Category Archives: Society

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

Things I’ve Learned from Coaching Youth Baseball

I still remember it like it was yesterday… the day I got the call from my older brother to inform me I was now the assistant coach for my nephew’s tee-ball team. Let’s bear in mind that this was never something I actually asked for – it was more like, “Look, Sue signed me up for this without asking me… so I did the same to you. First practice is on Saturday.” That was a few years ago (I honestly cannot remember how many… 4? 5?) and thus began my saga into the world of youth baseball.

It was all pretty simple at the start. When dealing with 5 year old kids playing baseball for the first time, there really is not much on the finer points of the game. You do your best to prevent a rugby-like scrum on every single groundball because everyone wants to be in on every play… plus 5 year old boys think nothing is better in the whole wide world than a dogpile on one of their buddies. Good times.

Fast forward to today. My brother and I are now the coaches in the Minors for one of the town’s baseball leagues and this is potentially our last shot at coaching my nephew. Next year he may be in the Majors where there is a set group of coaches year after year, so our chance may be gone (unless we switch leagues entirely… which is possible).

I think I’ve learned a few things along the way and I’ve been thinking about how these lessons may have more general applicability than how to wrangle 8, 9 and 10 year old boys into line for 2 hours of practice or games. At least I hope I have… because making kids run or giving them bubble gum to quiet them for 5 minutes might not be the kind of thing your average person can use in their daily life (unless they are part of the same youth coaching fraternity).

So here’s what I’ve learned over the last few years:

1.  Keep them engaged.  Always. I list this as #1 because as a youth baseball coach, this is easily the biggest challenge.  In soccer and other constant motion sports, you can have everyone running around and staying active.  Baseball practices can involve a lot of standing around… and I think y’all can guess how well that works with 3rd and 4th grade boys.  Can you picture it?  A lot of chasing each other around and trying to swat your buddy’s hat off with a glove or looking at planes flying overhead and such.  *sigh*  In the same way, I think anyone who needs to lead a team has to do the same.  Everyone needs to feel they have a role and a purpose to play, whether they are 10, 20 or 50 years old.  If you feel stuck in the proverbial right field of batting practice all the time (i.e. the spot where the fewest hits tend to land), your mind will wander to 1,001 other things.

2.  Remember the eye-black.  Yesterday our team (the Dodgers) pulled off their first win of the season to even up our record at 1-1.  The first game of the year was ugly… just so very ugly.  It’s never good when the furthest you advance a runner is second base and of the 18 outs recorded against you in a 6 inning game, 17 were by strikeout.  That’s gonna leave a mark, people.  Well, Saturday night I was at Dick’s Sporting Goods and I saw they had eye-black sticks, so I picked one up.  I popped out the eye-black just before the game started, called out “Who needs eye-black???” and boom!  Kids were ready to rock.  I eye-blacked almost all of them up and one of the kids would only do it if I put it on.  As someone with zero fear to looking a little goofy for the sake of the team effort, I readily complied.

All smiles and eye-black after a big win

We ended up winning the game 8-0 on a huge 6th inning rally.  It was awesome.  The kids were going nuts, I was going nuts, parents were going nuts, etc.  Nothing like winning to get everyone on the same page.  “So what in the name of all that’s holy does eye-black have to do with anything applicable to life outside of baseball???”  OK, if that was truly your reaction, you need to take it down a few notches.  Like pronto.  Don’t ruin the mood of the emotional and moving photo of me and my nephew above with your negativity.  Sheesh.  The nerve… umm… where was I?  Oh, right.  General applicability.

While it was probably (although you never know) not the eyeblack that brought home the victory, it was something that got the kids to feel like real baseball players and to do together as a team.  I was more than willing to do it as well because: (1) I totally dig eye-black.  No joke.  and (2) I am a very firm believer that no good leader will ask his troops/players/employees/etc. to do anything he himself would not do as well.  That’s a sure-fire way to come across as an elitist fraud… and believe me… kids can root that out about as well as anyone.  For anyone else in a team environment, little goofy things like this can bond people together a bit and that should never be underestimated.  I was a supervisor at one time in my career and my team was just begging and pleading to have our staff meeting off-site.  While a small thing to do, everyone was so excited to do it.  Small things matter.

