Category Archives: Spirit

Posts related to the spirit, the heart and those intangibles elements of the human experience that make life worth living.

What Price Greatness?

You have probably had a conversation with someone at one time or another where the other person talked about wanting to achieve some kind of greatness.  I know I have.  My first thought when someone says that to me is “Do you really understand what it costs to achieve real greatness?”  I’m not honestly sure most people do or if they did, they would still feel the same way about making a run at the mythical brass ring.

There have been a few high profile cases recently of the potential costs of going for greatness.  First, there was the leave of absence (which was later borderline retracted) by University of Florida football coach Urban Meyer.  Meyer is a tremendously successful and incredibly driven coach who has brought success to Bowling Green and then Utah and then finally Florida where he won 2 National Championships.  However, as Coach Meyer has himself admitted, all of that stress and constant pressure did take its toll on him to the point of suffering chest pains and passing out.  So, he first announced taking an indefinite leave of absence… but now it sounds like he will be back in time for next season.  Hmm.

The more recent news (and really huge news here in Connecticut) is University of Connecticut men’s basketball coach Jim Calhoun taking a leave of absence for undisclosed health reasons.  This has not been the first time something health-related has affected Calhoun, a three time cancer survivor.  I’m a UConn basketball fan and season ticket holder, so I have come to expect at least one time per season, a game where Coach Calhoun bows out part way through the game with some vaguely understood form of illness.  In fact, ESPN has a listing of all the health-related issues that have come up for him over the last 2 years and it’s not short.  Not good times, eh?

Or how about Michael Jordan?  He’s the best basketball player I have seen in my lifetime and is generally accepted as the best, period.  But you know what else?  He has quite the reputation for being a complete jerk because of his hyper-competitiveness.  How competitive?  I remember a former college teammate of Jordan’s, Matt Doherty, telling of a story where Michael came over to his house during college.  Doherty caught Jordan cheating in a game of Monopoly against Doherty’s mother.  Let that sort of marinade for a while in the ol’ gray matter.  I can wait… good and soaked in now?  OK, on we go.

So back to my original premise – at what price greatness?  When does it become too much of a single-minded piece of your life that can wreck anything else that gets in its way?  This reminds me a bit of my piece on how everyone wants happiness, but does 1,001 things that move them further away from it, like a high-powered businessman who earns great money for his family’s future… but he’s never home.

I’m not one to discount greatness at all and feel that those who shoot for that pinnacle of pure excellence in their chosen fields are really a beacon of inspiration for others.  Heck, in my own way I want to achieve a form of greatness, but in a much different regard: I want to a great life which is balanced in terms of personal and professional, as well as in mind, body and spirit.  That balance is what I want greatness in and, at least in my mind, that is something much healthier to strive for.

So feel free to shoot for greatness with every fiber of your being… just be sure you know what exactly you are getting in that pursuit. It can be pricey.

The Quiet Drive

I have a list of things I wish I would do (or do more often), not unlike many people.  It’s a fairly simple list:

  1. Date Scarlett Johannsen;
  2. Demand recognition of my rightful claim to the Polish monarchy; and
  3. Devote more time to thinking and reflecting.

The first one got screwed up by the allegedly dreamy Ryan Reynolds and on the second one, I just need to figure out how to recreate the Winged Hussars.  Boy, I get me some of those bad boys, it’s game over.

On the third one, I used to find myself often lamenting, “Every time I spend some quite time to myself just sort of thinking over life and whatever pops into my deranged noggin, I really enjoy it, get some good ideas and generally feel a lot more relaxed.”  But you know what?  I would almost never do it.  Genius, I know.

So in around November of last year, I was getting myself ready for my morning commute which usually runs me between 20 and 30 minutes and for some reason, I decided I would do it with no music or radio.  The result?  The quiet drive, something I have done pretty much every morning commute since.  And as you can tell from the photo below… my morning commute is not exactly an eye-popping visual treat (at least not during your typical gray New England winter day).

Generally I am a morning person and so some time to think things over before the hectic rush of the day swept over me was ideal.  The commute home is just decompressing from the day and music then is ideal.  But first thing in the morning?  Not so much.

