Tag Archives: reflection

I Got 99 Problems and They’re High Class Ones

All of this storm stuff got me to thinking. I know, I know… every time that happens I tread into dangerous, uncharted territory, but I’ve also got a lot of time on my hands, so these things will just happen.  I was having a conversation with a friend recently where we were talking about various problems we face and the one thing I told her was, “Remember… these are high class problems… the kind that are almost nice to have.”

So what do I mean by a high class problem?  Well, not really the Jay-Z style problem:

Although I suspect the problems Mr. Sean Carter faces these days are much more high class than he dealt with growing up.

I define a high class problem as the kind of problem that may seem like an issue… but really isn’t in the grand scheme of things. An illustration in thinking of myself since the “winter” storm Alfred hit.  I lost power and was without TV, computer and heat.  I also had to lift in my basement by candlelight.  High class problems all.  No one should shed tears for me since I have a HDTV, MacBook Pro and am fortunate enough to even have a gym in my basement to begin with.  Or even the fact that my weightlifting of late has been pretty flat and I feel all banged up.  High class problem.  You get the picture.

There are 2 big challenges of the high class problem, as I see it.

First, even when you identify them, that doesn’t mean you instantly realize you shouldn’t be so concerned about them.  We don’t always instantly shift into a state of epiphany.  Well, at least I don’t.  If you do… damn… please write a book on it.  I’ll buy it.

Second, the realization of problems as high class can sometimes send us into a full-on state of guilt.  Why?  Because it’s easy to realize there will always be people out there worse off than us… so even having a moment to complain about a high class problem seems incredibly shallow. I think that’s being overly hard on yourself since we are just human after all… but at least taking the time to reflect on why your problem should not cause undue grief is probably the better path to walk.

If I seem a little fixated on the perspective thing of late, I probably am.  Travel always does that to me, but the next would be down time without competing priorities.  And that’s me right now.  Fear not – I have an idea for another blog post to do in the next day or so.  I might even be able to do it from my house without 15 layers of wool, fleece and blankets.

Nor’easters and Forced Perspective

It’s a lovely day here in New England… well, I mean it’s lovely if you look past the massive power outages, electrical wires draped across road, trees smashing into cars and the prospect of no electricity for up to week.  But beyond all that, it’s a lovely day in… October.  I need to re-check my calendar… huh, it really is October?  Hmm.

Snowtober damage
You mean your Octobers aren't like this too?

This above photo is a taste of what awaited me when I sojourned out of my house to see how things were today.  As extreme as that looks, it was not terribly unusual during my travel of about 1.5 miles to the highway.  Seriously.

This is the second time in the last several months that severe weather has caused a power outage which is supposed to last days.  Yesterday I made the best of it as the power went out during my lifting session in my home gym.  As my previous post shows, it’s amazing how you can get in a darn fine workout by candlelight.

But what all of this also does is force perspective upon many people yet again.  Sure, there is the initial levels of outrage over events out of the control of we mere mortals – just look at Facebook for anyone you know in my area for proof of that.  But then at some level, you are immediately forced into thinking about what is truly essential: food, warmth, shelter and the well-being of those you love.  Those rise to the top of the list in an eyeblink.

It’s also an interesting lesson in how far removed we are as human beings from truly having to rely on our own wits on a daily basis. Hell, we are so far removed from that kind of pure self-reliance that we create reality game shows to mimic that experience so we can watch it unfold in the comfort of our own homes.

Believe me – I have bitched a bit about this power outage too.  I think it’s natural.  It’s a horrible inconvenience… but it will go away and I will return to First World living.  However, I am hoping to get myself to step back and appreciate what I have a little bit more because I am only experiencing a few days worth of what far too many people experiencing constantly.  If the worst thing that happens to me today is my inability to watch the NFL, then that’s a fairly high class problem to have.

And if you are wondering how I am able to even get this blog post up given the state of power in the glorious Constitution State… my place of work still has power… and I am completely unsurprised by that. Nothing seems to stop this place. Ever.

My Worst Day

A topic very near and dear to my heart is perspective – why it matters, how people lose it, how to get it and how it just frames the every day experience of life so beautifully.  It’s just one of those things that when I am doing my best at cultivating it, I feel unbelievably blessed to have the life I do.

