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Do I Really Have Anything to Say?

Speaking encouragement through simplicity

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This was one of the first things I saw when we entered the exhibit today. But it stuck with me for the entirety of the 3 hours we spent there. It is this belief and this cooperation that I seek on a daily basis. We saw countless police officers today. Erin even got a picture with some here: 33642806_10217085326074085_5744800276326383616_n

There is no greater example of the belief in humanity, dignity, or cooperation than what is displayed by our first responders. On that fateful day nearly 17 years ago, they ran toward the trouble while everyone else ran away. But for the grace of God, the three guys in this picture could have been some of those who were lost when the towers fell. A couple of them look like they may have watched it in their PJs on TV while eating Fruity Pebbles, but when they were old enough, they signed up anyway to be a member of the NYPD and protect my city from whatever may be thrown at it.

That’s a belief in humanity too many of us have given up on; that’s dignity that many of us couldn’t bring ourselves to try to represent, especially for the salary they make; and that’s cooperation at a level beyond which most of us can understand. These men and women of the NYPD and FDNY are what I remember first when I think of that day. That’s greatness.

One exhibit at the museum drove this point home to me more than any other. A dispatcher was reading out to a Battalion Chief all of the responding engines and units that were either on site or en route. The list went on for so long, it took several minutes and scrolled over many pages on the screen captioning the audio. It was easily hundreds of the responding firefighters in just that one clip. Greatness.

And then there were these stairs:

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These are the Survivors’ Stairs. This was the last remaining piece of the stairwell that helped so many escape the towers. It was the way out for all of them. And the way in for many who came to help. It was nearly destroyed during the cleanup, but the families of those who were lost requested that it be preserved. The workers immediately ceased their work, carefully removed it, and it was placed exactly where it sits today as the first piece of the memorial. The entirety of the rest of the space was built around it, leaving it undisturbed and showing it nothing but the utmost respect.

Dignity.

Suffice it to say, the entire experience was a sobering one, but one that was very intentional in how it taught lessons that emphasized these qualities of Humanity, Dignity, and Cooperation, all culminating in Greatness. They are lessons we all could stand to revisit. Because that day started with the worst humanity has to offer but was answered loudly with the best.

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As we cruise up the east coast at 30,000 feet, Erin nudged me on the arm and said, “You should blog this trip”. This is why we keep her around.

We’re on our way to New York for 4 days of fun with our oldest; just us and him for some quality time to make sure we know who this almost-15-year old almost man who occupies space in the front room of our house really is. And for us to fool ourselves into thinking of him as the kid we used to hold in one arm for hours on end in a time that seems like yesterday for just one more week.

Problem is, he’s now on the verge of being taller than me (not a feat), is about to get his learner’s permit and his first job, and is only two years from going off to college for 4 years. So before he does, you can’t really blame us for wanting one last shot at seeing him see things for the first time.

When we left New York for South Carolina, he was only 17 months old. He could hardly talk, was still an only child, and we were new parents just trying to figure things out. What he’s seen of New York, he has no memory of. Yet, he’s one of the most die-hard Ranger, Giant, and Yankee fans I’ve ever known (at least I did something right). While we’re here, we’re going to refresh his memory, make new memories, and set some things firmly in our minds, lest they slip away before we can grab hold of them.

I’ll leave you for now with this anecdote. Ryan hasn’t flown in years. We taxied to the runway, his face set in the calm ennui of your typical 15 year-old young man. The engines popped, the plane began to accelerate, pushing his back into the seat, and then it happened: the grin. The “holy crap, this is really happening” grin. Seeing that grin when he sees all we have in store for him for the first time, setting those memories in our minds: That’s what we’re taking home with us this week. That’s the journey this life is all about.

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“How does it feel to be 44? Do you feel older?”

It was an innocent enough question from my coach Eric this morning after the workout ended and everyone was recovering. I turn 44 today and hadn’t really thought about that question for a while, but I’ll tell you what I told him: I feel better than I have since I was about 32. That was when my last child was on the way, I was about 25 pounds heavier, working 70 hours a week at a job that was taking advantage of me, and struggling to make ends meet.

About a month later, I started a new job – the first time in years I was headed somewhere I would be appreciated and wouldn’t be responsible for 24 hours of keeping things alive with scotch tape and bubble gum – and my third son was born. I suddenly had time to breathe in the evenings, lost the weight, and felt like it was all coming together. I thought I had it knocked.

fast forward 11 years, and I can only look back on that guy in the rear view mirror as an impatient, stressed out, inattentive guy whose priorities were all kinds of out of whack. He would rather have been on a golf course with some acquaintances than spend time with his young family. He spent hours at work each evening instead of home with his wife. But somewhere along the line, he woke up.

This weekend was incredible for me. I got to spend Friday night coaching a bunch of 11 year olds and teaching them how to play as a team. I got to spend Saturday working out with my hot wife, coaching 13- and 14-year olds to within a 2 point loss and seeing them fight for each other and not want to let each other down. Then I got to spend 5 hours with my oldest son, watching hockey and listening to him talk, marveling at how much he’s grown up and how well-adjusted his outlook on life is. He has such confidence in who he is and honestly doesn’t care what other people think. I wish I was as wise at his age.

And Sunday was filled with errands, naps, and watching the Super Bowl with my sons. I found myself looking up every now and again in wonder and  awe at the young men these babies had suddenly become. When I was 32, they were babies and I wasn’t capable of treating them any other way. At 44, they’re well-adjusted, funny, bright people and it staggers me to think that I played a part in making them that way.

So yeah, I feel better at 44 than I did at 32. But it’s not just physically that I’m in better shape. It’s emotionally, mentally, and, most importantly, in how satisfying my life has become.

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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?

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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!

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