Desires trump demands

free yourself

Demands will consume us if we let them.

Recently, my athletic demands outweighed my desires, creating an imbalance between what I had to do and what I wanted to do.

I found myself wanting to explore new and uncharted territory, like Crossfit, shorter, faster rides and runs, and endurance pursuits off my radar screen. I knew I needed to stick to my Ironman training plan, so shorter triathlons in exotic places and branching out into other intense endurance events were merely dreams.

Then, I realized – I have control.

The juggling ended when I decided to forgo the 2014 Ironman Lake Placid – which would have been number eight – to reset my compass and explore other endurance pursuits. I’m toying with some real doozies (stay tuned.) The freedom to dream big and expand my horizons feels great.

When demands creep up and stealthily grab hold of our precious free time it’s much easier to recognize and reverse than when it happens at work.

Forbes reported last year that a majority of us are dissatisfied workers. However, we’re not moving or going anywhere. Fear of a dried up job market? Bills to pay? Comfort in misery? Regardless, the numbers look bad.

This is sad. We are so much more than what we do, yet we let demands define us in unnatural ways. I’ve been there, carrying my workday around like a weight into every other aspect of my life. And why?

Demands.

In the same way I came to the realization I was insane for limiting my athletic pursuits we must take ownership of the work we do. Ask yourself:

  • What have I compromised for my work, and is it worth it?
  • How much of my day is spent reacting to demands?
  • What professional goals are purely mine and how much time do I spend achieving them?
  • Is my brain stale? When was the last time I purposefully learned something new?
  • Who am I really working for?

There is no overnight solution to this dilemma. Your journey towards your desires will take time, but will only commence when you purposefully plot your course, stick to it, measure your progress, and by all means take that first step.

I’m also not naive enough to imagine a life with no demands. Of course they will always exist, but we must fight to reclaim our precious time and effort. Perhaps someone else has quantified the price of my time, but to me it’s priceless.

We’re not going to get a second chance at this thing called life, folks. Think about your desires and how you can get on with the business of achieving them.

Start with your support crew. Who among them are invested in your desires and who keeps churning out the demands?

Define your desires and set your goals. Once you have the beginnings of a road map, start your journey with a single step. Make deliberate changes, celebrate success, then take the next step. You’ll find that one change will ignite the next and you’ll reclaim what should always be yours.

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Me vs. 155

Will

A few more words on motivation.

After posting my last blog I competed in Crossfit Mid Hudson’s version of Festivus, a competition designed for Crossfit newcomers. As the day unfolded I realized the line between my words and life had been obliterated.

My world became pure motivational inspiration.

ladder

The first workout of the competition was called a Thruster Ladder, pictured above, the challenge being to see how far we could get by doing one thruster a minute beginning at 65 pounds and increasing 10 pounds every minute until we got to 155 pounds. When you had either completed or failed at your highest weight, you filled the rest of your minute with single jump ropes, adding to your score.

Until the competition, the most weight I had ever thrust correctly was 85 pounds. Anything else seemed physically impossible.

With the barbells lined up on the floor in 10-pound increments, I went first in my heat. Every minute on the minute the assembly line of competitors accomplished the thruster at hand then moved like clockwork to the next one. It was all fun and games until 105.

At 105 pounds I started to think. I was in the ‘personal best’ zone now. Not exactly being known for my Olympic weightlifting skills I began second guessing my ability to blaze these weight trails with my compatriots behind me. My inner voice was not fueling my fire.

However, every other voice in the room was.

My team of crossfitters willed me on. There were no doubts in their minds I would complete the next thruster and the next and so on. Their decisiveness drowned out my inner voice, replacing it with theirs. As I approached the bar I knew I would succeed – no doubts.

Looking down at the 135-pound bar it occurred to me this had been a significant weight for me six months earlier when I had clean and jerked it as a new personal best. That was then and this is now, I thought, piece of cake.

Well, listen to Mr. Confident…

I brought the bar up and went into my squat clean and managed to stand tall. When I pushed the bar up to get it overhead it stalled at eye level. I pushed again to no avail and dropped it. My first failed attempt.

If you had asked me what my strategy was at the beginning of this event I would have told you as soon as I failed on a lift I would immediately begin my jump ropes in order to maximize my score. Everything was different now. My people were behind me 100%, encouraging me to focus, breath, take my time, and get that damn weight up!

