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 Simple Confusions of Being An Adult

Coolest. Birthday. Card. Ever.

If there’s one thing people generally complain about past around… ohhh… age 28 or so, it’s about getting older.  You want to be older up until you are 20ish since there are certain milestones you will hit along the way that makes things in your life potentially better.  When you are really young, being older means more freedom, getting to stay up later, etc.  When you are 15, being older means 16 and the chance to drive or hitting 17 and getting into R rated movies all by yourself.  20 looks forward to 21 and rolling into a package store like the cock of the walk so you can buy your first (legal) 6 pack of beer.

Then you go through a few years where turning a year older isn’t too big of a deal, despite the lack of super cool achievement moments that age brings along.  Roughly around 28ish, you start thinking about… GASP! … turning 30!  Oh noes!  Not much to look forward to there, right?  That’s just the beginning of the slow, inevitable decline of all your mental and physical faculties, right?

Bah.  Whatever.

If there’s one thing I’ve found is that I would take being my current 38 years and change over my 20’s almost any day of the week.  I think in your teen years, the 20’s look like a golden time of being young enough to have energy to do 1,000,001 things, but old enough to have the means to do them.

I’ve also noticed 2 things that also change with age and I don’t think I ever came to fully appreciate them until hitting my 30’s.

The first is a true concept of what being a man is all about.  I used to spend a fair chunk of time on forums related to weightlifting, strength training and so on and was utterly horrified at how some guys seemed to view being a man.  It was all about machismo, posturing, getting in the face of others and chest pounding like some kind of silverback gorilla.  It got to the point where I began spending less and less time perusing these kinds of forums because it was just so pointless and brain-numbing.

That’s being a man?  Really?  Truly?  The ideas of:  walking with quiet confidence; focusing on inner strength as the path to outer strength; saying what you mean and meaning what you say; acting with respect and integrity… these were all just lost concepts.  There was such a lack of maturity in these views that I could only shake my head and then stop going to these forums all together.

The second thing is the notion of what it means to be “two-faced”.  It’s something I notice people still doing a lot now, actually.  Here’s what I mean: Person A really doesn’t care at all for Person B, but they travel in overlapping social or work circles.  When Person B is not around, Person A doesn’t have great things to say about them, but might not really say that much about them outside of an occasional passing comment about how they don’t care for Person B.  However, when Person B is around, they may chat with them and such in a fairly civil manner.

I’ve seen a lot of people describe that behavior above as two-faced and, truth be told, I probably used to describe it that way at one time.  You know what though?  That’s just being an adult.  There are always going to be people in your life that aren’t your favorite, but that you will have to interact with on a semi-regular or regular basis.  It’s not some momentous stand for your closely-held principles to completely ignore that person entirely or give them attitude when you do deal with them.  That’s just foolishness.  A huge realization of adult life is that you’re not going to have moments of orgasmic joy and utter fun every single moment of your day.  You will have to do things you’re not crazy about and sucking it up to do those things with a decent attitude is a sign that you’re not a punk kid any more.

Now at 38 I get to stare 40 in the eye and I’m sure I will even look back at these years some day, shake my head and think “Wow… I really had no idea, did I?” about something or other.  But for now, I’m just glad I’m here with a little bit of perspective and no small amount of hope for the years to come.

Transatlantic Musings: Accents, England and Unexpected Perspective

Blogging Gameface

It seems I’ve finally found some time to do some blogging on my trip to London… and that’s during my flight back from London.  Funny how that works out.  Actually, I probably did have time a few others points in the trip, but the jetlag decided to open up a full case (and not just a six-pack) of whup-ass on me by the time evening rolled around each day.  I was able to stumble through some Twitter and Facebook posting and that was the extent of my… *ahem*… intelligent discussion and contribution to the social dialogue of the planet.  Go me.

So here at 36,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean, I find a few moments of respite to think back on my trip while my Boeing 777 chariot whisks me along back to the U.S of A.  What keen, penetrating insights have the gods unveiled to me during this sojourn to the land of tea, crumpets, cricket and tiny cars?  Sit back, relax with a nice cup of Earl Grey and let the magic unfold, my friends.

