Emperor’s Log #24: If Possible, You Can Do It

I know my son is only nine. And maybe he is a little too young for the lectures and consistent push to become better. But I take the responsibility as a father very serious. If I don’t push him now, who will? If he doesn’t learn these lessons early in life, will he be like me and learn them way too late? Looking back, I wish I had someone to push me when I was his age. I wish there was someone that explained to me the why’s and the reasoning. Mostly, I remember the “do this” and more often “don’t do that” commands. And though those rules helped, the logic behind them would have been of far greater benefit.

It was another sub-par wrestling practice. Alec went through the drills half-heartedly. He was distracted, emotionally uninvested, and lacking a positive energy. It was every coach’s frustration. When it came down to the actual wrestling at the end of the session, my bigger, stronger, and fitter son lost every time. EVERY TIME! He was frustrated and knew another lecture was coming. What did we talk about?

Everything Matters.

The drills, the practices, what one eats, drinks, reads, and watches matter. The little things that seem unimportant—they matter. How we do the little things in life will ultimately determine how we do the big things. When Alec tells me that he wants to be a professional soccer player when he grows up, he is basically telling me that he wants to be in the top .001% of soccer players in the world. Well, that is elite, and elite players don’t practice half-heartedly, regardless of the sport.

One sport helps the other.

Wrestling and soccer are on the opposite ends of the sporting spectrum. Since these are the two sports Alec plays, we need to find the commonality between them. How can one improve the performance of the other?

A great wrestler needs to be in peak physical condition. There needs to be mental toughness, strength, and the ability to adapt. With hundreds of possible moves that are only applicable in certain situations, we went over the need for practice. Practice goes beyond the actual scheduled days. We must be able to drill on our own. We must become students of the game. The discipline and attentiveness that we develop in wrestling will make us better soccer players.

Soccer, on the other hand, is a team sport that requires speed, endurance, and great communication skills. The great players are both followers and leaders. They can coach as well as play. These are also great skills for a wrestler.

As individual as a sport as wrestling is, it is still a team sport. The team is not only hoping for great individual performance, but they are also hoping for the team’s overall success. We are only as good as those around us. Our teammates elevate us to greatness, we elevate them.

The brains behind it all.

Success in both sports requires some serious mental processing power. Strategy, split-second decision making, and understanding all the little nuances is not a talent we are given at birth. It is developed. To become a master at anything, we must first become students. The more we read, study, and learn, the better prepared we are for whatever life throws at us whether on the soccer pitch, on the wrestling mat, or in the board room. What is between the ears is just as important as our bones and muscles.

Wanting to reach the elite level at anything is a huge endeavor. He wants it. Can he do it?

Not to assume it’s impossible because you find it hard. But to recognize that if it’s humanly possible, you can do it too.

Marcus Aurelius

It is a tall order. Some would say it is impossible. But, if it is humanly possible, then yes, he can do it too.

And before someone thinks I am some evil tyrant of a father, let me explain. I am not trying to pursue my athletic dreams through him. Alec and I are in this together. If he wants to be out there, then all I want for him is to give his best. When he is no longer wanting to compete or no longer enjoying it, he can move on to other more enjoyable pursuits. I want him to be happy. I want him to have fun. But I also want to prepare him to meet the challenges of an uncertain future.

Correct, not Critical

A dinner with family and friends led me the realization of how much I have grown up. A small victory, and I will take it!

I have only met the gentleman sitting across from me on a few occasions. All of them consisting of only a few brief words between us in a way of introductions and greetings. This dinner was the first opportunity to get to know him better.

As our food arrived, I noticed he had a vegetarian sub. So, I dove right in and asked a potentially loaded question. “Are you a vegetarian,” I asked. He said he wasn’t but was thinking about making the change. After watching the Netflix documentary Game Changers, he began a trial to see how he would like it. Of course, the show wasn’t his only reason for giving it a try. He also wanted to reduce the amount of prescription medication he was taking. I applaud any who makes the decision to make dietary changes to improve their health. Well done!

Where is my victory? In the past, a conversation like this could open a deep rift in nutrition ideology. I may no longer adhere to the carnivore diet, but I am still an avid consumer of meat. This admission may be offensive to those on the other end of the spectrum. My goal in the conversation was not to get him to change his mind but to understand his reasoning. It was not to criticize. Criticism often comes from ideological beliefs based on science, or doctrine, that supports those beliefs. This often leads to a shallow knowledge base that highlights a few key talking points while neglecting a complete understanding of the subject. When it comes down to it, criticism is the easy path.

