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.

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What did you learn in elementary school? 

I learned that restroom stalls are where people write messages to one another.  Nothing worth reading – just some crude jokes.  There was never a shortage of invitations to make a phone call to someone’s mom for a good time.  I never dropped a deuce in those stalls, far worse; I allowed my head to poke around the door (albeit to your benefit some 36 years later).

What did you learn serving with the Marine Corps?

Funny you should ask.  I learned that people still write on stall doors.  I guess every elementary school must teach this tribal knowledge because Marines from all walks of life still participate.  I’ve been obliged to employ a Porta-John a time or two during field exercises.  Reading material was conveniently etched in black marker all over the walls to include phallic sketches and phone numbers posted for a “good time.”  I recall one list that stretched from floor to ceiling asking participants to describe their poo with a movie title.  Some of the answers were downright funny.  But at the end of the day was still just kids writing on a wall.

How does that apply today in 2020?

Our stalls are no longer limited to enclosures around commodes; nevertheless, the comments can be just as grotesque as the putrid smell at a truck stop.  Think of the last time you scrolled through the comments section of controversial topic.  Did it feel rewarding, educational, and thought provoking?  Or, did it feel depressing, divisive, and dehumanizing?

THE CHALLENGE:  Every day we are being nickel and dimed for our time.  So, before your hourglass gets pick pocketed by a few comments here, some click bait there, trendy advertisements and subtle spam, ask yourself, “Is it worth it?”  Consider how much time adds up in this futile effort day after day, year after year.  If you don’t have to go, stay out of the stall!  After all, it’s just a bunch of kids writing on the wall.  (I apologize in advance if you identify as an adult and got offended.) 

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.”

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


People Will Say “Amen” to Whatever

We tend to accept the idea that the cup is “half full or half empty.” Our actions however, often suggest otherwise.

We live in a “thumbs up, thumbs down” – “like, unlike” – “repeat, skip” – “share, block” society. The cup seems to be either completely dry or running over. Go look at online reviews. Yes, there are plenty of negative Nancys, but the number of five star appraisals are overwhelming! I understand being optimistic and grateful, but can we make a little more room for middle gray? Not everything is a brick! Not every performance deserves an applause. Not every sermon merits an “amen”. Not everyone deserves a trophy. “Created equal” does not mean “performance equal.”

THE CHALLENGE: Consider all the times you hit “like, share, repeat, subscribe” etc. What drives this action? Is it habit? Are you seeking a pat on the back in return? Are you bored or lonely? Is it laziness, why not leave a comment instead? Are you truly trying to add value in the world or are you stuck in a thoughtless stupor saying “amen” to every mosquito that buzzes by? Don’t thoughtlessly contribute to the “everyone’s a winner” mentality. Rather, challenge yourself to actively support those who fight for the starting job!

Google’s Frenemies

This line, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” is so worn out it hurts.  But there is wisdom here. This quote has stood the test of time (not that I know its origination or anything – so don’t believe the hype).

My personality type lends itself to getting along with anyone. I look for the best in people. I give lots of second chances. My good friend Travon described this tendency as finding the “bird with the broken wing.” I nurture the bird until it is ready to fly again. It helps that I know how to apply a little saliva and that I understand concepts like popcorn payoff and quadrilateral leadership. The last time I considered someone an enemy was in Jr. High School (Don’t worry Helga, I forgive you…wherever you are). I keep a handful of close friends and the rest are neutral. It is very liberating to live life like this.

THE CHALLENGE: Think of yourself like the Google search engine. Type “search” into Google and what is the first result? Yahoo Search! Crazy right? I can type “Bing” in a Google search bar and with the click of a mouse, mosey on over to Google’s competition.

I can type in “Google conspiracy”, “Google lies” and even go way out on a limb with “Google is the devil.” Guess what? There are results for all of these. Why would a company allow the risk of slandering it’s own reputation?

Google doesn’t care and neither should you, I know I don’t! For as much as we rely on Google, we sure haven’t learned much from it. She is the perfect example of holding both friends and enemies close by.

“When you don’t care about your reputation you tend to have a good one.”
– Nassim Taleb

A Little Saliva Will do the Trick

Growing up in New England I had the “privilege” of becoming intimate with mosquitoes. I loved the outdoors, especially trout fishing. I traversed many miles of wilderness streams. In these woodlands the mosquitoes had no mercy!  My hands and neck became a pin cushion for these desperate Dracula’s. At times I felt I had it worse than the worm on my hook (at least it had the luxury of death).

My aunt once gave me a sneaky home remedy after she noticed me scratching my hands raw.  “Just lick your finger and dab the bite with a little saliva.” She continued, “But you can’t touch it until it’s dry…and if it’s still itchy – do it again.” She knew that by the time it dried I would often forget about the bite and move on to something more entertaining.

The trick with mosquito bites (or anything itchy) is to not give it attention. If you do, it reacts like a fussy child and will spiral out of control.

APPLICATION: The saliva remedy works well with the negative opinions of others, or even bad habits. If you give them attention, they will demand more. If you dab a little “saliva” and ignore them they will go away.

Your “saliva” can be anything used to offset the initial itch. Don’t forget Newton’s 3rd law. Ensure you have an EQUAL and OPPOSITE reaction. Some of the things you can utilize as saliva might include a favorite song, a book, a photo of a loved one, a journal or blog, counseling with a friend, reciting a positive affirmation, meditation, prayer, exercising, or service to the offender. Maybe you can try sending a paper text.

