Check Your Ego.

I’ve recently decided to explore ways to get better at what I do. For those who don’t know me, I coach track and field athletes for an NCAA D2 college. For me, coaching is a professional pursuit and should be approached with intentionality and purpose. To be an effective coach requires a lot things, including education, introspection, organizational skills, to name a few. It’s not all about workouts and physiology.

One aspect of coaching that many times is overlooked is the importance of communication. My job involves many types of communication. I communicate with other coaches, with athletes, with the high school students I am recruiting. Sometimes the communication is verbal, sometimes written. Often it’s non-verbal in the way I stand, or the amount of eye contact I make, my facial expressions, etc..

Through all this I’m finding it can be easy to be critical of others for what is perceived as not doing their job or not following through with what has been communicated. Whether it be an athlete’s poor attitude, or being late to the bus for a competition, my natural disposition is to point fingers and blame others for not meeting an expectation.

I have often attributed ego as a huge obstacle to a person’s ability to get better at their craft. It’s tough to admit when we don’t know something or are in need of assistance. Many times when I’m frustrated with a person’s behavior, my internal response is annoyance or I feel the need to confront them and accuse them of not paying attention. In these instances the phrase “Check your ego” seems appropriate, but whose ego are we talking about?

It would be easy to blame the athlete for their poor attitude or behavior and that wouldn’t be entirely off base. But like I said earlier, I’m looking for ways to get better at what I do.

Instead of placing the blame on others, maybe I need to ask some questions of myself first? Questions like have the expectations I’ve place on others been clearly defined? Am I modeling behaviors that are consistent with these expectations? What steps can I take to develop relationships that foster trust and openness?

When you start asking these types of questions, you find a lot of gaps between your perceptions and reality.

This is what I mean by looking for ways to get better at what I do. It’s easy to say “I’ve done my job, it was the other person who didn’t follow through”. But how does that make me a better coach? If I want to improve I must own the process, learn from my mistakes, admit where I’m lacking. It’s up to me to set my ego aside and do the necessary work. And it starts with being a better communicator.

Of course, this is easier said than done. It’s going to take time. But it can start with being mindful of my words and natural communication style; finding where I fall short and learning new techniques to improve; highlighting my strengths and utilizing them appropriately. It’s going to be a long process, a never ending process if I do it right. But I am up for the challenge.

 

 

 

 

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love’s function is to fabricate unknownness

“True love casts out fear.” I saw this in a book I’ve been reading and I know it’s paraphrasing the Bible (1 John 4:18, actually) but the author was talking about intimacy and the idea that fear has little place in a healthy relationship. He was talking about his need for control in a relationship and how it was keeping him from experiencing intimacy. He would picture his love life like a movie, romanticizing a relationship and then try to convince himself that this is what he needed to reach the intimacy that he desired. In reality, his attempts at creating intimacy through controlling the relationship were actually hindering him from experiencing intimacy.

And then I was at the airport (still am) and decided to read some poetry, which I sometimes do, so I opened my 100 Selected Poems by e.e. cummings and read one of my favorite poems called “love’s function is to fabricate unknownness” and my mind immediately related this to fear and control and how they get in the way of intimacy and love.

Unknownness is very much opposite to control. True love gives up the need to know what’s going to happen next. Knowing what will happen, or trying to make something happen is a way of controlling the situation. To be clear, I’m not saying we shouldn’t have a plan, or that it’s wrong to have an idea of the direction in which you would like to see your relationship heading. But in a relationship in which you are trying to experience intimacy, you must remember that there are two people involved. You cannot experience intimacy with someone if you are trying to force them to be intimate. Once again, control has no place in intimacy.

An aside: Love’s function is to fabricate unknownness. What I like about e.e. cummings’ poetry is there is so much packed into each line that you can spend hours or days dissecting one sentence. Talk about a deep thinker (or should I say feeler), reading e.e. can cause your head to spin if you are really trying to take in all that he has to offer. I still haven’t moved past the first paragraph of the aforementioned poem. There’s just so much to think about in those four lines that I don’t want to move on.