How much easier it is to be critical than to be correct.

Benjamin Disraeli

To be correct, one must dig deeper than the surface. It requires going beyond the thirty second video clips and the social media one-liners that are aimed at garnering “likes” by those in the same camp. Those posts aren’t designed to create understanding. Rather, they are meant to be polarizing. The result is a greater gap between factions. If we want to bridge the gap, we must seek to understand the other’s viewpoints.

So, what is my take on nutrition? It is simple: EAT REAL FOOD. The best thing we can do for our bodies is eat the foods we find in nature. If we can do our best to eliminate an excess of packaged, processed, preserved, chemically enhanced food, our bodies will thank us for it. And if we choose a diet that eliminates vegetables or meat, we must consider what else we are missing. Are we getting all our essential amino acids, minerals, and vitamins? Are we giving what our bodies need to thrive? Instead of critical, we must seek to understand our unique bodies and how best we can fuel it to perform at an optimal level.

From the Beginning to the End

There is something beautiful about beginning a new adventure. The muse comes down and inspires the young hero to go on a quest. The way is unknown and holds great peril to the unsuccessful. But to the victor comes all the rewards: love, riches, and reputation. To the hero, it is a journey that is both noble and romantic. The only choice is to go forth and rescue the maiden, slay the dragon, and save the world. Therefore, the hero takes the first step.

The following steps are not so easy as the first one. Our hero encounters villains that have nothing to do with the quest but to cause mischief, doubters and naysayers that ridicule and scorn, and temptations that lure the young hero into complacency. The first step was exciting and full of hope. Every step after that was tedious and required an incredible amount of work just to take the next step.

Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

We all have had our hero’s journey. Some of us might even be in one now. The journey could be losing ten pounds, quitting smoking, and finishing school. Whether big or small, it is important to us. It was great that we made the decision. Taking the first step was commendable. Unfortunately, there is no glory in only beginning the journey. Hope will wane as the trials begin. But we should not be faint of heart. The trials will make us stronger. It will make the prize at the end of the road even more precious. Great was the beginning, but greater still is the crossing of the finish line.

Examining Epictetus #2:  To Be, We Must Do

First, say to yourself what you would be; then do what you have to do.

Epictetus

As a youth, I had some lofty goals. They were always in the same formula:

A + B = C

A = Someday

B = Unknown

C = Goal

Coming up with C was easy. My problem was I never knew how to identify A and B.

A man without a goal is like a ship without a rudder.

Thomas Carlyle

I had both a ship and a rudder. Unfortunately, I was lacking a schedule and a map. The result was years of entering the wrong harbors and not maximizing the trade value of the goods in the hold.

10-3-1 Finding A

My first step is to clearly identify the A in my formula. Someday is too vague. It doesn’t require a sense of urgency and allows external interference. A is my schedule.

10

Where do I want to be in ten years. Ten years is my moonshot. It can be as lofty as I want it to be. Ten years provides me a finish line for the current race that I am entering. This is a marathon. I don’t have to break any speed records. Instead, I just need to run my race. Personally, I have four different ten-year goals. Two of them are where I want to be professionally. The other two are where I want to be personally.

3

As in three years. My first major milestone is three years away. To achieve my ten-year goal, I must define my ideal schedule of progress after three years. Rather than a moonshot, this is just getting off the planet. My three-year goal is doable and aligns with the ten-year plan I have in place.

1

You guessed it! This is the one-year plan. It is the mini milestone that gets me closer to the major milestone. The one-year plan is very doable. It breaks the three-year plan down into smaller chunks. In the recesses of my mind is the moon. Not so far back is the three-year goal of getting off the planet. In the first year, I am looking at the prototypes of the rocket ship, the logistics of the journey, and the beginning of any required training.

The one-year goal is getting the business up and running. Turning profits is the year three and Fortune 500 is year ten.

In my A + B = C formula, this is how I identify A.

Breaking down the B.

B is the how-to that for me was always an unknown variable. It is more difficult than defining A, but it needs the schedule that A provides. B is the action, and I must know what B looks like at 10, 3, and 1 years.

