I’m ready now

radyIn modern American society, it seems the common wish when people contemplate death is that they go quickly, with little suffering and no time to be distressed about the situation. If my remembrance of history is correct, people have in the past prayed the opposite, that death would not come unless one had time to prepare his or her heart and bid goodbye to loved ones.

My life has probably been touched by death to an average degree for someone my age. On one hand, both my mother, who died when I was 12, and my father, who died when I was 20, went before their time, and likely were not in a good place. On the other hand, when my grandmother and sister-in-law passed away, death came as merciful; it was time for their suffering to end.

I have been thinking about death a bit recently. Maybe it’s because I am helping prepare a care package for a friend whose wife, age 33, passed away during childbirth a few months ago. Or maybe it’s because I have been preparing my will just this week. I hope, though, that my thoughts and feelings have less temporal origins.

Henry David Thoreau said, “What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.” I haven’t achieved nearly all the goals I have set out for myself. I think, however, that I’ve become a person who could accept death were it to come. (This reminds me of a conversation I once had with Bill Rodgers, 3-time winner of the Boston Marathon. I asked him, when he knew he was no longer competing to win, if he accepted it gracefully or fought against it. He said, “It didn’t matter because that was how it was going to be in any case.”)

Certain things make accepting the inevitability of death easier. Perhaps it’s the faith that there’s more to our experience than what our senses perceive; what we see and feel isn’t all there is to reality. Maybe it’s the feeling, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, that if I find in myself desires that nothing in this earth can satisfy, then it must be that I wasn’t made for here.

I think, though, it’s more simple than that. The fact is that the only lasting legacy is love. I hope I have given myself in such a way that my family and the friends I have come to regard as family will in some way always know I love them and perhaps be a little different because of the time we’ve shared.

This morning a dear friend and I ran in the pre-dawn through a magical world of lights, sculptures, fellow runners, and a sky that was at first stars and then sunrise coming from the east. I hope to live another several decades and repeat that run a hundred more times. If my demise were to come, however, I know that I could leave peacefully. I’m ready now.

Being your best


As a friend and I were nearing the end of a long run, I asked her the following question: “What do you do to be at your best? In other words, what is it that is necessary for you to feel happy, content, and at peace?” Her response, included below, indicated that balance was essential for her.


As a result of her thoughtful answer, I decided to ask others the same. I will plead 100% guilty to being pretty intense about approaching growth. This, of course, includes an intentionality about how to be my best every day. I am curious about others, especially others who seem to be purposeful in pursuing their goals.

We all have an internal compass which points to our own personal true north. Perhaps we don’t always check the compass before we set out for the day.

What I like about the answers I received is both the variety and the commonality. I have the sense that folks know that being your best isn’t always about gritting your teeth and re-doubling efforts. This is reminiscent of Thomas Merton’s statement that “Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance and order and rhythm and harmony.” For me, the reminders below underscore this thought.

Here, then, are the responses:

I am at my best when I prioritize nurturing my spiritual self. When I am spiritually balanced and whole, the rest (physical, emotional, mental) falls into place. Tamara T.

I’m at my best when I’m present and engaged in the moment. Not dwelling in the past or daydreaming about the future–just being and doing. Every time is now.Steve K.

I’m at my best when I am surrounded by friends and family who encourage me to be a better version of myself. Susan C.

I’ve learned that time spent in nature is needed for me to reach the best version of myself. I’m at my best when I have balance between the personal and social, creative and intellectual, emotional and rational, and my spiritual life is at the foundation of it all. Jamie S.

Being at my best is like a recipe, a daily routine. It’s grounded in physical exercise, balanced nutrition and getting 7.5 hours of sleep. It continues with learning something new and investing energy in self and others. And it always contains daily reflection and gratitude. As Jimmy Valvano said “if you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day.” When I reflect on my best days they’ve always been “full days.” Brian G.

I am at my best when I feel calm, confident, and have new goals to achieve. I most easily get to this point after spending time exercising and enjoying the outdoors.Jill P.

I’m at my best when I feel clarity in my goals and purpose, both immediate and longterm. Risa G.

