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The Great Diversions in Our Lives

by on February 19, 2019 5:00 AM

Thank God for weekends. It’s a time for you to relax and refresh and also get caught up around the house. Did you get to all your “projects” this past weekend? Did you find time to relax and kick your shoes off for a bit? What diversions kept you from doing all you wanted to do this past Friday through Sunday?

I personally had a lot of work to get done this past weekend, with taxes due and preparing our home to host a hockey alumni reunion this coming weekend, so I sat down on Saturday morning to plan out the weekend. My two leisure activities for the weekend included skating in the adult hockey pick-up game (gotta get ready for the big alumni weekend game on Feb. 23) and going to see the new Peter Jackson World War I documentary “They Shall Not Grow Old.”  I had spent my Friday night supporting the State High baseball team by attending a fundraiser at Wisecrackers Comedy Club (which was an absolute hoot!), so I needed to get my act together.

I grabbed my early morning coffee and decided to glance at the paper to see when the Penn State basketball game was going to be on BTN, so I could “clean and watch.” Yes, I was intentionally planning to multitask, that focus-stealing thief that we rationalize will allow us to kill two birds with one stone. When I got to the television guide page of the sports section, I was overwhelmed at the myriad of options to watch televised sports. There were 40 live men’s basketball games, two NHL games, two college hockey games, the NBA All-Star program, three International soccer matches, two college softball games, three golf events, and three motorsports events. I found myself fantasizing a bit about a time when I am officially retired and could actually binge watch sports all weekend long without a worry.

That’s when the idea for this column hit me hard. I have plenty more important things to do without sacrificing my precious time watching sports 24/7, and I am a big sports fan. Then I started thinking about the movies I would like to see, including “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and about “Beautiful — the Carole King Musical,” which is about to open at Eisenhower Auditorium. Add in any Netflix shows, additional TV shows, news, weather, books to read, etc., and it’s easy to see how you can lose yourself in a lot of entertainment vehicles disguised as productive activities — and just like that, the weekend is shot. Oh, and for those of you with kids that you are lugging around from scheduled activity to scheduled activity, well you stand very little hope of getting anything worthwhile accomplished in your “spare” time.

That is, of course, unless you are very intentional and disciplined with your time. Prioritization has become somewhat of a lost art given all the diversions at our fingertips and how easy it is to rationalize why we just flitter away our very limited time.

We are bombarded with so many options, whether it’s watching Netflix, HBO, or even good old-fashioned network television, and that does not even begin to touch on video games and what’s available to us on social media on our mobile devices. The more traditional diversions such as going to the movies, seeing a live sporting event or band play, or attending a symphony or live theater at least get you out of the house.

I am not trying to take the joy out of your life by telling you not to participate in these activities.

What I am asking you to do is be intentional with your time. One episode of a Netflix program can lead to binge watching. Watching the 1 p.m. NFL game can lead to watching the 4 p.m. game in preparation for watching your actual team play in the 8:30 p.m. game.

All of these diversions in one shape or form usually come at the expense of real-life activities and important, life-altering discussions. I am not talking about family reunions, birthday parties, and holiday gatherings. I am talking about going over a family budget, deciding on a big job offer, or launching your own business. It’s amazing how a real-life family feud gets ignored in favor of watching the Steve Harvey version of “Family Feud” on television.

Let’s journey back to the Roman Empire days and the diversions that the Caesars created to keep the masses from realizing just how bad their own lives had become. I think of the scene in the movie “Gladiator” where Russell Crowe’s character, Maximus, slices and dices through his challengers and the yells to the crowd, “Are you not entertained?”

In today’s world, when things get tough or don’t go our way, we still too often seek a diversion from our stress. Well, hey, it’s O.K., we’ll just throw a party! Watch a few more episodes of “Game of Thrones.” Let’s have games to keep the people diverted from the real issues going on in their lives. We just keep kicking the can down the road, hoping that things will work out.  As Academy award winning director James Cameron likes to say, “Hope is not a strategy. Luck is not a factor. Fear is not an option.” Let’s repeat that: Hope is not a strategy. People tend to avoid the tough decisions for as long as possible, opting for the path of least resistance and seeking out temporary diversions to soothe their pain.

Speaking of diversions, I just shake my head every time I see the billboards with “Dream Big” and it’s just an advertisement for the Pennsylvania lottery. Dream big? You mean fantasize big. Instead of spending time and money on the almost always fruitless games of chance, put your money into an investment and spend your time organizing a letter campaign for why a portion of lottery proceeds aren’t going toward benefiting education. Our youth are our future so why are we not investing in them? Instead, we have a mental health crisis and an opioid crisis and end up spending public monies trying to fix those problems on the backend rather than putting the money toward preventative measures, such as better education, on the front end.

Another diversion that frustrates me is the growing addiction to the video game “Fortnite.” It is an epidemic and for my money, our kids should be playing the “Game Of Life.” I call on the video game industry to put their efforts toward designing games that help prepare our young people for the real world instead of games that rack up body counts. I was actually encouraged by a  recent LinkedIn article that talked about a young woman who is a single mom. In less than a year she erased $77,000 of debt. How? She made the tough short-term sacrifices necessary to ensure her future and that of her children by getting a second job. What she accomplished in one year will help her family for a lifetime. Now that’s a diversion that is paying dividends.

In politics, meanwhile, if we do not get past some of the political divide in this country and start addressing real challenges in a meaningful and collaborative way, we will be mortgaging our future. Stephen Covey, who wrote “The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People,” encourages us to “Think Win-Win.” Well, we need to hold our politicians accountable to solve the real problems of our time and stop all the grandstanding that occurs on both sides of the aisle.  

Let’s start with fixing education and getting away from the standardized tests that do nothing but check boxes. It’s time to start teaching our kids 21st century skills, as Rex Miller so eloquently discusses in his book “Humanizing the Education Machine.” Time to embrace the Google revolution and use technology as a positive force in making life better.

I know there are no easy fixes to the political challenges that we face. I believe we are being diverted from fixable problems and led astray by the fringe factions on the far left and far right.

It’s time for common sense to reign again. It’s time for the socially conscious conservatives and the fiscally responsible liberals to push back against the outliers and to reclaim a pragmatic approach to governing this country.

Wake up, America! Before you know it, we will become Venezuela while you sit and watch meaningless fictional shows and participate in another meaningless diversion. It’s not too late to be intentional and productive with your time and still be able to enjoy leisure activities in your allotted, scheduled time. Everything in moderation is a wise statement and could be the answer many are seeking as we attempt to avoid life’s great diversions.


Joe Battista has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities since 1978. He is best known for his effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Happy Valley and in the building of Pegula Ice Arena. “JoeBa” is the owner of PRAGMATIC Passion, LLC consulting, a professional speaker, success coach, and the vice president of the National Athletic and Professional Success Academy (NAPSA). He is the author of a new book, “The Power of Pragmatic Passion.” Joe lives in State College with his wife Heidi (PSU ’81 & ’83), daughter Brianna (PSU ’15), and son’s Jon (PSU ’16), and Ryan (State High Class of 2019).
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