At Full Stride

SquirrelRoadkill is not usually something memorable.  In fact it is usually something that we want to forget as soon as possible.  Flattened skunks or broadsided deer do not create fond memories but rather revulsion and disgusting smells.  On my latest run, I encountered this unfortunate fellow who seems to have been hit by a car at full stride while crossing the street.  I happened upon him only because I was feeling particularly winded and slowed down to walk for a moment.  After stopping just long enough to take the picture, I got back into my run with renewed vigor.  My furry little friend had reminded me of something in that instant and I knew that I had to press on.  The intriguing thing was not the cause of death but the cause of the stride.

In the very last moment of his squirrel life, he was bounding fully and it was most likely due to fear.  He had made a bad mistake to cross the road at the wrong time and paid the ultimate price for poor judgment.  For some reason in my ten seconds of looking at him, I thought of a better possibility.  What if his stride had nothing to do with the car?  What if he was racing home to a squirrel wife whom he loved desperately?  What if he had just found a new tree for his family to live in and was bounding to share the new?  What if he had found an open can of peanuts forgotten by some stupid human?  While none of these is probably accurate, they are a reminder that I needed at that moment.

We are all roadkill.  The only thing that we were guaranteed at our birth was our death.  That’s just the truth.  When I meet my end, I want to be at full stride as well but not out of fear.  I want to be so filled with life that I do not see my unfortunate birthright coming.  I do not get to choose the how, when, why or any other detail of the end.  However I do get to choose so many of those attributes right now.  I can decide to stride now rather than waiting for circumstance to force me to move.  Life should be lived with inspiration and perspiration rather than desperation and resignation.  The car is out there somewhere, what will you do before it gets here?

Fight or Flight?

LizardWe are in essence prehistoric animals.  The core components of our brains are basically the same as that of a lizard.  Although we have the capacity for higher level thinking and reasoning, when faced with certain threats, the reasoning part of our brain gets short-circuited or overridden by our reptilian brain.  The response of fight or flight is an instinct.  In the modern world, we do our best to act as if we are civilized and rational.  The problem is that when push comes to shove, we literally forget logic and go to our most primal reaction.

The only way to avoid this devolution is to train against it.  This is possible because we are basically never in true peril.  Letting our brains go on “fight or flight auto-pilot” is useful when under attack by an animal but how often are we in a life and death situation?  Most likely the “peril” is only perceived.  Only a metaphorical death is on the line.  However we make it so real that we react with our lower self.  The answer is action, not reaction.  Reaction is usually the ugly head of the lizard.

The key to keeping the lizard at bay is to be prepared and take total responsibility.  Most of our fight or flight responses are due to our interactions with other lizards.  If you know in advance that you are going to be dealing with someone’s lizard brain, it’s easier to keep yours from reacting in kind.  Also take total responsibility FOR YOURSELF.  Break down that word, RESPONSE – ABILITY.  Be completely able to respond to the situation, the actual situation and not some overblown version that was created mainly in your head.  You most likely will not die from this situation.  So why put yourself into the life or death mode?  A better life is a result of better actions.  Be better than the lizard today!

This concept came up during my recent interview with Laura G. on her radio show “Thoughts, Tools and Tough Love”.  Click here to listen.

Lost in the Woods

IMG_1359As anyone who has ever read my blog knows, the reason that I start writing anything is to help myself through a struggle.  I publish them in the hopes that it may help someone else.  I’ve not written in a long time.  The main reason being is that I’ve been lost for a while.  So many different things have happened or not happened in the past few months that I’ve lost my sense of direction.  This has helped me create many feelings that are uncomfortable to wear on a daily basis: uncertainty, confusion, timidity but more than anything fear.  The odd thing about this mental situation is that I don’t have the same reaction to physically being lost.  In fact, I believe that it is almost impossible for me to be lost in the physical world.

