This is a pretty special time of year for me. Part of it has to do with the vigorous shaking off of the chill of Winter and opening my arms wide to pull Spring into my sweet, loving embrace. Come to me baby… come to me. That’s only part of my fond feelings for this mid-March period. The bigger piece is that Little League baseball coaching is again on the horizon and I couldn’t be happier about it.
The process kicks off the same each season: a bunch of well-meaning coaches spend the better part of a weekend in a middle school gym rating 8-12 year olds on their ability to field, throw, pitch and hit. It’s a bit of a circus every time, but I think that’s half the fun of it. Just kind of reveling in the mayhem of it all and catching up with the other coaches I haven’t seen in a while.
But my favorite part of the entire evaluation process isn’t just hanging out and joking around with the kids as they come through my station (which was hitting this year). Actually, my favorite part is when I find out I’m completely, utterly and totally wrong. No, really.
As each kid walks up to your station, there are only so many I actually know from years past. Because of this, I tend not to know anything about the baseball abilities of most players until they begin their drills with me. And you know what happens as they walk up? There is that flickering moment in the mind where every coach tries to guess how this kid will be. It’s something we do in all aspects of life, right? Heck, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book about these kinds of snap judgments in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Nothing unusual in this and really nothing controversial because no one with any sense in their noggin would make a determination just based on a first impression of a kid walking into the gym. That would just be flat out stupid.
But some kids roll in with a lot of confidence and swagger. They have a snazzy and expensive bat, snappy batting gloves and are sporting an all-star shirt from the previous year. Some kids come in a bit tentative and nervous – these are the kids I try to put at ease as quickly as possible because… well…. I was that kid at that age when it came to baseball and sports. I bloomed late athletically.
Then some kids don’t fit the part of a baseball player at all. They aren’t wearing anything you would see a kid put on to play any sport, go to gym class and so on. Heck, they may be wearing an outfit that looks like something they would wear to the mall or the movies. They walk into the station, look through the bucket of bats available for anyone who didn’t bring one and then step up to the tee to take a few swings.
And that’s when some real magic happens and I am reminded again to never, ever, EVER assume anything on a kid before seeing him do his or her thing. I absolutely love it when the kids who “don’t fit” whatever preconceived notion there may be for a youth baseball player come in and smash the bejeezus out of every ball they see. It puts the biggest smile on my face and I revel in the fact that, if I had any guess to the contrary, I have just been shown to be 100% wrong.
It’s so great to see the kids who defy conventions of any kind… who don’t fit the idea of how they are “supposed” to be, whether in baseball or school or any other activity. The kids who just love something and it shows. Heck, my favorite players to coach aren’t necessarily the superstars with the amazing physical gifts. I have such a great time working with kids who just love to be on baseball field and playing a game. That’s all it takes to win me over.
So trust not the eyes, for they may not see… at least not at first. Break those biases down. Strip them from your thoughts when they rear up. And if you have any moments where you catch your assumptions being shown to be misguided? Cherish them. Because that’s where the real fun starts.
A 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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
I’m a bit of a loud guy from a loud family. I try to catch myself from being inappropriately loud in the wrong place at the wrong time, but hell… I can’t monitor myself that closely all the time. That would be impossible… and really no fun. So screeeeewwww that. Let the decibels ring forth!
However, there are many ways where I am decidedly quiet. Certain things I deem more important to be private or quiet about. If I were to try and give you clear guidelines about what falls onto this list, I think I would come up woefully short of an apt description. Just something about being so out front about these things can just feel… I dunno… unseemly. That’s the word that best captures it.
I think that’s why this image I saw recently (and I wish I could remember which friend posted it to give them proper credit), it struck me so powerfully.
I’m not really one to tout my own praises or merits or great successes, although I have certainly done it a few times in the moment. Lord knows when I finished Tough Mudder in 2012 I was all kinds of fired up and proclaimed that loudly and proudly on my Facebook wall. But that’s very much an exception to the rule for this more retiring cowpoke.
