Thursday, September 27, 2012

Death As Part of Life

There’s no getting around it. You live. Eventually, you die. Dwelling on the reality of your own eventual death is not something I recommend, but putting that reality into perspective is essential to living your life more fully. Many people understandably seek to avoid thinking about their own mortality. The prospect of death upsets people. I get that. But I am of the mind that acknowledging and confronting your own mortality, and death in general, is healthy.

Our time here is finite. If you can conquer your fear of death, the time you have, no matter how long or short, becomes that much more meaningful and precious. Achieving happiness today becomes easier. What’s truly important takes on greater clarity. Too often, I think, we don’t realize these truths until death robs us of the opportunity altogether or we are in our waning years. I won’t pretend to tell you how to put death in perspective. I understand it’s different for each of us. For me, Faith (one of my cornerstones) is a critical tool, but not the only one. Death is scary. Death can be cruel. Death is a part of life.

I think death is harder to deal with when it’s not your own. The impact from a loved one’s death can be traumatic and devastating. I know the sorrow of losing both my parents. I know the sorrow of losing friends. Every death leaves its own unique hole in your life. These holes can’t be filled in. They’re permanent. But I have found that if you look deep enough into the sadness, you can find joy too. It’s a paradox I can’t explain but if you’ve known death in your life, you may know what I’m talking about. The death of others around us may be the hardest part of life, and the underlying cause of the desire to avoid thinking about our own mortality. Personally, I forced myself early to deal with death head-on to ensure the grief didn’t consume me. It was among the best actions I’ve ever taken.

The late Steve Jobs, before he got sick, had this to say about death,

"Death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life’s change agent. The benefit of death is you know not to waste life living someone else’s choices."

That’s insightful, I think. It’s an attitude worth assimilating into our lives, if possible. Live life. Live it fully.

 I apologize if this post seems unfocused or rambling but I’m prompted to explore this topic today as much to remind myself of the fragility of life, and to motivate myself and you to appreciate every moment of it completely, as to search for that joy hidden somewhere in the sadness. Tragically, the unique and painful hole of losing a child was imposed on the life of a friend of mine yesterday. As a consequence, my paradigm of coping with death is being tested fiercely.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

There Is Always Hope

Hope. I’m a big believer in hope. Sometimes it’s the only thing that gets you through to the next day. When you’re at the end of the rope and there appears to be no help, no answers, and no way forward…there is always hope…and sometimes only hope.

Hope won’t solve any of your problems or provide immediate relief from what ails you, but it can be the bridge to keep you off the bridge. Hope will occasionally fail you. Be prepared for that. Hope will come up empty sometimes and when that happens, you’ll start to question everything. Ironic, but it’s also hope that will get you through those times.

Often times, it’s you who can provide some hope to others. Today is one of those opportunities. 

Each year for the past several years, my family and I participate as a team in the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk in Albany, NY. It’s an important event, but not solely in terms of fundraising. It’s an event that also provides hope. Hope for a cure. Hope for survival. Hope for strength. Hope for necessary care, both for prevention or treatment. And on and on. When it comes to cancer, sometimes hope is all you have. I’ve relied on it more than once. I’m saddened to say it has failed me on occasion. I go on hoping anyway.

Today, I’m humbly asking you to consider making a donation in order to provide hope to those that might be experiencing difficulty mustering some at the moment. You can do so easily by clicking the secure link at the end of this post. I hope you’ll support me if you can.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Grinder, Part II : Phoenix Rising

"It's not about you."  That's the opening line from Rick Warren's best-selling book, The Purpose Driven Life.  I stumbled across that book after my Grinder experience.  I think that opening line is a great life guide for managing an ego.

At any rate, my "adjustment" didn't happen immediately or all at once.  I daresay, some would say it hasn't happened at all.  It's certainly far from complete.  And it's those times that are the most gut-wrenching and most instructional.  When my "old self" makes an appearance, it's ugly.  I don't like it.  The dilemma for me, I think, has been separating the wheat from the chaff.  Many of the traits that have helped me succeed in life are the same ones that have held me back.  For me, it's been a matter of appropriate application of some of these traits.  I'm still learning.  But I also know I'm making progress so I keep going, trying to learn and grow from each experience.

