Category Archives: Mind

Posts related to the brain, thinking, ideas and the many beautiful sides of intelligence.

Neat and Tidy Little Boxes

Change comes in a lot of forms.  Sometimes it is the blinding flash of light epiphany like Saul on the road to Damascus, but I think a lot of times, it’s more of a slow build over time.  For me, the latter tends to be true much more often than the former.  It certainly was the case recently when I finally accepted for myself that powerlifting was not the draw it once was for me.

While the change was slow and over time, I can think of two more distinct moments that helped drive this path.

The first was returning to playing indoor soccer a year or two ago (before being driven off by nagging injuries).  I thought I was in fine shape – I was stronger than I had ever been, I had been working back in conditioning and I thought I was ready to roll.  Then, I hit the field and stumbled around, moving with a grace that could be described as “wooden” if we were being highly charitable about it.

The second was when I went out to EliteFTS for a training session and seminar.  I went heavier on deadlifts than I had in a long time… and in the days that followed, my training felt crushed.  My recovery was just not great and I felt beat up for the umpteenth time.

In the days that followed that, I realized that returning to my athletic roots as a focal point moving forward was what I wanted.  I thought I was always training to be a strong athlete and realized I spent a lot of time on the strong and not nearly enough on the athlete portion of that mix.  Maybe I came to this realization because I was older and wiser.  Maybe it was because my body was yelling loud and long at me “Bro…this ain’t working out like you think it is.”  Maybe age was catching up with me (although I fight this notion with every core of my being that age should ever be an acceptable excuse for not doing what you love).

Regardless of the reasoning, I knew that at 44, it was time to change course for myself and get back to what I knew would be enjoyable for me in the long term.

The funny thing about all of this is part of the reason I struggled with making this change over the last year or two was how easy it had become to be too concerned with a neat and tidy label for what I was as a lifter. I was a POWERLIFTER.  That was a distinct classification and readily identified me as part of a community of likeminded folks.  There is comfort and power in that kind of identity – we’re social creatures and community matters.

But what happens when, as the cliché states, the juice is no longer worth the squeeze?  That the enjoyment you derive from that has gone way down for what you get back from the work and sacrifice?

What if I went back to training that did not have that neat and tidy little box that had become so cozy for me?  The opportunity to provide a ready answer when people asked what kind of lifter I was? How would I answer that question?

In the days following that lifting session in Ohio, I smiled and realized exactly how I would answer that question… any damn way I really wanted.  I’m a lifter and an athlete.  No other details needed beyond that.  I lift heavy weights.  I throw things around.  I row.  I do yoga.  I play golf.  I sprint hills.  I push Prowlers.  I will, hopefully, start running again.  I may even play soccer again (if my right knee will stop being an obstinate pain in the ass and get on board with this plan).

Those boxes are tempting for everyone and often we slide into them without even realizing it’s happening – they can be lovely boxes, perhaps velvet-lined and gorgeous.  If you want to be part of that group, that’s clearly not a bad thing at all.  But when you realize it’s more convenience or comfort than conscious choice, that’s when things get interesting (and something I’ve thought about before when I wrote “Your Pathetic Little Box” a few years back).  And that’s why this Churchill quote hits home so much with me:

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I’ve chosen a new path and I must admit the details of a lifting program aren’t terribly interesting to anyone but the person writing it or training under it.  The interesting part is assessing your why and seeing if it’s what you want or just part of a sitting in your neat and tidy little box.

Because the thing about those boxes?  They are a certain shape and a certain size… and you can only grow in them just so much.

And I never want to stop growing.

The List of Love

I spent this past weekend in the Columbus, Ohio area for some lifting-related shenanigans. One thing I’ve found with traveling, is I get really reflective during my trips. There’s nothing miraculous about the fact that travel changes your perspective – it’s been written about countless times on the power of seeing other places to broaden your worldview. What’s interesting is that I think this occurs regardless of whether you travel to the other side of the planet or just a few states away… at least, if you are open to it.

During my trip back home to Connecticut, I received a Facebook message from someone that completely caught me off guard, but really in the best possible way. They hit me with a series of extremely kind compliments, just as an observation of what they saw of me and how I live my life. Now, the details of what they said are immaterial and, quite frankly, listing them out just really amounts to me giving myself a high-five for being awesome… and not in the typical snarky way I like to do in not taking myself seriously, but in a fashion that feels braggy.  (Is that a word? “Braggy”? No idea… but I’m running with it).

