4 LESSONS FROM 4 AM

My first exposure to sleep deprivation came as a young boy.  Whenever my dad told me we were going fishing the next day, it was game on.  I would toss and turn for hours just imagining the fish I would catch.  I couldn’t wait until my dad’s alarm clock would sound its awful screech at 4:00am.  Those nights stirred my mind far greater than Christmas Eve ever did.  To this day, I would chose nature over Santa.  Sadly, I’m about 15 years removed since I last snagged a native rainbow from a mountain stream.  Now that I’m raising kids of my own, maybe it’s a good thing that there are no trout waters within a day’s trip.  My family might wonder if I had gone missing.

Listed below are 4 of the many fishing lessons that have “stuck” with me through the years.  I think these can easily be applied to mastering the craft of your choice.

First, FISHERMEN ARE THE FISH.  Look at any tackle box, there is often more tackle than there are fish!  Put a fisherman in a bait shop and all of a sudden he discovers that he needs an assortment for every variety.  Will the red lure satisfy?  Nope, he needs the yellow, blue, silver, black, green, purple, neon, rainbow, small, medium, and large version of each.

THE CHALLENGE:  Take a step back.  Master what you have.  Can you make a masterpiece with a limited pallet?  Maybe 3 colors instead of 30?  Can you craft something with hand tools instead of power tools?  Can you use scraps, leftovers, or second hand?  Can you make a hit song with one or two instruments, or limited chords?  In other words, look at your “tackle box” and tell yourself you won’t stop until you catch a record size fish on a “rubber worm” the most basic of all lures.  After all, it can – and has been done.

Second, HOOKS DON’T JUST HOOK FISH.  My wife recently called with elevated distress in her voice.  She informed me that one of the kids had a fishing hook wedged in the knee and that she couldn’t get it out.  No problem, I thought, this guy – yours truly, has lots of experience.  My brother once buried a size 6 hook in my scalp and a short time later his friend wrapped one around my eyelid.  Whether in a tree limb above, a muddy boot below, or a puncture to the flesh, no fishing trip is ever complete without some type of snag.  Hooks are designed to hook, and they don’t discriminate.

THE CHALLENGE:  Are there some pricks in your life worth avoiding?  What about the hooks that can’t be avoided?  Can you use additional caution while handling?  Anyone who gets hooked knows that it hastily puts a halt to your plans.  When it comes to your craft, your habits, your mental and physical health, etc. identify the hooks and then stay on guard.  Remember, hooks hook, and they don’t feel good.

Third, there is a difference between an “angler” and a “fisherman.”  Anglers catch more fish because they understand – you guessed it – angles.  They use principles of geometry to cast with far less effort.  They use geometry to set the hook and fight the fish while maintaining a good hook to mouth purchase.  They also use angles that are far less geometric and much more strategic such as sight fishing, matching the hatch, weather conditions, spawning cycles, GPS and fish locaters.

THE CHALLENGE:  What angle can you more efficiently employ to master your craft?  Without a doubt, there is something in your process that is causing you to take the “long way” home.  Find the best ways to increase efficiency.  The more time you save, the more time you have to practice.    I repeat, good angles cut costs and save time – be an angler!

Finally, consider the following quote:  “Fisherman, take your cue from the great blue heron, which makes its living as a fisherman.  Do herons strut about with wings flapping?  Do they splash with Zeal as they hunt for a meal?  No, they slowly tiptoe to the streams edge, blending into the background while they carefully scan the water at their feet.  When they move to another spot, it’s invariably upstream.  Each step is cautious and deliberate, causing barely ripple.”

Heron’s don’t keep their bellies full by being anything short of deliberate.  Big fish don’t get big by being careless.  Can you catch fish while being loud and obnoxious?  Sure.  But the smartest of the bunch, the most adept at survival (and nature always produces a few) will find somewhere else to feed, especially with a species as easily spooked as trout.

