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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I sometimes have a problem with authority. Growing up, I never liked being told what to do. I still kind of don’t for that matter. I’ve been lucky enough to have a job where I get a lot of say in what I do each day. But it hasn’t always been that way. I’ve worked jobs (part-time) where I had to do things a certain way, even if I thought there was a better way to do it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never been the insubordinate type. I’m not the rebel who wants to do things his own way just to be different. I just need to believe that what I’m doing makes sense before I can fully be comfortable.

I’ve been thinking back on some of the situations where I didn’t buy into the system, or where I had trouble trusting that the person in charge knew best, and I’m trying to figure out what was really going on. Why did I not respect their authority? Was it a maturity issue? Was it their leadership style? As with anything, it’s probably a combination of a lot of reasons.

These thoughts on authority have been on my mind ever since I traveled to Orlando a few weeks ago, to a meet at ESPN World Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney with our cross country team. Part of my job is to organize team travel, so flying a group of 20 athletes to Florida for a long weekend takes a lot of planning on my part. To add to this, our head coach wasn’t flying in until the night after we arrived because he was being recognized for an award on our campus back in Canton. That meant I was the sole coach in charge until he arrived. This was a first for me.

Upon arriving to the course and checking the team in with the meet organizers, I was directed to speak to the guy with the headset about me being interviewed for the online broadcast… Wait, what?

“They want to interview me? But I’m just the assistant coach, the guy who ordered the plane tickets and booked the hotel rooms. Coach Hazen is the one you want to interview, after all, he has been coaching at Malone for 48 years.”

These are some of the thoughts that went through my head.

I tried to explain it to them, but considering Coach Hazen wouldn’t get there until late that night, they insisted on interviewing me instead. I couldn’t say no, so I followed the man with the headset to their on site production studio, with monitors covering the walls, and control stations with fancy knobs and buttons… like you see on TV. This was a legit production studio, and I was about to do an ESPN production quality interview.

Okay, let’s be honest. This wasn’t going to be aired on SportsCenter or anything. In fact, they only used about 30 seconds from my five-plus minute interview during the actual webcast of the race on ESPN3. Even so, I was nervous about the whole thing. I’m not used to being on camera, which was part of it; but I don’t think that was the full reason my hands felt a little shaky and my voice weaker than usual.

I knew all the correct answers to their questions, I knew what I should say about the team and about the meet and how the season has been going. What made it difficult was I had not yet accepted that I had the authority to talk about these things. Even though what I was saying was true, hearing it come from me felt like I was saying things that I wasn’t in charge of saying. But I did my best to pretend, although faking it is not in my natural skill set.

As with many of the things that I spend time overthinking, in the end, they are probably not as significant as I make them out to be. Most people wouldn’t spend as much time as I do dissecting what was going on during that interview. The head coach wasn’t there, so I answered some questions about the team, no big deal.  But that’s not how my mind works. I needed to think more deeply about this.

To get to a point, I believe that many people’s problem with authority is rooted in how it is distributed to those in charge. Many times authority is given without being earned, or even taken by someone who isn’t ready to lead. When authority is given to someone who isn’t ready for it, sometimes the responsibility that comes along with it is taken for granted. When it isn’t clear why the person in charge is in charge, or how they came to be in that position, it’s hard for some to respect their authority.

As I grow as a coach and as a person, I am learning better where my place is in regards to authority. There are times when I need to embrace my role as a leader, take charge, and own the power I have been given. At other times, it is better to step back and follow those who have been given authority in other areas of life. As with most things in life, this will take time to master. But it starts with awareness of what is going on in my head. And I guess that’s why I wrote this.

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Hard work is hard.

I’ve always been of the opinion that it takes something special to be really good at what you do. I’m talking expert level, like to be at the top of your field. While talent is important and I acknowledge that some things come easy to the naturally gifted, this isn’t what usually separates the greats from all the rest. To me, it is the ability to habitually work hard at your craft that takes you to that next level. Of course, this idea is nothing new. I’m sure you’ve heard the famous quote by Aristotle “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

The point is, hard work is a choice. It is something you can control. That’s the good news. However, if you’re anything like me, making choices wears you out. It is easy for me to work hard when I am motivated or in a good mood. It’s on those bad days that deciding to put in the work becomes more difficult. I’ve adopted a new life motto to help with this problem. I call it “easy mode.” Allow me to explain.

Easy mode deals with the way you approach those decisions about how hard you work. When I’m in easy mode, it’s easy to make the hard decisions because the choice has already been made. What I mean is if you decide ahead of time that you are always going to choose the hard work option over being lazy, you have taken the decision making part out of the equation (well, you only had to make one decision as opposed to deciding every time). When you expect and plan to work extra hard, working hard becomes the norm, and therefore, easy.

