Tag Archives: life improvement

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?

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.

That Sweet Slow Burn

Inner Glow
Sarah Spaulding via Compfight

There are a lot of ways to think about passion, but whenever we do, it’s most associated with heat in some for or another.  White-hot passion about something or someone is certainly the sexier version, of course.  What’s interesting to me about something so heated is that it often needs so much more fuel to keep it stoked.

Then there’s the smoldering passion.  It’s not nearly as sexy and, at times, can almost seem to be non-existent.  Low and slow blends into the background a lot more.  That’s just not that interesting… is it?

I know that I feel that way at varying times in my life.  You know the mentality: GO BIG OR GO HOME!  INTENSITY!  GOTTA ME EXXXTREEEEEEEME!

*ahem*  It can be get to be a little much and makes you really prone to burnout.  Stunner right?

But today is not about the streaking comet across the sky, but about the embers, smoldering away, low and slow.

There is a steadiness to that sweet slow burn that I think deserves praise.  It’s got the stamina to hang in there, but where the real magic lies is for it to go from low and slow to big and bright.  It just needs well-timed oxygen to drive it from a mellow glow to a total blaze.

The ember may be my new mental image to keep myself better grounded in my own passions.  As mentioned above, I tend to be more all-or-nothing and, truthfully, while the periods of all can be incredible, you can only push that for so long before the nothing strikes at your like an viper from the shadows.  But the glowing ember?  That’s the burn that stays, remains strong and while it needs tending, it has sustaining power.  And the best part?  It can be fanned to greater heat when needed.

Because who needs that all the time and at every moment?  I know I don’t.  And let’s be clear – it’s not like this a suggestion of living life without passion.  Totally the opposite.

Just understand your intensity and where it gets it’s best use.

Stoke that sweet slow burn… and when you need it… fan it to full-on ferocity.

Photo from Sarah Spaulding via Compfight

What Motivates The Motivator

Gratuitous photo of my dapper self. Why? Well, why the hell not?

Thursday AM this past week was a conditioning day and instead of my typical fun with the Prowler, I thought I would change things up and do some 50 yard sprints at the football field of my town’s high school.

On the drive over to the field, my mind gently wandered about a little bit and I began to think about this blog and the overall message of it.  I think this was motivated by a book I am reading on blogging that advises bloggers to develop their “elevator pitch” to easily explain what their blog is all about.

Then I got to thinking about others I’ve seen who have motivational style posts… except… well… there was something about their message I couldn’t quite shake.

The solution?

Make a video about it.  Put it on the YouTubes.  Boom.  Go time.

If You Think It, It Will Come

Careful planning. Fierce execution. Totally sweet lighting.

Let’s chat for a minute about improving yourself.  Sure, that’s most of the theme of this blog in general, but let’s talk about it in a seemingly unique and obvious concept.  Yes, unique does not often go with obvious, but damn it, tonight it will.

Suppose for a moment you wanted to improve your health, fitness, well-being or some other part of your physical being.  Would you just sort of amble about through the day and hope that after a while, you were better off than when you started?  Wait… you wouldn’t?  Come on… seriously?

Seems pretty straightforward.  You don’t tend to get better by accident.  There is effort, focus, determination, planning and execution of that planning.  It’s not even that complicated – it just takes actually putting into motion a half-decent plan.  Not even a great plan necessarily – just something semi-good that you give strong effort to.

Everything you’ve read up to this point is the obvious part.  Here is what is a little unique: Why is it so damn few people, including me, take that same approach when it comes to their “inner” development?  It’s as if the path to being a better person lies in just saying one day, “Hey, I want to be get better…” at some positive personal quality (listener/thinker/more caring/more resilient/better empathy/stand up for themselves) and one day, BOOM!  There it is!  Glory, glory hallelujah!  Sing unto the heavens for I have raised myself up to new heights!  Can I get an amen?  AYYYYYYY-MEN!

I am a bit taken aback by the extent to which I swing and miss on this very point.  My approach to physical training is focused, planned and borderline obsessive (I prefer meticulous, but then again, I am powerful sweet and don’t see this as a bad thing).  I know I need to do certain lifts to get stronger in particular areas and I need to work conditioning to stay in shape.  I know if I just blow them off, nothing happens… well, nothing good at least.  But what about wanting to be less distracted and more thoughtful/focused?  Don’t I need to have a plan for that?  Don’t I need to spend actual time on getting better at that?

It’s as I act like these things will just be taken care of because, hell, my mind is going all day long so… umm… it must be working on something.  Maybe it’s working on my being more thoughtful too!  WOO!

Horrible, horrible plan.  And especially galling considering how perfectly clear it is to me that a lot of work goes into my physical development.  It’s borderline silly I don’t have time set aside to think about my personal development.

Until now.  Finally got that booked into my calendar on a daily basis and what now becomes important is this: Will I do it?  Will I guard that time and treat it with the same level of care I do my training?  If I do, good things will come.  If I don’t… well… then I will just be back to knowing that a very good intention married to a non-existant plan is a sure bet for a looking utterly dopey.

