Tag Archives: potential

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.

Morning and Clean Sheets of Paper

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but mornings have become something I enjoy quite a bit.  I was never truly a late night party machine to begin withm as any friend of mine reading this will laugh loudly while saying, “Whoooaaaa… big breaking news there…”  I do enjoy quite a bit about the evening time, but for me it’s the winding down feeling I enjoy, not a time to getting buckwild crazy.  For instance, one of my favorite memories is when I used to live along the Connecticut shoreline, I would head down to the beach on a clear night and sit up in one of the lifeguard chairs for a while.  It was just incredibly peaceful to sit there in the darkness, maybe with some moonlight, and watch the waves lap the shore.

I think my fascination with mornings is due to the feeling that with a new day brings the chance for good, new things to happen.  There is always something inherently positive about that in my mind.  Are there mornings where I am decidedly unexcited about what lies in store for me that day?  Oh, hell yes.  Let’s not get ridiculous about this – I am not going to pretend I walk out the door each morning with the figurative bluebirds of happiness chirping upon each of my shoulders.

But there is just the fact that a new day is starting and I have the chance to make of it what I will.  This is the same feeling I have when I sit down in front of a nice, clean sheet of paper.  What will transpire with that paper is completely up to me.  It could be a mundane shopping list or a series of to-do projects requiring my attention.  It could also be a sketch or a frenetic set of ideas I am excited to get down on paper and organize for a blog post, a training program or just some insight that mysterious popped into my noggin.

It’s the promise of it all that fascinates me.  I have talked about potential before here and here, so I think it’s clear that leaving potential unrealized or without effort to achieve is something to avoid… but it still fires my imagination overall.

So as I write this very morning and think more about the good things in life, I am upbeat and ready to get moving a little bit.  OK, that could be the coffee, but it’s more likely the power of mornings.

Here’s to hoping for good things in store today for you.  That big, clean sheet of paper is in front of us all.  Give it something good.

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.

Half-Truths, Mistruths and Damned Lies

My t-shirt inspired my blog post today.  Even looking at those words after typing them looks and feels a little odd, but it doesn’t make the initial statement any less true.  The t-shirt in question is here as Exhibit A:

Photo on 6-5-12 at 8.16 AMPhoto on 6-5-12 at 8.15 AM #3

Man that’s a lot of good-looking going on there.  But I digress (per usual).

The t-shirt comes from Jim Wendler, the creator of the 5/3/1 system for weight training.  I’m not sure the origins of the quote, but it’s always something that struck me a little bit in how it can be applicable in so many areas.  From Jim’s perspective, it pertains primarily to how the fitness industry bombards people with such bad information, snake oil ripoffs and thick layers of hype, none of which will make you any stronger, faster, fitter or healthier (but will likely line the pockets of someone who cares little about you achieving any of those goals).

But today my thoughts on this shirt had less to do with strength training and more to a broader application of the statement.  It’s fairly simple to me:

Every single day, in some way, shape or fashion, society is lying to you, me and everyone else you know.  It’s constant.  It’s pervasive.

Now, if you are thinking, “Who slipped the paranoia pills into your coffee this morning, wacko?” I’m not sure I would blame you.  My assertion is a wee bit on the broad side, but stop for a second and think about it and you will likely come around to my vantage point on this issue.

How often do we hear about the negatives of the world?  The restrictive ideas of who we can be or what we can achieve?  The constant pigeon-holing of everyone into neatly categorized little boxes where we are defined by our jobs?  Or defined by some narrow stereotype or title about how we should live our lives?  Or think about problems big and small?

Let me see if I can illustrate by way of example: Does being a lawyer by training define who I am?  I would never see it that way, although I probably did while in law school and for a while after graduating until one day it occurred to me that was such a confining way of living my life.

Or how about one’s age?  A lot of people have been posting fond memories on Facebook of actress Kathryn Joosten who just passed away at the age of 72.  She didn’t even start acting until she was 42 and only moved to Hollywood when she was 55 years old.  What if she listened to the idea that no one can make a new start (let alone one in the age-obsessed film and TV industry) at such and age?  She would have never had the chance to win 2 Emmy awards.

I could go on and on about this point, but hey, I’m a swell dude and will spare you a mind-numbing barrage of examples to prove the same point… and that point is this:

Today you will be exposed to a colleague, friend, family member, TV commercial, stranger in the street, billboard or God only knows what else that will try and tell you what your potential may or may not be.  It may sound kindly and will almost assuredly be very well-intentioned… but it also may very well be a complete fabrication.

Don’t listen.  Don’t give in.  Be that which you long to be.  And I will give all I can to do the same.

Deal?  Deal.

The Potential of Potential

Our Potential by Hugh MacLeod
Our Potential by Hugh MacLeod

I wanted to get out a quick thought this AM that was inspired by the cartoon above from the always excellent Hugh McLeod at gapingvoid.com (I own one of his prints and it hangs proudly in my home office as a little reminder to myself to fight the status quo).  If you haven’t checked out his site, you owe it to yourself to do so.

