Happy birthday to me

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

As of today, I've concluded my thirty-seventh year on the planet.

I thought hard about doing one of those lessons I've learned ebooks, but I recently read Stuart Firestein's Ignorance: How it drives science, and I realize that it's not the wisdom I've garnered over the years that's important, it's the wisdom I don't yet have.

For as much as I've been learning about the world around us – Einstein, Feynman, Darwin and Plato have all been on my reading list this year – my thirty-eighth year is going to be even more about exploration.

In addition to the wedding, I count at least four things in the pipeline I'm not ready to talk about yet, all of which I'm hoping will culminate before I reach my next birthday.

For today, though, I'll have a nap or two, probably hit the gym at some point, and enjoy dinner out. Tomorrow, after all, is another day.


A(nother) return to blogging, with rules

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013


It's not so much that I've taken the summer off from blogging. It wasn't a planned hiatus or anything. I've busied myself with learning to run, learning to golf, reading (27 books this year and counting – not a 52-in-52 pace, but a book every 10 days), beginning to plan a wedding and continuing the fight with the back yard (finally starting to win that one).

And now I'm sitting at my keyboard, at a writing station I set up yesterday. You can't see the poster on the wall in front of me; it's a signed "Illustration for story on boy and a fox" from Jim Trelease, the noted children's author. The poster is from some time in elementary school when Trelease came by the school to read.

I was a reader then, but primarily I was a math guy. I would memorize baseball statistics, and when my next door neighbor, Andrew (my age but a Catholic school student), and I would shoot hoops in his driveway, I'd calculate percentages in my head.

Yeah, I was that kid. Two-for-11? You're shooting .182. Always in three digits, like a batting average.

I don't remember the story about the boy and a fox; I'm sure the library or Wikipedia would help. It's not that important.

I've carted this poster around now for thirty years, and, while it hung in my bedroom growing up, it has since been in the room where I've wound up doing my most creative work.

I've never been very good at discipline, and if you ask my mother about reminding me to practice piano while I was a child, practice hasn't been high on my list, either.

This summer, though, I've learned that a little discipline and a lot of practice can go a long way. For the third summer, I've thought that burning the yard down and starting over would be the best way to go; the way I'd have to go. But I can see the progress of steadily putting in the work (if you were to come by for the first time, you'd be horrified, but if you'd see snippets in the evolution of the yard, you'd know what I meant). It's taken (and will continue to take) discipline, but I think as we head into winter, the yard will be in good shape to be fully repaired in the spring.

I've also learned the value of practice. I went from being able to run short sprints or not at all (seriously, 3 minutes on the treadmill and I was done) to being able to run for a half hour, even on the street. I've also taken my golf game from 150 strokes to 110. For those of you who aren't golfers, that's still not a competitive game, but it's essentially halfway to par (which is usually in the 70-72 range, depending on the course). Practice has taken me down 40 strokes; I fully expect to be consistently under 100 by the end of next summer. We don't have a year-round season here, and I suppose I'll lose some strokes over the winter and need to regain them in the spring.

So, I've been busy. But writing is important to me, and I need to get in the habit of practicing, of writing, if not daily, then certainly three or four times a week, which is about what it's taken me to advance from no running to being able to run a 5K and still have enough in me to make dinner and go to work.

The rule I'm setting for myself with blogging, then, is a post every Wednesday. The time will vary, largely because my work arrangements are non-traditional and thus my sleeping patterns are as well. It will also give me the opportunity to (unlike with this post which I'm just spitting out as a launch into accountability) write, edit, rewrite, juggle multiple ideas and, should the need arise, move one post up the ladder more quickly if it feels more relevant.

It will also let you know when to expect new material. I'm not saying I won't write more often sometimes, but if you come back every Thursday morning, there will be a post from the previous day.

Have a great week. See you.

Welcoming 2013

Monday, December 31st, 2012

If you're reading this, the world didn't end Dec. 21 (I'm writing this ahead of time, just in case).

I said last year that I was going to do two things: be more patient and get more face-to-face time with people. The more patient thing definitely happened. The face-to-face time thing, not so much, but there's good reason for that.

One thing I didn't know when I was writing last year's post was that I'd wind up managing five departments at the gym. I honestly thought when I signed on there in September of 2010 it would be a short-term job, but when it turned into a career proposition, I wasn't going to bounce around other low-paying retail positions until I found something I'm more passionate about. I took the opportunity and grew with it.

