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


11 Lessons From a Half Marathon

This past February my wife (Kim) and I ran the Murietta Avocado half marathon. It was my first “official” half. Finish time 1:39

Below are 11 lessons gleaned from the experience:

1) Generally speaking, paid races are a waste of money. It’s for people who need an official calendar date to find motivation, or to seek external validation by suiting up in fancy workout apparel to show the world they are part of that particular culture. I feel equally satisfied (if not more so) running on my own.

2) Preparation is everything. Prior to the start, Kim remarked that I looked calm. I was, very calm indeed. Yes, there were some unknown elements, but putting one foot in front of the other is old news. The distance is old news. Running early in the morning is old news. Running hills is old news. There were two hills on this race that caused many otherwise strong runners to walk. I embraced those inclines. Loved them even. I’m not into the practice of positive affirmations. But I did continually repeat “hills are where I win”. After each runner slipped behind me, I couldn’t help but reflect on all the hours I had spent running up Cowles Mountain (the highest point in San Diego County) and grinding up the fire break trails on Camp Pendleton. I didn’t look down on anyone who couldn’t keep up. I didn’t think I was “better” than them. I did, however, feel EXTREMELY grateful that I had already paid the piper. I had good credit and it made me want to never quit fighting gravity.

Nike-_Run_Club_banner
3) Who do you pace? The race was equipped with “pacers” who each held a stick with a fluorescent sign indicating the pace/time they were going to finish. I reflected repeatedly upon this concept. In life, we need someone to pace. We need a mentor. For me, in my world, I want to reach my potential as an artist. BUT, I’m not pacing anyone! Big no-no. I follow plenty of artists on Instagram who put out quality work every month, week or even day. Can I not pace them? Who is at the front of the pack? How do I catch up? Why am I not there? What fluorescent signs have those who have gone before me, left as a clue? Can I not watch more videos and read more books striving diligently to master the principles?

4) Practice how you play. Normally when I run, I stop to pee whenever I feel the urge. Today I didn’t. “Time doesn’t stop when I stop”, I thought. So I continued to push – it was unpleasant. I exercised discipline running up hills prior to the race, but never holding onto a full bladder. I need to exercise discipline in ALL areas of training, just as if were game day.

5) Expect the unknown. Mile 9 had a road washed out. There was no option but to run through this excess rain water. My feet got wet. Not a little wet, a lot wet. All the way wet. It also was unpleasant. The lesson here was to “go the extra mile” while preparing to be the best. I often run along the ocean but never once considered soaking my feet to add a curve ball. Another lesson here is about being a good volunteer. There were several Marines acting as road guards just a few feet away. This happened to be an area with no traffic. They could have EASILY walked over and set out a few boulders for runners to walk over. Of course, they were just there to hit a wicket for their advancement. A generation of idleness. While I’m on the topic, I noticed that many of the road guards had bags of fast food by their side. Juxtaposition indeed.

6) No time to look back. One thing I did well was to avoid the temptation of looking back. I focused on closing the distance to the runner in front of me. If there was any advantage to paying for a race this was it. It naturally creates a spirit of competitiveness. Whenever I found myself next to someone running the same exact pace, I had to be the one to speed up a little. Only one person played leapfrog with me. Once I made the second pass I committed to making it final. Cars have large windshields and tiny rear view mirrors, most of our time should be spent looking at the lights in front of us.

7) Family first! Kim pulled her hamstring insomuch that she heard an audible pop. She sent me the info via text. This gave me a heavy heart and I suspect even slowed me down a bit just to think that she was not enjoying the race as much as me. I wanted to turn back and be with her. I made the difficult decision to push forward. This takes me back to my first point, upon injury – not worth the expense. Also, may divide loved ones…I only didn’t turn back because I thought of the money ‘invested’….but what I really needed to be doing was investing in my injured wife.

8) Scout the track. If I’m going to race for time, it’s a good idea to scout the track. It’s like reading the table of contents of a book. It will help to subconsciously prepare for what’s ahead. I could have run faster but not knowing the track required me to pace on the safe side. For example, the first mile-marker was at mile 4, but in my head, this was mile 6 – a disappointment. From mile 12 until the finish, I didn’t know where to turn on the gas. Additionally, the course ended up being 13.31 total distance in order to corral the racers into a parking lot.

