Double-Edged Friend

Henry Ford once said, “My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me.” Does your best friend bring out the best in you? If your friends are not bringing out the best in you, then why do you keep their company? Friendship, however, is a two-way street, and I find this Henry Ford quote to have a double-edged meaning. Do you bring out the best in your friends?

Iron is sharpened by iron; one person sharpens another. –Proverbs 27:17

Response to Adversity

 

I had a service appointment for my car this morning. My overnight shift at work ended at 4:40 a.m., and I drove across the street to the service center to wait until they opened up at 6:30. I brought Jordan B. Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life to read while waiting. I finished up Rule #8: Tell the truth-or, at least, don’t lie. This is an excellent chapter about telling the truth to others and to yourself.

My car was done by 7, and I was soon on the highway home. At 7:15 my newly serviced car greeted the rear bumper of the car in front of me. I slowed down when I saw the brake lights ahead. But when the car in front of me made a sharp dip at the front, I knew my car would not be able to slow down in time. We made contact. It wasn’t much and nobody was hurt, but still contact is contact. We called the police and did all the things you do post-accident. The officer issued me a citation, told me he understood the situation, and if I appeared in court, they would help me out. I was the one at fault.

If this would have happened 5-10 years ago, I may have been inclined to blame anything and everything. It wasn’t my fault that the car two ahead slammed on their brakes. Not my fault that I haven’t gotten enough sleep on this overnight schedule. Not mine that it was past my usual bedtime due to the service on the car. Heck, it wasn’t my fault that the Fates lined up against me and dealt this blow.

I could have possibly spun a good story spreading blame, but who the person I am today is not the same person from the past that would have done that. I have been on a stoic journey that is constantly gauging my response to my external environment. I just read Rule #8 about telling the truth. The truth is that I hit the car in front of me. It wasn’t intentional, but I did it. Nobody else, me.

Now the reparations need to be made. I owe the legal system and the insurance company. This will cost my family money that could be better utilized elsewhere. This will cost me time away from work to make a court appearance. When it is all said and done, there will be a price required for what I did.


Everything in my life seems to be a lesson these days. Take my health for example. I may be my fittest in years. I exercise every day. I eat healthy. I believe I am doing all the right things. A few weeks ago, I got the flu. How could this be? I’m doing all the right things. But no matter how strong and fit I make my body, it is still a fragile, frail human body. It was a ridiculous thought that I could overcome the ability to get sick through fitness. Maybe I can offset a few of the effects or recover faster, but be immune to illness? What’s next in this illogical thought process? Overcome death somehow. Absurd.

The lesson that I am learning is not how to control future events. I can prepare and try to prevent all I want, but I am far from omnipotent. The lesson is about how I respond to adversity. Can I tell the truth even in difficult situations, to others and to myself? Can I not be angry when I feel like I have been dealt a bad hand? This is life. The opportunity for learning these lessons will be present until death, and it is not just a lesson for me. It is one for my son. It is one for everybody. Good times are not guaranteed to last forever. How will you respond in the dark days ahead? When confronted with adversity, will you be able to tell the truth?

Man is not affected by events, but the view he takes of them. -Epictetus

Parenting tip #1: Be the Parent

I have recently started asking some of the veteran associates I work with about their opinions on some of the new hires. The answers were rather similar and can be summed up in two statements, “they are no good” and “they have no work ethic.” Many of these new associates are fresh into adulthood. They are young and inexperienced, and they are viewed as “no good.” I see a few who stand out. They are quiet. They work hard. They show up to work every day. They are in the minority. What a shame. Is this an issue with today’s kids or has it always been this way? They have been thrust out into this world of adults, and they are not prepared.


I try to attend everyone of Alec’s wrestling practice. I am actively involved with the drills. I do it for two reasons. First, I want to make sure Alec understands what it is he is supposed to do and then that he does the work. The second is for his protection. I understand I may be overly protective of my five year old, but I have my reasons. He is one of the youngest in the group and has never wrestled before. With the exception of a few, the boys he wrestles against are bigger, stronger, and wilder. In addition, they lack discipline. Some of these boys have no qualms about applying a rear naked choke to get the advantage. Their actions are not malicious, but they don’t know any better and will do what is needed to win. If I see them or Alec break a rule that could cause an injury, I will not hesitate to stop and reset the action.

