Complete the Idea

How many times did the light bulb go off in your head? Afterwards that thought might have caused a couple of sleepless nights as the possibilities became limitless. And then, after another while, the dream dissipated. It went back into the ether from whence it came.

A few months or years later, somebody else did it. They snatched the idea out of the air, and now they are reaping the benefits. The benefits that you caused you all those sleepless nights. Oh, the irony! Imagine what might have been.

Imagine if you figured it out, put the wheels into motion, and did the hard work to bring it to life. Now it is too late. What was left undone, or in this case never begun, has been done by another.

That idea might be gone, but all is not lost. There are plenty of other ideas floating around out there. There are plenty of others that are floating around in the beautiful brain of yours. Let the sting of the lost opportunities be a reminder. Let their lessons permeate every atom within your being. The next time an idea magically appears, you will know what to do. Figure out how to make it work. Get those wheels into motion. Do the work.

Genius begins great works; labor alone finishes them. -Joseph Joubert

Hardwired

My Fitbit begins to vibrate. The time is 3:29 a.m. I have one minute before the alarm goes off on my phone. This is about as gentle as a wake-up as I can get. Oh, and if I turn my phone alarm off in time, I won’t wake up my wife. Later, I will check my Fitbit app to see how I slept. If I am lucky, I will have gotten close to six hours hitting all the key metrics except for the stage the says “AWAKE.” That is if I am lucky, but chances are, I am not. Right now, it does not matter, I must get going. There is not a lot of time to waste, so I get dressed, drink water, and head to the refrigerator where I retrieve the cold-brew coffee I prepared the day before. The coffee is bitter and cold, exactly what I needed.

3:45 a.m. I am in the garage setting up. My heart rate chest strap is on and connected to both the Polar Beat app and to the Concept 2 rowing machine. The water bottle and the towel are both in their places. The program is set and now it is time. It is time to settle in and row.

Most days the program is set for one steady, keep your heart rate low, hour. I was approached by someone on Twitter (@jjtron83) about this regimen. It sounded different, so I did the research. The credit goes to the East Germans in the late 1960’s. I had big goals and no solid plan to reach it. “Why not,” I told myself. At the worst it could only cost me a couple of months.

Hardwired for Success

In the early days of giving this a try, my body gave me some excellent feedback. I had a few form issues I needed to iron out. The biggest one was one of consistency. One moment I would be sitting tall in the saddle like a seasoned fox hunter. The next moment I would be slumped over like a seventy-year-old lifelong desk jockey. But as I put in the hours, the better my consistency in maintaining my form and posture. Don’t get me wrong, I have a long, long ways to go before this is where I want it to be, but it is starting to improve.

Another issue I was dealing with was timing. What does one stroke every three seconds look like? And much like posture, this is all about keeping focused. It doesn’t take long for me to go from intentional rowing to a Sunday paddle in the virtual pond. If I lose my focus, which I do often, my stroke rate goes all over the radar and my efficiency begins to suffer.

When it comes to mastering a skill, time is the magic ingredient.

With practice, and this is certainly a practice, everything is starting to improve. Rowing is becoming a part of my fitness identity. It is becoming a part of my DNA.

Seeing Everything

Back to those first few sessions…

With this program, there was a lot to monitor: stroke rate (set at 18 strokes per minute), 500 meter splits (this is more about establishing consistency than it is about the actual time), and heart rate (no higher than 145 beats per minute). I had a hard time settling into a rhythm because my focus was everywhere. I also had the television on. I figured this was grueling work, and it would be nice to have a distraction. A distraction was the last thing I needed. I needed focus, a hyper awareness of what was going on within my body. I am reminded of the words of my favorite samurai/philosopher Miyamoto Musashi who said, “If you know the way broadly, you will see everything.” I was not paying enough attention, and therefore I was seeing too little.

The mind is no longer mired in the details, but can see the larger picture. It is a miraculous sensation and practice will lead you to that point, no matter the talent level you are born with.

Once again it comes down to practice. It is like the veteran race car driver. Every lap and all the small details are important. But if he cannot see the big picture and does not have a competitive car that can make it to the end, he is not going to be successful. You must know the way broadly so you can see everything. With practice, you can go beyond the minor details and move on to the big picture.

A Breathing Meditation

I was a bit afraid of the boredom and that was why the TV was on in the first place. But I found something worse than boredom, I found an unnecessary distraction. Boredom is a killer for many. We have trained ourselves to be always engaged. Remember when kids used to be bored when they had nothing to do? But these days, this is a rarity. Now they have their phones, tablets, games, and the latest streaming platform. They are always engaged. And it is not just them. We have trained ourselves to be always engaged.