3.  It’s youth baseball.  Repeat that over… and over… and over. I feel really fortunate as a coach with the parents of the kids on my teams.  Truthfully, they’ve been really good about their kids, they come to the games to cheer and have always been really appreciative of the efforts my brother and I in coaching their sons.  That’s the good side of the equation.  The bad?  Hoo boy… where to begin?  While generally speaking there are a lot of good, committed coaches I have encountered, there are also some people that actually disgust me.  Seriously… not just annoy me or make me perturbed, but cause genuine disgust.

I’ve seen coaches who, when playing against us and are up 10-0, actually try to get extra players up in an inning beyond the maximum hitter count per inning allowed… and then made it seem as if they didn’t know the rule.  Really?  It’s a new one to you eh?  That’s odd given the fact you were the first place team and had not allowed a single run in your first 5 games.  Gentle reader, let that fact soak in for a second… 3rd and 4th grade boys who are prone to all sort of tomfoolery, yet his team had not allowed a single run in 5 games.  It’s almost impossible to conceive.  Huh… and I thought the teams were supposed to have a fair distribution of talent.  Silly me.  So we get the unusually loaded team (and this is not the top division of the overall league, mind you) that is looking to get pile it on while being up by 10.  Classy.

Or the coach who when his team is leading 6-0 argues about the one good play our team makes that game to throw one of their kids out at the plate from the edge of the outfield.  He complains that same kid making the throw interfered with his runner (umm… what?) and so he yells out onto the field, “OK guys… just be sure that next time you knock him over.  That’s baseball!  That’s baseball!”  Again people… 3rd and 4th graders.  But hey, this is the same coach who, after a few of our kids did not pay attention about where they were walking as his pitcher warmed up, told his pitcher “It’s OK… just hit the next kid who walks in front of you.”

It took all of my willpower not to get into this guy’s face after the game.  It’s bad enough for him to teach these things to his own kids, but our players hear this too and wonder, “Is this what we’re supposed to do?”

Bottom line: It’s youth baseball… it’s not high school and it’s not college and it’s not the minors and it’s not MLB.  The kids play to learn and have fun.  I coach because I enjoy teaching kids about baseball and I especially enjoy coaching my nephew.  If you cannot step back at times and gain perspective, you’re a lost cause.  And we all do this in our own lives in so many different capacities.  We have a report to do for work that is certainly important, but it’s not worth coming home aggravated and stressed about and acting like a beast around your family and friends.  I do that, you do that, we all do that… but that never makes it right.  I like to use the “When you’re 85 years old” analogy in these cases.  It’s simple and effective – when you’re 85 years old and chilling out on a rocking chair on your front porch, just watching the clouds roll by… is it going to matter to you more that you more that you were a really good technical program manager at your company or that your family and friends adore you?  It’s an easy question (good God… I HOPE it’s an easy question) for anyone to answer and yet how many of us don’t take that into account in so many daily decisions we make?  *raises hand*

I could go on and on about all of this, but these are the 3 big ones I’ve seen.  If you’ve never coached anything, I definitely urge you to give it a shot.  You may not feel qualified, but you’ll learn what to do and the kids will have fun… and in the end, isn’t that the most important lesson of all?

Be Creative! Just Be Sure You Do It OUR Way

As I mentioned previously, I have become a fan of iTunes U and have begun to make use of my drive time to and from work to listen to some of the lectures and podcasts available from a variety of colleges and universities. This morning I honestly laughed out loud listening to a lecture from Robert I. Sutton, a professor at Stanford University.

Why, pray tell, would I find a lecture entitled “Stimulating Innovation and Creativity in the Workplace” just so darn amusing? Perhaps you need to work in a big corporate environment to appreciate it, but I will give it a whirl.
The above link will take you to the iTunes store where you can download the lecture for free. The amusing part starts at 9:36 and concludes around 10:20.  Anyone who has worked in a large corporation can appreciate the little nugget driven home in the lecture: that it’s not exactly ideal to be urged to be creative… but hey, hey, hey! Only be creative according to our rules… you know, ’cause otherwise, you just being seditious. And we don’t need that.
It’s really not surprising that if you work really hard at developing a corporate culture of sustainable, repeatable work to ensure absolutely quality… hey… you can get just that. As Professor Sutton points out in this lecture, that’s not a bad thing. No one wants a lot of crazy variability in how their appliances operate or how planes fly.
It just gets tricky when you need to shut that standard methodical thinking off to be creative. Once the beast is awoken, it doesn’t nap easily.
Speaking of naps, that’s all I’ve got for now. Time to wind down the brain and rest up for tomorrow. Be good, people.

