Winter Is Coming

Henry Clay!

My family lived in Kentucky for about three years when I was growing up, which meant I heard the name Henry Clay quite often in my history classes. Clay was a transplant from Virginia who made his name as a lawyer in the Bluegrass State before he gained national notoriety as a senator, representative, Secretary of State, Speaker of the House and two-time presidential candidate. He was a man of conviction who sought compromise where others were quick to seek blood. This reputation earned Clay a great many admirers, including Abraham Lincoln.

Clay’s wisdom is frontier wisdom and the quote on offer today is no exception. It’s a favorite among athletes as it serves as a reminder that there is no such thing as an off-season. Athletes can’t afford to stop training or abandon their diets just because they don’t have any matches in the near future. If they do, they’ll be in a world of hurt when the season does roll around.

Likewise, a frontier farmer couldn’t afford to get lazy during the summer – summer was the time to prepare for winter. A lazy summer could mean a winter with no food to eat!

You, too, should be intentional with your downtime so you are better prepared when more demanding periods come along. By all means enjoy hard-earned breaks, but don’t forget that winter is coming.

Know This: Motivating Yourself Can Be Difficult

Rupert is watching.

Questions often asked of me by people who frequent ToVa include: How do I find the time? How do I maintain the energy? How can I be so organized?

Confession: it’s not as easy as I try to make it look.

I started taking personal development seriously nearly three years ago. I’ve always chased opportunities to learn so when I say I began to take it seriously I mean that I began to pursue development with intention and purpose. It was the difference, I guess, between aimlessly surfing Wikipedia and actually chasing down intellectual resources on topics I was interested in learning more about. It truly changed my life.

This “awakening” coincidentally (but fortunately) coincided with the commencement of my graduate studies and for two and a half years these two segments of my life complemented each other in tremendously satisfying ways. I concluded my studies in early June this year and launched ToVa about a month later. I planned six months of Monday / Wednesday / Friday posts and got to work.

For the first two months this went swimmingly. I was having fun, I was learning new things and a few of my friends were coming along for the ride. Unfortunately, this didn’t last.

There were no posts last week and in the two weeks prior to that there were no Friday link posts. I had fallen behind and I began to let the Friday posts go so I could spend that time getting Monday and Wednesday posts caught up.

Last week was meant to be a week about sleep: sleeping better, leading to better health and improved focus on our goals. Ironically, my own sleep was suffering at the same time as the hours that I work at my day job shifted from day to night (meaning I finish work between midnight and 1:00 AM). I began to feel hypocritical and the voices that always ask me “how do you do it?” rang in my head, growing louder and more accusatory in tone. I felt like a fraud.

So I’m coming clean.

People… I got lazy. I stopped nurturing my systems and they atrophied and died.

The insights that I share on this blog are the ones that make the most sense to me. The methods I describe are not always the methods that I use; the suggestions are not always ones that I employ in my own life. There is truly no one size fits all solution to enhanced productivity or relentless high achievement, there are only things worth trying.

Even the very best of us – and, for the record, I do not count myself among the best – do not knock it out of the park on every swing. The important thing (and pardon the well-tread cliché here) is that we keep swinging; that we find better ways to swing or different attitudes to bring to the plate.

While I have fallen behind on the blog I have also fallen behind on my novel. Both are passion projects for me and – having completed my studies – I have plenty of time to work on both. I have woken up every day over the past three weeks with a goal to write and most days I went to sleep (too late) having written nothing.

What happened?

Even our passion projects can come to feel like work. Mix in a day job (with irregular hours), a relationship, planning for a wedding, a broken camera, etc. and you begin to justify taking time off here and there to unwind. That is, you make excuses and convince yourself they’re good ones.

I’m not even saying it’s not okay to take a break. What I am saying is that your passion projects will not complete themselves. Eventually you will need to get back to work.

We all fall off the horse sometimes.

Only the best of us – and that can include you and me – possess the strength of character to climb back on and continue riding.

So I’m doubling down and inviting you to do so with me. I’m working on my blog and my novel every day – what are you working on?

It’s Not Your Job To Hold Down The Score

Rupert is an All-American Pillowback.

Football season is upon us once again! Sport offers no end of inspiration and lessons in preparation and success, so why not look toward America’s favorite sport for a little Wednesday inspiration?