Anyway, back to fear. I’d say that most people would associate unknownness with fear. How can it be love’s function to create unknownness if love is the opposite of fear and unknownness creates fear? That seems contradictory. I think a lot of us have a flawed idea of what love is. Maybe I’ll write about that next. What is love and how does fear hinder our ability to experience it?

By the way, Happy Holidays!

 

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I’m Done with Fear

Sometimes when I’m working on a new post, I don’t do any writing. What I mean by this is a topic or an idea can bounce around my head for awhile before I decide to turn it into something I could share with others. For example, I wrote the title of this post two years ago and am just now sitting down to write about it. That doesn’t mean I forgot about it, or that I’ve moved on from thinking about fear. It’s usually the opposite. It’s usually that I’m not done thinking about the subject, or that I’m still working through an idea, not ready to put my thoughts to paper. Very rarely do I have an idea of something to write about and immediately sit down and start writing.

Many times when I start a draft it’s usually only a few sentences or key words or sometimes even just a title. As I’m writing this, I have twenty-seven unpublished drafts on my blog, twenty-seven ideas that I may or may not choose to actually write about.

I tell you all this because for the past two years I’ve been working through this idea of fear and how we often let it dictate how we live our lives. And quite frankly, I am done with it. Fear has no place in my decision making process.

I went to a haunted house this year with my girlfriend (Hi Sarah!) and my brother and his wife and it got me thinking about fear again, but this time with a slightly different mindset. I’ve always enjoyed scary movies, haunted houses and ghost stories, but not because I like to get scared. I like going to a haunted house and trying my best to not get scared. To some this sounds like a waste of money since the point is to get scared, but for me it’s an exercise in self control. I’ve even found myself laughing in a haunted house, walking through with a smile on my face like a crazy person.

I think the point I’m trying to make is that a lot of the time the things we worry about in life or the things we think we should be scared of are not legitimate fears. Just like staring at a guy dressed up in a scary clown costume, spending time worrying about whether or not we’ve chosen the right major or career path doesn’t get us any closer to reaching our goals (or the end of the haunted house). We must move past our fears to find out where we are truly headed and if we are happy with our decisions or not.

Haunted houses are supposed to be scary, but only because we’ve told ourselves that they are. The same holds true for important life decisions. Because they are important, we tell ourselves that they are also scary. Is this really true? Is the guy in the clown mask truly threatening your pursuit of happiness? I’m pretty sure you can still live a fulfilled life even if you made a decision that ultimately didn’t turn out to be what you wanted.

Many people fear changing their career, or ending a relationship, or even starting a relationship. Don’t you think that staying in the same dead end situation, living a life that feels unfulfilled is more threatening to your happiness than making a decision that could change your life, even if it might be seen as risky? More on that later.

I know that the title of this post is “I’m Done with Fear”, but I don’t think I’m done writing about it. I want to see where this is going and I’m not afraid to leave it open for now. Stay tuned for more on how thinking about fear has shaped the way I live.

Until next time,

Peace.

 

 

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My Secret Life as a Russian Spy

I just finished season one of an amazing show, and I can’t wait to start season two; but before I do, I thought I’d take the time to reflect on some thoughts I’ve been having.

First, The Americans. If you haven’t watched it, you’re missing out on great television. I’ll sum up the premise as best I can: It’s set in the 1980’s in the D.C. area during the Cold War and centers around the lives of two KGB operatives (Russian Spies) who are undercover living in the United States. These spies are not only posing as American citizens, but they are playing the part of husband and wife, raising their two American children (who have no idea their parents are in the KGB); and were “married” to add credibility to their cover, as ordered by their commanders back in Mother Russia.

You can see how this dynamic would make the relationship between Elizabeth and Phillip (those are their American names) extremely complicated, not to mention all the other roles they play as spies outside of their faux suburban home life, namely conning other people in order to obtain the necessary intelligence to carry out their mission. Often times sex is used as a means to gain information, an effective yet destructive tool that further muddies the waters in an already convoluted marriage arrangement.

There are other characters too: an FBI agent (who happens to live across the street); Nina from the Russian embassy who is feeding information to the FBI; and Martha, the secretary in the FBI office who thinks she’s in a relationship with Clark (one of Phillip’s personas), but is being played for information. All these characters interact with each other on various levels and it’s the uncertainty and instability in the relationships that become the driving force of the series. On a show of spies and FBI agents, it’s hard to know when someone is being honest or when they are playing a character in order to manipulate the situation. Many times both are true.

