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    ONWORDS: On Hustling, The Fourth Quarter and My One Thing

    ONWORDS: On Hustling, The Fourth Quarter and My One Thing

     By Todd Lieman

    I set out to write a post about finishing the year strong. About goals. I was feeling blustery and powerful and inspired by the start of the fourth quarter on Monday, October 1st. Monday, a new month AND a new quarter all rolled into one day?!? Let’s crush it! (Insert virtual chest bump, high five, bro hug and “Hustle” t-shirt here.) But as I wrote more and more, it became clear that my basic premise was terribly flawed. Then a friend posted something profound on Instagram and well, my whole original intention was blown to hell. And I’m so glad it was. That said I’m going to start at the beginning. I’m going to start with my original thought.

    If you’re like me (or many people we probably all know), you set a few goals for yourself at the start of the year. (I’ll refrain from calling them resolutions.) Mine were fairly simple. I had allowed myself (read Sabotaged myself) to get ridiculously out of shape (again) and set out to achieve the following:

    • Run 500 miles
    • Row one million meters
    • Lose 40 pounds
    • Run a ½ marathon
    • Finish my book

    I’ve kept a Google spreadsheet to keep myself accountable (something I’ve never done before). I’ve logged my workouts, weight and notes about my progress and feelings. And for most of the year, I’ve been killing it. I got down 50 pounds. I signed up for a race. I was truly appreciating my miles and my workouts. I was even meditating more. I felt kind of amazing. (Even if I wouldn’t let myself admit it.) And then the wheels started to fall of the wagon. Slowly at first. And then completely.

    I hurt my back. No idea how. Just one of those freak things. I tweaked it and it simply didn’t get any better. So I didn’t run at all in September. In fact, I barely worked out. I started eating horribly again (old habits die hard) and while I’m still down a bunch of weight, it’s not anywhere near 50 pounds.

    At this moment, my history dictates that I give in and give up. I failed a little (even if I didn’t), so why not just fail all the way? My history dictates that I beat myself up for hurting my back (even if it wasn’t my fault). My history dictates that I start berating myself for eating like crap and adding few pounds. My history dictates that canceling my race registration is a massive failure and I must really suck. For years, I’d yo-yo up and down. For years I’ve said, “I never lose weight. I just misplace it until I find it again.” My history dictates that if I screwed up my goals…it was time to fall into a black hole.

    This is where I started writing about October 1st marking the beginning of the fourth quarter. This is where I started to use the requisite sports metaphors and point out that if my year were a basketball game, I’d say that I’ve been leading most of the game, but have allowed the competition back into it. Who’s the competition? Demons. Doubts. Myself. Doesn’t matter. Then I was going to write something inspiring like, “I’m putting the wheels back on the damn wagon, dusting myself off, stretching my back and am setting out to consciously finish the year strong!” (Come on, more high fives bro!) Or maybe, “Not this time! Because history also dictates that maybe the old way of doing things hasn’t really worked.” And, then I’d go in for the kill: “Let’s finish strong. Together.” (Cue dramatic music)

    This is where I also started to realize the cracks in my original premise. And then I saw the Instagram post. A friend from a few lifetimes ago (someone I don’t know well now) posted that a super close friend of hers had died. She was understandably devastated. Through her tears, she looked up toward the sky and asked her friend for a sign that he was okay wherever he was (and here’s where I get goosebumps). Twenty minutes later the guy delivering her Chinese food arrived wearing a t-shirt with the logo of the company her deceased friend. She asked where he got it. She said someone gave it to him randomly. It was his favorite shirt. She told him the story and they hugged and cried together. (By the way…This isn’t like Google or Microsoft. It’s a smaller company.)

    This is where the light bulb appeared above my head and I thought, “Dude. Finish Strong? Finish what? Maybe this isn’t actually the end of anything.” Who cares about October 1st? Why do we need to care about any dates on the calendar? December 31st is just the day before January 1st. Maybe this is all about starting something.

    We aren’t promised anything. What if I remove (and release) the false pressures, false deadlines and false expectations to achieve some arbitrary thing by some arbitrary date? My goals aren’t about a number on a scale or miles entered into a spreadsheet. Those are the results of something altogether different and deeper. Those numbers are just, I’m not sure what the right word is, a cairn. Maybe they are just are trail markers to remind me where I want to go. And where I’ve been.

