Day # 8 – Endless Beginnings…

Today is Day One of Thirty (1/30) of a new Get Leaner Plan.

Every other time I’ve dieted or did a similar type of plan with the ultimate goal of losing weight, I’ve always ensured that I had Cheat Days built in so that I could make the Plan sustainable.  The closest I ever got to a 30-day Straight Strict Plan was when I Juiced for 20 straight days.

The other MAJOR commonality between all of those previous plans/attempts was — They were not successful.

I always lost weight.  I always got in marginally better physical shape.  But I ALWAYS HIT A WALL (normally after losing about 20 lbs) where, at this point, nothing I did (and I do mean nothing!!) could get me past that wall.  I would increase my training session count or duration or intensity – or all of them – and it wouldn’t work.  I would tweak my diet in a myriad of ways (increase protein, reduce fat, reduce calories, starve myself, etc.) but that wouldn’t work either.  I’d mix all of my diet variations with all of my training variations (that’s a LOT of variations, trust me), but could still not get past that 20-something wall.

So, the only thing I haven’t tried is TOTAL strict adherence to a basic “Eat Clean”, “Work Out Daily” Plan for a longer period of time.  In this case, I’ve chosen 30-days as the magic number.  Why?   Well, cause I normally experience the bulk of my weight loss within the first 2 weeks.  Again, this is WITH cheat days built in.  Then — after that — Nothing.   So maybe going longer – without cheat days – is the key.

To be honest, one of the things I’ve heard a lot lately from male movie stars who have had to get in crazy-good shape for a role was similar to, “I had nothing enjoyable for 6 straight months”….or, “My life was grey for 4 months because I couldn’t eat anything I loved and it sucked all of the color out of my life.”  I heard this to mean, They were extremely strict with themselves – no cheat days – for long periods of time, sacrificing the food they love, all to meet a specific goal >>> Weight Loss.

I figured that 30-days would be long enough for me to find out if this is a viable method.  By all accounts, one of three things will happen:

1) Sometime during the first 2 weeks of the 30-day period, I’ll cheat – and totally dismantle any progress I may have gained.

2)  Say I complete the 30-days while remaining strict, I will either: Hit my wall at around the 2-week point, as always, and spend the last 2 weeks of the 30-day trial seeing NO movement on the scale at all.  Or…

3)  …This will actually work and, by the end of the 30-day trial, I will have blasted through my normal 20-lb loss and moved into a new zone of weight loss.

IF #3 occurs, then it would make sense to keep going for another 30, praying that I will continue losing weight.

More to come…   Wish me luck!

Day #7 – …or is it?

Yes, it’s the 7th straight day of blogging (hate that term – gotta come up with something better), but it’s (-1) Day (that’s minus-1 day) of my next dieting cycle. 

Tomorrow will be Day One of Thirty (1/30) , and this is The Plan:

— No garbage for 30 straight days

— No days off or Cheat days

— During this 30 days, I will do some sort of workout every day, I will meditate every day, and I will VLOG every day. 

NOT gonna be easy.  But that’s the whole point, right? >> Try something new in order to hopefully – finally – find the right method of weight loss for me. 

A little scared and a LOT excited. 

Perfect!

Day #6 – The Key…

There are two primary aspects to the martial arts, and if you don’t have both, then you’re not a true martial artist. 

The first and most apparent is the technical skill.  This involves thousands of hours of training until you’ve made technique a seamless part of your Self. 

The second and barely talked about aspect is the willingness to hurt someone when necessary.  It’s not sparring, it’s not simple self defense, it is the conscious intent to do damage to another human being, perhaps permanent damage or even death, when all other non-violent options are no longer viable.  When you can’t walk away or ignore or talk your way out of a confrontation, a martial artist has to be able to calmly and efficiently attack the threat until the threat no longer exists.  

Unfortunately, too many American martial schools don’t teach this – most do not even speak of it because it’s not fiscally popular. They sell physical ability, martial mystery and glamour.  True martial arts isn’t glamorous.  It is fire and steel and a stark, crystal clear sense of responsibility of what you can do – when you must. 

No Skipping,..

There are two popular theories related to skill-based goal achievement: First – It takes 30 days to change or build a habit.  Second – It takes 10,000 to master a skill.  This blog is about the first point. 

I have tried a wide variety of methods to lose weight – with the same eventual result >> failure.  But one thing I haven’t tried is 30 straight days of effort, no breaks, no Off Days.  

So, this Monday is Day #1 of 30. 

Plus, related to this blog, I had planned to do 30 straight days of blogging, so tomorrow I will begin numbering these blogs, counting the number of uninterrupted days I blog.  

Excited to have a Plan. 

“Tomorrow…”

Okay…quick survey >>  “Of those reading this, who among you is a procrastinator?”

<I’ll answer tomorrow>  😛

Me?  I call myself a Creative Procrastinator.