So, how does this relate to real life? Watching the Americans got me thinking about the dynamics of my relationships, how differently I may act from one social group to the next or even from person to person. In a way, we are all playing different characters of ourselves throughout the day, for example, acting one way in a professional setting and playing a different role at home or with friends. If I think about it, there seems to be countless versions of me, all of which vary slightly according to who I’m with at the time.

I’m not saying this to make myself sound disingenuous, or am I admitting that I intentionally con people. I’m just pointing out the complexity in our daily interactions with others and the dynamic nature of relationships in general. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about who I am as a person and I’m sure you’ve asked yourself the same thing, but what does that even mean?

Who am I?

The question doesn’t seem to be as meaningful when you recognize the fact that we are always changing and adapting. To define yourself in a single moment in time is pointless because time is not static. We are not static. Maybe it’s better to ask where am I going? What is my life’s trajectory?

In literature, a character is often defined by how they change throughout the story. A good narrative focuses on a person’s journey through conflict. She is struggling as a waitress, but eventually works her way to Broadway; or he goes to prison for stealing a loaf of bread, then ends up a respected mayor in a small french village before being outed as an escaped convict. If we only focus on one point in a character’s story, we miss out on so many details that inform the context of their life’s trajectory.

I say all this because lately I feel like I’ve been pulled in a lot of different directions when it comes to the trajectory of my life. Part of me is interested in one path, another part in a totally different direction. While most of this struggle has been internal (being pulled from within), there are other characters in my story who ultimately play a part in the direction I choose.

How this relates to a Russian spy leading a secret life is this: until I have chosen the path I want to take, it’s important to continue to play all the roles, even the ones I will eventually give up on.

This is the part in my writing where I usually get stuck. I could say so much more about the different personas we portray or the different paths we have to choose from in life. I could go on about the intricacies of our various roles and relationships and how they themselves are like stories with their own trajectory. I could try to convince you to embrace the complexity of the relationships you’ve developed in your life and to stop worrying about what others may see as inconsistencies in who you are.

Or I could just stop writing and let you come to your own conclusions.

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Proving myself wrong

This post is about self-improvement.

Personally, I take pride in what I do. It is important to me to be good at my job. I read articles and books, go to seminars, subscribe to coaching blogs, watch training videos, follow olympic athletes on Twitter, etc. I’ve obtained a few different certifications, not to mention a bachelors and a masters degree. I have spent a lot time gathering information, getting educated in my field; and even more time thinking about ways to apply what I’ve learned.

After all that, I’m starting to not only realize how little I know, but also how many mistakes I’ve made and continue to make along the way.

It’s easy to focus on the ways in which you believe you’ve been right, the things that justify what you’ve been doing; but I’m starting to realize that this kind of thinking may be limiting my growth as a coach.

From now on, I’m on a mission to identify the things that I’m doing wrong, my shortcomings, the mistakes I’ve been making. By calling out the ways in which I’ve failed I can hopefully take the necessary steps to improve in those areas. That’s the idea anyway. It’s not going to be easy.

I’ll admit, I have this fear of being wrong. Or maybe I should say that I have this need to always be right. It’s an ugly trait of mine and it frustrates me. It’s not something in which I am proud. I’m quick to defend myself, explain away my actions, throw in a few facts for support. In this model, the focus is on me. In reality, it’s not all about me. My job, my life, the people I work with- not about me. There is something bigger going on that is way more important.

If I want to get better at what I do, I’m going to need help. I need people to tell me when I’ve messed up. I must seek out criticism, no matter how hard it may be to accept. I have to stop getting defensive, and when I do, acknowledge it and apologize. I must take these things to heart, but not get offended; and ask questions even when I won’t like the answers. This is going to be a long and somewhat painful process, but at this point, I think it’s necessary.

Here’s to proving myself wrong.

I hope I can handle it.

