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Do I Really Have Anything to Say?

Speaking encouragement through simplicity

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This year, I coached basketball for my two oldest sons. Because of their ages, they have to play in different divisions every other year. This was one of those years so I practiced their teams together at the same time with the same teaching. They’re very different players with very different skills – and they’re very different boys. Their teams couldn’t have reflected that more than they did this year.

At the outset, I could have sworn Ryan’s team was going to be better. We had 5 kids over 5’5″ and two over 6′. One could touch the rim. One could shoot the 3. This was just a matter of training them up and getting them to play together. Simple.

Parker’s team, on the other hand, had 2 first timers and 6 of the 7 boys were almost identical in height at barely 5′. One had a broken arm and another had pneumonia. It was probably going to be a long year.

Week 1, the older boys blew a 12 point lead with 2:30 to go in the 4th quarter to lose a heartbreaker, but showed that there might be something to build on. The younger boys – due to the aforementioned injuries and sicknesses – played 5 all four quarters, were outsized and beaten soundly by a team with 3 subs, fresh legs, and height.

But as the season wore on and the boys got healthy, I started to see signs. They persevered and persisted. They never got down, always listened to coaching direction, and they improved week by week. Before I knew it, I had 5 ball handlers who could all bring it up the court, 5 who could shoot, and player who, in his first year, was starting to figure out how to use his size. After losing their first 3, they won 4 in a row, lost a nail-biter to end the season, and went into the playoffs with confidence.

On the other side of the gym, the losses started to get to the boys. Their willingness to buy into the system subsided, their will to compete for four quarters waned, and we lost big several times in a row. Sure, there were spurts where they played hard for a couple of consecutive quarters, but things always slid back to old habits, individual goals over team concept, and the losses kept coming.

The younger boys won their first playoff game, but their “reward” was to play the top seed in the city, rested from a first-round bye, and stacked with 3 players from the same middle school team. Despite excellent effort throughout and keeping the game close deep into the third, their subs were just better than our subs and the game slipped away. But these kids were so pleased with their progress, their accomplishments, and their improvements that they were able to leave the gym proud of their season.

For the older boys, things were very different. Without a win all year, I was heartened to see that they kept coming to all practices, kept showing up for games, and continued to treat me with respect, but it was difficult for me to deal with a season with no success. And by success, I don’t mean wins; I mean that I felt like I lost the team, that they never bought into the system, that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get them to gel and play as a unit.

I am accustomed to the teams that I coach having success. Generally speaking, we’re usually pretty good. We’ve even been great a few times. But most importantly, we always improve. That’s why I coach: to teach and leave these kids better than when I found them. So this season felt like a failure on my part – to relate, find their “go”, and find a way to get in sync with their teammates. None of those happened with this team. I know it’s rec league basketball and I only saw them for an hour a week, but still…

Then one of the dads came to me after our last game was over and told me this:

“My son has had a blast this year. He has really enjoyed working with you and the attention you’ve paid to him. He looks forward to coming to practice every week to learn some more and to playing on Saturdays as a way to compete. Thank you for pouring into him each week and for keeping the mood of the team so positive, despite the losing.”

Success.

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I want to write about something. I need to write about something. The problem is that I have so little inspiration in my work these days, that I have little to write about.

There are no fun projects, no strategic initiatives, no…creativity. So I feel stuck, stagnated, uninspired, bored.

You ever walk into a room or situation and begin to plan your graceful departure after just a few seconds? You just know that you’re not going to have fun in there. That you’re not going to get along with those folks. Not that they’re bad, unfriendly, mean, or antisocial. They’re just not your people.

August 8th was my first day here at this job. I’m now 5 months into figuring out how to get out of that room. The thing is, there just aren’t very many good options at this point in my career. Too many people look at me by what I’ve proven I can get done, not by what I have the potential to do. So I keep getting offered the same job over and over again.

But I don’t want the same job. I want to do something different, something that lets me flex my creative side, my business acumen, my people skills. If there’s one thing I’ve learned at this position, it’s that I am a people person who understands technology and not a technology person for technology’s sake. I work with people like that and I envy them for finding their passion and working with it every day. But I’m not them.

I once had a colleague call this the “shit sandwich” problem. The theory is that, with every job – even the one you dream of – you sometimes have to do something that’s no fun. If you’re a restaurant owner, it’s cleaning the kitchen at the end of the night or dealing with needy patrons. If you’re an entrepreneur, it might be doing the hiring and paying the people and the bills. These are the shit sandwiches that go with the awesomeness that is what you love.

So the question I have for you is this: what flavor shit sandwich are you ready to each day?

flashback

Many of you know that I was a Marketing and Politics major in college. Most of you know that, despite that, I have been in tech pretty much my whole career. A precious few of you know that I started college as – you guessed it – a Physical Therapy major.

