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Performance | May 20, 2019
Michael A. Chernow, the Fellow of Minor League Operations at the Pirates, risked failure by pushing himself beyond his comfort zone in a foreign land, but he embraced a challenge that became a year of personal and professional growth.

In 2015, at the conclusion of nine seasons with a Major League club, working in their clubhouse, I came to the realization that there would not be the potential for the type of professional growth I desired.


By Michael A. Chernow

Upon discovering there was not an opportunity for a different role with that club, it became clear that I was going to need to push myself out of my comfort zone. I was going to have to say good-bye to the job I reached a high level of familiarity with and, subsequently, take a risk to find a challenge and grow as a professional in the industry.

I have always possessed the drive to aspire for more and so at that time, I wanted the challenge of making an impact with a team. After that season, I applied to as many clubs as possible, intending to set up interviews in Nashville, Tennessee, during the Major League Baseball Winter Meetings.

After arriving in Nashville and squeezing in as many interviews as possible, it was then time to wait and see. Three months and a handful of rejections later, I found myself in Coplay, Pennsylvania working for Baseball Info Solutions [‘BIS’ or as it is now, Sports Info Solutions]. The yearlong education provided by BIS was essential because it introduced me to scouting, charting and scoring games, while diving completely into baseball, with the intent to land with a team the following season.

Coming out of the Winter Meetings in December of 2016, I was fortunate to have multiple offers from MLB teams to work in their Minor League system in a Player Development video capacity.

The Pittsburgh Pirates offered me a unique chance to travel to the Dominican Republic [DR] and work in the role of a Video Assistant for the Dominican Summer League Pirates. Believing this opportunity was a perfect match for the type of challenge I was seeking, I did one of the more uncomfortable things I have had to do, and turned down the other opportunities. Fortunate to have other offers I believe would have been great opportunities, the deciding factor for me was that they were in the United States. For where I was in my life, the job with the Pirates offered the best chance to significantly change my worldview and provide a chance for growth personally and professionally.

The job responsibilities and expectations were straightforward and, as with most video positions, it was going to be a grind. Capture the games on cameras, chart every pitch and score the game in the software, upload the data and video onto our internal servers. Setting up cameras every day, filming the workday, bullpens, creating advanced reports, provide support to the coaching staffs, and uniquely, be a positive representation of what it means to be a Pirate from a culture standpoint.

I recall sitting in my first Spring Training and hearing some of my co-workers at the time talking about going to the DR with a negative connotation. Usually the reaction I received from people I told about this position was ‘why on earth would you do that?’ That was generally followed by ‘Do you speak Spanish?’ (The answer was no at the time).

Knowing, understanding, and craving the challenge presented – my response was: “How many times in our lives, are we able to break free of commitments and just dive right into a new experience, let alone in a new country?”

The Dominican Republic has been one of, if not the biggest non–United States producers of talent in the game of baseball for many years. There are great advantages to seeing first-hand the struggles these players overcome, the experience of spending time in their native land, embracing their culture, and creating lifelong relationships. It provided me with further understanding of what motivates these players, and showed the significance and importance of the game to the players and their families.

I had identified this as a chance to challenge my limits and strive for more. It was time to take a calculated risk to try to move my life, and my career forward.

 

Michael Chernow [right] with a colleague at a Toros Del Este winter ballgame in La Romana, Dominican Republic, November 2017

Permission

Before you can take a risk and push yourself out of your comfort zone, you need to give yourself the permission and compassion to want more with your life. I wanted more than what my current position in life would allow me at that time. I wanted to experience growth, and as is often the case, if you are going to experience growth, failure will accompany it. You have to allow yourself the freedom to fail, with the understanding that there will be chances to fix the mistakes that you make along the way. Going to a Spanish speaking country, lacking the comprehension of the language, meant that there would be frustrating times and visible failure. By granting myself the permission to fail, the challenge of living in a foreign country would prove to be full of growth.

When we live in a space cognizant of the necessity to possess a growth mindset, we focus on “growing to point B” and often overlook what point A actually is. The first step is self-acceptance, and once you achieve that, the proverbial doors will unlock beyond it. There is a lot of talk about risk and the importance of it, but the only way we can take those risks is if we give ourselves permission first. If we engage in risk, absent of the understanding that we need to have compassion with ourselves and establish an environment granting the freedom to fail, we create an impossible situation and mentally, we will shut down.

