Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Zamboni 2010

Question:  What is the coolest job in the world?  
Answer:  Zamboni driver.
Seriously, is there any job cooler (pun intended) than sitting atop a 4 ton steel “ice resurfacing” machine?   It might as well be a throne!   (Except that it doesn’t, to my knowledge, also have a beer holder.  Certainly my friends from Wisconsin and Michigan will set me straight.)  

The best thing about a Zamboni is how it takes all that choppy ice and makes it smooth again.   And hence, the best metaphor for this final week of 2010.  Sure, 2010 had a few chuckles and laughs, but mostly it was cracked and choppy ice.   Let's consider these final days of 2010 as “in between periods” and spend some time running the mental Zamboni over our lives.  Let’s smooth it out.  Let’s start fresh in January.   Let’s get ready for a slick and fast start to 2011.

Inevitably, this weekend will be full of party conversation about new years “resolutions”.   And yes, I completely know that my goals need to be S.M.A.R.T.  (Specific. Measurable. Attainable. Realistic.  Timebound).    But, as my Chicago friends would say, "fogehta about dat!"    I recently read a book that espoused the benefits of “themes” instead of specific “goals”.   Hey, I like it.   This is what your high-school or college coach might have pinned up on the bulletin board in the locker room.  This is an anthem, not a set of “performance expectations”.  This is what might appear tattooed on your bicep if you get it right.  This is a rallying cry. 

So, my theme for 2011 is... (drum roll…)     
Make It Happen!  

As cliche as it sounds I actually put some thought into this.   Let me break it down for you:

Make - This word means “action”.  Notice how the word “Hope” does not appear here.  Yes, I hope good things will happen in 2011, but (again) fogehta about dat!   It’s not about hope.  It’s not (necessarily) about thinking.   It’s about doing.   It’s about putting the changes, the adjustments, and the activity into motion.   

It - This word means “result”.   This is a list of “its” that I want to achieve (fitness, strength, career, family, experience, learning, etc).  These must be visualized and within reach but just outside my grasp.   They will not “happen” without intent, planning, and execution.

Happen - This word means “reality”.  When “it” happens it won’t be “happening” in my mind or over a beer at a bar.  “Happens” won’t be preceded or qualified by shoulda, woulda, or coulda.    It means real.   It’s real when I can see it, touch it, save it, spend it, savor it, or love it. 

The first thing the Zamboni does is to shave a thin layer from the current surface of the ice.   That’s what this week is all about.  It’s about cutting the chop from 2010 and laying down a smooth surface for 2011.    Get ready.  Get moving.    More importantly…   

Make it happen!


Monday, December 20, 2010

Fire In The Belly

I sat there every night.  The ping-pong table had been converted into the largest desk any 17 year old kid ever had.  I poured over my books, calendar, and notes plotting and scheming.  It was 1985 and I was blasting Journey “Escape” (… dooohnnn’t stop belieeeving!”) on 8-track.  No, I wasn’t cool enough to actually have “cassette tapes”.   My sister’s hand-me-down Sears “stereo” was my personal jukebox.  But there, in the basement of my parent’s house, in my personal teen-cave, I was plotting my own breakout like Eastwood in “Escape From Alcatraz” except that I wouldn’t actually have to glue hair on a manikin to make my break.

My burning desire to bust out was fueled by the classic combination of teen angst and perceived parental tyranny.  In my mind I was surely the ONLY teen forced to wear Toughskins instead of Levi’s, Converse instead of Nike, and humiliated with a midnight curfew!    Sure, I was completely oblivious to the fact that my high-school popularity was severely limited by my 141 lb physique and propensity to invite friends over to play with my “home computer” (TI-99 4A).  But, that was not the point.   I was hellbound to escape the minimum security prison that was my parent’s house!    And that meant college.   And that meant focus, planning, and relentless hard work.   The fire in my belly was burning and it felt good.

Fast forward 25 years and let’s check on that fire.  Hmmm… some smoldering smoky embers but not really an open flame per se.  I’m fortunate to have achieved many of my goals over the years and carved out a relatively comfortable existence.   So now it’s “comfort” that is my curse.  It tends to leave the flame quietly sitting there like the little blue pilot light on the stove.   Sure, it’s a flame, but it’s not really cooking anything, is it?   But, now I know that it’s the fire that makes the change.    Like ancient North American people knew:  

At first there was a tree.
Then I wielded the ax and flame. 
And hence brought forth a canoe
Which took me to distant lands.

