Sunday, September 30, 2012

Pep Talk: "The Common Good"

It was a chamber of commerce fall Saturday in the Mile High City. While walking home from a morning workout at the neighborhood gym, I was lucky to strike up a conversation with an elderly man out walking his dog. “The dog’s name is Buddy. He’s 10 years old and slowing down a bit,” the wiry gent suggested. “Kinda like me, I’m 90 years old, can’t see, or hear, worth a damn but still feel pretty good.” He looked good too. I know people much younger who look much older.

We had a great chat in our ten minutes together. I learned Dick Foster was a veteran. He served in World War II as a Navy fighter pilot. “I was all ready to fight, then we dropped the atomic bomb and they told our aircraft carrier to turn around and head back home.” 

The conversation then switched to golf and the 2012 Ryder Cup matches and shared adoration for the teamwork displayed by the golfers and patriotism exhibited by the fans. “I love watching our American pro golfers encouraging each other and the fans going crazy chanting USA....USA....USA!”

The Nonagenarian’s enthusiasm was infectious. Canine companion Buddy began to bark and wag his tail vigorously while I began to remember other recent reminders of the power of like-minded people coming together for the common good.

I told the Denver native about another guy devoted to bringing others together for the common good, Kiwanis International Rocky Mountain District Governor Jack Schwartz. “I believe in proceeding until apprehended,” says the Montana native determined to transform a century-old organization that, like most service groups, struggles to attract younger members these days. “Our average age is 65-years-old. Kiwanis needs to adapt its strategy and spend less time meeting and more time doing in our mission to change the world one child and one community at a time.” 

We were nearing my new-found friend’s Cherry Creek North residence but I still had time to share one more story about like-minded folks coming together for the common good. Former University of Colorado football players featured in an inspirational video imploring the current Buffaloes to not lose heart despite a disappointing start to their season. The video displayed grown men crying recalling the hard work and sacrifice, but great satisfaction, derived from fighting, in their Buff years, to the finish and the joy of singing the school fight song after every victory. I had the honor of introducing the video at a recent CU pep rally. Foster smiled broadly at that story, “I love the Buffs.”

It was time to say goodbye. We agreed to try and meet soon at a nearby coffee shop and continue conversing. Elder man and his best friend went one way, I another, with something pounding in my heart: the importance, and power, of rallying with others and pouring heart and soul into endeavors benefiting the common good. 

This week, let’s search our hearts, find a cause, find a group and find the resolve to serve - home, work and elsewhere. It will require, in some combination, sacrifice of time, talent and treasure. That’s okay. Even if we don’t live to be a Nonagenarian like Foster, whenever we exit we’ll know we’ve lived well for the common good.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Pep Talk: "Fulfill A Promise"

I keep bumping into Alferd Williams. Each encounter is a powerful reminder of something important. It tugs at me. I hope it tugs at you too.

The latest encounter came during a quick weekend trip to hometown Kansas City, Missouri to visit family. On a absolutely gorgeous Midwest fall day, while driving mother and sister toward downtown, and a weekend farmer’s market, a billboard along the highway jumped out at me.

There was the Arkansas native, staring down at me with his broad smile and massive hands, which were holding a book. The day before, I had seen a similar billboard on the way to Denver International Airport for the short flight into the town, once known as Westport Landing, nestled on the bluffs above the confluence of the Missouri and Kansas rivers.

Williams was born in the late 1930‘s, the son of a sharecropper and the fourth of nine children. At the age of eight the mild-mannered lad went to work in the fields, picking crops until sundown, on the family farm. There was no time for school. Williams’ mom could read but father could not. Life on the farm was tough, leaving an exhausted mom little time to share bedtime stories with her kids . Williams grew up illiterate but promised his mother, someday that would change. Life went on, Williams spent decades working in manual labor, raised ten children but never forgot the promise made to his mother.

Whenever given the chance to present a Pep Talk to others, we always converse about an important choice we face constantly: being the victim, or student, of life’s experiences, unwanted and desired. Williams chose the latter and seized the moment when opportunity knocked.

As an adult he migrated north to St. Joseph, Missouri, an hour north of Kansas City and birthplace of the Pony Express. A friend, a single mom, needed help walking her children to a nearby elementary school. Williams volunteered for the duty, and in doing so, became acquainted with the school’s veteran first-grade teacher. Her gentle manner gave hope and confidence to accomplish a long-held dream. Williams courageously put fear aside and allowed wonderment to win in asking the teacher, “Teach me to read.”

The teacher agreed and the unlikely duet worked through the summer months. The daily two-hour sessions proved successful and inspired the mentor to approach the school principal with a out-of-the-box idea: allowing a 70-year-old man to continue literacy training in her first-grade class, with a bunch of six-year-old classmates.

I had learned this heartwarming story, first mentioned in a 2008 People magazine article, just a few days before visiting Kansas City during a BNI (Business Network International) meeting in the Mile High City. The presenter, a photojournalist, had personally, and expertly, chronicled William’s story with heartwarming photos and soundbites. Adorable visuals of a 70-year-old man sitting on a short stool amid classmates sitting cross-legged in a semi-circle before their teacher, practicing phonetics and singing sons brought tears to eyes and this to brain: It’s never too late to become superior to our former selves.

