All playground, no principle.

Back in the 80’s and early 90’s most young jocks enjoyed Samuel Slater Junior High School (Pawtucket RI) for one reason and one reason only – the gym teacher!  He was as down to earth as any man can be.  We all looked at him as a mentor, NOT a school employee.  His office was always clouded in cigar smoke and that just made him more believable.  More approachable.  More real.  More human.  And for most kids – more cool.  There’s only one problem, as cool as he was, he was still “just” a gym teacher.

When I think of all the ways my life has been shaped, the gym teacher has never once made the list.  Sure I have some good memories of slinging dodge balls and stealing bases.  I often think of the most athletic kids and wonder why they never turned pro.  Gym class provided a chance to form friendships, laughter, and a few scrapes and bruises.  At the end of the day, you either loved or hated physical education – REGARDLESS of the teacher.

Gym class, like recess, mostly takes care of itself.  Kids love to run around and are able to find something active to engage in.  But what happens next?  Eventually, we all become adults.  Our taste buds enjoy the onslaught of flavors a prosperous country affords, and, if we aren’t careful, slowly expand our belt size to the circumference of a small planet. 

To sum it up: the gym teacher only provided a playground, not the principles!

Next time you encounter “eye candy” pay attention to your thoughts.  If you have graduated beyond the level of carnal appetites and passions – congratulations – but now what are you thinking?  Maybe you ponder something along these lines:

“I wish I looked like that!”

“They must have a lot of discipline.”

“I wonder how much time they spend in the gym.”

“I would like to know what kind of diet they are on.”

“I wonder how they stay motivated.”

“How long did it take to get a physique like that?”

You get the idea.  Not once in the history of mankind has anyone said in a fit of jealousy, “I wish I had their Junior High School gym teacher!”

THE CHALLENGE:  Get off your butt.  YOU ARE the gym teacher now.  YOU are the one who must dig deep and search from within to find the motivation necessary to master your pursuit.  YOU are responsible for your own destiny.  YOU, YOU, YOU… get out of your comfort zone and BE the thing you are thinking about.  Yes YOU!

SWING BA-DAH, BA-DAH

Three words:

1) Boston
2) Fenway Park

If you know anything about Major League Baseball you should already be thinking “Green Monster” – your team has probably been robbed of a homerun or two by the 37’ high wall in left field.

As soon as spring time rolled around in my neighborhood, there was only one priority – imitate the big leaguers! After all, we lived in Pawtucket, home to the Red Sox farm team.

I vividly recall the fierce wiffle ball competitions we had, composed of set teams from kids all around the neighborhood. The oldest kids acted as team managers.  They kept statistics and calculated batting averages in 5 subject notebooks.

My friend Nathan had the perfect backyard for baseball. Off to the right was a row of hedges about 8’ tall.  Hit the ball over the hedge and you got yourself a homerun.

I was really good at this. If there was a ball low and outside I was swinging for my own “Green Monster.”  The older kids yelled at me for swinging at pitches that were so far outside the strike zone – but I didn’t care.  I knew I would hit home run after home run.

Opposing teams would harass me. As the ball was coming towards home plate they would yell, “SWING BATTER BATTER!” (pronounced with a thick Rhode Island accent “ba-dah, ba-dah”)

This annoying little phrase spread like wild fire and someone would rehearse the chant no matter who was at bat.

THE CHALLENGE: You only have one life to live and like it or not, you are at bat.  There are people who don’t want you to hit a home run, or even get on base.  There are people chanting “SWING BATTER, BATTER”  Maybe they want you to swing for a certain college, a certain program, a certain job, a certain look, a certain qualification, a certain political party, a certain standard, a certain car, a certain home, a certain blah, blah whatever.  Ignore them.  The only “certain” is for you to be certain on what YOU are aiming for.  So go for it, ignore the chatter, aim for the Green Monster and knock one out of the park.  Run around the bases and slide IN the dirt because..one day… you will be UNDER the dirt.

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.”

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

Survive the Ground

Week 15 of the 2017 NFL season contained a solid lesson.  Steelers hosted the Patriots and it came down to the wire.  Great games are always decided by a key play or two and this one was no different.  With less than a minute remaining in regulation, the Steelers’ tight end (Jesse James) caught what appeared to be a touchdown to secure the win.  Instead…they lost.