Upon this person telling me that “you have your shit together”, I said “I might need to remind myself of that, then, on occasion”.  This is a big understatement. Like hyooge. I am inordinately hard on myself – hell, a lot of us are.

The response – “I’ll give you some help.  Name me all the things you love most.”

OK, I am down for this – I like to have a little bit of a thinking challenge, certainly as I am sitting in an airport waiting for my next flight.  I began by thinking of this in order and working my way down.

I started typing back via FB Messenger “My family, especially my nephews and nice. My closest, true friends.” At this point I was thinking over what #3 would be… my health or the experiences I have been fortunate enough to have had in my life… what else would I put in there?

Before I could finish the response back, this note was sent to me:

“How long would it take for you to name yourself?”

I sat there for a minute or so, just looking at that message. I understood the words, how they were structured and all of that good stuff drilled into me from an early age about how English grammar operated. However, I honestly did not get what was being said.

That’s when it hit me – the notion of putting myself on that list was never, ever going to occur to me. Seriously. For all the bluster I like to create with my grandiose self-compliments in my writing, they are done so over-the-top so as to actually be self-deprecating. But to really and truly put myself on a list like that? Yeah, no… would never happen.

The crazy thing is that despite how narcissistic the world can seem these days with how social media creates a look-at-me environment, I think most people are in that same boat. If I may play truly amateur psychologist for a brief moment, whenever I see people going deep down the rabbit hole of self-aggrandizement, I cannot help but see someone who is putting up a brave front in an effort to convince themselves that they deserve that praise. They are trying to make themselves believe it far more than they are trying to make their audience believe it.

2015-10-24 15.42.33Hence why I post this picture, profanity and all (yeah, sorry about that Mom)… because in the moment I took this a year and a half ago, I felt what the shirt said and felt pretty-darn-fantastic about myself… without any sense of guilt over that fact. While I share it with you, the photo was really more for me and enjoying the fact I had that moment.

I will never be the person who boasts about himself – I am just simply not wired that way and I am glad for that fact. I do hope to work on that for myself, quietly, in the background and with as little fanfare as possible.

I share all of this because so much of this blog is to, hopefully, give you something to think about in my own personal challenges. In any sense where this blog is about advice or coaching or guidance or counseling, it is only that in so much as I am trying to lay bare how I am fighting to achieve the same things I speak of. I have an inherent distrust of people who speak from a place of self-claimed expertise without any sense of struggle. It feels horribly inauthentic to me.

Rather, I prefer to show you how I am putting in my own work… even if it is to allow myself an occasional self high-five.

Youth, Aging and the Comfort of Your Own Skin

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One of my favorite things at work these days is the fact that my company is in a strong hiring mode.  Times like this put me in a good mood because they’re about growth, something I always feel hugely positive about, whether personal, professional or in the business sense.  Being stagnant tends to make me feel itchy… I mean, not like literally.  I don’t get hives from it and need a soothing balm.  And yes, I went with that entire analogy just for the sake of using the word “balm” since it’s soothing on its own just to say it.

What’s been great about this hiring push is that it’s brought in so many new employees just out of college, which is a big change for how we do business (at least in many parts of our company – our engineering group regularly hires right out of college).  In my row at work there are 4 colleagues where the senior-most of them is maybe 3 or 4 years removed from college.  Honestly, it’s great because they bring new ideas, fresh perspectives and really challenge a lot of our company’s commonly-held thinking on issues.  We need all of that.

The gym I train at, when not at Fierce & Mighty, is also on the much younger side too.  Nothing quite like talking to a few of them and realizing: a) they are literally half my age; and b) one that is a Cowboys fan has no idea what it’s like for our beloved team to be… well… GOOD.

Being surrounded with people much younger than me does make me reflect a lot on my own life, where I have arrived at age 44 and what lies ahead.  Our culture definitely celebrates youth in a big way… and why the heck not?  There’s such energy and vibrancy in every younger generation that comes along.

But for me?  If I was somehow afforded the chance to become 25 again via means mystical or otherwise, I would never take it.  Ever.

