Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A leg to stand on...

Unquestionably, the best thing about the extreme racing that I do is the extraordinary people I have met, and gone on to become close friends with. I may not see them as often as I'd like, but when I do it is in the most intensely bonding settings - and in between we have Facebook, etc, to stay in touch and trade energy and adventure stories.

I have written in the past about oportunities to celebrate these friends' incredible successes - quintuple Ironman, North Pole expeditions... And to support them through tough circumstances - family tragedies, major illnesses... And they are always the first to reach out to me with congratulations or concern about anything exceptional in my life. The rest of the time we are just making one another laugh hysterically and inspiring one another with our shared passion for a life less ordinary.

Yesterday, my Facebook newsfeed blew up with real news. My good friend, Mark Webb, with whom I have toiled alongside in several Death Races and a GoRuck Challenge in Iowa, had been in a serious motorcycle accident and had to have his foot amputated. This was not a story that unfolded gradually. All at once we learned - by way of a Facebook post from his family - that Mark had been in an accident (not his fault - he is an experienced rider who was following all the rules when a car pulled out directly into his path), was badly hurt and rushed to hospital, and that doctors had determined immediately that his right foot would have to be removed. The upside is that he was otherwise not in any grave danger and was getting excellent care.



Immediately, there was a flood of support, love and concern expressed. So many familiar names, and even more unfamiliar ones, were posting messages to Mark's wall. The common theme was how much respect everyone has for who Mark is as a person and how confident we all are that this will not stop him from any of his many pursuits in his awesome life. And most were accompanied with pictures of Mark smiling his way through one brutal challenge after another.






Within hours, Mark popped up himself. First, with this hilariously casual Tweet from his hospital bed ...

 Link to tweet ...


Then with this shameless request ...



Recognizing that Mark was in fine form, and knowing that he was already receiving a healthy dose of sympathy, I went out on a limb and sent him a request of my own. To which he responded with zero hesitation ...



Mark Webb is the kind of person who we all like to think we are, or at least wish we were.

A great friend. A devoted father. A badass motherfucker. An inspiring, courageous human.


The other great thing about this part of my life is that every time I do something awesome, there is always someone beside me has already raised the bar so much higher.

Case in point. I thought I was being super funny and encouraging by doctoring this picture (the first I'd ever seen of Mark, even before meeting him at Winter Death Race 2012. Suffice it to say I was actually a bit intimidated.)...



... and then saw that Jack Cary had just posted this fucking masterpiece!! FTW.

 Click to Watch!


I am so ridiculously blessed in all aspects of my life. Not the least of which is having friends like these.

I will see you next month in Vermont, Webb!! Rest up and then get back at it. Our theme song will be "Footloose" and I am sooooo looking forward to some oblivious racer complaining to you that his feet hurt.



Sunday, April 6, 2014

A serious post that really doesn't matter

(WARNING - In spite of my ego-driven belief that I actually know things that could help you, and my inclusion of content from a leading astro-physicist, the most profound statement in this whole post comes from Bill Murray in "Meatballs")

Do you ever get yourself twisted up in your "problems", knowing full well they are the result of abundance not lack? And actually have all the "answers" to which you could easily coach anyone else in your shoes? But don't listen to any of them anyway? And then, just when you are almost all sorted, remember that it is all made up and that none of it matters beyond what we make matter? Yeah, me too!

The past few weeks (even months), I have been grinding through doubts about my relationship, my career, my parenting and my health. In each case, the questions have been very valid (even if the answers are equally evident). But I have been brutally stubborn about wallowing in them. Every week I coach clients through their not dissimilar issues, all while remaining obstinately attached to my own.

Finally, just over the past couple of days, I have simply allowed myself to "be". And have let go of having to "solve" anything for a bit. To just breathe and smile, and be OK with everything not being OK (all while realizing that it actually is)





And, of course, what has happened is that the incessant noise in my head has died down. And I can now hear the voice that was always there, patiently waiting to be heard.

It is saying ... 

