Photo Credit: theartistsproject.com

 
The other day I had to run an errand. It wasn’t just any day, it was a Saturday. Oh, and it wasn’t just any errand…it was going to the DMV to renew my driver’s license. Put the two together and you are basically asking for it. Believe me, I was dreading it so much that I lost a little sleep the night before, but I got up early Saturday morning because I had a frog to eat.

Eat the frog. Many people have heard the phrase, but I find that equally as many have not. If you fall in the latter category, to “eat the frog” means to get the worst thing over with so that you may enjoy the rest of the day. I first heard it years ago when I was interviewing a potential employee at work. I was quite impressed, although I didn’t hire him because, upon checking references, I learned that not only did he apparently never eat a frog, he was probably allergic to them. Nonetheless, the phrase stuck. Mark Twain commonly gets credit for its origin, but a little research suggests that the idea actually came from Nicolas Chamfort, an eighteenth century French writer.

Regardless of the true source, it’s something that I’ve been making a conscious effort to do. It started as a way to be more productive, but it has evolved into something completely different. It has become not just a way to get something difficult or dreaded out of the way, but also a sort of challenge to make myself better. It is a mindset. Allow me to explain.

I think I’m a pretty good dude. I care about others and try to treat people with genuine kindness and compassion. I spend a great deal of time with my family and would do anything for them. I’ve never had a speeding ticket. I’m lucky to have a number of talents and skills, but I also have two big problems — I procrastinate and suffer from anxiety. These do not mesh well together, although I think they are commonly attached at the hip.

Someone smarter than me said that nothing cures anxiety like action. I’ve grown to believe this, even if the action consists of slow-motion baby steps. I’ve eaten frog and felt great about it, so I thought about the idea of finding a specific frog to eat daily, weekly, or even monthly. Usually my frog doesn’t actually cause anxiety, but is just something I don’t want to do (and tend to put off longer than I should) such as the visit to the DMV, home maintenance, or exercise. Getting these types of things done on a regular basis — especially when done early in the day — has made life much more enjoyable and surprisingly more fulfilling.

Sometimes, however, the frog is an anxiety producer. Maybe it’s seeing a doctor for that nagging health concern (despite feeling fine at the moment), taking the car to the mechanic because of that occasional odd noise (despite it running great), or calling a financial advisor to get a better handle on retirement investments (despite having plenty of money now). These types of things are unpleasant for many of us, so we don’t address them. Yet they linger in the back of our minds and we begin to worry. The more time that passes, the more we wish we would have done something sooner, then it becomes even more difficult to take care of the problem — which at one time was probably (and may still be) very simple to fix. I’m not saying this mentality is rational, but it is real. The simple solution? Eat the frog and get things done.

Perhaps the frog isn’t something that actually needs to be done, but is simply something that you’ve wanted to do (or have purposely been avoiding) for years. Public speaking, skydiving, asking that gal from the grocery store out on a date, changing careers, buying a home, getting a tattoo, traveling to some far off destination, going back to school, or joining a rock ‘n’ roll band. It could be anything, the point is that you are putting yourself in an uncomfortable position. Whatever the outcome, you will feel so good for going for it. Growth happens outside of your comfort zone, and committing to eating frogs is a trap to get yourself there.

Once you get a taste for frog you’ll want more. You will love how your sense of accomplishment swells, how your confidence improves, how your desire for adventure flows, and how your zest for life starts to ooze. Okay, maybe I’m over-selling it slightly, but if nothing else, a frog a day will form a habit of getting things accomplished. Trust me, you’ll love the liberating feeling that is a natural byproduct of this. There is more to life than anxiety, fear, dread, and wanting. Eat some damn frog before life eats you.

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Photo Credit: A Photographer

 
I’m only 43 and am very young at heart, but I am starting to realize that you might be getting old if…

…minivans seem like a logical solution.

…you get out of bed at night because you remember you forgot to take your vitamins.

…you think the kids today have it so easy.

…Saturday mornings are for oil changes.

…you ask yourself, “how would my parents handle this?”

…the “oldies” station is playing songs you loved in college.

…the expiration date on food doesn’t seem as important.

…you still enjoy wearing Crocs.

…the thought of getting hair plugs has crossed your mind.

…you get your tax return filed before April 15th.

…you look forward to yogurt with granola.

…you look in the mirror and it’s your father’s face.

…you pass up an invitation to play golf with your buddies because the blinds need a serious cleaning.