The end result of this new practice is I feel like I am making really good use of my commute time, much more so than I have at any other point in my life.  It does help that my commute is actually longer than it used to be at my old job (since that was 7 minutes door-to-door) and I can actually allow my brain to wander a bit.  I might use the voice memo feature in Evernote on my Droid to record some random thought or get down what I want to do as a blog post.  Whatever it may be, I feel like it’s almost a form of mental stretching or warm-up before the work day begins.

If you have a commute that is 15 minutes or longer, I highly recommend giving it a try.  At first it can be odd without the constant distractions you have become accustomed to of music or talk radio… but after a few days, it becomes a great fit like a perfectly broken in pair of jeans.

And maybe… just maybe… it will be the solution to my Winged Hussar dilemma.  Seriously, I need me a Polish cavalry to wreak some serious havoc, people.  CRY HAVOC AND LET LOOSE THE DOGS OF WAR!

The Polish Winged Hussars bringing some sweet justice.

The Lemonade Stand Experience

lemon1Seth Godin is a pretty gosh-darn interesting guy.  My proof?  He’s generally acknowledged as the creator of permission-based marketing (i.e. you give someone permission to market to you based on your preferences and interests) and author of the book “Purple Cow”.  Let’s be honest people… purple cows are just de facto interesting.

Seth also does a pretty cool blog and his post from a few days ago is pretty thought-provoking.  It’s analogy of the most classic form of childhood entrepreneurial dreams: the lemonade stand.  The analogy compares two lemonade stands with profoundly different approaches to selling their cold, tart and refreshing products.

The first stand is very typical: a fold-out table and $1 to buy a cup of lemonade.  Pretty straightforward.

The second stand is a different matter entirely:

The other stand is different. The lemonade is free, but there’s a big tip jar. When you pull up, the owner of the stand beams as only a proud eleven year old girl can beam. She takes her time and reaches into a pail filled with ice and lemons. She pulls out a lemon. Slices it. Then she squeezes it with a clever little hand juicer.

The whole time that’s she’s squeezing, she’s also talking to you, sharing her insights (and yes, her joy) about the power of lemonade to change your day. It’s a beautiful day and she’s in no real hurry. Lemonade doesn’t hurry, she says. It gets made the right way or not at all. Then she urges you to take a bit less sugar, because it tastes better that way.

Pretty different approach eh?

While the first scenario was about the selling of a product, the second was clearly the selling of an experience and also a connection.  There was something that causes a connection between the person providing the lemonade and you as the person soon-to-be enjoying it.

Seth’s essential question is which of these two aspiring entrepreneurs will end up better in the long run?

I thought about this one for a little while, even though it’s pretty clear which way Seth was going on his post.  Honestly, I was trying to think of whether I could refute it… not because Seth would even care, but just to see if I could.  But truthfully?  I really couldn’t because I do believe in the power of connection provided by the second example.

Perfect examples. Even though I know it costs more to shop for suits at Brooks Brothers, that’s where I went before starting up my new job to pick up a new navy suit and 2 pairs of dress slacks.  There is something about the professionalism and sheer classiness of how you are treated as a customer that makes the experience worthwhile.  It’s less a business transaction and more the feeling that you are being properly fitted for a high quality garment.  The measurements are precise and the tailor checks every fit point like a master craftsman.  I know I am walking out of that store with something that will last me an inordinately long time, it will have a perfect, classic fit and will look sharp whenever I wear it.  That’s all part of the experience they bring.

The takeaway from all of this, for me, is not simply about making the provision of an experience part of a marketing effort (although I do enjoy that concept).  For me, it’s bigger than that because what creates the experience here (even if you remove it from some kind of commercial context) is the joy, interest and passion of the person providing it.  This all works because there is someone who truly cares about the thing they speak about, whether it be the lemonade in Seth’s analogy or the Brooks Brothers salesperson in mine.  You can’t fake it.

It’s probably one of the more fundamental way to have a positive effect on others – to share your joy and your passion with them.  It’s an amazing way to connect with people because when you bring your true joy forward, most people cannot help but share in your excitement to some degree… even if they never shared that same interest in their lives.  Most people (except for you crotchety and cynical bastards) enjoy enthusiasm and find it kindles your own.