"You love her. She loves you. Stop stressing about the past and the future. Are you happy now? Good - then BE love."
"You are ridiculously fortunate to have any job, let alone the amazing one that you have created! Be massively grateful for the awesome parts of it and know that the challenging aspects are there to cause you to stretch and grow. And it is up to you to create the path that you want going forward. The opportunity is infinite - just ask (while being of service and value)."
"You are a great Dad. You have spectacular kids. They are 17 and 15, and (despite your 'best efforts') you are just not as cool as you think. So, simply keep loving them and appreciating and supporting them - and cherish the fleeting moments when they, occasionally, acknowledge that they love and appreciate you too (especially that rarest of admissions that maybe, just maybe, you are sometimes kind of cool). Make the most of your time together, and know that you are creating opportunities for them, too, when you are traveling."
"Of course you are bashed up! You have boasted for years that you take on one Herculean challenge after another with minimal training, with a body already compromised by years of wrestling, snowboarding and spontaneous (entirely unnecessary) stunt-falls. None of this is life-threatening! You have nagging injuries in your shoulder and your groin - both well earned, and both addressable (albeit agonizingly gradually). Slow down, Stretch. Take baby steps. Set longer-term goals. Go back to basics and do the work You know everything you need to know, and have everything you need to have. Remember that you are still able to do so much, and stop taking it all for granted! You are blessed beyond belief."

In other words, "LET GO of your story about things NOT being PERFECT. See them just as they are, and be GRATEFUL for exactly THAT. Be present to how amazing NOW actually is! And know that the future will be every bit as amazing as the most magical of moments you've already experienced."


***************

(So, that is kind of the end of that post. And I should probably just leave it at that. In fact, if you agree - then you can just stop reading here and say "Well, that was a great post. What will I do now?"

But... there is a bit more that I have to say...)

***************

I have written before about the trouble with "SHOULD" (and others have written more and better on the same), but it is clear now that most of my recent challenges were caused by my focus on how things "should" be ...

So, just in case you've been stuck in a similar state, here are a few things that have helped shake me free of the clutches of the "shitty shitty shoulds" (thanks Regena Garrepy for that perfect term).

  1. THIS TOO SHALL PASS ... (Thanks Penny Light for posting!)
    "Reflect upon the rapidity with which all that exists and is coming to be is swept past us and disappears from sight. For substance is like a river in perpetual flow ... and ever at our side is the immeasurable span of the past and the yawning gulf of the future, in which all things vanish away. Then how is he not a fool who in the midst of all this is puffed up with pride, or tormented, or bewails his lot as though his troubles would endure for any great while?"

    ~  Marcus Aurelius


  2. YOU CAN ALWAYS DO SOMETHING ELSE ... (Thanks Lindsay Love for posting!)



  3. IN THE END, IT IS ABOUT MORE THAN WHAT WE THINK IS SO IMPORTANT ANYWAY. THINK BIGGER!!  ... (Thanks Tom Robbins for being awesome!)

    "Our greatest human adventure is the evolution of consciousness. We are in this life to enlarge the soul, liberate the spirit, and light up the brain."
    ~  Tom Robbins

  4. EVEN IF YOU ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THE WORLD, THE WORLD IS PRETTY SMALL ...



  5. AND, IF THAT DOESN'T GIVE YOU ENOUGH PERSPECTIVE, HOW ABOUT LAST WEEK'S EVIDENCE THAT OUR UNIVERSE IS JUST THE START OF WHAT EXISTS?!



  6. Ultimately, it all goes back to Meatballs (like most blog posts worth reading), where Bill Murray (aka Tripper Harrison) gives us some existential brilliance at 1:02 in this perfect pep-talk!


So, what that little voice is telling me now is..."Be Happy. And do whatever will make that so. Because THAT is what matters."

*************************

BONUS SONG ...

Thursday, March 27, 2014

STFU!

Meeting Joe Desena very much changed my life.

It was in March of 2011, and this is the post I wrote at that time - "My Weekend at Camp in Pittsfield, VT". If you've ever pondered the difference between "trying" and "doing", it is well worth the read. And it was the start of an incredible adventure for me, that has me redefining what is possible for myself again and again, to where I now know there really are no limits.