My rowing buddy, who introduced me to this program, calls his early morning sessions a breathing meditation. Over the last few years, I have been making meditation a practice, one that I continue to struggle with today. Once again, it is not easy to quiet an overly stimulated mind. But this practice of meditation teaches us one important lesson. It teaches us to be in the present. No past, no future, only here, in the now. Rowing without distraction is exactly that. You are in the present moment with every stroke, every recovery before the next stroke, every breath, and every beat of the heart. Nothing else in that moment matters. It is a perfect meditation practice which can only help throughout the day to get past the distractions and get into mindfulness.

The only real impediment to this is yourself and your emotions -boredom, panic, frustration, insecurity…The boredom will go away once you enter the cycle.

We don’t always have to be engaged. Having nothing to do is fine. It is good to take a moment and do nothing. We can use that time to say a prayer of gratitude, feel the sunshine, and enjoy the present moment. We can be at peace in the present moment, free of regret (the past) and anxiety (the future).

Faith in the Process

I believe with every fiber of my being, that this program will make me a more powerful and efficient rower. I believe that the wisdom, courage, and discipline I develop through this sport will make me a better person in other areas of my life, where those virtues can be applied.

Faith in the process. It is another lesson I am learning that goes beyond the rowing machine. It is another concept I am bringing to life.

The italicized words in this post come from the book Mastery by Robert Greene.  It is an excellent book that I highly recommend and will become part of my stable of go-to books to read again in the future. The following paragraph is from page 77:

When it comes to mastering a skill, time is the magic ingredient. Assuming your practice proceeds at a steady level, over days and weeks certain elements of the skill become hardwired. Slowly, the entire skill becomes internalized, part of your nervous system. The mind is no longer mired in the details, but can see the larger picture. It is a miraculous sensation and practice will lead you to that point, no matter the talent level you are born with. The only real impediment to this is yourself and your emotions—boredom, panic, frustration, insecurity. You cannot suppress such emotions—they are normal to the process and are experienced by everyone, including Masters. What you can do is have faith in the process. The boredom will go away once you enter the cycle. The panic disappears after repeated exposure. The frustration is a sign of progress—a signal that your mind is processing complexity and requires more practice. The insecurities will transform into their opposites when you gain mastery. Trusting this will all happen, you will allow the natural learning process to move forward, and everything else will fall into place.

I would like to thank my rowing partner Jean-Jacques (@jjtron83).  He introduced me to this plan and held me accountable by including me in his posts. He is a phenomenal rower and to me an insightful mentor/coach. He is a part of the good side of Twitter where positivity and uplifting others reign supreme.

All That I Can Be

That old Army advertisement struck a chord in me. I was young and “be all that you can be” did the trick. The tune was catchy, the imagery was macho, and the dotted line was calling my name. When I considered my life back then before the Army, I knew I was not maximizing my potential. What I wanted was to be all that I could be, and therefore I joined the Army.

What I learned about the Army, after the fact, was that without a good mentor and a solid plan going into it, the quest of being all that one can be is not as easy as the jingle made it out to be. Becoming it in four years is a task near impossible. And when I left the Army, I was a long way from that maximum potential.

I used to blame the Army and/or the universe for a bad draw. I could have done so much better if only I had the opportunity. But in this game of life, we never get to pick the cards we are dealt. We can only make the best use of the hand we have. It was not the Army’s job to make me become the “all” I could be. It was mine. I was not supposed to take a passive approach. Instead, I was supposed to go and find my own opportunities.

These days, my primary focus is moving that needle a little closer to my max potential. It is a long, slow grind, but it is the only way to secure any possible fruits of labor.

There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man. True nobility lies in being superior to your former self. -Ernest Hemingway

When I consider my “why,” it is not to lord it over others or to be arrogant in my attitude. It is my own personal quest to be better than I was the day before, to become better than that foolish soldier who failed to become all that he could be.

Do you want to find true nobility? Become better than who you were yesterday. Move the needle a little closer to your maximum potential.

For the Good of Others

Could you imagine what it would have been like getting on a steam train back in the mid to late 1800’s? What a rush it would have been going 70-80 miles per hour! Before that, you were confined to going the speed of a horse.

This new mode of travel provided speed, convenience, and less worry for the passengers. Unless of course, there was an accident. And back then, accidents happened often. In the late 1860’s, George Westinghouse patented the railway air brake. This new braking system reduced accidents and gave the trains the ability to travel at faster speeds. But more importantly, it saved the lives of countless crewmembers and passengers.

If someday they say of me that in my work I have contributed something to the welfare and happiness of my fellow man, I shall be satisfied. -George Westinghouse

Many of us work for our own good or for the good of the organization that employs us. For the good of others is too often an afterthought that comes in the form of some charitable donation. Imagine if our focus was different. Imagine if we worked to improve the welfare and happiness of others. Directing our focus towards that endeavor would improve the quality of their lives and ours. It might be a small drop in this pond we call the world, but how many would feel its wave?

