Never too late

I’ve never been enamored by seemingly impossible feats that some people feel compelled to attempt just to prove they can. Walking across Niagara Falls on a tightrope? Pointless. Jumping the Snake River Canyon on a motorcycle? Ridiculous. Swimming from Cuba to Florida? Foolish.

This morning when I read about Diana Nyad’s failed fourth–and supposedly final–attempt to swim the 103 miles from Havana to Key West, I reached for my mouse to close the article. Before I could click the X in the corner, one particular quote caught my eye.

Apparently, Ms. Nyad has dreamed of making this swim since she was a child. Now 62, she hasn’t let her age hamper her dream, and she hopes to inspire others:

“When I walk up on that shore in Florida, I want millions of those AARP sisters and brothers to look at me and say, ‘I’m going to go write that novel I thought it was too late to do. I’m going to go work in Africa on that farm that those people need help at. I’m going to adopt a child. It’s not too late, I can still live my dreams,’ ” she had said.

Hmm. That puts things in a different perspective for me. Don’t get me wrong; I still think that swimming 103 miles without a shipwreck to necessitate it is pretty much crazy. After all, Ms. Nyad has been threatened by sharks, stung by jellyfish, buffeted by lightning storms, and exhausted to the point of delirium. But something about her words caught my heart.

“It’s not too late,” she said.

She’s right. It’s never too late to live your dreams, and I would add that it’s never too early. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, start now.

I’m pretty sure that Diana Nyad will never regret that she tried. If she has any regrets about her life, it will be the things she DIDN’T do.

I guess I’d better get started writing that book.

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The A-team

It’s here! It’s here! Football season is here!

For those of you new to my blog, I love pro football. The American kind, just to be clear. Besides filling my Sundays (and Thursdays and Mondays, with an occasional Saturday sprinkled through the season), it also provides me with a lot of blog fodder. Like today, for instance.

Last Sunday marked my team’s preseason home opener, and I watched with glee from my newly acquired, season-ticketed seat. Because our roster is burgeoning with almost 100 players and needs to be whittled down to 53 by the start of the regular season, preseason games often serve as tryouts. Almost everyone gets to play so that the coaches can evaluate each man’s performance in a real-world scenario.

First on the field was the A-team, the anointed ones, the top-notch guys whose spots on the team are pretty much given. The second-stringers followed, and finally the third-stringers. Everyone played hard to ensure a good on-field audition.

Of course (you knew it was coming), it got me thinking. A great receiver can make an average quarterback look good if he pulls down any ball that come near him. A terrific quarterback can make a decent receiver stand out if he hits him on the numbers every time. A mediocre running back will gain yard after yard if an outstanding blocker continually opens up holes for him. That’s the beauty of teamwork–players lift each other up.

It must work the other way, too. What happens when a really good quarterback has receivers who can’t hold on to the ball, no matter how well he throws it? Or when a field goal kicker can’t get the ball through the uprights because his special teams blockers can’t do their jobs and he goes down under pressure? Or when a running back can’t find a path because his blockers are weak?

I found myself pondering these questions as I watched our third string players on the field. There are some guys on that squad I really like, and I want them to make the cut. I thought, “Boy, I wonder how that quarterback would look if he could throw to Reggie Wayne? It’s too bad he doesn’t have the A-team receivers so he can showcase his talent.”

So is that it? Are third-stringers destined to be third-stringers forever because they are all lumped together? If so, that would be extremely discouraging. How does a player overcome that?

Here’s where I landed, as a fan and as a coach (boss) with people on my own team:

  1. The really good people will stand out no matter what. They can’t help it.
  2. Not everything happens at the game. In fact, players generally earn those game slots through their performance in practice. They have to work hard ALL the time to get there, not just when they’re under the spotlights. (This goes hand-in-hand with number 1.)
  3. Coaches/bosses have to be good, too. They have to be observant and astute and intuitive so they can identify potential talent even in adverse circumstances. They have to recognize good throws, even when no one catches them.
  4. A good coach will mix it up, putting different players together during practice so s/he can get a well-rounded impression of performance. And s/he has to be open to taking chances

Each one of us is sometimes a player and sometimes a coach. When it’s time to put together the A-team, will you have earned a spot? If you’re the person putting it together, will you select the right people? Oh, how I love football!