9) Girls rock! It was awesome to see several females run faster than me. Not because I thought of myself as better/faster/stronger….but knowing how fast I did run and how far behind I was just evoked an endless wellspring of respect for those sisters!

10) No pain no gain. I was limping on Monday (before the race) and sprinting on the day of (Saturday). Every day in between I ran a little bit despite the pain. I demanded of myself that my body would perform come show time. It worked, the pain subsided long enough to execute.

11) Runners high. It’s a real thing. Not the way others have described it to me. For me, it comes after a long-ish run. Sometimes immediately after, but sometimes hours later. I just sit down, relax and everything just slows down. My sense of sight, smell, and hearing are enhanced. I feel content beyond description. It is a very euphoric experience.

A Question For the Ladies, a Tip For the Gents.

My son was enjoying an animated film this afternoon. “Hey, Dad, watch this part – these two characters GET in love.”

BrockSky

I knew what he meant and I gently corrected him. I appreciate how some words get twisted coming out of the mouth of my (now) six-year-old. It makes me smile and sometimes teaches a lesson.

Falling in love just happens. A void of emptiness gets filled with a magical chemistry. If you’ve felt it, you know what I mean. All of a sudden that special someone occupies your every thought and motivates your every action. You can’t sleep at night and you look forward to the next opportunity to chat or be together.

Then, over time, love matures. It evolves into something “different.” If you have a long time companion, you’ll know what I mean. If you are not careful, boredom and complacency may set it. My love grows deeper as the years pass by, but the “magic” feeling takes some work.

“Love is like a friendship caught on fire. In the beginning a flame, very pretty, often hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. As love grows older, our hearts mature and our love becomes as coals, deep-burning and unquenchable.” ~Bruce Lee

Let’s call this process “GET in love.”  Falling in love is mostly passive, “getting” in love is active. This is where the work comes in. This is where you ask your lover for a hint at how you can best make their heart skip a beat. Maybe you already know the answer. Are you doing it?  How often?

To the great husbands and fathers out there, I salute you – keep it up!  Truth is, some of you gentlemen might not want to ask for a hint because you’ll get smacked in the face with Waldo. Let me save you some trouble, or at least offer a few considerations born out of observation (and sadly, it doesn’t take a whole lot).

(1) If your heart and eyes are elsewhere, reign them back in. This includes flirtatious behavior with so-called “friends.” As a matter of fact, that friend might be cancerous to your marriage.  If you’d rather spend more time with someone else than your spouse, that’s a problem.

(2) Are you a deadbeat dad? Do you read to your kids? Do you have one-on-one time with them – daddy daughter dates? Do you help with the homework? Do you teach them hard work? Manners? Cleanliness? Or, is your video game more important? Maybe you’re more in love with watching sports or nurturing a bromance.

(3) Do you help around the house? Do you take out the trash? Help with the dishes or laundry? Do you wash the car? Do you offer to pump the gas? Do you hold the door open? Do you go out on dates or is romance dead? Would you rather pay for the date or the meal?

QUESTION: Ladies, what would you add to this list?  Give the men out there a hint…what can we do better?  Leave a comment and pass it along.

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

 

Squirrel Cheeks

My grandad was a bird watcher, as am I.  My feeder attracts a ton of critters.  It’s like an oasis in the desert.  Our most common “beakless” visitor is the squirrel.

I noticed these little screwballs will stuff their cheeks for over an hour and then bury their treasure just a few feet away from the collection point.  I’m sure they have a good reason, but for today’s application – let’s call that behavior “shortsighted” or “senseless.”

squirrel

Don’t get me wrong, I love squirrels and we are a lot like them.  We fill up on knowledge and then data dump the first chance we get.  We scarcely get a few feet away from the fountain of knowledge and it is forgotten or esteemed as trash.  This is not even taking into account the amount of physical waste we produce (or the number of selfies that are taken to update profile pictures like a revolving door).  All this waste is like food in the squirrel’s mouth, there one minute and buried the next.  Our so-called “needs” are assuredly short lived!