For all of the things that are a downside of aging (such as the amount of mobility drills I need to do every day to battle against being in deskbound jobs for 20 years), I am such a stickler for the benefits of perspective I’ve gained, I cannot imagine ever relinquishing that for anything.

I cannot imagine giving up the level of comfort I currently enjoy about being me and living in this skin of mine, which may involve me lifting in a bright pink shirt all alone in my basement.

I cherish the things I’ve learned (which I hesitate to call “wisdom” since I am not one to pat myself on the back with such a weighty notion) that allow me to value what is truly important in my own life versus what is not, while constantly trying to give more time to the good and less time to the useless.

I enjoy a level of personal freedom to be myself, say what I think, know when to relent and know when to dig in and fight like hell that I never had 20 years ago.

Giving up those things for the sake of springier knees and a full head of hair is not a trade I would ever make.

(Although springy knees are something that should never be underestimated.  Ever.  Cherish those suckers.  HARD.)

We should continue to celebrate youth with the fresh perspectives, ideas, energy and general change-the-world positivity that accompanies each generation on the cusp of its stepping to the forefront of the culture.

Roger Daltry can sing about hoping to die before he gets old… and we can endlessly debate about what age that constitutes…but I refuse to take the value of the years and diminish them like some kind of trash or some inevitable decline in life.

I am still in the process of getting a little better than I was yesterday…and I don’t see a cap on that any time soon.  The only thing that makes you old, in my mind, is when you decide growth is over… and that’s not an inevitable consequence.  That’s a decision.

I’ve decided to keep going.

That Super Clean First Impression

It’s interesting to me how people choose to present themselves to others the first time they meet. Some people are highly conscious of their demeanor, facial expressions, tone of voice and think about each word they say.  Others just kind of roll with whatever happens in the moment.  Then there are those who fall somewhere in between that spectrums of polar differences.

This all came back to mind for me recently during a conversation I was having with someone I met for the first time at the gym. It was a pleasant enough little chat at the outset about the gym, training and the like… and then less than 5 minutes into the conversation… this person tells me their powerlifting total.

For those of you who are not powerlifting aficionados (shame upon you and your houses, heathen!), a total is the total amount of weight you lift in a competition, comprised of your best weight for the squat, bench press and deadlift.  Simple enough to understand and calculate.  It’s not a weird thing at all.

However… it’s pretty weird to flash that number to me within 5 minutes of meeting you.  For one, it implies I should care about how much you lift (I don’t).  Second, it also suggests I should be impressed by it (I may find the number impressive, but please see point #1 again).

This is to the lifting world what:

  • in the business world would be meeting someone in your company for the first time and they go out of their way to tell you their grade level or how high they fit in the organizational structure;
  • in the golf world, someone telling you their handicap right after meeting; and
  • in just real life, introducing yourself to your new neighbors and immediately telling them how your kids are on honor roll or are all-state or have perfect dental hygiene with no cavities and dentists across the land singing unto the heavens the marvels of their molars.

It’s mystifying.  It’s why my Facebook status a few days ago was simply this:

Quick meathead life lesson: If within a mere 5 minutes of our meeting for the first time, you tell me your total… we’re really not off to a great start.

If you have good things going in your life? Awesome. I am genuinely happy for you and hope they continue and flourish. The world needs more positive mojo rocking out these days anyway.

Why anyone then feels the need to make that part of their introduction is where it all gets 9 kinds of funky. You don’t need to knock people back on their heels with all the awesome (or just allegedly awesome) things in your life right out of the gate… in fact, please don’t.

The truly awesome things just become apparent on their own without them being forcefully driven into the conversation like a really awkward handshake… the kind where the person holds your hand a little TOO long and a little TOO firmly and shakes your arm a little TOO vigorously.

Who you are is what impresses people, in the end… not what you do.

And who I am is one handsome SOB. Clearly.

Seeking the Coaching Sweet Spot

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There’s a funny aspect of coaching where you need to strike a balance between your involvement and your objectivity.  I think the best coaches are driven by a passion to make those they have the privilege of working with better, but they then need to take the proper steps back not to let their own desires become the focus.  That’s a little bit of the secret sauce of it all, really.  You are trusted with being the steward of your trainee’s talent and desires.  To use a legal concept (because why the hell not), you are like the executor and manager of a trust – you have a good faith obligation to what has been entrusted to you.