It’s just that this image captures so many great messages, but in sticking with the most obvious, it’s about what you do and not just what you say. Of course what you say can have a positive impact on people – some can inspire others to spectacular feats with their words.
But more often that not? Be more about the doing than the speaking.
I’ve had people come to me for various kinds of career advice and this is usually my #1 piece of feedback. The questions tend to be about networking and who they should set up meetings with and who they need to get to know and what teams and titles they should have. I admire their passion, their desire to advance themselves forward. Passion is a beautiful commodity and if you have it, hold onto it and nurture it (positively).
My response always tends to be the same: “Those things are all good… but you know what gets you noticed most? What gets you furthest in life and work? Consistently kicking ass at what you do.”
Occasionally my remark gets a blank response back as if to say, “Thanks Captain Obvious… I already knewthat. I needed something else…”
Except… you didn’t need something else. You really needed to get down to putting boots to backsides. It’s a good reminder for me as well whenever I begin to think about where I want to be going. If I cannot answer… in detail… about what I am trying to do to kick ass for whatever definition of success I am seeking, then I’m clearly not on the right track.
The Prowler is a funny thing. Well, not so much Will Ferrell kind of funny that fills you with magic and glee and rainbow smiles… more like funny in the sense that you sometimes wonder why in the world you make use of it at all when it causes so much pain and suffering. Nary a rainbow smile to be found at all. Insert favorite emoticon frowny face here.
But what I have found is that a lot of rather interesting thoughts occur to me during and after my Prowler sessions. It dawned on me that maybe I could get a series going on these thoughts and share them with you, dear reader of this blog… because here, we are all about epicmode. Oh that’s right… beastmode isn’t good enough any more. EPICMODE FTW OMG!
*Ahem* Sorry about that – I think the Red Bull I had earlier was stronger than usual.
Here is my first installment from the end of my Prowler session yesterday. To get the full appreciation of Prowler-inspired goodness, it’s critical to get those thoughts captured right as the session ends. And hey, why not do it in video form while trying to catch your breath? That sounds like a win for everyone involved. No script. No planning. No edits. Just pure flow.
This kick-off post is about consistency of conditions No matter how many times you’ve done something or how much expertise you’ve developing at doing it, you will hit life snags that will throw you off your flow.
Enjoy. Looking forward to more of these coming soon.
Good Lord… the BURN. I couldn’t believe the fiery sensation starting in my shoulders and flowing into my upper arms. Despite my best efforts and intentions to fight it, I had to drop to my knees, try not to audibly curse my instructor as being a closet sadist and somehow “find my breath”.
Yup – I was in the throes of learning that yoga was laying a first-rate beat down on my seriously inflexible self. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and take it back to the beginning of the journey.
I like to be a bit transparent on this blog, at least the best I can. I had been mulling over doing yoga for some time based on two critical facts: (1) I am about as pliable as structural steel; and (2) I tend to hold onto stress way more than I should. I’m no yoga expert, but those have always appeared to be the big value propositions for yoga practice. On a side note, you know you’ve been working in Corporate America way too long when you write about “value propositions” for something like yoga… the least corporate thing you could possibly imagine. See? I need yoga even more than I admit.
The flexibility piece only became more important to me as I’ve gotten closer to, and now, just north of 40 years old. And honestly? I think it has less to do with age and more to do with my daily work state (seated at a desk and working on a computer) combined my chosen exercise style (lots of weight training).
The stress piece has always been a lingering thing. It’s one of those things where it’s easy to become so accustomed to it, you forget what it feels like to be perfectly mellow and content (save for vacation and sitting on a beach with nothing in particular to do). But despite my growing generally accustomed to high stress levels, I knew it wasn’t a good idea to just let that be. It was time to get some change, pronto.