And this blog is not about sheepishly sitting idle.  It’s relentlessly pushing myself forward.  May I not just write it, but live it.

 

Explaining the (Seemingly) Inexplicable

I take a lot of pride in this here blog.  Every post I write very much comes from the heart – what I write here, I mean and believe.

But here is something a little funny about the blog.  Friends of mine who mention the blog to others who haven’t read it will turn to me and say, “Kev, tell them what your blog is about.”  And you know what I inevitably do?  I pause… like, for a while.  Not the thoughtful pause of a man with great wisdom who is merely taking a moment to let the listener pull closer before he unveils the truth of the universe.  Oh, how I wish.

No, it’s more like a pause of, “Sweet mother of God… how do I describe the shenanigans I write on this site?  Think, think, think… umm… damn it all…”

So in the interest of having a more well-constructed answer than my typical response of “Well… it’s about a lot of things…” (a real crowd-pleaser, by the way), I will seek to answer in this post.

I am a very strong believer in the idea that every person must have core principles they hold very dear which guide them through life.  This doesn’t need to be a massive list – in fact, it should be purposefully brief so as to avoid conflict, confusion and doubt.  This blog is a reflection of a few of my core views of life: (1)we are each made up of equal parts mind, body and spirit; (2) a lot of life is thoughtfully developing these things over time; and (3) the development of each of these can have a hugely positive impact on the other parts.

The best example I can give is the meaning of weight training to me and the impact it has had on my life.  Lifting weights, especially over the last 5-8 years as I’ve gotten a lot more thoughtful and focused in this effort, has certainly done quite a bit to develop my physical capabilities, but has probably had at least an equal positive impact on my mindset and confidence.  There is an inherently amazing level of self-understanding you develop when you throw a few hundred pounds of weight on your back… especially a weight you have never handled in your life… and then see if you can lift it.  You begin to wonder about things like:

Will I be able to handle it?  What happens if I screw up?  How will I handle that gnawing fear in my gut that this lift is going to go straight to hell and take me to the floor in the process?  Will I be afraid to try again if I fail?  If I succeed, how do I keep progressing?

Vasiliy Alekseyev – One powerful dude.

A great example is a story I’ve heard numerous times about Vasiliy Alekseyev, one of the greatest Olympic weightlifters of all time.  He was stuck on one of his lifts at a particular weight – no matter how many times he tried it, he simply could not seem to complete the lift at the weight in question.  So, when he went into a competition, his coach had him lift just below at what that weight was… except that’s only what he told Vasiliy.  In reality, he had the bar set with the weight Vasiliy had never been able to lift.  Up to the platform this giant of a man steps, grabs the weight… completes the lift.

Was he physically any different at that moment?  Of course not.  He was mentally stuck about what he could and couldn’t do, so it took a little trickery from his coach to get him past that seemingly insurmountable set point.

So what does all of this have to do with Fierce and Mighty?  Oh, I have the answer for you (umm… which is most of the reason I asked the question – I don’t want to look like a complete maroon, ya know).

It can take the success of a physical act to get you to see new potential in yourself, not just in the weight room or the track or the pool or the field, but in your entire life.  When you can demonstrate to yourself time and time again that you can break through your own preconceived ideas of what is possible, the carryover to other parts of your life is absolutely striking.

That’s what this blog is about more than anything else: my personal journey on the path to developing body/mind/spirit in equal parts, learning something in the process and sharing all of it with you in the hopes you may find benefit as well.  I may give advice here, but it always comes from a place of my own steps to follow that advice too.

So that’s Fierce and Mighty, described as best I can.  Now if I can just figure out how to explain that to someone in 10 seconds or less in a conversation, I might really be onto something.

Present Pain. Future Payoff.

A little slice of personal joy

A funny thing happened on the way to my soccer game this past Sunday.  Not like literally during the drive over, but in the time leading up to the game and it all happened without me specifically noticing it.

As I mentioned a little bit in my post yesterday on potential, my experience at Tough Mudder really opened my eyes a bit to what I can and cannot do.  Going through such an unbelievably challenging event like that (probably the hardest physical thing I have ever done) made me reflective in the weeks that followed.  If you asked “How so, you charming devil?”, well… then (1) thank you for the compliment you kind and observant soul; and (2) let me tell you.

Between work busy-ness and life busy-ness and all the lifting and physical training I do anyway, I’ve sometimes been concerned about overdoing it.  As Saint Mom Kuzia has always said about me, I tend to be either all-in or all-out.  I’m not terribly good at finding that smooth, even-keeled middle that some other people tend to have as they navigate the waves of life.  I’ve gotten a little better in this regard, but certainly not great.  So I have had times where I felt rundown or tired or unmotivated as I pushed through my training sessions.  I would chalk this up to life catching up with me and just being way, way, waaaaay too overstretched.

After Tough Mudder, I suddenly wasn’t so sure.  I certainly have more stress than I would care for, but was that really what was limiting me?  Or, as I wrote yesterday, had I created an artificial boundary around my own potential?  I decided to say “Screw it” and see if I couldn’t get a little more juice going for myself by pushing a little harder in each training session I had.

