Sunday, October 28, 2012

Pep Talk: "Ridin' the Storm Out"

After strapping on a 38-pound weight vest, I climbed aboard the mistress, otherwise known as the StairMaster machine at Kinetics Fitness Studio. The quaint place is known as “the best gym in American; not for its spa, but its spirit.”

One of the gym’s trainers, Bijan Fathy, affectionately known as “Sergeant Carter” for his boisterous encouragement of members, flipped the nearby television to the Weather Channel and continuing coverage of Hurricane Sandy, the ferocious storm bearing down on America’s populous Atlantic seaboard.

Suddenly, and totally spontaneous, we started chatting about weather-related songs that would fit the mood. Another gym member working out nearby joined in the conversation and suddenly from Fathy’s Ipod, REO Speedwagon’s 1973 hit, Ridin’ the Storm Out, blasted into our brains. 

As the workout continued we heard The Doors’ Riders on the Storm - Jim Morrison’s last recorded song before his death - and the German heavy metal band Poison’s Rock You Like a Hurricane. Challenging our brains to remember storm-related songs made the sweat-inducing and heart pumping session go quickly.

Throughout I kept thinking of “riding the storm out” and how it applies to those in harms way from Sandy’s fury, the first responders responsible for rescuing and, when thinking about the storms of life, how we deal with them.

Riding the storm out ain’t easy. As I took step after step, watched the weather coverage and listened to the music, cranium wandered to riding the storm out of a promising athletic career dashed by injury; two painful divorces; cherished jobs eliminated, anxiety of building a small business to a sustainable level; watching loved ones suffer and perish; understanding teenage children and the plethora of other moments life has delivered, and will continue to present, requiring me to batten down the hatches and weather emotional, physical and financial fury.

Ever been there? Sure, we all have, right? For this simple dude from Missouri, faith has been the foundation to riding the storm out. But there’s more. It’s what is discussed during each and every Pep Talk I’m blessed to present about effectively dealing with adversity and turning life’s lemons - heck with lemonade - into savory margaritas: we must find the strength to learn from, not become a victim of, the experience; we must remember we’re not alone and connect with others dealing with similar challenges; once connecting we never grow weary of doing good for each other, especially encouraging one another to survive, rebuild and, let’s hope, ultimately thrive despite what ails us.

Simple to recite, not so easy to execute. Do it anyway!

REO’s, the band still tours regularly more than four decades after its Champaign, Illinois birth in 1967, sensational hit song about Mother Nature’s wrath was written while the band waited out a harsh winter blizzard following a concert in Casper, Wyoming. If, or when, storms batter your world, don’t lose hope. Heck, be like Bijan, go to You Tube, search for Ridin’ the Storm Out, listen to it, believe it and remember, “this too shall pass.”

Good luck!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Pep Talk: "Toil the Soil"

I recently rang the cell phone of a dear friend who is battling breast cancer. She’s doing well and the prognosis is good but it’s a journey the devoted wife and mother of two would prefer to avoid.  The conversation moved through many areas of life. For whatever reason, my mind wandered to a moment a few years ago with this woman, her hubby - my buddy - and their kids who are like a niece and nephew to me:

It was a typical Friday evening in our Congress Park neighborhood on Denver’s near east side: I’m hanging with the neighbors, sipping some beers, visiting about the week and savoring dinner. This evening take-out Chinese was being consumed in hearty amounts – that happens when you have teenagers and invite McIntosh to dinner.

Anyway, after devouring the various delicacies we turned our attention to dessert, fortune cookies. The neighbor’s daughter, at the time, a high-school sophomore cracked open a cookie and read some wise words written on a thin strip of paper: “Life does not improve by chance. It improves by change.”

Ah, that was music to my ears and made me think of William Bridges. A former professor of English, the California-based consultant and lecturer is one of the world’s foremost experts on change and transition. His second book, The Way of Transition is one of my favorites and was tremendously helpful in the aftermath of my second painful divorce more than a decade ago.

In the book Bridges discusses his own painful experience following his beloved wife’s death from cancer. He was really struggling with her departure and was also beating himself up emotionally because he was the “change guy” but he wasn’t dealing with this change very well.

With these issues as the emotional backdrop, Bridges after speaking on the East Coast was flying back to California. It was a beautiful and clear day across America and from his window seat the Ivy-League educated change expert was glancing down on America and pondering his future. He began to notice our country’s great rivers: The Ohio, Mississippi and Missouri and how each twists and turns on its journey toward its ultimate destination. But something else warmed his marrow. Where these rivers twist and turn is where rich sediment is dropped and a large portion of our nation’s food supply is produced. In other words, the twists and turns along the river’s journey and the sediment dropped provide a fertile spot for growth!

The irony shook him more violently than unexpected turbulence. Could it be that life is often that way? That the unexpected twists and turns, while painful, ultimately can produce rich soil for us to grow into something superior to our former selves?

It takes us back to the fortune cookie: “life does not improve by chance. It improves by change.” But here’s the important point. Life will not improve by change unless we keep a healthy attitude toward it and commit to being a student, not a victim, of our experiences. We all have our stories, right? Has anybody’s life gone exactly the way you planned? I would suspect the answer to that question is, “of course not.”

Life might be taking you on some crazy twists and turns right now. The question becomes how will you handle it? Don’t forget to till the soil of change. Within it might be all the nutrients necessary for explosive and fruitful growth at home, work and elsewhere.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Pep Talk: "Persevere Too"

Ever have those days when you feel like waving the white flag of surrender? Ya know, those moments when you want to toss the towel into the middle of the boxing ring of life and say, “No mas!”

