Category Archives: Society

Posts on the many aspects of us wacky human beings interacting with each other.

Expertise Is Secondary. Flaws Are First.

I think anyone who strolls around the Interwebz at any point looking for an answer to any of life’s great questions will find themselves inundated with information from those looking to help. There are a variety of levels of expertise in those looking to help out as well – everything from utter charlatans to esteemed experts with a wealth of degrees or oodles of success.

If forced to pick, you want more superstar than snake oil in who is helping you, right?  Sort of hard (and kind of bat guano crazy) to argue against that.

For me, there’s actually something else I need along with the expertise and, in some ways, it may even be more important.

Authenticity from someone who has been through a struggle.

Maybe I’m alone in that sentiment, but I doubt it. I see plenty of people providing advice and their tact is one of “You should listen to me because I sit here oozing success out of every pore. All I do is win at everything I come across.”

C’mon now. Really?

Too. Damn. Early. I need someone with a few battle scars. Notched a few failures. Knows the feeling of getting up in the morning and, despite having a long-desired goal, has that moment of “Sweet mother of God… it’s… SO… DAMN… EARLY.”

There is a realness to showing your flaws that makes the advice to follow mean just so much more. Of course, even the highly-polished experts no doubt have had all those ugly moments… they just choose not to display them. Maybe they see it as a sign of weakness? And showing a single chink in the armor is the first step to the inevitable unmasking? I have no idea.

It’s also the fact that the person who has been through the struggles and found even a few fleeting moments of insightful brilliance has more to tell a person fighting their challenges than someone talking down to them from a place of glossy success.

It’s why I try so hard to never do this blog in any kind of way than a retelling of my own daily push for a bit more awesome and a bit less awful. Plus, it’s just much more accurate – for every moment of triumph where I let heave a battle cry, there are at least more 3 instances of stumbling and falling on my face.

And I’m good with that. My stumbles don’t embarrass me as much as they entertain.

And I’ll take that 3:1 ratio tradeoff for a good moment of victory.

Rhyme, Reason and The Things That Drive Us

 Little Slice of Heaven

I’m likely going to be taking a bit of a baseball and coaching theme with my posts in the near future. This stems from both the fact that Little League coaching begins soon (I find out my team on Saturday) and that it’s a rich source of inspiration for posts. Kids have an uncanny ability to teach adults a lot if those adults are paying attention.

It reminds me of a conversation a year or so ago while helping out with All-Stars practice one day and one of the players, Shamus, strolled on up to me as I watched a drill. He stood next to me for a few moments, watching the same drill and the following conversation ensued:

Shamus: Hey coach… are you married?

Me: No, Shamus, I’m not.

*brief pause*

Shamus: Got a girlfriend?

Me: No, Shamus, I don’t right now.

*longer, more thoughtful pause*

Shamus: Gettin’ kind of late…

You can’t make this stuff up. Hence, the wisdom of the youngins.

What I’m thinking most about with the season so close to starting is what drives me as a coach. The biggest piece is the fact I coach my nephews and have been doing so for 7 or 8 years, ever since my older brother was volunteered by his lovely bride and… well… he wasn’t going to do it solo. Suddenly, Assistant Coach Kevin was born!

But what about beyond that? What am I trying to accomplish? What’s my goal? My mission? My philosophy? Gosh darn it, don’t I have a vision statement with a 5 year plan developed by Wharton-educated consultants?!?!?  *ahem*  Wow… that got scary for a second.  Thankfully, I’m back and I can answer these questions fairly simply:

I coach with my Little League self in mind as much as I possibly can with the dual purpose of helping my players get better and (more importantly), enjoy the hell out of playing baseball.

THAT right there is my mission statement.

I think of my Little League self because I was never the most confident of baseball players, although I had some ability that could have become something nice if got out of my own way. Instead, I probably spent a lot of time thinking I would never be like my older brother who was fantastic at baseball, would end up being All-State in high school and playing in college.  I can actually remember a time when I was in 4th or 5th grade where I was at bat, it was raining and T.J. Church was pitching to me… and all I kept saying to myself was “Please just strike me out.” Yup… that truly happened and I can almost feel that pit in my stomach just thinking of that moment where I wanted to be anywhere but at the plate trying to hit. Not a great moment, but one indelibly burned in my memory.