…a good evening is simply being able to take a dump in some peace and quiet.

…on the way to a play date your five-year-old daughter says, “just drop me off here and I can walk the rest of the way.”

…you actually yell at a neighbor kid for cutting across your lawn.

…you use the little ladder to get in and out of the pool.

…your wife tells you to drive faster.

…you wear ear and eye protection while weed-eating.

…your family is more important than anything else.

…it’s so damn hot out there.

…you injure your back by sneezing.

…SPF 50 seems inadequate.

…your twelve-year-old son has to show you how to work your new cell phone.

…you start wearing a bike helmet without even considering how ridiculous you look.

…during the big ballgame you find yourself sipping on green tea instead of a beer.

…you have no clue what the cable channels are.

…going to sleep or having sex becomes a mental tug of war.

…you worry about how your family would get by if you were to die. 

…back hair has entered the picture. 

…your kids (and/or wife) routinely say, “I’m sorry but you’re not wearing that.” 

…you routinely tell your daughter, “I’m sorry but you’re not wearing that.”

…prostate exams, while uncomfortable, seem necessary.

…movie theaters are perfect for napping. 

…you realize you’re not going to live forever.

…you think you should probably take a jacket. 

…your children are asking for the car keys. 

…it’s too loud. 

…it’s not loud enough. 

…you can laugh at how pathetic you are.

Getting old ain’t so bad. It beats the alternative, as they say. Let’s raise a glass (or cup, if you’re drinking green tea) to getting much older and much wiser. Cheers.

  
An interesting thing about musicians dying, for me anyway, is how it takes me back to a time in my life that I might never have thought about again were it not for the artist’s passing. I hope that doesn’t sound selfish, as I’m not trying to make it about me, but music is a very personal thing. I think most artists would be happy to have a legacy of creating unique memories and emotions for their fans.

I first heard Prince in ’84 or ’85 on my best friend Chris Eason’s boombox (meaning no harm and knowing no better, we called it a ghetto blaster), which he brought on the school bus most days. “When Doves Cry” was played over and over again for months, driving many of us crazy. I hated the song originally but, over the course of the school year, grew to like it quite a bit. In part because my buddy did, and in part perhaps because my subconscious convinced me that I might as well accept it. Three decades later, as a musician and music lover, I can truly appreciate the genius of Prince’s work, although I admit I was never a huge fan of his entire catalog, and haven’t really listened to him in a long time. Oddly, I still keep in touch with some of the people who were on that bus — people who were never really close friends — yet I haven’t talked to my pal Chris in well over 20 years. I wonder if Prince’s death made him think about those days on the bus so long ago. I hope so — or maybe it conjured up a different memory. Hopefully a good one.

Sadly, we are on the cusp of losing many of our beloved musicians. Prince went too early, but their are many brilliant, aging artists like Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Mick Jagger, and Joni Mitchell, just to name a few, who are in the twilight of their careers and lives. They have created memories for multiple generations, and continue to do so today. When the time comes, I will remember them for their contributions to my life. How their music impacted me personally. How it got me through rough times, and also how it made good times better.

When we are young, many of us consider our favorite musicians to be immortal heroes. As we get older, we realize that musicians are very human. Maybe they are more talented and creative in some ways, but they have problems, the suffer, they hurt, and they die — just like the rest of us. The wonderful thing is that they leave something behind for us to enjoy, to remember them by, and to continue being a part of our personal soundtrack of life. 

There is an old saying that heroes get remembered, but legends never die. The truth is, though, that we are all just gathered here today to get through this thing called life, and that’s not always easy. May the heroes, the legends, and all the rest of us continue to rock on as long as possible. 

Cheers.

 

Photo Credit: A Photographer

I know some good people who smoke. I know more good people who smoked and died younger than necessary due to smoking-related issues. Fortunately, fewer people smoke every day. If you still smoke, I hope you quit. If you don’t quit, I won’t judge you. However, if you do smoke, and you flick your nasty butts out the window of your car, anywhere, but especially on the highway where they go flying towards the car behind you, but you don’t give a shit because it’s just a little insignificant piece of paper in your mind, one you’ve sucked on for years and years, making your lungs amost as black as your heart — as your soul — you know who you are, you think it’s fine for you to litter because you’re somehow better, you deserve to toss your cigs out for someone else to clean up because you worked hard today dammit, you’re more stressed out than anyone else could possibly comprehend so to hell with worrying about a little cigarette filter that gets tossed out multiple times a day, every single day of the damn year… If you throw your cigarette butts out the window of your car, I won’t only judge you, I will hunt you down. And sometime, when you least expect it, in the middle of a moonless night, in the silence of slumber, except for your annoying coughing and wheezing, I will find you. Because guess what pal — the world isn’t your ashtray.

