Sunday, December 29, 2013

Pep Talk: "What Is Versus What Should Be"

A new year is approaching. 2014. Two. Zero. One. Four. What are the goals for the calendar flip? How can we, “Soar in one four?”

How can we muster the courage to stand between what is versus what should be? Here are three goals a simple dude from Missouri has for the near future. In advance, I ask for your encouragement, prayers and questions in holding me accountable.

First, on the home front, I need to lose ten pounds. Easier said than done. I have a sweet tooth that needs to be controlled. Also, I need to remember that I’m 55 years old, not 25. The metabolism is not what it used to be. Do I really need “thirds” of darling fiancee’s fabulous cooking? Probably not.

Second, when it comes to work, Seek Victory is launching a program designed to connect others willing to stand between what is versus what could be. It’s called TSVN, for The Seek Victory Network. Through videos, blogs, podcasts and live events, along with Associates of Seek Victory, it’s my mission to produce entertaining, inspiring and informative content designed to provoke conversation about faith, life and sports. Americans need to talk about faith, need to talk about life and love to talk about sports. We hope you find value in what’s offered in the coming year from this premium channel.

Third, when it comes to community, there are going to be many projects including one in my hometown of Raytown, Missouri. The town founded by William Ray back in the 1800’s, along what was then the Santa Fe trail, neighbors Kansas City to the west and Independence - home of former President Harry S. Truman - to the north. Seek Victory is working with the Raytown School District on an endeavor to re-ignite a community’s passion for youth sports.

Growing up there I benefited tremendously from a community’s commitment to caring for its kids, especially through a vibrant youth sports program. Behind Superintendent Dr. Allan Markley’s inspiring vision, and a growing list of supporters from all walks of life, Seek Victory will serve the superintendent in rallying the troops in trying to build a greater sense of community through organized youth sports. We ask for your encouragement as we stand between what is versus what should be.

What about you? Where can Seek Victory help you stand between what is versus what should be in becoming superior to your former self in 2014?

Like fingerprints, our individual goals in three critical venues - home, work and community - will vary. What doesn’t vary much, if at all, is how we go about achieving the goals.

Soar in One Four live presentations, in the usual humorous storytelling style of past Pep Talks, will focus on three strategies to achieve goals and overcome challenges in the new year. First, continue to push yourself to stretch beyond your perceived limits. To, as good buddy Dr. Jerry Gibson would suggest, “Stick your neck out!”

Second, understand the road toward success is not easy. Few worthwhile objectives are attained without pain and sacrifice. There will be bumps along the way. It will be a roller coaster. We must have a mindset that we’ll stay focused on problem solving. We’ll never lose the desire to turn lemons - the heck with lemonade - into sweet and savory margaritas!

Third, in the face of unwanted and unexpected obstacles we cannot surrender. We must fight to the finish. Easier said than done. There will be times, in our quest to stand between what is versus what should be to wanna shout to the heavens, “The hell with this!” Make that feeling quite temporary. Through strategic networking a team of supporters for the difficult moments. Those, “What the heck is going on around here?” moments will appear. Expect them. Prepare for them. Overcome them.

Remember, you’re not alone. You’re not the only one trying to quit smoking, lose weight, chase a professional dream, make a difference in your community, overcome cancer, alleviate stress, recover from relationship breakdown or whatever challenge lies before you. We must rally around each other. Encourage one another. Give others, as they give us in return, hope and confidence we can prevail against what ails.

Are you ready to soar in one four? Leap into the great unknown, keep the faith in the challenges times and fight to the finish?

Here comes 2014. Let’s join one another, Seek Victory is here to support all along the way, in connecting with others willing to stand between what is versus what should be - at home, work and community!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Pep Talk: "The Spirit of Christmas"

“Hey guys,” announced a man with a smile as wide as the Grand Canyon. “You’re off the hook!” So begins a wonderful Christmas story.

Like many compelling stories, this one springs from heinous tragedy.

About two years ago, in Parker, Colorado a husband and father made a terrible decision that ended in a murder-suicide in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant. Upset about a pending divorce, the man shot and killed his wife and then himself. The couple’s two daughters witnessed the horror.

The traumatized young girls were placed into Colorado’s foster care system, where they received adequate care. However, their plight began to stir the hearts of a family that had connections to the girls. The husband and father in this family is the guy who was beaming while announcing to your Pep Talk scribe and other knuckleheads gathered for our weekly Platoon meeting “We were off the hook.”

One of our buddy’s daughters had befriended one of the girls who had been orphaned from the tragic moment. The two young souls who lost their parents began spending lots of time at our buddy’s home.

Thus began a journey of prayer and lots of encouragement from many loved ones, including our group of men, for the couple to adopt the young girls - now budding teenagers - and bring them, permanently, into their loving and close-knit home.