Last year on my annual Appalachian Trail hike, my brother and I got physically lost in the woods.  We figured out where we took the wrong turn during this year’s hike.  However at the time we were lost, we never got fearful or confused because being lost was nothing to fear.  We simply had to get our bearings and hike that much harder in order to get back on the path.  The lack of fear came from my belief.  I believe that I can basically never be lost if I’m surrounded by a triangle of three things that I know.  If I have that, I’ll eventually find my way.  That belief made getting out of the woods nothing more than a matter of time and effort.

IMG_1352After considering my belief about the act of being physically lost, I’m finding that I’m less fearful of my present situation of being mentally lost.  In the mental space, I create the terrain.  Since it is all up to me, I can always choose to be surrounded by a triangle of three things that I know: my family, my friends and my perseverance.  At no point can I be lost if I have encased myself in those three things.  So now it is time to get back on the path or create a new one.  Regardless of which I choose, fear is not going to be my compass.  I’m excited by the prospects of where I can go.  Just because I don’t know the path, does not mean that I need to fear the path.  Hiking harder or possibly farther does not scare me but the thought of being immobilized does.  One foot in front of the other may not be the sexiest concept ever invented but it will get me going.

Are you a veterinarian yet?

VeterinarianThe movie “Fight Club” is not for everyone but there are a few scenes that are extremely memorable for me.  Probably the most memorable and applicable is the scene with Raymond K. Hessel, the unfortunate store clerk who meets Tyler Durden.  With a gun to his head, Raymond is forced to give an accurate representation of his life.  He lives in a small basement apartment and works a meaningless job after dropping out of Community College.  During his time in college, he had mainly studied biology in order to become a veterinarian.  In that moment, he is given a gun to the head choice.  Tyler Durden tells him that in six weeks he’d better have taken steps toward being a veterinarian or he’ll be dead.  Then Raymond is told to run home.

The gun to the head choice is an easy one because there are only two options something or nothing.  Although completely fictional, I’m pretty sure that (if real) Raymond would have started on the road to being a veterinarian.  People find resources that they never knew they had when put face to face with their mortality.  In our daily lives, it is easy to distract ourselves from the fact that we are not moving forward only perpetuating our present level of existence.

So with the gun to your head, what is the thing that you’re not doing that you really need to be?  Are you twenty pounds over weight?  Are you suffering through a bad relationship because you’re afraid to be alone?  Are you stuck in a job that you hate but see no way out?  Gun to your head moment, feel the barrel against the back of your head, better or nothing, what is your plan to get there?  What you’ll most likely find is that all of the limitations holding you back are create by you.  You’ve gotten comfortable with being fat, lazy, angry and tired.  Your life doesn’t depend doing it, so it’s easier to stay the same.  Don’t kid yourself, you are dying right now.  SLOWLY.  But when you think hard about the possibilities that you’ve not taken hold of, doesn’t it feel like life is slipping away faster than it would if you were on track?

So who is going to put the gun to your head?  No one but you.  Your friends, family and coworkers will never pressure you to be much more than you already are.  Only you know that thing inside that needs to be drawn out with that gun to head choice.  Better or nothing?  It’s time to choose!  Go be a veterinarian!

Empty Trophies (the loss in winning)

LukeSoccerAs the spring season grows closer, fields are being lined, nets are being hung and young players are practicing their skills.  These are all normal steps in the preparation for a season of practices, games and championships.  Each of us has our own role to play in this system: player, spectator, coach or referee.  That role heavily influences our perspective on the process and the game itself.  The game of soccer is always the same, two teams, two goals, a specific number of players and specific period of time.  It is a finite game with a result that is measurable.

The sporting culture is based principally on the finite game.  We are enamored with the result and the perceived spoils that come with it.  Players, coaches and spectators focus on the result of the finite game, often as if that was the only thing that mattered.  The unfortunate thing in youth sports is that the hyper-focus on the finite game has made us forget about the ultimately more important infinite game.