But I digress, I’m not writing to save the planet.  I’m writing to save me and you from mediocrity.  I’m writing to increase self-awareness and turn stagnancy into motion, and procrastination into progression.  So…go ahead…be a squirrel!  Stuff your cheeks with life’s goodness, but do something with it!  Use it to fight for the starting job, but unlike the four legged fur balls, don’t drop your nuts!

Rather than take 10 photos today, go through 10 old ones, the ones you’ve already buried.  Are you ever going to “eat” those pictures?  If they are not in a frame or scrap book by now, will they ever be?  What real purpose are they serving?

Instead of buying a new book, read an old book.  A squirrel’s buried acorn may produce an oak tree, but the book on your shelf will only grow a layer of dust if you do not digest it.  Remember, everything you own – owns you!

“Facts are to the mind
what food is to the body.
On the due digestion
of the former
depend the strength
and wisdom of the one,
just as vigor and health
depend on the other.”

THE CHALLENGE: Pictured above is a small Moleskine notebook that I carry with me. It’s a collection of the best ideas and quotes that I’ve harvested as a result of diligent effort throughout the year.  It would be very easy to never read my notes.  It would be no sweat to set it on the shelf and crack it open only when boredom strikes.  Instead, I refer to it every day.  I keep it handy in digital format for a quick search when needed.  I used an audio recorder and put it into MP3 format.  Occasionally I display quotes inside my house or on dry erase boards.  Basically, I’m trying very hard to not “bury” this “cheek full” of wisdom.

You can do this too.  It can be school work, a family journal, professional knowledge, anything you need to place more focus on.  If you know there is some knowledge you undervalue, give this idea hack a try.  I speak from experience when I tell you that this action will increase your personal gratification.

Jolt Revolt

I wasn’t much of a handyman in my first house. Some things I had to learn the hard way, barely evading death or serious injury.  One such experience came when I decided to remove a patch of drywall in the bathroom.  I jammed a 6″ saw tooth blade into the wall and before I could even start hacking away, I found the precise spot where electrical wires were fitted to the stud.  A powerful jolt of electricity hollered at me as if to say, “YOU IDIOT!” Visible sparks flickered about in an odorous puff of smoke just inches from my face.  The circuit breaker tripped.  The room was left dark.  I was shaking like a leaf! “WOW, that was stupid!” I said to myself.

Many years have passed since that first terrible encounter with electrical current.  I now approach the subject with great reverence.  In fact, I’m a little too cautious and quickly hire an electrician regardless of expense (in my mind, that’s a small price to pay).

I’ve never seen anyone bypass the playground to take their kids to an electrical plant. Sure, we may ignore the speed limit, but never a high voltage sign.  Ironically, the high voltage isn’t the killer in our lives, it’s low voltage!  In other words…

“we dig our graves with our teeth.”

It’s not the first cigarette that kills you nor is it the last argument which causes divorce.  It’s the “pack a day” for 30 years or the premarital baggage and built up resentment over time that prevents the “happily ever afters.”  The kids who avoid the first cigarette as if it had a “high voltage” sign are the winners.  The same goes for the diet of cheesecake, Twinkies, Devil Dogs and Fudge Rounds; or the marriage based on deceit or wandering eyes (including other body parts).  Staying FAR away from the small discrepancies ensures peace and safety.

THE CHALLENGE:  I recommend using this idea in conjunction with “goal punching?” (You can read about it here.)

When you are faced with a small discrepancy, treat it like a massive one.  Take immediate mental action by putting a “high voltage” sign on it.  Stop telling yourself a little bit won’t hurt. Just because you don’t see visible sparks doesn’t mean you aren’t getting zapped.  A little bit does hurt.  Small leaks are capable of sinking big ships.

Photo by Ian Bailey-Mortimer

Knee Jerk Reactions

It was a good day for the bees. After covering the hive with three buckets of beach sand, and with our training evolution complete, the time arrived for me to undo the damage and remove the barricade. Accompanied by a trusted friend (or partially insane, depending on how you view this scenario), we slowly removed the sand. I used a small shovel to explore the contents of the sand mound.