    Like that scene in Mr. Mom, I can just hear those inner voices saying, “Dad, you’re doing it wrong!” Running the race, finishing my book, or any of these goals don’t mean anything if they aren’t coming from a place where I can eliminate the massive swings (of mood, of productivity, of everything). That kind of life can only come from a place of truth. Or wholeness. Or healing. Or the heart. If the goals are coming from hurt and wounds, it won’t matter what dates I circle on the calendar, they will never be achieved. Even if they are achieved, the goal won’t have been accomplished authentically. And therefore, the results won’t last. This is why I’ve lost and gained and lost and gained and lost and gained and…forever. I wasn’t trying to lose weight because it made ME feel good. I was trying to lose weight for the same reasons I gained it in the first place…to cover the pain.

    I fear that I’ve gone far astray. Off trail. Because this post really has nothing to do with weight loss. It’s just the easiest, most relatable goal that we typically have. (I think?) This post is about this scene from the movie, City Slickers:

    Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is? [holds up one finger] This.
    Mitch: Your finger?
    Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don't mean shit.
    Mitch: But, what is the "one thing?" 
    Curly: That's what you have to find out.

    This post is about my one thing. Our relationships. Regardless of the day, week, month or year. The only thing (goal, whatever) that matters to me now, the only thing that I’ve set for myself with no deadline is just this: Build better relationships. The importance of healthy relationships is scientifically proven. The studies done at places like Harvard and Stanford are irrefutable. Still, we’re conditioned to hustle. To lose weight. To make more money. To work harder. Longer. To achieve, achieve, achieve. I’m not here to suggest we stop doing that. I’m just here to remind myself that, in the end, we’re going to always remember the time spent with our friends. We’re not going to remember hitting our sales quotas. We’re going to remember the dinners, the vacations, the laughs and the tears. Even as I close my eyes now and think about the slide show of my life…it’s all people. (And dogs. Lots of dogs.)

    If my relationships are healthy and intact, if I have intimacy in my life (real intimacy: feeling safe to share who I am and how I feel) and the right people around me, well, the weight (that registers both on the scale and on my shoulders) will take care of itself. Finishing my book. Running a race. All of these things will take care of themselves. We can’t protect ourselves from the heartbreak that my old friend is feeling. But we can reassure ourselves that we were grateful to have a friendship like she had with her late friend. We can focus on the memories that will stay with us as long as we’re around. And depending on your spiritual, universal, soul thoughts…maybe even longer. 

    Now go kill it in the fourth quarter…

     

    ONWORDS: ON BIRTHDAYS, TODAYS and the CHORUS

    ONWORDS: ON BIRTHDAYS, TODAYS and the CHORUS

    By Todd Lieman

    I’m turning 50 in three months and I have a confession to make.

    Now, before the chorus of “age is just a number” comments start in, I assure you that I’m completely aware of that. My confession has nothing to do with age. Turning 50 simply provides the perch from which to inspect the view of passing time. And that’s where my confession lives. On that perch. Inspecting that view.

    I haven’t lived my best life. I haven’t lived the life of which I’m capable. I haven’t achieved the things I’ve wanted to achieve. I haven’t stretched and challenged and clawed. I haven’t been the man I know I can be and I really haven’t even lived a life of which I’m particularly proud. I’ve done some stuff, sure. Cool stuff even. But, for the most part, I’ve watched time pass when I should have been part of it. For the most part I feel the shame of the hurt I’ve caused more than the celebrations from the good.

    Now, before the chorus of “you’ve still got plenty of time” or “stop being so hard on yourself,” comments start in, I assure you that I’m completely aware of these truths. My confession isn’t a plea for support or an invitation to give myself and out/excuses. It’s a declaration. A personal cry to learn from the first 50 and start living by feel. According to soul.

    I know that I haven’t lived my best life because, as I type, I’m a good 30 pounds overweight. The same 30 pounds that I’ve gained and lost more times than I can count. In fact, I’ve gained and lost this weight so many times that I’ve taken to joking about it, “Oh, I don’t lose weight. I just misplace it for a while. I’ll find it again.” I know I haven’t lived my best life because last night I ate tater tots, cheese, crackers and apple pie a la mode for dinner. All washed down with booze. That’s easy to laugh off, but that’s not living by feel, in love, according to soul. 

    I woke up this morning, jumped out of bed and went for a slow run. It hurt. Still I managed to run through the discomfort. I managed to get on the other side of the pain and find, at least for a short time, a kind of bliss. I won’t go so far as to say it was a runner’s high because I’ve experienced that and this wasn’t that. But it was something. It was a change.

