Be a Lion, Go Do

My grandparents were a huge impact on my life and parenting style

My friend, Nick Di Mauro, and I were having a conversation last week at one of our favorite restaurants, Angelo’s in Stoneham. The discussion prompted this post. We were talking about our families and upbringing, and he told me a story about his father, a very wise and “old school” gentleman. Nick said that every morning, his father would say to him, “Are you going to be a lion today or a gazelle?” I know that what I write will not do the daily question justice, but in a snapshot, his father was motivating him to take charge of his life and go out and get things done. Nick stated, “I know you get what my dad was saying because of that ‘Go Do’ mantra you are always putting out there on social media.”

The fact of the matter is that I had a very wise and motivating gentleman in my life as well. I lived in a triple-decker in East Boston with my mom and sister on the third floor, and my grandparents lived on the first floor. Now, I have been very fortunate to have many, very smart people to guide me over the years, but there were things that my grandfather said that just stuck; things that changed my perspective forever.

One day, we were chatting and watching college football in his den. The conversation that day was about work. I may have been about sixteen and was working at Liberty Market, a grocery store in East Boston. I had jumped in the night before by helping out the manager, bailing him out when he could’ve really used the extra effort. I was telling my grandfather the story, and he turned to me and said, “You need to bottle that experience and use it as motivation in the future.”

I asked him what he meant, because it seemed he was getting at more than the obvious. My grandfather went on, “I realize this may seem harsh, but today’s hero is tomorrow’s goat. People have short-term memories and judge others on what they have done for them recently, and quite often forget all the great things that a person has done for them over the long haul. So don’t rest on your laurels, and do great things always. Not for them, for you.”

I smiled and shook my head, but was thinking that he was being a bit dramatic, probably for effect. There’s no way you need to do great things always to be considered a key member of the team.

I was proven wrong a few weeks later when the guy I had bailed out gave me crap for not being able to fill in when he needed me the next time. It wasn’t a big deal, but I could tell that the dude was not treating me the same way until I volunteered to help him out once again. Even though I went above and beyond quite often, the one time I couldn’t help out, I became the one at fault. My grandfather may have been onto something. But the key was when he said, “Not for them, for you.”

My grandfather understood I could only control what I did, and not the actions or thoughts of others. I definitely didn’t want to be at the mercy of a moody manager, so I started treating work more proactively. Every day I went in, I thought to myself, “If I don’t do something great today, I am going to get fired.” Now I was the one being dramatic, but it was motivating.  Throughout my radio and television career, I had that thought every day. And when I was with the Patriots, on the drive I pondered, “What am I going to do today that is great, so I do not get fired?” I was constantly pushing myself to do impactful things to help the organization, because if I did, I would have a job the next day. There was no coasting; every day I had to “Go Do”.

Nick’s dad knew what my grandfather knew: you are either the lion or the gazelle. Gazelles coast through life. Lions, well, they go do. If you are not getting where you want to be, ask yourself, “Are you being a lion?”

Be a lion ~ go do!

Be Present ~

What were MY Parents Thinking

ummm, the 70’s and dancing with my mom

With a little push from my parents, I ended up leaving the comfort of my hometown and went to Boston College High School.  It was not easy leaving the familiarity of the neighborhood, but I feel leaving your comfort zone opens you up to great experiences that help a person form a larger variety and range of relationships.

To get to BC High, I had to use public transportation. I took the MBTA (train) from East Boston to Dorchester.  First, I took the blue line (subway) to the green line to the red line. Finally, I’d walk from the station, over the highway overpass, and by the bank on this long (and often cold and windy) trek to school.  But, it was well worth it, because I learned a whole lot more than just what was written on the blackboard. I learned about relationships.

I’ll tell you a funny story. I’m from an Italian neighborhood, and went to Catholic schools all my life. First, I attended East Boston Central Catholic, then BC High, and finally Boston College.  When I was going to East Boston Central Catholic, everybody in my neighborhood dressed “to the 9’s” for the first day of school – suits and ties – the whole gig. It was really old school. Once I got into BC High, my mother immediately started saving money so she could “do it up big” for my first day in high school. We didn’t have much money, so she really did a great job saving enough to buy me a brand new suit. She chose a brown Pierre Cardin 3-piece suit. I was a little dude styling at 13 years old.

