Having A “Screw You” Plan

I am but a few mere days away from paying off a credit card that I have had a balance on for a little bit and, needless to say, I’m pretty excited about it.  The first reason is that my good friends at Capital One decided to pop my rate up about 10% over the Summer (a fact which I only just noticed recently).  Thanks guys!  It’s been a pleasure being a good customer with excellent credit all these years… now I will never, ever use your damn card again.  Good times!

The second reason I’m excited is that credit card debt is one of those ugly lodestones of life that limits your freedom.  It just sits there building up interest if you don’t pay it off and half the time it’s for a bunch of things you had to have at some given moment and can’t even remember now.  But getting rid of it?  Or getting rid of any burdensome debt?  It’s absolutely liberating and let’s you devote more time and financial resources to perhaps the nicest piece of potential freedom out there:

The “Screw You” plan.

Screw-you-guys-im-going-home-102108-1While I am no financial whiz, there is inherent and obvious value in having money set aside in case it all goes down.  Job loss, layoffs, some financial disaster, absolutely loathing your job like it’s a Pauly Shore movie and so on.  It’s part of the common financial advice to have 3 to 6 months worth of funds saved up to protected yourself from some utter financial disaster that can sneak up on you.

Very few people (me included) are part of that very smart club of people with that kind of financial cushion… and before you think I am going into some kind of dry as three day old toast discussion about the fiscal responsibility, T-bills and saving your pennies, I want to get back to my initial premise… plain and simple freedom.

Can you imagine how differently you may approach your life if you knew you had 6 months of expenses sitting cozily in savings?  Maybe you wouldn’t stick around at that job you loathe with every fiber of your being.  Maybe you would be a little more comfortable in your own skin when you walked into the office because while your job is important, it’s not as if you were always on the verge of being completely destitute in the event of something going wrong.

Just that basically ability to be able to say “Screw it…”  Can you even picture it?  I can’t… at least not yet.

The value in this is not about hating where you are in life at all.  While I am working through a few personal bumps in my own road right now, I generally have been very blessed with a wonderful family, excellent friends, good health and a very good job.

However, life changes rapidly and having a plan B in your back pocket is not a bad thing at all.  In fact, your plan B might allow you to live your plan A a little more boldly than you would have otherwise.  My current plan B is something I contemplate a bit from time-to-time and usually takes the form of transforming my personal home gym and love of fitness into a full-on business if I had to (or maybe even just because I wanted to).  Just knowing I could do that as an option gives me a little more peace of mind.

And I don’t know about you, but just some simple peace of mind is worth it’s weight in gold.  Granted, I have no idea how to weigh it, so a little assistance would be appreciated.

Fight the Fear

I like to be fairly regimented with the training schedule I keep and do my best not to skip days because of some lousy excuse I came up with on the fly.  Missed sessions (I try never to call it “work outs” because that tends to sound more random and unplanned) have a cumulative effect and it really pays to sometimes have what a lot of coaches call a “punch the clock” sort of session.  It may not be great, but it’s always better than a complete miss.

However, there are also certain sessions I might delay for a few reasons.  One is that I might just be completely wiped from lack of sleep, stress or poor eating.  The second (which is closely tied to the first) is that for a lifting session where I know I need to dig down deep, I want to be sure I have as many factors as possible in my favor.

Why?

Because for those sessions, I am fighting a fear of failure.

Perfect example is shown in the video below:

Watching my final “work” set of deadlifts, there probably does not appear to be anything all that unusual with the moments leading up to my initiating the lift.  I walk past the camera… get some chalk on my hands… mark my shirt with some chalk (I will explain that some other time)… set up for the lift… hit a particular part of the song I am listening to and boom!  Go time.

What you don’t see is how incredibly keyed up and anxious I am as I step up to the bar… how my stomach is completely fluttering and I am wondering if the exertion of the lift will make me throw up half way through.

A sane person would likely ask, “Umm… I thought you worked out and lifted and all that because you enjoyed it.  That doesn’t sound like something too enjoyable.”

