Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Don't Forget To Have Fun

On the wall in front of my desk I've posted a reminder: "Don't forget to have fun - Every day leave yourself some time to enjoy, to be silly, to laugh." There are days when this sign mocks me, as the laughter is scarce, and the silliness is squashed by the serious. When the day at work yields little to no opportunity for fun, I feel drained and exhausted on the drive home. I then look for ways to find some fun at home, which is not always an easy thing, especially if I come home to an empty house. Compounding this frustration is the fact I am left to my own devices when it comes to my evening meal.

On the other hand, I've discovered the days that bring the most smiles are the days I am the most productive. I leave work energized, eager to go home. If I happen to enter an empty house, then I look for ways to have fun with the food at my disposal. I create concoctions with what items are available -- most of which are still edible. After "dinner" I watch some recorded shows that try to creatively prove or disprove what is portrayed in the movies. At other times I watch an obstacle course contest where nimble participants marshal wits and energy to compete on a course full of slippery balls, battering rams, and spraying foam that -- to my amusement -- always involves someone falling headlong into the water and wiping out. Afterwards, I may take a run with the dog or just kick back with the Xbox.

If family is around I enjoy shaking things up a bit. Maybe I'll play some Xbox with the kids, or watch a movie on Netflix.

One of the best nights I can remember with my dad was the night mom was working and dad let us stay up until midnight. We laughed, we played, and we enjoyed each other's company.

One of the best nights I remember with my kids was when their mom was working and we stayed up until midnight. We laughed, we played, and we enjoyed each other's company.

Over the years we've faced hard times as a family, but we never forgot the times when we had fun. It's interesting now that the days I forget to have fun seem to fade, but the fun times get etched into my memory.

As the summer of 2012 winds down, don't forget to have fun.

You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Man's Man

If I were to ask you to define the phrase, "man's man," you would most likely start out by describing this man's characteristics. He'd likely be strong, courageous, educated, a true gentleman with the ladies, capable of handling his liquor and, of course,'fit as a fiddle. Many popular movies feature a man's man character in the lead role. It is this guy who successfully fights injustice and evil, even while persevering against impossible odds. Some actors are almost synonymous with the man's-man concept. Among these would be Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sean Connery and John Wayne. Movie heroes are popular because they often portray real-life men's men. For example, John Wayne's character in the movie The Fighting Seabees is based on the real-life heroes of the Navy Seabees. His character in Hellfighters is loosely based on the real-life character of oil well firefighter Red Adair.

Beyond the fictional world of the silver screen, we have examples of men's men all around us. Police officers and firefighters respond with courage and speed to unknown disasters awaiting them; ambulance EMTs bandage the wounded and are faced with traumas requiring a steady head and hand; U.S. Armed Forces military personnel stand ready to deploy, engage and destroy the enemies of the United States of America.

The sports world offers examples of men who could wear the man's man label, too. Men such as Michael Jordon, Roberto Clemente, Jackie Robinson, Ted Williams, Jesse Owens and others have excelled not only on the athletic field, but in other areas of life. The just completed Olympics gave us a glimpse into future sports heroes, who may wear the man's man label in the future.

But, for me, a man's man is a man who accepts his responsibilities, honors his word, helps the needy, provides for his loved ones, gives and earns respect, speaks truthfully, lives his faith, and is not afraid to be authentic in his praise, emotions and admonitions.

Perhaps you know this man's man.

Perhaps to another you are this man.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Go Team

Watching the Olympics got me thinking about the concept of teamwork. When we hear the word "team" most of us probably picture our favorite sports team: hockey, football, basketball, soccer, baseball and the like. As a parent, we immediately think how many hours we will spend driving our children to and from practices, games and tournaments. If we play, we think of the fun we have being part of the team. It doesn't matter if we're a cheerleader or the go-to guy, who comes through in the clutch, we like being part of the team. It makes us part of something bigger than ourselves. Think back to how many times we witnessed this in the Olympics, as individual team members were inspired, encouraged and supported by their teammates. Individually they may not have qualified for the gold, but as a team they stood at the top of the platform.

It then occurred to me how we are all part of some team. At work I am part of a group of people that contributes to the whole. I do work much like an auto worker on the line: I perform one or two specific functions to the best of my ability and then pass the task along. By myself I do not produce an automobile, but as a team there is a brand new car rolling off the line -- regularly -- just like clockwork.

I am also part of a family. If I am married and have children, my wife and I are a parenting team. If I am not married I am still part of a team -- that team defined as my greater family. The members of the team each perform their tasks, making up the collective identity of the family. Some of you are the "keeper of the family tree"; some are the "teller of tales"; others play the part of the "dreamer" -- always asking what-if questions, which prompt families to host events like reunions and other celebrations.

No matter how many teams you find yourself on, it is your task as a team member to define and execute your role. This is no easy challenge, since these teams are frequently changing. You may move from team member to head coach, as you get married. You may move from coach to general manager, as you have children. You may even retire from the basketball league and start playing on the softball team. Then again you may move from softball to golf. Each change brings a new set of instructions and actions.

But no matter what your role, you contribute best to the team when you use your gifts and talents to the top of your ability, always growing in your knowledge and skill.

