There’s nothing that can be written about baseball that hasn’t already been said. It’s a game that grown men wearing silly outfits play until their arms are dead, their knees give out, and their eyes can no longer pick up a fastball. It’s the perfect game in many respects, the chess of sports, where strategy is critical, yet a single pawn occasionally wins a game. The best hitters fail more often than they succeed, but when they come through at the end of a game — at the end of a season — well, it can bring tears to old men’s eyes. 

They say baseball is a metaphor for life. It’s a long season full of ups and downs, triumphs and heartache. Some days are good, some are bad, and sometimes the rain ruins everything. As in life, it seems that success is usually the result of teamwork, determination, and a lot of good fortune along the way. It’s not always the most talented team that wins, and as Yogi Berra’s saying goes, it ain’t over ’til it’s over. As fans, very few of us get to regularly enjoy the post season, but each new year brings renewed hope. The last two seasons are proof that anything is possible, and also that patience truly is a virtue. 

So as we start a new season in earnest today, I sincerely wish everyone luck. I’ve experienced the thrill of sitting on the edge of my seat during an unimaginable late inning rally resulting in victory. I’ve witnessed an entire city unite with unbelievable pride during a magical season capped by a long-awaited World Series championship. Most importantly, I’ve felt the simple joy of hanging outside with my family on a warm summer night, talking about life as baseball plays on the radio. 

Maybe life is actually a metaphor for baseball? As in baseball, remember that if you stay focused and keep your eye on the ball, eventually you’ll get a hit. Sometimes just a little hit is all it takes. Hustle every chance you get, play with all your heart, and — most importantly — remember to enjoy every game. The season is long, but life is short. Play ball. 

(And GO ROYALS!) 

 

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.

  
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.

 

 

 

Recess

February 17, 2016

Photo Credit: A Photographer

 
If you’re one of the seven people who read my blog regularly, you know that I quit my job — no my career — almost a year ago to pursue happiness. I spent about six incredible months as a stay-at-home dad, and have been working as a substitute teacher since school started. I love being a sub and working with kids. It’s challenging, rewarding, and sometimes I’m lucky enough to work in the same school as my kids, which is pretty cool for all of us.

Back when I worked for “the man,” there was a trendy deli in a quaint neighborhood that I went to often for lunch. Okay, it was actually a Subway, but this particular location truly had some of the freshest ingredients, and it was in a cool part of town. It backed up to a park bordered on the far side by a school. On nice days I would get lunch to go and eat in my car with the windows rolled down. While enjoying some fresh air and a mediocre sandwich, I was always able to hear the school kids playing during recess. I couldn’t see them because a little hill was in the way, but I didn’t need to. What I could hear was pure joy. Jubilant laughing and playful screaming was perfect background noise on a warm, sunny day. The students were obviously elated, without another care in the world at that moment. It was a great — albeit very temporary — escape from the conflict resolution meetings, particularly particular clients, and general negativity and stress of the daily grind.

I’ve been a long-term substitute at the same school for nearly two months, and I now get to experience recess up close on a daily basis. Being able to physically see recess gives me a newfound appreciation — no awe, really — of the early coordination skills of our youth, which I formerly perceived to be somewhere in the range of fairly awkward to dangerously clumsy. Every day I expect to witness broken bones, lacerations requiring urgent medical care, concussions, or worse.

Let me attempt to paint a picture for you: at each recess there are about 125 kids playing on a chunk of rock-hard concrete that’s approximately the size of a football field. Sound scary? Wait. Now imagine these 125 kids playing seven separate games of tag, two games of basketball, a game of four square, and pretending to have a gymnastics meet. All while a soccer match is taking place. Oh, and a handful of the students like to just sit on the ground and talk. When I worked a recess for the first time, I asked one of the seasoned, full-time teachers where the ambulance was kept on standby. I was only sort of kidding. Amazingly, I have never witnessed more than a scraped knee (knock on wood), and even that is rare. It’s similar to what I would expect if several flocks of birds were put in a giant cage. The kids just magically follow their group around at high rates of speed, never running into the ever-present trouble surrounding them. It is truly something to behold.

The school I’ve been at recently happens to be designated as one of the district’s “English Language Learners” elementary schools. This means that students who are new to the country or unfamiliar with English are brought in from outside of the school’s normal boundaries in an effort to help get them up to speed before middle school. This results in a wonderfully diverse student population. I get to not only hear the youthful fun, but I see children from many different races, nationalities, and religions playing together (mostly) in harmony. Sure, there are disagreements and even occasional scuffles, but at this age there are really no cliques or clubs, just kids having fun together. It’s firsthand proof that love — or at least acceptance — is natural, and hatred is learned. This is a great thing to be able to witness.

Remember when we were kids? Most of us didn’t worry, judge others, or overthink our existence. Life was pretty simple, and most of the time was simply great. Despite that, we couldn’t wait to get older. Now many of us make things more difficult than necessary, as our remaining time on this earth races by at an ever-increasing rate of speed. Someone more clever than me said that “these are the good old days.” Trust me, you can do better than briefly escaping over your lunch break, over the weekend, or even over a vacation. Live your life like the kids on the playground — with exuberant energy, with kindness, and by making the most of the moments we have left. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that, regardless of age, everyone says they feel like a kid at heart. After all, we are just kids who grew up. Find time for recess.

I recently saw an alarming article, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with the headline: “Insufficient Sleep Is a Public Health Epidemic.”  Below this headline there were a ton of words, many numbers, and also some graphs.  It looked far too mind-numbing to actually read (plus I was very tired), but I got the gist from the straight-forward headline – we need to sleep more.  I’m going to assume that the CDC went on to demand that everyone start taking naps (after washing your hands, of course), and that failing to do so is basically akin to treason.  So, I resolve to start doing my part for my country.  I will take more naps, with no remorse or guilt.

In a past blog, I wrote about how I am learning to relax – something that is a work in progress.  I have never been good at napping.  The voice in my head has always insisted on reminding me about all the other things I should be doing rather than resting, convincing me that I was being lazy and wasting time.  Since changing jobs and becoming a stay at home dad (yes it’s a job, and I’m proud to have the good fortune to do it), one of my duties is to try to get my daughter to take a short nap each afternoon.  She’s four, and can go without, but I find that evenings are a little easier if naps occur.  It also allows me time to do some housework (usually the never-ending task of laundry) without interruption.  My daughter and I typically snuggle up and read some books first, then I will lie with her until she falls asleep.

To my amazement, I’ve found that I am starting to doze off, myself.  It’s spring in the Midwest, and some days are almost hot, but there is usually a strong, refreshing breeze that comes in the open window next to the bed.  The blinds gently rattle.  Outside the window you can hear dogs barking, birds chirping, a distant lawn mower, an airplane passing overhead – a suburban symphony.  The blinds rattle again…and I’m out.

My naps are usually very short, but they are very refreshing.  I genuinely believe that being able to sleep like this is a sign of my mind slowing down, and me being more content with life.  I’m not lazy, I’m working my butt off.  But I’m also learning to relax – and loving it.  I highly recommend that you do the same.  Peanuts creator, Charles M. Schulz, wrote that we should “learn from yesterday, live for today, look to tomorrow, (and) rest this afternoon.”  What are you waiting for, take a nap today!  Remember the plea from the CDC, and take pride in the fact that with each nap, you’re fighting a national epidemic.  

Your country needs you.  Sweet dreams.