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.

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