My Philosophy: A Post 25 Years in the Making

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

Why?

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

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

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

Avon High School - Varsity Baseball 1990

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tough, Tougher and Toughest Critics

1891000_608271409241788_1949149654_nI remember I had a health teacher back from my freshman year of when I was in high school who sticks out in my mind for 2  distinct and pretty much unrelated reasons:

1) She was an Indiana fan while I was a Syracuse fan and our teams met in the 1987 NCAA Basketball Championship Game with that SOB Keith Smart his the game winner to down my Orangemen. (Thankfully, I’ve seen the light and I am all UConn now); and

2) She once told the other freshman health class that she thought I was someone who was extremely hard on myself, even if I kept a demeanor suggestion I was cool as a cucumber.

Why in the world she felt A-OK with describing this fact about me to 40-50 of my classmates is completely beyond me… but she was pretty accurate.

I’ve long been my toughest critic and, over time, I think I’ve only gotten harsher, in many ways.

I’ve even said if I saw someone else getting treated the way I treat myself, I would think whoever was doing that to them was a complete jerk, worthy of a smack in the mouth.

I had many years in my 30’s where I watched a few different people close to me go through the tremendous struggle of dealing with leukemia. It offered me a tremendous amount of perspective on what is truly difficult in this world versus that which is merely annoying. Funny how many people confuse those two things… well, until you see it firsthand and cannot fathom how you ever saw it differently before.

The positive of this is I complained less.

The challenge is that I probably overdid this and would never gripe or let out what was really bothering me on some issues because they paled in comparison to other struggles.

That’s why this photo (snagged from Elephant Journal) grabbed my attention to serve as a stark reminder that as much as accepting challenges with a detached sense of stoicism is good, balance is also a good thing.

It’s that funny dichotomy of that which makes you successful can also be a tremendous weakness.

To be as philosophically nerdy as possible (you know, the whole reason you come to this blog)… I need to balance out my Marcus Aurelius reading (stoicism with The Emperor’s Handbook) with a lot more Shunryu Suzuki (Zen buddhist with Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind).

Think of yourself on this point for a minute as well and I wouldn’t be surprised if you don’t find a plethora of nuggets from your day where you are a brutal self-critic.

I figure 42 is as good of a time as any to learn to be a little nice to myself anyway.

Great goal… but damn, that is a seriously lame mid-life crisis.  Thankfully that’s a myth anyway.

Judgments On Willpower

Tai Lopez always does a damn good job of making me think.  Well, that and wondering how the hell he reads so many books, but I guess that is a form of thinking as well.  Huh.  Touche, Mr. Lopez.  Well-played indeed.

A recent newsletter was about a book he recently read, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strengthby Roy F. Baumeister.  What caught my attention was his describing the two things that cause the most positive outcomes in our lives are intelligence and willpower/self-control.

The trick is that while intelligence may have certain limits to how it can be improved, you can get better with your willpower.

The challenge? Stress is the #1 killer of willpower, discipline and self-control. As I read this in his newsletter, I’m pretty sure I responded with an “A-freaking-men!” albeit maybe with a stronger choice of vocabulary.

So here is a little video I did this AM about how I’ve seen the forces of stress beat down mightily upon willpower and a reminder that you aren’t a weak, flaw-ridden person if you cannot grind through every, single, solitary hurdle upon your path.

My favorite part is probably the screen cap YouTube selected for the video. I look downright pugilistic!

 

 

Enjoy your Sunday, friends.

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.

Complication Consternation

The ONE ThingI’m going to be honest with you, my friends – I mostly like the title of this blog post because of the alliteration. I can’t lie about that – I think alliteration is becoming one of my favorite things for no apparent reason. Somehow it just feels good rolling around in my brain. I felt the need to get that little gem out of the way before getting down to the business at hand of today’s post.

My last post on dinner with my Mom has been part of my overall thinking on how to get less complicated about life in general. It’s a trend for me the last few years and my success rate with it, while not perfect, is improving. Part of the reason I feel I am getting some traction on un-complicating things for myself is that I see people making things far too complicated, seemingly every day. The oft-quoted notion of analysis paralysis is prevalent everywhere I look.

I don’t think that’s surprising – life itself can throw a lot of variables at us and there are many things we cannot control. By delving deeply into everything in a non-stop fashion, perhaps we feel there is a certain level of control that returns… or at least that we improve our chances of getting things right. Whatever that means.

