The “Marshmallow Test,” Batman, and law school (and life) lessons.
Ever since my sophomore year in college, after renting the movie the Paper Chase (about life at Harvard law school) and watching it three consecutive times (the third time as the sun was rising the next morning), I knew I wanted to go to law school.
25 years ago this fall I started law school at the University of Kentucky. Law school, for me, was one of those transitional and transformational experiences. The experience has a way of introducing a student to him or herself. During law school one has to come to grips with realities about himself or herself that can be both humbling and heartening. In my case, law school proved to me that I wasn’t nearly as smart as I had secretly hoped; but proved to others that I was considerably smarter than they had assumed. The experience also proved to me I could work much harder than I thought I could. And proved to my parents that I not only could –but would –work much harder than they thought I ever was capable. It was an important and defining time for me.
A few weeks before heading from Louisville to Lexington for law school a wise mentor took me to lunch and asked me what I hoped to achieve there. I told him I wanted to finish in the top 10% of my class (or Order of the Coif, as it is known in most law schools). He was unimpressed and said he only hoped -–and believed—that after law school he could say that “I was a fine young man.” And that is what was really important. He was right, of course, and over the next 3 years I never forgot his response. But I also never forgot my goal.
Over the past week, I have been texting a friend and law school classmate from a quarter decade ago about our law school experience. What has been most striking is the detail with which we each remember the many facets of our experience, but most especially the detail with which we recall grades and class rank. We each noted if we had had a single class where our grade increased by a single increment (from a B+ to an A – or a B to a B+) we would have graduated law school with a notably higher honor than we did. In my case, I pointed out to my friend, I would have graduated “Order of the Coif.”
And this is where the “Marshmallow Test” comes into play. That test was made famous for demonstrating that young children who could delay gratification (by saying “no” to the tempting offer of a single marshmallow now in favor of being rewarded with two marshmallows 15 minutes later) was a better predictor of life success than any other test devised for young children. What does this have to do with law school? Well, the night before one of my final law school exams, I got invited, cajoled, and ultimately persuaded to scrap studying for several important hours to go see the movie Batman. Prior to that night, I never—ever—had compromised on studying during law school exams. My first year I had no cable TV and would only see and go on dates with my now wife once a week. I missed an aunt’s funeral during first year finals and spent Thanksgivings alone so I could get a possible studying edge on my classmates. But this one time—when I knew I was on the bubble for Order of the Coif and that anything lower than a B would probably drop me below Coif—I went for the “instant” rather than the “delayed” gratification.
I got a “B –“ and didn’t achieve my long held goal of making Order of the Coif. And I had only myself to blame. My former classmate and I, while texting about our “near misses,” concluded that we both took it all too seriously back then and that now, fortunately, we were much less competitive than our younger selves and how that was a good thing.
That is all true. I even added that “Life with our competitive tendencies kept in check,” is much more rewarding, both personally and professionally. But I also had to confess that despite my 25 years of additional maturity and, supposedly, wisdom, I would never have anything nice to say about the Batman movie franchise.
I was joking, of course. But not entirely. The texting conversation made me realize that 25 years later I still know—and can relive— every detail about how I botched my shot at graduating law school with that distinguised honor. But what I can’t do is recall with even the slightest detail any of the movie Batman, which I chose instead that night. In other words, I have no memory of the single marshmallow I chose 25 years ago. But a vivid recall about not holding out for just 15 more metaphorical, and perhaps literal, minutes for the bigger and longer lasting prize I sacrificed.
I like to think I still graduated as a “fine young man” as my mentor friend had hoped for me—and that, in many respects, my goal of wanting to graduate “Order of the Coif,” was just an extra marshmallow I missed out on, so to speak, but nothing much more than that. But the lesson I really learned –and am quite sure I’ll never forget—is that when faced as an adult with the equivalent of the Marshmallow Test, I will remember that the second marshmallow is always much sweeter and more satisfying than the first. If for no other reason, the second marshmallow is worth much more because of the sacrifice required to earn it.
Marshmallows, like life, are like that
Next Saturday, on what we hope is a sunny and inviting Kentucky summer afternoon, our state will be host to an annual political tradition we call Fancy Farm.
Fancy Farm is Kentucky’s political equivalent of the ancient legal practice of trial by ordeal–where the accused is set on fire or tied up and thrown into a river to determine guilt or innocence. If the accused survives, they would be presumed innocent. In Kentucky’s political version, a politician who survives Fancy Farm, is presumed politically viable and allowed to continue to pursue their political aspirations. But like the survivors of the ancient legal trial, the Fancy Farm politician will never forget the ordeal endured.