I’ve been trying my best to apply this to my job, and I still have a way to go, but so far it’s worked out well. For example, when someone asks me to help with something, I just help them. There’s no thinking about it, or hesitating, or trying to make an excuse about why it’s not my responsibility. This has actually made my job easier despite the fact that I am doing more work. Things get done more efficiently, and I have peace of mind. When in easy mode, you are happy to work hard because you are going with the flow and you become super productive.

It should be noted that being in easy mode doesn’t mean the actual work becomes easy. The work is still hard, that’s why it’s called hard work. And this is how you will get better at whatever it is you do. I hope you’ve noticed, I am being vague on purpose. This is because easy mode can be applied to a multitude of situations, such as your job, relationships, athletics, or even cleaning your house. When you’ve decided to always try and do what’s best, you automatically become better.

I’m not going to lie, living in easy mode isn’t always easy. I still decide to be lazy at times, probably more often than I’m willing to admit. But hey, at least I’m trying. Now it’s your turn.

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Stolen Goods

Over the past month, we’ve had a few things stolen from the office at work, including a few laptops, an Ipad, and my cell phone/wallet. Other than being super annoying and inconvenient (especially not having a phone), this made me think just how selfish a person has to be to steal from someone else. Do these people who stole my stuff realize the kind of impact they are having on the people they steal from? I have a lot of important things on my computer and in my cell phone, things I use for work, or to contact my family and friends. It is a big deal when you no longer have your phone, not to mention your debit card and driver’s license. And this has happened on more than one occasion.

I mean, what kind of a person would be so cruel to do such a thing? That was my first thought. Then I remembered something I once read in a book called the Kite Runner. It’s a fairly popular book, so maybe you read it too.

In an early part of the book a father is talking to his son about sin. The Father, who is called Baba says: 

“..there is only one sin, only one. And that is theft. Every other sin is a variation of theft. Do you understand that?”

He goes on to say:

“When you kill a man, you steal a life,” Baba said. “You steal his wife’s right to a husband, rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone’s right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness. Do you see?” […]

This made me think about all the things I’ve stolen from people over the years. Of course, I’ve never stolen material things like a computer or an xbox, or even someone’s wallet, but I’m sure I’ve stolen plenty of people’s right to happiness by being unkind or making an inappropriate joke or comment. Maybe I’ve lied to someone about something, or kept something from someone that I shouldn’t have. These are things to think about when comparing yourself to those “criminals” who steal cell phones and computers.

I’m not saying that lying to someone is a bad as robbing a bank (especially in the eyes of the law), but what I’m saying is we all do things that are selfish and unkind. I don’t want to go around condemning the kids who broke into our office, labeling them as “bad kids”, or as hardened criminals. They are just making some poor choices and I’m sure eventually it will catch up with them.

So again, I ask myself, “What is it that I am stealing and when will it catch up with me?” I hope I can figure it out before it does.

That’s all. Carry on!

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Taking the Scenic Route

A few weeks ago I tweeted about how I often take the scenic route when I’m driving places wondering how much gas I’ve wasted in my lifetime by doing so.

The thing about the scenic route is it isn’t the way that makes the most sense, nor is it very time efficient, but for me, it’s the most enjoyable. Of course, when you take the scenic route there is always the risk of getting lost, or ending up somewhere that you didn’t plan on going, or even breaking down in the middle of nowhere without cell phone service.

This got me thinking about my life in general and how I feel I’ve kind of taken the scenic route to get to where I am today. I’ve always tried to do things differently than the norm, and I certainly have my own way of making decisions when it comes to my career, or relationships, but I honestly wouldn’t want it any other way.

I will admit, the scenic route can be a tough way to go. You encounter potholes, detours, and roadblocks that you have to figure out how to get around. Sometimes you feel like you’re wasting your time or wandering around without a purpose. But those kinds of thoughts come and go and deep down you know that this is the route you have to take to get to where you want to be.

Don’t get me wrong, the scenic route isn’t the easy way, and it doesn’t mean you are being lazy, but it definitely has it’s own pace. A lot of people might wonder why you would choose it over a more direct way, and it’s okay if they don’t understand. I’m not saying it’s better than other ways you can take, I’m just saying this is the way I’ve chosen.

To be clear, taking the scenic route doesn’t mean you are avoiding having to be somewhere, or that you don’t have places to go. It’s just a different way of getting there. Also, it doesn’t mean you are wandering through life aimlessly. It is still grounded in direction and purpose. It just isn’t afraid to take a wrong turn or two along the way.

I know what you’re thinking, why wouldn’t you want to avoid taking a wrong turn? And yeah, I get it, getting lost can be a scary thing or it could keep you from getting to your destination “on time”. But that doesn’t scare me as much as always playing it safe, never venturing off the expressway, counting down the miles until you reach your destination only to get there and not remember how it happened. I know it sounds cliché, but to me it’s more about the journey than the destination.

So, what does this all mean? Why does it matter? Maybe it doesn’t. These are just my thoughts. Take it for what it’s worth. But next time you have the choice between taking the conventional route, or venturing off the beaten path to perhaps experience something new, I hope you at least consider both options. You never know what you could see along the way.


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