Many challenges were present. How would adding two teenage girls potentially disrupt family harmony? What about the expense of going from five family members to seven? What about the house? It’s not the biggest place in the world, and expanding or remodeling would be costly and seemingly impossible considering the already stretched family budget.

There were many reasons to dismiss the adoption option, most of all, “It’s just not realistic.”

Well, what’s the ol’ saying, “God works in mysterious ways?” To me, what follows is the true meaning of Christmas. First, a little background information. 

Joy To The World has always been one of my favorite Christmas carols. In particular, early in the song when we sing, “Let every heart prepare him room…” It has always spoken to me that it’s our responsibility to prepare room in our hearts for others, and to care for them. For if we have that type of spirit, we will reap the harvest if we don’t give up.

A devoted wife and husband with three children of their own decide to adopt two grieving sisters -  prepare them room in home and heart. The family dynamics had certainly changed, but weekly in our gathering, this terrific man would report, “Things are going pretty well.”

Still, there were obstacles. The family had absorbed the newcomers with love and patience, but with four teenage girls now under roof, an additional bathroom and bedroom were desperately needed.

It’s a diverse group of men who meet each Friday morning to challenge one another to grow stronger in our faith. Many fancy ourselves as handymen with hammer, tool belt and saw. We offered to labor in working to transform a basement area into the much-needed addition.

We were poised to respond like a Navy SEAL team called to swing into action for a fellow warrior. Then came the pronouncement, “Guys, you’re off the hook!”

On a trip to Home Depot to get material cost estimates, the endearing story warmed the marrow of the sales associate. Word spread to a supervisor, and then to store management.

Then the gift arrived. Home Depot, without any prompting, decided to donate all necessary labor and materials to complete the project. “We like to give back to the community in this way,” said a company spokesperson. Admirable.

This week, let’s allow our hearts to prepare room for such miracles. It begins with us having love and compassion for one another. Those wonderful traits are gifts that will keep giving in healthy and productive ways wherever we roam - at home, work and elsewhere.

In this case, love and compassion for others resulted in a buddy receiving a professionally finished basement, free of charge. It also kept a bunch of amateur construction knuckleheads from probably screwing things up, despite their best intentions. Love and compassion led to reaping a great harvest that will help a wonderful couple care for their expanded family.

Let’s keep the spirit of Christmas alive too. Let’s prepare room in our hearts for others. Joy to the world!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Pep Talk: "Destroy Thy Enemies"

“Those guys outside are gonna f@*k me up!” the man shouted, his eyes ablaze.

We were locked in a tight embrace in the corner of a west Denver home. It wasn’t his, or mine. We were just inside the front door, in a corner. Just seconds before, along with a woman, I had escorted four beautiful kids from a weekly tutoring session at a neighborhood church to this humble two-story abode across the street.

We had just stepped inside the home to greet the parents and say goodnight to the kids when the mad man, high on some hallucinating drug and quite paranoid, burst in through the door. I just happened to be the last person to walk in and the first to encounter a young man convinced there were hostile men just outside the home.

He was troubled. “Lock all the doors!” he shouted. The parents quickly rushed their children upstairs and away from what had become an unexpected standoff inside their peaceful home on a busy Mile High City street at the peak of the afternoon rush hour.

The intruder, who looked to be in his mid 20s, was quite agitated as our unexpected encounter continued. I held tightly to his arms, pinned him in the corner and asked, “Who are you running from?”

“Those guys out there! Those guys out there!” No one was outside. The foes were all inside this young man’s head. I wondered if he possessed a knife or gun. Just in case, I kept him pinned in the corner with a firm grip on each arm.

We were like two wrestlers when they first exit their respective corners and meet in the middle of the ring. We clutched one another desperately.

And then, for some weird reason, I thought of Abraham Lincoln. Yep, a calming influence fell over me in thinking of some wise words muttered by America’s 16th president during the height of our nation’s Civil War, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

I tried to reassure the man that nobody present wanted to harm him, that he had scared the living daylights out of a family and its children, that people cared for him and that he had to leave. Most important, in trying to communicate in a calm manner and not get overly confrontational, I hoped the frightening moment would not escalate into something violent with children in the home.

I kept thinking of Lincoln’s words, which I had just read the night before. The book’s author was describing great leadership in trying times. During the battle between Union and Confederate troops, Lincoln had been heavily criticized for being too lenient with his enemies.

The police had been called but hadn’t arrived yet. A pastor from the church across the street had entered the home through a back door. He knew the instigator and also began to reason with him in a calm and reassuring voice. It helped lessen the fight in the man’s body and soul.

Finally, after about a ten-minute struggle, we were able to remove the man from the home. He was still freaking out and sprinted, against traffic, down the middle of the busy thoroughfare jammed with cars of folks exiting downtown Denver after a day at work. Police were in pursuit.

The family, the other tutor, the pastor and I stood outside the home and collectively offered thanks that the children, while certainly spooked, were safe. We could still see the man weaving through traffic with police officers hot on his trail.

