Thursday, March 21, 2013

Hearing the Hum

Last Friday, I attended the St. Patrick's Day Breakfast at the UML Inn & Conference Center.  

It included the usual run of stale political jokes (the ones that get told each year with only the names and sometimes the places changed up), and even a couple cases where people didn't modify their stuff in response to identical lines that had just been delivered by a previous speaker.  Regardless, it was entertaining, it was well worth the time, and the money raised went a good cause.  

I thought Martha Coakley was surprisingly witty and charming.  Her statewide reputation from 2010 would suggest otherwise, but she had some great off-the-cuff jabs -- she threw one right back at Mayor Murphy for making a "shaking hands in the cold" reference, she had a couple other original zingers (one of which was repeated verbatim by one of our State Reps. several minutes later), and most of all her demeanor was relaxed and casual -- perfect for the occasion.  

Dan Winslow held his own.  Maybe this springs in part from the benefit of being the guy with nothing to lose, but he commanded a great presence from the podium without a hint of awkward.  The laughs were genuine -- not the sort of polite groans that sometimes come after St. Patrick's Day gag lines.

Tom Golden did great on the originality/visual humor scale once again.  Last year, it was the movie posters...this year, commercials.  Either way, a break from the standard boilerplate of recycled jokes and insincere self-deprecation.  

Initially, Gerry Leone led off with an old Tip O'Neill anecdote about (not) being introduced at sporting events, which sort of set me into a "here it comes again" mindset.  However, he then veered into more interesting territory.  He talked a bit about his decision to leave his current post, about his decision to run in the first place, and about loyalty.  In true "dance with the one that brung ya" style, he thanked his closest aides and supporters, emphasizing that anyone can say they're "with you" after the primary.  The people who really count are the ones who side with you before you've got all the momentum at your back.  He opened up about he saw the opportunity to run for the position, even though he lived outside of Middlesex County at the time and was seen (at best) as a dark horse.  He talked about how he saw Lowell as his *operational base* (my words there) even though it wasn't clear to some why that would make sense.  I'm badly paraphrasing and truncating here (hey, it's been nearly a week) but he wrapped up by saying that he had run his course w/public office and would soon be headed to the private sector to stay.  

Anyway, I liked it because I admire anyone who is enough of a visionary to identify the right opportunities, know when to jump, and then have the even-more-impressive skill to identify their departure point.  This isn't something that can be found in any manual, or offered from any consultant...instead, it's an instinctual trait that many highly successful people seem to have.  My friend Jack Mitchell sometimes talks about a spiritual force called "The Hum of the Universe."  I don't want to bastardize that term from its real meaning, so I'll modify it here to call this skill "The Hum of the Street."  

The world is constantly offering you feedback.  In terms of personal life, professional life, family life, etc. the clues telling you which way to twist and turn to take advantage of opportunities are there provided you're willing to listen.  Some people are tone-deaf, so they either don't see opportunities right in front of them, insist on seeing or hearing feedback that really isn't there, or don't know when the time is right to exit stage left (whether that's a retired city councilor begging for mic time at a public event, or whether it's the kid who graduated last June still hanging out in your high school parking lot talking to girls, you know it when you see it).  

Whatever Gerry Leone he saw, it wasn't obvious to everyone around him (and in comes the tautology -- if it were obvious, then it wouldn't be special).  Those very same Spidey Senses pointed to the exit doors in 2013, and I'm not going to doubt them.  

I credit Mayor Murphy with a lot of the same.  He identified an opportunity to run for the Council.  He made a big splash as a first-termer, and saw an opportunity develop to lead the city in a completely different way in his next term.  Everything always seems obvious with hindsight, but who would have predicted that back in 2007?   At some point during the process, he  decided on his own terms that he was ready for a new chapter in his life and career -- maybe with an eye toward other impactful opportunities, and maybe with frustration towards the pomposity and self-importance he made fun of in his speech on Friday.  He heard the hum in 2009 when he ran, he heard it after the 2011 election when the Mayoral race began shaping up, and he heard it when he made the call to pull chalks.  

All this stuff may seem inscrutable to anyone other than the person himself or herself, and in a way that's the whole point.  Why did Ted Williams hit .388 one year, and then .328 the next year, only to be completely gone from baseball just two seasons later?  

That's not too different from asking when an undefeated DA, or an undefeated CC, would pick up the needle and move to a new groove...while it may be ours to speculate, it's not ours to know.  

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