Don Larsen died this month, at the age of 90.
He played baseball professionally from 1953 to 1967, and had a less than stellar career. As a pitcher, his lifetime record was 81 wins and 91 losses. He played five of those years with the powerhouse New York Yankees during their dynastic heyday in the 1950s; his record for lesser teams was a dismal 36 wins and 67 losses.
And yet he's one of my favorite players of all time.
Because on October 8, 1956, Don Larsen pitched the only perfect game in World Series history.
Somehow, everything broke his way for 27 batters in a row. Jackie Robinson got a legitimate hit in the second inning, but the ball somehow caromed off the 3rd baseman's glove right into the hand of the shortstop, who threw Robinson out by a step. Billy Martin and Mickey Mantle also made astounding catches for outs.
And when the last pitch, a called strike 3, whiffed pinch hitter Dale Mitchell, catcher Yogi Berra ran to the mound and leaped into Larsen's arms in one of the most iconic photos in sports history.
But my affection for Larsen is based on a personal connection to that game: my father was there.
Since it's one of the most famous games in baseball history, lots of fans claimed to have seen it – certainly many more than Yankee Stadium could have held.
And although I knew that my dad would never have lied about it, it was still cool when he opened an old cigar box and bequeathed me one of his most prized possessions: the ticket stub for that 5th game of the Series.
Lessons from Larsen
I love the unlikeliness of it; how this frankly mediocre pitcher pulled off a feat that has only been matched 22 other times in all of Major League Baseball history, and never again in a World Series. I mean, Larsen wasn't even playing well at the time. He had totally tanked in Game 2 against the Dodgers, squandering a 6-run lead and getting chased off the mound in the second inning after giving up four walks.
And yet here he was, turning in one of the most virtuosic performances ever.
I keep that ticket stub in my office, to remind me that past failure doesn't have to predict future failure.
That no matter how much we may be struggling, there may be grace and redemption in this next moment.
And that this most perfect game of all time was not planned, premeditated, ordained, or sought after. No one could have predicted it and no one should have expected it, Larsen least of all. Reflecting back in 1998, he marveled at the control he displayed in that game; a control he said he never had in his life, before or after October 8, 1956.
He threw 97 pitches in that game, a remarkable low number. And I like to believe that he threw every one of those pitches, not in pursuit of a perfect game, but for their own sake. To pitch for the sake of throwing a ball that came in fast, accurate, and tricky.
Larsen had complete control over where and how he threw each pitch, and zero control over what the batter would do with it.
Likewise, we have the possibility of complete control over our own actions and choices, and zero control over what the world throws at us.
Start a jogging habit, and all of a sudden the freeze of the century descends on your town and it's unsafe to go outside.
Decide to eat a plant-based diet and the next day there's a two-for-one sale at the delicious pizza joint across the street from your office.
Create a monthly budget to save for retirement, and your HVAC unit dies and puts you right back into credit card debt.
In other words, we can do everything right, and there are no guaranteed outcomes.
As long as we focus on the outcomes we want, we're kind of taking our eye off the ball of the present moment.
Doing For Its Own Sake
When we turn our goals into idols, we lose our connection to the present moment.
The future we want – physique, feelings, sensations, possessions, relationships – becomes more important and more immediate than our current experience of life.
Future goals are useful only to the extent that they give structure and purpose to our NOW. To our relationship with this moment. And this one. And this one.
When we orient our consciousness toward future outcomes, we sacrifice the joy that is inherent in this moment. And we sacrifice the guidance, the deep wisdom of our body and spirit, that is whispering to us in each moment. The roar of the ego that will not be happy until the goal is attained drowns out the sweet, compassionate whisper of the soul that can be supremely happy now.
When we become addicted to our theoretical future happiness, we give up the possibility of being happy now.
And in the absence of happiness, we medicate ourselves through the very behaviors that sabotage the attainment of our goals.
We seek hits of pleasure to distract us from our lack of present contentment.
We avoid productive physical and emotional discomfort for fear that it will put us over the edge into misery or panic.
The secret of goal attainment is to constant remind ourselves that the purpose of the goals is to create the structure for the journey.
The Journey is Life
The journey is found only in the NOW.
The secret of goal attainment is to do the hard work for its own sake.
To eat the broccoli and kale for the sake of eating broccoli and kale.
To go for a walk for the sake of swinging your arms and legs with purpose.
To meditate for the experience of sitting still and observing your thoughts.
Bringing attention to each activity, to each moment, makes it enough.
If you need motivation to “act right,” that's a warning sign that you've elevated goals above your moment-by-moment experience of life.
Being fully in the moment, no what what's going on or what you're feeling, is always enough.
Reclaim your energy and attention from the theoretical future to the real and immediate present.
Throw yourself into your life, and do things for their own sake.
Make your plans. Create your visions. Identify goals and objectives and key results.
Translate those future desires into daily routines and behaviors and habits.
And then let the goals and objectives fade from view. They've done their job.
You'll retrieve them to check progress, to assess correctness and sufficiency of your chosen protocols.
But while you're doing, just DO.
DO for the sake of the thing you're DOing.
When you are fully present NOW, when you offer no resistance to what is, that is enough.
When you experience yourself as part of the whole of existence, which happens only when all of your attention is on the present moment, that is enough.
True happiness can be found only in the NOW.
Chasing happiness in the future is a con, a shell game, that our culture uses to sucker us into compulsive acquisition and consumption.
When you are fully immersed in what you are experiencing now, be it a simple meal of steamed vegetables or a hard jog up a hill, you need nothing more or less.
When you are fully present, bliss and discomfort can coexist. Bliss and sadness can coexist. Bliss and anger can coexist.
Bliss is nothing more than the experience of full presence.
And bliss is available to us in every moment.
But never in the future.
Stop Waiting for Success
You do not have to wait to be happy, to be content, to be fulfilled.
Those states do not depend on external events or outcomes.
You do not have to wait until you have achieved X to treat yourself with love and kindness.
Whenever you DO for its own sake, you receive pleasure in the DOing.
Everything you truly want is present in this moment.
Whatever you're DOing, do it for its own sake.
And you may find yourself pitching some surprisingly perfect games.