Tag Archives: character

Non-Stop, Full Tilt, Every Day Mayhem


It’s probably not surprising that I enjoy a very well-done inspiration speech.  Certain people who truly have the gift – whether by virtue of being blessed by the gods of Olympus from birth or through, careful, meticulous practice over time – really capture my attention.  The ability to move inspire people to do more and be more than they thought possible just fascinates me.

But something about Ray Lewis’s speech struck a slightly different chord with me when I watched it.  I still had the chills and felt fired up at the end… but a few minutes later, I found myself pausing to think about what he said from a slightly different vantage point.  Ray starts off with:

If tomorrow wasn’t promised, what would you give for today?  Forget everything else.  Forget everything else.  Forget that there was any sunlight left.  What would you spend today thinking about?

The reason this got me to thinking was twofold.  First, it’s about taking nothing for granted today and if tomorrow is never promised, how will you live today.  Second, it also got me thinking about the motto of this blog: Relentlessly push yourself forward.  These two ideas taken together basically add up to an idea of going non-stop, full tilt, every single day.  All good things, right?

The Road to Ribblesdale
Photo Credit: Luc B via Compfight

But can we really do that?  Should we expect ourselves to really and truly do that?  I don’t mean that in some absurdly constructed argument sense where someone says, “No one would live that way since they would make horrible choices, spend all their money and live like lunatics if they 100% committed to that day being their last on earth!”  But what I mean instead is… can you go 100% every single day?  Furthermore, should you even try?

The reason I got to thinking about this was not to say that embracing utter sloth is somehow a good idea, but to wonder how to pace this effort… how to handle the daily ebbs and flows of time, energy and desire.  No one is going to be “ON” 24/7 – not even the most dedicated and motivated.  Burn out would be inevitable with a blistering pace like that.

But hard effort every day?  The best attitude you can bring to the table every day?  Doable without a doubt.  Will your best on a rainy Monday with all-day meetings be as good as your best on a sunny Friday with bluebirds serenading your every step?  Probably not, but that’s fine.  It’s the daily practice that matters.

And that’s where the importance of finding inspiration – whether in a speech, book, song or conversation with a good friend – matters so much.  For in those moments, you can see the possibility of moving a few steps past what you thought was your upper limit.  And when you get past those sticking points to a new, brave place… then you have progress and you have moved yourself forward.

I can’t say how this day will turn out, but I am going to take Ray’s advice and be “pissed off for greatness”… for I can feel a little bit more mojo pushing me to that place beyond what I knew possible.  Time to hustle.

Every Step, A Building Block

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My trusty new kicks.  May they make me fly like the mythical shoes of Hermes.

As I’ve written about before, I made the totally awesome (or epically stupid) decision to do a Tough Mudder in Vermont in May.  Now, in preparing for that little life adventure, there was one thing I assiduously avoided as much as humanly possible… long distance running.  “Dearest Kevin… why pray tell would you avoid running when preparing for a race that involves around 10 miles worth of that very activity???”

Because… I haaaaaate it.  Good Lord, do I hate me some running.  Not sprinting or flying around on a soccer field or a basketball court.  That’s all good.  Oh no, I’m talking about just running over long distances and nothing else.  Where each landing footfall causes me to wonder why on Earth I am putting myself through such drudgery.

Ya feel me, dawg?

But my competitive nature won’t quite allow me to just blow this off completely.  I signed up for this race and damn it, I am gonna punch that thing in its smug face… umm… you know, if an obstacle course can have a face upon which to even have a look.

So the beauties you see above represent a new step for me – my newest weapons in the battle for running dominance.  Before you assume “running dominance” is an utterly insane assertion on my part to go from running-hater to super-elite-marathoner… rest assured, it is not.  Rather, I am running to dominate myself a bit and break through the mental barrier I have to it.

That began today with 2 mile of running during lunch.  Like many things in life, there were positives and negatives.  The positive?  My endurance was actually pretty good.  The negative?  The muscles in the bottom of my feet and lower legs felt like they were hit with napalm.  The BURN!  My God… the BURN!  I chalk this up to having done sprints a day or two ago in my minimalist shoes.  I think, absent that, I would have done a lot better today.  Also on the positive side of the ledger was that the shoes were actually very comfortable (napalm burning aside).