I never, EVER want a kid that plays for me to feel that way, not even for a moment. I can’t even totally say why I was feeling that way – my parents were always really supportive. I just felt miserable out there and wasn’t having fun, at least not on that day. I would do better when I got to high school and played baseball all 4 years… but I often suffered from the greatest shortcoming any young athlete can have:

I was far more worried about messing up than the upside of laying it out there, possibly achieving something magical or great and feeling the joy of doing well. That’s a missed opportunity and I don’t want it repeated under my watch if I can help it.

So that drives me and it’s really why this entire coaching experience means so much to me. I think a lot about how that felt for me as a kid and, oddly enough, the kids I will be coaching this year will be in exactly that same age range as me during that day in the rain.

No matter how I need to scramble out of work early for a game or changing up my weekend schedule because of games… it just doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. Hey, don’t misunderstand me – I am not some noble saint for taking this position. I do all of this because it’s just so much damn fun – I get at least as much out of it as the kids do. It’s not really work. It’s not a grind. It’s just… well… fun.

Here’s to the start of the upcoming season with a watchful eye towards the why of coaching… maybe the most important aspect of all.

Trust Not The Eyes, For They May Not See.

Simple beauty

This is a pretty special time of year for me. Part of it has to do with the vigorous shaking off of the chill of Winter and opening my arms wide to pull Spring into my sweet, loving embrace. Come to me baby… come to me. That’s only part of my fond feelings for this mid-March period. The bigger piece is that Little League baseball coaching is again on the horizon and I couldn’t be happier about it.

The process kicks off the same each season: a bunch of well-meaning coaches spend the better part of a weekend in a middle school gym rating 8-12 year olds on their ability to field, throw, pitch and hit. It’s a bit of a circus every time, but I think that’s half the fun of it. Just kind of reveling in the mayhem of it all and catching up with the other coaches I haven’t seen in a while.

But my favorite part of the entire evaluation process isn’t just hanging out and joking around with the kids as they come through my station (which was hitting this year). Actually, my favorite part is when I find out I’m completely, utterly and totally wrong. No, really.

As each kid walks up to your station, there are only so many I actually know from years past. Because of this, I tend not to know anything about the baseball abilities of most players until they begin their drills with me. And you know what happens as they walk up? There is that flickering moment in the mind where every coach tries to guess how this kid will be. It’s something we do in all aspects of life, right? Heck, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book about these kinds of snap judgments in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Nothing unusual in this and really nothing controversial because no one with any sense in their noggin would make a determination just based on a first impression of a kid walking into the gym. That would just be flat out stupid.

But some kids roll in with a lot of confidence and swagger. They have a snazzy and expensive bat, snappy batting gloves and are sporting an all-star shirt from the previous year. Some kids come in a bit tentative and nervous – these are the kids I try to put at ease as quickly as possible because… well…. I was that kid at that age when it came to baseball and sports. I bloomed late athletically.

Then some kids don’t fit the part of a baseball player at all. They aren’t wearing anything you would see a kid put on to play any sport, go to gym class and so on. Heck, they may be wearing an outfit that looks like something they would wear to the mall or the movies. They walk into the station, look through the bucket of bats available for anyone who didn’t bring one and then step up to the tee to take a few swings.

And that’s when some real magic happens and I am reminded again to never, ever, EVER assume anything on a kid before seeing him do his or her thing. I absolutely love it when the kids who “don’t fit” whatever preconceived notion there may be for a youth baseball player come in and smash the bejeezus out of every ball they see. It puts the biggest smile on my face and I revel in the fact that, if I had any guess to the contrary, I have just been shown to be 100% wrong.

It’s so great to see the kids who defy conventions of any kind… who don’t fit the idea of how they are “supposed” to be, whether in baseball or school or any other activity. The kids who just love something and it shows. Heck, my favorite players to coach aren’t necessarily the superstars with the amazing physical gifts. I have such a great time working with kids who just love to be on baseball field and playing a game. That’s all it takes to win me over.

So trust not the eyes, for they may not see… at least not at first. Break those biases down. Strip them from your thoughts when they rear up. And if you have any moments where you catch your assumptions being shown to be misguided? Cherish them. Because that’s where the real fun starts.