And trust is such a perfect word and concept because it hits the dual-meaning of duty and also that you are entrusted with the faith your trainee placed in you.

This takes on a new level if the trainee/athlete/student is personally very close to you. The thing that drives you as a coach adds in a new, very strong variable of that relationship… which can be good and bad.  Good in that you are even more committed than usual to a great end result, but bad if… again… the objectivity is lost or the desired end state of your trainee gets steamrolled.

I just started working with my oldest nephew just over 2 weeks ago to really get him weight training for the first time.  He did a little bit in fits and starts with the high school baseball team this past year, but this is his first foray into a structured and very consistent program.  I had my own coach work this up for him as I guide him through it.

Each session we’ve had is a learning experience for both of us.  For him, he is seeing what a well-thought out program of strength, power, mobility, movement prep and conditioning looks like.  For me, I’m seeing what it means to consistently coach someone else on all aspects of strength & conditioning and figuring out how to do this for what he wants… not what Uncle Kevin wants.

It’s essentially a twist on the baseball coaching I’ve done with my 2 oldest nephews for the last 8 or 9 years.  The difference here is in baseball, it’s balanced by the need to focus on all the players.  In this case?  It’s one-on-one.  It would be easy to get all out of sorts and take every bit of how each session goes overly personally.

So what to do?  How to find the magic point in all of this between passion and objectivity?  I think for the near future (and maybe longer), it’s going to be fairly simple: focus on getting my nephew to enjoy the whole process.  That’s honestly it – if I make that my success criteria, the rest of the details will take care of themselves.  Progress will be made and progress, my friends, is the great hook of hooks.

Sometimes your best course of action as a coach is to get out of your own way, stop spending so much time overthinking every nuance with your trainee and just let their enjoyment be the guide.  And maybe you’ll have a little fun more coaching fun in the process too.

The Art of the Extra Minute

If there’s something I’ve learned in my time working in Corporate America or in coaching wild little weasels in youth baseball, it’s that the people in charge can often lose sight of what it’s like to be on the receiving end of their leadership or guidance.  It’s really not all that surprising because most people don’t spend oodles of time in their days considering how others perceive them.  This is partly because… well… who the hell would spend that much time obsessed on such a point?  In addition, no one should be so purely “other-focused” that they never account for their own personal tastes, talents and desires.

That being said, there is a tremendous amount of value to be gained for anyone who is a manager, leader or coach to consider how their leadership is delivered and received.

A leader may have a weekly staff meeting with her team where she feels completely at ease, free to have an open discussion.  However, does the team feel the same way?  Maybe, maybe not.  One leader’s place of restful sanctuary is another team member’s “More face time with the boss where I have to play the part…”

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As a baseball coach, I try to think about things from the kid’s perspective as best I can… and Lord knows I probably fail at this much more often than I succeed, but I think the effort is the big part.

It’s the art of taking the extra minute.  That extra minute to think about your methods in relation to your players is hugely helpful.

For me it’s been about thinking about myself as a Little Leaguer.  I was seldom a confident player back in those days – far more concerned with messing up than playing well.  Hell, I can remember playing a game as it was getting dark, rain was coming down and I was hoping the pitcher, TJ, would strike me out.  True story.

Hence, my extra minute is to remember that there are a lot of kids who aren’t naturally gifted athletes and for whom standing all by themselves at the plate with everyone watching them at a baseball game is a daunting experience.  Kids for whom their coach looking them in the eye and saying, “Hey, you just go up there and go for it. All I care is about you trying hard – that’s it.” might be the difference between them enjoying the game and not.  Or the coach letting them know that making an error or messing up or doing something “wrong” because they tried too hard is totally OK.  Sure, you try to have them learn from that moment, but you can’t just light them up or else they’ll shut down for good.

And even if you don’t coach youth baseball, these same lessons apply at work, in your church, with your charitable group, etc.  Your presence and position will affect those around you in ways you likely don’t notice or think to consider.

And all you need to do is develop the art of taking that extra minute.  It won’t fix everything, but the self-awareness it brings is certainly the most important first step of them all.