“What is that?” you are likely asking.  Well…

I intentionally procrastinate on projects – normally those on a deadline – because I believe that I do my best work when I’m under the gun.  Here’s a general example:

I have two weeks to work on a project that, under normal circumstances, would only take me about 4-5 days.  Intellectually, the best approach would be to knock it out quickly, giving me plenty of time to revise, tweak, refine, and generally make it the best product possible and (here’s the kicker!) perhaps even turn the product in early.  (What???)

Do I do this?

Of course not!

I work on ANY other project for the first 12 days, and then spend the final 2 days burning the candle at both ends, in (what I consider to be) a creative stew pot.  There’s something about the pressure, the intensity, and the possibility of failure that makes those two days SO enjoyable for me.  And, 98% of the time, I DO manage to finish the product within the deadline.

Now here’s the money question >> Am I actually more creative, turning-out better products, when I put myself into that creative stew pot?  Or would I actually churn out better products if I did the “intellectual” thing and better managed my time?

Truth?  I’m not sure.

I’ve tried both ways (and still do bounce back and forth, from time-to-time), and my inner Self tells still insists that there is something about the self-imposed pressure that helps to spark my creative side more directly and, in the end, makes me a better producer.

Does this matter?

No — to me, not really.

No matter which approach I use, I still produce on-time.  I’ve received no complaints no matter which method I use. So, in the end, I’m probably going to continue to dive into the creative stew pot on a regular basis because — I like it!

Come swim with me.

“Needle and the Damage Done…”

All of my life, I’ve been an expert at damaging myself – often in creative, unique ways.

But the first significant Damage Marker that comes to mind is when, at 16, I was riding my bicycle down a steep, paved hill (leading to the Coast Guard Ship Dock) when, quite suddenly, my brake-shoe broke.  Before I knew it, my bike and I were doing (what had to have looked like) wonderful somersaults down the concrete ramp.  When I woke up, I was looking up at a guy in a Coast Guard uniform, asking me if I’m okay.

Ever since then, I’ve lived in pain.

Related specifically to that incident, the resulting pain has been in my hips and especially my knees.

Changes in temp, humidity, etc, would cause the pain to intensify and ebb…but never disappear.

Then, not long after joining the Air Force, I was doing onsite maneuvers (in a forest) for Military Police training.  As part of this, one of the exercises we would do would be to start (as a squad) in a tight group, rifles in hand, and then (on command) we would spread out as quickly as possible. We would keep running until we heard the Training Instructor yell “Hit it!”  When we heard this bellow, we were all supposed to hit the ground and get into a defensive position as quickly as possible.  However, I was one of the unlucky ones.  The area I was running through was riddled with rocks.  So, when I heard “Hit it!”, I dropped to the ground and both my knees slammed into those insidious stones, causing me to curl up like a little baby when the pain shot through both my legs. The military being what it was, my Training Instructor (TI) screams, “Since Jackson can’t seem to get it right, we’re going to do it again!”  So, my squad (now VERY pissed at me) bunched back up and waited for the signal to start running in our designated directions…again.  And, like before, MY designated direction was through the minefield of rocks; and, like before, when the TI screamed “Hit it!”, each of my knees dropped perfectly onto the sharpest, most cruel rocks in all of South Texas.  (Yes!  Rocks can be cruel!).  This time, though, I did my best to avoid the whole ‘curling into a ball and crying’ thing.  I did my best to swallow the pain and assumed my ready position as quickly as I could.  Then I held my breath and waited — fearing that the TI would curse my name again and make our squad do it all over…again.  Thankfully, however, I heard nothing for several minutes.  We all held our positions until the TI called for us to regroup, and then the next squad took their turn.

Needless to say, my experience on the military training field that day did nothing positive for my already embattled knees.  And so, the pain I’d already been feeling daily for the last 3 years had nearly doubled in intensity – and has (for the most part) remained that way ever since.

Then, when you add 40 years of martial arts training on top of that, as well as a collection of random goofs on my part, well…it’s safe to say that there has not been a waking hour in the last 4 decades where pain was absent from my life.

Please don’t misunderstand.  I don’t say all of this to whine or to make you feel sorry for me.  I’m trying to lay the groundwork for my next point.

I HATE taking prescribed medication.  I saw what it did to my mother, and watching her slowly degrade and eventually pass away FAR too early in her life – due to an evil doctor who over-medicated her – has served to make me distrust any prescribed medication.

That said…

In my early 20’s, managing the pain seemed almost hopeless.  So, I began taking over-the-counter pain killers – because, well, they’re over-the-counter, so they MUST be okay for you, right?  I tried every pain med available: Doan’s Pills (remember those?), Aspirin, Tylenol, and so on.  Eventually, I found Bayer Migraine Tablets (heretofore known as BMTs).  Something about the mixture of caffeine, aspirin and acetaminophen served to dull the constant pain, turning it (instead) into an ever-present, intense ache.  Although there were still days that curled me into a ball, the BMTs served to make most days tolerable.

