You’ve Got Maybe 75 Years. What Do You Want From It?

It’s a great question and an interesting exercise. Most of us get so entirely consumed in the day-to-day stuff of life, that we never step back…like way, way back and ask ourselves the most important big picture type questions.

None of us are promised tomorrow, and many of us have eaten into a significant portion of that 75 years, but it’s still a thought worth pondering.

What do you want to accomplish with your life?

“It’s your road, and yours alone. Others may walk it with you, but no one can walk it for you.” – Jalaluddin Rumi

One thing I’ve learned from obsessing about what my life’s purpose should be is that no one can figure that out for you. It’s all part of the journey, which is why the quote above is one of my favorites. Our mistakes, our failures, and our successes all belong to us and that is what makes this life beautiful.

Sometimes life sucks and other times, it’s pretty freakin’ spectacular. None of it, good or bad, should be taken for granted…ever.

Life has to be about more than the nine to five. It’s so much bigger than our jobs, our cars, our houses, and our bank accounts.

It’s about making an impact…in some positive and meaningful way, we have to figure out how we can make an impact on the world around us by using our God-given talents and gifts; we all have them and we have them for a reason. They fit with our purpose in this life.

I am not going to give you a list of “things to make your life better”. Just ask the question, and really ponder on the answer, then start doing something today that will move you toward that answer.

So what do you want to accomplish with your life? It’s a question worth answering.

 

Waiting On You

“Thinking will not overcome fear, but action will.” – W. Clement Stone

Your dreams and goals are waiting on you to take action. I am convinced that nothing positive happens in life without action – a conscious decision to move forward toward your goals in spite of fear.

Fear intimidates us and it will continue to do so until we decide to step forward and impose our will on life. The thought of failure is often far worse than the actual event.

“There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.” – John F. Kennedy

12 years ago – 3 years post military – I had allowed myself to become overweight…really overweight. At the height of the scale, I weighed 235 pounds which was about 50 pounds more than what I should have weighed. I felt terrible…awful. I had stopped exercising but kept overeating for 3 years. Traveling for work, stress, and a love for junk food had taken their toll on my body and my sanity.

One Sunday, I was sitting on the couch and began to really hate what I had allowed to happen. I was more than just miserable, I was downright angry. This would go on for months until one Sunday I decided that I was not going to let this define who I was any longer. I felt like crap and I decided that I didn’t want to feel like crap anymore. It was time to take action, so I did.

“Vision is not enough, it must be combined with venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps, we must step up the stairs.” ~ Vaclav Havel

That Monday I showed up at the local YMCA, signed up for a membership, and committed to myself that this was the beginning of a transformation. That one decision altered the course of my life. I went back the next day, and the next, and the next for months and then years. I started eating better and busting my ass in the gym 5-6 days per week. I took up running, then endurance running. Activity is contagious, unfortunately so is laziness.

Over the next 18 months, I dropped over 60 pounds and found myself in the best shape of my life.Was it easy? Hell no. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I did it and that’s the point. I could have sat on the couch with a bag of chips and a beer and continued to feel sorry for myself…and 18 months later I would have still been fat and miserable.

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Those lazy desires and bad food habits still lurk beneath the surface. Those habits never totally go away, but the more right choices I make, the easier it becomes to win the battle.

Deciding to take action (mostly without the slightest of plans) was the trigger to changing from the person that I loathed, into the person that I knew I could and should be. This wasn’t about image, it was about health, about feeling better, and about setting a better example for my kids.

“I know that I have the ability to achieve the object of my Definite Purpose in life, therefore, I demand of myself persistent, continuous action toward its attainment, and I here and now promise to render such action.” ~ Napoleon Hill

12 years later, I am still with the healthy and fit lifestyle. It has never been about a diet with me, it has always been about a different lifestyle. Action starts the wheel of success turning and good, consistent habits keep it spinning. Whether it’s fitness, business, or relationships, they all require daily action followed by good habits.

So whatever it is that is holding you back, make a choice to take action. Don’t worry about where that choice may lead, just take the step. One step in the right direction could change your life. Believe me.

5 Life Lessons I Learned From My Grandpa

I was privileged to have my grandpa on this earth for so many years. I’m hopeful that all of us, at some point in time, have had someone that provided an impactful and positive influence in their lives. If you’ve followed my blog for very long, you know that my grandfather was a very special person whom I admire to this day.

He carried so much wisdom and insight from his 90+ years on this earth, that it literally spilled out of him daily. The way that he lived was a testament to his faith, beliefs, and values. He was a man of action, not just words. He modeled his beliefs through the way that he lived his daily life, and in doing so taught me many life lessons. Here are 5 of the most important:

Be content with what you have but never with what you’ve achieved.

Grandpa and grandma lived a life of simplicity. I never heard him say anything about wanting a bigger house, a newer truck, or a better life. They worked to take care of themselves and those who depended on them, but the trade off of more time for more money was never even a question. They were content with what they had.

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This didn’t mean that grandpa never achieved great things though. He was a highly decorated soldier from his time spent serving during WWII. He retired from the Highway Department with a full pension and served as a deacon in his local church for more than 40 years. He was content with what he had, but never stopped striving to be the person that he thought he could become.