I had my frustrations, sure. If I hadn't needed a job, I probably wouldn't have gone there, and if they hadn't needed a manager, they probably wouldn't have picked me. I think it worked out really well for both of us, though.

But I'm back to news, now. It's where I want to be. And I spend a lot of time at home, and I drink a lot of coffee, and I laugh a lot.

The other big change this year was the addition of a black Lab called Rufus, a rescue dog we learned a lot from. Talk about an exercise in patience. This guy has torn up carpet, gone through a door, and in general came from the shelter with such an excitable personality and a really really bad case of separation anxiety.

He's been hanging out with me late nights, and he reminds both of us to play a lot.

I've already written about what's up for me in the coming year. Of the 12 things I gave myself to do in the year, I've implemented numbers 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 11 and 12, all in the first 6 weeks.

I'm spending New Year's Eve into New Year's day working. While I've tended toward the quiet for the Flipping Of The Calendar the past few years (and, honestly, didn't even make it to midnight a couple of times) I'm looking forward to it. It'll be a quiet night news-wise; most of our work, I'm sure, will be in college football and pictures of drunk people with noisemakers looking happy. I'll be cozy and warm, with coffee, JB and the pup. I can't imagine anything else I'd need.


In defense of 4 a.m.

Friday, December 21st, 2012

I used to get up early. Really early. 4:30 or so. Now I'm just going to bed at that hour. And I have to say I'm loving it.

It's been a tough transition; many naps, a cranky dog, and, well, it's only been three weeks and I'm not always real sure what day it is, but that's more an accident of shifting my weekend to Tuesday-Wednesday at the same time as shifting my sleeping hours.

I think we're good now.

I typically wrap up work between 3 and 3:30. At that point, I take the dog for a short walk (he's usually tired and cranky, but if we don't go out then, he'll be about 14-15 hours in between rest stops; it's for his own good, really).

There is nothing quite as still and dark and quiet as a dead-end suburban street as 4 a.m. approaches. Rufus seems nervous most nights – I'm sure the animal smells are different. Dogs and cats and squirrels during the day, but bats and owls and raccoon at that hour.

I get the coffee on, since JB rises at 4 – yes, she's rubbing the sleep out of her eyes as I'm getting out the last of the day's energy before going to bed – I do whatever's left of yesterday's dishes, and button up my to-do list.

It's at that hour that I come up with ideas. I'm really not flushing them out at that time (to be honest, I wrote this post the other day and scheduled it to go live at 4 a.m. on Firday, but I'm up pouring JB's coffee as it hits the site), but the blog post titles, the life changes I want to make, the items that make it to my "gotta go try this local place I've never been to locally" list, they tend to make it to my white board (which is 7' x 8', so plenty of room for it all) while most people are asleep.

Some of the ideas won't wait; I'll sleep a couple of hours and they're dying to come out. Others wait until a day off.

But while you're sleeping, I'm creating. That feels awesome.

Saying goodbye to Gold’s: Lessons from managing in the fitness industry

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

Today is my final day working with the amazing team at Gold's Gym here in the Syracuse area; while we are two clubs, most of my time has been at the Dewitt location, where I joined as a member in 2005, before I went to work there in September of 2010.

I've worked with some weirdos in my time, but never a collection of eclectic, hard-working, smart people who are really good at their jobs like the folks who have been there for all (or, in some cases, most) of my tenure there.

I learned some valuable lessons there. Here are some that I think would be valuable for you, too.

Separate the personal from the professional. I've worked with some people who, shall we say, are not oh so operationally sound. As operations manager, you can see how that would create more work for me, and really, who has time for more work? But I can still really enjoy them as people. That's new to me.

Describe the why. If you show people why an objective is where it is, or show them why a process is designed for a particular workflow, it's amazing how quickly they'll catch on. Simply describing the what and the how allows too much room for error, and people will keep making the mistakes. Once you describe the why, people tend to get it, and, by targeting the why, they can offer alternative solutions that will be a better fit for your processes than they otherwise would be.

Maintain boundaries. So. Difficult. I was promoted to a management position during my tenure, which means that I went from working with a bunch of people to managing them. Yes, I was still working with them, but you have to draw new lines around friendships and be able to wield some authority or nothing gets done. Bonus points if you can do it without making people think you're a jackass.

Other boundaries you need to draw include when you're actually working. It's so easy to plop down in front of a computer and check your email, and the next thing you know you've spent three hours of your personal time at work, without being in the office. Want to burn out? It's an easy way.

