Carl Mays: Now is the time to survive and advance

Mar. 21, 2013 @ 11:05 PM

The NCAA Basketball Tournament – or March Madness – is a time for college teams to “survive and advance.” It is a time for participants, supporters and fans to go along for a long, enjoyable ride – or get off early. And, it is a time that reminds me of Vincent van Gogh.

As a college student I read Irving Stone’s “Lust For Life” biography of Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh and was intrigued by the artist’s work and life. He was a mixture of talent, genius, passion, mental instability, anger, love and compassion.

As a missionary in early adulthood, he shared God with potato farmers struggling for survival, an experience that led to his first major and now-famous painting, The Potato Eaters. Vincent van Gogh was the very personification of an enigma – perplexing, mysterious, difficult to understand.

With each of his paintings valued at millions of dollars today, van Gogh allegedly sold only one painting during his lifetime – for $70. After years of suffering from painful anxiety and experiencing frequent bouts of mental illness, he died from a gunshot wound at age 37, believed to be self-inflicted even though no gun was ever found.

At the time of his death, Vincent and his paintings were known only to a handful of people and appreciated by even fewer.

Much of the material Irving Stone gathered for the biography came from the hundreds of letters Vincent wrote. The majority of these letters were written to Vincent’s younger brother Theo, an art dealer who helped support him emotionally and financially.

Strangely, many of these letters were penned when Vincent lived with Theo. Some historians and psychologists feel they were written because Vincent could express himself much better though art and writing than through direct contact and communication with people.

Vincent wrote in one letter, “Like everyone else, I have need of relationships, of friendship or affection or trusting companionship, and am not like a lamp post...” In another, he wrote, “One cannot always tell what it is that keeps us shut in, confines us, seems to bury us, but still one feels certain barriers, certain gates, certain walls... Do you know what frees one from this captivity? It is very deep affection. Being friends, being brothers, love, that is what opens the prison by supreme power...”

What do these tidbits about Vincent van Gogh have to do with March Madness and the “survive and advance” words? Well, they relate to winning in basketball just as they relate to winning in business, family or any other aspect of life.

Solid relationships must be established, clear and open communication must exist, and everyone must be on the same page in order to get things accomplished. What we are talking about here is “people working with people.”

Coaches, leaders, parents, management, spouses or teachers must relate to and communicate with players, followers, children, personnel, one another or students. And, these players, followers, children, personnel, one another or students must relate to and communicate among themselves – and relate to and communicate with whomever is in charge of or responsible for the group’s performance.

Joe Weller, retired chairman and CEO of Nestlé USA, who was with the extremely profitable company for 37 years, said, “Teamwork is the first thing I look for in a corporate culture. Teams always, always, always outperform individuals.”

During his time with Nestlé USA, Weller insisted the company hire and train people with the ability to be team players.

You have read in several of my columns the words I have used with many organizations through the years: “Individuals make the plays, teams win the championships.”

Outstanding individual performances help make great things happen – but in the end, it is the team relating, communicating and working together well that leads to “surviving and advancing.”

© 2013 by Carl Mays, speaker and author whose mentoring site,, is based on his book and program, “A Strategy For Winning.” E-mail to, call 436-7478 or visit