The ‘risk’ we would take in this example would not be what we require to grow. Instead, without the self-acceptance and permission to experience failure, when it arises, we will close off the educational growth opportunities that present themselves.

We all want to grow in our industry, but growth is often messy at times. In the sports world, growth is commonly associated with failure.

You have to accept the times where you fail …

Learn

… And you have to be willing to learn.

One of the reasons why a decision like this was so beneficial to my life is because I was forced to adhere to a ‘white–belt mentality’. It was not just a mentality for me, the fact was, in this circumstance I was indeed a novice. I had never left North America, let alone lived in a foreign country. It was my first year with the Pirates, in a new country, and in a role I had never worked in. My sense of awareness was heightened due to the fact I was experiencing so many different things all at once.

Thriving and surviving required me to be perceptive, to listen, to ask questions, and to learn.

When out of our comfort zones, our natural survival instincts begin to kick in to a certain degree. We tend to be more receptive to other people’s ideas and knowledge because we lack the sensation of a complete understanding. A challenge for many, and specifically those who are in leadership roles, is to find the feeling of a lack of complete understanding, and to adopt it into their daily lives. Be intentional about learning, and lean on the people around you.

I was fortunate to be surrounded by a staff that either worked in the Dominican Republic for multiple years, or were native to the island. Individually, I was able to meet my performance goals. I was responsible for my work, was given clear guidelines to what my expectations were and I met all of those benchmarks.

However, the goal for me was not to just check boxes, it was to provide additional value and make an impact, and without learning from the people who had a better understanding of how the country worked, I would not have been able to out-grow the basic responsibilities of the job.

Embrace the Journey

One of the best pieces of advice received prior to my experience in the Dominican Republic was: “embrace the culture.” Open yourself up to try new things, allow yourself to enjoy the experiences of the journey.

If you identify an opportunity that will challenge you and remove you from your ‘comfort zone’, easy as it may be to overlook, it is crucial that you embrace the actual journey. As with any situations we find ourselves in, there will be difficulties. There will be dark nights where self-doubt creeps into your mind. It was early during my first month in the DR and once one week became two, the initial excitement wore off, and I came to the realization the challenges I had thought about were completely different when it was a reality.

What helped me through this difficult adjustment period was remaining present and embracing the day-to-day challenges that came into view. Concentrating on the tasks laid out in front of me, and to a degree, putting up ‘blinders’ that helped me to focus in on my daily tasks.

A common phrase I have heard during my time with the Pirates is to ‘be where your feet are’. This can be difficult for many because the reality is, in a professional context the purpose for taking risks is for growth and advancement. It is easy to hope and have visions of what may come from this experience; however, hope is not a strategy. It is crucial to stay focused on your current surroundings, engage your challenges and dominate your responsibilities.

Embracing all the journey has to offer should also provide opportunities for substantial personal growth. As with any industry, in order to put forth the best effort, there needs to be a healthy work/life separation.

For me, it was experiencing all that the Dominican had to offer. Being able to go to Punta Cana for a weekend, seeing the beauty of the beaches and the countryside across the island. Being able to experience the history within and the different cultures present in the city of Santo Domingo. These changed my perceptions and allowed me to remove myself from the grind and embrace the experience. It challenged me to put into practice my ability to communicate in Spanish, it allowed me to meet new people, and it provided an experience that I otherwise wouldn’t have had, were it not for the risk of going there in the first place.

The objective is professional growth, but that does not happen if we do not enjoy the personal growth as well. You have to embrace every part of your journey.

Maybe your idea of challenge does not involve moving to a foreign country … or maybe it is. Remember this; your positional location is insignificant when it comes to deciding on whether or not you should take a risk to push yourself outside your comfort zone. You could be an intern, you could be the CEO – the answer is yes. If you are considering a risk in the spirit of challenge, as Dr Brené Brown says: “choose courage over comfort.” Push yourself out of your comfort zone in any way you can. Find ways to challenge yourself constantly and foster growth opportunities. Start with self-awareness, grant yourself the permission to make mistakes, and understand failure is going to be visible at times.  Allow yourself the freedom to fail, and take advantage of every opportunity you have to learn from the people around you.


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