Keep Your Starts Fresh

Ever since I was a kid, there’s always been something deeply and profoundly appealing to me about a new, crisp piece of paper. It always spoke to me of possibility and excitement because I really wasn’t limited in what I could draw or write upon it. As long as I could imagine it, I could work towards it. Sure, I wasn’t going to be slapping down a Monet masterpiece first time through… but there wasn’t anything saying I could not get there.

I still feel that way today when I get a new notepad, open a fresh file in a word processor or sit down to craft a new blog post. The thought that beckons me forward is simply “Let’s see where the muse takes me today.”  I mean, I don’t think that exact phrase, but it certainly describes the feeling.

It’s for that reason that my favorite Calvin and Hobbes comic (and also the last comic Bill Watterson ever created of that brilliant strip) is this:

Calvin and Hobbes Comic Strip, December 31, 1995 on GoComics.com
Calvin and Hobbes Comic Strip, December 31, 1995 on GoComics.com

It’s also the perfect comic for the start of this brand and shiny new year of 2014, especially here in New England as the snow falls steadily from Winter Storm Hercules. On a side note… that’s easily the most badass winter storm name I’ve ever heard. I mean… Hercules, for the love of Zeus (mythological puns all fully intended my friends).

I’ve spent time over the past week or so thinking over my own personal goals and resolutions for 2014. Now, a lot of people finding the “resolution” game to be weak and I can certainly understand why. It’s hard to argue with the idea that every day is an opportunity to begin anew without waiting for the calendar to flip to a new year. However, there’s something terribly convenient about using January 1st as a convenient reminder point to take stock in how things are going and what you may need to do in order to point yourself in the right direction. For me, this is partially borne of spending the last 12 years in Corporate America where metrics are very keenly parsed by calendar points in time.

My list of goals is mostly created and I’ve begun the equally important task of creating a system by which I can achieve my goals (which tends to be the shortfall of the resolution crowd – lots of ideas and very little planning to go with them).  I look forward to 2014 with an open heart.

So if you are thinking over what this upcoming year holds in store for you and you have that same feeling as our friends Calvin and Hobbes where you see a year of possibilities… good. Don’t let the cynicism of others rob you of that feeling, certainly not so soon in the year – shake it free from your spirit. But also be sure to remember that hoping and wishing does not a solid plan make. (Must… resist… urge… to make… political commentary…)

But be bold about your optimism and nurture it, beginning today. Even if it’s not the sole thing to carry you through 2014 successfully, it certainly makes for a brighter start and a bit of a glow in your heart… and those are both very good things.

It’s a magical world, ol’ blog buddies. Let’s go exploring.

Thunder From The Heavens

I’m a bit of a loud guy from a loud family. I try to catch myself from being inappropriately loud in the wrong place at the wrong time, but hell… I can’t monitor myself that closely all the time. That would be impossible… and really no fun. So screeeeewwww that.  Let the decibels ring forth!

However, there are many ways where I am decidedly quiet.  Certain things I deem more important to be private or quiet about.  If I were to try and give you clear guidelines about what falls onto this list, I think I would come up woefully short of an apt description.  Just something about being so out front about these things can just feel… I dunno… unseemly.  That’s the word that best captures it.

I think that’s why this image I saw recently (and I wish I could remember which friend posted it to give them proper credit), it struck me so powerfully.

I’m not really one to tout my own praises or merits or great successes, although I have certainly done it a few times in the moment.  Lord knows when I finished Tough Mudder in 2012 I was all kinds of fired up and proclaimed that loudly and proudly on my Facebook wall.  But that’s very much an exception to the rule for this more retiring cowpoke.

It’s just that this image captures so many great messages, but in sticking with the most obvious, it’s about what you do and not just what you say.  Of course what you say can have a positive impact on people – some can inspire others to spectacular feats with their words.

But more often that not?  Be more about the doing than the speaking.

I’ve had people come to me for various kinds of career advice and this is usually my #1 piece of feedback.  The questions tend to be about networking and who they should set up meetings with and who they need to get to know and what teams and titles they should have.  I admire their passion, their desire to advance themselves forward.  Passion is a beautiful commodity and if you have it, hold onto it and nurture it (positively).