While the story’s a bit old, the lesson is fresh. Right now the task before us may be learning to read, losing weight, releasing anger, forgiving self or others, courageously changing careers, retiring unhealthy habits, exercising more - whatever.

The bottom line, thanks Alferd, is this: Where there’s a will, there’s a way. A man never forgot a promise and in the process became a revered member of a school community, gained celebrity status through print, television and radio and inspired others with a “never too late” story.

Where might it be time to find the will to search for the way to transform the circumstances of life? The world’s oldest first-grader is a great example, when the pupil is ready, quite often, the teacher will appear. It is never too late to fulfill a promise. To others or ourselves.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Pep Talk: "Remain Calm"

Often life, and its hectic pace, requires us to slow down, and it is good.

Such was the case recently when teenage daughter’s weekend volleyball tournament had my butt parked at Eaglecrest High School in suburban Denver for the entire day. In between matches there was plenty of time to slow down a bit and read. Not surprisingly, it lead to being reminded of something important. The reminder came from a book, Getting over the Four Hurdles of Life and the remarkable story of a small-college basketball coach, Don Meyer.

The Nebraska native retired from coaching after the 2009-10 season and 38 years as  head coach at Hamline, Lispcomb and Northern State (South Dakota) universities. He played college basketball at the University of Northern Colorado. The father of three retired with 923 wins, second only to Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski’s in career victories for a coach with at least one stint at an NCAA school. Meyer was a winner who liked to joke that his teams used the “f words” often. Lest anyone misunderstand, for Meyer, “f words” stood for “faith, family and friends.”

But like most, the man who won a NAIA national championship in 1986, has been forced to overcome adversity on the path to great achievement. For instance, on a September night in 2008, Meyer was driving back to Northern’s State University’s campus in Aberdeen, South Dakota when, drowsy, he dozed off. The van he was driving veered into the oncoming lane and collided head-on with an 18-wheel tractor trailer.  Nobody was injured but Meyer. He suffered crushed ribs; blood flooded his chest cavity; spleen and diaphragm were destroyed and Meyer’s left leg was badly mangled.

It gets worse. During life-saving surgeries doctors discovered cancer is his liver and intestines. After one of the procedures, the Hall of Fame coach had a tube down his throat and couldn’t speak. He requested his daughter to hand him pen and paper and wrote: “When will I be able to coach again?”

Two weeks later doctors amputated the coach’s left leg below the knee. Finally, after 55 days in the hospital, Meyer returned to coaching having never missed a game despite the horrific injuries and battle with cancer. January 10, 2009, Northern State delivered its coach career win number 903, then a record.

Later that year, at the ESPY Awards, Meyer was honored for excellence and perseverance and told an adoring crowd of the great mentors he had been blessed to know over the years. One of them was former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, considered by many the greatest coach, any sport, ever. Wooden told Meyer long ago, this about dealing with adversity: “Don’t whine, don’t complain and don’t make excuses.” Amen to that.

Meyer concluded his remarks with another gem: “I have learned from this odyssey that peace is not the absence of trouble, trial and torment, but calm in the midst of them.”

In a noisy gym, during a respite in the action, an opportunity to pause and read encouraged a simple dude from Missouri to remain calm despite what ails. I hope taking a few minutes to read this Pep Talk inspires you in a similar fashion. Troubles, trials and torments will appear, or persist, in our lives, let’s take the coach’s advice. Remain calm. It will help us play like a champion too.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Pep Talk: "Expanding Opportunities"

Who doesn’t like Fridays, right? We’ve reached, for most, the end of the work and eagerly look ahead to respite from the daily grind and, let’s hope, a little weekend fun. 

Fridays, at least for this simple dude from Missouri, also mean gathering, eight o’clock in the morning, in a room full of knuckleheads. We challenge, encourage and cajole one another to strengthen our faith. 

This past week about a dozen of us were pondering the following question: “What are you holding onto that needs to be poured out so others can have their vision of God expanded?” While the conversation flowed back and forth around me, I couldn’t get my mind removed from altering the question a bit. Cranium was fixated on this: “What am I holding onto that needs to be poured out so I can have my vision of life’s possibilities expanded?”

What holds us back? Personally, I believe the biggest barrier is the six inches between our ears. Last week I wrote about Harlan “Colonel” Sanders and his recipe for success. He just wouldn’t give up. It wasn’t until the Indiana native was 65-years-old and had endured several setbacks - childhood beatings, divorce, business failure to name a few - before Kentucky Fried Chicken was born and prospered. Sanders didn’t hang on to past disappointments and their offspring: fear and self doubt.

When given the joy and honor of speaking to others about effectively handling adversity, sharing the importance of letting go of fear and self doubt and allowing courage and wonderment to win, is always explored. The words of Shakespeare come to mind: “Our doubts are traitors that make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.”

I have a favorite keepsake a friend gave me years ago that states: “Don’t let fear get in the way of your dreams. Instead, remember courage is the soul of your dreams.” Amen to that.