Joe is the founder of Spartan Race, as well as the creator of The Death Race. He is a world-class endurance athlete, millionaire many times over in business, visionary, and fantastic father and husband. He is also now my good friend, as well as my boss (I am the International Quality Director for Spartan Race - meaning I work with our partners around the world to ensure that our events are the best obstacle races everywhere on the planet).

Joe is one of those incredible individuals who massively impacts the lives of everyone with whom his path crosses. His own story is truly remarkable, but Joe is far more interested in your story - or, more specifically, what story you are going to write from this moment onward. He doesn't give a shit about your excuses - and we are very familiar with Joe's completely deadpan face as he hears them (but doesn't). What Joe does care a LOT about are your dreams, and he lights up as he seizes the opportunity to help you step up - or as he says "Spartan Up!"




You may not all get the chance to meet Joe (but let me know if you'd like to - I know where he is the third weekend in June every year). But you CAN all benefit from Joe's influence, like I have. His new book "Spartan Up!" comes out May 17th and I STRONGLY suggest you pre-order it HERE. I am fortunate to have read an advance copy and I can tell you this - it has much more to do with life than with racing, but it will definitely make you way better at both!


 Spartan Up! The Book


This is the first "product endorsement" I have ever made on my blog - and it is not because I was asked to. It is because I believe that strongly in it. I have seen, first-hand, the difference that Joe is making in people's lives. One of the best feelings ever is running "sweep" at a Spartan Race - following the very last racer, ensuring that they make it safely to the Finish Line. I have done this in several countries, on multiple continents, and am always bown away at the amazing stories I hear. These people often take up to SIX times as long to complete the course as the winners, struggling with every step. They attempt every obstacle, "failing" to complete most and doing doing the 30 "Burpee" penalty at each. They usually cry at some point, when they don't know if they can take another step. Then they remember the commitment they made. They remember the day they decided that enough was enough - they were no longer willing to see life as a collection of things they could not do. And they press on. The biggest tears come at the Finish - when they receive their medal, and the immeasurable respect of other racers, family, staff and strangers. As Joe says "They have now created a new place to stand, from which to look forward at a whole new world of possibility for themselves and others."

On that note, I must go pack for my upcoming trip to Europe - where I am meeting with Spartan Race organizers in Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Austria, Poland, Hungary, Slovaki and Czech Republic over the next several weeks. I am truly blessed to be able to contribute to the growth and inspiration of people around the globe. Speaking of which - let me know what race you will be at so that we can connect in person!! Here is the 2014 Schedule :) ... http://www.spartanrace.com/spartan-obstacle-racing-events.php

Looking forward to seeing you!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

When the carnival (occasionally) stops ...

Late Summer of 2009 I had an anxiety attack.

I'd never had one before (or anything even close to it), so it caught me completely off guard.

I was camping in the North, with my son and some of our friends, and woke in the night in my tent - absolutely pitch black - several hours by canoe from anywhere. It started out slowly, with my remembering a call I'd forgotten to make before embarking on the trip (and the client who would be rightly upset with me). I asked myself what other commitments I may not have followed through on... and the flood started. My wedding vows - having left my wife the year previous. My political career - having resigned my candidacy after a year of fruitless campaigning. My real estate business - shuttered in 2007 to pursue other goals (that didn't pan out). Suddenly, my indefatigable optimism had sputtered to empty, and I was staring at a rather sobering reality - I was basically penniless, separated, living in my truck, apart from my kids, with no solid plan going forward. As my heart started to race I clicked the flashlight on for a few seconds. There was my son sleeping beside me, oblivious to what a complete fuck-up his father was. I hoped he would not wake up, because I did not want him to see me feeling the way I did. I tried to calm down and, hopefully, to even sleep. But that was not going to happen. I started to shake uncontrollably and couldn't catch my breath. I found myself completely unable to think of anything good in my life, or any "solid ground" on which to stand and look forward. What the fuck was I doing? How was I going to take care of my kids? Who screws up this badly? As I felt my whole world unravelling, I spent the next hour flicking the flashlight on and off, praying for the panic to subside.