Call it precocious. Assume I was smarter then than I am now. Say it was because of Becky…where was I?

Suffice it to say, I got through exactly one year of that program and promptly changed my major to “Exploratory” because I couldn’t envision a world where working with someone for weeks would result in their ability to move their arm a couple of degrees and calling that success. Little did my 19-year-old self know how many things I could have done with that degree. Heck, I may have ended up in exactly the same place as I am now. I may have ended up as the head trainer for the NY Giants. Or I could have ended up helping your Aunt Ruth recover from her 4th hip surgery at the local rehab facility in Waukesha, WI and wondering where my life went.

Any way you slice it, I’m here now, and I’m re-learning things I once knew but have long since forgotten. I had a chat on Facebook the other day with one of my former classmates in the PT program while I was at Ithaca. We joked about it a bit and remembered some particularly hard tests. But mostly, he encouraged me to do what was in my heart and reminded me that it was never too late. Heck, he’s been in a couple of things himself.

Then another friend from my first real job posted a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for chasing his dream. We met at a meeting planning place and he was an administrative staff member who helped the executive and sales teams. So, as you would never expect, he recently set the Guinness world record for eating insanely hot peppers and has been all over the news, which led to him starting this campaign to raise money for his own private label of hot sauces. Like me, his future career has been a hobby for years and now he’s making it a reality, age and career history be damned!

I guess this all boils down to this: don’t settle. It’s never too late and there’s always a way. Even if it’s just your side hustle, you can make your passion your work and still keep a roof over the head of your family.

normandie_colorI work out at 5AM. Every day. Except Saturdays and Sundays, but that’s because the gym doesn’t open until 6 or 7 on those days. This is not to be braggadocious (see what I did there?), but is simply to say that I love it. I look forward to it every night. I reflect on it after I’m done to examine and critique how I did, whether I put my all into it, and what I could have done to improve. It is, with the exception of the time I spend with my sons, the best part of my day.

So today, when the workout was over and the instructor told us to have a great day, that they hoped this was the worst part – even going so far as to say they were sorry if it wasn’t – it gave me pause. You see, I would love to live in a world where I was proficient enough at this to be able to do it all the time. I’m nowhere near that level – even for my age – so I don’t have any delusions of grandeur, but…but…

In 5 days, I will turn 43. Unfortunately, I just recently figured out what I want to do when I grow up. I have been competing in athletics since I can remember and have been working out pretty much non-stop (to enable my ice cream habit) for about 30 years. But since I’m stupid and slow on the uptake, it has taken me until now to realize that, as the only constant in my life for all that time, it’s probably the thing I love to do most.

The past year been tough for me from a career perspective. I’m doing great as far as my position and flexibility at work; I work at a hip, new company that is one of the darlings of the Nashville tech scene, but . . . I’m bored tired of this stuff not that passionate about technology not sure this is what I want to do with the rest of my life.

I also have a confession to make: I’ve fallen in love – with olympic lifting and CrossFit-ty stuff. I can’t get enough of it. I do it, then I watch people who are way better at it than me doing it, then I yearn to be doing it again, until I repeat the cycle the next day.

I also still really love coaching kids. I’m doing it now for two basketball teams and will be doing it for a football team in the spring. I can’t get enough of the fun, the youth, and the reward it gives me when I see kids feeling successful and accomplished and experiencing the joy I always had while playing sports. I’m also completely humbled to be entrusted with the forum to influence their work ethic, sense of responsibility, and to help them understand how their small part factors into the team’s overall success.

So I’ve started to make the slow left turn to move this behemoth of a ship I call my career toward a different heading and into the world of fitness. To start with, I’m going for my certification as a strength and conditioning coach. It’s like I’m in night school or something with the number of books and trying to fit reading and studying into the hours that I have free here and there, but I’m going to do it.

At the same time, I’m constantly looking within the technology world for openings to work my way across and into that vertical – either with my technical skills and background, my healthcare background, or some other way.

So if you come across me and I’m a little grumpy, that’s why. I’m just looking for a way to start my next chapter. If you want to cheer me up, help make the other parts of my day less of a drag. And if you have any ideas or suggestions on how to turn this corner, I’m all ears!

I had been avoiding it as though it was something that could be avoided for weeks. Meeting requests would come in and I would force myself to overlook the date on the calendar and just accept or decline like it’s any other day. Practices and games for the kids are penned. I would have my normal routine planned, execute it and get through the day unscathed.

I want it to be just another day. I try every year to make it so. And here in Tennessee, where not a lot of people were touched by what went on, not everyone understands why that’s not so simple.

Then I kick myself for trying to make it not meaningful. Doing so would fail to commemorate the events, the losses, the bravery, and the suffering. Pushing down the memories only fails to honor those who were lost and celebrate those who survived and so solemnly and respectfully cleaned up. We can recover. We can reclaim our lives and resume normalcy. We can – no, we must – carry on with our business and be productive. We must not succumb to the fear they tried to instill in us. But most importantly, we must not forget.