The NFL rulebook states that if a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass he “must maintain control of the ball until afterhis initial contact with the ground.”  During the lengthy official review, it was deemed evident that James did not “survive the ground” and the touchdown was overturned.  Game over.

Survive the Ground

The sequence of these events reminded me of our goals and resolutions.  I started 2017 with some clear goals that would demand a lot of attention.  While some goals were achieved, others were virtually stillborn.

The first obstacle struck early in the year and I dropped the ball.  I didn’t anticipate variables like the Grim Reaper, traveling, moving, or new goals to surface along the way.  Of course, these are all excuses.  Excuses make the ball pop out.

“Good resolutions are a pleasant crop to sow. The seed springs up so readily, and the blossoms open so soon with such a brave show, especially at first. But when the time of flowers has passed, what as to the fruit?”

THE CHALLENGE:  A new year is upon us.  What do you intend to achieve?  Be a season ticket holder to the game of life.  This game is measured in years with no offseason and the stakes are much higher than a measly sporting event.  Remember, opposition will be knocking at your door.  Like it or not, you will make contact with the turf.  It is not enough to simply dream a goal, hope a goal, or even write down a goal.  You must internalize it.  It must excite you, you must dream about it, you must long for it… that is of course if you want to survive the ground.


Illustration by Ashley Goodall


Blenders Hurt…Bad!

Have you ever had a bad handshake?  How does it feel?  Nasty right?  Perhaps the giver extended a “limp fish,” maybe their hands were wet, or dirty.  You might suspect they just came from the bathroom and didn’t wash, or they just picked their nose.  Fortunately, not all handshakes are bad.

Have you ever heard someone say, “I got to shake their hand!“?  As if they met someone so acclaimed and celebrated you questioned your friend’s grip on reality (no pun intended).  Maybe you wondered if your buddy would ever wash their hands again. Or maybe they even boast about “front row seats” and “how close” they got to someone famous.

Google a list of the “10 most famous people” and you will amass a frightening medley of lineups.  Just picking a list of the 10 best athletes, musicians or actors is hard enough (Not that I have ever tried, or care to).  But who can’t think of someone they wouldn’t mind brushing shoulders with?  Whose hand would you shake?

What if we treated ourselves with the same adulation as the person you just thought of? What if we acted with so much integrity that we knew a simple handshake with ourselves made any ambition of ours a DONE DEAL?

blender

THE CHALLENGE:  Instead of sticking your hand in the blender every time you make a commitment to yourself.  Meditate upon the high degree of honor, integrity, and passion you will devote to your pledge.  Start appreciating the handshakes with yourself just as you would for that celebrity of choice.

Images by Julia Taylor and pixishared

If you like this article you may also enjoy
(1) Bunny’s Dilemma
(2) Painful Pervasive Poaching
(3) Don’t Drop Your Nuts
(4) The Oldest Trick in the Book
(5) Goal Punching

 

Books by the Bushel

The number of people I have met who hate to read or refuse to read is baffling to me. Not long ago reading was reserved for upper classes of society. To not read was to remain in ignorance. We now have an opportunity to harvest vast bushels of knowledge. Information that previous generations would kill to have.  Much of the wisdom waiting in the pages of books goes unnoticed as we reach for the quick fix provided by a newspaper or magazine. Even then, it seems we’d rather read emails and text messages or embrace quick Google searches (more on that in a future post).

Walking into the library today, I noticed that my boy struggled mightily to hold all 10 books that he had previously checked out. I wondered why he checked out the maximum quantity. I wondered who set that amount in the first place. In the midst of my judgmental state of mind, my memory reverted back to my own past. Each week I would go to the library and check out the maximum number of books. Right or wrong, these books helped satisfy my immense curiosity for nature and instilled a love for reading but more import, a love for LEARNING!

This year I discovered the power and simplicity of audiobooks. I get through each title in a FRACTION of the time, not just for being in audio format but because I listen at 2X the “normal” speed. Best of all, Overdrive (among others) allows you to check out books for free. I have completed over 50 books this year and still have six months to go! It didn’t take much “effort”, but it did take consistency and a commitment to use my time wisely.  It doesn’t take much to put some headphones in while you clean, exercise or get groceries.

All of these books have taught me something, and a few of them have changed my life altogether. I can name at least five that are game changers. I therefore see no need to own all 50+ books. I don’t need a vast library. However, I do want to recognize the best of the best.