Into The Fray
I’ve tried yoga before, most notably bikram yoga. If you’ve not familiar with bikram, it’s a 90 minute program comprised of 26 postures… done in a sweltering hot room and designed with the sole purpose of making you hate life and question your ability to make intelligent decisions on what is “good for you”. I walked out of classes a few times feeling like I had been beaten with a blunt object and my eyes completely bloodshot from the heat. So if you want a yoga style that makes you look akin to a meth head, then hey, this is totally for you. (Obviously, your results may vary and a few of my friends really like bikram… but they cray-cray).
In looking for something that would balance out the full-tilt style of my lifting and conditioning program, I came across Downtown Yoga in Hartford (you can find them on the Web here and on Facebook here). What was so appealing about them was their accessibility and the fact that every class could be scaled to your individual abilities. Plus, their interest in being connected to the community also interested me – as easy as it is for locals to rip on Hartford relentlessly, I’ve always had a bit of a chip on my shoulder about it having grown up around here. That and the fact that I have zero patience for people who bitch, whine and moan without even making a modicum of effort to see what the city may have to offer. (Here’s a hint: More than you would think)
So down I went to Downtown Yoga about a month ago and gave it a whirl for their “Un-rush Hour” class.
My first class was with Mike and I had little idea what to expect. I was the first person to the class and my goals were simple: try to relax and pick a spot at the back of the room so my lack of yoga-tastic skills would not be on display. I set up up where I thought would be a good spot in the back corner. Turns out I had no idea how the room was used… annnnd I was in the front row. Sweet mother of God.
Needless to say, based on this blog post, I survived. Heck, I even went back and have been on a two-times per week roll. So why would a meathead like me get so hooked on yoga? Lots of good reasons.
Performance. Since I’ve started yoga, I’m already starting to move a little better and feel a little better. My insanely tight hips are now just super tight. That’s a big win. I look forward to them now improving to wicked tight, then pretty tight and then to kind of tight. One day? I dream of decent and in my wildest dreams, I hope for them to be loose and fluid. But for now? Small steps. Also, I am finding my shoulders are feeling more stable and solid. I may have all that downward dog to thank for that… which is probably the only time you will hear me give any kind of positive remarks on that posture which provided the delightful burning sensations described at the outset of this blog.Plus, when I do things like squats, I am more comfortably able to get lower. That’s huuuuge.
Challenge Without Competition. I’m naturally competitive. If you have ever seen my Foursquare check-ins for yoga, they tend to be things like “I’m totally going to win at yoga tonight.” Obviously, there really isn’t any “winning” at yoga (although yoga competitions do exist) and I’ve actually enjoyed that. I’m a little surprised with how much I’m not comparing how I’m doing against my classmates. Oh sure, I do check a bit out of curiosity – no one is perfect on this. However, I don’t do it that much because I’m more concerned with I am doing personally and… well… I’m probably battling hard on whatever posture I am attempting and don’t have the inclination to see what everyone else is up to.So, you’re profoundly challenged, but it really doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing. There are no points in yoga. No score. No playoffs. Just you, your instructor’s direction and your breath. Simple.
Dat Good Feeling Doe. Every time I’m done with a yoga class, I feel good. No, I feel really good. Without question, the physical movements, concentrated breath-work and stretching of the yoga itself gets the bulk of the credit for it. However, there were at least 2 truly unexpected factors for this feel-good buzz as well. The first is that yoga gets you so involved in what you’re doing for the entire time you are practicing, you don’t tend to think of much else. Honestly, how nice is it to shut your brain off for 90 minutes from the 1,001 things you usually have bombarding it? It’s glorious.The second piece was even less expected – how the instructors close the class.
Let’s take Jenny (the delightful head instructor at Downtown Yoga) as an example. You finish all of your poses and postures, take some time to lay in Savasana (the only pose I am good at – lying flat on my back with my limbs spread out like I just got knocked out) and then come to a seated position to finish. Then you know what Jenny does? She thanks each person in class for the fact they decided to come and share their practice with her that night.