You’re So Positive, That It’s A Negative

0762412550 Back in 1952, a Protestant minister from Ohio published a book whose title, over time, has become a catch phrase unto itself.  That man was Norman Vincent Peale and the book is The Power of Positive Thinking.  It’s almost become a cliché unto itself in terms of people talking about how to get through difficult times – “Be positive!  You know – the power of positive thinking!”  It’s also one of those things that someone can say to you when you’re mired in the midst of a complete bog of suckdom that makes you just want to go upside their head.  Oh come on!  Don’t act like I’m alone on that one.

Anyhoo, as someone who does my best to maintain a good frame of mind (with varying degrees of success, admittedly), this piece over at Psychology Today’s blog (brought to my attention by the good folks at Lifehacker) jumped out at me a bit.  While I am certainly a fan of trying to keep things in perspective and seeing the good, even in bad moments, I’m always intrigued by those who cut across the grain.  People who challenge commonly established dogma tend to intrigue the hell out of me.  I’m not always going to agree with them, but I will certainly try to take a few nuggets from whatever they may have to say.  Except for those dudes who are obsessed with the whole Mayan calendar and 2012 nonsense.  Dude… please.  Take it down a few notches.

The point of the blog piece by Srikumar Rao is simple: when we constantly put events or situations we encounter into the black and white buckets of “good” and “bad”, we will end up on the losing end one way or the other.  Why?  He explains:

No matter what happens to us in life we tend to think of it as "good" or "bad". And most of us tend to use the "bad" label three to ten times as often as the "good" label. And when we say something is bad, the odds grow overwhelming that we will experience it as such. And that is when we need positive thinking. We have been given something bad, a real lemon, and we better scramble and make some lemonade out of it and salvage something out of this "bad" situation.

How tiring and tiresome!

So if we say something is bad, we are highly likely to have the experience of that event being bad.  We will then likely feel compelled to make something good of that situation… and now the pressure is on.  It’s certainly an interesting view.

Personally, I’m not sure I would view this as a stressor, but more our natural reaction of “Well, I don’t like bad… so how do I find something of value in this moment?"  Where’s the silver lining?”  I know I do this, but I am the first to admit it’s about 1,000 times easier doing this when viewing a tough event a friend is enduring as opposed to turning the penetrating eye of clarity upon myself.Good to Great

This recalls for me an excellent portion of Jim Collins classic book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t.  One of the points Collins seeks to make about companies who are able to transition from being merely good to being exceptional is that they need to be committed to succeeding, but all the while, they must squarely confront the brutal facts.  In order to illustrate this story, he discusses a meeting he had with Admiral Jim Stockdale, the highest ranking officer kept as a POW in the infamous Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam War.  Listen to this clip of Collins explaining his meeting with Stockdale:

It’s a powerful and challenging thought: the ones who didn’t make it were the optimists.  Stockdale was able to survive because he was 100% resolute in his belief of prevailing, but he did that in light of the brutal facts of being held prisoner in an absolute hellhole.

Maybe you really can be too positive… but only if you do so in an utterly blind belief about your circumstances or why you are seeking to be positive in the first place.  The “Stockdale Paradox” is a notion I find truly appealing and defining because it’s sort of like optimism with a truly wicked chip on your shoulder.  In an odd way, it’s part of what has inspired me to push through some challenging times the last few years… that life may be giving me a lot to handle… but I’ll be damned if I let myself relent for a moment because I will come through.

The Clothes Make the Man

IMG_1592If by some chance of fate I was told that the outfit I am wearing today is the only  style of clothing I would be allowed to wear for the rest of my life, I would drop to my knees and shout “THANK YOU!” unto the heavens.  Ridiculous?  Dramatic?  High potential for skinning of knees?  Yes, my friends… all of these things… but also very true.  If I could pretty much dress as pictured (you cannot see my snazzy Adidas sandals, unfortunately) for the remainder of my days, I would be one happy and comfy guy.

