Inspiration

Saying Thank You to Mom on Father’s Day

I watched Mom stand, rest her hands on the top ridge of the wood pew in front of her, exhale, and move toward the front of the church where I stood. My words of remembrance for my father had just filled the air, and now Mom would speak. The sun pierced the stained glass windows, shining into the hushed crowd, which spilled into the balcony, aisleways, and crevices behind pillars. Grandpa, Mom’s dad, pressed a tissue to his eyes.

Mom moved with purpose. Red eyes singed by grief resisted an onslaught of tears. She would cry them later, in private. We hugged. A storm lurched inside me, a faucet dripped from my eyes. Mom ascended three slight steps until she stood behind the lectern ready to speak.

With her head high and voice steady as to betray the inner misery only those who’ve lost a spouse can understand, Mom read two passages from her books of daily inspiration, both from four days earlier—November 20—the day Dad had died.

The first came from the book of James: How do you know what is going to happen tomorrow. For the length of your lives is as uncertain as the morning fog.

The second from Ralph Waldo Emerson: The greatest gift is a portion of yourself.

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Each day is nothing if not a series of choices—big and small, simple and difficult. Every morning I ask myself a series of questions: What type of person will I be today? Will I be someone who teaches? Will I give of myself to help others? I fall short (often) in my mission because life is too hard. Still, my answer never wavers, and my intentions are always the same. Yes, I will be that person, I say, and the reason is due to Mom’s example.

Mom exemplifies kindness, patience, and selflessness. She is a servant who acts in the service of others. And does so not for reward or recognition, but because the authenticity of her spirit demands no other path. Mom is that rare person who is wholly genuine in how she cares for others—day in, day out—in every patient question and every extra minute spent listening. Small acts magnified by thousands of changed lives.

I see school papers spread across our kitchen table, some decorated with stickers and others splashed with red ink. Mom is awake, working, before the sun has lifted its head from its pillow and not in bed until long after the Moon has spent its goodnight wishes. This is the example of Mom as a teacher, and thirty years of students are lucky to have had their essays on photosynthesis graded by someone who will never stop challenging—and encouraging—them to dream bigger and care deeper.IMG950914

There is the example of Mom as a patient listener. Students visit our house long after they’ve left Mom’s 5th grade class. They want to stay connected and close to the woman who will listen to them without limitation. Friends and family need her ear, too. Protected, guarded souls lay bare—exposed, yet comfortable as they seek counsel. When empathy always trumps judgment, every conversation is a chance to make a difference.

In 4th grade, I was in my basement playing video games on my Sega Genesis. Mom pounded down the stairs toward me, a fast and furious tornado whipping destruction from every blonde curl atop her head. My report card—and the C- I had received in reading—hung like a sickle waiting to slice at her side as she stood above where I sat on the floor. She backhanded the control from my hand, picked up the console, and smashed the Sega into the ground.

“This is the reason your grades stink,” she pointed at the Sega’s battered corpse. “Get your act together!”

This moment kickstarted my appreciation for how words and stories can transform our hearts. It also reminds me that for anyone who believed that Dad, with his football hero past, ruled our house is mistaken. Mom set the example for toughness.

I see Mom today as a grandmother, asking questions of and conversing with her granddaughter. Their interactions are blessed with laughter, smiles, and love. I watch these exchanges and I remember the mother who immersed herself in Erin’s life and mine. I remember Mom always helping with homework, probing us with questions, listening as we talked, and holding our hands as we cried. She’s with me in our driveway rebounding my missed jump shots, and she’s there on the track for every childhood sprint workout. Always positive; always caring; always present.

Mom made the best nachos, mixed the best Kool-Aid, and offered the best conversation for my friends and me. There exists a group of kids who grew up in Fremont, Ohio, near Birchard and Park or just off Buckland Avenue, who will always associate the Lytle home with Mom’s inviting spirit.

In This is Water, David Foster Wallace says: The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.

If the greatest gift we can give is a portion of ourselves, than I know of no greater example of sacrifice than Mom.

On this Father’s Day, as I reflect on the time I spent with my father, I find myself feeling grateful for Mom. Mom inspires me each day that she faces with courage, strength, and the willingness to rebuild from her heartbreak. She has inspired me with a lifetime of compassion, consideration, selflessness, and caring.

