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


Three Lessons From Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong earned the distinction of being the first man to walk on the moon. What can we learn from him?  Here are my three takeaways.

Armstrong joined the U.S. Navy in 1949 as an aviator and flew combat missions up until 1952. In the last two years of that service, he flew 78 combat missions over Korea. He transitioned to the U.S. Naval Reserve and remained there for eight years until resigning from his commission in 1960. During his time in the Navy, Armstrong logged a total of 2,600 hours in flight, including 1,100 in jet aircraft. He later became an astronaut and the rest is history.

(1)  Find passion in what you do. Would Neil Armstrong have landed on the moon if he did not find a passion for being airborne? Would he have had the confidence to go into unknown territory if he had not risked his life in 78 combat missions? He not only went into outer space but did so with the intent of walking on the moon. I wonder if the thought of “moon walking” ever occurred to him during his first combat flight over Korea. Try not to think about just “getting through the day” but how everything we do can lead to something much bigger than initially supposed.

(2) Contemplate boundaries. Armstrong’s accomplishments reveal so much about boundaries, both literal and perceived. The early colonists in 1775 (at the time of the Navy’s birth) were virtually landlocked.  To the west, they were smothered by thriving forests. To the east, they had the ocean (a mighty long swim before finding a substantial land mass). They may have viewed either direction as their “outer space”, an unknown distance of unexplored territory on one hand and uncharted fathoms of a deadly ocean on the other, not to mention any number of unsympathetic enemies found in both human and animal form. We ought to take inventory of our boundaries, again both literal and perceived. Strive to gain and maintain a firm grasp on the territory in which you may legally operate while keeping in the back of your mind the possibility of breaking out and doing the impossible. America’s early settlers weren’t thinking about exploring the far side of the moon any more than Niel Armstrong was thinking about the world wide web. What possibilities do we presently overlook?

(3) Take a trip for yourself. I personally will never travel to the moon, at least not in a physical sense.  That does not mean I can’t let my mind wander (preferably not at a red light).  For me, it is important to take creative mental expeditions. Refuse to let your mind grow stale. Feed your brain with daily “combat missions.”  Don’t just “veg out” in front of the TV and let others do the thinking for you, don’t be a couch potato.  Find ways to do some mental moonwalking such as book exploration, blogging, journaling, meditation, yoga or some type of art or music. Do whatever it is that sets your mind free and allow yourself time to think outside the box.  Yes, there are infinite prospects to your left and right – just be sure to “look up” from time to time in order to find those overlooked possibilities.

 

Photo by possan

Painful Pervasive Poaching

Over 1,000 rhino’s are poached each year for a single body part, the horn. Apparently this pointy steak skewer is worth a small fortune on the black market. Not that I have any idea how much $$$,$$$ I could get for one, and here’s why:

  1. I can’t think of a single use for a keratin spike.
  2. As far as my corner of the globe is concerned rhinos are already extinct…even looked outside my window to verify.
  3. I respect the wishes of rhino advocates who ask that this information not be published.

Interesting fact: Rhino horns grow back – provided they are cut properly.  In an effort to deter poachers, de-horning is a popular (and very costly) trend.  De-horning is a process similar to cutting your fingernails – only much shorter. What if you were a rhino? How would you feel about this?

What if humans were poached for a valuable body part? What if outside organizations trimmed us up a little bit to keep us safe? Can you imagine a society with no left hands, right feet, or in this case noses? Perhaps you would feel angry, useless, violated, or depressed – as you should!

We all have an individual “rhino horn”, something that makes us truly unique. Your horn is that which you value most. It might be another person, your family, a goal, a vision, a talent, a home, or a reputation.

Every single day, your horn is at risk. Marketing campaigns, political agendas, two-faced acquaintances or outright enemies will poach you without a second thought. You have something of value and someone else wants it. It might be your money. It might be your voice. It might be your silence.  It might be your indifference. It might be your support.

THE CHALLENGE: Identify your personal rhino horns.  For the sake of this exercise there should be two; a primary and a secondary, just like the animal. What will you do to protect your horns?

For example, if your primary horn is your family, what specific systems can you set in motion to improve how to mentor your children or how to make your spouse’s heart skip a beat? Do your children have free reign on the internet? What information do they access? Is your home protected? Do you have insurance and health benefits? Do you have savings? What about family traditions? Do you keep a journal to leave for your posterity? What about your ancestors? Do you keep in touch with mom and dad, grandparents or great grandparents? Do you reflect on their teachings? Do you protect any heirlooms left behind? The ways that you can safeguard this “horn” are infinite…but only you can decide what is best for your own circumstance and belief system. Maybe this is something worth pondering next time you earn couch time. Give it a try!

Photo by Jin Kei

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!

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.