Lo and behold!  I play soccer this past Sunday, switch to more of a midfield position versus my typical backfield defender position… I need to run a ton more… and probably played the best game I have had in YEARS.  I am no by NO MEANS some kind of talented soccer wiz – quite the contrary.  I picked up the game seriously 10 years ago at 29 and have loved it ever since, but I will never be the guy to dazzle you with my deft footwork and majestic shots on goal.  I’m a worker.  A scrapper.  A hustler… and boy did I hustle this past week and had a ton of fun doing it.

None of this would have happened if I didn’t get myself out of that preconceived notion of my own boundaries.  That’s the beauty of finding moments to really get out of your own comfort zone – the time in that awkward experience is likely terribly unpleasant, but in many ways, you aren’t doing it for that moment, but for ones that follow.

Present pain.  Future payoff.  An excellent personal transaction.

The Size and Shape of Potential

After I did yesterday’s post, the topic of potential started knocking around a lot in my brain for the rest of the day.  You see, I find potential to be one of the more interesting concepts to think about because it has a lot of nuances to it, both good and bad.  I think this is why I have a little bit of a love/hate relationship with potential.

The positive side of potential is fairly obvious: it’s about having the chance to do much, be much and achieve much.  It’s about that bright horizon of promise where so many good things await and you just want to sprint towards it with fervor.  WOO!  GET SOME!

On the other side of the ledger, I think about the quote from former NFL coach Brian Billick when he said, “Son, your potential is going to get me fired.”  The darker side of potential is that it means someone has gifts, talents and abilities… but without the realization of those innate qualities.  Hmm… that’s never good.  This is when all the promise and hope bumps up against the passage of time and people begin to ask, “Umm… soooo… do you plan on actually doing anything with all of your gifts?  Or are ya just gonna sit on them?”  Oof.  Not good.

Potential: cool and refreshing

It made me think about what analogy works best for potential. My initial thought was a glass of water.  There sits a nice, cold, refreshing glass of water representing all of your potential.  If it just sits there and is ignored, it’s just going to become room temperature and possibly taste a little funky after a while.  Instead, you want to get into and drink deeply of it to gain all of its great benefits.

But what happens when you start to get near the bottom of the glass?  When there is just sips left?  Sure, you have nearly maximized everything of that crisp, satisfying potential… umm… but then what?  It’s gone?  Empty?  Nothing left?  What do you look forward to now?  Is there some kind of problem with being incredibly efficient at bringing out the best of the glass of potential you have because one it’s all done… that’s it?

It was at this point I realized the problem was more with the structure of the analogy.  Sure, there is something keenly appealing about the idea of the cold glass of water and making use of it instead of letting it become lukewarm and bleah… but it really hit me that our potential is never going to be a finite container.  How could it be?

We can always develop and get a little better than before – mentally, spiritually, emotionally and physically.  There may be some outer boundaries at some point.  For instance, the window of opportunity for me to fulfill my lifelong dream of playing running back for the Dallas Cowboys is quickly closing… and shut your filthy mouths, you naysayers who say it was never open!  But you see what I mean – I probably will not develop 4.2 speed and the ability to hit an inside draw for a game winning touchdown in Dallas.  That’s OK.

But a lot of my other physical development?  I don’t see any outer limits right now.  It may all take a while, but it’s there because… why the hell not?  You and I are mostly limited by our own set boundaries in the end.

Or intellectual development – does anyone seriously believe they have capped out there?  Who couldn’t learn more and open up their mind to new and exciting possibilities until they draw their very last breath?  I will tell you who – those who decided it couldn’t be done and stunted their own growth in that area.  Them and them alone.

I think that was the most eye-opening part of doing the Tough Mudder a few weeks back.  In the middle of the race, several hours in and feeling tired and beaten all to hell, I realized one important thing – as banged up as I felt, I knew I would finish.  I simply knew it as sure as I was drawing breath (which was probably more like wheezing at that moment, but still a form of oxygen intake regardless).  If I could push through that, what else could I do?

Truthfully, all of my physical training since that time has been markedly improved because the 6 grueling hours of that race showed me where I had limited myself in the past.  It took that grind to break down my self-created walls and open up some squeaky-clean and shiny-new potential.

Flex those boundaries a bit today, my friends.  They will stretch more than you think… especially because you probably created 90% of them anyway.

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.

Many Steps Back

Hard Work

It’s a pretty common refrain to speak of taking a step back to make two steps forward.  It’s not a bad thought – every now and again we probably need to take stock, reset where we are on something in our lives and then let that step back lead to even better progress than when we started.  The tricky piece is that even when you logically know that you will be better off after the step back, it’s still sometimes a challenge to do that.  Why?  Because who doesn’t want to be advancing all the time.  We like progress – we fight against regression.

Today’s vlog is about how I am not taking one or two steps back, but perhaps many.  It’s not easy… not at all.  Personal pride is a very powerful force, but I think it’s going to be right for me in the end.

As an added bonus, you get to see me act like an utter lunatic for a few seconds. Sunday fun for the whole family!