While driving home I muttered another prayer of thanks that the man did not have a weapon and that our confrontation did not turn violent. I also prayed a troubled soul might find help and encouragement to prevail against what ails him.

I wish no type of similar standoff for anybody, but if there is strife in your life, with family, friend or foe, perhaps remembering Lincoln’s wise words might lead to a peaceful resolution: “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

This week, I hope that type of mindset helps defuse a tense situation wherever you roam - at home, work or elsewhere.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Pep Talk: "Cease the Abuse and Cynicism"

“There are a lot of dishonest people in this country,” muttered a woman who appeared to loathe her job.

When describing her mood, grumpy would be kind.

She appeared to have many years of experience on the job. The diminutive human being rarely, if ever, made eye contact with me during our five minutes of engagement recently at a post office near my home.

I was in there mailing books to those who have purchased my latest tome, Life Is A Roller Coaster: Tips For The Dips. Being curious by nature, I had inquired with the postal employee why the automated system, in the facility’s foyer, would not allow “Media Mail” transactions.

“It’s not programmed to allow that.” Okay. Well, one thing among many that has stuck with me since my graduate-school years at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, was this: “Don’t state the obvious.”

This woman was stating the obvious. I already knew from personal experience that the automatic system does not allow “Media Mail” purchases. I was curious. “Why?” I asked.

“There’s a ton of people who abuse the system,” she offered without looking up from calculating what I owed for postage. “It’s the cheapest way to send mail.”

Well, since the beginning of mankind, we’ve had folks trying to milk the system, haven’t we? Authors and others who send books and other educational stuff, well, you’re just gonna have to stand in line at the post office and not use the automatic system. Life sucks sometimes, doesn’t it? While standing there contemplating her comment, I queried, “Why did they come up with the ‘Media Mail’ category anyway?” It was apparent my inquiry was an irritant. She reminded me of my teenage daughter and her disdain for my probing questions. I know better but couldn’t resist.

What the woman said next bore deep into my marrow on a chilly morning a few days before Thanksgiving in the Mile High City. “We’ve offered it for a long time. I guess it’s to encourage people to read and learn.”

Amen to that, sister.

The exchange of ideas, a foundation to learning, is rarely a bad thing, right?

The abuse of a system - home, work and elsewhere - is rarely a good thing, right?

The woman’s “There are a lot of dishonest people in this country,” kept ringing in my ears. She had also added, “And they come in here.”

The US Postal Service is a financial disaster right now. It’s tough to find folks with an upbeat spirit behind those counters. Most are probably wondering, “Will I have a job in the future?” This employee should consider pondering retirement if financially reasonable. It appears she’s stayed too long.

But the point is this: It’s another once-proud American institution (“Rain, sleet or snow, nothing stops the US Mail”) that has fallen on hard times. For the record, I love my neighborhood postman. We always talk sports when our paths cross.

Contact with a disgruntled employee led to me discovering her distrust of people, a system being abused, and customers like the scribe of this Pep Talk walking away from the encounter believing, “There has to be a better way.”

It ain’t gonna happen unless people quit abusing the system, and others quit being so cynical about the nature of mankind. Which comes first? It’s the ol’ “chicken and the egg” scenario. Which needs to be the initial spark to prevail against what ails us?

Do we need to cease being so cynical or quit being so abusive in dealing with whatever challenges lie before us? The challenge might be bringing the nation’s postal service out of its billion-dollar yearly losses, stopping the stench bellowing from school district board elections being overpowered and swayed by outside money, and/or the myriad of other calamities we face in our communities around the nation.

Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, children of all ages, it is time to become superior to our former selves. Anybody else out there tired of America underachieving on our watch?

I know the answer is a resounding YES! Let’s not lose hope. As it states often within the pages of Life Is A Roller Coaster, let’s become students, not victims, of life’s experiences. Let’s stay united and willing to prevail against what ails – at home, work and elsewhere.

It’s time to cease the abuse and cynicism. It’s terribly ineffective and leads to unpleasant interactions at the post office and wherever else we roam.

Admittedly, it was in a sarcastic manner, but I offered to the lady, “Have a nice day.” She never looked up and didn’t reply. On the bright side, her blue hair was styled nicely.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Pep Talk: "Persistently Show Up"

A real blessing this time of year in 2013 is hanging with those dealing with addiction. I love encouraging them to achieve goals and overcome challenges when it comes to prevailing against what ails. It’s a tough fight against a tough foe

It makes me think of the guys at Denver Rescue Mission. Each Thursday morning we gather and the men, most with alcohol and drug dependencies, are encouraged. “Hey, if we’re gonna be addicted to anything, how about being addicted to faith?”

Some laugh, some squirm, some ignore, and some (you can see it in their eyes) sparkle a bit.

A spark. That’s what I saw, and heard, on Thanksgiving morning while listening to men and women who were on the good side of becoming students and not victims of their experiences with addiction.

