Tag Archives: success

Thunder From The Heavens

I’m a bit of a loud guy from a loud family. I try to catch myself from being inappropriately loud in the wrong place at the wrong time, but hell… I can’t monitor myself that closely all the time. That would be impossible… and really no fun. So screeeeewwww that.  Let the decibels ring forth!

However, there are many ways where I am decidedly quiet.  Certain things I deem more important to be private or quiet about.  If I were to try and give you clear guidelines about what falls onto this list, I think I would come up woefully short of an apt description.  Just something about being so out front about these things can just feel… I dunno… unseemly.  That’s the word that best captures it.

I think that’s why this image I saw recently (and I wish I could remember which friend posted it to give them proper credit), it struck me so powerfully.

I’m not really one to tout my own praises or merits or great successes, although I have certainly done it a few times in the moment.  Lord knows when I finished Tough Mudder in 2012 I was all kinds of fired up and proclaimed that loudly and proudly on my Facebook wall.  But that’s very much an exception to the rule for this more retiring cowpoke.

It’s just that this image captures so many great messages, but in sticking with the most obvious, it’s about what you do and not just what you say.  Of course what you say can have a positive impact on people – some can inspire others to spectacular feats with their words.

But more often that not?  Be more about the doing than the speaking.

I’ve had people come to me for various kinds of career advice and this is usually my #1 piece of feedback.  The questions tend to be about networking and who they should set up meetings with and who they need to get to know and what teams and titles they should have.  I admire their passion, their desire to advance themselves forward.  Passion is a beautiful commodity and if you have it, hold onto it and nurture it (positively).

My response always tends to be the same: “Those things are all good… but you know what gets you noticed most?  What gets you furthest in life and work?  Consistently kicking ass at what you do.”

Occasionally my remark gets a blank response back as if to say, “Thanks Captain Obvious… I already knew that.  I needed something else…”

Except… you didn’t need something else.  You really needed to get down to putting boots to backsides.  It’s a good reminder for me as well whenever I begin to think about where I want to be going.  If I cannot answer… in detail… about what I am trying to do to kick ass for whatever definition of success I am seeking, then I’m clearly not on the right track.

As the bard of our era… Usher, of course… once sang “Don’t talk about it, be about it.”  And as horrified as I am to quote Usher, it’s a succinct way of seeing it.

In the end, Mr. Ocean puts it even better.  As loud, passionate and eloquent as your voice may be, your methodical daily grind of work will always produce a sweeter song.

Hate, Jealousy and Fighting the Green-eyed Monsters

This past Sunday was Super Bowl XLVII (aka “The Harbowl”) and in the weeks leading up to the game, I had a dilemma.  Not something earth-shattering, mind you – I wasn’t making huge decisions on the direction of my life and my place in the universe (at least not in relation to this football game)… but the dilemma of trying to decide who to root for in the game.  And while this was not a decision of much import, it did reveal something interesting about myself in the process.

I still hate Dwight Clark, mind you...
I still hate Dwight Clark, mind you…

When I first began to consider which team to cheer for, my first instinct was based on my diehard fandom for the Dallas Cowboys: The 49ers have long been a major rival of ours and we are tied with 5 Super Bowl titles each.  The 49ers winning would mean they pulled ahead of my beloved Cowboys! Sweet mother of God… such an injustice must be avoided!  I must shout to the heavens my rage at such a thought!

But I thought about it a bit more and came to an uncomfortable realization: while it’s fine not to  cheer for a long-time rival, the fact that I didn’t want them to pull ahead of my team on Super Bowl problems wasn’t a 49ers problem… it was a Cowboys problem.  My issue was jealousy, really… jealousy over their team doing the right things to place themselves in a position to win that title while my own team has a record of 128-128 with 1 playoff win in 16 years.

I was having myself a nice, tall, bitter glass of Haterade and not even realizing it.

I decided to basically watch the game to enjoy it from an independent perspective, but I didn’t forget about that uncomfortable thought.  You don’t have to cheer for your opponents, but when you resent their success, all you are really doing is ignoring the ugly truth of your own shortcomings or, worse still, making excuses to cover for them.  I don’t ever want to be that guy.  That guy is small and bitter and likely not that much fun at parties.

Along a similar line, I noticed something similar cropping up right before and just after Baltimore’s win in the Super Bowl and all of it focused on their talismanic leader, Ray Lewis.  Lewis is considered one of the greatest (if not the greatest) to ever play his position in the NFL, but he also has a very dark chapter in his past from a murder trial in 2000.  Some believe Lewis was more involved in a fight that killed 2 men during Super Bowl week in Atlanta 13 years ago than he would admit or plead guilty to.  Lewis agreed to testified against two other men in exchange for the murder charges being dropped against him.  All in all, there is nothing good about this story.

