It’s All About the Belt

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So, at 8 years old, my sweetheart Isabella, I suspect as a result of watching either Nickelodeon or Disney or both, is now into karate. She is chomping at the bit to get involved.

Her rationale is the fact that if she were ever attacked by any “bad men,” she’d be able to defend herself by giving them a “hi yah” and a “hi yeh.” Her firm belief is that once she delivers a “hi yah” and a “hi yeh” along with a swift high kick, whoever the “bad men” are, they will be running away.

While I questioned the rationale, I clearly did not question her passion. So, all was going well and I even indicated to her that I was going to get all of the particulars about the different programs in a couple mile radius for karate classes for children. She got very excited. In the process of her excitement, she got right to the point: “When do you think I will get a belt, Daddy?”

I told her that the belt wasn’t given, it was earned.

“Right! Got it.  So, when do I get it?”

She persisted:  ”Daddy, I understand what you’re saying (she said with the roll of both eyes), but answer my question:  when am I going to get the belt?”

And then I realized, of course, that it really is all about the belt, not just for Isabella, but for most people.

It’s the belt, after all!  The hidden incentive of behavior at every level.

I don’t know how many of you have listened to the Broadway Station on Sirius. It’s Sirius XM Channel 77. It’s a little funky, just a wee bit pretentious, and I guess you have to enjoy Broadway as much as the listeners of opera enjoy Met Opera on Sirius, or fans of Jimmy Buffet enjoy Margaritaville.

There is a fellow whose name is Seth Rudetsky. Since I haven’t listened to Broadway very long, I’m not really sure what his story is, but I know that he appears to be a pretty big deal in the Sirius Broadway realm, and maybe even Broadway itself. They have a particular show, along with several anchors which are interview shows.

I happened to be listening to an interview between Seth, Johnni James (sorry if the spelling is off), and Ben Vereen. Yes, the Ben Vereen of “All That Jazz,” “Pippin,”  “Funny Girl” with Barbara Streisand, and “Chicken George” of Roots.

If you know anything about Ben Vereen aside from what an incredibly talented performer he is, you might know (which I didn’t) that he has won several Tony’s and has been a mainstay on Broadway for a very long time.

Seth kept focusing him in the interview on his choices of parts, his awards, his accolades, and all the like.

To Seth, it had everything to do with artistic “choices.” 

To Ben Vereen, it didn’t have anything to do with any of that. It was really all about, in Ben’s words, “the work.” He loved the work and he wanted to work. It didn’t matter what part he played. He preferred to work with directors like Bob Fosse of “All That Jazz,” no matter what Bob Fosse did and no matter what Bob Fosse cast him in.  But, at the end of the day, while his preference was creative directors, his choice was simply to be able to work and work with people he enjoyed working with. He even talked about the difference between work and unemployment lines and he said he definitely preferred “work!”

At one point in time, after hammering his message home, Seth asked him yet again why he chose a particular part. His answer, predictably, was, “Seth, the WORK!”

I thought about that for a while, because, not being a Broadway aficionado, but finding musicals easy to enjoy, I certainly know Ben’s “work.” It’s monumental. It’s over the top. It is enormously talented. And he is in the moment when he is performing — even if he is performing each and every night, six days a week and twice on Sundays, on Broadway, for three years straight.

He brings his best game to the show and he stays in the moment not only because his patrons deserve it, that’s where he wants to be — working his passion, but most important of all because, “it’s all about the work.”

It resonated with me, because, as I looked back in my life, I realized I’ve always felt the same about entrepreneurship — about business building. To me, it has always been “about the work.”

The awards and accolades may come, which they did; and may go, which they also did. But what’s most important is the work itself.

I’ve likened entrepreneurship at one point in time to the work of a sculptor. It’s chiseling a statue that you get to stand back and look at from afar, approach as you chisel some more, and then step back again to gain perspective.

Entrepreneurship has been called part science and part art . . .  but above all else, at least for me, it’s about the work.

In any event, I turned to Bella and I concluded the conversation with:   ”I get it, Sweetie Pie. I really do. But just think for a moment that it might not be about the belt at all, but about what you will have to do to earn it!”

A Postscipt.

We went to the demonstration Saturday morning:  just the two of us.  The place was full of all the language you would expect in karate:  right intentions,  right conduct, and right results.   The belts were proudly displayed on the wall.  But it wasn’t a quick ”gimme.” 

You had to earn it.

She got it . . . at least I think she did!

She still said she wanted to take the karate lessons, but this time, her tone was far from certain, and much less cavaliere.

Of course it may turn out to be true, at the end of the day, that it is all about the belt, but you had better love the work first, or getting the belt is simply not worth the effort.