“Do it right the first time,” declared a handsome man. He looked to be in his mid to late 30s. The humble man was reflecting upon an initial attempt, then setback, then second attempt and now success in breaking free from addiction to drugs and alcohol.

I sat there in the crowd of supporters and wanted to shout “Amen, buddy” to his “Do it right the first time” comment. Instead, I just moaned with empathy. Those six words burrowed deep.

Here was a guy who had admitted a weakness, sought treatment, stumbled, rose to battle again and now, gratefully, proclaimed the shackles had been removed. He was encouraging others in the crowd, in the midst of their own addiction challenges, to learn from his experience and “Get it right the first time.”

It’s a good reminder to all of us. What’s the old saying? “If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” I know something similar to that was always drilled into my noggin while growing up in Raytown, Missouri. Yep. Wherever this freckled-faced, buck-toothed knucklehead roamed in youth, folks were always saying something of similar refrain. 

As an aging jock with a creaky right knee - tweaked it walking the golf course on a beautiful late November day in the Centennial State - I’m grateful, today, for having that good-character marinade to soak in long ago. If it’s worth doing, do it well. Simple, but not easy, right? Whether it’s an addict in recovery, a member of a team, an employee of a company or a partner in a relationship, getting it right the first time is, or should be, the goal.

But life rarely goes as planned, right? Get it right the first time, Mac? How can you write about that when you’re twice divorced?

Perhaps the answer to that lies in what a later speaker told the gathered throng about his thankfulness for a program that he believes saved his life. This guy looked like he just walked away from a photo shoot for GQ Magazine. Handsome, well-dressed dude. He told the crowd, “I’m grateful for the chance to just show up!”

I leaned in closer, drawn by the man’s passion. “I’m grateful that I’m finally showing up for my family. I’m grateful that I’m finally showing up in my profession. I’m grateful that I’m finally showing up for my higher power.” 

Enthusiastic applause erupted throughout the venue as the man returned to his seat. As another rose to share his story, a thought, call it a reminder, crashed into my cranium: Try like heck to get it right the first time. That’s the goal. However, what’s the other old saying? “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!”

Amen to that. We gotta keep showing up! Most likely, life’s gonna knock us around a bit. It’s gonna be a roller coaster ride. Frequently, unless we’re really lucky, we’re gonna have to turn life’s lemons - heck with lemonade - into sweet and savory margaritas. The challenges will come from a variety of sources, quite often from the least expected and most unwanted - relationships, jobs and illnesses, to name a few.

What to do? Try like heck to get it right the first time, but have a backup plan.

It’s really easy to write about, far more arduous to achieve. All kinds of calamities - self-inflicted included - wreck our plans concerning getting it right the first time. We know that.

After the initial setback, self-doubt and fear might begin to creep into the psyche and discourage us. We’ll consider surrendering. This week, don’t allow those thoughts any room to roam - at home, work or elsewhere.

To prevail against what ails, persistently show up. If not the first time, we just gotta have faith that eventually we’ll reap the harvest if we just don’t give up.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Pep Talk: "The Value of Responsibility"

We were sliding toward one another. We locked eyes. I sensed it was going to be a smashing connection. It was.

At least along the Front Range, the Centennial State’s first legitimate winter storm had turned Mile High City streets into hockey rinks that would make the Pepsi Center surface blush. Driving a Zamboni would have been a better option. Fender benders were occurring everywhere, including Denver’s Cheesman Park.

I was minding my own business while cruising to a meeting with an incredible woman, Gabriella “Gabi” Duran-Dean. The wonderful spirit is the mentor coordinator at Denver Rescue Mission. Traffic was snarled everywhere. I tried to outsmart everybody. Dumb. While navigating alternative routes to avoid the traffic jams an ice and snow mix had created, your resident knucklehead bonked somebody else’s car.

Yep. I was putzin’ along northbound through the park that used to be a graveyard. At a low speed, I crested the hill, picked up momentum, hit ice and slid across the road. My front left side banged into the curb and bounced my car forward directly into the path of an oncoming vehicle that was also creeping along the slippery path. Real-life bumper cars.

It was like, “Okay, here we go, hope the damage isn’t too bad.” We had locked eyes for maybe two seconds with a sense of, “Might as well enjoy the ride.”

I have always been a big believer in something that I hope never leaves me. Challenge me if it ever does. It was one of my pet peeves when bantering with folks via sports talk radio. When discussing athletes and coaches who deny wrongdoing despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I always have felt that if we mess up, might as well fess up. That’s true in all walks of life.

In my opinion, it just makes life simpler.

After our cars aggressively smooched, I apologized profusely to a friendly-looking man. He was cool about it. We exchanged information and continued our respective journeys on a nasty day.

What happened next was, at least for me, pretty awesome. “I was looking at you,” said the Long Island, New York native in a later phone conversation, “And was hoping it would be a peaceful outcome.”