Thank goodness I’ve long since escaped the basement and 8-tracks but sometimes I do miss the ping-pong table.  It was a place where I could spread out all my books, plans, and ideas.   And think.   Like Sun Tzu once said, “The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought.”   It’s as much about the planning and thinking as it is about fighting the battle.

And so now I look ahead to 2011 with these things in mind:

To establish my temple and lay plans.
To reignite.  
To rekindle the fire in the belly.
To ward off “good enough” as the enemy of excellent.  
To make my mark.

Like that scene in Toy Story when Syd (the evil kid next door) takes the magnifying glass and focuses the sunlight so as to burn a small hole in Woody’s forehead.   Upon coming to life, Woody exclaims “Ouch!   I hope that doesn’t leave a mark!”    Bad for Woody, but that’s exactly what I’m striving for in 2011.   Refocused energy, time, and passion.   And, with some good luck, it will leave a mark.

Happy Holidays!


Monday, October 4, 2010

168 Hours

The clock said 5:00am.  There didn't seem to be any kids or dogs jumping on me (for a change) which was good.  But, the alarm was ringing which was bad.   To snooze or not to snooze?  That is the question.   Do I get more "rest" (that's good for me) or do I stay committed to my schedule including a pre-dawn workout (that's better for me)?    The tug-of-war rages inside my brain.    Damn that alarm!   It's still ringing.    Okay, okay...   I stumble out of bed.   I guess it's time to make the donuts.

Speaking of time, Carl Sandburg once said.....

"Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you."   

What Sandburg didn't say (explicitly) is that while time is the "coin of your life" you can't use coins to buy more time.   Warren Buffet and Bill Gates can not buy even one more minute than the rest of us.   We all have a fixed supply.  168 hours per week, in fact.   Period.   All of us.  No exceptions.    And therein lies the great challenge of our lives.  It's like a giant game-clock ticking down the hours every week.   But, there is no overtime.    Whoever gets the most accomplished wins!    

Of course "accomplished" is a relative term.   Accomplished might mean...

20 miles run
14 healthy meals eaten
10 productive meetings led
  8 great hugs
  6 hours reading
  3 new friends made
  1 goal achieved

And throughout the week we find ourselves "trading" (or maybe "rationalizing") constantly.   Is it better to work 15 minutes later and set goals for tomorrow or spend 15 more minutes with my kids reading a book?    Or, should I be reading a book instead of watching "Dancing With The Stars"?   Or, should I be dancing under the stars instead of working 15 minutes later?    

You get the idea.   Trade-offs.   We all have 168 hours to work with.   We have to find and strike the balance between now (immediate gratification) and the future (building for tomorrow).   It's impossible to do everything.   So, that means we have to be doing the most important things, the most valuable things.  The things that bring love and light into our lives.   Knowing what those are at any given moment is a gift.   Acting on it with purpose and intention is time well spent.


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Backyard Thrills & Drills

I ran as fast as I could for 50 yards with a 50 pound weight on my back. The hot Georgia sun baked down as I shifted the small pink shoes across my shoulders.  Isn’t this how professional football players and the Marines train?  Intense gut wrenching drills? Maybe. But do their 50 pound weights have pig tails and scream “Faster Daddy!” during training?  I don’t know.  But, mine do.

In my quest for the ultimate mix of cardio and strength training I’ve discovered that my own kids make excellent free weights!  They’re ergonomically designed and come in 30, 40, and 50 pound sizes.  Who needs a gym or Wii boxing when you have 6, 4, and 2 year old munchkins to sprint, catch, and release? The fact that they’re usually carrying a juice box or gummy bears is also a handy way to hydrate and stay energized during a workout. Plus, running around with Dad in the backyard is a jackpot of childhood memories. So, everyone wins!

NOTE: It’s best to use your own children during this workout as neighbors may not appreciate you tossing around (and potentially dropping) their kids. Getting your doctor’s or spouse’s clearance prior to the workout is completely up to you.

1. Warm Up:  A spirited game of tag or general chasing will suffice. (Tip: Avoid knocking down toddlers during the warm up because a tantrum (theirs, not yours) or a scraped knee will quickly kibosh your entire workout.)