Before that night, I did not have much sympathy for people who suffer from anxiety. I even knew some, very close to me, but just didn't understand. I am very grateful, now, for that night. While I've never had another episode like that (I did start down a similar path one night at home, but got up and watched "Winnebago Man" until I fell asleep on the couch!), I can now at least empathize and be much more compassionate.

Why am I telling you this?

Well, I've also been fairly insensitive to people suffering from depression. I've long been THAT guy who is FULL of advice and ideas about how to "buck up" and "get off the couch" and "make your own happiness". I acknowledged this about a month ago, when I posted this awesome article from The Onion, with the mea culpa that I knew I was a bit much myself sometimes. Looking back, that "gesture" was probably the beginning of an admission (at least internally) that I was showing some rather tell-tale signs of mild depression myself - always tired, lack of usual enthusiasm, neglecting exercise and proper diet. Again, I don't claim to be a "sufferer", but I sure have a much kinder attitude now towards those who are. I have an amazing life, and am fundamentally hardwired towards optimism and energy. So, if I can hit a rough patch like this, I can only imagine how difficult is must be for so many others.

I am not looking for any sympathy, or even support. My problems are ones of abundance - where I've attracted pretty much everything I want and am now finding myself rethinking much of it. And I don't actually renounce most of my philosophies about how to approach life ("seeing the sunny side", "counting my blessings", deciding to be happy", "acting boldly"). I still believe there is so much that we can, and must, do to generate our own outcomes (and I am working on all of that -with a much better understanding of how much work it can be).

But I sure am quite grateful to be able to climb down off my oh-so-high horse and acknowledge my own challenges, and to keep growing in my fledgling humanity.

As for that anxiety attack on the canoe trip, I never was able to reel myself back in - so I finally walked across the campsite and woke up my friend Rob. Being the phenomenal person that he is, he rekindled the campfire and listened to me for the next few hours. He didn't tell me to "cheer up", or to "get over it". He told me that he understood (whether he did or not), and that he knew I would be ok. And that he would stay up with me as long as I needed. I aspire to be as good a person as Rob is.

Finally I went back to bed (if not to sleep, at least to rest) and ended up having a great week of paddling and laughing and bonding with Jack.

And things got better.

As they always do.

---------------------------------------

A couple of great bits...


  • “This ability to persevere despite obstacles and setbacks is the quality people most admire in others, and justly so; it is probably the most important trait not only for succeeding in life, but for enjoying it as well. To develop this trait, one must find ways to order consciousness so as to be in control of feelings and thoughts. It is best not to expect shortcuts will do the trick.

    - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi





Saturday, October 12, 2013

How do you like your trajectory?


One of the truest, but most overused, cliches is that "it is not the destination, but the journey". It has been expressed myriad ways by writers much more skilled than I, and exhaustively explored by countless bloggers even more syrupy and sanctimonious. But, this morning, I had a conversation with a friend, and he closed with a brilliant observation that I feel bears sharing.

BACKGROUND... this past week I have been eagerly following two remarkable races.

October 4th, many of my friends were participating in "Hunter Gatherer Survival Run" in Rocksprings, Texas. If you've been following this blog at all, you know that I have participated in some truly brutal races. When I read THIS RACE REPORT, though, I realized that Hunter Gatherer has taken it to another level again. It was dreamed up, then brilliantly executed, by Josue Stephens, a mad genius who is race director for two legendary ultramarathons (Copper Canyon and Caballo Blanco) and creator/RD of Fuego Y Agua Survival Run.