I have bad days, just like anyone else. Days where I feel beaten down or stressed out or lacking motivation or just feeling a bit sad.  I just generally accept this as being part of life, but I do my best not to dwell on these kinds of moments… at least not for too long.  Stopping for a moment, clearing my head and gaining some of that valuable perspective is always the best way to move past these kinds of events and feelings.

Why?  Because when I do step back and look at my life objectively, how can I not see how good I have it?

This video excerpt from the CBS show “Undercover Boss” does a perfect job of showing why perspective matters:

 

 

Boom. If you’ve always had it good, it gets reaaaaaally easy to not appreciate the fact that it’s not always that way for many people.

And the video is also a perfect and powerful reminder that the absolute worst of the worst days I experience in my life are a dream to hundreds of millions of people.  Not hundreds. Not thousands. Not even millions… but hundreds of millions.  And it’s not because I am just so amazing and everyone should aspire to be me and that I have the ultimate secret to success.  I don’t and I would hardly qualify as anything amazing… but I like to think I qualify as someone with a healthy sense of self-awareness and understanding of my place in the world.

I hope and pray I never lose sight of that fact so that it keeps me grateful, humble, balanced and reflective with a willingness to always help out those around me.

Perspective defined

Because if the above oft-shared poster is even half true, I should never, ever have something to complain about.

The Fine Line Between Possibility and Stupidity

People who lift weights… I mean really lift weights… tend to get viewed through a certain lens by a large bulk of society. Muscle = moron in a lot of contexts. You need look no further than your average Planet Fitness commercial. It’s as if there is an inversely proportionate relationship between size and smarts. It’s fairly ridiculous, but since it tends to make for an easier way to categorize or pigeonhole people, then hey… why the heck not? There are certainly people I’ve met who reinforce the view that weight trainers are not even as bright as the iron they throw around, however, there is also an inherent sense of wisdom in those who take their lifting seriously that I don’t think anyone outside of the lifting community ever really understand.

Let me see if I can illustrate a bit.

I stroll into my basement gym on the day I will be doing deadlifts. Now, the deadlift is a fairly straightforward exercise: the bar is on the ground and your job is to pick it up off the floor to a standing position. There is more technique to it than just that, but at the end of the day, that’s about it. Bar on floor. Bar being held in standing position. Ta da!

Bar waiting for a deadlift

But the deadlift, like many big lifts in weight training, is also a greater truth serum that sodium pentothal. Either you can pick up the weight or you can’t. There is no debating with it. There’s no reasoning with it. And the beauty… perhaps the misery… of the deadlift is that when the weight is too much for you, it stays completely stuck to the floor. On a lot of other lifts, there can be a modicum of movement before you bomb out and sometimes you can pull the bar a few inches up in a deadlift before all hell breaks loose… but much of the time, there is absolutely nothing.

That’s humbling. It never feels good. You know what else it is? An incredible learning experience in the shape of steel and iron.

When you get pretty serious about weight training (as I believe I generally am), there is a pursuit of pushing yourself a little further all the time and over a period of time. You are continuously pushing the outer edge of what you believe to be possible for yourself. I could deadlift 405 lbs. before and suddenly… huh… I can lift 425 lbs… and now I can do 445 lbs… and I never thought I would get there. Then one day… BOOM! I’m stuck. I can’t get any more than 445 lbs. I know exactly where I stand at that moment – again, the weight simply does not lie.

But what I am trying to do is move past that limit and see what else I can accomplish. At it’s most basic level, when I go down into my gym and lift weights, I am constantly looking to see what my limits are and how I can exceed them. It’s as if the entire activity has nothing to do with getting bigger or getting more muscle or any of that and everything to do with learning more about who I am, how I handle adversity and whether I can pick myself up when I get knocked down. It’s a constant learning and testing experience when done properly. In some ways, those who take this activity so seriously have a finer understanding of who they are than 99.9% of the people on the planet.

It’s certainly not just weightlifters either. Endurance athletes looking to run farther and faster or the Crossfit devotee who is looking to finish their WOD with more weight in less time fit the bill as well.