Not a totally unfair point, but the reason I get so keyed up is that part of what makes weight training so meaningful to me is the chance to face that fear of failure and go at it head on.  I don’t always win in these fights, but the effort of doing so is worthwhile in its own right.

And when I do win the fight?  When I know my best before was deadlifting 400 lbs for 10 reps and today I did it for 11?  That brief moment of exuberance punctuated by my personal war cry kind of carries me through the day.  It’s amazing… and that, my friends, is serious fun.  That’s why I will be doing this for the rest of my life.

Fighting the fear can be fun… and lead to alliterations (but that is a different kind of fun entirely).

The Aging Athlete and Fighting the Inevitable

Last night was the third game of the basketball league I just got involved in after not playing at all for several years.  While I have been in some of the best shape of my life of late… well… let’s just say my hoop skills are not what they once were.  I mean, not even within the same ZIP code.  It’s not that I was amazing at any time in my life, but I was a solid outside shooter, played good defense and could push the ball decently well on a fast break.

Now? Hoo boy.  It’s not just the skills being rusty, but the lack of confidence in not playing in such a long time.  Well, that and the fact that I really don’t want to put my team in a bad spot… which probably just makes me more tentative. Kind of a vicious cycle.2009_10_cleats

After I subbed out with a few minutes left to play and watched the rest of the game  from the sidelines, I had a strange moment of reflection.  I had to make a choice: (a) work harder on my game; (b) accept the state of my game as it is; or (c) or hang up the sneakers entirely.

I had a moment like this playing soccer this past Fall.  I found myself not keeping up with the forwards I had to cover or getting winded too easily.  I am someone who has a lot of athletic pride, so the notion of just accepting things as they were was simply untenable to me… at least in soccer.  Also, I really was not ready to go gentle into that good night by playing in a less competitive league… so the decision there was to get myself in better shape or stop all together.  I went with a personal ass-kicking and the results (at least for the indoor soccer I have been playing) have been great.

But these moments I experienced are likely not going to be passing things.  At the delightful age of 37, they will only return and likely with shorter and shorter intervals between them.  While I certainly do not feel like I am 37 in terms of my outlook or how I feel, I know that there is a certain inevitably that comes with the wisdom of years.

Part of this is a matter of life getting in the way.  We get older and have more job and family responsibilities… we get a little bit more sedentary… play our sports just a little bit less… and then the years slip by and you end up standing on the sidelines of your rec basketball league wondering what in the name of all that’s holy happened to your jump shot.

In fact, I am stubborn about the notion that the problem with aging and athletics is really a lot less about the physical changes from time and more about the reduction in total activity.  Of course, it’s totally possible I view it this way because this is a philosophy whereby renewed effort should be able to return some of the sparkle of former glory… and I want my sparkle back.

So for the foreseeable future, I will not go gentle into that good night and will rage, rage against the dying of the light.  I have no reason to give up… no reason to quit… and truth be told, few things stir my blood like a good challenge.

And this challenge?  Oh this challenge is a good one for me.

And this will be my anthem:

Everybody gets knocked down. How quick are you gonna get up?

On Giving, Listening and Buttered Toast

A few years ago, a colleague at my previous job turned to me one day and said the following: “You know something? You’re probably the nicest person I’ve ever met.” Truth be told, it’s possibly one of the best compliments I ever gotten and could ever really get… you know, besides those compliments I give myself on my looks through this words of this very blog.  To channel the bards of old (The Sugar Hill Gang)… I don’t mean to brag, I don’t mean to boast, but I’m like hot butter on your breakfast toast.  Truth.toast

My response to my colleague on being given this compliment was pretty simple: “It’s just how my Mom raised me.”  That’s less of a slight on my Dad (from whom I get my sense of humor and ability to chat about seemingly anything) and more just the fact that my Mom is very genuinely focused on treating people the right way.  That deeply affected me and sticks with me every day.