It’s simple, sincere, warm and always leaves me with a smile to see that someone is actually grateful for my sharing my less-than-graceful yoga practice with her. In turn, this makes me feel grateful. It’s infectious.
So this full-time meathead had expanded his horizons, gone out of his comfort zone and taken his overly competitive mindset to the much more serene, flowing world of yoga… and come out the better for it. I have a really long way to go and, actually, I’m OK with that because that also means I have a lot of opportunity to get even more benefits. I can’t say if every tightly-wound athlete/corporate warrior would enjoy this like I do, but it’s clearly worth a shot. I’m still finding I’m learning a lot about myself with each class, especially from the mental toughness standpoint (which is actually more like being non-resistant versus rigid).
Plus… I know I can still win at this yoga SOB. Somehow, damn it.
Every time I train, I’m the smartest guy in the gym. By far. It’s really not a debatable point.OK sure, so I train by myself in the basement, but my original assertion stands just fine on its own.
I’ve long tried to approach my gym training with a sense of purpose and direction about what I am looking to accomplish. I’ve tried to be focused on the fact that I have my own goals and it doesn’t mean anything whatever everyone else’s goals are. Isn’t that the point?
And in theory, this should all work out exceptionally well as the smartest guy in that room I use for my training. Who else is there to distract me? No one is coming up to chat with me. There aren’t any charming young lasses batting their eyelashes in my general direction. I don’t see someone else’s routine and think “Aww damn it all… I totally should be doing that.”
Hence, look at me! Focused! Driven! Handsome and charismatic. No seriously… look at me. That’s a whole lot of sexy man right there and he wants to know how YOU doin’? I mean… damn.
Umm… wait, where was I again? Ahh yes, the distraction free life in my home gym.
Guess what? In the last few weeks, I’ve come to appreciate how easily distractions can creep in anyway… and it’s all about the bench press.
The bench press is one of those lifts that, regardless of your lifting experience, you know what it is. It’s sort of the strength benchmark for casual conversations with most people. When people ask me about lifting and such, it’s not usually how much I squat and it’s not how much I deadlift (two lifts that I ‘m good at and care about for a multitude of reasons).
Nope… everyone wants to know “HOW MUCH YA BENCH???”
But beyond that, the bench press is also one of the classic “big lifts” for powerlifting (squat, bench and deadlift) and for most serious routines around. It’s also a lift that is technically demanding, requires a lot of time to improve… and can screw up your shoulders.
As my shoulders of late have felt pummeled by this vaunted lift, the question finally hit me like a ton of bricks:
“OK, smartest guy in the room… why DO you bench press?”
I don’t ever plan on competing in powerlifting.
It seems to do me more harm than good.
But… but… how will I know how strong I am?
And that last point is when I realized why I still benched – because my benchmark (pun so FULLY intended) is a lift I can compare myself to others on. Not a lift that I just need to get stronger at or which has excellent carry-over to other athletic pursuits… but one that I could relate to the strength of others.
That’s when the smartest guy in my home gym decided to make a change this past week and ditch the bench press. Oh, fear not, fellow meatheads… I will be doing other kinds of compound pressing lifts that focus on the chest. Just not regular straight bar bench press.
Even when you’re all alone… even when you think you have a firm grasp on your own individuality and why you do things… never forget how easy it is to let the slow creep of comparison invade. Vigilance in repelling this interloper in the night is crucial.
Because even the smartest guy in the room can miss the whole damn point.
This past Sunday was Super Bowl XLVII (aka “The Harbowl”) and in the weeks leading up to the game, I had a dilemma. Not something earth-shattering, mind you – I wasn’t making huge decisions on the direction of my life and my place in the universe (at least not in relation to this football game)… but the dilemma of trying to decide who to root for in the game. And while this was not a decision of much import, it did reveal something interesting about myself in the process.
