From Reading to Being

I read Historical Fiction. I lived in a make-believe past. I read Fantasy. I went into a fairy tale world. Historical Fiction and Fantasy, with a dabbling of Science Fiction made up the bulk of my reading for over ten years. What do I have to show for it? I can sit for long periods at a time, and I have a rather decent reading comprehension level.

 And then one day, about four or five years ago, I picked up some Non-Fiction. I figured with all the reading I do; I might as well learn something. My life has not been the same since. I went from leadership and psychology to health and fitness. Whatever I came across that I felt had the ability to improve my life, I read.

What has been the benefit? Almost every facet of my life has become a little bit better. In my opinion, the transformation has been amazing. I think different, feel different, and may even look a little different. There is a quality of life I imagine living and every day I get a little closer to it. All because I changed what I read about.

What you read when you don’t have to determines what you will be when you can’t help it.

Oscar Wilde

Nobody forces me to read. And unless you are in school, nobody is likely to force you to read. It is a choice with a myriad of benefits and very few cons. Regardless of age or ability, there is a wealth of wisdom available to us. The only thing holding us back is us. Make the choice to read. What is the worst that can happen?

To Glove or Not to Glove

A post about fitness…

Over the last couple of weeks, I have seen a few disturbing posts from members of the fitness community that I respect. They were insinuating the use of weight-lifting gloves as a form of weakness.

Personally, I don’t prefer to wear gloves. I feel like I have a better connection with the weights. I have better control. My hands get tougher. Yet, I wear gloves. Maybe this makes me soft, but I have my reasons.

  • It all started with a two-pound jump rope. If you miss with that thing, you might get a concussion. The torque it produces strengthens the arms and shoulders, but that same torque is felt primarily in the hands. It has many great benefits except for the penny-sized blisters it puts on the inside of my thumbs. Not knowing the value of inner thumb callouses, I wear gloves when I jump rope.
  • The rowing machine. For shorter workouts, the gloves are not that necessary. Going into longer workouts of 30-120 minutes, I don the gloves. I didn’t wear them the first few times I went into the longer sessions, but then I started developing blisters on the middle digits of my fingers. I don’t mind having callouses, but do I want them running up the length of my fingers?
  • Winter weightlifting. I work out in my garage. Whatever the temperature is outside is the same temperature on the inside. And in the winter, when the mercury starts to drop, grabbing an iron bar or dumbbell is miserable. When I am lifting, I want to concentrate on the movement not the numbness in my fingertips.

It’s determination and commitment to an unrelenting goal that will enable you to attain the success you seek. Mario Andretti

Mario Andretti

In terms of fitness, what are my goals? It is to get a little better every day. It is to be a more functionable human being in my older years. Does it matter if I don’t have the latest and most fashionable clothes? Do I need the best shoes or the best gym equipment? No. What I must do is get in there and do the work. To glove or not to glove does not matter. The work matters. And if you are a trainer, glove-shaming or any shaming is not the key to success. Your message to your clients should be simple: Do the work.

Transformational Moments

Slow. That’s what my Tuesday morning was. I woke up unrefreshed and unmotivated. It was a new day. It was supposed to be full of life, a day filled with opportunity. But on this Tuesday morning, none of it felt possible.

Why? There are a few possible culprits all beginning the day before. First was a hard leg workout, followed by a glass of bourbon, and a late dinner. I didn’t stretch before bed. And to cap it off, I was reading a PDF on my iPad, and it was not set to night mode. Nothing like a load of blue light coming into the brain via the eyeballs right before you turn in for the evening.

The result was a less-than-ideal Tuesday.  The body wasn’t willing. The mind wasn’t clicking. It was Aristotle who said, “The energy of the mind is the essence of life.” I had no energy. I had no essence.

I am not guaranteed to wake up every morning full of energy and life. But if I take a good look at the day and night before, I may be able to negate some of the bad juju I woke up with. If I don’t take a hard look at the events leading up to it, I am destined to repeat more of these bad nights.

There must be a transformational moment.

Something must click within my brain. There must be an inner voice saying, “If you continue without the change, you will stay the same.” What was that insanity definition again, something about doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?

Again, there must be a transformational moment. Those moments come to all of us throughout the day. They are moments of insight suggesting a minor correction in our compass bearing. Should I eat or drink this? Was my reaction appropriate in this moment? Do I really need to sit around for the next episode to auto-start on Netflix? These moments come and go all the time. Maybe it is a sign from the universe, an instinct, or a tiny little voice asking you if this is the best choice. To ignore it is foolish. To heed the warnings is to be open towards growth. To make the change is wisdom.