What got me reflecting back on all of this during my commute into work (where seemingly 75% of my blog inspirations come from) was I was thinking over the idea of giving.  As a corollary to the whole niceness part of me, I try to give of myself when I can.  Most of my giving is focused on a more personal level with my family, friends and loved ones.  I also do a bit of volunteer work with a youth group, but the bulk of my actions take place on a much individual level because that is just where I tend to find comfort and connection in such matters.

Giving can be a bit of a funny thing.  For a lot of people, it can be a fairly difficult thing to do.  I see two basic reasons for this being the case:

  1. The fear of no return on the “investment”.  If I do something for this person, do I really know they would do the same for me in return?  Or will I even be recognized or given credit for what I did? Fair question.
  2. The fear of being taken advantage of.  If I am nice and giving to people all the time, won’t I just come across as an easy mark for people to take advantage of?

I’ll take these one at a time.

On the return on the “investment” of giving, it’s only natural to want to know if that same person would do the same for you… or at the very least, for you to be recognized for your efforts.  That’s a pretty natural reaction and one I’ve had before for sure.

My own struggle (and one I do well with at times and much less so at others) is to get comfortable with the idea of the giving being its own reward.  Sounds like insanity right?  But if you spend some time thinking about it, I think you will find this more and more to be the case.  If you are giving in a context that is meaningful for you, you are probably more concerned about the benefit that person receives than what credit you will receive for the act.  I obviously have very little (if any) scientific data to back that statement up, outside of my awesomely impressive intellect, but I do believe it to be the case.

On the fear of being taken advantage of… that’s something I wrestle with all the time.  The last thing I would want is someone kind of hovering around in my life in hopes of using my good nature to their personal advantage.  I’ve been pretty successful in this regard… but not perfect for sure.  The people I can tell who are being leeches?  Cut ‘em free.  I’ve enough on my plate without worrying about them.

But beyond that, the reason I try not to worry on this too much is that I would rather be focused internally on where I am doing the right thing than on whether someone else either thinks I am doing the right thing or is taking advantage of my doing the right thing.  It reminds me of a notion from the autobiography on Warren Buffet I am reading entitled, “The Snowball: Warren Buffet and the Business of Life” by Alice Schroeder.  From a somewhat young age, Buffet has been driven by staying consistent to what he calls his “internal scorecard” about whether he is doing the right thing.  By comparison, his mother was overly focused on her “external scorecard” and lived in order to meet the expectations of others first.

But I have seen (even just recently with a friend of mine) the after effects of those who have given so much to another only to have that best part of their nature trampled upon by someone they trusted and loved.  It’s completely devastating to see because that giving portion of us as human beings can truly be one of our best traits.  I don’t want to see that crushed in anyone.

So a piece of advice I have for those who worry about the aforementioned fears in giving… here is a simple form of giving to a try: listening.  Yup, listening.  Powerful and simple and something you can do daily with just about anyone you meet.

Listening is possibly the easiest kind of giving to do and creates a level of benefit for all involved that is amazing.  The person you are listening to will experience a moment where someone else truly cases about what they are saying.  And hey, if you really need to have a personal reason as to your own benefit, the speaker will also find you to be a more genuine and caring person.  And it’s just such a small effort to put in for someone else and hell… you may even learn something in the process.  I’ve focused on becoming a much better listener because (1) there are few things more annoying than talking to someone who just responds to everything with “mmm hmm… yeah… yup… sure” when you can tell they did not really hear a word you said; and (2) it’s just plain good karma and a great way to deepen your relationship with just about anyone.

Now take this advice and go forth and maybe you too can be the hot butter on someone else’s breakfast toast.

Two Roads Merged in New England

My daily commute to work is always a bit of an interesting experience and often a lesson in human behavior, as I’m sure it is for just about anyone who needs to take to the highways to reach their place of employment.  There is one spot in particular that tends to draw the greatest opportunity for analysis of my fellow rat-racers.

I travel up an in-state route that ends near Hartford before merging into Interstate 84 where I then go on my merry way to work.  Near the end of that route, there are several off-ramps and the one most people are seeking is the 2nd from the left to go to Interstate 84, just like me.  The far left lane is for people seeking to go right into downtown Hartford.

