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


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

Two Lessons From a Six Year Old

The boy turned 6 this week.  He challenges me, tests my patience and marches to the cadence of his own drum.  He also loves me, reminds me what it’s like to be a kid, and (unknowingly) teaches me. Here are two lessons I learned this week.

LESSON 1: GET OFF THE COUCH

He wanted to break in his new football so we played catch on the couch for a few minutes.  His focus was less ball and more obstacle. He built a wall of blankets to throw over and gaps of pillows to throw between. Sounds fun right? It was, although every few throws were well out of my reach and landed on the floor behind me. The first several times this occurred I would reach out my arm and say, “I’m too short, I can’t reach.” He jumped up and grabbed the ball, no questions asked.  Finally, he caught on and said, “Dad, there is something called get off the couch!

I rarely sat on the couch growing up, it was usually occupied by my own dad. I used to long for him to get up and take action. To this day I rarely park my tail on a cushion. I am better off for it. I would be perfectly satisfied to not own a couch. I am more productive on the move. Life is lived in motion. Too much time on couches will make you soft like the cushions they showcase.

Many of you might have a different experience. You might love the couch. You might spend most of your day glued to it.  Fine.  Just remember… “there is something called get off the couch.”  

THE CHALLENGE: Move! Are you sitting down right now? For how long? What else could you be doing to better your surroundings? Who can you serve? Did you break a sweat today? If not, put your body in motion. Maybe your couch can be viewed as a metaphor for your house, neighborhood, state or country. Are those “cushions” you’ve been sitting on for too long? Maybe it’s time to set yourself in motion. Travel transforms!

 

LESSON 2: LISTEN TO YOURSELF

My son was playing with his sisters when all of a sudden he said, “You two play quietly so I can listen to what I’m saying in my own head!” I was floored because of the brilliance of his statement and the fact that he was able to recognize outside distraction.

We all have a dialogue running through our head. What are you saying? Can you really hear it? If not, what do you do about it? We are bombarded with noise. Distractions are countless. Our electronics put us in a state of hyper drive. If that’s not enough, we chug coffee and energy drinks to keep up with it all. It’s like increasing the distance a rabbit can hear by 10x. But will that boost the rabbit’s chances for survival or will it will likely become paralyzed by paranoia?

THE CHALLENGE: Tell the world to play quietly! Presuming you’ve earned some couch time. Turn off the TV.  Put your phone aside. We’ve all had too many days where we felt we “didn’t have a minute to ourselves” but we let our minutes flee as if being robbed at gunpoint. Be stingy! Need some extra time, go steal some from Facebook, YouTube, Netflix or any other time filler of choice. Now LISTEN, I mean really listen. What is happening on the inside? You cannot travel within and stand still without. What is your body trying to tell you? Do you need more sleep, less food, more exercise, less/more time in the sun? What is your heart telling you? Do you feel passionate about someone or something?  Are you numb, depressed or indifferent?What were you supposed to get done today or this week? What is coming up tomorrow? The dialogue that arises from the inside will not steer you amiss. Take note then take action. 

 

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!

The Long Haul

I previously illustrated the need to stick to our goals for an extended period of time.  But at what point should we call it quits?

Marriage vows are typically until death.  That’s a huge commitment!  What if the marriage starts out bad?  What if “for better, for worse” seems to be all “worse”?  Do you hold out hoping things will get better?  What if your spouse gets a mental illness and can no longer remember you?

Children are also a long term commitment.  While they eventually fly the coop, you can’t divorce your children during the “terrible twos” or “turbulent teens”.  They are yours regardless of personality type, stature, learning ability, disabilities etc.

Most people accept the long term nature of these relationships without question.  Careers are a bit more fuzzy.  We no longer live in a world where the norm is to work a single job for most of your life and collect a gold watch at the end.  These jobs are disappearing fast, although not extinct.  The military is a prime example.  Twenty years of honorable service will earn a pension with benefits.

A friend recently noted that getting out of the military after 18 years is stupidity, not fear. But what about 15 years?  How about 10?  Is it smart to leave after 8?  Where do you draw the line?

If you have been driving for any length of time in a major city, chances are you have unintentionally traveled along a toll road.  These roads tend to produce a sense of imprisonment, a feeling of one way in and one way out.

Toll roads do have an evident advantage, they get the traveler to an alternate destination in a fraction of the time.  But there is a cost.  It won’t necessarily pay for itself by traveling only an exit or two, after all “both the hasty and the slow meet at the ferry.”

In life, sometimes we get on proverbial toll roads.  It could be a career, it could be a relationship.  Perhaps it’s getting out of debt or even parole or jail time.  Some things in life are better to commute via toll.  They are intended to be a long grind.  Since cutting corners will only add time, just pay the price.  Spring always follows winter, even if the winter seems long.  Too often we quit. We treat the long game as if it wasn’t nature’s way. We walk out of a marriage as if it was a boring movie.  We quit a job as if we were changing channels during a commercial break.  Someone is always selling you a dream that the grass is greener elsewhere…and let’s be honest, sometimes it is.  But let’s stay honest, usually it’s not.  Why pay for that dream when you can just pay the toll for the road you are already so far along?

The Challenge: Consider your long term goals and needs. Identify how these can be achieved.  You only have one life to live so don’t take too long.  Now, pull the trigger.  Let the bullet fly.  Let it do its thing.  Get on that toll road and don’t look back.  Be patient, you won’t find any rest stops.  It won’t be very scenic. The weather might be hazardous and the air polluted.  You might nod off at the wheel. Your butt will get tired, your legs cramped.  Food will not be gourmet. The radio will have static. You will feel bored and sometimes lonely.  Most important, there are people driving next to you.  They will cause frustration and sometimes fender benders.  You will have to lay on your horn.  You might get a flat tire and squish some bunnies along the way. When you unbuckle that seat belt it will have all been worth it.  You will wonder why so many others choose to sit in traffic.

Goal Punching

“Moving Petty Officer” is a phrase that all Navy recruits learn immediately upon arrival to Boot Camp.  It is used throughout a Sailor’s career.

This is one of my favorite phrases in the military. It shows not only a willingness to carry out orders, but demonstrates closed loop communication and immediate action.

Recently, my daughter slugged me in the arm and said “punch buggy white, no punch backs!”

I found it fascinating that she learned this game (and not from me). This is one that children have passed on for generations now.

I wonder why it catches on. I wonder why children adopt it. For some, maybe the initial appeal is to avoid pain.  For others, to inflict pain. I must admit, it was always fun to hit my older brother as hard as I could knowing that I wouldn’t get hit back.  That is of course until he spotted the next Volkswagen, and I would have to pay a huge price in the currency of bruises.

Reminiscing aside, this little game teaches a critical principal. It teaches immediate action in response to stimuli, much like a new recruit responding to a senior Petty Officer.  Conscious thought is dismissed while instinct and/or habit take over.

The challenge: think of an area of your life where procrastination deters your achievement of a specific goal.

The action: set up a visual cue in which the moment you see it, you can take immediate action without any additional thought.  In other words, set up your own “punch buggy“. You can use anything.  For example what if each time you sat a traffic light you tried to memorize something, repeated a positive affirmation, or called a loved one?  The visual queue can be anything.  A basketball, wheelchair, beard, school bus, emergency vehicle or yes…even… road kill!

The follow-through:  now don’t think about it!  Just act! When you see your queue, take immediate action. Make the goal small enough so that there are no excuses. Get in and out just like a a game of punch buggy. Be stealthy!  It needs to be just enough to get you started.  You just need to get a taste of what it is you’re trying to achieve. The small habits will grow and the fire will spread.  Good luck!