Simple as Beautiful

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If there is something that has become abundantly clear to me over the past several year, it’s that complexity is ridiculously overrated. I see too many occasions where people seem to think that complex is somehow more interesting or of higher value because it is so magically intricate.

Pfft. Pure and unadulterated horse puckey.

Sorry for the foul language – sometime it’s the only way to properly express my disgust. I will try to clean it up as I move along.

The real challenge is maintaining simplicity in as much of one’s life as possible.  I mean, have you tried to apply this broadly in your life before?  It’s hard as hell, but when you even get a few slender sticking points of simplicity, it’s refreshing on a level that words never truly capture.

Well, except for one word: liberating.

Even if simplicity is hard to fully attain, I think the pursuit of it should be a goal for most people if for no other reason than the fact that life will add layers of complication to your existence without so much as a polite tap on the shoulder.  Why on earth would you do anything to make things even more challenging than they must be already?

I’ve often wondered if it’s because complexity or a life flooded with drama have the deceptive quality of seeming more special or unique to people.  Unfortunately, I don’t think the scientific method has caught up with a good means by which to measure any of that.

But then again… that’s probably a good thing… because I would rather stay simple.  Because on that point?  Good ol’ Hank W. Longfellow got it just right.

The Choice Is Yours

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With all due respect to Black Sheep for my co-opting their 90s hip-hop classic for my post title, the words of Viktor Frankl ring so true every time I read them. We can always choose our attitudes. Always. Doesn’t mean it’s easy. Doesn’t mean you won’t screw up (and Lord knows I do on this point).

But it does mean that there’s an opportunity every single day to have purpose and meaning. The most amazing part of that? It will always be our own unique creation,something no one else can take or duplicate. Who wouldn’t want that kind of powerful individuality?

Small Change. Consistent Change. Larger Results.

I remember it just sitting there and staring at me.  That pile of clutter on my kitchen counter that probably sat there for a few weeks.  It wasn’t literally staring at me or else this would be the start to one of the stranger horror stories to date, where an unsorted collection of mail, notebooks, charger cords and random nonsense achieved a sentient state and was sizing me up.  Not good times.

Anyhoo, I was definitely looking at it with a touch of frustration because I really do hate when things get all out of sorts if I have complete control over them.  Given that we’ve established that the clutter was not some kind of fairy tale monster, I definitely should have been wrangling it.

Yet, I had not.

The clutter on the counter was actually symptomatic of something larger that had been nagging away in the back of my brain – that I had let a bunch of things go for any of a number of reasons.  The reasons all seem good in the moment (I’m just too busy right now, I have a lot going on, I’m tired at the end of the day, etc.), but which total up to a neat little stack of excuses.

So why had this happened?  And why had I gotten bad at taking time to meditate?  Or to read more consistently?  Or to do more writing?  Or get to bed at a decent hour?  Or, or, or…

The answer was actually pretty simple – When I would inevitably hit that point of shouting unto the heavens “Damn it! This will ALL get fixed!” while shaking my clenched fists of fury, that’s what I would try to do.  Fix ALL of it.  At once.  Not one or two things.  Oh gosh no.  In that moment I was sick and tired of being sick and tired, so I was gonna get cracking on changes, my friends.  Ohhhh, the changes I would undertake.

It was only when I was recently reading the excellent book “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength” by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney did the folly of my efforts become so apparent.  The question was never being an undisciplined slob or somehow being weak in my principles.  It was really that I wasn’t giving myself a chance to succeed because I wanted everything fixed at once, instead of taking a more methodical approach.  One of the interesting pieces of that book is how clearly it lays out how to build and what easily erodes willpower.

Seeking to spread your finite willpower thinly across a multitude of worthwhile improvements results in not achieving any of them.  And getting frustrated for the umpteenth time. And repeating a mind-numbing cycle… again.

How did I finally address all of this? (Notice I did not say fix, since that clearly implies it is all good from here on out and y’all know that ain’t the case).

Step One: Make The List

I made a short list of 4 things and called it my “Willpower Development List”.  Very official, I know.  It’s as follows:

  1. Straighten up my house in the moment. No waiting around.
  2. Pray/meditate daily.
  3. Read/write every day.
  4. Get to bed by 10PM.