2. Jumping Jacks: Old school, baby! Get all the kids in a row. Let one of them be the “leader”. Practice counting. In Spanish!

3. Dungeon Carry: Find something you can lift your kids onto like a short garden table or plastic Little Tikes slide. This is the “dungeon”. Tell them to escape and then chase them around the yard, catch them, put them on your shoulders (keep running!) and take them back to the dungeon. Two or three kids of varying weights (20-50 lbs) are ideal. This is like doing wind sprints with bags of potatoes!

4. Stroller Sprints: Get your stroller (preferably a “runner” friendly model) and plop in a kid. On a sidewalk or backyard, run at a reasonably fast pace for 50 yards. Turn around and run back to the starting point. Switch out kids. Try not to be distracted by squeals of delight. Repeat 10 times.

5. Punching Bag:  That means YOU!  Line up the kids and let them give you their best shot in the gut.  Keep those abs tight and a smile on your face. Warning: Small kids are very short so beware of punches below the belt.   ; )
After the workout everyone can recover with a lemonade, a Popsicle, and maybe a nap. Trust me, you’ll need one.

What’s great about this workout is that it’s the ultimate in multitasking. You get a great workout and fun playtime with the kids. And, you don’t need a gym or any fitness equipment in the process.

If your kids happen to be over the age of 15… well, that’s a different story and probably a totally killer workout!


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Fight Within

On a warm summer night in 1999 I woke up groggy in the back of the ambulance. I had no idea what happened. A friend sitting next to me said that I had been "knocked out".  Hmmm... that's interesting because the last thing I remembered was standing on the sidewalk in front of Durty Nellies pub minding my own business. Okay, well, not exactly. I vaguely remembered trying to break up an argument between a girl I didn't know and some nameless faceless guy. Judging by the goose egg on my dome and my new black eye I don't think my act of chivalry was very successful.

Thus my short-lived career as a street fighter ended at 0-1.

Despite my winless streak, I've been thinking more about fighting. Maybe it's because of the time I'm spending in the Decatur Boxing Gym. Or maybe it's that I'm increasingly seeing fighting as a metaphor for life. Training, dedication, passion, endurance, hope, energy, confidence, skill, strength, and strategy are necessary for the fight. Oh yeah, let's not forget "fire-in-the-belly". At least if you're interested in winning.

Many of us are also fighting in other ways.
Fighting demons and addictions.
Fighting a life threatening disease.
Fighting real enemies in an overseas war.
Fighting for our jobs.
Fighting for our marriages.
Fighting to keep our kids safe.
Fighting to stay relevant in a world of noise.

But, the fact is that we are fighting. Winning and losing. And hopefully learning from our mistakes.

The English writer G.K. Chesterton once wrote...

"The full value of this life can only be got by fighting; the violent take it by storm. And if we have accepted everything we have missed something -- war. This life of ours is a very enjoyable fight, but a very miserable truce."

... "a very miserable truce"... I thought this was an interesting choice of words.

Do we choose to be passive and compromise instead of fighting for what we want? Sometimes.

Do we coast when we've achieved a comfortable place in our jobs or relationships? Sometimes.

Do we stay at the plateau in our training? Sometimes.

That's the "truce" to which Chesterton is referring. It's easy to ignore and sweep under the rug. Dreams and achievements are sometimes put on lay-a-way (does that even still exist?) because we aren't willing to pay the price for attainment. Where price = the heat, friction, aggression, action, and fight required to make it happen.

So, tomorrow for at least one hour, I'll be a fighter.
I'll go to the boxing gym.
I'll wrap my hands and warm up with some shadow boxing.
I'll be in the moment when I do my footwork and rope skipping.
I'll punch the bag with anger and fury until I hear the bell marking the end of the round.
And, then I'll punch some more.
I'll try my best to execute crisp combinations with the pad man.
I'll try not to be discouraged because I'm still learning.
I'll be tired and spent and try to do the 100 sit ups to close the session.
I'll take some pride by knowing that few of my friends are doing this.
I'll go home feeling alive because I was fighting.

But, it's not about the gym.  Now it's time to take the fight to the rest of life.

PS... For an excellent perspective on life and fighting, check out The Glowing Edge blog by Lisa Creech Bledsoe.