The 49-year-old moved to the Mile High City three years ago. “I really like it out here.” But we had a problem. In addition to some minor front-end damage, the carpenter’s radiator was punctured. He needs the car for work. My insurance company had already been alerted and was working to take care of his needs. Two guys who accidentally connected were wrapping up a phone call designed to start the process of making things right. 

I joked with him. “You know, I love to meet people and can be somewhat aggressive in trying to make connections, but this was a little over the top.” The well-traveled man laughed and countered, “Hey, it’s nice to see you’re taking responsibility.”

I went on to share how much I love to encourage others to achieve goals and overcome challenges. Part of that entails reminding folks that, sometimes despite our best intentions, we goof. And that (hello Mr. Toronto mayor, Miami Dolphin football player or anybody including myself), when we mess up, fess up.

“Would you be a witness that I do try and walk my talk?” the writer of this Pep Talk pleaded in a good-natured manner. “You bet,” was the quick response of a newfound friend. Before hanging up the phone, there were a few more laughs about shared experiences and a suggestion, “Let’s have a beer sometime.”

I know not all things in life are so cut and dried. I screwed up. There are sometimes in life where the gray area dominates: When a relationship goes south, a business partnership falls apart, or life-long friends shun one another. Calamity strikes a once tranquil venue. It happens. CSI squads needed to decipher the true cause. This was not one of those instances.

Is it just me, or does there seem to be a whole lot of bickering going on these days? Our nation’s capitol, and the policy makers who dwell there, are perhaps the best current example. But there are plenty of candidates, from many walks of life, wherever we roam - home, work and elsewhere.

It might serve us well this week to remember, when we mess up, what the heck, let’s fess up. If my encounter on the slippery streets of one of Denver’s most sacred grounds is any indication, the strategy seems to have its benefits.

I have a new friend. Even better, this simple dude from Missouri’s been reminded that building relationships through taking responsibility is far more productive than pointing fingers and avoiding it. The value of responsibility. I dunno, priceless?

Try it this week!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Pep Talk: "Ties Between Us"

“There are ties between us” croons Rock and Roll Hall of Famer James Taylor. I’m listening on my office Ipad. He might have initially forgotten which words to sing at the World Series between the Red Sox and Cardinals, but the legendary singer/songwriter hit every note with the 1991 hit, “Shed A Little Light.”

The 65-year-old grew up in a rural area of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. His father, a doctor, taught at the University of North Carolina medical school. Taylor released the song on the New Moon Shine album and goes on to sing:

“All men and women, living on the Earth. Ties of hope and love, sister and brotherhood. That we are bound together, in our desire to see the world become a place where our children can grow free and strong. We are bound together by the task that stands before us and the road that lies ahead.”

Amen, brother. Sometimes that task is arduous. The road ahead is fraught with peril. What will we do? Will we put fear and self doubt aside and allow courage and wonderment to win? It’s the zillion-dollar question we have to ask ourselves on an almost daily basis.

But never forgot Taylor’s wise words that “There are ties between us.” Let’s not try to take on any big challenge alone. We have to rally around each other and encourage one another to prevail against what ails us. I love that word “encourage,” defined as “To give hope and confidence to.” In my opinion, it’s a powerful force that more than once has played a huge role in successful endeavors, whether for individuals, teams, businesses, schools, and churches or in many other noble efforts I’ve forgotten. Let’s use the ties between us to focus on encouraging one another to have the guts to, as Dr. Jerry Gibson likes to suggest, “Be like a turtle and stick our necks out.”

I think of a buddy from Friday morning men’s fellowship. He and his courageous wife are certainly sticking their necks out. They have embraced into their already busy family of five, two sisters who lost their parents in a murder/suicide. “It’s going pretty well,” the amazing man offered to about a dozen or so fellow dudes gathered at a recent Platoon meeting. “I haven’t managed to mess things up yet.” 

Two daughters and one son suddenly became four daughters - all teenagers - and a younger son. Taylor’s “There are ties between us...” resonates deeply. A good tie is to encourage a loving couple to continue their great job of integrating and enriching their family.

“There are ties between us....” then takes my mind to 27-year-old Ryan Horan. He aspires to work as a sportscaster someday. We met recently at a Muscular Dystrophy Association of Denver event I was blessed to host. He would make a great sports talk show host. The devout Broncos’ fan can debate the hot sports topics with the best in the Mile High City’s crowded but diverse sports talk radio world. His courage in fighting a disease that robs his muscles of movement is inspiring. A good tie is to keep encouraging Ryan to “go for it!”

“We are bound together in our desire to see the world became a place where our children can grow free and strong...” burrows deep into my psyche while continuing to write this Pep Talk. There is no shortage of needs in a quest to see the world become a place where our children can grow free and strong, where our communities can grow prosperous and diverse, where our differences can be discussed and resolved.

There are ties between us. We are bound together. There are tasks before us. There is a road that lies ahead – at home, work and elsewhere.