About a year ago (after decades of taking BMTs)… I had just fixed my record player and was trying it out by playing some of my old albums.  One of my favorites is Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young singing Live.  In it, Neil Young sings “Needle and the Damage Done”.  I’ve heard the song countless times, but (for whatever reason) that time I actually heard the lyrics — and (for whatever reason) I suddenly saw the correlation between the drug use in that song and my pain killer consumption.

Wow!  Talk about Wake-Up-Moment!!

How was my “legal” usage of pain killers any different than the drug usage in the song?  The impact was exactly the same.

That scared me.  That scared me a LOT!

So, about 10 months ago, I reduced my consumption of BMTs from about 10 a day to (usually) only 2 a week.  The goal is “No More BMTs!!”  I’m almost there.  I’m replacing them with exercise, a MUCH better eye on my diet, and regular stretching.  Is the pain gone?  No.  Is it tolerable?  Yes.  And – without BMTs.

Sadly, the research I’ve done in the last 10 months leads me to believe that my long-term usage of BMTs has likely done irreversible damage to my body (probably my liver and kidneys).  I can’t do anything about that now.

I just pray that my realization will serve as a strong example to you of what NOT do to.  Just cause a med is over-the-counter does NOT mean it is safe.  Especially when relied upon to feel “normal” (or, in my case, as near-normal as possible).

Don’t do it!

Find a holistic method of dealing with physical pain; one that address the actual cause(s) of the pain – NOT the pain itself.

“Oh yeah??”

This is a challenge – to Me.

Beginning right now, I’m going to do daily blog entries.

Why?

Glad you asked.

I MUST WRITE!

Any questions?

Oh!  You want more details?  Hmm. I get that.  Okay…

<I stand up, slightly hunched, eyes down at my shoes, and mumble> “My name is Lee Jackson, and I am a procrastinator.”

The “Real” of it is >> I can make dozens of lists and plans and goal sheets…and read all sorts of motivating and inspirational books…and listen to Tim Ferriss and all of his amazing guests (on his Podcast) discussing the keys to project completion and personal success…but if I don’t actually get off my butt and do the work, what good is all of this?

Three things inspired me to do a daily blog:

— 1)  Getting the crap scared out of me on Sunday while watching the Glen Campbell biopic “I’ll be Me” (see previous blog for how much that freaked me out).  This crystallized in me the reality of how quickly time passes.

— 2)  Every day I watch Casey Neistat’s Vlog.  He started it (and maintains it) as a means of doing something creative daily, to hone his creative chops, and to ensure he is never complacent.

— 3)  On the way to work this morning, like nearly every other morning, I was listening to Tim Ferriss’ podcast.  In it, he was speaking with Whitney Cumming (a comedienne) and they were discussing the difference between planning and doing.  For whatever reason, it spoke to my bones and served as an additional prompt for moving forward.

So, going forward, I’m going to write something here every day.  It might be just a few words (ex: thoughts of the day) or it may be a manifesto.  I’ll do my best to keep it in the framework of “To My Kids”.

Scared and excited.

“I’ll be Me”…

There are numerous musicians that served as strong inspirations for me from the time began playing guitar at 8 years old, through my pre-teen and teen years, and until today.  One of the Top-3 of those was Glen Campbell.  An singular voice singing amazing songs, not to mention his utterly jaw-dropping guitar skills.

So tonight, watching his biopic “I’ll be Me” – a documentary done by his wife and family as a means of sharing their love for Glen Campbell as he goes through the degenerative phases of Alzheimer’s disease – was absolutely heart-wrenching.  I’m not ashamed to say that I was in tears several times during the show, especially when I watched the part where his daughter Ashley speaks before Congress about the memories of her childhood that her father no longer possesses, the fact that he rarely even remembers her name, and that, during shows, he now often has trouble keeping up with her when they playing dueling banjos; all as an illustration of the need for more funding for Alzheimer’s research.

All I could think about during the entire show was, “Will my wife and kids have to go through the same process with me someday?”

It is times like that which remind me about the importance of writing regularly and often on this site to you, my wonderful kids. I want to be able to preserve my thoughts and feelings – while I can still express them….while I can still remember them.

When you boil a person’s life down to its core ingredient, for them, that ingredient is memory.  We all dream of sitting with our loved ones around us and basking, not only in their presence, but in all of the memories that led to that moment in time.  It is every experience in my life that created the person I am today.  But if those experiences vanish, if I can’t remember what you said to me 5 minutes ago, if the most precious people in my life are now all strangers, who am I?  What will I become?

In his final recording session, Glen Campbell couldn’t even remember from moment to moment. He had to sing a line at a time, read from a prompter held in front of him in the studio.  Then the producers stitched all of the pieces together during post.  The song (attached) speaks about the fading life-pictures of his life and how, in the end, he’s “…not gonna miss you”…because he won’t even remember you.

Please, Lord, let this never be me.

Angry about getting mad…

We all have our pet peeves.  My list is nowhere near as long as it was when I was in my 20’s (Is that personal growth? Or just an example of having a peeve about long lists?).  Anyway — for whatever reason, there are two that have stubbornly remained at the top of my list for all of my adult life.

