Inspiration From the Strangest Places

Often I look for inspiration almost as soon as I wake up. It can come through a Facebook post, an inspiring story in the news, or even a well-placed billboard along the highway. Sometimes though, it comes completely unsolicited from an unsuspecting source. When the latter happens, it often hits like a truck…the wow moments of life. 

These are my favorite and I was fortunate enough to experience one of those today. What was this awesome source of inspiration? A pothole…that’s right, a pothole. Allow me to explain.

On my commute home, there’s a very sizable pothole in the right lane of traffic along the main through way; it’s been there for years. It gets repaired now and then, but it always returns to its dastardly ways within a month or two. 

I’ve hit that pothole more than I’ve missed it over the years, literally hundreds of times. Every time I hit it I think to myself, “why did I hit that car-disabling sinkhole again, when I knew it was there?” 

Yesterday on my way home, I really squared it up. It was one of those hits that makes you think you’ve knocked the front end out of alignment and flattened a tire. Fortunately I didn’t, but a different thought entered my head yesterday. 

Potholes are everywhere in our lives. Most often, they show up in the form of repeated mistakes and bad habits. Some are minor annoyances but others are debilitating. They line the roadways of our daily thoughts and actions. We know they are there, yet we fall into them anyway. 

We never intentionally drive into them, yet we also don’t make a conscious effort to change lanes and avoid them. What’s the secret to avoiding these setbacks? For me, it’s looking at the patterns in my life that lead me back to the same unwanted places again and again. 

Once I identify the cause, I try to institute a simple change in routine. On the highway, it would be switching lanes well in advance of the pothole. In our mind, it’s no different. When we identify that we are on the old familiar route that always leads back to those same potholes, we need to switch lanes. 

If I feel myself starting to sink into a funk, instead of just letting it happen, I go for a quick run or a walk around the block; that’s changing lanes. 

If I feel myself getting overwhelmed or stressed by my workload, I unplug for a few minutes and shift my focus to something more calming like music or a quick reading session of a good book. 

Potholes are everywhere but they aren’t unavoidable. Be cognizant of where they are and put steps in place to avoid them. 

Persistence Is a Way of Life

“It’s okay to be discouraged. It’s not okay to quit. To know you want to quit but to plant your feet and keep inching closer until you take the impenetrable fortress you’ve decided to lay siege to in your own life—that’s persistence.”
― Ryan Holiday

Somewhere along the way, we’ve been lulled into this idea that we deserve an easy, unencumbered life. Like we are somehow better than the generations that came before us, our parents and grandparents. They were tough, rarely grumbled or complained about anything.

My grandpa was one of nine kids – three of them died before the age of two. His mom passed away when he was a toddler, and at age ten, he was pulled out of school to help keep the household running while his dad worked to provide food and the basic necessities. He was drafted into the Army at age 24 and was sent to Europe to fight in WW II.

He was on the front lines there for almost three years, saw atrocities that I cannot even fathom, and saw his best friend die 5 feet in front of him. You’d expect me to say that he came back a broken shell of a man, right? Wrong. He came back, married a beautiful girl, had four kids, and went to work for the State Highway Department where he worked for twenty years until he retired. You know what he did when he retired? He didn’t move to Florida. He planted ten acres of gardens and worked from sun up until sun down, ensuring that his family never went without.

My grandma’s mom died when she was two days old. Her dad was extremely abusive, so she was adopted by another family where she grew up cooking, cleaning, and raising other people’s children. She never learned to drive, in fact she never left the state of Louisiana – ever. They were married for 60 years and raised 4 kids in a 900 square foot house. They argued, then they got over it. They never gave up on each other.

They lived happily ever after, right? Wrong. Grandma was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in her 70’s and my grandpa took care of her…every day (bathing, feeding, and everything else that needed to be done). He watched as she lost her ability to speak, to eat, and eventually to breathe. He never once left her side. He was a man – a true man.

I doubt my family and their hardships are much different than your family’s adversities. Life was hard…really hard. The funny thing is that I didn’t know any of what they went through until I was an adult. Why? Because they never talked about it or complained. To them, it was life – it still is.

Somehow our perception changed over time and we veered to a different perspective of what this life is all about. Because our parents and grandparents struggled, we were supposed to have an easy life? I complain more over the course of a week than my grandfather did in his entire life. Why? What happened? Why do we view life’s circumstances differently than they did? Why did they accept pain and adversity as a natural part of life, but we view it as being wronged in some way – like we drew the proverbial short straw?

“To argue, to complain, or worse, to just give up, these are choices. Choices that more often than not, do nothing to get us across the finish line.”
― Ryan Holiday

We spend more time complaining than looking for a way to make things better. Complaining about setbacks (you know like traffic, the cold, the heat, and kale) is the easy reaction. Complaining doesn’t get us anywhere worth going. Shouldn’t we expect pain, discomfort, unfairness, suffering, trouble, and terrible days? This doesn’t mean that we should walk through life waiting for the sky to fall, but we also shouldn’t be surprised when it does.