THE CHALLENGE:  How can you be more deliberate like the heron?  Novelist Stephen King advises that writers put their desk in the corner of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art; it’s the other way around.  Examine the most accomplished people in the field or craft that you wish to master.  What are they doing that you don’t?  How is their focus different than yours?  Do they fish like a casual fisherman, are they an angler, or are they next level like a heron?  Forget the tackle in your box, the bait you should be focused on are the clues left behind by the masters.

THE 90/10 “START” RULE

We have something in common, we all do. We started as babies.  I know, I know…too obvious right? And just as obvious is the fact that we soiled diapers, cried when we were hungry and laughed at funny faces.  But more importantly…we ate cupcakes – yes, cupcakes.  You probably don’t remember this, but we even ate them the exact same way.  We sat in a highchair, reached for our favorite frosty flavor, and consumed about 10% of it.  So what happened to the other 90% you ask?  The breakdown goes something like this:

30% Covered our nose, cheeks, lips, hair, hands, shoulders, arms and hands.
30% Ended up in the dog’s belly
20% Landed on our bib
10% Never made it off the high chair

bottle container high chair macro
Photo by Burst on Pexels.com

We never once, (I repeat) – NEVER – thought twice about the 90% we couldn’t get off the runway and into our pie hole. What mattered is that we managed to get a whopping 10% in contact with our taste buds.  What mattered is that we had fun doing it.  What mattered is that we lived in the moment.  What mattered is that we somehow knew we’d eventually be able to consume an entire cupcake…or at least 98% – just like an adult.

This week, I invited a few coworkers to eat a cupcake as if they were still in a highchair. They all wholeheartedly refused.  (And that’s even before I said I would be filming the adventure.)

THE CHALLENGE: Try something new, anything.  Just try 10% of something.  Forget that you will be the laughing stock of all your fake friends on social media.  Forget that you will glue all ten fingers together the first time you try to construct a paper airplane or that you will burn the house down trying to invent your own gluten free gingerbread soldiers.  Have fun wasting 90% of your efforts!  If you enjoy 10% of your new adventure, keep it up…eventually you might even be ninety-something percent good at it.

ONE LOVE

The heart is a universal symbol of love. Do you remember Valentine’s Day back in grade school? Who didn’t hope that their secret admirer would present a candy heart with an even more deliciously flirty phrase?

bunch of heart shaped assorted color tablets
Photo by Emily Ranquist on Pexels.com

But where did this whole heart as a symbol of love thing originate anyway? Sorry to disappoint, I’m not here to tell you that.

What I do want to get off my chest (hah!), is the fact that the heart has four valves. But I bet you already knew that. The real question is, can you name them? Oh, you were too busy flirting with candy hearts during that lesson? No problem – I’m not here to grade your homework either.

What happens if one of the valves in your heart ceases to work? In an effort to not get all “cardiologist” on you, lets (for simplicity’s sake) agree that you’re dead, departed, cold, stiff, asleep, checked out, neutralized, sayonara…you get the idea.

In life, there are multiple “valves” that we need to take care of. I personally like to keep it simple “MIND, BODY, SPIRIT” – if you want to sound a bit more “uppity” (like you were paying attention in class) you might say “INTELLECTUAL, PHYSICAL, SPIRITUAL.” You can slice your life’s heart into as many chambers as you wish (apparently a cockroach has 13). For example, you might include “personal, professional, and family” as some or all of your categories. It’s up to you.

You only get to die once.

THE CHALLENGE: Once you’ve sliced up the chambers of your life you need to keep the valves flapping. You can’t just have one love. A balance must exist. Heart failure will result if blood doesn’t flow. Blood, in this case, is time and attention. It’s commitment and planning. It’s a beautiful thing to have your life in balance and harmony. Now go flap whatever valve you’ve been neglecting!

TICKING TIME BOMB

Seneca, the Roman philosopher left you a supernal gift. You might be thinking, “Oh yeah, I heard that quote before,” Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

No, no my friend. He left you far more than that!  He left you a book called, “On the Shortness of Life.”  You probably haven’t heard of it yet because you’re too busy celebrating a “holiday.”  Don’t worry, I’m here to help.  Do yourself a favor and pick this book up.  Read it and reread it, again and again.  It will soon become the most relevant text you’ve ever encountered.  It is perhaps the most important volume in my library.