That’s the simple stuff. How will we deal with the ties between us? Will we realize, like it or not, we’re bound together? Will we address the big elephant sitting squarely in the middle of the room about the tasks, desired or not, before us on the roller coaster road we call life?

Each Thursday morning’s chapel service at Denver Rescue Mission ends with a bunch of knuckleheads gathered with arms around one another. Guys just off the streets, trying like heck to find meaning and purpose to life. I’m trying like heck to encourage them to grow in spirit and realize their potential. We end our 30 minutes bound together, proclaiming in hearty unison, “Warriors!”

I love James Taylor. Always have. On a lazy Saturday, listening to his soulful sound reminded me about the ties between us. Let’s make ‘em good ones!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Pep Talk: "Become Superior Today"

The text sent on a November college football Saturday morning was clear, concise and compelling: “Become superior today!”

It was sent to a beloved client. A college football coach who has enjoyed great success but never rests on laurels. This past off-season, after coming close once again to claiming the ultimate prize, his team had fallen short of its goals and expectations.

The team played deep into the 2012 playoffs but its leader was looking for a way to motivate his troops to keep pushing. During a Pep Talk at spring practice, I had shared with the players, coaches, staff and visitors a story. The message within the story has become a motto for the current season, which has yet to have a blemish.

It might be a good motto for you right now. Maybe somebody you know and love who is struggling a bit? Perhaps there’s challenges at home, work or elsewhere? Well, take a cue from one of our nation’s great civil rights’ visionaries and constantly strive to become superior to your former self.

Here’s the story that birthed a football team’s motto that is splattered on walls and garments the players and coaches walk by and wear daily.

First, some background. I discovered it quite by accident. Whitney Young’s quote, which has been attributed to others as well, was at the bottom of a monthly invoice from Kinetics Fitness Studio. That’s where I sweat daily. It’s not the fanciest gym in the world. We give the owner, Gene Cisneros, grief about the monthly charge. A story for another day.

Anyway, several years ago, at the bottom of the gym statement was an inspirational quote. The 20 words had become the life mission statement of a man President Lyndon Johnson honored with a Medal of Freedom in 1969. Here it is: “There’s nothing noble in being superior to somebody else, true nobility lies in becoming superior to our former selves.” 

Reading that warmed my marrow then, and still does today.

Young was born in the 1920s in Kentucky. His childhood was rather uneventful. Then World War II appeared. The young man headed off to the conflict and into the history books. He was assigned to an all black regiment of soldiers responsible for repairing bomb-damage roads in Europe. The great war had ended and the rebuilding had begun. People and commerce needed to be moved to restart Europe’s economy. 

A white, Southern, officer crew supervised the all-black regiment of soldiers. Remember folks, this was the 1940s. Whites and Blacks didn’t mix much back then. But Whitney Young stood out. After just three weeks he was promoted from private to sergeant. The promotion caused consternation in each camp. It also planted a seed in the soul of Young to dedicate his life to improving race relations in our country.

Upon leaving military service, Young went to work for the National Urban League in Omaha, then taught university classes on race relations in Atlanta, then toiled for the NAACP before becoming national director of the NUL at the age of 40.

The organization had great success under Young’s leadership. It was during this time he earned the Medal of Freedom, our nation’s highest honor for civilians. Sadly, while attending a conference in Africa the former college basketball player died of a heart attack while swimming with friends. Young was just a few months shy of his 50th birthday.

“There’s nothing noble in being superior to somebody else, true nobility lies in becoming superior to our former selves.” It inspired Whitney Young to great accomplishment in a life cut far too short by tragedy.

It can power our lives, too. It has become the rallying cry for a college football team still yearning to improve. It can become our rallying cry in trying to prevail against what ails us wherever we roam.

Paying my gym bill led to Whitney Young. The privilege to deliver Pep Talks encouraging others to achieve goals and overcome challenges led to a football coach seizing “Superior To Our Former Selves” as the team’s motto for the 2013 season.

Where is there room for improvement? Home? Work? Elsewhere? The opponent is not a football team or bigoted person. The opponent is us. Yep. Our tricky brains that often whisper, “I can’t.”

This week, let’s dismiss the noggin’ naysayers and become superior today!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Pep Talk: "For Sanity's Sake"

It’s profoundly humbling and liberating, simultaneously, to realize a sobering truth: We are powerless to change others.

That powerful reality bathed my entire soul recently while attending a meeting where men and women gather to encourage one another to understand that loved ones’ addictions are just that: A loved one’s addiction.

The addiction might be drugs, alcohol, work, sex, money, or a plethora of other things. I’m addicted to sweat. Each morning at the best gym in America, Kinetic Fitness Studio, I try to induce one through a variety of means.  “A sweat a day keeps the doctor away” is one of my favorite mantras.

Back to the story. While about a dozen folks shared their thoughts about understanding, accepting and adapting to another’s addiction, another stark reality emerged. Our brains can be tricky. For sanity’s sake, we have to win that battle.