And the true positive of it at all?  Today was a fair number of steps (both physical and mental) towards getting better at something that has always challenged me.  Each step, no matter how painful, was a necessary piece towards preparing for my May race… and also part of my own process to fight through a difficulty I would rather avoid all together.

It sounds horribly clichéd, but this is where character is built.  If I’m not ready to push myself through 2 miles now, how will I ever be ready to do it for 10 with slopes, obstacles, water, mud and freaking electrical wires?  Each step builds on the one just before it and the best path is just to put your head down, don’t think about each time your foot strikes the ground and before long… progress… and not long after that… the finish.

But no finish for me just yet.  68 days and 12 hours to go… and many, many steps.

Focused on Failure… And Why That’s a Good Thing

Tricia Helfer from Battlestar Galactica

Failure is a funny sort of topic to write about, quite frankly.  I mean… just look at the word.  Failure.  There’s simply nothing attractive about it.  It doesn’t feel good to say and God only knows it never brings with it a single glimmering positive connotation of any kind, shape or sort.  It just sits there looking at you with this smug smirk of self-satisfaction because it knows you and it are not strangers to each other’s company.  Oh no… we are all humans and it’s essentially hardwired into our genetic code to face many failures in our lives.  Wait, if you are reading this you ARE human, right?  Not some freaky-deaky Cylon?  See, this is what I get for watching several seasons worth of Battlestar Galactica during my Christmas holiday break… I mean, unless you look like Tricia Helfer as a Cylon.  Then we’re square.

But failure is something I’ve written about once or twice before on this very blog, mostly because despite all of the negativity associated with it, it’s really a pretty fascinating topic to me… whether it’s why we fail, how we fight against failure and, most importantly to me, how we respond to our own failures.

I am confident that part of my focus on failure is based on a book my Mom gave me several years back when I was going through a very rough patch in my own life.  The book is by John C. Maxwell and it’s entitled “Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes Into Stepping Stones For Success” and it really shifted my thinking on how I view my own shortcomings, mistakes and failures.  I’m not going to claim victory over failure forever and that I can walk away from my failures as if they never ever occurred… but I am getting a lot better at handling my mistakes for sure.

I bought the book again recently for my Kindle since I couldn’t find the original hardcover… I have to believe I lent it to someone at one point or another.  Several passages within it struck chords with me all over again and I wanted to share a few of them.

First:

When achievers fail, they see it as a momentary event, not a lifelong epidemic.

Second:

Tell yourself, “I’m not a failure. I failed at doing something.” There’s a big difference.

In all honesty, it was difficult to narrow it down to 2 quotes from the book because I highlighted quite a few more than that.  However, I think these 2 are timely and serve a bit of a key message as 2010 comes to an end and people begin to think with hope (hopefully!) about what lies ahead in 2011.  And these two quotes link up with each other so beautifully to create a singular point on failure that bears a little time noodling over.  So be prepared to noodle, my friends… seriously, prepare yourself.  Get a comfy chair, a cup of green tea and a little Tchaikovsky or something.

The first point is about how failure is just that’s fleeting… if you approach it that way.  It’s a singular event and a moment in time – it’s not the blueprint for how the rest of your life will unfold.  Hell, it’s not even the blueprint for how the activity you failed at will always unfold… provided that’s how you look at it.  Therein lies the challenge, no doubt… to isolate the moment as just a moment, give it thought and move on.

The second point gets to how whatever the failure was… it was an event… it was not you.  But we all tend to view it that way at some point in our lives, don’t we?  “I’m such a failure!”  Ugh… just typing those words made my fingers feel dirty and in need of a hard scrubbing.  Bleah.  We personalize how we act as being an encompassing part of who we are… and isn’t that completely insane?  Especially since we rarely tend to do that with a success, but damn… we will latch onto a failure like a drowning man clutching a life vest.

And that’s where these 2 points converge into a single notion… that while you will fail many times in your life, those failures are events unto themselves and are not YOU.  If your failures truly do define you in any way, I would argue that they only do so by showing you were the kind of person willing to take daring enough actions that would risk failure in the first place.  If you never fail… well, good Lord… did you ever really try in the first place?