I glanced at my jump rope and smiled. Hell no, I would lift this weight and move on to the next. I did just that.

One hundred and forty five pounds held the same fate for me, a failed attempt followed by success. The crowd’s cheer exploded as I realized I was performing far beyond the expectations of everyone – except everyone around me. I had become an extension of them, powerless to do anything but complete the task at hand – do the weight.

One hundred and fifty five pounds proved to be my new nemesis. Two failed attempts jettisoned me to my jump ropes, where I vowed to tangle with my new foe on another day.

All day long, three separate events with four heats each, we took turns inspiring and being inspired. As I judged Will Santiago (black and white picture at top) through his paces I became his most vocal fan, urging him on and becoming one of many voices in a chorus that had decided he too would power through each challenge that lay ahead.

If motivation and inspiration could be bottled, we could have stored away pounds of it at our Festivus event. The feelings were genuine, specific, and bountiful. We were swimming in a pool of encouragement, every one of us drenched in it like the sweat that poured from our bodies.

I can’t emphasize enough to you to make sure you are putting yourself in similar situations no matter where you are, work or play. You are worth nothing less than someone’s complete attention and investment, and they are worth yours.

You can’t teach nice

team

If you haven’t surrounded yourself with people who inspire you, don’t be surprised if you’re not inspired.

Over the years job requirements have gotten laser specific. Gone are the days of the good natured utility player; someone who can do a little of everything and be reassigned to your organization’s greatest need. In our review of resumes we’ve created a cold science of matching skills to skills. When those rare hits are found, we too often end our search based more on qualifications than anything else.

I fear we’ve made it easier to create teams of uninspiring, humorless people, resulting in uninspiring, humorless teams.

How then do we screen for humor and inspiration?

The other night I showed up at Crossfit Mid Hudson a little early and watched the class before mine finish their workout of the day (WOD.) A WOD is a workout measured in time, repetitions, or rounds that you complete with other people who are also competing for the best time or most reps against their own best times and everyone else in the room, which is affectionately referred to as the Box.

A friend was struggling through the paces of the day’s tough WOD when the magic took over. At every struggled step on her journey someone encouraged her to ‘stay tough,’ ‘keep going,’ ‘be strong.’ She completed the WOD and collapsed to the floor, only to be congratulated by the same people she was competing against seconds earlier.

Under the right circumstances the Crossfit model works wonders. Although each person’s time is recorded as a solo exercise, there is a strong sense of teamwork, encouragement, and inspiration. Everything in the WOD is designed to make you give up, but the fire inside you fanned by everyone around you makes you finish.

In the case of Crossfit, you don’t always get a chance to choose who’s surrounding you. However, at work and most other training opportunities you do.

How have you surrounded yourself with the right people?

In the case of your team you absolutely must have a legal way of screening for inspiration and humor. Have you ever asked these questions?

  • Tell me what inspires you.
  • How have you inspired others, specifically?
  • Tell me about a time when you were inspired to exceed a goal.
  • If Hollywood made a movie about your life, who would you want to play you? Why?
  • If you were a car, what would you be? Why?
  • If you had one year with no financial obligations what would you do with the time?

Curve balls in an interview are necessary just to see this prospective team member’s reaction. And, you can learn so much about someone as they reveal the answers to these questions. Remember, you’re hiring for your team, a coveted membership to an elite group. Not just anyone deserves to be a member, and you can’t teach nice.

This is true for our training partners. There should be a give and take that inspires and challenges everyone involved, whether it’s a large group or one other person. Your training can be serious, but never too serious.

Your time and effort are worth more than you could ever quantify. Since we’re surrounded by people in so much of what we do, make sure the criteria for joining Team You is as high as it can be, and that you are screening for the right qualities.

Get board

check.chess

When facing a defining moment you’re either playing checkers or chess. It’s up to you to know which one before making your next move.

Checkers, chess, management, and athleticism are built on the same foundation; success belongs to the visionary strategist who knows their game inside and out, plays regularly, and isn’t afraid to sacrifice along the road to victory.

Our ability to see the future, play out all possible moves, and control the game is rewarded.

Everything we do has consequences, from the food we eat to the friends we make, our decisions at work, and the choices we make during training. I’ve heard too often, “no good deed goes unpunished,” and over time I’ve come to realize that’s not an indictment of being nice, but of not considering potential outcomes.