Feature photo by Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash

Discovery and Creation

The Discovery Process

The tree doesn’t ask, “Who am I.” Instead, it says, “I am.” It grows. It adds new layers and rings. It digs, deep, stands tall, and gives back to its community. In all its complexity, it simply is.

Humans, full of life like the tree, think they are different, yet they are much the same.  But rather than existing in a state of “I am,” they often prefer to linger at the question of “Who am I.” Thus, continues a process of discovery, searching for an answer they had within themselves the whole time. It was there all along.

The Creation Process…again…and every day

Each morning we wake up with the opportunity to create a new version of ourselves. A new dawn, a new day, and a new iteration of that which we once were. Like the tree, we add a new ring while still retaining the essence of who we are. As a “I am,” we are free to move forward, to create, and to exist for the sake of existence. We are free to live out our purpose in life.

Life isn’t about finding yourself.

Life is about creating yourself.

George Bernard Shaw

Feature photo by Vitor Pádua on Unsplash

A Realization that Leads to Wisdom

Through the eyes of a child, we put our parents on a pedestal. Even an abusive parent will still be loved by the child. The parent is the child’s world, that is all that they know.

As the child gets older, her world gets bigger. She sees the varying ways in which others live. What she imagines as perfect changes. No longer is her narrow scope of reality the only possible way of existence. Now, there are other possibilities. As she grows older and matures, she realizes that it is not an imperfect environment that she lives in, but an imperfection in the people she lives with.

She could live her life in perpetual adolescence, jaded and angry with the world. The hardships she was made to endure by her guardians, she could carry with her until her dying days. It was their fault she turned out the way she did. They denied her the opportunities. They held her back. If only she had parents like those of her friends, it would have all been better, maybe even perfect.

Or she could realize something else. Maybe her parents were not perfect, but they weren’t so bad either. In fact, is there anybody that is perfect? Now as an adult, she realizes they were only human, and humans make mistakes. They do what they believe is right, even when it is wrong. They do what feels good, even when it is harmful. They are not perfect but human, humans deserving of forgiveness. And so, as an adult she gives them what she can: forgiveness.

We can imagine perfection, but we cannot attain it. Aristotle said, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” A couple of centuries before that, Confucius said, “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” Our heroine in this story has concluded she is no different than the rest of humanity. And like her parents before her, all she can do is forgive herself for her imperfections. Knowing herself and the extent of her ignorance, she is at the beginning of true wisdom.

The day the child realizes all adults are imperfect, he becomes an adolescent; the day he forgives them, he becomes an adult; and the day he forgives himself, he becomes wise.

Alden Nowlan

The Canadian poet, Alden Nowlan, beautifully illustrates a way to wisdom. It starts with knowing who you are and then forgiving yourself for being that person. After all, we are all human and far from perfect. And though we can be incredibly strict with how we live our lives, demanding more from ourselves than we do from others, there is still room for forgiveness. We can forgive ourselves for our shortcomings and then try our best to overcome them. It is a process that if repeated can get us closer to the person we imagined ourselves to be. This is how we grow. This is how we become wise.


Feature photo by William Farlow on Unsplash

Luck vs. Labor

Do you remember the first time you did it? It was exciting, it was new, and so far, you were good at it. Once you knew the concept, getting the hang of it was simple.  So simple in fact, that you could picture the possibilities of a future doing it.

What was it? Does the “it” really matter? It could have been golf, playing cards, the stock market, or something like computer programming. We have all had our moments where we learned something new and then let our imaginations run wild with thoughts of grandeur. We thought we were gifted and that making money at this was a possibility. But then the luck fades and the reality sets in. We realize the talent, the beginner’s luck, only took us a little way and to get farther would take work. It would take skill.

“Luck is ever waiting for something to turn up,” says [Richard] Cobden; “labor with keen eyes and strong will, will turn up something. Luck lies in bed, and wishes the postman would bring him news of a legacy; labor turns out at six o’clock, and with busy pen or ringing hammer lays the foundation of competence. Luck whines; labor whistles. Luck relies on chance; labor, on character.”

Stick to the thing and carry it through. Believe you were made for the place you fill, and that no one else can fill it as well. Put forth your whole energies. Be awake, electrify yourself; go forth to the task. Only once learn to carry a thing through in all its completeness and proportion, and you will become a hero. You will think better of yourself; others will think better of you. The world in its very heart admires the stern, determined doer.

Orison Swett Marden, Pushing to the Front

Imagine Alexander Graham Bell relying on luck instead of labor. What would our phones look like today? Would we even have them? To the outside world, Bell’s talent was extraordinary. But they only saw the end results of the endless experiments, trials, errors, and do-overs. It wasn’t what Bell was born with that made his name stand out in history. It was what he did after he was born.

Our natural gifts will only take us part of the way. The rest we must develop.