Sure, we all have. Perhaps the frustration resides within health ailments, a relationship gone sour or business faltering. Maladies have unique DNA. What is common, whatever ails us, is the strategy in dealing with them. It boils down to a simple question: Will we become a victim of the circumstances of life or become a student of the experience? It’s our choice.

Recently, on a Saturday morning, within a span of one hour, I was reminded, from three different people, to the power of perseverance, defined as “persistence in the course of action especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles or discouragement.”

The opening act of this terrific trio was my mother, Patsy. We had a phone chat while I was driving the 30-minute trek from the Mile High City to Boulder, Colorado. We have developed a routine where I always call, she lives in Kansas City, Kansas, after my Friday morning men’s fellowship group. I share with her Bible verses studied by a bunch of knucklehead dudes. She then reads them aloud and mother and son discuss their meaning and how they apply to our lives. Life has not been easy for the mother of four but now, in her golden years, despite physical ailments, her mind is sharp and her mood seems content. She has persevered.

The trek to Boulder was to see a buddy who has also demonstrated the advantages of being persistent in the course of action despite difficulties, obstacles and discouragement. I’ve known John Wristen for almost 30 years. We first met long ago when I was starting my television sportscasting career in Harlingen, Texas, a major city of the Rio Grande Valley along America’s border with Mexico. Now the highly successful coach of the Colorado State University-Pueblo Thunderwolves, Wristen was an assistant football coach at Weslaco, Texas high school during the same time frame. Our paths have crossed many times since and we’ve remained close friends. His CSU-Pueblo team stayed in Boulder before its game against Colorado School of Mines in Golden and I sat in on the team’s, now ranked #1 in the nation, pre-game chapel service. The Pueblo, Colorado native has weathered many a storm, personally and professionally, to reach his current lofty status. He has persevered.

On the drive back to Denver, it was time for another chat, with my stepmother Jo Jo. She also lives in Kansas City, on the Missouri side, and is preparing for a sixth, and final, round of chemotherapy, in a battle to fight off non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Her spirits are high, the prognosis is good and as she says, “There’s light at the end of the tunnel.” The Auxvasse, Missouri native was married to my late father for almost 30 years. Life has had its share of challenges for her too, but I’ve never heard a complaint. She has persevered.

Within 60 minutes, connections with three people who have lived the definition of perseverance and demonstrated the benefits of being persistent in the course of action despite difficulties, obstacles and discouragement.

Let’s join them this week. We’ll be better for the effort. Persevere too.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Pep Talk: "Memories are Reminders"

It was a lazy Saturday evening. Darling girlfriend had made a wonderful dinner and we had watched a movie, Cabin in the Woods. She complimented this simple dude from Missouri for staying awake through the bizarre flick. Trust me, it wasn’t easy. Anybody else seen the 90-minutes of mayhem? Don’t waste your time. 

Anyway, after the movie ended the Chicago native handed me her Ipad. It had a picture of a precious princess, my almost sixteen-year-old daughter Rachel at her high school homecoming dance. She looked happy.

For whatever reason, while staring at a picture of daughter getting smooched on the check by her boyfriend - that ain’t easy either - my mind wandered to many years ago. Kids grow up fast don’t they? The moment became a favorite story in my first book, Kids Teach the Darndest Things: Life Lessons from our Little Ones:

“Daddy, what’s this?” asked the seven-year-old while preparing to brush her teeth before bed. She had come into my bathroom to bum some toothpaste and was staring at a plaque, Life’s Little Instructions, that rested in the corner of my vanity. “Oh, that’s just a fun thing Daddy picked up a few years ago at a garage sale,” I responded. I must admit, it had become part of the bathroom landscape and rarely read.

Life’s Little Instructions suggests 55 ideas toward happiness, stuff like: “sing in the shower;” “treat everyone you meet like you want to be treated;” “return borrowed vehicles with the gas tank full;” Words of wisdom. Ironically, we were looking for a bedtime book for Rachel to read, so why not read all of these thought-provoking ones?

“Think big thoughts but relish small pleasures,” the second-grader zipped through most of the simple, yet profound sayings rather easily, rarely getting stuck on any fancy words, because, there weren’t many. “Wave at kids on school buses,” a young girl growing into a young woman, as I recall, really liked that one.

Toward the end of the lengthy list of sage advice, the one-time ballerina who has grown into a standout volleyball player struggled with two multi-syllabic words: “exclamation” and “explanation.” They are key words in the statement, “Live your life as an exclamation, not an explanation.”

“Daddy, what does that mean?” Rachel asked after finally learning how to pronounce the “ex” words. I pondered that while looking into two beautiful blue eyes that are windows to the soul of the “greatest girl in the whole wide world.” Finally, I offered, “Well to me, it means what I do is more important than what I say. My actions are more powerful than my words.”

She offered, “Whatever Dad!” - some things don’t change with time - finished the list and went off to bed. Well, I didn’t sleep well that evening. I kept asking myself, “Am I living my life as an exclamation or an explanation?” If I was explaining far too often instead of exclaiming, what obstacles are keeping me from shifting toward exclaiming and not explaining? It’s a question asked of self often, almost nine years later.

What about you? Do you find yourself constantly explaining why things aren’t working out so well at home, at work or with friends and loved ones? Or are you locked in the great possibilities of your life and truly exclaiming yourself?

This week let’s focus our thoughts, words and actions on things that honor, nurture and add value to the communities we serve. If we can pull that off, we’ll have little need for explanation because our healthy and productive actions, will speak far louder than any words.

A beautiful daughter is growing up. A boy smooches her cheek and she approves. A father  wonders, “Where did time go?” A maturing young woman will always be daddy’s little girl. Exclaim, not explain, life. Our memories are reminders of life’s important lessons.
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