>> #2 on the List:  I have little-to-no patience for Stupid People.  Now, if you know me at all, I am VERY sensitive and selective about the use of the word “Stupid”.  I hate it when people use it interchangeably with “Ignorant”.  They are not the same thing, and it’s normally an ignorant person who mixes them up.  An ignorant person simply doesn’t know something.  Taken a step further, the vast majority of ignorant people will eventually learn that “something”, but they remain ignorant until they do.  And then there is that small percentage of ignorant people who know they are ignorant, but refuse to take the time or effort to learn that “something”.  That is a choice — and we each have the freedom to decide whether it is a good choice or a bad one. Making a bad choice does not make a person stupid.  But a “Stupid” person is utterly incapable of learning something.  Many bigots fall into this category, but those aren’t the Stupid People I normally run into.  The common Stupidity I usually encounter is from co-workers or from people who know someone from my inner-circle.  Now let me make this clear >> You really have to work hard to make it onto my “Stupid Person” list.  I will give you every benefit of the doubt.  I will give you numerous chances to prove that you are simply displaying ignorance.  But, over time, there are those that have proven to me that they are incapable of opening their mind, of seeing outside their bubble, or learning a new way of seeing a situation.  So, only after you have put forth exhaustive effort to remain in your cage, then and only then will I finally place a figurative label of “Stupid” across your forehead.  Then, going forward, I will likely do my best to avoid any future interaction with you.  There are many other subtle points to this particular pet-peeve, but I’m sure you get the point.

>> But the Big #1 on my Pet Peeve List (mostly because of how frequently it happens) is >>> I hate being interrupted.

If I begin speaking (probably trying to answer a question you posed) and, shortly after I start talking, you begin speaking (supposedly to answer my answer), then it is glaringly obvious that you are no longer listening to me, and likely weren’t listening to more than the first 3 words that came out of my mouth.  Your mind is now 100% dedicated to getting your new point across and there’s a VERY high probability that your new and amazing and insightful rant will have little or nothing to do with the point I’m still trying to make cause – wait for it – I’m still trying to make it.  Notice the mouth still moving, sound still coming out, etc.

** My standard response to people who interrupt me?  Well, the first couple of times, I’ll stop talking, I’ll let The Interrupter finish, and then I’ll try to point out that their forceful rebuttal had nothing to do with what I had begun to say.  But of course, the normal response is to interrupt that sentence as well with a revised point.  Eventually, when reason and patience have been exhausted, I will simply continue to talk when the person interrupts me.  However, this usually prompts the rude Interrupter to talk louder (cause they’re still clueless that they’ve interrupted you and are now actively trying to talk over you).  So, I talk a little louder than them.  Then they get louder, then it’s my turn, and…  Well, you get the idea.  Somewhere in there, I will eventually say something like, “Can I please finish my sentence?”  This normally causes a look of hurt and offense on the face of The Interrupter.  Even though they are the one who originally did something offensive (and yes, talking over someone is very offensive, not to mention doing it repeatedly), now it’s all about them.  The Interrupter will now, depending on their level of comfort with you, express their feelings of offense and do their best to make you feel guilty for bringing their Interrupter-Behavior to their attention.

Now, inexplicably, I am often made to feel guilty for bringing the offensive Interrupter behavior to the attention of the Interrupter.

With Pet Peeve #2 (Stupid People), I’ve developed a nearly full-proof way of dealing with them.  I internally categorize them as Non-Communicative and I simply avoid communicating with them.  Problem solved (most of the time).

But with Pet Peeve #1 (The Interrupter), these people surround us and are constantly exerting an enormous amount of effort to ensure that they cannot simply be ignored.  Also, many of these people live on the border of being Stupid.  Even when it is repeatedly brought to their attention that they are Interrupters, you can see an internal justification process going on behind their eyes.  They are running through all of the reasons why their behavior is “not that bad” or “a simple slip” or many other perfectly reasonable scenarios where they come out as the wronged person, and not as the Interrupter.

So now, depending on your capacity for stubbornness (or cluelessness), you now risk being classified as two of my worst pet peeves > A Stupid Interrupter.

To be fair, my response to Interrupters has long been my biggest struggle.  I went from being run-over by them (because they are normally Alpha personalities), to actively challenging them (interrupt for interrupt), to – at times – dismissing them as Stupid a bit too hastily.

Now, I am very aware that the bulk of this post has been quite a downer.  I normally try to end my posts on a positive note, on a humorous note, or – if I’m firing on all pistons – a bit of both.  So, with that in mind…

I’ve learned (or re-learned) recently that – often – the answers to life’s biggest issues are actually quite simple.  And, in the case of my Top-2 Pet Peeves, the problem has really been >> me.

For example:  What is the big deal if someone interrupts you?  What’s the worst that can happen if you let them continue interrupting you?  The answer?  Lack of clear communication.  That’s it.  They won’t understand your point because they’re not listening, and in the end, the conversation will come to an end.

