The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow… but Today Sucked

“I do the very best I can to look upon life with optimism and hope and looking forward to a better day.”
—Rosa Parks

One of the toughest things about doing a blog like this is that I can’t always be completely upfront about everything that happens in my life — at least not as it is happening. (Obviously, discussing certain things requires diplomacy.)

That said, the whole intent of this project is, as I wrote at the outset, “… to document my life’s journey over the next year, as I attempt to redefine my life goals.”

This entails that I be as forthcoming as possible, that I share the good, the bad and the ugly. My biggest complaint about so many self-help/motivational books, blogs and videos is that the daily, weekly and even monthly struggles are typically glossed over — not because the authors are disingenuous, necessarily, but because they are relating their stories after the fact.

I don’t want to do that.

So, let’s just say that I received some very bad news this morning — news relating to the article I did on excuses. There are also some things in my personal life that are weighing on me today, making it what I call a “grind day”.

What is that, you ask (and if you didn’t, please just play along)? It’s one of those days that you just do what you need to do to achieve your long-term objectives — you grind, you persevere, you “man up”.

Yeah, today was a bust, but Annie assures me that the sun will come out tomorrow.

I hope that annoying little shit is right.

 

Featured photo by Rob Bates on Unsplash.

What the Six Million Dollar Man Taught Me About Life

“Today I escaped from anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions — not outside.”
—Marcus Aurelius

So, I saw this today:

twitter-matt-haig

Now, I know my view on this will be unpopular with some, but I fail to see how showing one’s vulnerability in times of crisis — emotional or otherwise — is helpful. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t want to be on a plane headed to the ground at 9.8 meters per second squared and hear the pilot blubbering over the intercom about his anxieties, especially if those anxieties include guilt over fudging his flight school records.

Look, I’m not trying to be insensitive here. I’ve been known to get teary-eyed watching Hallmark Christmas movies, so I’m not exactly John Wayne, but I think a certain degree of stoicism is a good thing. As the great football coach Lou Holtz once said: “Don’t tell your problems to people — eighty percent don’t care; and the other twenty percent are glad you have them.”

Personally, I’m inspired by both men and women that can “man up,” that don’t flinch when the going gets tough. As a society, we used to admire such people; many of us — myself included — wanted to emulate them.

When I was a little kid, the Six Million Dollar Man was a popular television series. It was about a former astronaut named Steve Austin — not the wrestler — who, after a tragic accident, was rebuilt with various bionic parts, which gave him superhuman strength and speed. If you think Usain Bolt is fast, you should’ve seen Austin back in the day. The dude could run over 60 miles per hour — in bell-bottom jeans, no less!

I wanted to be just like Austin.

So, one day, I put a bunch of cardboard under my clothes, along with some random wires — which I was convinced would make me bionic — and I hit the neighborhood streets, imploring my friends to throw rocks at me.

Sure, looking back I can see some flaws in that plan, but, at the time, I was pretty sure I was going to be lauded as a hero when the rocks bounced off me. Perhaps I’d even get my own television series!

My friends were tentative at first, concerned that I would get hurt — but my confidence soon won them over and rocks began whizzing about like flies around six-day-old meatloaf. I think even some of the parents got involved, but my bionic eye had swelled shut by then, so I couldn’t be sure.

Suffice it to say that I learned I wasn’t the Six Million Dollar Man that day — although my gallop back to the house (and safety) may have reached Austin-like levels.

But that wasn’t the point.

The point was that Steve Austin gave me something to aspire to — just like men and women such as “Inky” Johnson, Debbi Fields and Les Brown do today.

They put my problems in perspective.

No, I don’t think I need to grow a handlebar mustache and run moonshine like Burt Reynolds to be taken seriously as a man, but I don’t think I need to be vulnerable either.

Those rocks hurt.

Excuses and the Road Less Traveled By

“Difficulty is the excuse history never accepts.”
―Edward R. Murrow

It’s been a very eventful past couple of days. And, during those 48 hours, I was reminded why so many self-help books miss the mark. We’re always told that there are “no excuses” for not getting fit, finding love or making oodles of money… yet, there are.

A friend of mine, who is studying to be a doctor, recently told me that he’s had trouble making it to the gym on a regular basis, and it bothered him. Well, yeah, that’s the reality of going to medical school — time is limited.