Now if I can just figure out a way for everyone else on the Interwebz to see how gosh-darn cool my blog is, THEN I could be getting somewhere.

Giving Good Ideas Their Proper Credit (Even If They Make You A Bit Sad)

One of my absolute favorite memories growing up were Saturday mornings – shocker eh?  I had my own little routine of coming downstairs, popping on the Superfriends and pulling out my big bag of Legos to spread out on the floor and create whatever came to mind.  As corny as it sounds, it was kind of magical and just one of those moments that puts me in a good state of mind whenever I think back on it.

Today, my primary outlet for Legos is through my nephews who have inherited the obsession with these fantastic building bricks from Denmark.  I tell ya, if something’s rotten in the state of Denmark, it ain’t Legos.  I will confess a certain amount of jealousy about how freakin’ cool the new Lego sets are, especially the Star Wars stuff (which my nephews go bananas over).

But Legos are going in a bold new direction in the very near future, one that I am both fascinated and a little saddened by.  Lego Universe is coming and the little bricks will never be the same:

I first saw this over on Gizmodo, a really cool tech and gadget site.  Lego Universe is basically the idea of virtual Legos wrapped up into a MMO (massively multiplayer online game – think along the lines of World of Warcraft, but more for kids).  You create characters, adventure through the game to earn all sorts of bricks that you take back to a creation area and build whatever you want.  According to Gizmodo, there may even be the option of getting your creations delivered to you in real life so you can go old school and play around with physical Lego bricks.

Believe it or not, I’ve actually been giving this concept a lot of thought as to whether I like it or not.  While it makes me a little wistful to imagine kids not playing with Lego sets all spread out on their family room floors, I’ve come to the conclusion that this new development can only be a good thing.  It’s interactive nature will only serve to deepen the entire Lego experience for kids (and for adults too… oh right, like I was not going to get in on this when it comes out – COME ON!).  Plus, kids who want to play computer games are going to play them anyway and I think this is a smart move by Lego to keep itself relevant in an increasingly virtual world (at least for entertainment).

Personally, I cannot imagine that Lego bricks will just completely go away anytime soon.  As great as video games can be (and I’m certainly a big fan), there is a completely different experience with building something with your own two hands.  I think of Lego Universe being an extension of that experience and not a replacement.

The lesson from all of this is that it’s not just pointless to shake your cane angrily at the young whipper-snappers with their crazy new ideas, but it’s also the surest way to miss out on something new, creative and mind-expanding.  I can tell my initial reaction to this of “Whaaaaat?!?!?!?  Why would you replace real Legos?!?!?!?” was the classic fear of change.  I mean, I loved it when I was younger… they are doing something different with it… and different must be bad.  How can you improve upon something I love and cherish so much?  Well, maybe you can.

One way or the other, none of this will ever change those wonderful memories I have from growing up.  Now please excuse me… I have a sudden urge to go lay on the floor with Bioncles and play DVDs of the Wonder Twins.

Do you see it?

When you look at this photo… what do you see?  A basement filled with strength training equipment?  Money that could have been better spent on something else?  Someone’s shrine to an obsession?

This is my home gym and to me, it’s an almost sacred place.  Seriously.  For me, weight training has always been a tremendous outlet and the greatest form of therapy I have ever found for keeping me sane in a nutty, nutty world.  It’s a place where I can use a physical tool to test my mind, heart and spirit.  I decided when I would put together this gym, I would go with the best (that being EliteFTS) because it would be such an important place in my life.

So to me, this photo is really showing the place where I test myself… where I prove myself… where I find out more about who I really am than most other areas of my life.  Will I give up when it gets hard or when it begins to hurt?  Will I be scared to throw on my back hundreds of pounds worth of weight?  What happens if I lift poorly?  Will I just get frustrated and quit or will I dig down deep and go at it again?  And am I taking all these lessons to heart and learning from them?

A strong mind and spirit can help you to have a strong body… but the hard work, effort and discipline used to give you a strong body can yield a strong mind and spirit.

So do me a favor… look again and take your time. It’s a sacred place.

Do you see it?