So why does this bother me so much?  Why does it grate at my nerves like fingers on a chalkboard?

Because I let it.

I recently had a conversation with a very nice person, but he is – at times – an Interrupter.  It doesn’t make him a bad person.  It doesn’t make him any less intelligent or less kind or less caring.  He just has some bad habits that serve to stilt communication.  When we went through the normal process of talk, interrupt, talk, interrupt, talk louder, interrupt louder, and so on, he took a moment to share his perception that I seem to be getting unjustly angry, loud, and impatient.  Talk about an epiphany!!  Because I respect this man so much, his words had an immediate and long-lasting impact.  He was expressing that he was seeing me in a way that I didn’t want to be seen.

I have long been cautiously proud of my ability to remain calm in volatile situations; for holding my temper when others have lost theirs; and for maintaining a calm voice when others were screaming to ensure they were being heard.  But my #1 pet peeve had effectively usurped years of hard work in a very short period of time, making me someone (at that moment) who was not worthy of respect.

One of my favorite old sayings is, “The only person you can control is your Self”.  I had forgotten that wisdom when it came to dealing with Interrupters.  There was the answer to my pet peeve – right in front of my eyes all along – but I had been too stubborn to see it.  I was being ignorant…almost to the point of being Stupid.

So I am officially removing these two “actions” from my Pet Peeve list.  They were on the list because, for decades, they had controlled me.  They no longer have that power.  My reactions to them are within my control. Now, I simply need to own that control and put it into practice.

My oldest pet peeves have now become my newest and most exciting personal challenges.

Game on!!

Now…if I could only figure out how to deal with people who are perpetually late.   Ah well.  One mountain at a time.

Spoiled by Circumstance 

Today is Father’s Day…and it was my birthday just a few days ago.  With the preemptive greetings that normally precede a birthday, the inpouring of greetings on The Day, the overlap of “Oops, I forgot!” and the early Father’s Day “Howdy”, and now the Official Greetings, that means that I’ve been showered with love for more than a week.

Should I be ashamed by the fact that I spent every day of that week+ with the biggest grin on my face and the best food in the world in my tummy (Thanks Sweetie!!) ??  Should I feel guilty for being spoiled by circumstance?

Naw!! 😁

Never Completely Grow Up

I’ll be 55 in two days.  Wow!  Saying (errr, I mean ‘writing’) that out loud still feels unreal to me.

What does a 55 year old act like?

What is a 55 year ‘supposed’ to act like?

I’ve seen too many of my friends become ‘old’ — some far ahead of their time.

I’m not talking about the physical ‘old’.  My hair fell out in my early-30’s.  My gut began to appear in my early-40’s.  My eyesight and hearing started to fade in my late-40’s.  I’ve long made peace with all of that.

I’m talking about the real ‘me’ inside.  Who is THAT person supposed to be at 55?

I keep picturing this wizened, soft-spoken, gentle-eyed person who constantly comes up with these amazing words of wisdom at the perfect times, who never loses his temper, who always has a ready smile for everyone, and who finds the positive in every situation.  And, even though I’m still doggedly working toward “that person”, I am definitely not there yet.

I still love to giggle uncontrollably over the same stupid joke I’ve told a hundred times.

I still love to watch cartoons with my son and daughter, and soon my grand-daughter…without bothering to pretend that I’m watching it ‘just for them’.

I still love walking around in a downpour, head up toward the dark sky, and enjoying the feel of the rain on my face, the smell of the air, the tug of the wind.

I still get up at 3am, wide awake, to listen to my wife sleep, to hear the creak of the house as it flexes from the force of the wind outside, and to simply walk around in the pitch darkness of my home without any fear of stubbing my toes because I know every inch of this place by heart.

I love playing with little babies and young children – sometimes for hours – as I rediscover the miracle of everything around me through their hungry, curious eyes.

The 55-year old person inside of me has his set of serious responses to serious questions….while the child still vibrant inside of me has a completely different set of sneaky, silly, innocent, and completely absurd responses to all of those same serious questions — and I never know which of the two will win-out from moment to moment.

I’ve been told several times to “Grow up!”…and I do try.  But I think one of the greatest things about being 55 is — I am old enough to make the executive decision that — I will never COMPLETELY grow up.

Happy Birthday to me!!

Finding Joy in Illness

i hate being sick.  But, no matter what precautions I take, the vitamins I gobble, the distance I maintain between me and anyone who sniffles or coughs,  it’s inevitable that – like now – I will get sick. 

But I must admit, there are certain joys and pleasures that are experienced only when you are sick. 

Food (specific foods) taste better when you’re sick. 

My bed feels especially cozy right now. 

When people find out you are sick, they normally do one of two much-preferred things: they are usually especially nice and caring, or they avoid you in order to preserve their own health. 

Yes, I’m sick.  But in a weird but welcome way, I’m happy. 