Potential is a funny thing… we all want it for ourselves, as we should.  We want to know that there is a limitless amount of possibility for ourselves and where we choose to take our lives.  However, potential has an interesting flip side to it when it comes to our own personal potential… the longer we have it without it being fulfilled, the worse it really is.  Then it becomes a reminder of what we could do, but haven’t.  Ugh.

It’s as if potential was an empty vessel of some kind and the larger it is, the more chance we have to fill it… but if it stays empty or barely filled, it just get dusty and disappointing.  It’s there to be filled.  It’s meant to be filled… or at the very least, the attempt to fulfill on its promise must always be engaged.

Before anyone thinks I am taking a good thing and looking only at its ugly side, I’m actually not being a pessimist here.  Instead, I seek to jab all of us in the side with a reminder that potential is a great thing, but a massive amount of unfulfilled potential due to lack of interest, desire or just plain hard work will always pale in comparison to someone who may have less, but dagnabbit, gets after it with fervor. And each of us never truly knows how big that vessel of potential is, do we?  Isn’t it better to put your head down, kick ass and see where the limits may be?  I’ve long had the suspicion that it’s not finite, but grows as we do…

There is also another very positive side to the concept of potential and this is less about your own personal abilities and gifts and more about what life can offer you.  In that sense, I know there is no upper limit to what can be.  The opportunities to try things, do things, see things and experience things is pretty much limitless.

So therein lies the battle cry for each of us (and definitely for me… remember people, I write this just as much to kick my own behind into action as yours): If we can each keep pushing the bounds of our own personal potential and life will always offer us limitless potential, then bringing those two things together is about as perfect a marriage as you can get.

In the words of two of the greatest poets of our time… Salt-n-Pepa, obviously… push it.  Push it real good.

The Intelligence of Hard Work

Certain things in life will always stick out in your mind, irrespective of when they happened.  I’ve never been able to figure out why I remember certain things or events with the utmost clarity and yet can’t remember at all something from the day before.  Whatever flips that switch, I have no idea, but it would be cool to find out more about it.  In that vein, I always remember a conversation I had with a few guys in college, I think around my junior year.

I had the reputation for being the studious one and probably with good reason.  I never skipped a class in my entire college career… except for one time… and that was so I could do work for a different class.  It was just how I operated since I was very single-minded in my focus to get the best possible grades to help me get into the best possible law school.  Anyway, the topic of grades, studying and intelligence came up and two of these guys said to me, “You know, Kuz… it’s not that you’re really any smarter than either of us.  It’s just that you study more.  I’m sure if we studied that much we would do just as well.”

Even today, some 19 years later, that STILL makes me laugh and shake my head in disbelief, for the simple reason that it’s just a cop-out for being mediocre.

Sound harsh?  Perhaps… but it’s something I continue to see or hear about today in a variety of contexts.

“Well, I would look as good as Sally if I spent that much time in the gym and was that strict about my eating…”

“Sure, Larry is moving up in the company… but hell, I could do that if I was a workaholic like him…”

Now, if you are comfortable with who you are, please don’t let me try and convince you to be otherwise.  It’s really not my place and I’m a firm believer that each of us has the freedom to pursue whatever path in life brings us the greatest happiness and inner joy, provided that walking such path doesn’t harm others around you.

2010-08-04 20.25.02

But I can’t believe the extent to which people will shake off the commitment, drive and passion of others as being seemingly nothing and if they worked as hard as that person, they would be in the same place.  Here’s the problem with that thinking: If you don’t put in that work, you’re just not the same.  You’re not… and no amount of patting yourself on the back with notions of “If I only did X…” will change that… unless you starting doing whatever X may be.  This is a line of argument that places some vague, hazy notion of “potential” far above working to get someplace.  Potential… in the end… is more of a nice notion and all it means, in the end, is something great that has not been fulfilled as of yet.

Potential is a great thing to have… but only for a very, very small window.  Hanging onto potential too long just becomes a disappointing case of “What could have been…”

None of us has to be like gym rat and diet freak like Sally or work-’round-the-clock like Larry.  We each get our choices and if you choose a different path, more power to you.  I am in full support of that with all my heart.

But the point at which we seek to tear down those who have chosen their own path with notions that we could each reach that too it IF ONLY… then we not only discredit their passion (a horrible act in my book), but we also look to soothe ourselves with a balm of settling for mediocre and explaining it away as if it were acceptable because we could easily get to that place too.  That’s justifying something average.

I don’t come at any of this from a place of cockiness or arrogance – just from knowing that nothing good is achieved or worthwhile without some hard work to get there.  I am far from perfect and would never, ever describe myself as the purest paragon never-ending, ceaseless hard work… but I do work pretty hard for what I believe in.

Remember… the crime is not in picking your own path, but in making that of another who pursues theirs with drive seem like something anyone could do.  I’ve caught myself in this trap a few times before, but with some awareness now, I will battle hard never to do it again.

“We could get your grades, Kuz, if we just studied as much as you do…”  But they didn’t.  And hard work is an intelligence all its own.