Lucky 36

Novak Djokovic Gary Carmell chai

Last week there were two notable events for me. The first was watching the extraordinary Wimbledon Final between Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz, and the second was my 36th anniversary at CWS.  In Judaism, the number 18 is a lucky number because it is connected to life in Jewish numerology. 

In the Jewish tradition of Gematria, the letters of the Aleph-Bet correspond to numbers: Aleph is 1, Bet is 2…Yud is 10, Yud-Aleph is 11, etc.. To get to the number 18, we add together the Chet (8) and the Yud (10), and what does that spell? — חי chai, meaning “alive.”

The luck associated with 18 extends to multiples of it as well. This is why it’s common for Jewish people to give monetary gifts in multiples of 18. Given my anniversary is equal to two chais, I’m hoping this will be a successful year filled with good fortune for CWS’ investors, employees, and residents, as well as my loved ones and myself.

Now let’s return to last week’s first notable event, Wimbledon. 

The Wimbledon final was an epic, five-set battle that lasted approximately 4 hours and 45 minutes. It was really a four-set war as Djokovic crushed Alcaraz in the first set 6-1, which only took approximately 30 minutes to complete. After what happened at the French Open semi-final, in which Djokovic ended up decimating a physically debilitated Alcaraz who cramped up after they split two great sets, it was not surprising that there was great concern if Alcaraz could really come back and give Djokovic a match on his favorite court at a tournament that he has dominated. Fortunately for tennis fans, Alcaraz proved the doubters wrong. 

The remaining four sets were a grueling 4 hours and 15 minutes and included an epic 7-6 tie break going to Alcaraz, along with a set that Alcaraz won 6-1, but it took over an hour as one game went an incredible 27 minutes involving 13 deuces. The 20-year-old Alcaraz was able to outlast the remarkably fit and agile 36-year-old Djokovic. And while Alcaraz won the match, in no way Djokovic lost it. During the post-match press conference, he said that he’s never played anyone as good as Alcaraz. That is quite a compliment, given how many times he battled against Nadal and Federer.

I am bringing up the Wimbledon final because it turns out that Djokovic is the same age as the number of years I have worked at CWS. He, too is double chai! Thus, for as long as I keep working at CWS and Djokovic is alive, my anniversary number will always equal his age. If that’s the only way I can be in his company, then so be it!

There is a lot to learn from Djokovic in terms of how one can be totally dedicated to one’s craft by having a continuous improvement mindset, possessing a fierce determination and commitment to excel, and evolving in ways to extend one’s career such that one is able to keep playing, competing, and succeeding at such a high level far beyond what the statistics would lead you to believe is possible. 

With my later-in-life adoption of tennis as my primary non-working avocation, I can now watch and appreciate Djokovic with a different and hopefully more informed set of eyes. In addition, I can also work intently on taking what I have learned, understanding where I have fallen short, and how I have improved on the tennis court to help me be a better person off of the court in terms of how I approach life, interacting with people in a more patient and accepting manner, being more compassionate with myself and others, and helping me navigate through what is currently a challenging time at CWS as well as other challenges life throws my way.

One thing that has become evident about Djokovic is that he is a lot more calm on the court. He takes much more time between his serves, he has far fewer angry outbursts, although he did smash his racquet after losing a very important game, and he is uncompromising when it comes to his health, diet, and avoiding anything that he thinks will be harmful to his body (e.g., not taking the Covid vaccinations). 

After Djokovic makes an error or loses a big point, I can see how he has come up with ways to process the disappointment, integrate it, and not let it interfere with the next point. This has been something I have struggled with, given how internally competitive I am and how tough I can be on myself. As time passes, however, I feel like I’m making strides to improve in this area. 

From competing in tennis, I have come to learn how important it is to manage my frustration and irritation while on the court. Very few things I do in life have reactions that can so easily bypass my mind/intellect filter as tennis does. Tennis has such an immediacy to it, and when this is combined with having an unrealistic desire for perfection, it can be a deadly witch’s brew that can lead to instantaneous emotional upheaval. I intellectually know that I shouldn’t get angry or upset after making a mistake, but, unlike most areas of my life, including work in which things are typically not moving so fast and often involve other people to help manage through challenges, in tennis the complete reliance upon myself, the high stakes I assign to performing well and getting frustrated that either I know what to do and don’t do it, or miss a shot that I have hit many times before successfully, get in the way of me just letting lost points go. I have to constantly reflect on how far I have come and always remember that progress is what I am striving for, not perfection.