Thank you, Mom. I love you.

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Why a Gay Games Silver Medal Matters to Me

“Runners to your marks,” the man with the pistol dangling from his right hand called.

I stared at the finish line 100 meters in the distance. My hands twitched, and my legs quaked. Searing pain ignited in my left heel and burst through my leg. Nervousness had replaced oxygen in the air, and anxiety filled my lungs with each breath. I pictured the race’s end—myself versus my opponents—and thought: I’m 31 years old, haven’t sprinted in over 10 years, my stomach is rolling over my running shorts, and I’m not gay. What am I doing in the finals of the 100-meter dash at the Gay Games?

Four days later, I stood with athletes from around the world and celebrated the closing ceremonies of Gay Games 9 in Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland had transformed itself into the world capital for the LGBT community as the Games’ host city, and thousands of athletes and supporters from around the world came to Cleveland to promote equality through an inclusive celebration of sport. During the closing ceremonies, I joined other participants as we held our hands over our hearts and sang along with a gospel rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. Good vibrations rattled through the crowd, which held a carnival-like energy. A smile creased my lips and tears slipped from my eyes. The silver medal I had won hung from around my neck. I was proud of the Games, proud of Cleveland, and proud of myself for participating.

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What Happened to my Undershirt – Lessons on Improvement

Raise your hand if you’ve ever collapsed an idea before it could garner any traction because it failed to meet the most impossible of all standards: Perfection?

See me? Yes, I’m raising my hand. Now, I’m raising both hands. Hell, I’m jumping and shouting. I might do a cart-wheel next.

Why?

Because perfection, for me at least, interferes with progress. Ideation isn’t difficult, but executing on those ideas is. When the internal standard is to write something flawless, the act of finishing anything becomes problematic. The edit and rewrite cycle becomes as unending as it is frustrating.

And this has me thinking today about undershirts. I’ve worn an undershirt since I can remember – say 25 years. My grandfather wore undershirts and I presume his grandfather wore them too. James Dean wore them. So did Brando and Newman. They are cooler than I am and popularized the white shirt look in the 1950s.

ShirtThese shirts, while functional and ubiquitous, had a long-standing problem: The itchy, good-for-nothing tag that dangled from the collar. For nearly a century, men have resorted to ripping or cutting these tags from their undershirts. Still, this seemingly obvious design flaw remained uncorrected.

Then, in the mid-2000’s shirt-makers wised up and began selling tagless shirts. Men would never again suffer under the scratchy tickle of an unwanted tag.

Nothing created will ever be perfect – nor should it. I think a better goal is to focus less on perfection and more on asking this question: How can I make something better?

When we remove the burden of perfection, we introduce the possibility for improvement.

Undershirts existed for 100 years, but shirt-makers never stopped questioning how they could make them better. They found room for improvement. And men everywhere are thankful.

I read this thing…(January 3)

Pleasepleaseplease remember that, despite every Pinterest board you’ve ever set your eyes on: Your life is not actually measured by the number of breaths you take, or (WAIT FOR IT) “by the moments that take your breath away.”… But, rather, your life is measured by—surprise!—absolutely nothing at all.

(And that incredibly optimistic message is the one I wanted to shower you with today.)

Look. Nobody’s grading you. Nobody’s keeping score. Nobody’s sitting behind the curtain, waiting to reveal you as some evil fraud. And if we’re being honest? You’ve been so busy that you don’t even know what your life is measured by, either.

All you’ve been thinking about lately are the things your business is measured by. Subscribers. Sales numbers. Profit margins. Stats.

But what about the number of inside jokes you have with your lover? Have you been measuring those? Or the number of times “Achy Breaky Heart” came on the radio and you belted out every single (godawful) word? How about the number of minutes you actually spent admiring the Christmas tree this year? Did you even spend any? Or the days when—shocker—you didn’t open the computer?

Ash Ambirge, The Middle Finger Project (Full post here)

I call this the curse of what could I have done or what should I have done with my time? And I am as guilty of it as anyone.

We don’t have to measure everything we do. Not all activities need to be productive. So what if you want to spend a Saturday afternoon immersed alone with a book. Who cares if you want to write a short story for your friends’ entertainment or play rounds of video games with your son. These moments count. They count for ourselves, our sanity, and our friendships.