But this is what struck me of late – the story has essentially disappeared from view over the last decade and with almost zero mention of it.  The fans and press had basically moved on… well, moved on until Baltimore Ravens and Ray Lewis won this most recent Super Bowl in what would be the final game of his career.  Suddenly that story was everywhere on Facebook, Twitter, the news, etc.  Why had it become relevant all over again?  Did new evidence emerge?  Was there some new defining factor that made the story different?

No… all that changed was that Ray Lewis was ending his career winning one more title and I guess people didn’t like that.  Out came the green-eyed monsters to tear him down.

Now, let’s be clear for a second – I’m not here to comment on whether Ray Lewis did it or not.  I have no idea and I haven’t spent hours of time poring over the evidence and court testimony from the 2000 trial.  That’s not my point.  What strikes me is the extent to which people will bring a story like this back up when someone achieves such a high level of success.  That there are those who only use this story as a tool to try and bring someone else down.

Do we really believe that the people doing this had a deep level of caring for the two men that were murdered that night in Atlanta?  That they were crusaders of justice and truth?  Of course not.

No one needs to be a fan of the 49ers.  Or Ray Lewis.  Or even my Cowboys (although you should really reconsider if you aren’t).  But we all must guard against tearing down people, teams and organizations simply because they succeed.  In those situations, we simply announce to the world our own insecurities when we should be praising the commitment of the winners.  Even when we don’t like them.

Life Shall Give Thee No Mulligans

Bonsai ballGolf is a delightful game.  Sure, it’s completely maddening and harder than almost any other sport I can think of, but when approach with a good attitude, it is treeeemendous.  And yes, that’s how I am spelling that word right now.  You want to spell it differently?  Start your own snappy blog but on this blog, we sometimes like to mess with English.  Just because we can.  We also like to use the pronoun “we” even though this blog is the effort of one person… me.  Again, see previous disclaimer on getting your own damn blog.

I got to play for the first time this past season on Good Friday and what a good day it was.  Granted, my level of play varied from “Sweet mother of God… don’t look straight at that shot since you may turn to stone!” to something akin to transcendent beauty (at least in my eyes).

One of the things that came up with the guys I was playing with was whether we would be using any mulligans since it was the very first round of the season.  For those of you not steeped in the rich tradition of golf parlance, a mulligan is just an exceedingly fancy word for a do-over.  Yes, besides being an utterly challenging game, golf thoroughly enjoys a language all its own that conjures up all sorts of snooty country club images.

The decision was to allow one mulligan per 9 holes.  I ended up using one after a drove one into some godforsaken part of the course from which the ball would never return, but my honestly?  I tend to hate mulligans.  HATE them.  I let one slide this time, but even then I didn’t like it all that much and for one simple reason:

When you give yourself do-overs, you never know where you really stand.  And that makes me crazy.

Perhaps I should explain.  If I am going to play a sport, I really don’t like shortcuts… because at some point and in some place, I may be competing… and there are few things worse than an inflated sense of self.  When I play golf, I want to count every single shot and I want to putt out every putt to completion.  When I lift weights, I don’t want to do partial lifts just so I can brag about all of the Interwebz about my  gargantuan strength (hence my vlog post on “Many Steps Back” where I talk about rebuilding one of my lifts after hitting an all-time best).

Maybe this is just part of my job as an ethics officer rubbing off on everything else I do, but I want to know how good I am as precisely as possible… not so I can measuring myself against others, but really so I can measure against myself.

And for one more reason – life gives no do-overs.  Ever.  The moments that slip past you will never return again.  If given the chance, do I want to half-ass it just so I can brag about an empty accomplishment?  Yeah, not so much for this handsome kid over here.

Are people who use mulligans somehow weak or bad people?  Oh hardly at all.  If it makes you enjoy golf all the more (and it’s not being used to cheat against others), go crazy.  You won’t find me playing morals police with how you choose to enjoy the game.

I just never want to fall into a habit… in anything… of relying on a second chance, especially one I created to give myself an insincere pat on the back.  I’m OK with less-than-perfect or even fall-on-my-face failures the first time around since even when ugly, they are all mine.

I will take owning my own failures every time over faking my own successes. Every.  Single.  Time.

