Why I Bleed Orange

F14217-tI love college basketball. More specifically, I have been a Syracuse University basketball fan since I first saw two of their players, Jimmy Lee and Denny DuVal, give a free throw shooting exhibition in my high school gym during my senior year. They were beyond amazing, compared with the level of my classmates’ talent, as well as most of the players on teams we competed against.

And I suppose the fact that I found Jimmy Lee hot had something to do with my becoming a forever S.U. fan. Come on, I was 17.

So to say that I am proud that for the first time ever, both Syracuse teams—men’s and women’s—made it into the Sweet 16* of the NCAA Championship this year is a bit of an understatement.

I love the sport for many reasons. It’s fast-paced. Unpredictable. Often exciting, sometimes heart-wrenching. And because the players are college kids, some solely looking for a ticket into the NBA and others working as hard on their majors as they do on their sport, there’s a new team make-up every year.

This presents college basketball coaches with an array of challenges all leading to one goal—teaching this year’s line-up how to play together in order to win games.

That’s probably what I love best about the sport: watching Coach Jim Boeheim and his assistants deal with and frequently overcome those challenges. From managing the inflated egos of former high school stars new to Division I basketball, to teaching the rudiments of the game to players for whom English is a second language, every season presents a unique composite of dilemmas to overcome, hurdles to jump and issues to work through.

Some of those issues include the homesickness of a kid who has traveled thousands of miles to play for Syracuse…the lure of college party life…the threat of being benched due to poor grades…a season-ending injury…the breakdown of a team when one player allegedly steals the girlfriend of another. A key player loses a parent. Another, a best friend to gang violence.

And yet, despite the adversities, teams that win games emerge year after year. Under their coaches’ guidance, players learn what their roles are, and how to capitalize on their strengths as well as on the strengths of their teammates.  Passes connect. Missed shots get rebounded. Key players remain poised at clutch moments. And there are moments, games and even entire seasons when the whole truly becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

I sometimes joke that I want to be a Division I basketball coach in my next life. I want to bring out the best in my players, not only in terms of their athletic performance, but in their personal development. My goal would be to motivate them to do their very best—physically, mentally and emotionally—and then meld those players into teams that inspire and win. Then, I want to see my young protégés go on to live successful, extraordinary lives.

That would be cool.

Not that I underestimate the stress of that job, the politics of working for a major university, the stinging disappointment when players full of promise fail to live up to their potential. Heartbreaking losses. Worse yet, the expression on the players’ faces when they realize they are about to succumb to a heartbreaking loss.

That would be awful. I have a hard enough time witnessing those defeated expressions as a fan, much less as their coach and mentor.

Besides, I still have things to accomplish in this life, with the path I’ve chosen, the skills I have and the gifts I’ve been given. When it comes to basketball, I’m okay with being a spectator. But not when it comes to life.

So as I don my orange S.U. sweatshirt and get ready for the next game, I am totally aware of and fine with my role on the team—that is, to send them positive energy, be proud of how far they’ve come, and to hope they end up victorious.

And continue to marvel at the kind of team and level of play that Coach Boeheim and his assistants have been able to mold again this year.

Go ‘Cuse.

*Late breaking: both teams have advanced to the Elite Eight. First. Time. Ever.

 

 

The Power of Right Here, Right Now

download (1) While casting about for an idea for this week’s post, I remembered that I keep a folder of quotations  in my Gmail account, so I dipped into there and pulled out this little gem:

“Do something today that your future self will thank you for.” ~ Unknown

As I begin this post, it’s a rainy, dreary-looking morning, by all appearances totally uninspiring. Up until I sat down to write, I followed the same-old, same-old routine I perform most workday mornings, in the exact same order, beginning with hitting the snooze button.

Rediscovering this quote totally changed the tenor of my morning. In fact, I believe it will reconfigure my thoughts, moods and actions for the entire day.

It’s so easy to slip into the comfortable but unproductive habits of regurgitating past conversations and events that upset or aggravated us, or worrying about conversations and events that haven’t happened yet. In his groundbreaking book, The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle gently but persistently pulls us into the only moment in time where we have any influence at all: this one. Only what we think and do right now has any power to affect or shape the next hour, day, or rest of our lives.

This is one of the most empowering concepts you can ever embrace. And, if you’re anything like me, one of the most difficult.