I encourage you to read and learn about people who have gone through tremendous adversities and came out on the other side, whole and unbroken. It may be in a book, it could be a family member, a neighbor, or maybe even you. It’s an attitude. Life will not break me – it may kill me, but it will never break my spirit.

It’s one of the very reasons that I took up endurance running. To purposely put myself in miserable situations as a reminder that life is not about comfort. Life is about learning how to deal with adversity without letting it defeat you.

“Choose not to be harmed—and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed—and you haven’t been.”
― Marcus Aurelius

No Time For a Better Life?

One of the absolute biggest lies that we tell ourselves when we want to accomplish something is that I don’t have enough time. How is it that some people accomplish so much with their days and some of us can’t seem to get out of our own way? Obviously, much of it has to do with planning and time management.

I read a book last year called The Time Trap and it completely changed my perception of time and just how much time I was wasting on absolutely nothing but honestly if I am being truthful, it’s just easier to be lazy – not necessarily snoozing until 11 am lazy, but the spending all available free time on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat lazy.

I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with downtime, but even our downtime has lost its purpose – resting and recharging. Spending time mindlessly scrolling through news feeds, looking at the same pictures, status updates, and taking selfies with goofy ears on our heads has replaced catching up on that novel or building that model car with your kid in the garage.

It’s easy and requires little effort, whereas signing up for that graduate course is hard. The more time we trade in for the easiness of passing time, the less time we have to accomplish worthwhile goals.

I don’t have time to work out means that I am not willing to give up and hour of sleep to improve my health and fitness.

I don’t have time to go back to school means that I am not willing to give up a few nights every week for a couple of years in order to further my career.

I don’t have time to make healthy meals means that I am not willing to give up a couple of hours to meal prep on Sunday for the week ahead. 

I don’t have time to work on my marriage means that I am not willing to sacrifice an hour every evening talking about your day to make your marriage a priority.

I don’t have time is the ultimate excuse that we use everyday to avoid the hard stuff of life. 

I don’t have time essentially means that I am not willing to sacrifice my ease of existence in order to do something that could better the lives of my family. Our perceived lack of time really boils down to avoiding the hard stuff and choosing to do the easy, mindless stuff.

“Someone once asked me “why do you always insist on taking the hard road?” and I replied “why do you assume I see two roads?”      

– Unknown

We all have 24 hours in a day, 168 hours in a week, and 8,760 hours in a year to accomplish so much more than what we think we are capable of. It isn’t about time, it’s about choices…our daily choices.

We can read books about time management, try the new diet of the month, or continue to lie to ourselves about why we aren’t where we want to be…OR we can start making different (better) choices today.

Tomorrow when you wake up, make a commitment to yourself to do one hard thing over the same easy thing that you’ve done for the past year. The more of those difficult choices that we make, the better our lives become, and even more importantly, we improve the lives of those around us.

The Power of Rejection

Most of us spend our entire lives trying to avoid rejection, but what if the answer is to embrace rejection instead of always running from it? I recently watched a Ted Talk video of Jia Jiang speaking about his experience of 100 days of rejection, where he actually sought out being turned down for random requests for 100 straight days. His requests were far from ordinary and ranged from asking a complete stranger for $100 to asking for a refill on his hamburger at a local fast food restaurant.

What he found through his 100 day experiment was that if he resisted the urge to run away from the rejection and instead embrace the uncomfortable feeling while staying engaged with the person after being turned down, that it actually was not him that they were rejecting. In most cases, this rings true for us as well. Most of us feel that when our requests are met with a flat “no”, that it is we who are being rejected rather than our request or idea.

Jiang’s experiment actually paid off on the third try when his request for donuts at the local donut shop, made into the shape and color of the olympic rings was met with a “yes, we can do that for you.” You can watch that video here.

The truth is that rejection comes in all shapes and sizes but it always feels the same; embarrassing and hurtful. We have all been rejected at some point in our life and most of us are not willing to go out and intentionally look for more of it, but what if there is something incredibly beautiful on the other side; something freeing? There is a famous quote from Steve Maraboli that says, “Every time I thought I was being rejected from something good, I was actually being redirected to something better.”

In fact we can find stories by the hundreds of company founders, product inventors, and other successful entrepreneurs who were turned down over and over again before getting to the yes that they needed. One of those is Starbucks founder, Howard Schultz who was turned down 242 times by hundreds of banks before getting to the yes that he needed to propel Starbucks into history. If he had given up after the first dozen or so rejections, we would all be drinking gas station coffee today.