Sometimes accommodating in the short term comes back to bite you. Think of the employee who legitimately needs the exception to a rule. In the moment there is no reason why not to bend. Later you realize you’ve just done it for one, which puts you in a lose-lose if you ever need to enforce the bent rule. The precedent is set, you must abide or be seen as unfair.

When making decisions like this you must become the chess master who looks the novice in the eye and asks, “are you sure?” Is that the precedent you want to set? What might you give up later? Do you really want to make that move?

My decision in the 2012 Ironman Lake Placid to swim with the pack in the midst of the churning fray of violence had its consequences. When swimming Mirror Lake, there are ropes under the water defining the horizontal swim course. Buoys are connected to the rope, and if you position yourself on either side you do not have to raise your head ever to site the buoys – just follow the rope beneath you.

The price paid for this choice is that hundreds of athletes have made the same one, making your swim violent and combative. Although you’ve chosen the shortest distance, the energy you’ll spend defending yourself is the price you’ll pay.

Check.

Others choose a wider berth from the rope, opting for a smoother swim with frequent sighting of the buoys and longer distance over the exertion of battle.

These choices mirror your moves on the checker and chess boards; strategic decision making with the best information you can gather to ensure success down the road. Perhaps giving up that rook, knight, or even a calm swim will be worth it in the end. Perhaps not.

I recall a checkers moment when every one of my opponent’s pieces was aligned for a quadruple jump. It was the Pat Griskus Olympic Triathlon in 2012 on the run when I saw the move. There were four people ahead of me spread out evenly along the beautiful, shaded Connecticut road, their pace just a bit faster than mine. My path was clear as I sped up and picked off the runners one at a time. At the finish they had helped me achieve a personal best run on the course.

King me.

While both demand forethought and strategy, checkers can be a faster, more impulsive game than chess, which can be a cerebral test of wills. My advice to you is to play these games on a regular basis. Find a partner or even a computer willing to test your skills and put your brain through the paces of some epic checkers and chess battles. Pay attention to how you’re challenged to think, then bring that same thinking into the workplace and your training.

There are times when you can clear the checkerboard in one move, and times when you must ponder unseen outcomes. Train your mind with checkers and chess. When the time comes to choose, you’ll know the difference and exactly what to do.

Check mate.

Acceptance

acceptance

Acceptance can propel you to greatness or slowly sink you.

Sometimes acceptance deserves a bad rap. We can accept in a way that reduces options, lowers standards, and crushes dreams.

Perhaps you’ve heard or said this at work:

  • Oh, that’s just his way, he’ll never change.
  • We’ve done it that way forever.
  • No, we’ve already tried that and it didn’t work.
  • No one else does it that way.
  • Everyone does it this way.

Each statement another nail in the coffin of true potential.

Ask what you’ve accepted in your life. Has it resulted from your experience or have you inherited someone else’s low expectations? How has acceptance lowered your bar, placing you and your organization farther than ever from being exceptional?

Getting to the truth of these important questions will take real thought and soul searching because most of what you’re looking for is ingrained and invisible.

To begin, ask yourself when was the last time you gave the green light to an innovative idea. Or, perhaps you voted down a proposal or talked yourself out of a new direction. Or, even worse, maybe you haven’t considered a new way of approaching something in a long time. If you do a great job extinguishing, after a while you and others around you will stop creating.

Start small as you survey your workplace for ways to shake things up. Begin with a few easy wins to get others on board, perhaps the design of a lobby or set up of your office. Then move to bigger issues. Don’t be afraid to attack those historic and immovable issues; the process of raging against the machine is worth the effort.

When does acceptance work for you?

When you must shed the weight of stubbornness and fear to lighten your load as you open yourself up to new pathways.

After reading Born to Run, I was convinced I had to become a forefoot runner. I got some super thin, minimal running shoes and began a painful journey to realization that in fact I was not a forefoot runner. I’m at best a mid-foot striker, and a heavy one at that. I’m an old guy that needs a cushioned shoe – cue acceptance music.

Accepting ‘defeet’ has done several things – saved me great pain and potential injury and helped me plan my training. For example, I’ve chosen to train in a heavier version of my racing shoes, so when I get to the race I’m pulling a little less weight.

Perhaps those long distance races aren’t for you, and you’d rather get faster at shorter distances. Or, vice versa. Maybe, like me, you should accept you’re not someone who will exercise at home, so stop buying all that damn equipment. Do a personal athletic audit to determine who you are and what you truly want from your efforts. Then, break a few rules and stop at nothing to get it.