Everyone in this community who takes training (not just working out or going for a light jog or looking to “tone” up for Summer) seriously is always walking the fine line between find out what is possible and pushing themselves too hard to potentially get hurt, burned out or maybe just get funny looks from family and friends. To many, all of it looks more like stupidity than possibility. But sometimes you need to risk a bit in the search for greater self-knowledge. And trust me… I don’t want to get hurt (been there a bunch of times) or burn out (I am there right now because my ego outstripped my recovery ability)… but I must confess I do enjoy the funny looks from time to time. 🙂

So before you see someone who takes their weight training incredibly seriously as basically a semi-evolved primate… stop and ask yourself… when was the last time you put yourself in a situation where you were forced to figure out what was truly possible? And then think about what it would be like to do that 3… 4… 5… maybe even 6 times per week.

If you realize it’s been a while, then I would prescribe a little bit of iron therapy. You would be amazed at what you will discover about what is possible within you.

The Plank in My Eye

I think I’m like many people who can be a total ace at passing out advice that I then do a less-than-ideal job of following for myself.  I don’t think there is anything remarkable about that in myself or in others – it’s just far easier to cast the penetrating light of truth upon a situation removed from myself than it is to see that same case in me.

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Case in point.  This past season of coaching baseball, one of the things we implored of our kids was to be aggressive and not fear the consequences that would follow.  If they were going all out and made a mistake in the process, ehh… that’s fine.  More often than not, their aggressive on the baseball diamond would be rewarded with something good than a mistake.  Plus, we kept reminding them… this is baseball.  A game.  Something to have fun with and not something with the future of mankind perilously hanging in the balance.  I think we made a bit of progress on this with a lot of the boys and I hope it sticks with them.  If there is one HUGE thing I’ve noticed in youth sports, it’s that the kids who are either the most aggressive or the least concerned about making mistakes are the ones who do best (and also seem to have the most fun).

And God forbid it all be it about fun.  I know… that’s a pretty nutty thing to say about youth sports.  We’re supposed to be prepping every little Johnny and Jane to be Olympic-calibre athletes from the time they are 6 right? (I will now seek to turn down my sarcasm a shade).

Getting back to the notion of seeing the speck in your brother’s eye while missing the plank in your own.  Yeah… that’s right… I just went Biblical.

A few weeks back I was playing a game in my basketball league and I was absolutely awful.  I mean… just… wow… I was really bad.  My time on the court seemed to serve little purpose outside spelling a teammate who needed to rest for a bit.  I was tentative and second-guessing and awkward.  It was probably one of the worst basketball experiences I’ve had in my life, outside of some bad Nerf hoop experiences when super young.  You know those where you are just starting to learn to play, but have an older brother who just swats away every shot you put up with that puffy orange ball?  So yeah, besides that, my worst outing ever.

Then it hit me loud and clear and with no small amount of force: I was exactly like one of the 10 to 12 year olds I had just finished coaching who didn’t seem to get out of his shell and just be aggressive.  Boom – head shot.  I sat there as a coach and felt I was so wise with all my perspective on the value of being aggressive and how you not only play better, but have more fun… and yet I never saw it in myself.

I played again last night, freshly self-chastised for coaching one way and playing another, and guess what?  I played much better, was much more aggressive, had a blast and smiled throughout a lot of the game (even at some of the awful calls made by our fine officials).  Heck, we won too.

The lesson in all of this for me is simple and direct: If I have an insight for someone else… whether while coaching or with someone coming to me for advice… I need to immediately take an opportunity to then look at myself in that same vein because chances are, I will need it as well to some extent or another.  I hope to make this a habit and given the fact that my very job involves me giving guidance to people on a daily basis, I think I can get some mojo going on this point.

It’s time to get that plank out of my own eye and see things a little bit more clearly… at least when looking at myself.

The Zen of Baseball

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Growing up, I was all about baseball. It was truly one of my favorite things, from watching games on TV, going to Fenway Park with my family, collecting stacks and stacks of baseball cards or playing one of a thousand forms of the game. They were all good and I didn’t want to go without.As I grew old, all of this faded a bit. It was a slow drift over time, like a fallen leaf on a lake that starts near the shore, but gradually glides further away with each passing moment.