I expected to see signs of life.  Just yesterday we checked back to see how the sand was functioning and the bees managed to dig their way out! I marveled at their strength and ingenuity. I grossly underestimated mother nature.

Today was quite the opposite, at first. One dead bee, then another, then another. No sign of life. I was disappointed. Finally, we removed the traffic cone and I heard a buzz of fury. They were alive no doubt, hundreds of them! Without hesitation, my feet made a hasty “about face” and we ran away without looking back for a significant distance (thus proving our remaining sanity).  Not to mention, I may or may not have let out a high pitched shriek.

Have you ever zoned out at a traffic light? What happens? The car behind you lays on their horn and you snap back to reality. Maybe you feel angry at the driver(s) behind you. Perhaps you feel guilty for making them wait, or disappointed in yourself for not paying attention. Emotion inevitably fuels your reaction which makes your foot respond as if it were 10 pounds too heavy. You slam on the gas to compensate for lost time. Of course, nobody else follows suit, but in your mind, it feels right.

In life, because we are flawed human beings, we experience knee jerk reactions. We are very much like “stop-and-go” traffic. Our knee jerk reactions only occur when we fail to move with the flow of transit. This might be moving too fast, such as the case with the bees, or too slow, like taking a mental vacation to Jupiter at a red light.

THE CHALLENGE: Try to go with the flow. Stay in the mainstream. If you ever find yourself easily offended, check your pace. During rush hour traffic it doesn’t matter how fast your engine can “technically” run.  Your horsepower is limited to the cars around you (perhaps a Volkswagen to your left, and a Uhaul to your right).

In life, it often pays to lay off the gas and ease into traffic, instead of becoming a slingshot of emotion. Travel at a safe distance and watch out for speed traps. Stay steady, stay cool…it’s a long drive!

Photo by Anant Nath Sharma

A Stitch in Time, Saves Nine

One of the pivotal books I read this year was “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” This book gave me new eyes to see the value of preservation and upkeep. This is a principle taught in the military, but I failed to meditate upon the idea and it slipped through my fingers. I treated it like tinsel on a Christmas tree, especially with my own belongings. In far too many instances, maintenance is an afterthought rather than the main priority. For me, this is primarily due to my lack of affinity to material possessions.

Still, I consistently hand wash my car, change my own oil and replace brake or headlights. (My problem is the check engine light that goes unheeded…but we won’t dwell on that.) I mentioned oil, so let’s explore, shall we?

I draw a line in the sand when my car is hemorrhaging fluids. I have been astonished at the number of guests that have come to our house over the last four years and left a puddle of oil as a parting gift. I fail to comprehend how people can let that happen, especially after reading the aforementioned book!

I recently noticed a phenomenon at work. I’m often among the last to leave when the parking lot is all but cleared out. The lot is freshly paved and is therefore easy to distinguish fresh oil spots. Care to guess where they are located?

Closest to the door, but away from all the early arrivers. Essentially, the spots that are last to fill up and have the most turnover.

This is not science, but in my estimation, it looks like this. The early birds have a battle rhythm. They beat rush hour traffic, get the spot of their choice, pack their own lunch and rarely have to move their car. The late arrivers procrastinated preparation, hit the snooze button too many times, didn’t pack food and have to leave to get breakfast and again for lunch. In general, those parking spots are married to the most oil. CoincidenceI think not.

THE CHALLENGE: Read or listen to “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” The gems contained therein are well worth the effort.

Take inventory of your car (and all you possess for that matter). What is being neglected? Check engine light perhaps? Do some maintenance. It is worth the effort. Remember, “A stitch in time, saves nine!”

Your nine to five performance is a direct reflection of you five to nine performance. Prepare for tomorrow! It is worth the effort.

Photo by Jenny Downing 

Topsy Turvy

I bet you have observed the “Law of Disorder.” In simple terms, this scientific concept states that anything, when left to itself, will tend towards chaos.