Biggest thing is to have my actions align with who I am. So many distractions out there that I find if I’m not consistently thinking about it, I begin to shift in a million directions. You can’t be happy if you’re suppressing who you are. Eddie P.

I’m at my best when I have self-confidence and self-love.” When I’m unsure of myself or doubt that I’m worthy, I struggle. But when I recognize positive aspects in myself and trust in myself, everything seems easier. Jill M.

I’m at my best when I remember to appreciate the little things in life. Allison M.

I’m at my best when all things that make me content are at equilibrium — physical and mental activity, having a positive impact on the world and within my community, helping or watching close friends flourish, and achieving personal goals which bring me closer to the best version of myself. Carolyn H.

I’m at my best when I ask questions, listen attentively and minimize judgments. Many times there is no right or wrong, just different. Maggie U.

The time is now

Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then is not an act but a habit.” Every day, you make decisions about how to spend your time. Moreover, you determine the tenor of your life by how you choose to live out each minute. When you are young, time seems to be abundant. By the time you reach middle age, though, the cumulative effect of all these minute-by-minute decisions will show – in your countenance, in your work, in your social life, and in your family.

timeWe have a tendency to say, “Well, I’ll do this and that after I get through this difficult thing.” Here’s the truth: there’s never a perfect time. A new job, raising children, career demands, preparing for retirement. All of these make for good reasons to postpone living well. And by the time you’re ready to tackle living well, living is about over.

The little things add up. I would encourage you to be intentional in everything you do. Maintain good posture, adopt a sense of gratitude, get good sleep, be positive, eat healthy, spend some quiet time each day to reflect on life. Together, these things will lead you down a path which serves to nourish the essence of who you were meant to be.

Sacrificing nothing

work-152822_1280Sometimes I sit in a meeting a wonder what we all would have been doing for a job 50 years ago. The important industries in North Carolina back then were tobacco, farming, textiles, banking, and insurance. It can be equal parts unnerving and inspiring to think I might have been doing something in one of those industries. The fact is, the education that do many of us enjoy was built on the money made from those things.

There’s a famous quote (of unknown attribution) which says, “Opportunity Is Missed Because It Is Dressed in Overalls and Looks Like Work.” Someone from the past who worked on a tobacco farm would have laughed to hear me describe anything I do to be hard work. After all, I help intelligent people understand how to use software from the comfort of my office. This makes it all the more incumbent on me to recognize the opportunity I have.

There is more to life than work. There is more to success than work. But work also isn’t a punishment. There are people who would love to be where we are right now. One of my favorite quotes is from Steve Prefontaine: “To give less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” As Labor Day approaches, let’s remind each other to sacrifice nothing.

Here’s a favorite poem of mine related to this subject:

To be of use

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

The non-technical secrets to my success

randy-pictureThe skills that have most come into play in my career are those that aren’t technical in nature. These can be done by anyone, anytime regardless of education or training. In no particular order, these include:

  • Smiling — A powerful way to say so much.
  • Efficiency — I truly believe that the amount of time something takes is how much time is allotted.
  • Communication — You can increase trust and confidence by communicating with frequency.
  • Positive attitude — If you are a manager, you appreciate those who have a positive attitude toward what needs to be done.
  • Open-mindedness — When change happens, as it always does, having an open mind toward change makes the difference.
  • Interest in others — Learning about people and remembering the details of their lives will make them want to help you. It’s also just part of being a good human being.
  • Being eclectic — The world is big. Having a broad frame of interests will make you more interesting and able to converse.
  • Courage — Courage is usually a matter of being afraid but doing what needs to be done anyway.
  • Nothing too big or too small — There are times when you are requested to do something enormous and other times when tasks seem beneath you. You need to be able to do both with enthusiasm.
  • Always learning — I had a co-worker who once came to a meeting and said, “Whatever we are having today, I want a big bowl!” It helps to always be looking forward.

I hope to continue what I’m doing for a long time, but I know that any job I might ever have, I will approach it the same way.

Appreciating what is

IMG_2742This is a picture of my stapler. Although I do use it once in a while, it’s become a symbol of something bigger. When I first started at my job in 1991, the department admin, Louise, gave me this brand new stapler for my desk (which was actually in the hall) and I felt like I had really struck gold in my role as an intern. I mean, a desk of my own, a IBM 3270 terminal for the mainframe, and a brand new stapler!