Things I’ve Learned from Coaching Youth Baseball – Part 2

After writing yesterday’s post on the things I’ve learned as a youth baseball coach these last 4 or 5 years, I got to thinking (which should worry all of you… it certainly scares the bejeezus outta me)… there’s probably more than 3 things I’ve learned.  Sure enough, as I drove into work this morning, KA-POW!  More things popped into my dome.  Thankfully, I use the super handy Evernote program on my Android phone to record some voice notes to remind myself later.  If you have not read a bunch of my posts before, I am fully lovestruck for Evernote.  If you have an iPhone, Android phone or Blackberry, I highly recommend it.  I will also point out that if you have not read a bunch of my blog posts before… umm… I kind of go on tangents.  Strap in tight – I am all over the place, my friends.

Anyhoo, I came up with three more things I’ve learned and that I hope are generally applicable to more than just coaching a bunch of snot-nosed little… *ahem*… I mean angelic little darlings who would never, ever (a) goof off on the bench; (b) be looking at their shoes when a ball is hit at them; (c) care more about gum than seemingly anything in the world; or (d) thinking that wearing a cup is the funniest thing of all time.  Seriously… they will not stop trying to tell you “Coach!  Coach!  I’ve got my cup on!” and rap the cup with their knuckles so I can hear it. *sigh*

And now the points to ponder:

1. At some point, you will “live through the kids”. This is not nearly as bad as it sounds, at least not in my case.  We all know those coaches who are hellbent on turning little Johnny or little Jane into the all-world superstar that they never were able to be (which of course was due to dumb coaches, rotten luck and the entire world conspiring in a grand Machiavellian scheme to prevent their athletic happiness).  That’s not what I’m thinking about here.  This is more wanting those kids on your team to get even a sliver of a shining moment because either (a) you have had it and know what that can mean to a kid or (b) you have never had it and know what THAT can also mean to a kid.

I will use my own athletic career as a case in point.  When I was at the same age as the kids I coached, I was definitely not very confident in myself athletically… at least not in an organized sports sense.  Screwing around with my friends was one thing because it was just fun and without pressure.  But in a game with uniforms and umpires and parents and concessions?  That’s a whole different matter.  I can so distinctly remember being up at the place during a Little League game at Sperry Park in Avon, Connecticut with a kid on the mound I was intimidated by.  I just wanted him to strike me out to get the at bat over with.

So for me, “living through the kids” is wanting absolutely none of the kids who play for me to go through that – it was awful for me as a 4th grader to feel that way.  Baseball is a game that, certainly at this level, is meant to just be fun.  Period.  As a coach, I want them to improve their skills, but that’s secondary to them enjoying playing the game itself.  There is an aspect of practice and discipline that goes along with this, for sure.  I want them to have fun playing baseball, not being obnoxious sitting on the bench and trying to jam gum up their noses.  This is not about my dreams or ambitions or desires or any of that – this is first, foremost and solely about the kids and their enjoying a game with memories I hope they always keep with them.

2. Your own personal success will be 10X less interesting than the success of the kids and the team. One of my big sport loves is playing soccer and I am the captain of a very competitive co-ed soccer team that plays around the Hartford area on Sunday mornings.  While our team has fun and we enjoy hanging out together, we play hard and play to win.  When we don’t, we don’t much care for that… at all.  This past Sunday, our team lost a 5-3 game on a very weak effort on our part.  There was absolutely no fire, no hustle and it was as if we decided before the game we were going to lose, so why bother the next 80 minutes anyway?  Needless to say, my outlook is not terribly chipper following a game like that.

But you know what?  That afternoon, the Dodgers went to work and racked up an 8-0 win (which I only found out yesterday was a shared no-hitter between our 2 pitchers).  The excitement of our kids to put together such a good game was enough to wash away any bad feeling I had about what transpired earlier in the day.  I can barely describe how great it felt to watch my nephew absolutely rip a double and be the first base coach pumping my right arm to send him to second base.  So.  Damn.  Cool.

Colin at Bat - 2010 Minors.jpg

I think that’s when you know you are working at and leading something that matters – when you really don’t care about a single accolade that could possibly come your way, but you completely immerse yourself in the joy the team feels for doing well.  I love being a part of teams (whether when I was in school or now in sports and at work), but it’s rare to taste almost transcendent moments like this.  If you do… and certainly if you are able to do this in a place where they actually PAY you… hold onto that with all you’ve got.

3. There is a deeply transformative power to athletics… and it’s amazing when used properly. This probably one of my favorite things about sports or fitness or any kind of athletic endeavor – when done properly, there is a tremendous opportunity for transformation that is completely life-altering.  Sound far-fetched?  Then take a little stroll with me as I explain.