Infinite games are not played to win or lose.  They are played in order to keep playing.  “Playing catch” is not a competitive endeavor.  You don’t throw the ball to make the other person miss.  The enjoyment comes from process and the intrinsic benefits that come with it: progress, togetherness, etc.  Life is another infinite game that we play.  The goal of life is not to get to death.  The experience of living is the benefit that playing the game provides.

The value of the finite game is in its contribution to the infinite game of life.  The players, coaches and spectators who only see the finite game will eventually find the game to be empty.  It is only when those infinite game benefits come out of the finite game that it is truly valuable.  Trophies, ribbons and plaques are worth only as much as the memories of those who were touched by the process.

If the goal is only to win on that day, then the victory is a loss.  It is only when the component pieces of the win are ingrained into a person’s soul that victory is truly accomplished.  Teamwork, focus, progress, sacrifice and a slew of other infinite game lessons are the reason that we play.  Trophies are hollow wood, metal and plastic if the spirit that earned them does not live on in the hearts and minds of those who earned them.

The true value of today’s game shows up in the coming years.

Finite vs. Infinite Games

This is intended for all of my soccer friends out there but there are lessons that can be taken that have non-sport application.

LukeSoccerAs the spring season grows closer, fields are being lined, nets are being hung and young players are practicing their skills.  These are all normal steps in the preparation for a season of practices, games and championships.  Each of us has our own role to play in this system: player, spectator, coach or referee.  That role heavily influences our perspective on the process and the game itself.  The game of soccer is always the same, two teams, two goals, a specific number of players and specific period of time.  It is a finite game with a result that is measurable.

The sporting culture is based principally on the finite game.  We are enamored with the result and the perceived spoils that come with it.  Players, coaches and spectators focus on the result of the finite game, often as if that was the only thing that mattered.  The unfortunate thing in youth sports is that the hyper-focus on the finite game has made us forget about the ultimately more important infinite game.

Infinite games are not played to win or lose.  They are played in order to keep playing.  “Playing catch” is not a competitive endeavor.  You don’t throw the ball to make the other person miss.  The enjoyment comes from process and the intrinsic benefits that come with it: progress, togetherness, etc.  Life is another infinite game that we play.  The goal of life is not to get to death.  The experience of living is the benefit that playing the game provides.

The value of the finite game is in its contribution to the infinite game of life.  The players, coaches and spectators who only see the finite game will eventually find the game to be empty.  It is only when those infinite game benefits come out of the finite game that it is truly valuable.  Trophies, ribbons and plaques are worth only as much as the memories of those who were touched by the process.

If the goal is only to win on that day, then the victory is a loss.  It is only when the component pieces of the win are ingrained into a person’s soul that victory is truly accomplished.  Teamwork, focus, progress, sacrifice and a slew of other infinite game lessons are the reason that we play.  Trophies are hollow wood, metal and plastic if the spirit that earned them does not live on in the hearts and mind of those who earned them.

The true value of today’s game shows up in the coming years.

Letting the Right Punches Hit You

RockyBoxing and all of its martial cousins are disciplines based on the idea of avoiding physical attacks while trying to make contact with your own.  Practitioners such as Bruce Lee took a philosophical approach to the art of physical combat.   In no way am I putting myself into his category.  The thought that I want to convey is a slightly more modern predicament that the metaphor of fighting may best explain.

So imagine if you will that in a boxing match, that some of the opponent’s punches gave you more energy.  The object would no longer be just to avoid punches but also discern which ones were helpful and allow those to land.  Despite the ridiculousness of this concept in terms of real boxing, it’s easy to see that the best boxers would be able to max their potential by taking positive hits and dodging the negative.

At the moment, you have millions of punches coming your way from a ton of “opponents”.  Almost like a battle royal, your life has an absolute melee of people and organizations who are trying to punch you in the face with their opinion, product, idea or service.  It’s not all bad but evaluating it all can be difficult.  Here are some steps to help you from feeling punch drunk as you make it through your day.