YOU are the one with the funny accent. As an American, it’s always great to get out of the country and spend a bit of time letting your ear adjust to the accents of people from other countries.  The work conference I was at had people from England, France, South Africa, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Spain, Russia, Poland, Sweden, Slovenia and I’m sure other countries that are now completing slipping my mind.  Usually if you go to a foreign land, you can adjust generally to the accents of the people within a day or so because it will be a (generally) uniform set of accents.  This conference was different in that I was with accents, sentence pacing and colloquialisms from a wide range of places.  I never got the chance to let my ear settle in with a single accent… and, quite frankly, I enjoyed that.   It also makes you realize that most of the people at the conference likely looked at me and my other American colleagues as the ones with the funny accents.

I love the fact that international travel (or even domestic travel to different areas of the country) forces a little extra open-mindedness on me.  Perspective, people… its good for the soul.

England is a place of dramatic, yet understated, surprises.  If that’s even possible. Due to its rather cozy size, but incredibly rich history, I’ve always found England to be the kind of place where you can suddenly happen upon really cool stuff.  OK, I was hoping to come up with a more creative, inspired and dramatic word than “stuff”, but honestly, isn’t stuff a perfectly good word too?

Anyway, I digress, yet again.  So last night I went out to dinner in… umm… truth be told, I have no idea what town it was.  I think it was actually technically parts of London.  I sometimes think of London like Boston – lots of different areas that are considered part of the greater city, but you’ve never quite sure when you are in the city proper.  As we head out to dinner and get out of cab, BOOM!  Right there looming behind the restaurant was Windsor Castle.  Like THE Windsor Castle.  Home of the Queen and such.  It just struck me a bit how we just happened upon it in almost the same manner you would seemingly run across a Starbucks in the States… just with more royalty, less condescending baristas and less completely useless drink size names (Venti?  Really?  I mean… that’s what we’re going with?  I think I’m asking for a Venti Gulp the next time I hit up 7-11).  Unless they put a Starbucks in Windsor Castle… which would blow my mind.

That being said, it’s that kind of unexpected moments of “Wow” that I love about England.  You get it in New York City as well, actually.  You are just randomly walking down a street, look up and BOOM!  World famous landmark right there in front of you.  It’s a little humbling and can make you feel a little bit small, but I never find it to happen to me in a bad way – it tends to be more of a way to appreciate what you encounter a little more deeply.  For instance, it’s a bit hard to be too self-involved when you have moments like this happen and Lord knows I really need moments like that.  Hell, I think we all do.

When I’m on the shelf, I am TOTALLY on the shelf. Before I left on this trip, I had decided I was putting myself on the shelf to stop all lifting and exercising while allowing the anti-inflammatory steroids I’ve been taking to do their job and to let my neck heal.  I wrote about all of that right here.  The only exercises I’ve really been doing are neck retractions and a lot of focus on having dramatically better posture.  The combination of the steroids, rest and the exercises are really doing an excellent job of making my neck feel just so much better.  Happy Kev.  But there is a dramatically ugly side of this break period and it’s not the first time I’ve noticed it when I’ve been on an off-week or break.  See, when I put myself on the shelf, I go at it full tilt.  How so?  Well, let’s just say that when I’m not lifting, pushing my Prowler, swinging the sledgehammer and all of the other magical tomfoolery that is part of my training arsenal, I’m also eating a ton crappier than I normally would.  A logical person might think, “Well geez, Kev… just because you’re not training doesn’t mean you should let ALL good health habits go to waste.”  To that logical person I say, “Technically true… but here’s the thing… bite me, hoser.”  And yes, I just channeled my inner Mackenzie Brothers there, so take off, eh.

I have a good enough sense of self-awareness to know the truth said that said logical (and totally wet blanket) person speaks, but it doesn’t change the fact that I seem to go full on or full off.  It’s what one of my favorite authors on training and powerlifting, Dave Tate from EliteFTS, describes as “Blast” and “Dust”.  He approaches a lot of things in his life with the notion that he is either going to do it with complete gusto and passion or not at all.  I can well appreciate that fact since I tend to be the same way.  I am shooting for a better middle ground with some balance, but I am mostly wired in an all-or-nothing mindset for many things.

Thankfully, I am going to be going back at it on the bright tomorrow morning as I get back to eating right and totally rocking the Prowler for some fun.  Parking lots of Connecticut, beware… I got some steel with your name all over it.  And anyone who wants to join me is totally welcome… just remember… this is not a spectator sport.  You show up, you push.

So those are some of the thoughts I noticed in one of my favorite countries besides my own – jolly old England.  Thank you, Britannia, for the time to grow a bit, stretch my mind a little bit more and gain a little better insight into myself and the world through which I travel.  May I put it to good use every day.