Well, that I-84 lane tends to back up with more people than the other lanes.  So guess what happens?  You can see this coming right?  People will swoop into that far left lane with next-to-zero traffic and then at the last minute, re-merge into the I-84 lane, effectively bypassing the line.

My friends, I can assure you that the level of obscene gestures, steering wheel pounding and horn blaring that occurs is quite the visual treat.  People completely lose their minds when that lone maverick comes flying into that lane at the last second instead of dutifully waiting in line with the rest of us.  And in the interest of full disclosure, I too have been one of those “AWWW COME ON!” yellers who have been cut in front of.  It’s a natural reaction.

This morning when one of the maverick mergers jumped the line the umpteenth time, it made me think a little bit.  What pray tell?  Why, I’m ever-so-glad you asked!  OK, you didn’t really and I basically forced you to ask by reading that, but it’s my damn blog, skippy.  Pipe down.

First, I really don’t understand why the 2 minutes of saved commute time to so incredibly important to the maverick mergers.  Honestly.  You truly don’t get anywhere that much faster anyway and you’ve just succeeded in pissing off a whole trail of strangers for no good reason.Traffic Jam

Second, the level of reaction that people give to these maverick mergers (and again, I have been guilty of this before for sure) is also pretty puzzling when you get right down to it.  While someone may have broken some great unwritten rule about properly waiting your turn, is the level of aggravation and stress hormones subsequently pumping through your veins worth it?  I mean, your commute was probably slowed by what?  10 seconds?  And then you start off your morning completely bent out of shape for some goober you’ve never met and really has no impact on your life except for his wanton disregard of the highway line merge “rules”.

For me, the moral of the story is that on both sides of this unhappy tale, there’s a lot of needless stress and agita.  My goal going forward is to care a little bit less about someone cutting me off at the last second to merge after not waiting in line.  Buddy, if you need to get going into work in that much of a rush, be my guest.

Me?  I’m just going to enjoy my quiet drive, watch the commuting humanity and hope for the occasional blog post inspiration.  Heck, where do you think this one came from?

Confessions of an Educational Mercenary

With each passing year, I gain a greater appreciation for education, learning, reading and all of the food for the mind that is available in the world.  I often say that if I hit Powerball tomorrow, I would definitely like to go back and get another degree in something for the pure pleasure of learning without the worry or concern of the grades that went with it.  Well, after taking at least a year to not do much of anything besides play golf, lift, read, travel and further cement my plans to assert my rightful claim as heir to the Polish monarchy (Hey, just because that was several posts ago doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten about it).

A big pile of knowledge Thinking back on my time in college, I was an utter educational mercenary.  I was completely fixated on getting into the best law school possible, so my grades were everything.  I only skipped a single class in my entire college career… and that was so I had more time to study for another class.  I was completely disciplined in my approach to school and studying and it paid off well when I graduated magna cum laude (missing summa cum laude by the difference of a single B+ being an A-) and never getting worse than a A- from 2nd semester of freshman year on.

I don’t mention any of this to brag or to shout “Ooh!  Ooh!  Look at me!  Love me!  LOOOOOVE ME!”… although you should both (a) look at me on account of the fact I am so easy on the eyes and (b) love me because I am just one loveable son of a gun.  No, I bring this fact up to show where my focus resided – the number.  The grade.  Pure and simple.  This was my target and I would do all I could (ethically) to hit it.  Heck, I can remember taking a Latin class and I had certain portions of the Miles Gloriousus so completely memorized that when I had to translate it for a test, all I needed to see was the first 3 words of the passage and I could just write out the next 3 lines without looking back at the Latin.  But what I did I get out of that poem after the fact?  Hmm… probably very little.

While this numbers fixation certainly helped in in achieving my purpose and I am proud of all I put into reaching that goal, there is one element of it that I do wonder about occasionally on a clear Summer night as I enjoy a cold adult beverage on my patio: If I never worried about my grades and was only focused on true learning, what would have been the result?  Would I have gotten better grades?  Worse?  Would I have better absorbed topics I would carry with me to this day?