I am trying to detach from that way of thinking as best I can. Now, I surely enjoy reflecting and thinking, so I don’t want it to seem as if I only believe in all action, all the time. Perish the thought. Instead, I am against using over-analysis as a replacement for taking some damn action once in a while. The analysis paralysis problem is that it seems to get to an idea that if we just spend a little bit more time wrestling with the problem, gathering more data and re-framing the argument for the hundredth time, we will achieve perfection.

Since I believe the perfect is the enemy of the good, I don’t worry much about perfection.

This is a big part of why I am so thoroughly enjoying a book by Gary Keller, The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results. I could spend many hours describing it, the methods of Keller’s system and such, but suffice it to say, it really is about… well… one thing: creating success by winnowing down the focus of your energy and talents to the one thing that will either make things easier or every other action unnecessary.

Kind of bold, right?

But Keller’s point is compelling in that we often believe success is about adding more or doing more when often, it’s about focusing more and saying no more. Like, A LOT more – something I need to work on as a consummate people-pleaser.

So today I took up his advice to focus on something that is a big thing to me (this blog), did it at a high energy time (first thing this AM) and have creating this little morsel of goodness for your consumption. My hope is that it’s a tasty one, but that is yours to judge and not mine… especially since I think all of my stuff is worth a nibble or two.

With that, I leave you with a question: What would be the one thing you would focus on today to make things easier for yourself? That thing that you would protect and not let time thieves pilfer from your day?

The Need for Challenge vs. Acceptance of “Reality”

For as long as I can remember, I need a challenge in order to truly bring out the best in myself. Lacking that feels like I’m in a rut or back on my heels in some horribly passive limbo. It’s not a great feeling at all. Perhaps I can explain better by way of example.

My freshman year of high school, I was in English class and doing OK at it, but something was missing. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what exactly it was, but something didn’t seem totally right to me. I came into high school with the very well-intentioned advice from my middle school guidance counselors ringing in my ears to not get in over my head by taking some (but not all) honors classes.

Well, this English class was one step down from honors and it hit me one day: I was bored out of my mind. As a kid who knocked out the Lord of the Rings trilogy in 5th grade, I needed more. I needed to get pushed. So after a few months, I switched to honors… and my grades actually went up. Funny how that works.

I don’t think I ever really lost this trait of needing to see what I could do or where I could take myself. Hell, if I find myself feeling blah or in a rut, this is the most-likely culprit.

With that in mind, I’ve been watching a lot of the World Cup… and sometime during the multitude of matches I watched, the soccer itch crept back into my life. Not surprising either. See, I love weight training, Prowler pushes, golf and all the other physical shenanigans I get myself involved in these days, but the thing they don’t provide me is head-to-head competition in a team environment.

Oh sure, you can play in golf scrambles and teams from various gyms will compete together in a Crossfit competition or powerlifting meet… but there is something about a collective whole being greater than the sum of its parts as it faces over against (hopefully) equally-matched competition. It’s one of my favorite athletic highs. You and your teammates staring down an opponent on the field and launching yourself into the game with an unspoken “Get some…” amongst all of you.

But lest you think it’s only about my wanting to hang out with peeps and knock heads against our foe, there is another challenge in the midst of all of this:

The reality that… one day… playing these kinds of sports at a healthy level of competition will pass me by, never to return.

At age 41, I’m sure a lot of people would think playing soccer against 25 year old punks who played in college might be a silly endeavor. Hell, maybe it’s exactly that.

HOWEVER… and yeah, I just all-capped that business right there… the process of working towards being ready to play against competition younger, faster and more skilled is something I actually enjoy. The challenge isn’t just the being on the field and playing. The challenge that may be just as satisfying is what I need to do to myself ready in the first place.

Hence, in an 85 degree gym, I got at it:

10489648_703077289730162_4169693156217570250_n10497163_703077176396840_1711338357394376649_o10459100_703077246396833_496384794105696944_o

Even more interesting was as spent as I was at the end? A few minutes later, all smiles and feeling good. Because I pushed hard. Because I kept going. Because I took steps towards getting my 41 year old, incredibly good-looking self ready to run down 24 younger punks on crisp Fall mornings.