    As I was exploring this change, a friend posted a magnificent thought that poetically took the feelings I’m having and put them into words:

    I’m running out of time...
    Time to be 
    Courageous 
    Vivid 
    Kind
    Powerful
    Time to create by the dictates of my soul’s voice.
    Time to be a playful lover
    Of life.
    Time to breathe the only prayer that matters, “thank you.”
    I’m running out of heartbeats and clock ticks for everything that’s important.
    So with today’s new sunrise above the hills, let me remember how few of them I have left and do something with this one.
    Which lovely old poet said, “Eternity’s comprised of nows”? Was that Browning? No matter. I’m going to craft a day made with the bricks of eternity.
    (Jacob Nordby)

     

    Now before the chorus of “wow, this reeks of a midlife crisis,” please know that I’ve faced that one already (perhaps multiple times). I had my crash. My crisis of faith. I’ve already faced the army of fears and doubts and judgments that made it a brutal task to simply get out of bed. And I’ve come through it. This was the feeling on the other side of the discomfort on my run. That I’ve come through it. I’m left with what feels very much like the first “today” I’ve had in a very, very long time. An actual today. Not a yesterday or tomorrow wearing the disguise of today. But an actual today.

    Another friend of mine once sent me a note titled, “I love myself when.” The attachment was a beautiful list of the things she did when she loved herself. It included things like eating whole foods or making her bed. When she loved herself, she read, exercised and traveled. It was a spectacular list that would be easy to dismiss as being too ambitious. The thing is . . . It wasn’t ambitious at all. The things on that list were all very simple. They only seem difficult or overly ambitious when we don’t actually love ourselves enough to do them. Love is such a dichotomy. It is the ultimate armor. It protects. And yet it can only protect us when we reveal ourselves wholly. Completely naked. We can only love ourselves by exposing ourselves to the things we think can hurt us.

    Intention is expressed through actions. And my intention is to live a life I love. To love myself enough to risk everything. I haven’t ever really done that. Not if I’m completely honest. My temper, the masks, the choices and, yes, the 30-pound yo-yo are all indications that I’ve lived perched above my life, watching, instead of living my life. I haven't acted according to the life I profess to want to live. I confess to all of this. 

    It’s time to make some changes. Real changes. The first 50 may have been good enough, but, frankly, that’s not good enough. Cue the chorus.

    ONWORDS: ON FUNERALS, PERSPECTIVE AND A LIFE WELL LIVED

    ONWORDS: ON FUNERALS, PERSPECTIVE AND A LIFE WELL LIVED

    By Todd Lieman

    Funerals are always at the top of any “places to find perspective” lists. 

    As we listen to the eulogies, tell stories and remember, it’s easy to get lost in a thought, “Am I living my best life?” Or even, “I wonder what they will say about me?” So profound is the funeral experience that it’s often been suggested that we write our own obituaries to help figure out our purpose. While spooky, this exercise is supposed to guide us to a clearer, soul-level understanding of what really matters.

    For example, if we imagine our loved ones sharing stories about the hours we spent writing the epic books we published, but in the here and now we’re not actually writing . . . perhaps that’s a Grand Canyon-sized clue about what to do next with our time. The theory goes that by writing our own obituary, we gain some serious perspective that maybe it’s time to respect the calling with which we’ve been playing hide and seek. More bluntly, maybe it’s time to get off our ass. Time isn’t promised and nowhere do we learn that more vividly than at a funeral. Perspective.

    Still, I’ve never written my own obituary. I can’t get over the creepiness of it. I can’t get over the energy and message that such an exercise sends into the Universe. What if I’m not clear and the Universe misunderstands my intention to create a more meaningful life and instead interprets my words as planning for my death? I can’t risk sending that energy into space. I can’t risk the confusion. All of this was top of mind at a funeral this week. Perspective.

    It was top of mind as my cousins told countless tales of their dad, Victor, and the importance of family in his life.

    It was top of mind as I remembered decades of Thanksgiving dinners spent together.

    It was top of mind as stories of Victor’s passions for writing, community and the Navy were told to a sea of nodding heads.

    It was top of mind as Victor’s favorite jokes were shared. And to the collective groans that always followed.

    And it was especially top of mind as I considered the true spirit and definition of a life well lived.