… It’s not my job to hold down the score – that’s your job.

This was legendary college football coach Bobby Bowden’s response to Lou Holtz when Holtz (himself a legendary coach) accused him of running up the score of a game in (most likely) 1970. The above version of the quote is the one that Holtz himself recounts in the book Bobby Bowden on Leadership: Life Lessons from a Two-Time National Championship Coach. The years since have distorted this quote, though the meaning has never been altered. I most often hear it phrased as: “it’s my job to score, it’s your job to stop me.” It might seem a bit cold-hearted, but Bowden has good reason for walking such a hard line in refusing to sit on the ball.

When Bowden was in the first year of his first major head coaching job at West Virginia University, he was feeling pretty good about a 35 – 8 halftime lead that he and his team owned against their bitter rivals, Pitt. Unfortunately, that 35 – 8 lead turned into a 36 – 35 loss by the end of the game and the bitter sting of that defeat – which Bowden himself attributes to his being “too conservative” in the second half – haunted him throughout the rest of his now-legendary career and into retirement.

This quote would be Bowden’s go-to defense when he would (not irregularly) be accused of “running up the score” over the years but the reason I’m sharing it with you today has little to do with arguments regarding sportsmanship. The quote itself and the unfortunate circumstances that were the genesis of the logic behind the quote are powerful reminders that we can never afford to take our foot off the gas pedal.

Naturally, our day-to-day lives and situations are rarely as directly combative and adversarial as a football game (that is, there are not always “winners” and “losers”) but if we ease off in our efforts – if we “sit on the ball” – we will find ourselves surpassed by the “competition” and there will be nobody to blame but ourselves.

Considering this, there’s no reason at all to ease off the accelerator. After all, it’s not your job to underachieve to make others feel better – it’s their job to keep up with you while you make the most of what you have and are continually pushing the boundaries!

I Am Groot

Rupert is Groot.

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy stole a lot of hearts over this year’s blockbuster season (I would say “summer”, but it’s winter here in Australia!), including my own. As you know, I love finding lessons in non-traditional places and there were lessons aplenty in this comedic space western. Spoiler alert: engaged.

Establishing Your Personal Brand Ain’t Easy

Peter Quill would really rather be known as Star-Lord (legendary outlaw) but he’s having a hard time getting it to catch on. Still, he persists in his efforts by embodying the values that he would like people to associate with Star-Lord. He has no time for the authorities, lots of time for the ladies and just the right amount of swashbuckling swagger for an outlaw cut from the John Stamos mold. His efforts are ultimately rewarded, paying off in a deeply satisfying and hilarious way toward the end of the film.

Sometimes It’s Best To Jump Right In

It’s usually a good idea to carefully plan your next actions, lest you wander too far down the wrong path. However, it can sometimes be easy to fall into a trap of planning paralysis in which you spend so much time trying to develop the perfect plan that you never make any real progress toward your goals. Groot takes this to an extreme when the Guardians are imprisoned toward the beginning of the film and are planning to escape. As Rocket Raccoon lays out his plan (complete with superfluous steps installed for his own amusement), Groot gets immediately stuck into his own assignment of removing a battery from the alarm system. Unfortunately, this forces the rest of the team into immediate and rushed action, but you have to admire his go-getting attitude.

Don’t Let Emotions Cloud Your Judgement

Drax the Destroyer blames Ronan (the film’s main villain) for the death of his family. Unfortunately, his drive for revenge handicaps him with severe tunnel-vision that nearly gets himself and the rest of the Guardians killed. Fortunately, he learns his lesson and – seeing at last that his own goal aligns with that of the Guardians – he finally chooses to join forces with the other Guardians in order to avenge his family.

Think Outside The Box / Never Give Up

When guns of all sizes and one spacecraft-turned-cannonball fails to stop Ronan from reaching the surface of the planet Xandar, Quill tries one last thing: song and dance. With Ronan moments away from laying waste to the entire planet, Quill busts a move and urges Ronan to “listen to these words” as he breaks down O-O-H Child. Naturally, it was all a ruse to distract Ronan and create the opportunity to destroy his warhammer, and it works to perfection. As long as there’s time on the clock, be willing to try anything and everything.

Take Time To Celebrate A Job Well Done

I am Groot.