When I first began to consider which team to cheer for, my first instinct was based on my diehard fandom for the Dallas Cowboys: The 49ers have long been a major rival of ours and we are tied with 5 Super Bowl titles each. The 49ers winning would mean they pulled ahead of my beloved Cowboys! Sweet mother of God… such an injustice must be avoided! I must shout to the heavens my rage at such a thought!
But I thought about it a bit more and came to an uncomfortable realization: while it’s fine not to cheer for a long-time rival, the fact that I didn’t want them to pull ahead of my team on Super Bowl problems wasn’t a 49ers problem… it was a Cowboys problem. My issue was jealousy, really… jealousy over their team doing the right things to place themselves in a position to win that title while my own team has a record of 128-128 with 1 playoff win in 16 years.
I was having myself a nice, tall, bitter glass of Haterade and not even realizing it.
I decided to basically watch the game to enjoy it from an independent perspective, but I didn’t forget about that uncomfortable thought. You don’t have to cheer for your opponents, but when you resent their success, all you are really doing is ignoring the ugly truth of your own shortcomings or, worse still, making excuses to cover for them. I don’t ever want to be that guy. That guy is small and bitter and likely not that much fun at parties.
Along a similar line, I noticed something similar cropping up right before and just after Baltimore’s win in the Super Bowl and all of it focused on their talismanic leader, Ray Lewis. Lewis is considered one of the greatest (if not the greatest) to ever play his position in the NFL, but he also has a very dark chapter in his past from a murder trial in 2000. Some believe Lewis was more involved in a fight that killed 2 men during Super Bowl week in Atlanta 13 years ago than he would admit or plead guilty to. Lewis agreed to testified against two other men in exchange for the murder charges being dropped against him. All in all, there is nothing good about this story.
But this is what struck me of late – the story has essentially disappeared from view over the last decade and with almost zero mention of it. The fans and press had basically moved on… well, moved on until Baltimore Ravens and Ray Lewis won this most recent Super Bowl in what would be the final game of his career. Suddenly that story was everywhere on Facebook, Twitter, the news, etc. Why had it become relevant all over again? Did new evidence emerge? Was there some new defining factor that made the story different?
No… all that changed was that Ray Lewis was ending his career winning one more title and I guess people didn’t like that. Out came the green-eyed monsters to tear him down.
Now, let’s be clear for a second – I’m not here to comment on whether Ray Lewis did it or not. I have no idea and I haven’t spent hours of time poring over the evidence and court testimony from the 2000 trial. That’s not my point. What strikes me is the extent to which people will bring a story like this back up when someone achieves such a high level of success. That there are those who only use this story as a tool to try and bring someone else down.
Do we really believe that the people doing this had a deep level of caring for the two men that were murdered that night in Atlanta? That they were crusaders of justice and truth? Of course not.
No one needs to be a fan of the 49ers. Or Ray Lewis. Or even my Cowboys (although you should really reconsider if you aren’t). But we all must guard against tearing down people, teams and organizations simply because they succeed. In those situations, we simply announce to the world our own insecurities when we should be praising the commitment of the winners. Even when we don’t like them.
During the past 10 years that I’ve been working at my company, we have gotten a company-wide shutdown that runs from Christmas through New Year’s Day. As far as perks going, it’s definitely a darn fine one and makes for a perfect way to close out the old year and prepare for the new. I find myself always becoming more reflective during this chunk of time away from the hustle and bustle of the workplace – not surprising, really. This last break ended up being 13 glorious days away from work and I was able to get down to some serious navel-gazing time.
And what came out of that period of time? What new and meaningful insights poured forth from my head like Athena from that of Zeus? One word kept coming back to me over and over again:
And with that word, the famous Aristotle quote: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.”
So to the YouTubes I went and made this nice video for you. Yes, just for you, gentle reader and no one else.
Excellence… a flashy word for something achieved in a very unsexy sort of way.