So what's the secret?  There isn't one.  If there was, it would've been dispensed by someone long ago.  There's life.  Sometimes it's hard, real hard.  Like everyone else, I'd like to find my true purpose, feel more fulfilled, feel more inspired, feel more content, impact others more positively.  My strategy involved prefacing each of those objectives with the phrase, "what choices can I make today to..."

Life is about decision-making and making choices.  You won't always choose "correctly."  That's okay.  Unfortunately, too many of us think if we choose poorly, that's it, we're stuck.  Not so.  It's just time to choose again.  If you're seeking an objective, you've got to be willing to keep being a decison-maker.  Keep making choices until you accomplish your objective.  You can't afford to sit back and just let life happen.  You've got to actively participate.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Grinder, Part I : Fall from Grace

Have you ever been through the grinder?  I have.  It's not fun.

I'm talking about that humiliating kick in the crotch.  You're young, you're invincible, you've got the world by the b*lls.  And then it happens.  The Humbling.  Life as you know it derails and your ego gets crushed.  Grinder time.  It's time for complete reevaluation, like it or not.

When it happened to me, my life (and mainly my behaviors) got redefined.  That was good for the rest of the world, bad for me in the moment.  I had an extremely difficult time accepting my new set of circumstances.  After all, I was king.  But it became abundantly clear that I wasn't.  I was just a self-deluded cog.  Ouch.  It was a defining moment in my life.  Ego is a terrific tool for success but it's simultaneously as dangerous if you don't have it in proper perspective.  I didn't.

My point is, there's reality, and then there's our perception of that reality.  Grinder Time is the mechanism that reconciles the inconsistencies between the two.  Of course, the degree of that variance will vary from person to person and so will the corresponding "adjustment."  But don't kid yourself, it comes to us all eventually.  It almost always involves your ego.

(to be continued tomorrow...)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Old Man and the Sea

Know your limitations.  That's the simple lesson learned from reading Hemingway's classic tale.  It's a valuable lesson.

What's the best way to determine exactly what those limitations are?  Most of the time, it's determined by pushing beyond your comfort zone.  That as we all know is a challenging undertaking, not always a pleasant one, but one with potential for unexpected rewards.  Of course, consequences are equally likely.

I rely on the 7 words from my previous blog entry to keep me motivated toward goals which sometimes seem unachievable.  Funny thing about limitations is that they usually change over time.  You never know when unless you're willing to test the boundaries every now and then.

Previously posted December 7, 2007 on The Rotterdam Windmill

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Some time ago in another forum, I discussed 7 words that serve to guide my actions.  I like to refer to them as cornerstones.  They are simple words with straight-forward meaning.  Easily understood by many but applied to daily life with difficulty by most.  Though each impressively is able to stand alone, it is the relationship to each other and their eventual combination that truly unlocks the powerful influence on a life.


Reprinted from
Live Richly:  Collected Philosophies of an Ordinary Man
© 2006 M. O'Connor.  All rights reserved.  Used by permission.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Reality Check

I originally had another post in mind today but decided on a reality check instead.  For the past week or so, I've dispensed a fair amount of fancy talk.  That's because I believe it.  If you don't first believe it, you're already half defeated before you start. I'm a believer. 

Fancy talk resonates with me.  Not because I am lulled by its promises.  I believe great initiatives begin with that kind of talk, in fact, they require it.  In my own experiences of trying to motivate people to be better than they believe they can be (myself included), to achieve the seemingly unachievable, to make a difference, to simply not accept what every other fiber of their being is telling them cannot be done, the essence of success can only be embodied in that kind of fancy talk. Achieving begins by doing, and doing begins by believing. Knowing the obstacles and eliminating the doubts is not the same as pretending they don’t exist. I believe solutions and improvements always exist, even when they might not necessarily be apparent. Because something is behind a wall, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Finding the way over, under, around or through the wall is the challenge. It can always be done with the right belief, determination, and perseverance.

But make no mistake, I understand life is hard. Harder for some than for others.  Sometimes it's so f-ing hard it shatters the lives of the strongest among us.  "It's a long climb up but a quick fall down," was a line I heard just last night in the movie Being Flynn.