Friday, August 20, 2010

Operation Optimism & The Little Black Book

I admit it.  I'm an office supplies junkie.  I love pencils, organizers, Post-Its, calendars, Day-Timers (that's the "old school" word for your Outlook calendar).   A quiet afternoon in OfficeMax is my idea of good time.  There are few things in this world that smell as great as a brand new notebook.   Strange?   Yes, I know.   And it's back-to-school season so Lord Help Me.   

At a conference in Vienna two years ago I scored a sweet little black moleskin notebook.   The kind that fits in your pocket with the elastic band around the cover.    I was so psyched!   I imagined myself filling it up with all kinds of smart thoughts and plans.    The key word there is "imagine" because I didn't do anything with it.  It sat on my desk for two years.   Empty.   I'd occasionally admire it but never took any action.

As I get older (uh, I mean "more mature") I increasingly realize that progress is more about action than intention.  Inspiration must give way to perspiration.   And so, finally, 21 days ago I deployed the moleskin to the front lines.   Its mission was to capture three good things every day.    Three good things.   Every day.   No exceptions.

I read that if you write down three good things that happened to you every day that you can improve your sense of optimism.   Kinda like building your optimism muscles.   In addition to the importance of action I've also learned that optimism is equally valuable.   So, the little black book was enlisted as the tool for Operation Optimism.   

I also decided to "commit" to the operation for 21 days which I've read is the exact number of days (who figured that out?) to form (or break) a habit.  The first 21 pages of the little black book now has three good things jotted down.  On every page.    Good workouts.   Hugs from my girls.   Good meetings at work.   Confident presentations.   Good preparation.    A nice sunset on the beach.    Every page.   Every day.    Even the the days that weren't so great, I managed to harvest three good things. 

Is it working?   I think so.   At least I can tell you it's definitely a habit.   I always make sure I know where my wallet, my cars keys, and the little black book are.   It's kinda part of me.   Is it making me more more optimistic?     All I can say is that I definitely know that three good things will happen today!  

The little black book has about 100 more pages and I'm hopeful (hey, that's optimistic!) they'll be filled and dog eared when I get to the end.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Hedgehogs Aren't Tepid

Yesterday my four year old daughter Marley told me that she wanted to be a hedgehog when she grows up.  This is a slight course correction from her previous career aspiration as a pirate.    I resisted the urge to act like a "grown up" and tell her how you can't really be a hedgehog when you grow up.   I just simply said, "Okay, that sounds like fun!"   Hey, if you really like hedgehogs and want to have pointy hair, crawl in the back garden and eat slugs, who am I to burst your bubble?

Then, I started to think about becoming a hedgehog myself.  In fact, I was somewhat envious of Marley's no-holds-barred-dream-the-big-dream mentality.  Like most parents I've always tried to balance a career that provides stability and income with one that provides fulfilment and joy.    Most of us (at one point or another) have had a beer or dinner with a friend and said, "I really hate my job".   Likewise, many of us have been in the opposite situation and reported, "I totally love my job!"    Fantastic!   Guess who's picking up the bill?

Of course, the reality is that over 20 or 40 working years these conversations will ebb and flow.  There will be periods (months or years) when it will feel like walking in the desert.   And, there may be periods when you feel like an unstoppable omnipotent promotion getting machine.  

The point is that there is a spectrum in your working life between Love on one end and Hate on the the other.   Lurking in the middle is Tepid.   Unfortunately that's where a lot of us (especially in mid-career) hang out.    We might say things like "It pays the bills."    And, hey, in today's economy simply payin' the bills is not a bad place to be.  

But, saying something like "I want to be a hedgehog when I grow up" is all about Love.  That's your inner child (or your outer child if you happen to be four) gushing forth wanting to become something they love.   There is something powerful and liberating about striving towards the "Love" end of the spectrum.   There can also be something financially rewarding about aligning your strengths and passions with your paycheck. Of course, moving from Hate to Tepid or from Tepid to Love requires thought and introspection.  More importantly it requires action.    Moving through the spectrum (in the right direction) will require work.  And, work is something that requires motivation especially if you're stuck at Tepid or below.  

You only have one Life.   But, you can have may jobs and careers.   It's your choice.   It's a free country.    There is no one stopping you.    If Love means being a hedgehog, then be a hedgehog.