I don’t want this to last long, but – if I’m being completely honest – it’s not all bad. 

<cough!>

<puts on a pitiful face>

“Can I have some soup, please?”

“Feathers in the Wind”

This is not my story — I heard it (or a version of it) while watching a horrible movie with my wife.  The ONLY redeeming feature in the entire movie was this story.  So, I found a better version of it online – and I am sharing it now.  Says it better than I ever could.

There is a 19th century folktale about a young fellow who went about town slandering the town’s wise man. One day, he went to the wise man’s home and asked for forgiveness. The wise man, realizing that this man had not internalized the gravity of his transgressions, told him that he would forgive him on one condition: that he go home, take a feather pillow from his house, cut it up, and scatter the feathers to the wind. After he had done so, he should then return to the wise man’s house.

Though puzzled by this strange request, the young man was happy to be let off with so easy a penance. He quickly cut up the pillow, scattered the feathers, and returned to the house.

“Am I now forgiven?” he asked.

“Just one more thing,” the wise man said. “Go now and gather up all the feathers.”

“But that’s impossible. The wind has already scattered them.”

“Precisely,” he answered. “And though you may truly wish to correct the evil you have done, it is as impossible to repair the damage done by your words as it is to recover the feathers. Your words are out there in the marketplace, spreading hate, even as we speak.”

Passion Projects – P/P

Passion is vitally important.  Whenever you are in a period of your life when you realize that there is not at least one thing you are enormously passionate about, it’s definitely time to reassess your life and make the time to find AT LEAST one “thing” to focus your energies on.

I’m not talking about church or family or work or Core activities.  Those are topics all by themselves.

I’m talking about Passion Projects.

Passion Projects are those activities that, for a time (whether for a day or for much, much longer) consume a lot of your excess head-space.  They seep into your dreams, they drive you to imagine, and they sometimes even stop you mid-sentence because they’ve suddenly rushed into the forefront of your brain.

A little clarification here >> When I say “Passion Project”, I’m talking VERY specific.  For example: I’m passionate about playing guitar.  But it is no longer a Passion Project.  It (long ago) became a Core activity because I was able to incorporate it into who I am.  But, at times, there are certain chord progressions or songs or music-writing ideas that totally consume me and I can’t stop thinking about them until I make them a reality.  THAT is a Passion Project.

I’m almost 55 now and over the last 4 decades (or so) I’ve had countless Passion Projects.  Early on, I would occasionally stumble onto the realization that (at that period of time) I had no Passion Project in-the-works.  So, I would reset my head and MAKE the time to find a new project.  Eventually, after many of these accidental realizations, I got mad at myself for allowing those lulls to sneak up on me.  Why?  Because the circumstances that normally went hand-in-hand with that realization were always unpleasant – and completely avoidable.  I would be feeling unhappy and not immediately know why.  Or I would be feeling that “something” was missing and I didn’t know what.  I think most of us have those feelings at times but we don’t know what’s causing them, so we fill those empty spaces with other, less-healthy pursuits.  For me, though, I would eventually come to realize that it was because I had (for a time) stopped finding Passion Projects.  Once realized, it was almost always an easy fix.  There are SO many things I don’t know and/or don’t know how to do, so I simply need to pick one….and Go!

In my 40’s, I finally decided that I wasn’t going to allow myself to slip into that fugue state of “Not knowing what’s wrong” and got into the habit of regularly checking-in with my Self.  I began to actively ask myself weekly, “What is my P/P?”  By doing this at regular intervals, I was able to avoid most of those empty periods that used to sneak up on me.  Eventually, it became a very fun exercise of “What shall I learn today?”

I also aggressively began to surround myself (in life, in social media, etc.) with people who were passionate about “something”.  Especially those that were passionate about things that I knew little or nothing about.  Future P/P, right?

So – please – Always have at least one Passion Project going (…but never more than three.  Ask me and I’ll explain why).   You’ll be surprised how much brighter your day is, how much more energy you feel daily, and the number of times people will ask you, “Why are you smiling?”

World Class

One of the lessons I learned early when I began training in the martial arts was the importance of The Details. It was often the slightest change in hip angle or shoulder rotation or some other seemingly minor detail that made the biggest positive differences.
I soon started applying that “eye” to other aspects of my life, especially after I joined the Air Force.
It became apparent that actively looking for ways to improve my performance, even a little, was usually not the expressed expectation of others, so I needed to take ownership of that process.
Even more essential to my personal growth was embracing the firm resolve that I must give my best effort and my complete attention to every task, no matter how seemingly trivial – not because it is the expectation of others, but because it must be my expectation of myself.
The daily goal was to put World Class Effort into all things, and to categorize this practice along with breathing, eating and sleeping; a life-sustaining practice.
You will not be perfect, but who is? It is the effort that matters. It is the acknowledgement that “This must always be done” that defines us and helps to shape our character.

