THE COTTON HARVEST

At a recent Black History month celebration I was privileged to hear a wonderful speaker relate a few stories from his life and the cultural changes he has observed in the work place over the years.

He shared a story of Grandma taking the grandkids to a plantation to pick cotton. While family history is not my focus today, this is brilliant from a genealogical standpoint.  Generational teachings aside, I believe there is a lesson for all of us from this loving grandmother.

I have never harvested cotton. I don’t know what it is like and I most certainly don’t pretend to know what it is like to be a slave or to suffer the burden of bondage from a taskmaster.  Fortunately though, I’ve been fertilized by some “high grade manure.”  I have had a chance to carry out tasks that are both unpleasant and beyond the threshold of comfort for most Americans.  In every job there is a “rectal exam” – something not very glamorous – something you’d rather not do.  These jobs contain valuable lessons – usually in hindsight.  Today, I’m referring to such tasks as cotton picking.

I believe when it comes to being great at something , when it comes to being your very best, there are times when you must drive yourself. Your goals must become the taskmaster.  Your goal must morph into a living breathing thing, so strict and without feeling that it compels your body to obey your very will.  In other words, you force yourself to pick the day’s cotton.

THE CHALLENGE: What is your “cotton?”  Is it hitting the snooze button on the alarm clock?  Avoiding a phone call or email?  Proper diet and exercise?  Loving more?  Forgiving?  Being taken advantage of?  Or is it simply mastering your craft?  Identify an area in your life that you want to improve but continually procrastinate.  Now, implement the following immediately:  STOP BEING SO NICE TO YOURSELF!  DEMAND MORE.  DEMAND BETTER.  DEMAND RESULTS.  Stop giving yourself another chance or another tomorrow.  Start picking cotton!  There is a lot of acreage on whatever plantation you are avoiding.  Get out and get to work.  Get blisters.  Get sunburned.  Get lashed.  Get hungry.  Get thirsty.  Get fatigue.  Do this and you will get stronger.  Get progress.  Get results.  Get paid.  Get healthy.  Get happy.  Get what your heart desires!

THANK YOU BRENDA

Rarely do I pay special tribute to a female not named “Mom” or “Wifey.” This is one of those occasions.

Brenda was a childhood neighbor. She was sheltered.  Lived in a home raised by religious zealots.  Good kid.  Real good kid.

It wasn’t often that she could come outside, but when she did…one thing was for certain. We would race.  She was fast.  I’m talking road runner fast!  I can’t recall ever beating her – and I’m okay with that.  She made me faster.  She helped me establish a solid foundation of good health and discipline.  Our races taught me the value of friendly competition.

I only saw Brenda once as a young adult – but after all these years she still manages to live on in my mind. Every time I run with a goal to be fast, guess who is two steps ahead of me?  Brenda.

In my mind’s eye I travel time and space. I see and feel myself as a kid running down Martha St. with everything I’ve got.  But, for whatever reason – I STILL can’t beat that 9 year old girl who manages to stay just out of reach.  I’m okay with that.

THE CHALLENGE: Being YOUR best doesn’t necessarily mean being THE best.  Be okay with that.  Be okay with knowing the person you can’t quite beat is making you better every time you try.  Identify a “road runner” in your realm of expertise and go race.  RACE TO WIN EVEN IF YOU KNOW YOU WILL LOSE.  You may thank them one day.

Dickies and Monsters

Laundry is done. It’s time to fold. Everything smells fresh. You feel good about the empty hamper. BUT…then you notice…a clothing article is missing. You already know, the “sock monster” struck again.

You don’t know where the sock monster lives. You don’t know what the sock monster looks like. You don’t know how to make it go away.

In fact, you only know two things about the sock monster.

1) It likes to eat socks.

2) It will never eat BOTH socks, ONLY ONE.

Today, I learned something about the sock monster that I never knew before. He spits out every single sock, and you’ll never guess where…

Right on the ground! Don’t believe me? Go to a public laundry area and watch carefully for one hour. Garunteed you will see socks landing on the floor like autum leaves. When you are on the outside looking in, it’s so obvious you can’t miss it. A sock gets dropped on the floor and then is accidently kicked out of view.

The grand irony here is that socks go awol due to our own feet! Yes, feet! The very thing that socks have sworn to protect and serve.

Socks are like minutes. We have 1,440 minutes each and every day. We feel the abundance. So we get careless and drop a Dickie here and a Hanes there. We lose a neon Nike and a pink Puma. Before we know it, we wonder where all our minutes went. But there is no “minute monster” to blame.

When a sock is lost we simply buy a new set and move on with our lives, but we can’t purchase more minutes. When they’re gone they’re gone. When you are laying snuggly on your death bed there will only be one monster to blame, yourself. Only you can drop minutes on the deck and kick them carelessly by the wayside.

THE CHALLENGE: Manage your minutes. Determine where they go. What monster do you feed? Social media? Pornography? Materialism? Video games? Movies? Remember, none of THESE monsters spit out the minutes they eat.