Without proper maintenance and preservation every car lot, stocked with a surplus of sparkly new automobiles, will eventually look like a junkyard. Rust, chipped paint, broken glass, dirt, decay, mold and dilapidation are always manifested in abandoned vehicles. Anything subjected to mother nature over time will eventually return to dust.

Humans are no different. Me, you, your mom (no offense – don’t beat me up), dad, brother, sister, uncle, etc. We are all the same. We gravitate towards chaos. We take the shortcuts. We get lazy. We embrace mediocrity. We quit. Don’t believe me? How’s your New Year’s resolution coming along?

Bats are weird right? I mean…after all, they sleep upside down! But did you read my last paragraph? Take a minute to read it again, let it marinate. If bats could talk, they’d probably say we are weird. Furthermore, we are a bit more “batlike” than we might suppose. There is a portion of us that stays head first towards the gravitational pull. There is a fraction of our being that loves it there. It’s normal, comfortable even.

Leaders of all sorts (including parents) know that it takes LOTS of repetition to get someone to execute a certain behavior or abide by a particular principle. When it doesn’t happen the first time (or twenty), you may begin to question yourself. But remember, popcorn doesn’t all pop at the same time. Bats won’t ever come occupy your bird house and sleep right side up.

THE CHALLENGE: Keep in mind that those you are entrusted to lead and teach have a bit of bat in them. There is a morsel of their nature that won’t change. Accept it! Instead of trying to flip the bat, flip the bird house. And don’t forget, even the house will tend towards chaos, so be sure to schedule time for maintenance.

 

The Freaks Come Out at Night

I heard the following remark while conducting security rounds at work, “That door must not have been opened in weeks, just look at all the cobwebs.”  At first, I thought the observation was brilliant and perhaps for this particular application it was.

I began to ponder this concept and realized it may not be brilliant thinking when applied to our own lives. When is the last time you walked into a spider web and thought, “Darn it! That web must have taken months to construct. I’m so sorry for that poor spider!”

Answer: Never.

Most webs are temporary, assembled overnight – here today, gone tomorrow. We assume the webs on the door have been there for ages. Maybe so, but in most cases the homeowner has long since vacated the sticky premises. Granted, this analogy will be limited since some spiders don’t spin webs or may even come in superhero format.

For our purposes though, let’s consider common varieties. Think of the spider that seems to spin a web at precisely the point you need to walk through. Before you go to bed at night there isn’t a spider in sight, the yard is free and clear. Inevitably, when you walk outside in the morning you get ambushed by silky strands dispersed across your path.

These spiders are smart. They don’t work in the sunlight when it’s dry and hot. They weave at night. This protects them from predators, increases the longevity and functionality of their web and increases the odds of trapping nocturnal insects such as moths. Spiders are also diligent. If you knock their web down one day, it will be back the next.

THE APPLICATION: We all have cobwebs in our lives. Everyone has a “spider” that they can’t seem to get rid of. Your spider might be a negative thought that encourages you to stay home from the gym and sit on the couch. “I don’t want to have to deal with that cobweb today,” you think to yourself.

Maybe your spider is a lack of faith in doors that you would otherwise have the potential to open. So, you lecture yourself with the same old narrative, “I can’t become president, I can’t get a raise, I can’t ask that person out, I can’t find a better job, I can’t write that book etc… just look at all the cobwebs on that door. It has never opened up for me, why should I try now?”

Your spider might be you as a whole. Yes, that’s right…you might be the spider. You might appear “creepy” and put others off, perhaps you make them scream (if but silently). Maybe you spread fear, irrational or even legitimate. People want to avoid you or squish you.

THE CHALLENGE: Realize that cobwebs are strong and deadly…to insects. But you are not an insect. Running into a web will be frustrating. It might feel nasty and require your attention. But then it is gone. You are still free. A web has no power over you. Identify your spider.  Get into the corners of your life and knock the webs down. Find your cobwebs, get beyond them and open the door. Just remember, the web will be back tomorrow. Accept this fact and life will become a whole lot easier.

If you ARE the spider. Seek help you freak! Open yourself up to frank feedback from others.  Develop a little self awareness. Make a change!

 

Photo by Sebastian Galiano