To work with people, spend time listening and observing. I've worked with a wide variety of people who have a wide variety of things going on. With their brains (from body image to severe diagnoses of some mental illnesses), with their bodies (thyroid issues, knee issues, shoulder issues), with their families (kids in the hospital, severely overweight spouses who won't come to the gym even to walk, cousins who won't talk to the family); the list goes on. We don't always get to choose who our coworkers and customers are, but if you listen to them, you'll appreciate them for all that they are. And they'll appreciate you, too.

Most of the decisions you make are, in fact, yours. You probably wouldn't be surprised to hear that people have all manner of excuses for not coming to the gym, or for not eating right, and then having the gall to complain about the consequences. I'm not saying all the decisions they make are easy, and some of the peripheral consequences of some decisions are uncomfortable, but there's science at play in a lot of what we want. We know how to get there. You have to make the decision, and then you have to commit.

Learn. When I went to Gold's in September of 2010, I expected it would be a short-term position to get me through a short rough patch. I didn't want to short-change the company that had taken me on, of course, so I learned a lot about fitness and nutrition, followed trends, checked out niches, and self-experimented with various diets, supplements and exercise routines. It's been invaluable personally, and I think the gym benefited, as well.

Enjoy what you enjoy. The worst thing I heard in the fitness industry over the course of my tenure at Gold's came from a 40-ish year old bodybuilder. I saw him eating a giant vat of cold oatmeal. I told him where the microwave was, and he told me, "I don't eat for taste anymore." OK, I understand the occasional snack just to fill you up, but I can't imagine what it's like to not enjoy your food. I get that ultimately, food is fuel, but I can't imagine discarding the sensual aspect of eating.

Leave things better than you found them. I didn't hit every objective put forth for me. Not even close. But I think I helped get the club a little closer to where it wants to be from a business perspective.

As I head back into the news industry, I'll be returning to use the club as a member. I can't wait to see where it goes from here!

Happy birthday to me

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

Today I enter my 36th year on the planet. At least in this incarnation; depends on your beliefs in that. Whatever, this is something of an existential post, but not that much.

Here are 12 things I'm going to do during the next year.

1. Read. I have a growing list, and I'm actually keeping it visible.
2. Pare back. I've dumped a lot of stuff over the past six months, and I'm going to continue doing that. The house will be cleaner, and I'll have less stuff I'm not using hanging out, taking up space.
3. Meditate. I find the older I get, the more easily frustrated I am, and the more difficult it is to bring myself back to center.
4. Write. I have a list here, too.
5. Save. My auto loan and most of my school loans will be paid off by the end of 2013. I will finally start tucking some money away.
6. Listen. It's still one of my favorite things to do, and I need to do more of it. To music, to audiobooks, to people.
7. Fast. I find great comfort in fasting Yom Kippur. I'll allow myself water and tea, but I'm going to fast monthly and see if that helps with the centering.
8. Make time. I've been pretty good about getting un-busy over the past six months; I expect I'll be making the right changes to give people time and attention.
9. Learn some home improvement. I think I've learned a lot this year. I've never been a tinkerer, but my confidence has grown a lot. I'm going to try to pick a project with more visibility than a door in the basement or a flat tire and give it a shot.
10. Visit a place I've never been. OK, I'll admit that my parents moved to a place I've never been and I can fulfill this just by going to see them, but I'm going to try to get to a few more, too.
11. Get more fresh air. I have changes in the works already that will give me more time outside. Even in a cold climate, that's important to me. It keeps my head a little clearer, and makes breathing easier.
12. Experience. If I'm behind a camera or tweeting an event, I'm not experiencing it. I've already changed a lot of what I do with social media, but expect that I'll do even less recording; there will be more commentary.

What are you changing over the next year?

On passion, luck and fucking uselessness

Monday, October 8th, 2012

I'm one lucky sonofabitch.

You know, one of the things that has come from the Internet is a whole bunch of people telling you to find your passion, then follow it.

I'm lucky in that I already know what my passion is.

I'm a writer. I write because I have to. Seriously. If I'm not writing a blog post, or tweeting, or updating my Facebook status, or composing emails, I'm writing something long-hand in a bound notebook, or I'm making mental notes that when the person I'm talking to walks away I need to scratch out onto a notepad, or I'm writing one-liners (or whole paragraphs) on my white board.

And yet...and yet. My career and my passion have diverged.

I don't really have any good excuse for that. I mean, sure, I have excuses, but none of them are any good. So, I don't know, maybe it's a job security thing. I need it right now. I'd probably be an emotional wreck if I didn't have a steady paycheck coming in.