So, it’s my first day of high school and my parents are all excited. The whole family piles into the car and drives me to BC High. By the way, it was the only day they ever drove me to school during the entire four years I attended. We arrive at the campus, and my dad pulls over to drop me off. As I’m getting out of the car, I look over at my mother and father to say good-bye, and instantly notice the expression of horror on their faces. I see the look of, “Oh my God, what have we done?”  I’m thinking, “how cool it is that they are so concerned about their only son, leaving his hometown and taking the road less traveled?” I’m feeling good and pretty cool with the whole concept…and besides, I’m styling in my new three-piece, Pierre Cardin suit.

I turn around, and realize the true reason for that look on their faces. The suit is tragic; every other kid at the school is wearing hospital pants and polo shirts. Very casual.  BC High had no dress code. My mom calls me back, takes off my jacket and begins taking off my tie. Now, it was the ‘70s, so when my mother rips off the tie, my collar goes, “boing” and springs wide open. It’s a big John Travolta-style collar. So now, we’ve gone from bad to worse, because I went from wearing a three-piece suit to just a vest and a big old collar. They actually thought they were doing me a favor.

I walk into the main building where the teachers direct us into an auditorium. The entire freshman class is wearing casual clothes. And then there is me, in my suit clothes. We’re all sitting at attention, and the principal, a Jesuit, says, “Look to the left and look to the right of you – one of the boys sitting next to you will not be here by the end of your senior year.” Those Jesuits like to put a little fear into you – like I needed any more, as I already stood out like a sore thumb, and was preparing for the inevitable ridicule.

We proceed to our home rooms, go through introductions, and I’m already getting chummy with the guys in my class.

I get home and my mom and dad ask, “How was the first day?”

I said, “Those guys are unbelievable!” They then asked if anyone had said anything about the suit. I said, “Not one guy mentioned the suit. It’s a pretty awesome place!” My parents were relieved.

Well, for the next three months, the entire school called me, “Pierre” – Pierre Cardin, after the guy who made the suit.

You’d think that would have been an awful experience, but the fact that everyone knew me right off the bat helped break the ice and eased the conversations. The reality was that most of the guys were just as scared as I was; the levity and humor of the situation put the guys at ease, so many migrated to me for early conversation.

Some of my strongest relationships were forged in those early days at BC High. I guess if you can make it through an embarrassing experience like that at the age of 13, not much else should faze you the rest of the way. The outcome gave me the confidence to never hesitate in forging a new relationship, even under the toughest of circumstances.

Be Present ~

You’re Graduating ~ Don’t Focus on a Job to Make You Happy

Victoria’s High School Graduation, Antonio being the little brother.

Many students are in the midst of graduation and embarking on their next phase of life. Unfortunately, I doubt the majority are fully prepared for what is about to hit them smack dab in the middle of their lives. I think the biggest problem is that they have been sold a bill of goods by their parents and teachers; I am curious to how that will affect our young, eager minds darting out into the world. Most students are told to “do what they love” and that they should find a career in an area that they are passionate about and will enjoy doing for the rest of their lives.

My question aimed toward that advice is: why? Why do you have to prepare now for the rest of your life? Why do you have to get in an area you love? Why is so much emphasis placed on a specific career path? I believe students are being misled. The preparation and advice is mediocre at best. The advice that should be doled out is that every student should acquire the skill set necessary to excel in business and to manage/interact with people. More than anything else they can learn, everyone needs to understand how to effectively communicate with others and how to build solid relationships. Interaction in the workplace, both internally and externally, is under-examined and under-emphasized in many college settings.

In college, the focus is about specialization – Accounting, Marketing, Law or Medical – which, sure, are all very important courses of study if you plan to head in one of those directions. But even in those areas, communication and basic business skills are not only needed, but are a must. Yes, there are classes that cover these areas, but I wonder if they are adequately emphasized. Your parents may want to see you become a doctor or a lawyer or an accountant and be sure that you love whatever you select. I know they are trying to be helpful, but how can you possibly know you actually love doing it until you are years into the field?

This is why I view early specialization as a huge mistake. When you are just entering your twenties, it is ludicrous to strive to select one area to pursue for your career path. The advice that should be given is that in the working world, no matter what you do, there are certain skill sets you need to possess. These tools will help you no matter what field you enter, and will propel you to success regardless of specialization.

Undergraduates should focus on subjects like: Cash Flow, Relationship Building, Effective Communication, Negotiating Skills, Interpersonal Psychology, Contracts, Budget Preparation, Strategic Planning, Writing, and Project Management, just to name a few. Knowing the principles in these topics will help you in any business you choose. Targeting skill sets for a specific area you think you will love or be happy doing is extremely premature for undergrads. You need to understand solid business and people skills. Then, go get a job and put them into practice before running off to grad school.