Of the boys on the team only about 25% have the ability sit and listen to their coaches’ instruction. One in particular seems to have made it a quest to disrupt the practice. The coaches are continuously telling him to sit down, to stop running, or to leave the other wrestlers alone. While this is taking place, his parents are sitting on the mat nearby not paying attention to their son’s antics. Whatever is on their phones happen to be more important. Do they think they can take a break from their duties as parents since the coach is now the babysitter? Are they not even remotely embarrassed? If this is the norm for practice, I can’t even imagine what the teachers in the classroom have to go through. If the behavior is not corrected now, what will happen in the future? As Frederick Douglass said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”


Thinking of the future, what will these undisciplined children be like when they are much older? They used to be little terrors, and now they are growing up. Will they self-correct into model citizens. Will they recognize their parents’ lack of attention and go on to be better parents with their own children? One could hope, but that may be a bit naïve. Those children, if they survive to adulthood, if they don’t kill themselves or the ones around them, will likely continue to the pattern their parents set before them and raise a new generation of little terrors even more fragmented and torn than their predecessors. A land of undisciplined, unruly children turned to adults will not improve society. If they continue down this course, they will not make this world a better place.

Discipline your children, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to their death. -Proverbs 19:18

This is a plea for parents to wake up. Put your cell phones down and pay attention to your children. How can you expect them to pay attention when your lack of attention is the example they follow. Teach them discipline. Mete out a just punishment when they stray off the path. The rod of discipline can take many forms. Taking your kid off to the side during practice and stopping him from causing mayhem now may prevent him from getting kicked off the team in High School. A well-deserved spanking now is more preferable than the punishment found in a prison later. Be their parent. Be their teacher, and maybe we can have a hope for a better future.

Folly is bound up in the heart of the child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far away. –Proverbs 22:15

Work to Get Better

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This week I listened to The MFCEO Project podcast #216 with Charlie Jabaley. This is an excellent interview as Charlie has an amazing story. If you can handle the strong language, I recommend that you take a listen. Charlie left a powerful message about the difficulties of first learning how to walk. It is not easy. In fact, it is the hardest thing a youngster faces at that time. But it is a process, and the more he does it, the stronger he becomes. Charlie went on the say that you could do anything in the same way. Want to be a great leader? It is going to be hard, but it is a process. You put in the required effort and time, and you can become a great leader. All you have to do is the work.

Alec’s first season of wrestling is coming to a close. The year brought on many challenges. Alec has never experienced this type of physical contact. As a five year old, even the process of learning the most basic moves was by far one of the most difficult processes he has ever learned. In the first few months, he didn’t seem to get it. But he didn’t give up. He kept working at it. As the weeks passed, he began to get better. Now he can do many of the moves. Even more important, his confidence has grown. He now believes he can compete with the older, heavier kids. He may not win every time, but he is winning. If he decides to stick with the sport of wrestling, I can only imagine what he will be able to accomplish in the following seasons. It won’t be easy. The competition will be getting better every season as well. As NHL legend Paul Coffey says, “Nobody’s a natural. You work hard to get good and then you work to get better.” Keep working Alec. You will get better.

Silence Is Golden

They are everywhere. You know them, if not by sight, then by the constant noise uttered from their mouths.  I have worked with several over the years. One in particular, couldn’t shut up to save his life. He was always talking. And the more he talked, the more foolish he sounded. The guy was ultimately looking for attention and trying to get it the only way he knew how. In the end, the attention he was seeking cost him his job. He should have just stayed silent.

Another guy comes to mind that I still work with from time to time. I wrote about him once and called him the mechanic, as that was his background. When I first met him, he seemed different. He hardly ever spoke. In this day and age, that silence is rare. I asked him once about it. I wanted to know why he was so quiet. I will never forget his answer. He said, “I don’t want to sound like an idiot.” Can you imagine the wisdom in this response? Through not speaking, nobody would ever know if he was or was not an idiot. His silence would never give others the opportunity to find out. His silence was indeed wisdom. His silence was golden.

But what if he was lacking in wisdom? Wouldn’t he be considered a fool? It is not something any would desire. What good is there in being a fool, unless you are a silent fool? As Frances Bacon said, “Silence is the virtue of fools.” If you are going to be a fool, at least you don’t have to broadcast it to the world.

From what I could tell, the mechanic was by no means foolish. And for someone in his early twenties, he was even wise beyond his years. But the world we live in is quick to judge that silence for something else. There are those that want to think something is wrong with the quiet person. However, the Stoic philosopher, Epictetus had a response for that, “If your silence is mistaken for ignorance and you are not upset by it, then it is a real sign of progress.” Imagine that, truly water off a duck’s back. Don’t let what others think bother you. You have your reason for silence –to not sound like an idiot. Now you are making progress towards that endeavor.

It is all well and good that I can make this observation in others, but how does this apply to me? Seeing this wisdom in others does no good if I cannot apply it to my own life. I have been guilty of letting my mouth run too much. On occasion, I have deserved that moniker, “acting the fool.” My most powerful words have been the ones most thought out. My greatest points did not come from rambling, but from careful thinking. I have to be on guard and not allow my tongue to get out of control. If I do not, I may be in danger of receiving that title I truly detest: fool.