One of the competitors was my good friend, Paul Kavanagh. Less than a year ago, Paul called me to invite me for a coffee. There he told me that he was looking for some new challenges in his life and was interested in the racing I had been doing. He had been running some 5 and 10k road races, but thought he may like to try something more interesting. A few months later he was in Nicaragua, signed up for the 25km run (that climbed a volcano) but was quickly captivated by the spectacle of the ultradistances and the Survival Run in which I took part. Jump forward just 8 months and Paul finished THIRD overall in Hunter Gatherer - well ahead of scores of incredibly experienced and accomplished runners. With that under his belt (literally, actually, as the trophy was an engraved survival knife), Paul has registered for February's "Fuego Y Agua Deadly Devil's Double Challenge" - returning to Nicaragua to complete the 75km survival race (open water swims, volcano climbs, jungle crossings, insanely difficult challenges) AND 100km ultramarathon (ridiculously steep, technical terrain) IN THE SAME WEEK!!!


thumbnail imageAlong the way, Paul has met many of my other friends, including Olof Dallner and Andy Weinberg. So, like me and hundreds of others, he has been refreshing THIS WEB PAGE obsessively for the past several days - checking the live updates from the Virginia QUINTUPLE Anvil Ultratriathlon. To put this race in perspective, the Ironman was long considered the "standard" for a long, brutal triathlon - with a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and full marathon (26.2 mile) run. Over time, some people began challenging themselves with double the distance (wow) and triples (c'mon, is that really possible?). But the QUINTUPLE looks like this ... swim 12 miles, jump on your bike and ride 560 miles, then simply run FIVE STRAIGHT MARATHONS to the finish. And this is STRAIGHT THROUGH (pitting only for food, poops, medical help and quick naps)!! And this is the race that four of my good friends - Andy Weinberg, Olof Dallner, Rebecca Daniels Hansen and Josh Zitomer began on Tuesday. The race is still going on at the time of this writing, but Olof (3x Death Race champion) just finished, taking FIRST place in just under 96 hours. Andy is only about 10 miles behind, with a lock on SECOND despite severe ankle pain and stress fractures in his feet. Josh and Rebecca are also well into the run and look solid to finish. This truly is nothing short of SUPERHUMAN.

So, with a great sense of humour and greater sense of humilty, Paul just sent me this photo of Olof (posted mid-race, then photoshopped by Paul) ...


Anyone who knows Olof gets why this is funny on multiple levels. First, Olof is an extremely nice guy who is humble about his own achievements and excited about others'. Second, he is a fucking cyborg for whom there truly may be no limits. He does things that seem impossible to most everyone else - smiling and laughing and dancing (literally) the whole way. I once pointed out that "Olof races like he's at a rave!", an observation with which everyone gleefully agreed.

I replied to Paul, commenting that being around these extraordinary people (I think I used the term "freaks") is so good for us, as it just keeps stretching our imaginations and ideas as to what is achievable. I also pointed out that, while a "nice ego stroke", every time someone tells us that we are crazy/amazing/impressive for what we accomplish they are actually pulling us back into the center a little bit.

And here is Paul's answer to that ...
Yup! Was thinking recently it's awesome. Feeling more confident, but much less ego based. Whatever I do, there are people capable of far more, and are much more humble about it. I still have a ways to go, but I like the trajectory.

And, in that last sentence there is some true magic. Some wisdom that I intend to apply to the rest of my life. I hope I DO still have a ways to go ... and the key is that I am happy with the trajectory. That is what will determine everything, and I can always change it - as slightly or drastically as need be.

So, ask yourself - "Do I like the trajectory of my life?". 

NOT "Am I happy with where I am at right now?" because you are always still moving - and where you are at is ssimpy the result of the trajectory you WERE on. In this very moment, you can alter your trajectory and (as small a change as it may seem - maybe just a coffee conversation and signing up for a seemingly minor adventure)... THAT will change where you are going. SO SIMPLE!!!

Changing your life does not have to be difficult!! You do not have to have all of the answers or even make wholesale changes. It is all about the trajectory!

DO I LIKE THE TRAJECTORY OF MY LIFE?

IF NOT, HOW CAN I CHANGE THE TRAJECTORY OF MY LIFE?

So, this Thanksgiving weekend, I am feeling special gratitude for friends like Paul, Olof, Andy, Josh, Rebecca, Joe D and Josue, who have been hugely influential in helping me shift my trajectory, allowing my life to expand, seemingly miraculously, in a magnitude I had not even previously imagined.