Even “fit mom” Maria Kang, who drew the ire of many for her “What’s Your Excuse” mantra after giving birth to her third child in 2013, subsequently realized that the playing field is not always even — sometimes there are valid reasons why people fall short of their goals.

mariaking2_facebook

After separating from her husband (not sure where that stands now guys, so, by all means, barrage her with e-mails and pictures of you shirtless in the gym) and dealing with depression, Kang took to Instagram to express her remorse.

… I am 10lbs [sic] up since I shot that ‘What’s Your Excuse’ photo! So here I am,” she wrote, in part. “This is a raw photo with absolutely no retouching, no preparation and no shame. I’m finding my beauty again, I’m discovering my strength again and I’m relearning what it means to be brave, bold and unapologetic about where I am in my life’s journey.

Suffice it to say, the photo, which has since been deleted, was hardly the stuff of nightmares, but folks seemed to appreciate Kang’s softened tone.

In my own case, I know my career has been hurt by the fact that I can’t easily relocate from my home in Colorado. If it was just me I could live in my car — which is one of those tiny Smart cars, built for Hobbits — down by the river, but I have a family to think of. As a result, I’ve had to turn down a lot of potential opportunities. Some days, the “what ifs” haunt me like Edgar Allan Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart”.

Today is one of those days.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that one should throw in the towel or use excuses — even legitimate ones — to justify failure. Ultimately, I believe, as Michael Jordan does, that “obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”

I will do just that. But, today, I will ponder why I took the road less traveled by and how different my life might be if I’d taken a surer path.

Featured photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash.

Saving Lives With Checklists

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

It was a good week.

I’m not always as productive as I would like to be — I know multitasking is a business requirement these days, but I’m more of an “eye on the prize” kind of guy (I like to do one thing at a time and do it well) — but I felt I got a lot done last week.

One of the things I’ve been experimenting with is checklists. Yeah, I know, it’s nothing new or unique, but I’ve found they really do help me stay focused on what I’m trying to accomplish. In an article called “Seven management benefits of using a checklist” that appeared on Hartfordbusiness.com, author Andy Singer summed it up nicely.

Sometimes even with simple steps involved we can get distracted and forget one or more of the required procedures.

It is easy for us to forget things and recovery is usually more complex than getting it right the first time.

A simple tool that helps to prevent these mistakes is the checklist.

Singer then identified — you’ll never guess — seven benefits of using said checklist:

  1. Organization.
  2. Motivation.
  3. Productivity.
  4. Creativity.
  5. Delegation.
  6. Saving lives.
  7. Excellence.

I found point No. 6 particularly intriguing — here I thought that “go to gym” was solely for my benefit. Obviously, I don’t know whose life I saved by accomplishing that task this past week, but you can be sure I walked around with my head held a little higher knowing that somebody owed their continued production of CO2 to me and my invigorating chest workout.

How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?

Sleep is the best meditation.
— Dalai Lama

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about sleep lately.

After another long day yesterday, I woke up feeling about as rested as Rodrigo Alves’ plastic surgeon this morning. And it got me to thinking: How much sleep do adults realistically need?

I know I just quoted Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “sleep faster” mantra the other day, but in truth, that, like so many other cute phrases, offers a simplistic view of a complex issue. Hey, I wish I didn’t have to sleep at all, but I know from past experience that I don’t think very well when I don’t get my Zs (my friends would probably tell you that I don’t think very well, period, but my friends are jerks).

Science seems to back up the idea that a good night’s sleep is crucial.

According to a recent UCLA study, lack of sleep impairs the brain’s neuron transmissions and can result in memory lapses and problems concentrating, similar to when one is drunk.

“We discovered that starving the body of sleep also robs neurons of the ability to function properly,” noted lead researcher Itzhak Fried. “This leads to cognitive lapses in how we perceive and react to the world around us.”

Although the study was small — just 12 subjects — and, in some ways, biased (all of the participants had a history of seizures), the conclusion was that the brain’s neurons (essentially the body’s control center) acted more slowly and lost vigor with increased tiredness.

“We were fascinated to observe how sleep deprivation dampened brain cell activity,” said researcher Yuval Nir. “Unlike the usual rapid reaction, the neurons responded slowly and fired more weakly, and their transmissions dragged on longer than usual.”

This is very bad news to me. It looks like not only am I going to have to get more sleep, but I’m going to have to quit boozing all day as well! (I kid, I kid — I’m not giving up drinking.)

strepchanges_1
(From www.sleepfoundation.org.)

Anticipation Is Keeping Me Waiting

Patience is the art of concealing your impatience.
— Guy Kawasaki

There’s a Carly Simon song — which will forever remind me of those old Heinz ketchup commercials (well done, Heinz marketing team) — that keeps running through my mind this morning.