Whether due to a physical condition like ADHD, or simply a lack of mental conditioning, my waking thoughts ebb and flow and twist and twirl like autumn leaves in a windstorm, unless I am working on something specific, like this blog post, or a project at work.

Or, if those thoughts do settle down into something specific, they take the form of the last song I heard on the radio before turning my car off, playing over and over in my head in an endless loop, or repeatedly rehashing an unsuccessful conversation or a poor decision from the day before.

Pulling oneself from that cesspool of thoughts into the present moment has some powerfully positive impacts:

  1. It awakens the senses. Yesterday morning, my great-nephew Justin posted on Facebook, along with a photo he took: “Birds chirping in the trees this morning! I just love walking outside every morning to the wonderful/peaceful sound of birds chirping!” What a marvelous present moment experience—and one he would have totally missed if he was busy worrying about how he did on a math test or reliving a disagreement he had with a friend. How much more pleasurable life is when we truly savor the foods we’re eating, inhale the aroma of baking bread or the luscious scent from a lilac bush, relish the comfort of a good pair of shoes or marvel at the glory of a breathtaking sunset. Or, like Justin, listen to birdsong.
  2. It allows us to experience gratitude. Sometimes, as I walk the short distance from my car to my office building, I am struck with a lightning bolt of gratitude for being able to walk, or for being able to see the rich blueness of the sky, or for having a jacket that’s warm enough to protect me from the elements. Feeling and expressing gratitude for what we have in our lives—our families and friends, our homes with all of their amenities, our opportunities and even our challenges—not only opens us up to fully appreciate the present moment, but clears the way for even more good things to come into our lives.
  3. It helps us to focus. This actually brings me back to the quote at the beginning of this post. How could we possibly do something today that our future selves will thank us for if we are replaying scenes from yesterday, concocting stories about tomorrow, or simply letting our thoughts run amok? Awareness of the present moment, of what is going on right here and now, gives us a chance to make this moment count: with little gestures, like letting a car cut into traffic in front of us or relinquishing our seat on the bus to someone who needs to sit more than we do; to big, perhaps even life-altering actions, like coming up with a new solution to an age-old problem at work, or coming to the aid of a friend at his or her darkest hour—opportunities we would have otherwise missed, or maybe regretfully realized later.

That’s the power of living life in the present moment.

As I said earlier, I struggle with doing this myself. More often than not I’m either rethinking and maybe even regretting something I said or did yesterday, anxious about a situation that may never occur, creating endless to do lists in my head or not paying much attention to my thoughts at all.

But when I remember to do so, I pull my attention to what is in front of and around me. It’s at these moments, when attention and intention intersect, that I can choose to make the rest of my day matter. I want to experience more of those. Every day.

I invite you to do the same. It will not only change the tenor of your day—it may change your life.

 

The Real Reality

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“We’re trying to elect a new president. Let’s not turn that into a reality TV show.” ~ Former Secretary of State Colin Powell

This is not, and never will be, a blog about politics. But I overheard the above comment the other day, and I felt compelled to write about it.

I couldn’t have said what’s been bothering me lately any better myself. Not just when it comes to the Republican party presidential candidates’ mud-slinging fest thinly disguised as debates and campaign speeches—no, this isn’t just about the size of one’s hands, how much one perspires, or whether or not it’s politically correct for a candidate to use a name-calling term that gets bleeped on TV or *****’d in print.

No, the rantings of these—ahem—“gentlemen” are simply an exacerbation of what I’ve seen is an increasingly disturbing trend in American culture.

We have become a nation of increasingly mean-spirited, rude, obnoxious bullies. At least that’s what is getting played out in the news and, quite often it seems, in my personal experience.

And in my opinion it all boils down to one thing: a lack of respect. For our planet. For differing opinions. For each other.

I see this lack of respect in the garbage that lines so many of our highways or skitters in the breeze across city street corners.

I see it in comments on media websites, where people wrap themselves in anonymity and the American flag and hurl insults at anyone who dares post an opposing viewpoint.

Similarly, I see it in replies on Facebook, where contempt and aspersion often supplant thoughtful discourse.

This lack of respect plays out when hecklers refuse to let political candidates speak, protesters picket soldiers’ funerals, and frat boys think it’s hilarious to sexually abuse inebriated co-eds, and actually videotape the experience.

I could go on and on with examples, but that’s really not the point of this post.