The action at ten years is complex.  Even the three-year mark is at a higher level than the first year. One being the easiest and closest to my present moment, I will start here. What actions are required to hit my first mini milestone?

In the first year, I am a novice. To build up to my ultimate ten-year dream, I must lay the foundation. There are two key elements crucial to my foundation: discipline and knowledge.

Discipline

Discipline comes through the creation of daily habits. These  habits will drive my productivity. Starting out small is a good idea. Reevaluating a habit’s effectiveness over time is prudent to see if it produces the desired results. This is also a good time to look at any current habits that may be counter-productive to the 10-3-1 plan.

All big things come from small beginnings. The seed of every habit is a single, tiny decision. But as that decision is repeated, a habit sprouts and grows stronger. Roots entrench themselves and branches grow. The task of breaking a bad habit is like uprooting a powerful oak within us. And the task of building a good habit is like cultivating a delicate flower one day at a time.

James Clear, Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

Knowledge

As a novice, we must gather knowledge. This is the first part of wisdom. The second, understanding, will come in time. The accumulation of knowledge is critical to the foundation. If we do not have it, our final structure, the goal we desire, will be shaky. How do we get this knowledge? Living or deceased, we start with mentors. Somebody has been down this road or a similar one before. We can save an immense amount of time by studying their words and works. Their knowledge will become ours and help to ensure secure foundation.

Keep in mind, not all knowledge is needed here. We must curate what we take in and guard against consuming material that is not beneficial to our cause. If it does not get us closer to our goal, we may find ourselves going down the wrong path, which of course will cost us valuable time.


To be, we must do. Easy words from Epictetus, but not so easy in the execution. By breaking down what we desire to be, we can have a plan for the doing. We can take our dreams and make them a reality.

Want to Be a Sage?

I have had the same set of kitchen knives for over the last twenty years. The edge on these J.A. Henckels Four Star knives have held up remarkably well with little maintenance. They cut just as well today as they did when I first purchased them.

A dull knife is a poor tool. It is also dangerous to the user who is required to put more effort into the cutting. A sharp blade is efficient and makes quick work of the job, except if the knife is in the hands of an inexperienced user. They may cut more than what they intended.

A spear is not designed to cut. It is made to pierce. However, like the knife, in the hands of an untrained warrior or hunter, it is a poor weapon. Piercing everything but the target can have disastrous consequences.

Moving onto another tool that can both cut and pierce: the tongue. People generally welcome honest opinions. One should be able to freely express their feelings, opinions, and ideas. Yet, caution is needed here. Is this tool helping or harming its intended target? Spouting too much foolishness or having too little restraint will drive away any potential listeners.

The last tool is the flashlight. Oh yes, this is a valuable item to have in the dark. But if you shine it in the eyes of your companions, you will leave them dazed and unable to function. Their temporary blindness will be no help, and they will be wary the next time you hold the light.

The sage is sharp but does not cut, pointed but does not pierce, forthright but does not offend, bright but does not dazzle.

Lao Tzu

The mind of the sage is the ultimate tool. It is a tool for both the master and the disciple. Yet, if it cuts, pierces, offends, or dazzles, its effectiveness is diminished. It will be reduced to a tool left in the shed because no one will want to be anywhere near it. If we want to be a sage, we must be sharp, pointed, forthright, and bright. We must be an effective tool to be fully utilized by all.

More Important than Wisdom

Wisdom was my first real request. I read it in Proverbs at a young age. If I wanted wisdom, I had to ask for it. Desire was the beginning. After that came the real work of knowledge acquisition and application (understanding). Forty years later, I proudly admit that I am still a novice. Forty years later, and I have learned that how much I do not know far exceeds the very little that I do know.

A good many of these years, I had to learn to keep my ego in check. This is not small task, and I still have far to go. Leadership was another issue. I have had many opportunities, yet I never maximized them to the fullest. Along the way, I learned two important points that are paramount to success. The first comes from some of the most powerful leaders I have had to opportunity to know. Great leaders are great servants. The second I learned from the book Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. A leader doesn’t need the title. I can lead from the bottom as well as the top. Finally, I had to learn that my mission in life, though important to me, is not greater than the success of the whole team. In this regard, my team is my family, friends, and those within my network and community. This was another hard lesson that I am still working on to this day.

Kindness is more important than wisdom, and the recognition of this is the beginning of wisdom.