As I wrote above, I was not always the most confident kid athletically.  Sure, I played baseball through high school and had some moments, but I never felt relaxed enough during game situations (certainly not at the varsity level in high school) to do my best.  I would hammer the ball in batting practice, but only show maybe one-tenth of that in a game situation.  You know when I began to blossom a bit in terms of my own athletics?  When I started lifting weights seriously.  Why?  The magic of weight training (and why people who start it and get into it never, EVER want to quit) is that it gives you back what you give it.  Lift smart, rest properly and eat well?  You will get in better shape… and you will feel pretty damn good about yourself.  I know it helped me a ton.

And that brings me back to youth baseball.  I am actually seeing some of this same transformative effect taking place a little bit as well.  I will keep this as vague as possible, but there is a kid this year who I think is beginning to have a few of these moments himself.  He’s a fairly quiet kid and I remember him playing youth baseball a few years before.  When he came into the team this year, something was a little different.  We would practice some hitting off the tee and there was some extra pop in his bat.  Then, during practice one day, one of his teammates complimented him on making a nice play in the field (kids can amaze you sometimes with how kind they can be – I was there to see it happen and it was very cool).  Then, during our big win on Sunday, he steps up to the play and completely rips a line drive for a hit.  As quiet as he tends to be, you could not mistake the enormous smile plastered on his face as he stood on second base.  Now, I notice him looking a little more relaxed with his teammates and joining in with them as more a part of the team than he was before.

Look at that timeline for a second – piece-by-piece and moment-by-moment, something has built a little bit.  I have no idea or expectations where that will go from here… but you know something?  Right now, he really seems to be having fun and feeling pretty good about himself.  Will this push him to become a confident and charismatic captain of industry one day?  President of the United States?  A professional luger?  No idea.  But these are the exact kinds of things that can be the catalyst for something pretty wonderful for him and I hope that’s the case.  And personally?  Kids like this and moments like this can often be much cooler than having some kid who is a complete ringer come in and blow everyone away with their superior athletic ability, making it look so easy.  I like those moments too… well, if that kid is playing for me, mind you… but I am a sucker for that underdog making good.

And that’s why playing sports matters.  May we never lose sight of that and if any of you catching me getting adrift of that, consider this license and permission for a swift smack upside the head… figuratively.  None of you people better be tryin’ to place a hand on me.  I have mongoose-like quickness and ninja-like skills.  You’ll regret it…

Wait… Things Went RIGHT?

As often seems to be the case, the good people over at Lifehacker have provided inspirational fodder for this humble blog of mine, this time in the form of a referral to a blog post over at Psychology Today. It’s not a long post, but hey… who said they had to be long to be good? No seriously, who said that? Because Lord knows my posts tend to ramble on endlessly! HA!

*ahem* Anyway, onwards and upwards. The blog post looks into something that is simple, but interesting: While most people (myself most definitely included) seem to take an inordinate amount of angst-filled time hashing out why something went wrong, very few people will do the same about why something went right. If you have to give a PowerPoint presentation to the VP of your department and you just flop about like a fish on the dock, 999 people out of 1,000 will wail, gnash their teeth and spend endless hours rethinking why they blew it, why they should have done better, where they should be looking for their next job, etc. It’s an ugly little cycle, my friends, as I am sure anyone reading these words well knows. We’ve all been there. Less than good times.

But what about when it goes well? In thinking of myself, it seems pretty plain as to why I don’t think much about why it went well… I’m just too stoked to give it much thought. Let’s take lifting as an example. Suppose I just absolutely crushed a set of military presses for a personal record. Just absolutely smoked them. What would be my reaction shortly thereafter? Probably a battle cry followed by a little victory dance. No seriously… that’s what I do. I kid you not. There is also then a decent chance of following it up with a slightly larger-than-average meal to celebrate.

What’s missing from all of that? Not even a moment’s reflection as to what got me to that good spot. Don’t mistake me – the spontaneous moment of jubilation I engage in after the accomplishment is a great thing. Hell, I do this lifting thing because I love it, not out of some horrible sense of obligation. Ugh – how awful that would be. However, I am also missing out on that little sliver of analysis that might make those moments come along more regularly going forward. So what should I consider shortly after I bust out my funky dance moves?

Did I get good sleep the night before? What did I eat today? Was I stressed? Relaxed? How did I prep for the lift? Was I focused? Did I take enough time to warm-up? What has my lifting program been looking like up to that point? Had I incorporated any different exercises or rep schemes that might have borne fruit for me?