It’s Important to Constantly Look in the Mirror

I originally became enamored with the Martial Arts in 1973 — when Bruce Lee’s “Enter the Dragon” came out.  And, like most things that interest me, I immediately dove into the deep end and began to study every martial-arts-related “thing” I could get my hands on.  The most valuable of these was Bruce Lee’s collection of thoughts, favorite quotes, musings, advice, etc. in his book “Tao of Jeet Kune Do”.  This book, along with Yoshikawa’s “Musashi” and Musashi’s “Book of Five Rings” serve(d) to verbalize and provide mental pictures of what words like “Character” and “Self” and “Honor” and “Integrity” actually/should mean.

(Sidenote: the BEST distillation of these are in the Air Force’s Code of Conduct: “Integrity First – Service Before Self – Excellence in All Things!”  Nothing says it better in so few words)

Then, of course, ever since I absorbed that knowledge, it’s been impossible to turn that light off.  I know what I know and, for the rest of my life, I have felt bound to those tenets of thought and action.  In turn, this gave birth to a repeat practice of self-reflection that has become a key process in my life – and an important safeguard against fooling myself.

So, strictly as a primer, here are a few bullet points related to self-reflection:

You are exactly who you choose to be. Stop blaming your negative issues or traits on environment, other people’s choices, etc. If you don’t like parts of who you are, change them.
Take credit for your positive choices; you deserve it.  But don’t bask in that success too long.  Along with this, you must take ownership of your bad choices.  They’re yours – no one else’s.
Bad reactions are simply bad habits you haven’t changed yet.  Blaming someone else for how YOU reacted is delusional.  True Self-Reflection of those instances should reveal that, yes, they pushed your button.  Yes, they caused you to react in a specific manner.  Take it as a lesson learned – and never let it happen again.
Don’t moan about the things you wished you had done. Do them!  Until you are placed in the ground, you still have the opportunity to chase your goals and dreams.  If you stop, then maybe it’s best that they place you in the ground, because all you’re doing now is exchanging oxygen, consuming resources, and waiting for death.  Dream! >>  Set goals!! >>  Chase them!!!    Rinse-n-Repeat.
Paint a picture in your mind of the complete person you want to be, then examine yourself, identify the differences, and get to work!
Commitment is exactly that. You’re either in or out.  We all experience lapses in our commitment; pauses in our drive.  But make sure that they are just that > lapses / pauses.  Then get back on the bike and start peddling again.  Put those lapses behind you and turn your sights back on the target.

Be sure to constantly review who you are.  Don’t be brutal – be honest.  Don’t destroy yourself – constantly recreate parts of your Self.  Don’t be what others expect you to be – be better!

Please let your Inner-Artist out more often…

All humans are artists, but most don’t know it. It is easier for some to let that artist out, and those are the ones that are able to express that part of themselves more often. If your artist is hidden behind a lot of life’s garbage, it’s more difficult to find it. Or perhaps you are trying to squeeze your artist through a musical lens instead of their natural filter – which may actually be pencil art or clothing design or the written word. Some of us have artists in us that can express themselves in multiple voices. Wonderful!
But as the world I live gets more complicated and the perceived free time I have is increasingly gobbled up by this life, I have to constantly remind myself that my artist deserves to see the sunlight too.
My artist soothes me, consoles me, allows my dreams to take shape, and reminds me of God’s grace and gifts to me. It serves as a buffer against the harsh winds of life, it is an unflinching friend and companion, and it aches to be heard more often.
Kids – you are both gifted artists. Please let them out more often, and you’ll be instantly reminded of the presents they always bring with them. Don’t allow them to slumber too long. The artist’s sleep is seductive and may cause them not to immediately hear you when you call. Our artists feed on sunlight, so – please – nourish your artist more often. You will, in turn, be nourished.

What is Integrity?

Clarification – This is MY definition of “Integrity”…the one I have tried my absolute best to live by since I was 15, and the one I will continue to use as my gauge for my personal acceptable behavior.

Integrity is one of those ineffable qualities that is best described by listing the things you will and won’t do instead of offering a textbook definition.  It’s almost like describing the taste of salt; you can’t do it without mentioning foods that taste salty.  There are, however, a small set of clear-cut rules related to Integrity that are rock-solid.

First — You are responsible for your own actions.  We can rationalize our poor actions by telling others (and ourselves) that we simply “reacted” to someone else’s actions.  “She yelled at me, so I yelled back.”  Again, this is only a rationalization, and not completely true.  I have learned that we can train ourselves to change our reactions.  But the FIRST step towards changing our reactions is to take Complete Ownership of ALL of our actions.  So, when someone yells at you, you need to consciously train yourself to react differently.  First – decide what that reaction should be (i.e.: silence for a few moments to allow yourself to respond correctly to the moment), and then employ that reaction whenever possible.  Second – ensure you are attaching the “correct reaction” to the “correct trigger”.  Is it the yelling that causes you to respond aggressively?  Or is it the feeling of being somehow threatened that elicits this response?  To cover more ground with my effort (and pain), I chose to assign my reaction to the broader trigger >> Whenever I felt threatened, even slightly (by someone raising their voice, by someone saying something I perceive to be untrue or offensive, etc.), I will ‘react’ by pausing long enough to allow me to respond appropriately for the situation.  It took years, involving a lot of failed attempts, but incrementally – over time – I have gotten very good at reacting to threatening situations with a pause-and-reflect method instead of a tit-for-tat method.