If you feel an inevitable creeping rut or, worse yet, you are looking up from the bottom of rut and wondering how the hell you got there… find your challenge. That thing that will get you fired up and the blood moving. Physical. Mental. Spiritual. Whatever venue that calls unto you most strongly.

Just get to it. Get at it. And feel that bit of victory for your soul that will follow from a good, determined fight. You’re worth at least that and likely much more.

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.

Pushing On By Letting Go

1902864_687774727941279_370871808_nA few months into my journey of adding yoga to my overall fitness/training regimen, I find myself coming up with a lot of ponderings that occur during yoga class itself (or often shortly thereafter). Whether it’s somehow brought upon by improved bloodflow from class or just the fact that I find myself feeling very clear-headed when I’m done, I can’t say. It’s just continuously interesting to me that yoga is far more than a physical challenge for me – it’s really something that flies in the face of how most of my training is structured.

It requires release and a flowing kind of giving-in to the moment whereas when I lift, it’s like a fight and a grind and a sweaty battle to force myself into being better/faster/stronger.

But what caught my attention most and was the impetus for this blog post was the realization that yoga seemed to fly in the face of this site’s very motto of “Relentlessly push yourself forward”.

Or did it?

Hence a little vlog for your consideration. Hope you enjoy:

Lessons From the Laundry Pile

Where the wash and dry magic unfolds.
Where the wash and dry magic unfolds.

Laundry. It’s really nothing more than the simple act of cleaning your clothes so you have something sparkling and fresh to wear out into society as opposed to looking like an utter goon. Seems simple enough, right?

Well, I never have a problem doing laundry. Heck, most times I am down lifting in my gym, I will snag some clothes out of the hamper and get it cracking while I’m pushing some iron. Two birds. One stone. All win.

Putting the clean clothes away once said laundry was done? Well… suffice it to say I’m not going to be winning any sort of awards, medals or commendations for bravery on that particular point. For reasons I cannot fully fathom, I had a very long run of perfectly clean laundry piling up in front of those gleaming white machines pictured above. I would tell you how long, but I’m going to save myself the embarrassment. Just know it was baaaaad. Real bad.

Well, over my recent holiday break from work, I was taking a nice chunk of time to think over things in my life.  It’s really become one of my favorite things to do during the Christmas to New Year’s timeframe as one year closes and a new one begins to shine on the horizon.  This matter of my laundry jumped to mind during this period of reflection… and not just in a “Damn… that’s a mess in need of cleaning” kind of way.  Instead, I saw it as a bit of a symptom of something that had been nagging at me for a while, but I had not been able to put my finger on.  And it was so obvious once it occurred to me.  What was this realization, you ask in breathless anticipation?  I will tell you:

That I simply got lazy and sloppy in the name of being more laid back.  And I hated it.  All of it.

I'm with you big guy. That's how I felt about those habits too...
I’m with you big guy. That’s how I felt about those habits too…

See, I kept telling myself for so long that I needed to be less tightly-wound and more mellow.  I have a tendency to be way-to-keyed-up for my own good and was in serious need of a chill adjustment.  However, there’s a great deal of difference between being more relaxed and just letting everything get messy by being passive.

But it wasn’t just about the pile of laundry that needed to be folded and put away.  Hell, my realization was barely about that.  What I realized is how easy it had become for me to stop doing little things because I convinced myself it was a sign of being anal or would lead to me being stressed out over minutiae.  The problem with this approach is: (a) I didn’t feel any more relaxed and (b) I feel so much more on top of my life when I am taking care of the little things.  Not obsessing over them.  Not stressing over them.  Just knocking those suckers out.

Because you know what happens when you start knocking out the little needed things?  You start to build momentum on much bigger things.  At least I do.  So that’s what I started to do during my break.  Clean up everything.  Put everything in its place.  Never leave crap out for no apparent reason.

It all sounds completely silly doesn’t it?  Hell, I feel a little silly just typing it for the whole world to read.  However, that mindset of taking care of business really began to snowball and I was looking for more ways to keep that productive momentum going.  And this played in beautifully to one of my biggest goals for 2014: Being more proactive in all areas of my life.  Less letting things happen and more making things happen.

And I owe it all to a neglected pile of laundry.  Life gives lessons in the strangest places.  This time it was from a mound of clean clothes and little steps of momentum that came from taking care of them.

Never saw that one coming…

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.

Relentlessly push yourself forward