Finally, think about it, is life really too short, or are we are just too busy to hang on to what we have? Treat your minutes like Dickies and keep them on your feet.

Hold the Salt

Business lore cannot decide who it wants to attribute the “salt test” to. Some say Thomas Edison, others Henry Ford, not to mention household names like General MacArthur and a host of others.

What is the “salt test” anyway? Essentially, the salt test was a simple method devised to examine the character and personality of a potential employee.

It looks like this… Henry Ford takes you out to dinner, a small price to pay since you’ve applied for a key position in the company. Ol’ Henry keeps an eagle eye on you as the server delivers your requested meal. Your mouth waters as you reach for the salt. (NO! DON’T DO IT!) You proceed to smother your food in that all white ionic compound otherwise known as common table salt. You take a taste. Mr. Ford asks how your food is. You smile and provide enthusiastic feedback, “Delicious!”

You continue your attempt to dazzle. But, it’s too late. You’ve forfeited the job.

Henry Ford knows that premature salt application would indicate a person’s narrow thinking and inability to analyze fresh data. The action might also show a lack of appreciation for the host or a shortage of trust in the cook’s ability.

THE CHALLENGE: Leave the salt alone! Examine your self-talk. Do you season your language with negativity?

“I can’t”

“I’m too”

“Why bother?”

“I’ll never”

How much of this negative dialogue acts as premature seasoning?

When you meet people do you really listen? Do you learn their name? Do you care about what they are saying? Or, are you projecting your own judgements upon them?

As you go throughout the day, pay attention to how often a limited view is imposed on yourself or others. You may be surprised at the frequency at which we season our situations prematurely.

Shoot Blanks

What do most (if not all) books have in common?  A blank page defiled by the words “this page intentionally left blank.”

As if failure to declare this intention would result in a lawsuit.  But who really cares in the first place?

I’ve bookmarked, color coded, tabbed, and dog eared countless pages. But that blank page always goes without attention.  Maybe there is more to

be told on that singular page than any paragragraph in any book.  At least

one beckoning message is for us to “leave room.”

Our lives are filled with obligations and we saturate every crevice of every hour with trivial distractions! I bet one thing they are not filled with is bordom. Think about it, when was the last time you were genuinely bored? I’m not suggesting our time should be idled away. But it is worth asking, have we left any blank space – with intent?

“Boredom is good when in a creative rut, often you will find gift wrapped answers.” -Stephen King

THE CHALLENGE:  How many minutes of your day are intentionally left blank? No seriously, count them up.  Do you leave any room to just sit and think? Do you leave enough white space to find those gift wrapped answers? I dare you to stop reading this, unplug, and go experience boredom for a few minutes. String together some blank pages and note the tremendous influence it yields on the remainder of your “book.”

Run to Start – Shed Skin to Finish

Crawl, walk, run – a principle that governs the universe for all able-bodied humans born into mortality.  We might add to this sequence another step “run far” or “run fast” (pick your poison).  Whether a four-minute mile or an ultramarathon, both are preceded with a vast amount of practice and effort just to get to the starting line.  As an artist, I’ve put in countless hours trying to figure things out, but at age 39 the starting line is exactly where I’m at.  The first leg of my race was a portrait of a snake.  The inspiration behind the 8×10 oil painting is posted below.

Gus

I’ve been heavily influenced by a lot of people, but none as subtly profound as Petty Officer First Class Alvaro Hurtado.  We called him “Hurt” and oftentimes “Gus.”  He was not the most vocal leader, wasn’t the model of physical fitness, and not the most dynamic instructor.  My initial impressions of Gus were therefore somewhat ill-mannered and careless.  My biased judgments, however, were futile unproductive thoughts that set me up to eat a massive piece of humble pie.  As far as influence is concerned, Hurtado was a sniper who put a slug in my forehead – as if it were routine business.

Each person we meet is like a mine laden with gold awaiting extraction.  The gold is there for the taking.  Unfortunately, most people are too lazy to do the panning, sluicing, dredging or underground blasting.  As time passed I saw Gus not for what he wasn’t, but for what he was.  I discovered what I needed to see, gold.  I noticed that the GOLD he possessed, I lacked completely!

His attention to detail and quest for perfection stood out in many ways.  For instance, the cover to his working uniform was starched and pressed to exactness, as though the cover itself was standing at attention.  While many Sailors at the command frequently shoved crumpled uniform items into a gym bag, Gus made time to fold his t-shirts “boot camp style.”  His penmanship was flawless.  Each letter was strict and upright with textbook spacing and consistency.  Surely a significant amount of time and effort went into mastering his craft.

Every time a Sailor checked out of Naval Expeditionary Medical Training Institute (NEMTI), Gus was the one guy to always ensure they left with a token of gratitude.  It didn’t matter how low they were on the totem pole.  He wouldn’t have it any other way.  Sometimes he gifted a paddle which was painstakingly wrapped with his personal tools and talent.  Others received a glass case containing contents that symbolized their role as build team leaders.   Shadow boxes were carefully prepared for retirees.  Markers were made available for others to sign a few words of good wishes or fond memories on the back of each parting gift.

