football around with your kids, you may even be out on the golf course by yourself and you do something, that one thing, that you’ve never seen anyone ever pull off what you just did. For that one brief second, you were the best there was. Does it make any difference if no one saw you? No, that’s not why we do what we do. Those are the other guys. No, we do it because we love it, for the love of the game. That’s the way we were taught by our fathers and grandfathers. Do your best. Sometimes your best isn’t good enough, there will be those kinds of days, but you apologize to no one. You did what you could.

            You see, 99% of us fall into that second group, where we do what we have to do during the week, breaking our butts to make ends meet and still take time out of our schedules to tutor our children in the sports that they like and need some help with. And we will teach them the same things that we were taught—to do your best, to always do your best, win or lose, if you do your best then you have nothing to be ashamed of. And you have something going for you that those jocks with the big bucks don’t have; you have the love and respect of children that you have helped nurture. You’ve seen the way the other guys end up without the bling, without the cars and dead broke. And what you have, all the money in the world couldn’t buy. At least, that’s the way I see it. God bless.

MLProko (2011)   www.mikeproko.com

 

Published in: on October 24, 2011 at 3:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Mosaic of Your Life (and apples)


‘Every person, every place, every thing was placed into your life for a specific reason and/or purpose’, she said. If I heard my grandma say that once, I musta heard it a thousand times. You know, when you’re growing up, you hear these kinds of things. But as you get older, they start to make a lot more sense and take on different types of meanings. God, I really loved being around my grandparents; the things I learned, the things they taught us (knowingly AND unknowingly), the fishing, the trips to the ballparks and, of course, all the laughter. All of them were very simple people but, boy, could they laugh. And teach. Most of the time, the teaching was a result of something else that you were both doing at the time and they’d drop these little pearls onto your imagination.

My grandma would be working in the garden and I’d be helping her and she’d tell me to look at the different plantings for bugs, the little aphids. And I’d start to complain about the bugs. What good are they, gram? And she’d tell me that all of God’s creatures had a job to do here but the off-handed lesson taught was in diligence, that, yes, we had our own garden and plantings galore, but it was up to us, through due diligence, to take care of everything. Or my grandfather would take me fishing and quietly talk about whatever needed to be talked about and, again, with much laughter (quiet laughter but laughter just the same). Sitting on that pier watching the Fox River silently move on past us, I learned about patience. No, none of theses lessons were going to change the world as we know it, but what they were meant to do was to give you an insight as to how you were to react to that world, how you would stand up to that which you would confront on a daily basis.

Every person, every place and every thing were there to make up the mosaic of what we call life. All of this would seem insignificant to a child, somewhat fleeting, but one day, perhaps in your next life, it would be explained to us how our lives interplayed with all the others that we were blessed with meeting. Each person might carry a color significant from all others. Each place that you were able to witness would add a hue that no other color could match. Every thing that you were able to partake in would add the depth to all that you had witnessed before. While this might be seen as an over-simplification of a known reality, your mosaic would be like your own private jig-saw puzzle—if one piece was to be missing, your puzzle would never be complete.

Along with the garden, she had a number of fruit trees on the property also. I would pick the apples for her homemade apple pies. Every now and then, I’d sneak one of the sour apples and cut it up. Prior to eating it, I would remove the seeds, line ‘em up on a plate and then eat it. Now, she watched me do this time and time again, lining up the seeds on a plate. ‘I just wanna see how many seeds there are in each apple, Gram?’ One day, she looks at me and says: ‘You can count the number of seeds in each apple, but not even the smartest man in the world knows how many apples there are in one seed.’ I can still hear her saying it in her kitchen, not even the smartest man in the world….

I have been blessed with meeting some very special and very wonderful people in my lifetime, people who have added a great deal of color to my mosaic. But, it’s the tutelage and the awareness that I received from my grandparents that put that all into perspective. For all of that, I have been blessed.