Memorial Day 2010 – Reflections, Thoughts and A Swift Kick in the Rear

Today is a doubly reflective sort of day for me.  First and foremost, it’s Memorial Day and secondly, I’m getting ready to travel to London on a red-eye out of JFK tonight for a work conference all week.  Memorial Day makes me reflect for what are, I think, fairly obvious reasons and travel always makes me reflect because I know I will be encountering new places, peoples and experiences.

In thinking of Memorial Day, it can be a lot of different things.  It’s a day of rest (well… at least it should be) and BBQs and taking a few minutes to think about the ultimate sacrifice that over a million Americans have made to protect freedoms that most of us just flat out take for granted.  That last part almost sounds cliched, but it probably sounds that way because sometimes the things that are just so obvious tend to get slapped with that kind of unfair tag.  But honestly… how often do any of us think about that?  I mean genuinely and honestly stop for a moment and reflect on the fact that people have died so that you can I can live a fairly uneventful life where we get to raise our kids, go to work, enjoy our weekends and be who we want to be without a lot heck of a lot of interference.

I took a look at the source of all knowledge… Wikipedia, obviously… and found this entry on total U.S. combat casualties over the course of our country’s history.  It’s sobering stuff to look at, especially when you see the Civil War estimates that the war claimed the lives of 2% of the entire population of the country – 625,000 people with close to 600 dying every day.  If that doesn’t give you a moment to pause, then there’s nothing a whole lot I can do to help you at that point.  Just take a moment… even just a quiet 30 seconds… to appreciate the gift of the freedom you enjoy if you live here in the United States.  We are very, very far from perfect, but you would be hard-pressed to find a place much better.  I believe that with all my heart and want our country to stay that way.


But I also had a slightly less lofty moment of reflection today that had less to do with our freedoms as a people and more to do with what Memorial Day has meant for me personally the last few years.  As a baseball coach, Memorial Day was the day every team, club, organization and such in the town I coach would get out and march.  It’s complete mayhem, but also a lot of fun… except I’m not there this year.  Rather, I am in the midst of doing a bunch of last second packing, e-mail checking and planning before leaving on my trip to London and so I missed the parade this AM for the first time in 4 or 5 years… and I hate that fact almost more than I can say.

There was really no good reason, excuse or explanation for my not being there.  Yes, I really am pulling a whole bunch of things together right now to prepare for my trip… but seriously?  That couldn’t have been done Saturday?  Or yesterday?  And this frustrates me to absolutely no end because that parade is now a bit of tradition and I’m missing it for just no good reason at all.

And all this for one simple and unassailable reason: I just need to do a better job of getting my act together.  Period.  Oh sure, I could go into a very grand and verbose post about how I am a classic introvert who recharges my batteries with alone and quiet time or that I have been very busy with work and blah blah blah.  Those things would have been both true statements… but also really and truly piss-poor excuses.

So in some ways, the fact that I do a better job of reflecting when I travel is probably a good thing so I can reflect myself into fixing my little red wagon and not missing out on things that are most important to me in life… because that often ends up being the end result.

But fear not… this is not a post about wallowing in self-pity and whinging over what has gone before.  I can only take that in myself for about 5-10 minutes before I find it annoying, so Lord knows none of you should have to soak up any of that a second longer.

Because on this day of memorial and day of reflection… I am putting myself back on track with 2 things more important than any little silly gripe I may have:

1) That when people have given their lives so you have the luxury of blogging at home with your feet on the table, it’s best to take that solid shot of perspective with a quiet nod of sincere thanks; and

2) That as long as there are nephews in the world who get a kick out of walking in parades (and hitting bodybuilder poses while waiting for them to start), then there is some real good in the world to make you smile.

And a smile is spreading across my face right now.  Happy Memorial Day 2010, everyone.

Changes in Latitudes

Ahh.  Vacation day.  I’ve spent a chunk of the past week in Bradenton, Florida for work and decided to take today as a vacation day with a flight back home tomorrow… but not before going to check out this spot:


If there is one thing I’ve noticed, it’s that Jim Morrison (kind of) had it right when he sang, “There’s only four ways to get unraveled, One is to sleep and the other is travel.”

So I got some good rest last night and I’ve noticed that despite being slammed busy the last few days, I feel a lot more relaxed than I have in several weeks.  Why is that?  Well, in my case I find that whenever I get a chance to travel, I do tend to unravel.  I’ve noticed that if I take a week of vacation and spend it at home (I refuse to use the term “staycation”… that just makes me nuts), I never truly relax.  I think just being around the house and being in the same surroundings keeps me in the same state of mind.  And that state of mind may very well be too stressed for my own good (since I tend to be wired a little that way).

