Gratitude

Vassar Farm

Year’s ago while running trails at Vassar Farm an emotional epiphany stopped me dead in my tracks.

It was November, the brilliant leaves carpeted the pastel trail ahead while several stalwarts clung to steely branches, painting defiantly bold-colored swatches against a stark, grey canvas. I stopped, engulfed in silent serenity but overwhelmed with emotion. I searched to make sense of the moment, but didn’t have to look far.

I was paralyzed by gratitude.

There was no mistaking it; appreciation had set in. It occurred to me how grateful I was to be able to do what I was doing in that moment exactly where and how I was doing it.

This perfect storm of thankfulness was inescapable. Up until that point I had been taking my opportunities and abilities to participate in athletic pursuits for granted.

To this day, Vassar Farm waits for me to return, reboot, and remember.

For 10 years, which was the length of our marriage, my wife Lisa lived with metastatic breast cancer. After her initial diagnosis and the 24-hour rule, we proceeded to live life, setting our own terms whenever and wherever possible. Every so often it occurred to us that despite her diagnosis, we had a really great life together.

And for that, we were grateful.

Even today, I realize that by circuitous routes, my girlfriend Kathy and I found each other in what otherwise may never have been the coinciding of two lives.

And for that, I am grateful.

So, let’s get to the point. When are you truly grateful at work? How hard do you have to look to stop yourself in your tracks and say, ‘yes, this is what I was meant to do’?

A friend posted recently that she was so grateful she chose the profession she had, and that she looked forward to waking up each morning. I fear that more friends, however, post the ‘can’t wait til Friday’ picture every Monday, just waiting until their time becomes theirs again.

True career gratitude has nothing to do with being thankful you’ve got a job. I hear that way too often these days, that people should feel grateful or lucky they are employed, as though a paycheck wipes out accomplishment, self worth, or peace.

In a crappy economy it is great to have a regular income, benefits, etc., but it doesn’t make everything alright.

Where is your Vassar Farm? Where is that place you go to or find yourself in that fills you with gratitude? This is a place you should seek with every ounce of energy you can muster.

Gratitude is the result of living an engaged life of purpose. One where you’re calling the shots and not paralyzed by the puppeteer’s strings.

It’s never too late to find your place in this puzzle called life friends. Get on with it.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Make fear work for you

Fear

When you last felt fear did you use the opportunity to put it to work for you?

Fear is universal and touches each of us. At least it should, because if you’re not feeling fear on a regular basis you’re not taking any chances. Real progress happens outside our comfort zone and it’s natural, even expected, to ride that wave alongside fear.

My work environment is full of change at all levels and in every crevice of my organization. This has resulted in huge doses of fear and hope, which will battle each other if not handled properly.

Times like these expose true leaders who know fear means that something is about to happen and if you don’t turn into the wave, you’ll capsize.

Leaders use fear as a motivator to fuel a mission, describing a vision and that it will take every ounce of everyone’s effort to realize the dream.

Two years ago I entered an Xterra off road triathlon. Once on my mountain bike I knew I was in unfamiliar territory, having never done as difficult a course. There were huge rock gardens (long stretches of sharp-edged rocks) to ride over at blistering speeds. Giving into fear at that moment would have tensed my body and distracted my mind, resulting for sure in a crash.

Instead, I used the opportunity to concentrate on my breathing and melted into my bike, trusting it would work with me to conquer this challenging course.

I went with it, not against it.

Early on the course, I felt a tremendous rush of adrenaline, waking the butterflies in my stomach to an excited, anticipatory state. I began to look forward to the next rock garden.

I confronted fear, tamed it, and put it to better use.

It’s a proud moment when we realize the inevitable change we’re experiencing can be directed by us with hard work and focus.

I worked at United Way during its fundraising heyday, then in an instant the bottom fell out. The top UW exec, leader of our national organization, went down for embezzling money. In an instant, our team’s instinct was to fall back, retreat, clam up, no comment, oh no!

Then we met and talked it out, eventually coming to the conclusion we needed to be overly proactive, transparent, and honest.

  • We were outraged just like everyone else.
  • We held back our own UW’s dues to the national organization until they cleaned house.
  • We opened our books for all to see that our fundraised dollars were in fact going exactly where we said they were going.
  • And, we leaned on the organizations and individuals we had helped over the years to continue to tell our story.

The fallout was bad, but not as bad as it might have been had we cowered in fear and attempted to hide under the radar. It took vision, courage, and the conversion of fear to action. Instead of waiting for the phone calls, we made them. We wrote the letters, scheduled the meetings, and put ourselves out there. Attack versus retreat.

Decide to seek out situations that instill a healthy dose of fear in you. Train yourself to recognize fear, embrace the uncertainty it brings, and convert it to a type of energy and emotion that takes you to a new place.

Consciously work with fear, and not against it, so when it surprises you you’ll be prepared to cross the rock garden fast and unscathed.