I urge everyone to make time for yourself. Make time for your loved ones. Let it be “unproductive,” whatever that means. Be a kid again.

Reminds me of what Ferris Bueller said: “Life moves pretty fast. You don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.”

The Power of Empathy

I saw the following video on the Tumblr page of Brad Wise (for more on Brad’s amazing work, check out his movie Strange Brand of Happy)

I think often about empathy and how important it is to creating rich, meaningful relationships. That being said, I find it difficult to distinguish the sensation with words. This video does in 2.5 minutes what I’ve failed to do in thousands of words.

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“Empathy is feeling with people.”

Empathy is that place – that difficult to reach, emotionally raw place – that stretches past sympathy. Empathy requires that we connect with others beyond what’s superficial. And connecting can leave us vulnerable, exposed to admissions we’ve feared making or truths we’ve feared sharing.

To empathize is to give ourselves to another. Sometimes it’s in triumph. Other times it’s in trial. Sometimes we celebrate together and sometimes we commiserate in tandem after one of those ‘push me down, kick me in the gut, yank on my ears, work just bitch slapped me and my kids are hair-pulling annoying days.’

Empathy is caring on steroids.

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The Power of Empathy story originates from Dr. Brene Brown and Laughing Squid.

Jason Silva’s Existential Bummer

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Do we love longer and hold tighter? Do we embrace more passionately and cry vulnerably, sitting in the open exposed and raw for others to see.

Do we mean it when we ask “how are you?” or “what can I do to help?”

Do we care deeply and give whole-heartedly?

Or do we run? Away from what could hurt or could cause pain or could cause suffering?

The choice, to me, is simple and it’s ours to make.

It Don’t Cost Nothing to be Nice – A Bear Bryant Story

I write regularly about moments and how seemingly ordinary occurrences can cause waves that ripple into lives beyond our own. We never know when or how or even if any one moment will leave a lasting impression that changes the course of someone’s day or inspires a positive change in a life. No on/ off switch exists that lets us choose the moments we want others to remember. They just happen and they often occur without expectation or realization.

What we can control, though, is how we treat others. Are we respectful? Are we kind? Do we care about what others have to say or are we preoccupied with our own thoughts and agendas? Have we valued another’s importance as a friend? Have we offered to help and genuinely meant it? We can control the answers to these questions, and, I believe, it’s how these questions are answered that determine if we can create moments that echo in other’s hearts and minds.

A good friend sent me a story last week. He expected that I would appreciate it. He was right.

In the story, legendary Alabama football coach Bear Bryant touched a life in a simple conversation over lunch at a small diner. The Bear was a tough as nails football coach, a strict disciplinarian who demanded the most from his players – and then asked them to give even more. In this moment, he also showed he could care more than anyone expected. By doing so, he cut an impression that resounded in ways he could have never imagined.

It Don’t Cost Nothing to be Nice – A Bear Bryant Story

I had just been named the new head coach at Alabama and was off in my old car down in South Alabama recruiting a prospect who was supposed to have been a pretty good player, and I was having trouble finding the place. Getting hungry, I spied an old cinderblock building with a small sign out front that simply said “Restaurant.”

I pull up, go in, and every head in the place turns to stare at me. Seems I’m the only white fella in the place. But the food smelled good, so I skip a table and go up to a cement bar and sit. A big ole man in a tee shirt and cap comes over and says, “What do you need?”

I told him I needed lunch and what did they have today?

He says, “You probably won’t like it here. Today we’re having chitlins, collard greens and black-eyed peas with cornbread.

I’ll bet you don’t even know what chitlins are, do you?”

I looked him square in the eye and said, “I’m from Arkansas, and I’ve probably eaten a mile of them. Sounds like I’m in the right place.”

They all smiled as he left to serve me up a big plate. When he comes back he says, “You ain’t from around here then?”

