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.

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.

Run to Start – Shed Skin to Finish

Crawl, walk, run – a principle that governs the universe for all able-bodied humans born into mortality.  We might add to this sequence another step “run far” or “run fast” (pick your poison).  Whether a four-minute mile or an ultramarathon, both are preceded with a vast amount of practice and effort just to get to the starting line.  As an artist, I’ve put in countless hours trying to figure things out, but at age 39 the starting line is exactly where I’m at.  The first leg of my race was a portrait of a snake.  The inspiration behind the 8×10 oil painting is posted below.

Gus

I’ve been heavily influenced by a lot of people, but none as subtly profound as Petty Officer First Class Alvaro Hurtado.  We called him “Hurt” and oftentimes “Gus.”  He was not the most vocal leader, wasn’t the model of physical fitness, and not the most dynamic instructor.  My initial impressions of Gus were therefore somewhat ill-mannered and careless.  My biased judgments, however, were futile unproductive thoughts that set me up to eat a massive piece of humble pie.  As far as influence is concerned, Hurtado was a sniper who put a slug in my forehead – as if it were routine business.

Each person we meet is like a mine laden with gold awaiting extraction.  The gold is there for the taking.  Unfortunately, most people are too lazy to do the panning, sluicing, dredging or underground blasting.  As time passed I saw Gus not for what he wasn’t, but for what he was.  I discovered what I needed to see, gold.  I noticed that the GOLD he possessed, I lacked completely!

His attention to detail and quest for perfection stood out in many ways.  For instance, the cover to his working uniform was starched and pressed to exactness, as though the cover itself was standing at attention.  While many Sailors at the command frequently shoved crumpled uniform items into a gym bag, Gus made time to fold his t-shirts “boot camp style.”  His penmanship was flawless.  Each letter was strict and upright with textbook spacing and consistency.  Surely a significant amount of time and effort went into mastering his craft.

Every time a Sailor checked out of Naval Expeditionary Medical Training Institute (NEMTI), Gus was the one guy to always ensure they left with a token of gratitude.  It didn’t matter how low they were on the totem pole.  He wouldn’t have it any other way.  Sometimes he gifted a paddle which was painstakingly wrapped with his personal tools and talent.  Others received a glass case containing contents that symbolized their role as build team leaders.   Shadow boxes were carefully prepared for retirees.  Markers were made available for others to sign a few words of good wishes or fond memories on the back of each parting gift.

I shall never forget the day that I stood in the back of the flag room holding a paddle that had just been presented to UT2 Samuel B. Kellogg.  As the room cleared out, I proceeded to convey to Kellogg what a remarkable gift he had just received.  I went on to express my judgment that Hurtado had a heart unlike anyone I had ever encountered, a heart that I sought to emulate.  Somewhere in that dialogue, I choked up.  I don’t recall if I was able to conceal the tears that streamed down my face, or if I even tried.  One thing is for sure, I decided then and there that I needed to be more like Gus.  I needed to ensure he left NEMTI with a personalized gift.  I also determined that I needed to carry the torch to the best of my ability, that all departing shipmates were worthy of a few hours of my time so they too might receive a customized token of appreciation.

My talent lies in the realm of creative arts.  As a child, I was somewhat exposed to fine art.  I knew innately that oil painting was something I wanted to do at an extremely high level.  I dabbled in many creative endeavors.  I received a formal education in visual communications and web design.  I excelled at photography and could hold my own with a can of Krylon.  Unfortunately, when it came to oil paint I never took the bull by the horns.  Oil painting requires many hours to execute a realistic representation.  Every stroke of the brush must be deliberate and precise.  I supposed that I could not offer a better gift to Hurtado than a painting, a perfect metaphor for everything I admired in him.  I knew I wanted a subject that would require me to pay close attention to detail, form, shape, color, texture, and edges.  I pondered for many weeks.

The solution finally arrived during Hurtado’s final presentation at a CPO 365 PME.  His words led to a discussion in which our Senior Enlisted Leader Master Chief Haskins talked about the growing pains of personal development.  Therein he made the comment, “When we grow, it’s like a snake shedding skin.”  BINGO!  At that moment I knew just what to paint.  As a result, I presented to my friend, my brother, and shipmate, one of my first ever oil paintings on a very, very long journey to mastery.  This piece is entitled “GOLF – ROMEO – OSCAR – WHISKEY” the phonetic military alphabet for the word “GROW.”

I will forever pay tribute the name HM1 Alvaro Hurtado for showing me a piece of manhood that I lacked entirely and for causing me to grow out of darkness into light as depicted in this painting.

IMG_1908

Photo: Work in progress – 2nd of 3 layers applied.

 

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

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


Police Each Other, Be a Dan

A bit misguided in my youth, a friend and I fought boredom one night by swapping around the neighbor’s trash cans.  Dan, my neighbor from across the street was a prison security guard.  He had no reservations seizing us with a tongue made of razor blades!  I’m grateful he was there to correct me!