To that end, I think environment can have a very big impact on your overall mental outlook and it’s something I’ve written about before on this blog (notably here).  Your work environment from a physical standpoint, I believe, certainly affects your mind.  Or perhaps the space where you engage in your own personal exercise routine.  There is a huge difference between training in a gym full of mirror-gazing punks in overly tight tank tops as opposed to being in a private garage gym with heavy metal blaring, a bunch of people pushing each other to do better and not one iota of pretentiousness to be found.  You tell me where you think you will get better results.

My advice is to get out of your typical space and see something different… be somewhere different… and in the end?  You are going to feel something different.  Heck, you might even relax a tad bit.  The stay-at-home vacation or the stay-at-home weekend can be fine, but if you are truly in a rut or just feeling like a densely packed ball of stress and anguish… don’t you think you need to do some different?  I know I do.

And in keeping with the musical theme that seems to be developing in this post, Mr. Buffet said it so very, very well… changes in latitude, changes in attitude.

The Clothes Make the Man

IMG_1592If by some chance of fate I was told that the outfit I am wearing today is the only  style of clothing I would be allowed to wear for the rest of my life, I would drop to my knees and shout “THANK YOU!” unto the heavens.  Ridiculous?  Dramatic?  High potential for skinning of knees?  Yes, my friends… all of these things… but also very true.  If I could pretty much dress as pictured (you cannot see my snazzy Adidas sandals, unfortunately) for the remainder of my days, I would be one happy and comfy guy.

The t-shirt/shorts/baseball hat/hoodie/sandals ensemble may not be a perfect example of sartorial splendor to many, but for me, it’s the outfit that… well… I just feel most like me in.

The title of this blog post is, admittedly, misleading because my take on “the clothes make the man” is about 2 things: how people perceive you and how you perceive yourself.  I am only interested in the latter in this case.  For me, I put on this gear and I can feel myself unwind and have a much more relaxed outlook on my day whereas wearing a suit immediately sticks me into a “GAME TIME!” sort of focus.  I also tend to feel overly formal in a suit (I know… truly surprising) and if you know me that well, I am not one for overly formal.  I am more one for random and inane comments out of the blue because life is way too short to take myself overly seriously.

Over the past few years, I’ve developed an increasing fascination with the effects of environment on the way we think, live and act.  Your clothes form a kind of environment for you, but I’ve also am curious about how where we work and live effects each of us.  It could possibly come from working in a big corporate environment where so many people (including me for most of my working time here) reside in gray/beige cubes with fluorescent lighting for 8+ hours every day… 5 days a week… 49 to 50 weeks a year.  You don’t think that effects your outlook to some measurable degree?  Or how you problem solve?

Let’s compare and contrast.  Look at the following two photos and focus on where you think you would be a better worker and (for purposes of this blog post) a better thinker:

cubicle2 Emerald and Onyx Office

Am I cheating to make my own argument easier?  I honestly don’t think so.  Now granted, I am not expecting the Fortune 500 to suddenly ditch cube walls and give everyone an office with panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean or to create a veritable indoor rainforest as pictured here.

The big question I have is this: Is the trade off in cost and space efficiency worth more than the potential creativity and new ideas generated through more open and engaging workspaces?  I believe this to be true, but I obviously do not have hard empirical data, fancy charts or a glossy report assembled by McKinsey & Company to back me up… and that’s what big corporations expect for making big decisions.  It’s just a fact.

I think there is certainly a better path forward away from a soul-crushing drabness to something more engaging and intellectually stimulating for office workers every where… and I think it’s a true win-win.  Happier employees in better environments are also going to be more productive.  That’s just science.

Now I am going to go and enjoy a different piece of environment to reset my focus: back patio and in the sun doing a whole lot of nothing.  That’s a good mental state in which to reside.

Heed the Calling

In Latin the word vocare is a verb meaning “to call” and is the fundamental root of our modern day word “vocation”.  These days a vocation is often used as any term to connote work in a general sense, but it’s important to get back to the old, dusty Latin to bring fresh life to the word.  To me, not everyone’s job is a vocation… although I believe pretty much any job can be.