The other challenging question is: why do you need to work in an field you love? Why should your passion be your work? If you truly love an area, why ruin it by turning it into work. I was a huge sports fan as a kid, and have put twenty plus years of my life into the sports industry. I am not as much a sports fan as I used to be. Sure, I still enjoy it, but when I go to a game, I look at it different from how I would as a pure fan. I am now critiquing everything surrounding the game. That may not happen to everyone, but if you work hard at your job and strive to be the best, your industry will always lose some of its luster. That’s why I advise caution when choosing a career because you are a fan or extremely passionate about the area. There is a reason they call it work.

You need to find work you enjoy, but you also need to make sure work doesn’t destroy what you enjoy. Things appear glamorous from the outside looking in, but once you are in, they are never as wonderful as they seemed, if, in fact, you are truly working at it and not just coasting in “just happy to be here” mode. There are many folks who fall into the “just happy to be here” category who are not really making an impact in or contributions to their industry. They are typically the ones who love their job, but hate their compensation. There’s a reason why they are bitching about the money they make; they realize that the only way to truly earn more is to actually work, and probably do not want to make that leap.

So, forget about specialization, forget about turning your passion into a job, and focus on some basic business and interpersonal skills that afford you the opportunity to make a great living so you can enjoy all the things you are passionate about on a regular basis. Happiness is the key, and turning your happiness into a job will just dilute your joy of life. Why would you want to do that?

With that said, don’t let anyone tell you what to do. Go do what you feel is right for you, make your own mistakes, learn from them, and congrats on the next phase of your life. Exciting times are ahead. Oh, one last thing, read Winning the Customer.

Be Present ~

Family Dinners Provide

Patricia’s Shrimp Scampi

It was a memorial day weekend, and as we sat around enjoying each other’s company and the day, I reflected on the magnitude that many have sacrificed in order for us to enjoy the day and the freedom that comes with it. If you think about it, it’s a pretty remarkable phenomenon; total strangers putting the country, other people, and the concept of freedom before themselves. In the civilian world, this is not a common occurrence.

It’s one thing for your family and friends to sacrifice for you; they have a skin in the game. For a parent to give to her child before herself is something that is easy to comprehend. However, it is remarkable for a total stranger to fight on behalf of a firmly held conviction in a concept, perhaps for the benefit of his descendants, but other times just because he believed in doing so for the greater good. That’s just an amazing quality in a person – sacrificing everything for others.

In today’s workplace, it’s very rare for someone to stick their neck out for others. It’s also uncommon in our schools for kids to run to the aid of those being taunted, for fear of having to endure the same treatment. Why does it seem that our forefathers were so eager to risk it all for the good of the future, while today, most people are running for the exits and looking to cover their own asses? Admitting wrongdoing, taking the high road, and doing the right thing are foreign concepts, especially if it means facing consequences by taking the honorable route.

So what has led us astray? What has caused people to become total sell-outs and do anything to save their own skin? Why do folks take so much for granted with no thought as to why they have these rights and privileges?

I am not a sociologist, but it seems to me that the deterioration of the family unit has greatly affected this shift in decency. Parents are buying their kids things to compensate for the love they are not providing. They’re counting on the school systems to teach loyalty, honor, and integrity. Many parents both work to be able to make as much money as possible to provide their kids with the best of everything, but they are not providing what their children really need: themselves. I was at my daughter’s track meet the other day and noted that the lack of spectators, especially parents, was disgraceful. I’m not here to get on a soapbox and shake my finger at people and judge how they live their lives. I have enough to focus on in my own life and make sure I am doing the right things. But, I think many folks are all caught up in what is deemed to be the path to having a good life, and that many are missing the point and what is truly important.

I remember being told a great story, I’m not sure where it originated, but it’s dead on.  A father came home late from work, missing dinner again, and his little boy inquired, “Dad, why do you miss dinner with us so often?” The father replied that he was working. The little boy proceeded to ask, “Why do you work so much?” And the father said, “Son, I work so hard so I can give you everything you want.” Then, the little boy looked up at his father and said, “All I want is you.”