***** BONUS ****

Here is one of my favourite pictures of all time. Andy (L) and Olof (R) during a quick nap toward the end of the QUINT (taken last night and shared by Olof's girlfriend, Caitlan Alexander). I have included her comment below ...

And to set the record straight, most of the posts about this "competition" between Olof and Andy were BS. Around mile 70, they were both pushing each other so hard that they shook and decided they would finish the rest together. Around mile 95, Andy starting developing symptoms of a stress fracture among many other things and urged Olof to go ahead. Olof wouldn't leave him but Andy was persistent. So the two split but were still cheering each other on.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

How my ego got my skull smashed in last month!

Every now and then life hands you (ok, me) a perfectly poetic lesson.

Such was the case this past month. I was preparing to go to Hawaii for a few weeks of Spartan Race work, and received a phone call from Joe Distefano, the head of Spartan's SGX Group Training certification program. He'd heard that he and I were going to be in Honolulu at the same time and asked if I would be attending the Saturday workout, at which we expected 300+ eager new Hawaiian  Spartan Racers to attend.

"I sure will Joe! Looking forward to it!!"

All packed and heading out the door the Thursday morning I was departing, I saw my three Death Race Finisher skulls sitting on the shelf in my foyer. "I had better bring these!" I thought to myself. "Joe may want to introduce me as a Death Race Finisher [and I can flash these to show just how truly fucking awesome I really am - bracketed because I don't think I actually formulated this latter part of the thought, but am now acknowledging it was very much behind my motivation]"

These are just the Summer skull (middle) and Winter skull (right).
The Team one is not in this pic. On the left is a vodka bottle that
seemed to 
complement the others nicely.

Now that I am being honest with myself, even my keeping my skulls prominently displayed in my foyer, such that one cannot possibly enter my home without having to ask about them, is ridiculous in itself. How many times have I told the story??? Stories, actually, as they must hear about all of the races!!! Let's not even mention my countless Facebook entries. And here is yet another blog post about my Death Race skulls...

But bear with me - this one is about to go sideways FAST!

When I landed in Honolulu I was wiped from a long travel day. After a quick dinner, I went straight to sleep. Waking early - still on Eastern Standard Time - I jogged down to the beach to watch the sunrise. Then, when I got back to the house where I was staying, I started to unpack my duffel bag.

What. The. Fuck???
The very first thing I saw was my Summer 2011 skull, that I had stuffed into the bag at home. And it was broken in half! Actually, after pulling out the biggest piece, I realized the next half was broken in half again. In fact, the pieces got smaller and smaller until it became obvious that this was never going completely back together again. And, as I gathered the bits, assessing the odds of salvaging my prize to some degree of recognizability, I noticed that several of them were much lighter in colour. 

"Oh no, you have to be joking!" 



Yes, my Winter 2012 trophy had sustained significant damage of its own! While the skull portion was intact, half of the face was missing, with the jaw bone shattered and scattered. 

"Ok, self," I said to (of course) myself, "There is clearly a lesson in this somewhere!"

"Learn how to pack better?? ... Um, obviously! But there is something more important here for you. And here is a clue. It is about your SELF, not your skulls."


For now, though, I had other things to do, so I set these crumbled crania aside, making a mental note to buy some Crazy Glue as soon as possible.

Days passed without my giving my splintered swag another thought. Later in the week, when it came time to move from the house to a hotel, I gathered up all the pieces and tossed them in a plastic bag, stuffing that back into the duffel again.

That night the kids joined me for the next 11 days (a sublime experience all around) and on the way in from the airport I told them about my mutilated momentos. We were all three laughing heartily, none of us seeing the situation as particularly tragic.

And, I started wondering how it could be that these symbols of some of my "greatest" successes could suddenly seem so unimportant to me.

I think I finally have it all figured out. That first skull was earned at a time when I was really struggling to regain my footing in my life. It was an enormous turning point - and served as a psychological lifeline. Thus, I inflated its significance to myself rather, well, significantly. Several months later, adding its winter sibling to the shelf poured fresh fuel on this engorging ego trip. Understandable, yes, and I'm not beating myself up over it - but an ego trip nonetheless. Then, when I failed to earn the coveted award in Summer 2012, I (out of emotional necessity) started convincing myself that "the skull really isn't what is important". And, at first, this was just lip-service, but now I know that is actually absolutely true. 