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Leading from the Middle

A few weeks ago, I was driving a 15 passenger van to a cross country meet in Evansville, Indiana, about a 7 hour drive from Canton, Ohio. We often take vans to meets, and I’m usually one of the drivers, so I’m getting pretty comfortable behind the wheel, even when there is music blasting and a bunch of 18-22 year olds banging on the ceiling (off-beat) and singing whatever Kesha song they decided to play. But on a long trip like this, there is bound to be some down-time, and of course that’s when I start thinking about things.

We took 3 vans this time, and I happened to be driving the one in the middle, which means I was following the lead van and the van behind me was following both of us. Maybe it’s cause I was looking for ways to take my mind off of the monotony of driving, or maybe because I have a masters degree in organizational leadership, but I kept connecting our 3 vehicle caravan to leadership philosophy.

I was thinking about my role as an assistant coach and what it means to be a leader when you’re not necessarily the one in charge. The phrase “leading from the middle” kept running through my mind, so I started to explore the ways this related to my life, or  how to apply it to a bigger approach to leadership in general.

When you are second in the caravan, it’s important that you not only follow the person ahead of you, but also consider the person who is following behind you. For example, if I’m not paying attention to when we are exiting the highway and fail to anticipate the lead van changing lanes until the last minute, I might not leave enough time for the last van to make the exit. It’s important that I recognize that I’m not only a follower, but a leader as well.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized I’ve always been drawn to this type of role, being in the middle. Maybe it’s because I’m a middle child. Many of my favorite characters are second in command- Joshua in the Bible or Jax Teller in Sons of Anarchy (I’m only in the 3rd season so no spoilers). I love the idea of reporting to someone who is wiser and more experienced than me, but also being given enough authority to influence decisions, or to be the one to put a plan into action.  Doing the ground work within an organization, executing the strategy is when I feel most connected to the group as a whole.

Being an assistant coach allows me to be involved in planning and organization on the top end, while many times it’s also my job to implement the plan that was decided upon. It feels good to be highly involved on both ends of the process. I feel like I have the ability to be an advocate for the athletes, someone to be trusted to look out for what’s in their best interest, while still supporting the overall goals of our team as decided upon by the coaching staff. In a way, my role is to bridge the gap between the the two groups.

How can this apply to a bigger picture? One thing I’ve observed is that many of us have too narrow of a definition of what it means to be a leader. The leader is not only the person who is “in charge.” Anyone can be a leader. Sometimes being a leader means you take your roles in life seriously and put effort into what you do. People will notice and many times the effort becomes contagious. The same goes for lack of effort, this can become contagious too.

So, what kind of influence do you want to have on the people in your life? In what ways can you be a bridge that facilitates a successful environment? Think about it!

Thanks for reading.

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Do Work Son!

Before I sit down to write about something, it bounces around in my head for awhile, sometimes a month or more. It starts off as an idea or concept that I dwell on and try to connect with my life to see if it has enough weight to actually turn into something more. I may write a few key words or phrases down to hold my thoughts in place until I have time to come back to them. I probably have about ten posts started in my drafts, some that I’ll finish later, others that will forever be left incomplete.

This is my process and I wish it didn’t take so long, but it does. Part of me wants to be more dedicated to writing. However, I don’t want to write just to write. I want my writing to be driven by ideas, by the things I have to say, not an obligation to post more often just to say I do.

In saying that, I do admit, I need to write more consistently. It is something I should make time for. Not everything I write will end up on my site, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t value in the process. I think this is true of most things in life. It’s the work that you put into it that is important. The end result doesn’t matter as much as you might think.

This started as an intro to one of those aforementioned ideas that has been floating around my brain, but it seems to have turned into it’s own thing. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I want to start working on my writing. I want it to be more than just a hobby or something I only do when I have extra time. I need to make writing a priority if I want it to progress into something more than just random thoughts and observations scribbled onto my iPhone screen (that’ what I’m writing this on, by the way).

So, this is me telling you that I’m ready to get down to work. Real progress comes when you take the time to work the process, just thinking about it or talking about it is not enough.

To make this not all about me, I’ll leave you with something to think about.

What is it that you need to start working on? What area of your life has become stagnant or has been put on hold and you would like to see progress into something bigger? It’s all about the process, but there must be a starting point or perhaps a restarting point. Think about it.

Now let’s get to work!

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