The t-shirt/shorts/baseball hat/hoodie/sandals ensemble may not be a perfect example of sartorial splendor to many, but for me, it’s the outfit that… well… I just feel most like me in.

The title of this blog post is, admittedly, misleading because my take on “the clothes make the man” is about 2 things: how people perceive you and how you perceive yourself.  I am only interested in the latter in this case.  For me, I put on this gear and I can feel myself unwind and have a much more relaxed outlook on my day whereas wearing a suit immediately sticks me into a “GAME TIME!” sort of focus.  I also tend to feel overly formal in a suit (I know… truly surprising) and if you know me that well, I am not one for overly formal.  I am more one for random and inane comments out of the blue because life is way too short to take myself overly seriously.

Over the past few years, I’ve developed an increasing fascination with the effects of environment on the way we think, live and act.  Your clothes form a kind of environment for you, but I’ve also am curious about how where we work and live effects each of us.  It could possibly come from working in a big corporate environment where so many people (including me for most of my working time here) reside in gray/beige cubes with fluorescent lighting for 8+ hours every day… 5 days a week… 49 to 50 weeks a year.  You don’t think that effects your outlook to some measurable degree?  Or how you problem solve?

Let’s compare and contrast.  Look at the following two photos and focus on where you think you would be a better worker and (for purposes of this blog post) a better thinker:

cubicle2 Emerald and Onyx Office

Am I cheating to make my own argument easier?  I honestly don’t think so.  Now granted, I am not expecting the Fortune 500 to suddenly ditch cube walls and give everyone an office with panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean or to create a veritable indoor rainforest as pictured here.

The big question I have is this: Is the trade off in cost and space efficiency worth more than the potential creativity and new ideas generated through more open and engaging workspaces?  I believe this to be true, but I obviously do not have hard empirical data, fancy charts or a glossy report assembled by McKinsey & Company to back me up… and that’s what big corporations expect for making big decisions.  It’s just a fact.

I think there is certainly a better path forward away from a soul-crushing drabness to something more engaging and intellectually stimulating for office workers every where… and I think it’s a true win-win.  Happier employees in better environments are also going to be more productive.  That’s just science.

Now I am going to go and enjoy a different piece of environment to reset my focus: back patio and in the sun doing a whole lot of nothing.  That’s a good mental state in which to reside.

However

kevin 096

I’ve noticed a few things over the years.  One or two observations on the human condition.

We, as human beings, are inherently flawed.

We are capable of unspeakable cruelty.

We hurt the ones we love the most.

We can be foolish.

We can be ignorant.

We can be cold and unfeeling.

We can be lazy and uninspired.

We make the same mistakes over and over and over again.

However…

We have a capacity for overwhelming kindness, especially in the face of adversity.

We can love to a depth that humbles the receiver of that affection.

We can be completely thoughtful and considerate.

We can be connected and empathetic and understanding.

We can reach out to others with warmth and peace.

We reach dizzying heights of creativity, innovation and utter brilliance.

We can learn and learn well.

In spite of all the ills we are capable of, I focus on the good we can do.  The human mind, heart and spirit soldier_and_child1241048146

Our flaws serve to make our goodness shine by comparison, like a bright white image against a stark black background… and I believe we do well much more often than we do ill.  That’s my philosophy and what keeps me going every single day.  It’s easy to see the problems every day, but if you think of the simple interactions with most people on most days?  The good is there and I place my focus on that.

It’s why my blog tagline is “Relentlessly push yourself forward”… so that’s what I do… the best I can.

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.

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?

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.

Coloring Outside the Lines

Whenever I see a little kid doing some coloring, I always smile when I see what kind of wild creation they come up with in their coloring books.  It’s often a bunch of crazy colors, none of which match and rarely are they able to stay within the lines.  I know it was like this with my nephews when I would see their bursts of Crayola-inspired artistry.crayons_full

But then when they reach a certain age (and I’m not sure exactly what age that is), I  think I fall into the same pattern of behavior as everyone else… admonishing them (gently mind you) that they need to start coloring inside the lines or they need to pick the “right” colors for their drawings.  It’s like my brain just cannot quite process a drawing by (for example) a 9 year old where they just can’t seem to stay neatly within the black-and-white pictures they are given.  I reason, “The pictures would look better and more life-like if they stay in the lines and pick appropriate colors!  I mean, cows aren’t green, for the love of God.”