Theodore Isaac Ruben

Too often, I chose my pursuit of wisdom over the needs of others. I have held myself distant and indifferent. Yet, what good is wisdom if it is not for the benefit of others? What good is trying to help the people of the future if I neglect those of today? Is there any good in helping the strangers of the world while turning a blind eye to those closest to me? True wisdom requires kindness to all. My wisdom does no good if I push myself away. Who would want to listen to the words of an uncaring schmuck no matter how wise his words? Kindness: more important than wisdom.

How to Carry the Load

In almost every onboarding presentation I have watched when starting a new job, I have seen the same message. This message is so important that most employers make a quarterly or at least an annual reminder. The message is about ergonomics, specifically how we should pick up a heavy item. Here are the general rules:

  • Plan your path.
  • Lift with your legs and not your back.
  • When transporting the item, keep the load close to your body and do not overextend yourself.
  • If the item is too heavy, have someone assist you.

With the high price that comes with from a work-related injury, this makes sense for both the employer and the employee.

As a weightlifter and personal trainer, I cringe whenever I see bad lifting mechanics. Bad mechanics have put me on the sidelines too often in my younger years. The continual pain in my back, though not initially caused from poor lifting techniques, is reminder enough to practice good form whenever I pick up a heavy object. Good technique practiced consistently will allow me to pick up heavier loads and continue picking them up in my senior years.

It’s not the load that breaks us down, it’s the way you carry it. -C.S. Lewis

These words from C.S. Lewis hit the mark when it comes to physically carrying a load. If we carry it poorly, we will eventually break down. However, physical loads are not the only things we carry. Our hearts and minds also bear a load that breaks us down if not properly carried. Excess baggage not properly dealt with can weigh us down. If we do not learn to handle this weight, we will stumble and falter.

It takes courage to shoulder a burden and carry it to our destination. If we want to make it to the end, we must practice good technique. This will allow us to handle greater weight and carry it longer. This is of course for the weight we must carry. If it is not necessary to carry it, it would be in our best interest to simply let it go.

In the Wilderness

The following was inspired by Father Mike Schmitz’s Bible in a Year podcast Day 65:

Here’s a brief recap of a story not unfamiliar to most of us:

The children of Israel were slave to the Egyptians. They lived a hard life of labor. Moses eventually gets them out of Egypt. They are headed to the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. More importantly, they are headed to a place of freedom.

Between Egypt and the Promised Land is the wilderness. They don’t like it there, and like many unruly children, they complain and murmur. Their destination is a dream of the future. The wilderness blocks their vision of the dream. In their misery, they remember Egypt. It was a place of their slavery, but was it that bad? Maybe they should have stayed in Egypt rather than wandering around in the wilderness.

My (imaginary) friend Sarah is physically unfit. Here is a quick description of Sarah:

  • She works in a job that doesn’t demand much from her physically.
  • Her calorie intake is greater than her calorie burn.
  • Due to convenience and the fact that it is tasty, she eats a lot of calorie dense, nutrient deficient food.
  • She is regularly buying new clothes because she keeps growing out of  her old ones.
  • She is in a state of dis-ease. Why is there a hyphen in this word? Because her body is not in an optimal state to perform its normal duties. Her body is not at ease.

Sadly, Sarah is a slave to the environment she has created. She is not happy, but she doesn’t know how to escape her present condition.

Sarah’s loved ones are concerned about her well-being. They, the fitter ones, plant a vision within her mind of what is possible if she makes the following changes in her life:

  • Lose weight by going into a calorie deficit.
  • Engage in more physical activity to strengthen her muscles and bones.
  • Eat nutrient dense foods that are satiating and give her the fuel she needs.
  • Live a healthy lifestyle that promotes well-being and reduces and/or eliminates her current dis-eased state.

What her loved ones show her is a glimpse of her promised land.

Sarah agrees and with the assistance of her “advisors,” she flees the lifestyle that has enslaved her. Where is Sarah now? She is in her own wilderness. She has given up all the things that put her in bondage. The transition is difficult. She has made the changes but has yet to see the results. She has the vision in her mind, but she remembers the immediate gratification of her previous lifestyle. At this moment, Sarah is at a crossroads. How long she stays in the wilderness in up to her.