My response always tends to be the same: “Those things are all good… but you know what gets you noticed most?  What gets you furthest in life and work?  Consistently kicking ass at what you do.”

Occasionally my remark gets a blank response back as if to say, “Thanks Captain Obvious… I already knew that.  I needed something else…”

Except… you didn’t need something else.  You really needed to get down to putting boots to backsides.  It’s a good reminder for me as well whenever I begin to think about where I want to be going.  If I cannot answer… in detail… about what I am trying to do to kick ass for whatever definition of success I am seeking, then I’m clearly not on the right track.

As the bard of our era… Usher, of course… once sang “Don’t talk about it, be about it.”  And as horrified as I am to quote Usher, it’s a succinct way of seeing it.

In the end, Mr. Ocean puts it even better.  As loud, passionate and eloquent as your voice may be, your methodical daily grind of work will always produce a sweeter song.

The Smartest Guy in the Room (And That Room Is A Gym)

Every time I train, I’m the smartest guy in the gym.  By far.  It’s really not a debatable point.OK sure, so I train by myself in the basement, but my original assertion stands just fine on its own.

I’ve long tried to approach my gym training with a sense of purpose and direction about what I am looking to accomplish.  I’ve tried to be focused on the fact that I have my own goals and it doesn’t mean anything whatever everyone else’s goals are.  Isn’t that the point?

2013-09-20 19.35.16-1And in theory, this should all work out exceptionally well as the smartest guy in that room I use for my training.  Who else is there to distract me?  No one is coming up to chat with me.  There aren’t any charming young lasses batting their eyelashes in my general direction.  I don’t see someone else’s routine and think “Aww damn it all… I totally should be doing that.”

Hence, look at me!  Focused!  Driven!  Handsome and charismatic.  No seriously… look at me.  That’s a whole lot of sexy man right there and he wants to know how YOU doin’?  I mean… damn.

Umm… wait, where was I again?  Ahh yes, the distraction free life in my home gym.

Guess what?  In the last few weeks, I’ve come to appreciate how easily distractions can creep in anyway… and it’s all about the bench press.

The bench press is one of those lifts that, regardless of your lifting experience, you know what it is.  It’s sort of the strength benchmark for casual conversations with most people.  When people ask me about lifting and such, it’s not usually how much I squat and it’s not how much I deadlift (two lifts that I ‘m good at and care about for a multitude of reasons).

Nope… everyone wants to know “HOW MUCH YA BENCH???”

But beyond that, the bench press is also one of the classic “big lifts” for powerlifting (squat, bench and deadlift) and for most serious routines around.  It’s also a lift that is technically demanding, requires a lot of time to improve… and can screw up your shoulders.

As my shoulders of late have felt pummeled by this vaunted lift, the question finally hit me like a ton of bricks:

“OK, smartest guy in the room… why DO you bench press?”

I don’t ever plan on competing in powerlifting.

It seems to do me more harm than good.

But… but… how will I know how strong I am?

And that last point is when I realized why I still benched – because my benchmark (pun so FULLY intended) is a lift I can compare myself to others on.  Not a lift that I just need to get stronger at or which has excellent carry-over to other athletic pursuits… but one that I could relate to the strength of others.

That’s when the smartest guy in my home gym decided to make a change this past week and ditch the bench press.  Oh, fear not, fellow meatheads… I will be doing other kinds of compound pressing lifts that focus on the chest.  Just not regular straight bar bench press.

Even when you’re all alone… even when you think you have a firm grasp on your own individuality and why you do things… never forget how easy it is to let the slow creep of comparison invade.  Vigilance in repelling this interloper in the night is crucial.

Because even the smartest guy in the room can miss the whole damn point.

Hate, Jealousy and Fighting the Green-eyed Monsters

This past Sunday was Super Bowl XLVII (aka “The Harbowl”) and in the weeks leading up to the game, I had a dilemma.  Not something earth-shattering, mind you – I wasn’t making huge decisions on the direction of my life and my place in the universe (at least not in relation to this football game)… but the dilemma of trying to decide who to root for in the game.  And while this was not a decision of much import, it did reveal something interesting about myself in the process.