I think that because household members are so overburdened with their individual work and schedules, they don’t often sit down and have dinner together as a family unit. That hour or so is probably the most valuable time parents can spend with their kids. It is a great opportunity to instill values and character into children. I have a feeling that the folks more apt to sacrifice for others most likely learned great lessons while having dinner with their family on a regular basis. I’m not suggesting that this is the only way kids become more in-tune and caring for others. It just seems that it is a part of society that has faded away. As a result, it has eroded how kids value others and the benefits they have at their disposal, including the freedoms they enjoy because of the sacrifices made by people they don’t even know. Maybe that could be a topic for discussion the next time the entire family is together at the dinner table. It’s definitely something that no one should take for granted.

Be Present ~

The Form

Yes, I want to know where you are going and who you will be with!

If you’re a parent of adolescents, you know that getting the whole story is not as easy as just asking for it. Because of this fact, we invented “The Form”, a questionnaire the kids have to fill out if they are planning to attend any outside activities with their friends that are more detailed and intricate than just “shooting hoops with” or “studying with”. The kids think it is ridiculous, of course, but all the parents we mention it to seem to like the idea. So I thought we would share it with everyone, in case they want to implement it in their household. We hope it helps sort through the murkiness of the details you are receiving.

The Form

1) Name of Event or Happening:

2) Name of Host of Event or Happening:

3) Location of Event or Happening:




4) Parent(s) of Host:




5) Date of Event or Happening:

6) Timeframe of Event or Happening:

7) Type of Event or Happening (ie: “Sleepover” or “Pool Party”):

8 ) Do you need to bring anything to the Event or Happening (ie: “Gift”, “ Swimsuit”, “Cookies”):

9) Will you be eating at the Event or Happening?  Yes/No  (pick one) If “Yes” is it a meal or just snacks?

10) What will be your mode of transportation to and from the Event or Happening? If the answer is anything other than Mom or Dad fill out A. & B. below.

A. Who is driving you to the event? What is their cell #?

B. Who is driving you home? What is their cell #?

11) Are there others driving with you (other than the driver), if so please list their names.

12) If Mom or Dad are driving, do we have to pick up or drop off anyone? Yes/No (Pick one) If “Yes”, fill out A. & B. below.

A. Pick up:

Name(s) of person to be picked up:

Location of Pick-up (Address, Town, State & Home Phone)

Time of Pick-up:

Name(s) of Parent(s) & Cell #’s:

B. Drop off:

Name(s) of person to be dropped off:

Location of Drop off (Address, Town, State & Home Phone)

Name(s) of Parent(s) & Cell #’s:

12) Who will be in attendance at the event? Please list as many names as known. Also, please supply the cell phone of a responsible attendee other than the host or parents of the host.

13) Are there any additional details we should know about? If so please include them below.

Be Present ~

In a World of Cherrios ~ Be a Fruit Loop

Victoria (Tamaki) and her High School pals heading to Anime Boston

My daughter and I were chatting on the deck, having a little breakfast, and I said something to her that triggered a thought about opportunity and seizing the moment. I told her I was going to post this thought on Twitter, Facebook and Google+. The post went like this: “Everyone has opportunities presented to them, the question is: are they paying attention when the window opens? Keep looking, never quit.” My daughter then asked me, “Why did you tweet that?” I explained that I felt that there are lots of folks who do not receive the daily encouragement or direction they need, and I like to help motivate people based on what I have learned over the years. If it connects with just one person and gives them that little extra to get up and go, then I feel like I have made a positive impact.

She said to me, “That’s pretty cool. Can I go on Twitter and inspire people?” I told her absolutely, but at age 13, I think she is still too young to be on social media. Patricia and I decided the kids would not be allowed to get a Facebook account until high school. We actually feel that’s a bit young too, but we will have rules for that when the time comes, just as in everything else concerning the kids. My daughter then inquired, “Ok, but I want to motivate people too; can you Tweet something for me?” I said, “Of course. What is it?” She replied, “In a world of Cheerios, be a Fruit Loop.”

I asked her, “Before I tweet it, what does it mean to you?” She answered, “Cheerios are plain and Fruit Loops are colorful. You know that I always say ‘Be yourself’, because most people are not. To me, Cheerios are what everyone thinks they have to be. Cheerios are safe. Fruit Loops are colorful and stand out. Isn’t that what you always tell us, not to be like others, to stand out and surprise people in a good way?”