The most interesting New Year’s resolution of all

The L.A. Times (those nutty left-wing liberal media, Birkenstock wearing, hemp loving, peace and granola eating kooks that they are) had a crazy notion yesterday in the Booster Shots section of their Web site: using 2010 to focus on being… get ready for it… happy.  Yup, good ol’ happiness.

During my drive into work this morning, I was thinking this one over.  My morning drive used to be music or sports talk radio to speed myself along during the drive.  However, over the last month or two of work, I have instituted the “quiet drive” where I don’t put on any music and just use those 20 minutes or so to think.

My thought from this morning was pretty simple: I truly believe that the overarching goal of almost any human being is to seek out happiness.  That’s it.  Numero uno.  The trick is what approach we each take to get there because obviously, not everyone is happy in this world.

So if you work from my assumption that everyone has happiness as their #1 goal in life (whether consciously or unconsciously), why are so many people missing that target?  Are you just out of your mind Kuzia?

The answer to the second question is a clear and emphatic, yes I am.  For the first question, I think it’s because the paths we each choose to attain happiness either cause us an undue amount of distraction from our final goal or they put off present-state happiness for the magical goal of happiness on the horizon.

Think of a high-powered business executive or doctor or lawyer.  Why do they  spend 60, 70 and 80 hours a week in their jobs with all of the stress and pressure?  It could be because they love what they do, but that’s not going to be everyone (and I would assert not even the majority).  So if it’s not for love of the job, it’s for what the job would enable them to do.  The money that allows them to put their kids through private schools or college or save for retirement.  Each of those goals would be some form of happiness.  “If my child goes to a great college, then that’s going to make me happy.”  OK, they might not think of it in such direct terms, but you get the idea.  It’s always a question of sacrifice for some longer term goal on the idea that the present anguish will yield results that will make those sacrifices worth it.

But does that really happen?  Is it really worth it if you are plugging away for years in something you don’t enjoy?  If you are doing all of this to provide for something for your family (big house, nice vacation, expensive college, etc.) but you are miserable to be around all the time, is that really helping your family out?

Or on the distraction notion.  This is one I know I fall into all the time.  You want to achieve X goal and think you are doing the right things to get there… except you are busy all the time and get pulled into focusing on a lot of separate things in life which may or may not be important.  Then you lift your head up 6 months later, see you are no closer to your happiness goal, make a few snazzy lists and then put your head down again and go through the same cycle.

All of this would seem to suggest that happiness as a goal is a goofy pursuit… that it’s either far too nebulous or achieving it is more a matter of luck.  Poppycock.  It’s neither of those things.

Happiness is a worthwhile goal, but you need to do more to be happy in the present moment (God forbid) while you are pursuing your goals for long-term happiness.  Believe me – I am not at all the kind of guy who does not see the value in near-term sacrifice for long-term gain.  That’s a big part of my life… but does that really and truly mean you have to be in a murky gray sky limbo until you reach that horizon place?  And even worse, think about how any horizon is… it’s never a reachable spot.  Run at it as hard as you want… it always stays the same distance away.

OK, not a perfect analogy if you have a goal as a fixed thing, but you see my point.  It’s really easy to keep putting off any kind of present joy for a never-ending series of horizon happiness points.  And I should know… I do it too.

Don’t fight the future… ’cause ya ain’t gonna win

Throughout the news these days, it’s become all too common for those who bring us the news to actually be the news.  Traditional print media is taking a complete beating these days because of a fundamental failure to evolve.  Newspapers were killed by free classified sites like Craiglist’s and never figuring out a good way to make money with their web sites, where they typically gave away the same content as their hard copies for free.

But this is interesting to me:

Sports Illustrated really looks like they could be onto something.  I mean, in terms of “WOW!” factor, this has it.  Everything you love in your favorite magazine, automatically updated to a slim device you can bring everywhere?  With video?  And sharp photos and color?  Bring it my way.  I am already ridiculously in love with my Amazon Kindle (which if you know me, you know I can hardly stop talking about it at times).