As I write this Pep Talk, it’s a Saturday morning about 20 minutes before departure to join other men and women for a robust 12-minute workout at a Maximized Living location in the Denver metro area. In partnership with three doctors and their locations in the area, Victory Productions is encouraging others, and ourselves, to maximize life and live like champions. Part of that mission is weekend workouts devoted to fitness, nutrition and wellness. I so admire the participants who are letting go of past unproductive habits. They’re inspiring me to do the same. Like-minded people, gathering together and giving hope and confidence to one another in healthy and productive ways - rarely a bad thing, right?

What about you? Where is it time to ask the question: “What am I holding onto that needs to be poured out so I can have my vision of life’s possibilities expanded?” Perhaps it’s centered on something physical, emotional or spiritual? An issue at home, work or elsewhere? The venues and circumstances don’t matter nearly as much as our attitude toward them.

For me, answering the above question means having the guts to continue to figure out a way to earn a living centered on what truly warms the marrow and is Victory’s mission: exalting, inquiring and encouraging others to play like champions - home, work and elsewhere. When a marketing client is lost, speaking opportunities become sporadic, book sales slow to a trickle, an inner voice - fear - does try and dominate the self chatter with something like, “Go get a real job knucklehead!”

But then, usually, there will be a sign. These days it seems, I’ll be driving around town and lo and behold, I’ll see a billboard - a sign - advertising Kentucky Fried Chicken. I’ll see the Colonel’s smiling face and receive a powerful reminder of a fellow human being who rose above the fray, despite great hardship, and refused to relinquish a dream. He remained joyful for the present, optimistic about the future and courageous despite the past.

Joyful, optimistic and courageous. Let’s pour that terrific trio into life this week and see if it expands our opportunities. Trust me, the effort will not harm us.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Pep Talk: "The Recipe"

How do we overcome fear and self-doubt? How do we muster courage to fight off debilitating feelings that drag our souls through muck and mire? Fear and self-doubt might permeate from a tough battle with cancer; struggles to build a successful small business, marriage or long-term relationship. The angst might have genesis in a constant battle with health issues or becoming physically fit. The challenges of life arrive, often unexpected and unwanted, in a variety of ways. The critical question becomes, how do we deal with them? Do we become victims of the circumstances of life, or students of the experiences?

The above mentioned facts of life were running through my head this past week as I slid behind the wheel of darling girlfriend’s luxury sports utility vehicle. The backseat flips down easily making it perfect for hauling stuff, and I was headed on a short, five minute, trip to Home Depot to fetch material for a home project.

With mind too fixated on the above issues affecting my life, or the lives of those dearly loved, little attention was given to what station, or content, the car radio provided. My mind was tuned, ominously, to the trials and tribulations darkening the journey like storm clouds brewing on the horizon.

Then, at exactly the right moment, words from a radio commentator’s mouth, summoned a burst of sunlight piercing the, perceived, oncoming storm and bringing hope to the soul. Hope is always a good thing. Lucky me. I hope, in reading this Pep Talk, lucky you too.

The commentator, never identified, in a calm but inspirational manner, was telling the story of a man who had endured hardship, adversity and bad luck through much of life: constant beatings from an abusive stepfather; the Indiana native quit school and left home at the age of 12; falsified birth records and used a persuasive personality to gain entrance into the U.S. Army at 15, serving honorably and completing service as a mule handler in Cuba. 

Time went on and the teenager moved south, to Alabama, and held many jobs including: steamboat pilot, insurance salesman, railroad fireman and farmer. He married, started a family, but his wife left, taking three kids and leaving this note, “I had no business marrying a no-good fellow like you who can’t hold down a job.” Ouch.

The year was 1930, the average cost of an America home was $7,000, a gallon of gas just a dime, and the now 40-year old moved to Kentucky, opened a service station where he also cooked meals for customers. The business thrived, critics praised the country fare and wondered about the secret recipe. Life was good for almost 25 years. Heck, Kentucky’s governor bestowed upon him the honorary title of “Colonel.”

But storm clouds, no fault of his own, were brewing: America’s love of the automobile and the fledging interstate highway system re-routed traffic away from the thriving business. It withered and died. The same could not be said about the now 65-year-old’s spirit.

He cooked up a bunch of his tasty chicken dishes and hit the road offering franchise opportunities to anybody who would listen. Legend has it that 1,009 folks said, “No thanks.” He persevered, continually putting fear and self-doubt aside and, finally, found a kindred spirit.

As we like to say, “The rest is history.” Kentucky Fried Chicken was born. Harlan “Colonel” Sanders with his, by now, distinctive all-white attire, hair and beard never gave up on himself and life. We shouldn’t either.

A quick trip in somebody else’s car, listening to the radio tuned to another’s person station of choice, delivered, at just the right moment, an incredible reminder to the recipe, it ain’t secret, to success in life: Hang in there!

We all have our story. We all have our struggles. This week, when the crap seems overwhelming and, while in the boxing ring we call life, temptation to throw in the surrender towel seems like the best option, pull this little reminder from the perseverance bucket. Heck, in honor of Sanders, who died in 1980 at the age of 90, order a family-size portion and share it with others considering it’s finger-lickin’ good.

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