Ahh, but then baseball decided to strike and the bitterness that left in my mouth would last… for years. The game lost something for me at that point. Maybe I still held a nostalgic and naive fondness in my heart that was stung by the labor issues. I’ll likely never know for sure, but I did know that baseball could suck it for all I cared.

Then came 2004 when I became caught up in the improbable Red Sox run to make the greatest comeback in sports history against the Yankees and then finally break The Curse after 86 years. From that moment on, the game began its slow and subtle build back into my heart.

Now in 2011, the game has returned fully to my heart as if it had never really left from those days of my childhood where I wore a plastic Oakland A’s batting helmet and imagined I was Ricky Henderson stealing base after base. Hell, I even ponied up the money to buy the MLB.TV subscription so I can watch all kinds of baseball on my laptop, Roku player and on that powerful sweet iPad 2 I totally plan on scoring.

I think there is a part of me that truly understands why in the world this has all returned to me with a seemingly effortless grace… it’s because I miss the measured complexity, nuance and pace of baseball. It really has hit me of late that what I once thought of as slow and boring in my bulletproof, I-know-everything days of my 20’s is really almost like perfect Zen meditation when watched properly. It becomes a matter of unplugging yourself from the scattered modern lifestyle of uber-connectedness, must check my Facebook every 7.5 minutes and must keep my nose buried in my iPhone to never miss a text. I know I’ve been pulled into all of that and typically left feeling even LESS connected than ever.

Don’t you see it all the time? The classic example is a group of friends, out together, but almost everyone in their own little world checking on what everyone else NOT present is up to… while the moment to connect deeply with those 2 feet away slips by. And without a doubt, I’ve done this too.

It’s to these moments that baseball feels like a perfect antidote… to sit down and just watch a game… not while tweeting or checking out movie trailers on YouTube… but doing nothing but watching a game unfold in its own time.

So here’s to hoping for a learning to appreciate a little more richness through the lessons that the master known as baseball can provide. Time to unplug and play ball.

This Might Not Work

Front Cover PTB 210x300

I’m a little more than halfway through Seth Godin’s new book “Poke the Box” and I’m duly intrigued.  It’s funny because it’s a pretty short book and the text is not densely packed onto each page, but it would be a terrible mistake to think this implies the thoughts contained therein are as thin as the book itself.  OK granted, I read it on a Kindle so there is no thickness to the book to begin with, but you get my meaning.  Sheesh… cut me some slack!  OK, where was I again?  Oh yes… Mr. Godin.

The driving concept behind the book is summed up in one word: initiative.  The secret sauce that makes things go and people stop their hand-wringing to actually START something.  The magic of the book is how Godin goes far beyond just blandly discussing initiative and why it’s important to more of a call to action.  Huh… it’s like an initiative for initiative in a way.  I think I just blew my own mind right there.

I am going to get back to reading the book some more tonight, but 4 little words he stresses in the book really jumped out at me: “This might not work.”

What’s the power of such a simple sentence?  The fact that it’s a pivotal idea you need to get comfortable with… or at least more comfortable with… so you can fully immerse yourself in a mindset of being a starter.

We all tend to want perfect and we want it now and on the first try, damn it.  And if we cannot have it?  Well then hell, we better wait and plan and scheme and spend oodles of time creating charts on how when we finally get around to starting… ohh at that glorious moment, all will be PERFECTION.

Except it never is.

This all calls to mind one of my favorite quotes from General George S. Patton: “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”

Therein lies the truth of it all… that it’s a very rare time where inaction is better than action of some kind, shape or sort.  This clearly assumes at least a modicum of reasoned thought about what action to take, but certainly not the kind of endless procrastination masquerading as deep reflection that a lot of people do… and I clearly place myself into that big ugly mess.

Tomorrow I begin using the season of Lent as my own way to spur on the action I’ve avoided.  I’m giving up Facebook.  I’m spending more time in person with friends and family.  I will struggle mightily to get this damn blog in order.  Heck, I even had my very first blog post go up today on my new work blog,  about which I am endlessly excited, especially because I decided to just push it forward and see what happens.

Here’s to a good 40 day run, made up of what I hope to be a string of single day mini-runs.  It might not work, but I’m starting to get comfortable with that… or at least as comfortable as I can be.

