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.

MONKEY TRAPS

Want to trap a monkey? Put a banana in a cage with a hole large enough to fit an outstretched hand but too small to fit a closed fist.   Donkey Kong will grab the tasty treat and refuse to let go.  BAM!  You’ve got yourself a monkey….and you didn’t even have to climb a tree.  Easy right?

yellow banana on hand
Photo by Kimona on Pexels.com

 

 

Now, how in the world would you catch a human? The exact same way!  Have you ever heard of car dealers offering a free vehicle by way of stick-to-itiveness?  It looks like this:
(1)  A group of contestants place their hand on a coveted vehicle for as long as they can stand it.
(2)  Short 10 minute breaks are provided periodically – leaving insufficient time to accomplish bathroom breaks, eating, sleeping, stretching, etc.
(3)  The last “man” standing wins.

Sounds easy, but most people will tell you it wasn’t worth it. And why would they?  It’s a monkey trap.  It’s not like they competed for a few minutes, not even a few hours, try keeping your hand planted in one spot for a FEW DAYS!

Do contestants get a few moments of fame? Yup.  But who’s the real winner here?  Sure, the attention goes to the contestants, but the SPOTLIGHT is on
(1) The car dealer
(2) The sponsors
(3) The media outlets

Many of the so called “winners” don’t even get to keep the car; they just get to ride it around until the lease runs out. My point?  Just like the monkey – we REFUSE to let go, even if we get the short end of the stick…or should I say banana?

We aren’t far removed from President Trump’s campaign trail. What was his strategy?  To let roll off his tongue whatever words were necessary to dominate the press.  He in turn got lots of free marketing.  He made it very noisy for competing voices to break through and deliver an alternate message (you know…the stable kind).  The media became the monkey and it couldn’t let go.  Voters only knew one title, “Crooked Hillary” – so they voted Trump.  The media loved all the ratings during the campaign, but they didn’t get to keep the car.

Enter the perfect storm. Coronavirus + Donald Trump.  This here is the ultimate monkey trap, and MOST hands are stuck inside.  Turn to the media outlet of your choice and you will undoubtedly find a headline or two, or five, or twenty-five about the virus and or how the president is reacting to said virus.

You know what’s crazy? We can turn it off and tune it out.  Really!  The ENTIRE globe is thinking about this math problem.  Unless you are the one coming up with the cure, maybe consider letting everyone else do the thinking on this one.  You can go solve other problems.  Be of service.  Educate yourself.  Organize your garage.  Do some spring cleaning.  But DO NOT live in fear.  I’m not saying be reckless or clueless – but you can pull through just by following the CDC guidelines and recommendations from local leaders.  Or maybe that won’t be enough.  MAYBE YOU WILL DIE – in which case you can revisit this post.  But, either way, you will die, so holding onto this banana is no way to live.

THE CHALLENGE: Let go.  Get your hand out of the cage.  Stop giving attention to the car dealership.  You could be mastering your craft in order to buy your own car in cash and while you’re at it, fill it to the brim with bananas.

 

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.

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!

SWING BA-DAH, BA-DAH

Three words:

1) Boston
2) Fenway Park

If you know anything about Major League Baseball you should already be thinking “Green Monster” – your team has probably been robbed of a homerun or two by the 37’ high wall in left field.

As soon as spring time rolled around in my neighborhood, there was only one priority – imitate the big leaguers! After all, we lived in Pawtucket, home to the Red Sox farm team.

I vividly recall the fierce wiffle ball competitions we had, composed of set teams from kids all around the neighborhood. The oldest kids acted as team managers.  They kept statistics and calculated batting averages in 5 subject notebooks.

My friend Nathan had the perfect backyard for baseball. Off to the right was a row of hedges about 8’ tall.  Hit the ball over the hedge and you got yourself a homerun.

I was really good at this. If there was a ball low and outside I was swinging for my own “Green Monster.”  The older kids yelled at me for swinging at pitches that were so far outside the strike zone – but I didn’t care.  I knew I would hit home run after home run.