I am endlessly fascinated at the rate in which we as humans squander our lives away. Look around you, how many people are playing a mind numbing game on their phone?  How many are feeding the social media monster or incessantly scrolling through the media’s click bait?

In America we filled our calendar with a bunch of; okay I’ll say it, CRAP! Look at all those “holidays” and “special events.”  Halloween, okay I can live with that.  Groundhog day?  Hmmm….okay maybe our fury friend can slip through the crack.  But we need to draw the line somewhere!  If Independence Day wasn’t enough fireworks for you, consider celebrating the following:

Administrative Professional’s Day: April 24
Armed Forces Day: MAY 18
National Bosses Day: OCT 16
United Nations Day: OCT 24
All Souls Day: NOV 2
Grandparents Day: SEP 8
Peace Day: SEP 21
Patriot Day: SEP 21

I suppose we need a special day for everyone and everything. Everyone gets a trophy!

THE CHALLENGE:  Stop!  Stop with all the nonsense!  Read the book mentioned above and strive to live on purpose and on time.  Live deliberately.  Take charge of the one and only life you were given.  Be honest with yourself and take an honest look at what you put on your “calendar”?  If you fill the days with nonsense, then the sum of your life will be nonsense.  If you fill it purpose and meaning and personal growth your life will be rich.  It’s up to you!

WINGS N’ THINGS

Long before the internet, there was this place called the library. If you wanted to gather information in a systematic fashion what would you use?  Google?  Nope!  Enter the prehistoric search engine, the Dewey Decimal System (Thank you Melvil, but I digress, a lot).

Going to the library was a must for me. I recall maxing out the 10 book limit on a regular basis.  My stack of books always came out of the “nature” genre, usually insects.

I was fascinated with bugs.  If I wasn’t reading about them, I was collecting specimens.  If I wasn’t collecting them, I was “conquering” them…usually with the bottom of my foot…or a magnifying glass (and a few other creative ways not worth mentioning – don’t judge – I was a boy).  Maybe that’s why my answer to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” (An entomologist) never came to fruition.  (But I digress, again)

Have you ever noticed that ants take to the air for an opportunity to mate every time a summer heat wave strikes? After the “magic” happens, what next?  The male dies and the female abandons her wings.  What?!  What is wrong with Mother Nature?  Shouldn’t a new momma ant make herself as mobile as possible?  You know, explore the town, find the best neighborhood, maybe do a little shopping and perhaps raid a picnic?  Instead, she’s 100% committed.  She picks her nesting site and goes to work, never stopping until she dies.

THE CHALLENGE: Stop flying around.  You know what you want to be when you “grow up” right?  So do it.  Chew your wings off!  Dig in!  Do your thing!  Get to work and don’t stop.  The formula is that simple.  I already know that 99.9% of you reading this are going to look your wings in the mirror and tell yourself how you can’t live without them, and that you can’t lose them, at least not yet.  It’s a lie.  Don’t listen.

SCOOBY SNACKS

Mention “Scooby-Doo” to any 80s child and they will be hard pressed to not start humming the theme song to the cartoon centered around a brown talking dog motivated by “Scooby snacks.” If Scooby wasn’t enough entertainment, consider Snoopy, Odie, Droopy, Goofy, Muttley, Pluto, Brian Griffin, Deputy Dawg, Pongo, Huckleberry Hound, Mr. Peabody, Spunky, Spike and a host of others.

If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “most dogs look like their owners,” then you might just agree that humans tend to make their pets the center of the universe.  This blog alone has at least one guest appearance from my friendly fur ball named Cookie.

She recently took on a new, more suitable name, “Fatso Cookie.” It seems like just yesterday she was running 3-4 miles per day and could easily keep up on a six mile mountain trail trot.  Now, she’s scared of the winter weather and her main running buddy (yours truly) is halfway around the globe for 6 months.  She’s struggling to tiptoe a single mile.  C’mon dog!