I explain I’m the new football coach up in Tuscaloosa at the University and I’m here to find whatever that boy’s name was, and he says, “Yeah I’ve heard of him, he’s supposed to be pretty good.” And he gives me directions to the school so I can meet him and his coach.
As I’m paying up to leave, I remember my manners and leave a tip, not too big to be flashy, but a good one, and he told me lunch was on him, but I told him for a lunch that good, I felt I should pay. The big man asked me if I had a photograph or something he could hang up to show I’d been there. I was so new that I didn’t have any yet. It really wasn’t that big a thing back then to be asked for, but I took a napkin and wrote his name and address on it and told him I’d get him one.

I met the kid I was looking for later that afternoon and I don’t remember his name, but do remember I didn’t think much of him when I met him. I had wasted a day, or so I thought. When I got back to Tuscaloosa late that night, I took that napkin from my shirt pocket and put it under my keys so I wouldn’t forget it. Back then I was excited that anybody would want a picture of me. The next day we found a picture and I wrote on it, “Thanks for the best lunch I’ve ever had.”

Now let’s go a whole buncha years down the road. Now we have black players at Alabama and I’m back down in that part of the country scouting an offensive lineman we sure needed. Y’all remember, (and I forget the name, but it’s not important to the story), well anyway, he’s got two friends going to Auburn and he tells me he’s got his heart set on Auburn too, so I leave empty handed and go on to see some others while I’m down there.

Two days later, I’m in my office in Tuscaloosa and the phone rings and it’s this kid who just turned me down, and he says, “Coach, do you still want me at Alabama ?”

And I said, “Yes, I sure do.” And he says OK, he’ll come.

And I say, “Well son, what changed your mind?”

And he said, “When my grandpa found out that I had a chance to play for you and said no, he pitched a fit and told me I wasn’t going nowhere but Alabama, and wasn’t playing for nobody but you. He thinks a lot of you and has ever since y’all met.”

Well, I didn’t know his granddad from Adam’s housecat so I asked him who his granddaddy was and he said, “You probably don’t remember him, but you ate in his restaurant your first year at Alabama and you sent him a picture that he’s had hung in that place ever since. That picture’s his pride and joy and he still tells everybody about the day that Bear Bryant came in and had chitlins with him…”

“My grandpa said that when you left there, he never expected you to remember him or to send him that picture, but you kept your word to him and to Grandpa, that’s everything. He said you could teach me more than football and I had to play for a man like you, so I guess I’m going to.”

I was floored. But I learned that the lessons my mama taught me were always right. It don’t cost nuthin’ to be nice. It don’t cost nuthin’ to do the right thing most of the time, and it costs a lot to lose your good name by breaking your word to someone. When I went back to sign that boy, I looked up his Grandpa and he’s still running that place, but it looks a lot better now. And he didn’t have chitlins that day, but he had some ribs that would make Dreamland proud. I made sure I posed for a lot of pictures; and don’t think I didn’t leave some new ones for him, too, along with a signed football.

I made it clear to all my assistants to keep this story and these lessons in mind when they’re out on the road. If you remember anything else from me, remember this. It really doesn’t cost anything to be nice, and the rewards can be unimaginable.

Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant

Tell Me Your Story

In the days following my dad’s death, several Northwest Ohio area newspapers asked me for sound bites about what I learned from this larger than life figure who doubled as my old man. Although a sad fog hung heavy over my thoughts in those days, I remember answering varied versions of the same question in the same manner: Dad taught me that every person matters, that every person has a story to tell, and that caring enough to learn those stories is of the utmost importance.

In the years since, I’ve spent considerable time exploring this topic – in the form of a memoir (which is currently under revision) and a renewed focus in life on engaging with those I meet to try to learn more from them. Time’s battle march stops for none of us, though, and sometimes it’s difficult to remember this message, even as I devote my early mornings and late evenings to exploring it. The routine of the everyday interferes. There are family outings to attend, work obligations to meet, errands to run, and laundry to do so my clothes don’t smell worse than normal (smelly Kelly, right). These factors (and more) play a role in dulling this once sharp message – a message that is impossible to maintain in the practice of the daily grind. And that’s just a normal, if unfortunate, fact of leading a busy life.

The challenge is to keep the lesson I learned throughout my life – one rooted in the importance of each individual’s story – somewhere in the background of every interaction and every conversation. The challenge is to recognize those moments that remind me of the significance of Dad’s message and what it meant to the lives he touched.