Well, a friend/colleague/blog reader, Heidi, sent along a quote to me that really struck me about the above kind of thinking I (and lots and lots of other people) get snagged into:

Once in a while it really hits people that they don’t have to experience the world in the way they have been told to.
– Alan Kneightly

Boom.  Headshot.

What a perfect little snapshot on what creativity should mean to each and every one of us.  I’m not going to go off on some rant about nurturing children or proper parenting techniques because (1) I’m not qualified having no kids of my own and (2) that’s just patronizing.  What I do want to say is that for myself, I really need to think a little more about how I view “coloring outside the lines” generally speaking, especially with my nephews.

Pencil mug from Sam In the end, does it really matter if my nephew, Sam, likes drawing all over the place or using the color red for… well… mostly everything (as is demonstrated by this pencil mug he did for me a few Christmases ago)?  Hardly.  I just wonder about the subtle effect of always forcing people into smaller and smaller boxes, hence smaller and smaller ways of thinking about things.  Would Sam be driven down a path of complete anarchy and chaos if he was never “corrected” to use different colors or try to be neat?  I kind of doubt it, but I do think that if he (or any kid) were to be constantly boxed in, they might not quite be to their creative potential as they should.

And I don’t mean anything about all of us needing to be artists and such, but I believe it to be a fact of modern life that creativity tends to be constantly stifled.  It’s like the old line of corporations wanting people to think outside the box, but then always putting them inside physical boxes (cubes) to do their work.  What is gained in neatly partitioned work spaces and potential floor plan efficiency may very well be lost in new ways of thinking.

My own remedy for my own potential stifling attitude (whether for others or myself) is twofold: (1) This blog.  I cannot even begin to say how liberating it is to do this and to write freely about topics of interest to me.  (2) Read The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron.  I’ve had this book come highly recommended as a great read on unlocking your own inner creativity and letting it breath a little more.  I began reading a sample of it on my Kindle (so handy) and please do not be dissuaded by the title – it’s something anyone can find value in, not just artists.

Maybe I will even color my next chart for work outside the lines… if I could just bend that damn PowerPoint to my will…

The Internet is Full of Real People Too

A few days ago I wrote a post called “The Failure Cushion” where I reacted to a piece on MSNBC discussing people who are new to getting in shape.  Now, I’m very much fine with people trying to improve their lives through exercise and healthy choices… and I damn well better be since that’s about 90% of this blog.

There was a quote from that MSNBC piece that I focus on where a woman being interviewed, Taryn Wright, discusses that she feels she should be able to get in shape because “All these muscle heads are doing this high on steroids. I can do this!”  That line really didn’t sit well with me for these reasons I go into in the post.

Well today a funny thing happened… that same Taryn Wright from the MSNBC article found my post and commented on it (you can see her comments on the link I include above to the post).  And you know what?  She was actually very nice about it and mostly agreed with what I had to say.

The reason I mention any of this is pretty simple: that even when you think you are writing about some seemingly far-away person mentioned in an Internet article, they’re a person too with real thoughts, real experiences and real feelings.  I’m not saying I regret what I wrote in my piece – I really don’t and I think I wasn’t some kind of complete jackass about what she said.  I just strongly disagreed with it.

But it was interesting to get the note from Taryn and then to go over to her blog, Inner Fat Girl, to get a sense of what she is all about.  And yup – she’s just a regular person fighting the same fight all of us have to push ourselves in the direction we want our lives to take.  I’m really pleased Taryn took the time to respond to what I wrote because it’s a really important reminder to me that for all of the nonsense that occurs on the Interwebz, there is often a perfectly nice person on the other end.

So that’s something I try to always strive for in my posts: If I wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, I shouldn’t say it on here.  It’s cowardice, plain and simple, to hide behind the “safety” of your computer keyboard while excoriating people from a distance.  Friends, family, colleagues and such read this blog, so it matters to me that it’s well-written and reflective of who I am as a person… and that shouldn’t be too hard to accomplish.

Please do check out Taryn’s blog.  She is a very good writer and pretty damn funny.  Well, maybe not as funny as me, but good Lord, cut her some slack.  No one has my incisive humor… or charm… or tremendous good looks.  Seriously, it makes for a lonely existence, my friends.  You should feel bad for me.