    Victor’s life certainly had the look and feel of someone who did it right. My cousin’s daughter (my second cousin once removed!) told a great story. When she first pierced her nose, she stopped by her grandparents’ house. In the course of their visit, Victor and Florence, managed to say nothing about the piercing. Just before Sara could leave, Victor knocked on her car window. Sara rolled down the window and Victor said, “I hope you realize how cool your grandparents are that we didn’t say a thing about the metal in your face!” 

    As for me? Well, I used to stop by, unannounced on my drive home to LA from UC Davis. I would purposely take the long route so I could barge in, make myself at home and get caught up. I ran the risk that they wouldn’t be home (and they often weren’t), but the surprise and anticipation was worth it. When I moved north long after graduating college, I still took the long way home.

    The thing about perspective, however, is that (at least for me) it’s proven easy to find and difficult to keep. I’ve been jealous of people who have had near death experiences, the ones who were given a real second chance. I figured it must be impossible to fall back into old patterns, or continue to feel the pain of master wounds in the face of defeating death. But then I had one of those experiences and it did nothing for me. At least at the time. My experience in the Sea of Cortez has always been a great story to tell, but if I’m really honest, I fucked up the storybook ending. I could have written the perfect hero’s journey with what I learned (and I tried to convince myself that I had), but instead I still allowed years of my life to slip through my fingers. Perspective.

    Funerals are also notorious for “I did not know thats.” It goes without saying that with all the stories flying around, we’re bound to learn a few new things. Things like how Victor and Florence met (blind date when she was still in high school and he was in the Navy) or when they got married (one week after he graduated from the Naval Academy). Victor recently won a short story contest and was the inspiration for my cousin Rob’s passion for photography. I didn’t know either of those things. So in between thinking about my own memories of Victor and wondering what I could learn from his life, I found myself wanting to make sure that I both learned and told the stories in life. Perspective.

    I think Victor was the first person I ever knew personally who wrote and published a book. I remember going to the bookstore and buying a copy of NO NONSENSE MARKETING. I remember asking him to sign it on one of those surprise visits after I had graduated college. The last time I saw Victor, we talked about the books we were writing. He suggested that we trade chapters. I was too intimidated to send one of mine. Back then it was undeniably raw. First draft raw. Really bad raw.

    Of course now I wish I had.

    Perspective.

     

     

    ONWORDS: ON THE DANGER OF PROLONGED MANAGED EXPECTATIONS

    ONWORDS: ON THE DANGER OF PROLONGED MANAGED EXPECTATIONS

    Prior to the start of his most recent Little League season, I asked my 11-year old son about his goals. “I want to make the All-Star Team,” he offered boldly. He had never hit made an All-Star Team and even though he had been working hard, I knew the odds were stacked against him. So, I told him I thought the All-Star Team was a spectacular goal. Then, I immediately started to manage his expectations. I pointed out all the reasons why the goal was lofty: He was going to be on the younger side, playing against better players, with faster pitching. If nothing else, I told him, he would learn, improve and next year would be his year. The effort would be worth the reward, I said.

    Then the kid proceeded to have the year of his life, batted leadoff most of the season, hit a few home runs and, yes, made the All-Star team. In the fourth game, he hit a Grand Slam to help his team win its game. As I watched him circle the bases, a couple of tears slowly rolled down my cheeks. I realized that I’ve been managing expectations for so long that I’ve forgotten how to dream big. The tears were as much about the excitement I felt for him as they were about sadness I felt for me.

    Early in my career I learned the phrase, “Under promise and over deliver.” It was hammered into my head. It was a battle cry and a way of doing business. We’ve all heard this concept. The premise is that by promising less than we know we can deliver, we manage the expectations. This, of course, allows us to shock the world with results far beyond what anyone thought possible! Our clients (coworkers, friends, family, whomever) will be so thrilled that they will shower us with praise and additional work. (Or at least the latter in the case of the clients.) And because of that . . . we’ll be better people! (Kidding. Sort of.)

    But I’ve found that managing expectations for too long has started to limit my capabilities. It has started to stunt my imagination. It has become such an ingrained habit that I’ve forgotten what’s out there beyond possible . . . as I focus primarily only on what’s in my immediate, tangible view. I have forgotten that it’s possible to make the All-Star Team if that’s what we really want. T.S. Eliot wrote, “Only those willing to risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” Closer to home, my friend posted the picture (above) of herself holding the card that reads, “Dream big live bigger.” (Kudos to my kid for doing both.)