Recently, my mom and I received an invitation to attend a homecoming night event at St. Joe high school. For those unaware, St. Joe is the Catholic school in Fremont, and they planned to celebrate the 35th anniversary of one of their football teams reaching the state semifinals. The emcee of the event informed Mom and me that Dad played a pivotal role in this night coming together, and he hoped we could attend. Though Mom and I weren’t certain what we were in for, we made sure we were present.

Last Friday, a small crowd gathered in St. Joe’s cafeteria. A liquor license ensured that cans of beer would circulate through the audience. Conversations between old friends – some who see each other regularly and some who only enjoy such company on special occasions – filled the cafe. Mom and I sat towards the rear of the sea of silver and crimson that dominated the room.

They announced each member of the team. A former player and the head coach shared a few memories of the season. Meanwhile, Mom and I remained curious as to why our presence had been requested.

Then, at the conclusion of the ceremony, the emcee – the man who had invited us to the event – shared with the crowd a thank you. As his story went, he and Dad had a conversation in 1993 where Dad had asked him to share something important, something consequential from his life. They spoke that evening about football and what that high school season meant to those involved so many years before. For the next 17 years, every time Dad and this man crossed paths, Dad urged him to pull his old team together and celebrate their triumphs together.

Finally, in October 2010, they spoke for what would be the final time. Dad asked, “so when are you gonna tell that story. When are you gonna share it?” As things turned out, plans for the celebration that occurred on Friday had recently commenced. When Dad learned of the possible event, three years before it would take place, he said he would be there to enjoy the moment when the time came.

Dad died one month later.

Mom and I learned again on Friday night how Dad’s faith in the importance of each person’s story caused a chain of events that brought old and current friends together. We learned how one simple request– tell me your story – led to an important night.

For me, Friday was a reminder that all of us have something important to share. It reinforced a lesson I learned throughout my life: everyone has a story that counts and that story counts because of the people who lived and enjoyed the moment.

A Strange Brand of Happy

A wandering bachelor. Career quandaries. The search for oneself. The hope for love. All wrapped into a movie.

Strange Brand of HappyWell, now, that sounds like something I want to see. Thanks to some smart, creative friends – friends who share a passion for finding magic in the stories people can share – we now have the chance to do just that starting Friday.

A Strange Brand of Happy is the story of an aimless bachelor who loses his job and finds himself chasing the same girl as his manipulative boss. (eeee!)

It opens in theaters this Friday (September 13) and is showing at the Atlas Eastgate Theater in Mayfield Heights, Ohio, for all you Clevelanders!

The details of the story are good ones.

David’s life is a mess. His job is gone and his purpose is missing. The possibility of finding love is a mystery entirely unsolvable. David needs help. He needs to get his life unstuck. Love needs to find him. Somewhere, somehow, and with someone.

When things finally turn up for David, just when he starts to see the light in the tunnel, a problem ensues: The girl of his dreams, who happens to be the life coach helping him get on the right track, is also being pursued by his manipulative ex-boss.

Oh, life, you are a devil. How you tease men with the temptation of delight.

Will David find himself? Will he win the heart of the girl he fancies? Will fighting his ex-boss for love destroy his chance of finding it? And what in the world is he to make of the make-you-think wisdom spewing from the ragtag crew of men and women living at the retirement home where he volunteers?

Life doesn’t promise anything easy for David. Maybe, though, with the help of inspiration as seen through the old eyes of his new friends, and a fresh perspective on the world around him, things might work out for David all.

A Strange Brand of Happy is a movie about love, hope, and unlocking one’s dreams. It’s a reminder that discovering what motivates and inspires you is a journey – and one that takes hard work and friends to realize. Finding yourself does take a search party. It also makes for one hell of a fun story.

A Strange Brand of Happy opens this Friday at the Atlas Eastgate Theater in Mayfield Heights, Ohio.

I have a few free tickets available. If you want one, drop me a line and I’ll deliver!

For those interested, I’ll be attending on Sunday afternoon. Come enjoy and spend the day with me watching a beautiful film!

Congratulations, by the Way

Writer George Saunders delivered a commencement address at Syracuse University this past spring urging us towards kindness.  Chances are you’ve read it already, or someone has at least shared it with you as the speech tours social media and flies in and out of work emails. Random House plans to publish Congratulations, by the Way next year, similar to This is Water by David Foster Wallace.