I was never an addict.  I wasn't abused.  I'm not homeless.  But I've had my own set of struggles and hardships to endure.  I have my own set of personal demons and inadequacies to battle.  I don't assume to know your set of challenges but I'm certain of some age-old qualities that are vital in combatting them.  I'll start sharing some in the posts ahead. You've heard many of them before I'm sure.  It's a matter of adopting them as personal rules.

I don't like being a victim, certainly not of myself.  I have limited patience for those that do. (Patience is perhaps my most difficult ongoing struggle.)  Is that callous, cold-hearted, even selfish? Maybe.  Probably. I suppose so.  I'm not proud of my deficiencies but I know who I am and I'm comfortable with accepting it while I try my best to improve it.  I'm flawed and weak just like everyone else.

That doesn't neccessarily mean I'll just ignore your troubles but you've got to truly want to help yourself.  Some have to hit "rock bottom."  I think that's a lot of wasted time feeling sorry for yourself or making excuses.  I guess at the bottom of the barrel you finally run out of excuses.  Call it fortitude, willpower, or whatever but I'm not going all the way to the bottom of the barrel before I get a grip and help myself.  You don't have to either.  I call it discipline - plain and simple even though we both know it's anything but simple.  Couple it with a few other things and it's a program for living life richly - the good and the bad.

I said it in my Choice in the Quest for Calm post the other day - there is no magic formula. Life is hard. But your choices can make it easier.

Saturday, September 8, 2012


My last post got me thinking about the people I’ve met that inspire me to be better than I might otherwise be. We all have our own list I suppose but I thought I’d share some of the individuals on my list. I’ll intentionally limit myself to only those people who I’ve actually met and had substantive contact with.

My wife, Ann is absolutely the most influential person on my life. I’m consistently amazed at her insight on all matters complicated and delicate. Her advice is always speedy but never hasty and rarely off the mark. Truly the most remarkable person I know, she is my greatest resource.

Before Ann came along, I was most influenced by my parents and a few special teachers. My Dad was a WWII veteran who grew up through the Depression. I was always impressed by his work ethic and commitment and ability to make sacrifices without ever making them apparent. I think I’m only now beginning to fully appreciate that and understand how to incorporate some of it into my own behavior. My Mom was the one who nurtured and encouraged me in a way my Dad never would. She was the first person who made me understand the importance of believing in myself and that giving my best effort was all that was important in the scheme of things.

The most influential teacher on my life was my 7th grade English teacher, Mrs. Kaplan. She encouraged my writing, especially creatively, and introduced me to public speaking. To this day, she remains a valuable resource.

I also had the great fortune, which often times felt like a great misfortune, of growing up alongside two individuals that went on to even greater accomplishments. Kevin Short, who is a northeast professor responsible for pioneering the compression technology that gives your cell phone those fancy rings among other things, and Walt Weiss, of Oakland A’s fame. Both provided enduring examples of excellence that I could directly relate to.

A few years ago, I had the privilege of being invited to an intimate investment seminar in Vail, Colorado. Several individuals had a profound impact on my thinking but two stand out prominently. The first is Tom Kirk, Jr. whom I’ve already mentioned previously and the second is General Hal Moore. These two men are renowned for their ordeals but it was their distilled advice which seemed so utterly simple that was of most impact. In the context of what they had endured, their demeanor and insight on life was remarkable and compelling, yet surprisingly straightforward and simple.

These people I’ve mentioned are but a few of the direct influences on my life and how I choose to approach things. It’s amazing to me the shared qualities between those famous and those ordinary. We all know individuals with these qualities; the qualities hard to define sometimes but easier to recognize. We can all be inspired to be better than we would be otherwise if only we stay alert to the wisdom that touches our lives every day.

Friday, September 7, 2012


I never understood the appeal of continual complaining or repeated bashing solely to complain or bash. It gets old fast and for the most part, is unnecessary if not redundant.

I do my fair share of complaining too but now I try to move past it to find a solution. It’s just plain unproductive otherwise. My best bet would probably be to realize that some people like to complain. And then they complain some more. And that’s all they’re ever going to do until they draw their last breath. I should learn to avoid those people.