Freewheeling Friday

I have about 32 half-formed blog posts in my head, but not a single one is quite ready to come out in its entirety. Apparently, I expect these things to spring from my forehead in the same manner in which Zeus produced Athena. In any case, thoughts are a-swirlin’. Here are a few of them for your consideration; I’d love to start a conversation around any of them, so please comment away.

It never ceases to amaze me how much I can learn from watching other people.

Mentoring someone is way harder than being mentored.

Modeling and teaching often go hand-in-hand or even overlap, but each is a distinct methodology.

I learn new languages all the time. Some of my more recent conquests are the languages of road cyclists, building planners, and middle school girls. I’m still working on not-for-profit committees.

“That’s the way we’ve always done it” is a poor excuse.

People can change. They either will or they won’t.

Human touch is underrated and disappearing quickly. It shouldn’t be reserved for intimate situations; incidental contact isn’t a bad thing.

Know thyself, and use your parameters to maximum effect.

I like the ritual of coffee even more than the coffee itself.

I still don’t like to wear pink.

Back on the brand wagon

Branding makes my world go ’round. Beside the fact that it plays a prominent role in my professional responsibilities, I love the whole proposition: building a reputation and an awareness of that reputation that speaks for itself. Essentially, it’s the impression others have of you.

Effective brands will be consistent across all audiences, and each interaction–whether visual, electronic, or personal–will reinforce whatever message “The Brand” is trying to convey. Brands can be personal or professional; the basic premise remains the same: Who do people think you are? What do you stand for? The thing people often forget, however, is that everyone affects the brand. In a company, for example, brand goes way beyond the marketing department.

I received a strident reminder of that very fact this morning. A friend from years past sent me a frustrated email about my company. She had applied for a job and, based on direct contact with a company representative, felt that her application had been mishandled. Though it could have been an honest mistake, she was left with a negative impression–all because of one person’s communication with her. She told me, “My perception of [your company] has already changed…and not for the better.”

My friend’s brand encounter had nothing to do with a logo, a product, or a fancy-schmancy marketing brochure. It didn’t involve the website or a warranty. Her impression of the company was entirely defined by an email from someone in HR. To me, that’s powerful stuff.

It doesn’t matter what job we do; when we pick up the phone or answer an email or talk to someone face-to-face, we ARE the company to that person. If you’re weeding the flower beds at your company and a passerby asks you where to find the entrance, you’d better believe that how helpful (or unhelpful!) your response is will color his impression. If you answer the phone and you’re a jerk, do you think people will think about how good your product is? Chances are, they’ll care a little less.

Whether it’s for yourself or for your company, everyone is an ambassador. C’mon everybody, jump on the brand wagon.

Just for fun

My finishing time at the Warrior Dash this year increased quite a bit over last year. I added almost FIVE minutes per mile. Normally, that kind of performance decline would reduce me to a quivering mess; in fact, it’s pretty amazing that I’m even admitting to it here.

Today, I don’t care.

Why not? I could justify it by saying the course was harder (it was) and it had more mud obstacles that were difficult to navigate (it did) and that everyone posted slower times (they did), but those aren’t the real reasons.

I don’t care because it was FUN. As much as I enjoyed the muddy obstacle race last year, this year’s event stole my heart. Last year, I took on the Warrior Dash–billed by promoters as “the craziest frickin’ day of your life”–to prove I could. I tackled all kinds of tasks that would normally make my sometimes-prissy self balk, if not turn away in self-righteous disgust. When I crawled out of the mud pit to cross the finish line, all I could think was, I DID it!

My brother and I both agree that this year’s race felt completely different. We had already proved that we COULD do it; this time we actually WANTED to do it. When the starting horn blew fire to launch my 11:00 wave, I hit the woods grinning. I leapt roots and ruts, took the direct route through the stream instead of pussyfooting from rock to rock, embraced the mud, and army-crawled through trenches on the forest floor. I ran hard and felt great all the way through. I loved it. Last year’s race felt like an accomplishment. This year’s race was an out-and-out blast.

I’m pretty sure that’s one of the benefits of expanding your comfort zone. Once you master a task or conquer a fear, it leaves you free to enjoy the experience the next time. You can do it just for fun.