I keep this around to remind me not to take things for granted. We humans are amazing creatures. We can rise to almost any occasion. I often feel like we are at our very best at formal events like funerals, graduations, and weddings. But we can also take things for granted very quickly. We are thrilled to be accepted to school and then grow tired of going to class. We feel so safe and secure with a mate and then see only his or her bad habits. We lament an injury and then become so tired of having to exercise. I am as bad about this as anyone.

Perhaps we need, every so often, to empty our cup so we can fill it again. Maybe we can take a few minutes today to remind ourselves of how we once were hoping for what we take for granted today. Maybe do something good for the bodies which are so important to our happiness and well-being.

If you have your own version of a stapler, keep it in sight where it can remind you of all the good things that have come your way.

Follow the process

“To me, success looks like faithfulness.”  Kelly Clark, Olympic snowboard medalist

Last summer, about this time, several of us were training for a fall marathon, and this training called for us to run long distances in the soup-like North Carolina heat. For three weeks in a row, I ran with a friend and we did not meet our time goal. In fact, my friend because nauseated each time and I wasn’t exactly the picture of fitness either.

On the fourth week, we agreed on two things: 1) We would run only as fast as her heart-rate allowed within reason; 2) We would not worry about our time goal. That week, we had a breakthrough. Not only did we make it through the distance, but we enjoyed the experience. At that point, I reminded her that we were already successful because we had followed the process we had chosen. The fourth week may have seemed like a win, but it was the whole sequence which determined our success.

In his book, The Obstacle is the Way, author Ryan Holiday relates the philosophy of Nick Saban, coach of the successful Alabama Crimson Tide football team: “Follow the Process”. Every activity is based on the simple notion, “What can we do today? What can we do in this drill? In this block? On this play?” This simple philosophy has worked well.

Process provides the way (the path) toward your goal. While you always want to be aware of your goal, you get there in discrete, small steps. Faithfulness to the process is how you get there. Whether you are focused on achievement, or making it through a difficult situation, the process is the same.

The process can help you avoid panic. You just do the next step and you do it as well as possible. When you’re facing more work than you think you can handle, when the list of tasks is inordinately long, when you are on the edge of being overwhelmed…you just do the next thing, and do it as well as you can.

One way to do this is to develop habits and rituals to keep you on track. For example, every day, I list 1-3 things which were good about that day. I take 5-10 minutes of quiet to be grateful. I make it a point to visit each one of the people I manage at work. I send 1-2 notes of encouragement to friends. These are just my habits; yours need to work well for you.

Martha Beck wrote, “When nervous stop & relax for three full breaths. Next take one small step, then another. That is how people get to the top of Everest.”

It’s likely that you will need to remind yourself of this in your personal and professional life in the future. Personally, maybe you will be planning a wedding, buying a house, or dealing with the declining health of a parent. Professionally, maybe you will have multiple conflicting priorities, a seemingly impossible deadline, or a work-life balancing problem. When this happens, keep in mind: Follow the process.


First among equals: your physical self

I’ve written before about the need for balance in life, the ideal of the Renaissance man or woman. As a teen, one of my idols was Kris Kristofferson, because he had been a college football player, award-winning songwriter, Army helicopter pilot, Rhodes scholar, actor, and singer. I was not going to match his achievements but I was to determined to never let go of the concept.

If we view a well-rounded person as having balance between the spiritual, intellectual, social, and physical, then it seems to me the last of these is most often the casualty of 21st-century life. Volumes have been written about obesity in the United States and its consequences. Most often, the focus is on the cost in health care and, to a lesser extent, the quality of life.

To pursue fitness is a chase we always win. In any attempt to improve our fitness, we are treating the body as the temple it is.

I have lain exhausted on a track after running 400-meter repeats. I have fallen off a rowing machine when done with a 5000-meter time trial. I have kicked and been kicked by a 265-pound mass of muscle in a sparring match. I ran into the proverbial wall in my first three marathons. And I threw up from exertion five days in a row at football practice in high school.