I shall never forget the day that I stood in the back of the flag room holding a paddle that had just been presented to UT2 Samuel B. Kellogg.  As the room cleared out, I proceeded to convey to Kellogg what a remarkable gift he had just received.  I went on to express my judgment that Hurtado had a heart unlike anyone I had ever encountered, a heart that I sought to emulate.  Somewhere in that dialogue, I choked up.  I don’t recall if I was able to conceal the tears that streamed down my face, or if I even tried.  One thing is for sure, I decided then and there that I needed to be more like Gus.  I needed to ensure he left NEMTI with a personalized gift.  I also determined that I needed to carry the torch to the best of my ability, that all departing shipmates were worthy of a few hours of my time so they too might receive a customized token of appreciation.

My talent lies in the realm of creative arts.  As a child, I was somewhat exposed to fine art.  I knew innately that oil painting was something I wanted to do at an extremely high level.  I dabbled in many creative endeavors.  I received a formal education in visual communications and web design.  I excelled at photography and could hold my own with a can of Krylon.  Unfortunately, when it came to oil paint I never took the bull by the horns.  Oil painting requires many hours to execute a realistic representation.  Every stroke of the brush must be deliberate and precise.  I supposed that I could not offer a better gift to Hurtado than a painting, a perfect metaphor for everything I admired in him.  I knew I wanted a subject that would require me to pay close attention to detail, form, shape, color, texture, and edges.  I pondered for many weeks.

The solution finally arrived during Hurtado’s final presentation at a CPO 365 PME.  His words led to a discussion in which our Senior Enlisted Leader Master Chief Haskins talked about the growing pains of personal development.  Therein he made the comment, “When we grow, it’s like a snake shedding skin.”  BINGO!  At that moment I knew just what to paint.  As a result, I presented to my friend, my brother, and shipmate, one of my first ever oil paintings on a very, very long journey to mastery.  This piece is entitled “GOLF – ROMEO – OSCAR – WHISKEY” the phonetic military alphabet for the word “GROW.”

I will forever pay tribute the name HM1 Alvaro Hurtado for showing me a piece of manhood that I lacked entirely and for causing me to grow out of darkness into light as depicted in this painting.

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Photo: Work in progress – 2nd of 3 layers applied.

 

A Smart Question Never Asked

If you hear the term “winter fun” you might think of ski slopes and snowball fights.  For me, I prefer the beach.  No crowds, no kids dusting your towel with sand, and no barrage of seagulls stealing your snacks because the person next to you tossed out their chili cheese fries like it’s a petting zoo.  Sure it’s too cold to swim, but the vistas are all mine, the shoreline can be scavenged at will for all manner of treasures and the golden winter sunlight can’t be rivaled.

I remember Memorial Day weekend growing up in Rhode Island.  For some reason, we thought this was a good day for an annual trip to the beach.  It wasn’t – but I didn’t know that as a kid.  I thought a beach was supposed to be crowded, that you were supposed to sit in traffic for hours, that you were supposed to wait in long lines for food or to use the restroom.  I never asked the smart question, “Why are we doing this on the busiest day of the year?”

Guess what just passed?  Memorial Day Weekend.  I live five miles from the ocean and visit year round.  I didn’t think much of it.  Seemed like just another good day for me to walk the dog.  Somehow I overlooked the fact that this holiday would bring out all the beach bums.

Roughly three miles into the walk my dog quit.  She had enough of the sun, got a drink from the doggy fountain and plopped onto the sand beneath the pier – the one spot that nobody occupies due to the foul smell and lack of sunshine.

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Not two minutes pass by before a cop drives up to me, delivers a dirty look and states, “You can’t have your dog on the beach.”  Was I disappointed that the officer could not see the forest through the trees?  Of course!  He failed to ask the smart question.

Obviously, it wasn’t my choice to stand in the most inconvenient location beneath the pier.  Obviously, my dog was preventing heat exhaustion.  Obviously, nobody would ever use that section of beach.  But the officer was simply doing his job.  He waited for me to pick my dog up and place her back on the sun-baked pavement.  If it was winter time (or any other time of year) I would never have this problem.  The cops come out when the crowds come out.

APPLICATION:  My life is best lived when I abide by strict boundaries.  It makes me happy when I don’t have to rethink my decisions or compromise my standards.  My life is most enriched when I protect my goals the way this cop protected the beach.  He never had to ask the “smart question” because he had a job to do.

THE CHALLENGE:  If you intend to make a difference in this world, you also have a job to do.  Avoid asking questions that compromise the integrity of your decisions.  Get your dang “dog” off the beach!  You know it shouldn’t be there in the first place.  Perhaps the only smart question to ask right now is, “How can I be more like that cop?”  At the end of the day, excuses don’t alter performance.  When something creeps in on your goals and tries to steal your attention, give it a dirty look and wait for it to “get back on the pavement.”

Photo by: Chris Yarzab