That’s why I focus on failure… because if I am never missing, then maybe my targets are no better than a timid goal set without ambition, daring, verve or even imagination… and I don’t know about you, but that sound like a horribly boring way to shuffle through life.

So while I may not be a riverboat gambler when it comes to risk, I will seek to push myself and risk a few scraped knees along the way.  It will give me something to talk about later.

That’s Just How You Play The Game… Right?

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A few weeks ago, two friends of mine came over for dinner and to relax a bit on a Monday night.  It was nothing formal – just a little bit of respite from the week.  One of them arrived a little later than the other and just a bit before 8 PM, came charging into my house and wanted to be sure we were all ready for the show at 8.  Show?  What show?  Ladies and gentlemen… it came to my attention that we would be watching a little thing called “Bachelor Pad” that evening, brought to us by the fine folks at the American Broadcast Company.  God help me.

“Bachelor Pad” is fairly similar to most reality TV shows where contestants are competing for some kind of cash prize at the end: there are roughly two different groups (in this case, men and women who did not make the cut in either “The Bachelor” or “The Bachelorette”) who compete in weekly competitions to gain immunity from being kicked off the show/out of the house/off the island, etc. There’s nothing remarkable in any of that – that’s the formula with the only real wrinkle being that almost every person on the show is really attractive and there are all sorts of… err… “romantic” entanglements.

Now, I try to avoid reality TV shows like the plague – I just find them absolutely awful on almost any level I can think of.  I will allow for a bit of leeway on a show that is really structured more like an on-going documentary (such as past seasons of “Hard Knocks” on HBO or something to that effect), but things like “Jersey Shore” just make my skin crawl since it’s really just a glorification of the worst elements of people’s lives recorded, cut down to the juicy bits and plastered on TV for viewing like a train wreck of biblical proportions.  I know, I know… that made no sense since there were no trains to be wrecked in the Bible, but don’t lie… you got the picture anyway.  Don’t get sassy with me, my friend.

Wait, where was I?  Oh yes – reality TV.  And you thought you could completely get me off traffic, didn’t ya?

The competition shows are probably what bother me a little more than the antics of other reality programs because there is this common theme that runs through all of them that just makes me nuts: every act of lying, backstabbing and conniving is justified under the notion “Hey, this is just part of the game.  I’m just doing what I need to do to win.”

*shudder*  Nails on a blackboard every time I hear it.

Lest you think I’m being puritanical, I get the idea of hard-fought competition and it’s one of the things I truly love about sports and such.  It reminds me of a passage from Vince Lombardi’s “What It Takes To Be Number One” speech:

It is a reality of life that men are competitive and the most competitive games draw the most competitive men. That’s why they are there – to compete. The object is to win fairly, squarely, by the rules – but to win.

On any reality TV competition show like “Bachelor Pad”, there’s always a focus on the win part and seldom more than a passing nod to the notion of winning fairly, squarely and by the rules… and maybe that’s just it.  These shows really don’t have any rules about how you play the game.  And why would they?  A big chunk of the reason people are watching in the first place is to see the lying, backstabbing and conniving that occurs week in and week out.  I guess that’s the “fun”.

But for me, it’s just nothing I can get behind.  It’s like the old rap adage of “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.”  Except here’s the problem: regardless of the game, every person has the opportunity to make choices for themselves and who they want to be in that game.  And hell, you chose to be in the game (whatever that game may be).

I don’t rush to view shows like “Bachelor Pad” as yet another sign that we are steadily marching towards the Apocalypse – I’m just not that prone to Chicken Little thinking like that.  I think every society goes through those kinds of moments where some new thing causes everyone to be convinced that everything is falling apart… and then it doesn’t really happen.

I just hate to think that our model for how to compete is increasingly becoming this kind of programming we see on TV, which would be sad.  And while sports is not perfect, I think it tends to get competition right a lot of the time and at least there is something or someone keeping most of it in check.

So pick your arena of competition.  Go out and seek to win.  But never, ever try to sell me on the eggshell thin notion that how you compete is somehow out of your hands.  The choice is your own.