Let's be clear ... we are talking about here are some very inexpensive, novelty skulls, Made in China, and written on with a Sharpie marker. This is the precious cargo that arrived annihilated. What were not destroyed are the myriad memories of my arduous adventures in the mountains, rivers, forests, ponds of Pittsfield, VT. What remain entirely unscathed are the robust friendships I have forged along the way. Undiminished are the invaluable lessons I learned about myself, and about life, through the highs and the lows of this insane and arbitrary Death Race experience. 

Those smashed-in skulls are part of my past, which is already established, but they have no bearing whatsoever on my future. In fact, I can travel lighter without them! And, when needing a quick ego stroke, it's not like I don't have pictures aplenty ;) 

So, having still not bothered to buy any Crazy Glue, I think I may just leave them sitting in smithereens, in a bag... in a drawer... in my shed.



P.S. You may remember that I packed THREE skulls. My 2012 Team Death Race skull survived the trip almost entirely intact. Which is quite wonderful actually, as it is the one that should, and does, mean the most to me. Having won that race alongside three phenomenal friends, it is not nearly as much about me and way more about a great group of "Old Dudes" somehow finding a second wind an an extra gear at just the right time :)



"Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."
~ Tennyson (Ulysses)






Sunday, June 16, 2013

How I Am Failing To Be a Great Dad

When I was a child I loved reading The Berenstain Bears books. Apparently I am not alone in this, as I just observed that there are "over 300 titles, which have sold approximately 260 million copies in 23 languages.

Even as a father, I have often referred to these classics, suggesting that I have a "Berenstain Bears" style of parenting. To explain that idea, here are some Washington Post reviews I have clipped from Wikipedia ...

  • "Papa sets out to instruct Small Bear in some aspect of the art of living and ends up badly the worse for wear, with Small Bear expressing his appreciation for the fine lesson Papa has taught him." 
  • "The action usually starts when the kids face a problem. They turn to Papa, who offers a "solution" that only makes the problem—or the kids' fears about it—even worse. Enter Mama, who eventually sets everyone straight."

Before I go any further, I will let you off the hook. I believe that I AM a great Dad. Still, I stand behind the title of this post. My children know that I am as fallible as anyone else, and it is often through my "failing" that I teach them the most important lessons. (Sometimes my "Small Bears" are even so wonderful as to express their appreciation for the fine lesson I have taught them.)

We (and I guess I can really only speak for myself) love to share our successes - there is a reason some people refer to Facebook as "Bragbook" - and those stories are important too. Through some of my triumphs I have shown Katy and Jack that it pays to dream big and to go after your goals with everything you've got. I have given them some great tales to share with their friends, about their "crazy Dad". I have made sure their last name serves them well (actually, I was handed an impeccable family reputation and have simply tried to pass it on in equally good "condition").

But I have also failed in rather spectacular fashion in their 14 and 16 years on this planet. Using a term that I love, "I have shit the bed" on several occasions. Still, looking at it all objectively, I am actually fairly certain that the best life lessons I can pass on have come from these apparent disasters.

Borrowing from the parlance of the fine blog of my wonderful erstwhile-wife (Mama Bear)...

"A (Non)Comprehensive List of Important Lessons I Have Taught My Children While Failing"
  1. My failed political career - in 2007 I ran as the Liberal candidate for Member of Parliament. As Canada had a minority Conservative government at the time, there could have been an election at any moment - but there wasn't. For the whole year! For all 4 seasons, I zigzagged across our riding, campaigning, spending, promising. And it was all for naught, as I was broke and exhausted and out of steam by Christmas. I had to resign - front page news - and never even actually had my chance to "save the world".