There is another area in which I need to be careful. I am on a journey. Over the last six months, my life has gone through some amazing transformations. I have known for some time that I needed a change. I was not happy with the direction my life was going. I started to become really conscious of what I put into my body and mind. In a sense, I have been brainwashing myself on ways to change my life for the better. Some colleagues have noticed this change and have been asking questions about it. I have been rather free in describing what I am going through, but even here I have to be careful and not get carried away. Once again the words of Epictetus come to mind, “Don’t brag about the principles you follow in life. Don’t even mention them to others. Instead, act according to those principles.” Action is a powerful thing and often speaks for itself. I can always be like the mechanic, who is an incredibly efficient worker whose actions speak louder than his words.

My son:

Those who spare their words are truly knowledgeable, and those who are discreet are intelligent. -Proverbs 17:27

Scheduling For Best Results

In regards to writing, what is preventing me from consistency? I know it is something I am passionate about, but something is keeping me from doing the thing that I want to do the most. I have a few theories, and it all starts with planning. I know the direction I want to go, but I struggle with planning. I struggle with finding the right tools that are going to help me stay on task and plan for future events. If I do not have a plan, I am not prepared during my allotted writing times. The effect is my writing is not focused. Even worse, without a plan I am likely to do something else. This is not good. There are things in my brain that do not need to be stuck there. If I can’t get it out of my brain, how can I get it to my readers? If I can’t get the content to my readers consistently, what hope do I have that they will keep coming back? None.

There is this calendar on my phone, which some would suggest is a great scheduling tool. I use it to set the occasional reminder for personal things, but I never have used it for my writing. There is also the pocket calendar I get every year from my employer. I have received seven of these and have never once made an entry into it. Each one sits in my locker until I replace it with the next year’s version.

The great thing about writing out your problems is that you often stumble upon the solution. This year, I want to be consistent. It has to be if I want different results. I can’t expect to do the same things over and over and expect different results. So it has to be different. I have to be different. Tonight I took the first step. I broke out that pocket calendar, dusted it off, and made my first entry. It only took seven years to do so. I downloaded the google calendar app on my iPhone so that it could sync up my non-iOS laptop. It is a great first step. Now I have to stick with it. Consistent behaviors lead to consistent results.

What are consistent behaviors? It is discipline. It is the path that I am looking for in every aspect of my life. Discipline.

Power Combo: Discipline and Knowledge

What does it mean to love discipline? Imagine a person you know that has discipline. What does this person do that classifies her as one with discipline? An individual with discipline does the right things consistently and abstains from the wrong things consistently. The person that loves discipline is also a lover of knowledge.

But why? What does knowledge have to do with discipline? If discipline is the path we should be on, then knowledge is the guide that will keep us on it. How else are you going to know which direction to go?

Knowledge is essential to staying on the path of discipline. Knowledge without discipline, however, will do you little good. There are too many people full of knowledge with no fruits to show from it. Their knowledge is useless if it is not being used. But knowledge coupled with discipline, now that is a powerful combination. It is a combination that allows a person to make better choices, adapt when needed, and move forward. Who can stop a person like that?

Keep moving on the path. Get the knowledge along the way that will keep you on the straight and narrow. This knowledge will come from many sources. Weigh it, consider it, and embrace it if it is true.

My son:

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates reproof is stupid. -Proverbs 12:1

Killing Me Softly (That Which I Consume)

I met a lady several years ago was allergic to gluten. Her allergy to it was so bad that coming into contact with it or breathing it in could seriously damage her health, even kill her. I found it amazing that from the surface, no one could tell she had Celiac Disease. She had learned to stay away from the thing that could kill her.

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Giant Pretzel from Hofbrauhaus in Munich, Germany

There was a time that my wife believed she had the same allergy. Her symptoms were less severe, but they were still symptoms (i.e. tummy pains and skin problems). The hardest thing for a woman with an Italian heritage to change is eliminating wheat from her diet. Because wheat is such a staple ingredient of so many people’s diet, it would be a hard thing for many adults to eliminate. I don’t think we really ever removed it from her diet, we just reduced the amount of it. After the birth of our son, many of the issues were not as bad. After a while, her consumption of wheat products went back up. I think some of the symptoms are starting to come back. Maybe the wheat was rearing its ugly head in a way that wasn’t easily noticeable. There is a chance, however, that the wheat was doing its damage in the background. That’s what scares me.