I still hate Dwight Clark, mind you...
I still hate Dwight Clark, mind you…

When I first began to consider which team to cheer for, my first instinct was based on my diehard fandom for the Dallas Cowboys: The 49ers have long been a major rival of ours and we are tied with 5 Super Bowl titles each.  The 49ers winning would mean they pulled ahead of my beloved Cowboys! Sweet mother of God… such an injustice must be avoided!  I must shout to the heavens my rage at such a thought!

But I thought about it a bit more and came to an uncomfortable realization: while it’s fine not to  cheer for a long-time rival, the fact that I didn’t want them to pull ahead of my team on Super Bowl problems wasn’t a 49ers problem… it was a Cowboys problem.  My issue was jealousy, really… jealousy over their team doing the right things to place themselves in a position to win that title while my own team has a record of 128-128 with 1 playoff win in 16 years.

I was having myself a nice, tall, bitter glass of Haterade and not even realizing it.

I decided to basically watch the game to enjoy it from an independent perspective, but I didn’t forget about that uncomfortable thought.  You don’t have to cheer for your opponents, but when you resent their success, all you are really doing is ignoring the ugly truth of your own shortcomings or, worse still, making excuses to cover for them.  I don’t ever want to be that guy.  That guy is small and bitter and likely not that much fun at parties.

Along a similar line, I noticed something similar cropping up right before and just after Baltimore’s win in the Super Bowl and all of it focused on their talismanic leader, Ray Lewis.  Lewis is considered one of the greatest (if not the greatest) to ever play his position in the NFL, but he also has a very dark chapter in his past from a murder trial in 2000.  Some believe Lewis was more involved in a fight that killed 2 men during Super Bowl week in Atlanta 13 years ago than he would admit or plead guilty to.  Lewis agreed to testified against two other men in exchange for the murder charges being dropped against him.  All in all, there is nothing good about this story.

But this is what struck me of late – the story has essentially disappeared from view over the last decade and with almost zero mention of it.  The fans and press had basically moved on… well, moved on until Baltimore Ravens and Ray Lewis won this most recent Super Bowl in what would be the final game of his career.  Suddenly that story was everywhere on Facebook, Twitter, the news, etc.  Why had it become relevant all over again?  Did new evidence emerge?  Was there some new defining factor that made the story different?

No… all that changed was that Ray Lewis was ending his career winning one more title and I guess people didn’t like that.  Out came the green-eyed monsters to tear him down.

Now, let’s be clear for a second – I’m not here to comment on whether Ray Lewis did it or not.  I have no idea and I haven’t spent hours of time poring over the evidence and court testimony from the 2000 trial.  That’s not my point.  What strikes me is the extent to which people will bring a story like this back up when someone achieves such a high level of success.  That there are those who only use this story as a tool to try and bring someone else down.

Do we really believe that the people doing this had a deep level of caring for the two men that were murdered that night in Atlanta?  That they were crusaders of justice and truth?  Of course not.

No one needs to be a fan of the 49ers.  Or Ray Lewis.  Or even my Cowboys (although you should really reconsider if you aren’t).  But we all must guard against tearing down people, teams and organizations simply because they succeed.  In those situations, we simply announce to the world our own insecurities when we should be praising the commitment of the winners.  Even when we don’t like them.

Welcome to the Echo Chamber

The seemingly unending amount of political nonsense currently occurring in the U. S. of A. this election cycle is just… punishing.  I can really think of no other word to describe it better than that.  I suppose this isn’t terribly different from any other major election year, but it just feels like all of us are being forced to repay some horrible debt or penance by watching all of this unfold.  I don’t think I did anything to deserve it… sooooo… yeah, I’m blaming you.  Had to be done – please just accept your responsibility, apologize and let’s move on together into a bright new future, mmkay?  Sweet.

A great term of this political season… and truly of any moment within which soap-boxing and pontificating are taking center stage… is “the echo chamber”.  While our friends at Merriam-Webster take the more traditional definition of echo chamber as “a room with sound-reflecting walls used for producing hollow or echoing sound effects”, I am using it in a slightly more recent sense.  In this case, an echo chamber would be where people preach their views only to the like-minded who, in turn, repeat it to others of the same mind, thus amplifying to the view to the point it seems like a God-given truth.  In reality, it’s just an echo amongst the willing and truly nothing more.