All those things should be considered in some way, shape or form. And guess what’s most remarkable about that list of questions above? Go ahead… give it a moment… I don’t mind… ready? It’s easy.

Not a damn thing is remarkable. Nothing. El zippo.

It’s all a matter of mindfulness to pause and consider all these good things. Also, it’s not as if the analysis would be unpleasant because you are focusing on why a good thing happened. I might not be a fancified PhD in psychology and such, but I am pretty confident that thinking over a good thing is a nice experience… but I’m kooky like that.

Manchester+United+v+Chelsea+UEFA+Champions+2Pn32zZ6zuHl.jpg

So celebrate and drink deep the cup of victory. You earned it and there are few moments as sweet as those. But even just a brief glimpse inward may be just the thing to keep those good times returning again and again and again… and wouldn’t that be a nice little treat?

From Whence Shall Come the Quit?

Roberto-Duran-Gives-Up-001In exploring the connection of mind, body and spirit, I am a bit fascinated by the  moment of surrender.  It’s not from a morbid sense of curiosity, but more from the vantage of why does it happen when it happens.  What causes us to stop?  To relent?  To “No mas” a la Roberto Duran?  It can certainly depend on the activity in question.

The genesis of my fascination has nothing to do with obsessing over having given up at some point.  We all end up at that place one way or the other.  I want to figure out why it happens and then get better at pushing past that moment if possible… well, provided it’s an activity I give a damn about.  It’s not like I am going to study like a medieval monk to master the art of eating broken glass or some crazy nonsense like that.

So at the moment where it all comes apart, I want to know why.  An example may be in order:

Think of someone deep in physical training of some kind or another.  Perhaps it’s a powerlifter constantly seeking to move bigger and bigger weights or, at the opposite end of the training spectrum, the marathoner who conditions herself to run for 26.2 freaking miles.  (Umm, as you can tell, I am blown away by long distance runners because I cannot imagine trying to run that damn far).

For either of these individuals, which will usually quit first?  The mind as it obsesses over each pound or each mile?  The spirit as the will to go prove something wanes in the face of greater and greater physical demand?  Or will it simply be the body reaching some point of pure capability when one more pound or one more step is completely impossible?

In these cases, I find it is usually much less about the body and a lot more about some combination of the mind or spirit.  The body can accept an inordinate amount of physical work (for periods of time, mind you) provided the mind sees some value/end goal and the spirit stay strong.  The trick is to keep those things well in mind.

What about a test of the mind?  Does this change the equation at all in terms of the weak link from the body/mind/spirit continuum?  Possibly.  I think of people pulling all-nighters where their only limit is pure physical exhaustion (or running out of caffeinated beverages).  That being said, I am still tend to think mind and spirit may give out before the body.  The all-too-common declaration of “Good God, I think my brain is full…” jumps to mind for me, likely because I have uttered it a few times when deep in study back in law school.

In the end, I think that the greatest bang-for-your-buck in learning to push past previous points of failure is more of a mental and spiritual challenge, even if the activity you are seeking to improve is primarily physical.  Take Michael Jordan – physically gifted? Definitely.  But Michael Jordan did not become MICHAEL JORDAN because of his physical gifts… it was because of an absolutely indomitable will to win.  He was just plain mentally tougher than anyone else on the court.  Period.

And how do you build your will?  Great question.  For myself, I am going to take it in 2 parts since I need work on this as does… ohh… pretty much everyone.  First, pick some activity that is about discipline and work on it.  Second, build up this activity sloooowly.  For instance, I want to be better about developing this blog, so starting next week, I am getting up 30-45 minutes earlier in the morning to write posts, comment on other blogs, do Twitter, etc.  It’s not earth-shattering, but it requires extra discipline and sometimes there is something cool about doing a hard, lonely thing.  You need to do it slowly in order to notch up a few successes along the way.  If you are working on running a marathon, maybe you start doing a few of your runs at the crack of dawn or purposefully at the end of a really long day for the sheer purpose of knowing your mind will rebel mid-way through your run and will begin to rationalize why cutting it short and heading home for “American Idol” is really not that bad because you can run tomorrow.

Pick your hard lonely thing. Tell yourself you just need to push through it ONE time and then do it.  A few days later?  Do it again.  Let the momentum build and the will shall follow.

Be fierce.  Be mighty.  Above all else, just give it a shot so you at least know you didn’t let a chance for something better slide on by.