My point is that while rejection can sting, it actually hurts worse if we let it stop us in our tracks. In Jiang’s experiment, one of his rejections came when he asked a stranger if he could plant a flower in his backyard (a little weird right?). The stranger said no, but then instead of walking away, Jiang asked “why”.

The stranger said, “because I have a dog in my backyard who tears everything up, so it would never last back there.” You see, he wasn’t rejecting Jiang, but he actually had a legitimate concern. In fact, he then points Jiang to his neighbor and says to ask “Carol” because she loves flowers. Guess what? There’s now a flower planted in Carol’s backyard.

Most often when we have a request turned down, the person (rejectioner?) on the other side is not rejecting us, only our idea. If, instead of walking away with our heads hung down in shame, we engage the person with a simple “why”, we could find that it leads us right to the yes that we are searching for. Be brave today and try it. What’s the worst that could happen? Maybe someone ends up with a nice flower in their backyard or perhaps you score a sweet set of Olympic-ringed donuts!

Fear Awakens Us

Sometimes in the calmness of rest, fear awakens our senses to remind us that we weren’t created for comfort. We weren’t born for ease of existence and warm beds.

We were made to face our most frightful worries and conquer our darkest of torments. Fear isn’t our enemy. Fear is a reminder of the challenges that we’ve yet to overcome.

If we attack the obstacle in our path, the fear subsides. Conversely, if we shrink back from fear, it grows louder and angrier. Life is about overcoming pain and adversity, not running from it.

Embrace your fears, look them in the eye, and take them down; one by one. 

Carrying The Fire

I stumbled across a book last month titled The Road, which was written by Cormac McCarthy. In the book, a father and son are left alone to survive in a very dark and barren landscape. As they travel through unknown and sometimes hostile environments, the two rely on each other for comfort and reassurance.

The father repeatedly talks to his son about “carrying the fire”. In the world in which they live, survival is the only hope left for them.

“We’re going to be okay, arent we Papa?

Yes. We are.

And nothing bad is going to happen to us.

That’s right. Because we’re carrying the fire.

Yes. Because we’re carrying the fire.”

It’s a dark and desolate place filled with death and chaos. Along their daily path, they repeatedly encounter others who are also trying to survive, but some of these strangers are also looking to do more than survive; some are looking to capitalize on the misfortunes and mistrust of unsuspecting passersby.

In the book, “the fire” represents what is left of the good and decency of mankind; perhaps the last twinkling ember of humanity. The father navigates a razor-thin line of protecting his son from the evils of a dying world, while also teaching him morality and kindness. Throughout the book, the boy looks to his father for constant reassurance that they are still “carrying the fire” and wants to know if “they are the good guys”.

I do not want to spoil the book, should you ever decide to pick up a copy and read it for yourself (you definitely should) but the story serves as a reminder that we should always “carry the fire” and teach our children to do the same; to be watchful but maintain moral dignity and goodness.

“You wanted to know what the bad guys looked like. Now you know. It may happen again. My job is to take care of you. I was appointed to do that by God. I will kill anyone who touches you. Do you understand?

Yes.

He sat there cowled in the blanket. After a while he looked up. Are we still the good guys? he said.

Yes. We’re still the good guys.”

While the world that we live in is a much brighter place than the one depicted in this book, we face some of the same challenges. How do we protect our children and loved ones but also allow room for adventure and growth? How do we teach them to be suspicious of strangers without shutting off their ability to trust? Frederick Douglas once said that “it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Children aren’t born strong just as men aren’t born defeated.

We have an awesome responsibility to our children and to the world. We must never allow awareness and curiosity to turn into indifference. We have to inspire and lead by example in every facet of our life. Our children are watching and they will follow our lead. Are we building strong children? Are we setting a good example for them to follow? Lead them, inspire them, and allow them to grow.

“You have to carry the fire.

I don’t know how to.

Yes you do.

Is it real? The fire?

Yes it is.

Where is it? I dont know where it is.

Yes you do. It’s inside you. It was always there. I can see it.”

If we don’t carry the fire, who will? If we don’t teach our children to carry it responsibly, the flame will extinguish. Be good, do good, and teach them how to carry the fire…always.

What’s The Deal With Average?

Since I was a kid in elementary school, I’ve felt average. Average academically, average athletically; average. I have always accepted that it was just how it was. Some people were just meant to be average. 

Go to school, get good grades, find a decent job and settle into mediocrity. It isn’t so bad, right? Mediocrity gets you a paycheck, maybe a decent roof over your head and all the canned food your little heart desires. Average gets you a mortgage and car payment. I mean, average IS better than being at the bottom of the heap but…

Average is a trap. Mediocrity is the lazy way of living life. Most of us grow up with this mindset and never break out of it. We think that a remarkable existence is somehow out of our reach; that it’s reserved for a select few who were born with good genes and special talents. 