This week I read an interesting article on the Tim Ferris blog: How to Keep Feces Out of Your Bloodstream (or Lose 10 Pounds in 14 days). With a title like that I couldn’t help but read it. As I read about the health issues of the three different individuals mentioned in the article, I began to think of my wife and some of the issues she has dealt with for most of her life. After I read this article, I shared it with my Mother-in-Law messaging her, “ Could my wife be in this same situation?” Could her diet be slowly, silently killing her?

Thinking of this as a slow killer made me think of smoking. Would anybody smoke if the first inhalation caused immediate symptons such as death? I don’t think so. But I am pretty sure the lady that could possibly die from eating gluten, would never consider eating it. But smoking doesn’t immediately kill you, instead that inhalation creates a different result that some find pleasant and calming. The possibilities of what it does down the road seem relatively insignificant compared to the effects produced in the here and now.


img_0551Another thing I am reading is The 12 Rules For Life by Dr. Jordan B. Peterson. I have only made it through the second chapter, but everything I have read so far has hit a nerve (in a positive way). This second chapter discusses what a person would do for her sick pet. She would go to great lengths to make sure the pet is cared for and the medicine is administered. But would she go to those same lengths to take care of herself if she was sick? I know I am guilty of this. Have I always done the right things concerning my body? Have I always taken my medicine when I was supposed to? Toward the end of this chapter, I found a passage that really stood out:

You are important to other people, as much as to yourself…You are, therefore, morally obliged to take of yourself. You should take care of, help and be good to yourself the same way you would take care of, help and be good to someone you loved and valued.

I read this and began to think how important it is for me to take care of myself. Eating right and working out may seem like a selfish endeavor, but in reality it is more than just about me. I have to take care of myself, because there are others who are depending on me, who love me. Not eating right and not working out could be some of the most selfish things I could do.

img_0553Today, I was thinking about wedding vows. I have been married over 13 years, and wedding vows are not something I usually tend to think about. I guess if you live the vows, there is no reason to consciously think about them. But I was thinking about them today. A traditional wedding vow is fairly simple: “I am going to be there regardless of what might happen.” It is really a basic pledge to stick with it, but maybe it is missing something. Maybe our vows should include, “I am going to do everything in my power to make sure I am there for you. That means I am going to eat healthy, workout, do everything I possibly can to ensure the success of our union. I’m not going to give up on you or myself. I am going to be there, for you, for our family, for those that depend on us.” This is not what I said all those years ago, but I probably should have. But then again, it is not what I said back then that really matters, it is my everyday actions that count.

What are the things that are slowly killing you? Are you aware of it? Are you doing something about it? It is not just about you. The ramifications of your actions are felt by those who love you, by those who depend on you.

Battling Hills, Fighting Weakness

There are five hills on my usual running route. Four of them are only 100-200 meters in length with a moderate incline. When I get to these hills, I attack. I pick up my pace and run them as fast as I can. The fifth hill is different. It is about four times longer and has just a slight, barely noticeable incline. This hill is deceptive. It is stealthy. The end isn’t visible at the beginning. Running up this hill, I find that my intensity wavers. My focus will drift, and soon I will notice my pace has slowed down.

There are some battles that are easily won. They are not drawn out, and the damage is minimal. Then there are some battles that have no end in sight. They drag on and the attrition begins to affect the mind. The long drawn out battles are dangerous as the intensity wavers.

We don’t decide to be weak. We allow it to creep into our lives. We justify small decisions without considering the long-term consequences. In his book, Discipline Equals Freedom, Jocko Willink explains this well:

We are defeated one tiny, seemingly insignificant surrender at a time that chips away at who we should really be. It isn’t that you wake up one day and decide that’s it: I am going to be weak. No. It is a slow incremental process. It chips away at our will- it chips away at our discipline. We sleep in a little later. We miss a workout, then another. We start to eat what we shouldn’t eat and drink what we shouldn’t drink. And, without realizing it- one day, you wake up and you become something that you never would have allowed.

That one hill is a reminder to be ever vigilant. It reminds me that without a constant focus on every action, I am susceptible to allowing weakness to creep into my life. Some of those choices may seem miniscule, a mere drop in the water. But who is to know the lasting ramifications they can have? Who is to say that slight detour doesn’t take you along a path just slightly different than the one you should be on? As Miyamoto Musashi said, “There is no end to the path of discipline.”

Act Now

“And even if thou art pained because thou art not doing some particular thing which seems to thee to be right, why dost thou not rather act than complain?” -Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

You know, it is never too late to correct your course. You know the right thing to do. Not doing it gives you pain. Change the direction of your life. You are not being dealt a harsh blow. Complaining about it changes nothing. Remove the pain by doing the right thing. Action always trump wishes. Doing the right thing is a supreme act.