Fast forward…

I don’t recall much about my 5th-grade experience.  After all, that was back in 1989.  My strongest memory is of twin boys completely disobeying the teacher.  They walked to the front of the class at will, threw chalk, knocked down the erasers, fired spitballs and cut the line.  They had no boundaries.  They were the most popular kids in school.  I saw they experienced a level of freedom that I longed for.  I was painfully shy.  I had no popularity to speak of.  I strongly considered following their lead.  Something inside me told me not to.  I listened.

Fast forward…

The twins continued down their path of rebellion.  Just four years later one of them decided to continually push me from behind for nearly a half mile on the walk home from school.  When I finally decided to stand up for myself he punched me in the face splitting my tooth in half (all for no rhyme or reason).  To this day, I am unable to floss without discomfort.

Fast forward…

In high school, the twins persuaded me to make a choice that was not congruent with my beliefs.  Nothing sinister or cruel, but enough to lead me astray.  It was a pivotal moment in my life.  It came at a time that I should have been forward thinking in all matters pertaining to my education and future career.  I often wonder how my life would have been different if I hadn’t listened, or if there was a Dan available to tell me to stay true to my beliefs.

While the twins and I don’t keep in touch, I don’t have hard feelings towards them either.  I’d be happy to spend time with them and catch up on the years that have expired since our interaction.  Still, I didn’t have to lose a tooth.  Plenty of cars drove by before I got sucker punched.  Plenty of school kids were watching the entire event transpire. No one stepped up or stepped in. Where were the “Dans” at?

Fast forward…

Today I parked my car at the beach, which happened to be on a military base.  A pickup truck pulled into the parking lot and the driver gave me a dirty look as he passed by me.  I’m not one for confrontation but I could tell the driver thought he was special and probably needed to get knocked down a peg or two.  He confirmed my suspicion when he got out of his truck and started to urinate in the parking lot.

I approached him and rather forcefully censured his misfit behavior, particularly for missing the urinal positioned just 30 yards away and for ignoring the fact that women and children were in the area. Despite his simple reply of, “Roger that” – I could feel his ego peel back to the nub like a filleted fish.

fish

Nobody is more comfortable peeing in a bush than a Marine.  That’s not the real issue here.  The real issue is the young man’s lack of respect for social etiquette.  Military members are expected to act with integrity on and off duty.  He clearly was not.  The real issue here is the PATH that he is going down.  If he can issue a dirty look and urinate in a public setting, what is he willing to do when the sun goes down, when the door is locked, and when nobody is watching?  That’s not the kind of guy I want around my daughters.  It’s not the kind of guy that should leave the bar with keys in his hand.

THE CHALLENGE:  One great lesson the military has taught me is to “police each other.”  What would the world look like if there were enough REAL men and women willing to STAND UP and SPEAK UP when they see something wrong in the world?  Try it.  You may have to fillet some feelings, this in turn might get you punched in the face, stabbed, or shot.  Who cares!?  You will feel good inside.  Most important, you might just make an impact on someone going down the wrong path, someone who is willing to listen, someone who might blog about you 30 years down the road.  Have the courage to BE A DAN!

Photo by Kathy

 

Under New Management

The U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet Commander was relieved yesterday (8/24/17) due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command.  On the surface, this appears to be good logic for good cause.  But if you dig deeper, “firing” employees is a cultural norm that does not necessarily address the root of the issue.

Drive around any urban environment and you are bound to see signage that reads, Under New Management.  We are suckers for this verbiage.  We are suckers for anything “new”. We are suckers for a quick fix.

UnderNew

Fans of the NFL (National Football League ) don’t have to look much further to see what a farce this concept is.  Coaches are hired and fired almost as fast as consumers scratch off lottery tickets looking for the solution to all their problems.  New management is (mostly) an illusion.  Who’s to say that this new management is much better than the old? Team owners fail to recognize the fact that players lead locker rooms, not coaches! Coaches may be a catalyst to spark a move in the right direction – but to change or create a culture they need the right players surrounding them…and a little luck.

THE CHALLENGE:  If you tend to blame leaders for failing you, you are on the wrong planet.  If you want the president, queen, king, prince, or dictator to solve all of your problems, you are on the wrong planet.  If you jump the fence because the grass is greener on the other side, you’ll probably land in a big mountain of fecal matter – and you’re still on the wrong planet.  People will always, always, always fall short of your expectations.

I am not trying to undermine the responsibility of leaders.  But a leader who has not yet “arrived” should not be the cause of fury, hate, and discontent.  “Under New Management” is really an old method of managing growing pains – don’t be a sucker! Give people room to grow.  in the meantime, be content.  Be stoic.  Find joy in doing the work that YOU can do. Lead those that YOU can lead. Be present in every moment of YOUR life!

A Stitch in Time, Saves Nine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jenny Downing 

Topsy Turvy

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Freaks Come Out at Night

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

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

Answer: Never.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Photo by Sebastian Galiano