Second — Never lie to yourself.  Although listed second, it is as important as the first rule.  This rule, in many ways, can be tougher than the first; especially for some people.  Lies are often a defense mechanism.  People lie to others in order to cover perceived inadequacies.  People lie to themselves for the exact same reason.  While working on the first rule, it is vital that we pay strict attention to the second rule at the same time.  We must catch ourselves in our internal lies, call ourselves out on them, and then be completely honest to ourselves about both the lie(s) and the truth behind them.  For example: When someone calls me fat, it is a common response to think “I’m not as fat as I used to be!” or “There are a lot of other people in the world MUCH fatter than I am.”  But the truth is, I AM fat – even by my own definition of that term.  I am currently 40 lbs heavier than my desired weight, and until I get to that weight, I am fat.  To have someone else bring it to my attention is rude, true enough, but I must react to them using Rule One, and then follow Rule Two to put their statement into perspective, admit the truth of it, and – ideally – use any associated anger or shame as fuel to help me continue to lose weight.  Lying about my weight to myself would only result (most likely) in me putting back on the 24 lbs I’ve already lost in the last 10 weeks, and probably an additional 20 or 30 pounds on top of that.  Remember – you can’t truly live a life of Integrity if you are constantly lying to yourself.

Third — Right is ALWAYS Right.  I know the difference between right and wrong.  I taught those values to you both, and I see you use them and weigh them constantly.  “Right” does not stop being “Right” if we are upset, if no one is watching us, or if we are around others who believe differently than we do.  The easy example is:  We are walking down the street and we see someone pull their car keys out of their pocket and, by mistake, a $20 bill falls out of their pocket at the same time, un-noticed by them.  I know you both well enough to know that you would immediately make the person aware of the money and ensure they got it back.  Here’s a tougher scenario:::  Someone asks you a direct question, and the answer – you KNOW – will cause them emotional pain.  Is telling them the truth the proper thing to do?  Since this letter is about Integrity >> How does your response to that person reflect your sense of Integrity?  To me, the correct answer is: I will pause before responding, I will weigh the consequences of my response (not the consequences to me, but to them), I will choose what I feel is the appropriate response and commit to it, and I will take sharp note of the actual result.  If it ends up being a good decision, I will note it and remember it for next time.  If it ends up being a bad choice, I will completely own that choice, do what I can (if anything) to minimize the damage, and try even harder to remember it for next time.  Following Rule Two will help you decide about “Right”.  With all of the internal lies, social conventions and life-filtering that most people do firmly set aside, it is much easier to see “Right”.

And Last — Integrity is the Core.  We are a family of Faith.  This is an undeniable, unchangeable truth.  And it is an easy affirmation to tell yourself, “My Faith is my Core.”  However, it does not diminish your Faith or your dedication to God and Christ by placing your Integrity as your Core.  The Core, as I see it, is the filter by which all things pass through.  And, the reason I place my Integrity as my Core is as a means to clarify my sense of Responsibility.  There are many, many people in this world who believe in God and Christ.  They use that belief as their moral center (WWJD) and, in most cases, they are filtering their life-decisions through their belief system.  However, it is an unfortunate reality that, in trying SO hard to bend to the ever-increasing social pressure to be universally accepting of ALL persons, many will often set-aside the crystal clear rules of right and wrong in order to get-along.  Also, this core of belief does not stop them from continuing to blame other people, society, or even God for the result(s) of the choices that they make. They can effectively lie to themselves and sidestep 100% ownership of their own actions (Yes, I yelled at her, but she yelled at me first. And I am more than willing to forgive her – if she apologizes.).  People can find ways to fit their rationalizations into what they consider to be a faith-based life.

But when Integrity is at the Core, there is no room for these rationalizations.  I HAVE to admit to myself that living with my boyfriend is wrong.  I HAVE to admit that I could have chosen an alternate response to her yelling at me, so therefore take responsibility for my role in the argument.  Most important of all –> Keeping Integrity at the Core leaves no room at all as to who is responsible for all of my actions.  It is me – each and every time.

I love you kids, and I am offering my explanation of Integrity as a way of hopefully helping you better understand what drives me, what drives my decision-making process, and what has always supported and strengthened my Faith.  I believe completely that God has blessed me with the knowledge, power and burden offered by my adherence to Integrity (read the appropriate verses) as a means of constantly strengthening me so that I can be a better husband, a better father, a better grandfather, and friend, co-worker, Deacon, Overseer, etc. (Not placed in order of importance).  And, paraphrasing something an old philosopher once said, ‘I know it will take me a lifetime and a day to perfect it.’   (Love you both!)