Everyone Else Is Doing It

Ethics.  It’s a word that can certainly grab your attention and one that actually gets bandied about quite a bit in the news the last few years.  Ethics goes to more than just what the law requires (although it certainly encompasses that) and goes to the seemingly nebulous idea of “what is right”.  My full-time “real” job is completely comprised of handling business ethics where I work.  I know, I know… you’re thinking to yourself that it seems impossible that someone with my chiseled features and build is not making a living as an inspiration of nouveau sculptures of Greek gods, but there’s really a lot less of that kind of work than you would think.  Quite a bummer.

I believe very strongly that ethics is not just something that’s “good to do”, but in the business world, it’s also a competitive advantage.  Don’t believe me?  Think of the car mechanic your family swears by because he does great work, doesn’t overcharge and genuinely lets you know when something is wrong with your vehicle.  We will tend to gravitate much more strongly towards those who give us a square deal and we do not feel completely slimy after a business transaction with them.  Plus, a business committed to acting ethically is also going to be a place that is very well-run anyway.

If there is something in the world of ethics (whether business or just personal) that makes my gray matter light up with red flags, it would have to be someone using my all-time favorite justification for unethical conduct.  Yes, that’s right good people… “Everyone else is doing it!” *shudder*  Remember trying that one on your mom?  Remember how that went?  Yeah, me too.

This is why I was so struck by this piece over at Time Out New York from this past Summer.  There is a Broadway revival of The Fantasticks and Ben Brantley from The New York Times went to it and wrote a review.  Generally speaking, he didn’t care for it.  But he did have a little bit of positive reaction to one actor in the piece, Tom Jones:

Unlike much of the rest of this production, he feels like the real thing… [he] gives a perfectly pitched, disarmingly sincere performance that captures why The Fantasticks became the enduring favorite it did.

Mr. Brantley also went on to conclude with an observation of how he thought when he saw the original piece at age 9, he was enchanted.  So on this piece he writes:

And who knows? There may be a few 9-year-olds out there…who will conclude that The Fantasticks is the last word in theatrical sophistication.

Easy enough.  He did not care for the piece, one actor had the feel and spark of the original production and maybe some 9 year olds will think it is a sophisticated piece of theater.

Here’s the problem… the photo below is what was posted outside the theater as a quote from this reviewer:

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Umm… what?  That’s not even in the ZIP code of what the review was and yet, somehow this is what Broadway shows apparently do.  I have seen a bit more of this in terms of selected quotes for movie reviews, but this may be the most blatant example I have seen of cobbling together bits and piece of someone’s words to create a meaning that was simply not present.

To top it off, one of the people responding to this Time Out New York piece in the comments wrote the following:

Mr Brantley’s quote is the reason I bought a ticket to The Fantasticks last week. In a single word The Fantastciks is magical. It is a simple musical, love story, poetically played by a wonderful cast. I have seen The Fantasticks several times, and this production currently playing at The Snapple Theater Center is the best I have seen. But that isn’t why you have attacked this quote and theater is it? I would like you to show me any Broadway, or Off Broadway show that doesn’t pull words from sentences in order to bring in audiences. Why not let the public decide. When I saw the show last week, it was to a sold out house.I don’t care who wrote it, or even didn’t write it. The fact is that it is a true statement. Now really, there must be more news worthy stories out there for you.

Really?  Is there where we have come to?  That if the ends justify the means (i.e. this one woman enjoyed it based on the review so it becomes a “true statement”) so all is right with the world?  Or because other Broadway shows dissect a review done to get enough words in a proper order to create a positive review, we should shrug our shoulders?

Maybe this seems like I am blowing out of proportion something small, but it is something I believe that should matter to each of us as individuals.  Your integrity is yours and yours alone to nurture, protect and develop.  Trust is hard to develop, easy to ruin and then near impossible to build back up depending on the magnitude of the let down.  Just a lesson that if you want to work towards respect (personal or professional), it’s not a sometime thing… it’s an all the time thing.  And the world’s worst attempted shortcut when deciding how to work through a dilemma is what everyone else may be doing.

And before you demand I get off my highest of horses… it’s not about being perfect, but it is about doing your best… and this was not someone’s best or anywhere close to it.  A little effort, people!