THE SOLUTION: Give yourself boundaries, such as “I intend to read _____ books by the end of the month, quarter, year, decade etc.  Next, identify your “all-stars”. All-stars are the books that you think about without any concious effort. These titles resonate with you and influence you continually. Finally, among your all-stars, identify your “hall of fame” books. These are books so good that you would reread them periodically and recommend them to anyone at anytime.

THE CHALLENGE: This challenge is directed to me, but I invite you to modify it to meet your own needs. Select 3 books per year (maximum) to add to your physical library. Limiting the number of slots allows you to really evaluate the book’s intrinsic worth. You will find that titles will seem to fight for those positions.

Once identified, purchase only used copies and lend them out frequently. Place your hall of fame books on display where you can view them at a glance, drawing immediate inspiration as you ponder the “collective intelligence” each title has provided for you.

Photo by Deven Dadbhawala

Plump Popcorn Payoff

Try this… ask the next person you see to slap you in the face. That’s how it feels to pay for a bucket of popcorn at the movie theater. You’ll spend a small fortune! This is one example where I wouldn’t recommend paying for the date.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that you’ve popped some corn. Too easy, right? But what if the goal was to pop 100% of the kernels. Now it becomes an entirely different challenge. There is always a collection of headstrong kernels that adamantly camp at the foot of the bag. If you attempt to pop these, you run a most assured risk of burning the rest of your tasty snack.

It’s easy to stop here. Your carton or bag appears to be topped off. Why not just eat what you have and get full?  Nobody gives those stubborn kernels an afterthought, so why should you? Just toss them!

But what if we are talking about people? Doesn’t each corn kernel pop at a different time?  Each piece responds to a predetermined level of moisture within the shell. Most people “pop” together – give or take. Just think about grade school. Some students were kept back a grade, but most progressed. Each culture has a set of benchmarks that most folks satisfy such as marriage or moving out of mom and dad’s house.

THE CHALLENGE: Let’s say you are a leader, a manager, a supervisor, a parent, a friend or a coworker to a stubborn “kernel”. Don’t toss it in the trash, it does have the potential to pop. Your task is to create the right conditions. The groundwork is there. We all have the “moisture” inside. Find a way to make more heat. Remember not to burn the rest of your stash. Too much training on the same topic will burn the initial crop of plump poppers. The remainder however, these stubborn kernels…demand one-on-one leadership. Go mentor! Go lead! Make heat! Get the payoff!

Photo by clindstedt

Quadrilateral Leadership 

“If you are curious, you’ll find the puzzles around you. If you are determined, you will solve them. ”

Erno Rubik, noted for the quote above, created the Rubik’s Cube.  I bet you’ve played one. Perhaps you even own one. Did you know that there are 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 (43 quintillion) ways to scramble a Rubik’s Cube?

Humans are like cubes.  At birth, we start off as a “clean slate”, all squares are in perfect order (even if your mom told you that you soiled too many diapers and wouldn’t stop crying).

Over time our squares become scrambled. This goes back to my middle gray concept. Look at the person to your left and right, they are all knotted, twisted, snarled and jumbled….so are you…so am I.  We are all scrambled in a different order and to a different degree.

No scrambled cube can be solved with a single twist. Mankind’s impatience naturally bleeds over into our leadership philosophy. I have observed countless leaders, managers, couples, parents and coaches who expect to *solve the cube* without spending *time with the cube*. Worse still, sometimes they yell at the cube as if to say, “go solve yourself“. Some will try to take the forbidden shortcut by removing and replacing all the stickers, not knowing that replacing a corner sticker will make the cube entirely unsolvable. This means there is no room for verbal, mental or physical abuse! This is a pathetic short term solution and a failed long term resolution.

THE CHALLENGE: Stop pretending that everyone’s cube should look like yours.  Stop pretending that anyone else’s cube can be solved overnight.  Stop pretending that your own cube won’t get worse before it gets better. Be patient with yourself and with others! My goal as a leader, my goal with this blog, is to turn the cube of anyone I can influence just a turn or two in the right direction.  That’s it.  Simple as that.  One turn and I’m satisfied.  Two turns and I’m thrilled.  You have a whole life to live and a whole bunch of people to meet who will help get you “squared” away.  Thank you for allowing me the chance to put a couple of matching squares back together.  Many of you have done the same for me!