I remember where I was when I saw this Monster.com ad during the Super Bowl one year. The room got really, really quiet.

It doesn't matter how much reading we do. If we're not performing our passions, they're fucking useless.

Fucking. Useless.

That project I announced last month is finally underway. It's not going to change the world, but it will change my life (because of its format) and it will, I hope, help change a couple of lives for the better.

It's a way to make my passion a little less fucking useless.

What do you have? What do you need?

Friday, August 24th, 2012

I had a moment on Wednesday night.

Maybe it was more of a Moment.

I don't know where it came from. I'm sure it has a little to do with the stuff I've been reading lately, but not a lot. I'm learning important things from some of it, but I haven't acted on a lot of that stuff; it's really just been information in at this point.

I was walking north on suburban dead-end street I live on, wearing comfortable shoes, shorts, a jacket and a baseball cap. My right arm was around the shoulders of the woman I love. My left hand held a leash attached to the black lab we rescued in January, who was alternately sniffing and urinating (you know, dog things). The sky was dimming, the air a little heavy with humidity but cool enough, by way of apology, to be comfortable.

And that was everything I needed. And I think it's everything I'm going to need. Ever.

That was it. My Moment. What was yours?

Publishing on a schedule

Friday, August 10th, 2012

I've blogged every weekday for the past month. It's definitely a way to get the juices flowing, but to be honest, it's hard to do great work every single day. Especially when I'm working a day job, enjoying my family, getting some rec sports in, pummeling two to three workouts a week, and doing whatever else it is I do.

So, in an effort to maintain a writing schedule but vastly improve the quality of these posts, I'm going to publish new entries on Tuesday and Friday every week, beginning next week.

This is a common practice among some of my favorite bloggers – people like Chris Guillebeau and Marc Ensign and Steven Pressfield and, if I'm kind, Julien Smith, whose work I love but he doesn't exactly write regularly (in fact, his regularly scheduled Friday post is coming on four weeks late).

Anywho, I hope you'll find the work engaging as we go forward. I'm excited to be able to dig down a little deeper, put a lot more effort in, and grow with you.

Have a great weekend.

Fuck busy; remember what’s important

Friday, July 6th, 2012

If I'm honest with myself, I'm feeling a little roots-less this week.

In mid-June, we took a final trip to the house I grew up in, and brought some furniture and family keepsakes back to Syracuse. My parents have, by now, made it to Charleston, SC, where they bought a house a couple of years ago. My dad has retired, and my mom will probably find 14 adjunct and distance positions so she can teach college students how to teach young kids until she's in her 90s.

On Saturday, we spent several hours packing up a moving truck in Minoa, because Frank, Nicole and their Small Man were moving to Ohio. This is the same Frank who wrote this piece about home a little over a year ago. [You should really take a few minutes to read that. You don't need to know him to feel it.]

After packing up on Saturday, they drove the 7-plus hours to Ohio on Sunday, only to turn around on Monday and drive all the way back to see Frank's dad before he passed Monday night. I stopped in at calling hours last night. There were smiles and friends and people and that sort of thing, the way it should be. Small Man, by the way, has been a fucking Buddha about the whole thing. I shared that story with my staff this week and got tears.

» Read This From Ashley. Seriously.

There's a reason the author of the Jewish mourner's prayer didn't include death. We need to remember to celebrate life.

I'm of a generation that has been taught that being busy is important in life. And I've fallen into that trap. I took on an extra role at work that added about 3 hours in front of a computer to my workday. I've said yes to a lot of organizations in my nine years in Syracuse. I've worked with 40 Below, Alchemical Nursery, Future Fund, Tapestry, several different recreational sports leagues, a poetry reading and a bunch of other stuff.

I'm paring back.

When the current seasons are up, I'm going down to one night of rec sports a week. I'll volunteer heavily with one organization at a time and give them a lot of my attention, rather than just squeezing them in (and I'll probably do some on-going thing, too, that requires a check-in here and there). I shed the extra role at work. Sure, it's less money, but now I'm working 8 hours a day instead of 11, and I don't feel the need to be attached when I leave the office. I'm going to start training and work on overcoming some fears (heights and such).

You can already see I'm writing more. I'm also reading more. I'm getting time at home and with friends. My calendar has more white space in a week now than it used to have in a month. I actually spend time each morning sitting out on the deck with a newspaper, a cup of coffee and the dog, leaving the technology inside.

And that's where I'm headed right now. Later, gators.