  
Today I turn 43. Despite the aches in my back, knees, and hands, I feel very young. Younger than I have in a long time, actually. I’m fitter, happier, and in an overall better mental state than I’ve ever been as an adult. Not that 43 is old, necessarily — age is really just a relative number. To a child, 43 seems like a lifetime away; almost certainly incomprehensible (and why should a child need to understand or think about it). To the very old it may seem like a lifetime ago. Although I doubt it. The one thing I notice most with aging — my biggest complaint — is that time seems to move faster and faster the older we get. I’m trying my damnedest to change this, however. And it’s working.

Obviously time is constant, but our perspective and perception of time seems to become completely screwed up as we age. Most of us rush around all day, meeting schedules and deadlines. We worry about what happened yesterday and lose sleep over what may (or may not) happen tomorrow. The free time that we do actually have is often wasted by us believing it isn’t enough time, so we discard it completely. This wasn’t the case when we were kids. The ancient philosopher Heraclitus wrote, “Time is a game played beautifully by children.” I think he’s right. Kids are better at making good use of time than almost all adults. Especially younger children. If there’s a spare minute in the day, they will find a toy to enjoy. Five extra minutes of playtime before bed is like a gift that is gratefully received. Kids don’t worry about it getting dark, but instead play hard until they can’t see. Unfortunately we regress as we age to the point that most adults are dreadful at this “game.” I know I used to be.

I’m far from an expert now, but I’ve found that I’m getting much better by reminding myself to be mindful, grateful, and frugal. These are really all related, and once you start to understand and practice them, worry and stress naturally fall by the wayside. I find myself appreciating life more, desiring less, and not caring much about keeping up with the demands put on us by American society and consumerism. By this I basically mean not worrying as much about money and material possessions. When you are truly aware, thankful, and consciously spending less on unnecessary items, life becomes simpler, more fulfilling, and time is much less of a constraint. It is a very liberating experience.

Many people think I’m crazy. I traded a very lucrative career to be a stay-at-home dad, and am now pursuing a career in teaching. My life is much fuller and my time is much better spent — and appreciated. I’m not suggesting anyone give up a career, but I would also caution against knocking it if you haven’t tried it. The older you get the more you understand the old “life is too short” saying. It is certainly possible to juggle a busy, stressful job and have a productive, happy personal life. But the key is to be sure you are happy — a question we can only answer if we are truly honest with ourselves. Time — or the lack thereof — has a unique knack for showing us what really matters in life. Sometimes it’s too late. My sincere birthday wish is that everyone eventually finds happiness…and has the time to enjoy it.

Cheers.

 

 

 

 

Photo Credit: A Photographer

The best thing about being a substitute teacher is working with kids. Admittedly, there are times when this is also the worst part of my job, but it’s rare.

Many days I find I’m inspired by seeing students — often from different races and nationalities — being genuinely kind to one another. This supports my belief that people are inherently good. Other days I feel excited and happy when a child finally “gets it,” and I see their eyes light up and a gap-toothed smile stretch across their face. It’s proof that kids learn differently, but they all actually want to learn. Each and every day I am lucky enough to hear or see something that makes me laugh out loud — a reminder that we take life a little too seriously.

Yesterday was no different. I was subbing for a teacher who takes students out of their normal classrooms to be part of smaller group instruction. So I would go to various classrooms, retrieve the students, then walk them to the room where the smaller groups meet. I’ve subbed for this teacher several times, so the students know who I am, but I still try to help put them at ease by making a little small talk as we walk. 

It was mid-morning when I went to a first grade class and pulled out a girl I had previously worked with a few times. Walking down the hall, we were having a typical casual conversation when things turned serious.

“So how’s your day going so far?” I inquired.

“Well, not very good,” the girl replied very solemnly. 

“Oh no, what’s the matter?”

“Well, I think I got dog poop on my shoe,” she said as she lifted her foot and hopped along for a second.

Sure enough… I couldn’t help laughing, and then she started laughing, too.

Regardless of our age, we all have days when we step in poop. Life’s just like that. Rather than getting upset, I hope I will think of this story and take it in stride (yes, pun intended) the next time it happens to me. We all could be better at this.