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

Squirrel Cheeks

My grandad was a bird watcher, as am I.  My feeder attracts a ton of critters.  It’s like an oasis in the desert.  Our most common “beakless” visitor is the squirrel.

I noticed these little screwballs will stuff their cheeks for over an hour and then bury their treasure just a few feet away from the collection point.  I’m sure they have a good reason, but for today’s application – let’s call that behavior “shortsighted” or “senseless.”


Don’t get me wrong, I love squirrels and we are a lot like them.  We fill up on knowledge and then data dump the first chance we get.  We scarcely get a few feet away from the fountain of knowledge and it is forgotten or esteemed as trash.  This is not even taking into account the amount of physical waste we produce (or the number of selfies that are taken to update profile pictures like a revolving door).  All this waste is like food in the squirrel’s mouth, there one minute and buried the next.  Our so-called “needs” are assuredly short lived!

But I digress, I’m not writing to save the planet.  I’m writing to save me and you from mediocrity.  I’m writing to increase self-awareness and turn stagnancy into motion, and procrastination into progression.  So…go ahead…be a squirrel!  Stuff your cheeks with life’s goodness, but do something with it!  Use it to fight for the starting job, but unlike the four legged fur balls, don’t drop your nuts!

Rather than take 10 photos today, go through 10 old ones, the ones you’ve already buried.  Are you ever going to “eat” those pictures?  If they are not in a frame or scrap book by now, will they ever be?  What real purpose are they serving?

Instead of buying a new book, read an old book.  A squirrel’s buried acorn may produce an oak tree, but the book on your shelf will only grow a layer of dust if you do not digest it.  Remember, everything you own – owns you!

“Facts are to the mind
what food is to the body.
On the due digestion
of the former
depend the strength
and wisdom of the one,
just as vigor and health
depend on the other.”

THE CHALLENGE: Pictured above is a small Moleskine notebook that I carry with me. It’s a collection of the best ideas and quotes that I’ve harvested as a result of diligent effort throughout the year.  It would be very easy to never read my notes.  It would be no sweat to set it on the shelf and crack it open only when boredom strikes.  Instead, I refer to it every day.  I keep it handy in digital format for a quick search when needed.  I used an audio recorder and put it into MP3 format.  Occasionally I display quotes inside my house or on dry erase boards.  Basically, I’m trying very hard to not “bury” this “cheek full” of wisdom.

You can do this too.  It can be school work, a family journal, professional knowledge, anything you need to place more focus on.  If you know there is some knowledge you undervalue, give this idea hack a try.  I speak from experience when I tell you that this action will increase your personal gratification.

Three Up, Three Down

It is easy to view the world in black and white.  But remember, somewhere between black and white is a whoooooole bunch of gray.  That is where I fall into ranks.  Lets face it, we all do.  Everything we do gravitates to this ashy pigment…of…gray.

Yes, we may show strokes of brilliance or reach the darkest abyss.  But even then, odds are that someone has done it better and someone has done it worse.  Examine your strengths and weaknesses, do they not offset one another?  This puts you back to the mediocre middle.  Welcome home, I saved you a seat.

Once per year the Navy evaluates its Sailors using language where there are not enough actions (in existence) to match all the lofty adjectives.  No big deal, I liken this to the back cover of a novel.  Everyone is just trying to sell their book.

During the evaluation cycle, Sailors take part in a “mid-term counseling.”  This requires self reflection and open dialogue with the chain of command.  Normally, three strengths and three areas for improvement are identified by the counselee.  This inevitably reminds the Sailor of their existence in the gray zone.  As a matter of personal opinion, I think this is one of the most brilliant things the Navy does.  Sadly, I have yet to meet a Shipmate who *truly* takes this process seriously – but I’ll save that for another time.

At the close of a recent event, I was asked by the facilitator if there were any obvious areas for improvement.  I gave some “minor suggestions”.  His response was an appreciative acceptance with a follow-on call to action.  He said, “Do me a favor, send me an email including three up and three down.” (That is to say three strong points and three areas for improvement)

This facilitator, also a Sailor, was the first person I’ve heard use the term “three up and three down“.  Perhaps I’m late to the party and this is common lingo.  Nevertheless, I am left to suppose that it was originally harvested from a mid-term counseling session.

Next time you need some feedback on your performance or ideas, consider this strong negotiating tool.  It requires the sender to purge or reduce existing bias and evaluate using a two-point perspective.  Who knows, it might just propel you to reach a lighter shade of gray.