Getting schooled

There’s not much worse than being taught a lesson. Unless your brother is the person who just schooled you. And he uses your own words to do it. Here’s the story.

The very first road race I ran was the Running for World Water 5K in Indianapolis, and my brother stuck by my sweaty, gasping side the entire way. His encouragement pushed me across the finish line in a time slightly better than my goal, and I’ve always been grateful for his dedication, even when he could have left me in the dust. (And especially when I started saying nasty things to him in the last mile!)

Since that first year, I’ve always thought of that event as “our” race, even in the years when circumstances did not allow him to run it with me. It’s strange, then, that when it looks as if we’re both available to run it in a couple of weeks, I find myself balking.

“I’m afraid,” I tell him.

“Of what?” he asks.

“Of being slower. Of looking stupid,” I reply, referring to my current running slump.

“Who’s watching?” he counters.

“EVERYONE!” I retort.

(At this point, I can hear him snorting with derision through cyberspace, given that this conversation is happening via email.)

Then he hits me. Hard.

“Listen here, Miss Comfort Zone! Don’t let fear of others keep you from getting water to needy people. I expect you there pacing me. We’re crossing that line together this year.”

Wait. Who said he could bring up that comfort zone business from yesterday’s post? He can’t use my own words against me. What a jerk!

Then he plays his trump card: “Who cares? Do it because we can do stuff together, not for the glory.”

Lesson 1: Sometimes it’s the small things that push the limits of my comfort zone.

Lesson 2: I have to live up to my own words.

Lesson 3: No one can push my buttons like my brother.

I guess I’ll be running for world water again this year.

Uncharted territory

Derek Sivers, you inspire me. You reminded me today to keep moving out the boundaries in order to make my world bigger, to expand my comfort zone. I read your post, Push, Push, Push, and I thought about all the things I’ve done lately to expand my horizons. It was a short session.

Yes, I dove through mud and scaled walls and leapt over fire last weekend in the Warrior Dash. But I’ve done it before.

Yes, I rode 190 miles on a bicycle over hill and dale through Massachusetts to raise money for cancer research. But I’ve done that before, too.

Those are all the recent highlights I can conjure, and they don’t amount to much because they no longer represent uncharted territory to me. After all, the whole point of pushing is to overcome the fear, to master the feat:

I love that when we push push push, we expand our comfort zone. Things that used to feel intimidating now are as comfortable as home. –Derek Sivers

The consequence of not pushing the boundaries, big or small, is not that my world stays the same. Actually, without continuing to push outward, the weight of the unexplored begins to pile up, and my world starts to collapse upon itself. It begins to shrink until I find myself confined in a tiny box.

Thankfully, that state is never permanent. ANYone can expand her world at ANY time. One of my grandmothers bought a computer and taught herself to use it when she was in her 70s. The other grandmother elected to undergo hip surgery and painful rehabilitation at age 98. An uncle elected to undergo a DNA test at age 65 and found his family, flying to meet them a continent and a language away.

Pushing limits doesn’t have to be grandiose. Granted, for someone who has a pretty small comfort zone, stretching it will look a lot different than it will for someone who regularly hurdles large obstacles, but continuing to expand the territory is all that really matters. Read a book that challenges your beliefs. Try a dish that would never make it to your table at home. Take a class. Learn a new skill. Make a new friend. Conquer a fear.

Over time, I believe that pushing your limits doesn’t get you out of your comfort zone. It actually expands it.

It’s time to get out of my rut.

P.S. PLEASE read Derek’s post. It’s one of his best. Here’s a bit of it to whet your appetite:

Push, push, push. Expanding your comfort zone.

2012-08-13

I’m 40 meters underwater. It’s getting cold and dark. It’s only the third dive in my life, but I’m taking the advanced training course, and the Caribbean teacher was a little reckless, dashing ahead, leaving me alone.

The next day I’m in a government office, answering an interview, raising my right hand, becoming a citizen of Dominica.

I’m in a Muslim Indian family’s house in Staten Island, washing my feet, with the Imam waiting for my conversion ceremony. Next week they will be my family in-law. The Muslim wedding will make her extended family happy. I’ve memorized the syllables I need to say. “Ash hadu alla ilaha illallah. Ash hadu anna muhammadar rasulullah.” READ THE REST HERE.