During his speech, Saunders says that “although it’s a little corny, and don’t quite know what to do with it: ‘What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.’ The words resonate because, as David Ulin writes, “we’ve all been there.”

I know my failure (or one of them because if you know me well you know there are many). The image is clear, a vision more crystal than the memory of exploding convenient store glass in my parent’s Trailblazer. The moment, or moments, occurred in high school. Senior year. Lunch. I sit and eat with a pack of friends. A young kid a grade or two below me sits alone at a table. Day after day. Lunch after lunch. Alone.

Nobody mocked him. Nobody poked fun. Nobody teased. We would have had to notice him if we wanted to be jerks. And we didn’t even take that step. Or at least I didn’t, ever, not in any meaningful way. And I think about this lack of kindness, this complete and utter indifference to someone else. It eats at me, most days,

This is just one example of many regrettable actions (or in-actions) on my part. Live, learn, and improve, I suppose. It just sucks that sometimes how we learn what we learn never leaves our side.

Perfection is impossible. This is fact. But if we’re all going to screw up anyways, shouldn’t we aim to “err in the direction of kindness”?

George Saunders: Congratulations, by the Way

“Down through the ages, a traditional form has evolved for this type of speech, which is: Some old fart, his best years behind him, who, over the course of his life, has made a series of dreadful mistakes (that would be me), gives heartfelt advice to a group of shining, energetic young people, with all of their best years ahead of them (that would be you).

And I intend to respect that tradition.

Now, one useful thing you can do with an old person, in addition to borrowing money from them, or asking them to do one of their old-time “dances,” so you can watch, while laughing, is ask: “Looking back, what do you regret?” And they’ll tell you. Sometimes, as you know, they’ll tell you even if you haven’t asked. Sometimes, even when you’ve specifically requested they not tell you, they’ll tell you.

So: What do I regret? Being poor from time to time? Not really. Working terrible jobs, like “knuckle-puller in a slaughterhouse?” (And don’t even ASK what that entails.) No. I don’t regret that. Skinny-dipping in a river in Sumatra, a little buzzed, and looking up and seeing like 300 monkeys sitting on a pipeline, pooping down into the river, the river in which I was swimming, with my mouth open, naked? And getting deathly ill afterwards, and staying sick for the next seven months? Not so much. Do I regret the occasional humiliation? Like once, playing hockey in front of a big crowd, including this girl I really liked, I somehow managed, while falling and emitting this weird whooping noise, to score on my own goalie, while also sending my stick flying into the crowd, nearly hitting that girl? No. I don’t even regret that.

But here’s something I do regret: (more…)

Teachings from the Trenches, on Football and Decisions

I watched football ‘game film’ for the first time in third grade. A local high school coach brought tape of a recent game over to our house to dissect and critique the team’s offensive line play with my dad. I remember being excited for the night. All day at school, my brain drifted to scenes of football plays and imagined coaching conversations. I thought the coach and my dad were members of some elite, football secret society that I would join if only for a few hours. Juice from chewing tobacco would be spit into Styrofoam cups, and I could casually toss a football in the air to myself while listening to their analyses. It would feel as if heaven descended to earth. Pigskin perfection.

Except, after 30 minutes spent seeing only two plays somewhere around 27 times each and enduring enough rewinds and slow motions to spin me dizzy, I bolted the room—bored, drained, and disinterested in their offensive line jargon. Give me touchdowns and interceptions, not 3-foot splits, reach steps, backside seals, and kick-out blocks.

As I’ve grown older and continued watching football, I find that I actually spend most of my time observing the offensive line play and not watching the path of the ball. I suppose this is natural after two decades watching games with Dad, who always said he should have been born an offensive lineman and obsessed over the ‘big uglies’ up front. I’m not surprised, then, that when I recently visited the website Smart Football I couldn’t pull my eyes from former Denver Broncos assistant coach Alex Gibbs’s discussion of offensive line mechanics.

I drifted away from the game while listening and focused on the content of his words. Maybe my ears are less trained on the particulars of football now and more accustomed to gleaning lessons from unexpected places. Perhaps it’s merely that I’m older and can back pedal from the minutiae of each play to see the larger game unfold. Coach Gibbs’s analysis resonated in unexpected ways. I heard its relevance not just for football but for life, especially as it relates to achieving goals.