There are many of us who have a strong desire to help others. That can be a very good, or very bad, habit. Often there’s a fine line between enabling and encouraging. Sticking our nose in somebody’s business might be an equally accurate description. Walking that tight rope is certainly adventurous and fraught with peril.

Another group member was being quite vulnerable in sharing thoughts about the frustrations that often surface when dealing with how WE react to challenging situations in life.

Those situations might revolve around adversity at home, work or elsewhere. While the venues change, the onus returns to us and how we react. It’s something discussed during each and every live Pep Talk I’m blessed to present. It’s a simple but not easy question to ponder: Are we going to be victims of the circumstances of life, or students of the experiences? Whether at the Denver Rescue Mission, a corporate headquarters, a stinky locker room, non-profit board room or somewhere else, audiences are always encouraged to choose the latter option.

Another way of looking at this predicament bored into my brain while listening to the group discussion: When the unexpected and unwanted stuff of life comes knocking at our door, do we emotionally and psychologically shift into a blame or solutions mode?

The vulnerable and courageous attendee was admitting that it’s usually the former for him. What about us? When things are not going the way WE desire, wherever we roam,  do we begin to beat ourselves up for not being capable of fixing the problem? Or do we shift into a more healthy and productive philosophy that focuses on solutions to prevail against what ails?

In the case of a loved one with an addiction, the solution would be to realize we can offer love and encouragement for sobriety, but that ultimately, we are powerless to change the outcome.

These thoughts take me to the men of Denver Rescue Mission. Each Thursday morning we gather and talk about achieving goals and overcoming challenges. We acknowledge we’re just a bunch of jacked up dudes trying to become superior to our former selves. Addiction is rampant in this group. I offer, “If we’re gonna be addicted to anything, how about being addicted to faith?” Some laugh, some ponder and some nod their heads in agreement.

It makes me also think of the personal journey of two divorces and a strong desire to “fix” the situation. Of course it didn’t work. It was tough to avoid falling into the self pity trap and the emotional battering we inflict upon ourselves when self esteem plummets. It becomes a personal independence day when we realize we are powerless to change another’s thoughts and actions.

As the man continued his heartfelt admission to berating himself for the actions of another, a startling realization overwhelmed me: These meetings are really about the attendees and our emotional issues concerning a loved one’s personal battle with addiction.

At the end of the hour-long meeting the group stood, held hands and recited the following: “Lord give me the strength to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Amen to that.

This week let’s win the battle with our tricky brains. Focus on encouraging, not changing. For sanity’s sake.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Pep Talk: "Relish Failing"

“Every night when we’d sit down at the dinner table Dad would ask, ‘Where did you fail this week?’” offered the successful entrepreneur. “It inspired us to always try new things because we didn’t fear failure.”

Wow. I wanna meet Sara Blakely’s father, a trial lawyer by profession. I like the way that dude thinks. He taught his kids that it’s far more important to focus on trying than failing. We don’t know until we try, right? Who knows, we just might succeed!

All this was flying through my aging cranium while grinding away at Kinetics Fitness Studio a while back. The founder of Spanx and the youngest self-made female billionaire EVER was knocking it out of the park during a cable network business show. The Florida State grad was sharing the stage with Warren Buffett. They were talking about many things including the Giving Pledge program. Buffett and Bill Gates founded the advocacy agency in 2010 to encourage the world’s billionaires to donate half their fortunes to charitable causes. Good for them.

Anyway, while I was sweating away, the woman who wanted to be a lawyer but couldn’t nail the LSAT exam was telling the story of her great success. It’s grounded in the courage to try. To be focused on putting fear aside and allowing wonderment to win. It’s what her father challenged her to do daily around the family dinner table in Clearwater, Florida.

After earning a communications degree and realizing a law career was not in the cards, Blakely went to work at Disney World. The dynamo dreamed of portraying Goofy. “They said I was too short. I ended up being Minnie Mouse.”

The Delta Delta Delta sorority sister - had to include this fact considering your scribe, while at Mizzou, had the fun-loving Tri Delts living next door – was also flirting with standup comedy. Guts to try with no fear of failure. Admirable.

Then, the real world. “I was selling fax machines door-to-door when the idea hit me,” the married mother of a little boy shared. “I had $5,000 dollars to my name and invested it all in the business.”

I couldn’t sell one fax machine, but Blakely sure could. She was the company’s national sales manager by the age of 25. Persuasive would be a good word to describe the 2012 member of TIME Magazine’s most influential people in the world. But she had a problem: Florida’s humidity and panty hose were not a good match. I’m getting way over my skis here, but according to Wikipedia, Blakely hated wearing seamed-foot panty hose with open-toed shoes. Amen to that. But the energetic soul loved that the control-top eliminated panty lines and held the body firmer.

A few attempts at cutting off the bottom of panty hose proved frustrating. The remaining hose kept running up her legs. There had to be a better way. Again, we’re talking about a woman who does not fear failure.