You are never helpless. There is always something more that you can do. 

To say that he lived a life of adversity would be an understatement. In a recent blog, I talked about the many hardships that he faced in his life. When I would talk to him about a problem I was having, he would often tell me that we are never helpless and then he would encourage me to find a way through the setback. He never allowed me to take on the victim mentality.

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

You don’t have to be wealthy to make a positive impact on someone’s life.

Grandpa never had much money, but he did have several acres of vegetable gardens, which he worked countless hours cultivating and planting in order to produce food for the family. The produce that was harvested was more than what we needed, and as I kid I could never understand why he planted so much.

It wasn’t until I was around 8 years old, that I realized he was planting more so that he could give it away to those who were in need. He also gave away most of his time, through volunteering at church, playing music in nursing homes, and thousands of other acts of selfless service which could never have been repaid by those who benefited from them.

Follow through on your commitments even when it’s difficult.

As I have gotten older, I realize that there were many days when he didn’t feel like getting up at 4 am to till the garden, prepare for Sunday service, or spending his weekend helping to restore the spirits of the elderly and less fortunate, but he always did it. He had a self-discipline that always amazed me and it was through this discipline that he instilled the same traits in me. It isn’t about how you feel, it’s about what you do…everyday.

Don’t become so focused on the talents and accomplishments of others, that you lose sight of your own.

Growing up, I struggled with self-esteem issues. I would often tell him that I didn’t feel like I had any talents or anything that I was good at, so he taught me to work with my hands. He taught me how to build things, how to fix things, and to find self-satisfaction in all of it. He would often recite the Parable of the Talents from Matthew 25:14-30 and tell me that it doesn’t matter what we are given in life, it only matters what we do with what we are given.

“A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.” – Mark Twain

If we constantly compare ourselves to others, we will live a life stammered by feelings of inadequacy and discontentedness. It’s a recipe for hopelessness and depression. Rather than compare ourselves with the accomplishments and gifts of others, we need to focus on our own set of individual strengths and use those to their maximum capabilities. We owe it to ourselves and we owe it to each other to be the best version of “us” that we can be.

Get Off of the Fence

I should (fill in the blank) but I’ll wait until tomorrow. If you’ve said this today, or even in the last week, you’re fence-sitting. Why? What are you waiting on? The perfect day, better weather, the right mood, greener grass? How has that worked out for you in the past?

If you don’t like where you are, you have two choices – accept it and live with it or take action and change it. No one is coming to save you from your circumstance. You won’t wake up tomorrow with a different life if you go to bed tonight with the same fears.

“The world is more malleable than you think and it’s waiting for you to hammer it into shape.” – Bono

Too many of us are under this grand illusion that successful living just happens; one day we just wake up and the life we want will magically take shape. It won’t. Nothing positive happens without action. Nothing.

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” — Unknown

We only have so many years on this beautiful planet and the more time we spend wishing, hoping, and fence-sitting, the less time we have to see and do and live. We sit on the fence because we are afraid to fail. What’s so bad about trying something and failing? Every single person who has found success has failed…many times.

“Success seems to be connected with action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes but don’t quit.” – Conrad Hilton

So get on with it. Get off of the fence and start doing. Experience a different life. Don’t die with your bucket list unchecked. Take pictures, talk to strangers, see new places, climb mountains, swim in the ocean, start a business, ask for the promotion, work hard and do epic stuff.

Stop trying to figure it all out before you try something. Step out and take the first step. Try hard things and fail at them. Action is contagious and it feels good to exert influence on the world around you.

“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The fence will always be there, but our time is limited. We get one shot at this thing; don’t waste it. Get off of the fence and start living.

Endurance Runners: Why They Do It

Endurance Runners: A special breed of men and women who push themselves to their physical and mental limits, and then push even harder.

They drive themselves to the brink of complete exhaustion and then go even further. They train to endure, to outlast; not the competition but themselves. Long after most would have quit, they continue on with an unquenchable thirst for more. More pain, more agony, more suffering. It is in this pain that they discover who they really are.

Their tanks are never empty. They always have more. When they run out of strength, they are able to dig deeper than most to find that little extra drop of determined courage to continue. Their minds are unharnessed by the limitations of mortality and their hearts are free from the strain and pressure of societal conformity. The quest to find meaning in their existence stretches far beyond fatigue. In fact, fatigue is only the starting point.

Everyone understands fatigue, but most never tap into the innermost recesses of their spirit to discover the inner grit and determination to push past fatigue.
If they were to venture into this abyss of mental and physical anguish, they too would understand that life is more rewarding when we explore these dark and remote corners of our soul.

For them, there is no end…no finish line. There’s only more to challenge and discover.

“The cure for the pain is in the pain” – Rumi

Most people wait for the feelings of fear, sorrow and misery to find them (and it does find all of us), but endurance runners seek them out. They know that the only way to beat them is to face them head on.

When you ask, “why do you put yourself through this?”, you’ll often hear them say “I can’t explain it to you”. They’re not saying this to be pretentious…no, endurance runners are far from egotistical.