Your Enemies

For some high-adventure reading chocked full of action with a healthy mixture of historical facts and figures, I would recommend Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe Series. The series follows the fictional life of Richard Sharpe, a career soldier in the early 19th century.

One of Sharpe’s assignments was leading the 95th Rifle Regiment in the British Army. This unit was an advanced skirmisher company. Instead of having to stand in formation trading volleys of gunfire with the enemy, they would employ a type of guerilla warfare and harass them. Much like wolves unable to attack a herd of buffalo, they would look for weaknesses to exploit. They were an annoyance to the enemy and could slow down their progress.

Sean Bean as Richard Sharpe by Dennis Budd on DeviantArt

Who are your enemies?

We may not be fighting in a war, but we do have enemies in our lives. And like the 95th Rifles, our enemies like to employ skirmishers. Your enemies could be:

  • Viruses. Whether they are on your computer or in your body, they have one goal. Viruses look for points of weakness to exploit. Once they find the weakness, they can do their work of destruction.
  • Like the viruses attacking our bodies, we have addictions that wreak similar havoc. Sugar, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and all the other ones that give you a temporary high in exchange for long-term, slow-growing problems like diabetes, liver/lung cancer, and all the other self-induced diseases.
  • And then there are other people. For some reason, they have their problems with you. They would like nothing better than to see you stumble in some sort of way. They want to find and exploit your weaknesses. To gain an edge, they will highlight your mistakes, sabotage your work, and spread rumors to sully your reputation.

The benefit of enemies

What can we learn from those who attack our weakest areas? Looking into the mirror, I often only see what I want to see. Somehow, I am less inclined to see the flaws. But if I look at a photograph, the story is different. My eyes noticed the flaws that were overlooked in the mirror. My posture, the way my gut hangs out, and the fit of my clothes can no longer be ignored by the bias of the mirror. Without the mirror, I would continue in my self-deception.

We tend to over-estimate our good points and look beyond our weaknesses. When we do this, we fail to fix the things that need fixing. Our enemies do not look at us through the mirror of self-deception but instead through the photograph. There are no filters to gloss over all the flaws and weaknesses. Once they know where to point their attack, they can hit us where it hurts. And while it does hurt, it also gives us an opportunity to grow. Now that we know what our weaknesses are, we can work in those areas and strengthen them. We should be grateful the enemy pointed this out. Without their help, we would continue in our delusion.

“Pay attention to your enemies,” said the Greek philosopher Antisthenes, “for they are the first to discover your mistakes.” To ignore them would be perilous. But to use them to your advantage would arm yourself against future attacks. Be grateful for the opportunity to grow. You can even take the high road and thank your enemies for pointing out these weaknesses. Who knows? You may even remove the reason why they are your enemies in the first place.

Education…Incomplete…Always

One of the things that impressed me the most from the book Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead by General Jim Mattis is that Marine officers are given assigned reading which must be completed before moving on to the next level.* If you spend a lifetime in the Marines, you will spend a lifetime learning about leadership and history.

What would happen if I chose to stop learning? Would I become the guy who could not adapt to the times, because I could not recall the past or prepare for the future? Would I become a dinosaur making way for the next dominant species?

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Considering Asimov’s words that we are never finished with our education, I am reminded of so many others who have uttered similar words. It is imperative that we continue to learn. It doesn’t matter if it is formal or informal, there is so much waiting to be discovered and applied. We are never too old or too young. The only limitations we set on our studies are the ones we set on ourselves.

Gather as much knowledge as you can. From that knowledge, draw your correlations and seek understanding. From this comes wisdom. There is an unlimited supply to how much you can gather, but only if you are willing to make the effort.

*I am still reading this book and promise to return it to the owner as soon as possible.

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.

Useless Things

What are useless things? Timewasters are the obvious. But what about the not-so-obvious: multi-tasking, dwelling on the past, or anxiety about the things that are outside of our control?

You could go back and beat yourself up over all the useless things you have done, but this also is useless. After all, you cannot go back in time and change it. A better solution would be to use those past failures as learning opportunities and try to make better decisions.

If there is no value added than it is useless. If there is one thing that I absolutely despise, it would have to be micro-management. As the managed, having someone constantly looking over your shoulder is frustrating. Your productivity is diminished, and you lose the ability to make your own decisions. As the manager, you spread yourself too thin and fail to make any solid gains. The manager can only maintain the status quo, while never developing the talent of his subordinates.

During the creation of this post, I stopped and checked my phone. I saw a video of someone doing something dumb. This led to watching more videos of dumb stuff. The deep guttural voice of Miyamoto Musashi kept ringing in my ears, “Do not do useless things.” And here I am, doing something useless. It sneaks up on you when you do not realize it. Stay vigilant my friends and have a great day.