Tennis is a game in which the best players tend to win “only” 55% of their shots.

Said differently, only a little more than half the time, they’re successful, which means they lose almost half of their points by errors they make or that their opponents force on them. And the more one ruminates on the point that just ended and became the inner critic versus inner coach, the more that 45% number will rise. Thus, I’ve really tried to work on thinking of each point as an Etch-A-Sketch in which a drawing is created and appears on the screen, and after the point is over, I just have to shake the Etch-A-Sketch until it dissolves, good or bad. I use the word dissolve versus disappear because, hopefully, with each point, there is something I can learn from it. Dissolve to me leads me to believe that I can still retain some of it by using all points as teaching moments, while “disappears” means it’s gone forever with no lasting value. The goal is consistency because, over time, winning more than 50% of the points, even if it’s just slightly above, should result in positive outcomes.

I have come to learn that unrealistic expectations leading to frustration and irritation have been my Achilles heel. Conversely, I have also seen that when I stay calm no matter the circumstances, it can benefit me greatly, especially if my opponent is feeling frustrated. And because I firmly believe that tennis can inform life and life can inform tennis, I have started making a concerted effort not to let situations frustrate me off the court as they may have in the past. This might be being more patient in traffic, more compassionate with people in crowded, time-pressure situations like airports, recognizing when someone does something that would have bugged me, especially when I think I wouldn’t have made that mistake, to make sure that I remember that, while I may not make that mistake very often, I have definitely done so before, so I am far from perfect. If I detach myself from my expectations and just do my best to take in situations in a more dispassionate way, then I am much better prepared to go with the flow and live life more skillfully and enjoyably and hopefully play better on the court as well.

As Brad Delp, the lead singer of Boston, would belt out, “All I want is to have my peace of mind.” In the past, particularly when facing challenges at CWS, which have been very present over my 36 years, I would take setbacks that would lead to investor disappointment very personally. This wasn’t always bad because it also fueled my intense desire to do what I could to help resolve them. However, this is not the healthiest way to deal with them in the long run. It’s akin to being prone to angry outbursts on the court, breaking racquets, losing perspective, and setting oneself up for suboptimal outcomes. In hindsight, I could have still had the drive to do what I could to help us formulate strategies and action plans to resolve these issues without internalizing them in such personal and, at times, unhealthy ways. 

Today we’re faced with another set of challenges related to our floating rate strategy running into the face of a very hawkish Fed that has raised rates quite significantly and far higher than we expected in a relatively short period of time. The higher interest costs and the requirement to purchase dramatically more expensive interest rate caps have consumed a large percentage of our cash flow and necessitated distribution reductions or suspensions. And while I do feel a deep sense of personal responsibility for this disappointing situation we’re in, especially since I have been CWS’ biggest proponent of our variable rate strategy, I also know that for many years this strategy was phenomenally successful, things happened that very few people expected, and I have now learned with age, wisdom, and my tennis experience that it’s very important to keep a clear head, maintain my health, and do my best to cultivate a peace of mind so that I can apply the best version of myself to work with my incredible partners and CWS associates to help devise a game plan that will enable us to work through these challenges and come out the other side stronger than ever. 

My goal, and our overall goal at CWS, is to always stay on the playing field (or court) so that we are never subsumed by the challenges we are facing and we can take advantage of the opportunities that such conditions almost always present.

I have also learned, like Djokovic, that to continue to compete effectively after 36 years has required me to be much more focused on my personal health and well-being and having faith that we have the talent, commitment to our investors, resources, savvy, patience, communication skills, chutzpah, creativity, mental fortitude, determination, drive, and courage to devise and implement the necessary actions to enable us not only to keep playing the game, especially when setbacks arise, but to grow and prosper in all conditions. 

This would be the equivalent of performing well on clay, hardcourts, and grass even if the wind is a factor; we’re feeling under the weather or slightly injured, or facing a difficult opponent. It’s our job to be as well prepared as we can, no matter the conditions. And while we are not going to prevail each and every time, by having this challenge-oriented mindset, doing the necessary training to help us persevere, and surrounding ourselves with the best, brightest, and most caring and capable people, we have dramatically improved the odds of lengthening our longevity, adding to our vitality, and generating, consistent, long-term success.

Thank you to everyone who has made these last 36 years so rewarding and fulfilling. To life, and good luck to you all!


One comment on “Lucky 36
  1. Marc Louria says:

    A terrific, insightful post. Thanks, Gary.

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