At least, that’s the way I see it.  MLProko (2011)   www.mikeproko.com

Published in: on April 12, 2011 at 5:13 am  Leave a Comment  
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On The Human Condition


A paradox. A puzzle. An enigma. How can you sum up, or better yet, explain the human condition? I’ll have to yield to one of my grandfathers on this one; his was an all-encompassing explanation that most people could find comfort in: When you hurt, you want the pain to stop right away. It doesn’t. When you feel good, you want it to last forever. It never does. That’s pretty concise, isn’t it? Better than any psycho-babble that you could pay $200 an hour for, in most cases. What is it in us that abhors pain and always seems to take the good times for granted? Surely, all things should even themselves out eventually. Scripture tells us that for all things, there is a season: a time for life, a time for dying; a time for sowing and a time to pluck up, a time to be alone and a time to gather around together… All things will have their counter-part: where there is an ‘up’ there must be a ‘down’; where there is a ‘plus’ there must be a ‘minus’; where there are ‘good times’, the flip side of that are ‘bad times’. Unfortunately, that’s just the way it is. To only expect good things to happen is delusional. You’re missing out on at least one-half of your life; some might say the good half.

A person’s character never gets tested when things are hunky-dory. It’s when you hit the curves, the roadblocks and all the bumps along the way—this is where your character will be forged in the furnace that only life can provide; these hard knocks that we call ‘life’ is where we will earn our stripes. Consequently, this is where we will acquire our gray hairs and the character lines (wrinkles)—from this same blast furnace. Some people will wear this mantle like a badge of success; they will stumble and fall time and time again, but each time they fall down, they will rise up again. These are the survivors. These are the victors. They have taken all that life and the fates have thrown at them and, yet, they’re still standing. They have that look in their eyes—seasoned, tough, street smart—these are the ones who knew early on how to roll with the punches, how to make the most of themselves AND their circumstances.

But, the other side of that coin is just as telling and, just like the survivors, these people who pass through life’s furnace will wear their scars like a hair-shirt for the whole world to see. These will be the victims. Same situation. Same circumstances. But an entirely different outcome. These are the people who constantly complained about the bumps in the road, the roadblocks, all of the twists and turns; these are the ones who never realized that everyone must pass through the same blast furnace. It’s been one excuse after another, one disappointment after another. Finally, unable to draw on any internal strength, they commit the ultimate sin—they give up on life. That is the bell-weather of any victim—to give up. They wanted everything to go their way and, in the end, nothing went their way. Surrender. Draw the drapes and just hide from the world. Carl Sandburg once said that there is nothing to do but bury a man who has given up on life and his dreams.

When life comes at you, it’s going to hit you like a Mack truck. Get your bearings, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back up. Get up and keep getting up. Not even life can beat a man who refuses to stay down. Besides, quitting has never been a sustainable option.

At least, that’s the way I see it. M.L. Proko (2010)   www.mikeproko.com

Published in: on December 26, 2010 at 3:45 am  Leave a Comment  
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On Strength


Strength. Real strength. Not exercise strength. Not weight-lifting strength. Honest to goodness down to the core strength. Not Pilates core strength, either. It’s good old-fashioned feet grounded to the earth inner-strength. Where does it come from? How do you get it? Can it be gained? Can it be lost? Its roots run deep like that of an oak tree, down deep into the ground. The weather and the seasons wreak havoc on the physical part of the tree, what is seen, but what is not seen is the root system and that is where the oak will get its’ real strength from. The leaves may be blown away, the bark may be stripped, the branches might be broken but if the root system is firmly in place, the tree will be able to withstand a lifetime of storms. How are we different than Mother Nature? This cannot be answered, at least, not simply answered because this root system is not something to be passed from generation to generation. In a nutshell, you either have it or you don’t.

Why do the winds blow some people around like a leaf and others don’t seem to be phased by it? The answer probably lies way back in childhood, somewhere around 8-10 years or even younger. A crisis pops up out of the blue, like they do in all households; now, look at the family members: someone is usually running around wringing their hands, crying; another is running around slamming things and breaking them while another is just sitting on the couch or a chair telling everyone else that what they’re doing is all wrong and back in the corner there may be one who isn’t saying anything, just doing what needs to be done without drawing attention to themselves. His/her root system has already started its formation. Think back to when you were a child between 8 and10. It’s just a hunch, but I’d bet that the way you handle a crisis now and back then would be remarkably similar.