Because, despite all the evidence to the contrary, I truly believe that the majority of Americans are inherently good—that we hold doors open for each other, are quick to open our wallets to support a victim or a cause, find pleasure when we remember to do little random acts of kindness towards one another, and root for underdogs, especially when their nemeses are bullies.

I believe that the majority of us really wish we knew how to solve our country’s complex social issues, from homelessness to addictions, domestic violence to gun violence, animal cruelty to “–isms” of all kinds.

It’s just that we don’t know how. Or those issues simply overwhelm us. Or we’re not sure where to start, or which one to tackle first with our limited time, energy and financial resources.

But here’s the thing: simply knowing and believing that we comprise the majority is a start.

Then taking that belief in the basic decency of the majority, and using that belief to fuel us, to strengthen us, and to not let the bullies get us down.  To show each other, and our world, just how much that acting out of caring and respect can do.

From that source of strength, that conviction that there are more of us than them, we can use our talents and limited resources to create positive ripples in our society—ripples that can turn into waves of progress, enthusiasm, perseverance and success. We can feed off of and strengthen each other, rather than let the bottom feeders continue to drain us.

Interestingly enough, in a prior post, I wrote, “Indeed, I’m no Pollyanna.” And maybe that’s true. Or maybe that character has gotten a bad rap over the years, has come off as shallow, a lightweight. Now I think that it can’t hurt to inject some of that character’s indomitable optimism into my actions and outlook. It certainly feels better, lighter, than the alternative.

And while the mainstream media continues to focus on what is wrong with this country, we can take our stories to the internet—through social media, YouTube, our blogs, and new online platforms that seem to be springing up on a daily basis. Through these channels we can show the world what the majority of Americans are really like.

So what do you think? Do you think I’m being naïve here, to believe what the collective good can accomplish if we put our hearts, minds and talents into it? Or do you, too, think that it’s not only possible, but entirely doable—and if so, how?

I would love to hear your comments and opinions on this particular post, as I feel it’s the most important one I’ve written since I kicked off this blog in January.

In the meantime, I wish you a fantastic day and week.

 

A (Better) Way to Look at Setbacks

This is actually a revised version of a piece I posted in another blog a few years ago. I found it while sifting through my online folders, looking for writing ideas. I have a feeling that it was no coincidence that I came across this now—that I, and maybe even you, needed to be reminded again.

images I recently heard the most remarkable story during my morning commute to the office.  It really didn’t make a point I’d never considered before, but it drove home that point in quite a memorable way.

I have a practice of listening to teleclasses and webinars that I’ve downloaded  from the internet and burned to CDs, and audiobooks that I sometimes buy when I’ve run out of the online freebies, while driving. The topics I listen to run the gamut, from how to promote my blog to how to manifest everything I want in life.

This particular story was part of a “how to think like a millionaire” CD set (I occasionally give another go at trying to wrap my middle class mind around that) that I’d bought some time ago and hadn’t listened to in ages.  Or maybe I hadn’t even gotten this far into the set before—it would seem I would have remembered this story if I’d heard it before.

As he told it, motivational speaker and writer Denis Waitley was in an airport a number of years ago, rushing to catch a plane for his next speaking engagement in another city.  To his complete dismay, he was told that he was too late to board it. Waitley tried everything from righteous anger to pleading in the hopes of getting on that plane, but even as he did so he could see the ground crew beginning to wave the plane into its slow, lumbering taxi.  He couldn’t believe he was actually missing his flight, would miss his speaking engagement, and would miss the large amount of money he would have made that evening.

He proceeded to go to find someone at the airport with which to lodge a formal complaint.  He never  made it that far, though; as it turned out, he heard that the very DC-10 he had a ticket for never fully took off.  Instead it crashed in its attempt to get airborne. There were no survivors.

It made me think of the countless times I’ve lost my head in traffic, percolated with anger over decisions I didn’t agree with at work, snarled about  news stories that I thought were ridiculous or unjust, or even impatiently chided myself when I haven’t accomplished everything I think I ought to have accomplished.  Although every once in a while I have been able to catch myself in the moment and think, “Maybe there’s a reason for this,” or “ Maybe you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be,” more often than not,  my immediate reaction is not so…mature.

I’m glad I heard that story this morning, because maybe it will help me begin to choose my reactions to life’s big and little bumps from a healthier perspective.  And I decided to write about it today, just in case you needed to hear this story, too.  Whether you’re facing challenges in your personal life, or you’re struggling to run and grow your business, perhaps those maybes could help.