That’s the challenge of the day for all of us, I think.  Elections are actually proving to be a really helpful reminder of how we can each avoid our own personal echo chambers.  I mean, come on… we all have them.  I know I do.  “What’s that? Someone made fun of weightlifters?!?!?  I’m totally going to stomp over here, call upon all the people who think exactly like me so we can smugly hang back and mock everyone who does [INSERT DIFFERENT EXERCISE METHODOLOGY HERE].”  Why do I do this?  Well frankly, because I want to feel right and dammit, I want to be with other people who feel that way too because we are all just SO DAMN RIGHT!  Look at us!  All in agreement and whatnot!  It must be true… I mean, hell… look at ALL OF US agreeing!  Oh who cares if we are but 3 out of 7 billion.

Let’s join together, brothers and sisters of this noble fight, and make something useful out of every ugly, pandering political ad tossed out way.  Each one can remind us a little more of our own warm, snug cocoons of agreement.  Let’s get uncomfortable every once in a while, people.

That’s On You Bro

A lot of this blog may sound like advice I’m giving to others, but anyone who reads it should keep in mind the fact that oftentimes, its guidance I am striving to apply to myself on a daily basis.  Today’s vlog is a good example – I want to hold myself to a certain standard when interacting with others, regardless of how they deem to act towards me.  Sometimes it’s on me and… well… sometimes it’s on you, bro.  Enjoy.

Be A Thinker

Thinking... deeply... or just confused.
Thinking… deeply… or just confused.

In this great, big, beautiful world of ours, there is variety of different approaches to everything in life.  Some people are dark and dour – seemingly each moment of the day is spent in a perpetual state of seriousness.  Other people seem to radiate joy, silliness and a joie de vivre that’s impossible not to be positively affected by.  Each of us will have an approach that works best for us.

But beyond just mood, we each look at the world a little bit differently when thinking about issues and ideas.  Maybe you are truly Zen, where your mind is free from influence and clear-eyed to each situation.  Maybe you are harried and hassled with nary a moment to spend in “wasteful” navel-gazing.

Me?  I’m a bit of a thinker and I’m here to make the case for why you should be too.

I think it’s important for me to discuss what I mean by a thinker before dashing headlong into the rest of this post.  A thinker is not someone who is necessarily smarter than anyone else.  It’s important to dispel this notion because (1) I don’t want your reading this entire blog post thinking “You utterly smug and arrogant son of a biscuit…”; and (2) clear definitions just make life easier.  So there.

My definition of a thinker is someone who takes a bit of time to give thought and reflection to decisions, life actions and issues, whether on an intensely personal scale or affecting the world as a whole.  Pretty simple, right?

I implore more people to take this path for two critically important reasons.

First, it can be very easy in an age of technological advancement and communication that borders on magical to be so busy, hassled and frantic to never stop and think.  I am a thinker, but believe me, I fall into this trap at times as well.

Second, I find myself encountering far too man people these days for whom the idea of giving thought to more than one angle of a question is actually a negative.  By way of example, I can think of a few conversations I have had of late where someone would remark, “Ohh, you can’t make up your mind – you would rather keep going back-and-forth…”  Now, if we were talking about what toppings to get on my burger, that’s one thing.  I mean seriously… there really are some delicious accoutrements out there for a delicious slab of grilled ground beef.  Any combination of cheese, bacon, fried egg, grilled onions and avocado will do nicely… umm… sorry.  Burgers distract me.

But the conversations where this point have come up involved more complicated affairs and the seeming lack of interest in thinking about more than one side of a nuanced issue was a bit troubling to me.  I don’t know if it was general impatience or just a predisposition to settling on a narrow viewpoint and holding on tight or just a pitched battle against any shade of gray in a world someone wants to be black and white.

Hence, I urge you to think and to set aside time for thinking (although I admit I am still struggling with that latter suggestion).  It will amaze how you some of your thorniest life issues will unravel a touch when you devote a little time to the endeavor.  And if you find yourself getting a little stuck with a myriad of questions the more you think… just remember it’s possible (and maybe even likely) that you are experiencing it because it is a tricky question.

Dabble in the grays.  There are many… not just 50 shades.