Everyday we’re surrounded by the consequences of what we’ve accepted. Look around and figure out which of those acceptances are holding you back and which have opened your door to greatness.

Bilocation

Big pic

Great managers and athletes must be in two places at one time.

As athletes and leaders we must simultaneously do what we do while gauging how we’re doing and what’s happening around us.

As a manager you must always be in and above a conversation, aware of its direction and purpose.

I’ve seen managers miss the entire point of an encounter with an employee because they merely dealt with a conversation’s face value. Is a question about who’s on the schedule really a request for time off? What does dissatisfaction sound like? How about outright rage masked as contentment? As leaders we’re challenged with deciphering sophisticated human communication codes all the time.

One key to success is to slow down when speaking with people. Let conversations be tiny oases in your day. Give them time and focus. If you’re not present during a conversation, especially a quick one, you risk sending the wrong message.

I once spoke with a person who had asked her manager how difficult it might be for anyone to get time off during a particularly busy period. Instead of asking if there was something specific behind her question, the manager went on and on about how it’s got to be all hands on deck with everyone pitching in during this critical time. The manager had no idea the woman was dealing with an issue that would have given her protected time off through FMLA to care for her sick husband. The woman left the conversation fearing she’d have to choose between her husband and her job.

As athletes we too must see the big and small picture. We need to see the road under us while gauging our body’s fuel reserves, maintain great form while rationing precious energy. I’ve completed seven Ironman Lake Placid events and each time I’ve gone out too hard on the first 56-mile bike loop. The check I write for that ride depletes my account for what ends up being a much-harder-than-necessary run.

I’m totally in the moment, but failing to plan for the big picture.

Some tips for training these abilities include:

  • Map a definitive race plan for your next training or racing day. If you traditionally go out of the box fast, ease up a little and consciously save some for a stronger finish. Change your tendencies regularly, don’t be predictable.
  • Role play with a colleague. Have them approach you with a hidden agenda, and ask three questions before you guess their goal. Keep going in sets of three until you get it right. Each time you do this, try and dissect the agenda in fewer questions. Measure your success.
  • For a week recognize when you’re in the moment and when you’re above it. Make note of this consciously and these places will become more comfortable for you.
  • Always think about digging deeper, especially during that quick conversation with someone or a seemingly mundane Wednesday evening run. These opportunities rarely advertise themselves’ it’s up to us to recognize and capitalize on them.

Being present in and above the moment are different skills, both essential to your success.

The 24-hour Rule

mary-decker

Sometimes you flat-out lose.

Losing is becoming a lost art as our culture bends to meet the needs of the masses. But, every now and then in our trophies-for-everyone society, losing busts out big time.

We must be prepared.

As a manager, finding ourselves in a win\lose situation can be dangerously frequent. We tend to want to work with our employees and coworkers rather than against them, seeking common ground and shared outcomes. We can’t always collaborate, though, and that produces winners and losers.

As managers we often lose when we win because we have the power and are expected to get our way. Even in winning we lose something.

So when we find ourselves on the losing end, what then?

Enter the 24-hour rule.

For almost our entire 10-year marriage, my wife lived life with metastatic breast cancer. For that decade we faced a roller coaster life. Early on, bad news came fast and furious, flooding us with desperate moments of disbelief. Our emotions swirled like a tornado on steroids, but decisions and plans needed to be made. Life had to be lived.

Lisa first put it out there for consideration; when bad news presented itself, we were allowed 24 hours to live in the blackness of despair. We had permission to dive deep, wring our hands, get pissed off, drink, and carry on in hopelessness. In fact, there was an expectation that we would do just that.

Twenty-four hours later, it was over. Cue life.

The next phase of the process is called Living in the New Normal. It was time to get on with things and proceed down our path.

We got very good at this. The 24 hours became more brief as time went on, but there was always time spent venting before coming to grips with the New Normal.

This process has served me well since my wife’s death. Whenever I’ve been faced with a loss and rekindled the 24-hour rule I’ve found it much easier to learn from what just happened and put things into perspective for the inevitable New Normal.

When we lose we learn. We must always acknowledge the sadness behind a loss, embrace it and make it our own. Then, with new perspective and knowledge, it’s time to move on to the New Normal where we can live to fight again.