My question to you is this, “how healthy is your dog?” I’m learning that dogs make great “mirrors” in more ways than one.  They might look like you sure, but why not dig a little deeper? (Just not in my backyard you mangy mutt!)  Dogs are likely to reflect our own health.  If you run, your dog runs.  If you hike, your dog hikes.  If you go to dog parks, I’m sure you let your pup accompany you (so you don’t look so strange.)

THE CHALLENGE: If your dog is 15 years old, you get a free pass today.  Otherwise, assess its level of activity.  If healthy – great!  Keep up the good work.  If you’re like me, you have some employment ahead of you.  Perhaps it’s time to cool it on the Scooby snacks.  Oreo cookies aren’t good for dogs, and they’re not good for you either.  Put down the chocolate truffle cheesecake and grab a leash.  Get off the couch and go play fetch.  When you throw a ball, race your dog – it’s a lot more fun, and you’ll both get in shape.  Perhaps try setting a goal to get your dog to run a mile, then two, then three, etc.  Who knows, maybe taking the pressure off of your own performance and projecting it onto your four-legged friend will work wonders.  You can even be like Scooby and pretend you’re running from a ghost.

FLAKEY AT BEST

My kids grew up on Sea World – how lucky. My best animal adventure was a school field trip to Roger Williams State Zoo in Rhode Island – how lame.  Talk about apples and oranges.

While I never experienced the magic of watching people ride dolphins, I wasn’t clueless about underwater life. My older brother had a paper route and that allowed him to save enough pennies for…wait for it…wait for it…a fish bowl.  He never went without a fish.  They were sometimes gold and sometimes neon.  Eventually he discovered his favorite variety, a Siamese fighting fish.  They were terribly boring so I thought it was a good fit for him (we had our share of contention).  I can’t remember any of those fish living very long.  Unfortunately they seemed to go belly up within weeks, and while I don’t know the exact cause of death, I’m sure my generous contribution of fish flakes didn’t help.

Occasionally we took a summer vacation across the country all the way to the beehive state. We quickly learned that there was no way to frontload the fish food.  If they didn’t die from overeating, starvation was certain, even after cannibalism ensued.

As humans we tend to scoff at the scaly creature circling the fishbowl. We might suppose that fins and gills equate to a complete lack of human characteristics.  But the aforementioned observation changed my mind.  Hunger is as real as it gets!  Gluttony isn’t too far off the mark either.

Hunger makes the world turn. Let’s face it, we get up and go to work so we can eat.  Joey Chestnut got up one day and decided he would set a world record by devouring 74 hot dogs.   But hot dogs or not, no matter how full you get… it won’t be enough.  It won’t sustain.  Give it some time and before you know it that tummy starts to grumble.  Bears stock up for hibernation, but soon enough even they roll out of the cave for a midnight snack.

The takeaway (and please don’t nuke this one) is this. For anything to sustain maximum vitality and life, it needs a daily dose of nutrition.  Forget burning the midnight oil.  It’s not sustainable.  “Two-a-days” at the gym?  When did this become a thing?  How about “five-a-days” or “ten-a-days”?  Stupid right?  Work a job for the overtime?  Not for me.  Why?  Because you still have to flip burgers, drill oil, or file paperwork the next day.  Run a marathon in your 20s, cool…but what can you do in your 60s?  Maybe a mile per day, or even a mile per year is more sustainable for the long haul.

THE CHALLENGE:  Keep it simple.  Don’t overfeed your fish!  But don’t let them eat each other either.  You have to feed the things you want to keep alive.  You want to be a great artist, welder, pilot, musician, or mechanic?  The formula is simple, feed your craft.  Sure there are times to put in a little extra, and there are times to back off.  But remember this – play the long game!  Be consistent!  Watch how many flakes you put in the bowl and don’t go on vacation for too long.

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!

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.”