Forty Facebook-Free Days

Every year when Lent rolls around, I try to figure out what in the world I’m going to do for those 40 days that will be meaningful of the season.  As Mom always says, “You don’t have to give something up.  You can do something instead.”  She makes a good point (as Mom usually does), but it always seems easier to pick something to forgo instead of doing something.  This year, I’m looking to do both.  Why?  Apparently I’ve been bitten by an ambition bug.  Nasty little suckers.

Now, I could look to subtly build the message of this blog post through an increasingly clever and layered set of paragraphs, delving into heretofore never seen nuances… umm… but the title of the post pretty much gives the whole damn thing away anyway, so why bother?  So, yup… I’m giving up Facebook for Lent.  I know, I’m fairly cutting edge in my approach to most things, Lent included.  I’m sure I will be a 2011 Time Magazine Man of the Year candidate on this alone.

I’ve gotten a bit of pushback from a few friends of mine, especially those who no longer live close enough by me to hang out with on a consistent basis.  They make a good point: Facebook is the easiest way for them to know what I’m up to given the busy pace of their lives.  I actually agree with that.  I know it can be supremely easy to bash Facebook for any varied number of reasons, but it’s allowed me to reconnect with old friends, family members and just keep up with what a lot of people I know are doing on a daily basis.  Plus, I’ve seen some interesting articles and pretty amusing pieces of YouTube genius as a result of The Book of Face.

So why give it up?  Two reasons, really.  One: I like it and doing so is a sacrifice for me.  That’s sort of the easy one to explain.  Second: I feel like I can make much better use of my time for Lent than addictively checking Facebook on my laptop and on my phone, or reading the updates that come via e-mail.  They are not inherently bad or anything like that, but I know I’ve become a little too preoccupied with the Facebook life and not enough focused on… well… regular life.  The Facebook time is time I could use reflecting on Lent, doing some reading, writing for this terribly neglected blog, finally getting serious about improving my flexibility (seriously) or even just spending time with people… like face-to-face.  You know, like in ye olden days of yore.  And if you are wondering whether I crafted that sentence strictly for an opportunity to use “yore”… damn straight I did.  That word gets far too little use, my friends!

KMK Facebook

The real hope I have is to unplug for a bit and not withdraw at all, but rather to engage in a more meaningful fashion with the people I care most about it.  Facebook should be a tool for that, not some kind of crutch and while I don’t think I’ve gotten to that crutch-like point, I must confess I’ve come to rely on “The Book” a lot more than I would care to.  Hence, I am pulling away from Facebook for 40 days and seeing what it all brings.  I expect a few withdrawal symptoms over days 1-5, but probably smooth sailing after that.

The only potential bummer is actually using Facebook to announce any new blog posts I do.  I will definitely be using Twitter for that and if there was a way to auto-publish to my “Fierce and Mighty” Facebook page, that would be nice too.  If I can’t, then so be it.

Don’t feel bad, Facebook.  We had a good run and I just need some time apart.  It’s not you… it’s me.  I’ll be back… I think.

Proactive Simplicity

Think of some of the best teachers you’ve ever had in your life.  Go ahead… I’ve got loads of time to wait… umm… especially since by the time you read this post, I’ll be all done with it and not literally sitting around waiting for your pondering self.  Win-win for everyone!  But in thinking about those people, what were some of their most notable qualities that made them such good teachers?  For me, I find it tends to boil down to two critical traits: a passion for teaching the subject and the ability to make the complicated simple.  Boom – there ya have it.

With that in mind, I found it interesting as I read some of the negative Amazon.com reviews for the book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey to see what exactly people were complaining about.  The most common gripes were “It’s just common sense!” or “Typical self-help tripe!” and things of that nature.  To me, these can almost be a form of an endorsement for a book of this nature (i.e. self-help or a new way of viewing your own world).  Why?  Because it gets back a little bit to about what makes a good teacher – are you taking a concept and making it simpler or more accessible?  It’s certainly possible that the reviews could be spot on and you read the book only to find out that every page is full of regurgitated platitudes about doing good to others and being a better person.  That’s just an annoying read.