  1. Avoid the Negative Corner – There are some places where you know that you’re going to be hit repeatedly by people who do not have your best interest in mind.  There are billion dollar industries whose sole purpose is to distract your attention as often as possible and hit you with “BREAKING NEWS”.  Just because it’s happening now, doesn’t mean that it is important or better yet that it is important to you.  Your Twitter feed, e-mail, Facebook, TV, the gossipy coworker and others are not based on important, just recent.
  2. Pay Attention to the Source – Some sources will almost always negative and others will almost always be positive.  The amount of positive missed and negative endured from these consistent sources will be negligible.  Keeping a default position of avoid all or accept all may be the best position to keep decision fatigue to a minimum.  For those wild card sources, usually the most important question to consider is WHY?  Why is this person taking a swing at me, to help or to hurt?
  3. Decide on the Power of the Punches – Since we’re dealing with information here and not actual physical contact, the amount of pain that you feel is dictated by you.  So you can take the sting out of a punch by making it less significant.  Our perspective often dictates our reality.  For example, eyebrows are usually raised when I say that “Fear is a positive emotion”.  People take it as solely negative but if they focus on the signal rather than the sensation, it becomes clear.  Fear is sending a message to help protect you from some perceived threat.  That system is there to help, not hurt you.  Unfortunately many of us have our feelings on autopilot rather than recognizing the influence/control that we have over them.

So today as you brave the modern world and all of the jabs, hooks and sucker punches that it throws at you, remember that you’re not defenseless.  The world does not have to knock you senseless.  You can keep your wits about you and set up a system that protects you.  After all, you’re fighting for your mental life.  The only way that you get to control it is by keeping up the defense against those who are trying to take your control away.

So keep your guard up and only let in the hits that will help you.

The Pie Problem (Defining Yourself)

piesWhen I was a kid, I was very explicit about the fact that I did not like pie.  It’s really a shame too because from what I understand, my mother makes great apple and pumpkin pies.  Regardless of how much I was missing out, I held firm to my identity as a non-pie eater.  Then once at my grandmother’s house,  she was getting ready to order a pizza pie and needed to know who wanted some.  Despite my mother’s urging that I had eaten it before,  I held fast to my pie-free stance.  Once the pizzas arrived, my younger self realized the error of his ways.  There were exceptions to my pie-free world that I needed to recognize and accept.  This was not the absolute commandment that I originally thought that it was.

Commandments or non-negotiables can be extremely important to one’s daily life and overall sense of self.  I can hear some of you now “But wait, I’m an atheist (agnostic or not religious).  How does this relate to me?”  Exactly what you just said, you have a non-negotiable belief structure that  guides a significant portion of your life and mental framework.  You do not re-evaluate this belief structure regularly.  It tends to inform and guide your life rather than the events of your life informing it.  Perhaps you are consciously aware of some of your “commandments” while others lie under the surface.  Regardless, it may be time to dust off your stone tablets and see what works or what doesn’t.

This introspection may be difficult in the beginning  but will be freeing in the end.  What do you believe without question about: yourself, life, friendship, marriage, the world?  Once you have uncovered your beliefs, it is important to decide if each is a useful belief.  There will be some things that are absolute but much of who we are is based on our truth and not the truth.  Is it more helpful to believe that you have limited talent, skill or intelligence?  Or is it better to believe that you are unlimited in those areas?  You should have the final say in the adoption or deletion of your beliefs.  The power of organizing them into a rock solid structure that you don’t need to think about because you already have.

One of the most difficult things about living through this era of almost unlimited information is maintaining a sense of who we are.  Rather than being pulled in a hundred directions, you will have your own direction.  The beauty of these commandments is that they were not handed to you, you chose them yourself.  That choice gives you freedom of mind later when you do not have to choose in the moment because you chose long ago.  You are the you that you’ve chosen to be.