That’s a lie. Being exceptional at something and living a life of greater purpose is about choices. Everyday, we have a choice of what we spend our time on, but what are we choosing to do with that time? That’s the difference between mediocre and remarkable. 

When we choose to spend more of that time in comfort and convenience, instead of putting in the hard work and sacrifice, we continue down the path to average. I don’t know about you but I’m done with average; I’m done with mediocrity. I’m no longer content to live a life that’s unremarkable.

Make a difference. This isn’t about a selfish ambition to collect more and better material possessions than your neighbor. It’s a quest to inspire others. When we push ourselves beyond ordinary, we inspire those around us. 

When we choose to learn instead of vegging out, an extra hour of studying instead of television, waking up early to work out over sleeping in, when we choose difficult over easy day in and day out, our life changes; it takes an upward trajectory. The more we repeat this, the more we set ourselves apart from the crowd. 

Ask yourself every morning, what am I going to do today to make my tomorrow better…different? Then commit to do that one thing everyday. Small commitments and choices can add up to an extraordinary week, month, year and lifetime. 

This isn’t just about fitness, diet, exercise, or making more money. This is about choosing to live a better life in every aspect. It’s time to expect more of ourselves and make an impact on those around us. Don’t settle for average. Inspire someone today!

Resolutions Are Not Goals!

3 days into the New Year and I am feeling guilty that I didn’t make any resolutions. Does this mean that my 2017 is doomed to fail? Probably not, but anything is possible. Last year, I wrote a blog called The Real Reason You Should Keep Your New Year Resolutions, and although that piece was about keeping them, I never said anything about making them to begin with!

Look, I am a big fan of goals but I don’t feel that we should relegate goal-setting to one specific day on the calendar. In fact, I think we should make goals, adjust goals, readjust them again, and even change them far more often than once per year. I honestly think that we should evaluate our goals at least once per month.

We should always have goals, otherwise our life is left to drift on its own accord, which rarely, if ever, leads to any worthwhile destination. So if I believe that goals are important, then why didn’t I make any resolutions at the turn of the calendar page? Well you see, that is because I think resolutions are stupid. “I resolve to make more money, lose 15 pounds, get in shape, spend more time with the kids, give more to charity, and run a marathon” (actually I think you really should do that last one).

These are all empty words because we rarely put any planning or actual effort into these thoughts, so they remain just that…thoughts. Instead I tend to place my goals into funnels, which then lead into one big funnel, each with their own specific purpose. It looks like this (much more artistic in my own mind).

img_0247

Picturing it this way helps me to keep it organized and reminds me that each funnel works with the others to lead me to my ideal life (assuming that exists). Your funnels may be different in number or even categories, but it work the same. The smaller funnels on top also represent shorter term goals, while the larger funnels depict medium and long-range goals.

Goals are great, but having too many goals can trip us up. It scatters our focus and most often prevents us from achieving any of them at all. Whatever model you use, just remember the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupery, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” Make resolutions, set goals – BIG ones, but always put a plan of action behind them.

Dream big, set massive goals, and shock the world in 2017!

A Life Paved With Good Intentions. 

A life paved with good intentions.

 

A road scattered with gifts never given, thoughts never acted upon, embraces never given, and words never mentioned.

 
Selfish? No I’m not selfish; I’m just very busy you see. I have so much to do, but I’ll get to those thoughts very soon; there’s always another day.

 
What a nice thing to do. I’m so very thoughtful. I should tell her that she’s beautiful, oh but I’ll wait for a better time and place, when I have more time to stay.

 
Won’t these flowers look lovely on our kitchen table? She will love them; yellow roses are her favorite you see. Yes, I must buy them, but later on when I am not so hurriedly rushing on my way.

 
It must be tough what he’s going through. I can’t imagine his pain. I’ll stop by with an encouraging word and offer a listening ear; but tomorrow, for responsibility is calling me away.

 
That one is as smart as a whip and so determined to succeed. I should tell him that I’m proud of him, oh but he already knows and surely he would rather just go outside and play.

 
God has richly blessed me with a wonderful family and a heart of gold; I should thank Him for my beautiful wife and children. I’ll have more time tomorrow and besides, He’s probably not listening anyway.

 
I’m feeling very tired now and it’s almost time to go, but I feel there’s so much left to say and do, if only I had one more day.

 
My beautiful, you are so lovely; can you hear my words still? I’m so sorry, but I never thought I’d have to let go of you with these words still in my way.

 
My son, I’m so proud of you for the man I hope you’ll become. My words are softer now, but they mean just the same. Please remember our time together and the things I didn’t say.

 
God, I hope I’ll see you soon to thank you for this day. I wish I would have talked with you more but now I have nothing left to pray.

 
A life paved with good intentions; a road scattered with thoughts that have now passed away.