How often do you allow obstacles to determine your path?

Today is August 5 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you allow obstacles to determine your path?”

People who navigate the chaos do not allow obstacles to determine where they go. Pearl Fryar is an African American topiary artist living in Bishopville, South Carolina who never let obstacles determine his direction. The artist's foray into topiary began in the 1980s, when Fryar and his wife looked for a new home.

One neighborhood spurned them, fearing that an African American couple would not keep up their yard. In response, Fryar set his sights on being the first black recipient of the local garden club's Yard of the Month award. With no training in art or horticulture, Fryar followed an instinct that soon became a passion. His carving would eventually involve over three acres of amazing topiaries, attracting other artists, gardeners and national media.

Pearl's three-acre garden receives approximately 5,000 visitors a year, and they can depend upon him to share stories, explanations about his art, and his feelings as a friendly and generous host. A 2008 documentary, A Man Called Pearl, detailed his life’s journey and work. Fryar stated “There is always going to be obstacles. The thing you do is don’t let those obstacles determine where you go.”

Another person who never let obstacles determine his path was Hall of Fame baseball player Mike Piazza. He graduated from Phoenixville (PA) Area High School in 1986, after which he went to South Florida and joined the Miami Hurricanes his freshman year; receiving no playing time that season, Piazza transferred to Miami-Dade North.

After Piazza’s father asked his childhood friend and Los Angeles Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda, to select Piazza as a favor, the Miami-Dade Community College student was drafted by the Dodgers in the 62nd round of the 1988 MLB amateur draft as the 1,390th player picked overall. Had it not been for that connection, the greatest hitting catcher in major league history likely would have gone undrafted and may never have had a major league career.

As Lasorda tells it in Piazza's recent autobiography (titled Long Shot, a reference to his draft position), "I sent five of my friends from five different organizations out to see Michael play, and nobody wanted to sign him. I ordered the Dodgers to draft him. I said 'I don't give a [hoot] where you draft him but draft him. They weren't doing me a favor; I was doing them a favor." As an amateur, Piazza had obvious power, but was a lousy defensive first baseman whom scouts did not think would be able to hit professional pitching.

Even after the draft, Lasorda still had to convince Los Angeles to sign Piazza as well as convince everyone involved, Piazza included, that he should and would become a catcher. Lasorda asked Piazza to give up his first base position and learn how to catch to improve his chances of reaching the major leagues and helped him attend a special training camp for catchers in the Dominican Republic.

Piazza became an excellent hitter, especially for a catcher. His MLB debut came with the Dodgers on September 1, 1992, against the Chicago Cubs. He drew a walk in his first plate appearance and then doubled to deep center field in his first official at-bat, against Mike Harkey of the Cubs. He hit his first home run on September 12, 1992, against Steve Reed of the San Francisco Giants. He only appeared in 21 games that season, hitting .232.

Piazza would go on to play for 15 years, most notably for the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers. A 12-time All-Star and 10-time Silver Slugger Award winner at catcher, Piazza produced strong offensive numbers at his position; in his career, he recorded 427 home runs—a record 396 of which were hit as catcher—along with a .308 batting average and 1,335 runs batted in (RBI).

Both Fryar and Piazza had plenty of obstacles to overcome along their path of navigating the chaos. Both men remained steadfast in the pursuit of their goals and never allowed one obstacle to determine their path? Do you?