Game on!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Good, The Bad, The Olympics

I confess I have joined London and the rest of the world in following the Games of the XXX Olympiad. Due to time constraints and television schedules, however, I've only watched a small number of the 10,000 athletes from 204 countries compete in events. In the course of these games, I have witnessed incredible acts of courage, along with some not-so-great moments. To date, I think, one of the most inspirational races I witnessed was the men's 400-meter heat, where South African, Oscar Pistorius, qualified for the semi-finals. It's hard not to be inspired by a man who lost both his lower legs when he was a child qualify to race against able-bodied men in the greatest of all arenas: the Olympics. His race was one of the games' best moments.

In contrast, these games also have given us the "evening of shame," as eight badminton players were expelled, charged with "not using one's best efforts to win a match" and "conducting oneself in a manner that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport." I didn't see the match, so I really can't comment; though I can speak to the concept of allowing an opponent an apparent advantage in order to improve one's odds of winning. I've watched enough Major League Baseball to understand the advantage of an intentional walk. In these Olympic Games, I've listened to announcers for the men's swim heats suggest that easing up in the heats would conserve vital energy to go for the gold. I have watched soccer (football) teams intentionally kick the ball out of bounds, instead of trying to keep it in play.

But, on balance, these games have been more than inspirational, as individuals show the world what it takes to be the best competitors possible. These athletes have displayed how their relentless training and singularity of focus can translate into attaining goals seemingly impossible. The marvel of solid team play has also been evident, as players think "team" and not "individual." Here participants are supportive of one another, as they face their competition, being unified in purpose and goal. The games also show that in any given competition, each contestant has an opportunity to win the gold.

Men, there are valuable lessons we can take from the Olympic Games, as we lead and inspire others. Our objective may not be the seven grueling events of the heptathlon, and we're probably not defending a world record in handball or boxing. But we most assuredly can stretch our personal limits to reach goals thought to be beyond our capability and always give our best.

And while we're at it, let's remember our team members too, knowing that our experience and hard-won insights might be just what our brother needs to perfect his game.

And, who knows, he might have a few nuggets to share with us as well.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Lessons Learned from Watching Golf

This summer's protracted heat wave has forced me inside, abandoning my regular summer routines of working in the yard. In an effort to remain cool, I have found PGA golf. My new routine is to attend Sunday morning worship, have dinner, and then head to the "man cave" to watch the world's best golfers.

What started as an exercise in keeping cool has now becoming an eagerly anticipated routine. I've even begun following a few of the more notable players: Bubba Watson, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, John Daly, and Zach Johnson. It's been interesting observing players as they navigate course layouts and conditions, interface with spectators in the gallery, and rise up to face the pressure of playing in these high-stakes tournaments. And my observing has not gone unrewarded either; I've learned some life lessons watching these men compete.

Here are seven for your consideration:

One: Never give up. Even if you dump your tee shot in a fairway bunker and your opponent is smack dab in the middle of the fairway, that doesn't mean the hole's a bust. You can still win it by reminding yourself it's a game where every shot counts. A great bunker shot against an opponent's fair-to-good approach shot has won the hole more than a few times in golf. The man who loses hope, however, might as well put his sticks back in his bag.

Two: Keep calm. Many a player going into the home stretch has blown his lead -- and the round -- by succumbing to pressure. I've watched plenty of golfers have their wheels come off, as they blow a short putt, shank one into the woods, or find the water. The ones getting their names engraved on the trophy Sunday afternoon are the ones who rein in their adrenalized nerves. The man who can keep his emotions in check is more likely to get the check.

Three: A miss is a miss. I've watched leaders squirrel away a first-place finish by missing a putt of a few inches. Those inches loom large when you consider the difference between first and second place. As someone once said, "Second place is the first loser." A miss by a foot costs just as much as a miss by six inches. Golf is not like horseshoes and hand grenades: close enough never is.

Four: Rules count. I've watched players drop a ball out of a hazard three times, before they could play their next shot. The smallest deviation from the rules requires them to drop again. A strict adherence and enforcement of the rules is important to the outcome of the tournament. The savvy man follows the rules, even when no one is watching.

Five: A great drive means nothing, if the next shot is a disaster. A golfer, who sends one through the stratosphere, positioning himself beautifully for a birdie attempt, can still bogie the hole -- or worse -- with an approach shot that sails over the green and finds the drainage ditch. It's a funny thing: every shot, every hole -- they all matter.

Six: Know when to lay up. I've watched as golfers try hard to reach the green, only to find it was outside their distance. The result? They lose the hole to their opponent, who, of course, more wisely, laid up, positioned himself for the putt and dropped it in the bucket for par. A man who understands his skill level can strategize his game accordingly.

Seven: Know the lay of the land. A golfer who misreads the break in the green will surely miss the cup. It's important to know the lay of the land (the breaks, dips, speed, ground hardness, etc.) and how the ball will react with the surface. A winner needs to understand his environment and how it impacts him.

Perhaps one of the reasons golf has such a broad appeal is the way it mirrors life. We can see ourselves in the game we play, when we're honest about it. We know instinctively how we should make a lot of the shots before us, but impatience, lack of confidence, nerves, or our roaming attention span has us giving away the hole -- and the game -- more times than we'd care to admit. We can expect more of the same, if we resist making the necessary adjustments to play better.

The choice is up to us.