The day I met Picasso, a true story.

This is a long post, but I realized that I never wrote about it before. I swear that it’s true, though the quotes may be fudged a bit.

We were in San Jose California. Me, my co-coach Matt and a friend named Jim who, at the time, was going to open his own gym. We were at a big gymnastics conference tied to a big national gymnastics meet. It was late, after the competition finished and we were looking for a place to eat. None of us knew San Jose and so we found ourselves walking around looking for an open place.

Now I’m not a big believer in coincidences. I think somehow the universe knows what we want or need and gives us little nudges to figure it out. There we were, 3 tired coaches walking down the street when a young lady ahead of us calls out “You guys looking for a place to eat?” We listened as she gave her advise and didn’t think twice about it being unsolicited. We showed up at Picasso’s; a bar and grill that was closing up and finishing a noisy party in the other side of the restaurant area.  The tables looked like they were put up for the night, but the bartender, an older guy with white hair and European features told us to come in because the kitchen was still open “for us.” Still having no clue that it all seemed a set-up we  took up seats at the bar. We didn’t even get to look at the menu yet when Picasso, as he’s come to be called in the retelling of this story, started with the questions: “where are you guys from? What do you do? Are you here for the competition? When do you go home? It all seemed innocent enough.  We ordered and as we waited for our food, the bartender returned: He looked right at Jim and without so much as an introduction to the lecture, he started in “You know even when it seems like a hopeless effort ya gotta do the right thing.  If your principles are based on goodness and doing a good thing, then nothing can stop you. All the things that seem insurmountable will fall away in the end and you will see what you created rise above everything else. Your creation will be good if it’s based in goodness. Do you understand?” Jim nodded  as Picasso continued “You keep working at it and eventually it will materialize for you, just as you dreamed it, because working on them, is the only way dreams will come true. “ His eyes flashed to Matt and I but his focus was clearly on Jim.  “Even though you may not feel like all of your work is producing anything it will  show in time. But you gotta have a reason for doing something,   You must identify, without any doubt, the specific reason you do the work you do.  Success can only occur when there is a target and a reason to hit it.”  With that Picasso turned and walked into the kitchen. Jim’s wide gaze turned toward us and he kind of smiled but was a little dumbfounded. As a skeptic, I can say that everything he was saying could be applied to a coach training athletes as well as an entrepreneur starting a business.  So we didn’t really let it sink in, more like we let it float on the surface for further viewing. We talked about how he was right and how the wisdom of bartenders has always been legendary. It was so out of place that it seemed funny.

Picasso comes back with the appetizer we ordered. We were talking  about his advice among ourselves and how we should share it with athletes since all 3 of us are believers in helping children develop a vision and goal for gymnastics and that doing so is the only way for them to be motivated enough to work as hard as they need to succeed.

Since we were having a conversation, no one acknowledged Picasso as he placed down the plate of appetizers, I may have muttered out “thanks”. He stood almost like he was waiting for us to try the appetizer. Matt, being younger, bold enough and maybe even bordering on cocky, asked Picasso if he had any advice for him. At the time Matt was working as a free-lance software programmer who coached on the side. He had aspirations of starting a software company but wasn’t sure how to go about it. Picasso couldn’t know that though, we had just walked off the street. He looks to Matt, the way an adult looks when talking to a child:  “A roadblock is only a roadblock if you don’t know about it.  If you know about it, it’s just a challenge.  Once you see the roadblocks, and you define them as challenges then the solutions become evident. Each challenge, each solution is an opportunity to get something done, to become something new.  You’re the only guy who knows where you are, what challenges are around you and what tools you have to dispatch them, You’re in a pretty good spot to move ahead, but you have to remember that the hardest challenges produce the most change. You have what it takes right now, don’t you?  You know what you must do and you know why.  Remember, you could never make a bigger mistake than sitting back and doing nothing simply because you feel you can only do a little.  The best thing about being a big success is what you learned as you got there one step at a time.  Every positive step forward puts you in position to take the next  one, and eventually you find yourself where you want to be.  It’s not the mountain top my friend, it’s the road that led there that you will get the most from.”  Watching and listening to Picasso talk directly to Matt was  like watching a man unbelievably asking  to be punched in the belly and then being shocked when he gets his request.  I looked at Matt who was silent and he and Jim both had their eyes open a little wider than usual like they just saw ghosts. I think looking back, that this is when we realized that it was so odd and  that the advise was exactly what these guys needed to hear. It was starting to feel other worldly, and honestly I was a little uneasy.  Would he address me, or was I just there to witness?

At the time, Gymfinity was about 4 years old. I was struggling with how I could buy my business partner out and make it an amiable end to our professional relationship. Gymfinity was my job but I dreamed of making it my own business. I was anxious to get the transaction done but scared that maybe my wife and I were not ready to be the sole owners. It was a lot to carry around. Without missing a beat, Picasso grabs my water and fills it from the beverage gun and then, apparently, it’s my turn. He looked right at me, “Keep in your mind the progress you’ve made. Every day there is another problem solved, another gray spot that becomes clear and another step in the right direction.  Don’t think of yesterday’s failures, but think of the success that is possible today and the opportunity for tomorrow. You should be proud of yourself.  You may not be  where you want to be yet, but you’re making progress.  Step by step right?” He shoots a glance to Matt who is nodding emphatically, because Matt knew my worries but has always been the kind of friend that believes in you more than you believe in yourself. I kept waiting for Matt to shout “Amen!” But Picasso continued, “It doesn’t matter how  slow you go as long as you don’t give up.  Everyone’s life is a series of ups and downs.  Those fleeting highs and lows occur on a daily basis and  are tiny threads in the overall fabric of your life, but each one is essential to the strength of the cloth, right? How you react and act to those ups and downs is up to you, so  the quality of your life, the strength of your fabric is ultimately your choice.” I can’t remember if I even ate the appetizer, I just remember my hand on the water-glass, I know that when he finished talking that I was looking at the glass for, it seemed, forever. The words he gave us were no longer floating on the surface, they sank in.

When I returned to consciousness, it seemed like I was gone inside my head for a while, I saw the dinners were placed in front of us. We weren’t talking anymore.  We, pretty much, ate in silence and finished the meal.

As we dealt with the girl who came to take our payment, Picasso took up our plates and walked toward the kitchen. All three of us thanked him as he walked into the kitchen. As he backed out of the bar area, he said good night by telling us “ Guys when you find something that makes you happy, not everyone will be happy for you.  When you show  kindness to others, some people will question your motives.  When you are honest to the core, some folks will attempt to use your honesty against you.  Don’t let any of these people stop you from doing your thing.  These people don’t matter.  In the end, what does matter is how you feel about yourself and the life you have led.  You have to ask yourself one question: “Am I proud of how I lived?”  Make your answer: Yes.” With that he was gone, and the cashier was just smiling at us like she had seen the overwhelmed look we must have had before.

Since then, Jim has opened his gymnastics gym and is experiencing great success. Matt has started several companies that he developed into great businesses and has been approached by investors who see him as a fresh force in programming. I returned to buy Gymfinity outright, we also bought the  building and the land and that was 10 years ago.  We never learned Picasso’s real name, he was probably pushing 70 at that time and would likely now be in his 80’s. He may still work there. The  internet shows that there is new ownership though the name is still the same.  On the website they state “Our mission is to make ever customer’s experience at Picasso’s one to remember for ever”.  Mission accomplished.

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