Opposing teams would harass me. As the ball was coming towards home plate they would yell, “SWING BATTER BATTER!” (pronounced with a thick Rhode Island accent “ba-dah, ba-dah”)

This annoying little phrase spread like wild fire and someone would rehearse the chant no matter who was at bat.

THE CHALLENGE: You only have one life to live and like it or not, you are at bat.  There are people who don’t want you to hit a home run, or even get on base.  There are people chanting “SWING BATTER, BATTER”  Maybe they want you to swing for a certain college, a certain program, a certain job, a certain look, a certain qualification, a certain political party, a certain standard, a certain car, a certain home, a certain blah, blah whatever.  Ignore them.  The only “certain” is for you to be certain on what YOU are aiming for.  So go for it, ignore the chatter, aim for the Green Monster and knock one out of the park.  Run around the bases and slide IN the dirt because..one day… you will be UNDER the dirt.

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.

DEFLATED PAY

As a native “New Englanda” it was especially easy for me to watch the entirety of Tom Brady’s career unfold. Season after season I wanted to quit being a spectator of the sport, and not because I don’t love football – I do.  Yet there is a longing to invest that time elsewhere.  I have been unsuccessful at shaking the game (cheesy pun, I know), I just can’t help but watch someone who has mastered their craft.  Even you haters out there can’t deny the fact that Tom’s records are unbelievable, and that’s not counting 6 super bowl wins.  Just to list a few:

  • Best touchdown to interception ratio in a single season: 28:2
  • Most games won by a quarterback: 237
  • Most Super Bowl appearances: 9
  • Most Super Bowl MVP awards: 4
  • Most passing yards in a Super Bowl: 505
  • Most playoff wins: 30
  • Most career passing yards, regular season and postseason: 81,683
  • Most career passing touchdowns, regular season and postseason: 590
  • Most Pro Bowl selections: 14 (tied)

While it is more important to master my own craft and set my own records, I always felt that there would be a lesson I could take away from the GOAT. The lesson I was looking for finally surfaced, “take a pay cut!”

There are a number of key elements that allowed Tom Brady to be so good for so long. It was a perfect storm.  A perfect coach quarterback combination, a perfect competitor to get overlooked in the draft, a perfect time to enter the game as a starter, a perfect combination of winning teammates, a perfect division of teams that couldn’t sustain winning seasons, etc. etc.

Nobody knows for sure what would have happened if Tom left the Patriots to chase the money. My guess is some more winning.  Why?  Because winners win.  However, I believe it would not have reached the level of success sustained with a single team, a single owner, and a single head coach.

Instead, Tom restructured his contracts multiple times leaving an estimated $60 million (low end) on the table. You might be thinking, “That’s easy to do when you are already financially free for life.”  True, I’ll give you that.  But is there a lesson here for us?  What does a pay cut mean to you and me?

Remember the fly in the movie “A Bug’s Life?” He said it best, “I only got 24 hours to live and I aint gunna spend it here!”  This is a lesson I haven’t fully learned.  Mortality has an expiration date.  If we were acutely aware of our limited time on earth, we’d be more judicious with our time.  We would do what matters most.  We’d be more than willing to take a pay cut.

Everyone (at one point or another) takes a pay cut, even if that point is death. But no matter how high you climb the corporate ladder, there is still room for growth.  No matter how big you grow your business, you can still expand, or at least start another business.  Whatever level people stop at, they accept a pay cut.

Once you’ve met the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter – how much more do you need? What would happen if you were more like Tom Brady and gave your special talent the “hometown discount?”  How good can you get if you stop playing for money and start playing for the love of the game?

THE CHALLENGE: I understand in life you have to “Do what you have to do, so you can eventually do what you want to do.”  If you’ve been in this position for awhile, maybe now is the time to go all in.  If the promotion comes, take it…but don’t chase it.  If you chase two rabbits, both will escape.  If you only had 24 hours to live, would you take a pay cut?  What records would you set?  What statistics would your fans appreciate?  How many times would you win the big game?