Look, sports are not life. At their heart, they are a collection of games played for fun. Sports do not define our values. Parents, families, educators, and school systems must accomplish this important, life-shaping task. Instead, the wonder of sports is that they can solidify and enhance our guiding principles.

I found that I gained more from this video because I took a different perspective while watching. As I outline below, several themes emerge that represent helpful lessons: Attention to detail, informed decision-making, and decisiveness. While these lessons are important in football, they also matter in other aspects of our lives, and that is why I’ve shared them (as a word of warning, there are some swears and phrases in this video that are not suitable for work).

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Mr. Einstein Once Said…

Einstein

Quote: Albert Einstein; Photo: Izquotes.com

Knowledge, learning, creativity, these are all admirable virtues. They should be cultivated, explored, improved. Never ignored to erode or become stale.

Real art, though, comes not simply from having these qualities but in how we teach them to others. Joy is in sharing, in exposing the process of learning – from ups to downs and setbacks to accomplishments – so that someone else can learn and use the boost to reach their own creative pinnacles.

Learn in order to teach. Teach so that you never stop learning (put that on a bumper sticker!). 

Reaching For New Heights

Source: Oddarena

Source: Oddarena

As the world’s tallest buildings show, reaching great heights happens at different times and in different ways. No single style monopolizes the stretch for new milestones or summits previously not attained. Whether it’s with our arms, ideas, goals, relationships, or large beams of metal that will eventually sing a song of accomplishment from new points above a city’s landscape, no one path is better than any other. Some might be easier or faster or taller. But not better, just different.

These buildings soar to heights so rarely achieved that their sheer construction is almost unimaginable. They are boastful, proud buildings whose vertical expanses challenge thoughts of how far and how high we can reach. They are beautiful. Not for their aesthetics or audaciousness, but because each building climbs towards the night’s stars in ways personal to their design.

There are similarities, overlaps in style, and borrowed ideas that make the building process easier and smarter. None of these skyscrapers are the same and none should be.

The same is true for our personal goals. Mirroring the ambitions of others is a tempting trap that victimizes without discrimination.  No zenith worth working towards, though, should be the same as that desired by someone else. My hopes belong to me just as yours blong to you. They might overlap or align closely; they might work in tandem and at times borrow (steal) or adapt successful ideas to fit our own needs. This is normal, and it’s part of the process of learning from others with more experience and expertise. Ultimately, though, the manifestation of values and objectives must be unique to each individual.

The goal should not be to find the one path to reaching new heights that is based on the terms of others because no such path truly exists. The goal, instead, should be to find understand the dreams that best fit our own values and passions. The goal is to find your path to the heights that you have chosen are the most meaningful for your satisfaction.

Lessons in the Choices we Make from an Unexpected Visitor

In a dream on Wednesday night, I saw my dad for the first time since he died. We didn’t speak or interact. Hell, we didn’t even make eye contact. The bastard must have better things to do with his time now since I’m pretty sure he chose to ignore me.

I woke up the next morning energized, reminded by my dream that every day we have a choice to bring a smile or a laugh or a brief moment of joy into the lives of the people we encounter. And this jolt of perspective arrived for me at just the right time. (more…)

Morning Inspiration Is For The Birds

I looked out my bedroom window this morning and saw wet, heavy snowflakes falling to greet their friends that already coated the grass, road, and sidewalk below me with a thin layer of white wetness. The wind shook the branches of the barren trees just outside my window, which I opened for a second to feel the frigid air taunting my hopes for an early spring.

Cleveland Winter

Photo from of Erik Daniel Drost on Flickr.

This is just Cleveland in March, and so the story will always go.

A touch despondent over the weather, I walked to my kitchen and began to heat water for my morning coffee. As I scooped the coarse grounds of a Guatemalan blend into my French Press, I heard a sweet sound that had been missing for many months coming from outside the first floor windows: Birds chirping.

I opened the front door and searched for these magical harbingers of better weather but found them nowhere. Their sounds, though, continued to play like a high-pitched symphony to my winter-weary ears. I inhaled the frozen morning, basking in the trump card I held over Mother Nature.