Step Two: Assign Each Goal a Month

I picked a month for each step and to focus on getting good at that task.  So, I started with straightening up for August.  Each day I would see to be REALLY good at keeping my house super tidy.  Nice and simple.  Then in September, I added the prayer/meditation as a 2nd task of the day, after already developing the good habit of straightening up the house.  Then in October, the reading and writing.

Step Three: Automate

Because everything that needs to be done in this world can now only be accomplished with a super snappy app, I found the Streaks – Daily Habit Tracker app for my phone which would remind me every day about the tasks (there are a variety of apps like this out there for whatever phone OS y’all are rocking).  The goal would be to string together longer and longer streaks of completing everything.  I’m not always perfect, but I am WAY better.  And if I find myself not being consistent in the habits I’ve developed, I will not add something new until I have the first group down solid.

Step Four: The Bigger Lesson

All of this is a pretty simple approach, but one where I began to see momentum and ended the feeling that I was an undisciplined goober with little prospect of success in sight.

It also made me feel more keenly a larger point: that my inability to effect the changes I wanted was not a failing of personal character as much as it was the use of a flawed method.  I urge everyone to keep that in mind in their own lives.  Human beings are capable of soaring achievements that continue to take my breath away on a regular basis, but we also all bear an innate ability to personalize our shortcomings as hard-wired genetic limitations.  We’re supremely gifted as beating ourselves up for seemingly everything we do not do well.  Just remember that maybe… just maybe… that getting a perspective check may be all you need to shift the view.

And that’s better than any habit streak I know.

My Philosophy: A Post 25 Years in the Making

I remember telling my parents in the Spring of 1987, my freshman year of high school, that I was going out for the baseball team.  Now, they never said anything specific to me about it or made any attempts to dissuade me from trying, but I always had the feeling they were a bit uneasy about it.

Why?

My older brother was always an excellent athlete… but me?  Not quite so much.  I had a generally unremarkable Little League career, didn’t play baseball on the middle school team and there really wasn’t anything to suggest my trying out for the high school team would end in anything but my being cut and coming home devastated.

Somehow, some way… I made the JV team.  We didn’t have a freshman team back then like many high schools do these days.

Fast forward ahead to this photo in the Spring of 1990, my senior year at Avon High School and the varsity baseball photo:

Avon High School - Varsity Baseball 1990

There I kneel in all my handsome best and pretty proud to play for a team that would end up ranked #2 in the state.  We lost our first game, won 18 in a row and lost our last game in the state tournament to a team we should have annihilated.

This photo explains a lot about my personal philosophy on coaching and actually explains a hell of a lot about me generally.

I played on the Varsity team my junior and senior years of high school with my prime motivator being really damn simple: Don’t. F**king. Screw. Up.

Inspirational right? Almost akin to a battle cry on a bloodstained field of battle from days of yore.  But in reality?  It was the truth.  I was far more concerned about the wrath of my coach if I screwed up than the potential amazing outcomes that would come from playing loose and free.  Now, what kind of fun could THAT possibly be?

It came to a head during the final game of my senior year as we lost in the state tournament (as a #2 seed, mind you) to a team we outclassed in seemingly every way possible.  I had probably 3 errors in the field that day and my baseball playing career ended with my coach pulling me out of the game and saying to me as I was directed to the bench “My God, Kuz… everything is an adventure with you out there today.”  My athletic pinnacle it was not.

That moment has always stuck with me, even now 25 years later and completely affects how I approach every kid I get the privilege of coaching.  My philosophy is simple: kids who are relaxed have more fun and play way better than the kid who sees his first at-bat of the season as a life-or-death struggle.  As ridiculously simple as that sounds, the trick is being mindful on this point and consistent with every kid you coach.  I acutely felt that awkward and self-directed pressure, so for me, it’s really easy to stay on task.

And in fact, I think this is something I seek to do all the time anyway now.  When people feel comfortable, they’re just in such a better place as a friend, work colleague, family member or even just a stranger you bump into in line at Starbucks to get a coffee with a complicated name. (Caveat: I love me some Sbux and will fight you to the death if you try and swipe my gold card)

My advice?  Find a person who looks out of sorts and see what you can do about it.  It’s actually ridiculously easy because all you need to consider is the fact that YOU have been there too.  Why not fix it for someone else?