    As I think more about this, it seems we are trained to manage expectations to 1) Give ourselves the opportunity to look good, and 2) minimize disappointment. Neither of those reasons feels tremendously rewarding. The truth is I’d much rather fail while searching outside of possible than succeed while playing it safe (whatever “fail” and “succeed” mean). Or as the meme goes, “Reward is sweetened by risk.” We may succeed playing it safe, but what might have happened if we (*gasp*) didn’t start with managed expectations and just pushed all the chips to the center of the table? What might have been possible?

    Someone recently asked me what I do for a living. And I choked. I made light of A Day Well Lived as “an apparel company” (it’s SO not an apparel company). At the time, I didn’t know why I said that. It was just easier to describe it that way. With more thought, I understand that I was managing my own expectations. I was afraid the person who asked wouldn’t get it and then I’d feel dumb. Because that’s really where managed expectations truly live. In fear.  

    No more than a day or two later, I was asked again. This time, I laid out the entire vision as though I were pitching an investor. I nailed it. I felt empowered. And then my friend laughed and said, “ Oh is that all?” He didn’t have bad intentions. But just as I was about to shrink away and make a joke that minimized what I had just said, I visualized my son running the bases, oblivious to any expectations, managed or otherwise.

    “No,” I said. “It’s even bigger than all of that. I’m done dreaming small.” Someday the kid will understand the importance of his making the All Star Team. Not so much for him. But for me.

    ONWORDS: The ABCs of How You Start Your Day

    ONWORDS: The ABCs of How You Start Your Day

    During a recent morning walk, a friend and I got into a great discussion about ritual and routine. He told me about the Native American ceremonies he had started attended (and I look forward to joining him) and I told him about the basic fundamentals that I needed to create a foundation for A Day Well Lived. I call these actions my ABCs. They had evolved over time, but simply put, if I do these basic things, I know that I am better positioned to consciously move through the day. I call it SWAMI: Sweat, Write, Accountability, Meditate & Intention.

    Sweat: The science behind the importance of exercise not simply for health reasons, but as a tool to fight depression and anxiety is clear. From the endorphin release to the feeling of accomplishment, daily exercise keeps me focused and in the light.

    Write: It doesn’t matter if I work on the rewrite of my book, write a LinkedIn post, or a letter to a friend, I need to write. I find writing to be healing, cathartic and rewarding. Like a workout, I appreciate the feelings of accomplishment (even when I write stuff that may not be fabulous).

    Accountability: It’s taken me a long time to realize that I can’t go it alone. I need help. I check in regularly (if not daily) with friends who keep me on track with my health (Did I workout today? How did I eat? Etc.), writing (Did I finish my 500 words?) and work (How am I tracking on the new ADWL podcast and newsletter prep?).

    Meditate: Quieting my mind is not easy. If I meditate for 15 minutes every morning, I’m lucky to “do it right” for five (okay three). My mind is all over the map during those 15 minutes. But the practice isn’t so much about those 15 minutes as it is about the rest of the day. With meditation, I respond much more than I react. I’m far more aware.

    Intention: A daily simple reminder to make today A Day Well Lived. With that intention set, I can move through the day with a goal.

    SWAMI…

    But what about Love, Gratitude, Fatherhood, etc? All important. All parts of my day. I’ve learned that I’m able to love more, feel more gratitude, be a better dad and have more faith in myself if SWAMI comes first. They are all built on my SWAMI foundation.

    When I speak on college campuses, I always lead with a warning that goes something like this: What you’re about to hear is a talk that is based on my life experiences. As a result, all, some or none of it may resonate. Why? Because you’ve had different experiences. I tell the students to interrupt me. I tell them to ask questions or even call bullshit if necessary. I’m good with that. Same goes for knowing your ABCs. We all have different experiences and different needs. We all have a different core and answer to our own unique realities. I know that Faith, for example, is a huge component to the ABCs of many friends and colleagues.

    But what I know to be true for me is simple: If I go more than a couple of days without consciously performing my SWAMI ritual, without my ABCs, chances are I’m a pretty difficult person to be around. SWAMI is the foundation on which my everything gets built. I’m a better person. I’m a better friend. I get more done. I’m better equipped to respond to challenges and less likely to react. And when I put my head on the pillow at the end of the day, I’m far more likely to feel as though the day was A Day Well Lived.

    I’m curious: What’s your SWAMI? What are your ABCs?