A Simple What-If

It begins with a “what-if.” What if I choose to do this or that? What would be the outcome?

From the “what-if” comes the choice. The choice is all about the work involved and the value gained.

We are all presented with the what-if’s and the subsequent choices. It does not matter our stations in life or the environment in which we live. It is the same with our age -it does not matter.

Anybody can what-if the possibilities of a new future. Anybody can make the choice to act based on that what-if.

According to Thoreau, the ability to elevate one’s life by a what-if and a choice is an unquestionable fact. For a moment, let it sink in. A better future can await us. Ask the question. Consider the possibilities. Make the choice.

I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. -Henry David Thoreau

Contemplating Seneca #23: Considering Vampires

In childhood, we hear of the monsters that come out at night. And for some reason, these monsters always prefer to come out at night, where they prefer the cover of darkness. And because of their predilection for the night, we must remain in the safety of our beds.

When we grow up, we forget about the monsters. We tell ourselves that the night is safe and that because we are adults, we can handle the things that go bump in the night. In doing so, we lose our fear and stay out later and later. In Seneca’s 122nd Letter to Lucilius, he talks about these people who sleep during the day and stay up throughout the night. Check out this description he gives of them:

Moreover, the bodies of those who have sworn allegiance to the hours of darkness have a loathsome appearance. Their complexions are more alarming that those of anaemic invalids; they are lackadaisical and flabby with dropsy; though still alive, they are already carrion. But this, to my thinking, would be among the least of the evils. How much more darkness there is in their souls! Such a man is internally dazed; his vision darkened; he envies the blind. And what man ever had eyes for the purpose of seeing in the dark?

From his words, you would think he is talking about vampires, the ones who drink the blood of their innocent victims. And these men who prey on the weak and the helpless, they are still men, though Seneca would describe their actions more closely to those of monsters.

When we read about vampires or watch them portrayed in movies, we learn some interesting facts about them.

  • They come out at night. If we are not out at night, we drastically improve our chances of never seeing them.
  • They cannot come into our homes unless we invite them in. This is a key step. We know vampires are evil, so why would we let them in? Yet somehow in the stories, they always get the invitation to come in. One would think this would be a good practice for any type of evil that exists in the world. We cannot invite it into our homes where it could work its destruction.
  • They do not like holy water, crosses, wooden stakes, or garlic. Reminders of our faith is offensive to them. This first line of protection makes it harder for them to work their evil. And why the garlic? I am not sure, but a little extra seasoning never hurt.

If you do those three things, you might have a chance. Unless the vampires try to change the rules.

  • A vampire that can come out during the day and tries to blend in is a very scary vampire indeed. I am reminded of the Blade movies where they experiment with sunscreen. A vampire that can come out during the day is a much greater challenge to overcome. We would really have to be on our guards against these wolves in sheep’s clothing.
  • Equally dangerous is the one who can get into our homes without an invitation. Doors and windows are no longer the only access points to our homes. Now we have different gateways (television, phones, personal assistants that may be watching us and have access to the door locks and alarm codes, etc.) that need to be protected from evil.
  • And let us not forget about the ones that can take away the reminders of our faith, that which keeps our minds on nobler things. We should think twice about the ones that say the Ten Commandments should not be taught, crosses and other religious items are offensive, and that traditional family values are archaic and no longer a necessity in our modern society. A strong family is one of the greatest protections against the spread of evil. To break it apart is to weaken it allowing the monsters a better opportunity to perform their nefarious deeds. Vampires do not go after the strong and prepared. No, they are like any other predator and would prefer to go after the weak and the frail. We would be wise to not give them that opportunity.

Vampires are supernatural beings found in the fairy tales. But all fairy tales have some form of truth about them. There are evil people in this world who are the real vampires and monsters. They may not have preternatural abilities, but they have evil within them. We must be vigilant and guard ourselves and our families against them. We must not allow the evil to come into our homes and into our minds perpetuating the cycle. We must prepare our children so they may have a chance against this evil.

Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker. -C.S. Lewis

It all starts within us and within our choices. If we lead by example, we can show others what a good life is. The 12th century abbot St. Bernard said idleness is the root of all evil. It starts by getting up early to do the activities of the day, staying productive, and wearing ourselves mentally and physically out in order to get a good’s night sleep.

But indeed to one who is active no day is long. So let us lengthen our lives; for the duty and the proof of life consists in action. Cut short the night: use some of it for the day’s business. -Seneca

Your Own Personal Treasure Island

There are a few quotes that have always resonated with me. Thoreau had a good one about us only hitting at what we aim at. Therefore, he said, we should aim at something high even though we might fail immediately. Mix his words with Les Brown’s quote about shooting for the moon. If we do not make it to the moon, he said, at least we might land among the stars. I spend a good amount of time considering my aim in life. I also spend an equal amount of time considering the consequences of missing that mark.