They’re saying it because they know that the only way you’d ever understand it would be by putting yourself in those same dark and lonely places of the soul and fighting your way out. There are important lessons to be learned in the pain of life. Don’t wait for it to find you. Seek to find it, understand it, fight through it and learn from it.

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!

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.

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).

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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!

Running on a Plane

Flying over the unknown en route to Tucson. A trip that, less than a year ago would’ve seemed odd, or at least toward the bottom of this guy’s bucket list. I mean, what’s in Tucson, besides sweltering temps that make you feel like you’ve driven deathly close to the sun and maybe some cacti? Cacti, I’ve always wanted to use that word in my writing. Anyway, so here we are, 32,000 feet above the clouds in a piece of winged-aluminum going really, really fast headed for a daring adventure (okay, not really all that daring). We have actually had the trip planned for months. I’m a planner; it’s what I do.

A few years back, I stumbled into this crazy sport called running. After getting out of the military in 2002, I led a pretty sedentary lifestyle for a few years. In doing so, I put on a few (45) pounds over the course of two years. Then one Sunday, I couldn’t button my pants…again and I became disgusted with myself. I spent a week wallowing in self-pity wondering how the “fatness” had happened so quickly. No one intentionally seeks to become overweight, but it can happen to the best of us if we aren’t careful. By the way, this wasn’t just about being fat; it was that I had slipped into a very unhealthy lifestyle of bad eating habits, a general lack of physical activity, and well…beer.

That kind of a lifestyle can put you on the wrong side of a belt buckle in a hurry. So one Sunday, after waving goodbye to another pair of khaki cargo pants, I decided that it was time to make a change. That’s when my commitment to a healthier lifestyle began. In 2005, I began the long journey of weight loss and exercise. After a few weeks, I found that I actually enjoyed working out, especially weightlifting. In less than 18 months, I had dropped almost 50 pounds and was in the best physical shape of my life. The problem with lifting, for me, was that it was never enough. I lifted 5 to 6 days per week and the weight that I worked out with got heavier and heavier. I was addicted. Then in 2011, I began having problems with my joints and was constantly rehabbing some body part, tendon, or muscle.

Weightlifting started to lose its attractiveness to me because I realized that I was working for something that would never have a reward. The only reward was looking good in tank tops (that’s a selfish goal). I didn’t have the drive to want to compete, so where would it ever take me? What other fulfillment could I get from it? I couldn’t answer those questions and really began wrestling with my commitment. As the tendonitis and joint pain increased in frequency and intensity, I knew that I had to do something different. I needed a new outlet. Cue the shorty shorts and get me a visor.

After a heart-to-heart conversation with my brother, one of the best motivators (and salesman) that I know, I was introduced once again to the idea of running. Admittedly, my first thoughts of running harkened me back to 6 am Physical Training runs in the military. I loved the military, except for those early morning runs (styling in cotton shirts and shorts). If I hated running then, why in the world would I take this up as a new hobby? I mean let’s be honest, running sucks…or at least it can. Remember all of that, my brother is a great salesman talk? Yeah, he’s also extremely persistent. The problem was that he lived in Dallas (that’s a long way from Chicago). So if I were going to take up this new “awesome” habit, it would have to be on my on or so I thought.

I did go on a few runs by myself at first, but soon found that they were all around me. You know, those crazy runner people. I had never encountered one up close, but all of a sudden they were everywhere…everywhere! They were neighbors, friends of friends, co-workers (one even stumbled out of a porta-john during one of my first early morning runs). There was literally a store, completely devoted to runners, less than a mile from my house! Seriously, how had I been so blind? I’ll tell you how. It’s because running can really blow and it can also intimidate the heck out of you. People shy away from it because they associate it with punishment and pain learned in gym class, or after baseball practice. Most people think runners are crazy (that’s actually true), but it’s not a Charles Manson kind of crazy; it’s more like a Marilyn Monroe-John F. Kennedy relationship kind of crazy.

Anyway, so my brother sold me on giving this running thing a shot, so I did. I went for a few easy runs alone and not only did I not die, I actually really kind of enjoyed it (not the first mile though…no one ever enjoys the first mile). Then I started to meet others who loved the sport and asked me to come along on a few longer runs. I developed a consistent habit of pushing myself out of the door and every time I did, it got a little easier. After a few months, I was up to 6 and 7 mile Saturday runs and that’s when it happened; the hook, my friends. A dear friend of mine had signed up for a half-marathon, but couldn’t run it because of an unfortunate injury. When she realized that I had gotten my base mileage to a certain point, she called and asked if I would be open to running in her place. I nervously, but graciously accepted her offer. After a couple of more months of training with some friends, I stepped to the starting line and had the time of my life. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but I loved it!

The hook still has me, only now I have many races including half-marathons, full marathons, and even a 50k under my belt. Which is why I am on a plane right now somewhere over the Southwest United States. I am flying to Tucson to get my coaching certification through Road Runners Club of America (RRCA). I will also be coaching the marathon program for Fleet Feet Schererville this summer. When I look back, it is like an absolute whirlwind. I am not sure I can even tell you how I got here, but I couldn’t be more excited about the future!