When I exhaled, I smiled. The music of the birds told me that spring and better weather were close. And that’s enough to make my day.

Soulful Inspiration from Charles Bradley

Life can kick us in the shins, push us down, chop us into pieces, roll us into a stale tortilla, chomp our pieces into bits, and spit our remains out onto a dusty floor unfit even for peanut shells. Sometimes, life is worse than a paper cut and scraped knee on the playground combined.

Just as easily as life can throw its haymakers, it can also uplift. Sometimes, stories remind us that the pursuit of our dreams is what makes life beautiful. Sometimes, we see how perseverance—despite seemingly insurmountable hardships—can reward.

Charles Bradley’s is an example of such a story.

The New York Times described one of his performances as having “the feeling of childbirth, messy and noisy and urgent. Half of it is about heartbreak, and the other half politics and social concerns, with some of the darkest material (“Heartaches and Pain,” “Why Is It So Hard”) drawn from Mr. Bradley’s own life.”

From the moment Mr. Bradley starts to bellow, we see his passion pour off his forehead in beads of sweat, we hear decades of struggles claw to escape from inside his gruff voice, and we feel his passion erupt in triumph from his squinting, weary eyes. We listen because his emotion gives us no other choice.

Charles Bradley, you are something special.

Now that you know who inspired me this week, please share what inspired you.

What Inspired Me: The Heidelberg Project & Forrest Gump

There’s an awful lot you can tell about a person by their shoes. Where they’re going, where they’ve been.” Forrest Gump.

My mom and I recently traveled to Detroit to visit the Heidelberg Project, the outdoor community art project created by Tyree Guyton in 1986. Mr. Guyton salvages most of the materials for his museum from the streets of Detroit. The pieces exhale alongside the elements and challenge observers with questions of evolution and time, individualism and spirituality, life, death, urban plight, and urban might. While walking the East Detroit blocks comprising the museum, I found my eyes and my mind drawn to the discarded shoes populating the Project. These weathered, rotting pieces of leather and lace spoke to me about the unique paths we all travel.

Our shoes help tell our stories—about where we’re going and where we’ve been.Shoes 1Shoes 2

An American proverb states: Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes. Perspective, in all things, counts. It’s easy to rush to an opinion of others, but decidedly more difficult to consider the experiences that cause a person to make the decisions they make. What is that person’s story? What are their hopes and what are their fears?

In my own life, I know that too often I snap to decisions without considering the consequences for others and myself. I pounce on conclusions of things, places, and most importantly people that I have no business making. What I saw at the Heidelberg Project reminded me that before making any judgments I should consider the shoes.

What do the shoes say about where someone hopes to go and where they’ve been? What do my shoes say about where I’ve been and where I’m going?

Who knows, this perspective might just help me understand the people I meet a little better.

My question, now, is this: what do the shoes you’ve worn say about you? And what do the shoes you plan to wear say about where you’re heading?

What Inspired Me: Poem Left Wanting

Poem left wanting
From: (In)different math.
By: Kristin Lueke

Tell the question you needed.
What sound our separate quiets make at each other while we sleep.

What made you separate?
How is it you measure what time strung between our bodies?

Where lied your if?
Too near to then.

Did is softly first happen?
His newness once was soft.

Ours was a stone I swallowed and kept inside and keep.
Do you breathe him?

I can only.

***

Great writing isn’t gentle. It doesn’t take you by the hand and lead you for a casual walk through the author’s thoughts. Great writing intrudes. It snatches your soul. It demands that you run with it on a whirlwind trip of emotionally honest imagination. It hurts and it inspires. Great writing exhausts and it pisses you off that you didn’t write the words that now won’t escape your head.

Words like, “What sound our separate quiets make at each other while we sleep.”

Perhaps I’m too sentimental. Maybe I carry too much inside that I wish I’d had the guts to say when they actually mattered—all those “I’m sorry’s,” or “I love you’s,” or “screw you’s,” I never said, and all the “how are you really doing?” questions I never asked.

It could be that I just don’t know a damn thing about poetry. Doesn’t matter, really. This poem moves me. The words remind me of the silent pain of my own separate quiet. It inspires me to speak and write, work and love.

Thank you, Kristin.

Now comes the fun part. What inspired you this week?