Fancy Farm is probably America’s last vestige of pre-modern political theater. To succeed you need two parts talent; three parts ambition; one part courage; and two and a half parts temporary insanity.
Beyond all the tales about Fancy Farm, and beyond the sound and fury that occur during each year’s big political event, Fancy Farm does signify something. But what exactly that is, no one is quite sure.
So we keep coming back in hopes of finding out.
Maybe we will unravel the Fancy Farm mystery this year. Or maybe not. Most likely Fancy Farm 2014 will again be another irresistible spectacle combining good will and good cheer; characters and charisma; courage and calculation; pleasing food and harsh partisanship; high political drama and low brow political tactics all swirling simultaneously within the context of nothing less than a political orgy sponsored by St Jerome’s Catholic church. All located In the deep recesses of Western Kentucky where real politicians picnicking and politicking face to face with real constituents still matters. At least for a short weekend.
Fancy Farm was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the “World’s largest picnic.” Fancy Farm is worthy of Guinness status, no doubt about it. For something. But calling Fancy Farm merely an annual picnic is like calling Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls an annual tour through the city of Pamplona. Perhaps the main attraction of both events is getting to see the people who participate –voluntarily– in these curious historic events that attempt to test and celebrate the human spirit.
Fancy Farm is something to see and should be seen at least once in the lifetime of every Kentuckian. And at least once by every American who is a non-Kentuckian but is a political junkie. Because vestiges of former times don’t last for long. And are painfully missed when finally gone.
So…Happy Fancy Farm 2014!!
May 2014′s political picnic live up to its grand and gaudy tradition –.and just a little bit more than usual this year. Because this year, the nation’s most defining political race may well hang in the balance. Making 2014′s Fancy Farm even fancier than usual. And that is saying a lot.
(Note: This link is to a piece I wrote last year about my political trial by ordeal in 1995, listed by the C-J as one of the more memorable Fancy Farm moments. It not really about me as much as my attempt to capture, the best I could, the essence of experiencing Fancy Farm. It is a flawed human attempt, I might add, to describe a near mythic event. But I tried. Which, in the end, is all that any of the participants at Fancy Farm can do.)
A very special evening.I attended the annual Wendell Ford dinner tonight.But someone was missing, the honored guest himself, who is home tonight battling lung cancer courageously and magnanimously. Even cancer, as sinsiter and destruct…ive a force as it is, must be ashamed to find itself hosting someone so beloved and beneficient as Wendell Ford. (And, yes, someone also so ornery and determined.)
Wendell may not have been in attendance but no figure has ever– in my experience– been more present in his absence than Sen Ford was at tonight’s event attended by at least 700 friends and political supporters.
Story after story about the iconic Kentucky politician was told by the various speakers, but none were really about politics. The stories all seemed to hew to the personal instead. They were about Wendell Ford the man, who just happened to be a great political leader at the time these memorable and meaningful personal interactions occurred.
The stories could easily have been about great legislative heroics or profiles in political leadership. But each and every one centered instead around little acts of kindness observed and experienced from Wendell Ford when nobody else was watching. Because, it seems, that is what stands out about Wendell Ford’s legacy most profoundly.
I chose this picture of Wendell to post –an action picture of Wendell with sleeves rolled up engaging with others while smiling broadly and contagiously rather than a blow dryed head shot behind his senate desk. The latter would be a picture Wendell just posed for. And Wendell was never a poser himself–or had patience with those who were.
He was, as a friend of the family would say, “The Real McCoy” and “the genuine article.” He is obviously still with us tonight and hopefully for a good while longer. And that is important to note because we may not see another quite like him again. Politics has changed…yet didn’t change Wendell.
Wendell Ford, it is true, is a Kentuckian who has walked with kings. But he is perhaps best described by the elevator man at our nation’s Capitol who proudly boasts that Wendell Ford is “the kindest human being to ever walk these Capitol floors.”
And that is an awfully fine legacy for 700 friends and supporters to celebrate tonight.
After receiving 3 calls in less than 5 minutes from a telemarketing company—and all 3 interrupting an important business call– I decided to retaliate.
I called back the number and got an answer from a robotic telemarketing sales rep and I said, “Hello. How are you doing today? I’m interrupting your day to try to sell you some s**t you don’t need. Do you have a few minutes to talknow?”