Again, I stress that your reaction should be opposite. Don’t get into a sword fight. This is not a “pissing contest.” Yes, when a mosquito bites, you kill it without a second thought, but it does not stop the subsequent itch. Our focus here is not about killing the mosquito, but rather stopping the itch.

THE CHALLENGE: Next time you give heed to someone’s negative opinion, stop! Take immediate action. Apply your saliva and allow it to dry. The itch will dissipate. I promise this works. I have been doing it my whole life.

Paper Text

Do you remember when business cards were in vogue?  Okay, maybe you still use them (but not for long). How about Trapper Keepers or My Pet Monster?

Who doesn’t periodically reminisce on trends from the past? So many things have come and gone. I wonder why they have to go. Why were my favorite cartoons not good enough to catch on? Why don’t my kids know what a G.I. Joe is? Why did music change so radically? Is this because of contract obligations, licensing agreements or the rising generation’s need to be original? I guess I will never know.

Long before the digital age we used to “email” by putting pen to paper. We had pen-pals! Life was so slow that we would actually write strangers (sometimes across the globe)  as part of our school work. It would take many days or even weeks before getting a response.

Our “text message” used to be a physical note passed during class when the teacher wasn’t looking. Sometimes the note was exchanged in the hallway or slipped into someone’s locker. I’m not sure if the youth still do this, but I imagine the great majority of communication is via smart phone.

Today (during a meeting) I received a text message.  It was a photo of a study guide and an emoji – thumbs up.  My response was also an emoji – baby bottle. Except to the senders, both messages were vague, cloudy and superficial…ESPECIALLY mine!

I later wondered what this communication would have looked like in an “old school” format. If we put pencil to paper and passed it along, I believe the message would have been much different. The “smart” phones that we rely so heavily upon do a really good job at keeping us “not-so-smart”. We get so used to taking shortcuts that we often slice off the horn of our entire message! On the flip side, sometimes we replace “chat” with “text“. Though, these should never be confused. Our time evaporates typing a lengthy message that would otherwise only take a few seconds to speak.

Class notes were somewhat ideal, given their era. In general terms, they required two way communication. The receiver was usually happy to receive the memo. The message was sufficiently succinct. Dialogue was often very open – just consider all the blushing faces when the teacher would snatch a note off of someone’s desk!

THE CHALLENGE: If applicable, think back to your school days. If notes were as easy as text messaging is now, who would you ping? What would you write? Do you wish there was someone you had sent a note/message to but didn’t?

Next time you are in a meeting, think about who you might want to message. If the gathering happens to be with a group of strangers you can skip the whole business card thing and just ask for their number. Tell them you might reach out for their opinion during the lecture or conference.

Forget the “status updates.” Forget the spam! Nobody cares about “the weather.” What clear message can you send? How can you add value? If this were a handwritten note, would it be different? How so? What meaningful dialogue can you start? Consider that our present text messaging age will eventually be a thing of the past, something future bloggers will reminisce over. Will you wish you had established a friendship with someone while you still had frenzied fingers?

Maybe the opposite is true. For you social butterflies, maybe you need to cut back. Almost every note passed now is “caught by the teacher.” The teacher is social media.  The teacher is your profile. The chalkboard is now digital and our names are on it. Are your kids wondering why you pass notes all day instead of paying attention in class? Where is your middle ground? I challenge you to find it and exploit it!

Photo by hundrednorth

Painful Pervasive Poaching

Over 1,000 rhino’s are poached each year for a single body part, the horn. Apparently this pointy steak skewer is worth a small fortune on the black market. Not that I have any idea how much $$$,$$$ I could get for one, and here’s why:

  1. I can’t think of a single use for a keratin spike.
  2. As far as my corner of the globe is concerned rhinos are already extinct…even looked outside my window to verify.
  3. I respect the wishes of rhino advocates who ask that this information not be published.

Interesting fact: Rhino horns grow back – provided they are cut properly.  In an effort to deter poachers, de-horning is a popular (and very costly) trend.  De-horning is a process similar to cutting your fingernails – only much shorter. What if you were a rhino? How would you feel about this?

What if humans were poached for a valuable body part? What if outside organizations trimmed us up a little bit to keep us safe? Can you imagine a society with no left hands, right feet, or in this case noses? Perhaps you would feel angry, useless, violated, or depressed – as you should!

We all have an individual “rhino horn”, something that makes us truly unique. Your horn is that which you value most. It might be another person, your family, a goal, a vision, a talent, a home, or a reputation.

Every single day, your horn is at risk. Marketing campaigns, political agendas, two-faced acquaintances or outright enemies will poach you without a second thought. You have something of value and someone else wants it. It might be your money. It might be your voice. It might be your silence.  It might be your indifference. It might be your support.

THE CHALLENGE: Identify your personal rhino horns.  For the sake of this exercise there should be two; a primary and a secondary, just like the animal. What will you do to protect your horns?

For example, if your primary horn is your family, what specific systems can you set in motion to improve how to mentor your children or how to make your spouse’s heart skip a beat? Do your children have free reign on the internet? What information do they access? Is your home protected? Do you have insurance and health benefits? Do you have savings? What about family traditions? Do you keep a journal to leave for your posterity? What about your ancestors? Do you keep in touch with mom and dad, grandparents or great grandparents? Do you reflect on their teachings? Do you protect any heirlooms left behind? The ways that you can safeguard this “horn” are infinite…but only you can decide what is best for your own circumstance and belief system. Maybe this is something worth pondering next time you earn couch time. Give it a try!

Photo by Jin Kei