Eventually coming up with a solution, Blakely wrote her own patent from a textbook and incorporated the company under the name Spanx. The rest is history. The Atlanta-based company now also sells undergarments for men. Who knew?

My workout and the interview ended simultaneously. I stepped from the elliptical machine with a sense of gratitude for the other person in the gym’s cardio area. The man peddling furiously on a stationary bike nearby had been watching the channel when I walked in. Had the room been empty, I probably would have turned the television to ESPN and missed the interview. Timing is everything, right?

A short while later, while departing the gym and wandering into the crisp early-morning Centennial State air, I kept drifting back to Blakely’s father. This man encouraged his kids to throw caution to the wind and go for it. If you fail, who cares? It’s far more important to focus on trying than worry about failure.

What about us? Are we encouraging those we influence - home, work, school or elsewhere - to fear failure, or embrace trying? Are we talking ourselves into dwelling in that yucky former spot or the invigorating latter?

If these are challenging times it might help to remember that question always offered at the Blakely family dinner table. Let’s relish failing, knowing that at least we tried.

It sure worked for a Sara. It might work for us, too.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Pep Talk: "Run To Daylight"

We dived into our first math tutoring session: “DeMaryius Thomas minus Peyton Manning?” The young man knew immediately that meant 88-18. “What about Knowshon  Moreno times Champ Bailey?” The fourth grader instantly wrote down 27 times 24. With a little help the Greenlee Elementary student figured out that problem, too.

Everybody seems to be a Denver Broncos’ fan these days. None more than a nine-year-old who is part of the Whiz Kids’ after-school mentoring program. Why not test his expertise with the players’ numbers and weave it into some equations to improve math skills like addition, multiplication and subtraction?

Denver’s west side reminds me a lot of south Texas almost 30 years ago. My first sports television job was in Harlingen, Texas. Located in the Rio Grande Valley about 40 miles northwest of Brownsville and the tip of the Lone Star State, it’s right along the Mexican/American border. At the time, the population was 95% Hispanic, half of which didn’t even speak English. It seemed more like northern Mexico than it did the southern United States.

Large families often headed by single mothers. Rampant poverty. Educational opportunities scarce. It’s what permeates the Mile High City’s near west side today. My mind often wanders back to a family of eight that was the focus of a “Christmas For The Needy” piece I did for KGBT-TV. A mom, dad and six kids living in a cardboard shack. No plumbing or electricity. The family drew water from a nearby well. Two king-sized beds dominated the structure. No one spoke English. My heart broke for the kids.

We know education is the best chance children have to escape poverty. Whiz Kids provides math and reading tutoring in a faith-based setting. A handsome young man with big chocolate chip eyes looked at me, ready to shift away. “Can we read a book?”

We tore into his selection about insects and science. We quickly grew bored with the text. I offered, “You want to read one of my books?” His eyes grew wide, “You write books?” I pulled Kids Teach The Darndest Things: Life Lessons From Our Little Ones from my satchel. “Yep.” He randomly picked Finish The Task.

Ironically, it was centered around the Denver Broncos and my daughter. It chronicled, many years ago, her involvement with the Junior Denver Broncos’ Cheerleaders. The group had performed with the adult cheerleaders before a home game against the Kansas City Chiefs. We had sat in the stands afterward to watch some of the action.

Early in the fourth quarter, with the Broncos comfortably ahead of their divisional rival, I suggested to the precious princess, “Sweetie, let’s get out of here early and beat the traffic.” She looked at me, much like she does today as a budding young woman at 17, and countered, “Are you crazy?”

Apparently I am. “Dad, we can’t leave the game. The cheerleaders are still working.” We stayed to the bitter end. Later, while driving home with an exhausted child fast asleep in the back seat, the lesson hit home: Finish what we start.

My daughter long ago reminded me of this, and now a new buddy, about the same age as she was then, was reading, pretty darn well, the prose describing the moment and the message within it.

“Wow, that was a fun story. Do you have any other books?” I smiled and offered, “Yep.” As he gulped water and munched healthy snacks during a break in the action, Marco wondered, “What are they called?”

“Well, my second book is called Run to Daylight.” Those big brown eyes grew wider once again. “What’s it about?” I tossed his short-cropped, thick black hair and offered, “It’s about encouraging you to believe in yourself and chase dreams. Go for it. Ya know, run to daylight.” A slightly puzzled look crept across his face. It appeared he was preparing to respond when the silence was broken. “Time for club!”

Marco leaped from the chair and sprinted toward group activities that consume the final 30 minutes of our weekly 90 minutes together. While watching the energetic young guy disappear around the corner, the thought hit me: In pursuit of play, he was running to daylight. 

May a similar spirit pervade each area of his world. Yours too. This week embrace Shakespeare’s wise words stated long ago: “All glory comes from daring to begin.”

Get going. Run to daylight!

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