The Beauty of the Strikeout

StrikeoutIn 1998, Mark McGwire hit more home-runs than any other player in MLB history.  I vividly remember watching the games to see if he would break Hank Aaron’s record and I’m not even a baseball fan.  At the time, I remember becoming personally moved by the chase for the home-run record.  It changed the way that I thought about several things in my life and it had nothing to do with home-runs but rather strikeouts.  McGwire lead the league in home-runs that year but he was also near the top of the leader board for strikeouts.  He struck out 2.2 times more than he hit home-runs.  In theory, the strikeouts are failure but in reality they are three more pieces of data.

From the outside, the strikeout seems ugly and unwanted.  I’ve never heard anyone say “that’s the best strikeout I’ve ever had!”  The beauty of the strikeout happens inside.  It’s the internal process of finding the next home-run from the mistakes made in the strikeout.  Personally I always attributed this to dating.  The strikeout/rejection was originally paralyzing and kept me from stepping up to the plate.  It was after McGwire’s record breaking season that I started to embrace the beauty of the strikeout.

Many of us go through life hoping that things will be easy.  We want life to pitch us as many “meatballs” as possible, so that we can get on base.  The problem with this hope is that it guarantees us a life in little league where you hit off a tee or a lobbed pitch from a coach.  If you want to play life at a higher level, you need to be willing to take some strikeouts and get back up to the plate to chance it again.  If they are considered data and not a death sentence for your self-esteem, then strikeouts are an amazing tool.  The key is that something must be learned from each one.

So become a strikeout analyst.  Don’t shy away from the opportunity that your failures give you.  Most failure is not fatal and is only negative if we do not see the lesson.  The beauty of the strikeout is expressed in that next home-run.  So take a swing and use your mistakes as ingredients for your next success.

SWING AWAY!

Be a Definite Article

Salisbury 1994
Salisbury 1994

In my freshman college dorm, I was known as “Soccer Pete”.  The reason for the name was pretty obvious.  There was another guy named Pete who lived in Pocomoke Hall and it cut down on the confusion.  Since I was on the soccer team and mildly obsessed with the sport, it stuck.  The nickname spread to the point that when I would meet new people, I sometimes heard “Oh you’re ‘Soccer Pete'”.  This all happened organically and through no influence of mine.  However I knew the importance of standing out from one of my soccer coaches earlier that summer.

My coach, Tom Zingale, had a successful soccer career and was trying out for the United States Olympic team.  On the first day of tryouts, each player was given a white uniform and a red uniform.  Tom knew the competition was going to be tough on the field, so he did something to make himself stand out on  the field.  He did his laundry right away!  This was a stroke of genius!  The reason that it was brilliant was that he washed his red uniform and white uniform together.  His red uniform’s colors ran and turned the white one pink.  So when Tom stepped out on the field, he looked like walking cotton candy.  The other trialists  gave him plenty of inventive nicknames but at the end of the tryout he had the last laugh.  He made the team and in a conversation with the coach it became obvious to all that his strategy had worked.

Coach: “We’ll need to find someone to help you with your laundry.”

Tom: “I know how to do laundry.”

Coach: “Yeah right!  Then why is your uniform pink?

Tom: “What’s my name?”

Coach: “You’re…..”

In that silence it became evident that Tom had made himself standout.  Now obviously if he had no soccer skill, then his plan would have failed.  However with the right combination of skill and individuality, he was able to get exactly what he was after.

So my suggestion to you is to be a definite article!  Be THE one that people think about when they think of your thing.  This should be a combination of skill and individuality.  Make yourself the undeniable choice for one reason or another.  DO NOT JUST DRESS UP IN PINK unless that’s you’re thing.  You can stand out by being the definitive best in your field.  Being the only one who is using technology to solve problems in your industry may be your way to standout.  Own it completely and be comfortable with the choice to be you.  This may include having to say “I’m not for you.”  Punk rock is my favorite type of music.  When given the choice, it is THE one that I pick most often.  However it’s not for everyone and embracing that fact is better than being a watered-down version of everyone else.  So go out today, in your work, in your relationship and in your life and be THE YOU that you want to be.  The world won’t know that they were looking for that you until you’ve shown up!

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