And I got through the day without much ado. Weeks went by, in fact, with hardly a mention except in my mind and in moments of quiet and thought – those few times each day that remain uninterrupted by something buzzing or a child needing.

Until last Thursday.

In the software business, we review each other’s work and go through a series of demonstrations before releasing a product to market. Then, we all go back and make the changes the group agrees are worth making and do it all over again. We had one of those meetings on September 11 and last Thursday we had another. One of the team members who is from another country innocently labeled his changes and tasks “Feedback 9/11”. For some reason, the rest of the team in the room found this hysterically funny and kept harping on it throughout the meeting. Now, I’m not asking for somber attitudes all day, but considering it funny? Too far…

So I blew up. All that pent up avoidance and my own failure to properly remember and grieve as I should have – and normally do – bubbled over, now a week or two later and I couldn’t take it anymore. I asked (that’s a euphemism for made damned well sure) that the jokes stop and that the group take just a second to consider what could possibly be funny about that date and to apply some sensitivity for the sake of we who were there in NYC that day. The room fell silent.

It felt great and awful at the same time. I don’t know if these people don’t have the same memories associated with that day because they weren’t born in the US or if they don’t get it because they’re too young, or if it’s just because they’re from a part of the country that was largely un-impacted. None of those justify their insensitivity but it made me think about whether I should have handled the situation differently. Should I have made it a teaching moment? Should I have gone further and explained myself more? Or is stopping the jokes far enough?

I’ll never know if I missed an opportunity to make an impression on a group of people who don’t fully understand what happened that day or if I’m just oversensitive. Either way, it taught me something. It’s never too late to remember and there’s no expiration date on how many years it will be until this becomes just another day. It still hasn’t for me.

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My “boss” is leaving the company today. I put that in quotes because he’s not bossy and he’s not over my shoulder and he’s certainly not all up in my business. He’s never done anything but offer help when I need it and gotten out of my way everywhere else. I like things that way. Being managed by not being managed lets me grow, spread my wings, fail miserably, get up, try again, and soar.

He’s moving to Salt Lake City to be closer to family and to start again with the next challenge in his life and, by extension, is leaving me in a place to grow and take more ownership at the company. It’s been a natural progression anyway, as I’ve been more independent each day since coming here. And the other day we sat down to talk about his transition and to go through what he needed to turn over to me. But instead we just sat there and talked about how he’s going to learn to ski and how he’s going to be challenged by having to deal with some of the things he’s never had to deal with – because I’ve been doing those things for him.

So here we are, having sat down to talk about what I needed to take over from him and instead reviewing how I can help him understand how to be successful in his new life. And then it struck me why our relationship had always worked so well: It’s because we’ve been friends first, coworkers second, and supervisor-employee last. We know all about each other’s lives, not because we have to but because we want to.

It’s also a satisfying feeling to succeed someone. And by that, I don’t mean I’m getting his job title (though I’d like his salary), but I have already largely filled the void left by him among the team. And that’s not necessarily all my doing or all his doing. We did that together, because he knew he was leaving and slowly turned over the reins without me realizing it. I really respect that. I really respect him.

Thanks Arman.

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gift

I was recently asked by several people whether I had given up on this venture. While the question in and of itself is not unusual, what struck me is that the last few to ask have been people I don’t have much contact with. But they still missed my musings and thought enough of it to contact me. I didn’t think I had that effect on anyone.

So here I am, ready to tell you…what exactly? Well, I can say that one reason I haven’t been writing is that I worked a TON of extra hours over the spring and summer so there was, quite literally, no time to write. There was hardly time to see my family. My wife did yeoman’s work dealing with homework and swim practices and all kinds of extra where I usually could chip in. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

While it was going on, I was very overwhelmed. And tired. And cranky. And tired. And unavailable. And tired. And probably not too fun to be around. And I asked every day for the strength to push through, clear the hurdle, and come out the other side unscathed. And one day, it all just lifted and I had.

The imbalance is over now. We’ve weathered the storm, I’ve been promoted at work, and I now have a lot more flexibility in my schedule again to be with my wife and my boys. I appreciate that time so much more now that I’ve gone through the pain that I sometimes think it was a test. Or a reminder. Or a reality check.

We all need to be reminded about how good we have it. That any of you are reading this on the interwebs means that you’re rich beyond the means of a vast majority of the world’s population. Next time you’re stressed out about something trivial, just remind yourself about that. Ask for the strength and grace to put things in perspective. Remind yourself of those less fortunate than you. And you will receive the peace you seek.

Whether that peace is more time, less anger, better relationships, or just a better outlook on life, it won’t just come. You need to recognize that there is a problem, ask for help, and wait. And when the time is right, you shall receive.

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