Sunday, June 28, 2009

Meeting Sandra Day O'Connor

Let me tell you a little story. I have this friend Wendy. She's my sister-by-choice and one of our favorite things to do is to grab the golf clubs and walk 18 holes, chit-chatting before, after, and -- occasionally -- during shots. We've solved the global financial crisis, cured cancer and floated solutions to difficult international diplomatic challenges on our rambles down the fairways. I know her daddy, she knows mine, and we mourned the recent loss of her mother. Off the course, we have keys to each others houses.

And my kids call her "Aunt Wendy".

So one day Wendy and I were playing some golf late on an afternoon. As usual, we were walking the course, carrying our clubs over our shoulders. It's a good workout and allows us to play at a steady pace.

Now, one of the things a golfer must do is pay attention to the group ahead of her as well as anyone behind her. Courtesy requires that each group play with pace, so the entire course doesn't slow to a crawl.

On this particular day, the group ahead of us got slower and slower until Wendy and I were waiting in the fairway quite a bit. Soon, we noticed an older couple in a cart behind us playing fairly fast, and coming up quick.

The woman would hit every shot, and the man driving the cart would just get out to putt. Interesting play pattern, but the thing was, they were right on us, and would soon be waiting, too, further gumming up the course.

We we about to tee off on the 18th hole. I turned to Wendy: "I'm going to ask if they want to join us to play in." Wendy agreed, so I turned to call to the cart couple. The woman looked at me from about 25 feet and my heart stopped.

It was the first woman named to the U.S. Supreme Court. It was Sandra Day O'Connor. My voice squeaked when I turned to whisper to Wendy, "It's Justice O'Connor!" Wendy gave me the don't-be-a-wimp look, and I cleared my throat and said, "Would you all like to play up with us?"

She was delighted. Introductions all around. Small talk about the weather, the pace of play, the fiendish 15th hole. Then it was our turn to tee off.

Mr. O'Connor declined to tee off, so it was us gals up on the red tee. I can't recall the order, and it's not important. What's important is this:

Justice O'Connor hit her tee shot and I said, "Nice drive!" And she turned to me, looked directly in my eyes and said, "It was not. It's in the left rough."

And in that moment, she let me know who she is -- grounded, comfortable in her own skin, self-assured. And she let me know that what she expected from me -- truth, honesty, fair play -- was going to be what I would give her. It was pretty clear: Sandra Day O'Connor requires no sucking-up. No ego boosting. No sycophants.

I got the message. Believe me. Felt like a dope. I looked at her directly and said, simply, "Yes, Ma'am." I understood what she wanted from me, and I was going to give it.

I've had the good fortune to have spent plenty of time around famous people throughout my career. And obsequious sucking up does seem to be the lingua franca of celebrity. When Justice O'Connor said, in effect, "Don't play those celebrity games with me," I was relieved and inspired. What a woman.

What I took away from this brief exchange is this: real legends have no need for brainless yes-men or yes-women in their lives. They wouldn't be where they are if they had gathered people around them whose entire life purpose was to suck up to fame.

A few weeks ago I gave a free class for coaches which caused a stir when I suggested that there may be a time in your life when it's appropriate to stop seeking, so you can implement what it is you've found. I said, at some point, you leave the teacher because you are fully taught. That you have the courage to become your own Buddha.

This may be that time for you. If there is someone in your life who you are overly reliant on for your mood, or sense of self-worth -- or if you feel that you are always the one shouting "Good shot" even when the ball lands in the rough...

Maybe it's time to learn a small lesson from my story, and if you're not ready to be your own Buddha, maybe you can be your own Sandra Day O'Connor. And start to call 'em like you see 'em. Authentically. Clearly. Honestly.


Blasé said...

You never know what a 'day' (Sandra Day) holds. Providence, or Coincidence?

Melissa Wells said...

I really keyed into your message to coaches, and am not surprised it raised some eyebrows! We love to be fed. Thanks for this, I can use it with some clients right now!