It’s less about the job itself and more about your own personal feeling and passions towards that career.  In other words… is it your true calling?  The thing that gives you juice and life and purpose?  The thing you cannot imagine NOT doing on a daily basis?  The thing that while the money may be nice (or maybe even not so nice), you do first because it speaks to you on a deeper level first and on a financial level a very distant second.

Today was a day I was privileged to interact with two very cool groups of people at the Gengras Center in West Hartford, CT: the students who go to school there and the teachers for whom their work is their vocation.

Gengras Center The Gengras Center is (as their Web site describes) “a unique, special education program for elementary, middle and high school students with intellectual, developmental, learning disabilities, and related behavioral challenges.”  I was invited over for their Career Day and to talk a little bit about my job.  Now, I was a little anxious leading up to this as I was thinking, “How in the world do I make ‘ethics officer’ sound interesting and keep their attention?”  I opted with the easy solution… free schwag.  Shameless, I know, but gosh darn it, worked like a charm! 

I handed out these squishy stress toy fire trucks (one of the products my company makes) and everyone seemed to love them.  Believe me, I needed it.  There were guys there with Harley-Davidsons and soldiers and the guy from ESPN next to me with the sports highlights and 2 laptops.  I was just the dude in a suit next to a table covered in little foam fire trucks… but thank God for those suckers!

But I ridiculously digress.

I truly enjoyed myself today because of both groups of people I got to spend time with.  First, the kids are fantastic and had enthusiasm and excitement to spend some time talking to me… even if I was not nearly as cool as a soldier in uniform.  The smiles and their eagerness to introduce themselves to me just won me over instantly.  I am very much hoping for an invite back at some point.

And the people working there?  There is something that grabs my attention of seeing someone who is committed to what they do.  It can be completely mesmerizing.  During the moments where I was waiting for the next round of kids to come through, I did my usual people-watching where I observed the staff just going through the regular “stuff” of their day.  I could see many staff members who just beamed when a kid smiled or was polite to one of the Career Day guests or did something well… and as corny as it sounds, it was heart-warming.

And that is a lesson in perspective, my friends.  Those are people who are working one damn challenging job that would leave anyone drained at the end of the day… but those moments that I was privileged enough to witness with them being immersed in what they do and loving it?  It’s inspiring and humbling all at the same time.

So the lesson I took from today is this: regardless of someone’s circumstances or the life they find themselves in, there is always a chance in any given moment for some real happiness (even if fleeting) to be found.  Every single one of those moments, whether long or brief, is completely worth it and is worth taking a moment to savor.

Thanks to everyone today… students and teachers alike… who gave me a chance to savor a few of their own moments.

January 2nd dose of perspective

Pronunciation: \pər-ˈspek-tiv\
Function: noun

1 a : the technique or process of representing on a plane or curved surface the spatial relation of objects as they might appear to the eye; specifically : representation in a drawing or painting of parallel lines as converging in order to give the illusion of depth and distance b : a picture in perspective
2 a : the interrelation in which a subject or its parts are mentally viewed <places the issues in proper perspective>; also : point of view b : the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance <urge you to maintain your perspective and to view your own task in a larger framework — W. J. Cohen>

All of us will deal with some troubles in our lives – it’s a fact of life that we all must accept, face and deal with the approach of our own choosing.  What’s interesting is how events that differ wildly in terms of their severity can have identical impacts on different people.  For instance, one person who cannot find their car keys first thing in the morning before work could feel the same level of stress and anxiety as someone who just failed the bar exam and now wonders about getting a job after piling up tens of thousands of dollars of debt.  Which one is really the more severe in terms of life impact?

That’s where perspective comes in.  I could personally be completely stressed out about work or Lord only knows what else.  I am the kind of person who is probably a little too keyed-up for my own good.  But seriously… how bad do I really have it?  I live in a nice town in one one of the most prosperous and free countries in the history of the world, with a good job, my health, great friends and family.  That puts me ahead of 99.9999% of the world’s population and why perspective is so damn important… because otherwise I would miss out on valuing the good and would place undeserved importance on my own “bad”.

Tonight I got a jolt of perspective when the youth group I work with served dinner for the Immaculate Conception Shelter in Hartford, a homeless men’s shelter.  I have been to this same shelter several times before, but on this chilly New England night, the shelter was as full as I have ever seen it.  More than 100 men this particular night.  I am always moved and humbled by how appreciative the clients of the shelter are of the efforts of volunteers.  I’m just glad they had an option for a meal and a warm place to stay.

Perspective… it’s not the reason I went to the shelter, but it’s certainly what I received as a gift.

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