    LESSON: Sometimes you are going to take a big chance that does not work out - and it may even be a rather public affair - but you still have to get up to greet the sun the next morning (in truth, it was quite a few mornings before I leapt out of bed again at the crack of dawn - there was a bit of a regrouping "low" in the early months of 2008).  I owned my decision to run and also my decision to resign. And the world did carry on. In fact, I have enjoyed far more rewarding success since that debacle than before.

  1. The end of my marriage to their mom - in 2008 I left my wife (the aforementioned brilliant bloggess). I still love and respect her as much as ever, but decided (realized) we were on divergent life paths, with conflicting, albeit equally valid, core values. We knew our relationship was in trouble in the Spring and went for marriage counselling. By the Summer it was obvious we'd be parting, and we finally "pulled the trigger" on our separation in the Fall.



    LESSON: You can always choose kindness and civility over bitterness and anger. A breakup does not have to be acrimonious. We split very amicably, as neither of us had wronged the other, and have continued to support one another on our respective paths. If Katy and Jack's eventual relationship "Plan A" lasts forever, awesome. And if not, they have seen very clearly that Plan B does not have to be a shit-show. They have two parents who love them and one another and are as committed as ever to everyone having great lives.


  2. Being really, really broke - a couple years of an aborted (and expensive) campaign, marital dissolution and funding the setup of a second household, and a weak real estate market (yes, that was my career before my big reset) exacerbated by my rebranding as a politician, had all left me quite literally penniless. I took a job bartending to be able to cover even basic support for Karen to maintain her home for our kids and moved myself into my truck. For over a year I bounced back and forth between my truck, my siblings and my office floor. When I had Katy and Jack for weekends we would camp or go on "adventures" or stay at my folks. Beyond just living arrangements, I was unable to provide many luxuries that we had previously taken for granted - dinners out, ski trips, expensive clothing.



    LESSON: You don't need much to be happy. Despite this being a humbling experience, we always had a lot of fun, and I don't think any of us will reflect on it being miserable or even a particular struggle. We simply made do and focused on gratitude for what we did have. Even now that I have "bounced back" I have kept my life very simple - I live in a rented apartment, buy almost all of my clothes at thrift shops, and have as few extra belongings as possible. This keeps me free to enjoy adventures and travel and able to give significant financial support to Karen to help her provide a more traditional home (she has a beautiful log cabin on 6+ acres on the edge of town). My kids don't want for much, but they also now have an appreciation for what they have and get.
     
  3. DNF'ing The Death Race on National TV - In 2011 I finished the Spartan Death Race. With this success came small-town fame, pride and a new reputation as an athlete and a badass. I began speaking, coaching, and blogging, all as "that guy" who finishes Death Races (reinforced with my 5th place Winter Death Race result in early 2012). Then, in June 2012, with a film crew in tow (shooting a documentary feature for national broadcast on Global TV's 16x9), I dropped out of the race after 35 hours. In hindsight, I was not particularly injured (though my banged up feet were my "reason", they had been much worse a year prior) - I was just "done". At the time I was really very embarrassed. I felt like I had let many people down.

    LESSON: It's not all about succeeding - it is about who you are being, win or lose. Ultimately I received every bit as much support and encouragement from friends and peers after my DNF as my finish. Because I did not make any excuses, or look for anyone to blame, people had nothing but praise for my effort. I simply acknowledged that I was not as tough as that year's race and gave enormous respect to those who carried on to finish (in upwards of 70 hours!). And seeing them finish, I was reminded of what is possible. With this, I returned to more serious training and came back to Vermont 3 months later to outright WIN the first ever Team Death Race with my good friends Don Devaney, Ray Morvan and Dave French. Hopefully we were as humble and gracious then too!
I think the biggest thing I have going for me in my relationship with my kids is that I don't pretend to be perfect. I actually understand that their opinions and perspectives about their lives are usually even more valid than mine. A while back I wrote that "My Kids Are People Not Projects", and I mean it. I will help them any way that I can, including by knowing when to back off and let them learn for themselves.

And by FAILING - repeatedly, joyfully, humbly and graciously - I am demonstrating that they can approach life fearlessly and, thus, enjoy uncommon success.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: 
it is the courage to continue that counts.” 

Winston Churchill