And then I gave the real reason I was calling and asked that my number be removed from their call list.
But he hung up on me.
Cold call sales is just hard like that.
(Note: Forgive me. I try never, ever to lose my cool and mostly succeed. But this wasn’t one of those times. But I’m all better now. And even feel a little guilty. But only a very little.)
Is it possible to receive a monthly phone bill from your phone carrier so detailed with information that it takes 8 full pages to report it all, but nowhere on this detailed bill is there a single reference to a phone number for your carrier if you have any questions?
Yes, it is.
My new instant personality test.
You are driving along in no particular hurry to get anyplace and notice your gas tank has just over a quarter tank of gas left as you are about to drive by a service station.
What do you do?
1) If you pull over and fill up, you are typical and are probably a responsible person who doesn’t leave things to chance but carries an extra jacket (or even blanket) in the car during the winter. They will likely be suited for middle management level positions. Or own a gas station. And likely coach little league and teach Sunday school. They sometimes teach courses in “How to” do things. And have fond memories of being a Boy Scout and even remember the hand sign that shows you are a scout.
2) If you keep driving and figure you’ll get it filled up next chance, you are probably a procrastinator and don’t know why. Oh, you say you know why and can list a dozen different reasons to others why you procrastinate but none really ring true. You are often late and some people think you are reckless at times. But those same people find you charming and fun at other times. Still other people find you irresponsible and unreliable and when you try to be charming and funny around them they may smile but will make the gagging expression by pretending to put their finger down their throat as soon as you leave. There is a certain adrenaline rush these individuals get from procrastinating and taking unnecessary risks. These individuals are often well suited for being an entrepreneur or CEO or entry-level assh***s who hop from job to job and borrow money from people who get gas earlier than they do.
3) If you drive past the station and then get nervous and do a U-turn and drive back to fill-up, you are a very tentative and indecisive person who can never remember where he was driving in the first place or why and is probably still out driving right now but still has at least a quarter tank of gas wherever you are. But not much else.
4) If you drive past the station but make a note to fill-up soon and later that day stop by a service station to fill-up, you show strong leadership capability and the ability to asses situations on “the fly,” and make bold decisions. These people aren’t as much fun as #2 and often feel like an older male family member who acts like he or she knows it all but can get on your nerves easily. They are almost never the smartest person in the room except occasionally when they are in a room by themselves. These individuals seem to be good at fewer things than they imagine but they compensate for it by an assured smugness that propels them into much higher paying jobs than their skill set could justify. You feel bad for them so just play along and let them think decisions they make (like not getting gas now when it is easy and right there but delegating it to later in the day) are really wise and make them destined for leadership roles.
5) If you read this and are horrified that you would ever be driving with a gas tank this low, you are a great supporting cast member and loyal employee. These people have great skill for being the number two person who does most of the important work. But when these people have dinner parties they, naturally, play it safe and serve ordinary hors d’oeuvres that don’t look very good or taste very good either and tell stories about how they “averted disasters” recently–but others find these stories a little tedious and overly-dramatic. Especially the story about the time they were driving with less than a quarter tank of gas but somehow made it home anyway. But friends eat their hors d’oeuvres anyway–and compliment them– because they appreciate all these people do for them.
6) If you don’t understand the question because you have never had more than a quarter tank of gas, you probably have the most job options off any personality type but they are all minimum wage level jobs and have little future in them. You go to the gas station almost daily but only put in one or two gallons at a time because you fear if you fill up the entire tank, you will feel like a poser and fraud and like you betrayed your peers who like the idea of surviving day-to-day even though it’s much easier than they want to believe and doesn’t take nearly as many stops to gas stations. But it’s a pride thing.
7) If you don’t own a car and just use ride sharing services and ride a bicycle most places, you don’t count for this personality test. But you are probably pretty cool. And aren’t missing out on very much.
There’s nothing wrong with tooting your own horn from time to time. If you don’t, who will? Right?
As baseball legend Dizzy Dean famously said, “It ain’t braggin’ if you’ve done it.”
Well, this morning it finally happened for me. I was the very first customer of the day at the Springhurst Starbucks in The Summit (or whatever they are calling it now).
I didn’t win a prize of any kind and the Barista wasn’t even going to tell me until I asked solicitously if I was, in fact, today’s first customer. After a brief pause while she fished through the cash register for my change, she looked up and without making eye contact, sighed and said, “Yep. You are.”