These have been some of the most meaningful moments in my life.  My friend Jamie wrote, “When we push ourselves in the physical realm beyond what we think we can handle, this mentality spills over into other aspects of our lives. In teaching ourselves that we can handle that physical hill, we learn that we can also tackle the hills in the other aspects of our lives. We learn who we are, and what we can do. We learn that we are more than what our insecurities whisper to us. We are stronger than our doubts would have us believe.”

To view exercise as simply an unpleasant requirement to maintain health is to miss the point.  We are maintaining the foundation of all that we are. Though we sometimes want to compartmentalize our lives, we are far to0 complex for one area of our existence not to affect other areas.

If you are severely overweight: Let me say that I never view you with anything less than heartfelt concern. My strong desire is this: To come alongside you, have you place your hand over your heart, and let you remind yourself that it is that steady heartbeat keeping you alive. I want to re-introduce you to the body which would skip along the playground during recess, which awakened during adolescence, and which must occasionally feel stirrings to rise up to a physical challenge.

If you have previously been fit but have lost yourself in the business of life: Whatever you have going, exercise should be viewed with the same importance as your job and your loved ones. If the day were to come where you find your life threatened by illness, you would quickly see it this way. Why wait until that day?

If you are currently exercising and taking care of yourself: Be proud. You are stoking the fire of the engine which powers the rest of your life. You have overcome the inertia which drives us all to conserve energy, and found that energy feeds on energy.

When I get together with my friends for a run, or go to my friend Gina‘s class at the gym, everyone looks much the same. Some are medical doctors, some are PhD’s, some are stay-at-home moms, some are young, some not so much, but all generally wear similar clothes and are at similar levels of fitness. This should tell us something: When our time on earth is coming to an end, we won’t take our material possessions with us. Instead, it’s the hills we climbed, both the figurative and literal hills, on which we’ll look back with fondness. And how do we prepare ourselves to climb hills? By doing it.


Terminally earnest

Shortly after September 11, 2001, I remember a pundit on the radio saying that as a result of the terrorist attacks, we had reached the end of the age of cynicism. Indeed, it seemed for a while a sobriety had come over the United States in which people were more reflective in all of their comments, not just those surrounding current events, but in every area.

Eventually, life began to return mostly to normal. The monologues of late night comedians again took on a snarky tone, sarcasm resumed its prominent place, and commercials on television again became satirical. To the extent that this represented, in a strange way, a healing of sorts, then we have to view the return of cynicism as just that.

For reasons I may not fully understand even now, I feel happiest and most comfortable in a world of sincerity. My family knows that on those rare occasions when I am sarcastic, I am not in a good place. I call myself “terminally earnest”.

Even if someone is fairly loquacious like myself, we are limited in what we say. And I tend to think that what we say shapes our lives. I’ve found it effective to tell others what they mean to me. If I’m sad, I’ll come out and say it. And if I’m excited and happy, you’ll hear me say that also.

Brene Brown, in her book “Rising Strong” discusses how we sometimes temper our happiness because we anticipate that it may not last and we don’t want to be disappointed. I think, in the same way, we don’t want to express our true heart because someone may crush it. I believe this begins early in life when children tease us in response to what we say.

I was looking at old vinyl records in a store with a friend today and I was struck by how, in the 1960s, recording artists would often put pictures of themselves on the record cover, smiling and offering themselves to the world. Often, their expression seemed to say, “Here. I am giving you my best effort.”


Were these artists naive to think that we would accept them as they are? Were they too unsophisticated to know they were taking a risk, that we might make fun of their earnestness? I don’t think so. Times were different, for certain. But I don’t think these singers were lacking in awareness. I think, rather, they were putting their best foot forward, giving us the opportunity to accept them, without fear.



I am acutely aware of my limitations and faults. I know that I have not traveled much and have limited experience with the most cosmopolitan among us. Still, I am not afraid to wear my heart on my sleeve.

To say “I love you”, to offer up your best, and to risk getting your heart crushed is the price you pay for living life to its fullest.

I should hasten to add that many of my good friends are what my daughters would call “sassy”. They aren’t afraid to be sarcastic, and even to volley your heart back to you if you serve it to them. I understand this and don’t begrudge it. But I will say this: I think they sense who I am and communicate with me accordingly. In the end, perhaps it makes for more heartfelt conversations. And I sense that they know they can come to me with tender thoughts and feelings.