Can you really lose if your aim is in the right direction? I don’t think so, and well, it reminds me of something Bruce Lee said: “A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.”  These are some very encouraging words from Thoreau, Brown, and Lee. And though I do take a small amount of comfort in remembering them, missing the mark is still missing the mark.

There are a few things in this life that I feel called to do. Failure to do them, I believe, would haunt me into my next existence. And these are things that I do not do for the gold or the glory. Yet by achieving them, I believe I would find more wealth than on Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

An aim in life is the only fortune worth finding.

Robert Louis Stevenson

I remember my land navigation classes from the Army. You plot out your destination on the map and figure out how you are going to get there. You pull out your compass and find the direction you need to go. Sometimes obstacles get in the way, and you find yourself deviating off the path. Once you realize this, you adjust your aim and correct your course. The journey might seem never-ending. At times, it might seem impossible, but we have no choice to keep going. Keep aiming and adjusting because the rewards are too great. In fact, it is the only fortune worth finding.

The Phoenix

The sun rises and a new day begins. With it comes new hopes and new dreams. The dawning of the sun brings a rebirth. It brings life. As the evening comes, the hopes of the day cease. This close signifies death, a conclusion to the life that was.

We see this cycle repeated over and over. Days, seasons, eras. Life followed by death, which in turn is followed by new life, a new hope from a new generation in the cycle.

The long nights and the long winters are filled with despair. Without hope, life ceases. There have been times when the sun seemed to refuse to rise. There have been times when the Spring was long overdue in its return. It was in those times that it was toughest to keep the faith.

When we come to the end of an age, we are faced with a choice. We can choose to stay where we are, or we can move forward. You must be brave to move forward into the unknown, beyond the confines of comfort. You must be even braver to leave the dead behind and forge ahead into a new life. It takes courage to decide to be the phoenix and rise up from the ashes.

Only you can make this decision, no one else can do it for you. It may sound scary, but there is still hope. Alone you choose whether to be reborn. But once you make the choice, you are no longer alone. Others are there to help you grow in this new season of your life.

What Is Ugly?

Alec came home from camp one day a little upset. After some coaxing from my life, he finally admitted what was wrong. Earlier in the day, some girls called him ugly. On top of that, they said the art project he was working on was also ugly. For this eight-year-old, comments like that made him sad.

As an adult, the first thing I want to tell him is to not let it bother him. This is easier said than done. I know in some way it would bother me if those type of comments were directed toward me. Nobody wants to be called ugly. Nobody wants their work to be called ugly.

What is ugly?

In my younger years, I would compare ugly only in relation to superficial beauty. I might not ever have called someone they were ugly, but I know I have been guilty of thinking it. Could a creature of God really be ugly? Could they be born, body, soul, and mind, ugly? And who has the right to say that someone’s exterior appearance is uglier than they are? What if our standard of beauty of so superficial that we have completely missed the mark of what is uniquely beautiful? If we are not born ugly, then it would appear ugly comes from somewhere else.

We know ugly exists in this world. Its manifestations can be seen all around us. We make poor choices with our bodies that deteriorate us faster than normal. We close off and dull our minds to the extent that we cannot see beyond our own biases. We sin against our hearts and in order to not be disgusted with ourselves, rationalize those choices. In time we allow ugliness to creep into our lives. And the longer we allow ugliness to have its hold within us, the greater the chances it will eventually rear its ugly head and come out, affecting how others perceive us. We might not have been born ugly, but we can become ugly people in time.

“Any man can do harm, but not every man can do good to one another.” -Plato

When our ugliness comes out, it can have a negative impact on those around us. We all have that potential, and to use it as a weapon is an easy thing to do. We also have a choice to not weaponize our ugliness. We can choose nobler pursuits, such as acting in the best interest of the ones we encounter throughout the day. This is a beautiful thing. And the more we behave in this manner, the more beautiful we become.

Good, not Perfect

In his book Open, Andre Agassi wrote about the time he struggled the most on the tennis court. Trying to be perfect, he realized he was making more mistakes. It was not until he finally let go of trying to be perfect and instead concentrated on being good, that he found his greatest success.

Cleanthes, the Greek philosopher and second head the school of Stoicism, said that all human being have the starting points of virtue. This inclination towards virtue is not about living a perfect life. It is about the desire the do the right thing. [Something, we have all had at least one point in our lives.]

Mistakes and failures happen to all of us. It is a normal part of life because none of us are perfect. What we cannot do is let those setbacks keep us down. Instead, we need to learn from them. We need to use them to our advantage to make us more capable people. We need to use them so that we become good.

And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good. -John Steinbeck.