But here’s why I am talking about this in the blog.  Three reasons really.  First, I am a sucker for ideas that seek to push the envelope from what we commonly accept as “the way it is” and seek to do things bigger, better, cooler and so on.  Great ideas are endlessly fascinating to me.  Second, whether or not this device ends up panning out, it’s those who seek to bring forward these ideas that I give a ton of credit to.  It’s easy to see all the questions that go along with this tablet: What will be the price point for the device?  How about for the magazine subscription?  Will I be able to get other magazines besides Sports Illustrated on it?  What kind of competition will this bring out and will the competitors do it better, cheaper or both?  But to go ahead and push forward with a product that changes the way we understand a commonly-accepted item to take them in entirely un-thought-of directions (iPods with music, the Kindle with books, Google with search, me with dead-sexy bloggers… you get the idea) is the inspirational piece to me… even if done by a gigantic media conglomerate like Time Warner/Apple/Amazon/Google.

The third reason has to do with the subject of the post.  I think we all seek to fight the future in some ways because change can be pretty scary.  I had lunch with a good friend today and we both talked about how we struggle with that at times.  I find change both scary and thrilling… it just depends on the kind of change.  For instance, when I see chances within the workplace to tear down old ways of doing things?  I am all over it.  Love it.  Gets me fired up.  But if you suddenly asked me to do the same, but uproot my life and move far away?  That’s when you would probably hear the longest “Welllll….. seeeee…. the thing is….” ya ever heard in your life.  The change might be great for me, but my appetite for it may be in the small tossed salad with a nice house dressing zone as opposed to the 32 oz. cowboy cut ribeye zone.

The moral of the story for me?  Go for the steak, baby… go for the steak.

Walking away from it all

Could you do it?  Up and walk away from everything in your life that your family and friends may associate with who you are?  Your job, money, status and prestige?  What would it take?

This is what Jonathan Fields, author of the book Career Renegade: How to Make a Great Living Doing What You Love went and did.  He up and left his huge salary, high prestige job with one of the best law firms in the country to become a personal trainer and entrepreneur.  Pretty scary eh?

Jonathan is someone I have only learned about recently and have not had the chance to read his book, but he has a great post about what caused him to make a leap most would describe as “freakin’ insane” as well as the challenges in doing so. But here is the quote that grabbed me:

I’d realized what makes me happy isn’t money, power and prestige, but rather the opportunity to:

  • Engage in activities that make me come alive,
  • Surround myself with people I can’t get enough of and
  • Earn enough to live well in the world.

Short, sweet and one pretty darn good list, wouldn’t you say?  What’s fascinating about it is I think most people would have a hard time arguing with it.  What’s not to like?  It’s practically motherhood and apple pie.

So then why do so few of us actually do this?

From my own perspective, I would say because I make it waaaay too easyfor myself  to get distracted by 1,001 other things.  Does that make it OK?  Aww hell no.  Every time I stop and reflect, I want to kick my own behind from losing sight of it… again.

One thing to keep in mind with the list above is that you don’t need to up and leave your job, move to some brand new place and make a hugely radical change at all.  While that does work for some people, that kind of sudden shift is not going to work for most.  What we can all do (me too!) is begin to figure out our end point of happiness and begin to redirect towards that goal. Maybe it’s some small changes where you work and how you interact with your boss and then making more time for those activities you love, but just seem to neglect.

But then again, you could just trade in your wingtips for flip-flops  I’m just sayin’.

January 2nd dose of perspective

Perspective
Pronunciation: \pər-ˈspek-tiv\
Function: noun

1 a : the technique or process of representing on a plane or curved surface the spatial relation of objects as they might appear to the eye; specifically : representation in a drawing or painting of parallel lines as converging in order to give the illusion of depth and distance b : a picture in perspective
2 a : the interrelation in which a subject or its parts are mentally viewed <places the issues in proper perspective>; also : point of view b : the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance <urge you to maintain your perspective and to view your own task in a larger framework — W. J. Cohen>

All of us will deal with some troubles in our lives – it’s a fact of life that we all must accept, face and deal with the approach of our own choosing.  What’s interesting is how events that differ wildly in terms of their severity can have identical impacts on different people.  For instance, one person who cannot find their car keys first thing in the morning before work could feel the same level of stress and anxiety as someone who just failed the bar exam and now wonders about getting a job after piling up tens of thousands of dollars of debt.  Which one is really the more severe in terms of life impact?