Our inner strength is like our spirit, it has no physical shape or appearance, it will not show up on an MRI or a CT scan, it can’t be x-rayed, but it as alive as anything else that dwells in your body. This is what makes you you. It will live in you but it cannot be passed from you. You might have inherited bits and pieces from those related to you but this is not always the case. Children, first and foremost, are very good at observation. They’re like sponges, taking something from this situation, something from that one. Pretty soon, they’ve developed their own persona. They weren’t born this way, but it was developed albeit at a very young age. You either have it or you don’t, it’s that simple. The sad ones are the people who try to develop this in school. These are usually the ones who either get involved in politics or running multi-national companies, but when the wind starts to blow they fly down the street like our misbegotten leaf.

The Stoic monks were an order that spent their days in silence, contemplation and prayer, a very serious bunch of guys but when a wrong needed righting, they would show up and do what needed to be done, all the time not saying a word. And the ancients taught us that inner strength leads to a calmness of the mind, this itself being the last lesson of culture; it is the flowering of life and the fruitage of the soul. This is as precious as wisdom and more desired than gold. If you are in possession of these attributes, multitudes will flock to you in your lifetime. That’s real strength. Use it wisely.

At least, that’s the way I see this. Take care. MLProko ©2010   www.mikeproko.com

Published in: on November 10, 2010 at 2:59 am  Leave a Comment  
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On Turning 60 And Keeping Promises


60? 60? 60!! This was never supposed to be. It was never written like this. Not 60.  When I was a kid, I thought that if I lived to be 17 that would be a big deal. When I hit 17, I figured that 19 was the mark that I was looking for. Growing up in a world of violence, I was raised to be violent and I was pretty good at it. Even though I took on guys that were bigger and stronger than me, I never backed down. If I got knocked down, I always got back up. I would beat opponents by the sheer fact that I wore them down. It would be a trait that would serve me well as I grew older. When I hit the 19 year mark I figured that 27 would be a ripe old age. And then, life threw me a curve ball and we had our first child a year later. Suddenly, everything changed. I was now responsible for not one, not two but three lives on planet Earth.

But, you know, we are all wired a specific way and it’s very hard to change that wiring.  I continued to move through life like a bull in a china shop. My ‘type A’ personality convinced me that it was the right thing to do, the detractors be damned! Through it all, we had a blast. And, I didn’t think twice about working hard or living hard, I figured that guys were supposed to do that. If I got myself into a jam, I knew that I could get out of it.

It had always worked before. But, sooner or later, you have to realize that one day you’re going to go to the well and come up empty. And then, Life came along and knocked me down and I had no way of getting up.

My wife had been hospitalized, couldn’t oxygenate her blood at one of the best hospitals in the country. An afternoon visit becomes overnight, then two days, then three. I know she’s dying and I can’t do anything for her. The years of neglecting my blood pressure had come to a head that night. I went to sleep presumably in good health and woke up paralyzed. In that four hour window, life as I knew it would never be the same. My wife, it turned out, would be fine. I, on the other hand, looked like I’d been hit by a bus. For the first time in my life, I would be completely dependent on others.

The years and years of getting back up off the pavement served me well for my therapy.  I became relentless because I knew that our daughter was going to get married and I wanted to walk her down the aisle. But the stroke had killed something inside of me—my ‘type A’ personality. And people would become almost sacred to me, their lives, their families, their stories. I couldn’t wait to meet new people, try new things, and on and on.

I had a second chance at life, but I had to take a trip to death’s door to figure it out. One of the lines that I kept repeating while I was in the hospital was ‘Life is good- there is much to be thankful for.’ It’s Yiddish but it makes sense in any dialect.

While I danced with our daughter at her wedding, I promised her that I would be around to dance at her children’s weddings. All this from a guy who never thought he’d live to be 19. I think I’ll stick around and see what’s around the next corner—it should be very interesting.

At least, that’s the way I see it. MLProko ©2010    www.mikeproko.com

Published in: on March 24, 2010 at 1:15 am  Leave a Comment  
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