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.

TWO-BEE-CONTINUED

Awhile back I wrote a few words about bees. You can read my encounter here.  I would like to share two quick lessons from bees.

macro photography of bee on flower
Photo by Thijs van der Weide on Pexels.com

LESSON #1) Bees sting. If you are old enough to read this, chances are you’re a victim.  Remember that first bee you ticked off?  Remember the buzzing dagger catapulting towards you from a striped kamikaze Hymenoptera?  Remember the inflamed pulsating welt it left behind?  Remember your inability to catch your breath from crying too hard?  Remember grandma pulling out her home remedy book suggesting a treatment of mud, honey, baking soda, apple cider vinegar, toothpaste and a wet aspirin tablet…none of which seemed to work?

It didn’t take long for you to realize that you hated bees – rather passionately too. You warned everyone that came near a bee to get in a defensive posture, saying “Watch out, you’ll get stung!”

But, we all know bees aren’t bad. We know the war we waged against the fuzzy buzzy pollen packer was unwarranted.

“Just because you are allergic to bees doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the honey.”

Consider EVERYTHING you encounter in life as a proverbial bee. It has some pros and cons.  It might buzz around your head, it might sting, and it might even bring an army after you.  On the other hand, it might pollinate your plants and provide an abundant harvest.  It might bring you honey.  It might show you its waggle dance, and quite possibly sting that annoying dog next door.  Now, whether or not you wage war on a particular “bee,” that is up to you.

LESSON #2) Bees don’t fly in a straight line. Okay, technically they do when they head back to the hive – they “beeline” home.  But when they forage, they fly around in an erratic pattern that looks similar to a bathtub scribbled on by a two-year-old.  Why?  I don’t know.  Maybe it’s a defense mechanism against predators.  Maybe it’s because their brains are similar in size to a housefly… (the same thing that bounces itself into your window for several hours at a time).

Looking back at my individual journal entries, I see that I’m similarly erratic in a number of areas. For example, there have been several times that I thought I knew FOR SURE what career path I wanted to follow.  In no particular order, I wanted to be a Disney animator, a website developer, a journalist, an author, a nurse, a cop, a cook, an entrepreneur, a salesman, a carpenter, a rapper, an Independent Duty Corpsman, and an arborist. I have even considered jobs such as a tattoo artist or bartender (both completely incongruent with my values and beliefs).  Then again, bees don’t always land on flowers.  Sometimes they land on moving windshields, or get stung by a cactus.  I think we can all admit to perching on a “cactus” or two throughout our lives.

THE CHALLENGE: It’s okay to meander your way through life.  Try new things!  Explore!  Plan your life in pencil – not permanent marker.  30 years ago I had no idea that I’d be where I am today.  I imagine the same will hold true 30 years from now.  So just focus on gathering pollen, staying dry and getting back to the hive – i.e. Stay close to your family and serve them.  And while you’re at it, try not to sting anyone…it will probably hurt you more than it will hurt them.

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.

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.”

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

Digging for Cables

In most situations, I’m a quiet guy. Somehow my dad nicknamed me “chatterbox” as child. The safety of my own home is probably the only time I lived up to such a name.

To this day I still hear people around me say, “watch out for the quiet ones, once they snap they’ll kill you.” Can’t say I’ve ever lived up to that.

In part however, I think there is some truth to the idea that the quiet folks tend to have a little more “clack” to their thunder, a little more “cold calculation” as words erupt like lava from a once stagnant volcano.

But it’s not just the quiet ones we need to be wary of. I think we ALL have an underground cable that if split will electrocute whomever dared to grasp the shovel.

I’m saddened with how quickly people go digging for cables. They long for contention and discord as if severed relationships were the rule and not the exception. They speak truth with no restrain, intent to hurt, intent to cause damage.

THE CHALLENGE: Brutal honesty (even if a skewed opinion) is often the shovel that will get you zapped. Brutal honesty has merit, but lacks sustainability. In dealing with those around you, look for the signs posted “warning, underground cable.” Stay away, dig somewhere else. Every personality has some territory that can be explored freely. Use tact. Use love.

As for your own cables, keep your signs posted. Avoid rust and decay. Sometimes we victimize ourselves when boundaries aren’t declared early and firmly.

Photo by: Ira

Ignore That Too!

My mother-in-law has many gifts and talents, among which is a passion for quilting.  Browsing through the used bookstore recently, I picked up a title that I thought would help me better understand what makes a quilt worthy of regard.

“Plain and Simple” is a true story of an urban California woman, Sue Bender, who developed an obsession for the Amish and eventually lived among their people to discover their unique culture for herself.  The curiosity was initiated in the 1960s over a spectacular Amish quilt hanging in a department store.  Years later, in the fall of 1981, Sue found three strange looking dolls in a folk art gallery store.  She learned these dolls originated from the Amish and over a six month period received twelve of these dolls from seven different women.

Sue observed that the dolls had no face.  They were silent and serene.  There was no pecking order.  None was better or worse than the others.  They didn’t have to perform or prove anything.  No voice said, “Be happy, cute, or pretty.”  No voice said, “Be a star.”

She continues… “In my world, everyone has a face, and many of us try to stand out.  In their simplicity, these faceless dolls said more with less.  They left more to the imagination.  Maybe accepting who they are, they don’t waste their strength trying to change or compete.”

I’m reading this book to my daughters.  My twelve year old has developed a talent for crocheting.  She has made dozens of her own stuffed animals and other clever creations.  Yesterday, she presented me with a surprise gift, a faceless doll.

Adding to the depth of her message, and a lesson for all, was a message born of pure childlike innocence best explained in her handwritten letter.

“P.S. I know the bag says, ‘Happy Birthday’ on it, just ignore it!”

“P.P.S. I also know it says, ‘To Skyla, Love Grammy and Grampy on it, ignore that too!”

“P.P.P.S. I LOVE YOU!”

What a great way to magnify the message of a faceless doll.  We just need to learn what to ignore.  Truth be told, I didn’t even notice the elements of the bag she was asking me to overlook.  Fancy bows and glittery gifts stopped catching my eye many years ago, but there is a lot more work to do in the art of “overlooking.”  Even though I know we are all crafted from crooked timber, I still spend too much time marveling over the incompetence of humanity at large.

THE CHALLENGE: Noah’s ark couldn’t have smelled very appealing, but it was much safer inside than out in the storm.  Maybe your workplace stinks.  Maybe your family stinks.  Maybe your school stinks. When a patch or stitch in your quilt stinks, approach it like an ark.  Approach it like a faceless doll.  Approach it like the wise innocence of a twelve-year-old child who knows what to look beyond in order to get to the real gift and message!  A “faceless” approach will allow you to “FACE LESS” of the unnecessary noise, drama, and distractions of a turbulent world.