I'm sure we've all heard the adage: "Don't count your chickens before they are hatched." That saying has been around for a long time and yet too often many of us do take things for granted. As a matter of fact, I have a prime example of this kind of thinking. Being a tried-and-true Cubs fan has not been easy over the last few decades. That's not to say there haven't been hopeful moments now and then, but overall being devoted to the Cubbies has proved to be a prime example of masochism. After what occurred this year, it's obvious that the pain will continue for some time to come.
A good friend of mine, John Appleyard, former managing director of the Healthcare Research and Development Institute, churns out book after book on all kinds of subjects, from military history and whodunits to profiles of American heroes. He's a lifelong Cubs fan and consequently, he and I have discussed the Cubs baseball fortunes at great length over the years. But this year really took the cake. I believe most of you who read this column probably know the story. This year the Cubbies went out and hired Dusty Baker, who previously had been the manager of the San Francisco Giants and had done an outstanding job of making that team a perennial power. So when he was named manager of the Cubs and paid millions of dollars to do so, a lot of us were impressed that the Cubs' owners were serious about really making the Cubs into a winning franchise.
That optimism was more than rewarded with what took place this season. The Cubs actually won more games than they lost and ended up division champions, a distinction that got them into the playoffs. Their first opponent was the Atlanta Braves, often thought of as one of the top teams in baseball. Their manager, Bobby Cox, is considered of one of the smartest managers in baseball and for years the Braves have ended up in the playoffs. For Cubs fans there was a lot of trepidation as to how well their beloved team would do. To my surprise-and everyone else's-the Cubs prevailed and won the series. They would face the Florida Marlins as their next opponent.
Things looked really good indeed. The Marlins team had a bunch of young players on their squad and 72-year-old Jack McKeon as the manager. In 1997, the Marlins won the World Series, but the owner at that time essentially dismantled the team because the payroll was so high. As a result, for a couple of years the Marlins were not a formidable franchise, but they were a scrappy lot. Anyway, during the playoffs with the Marlins the Cubs were the dominant team and actually led the series three games to one before the Marlins managed to win a second game in Florida. The series then moved back to Chicago. There was no panic and most of Chicago already was clamoring for World Series tickets. The confidence was understandable because for the final games the Cubbies had their two best pitchers slated to pitch.
But a funny thing happened. The Marlins managed to beat Mark Prior and the Cubs in Game 6 of the series at home in Wrigley Field. The city was in shock, but never fear, Kerry Wood was scheduled to pitch Game 7 and Cubs fans were confident but a little apprehensive as well. Game 7 was a disaster with the Marlins belting Wood all over the place. That's when the unthinkable happened: The Cubs lost and Chicago went into a funk. No champagne corks popping, no World Series, no nothing, just disappointment and emptiness. Once again, the rallying cry would be "Wait until next year." But none of us wants to wait another year. We've waited too many years for this season and we were so close.
It has not been pretty for Cubs fans. I tried to reach John just yesterday for his guidance and perspective on the matter, but his daughter Diane suggested I wait a few days before bringing up the Cubs' status. As she put it, "He still isn't over it." So I'll wait a few days and then John and I will talk about next year.
Which brings me to the purpose of my letter this time around. There's a lesson to be learned from all of this and it isn't just for Cubs fans; it's for all of us. How many times have we anticipated something happening, whether in our business or personal lives, and end up being disappointed when it doesn't occur? It might be a big sale you are absolutely sure you've made. You wait and wait and then get a call telling you that you didn't win the account. It goes back to taking things for granted. We've all seen it. Companies and organizations that become successful and then after a while take their customers and their success so much for granted that they fail to do the things that are necessary to keep their customers loyal and faithful.
Healthcare organizations often take their employees for granted. They become so enamored with their success and awards that they forget the business they are in. It happens in marriages when spouses take their mates for granted and don't pay attention to the little details that are important in any relationship. Football and hockey teams take an opponent for granted and then get beaten by an inferior opponent that refused to cave in.
My advice is: Never take anything for granted. Your job, your health, your family and your friends are too precious and wonderful to be taken for granted. But people do it all the time and end up with a handful of broken dreams. Remember what that great sage Yogi Berra said,
"It ain't over 'til it's over,"
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Lauer is the author of two books, Reach for the Stars and Soar with the Eagles, and is an experienced guest lecturer available for public speaking engagements. For more information, visit www.chucklauer.com