In the area I live, there seem to be an abundance of bluegrass bands, in disproportion to the number of actual bluegrass fans (at least in my estimation). I have a theory about this. I think it is easy to sing these old mountain bluegrass songs because they are delivered with a bit of wryness and a wink. Folks know that they can relax because no one will take them seriously when they croon “The river rose the cricket sang, The lightnin’ bug did flash his wing, Then like a rope my arms I fling, Round Rose of Alabama”. There is almost no emotional risk in delivering this sentiment.  On the other hand, there aren’t many who will lay it out, singing “I can’t make you love me” or “When a man loves a woman“.

Cynicism is alive and well. I get it. For me, however, I stand ready to risk it all. I remain yours, terminally earnest.


10 mind tricks to make you mentally stronger

“Make sure your worst enemy doesn’t live between your own two ears.” Laird Hamilton

I believe in placebos. When a doctor gives me a prescription, I’m taking it largely on faith that it will address the problem. I don’t think I’ve ever looked at the clinical trials for the medicine, much less conducted my own. If it makes me feel better, then I don’t examine why.

In the same way, I’m perfectly happy with mind games. I’ve learned over the years we can talk ourselves down from the ledge and get us back to where we need to be. When you face a challenge, when an obstacle looms large, when you’re stuck, progress may be as close as a thought.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve developed many tricks for mental toughness and resilience. Here are some ideas for how you might get out of a bad mental or emotional place. These are things I say to myself:

1)    “It might as well be me.” In my work in Information Technology, I was on-call for many, many years and would often be awakened in the middle of the night to address some problem. Over that time, I decided no one was going to be perfectly equipped to deal with every possibility. In that respect, I was as good a choice as anyone to handle it. Next time you have to deal with something difficult, just say to yourself “It might as well be me.”

2)    “Failure isn’t fatal.” The paraphrase of a Winston Churchill quote is a reassurance we can come back from a defeat. As Babe Ruth said, “Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.” Similarly, when you fail, you have eliminated another way not to succeed, so you are making progress.

3)    “Will it matter in five years?” The things, which were of so much concern to you five years ago, at least many of the small frustrations of life, seldom matter today.

4)    “Remember who you represent.” I sometimes remind myself I represent my company, my school, my family, my team, and other groups I love. If I quit on myself, I’m also quitting on them, so that’s not going to happen.

5)    “You’ve done harder things than this.” It’s true. If you’re a woman who has had a baby, if you’ve gotten a college degree, if you’ve survived a bad illness, if you’ve come back from an injury, then remind yourself the current challenge is no worse.

6)    “They said it couldn’t be done.” Don’t you feel a rush of adrenaline when someone tells you that you can’t do something? Don’t you want to prove that person wrong? While I usually try to keep things positive, sometimes you just need to show someone who says “It can’t be done” what you’re made of.

7)    “This too shall pass.” There was a time when Mike Tyson seemed invincible in the boxing ring. That is until an unknown named Buster Douglass defeated him. Those difficulties and challenges, which seem like unmovable mountains, often fade over time.

8)    Association/Disassociation. Joan Nesbit Mabe, a world-class distance runner and inspirational friend, taught me about this technique over 20 years ago. It’s usually applied to physical challenges, but can also be thought of with regard to feelings. The basic idea is that sometimes you need to be exactly mindful of what is going on (association), but sometimes it helps to disassociate from it. Or, as one of my exercise instructors says when we are dying at the end of class, “Don’t even think, just do it!”

9)   Remember what other people have to do. You know there are soldiers investigating urban warfare situations, parents making life and death decisions about their child, teachers dealing with children who they suspect are being abused. There are all kinds of tough things people face very day. Let the fact that they move forward keep you going.

10)  “Eye of the Tiger”  Almost every male I know has been inspired at some point by the training scenes in the “Rocky” movies. Or maybe Aragon’s speech at the Black Gate is more to your liking. I’m happy to derive inspiration wherever I can get it.

No matter what you face, you have the ability to face it with dignity and courage. If there comes a time when you must go down to defeat, go down swinging.