I do still carry some of the things I learned in college with me to this day and I certainly learned quite a bit from the professors who really were able to bring new and fascinating concepts to life.  This happened quite a bit in my philosophy classes, truth be told and I’m glad those lessons still stick with me and shape the way I think for I am far better off for having had those experiences.

Today I am seeking to give myself another shot at learning for learning’s sake, mostly through what I choose to read and such.  Ideally I would like to set up my own little personal educational curriculum to round myself out in areas of interest to me where I am not as strong as I would like to be (fine art jumps most readily to mind).  Yes, those damn Jesuits got their hooks into me deep in college and there’s no going back now from my obsession with developing the whole person.  In a way, this entire blog is proof of that.

The mercenary is retired… long live the reborn learner.

Do You Forgive For Someone Else or For Yourself?

As the nice little Catholic boy that I am, the fact that Lent begins on Wednesday has been on my mind.  Lest anyone rolling across this post is not entirely clear on what Lent is all about, it’s essentially the 40 days that lead up to Easter.  It kicks off with Ash Wednesday and although Mardi Gras or “Fat Tuesday” is the day before, it’s not an official part of Lent, per se.  It’s more the “Let’s get all that sinning out of the way now! WOO!”

There are usually 2 traditions associated with Lent that most people know:

  1. No meat on Fridays; and
  2. Giving something up.40DaysAnd40Nights

Heck, there was even a movie with Josh Hartnett that was all about a guy  attempting to give up sex for the 40 days of Lent.

Now, my Mom would always point out that you don’t need to necessarily give something up for Lent, but you could do something instead.  Maybe volunteer or make some kind of a positive change.

Well, this year I have been fresh out of ideas so I did the logical thing and turn to the magic of the Interwebz to see what was out there. I did give some thought to giving something up, but anything I thought of was something that would be good for me to give up, like caffeine. So coming across this post caught my eye a little bit and, in particular, 2 suggestions on it’:

  • Create a good habit; and
  • Forgive.

I like them both, but as I give it more and more thought, I cannot help but feel that the truly worthwhile thing to do would be to forgive any grudge or slight I’ve held for too long.  Perhaps it’s the fact that forgiveness… and I mean real forgiveness… is possibly one of the most difficult things in life to do.

In the combination of “forgive and forget”, most of us can do a fair job of putting a hurt caused by another out of mind or jamming it deep within the gray matter of our subconscious… but to really and truly forgive?  To recognize that someone else did something something awful to us?  And what if that person never even said they were sorry?  Is it possible to forgive in that situation too given the fact that forgiving the unrepentant might be giving a gift to someone who simply doesn’t deserve it?

It’s a fascinating notion to consider because one of the potential benefits to the person doing the forgiving is the release of a lot of mental or spiritual weight by letting go of resentment and anger.

So is forgiveness for the person who committed the slight… or for you?

Maybe it’s just the perfect blend of both.

Brutal Efficiency

I posted the other day about in my “One Thing At A Time” post about how I like to thinking of my strength and conditioning training as I view a lot of things in life: it’s always better strip things down to their essentials because they simply do not need to be so damn complicated.

I mentioned in that post about a short, but brutally intense conditioning protocol called Tabata.  This is where you do an exercise all out for 20 seconds, rest for 10 and then repeat for a total of 8 rounds.

Well, instead of just describing it, I decided to video a nice little slice of this madness for you, beloved reader.  So without further ado, I present for your consideration… Tabata sledgehammer strikes.  And I wonder why my friends never want to come train with me in my home gym. I guess I can wonder no more.

You Are What You Think

Like most people who get together with school friends they don’t get the chance to see often enough, I often like to ask “Hey, who else have you kept in touch with?  How are they doing?”  I was catching up in just such a fashion not too long ago with a very good friend from law school.  Our conversation then basically became a catching-up session within a catching-up session.  Umm… huh?  Read on.