At one time in our lives, we have all been in Sarah’s place. We have found ourselves in bondage to a self-created system. This could be fitness, bad habits, an unfulfilling job, or anything that is a less-than-optimal situation. But during our captivity, a loved one, an inspirational video, a book, or an article presented us with a new vision of a better life. Undoubtedly, many of us chose to leave our old lifestyle in a quest for our own promise land. Making the decision to change, we entered the wilderness. We still have the vision, yet the old way of doing things no longer seems so bad. And then, we begin to doubt and to wander. In our hearts, we mumble and complain. Was it really that bad? Is all this really worth it? This is the test. We can continue our true path, or we can deviate. How long we wander in the wilderness is up to us.

Contemplating Seneca #90 Their Work, My Benefit

Who are my most influential philosophers?

From the Greco/Roman world are the Stoics. I love reading the words of Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, and Seneca. The core tenets are simple in their message but often challenging to uphold. Most everything comes down to our perception. What is in our control and what is not? If it is in our control, we should handle it. If it is not, we should not let it bother us. For those looking to live a virtuous life, their writings should be a staple in their personal libraries.

Then came the transcendentalists of the 1800’s. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and James Allen are some of my favorites in this group. In its simplest form, I call these the believers and achievers. If we can dream it, we can accomplish it.

Next, came the ones from the last hundred years to our present day. I’ll call them the Self-Helpers. My favorites in this group are Dale Carnegie, Jim Rohn, Jocko Willink, and Jordan B. Peterson. They came along in an age when their works could be digested in other media forms than only books. We can listen to their speeches and watch their videos (at least the more modern ones). Their works are more accessible than any in history who came before them.

Pick up the list of the philosophers; that very act will compel you to wake up, when you see how many men have been working for your benefit.

Seneca, Letter #39: On Noble Aspirations

Our list of favorite philosophers/influencers may be different, but they also have one great similarity. They have all been working for our benefit. Their combined works spans thousands of hours of research and wisdom, and all of it created for our benefit. We would be foolish to let their works go unrealized.

Legacy

What is value?

It is what something is worth. When we pay for an item, we expect the value to match or even exceed the price.

What does it mean to provide value?

I would like to think my words provide value. I do not charge a fee for my services (yet), but I respect the time you invest in visiting my site. Your time is just as valuable if not more valuable than money. Money is something that can be lost and then recovered. Time, once spent, can never be recovered. If I cannot provide value in the time you spend with me, it would be better for you to go somewhere else. Your time is too valuable to waste it on something that offers no return on your investment. Therefore, I write from the heart and to the best of my ability to provide equal value for your time.

Someday, I hope my services will increase in value. My goal is to give more to the world than I ever take. This is the legacy I wish to leave my family and those within my community (my community being as large or small as I choose it to be). My legacy is not for me. I cannot reap the rewards of future generations that may be inspired by the remnants of my words and deeds. They receive the benefits of my legacy, not me.

In a conversation one evening with my son, we spoke about success. He told me if he ever made it big, he was going to buy me a beach complete with a house and a shed for all my stuff. I told him this was a very kind gesture and how much I would love that. But I also told him that I would never want it if it came at the cost of his happiness. If he did not love what he was doing, then he would not be successful. There is no amount of money or possessions that could give him happiness. I then asked him where we could find our happiness. He said, “Love.” Yes! I told him he was right. The happiness we desire in this life comes from loving ourselves and others.

Loving Ourselves

This is a must. If we do not love who we are, we can change it. We can become better. We can aspire to greater things and work on making those aspirations a reality. If we hate what we do and only do it to “make a living,” then we are not loving ourselves. If this is our current situation, we can either resign ourselves to our fate or take the steps to make a change.

Loving Others

In Matthew 22:39*, Jesus said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” I love myself so much that I am willing to do everything I can to become the best version of myself. But that is not the commandment Jesus gave us to love others. Therefore, I will become the best version of myself to better serve you. And I love you so much that I will do my best to help you become the best version of you. This is my love for you, not to give you the fish but to teach you how to fish.

Great lives never go out; they go on.

Benjamin Harrison

This is legacy. All of us will die. Many of us will be no more than an afterthought upon expiring. Some of us will go. That is, the great ones among us will go on and even the grave will not have the power to stop it. The only way we can go on is to provide lasting value to the world. This is done through love, love for ourselves and love for others.


*Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:34-40