That’s where perspective comes in.  I could personally be completely stressed out about work or Lord only knows what else.  I am the kind of person who is probably a little too keyed-up for my own good.  But seriously… how bad do I really have it?  I live in a nice town in one one of the most prosperous and free countries in the history of the world, with a good job, my health, great friends and family.  That puts me ahead of 99.9999% of the world’s population and why perspective is so damn important… because otherwise I would miss out on valuing the good and would place undeserved importance on my own “bad”.

Tonight I got a jolt of perspective when the youth group I work with served dinner for the Immaculate Conception Shelter in Hartford, a homeless men’s shelter.  I have been to this same shelter several times before, but on this chilly New England night, the shelter was as full as I have ever seen it.  More than 100 men this particular night.  I am always moved and humbled by how appreciative the clients of the shelter are of the efforts of volunteers.  I’m just glad they had an option for a meal and a warm place to stay.

Perspective… it’s not the reason I went to the shelter, but it’s certainly what I received as a gift.

Politics, religion and resolutions

Politics. Religion. Beef-lovers vs. vegans. The notion that anyone is a better James Bond than Sean Connery.  In my life, I’ve found certain topics to always engender impassioned debate and are considered taboo in some polite circles.  The other topic?

New Year’s resolutions.

People are all over the map on these and whether they are of value.  Some love them and look forward to mapping out all of the ways they will scrub their life clean of past disappointments and be born again in a shiny new year.

A common argument against them (which I think makes a lot of sense) is that why must you pick something as arbitrary as the start of the year to make positive changes?  Isn’t any moment of any day just as good?  Why wait?

Fair points.  I’ve long liked New Year’s resolutions for myself (more on this in a moment) because it’s very easy for me to get rolling along and not find particular moments to stop and take stock of what direction I am even rolling in.  Don’t we all get like that?  Don’t we all get sucked up in work, family, friends and the general fast-pace of life in 2010 and forget to stop and ask “Why a second… is this even where I want to be headed?”  I am trying to work more of these stop-and-think moments into my life this year, but it’s always good to know that one time per year, EVERYONE seems to be talking about what they should be changing or doing better.

The reason I emphasize why I like the New Year’s resolution for myself is that I usually do a half-decent job of keeping some of my resolutions in mind.  Sure, I don’t nail all of them, but I have cleaned out old drawers and found resolution lists and was pleasantly surprised that I got about half of my resolutions taken care of.  Allow me a moment to bask in my own complete and utter awesomeness…. Ahhhh!  Refreshing!

But go to any commercial gym in America in the month of January and you will see the inevitable mob scene of people looking to start off their resolutions to get in shape and lose weight.  What happens in February?  Probably 9 out of 10 of those people give it all up.  So clearly this approach is not working for everyone out there.  Let’s just all get on the same page and collectively hope that Lindsay Lohan can meet her resolution for 2010.  I think that is a cause we can all believe in.

So my own resolutions?  This is not a completely finalized list just yet, but this is the general scope:

  1. At least one posting for Fierceandmighty.com a day.  So far, I am en fuego.
  2. Finally go snowboarding for the first time.  My GF got me a really nice full-on boarding outfit from Burton.
  3. Attend a seminar on entrepreneurship.  I just find this topic endlessly fascinating and would love to learn more, irrespective of whether I decide to up and take the plunge into my own business at some point.
  4. Attend a strength/conditioning seminar.  I went to one about 4 years ago, had a lot of fun and have been meaning to go to another ever since.
  5. Trying to figure out my weight training goals right now.  I have some general ideas on lifting figures (315 bench, 500 deadlift and 500 squat), but those need to be balanced against all of the soccer and other sports I plan on taking part in.
  6. Finally stake my rightful claim as lost heir to the Polish monarchy and begin my inevitable march towards world domination through the power of kielbasa and pierogies.  This one almost feels like a foregone conclusion.

For a nice top 10 list of suggestions on how to get your resolutions to stick, go on over to this post at Lifehacker (numbers 1, 2 and 5 are my faves).

Now go out there and get cracking on your lists… and if you hate resolutions? At least take a pause moment and assess your life’s direction. 5 minutes of honest reflection is a precious, precious thing.