I tweeted her thought and posted it on Facebook. I felt a great sense of pride from that quirky little bit of cereal wisdom from my 13-year-old daughter. Not because she gave me this clever little saying, in fact she may have heard it from another source. What made me feel great about what she said was that she showed me she understood a principal that I talk about all the time. She continued, “I’m not talking about actually being a Fruit Loop Dad, you get that, right? I’m talking about being who you really are and not being afraid to show others.” I lecture to students and I speak to corporations about having people “think of you first” and “separating yourself from the rest of the schmucks”, and here is my 13-year-old daughter schooling me on my own belief. It was an awesome moment.

The reality is you can’t expect to excel if you are doing everything exactly like everyone else. It is a highly competitive world out there, and you need to find your zone and what makes you exceptional. What is it that you can do for society, your company or organization that makes you valuable? Why should people think of you or your brand first? 

I taught for years at BC. About 30,000 kids apply to Boston College every year for about 2800 spots. 10,000+ are probably “BC material” and would do well; the problem is how are the admissions folks able to sort through all the “sameness” in the applications? I have met with a bunch of high school seniors and their parents to give advice; the first thing I say to them is, “What have you done thus far to separate yourself from the pack. How do you add value?” No matter who you are or what you do, you have to position yourself in a way that shows others that you provide value beyond the other candidates. That is the only sure way to be accepted, hired or promoted. So take my daughter’s point to heart, especially if you feel like you’re not gaining any ground. Stop running with the pack of plain Cheerios and find that inner Fruit Loop to bring color to your story and separate yourself from your competition.

Independence and Parenting

Antonio on a family visit to DC

When I was a kid in the 70′s, it was such a different world for kids from how it is today. In the summer when I was seven, I left the house after breakfast and my mother had no idea where I was until I came home for lunch; the same was true between lunch and dinner. I got on my bike and headed out to play with my friends. It all went well, but to think of it now, there is no seven year-old kid who should have that kind of free rein. It was just a matter of fact back in the 70′s.

I was an alter boy at Mount Carmel Church in East Boston, and quite often I served morning mass. It was nothing for me to get up, get dressed, and walk to church alone at 6:30 in the morning. In the winter months, the streets were still dark at that time. No one reputable was on the streets; quite a scary thought, not for me at 7, but terrifying to me now at 47 and that I have kids of my own.

As much as it scares me as a parent to think about that state of no supervision, I know that same independence is what allowed me to gain experience and common sense that you could never learn in school. The freedom gave me the opportunity to make decisions that parents make for their kids every single day. I made choices and, at times, mistakes from which I was able to learn and grow. The laisser-faire attitude that parents had in the 70′s was way too lax. Yet, I watch many parents today make every decision for their kids; at age 7, it doesn’t concern me too much but by age 27, it scares me. Ok, I am exaggerating a bit, but I have witnessed twenty-something’s going to their parents to help make a basic decision. I have also have been told stories of college students having their parents lobby on their behalf for a higher grade. This, too, is scary to me.

As with all things in life, there needs to be balance. As parents, we should provide solid direction and guidance, but we also have to ease up on the reins and let our kids make mistakes and fail at times. It’s not easy, I struggle with it myself; what is that perfect mix of guidance and freedom? The answer is, there is no perfect mix. As parents you are bound to make mistakes as well. But aiming for balance is a key factor. You brought your kids into this world or adopted the responsibility; you have to set your priorities aside and focus on what is best for your kids at their current phase of life.

I believe most parents go wrong when decisions are made based on the parent’s own preferences rather than what makes sense for their kids at the time of the decision. The selfishness is the ruination. Not having the discipline to follow through with your kids in all areas, both good and bad, due to inconvenience, discomfort, or downright laziness is a huge problem. I see it all too often. A parent tells a kid to stop doing something five times, but never really puts the effort in to support what they are saying. Empty threats and promises erode the fibers of the parent/child relationship.

I will tell you that with as much freedom as I had in the 70′s, I only had to be told once not to do something. The same was true for my friends. So, it’s a little bit twisted in the sense that parents today are spending so much time with their kids, handling their schedule, making their decisions, and hovering over them, yet kids today do not seem to behave with the same sense of urgency as we did. I am generalizing of course, but I question if the familiarity with parents is causing a shift in the relationship to lean more toward friendship than authoritative.

Patricia and I are particularly struggling with the balance of freedom and supervision now that our kids are entering their teen years. We know we can’t view things as our parents did, but we do have to let go so the kids can be self-reliant and independent advocators. It’s definitely going to be easier for the kids than it will be for us as parents, but providing more independence now will allow the kids to grow and flourish, and be more confident in the future.

Be Present ~