But guess what?  Not the case with this book (at least not for me).  In fact, the gripes people had I found fairly amusing because they focused on the high level themes of each section “Put first things first” and “Think win/win” without delving into the author’s thought process behind those notions. That’s just flat out missing the point, my friends.

For me, I found a nugget that hit very close to home and gave me more than a few minutes pause as I read the book last night in bed.  The first theme/habit of the book is “Be proactive.”  Pretty simple right?  If someone just told you that you needed to “be more proactive” and that was the extent of their advice, you might smile at them, give them a nod of acknowledgment and then walking away thinking “Thanks for that inspired pearl of wisdom, Plato.  No idea how I could have continued life as I know it without that one!”  Ahh, but there is much more to it than that in how Covey talks about it.  Covey’s all about values being one of the true shaping forces for being a better person and a more effective one.

So that’s why this passage I read last night struck me:

The ability to subordinate an impulse to a value is the essence of the proactive person. Reactive people are driven by feelings, by circumstances, by conditions, by their environment. Proactive people are driven by values – carefully thought about, selected and internalized values.

Huh… never quite thought of it that way.  If you are a values/principles-driven person (and I try like heck to be exactly that), being proactive is not just a matter of going out and doing things without being asked to or having the circumstances thrust upon you forcing you to act.  It’s much more than that – it’s acting upon your values as opposed to being driven by your feelings and impulses and the circumstances around you since that is just reacting.

This strikes such a chord for me because it puts such great importance on not being reactive… because being reactive means I would be letting circumstances dictate what I do as opposed to my own set of carefully considered values.  When you look at being proactive in that light, it goes well beyond the rather banal notion of just telling someone “You know… you really should be proactive.”  It gets more to the heart of the WHY and the why is always the more powerful piece of the equation.  What would be the sense of taking the time to carefully construct where you find meaning in life only to ignore all of that and let the world dictate to you?  It’s the kind of thing that makes me re-check myself a bit because the cost to pay for wanting a values-driven life is eternal vigilence… and yes, I totally stole that Barry Goldwater line and tweaked it for myself.  I make no apologies.

So dismiss not the simple… especially if it is backed up by a depth that may not be readily apparent at a casual glance.  Those darn casual glances… always leaving the wrong impression.

Toby

Unlike this handsome fella – always leaves a good impression. (Not mine – just a houseguest until tomorrow).

On The Shelf, None Too Happy… But Possibly Maturing

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What you see above is the reason for the title of this post… because I will be up on the shelf for the next few weeks as I finally decided to do the smart/mature/wussy thing and take a little time off from lifting.  Why oh why am I doing such a thing?  Above are the results from my MRI this morning on my neck.  On the left are some of the scans from the profile for my neck and above is the cross-section view.  The two I have my fingers on are shots of the area around my C5 and C6 vertebrae.  It seems I have a delightful double-whammy of bone spurs on my C6 vertebrae (which, oddly enough are not really causing my current issue) and a slight bulge with the disc between C5 and C6 that is narrowing the nerve canal on the left-hand side.

And what does all of that get you… err… me?  Pain, tingling on my left forearm and hand and a loss of strength in my left arm.  Woo-freakin-hoo.

But you know something?  2 things occur to me:

  1. In the grand scheme of things, this is not the end of the world and totally pales in comparison to the kinds of health battles I’ve seen several people close to me have to endure.  I think of those fighting leukemia and getting stem cell transplants and going through seemingly endless liver surgeries.  Me?  My neck has some pain and with steroids, physical therapy, rest and a dose of smarts, I will be just fine.
  2. On the smarts notion… I am a little surprised I am exercising them.  Seriously.  I tend to get irrationally stubborn, at times, with pushing myself through situations where I really shouldn’t.  Somehow, I didn’t do that this time and I’m shutting down my lifting for all of this week and all of next.  I hate it, but I’m doing it.

Maybe this will mean more consistent blogging for a chunk of time… and wouldn’t you, oh favored reader of mine, be just so lucky for that?  Umm.. right?  Maybe?  Ok, take a few to think it over.  The blog will still be here when you get back.  Don’t forget me… I love you.  Umm.. too desperate?  That was too desperate, right?  Damn it…