Those words, “Yep. You are,” were just what I was hoping to hear after so many mornings asking that same question and getting a “Not quite,” or “Almost,” or “No,” or “Are you serious?” (Followed by whispers to a fellow Barista.)
Finally, today is the day, fittingly on the day we celebrate our nation’s birthday, that I finally made it as Starbucks “First Customer of the Day.”
Dizzy Dean was right.
In fact, I’m thinking of taking the rest of the day off. But only until tomorrow morning.
Don’t get me wrong and please know I am just trying to help.
I appreciate you keeping up the regular supply of much needed water to us. But splashing us every few days with water everywhere with these rain storms just makes it seem like you aren’t keeping up with the times. Nobody down here is saying anything yet about your old fashioned water deliver methods but I worry they eventually will–you know how we are. And who needs that?
For example, I was at a Thornton’s early this morning (the one off Shelbyville road in Louisville, KY across from the Starbucks) and out in front there are, like, 50 cases of bottled water all lined up in neat rows. (I think it’s that fancy water that comes from the French Alps. And if the French can transport tons of water in neat little bottles, I know you can come up with something even better than that!!)
Look, it’s 2014 and there are all kinds of ways to deliver water to us that are way more efficient than the old way of just raining it down on us every few days without notice.
If you want me to ask the bottled water guy at Thorntons for some ideas for you, I will but won’t tell him I’m asking for you. We can keep it between us.
Just trying to help,
Mavericks can be good guys
So long to James Garner who made us smile more than he made us think– because his characters seemed always to have a short-cut line to the obvious.
Commonsense, plain talk and good-naturedness made Garner’s characters both relateable and admirable to us watching at home. And always, of course, endearing.
James Garner’s characters never quite rose to the level of charming because charming connotes some degree of manipulation being at play. And whether playing a Maverick or plained clothed Rockford detective, Garner’s characters were always defined by their transparency. They were mischevious, yes; but never covert or manipulative. His characters were certainly known for cracking wise — but the emphasis was always on the wise part rather than the cracking part. He always was, underneath it all, a gentle man playing someone tougher than he was meant to be…but happily playing along.
James Garner always seemed to play the guy you wanted to hang out with but never got the chance to.
And now he’s gone. But it was sure nice knowing him Thanks for all the smiles, Mr Garner, especially the knowing smiles that were your trademark. You will be missed.
And we suspect you have already found something in Heaven that is causing you to smirk to yourself –gently, as always. It’s just too bad we can’t be watching.
When I was 14 and staying with my father for the summer, I was in a hurry one day about something and knocked hard on the aging condo door and hit a spot of deteriorated wood and immediately got about a half dozen splinters in two of my fingers.
Thee door was flung open by my father’s lady friend who informed me my father wasn’t back yet and then noticing me holding my fingers while trying to hold back tears asked me what was wrong. I explained about knocking into some dead wood on the door and getting splinters to which she paused momentarily and then mustered the response, “If I were you, I wouldn’t have done that.”
I looked up at her in disbelief that she really said something so completely unhelpful. I decided she just really didn’t care that much and it was probably a hassle for her to come up even with that lame response.
They didn’t date for very long but ever since then when I find myself in a situation that catches me off guard and I have no desire to help with or feign concern about another person’s misfortune, I think to myself (and sometimes even say out loud, “If I were you, I wouldn’t have done that.”
So last week when the car dealer where we recently bought a car called me to check up on how we liked our car so far I told him we were very pleased. But when he then explained the salesperson had forgotten to charge sales tax on our car and I was going to need to pay them an extra $1300, I paused dumbly and then had a ready answer for him.
Has this ever happened to you?
“Unbelievable!” is all you can say.
You walk out of a coffee shop back to your car and notice a new and severe crack down the rear right side that wasn’t there when you parked. You utter in frustration, “Oh… man! How did this happen?” startling a women walking in with heels so high the break in concentration almost causes here to fall.
Not wanting to cause any injuries you stop talking out loud to yourself as your mind starts racing about how much this is going to cost you to fix and how unfair it is since you just got your car fixed less than a month ago for something else that wasn’t your fault (even though it really was your fault).
And then you realize your car is actually in the space behind the car you are fixated on and is just as you left it 20 minutes earlier.
And you pull out feeling the universe is, after all, a pretty fair place. And like you got your first good break of the day already and it’s not even 730am.