The song is called “Anticipation” and it aptly describes how I feel right now. There are so many things I want to do, so many things I want to accomplish… yet, only so much time in the day. I’m reminded of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who tells those who claim to need eight hours of sleep, i.e. people like me, to “sleep faster.”

Indeed. There’s no denying the wisdom of these words. I’ve often wondered how much I could accomplish if only I didn’t have to sleep.

So, I’m trying to get up earlier. Yesterday, I crawled out of bed at 4 a.m. and, today, I was up at seven. Obviously, I’d like my wake-up time to be consistent, but I’ll roll with this for a while, because my gym visits are often later at night and I do want to give myself ample recovery time.

Speaking of the gym — it was packed last night. And I couldn’t help but wonder what it will look like in a few weeks, a few months. Many regulars lament this time of year, because, in addition to the multitude of people, there are a number of newbies, who invariably clog the works as they struggle to figure out what such-and-such machine does.

I don’t think that way. Frankly, I hope all the newbies stay. To me, the gym is a microcosm of life and I don’t want to see anybody give up on their dreams.

I did and I know the toll it extracts.

Vince Lombardi said, “Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit.”

I agree. Too often, people rely on motivation to help them accomplish their goals. But motivation is, as David Goggins points out, merely “kindling”. It is capable of lighting a fire — not of sustaining one. And going to the gym is the perfect example of this.

It’s fun — even exciting — when one is transforming their body and the weight is falling off. It’s not so exhilarating when the aches and pains start kicking in, when one is tired, or after a long day. Yet, I believe it’s during those times that the most progress is made, because one is reconditioning their mind along with their body.

Having said that, I need to get to work; damn you, Carly Simon.

The Journey Begins

Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets.
— Arthur Miller

The problem with so many self-help/motivational books and websites is that they always document things after the fact. It’s typically some guy — usually in his 30s — telling us how his life used to be and what he did to change it. Worse, many of the examples simply don’t resonate, at least not with me.

For example, just yesterday, I watched a YouTube video that focused on LeBron James and how hard he worked to become the great basketball player he is today.

I’m sure he did work hard. But James is also 6’8” and 250 pounds. I stand 5-feet, 8-inches tall and weigh about 200 lbs. While I’m all for positive thinking and a can-do attitude, nobody is going to convince me that, even if I outworked him, I’d be a better basketball player than LeBron James — or even any good at all.

Frankly, I find that attitude kind of insulting and have often wondered how many people are doing things they are ill-equipped to do, simply because they were told that, if they worked hard enough, they could accomplish anything. Well, personally, I’m glad Albert Einstein wanted to be a physicist instead of the starting point guard for the Boston Celtics.

Then there are people like me — folks who don’t know what they want or what they want has changed.

When I was a senior in high school, as part of a class project in home economics (yeah, that was still a thing when I went to school), I wrote a letter to myself, detailing my hopes and desires for the future. The letter was mailed back to me five years later.

This is what I wrote:

rhsletter

Although it took much longer than expected, I achieved all my childhood dreams.

At the age of 40, after a series of mind-numbing jobs and more disappointments than a deep-sea diver in Nebraska, I began a career as a writer — first as the sports editor of the Moffat County Daily News in Craig, Colorado and, then, as a freelancer, specializing in both business and sports. Eventually, I became the editor of USRacing.com, where I continue to work today.

A few months ago, at the age of 51, I set a personal best by bench-pressing 405 pounds — twice.

Yet, I’m reminded of the words of the great Les Brown, who said: “Most people fail in life not because they aim too high and miss, but because they aim too low and hit.”

After much soul searching and months of unhappiness that I blamed on everything and everybody, I realized I was one of the people Mr. Brown was referring to — and it was making me miserable.

Hence, this website.

It is my goal to document my life’s journey over the next year, as I attempt to redefine my life goals and find the happiness that has, thus far, eluded me.

Of course, the risk with an adventure like this is that I may not find any answers at all. My journey may end in a big pile of nothingness or it might conclude in a totally unsatisfactory way — perhaps with me living in a van down by the river (for those of you who remember that old Chris Farley bit on Saturday Night Live).

Regardless, I think it is a project worth pursuing, if only because it is real. As the poet Robert Burns noted, sometimes our best-laid plans go astray. There is no script that I am following, no ending that can be sculpted to fit a message I wish to convey — because there is no message. There is only an attempt to understand, an attempt to learn and a burning desire to avoid falling deeper into life’s abyss.