I asked him if he ran into anyone from law school and he mentioned he had recently run into a woman we both knew from school.  He said it was pretty funny because she said to him,

You know, I will never forget something Kevin said in law school.  A bunch of us were talking about what you look for in someone else when dating and I said I preferred dating men who were smarter than me.  And Kevin says, “Well, that would never work for me… I don’t know anyone smarter than I am.”

My buddy and I agreed that this story was absolutely fantastic… but partially because I 100% remember that conversation and that’s not at all what I said. HA!

University of Connecticut School of Law What I actually said was that my view of people in law school was that I never viewed my classmates as being smarter than me.  Sounds just as bad, doesn’t it?  Ahh, but what is missing is the second half of my statement and this is absolutely critical:

I didn’t think I was the necessarily THE smartest, but I refused to operate on the assumption that anyone was smarter than me.  They might have been better at some things, but I was also better at other things and so I would put myself on par with anyone.

I’m a fairly humble person, so nothing about this is being arrogant or cocky… rather, it’s a notion that in life, if you walk around thinking everyone is better than you or smarter than you or whatever… guess what?  They definitely will be.  You have just voluntarily placed yourself smack-dab in the middle of a foregone conclusion or self-fulfilling prophecy.

The converse is that while thinking you are just as good as anyone else doesn’t mean you automatically will be, at a minimum you’ve given yourself a fighting chance if nothing else.  So why close yourself off before you even get started?  That always struck me as an awful way of thinking.

Be bold and don’t sell yourself short.  That’s how paragons of good-looks like myself get by… obviously.

Finding Closure… Strangely

It’s easy to stand here in 2010 and be completely amazed at the world around us.  We are simply awash in a staggering amount of technological progress that takes our big beautiful world and makes it feel incredibly small.  Blogs (like this amazing one that you simply cannot get enough of… right?  RIGHT?!?!?!?), Twitter, Facebook and so on.  When I actually take a moment to stop and think about it, it’s pretty overwhelming in a wonderful sort of way.

But as we move forward and become (allegedly) more sophisticated, we do leave many things behind… and not all of them are bad.  For one, we have really done away with or just completely forgotten many of the rituals or ceremonies that marked important passages in our lives.  I think it’s a wonderful thing that, for example, in Judaism there is the bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah to mark the entrance into an adult life for young people of that faith.  Or perhaps the walkabout that Australian aborigines participate in.  It’s truly a shame there are not more events such as this more universally.

Why have we left such things behind?  Is it a feeling that we are simply too sophisticated for such things that remind us of our more tribal and ancient roots?  Probably.

Ahh, but rejoice my friends!  For despite our desire to leave behind such primitive trappings of a bygone era, there are those out there striving to still provide a means by which to help mark those significant points that we might otherwise let slip by like a thief in the night.  Who, pray tell, who could such a person be?

I present for your consideration… Death Bear.Death Bear

Yeah… you read that right.  Death Bear.

Who… or maybe what… is Death Bear?  Death Bear is a performance artist based in Brooklyn who will come to your home on a strictly volunteer basis to help people move on from a break-up in a relationship.  Cute and cuddly, ain’t he?

I stumbled across this character as part of a piece over at MSNBC and honestly, I had to chuckle when I first saw it.  I mean, seriously… a dude showing up in a 7 foot tall all black bear costume to take away the reminders of love gone sour?  How can that possibly be something helpful for people who are going through some genuine emotional pain in their lives?

Well, apparently it does help.  As Theresa Thai, someone who has used Death Bear before, says in the MSNBC piece, “He was very cordial and kind of somber, actually.  It was almost like sacrificing something to alleviate the feeling of a heavy heart. It’s all symbolic, but it really did help.”

The more I thought about it, the less strange it seemed.  Don’t get me wrong – there’s no way a dude in an all black bear suit going by the name Death Bear is ever going to be quite a normal to encounter as an accountant in a business suit.  However, the notion of someone taking part in a ritualistic way to move beyond heartbreak?  It actually makes a lot of sense and it’s probably not a bad idea for anyone seeking to find better closure.

Plus, who doesn’t like someone in an animal costume showing up at their door?  I tell ya who… people I don’t wanna know.