Maybe there’s a reason for what’s happening.  Maybe you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be…for now.

 

On Turning 60

images (3)   Like the millions of other people born in 1956—at least those of us who’ve made it to 2016—I am  turning 60 this year.

Yes, I realize it’s “just a number,” with as much or as little significance as any other, except for the fact that maybe I’ll qualify for a few additional discounts on goods and services from here on in.

But attaching significance to our ages is pretty much a lifelong tradition, from the time we enter our “terrible twos” to our “sweet sixteen” (which was disappointingly not as romantic as advertised in song lyrics) to reaching “adulthood” at eighteen (hey, back then, we could vote and drink!).

Many of us reached age 30 wondering how we got there without meeting our own expectations as to whom or where we’d thought we be, and received black balloons and our first old age joke cards at 40.

So now I’m going to turn 60, and it just doesn’t feel like I thought it would. I mean that in a good way.

Sure, my body creaks and sags in places where it never used to, as I haven’t been keeping it in top-notch condition in recent years. And there isn’t a facial cream in the world that can erase the fine lines on my forehead, the crow’s feet that bracket my eyes, or the deeper crevasses that have formed at the corners of my mouth. At least not one that I’ve found yet.

It’s just that I thought 60 would look and feel older than it actually does.

A large part of that probably has to do with the generation that I’m a part of. Or maybe even the part of the generation I was born into, as I’m not sure my two older brothers felt the same way when they turned 60, six and eight years go. But because Baby Boomers began questioning, then testing, then breaking the rules that they saw as arbitrary or meaningless from the get-go, why wouldn’t we do the same regarding the aging process? Who says that 60 needs to look or feel a certain way? So there we go, rebelliously, as we march toward Medicare eligibility.

Perhaps, too, we’re aging differently than our parents because of all of the amazing advancements in health care, medicine and technology that’s  been developed, invented and made available to us that didn’t exist, in many cases, even 20 or 30 years ago—many of which resulted from the efforts and ingenuity of fellow boomers. We know so much more about the body and the brain now, which allows us to take better care of them if we so choose. We have better diagnostic tests, better information on nutrition, better meds. We have gyms and organic foods.  Smoke-free workplaces, restaurants and stores.

We also have better cosmetics and skin care products than our moms did. We have Rogaine and retinol. We even have Dr. Oz, who snuck into our generation in its final year.

But what I find most fascinating about turning 60 is how I feel mentally. I thought I would feel older, and I thought that feeling would not be a pleasant one. I now believe that is due in large part to looking into the weary eyes of my parents’ generation and thinking that would also be my destiny. My parents, who lived through the Great Depression, World War II and the Korean War, while us younger boomers skipped the war scene altogether—the Viet Nam conflict ended when my classmates and I turned 18. Small wonder that so many members prior generation looked, to me, bone tired. Looked older than I feel, now that I’m their age.

I guess that’s really it. Upon turning 60, I feel immensely grateful for being born and growing up when I did. Sure, my fellow 60 year-olds and I have also seen—and continue to see—our fair share of pain, hardship, loss, mankind’s seeming endless ways for treating each other inhumanely.  Indeed, I’m no Pollyanna.

But I also feel that, in many respects, some of which I’ve captured above, we grew up at an amazing time, a time full of miracles, of new ways for us learn and grow, to help, protect, serve and honor one another. And I believe that those of us who are fortunate enough to have reached 60 relatively unscathed have unprecedented opportunities to assist, encourage or even inspire those around us, across town, a time zone away or around the globe. The 60 year-olds of my youth had none of these.

There is so much more I can say about “growing up boomer,” experiences and insights I would like to share with those Gen-Xers, Ys and millennials who might be interested, or compare and contrast with others around my age. Maybe there’s a book to be written. Or more blog posts down the road.

I don’t know what the next life stage will bring. But what I do know is that, when I look in the mirror, those crow’s feet encrusted eyes of mine don’t reflect weariness or defeat. More often than not, I smile at my reflection, a smile springing from a pleasant memory, a joke I heard the day before, the outlook of meeting friends for lunch, or learning something new during the day ahead.

I smile because the Rogaine is working, and maybe, to some extent, so is the facial cream. The jury’s still out on that.

Yes, turning 60 isn’t at all what I expected. And that’s alright with me.