I’m reminded of some good advice given to me by Mr. Tom Kirk, Jr. “Look in the mirror each day and ask, have I been the best father, the best husband, the best son, etc that I could be today?” That may sound like dorky advice unless you know who Tom Kirk, Jr. is and what he lived through. I’ll let you dig around on your own to find out (or you can ask me) but he’ll likely come up again in later posts. In the meantime, look in the mirror and ask the question of yourself. The answer may help you to stop complaining. I know it helped me.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Take Time to Relax

This is a recent photo I took at the Nubble Lighthouse in York, Maine.  In this busy world, it's easy to forget to take time for ourselves just to relax.  Relaxing is important too.  York, Maine has been our family's sanctuary for nearly 25 years now.  It's easy to see why in this photo. This view was uncomparable.  Obviously, whoever inscribed the bench knew it too. 


I would've enjoyed sitting on that bench forever but certainly am grateful for the time I got to relax there.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Choice in the Quest for Calm

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by life?  That everything is spinning out of control no matter how hard you work to control it?  Unfortunately for all of us, life has a way of being difficult sometimes.  When that happens, peace can seem impossibly elusive.  For those times, I'd like to share a quote from an esteemed friend, John Mroz, that has comforted and inspired me in my difficult times.
"Peace is not the absence of chaos or conflict, but rather finding yourself in the midst of that chaos and remaining calm in your heart."

I'd never thought about peace like that before.  External forces will always be there affecting our lives and emotions, but it's really our internal reactions to those forces that dictate calm and peace.

Choose your reaction. That's one of my main tenets.  For me, it was the above quote that helped me finally understand how Choice is king.  Choice, whether consciously or subconsciously, forms and determines our habits and actions, and ultimately, how we feel and react.

It is no small feat to choose your emotion.  If you're like me, it's one of the hardest things to do, let alone, do consistently.  I'm certainly still a work-in-progress.  But habits are developed over time not overnight.  Similarly, it takes time to undo behaviors.  There are many sources of advice on how to accomplish this - and I'll be laying out many of the motivating principles I used in more detail in future posts - but I think it's important to reflect properly first on the concept (and power) of Choice in our lives.

There is no magic formula for leading a happier, more fulfilling life but there are a few strategies that can help move us in the right direction.  They all rely on Choice.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Be Yourself

I am a giant fan of Chris Cornell, solo artist and lead singer of Soundgarden and Audioslave.
I find the Audioslave song “Be Yourself” from their album “Out of Exile” to be particularly inspiring. The lyrics are simultaneously straightforwardly simple and insightfully complex.

…To be yourself
is all that you can do (all that you can do)
Be yourself
is all that you can do
even when you've paid enough
been put upon or been held up
with every single memory of
the good or bad, faces of luck
don't lose any sleep tonight
I’m sure everything will end up alright
you may win or lose
to be yourself
is all that you can do
To be yourself
is all that you can do…

I take these simple words to heart every moment of every day. To fully appreciate it, I hope you'll take a moment to listen to Chris' recording.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Tell Me I Can't

I love it when someone tells me “it can’t be done.” The argument usually goes a little something like people have tried before to do it and didn’t succeed so you’re wasting your time. It doesn’t seem to matter if they desire the change or not. They just are resigned to the fact that it can’t ever change. Never. Ever.

I’ve been told exactly that several times in recent memory. The first instance was when I tried to get my neighbors involved to obtain long-overdue road reconstruction and drainage relief for the neighborhood. Every single person I encountered said it would never happen. I was wasting my time. Did I know how many times they had already tried and failed? This was a decades old problem that no one was ever going to address. Never. Ever. Thankfully, enough people were willing to go along with my foolhardy notion that this time might be different. They didn’t necessarily believe me but they were willing to stand with me. It took nearly 5 years, but we persevered through a host of obstacles and emerged with an approved project.

During that same period, I also mounted an effort that most everyone thought was sheer lunacy. I opposed Wal-Mart and their plans to build a new super center in an inappropriate location. No one believed that the behemoth that was Wal-Mart could possibly be thwarted…but we prevailed there too…despite the declarations that it simply couldn’t be done.

In 2009 I waged an independent campaign against the major parties, with limited resources and without mud-slinging. That was also a pipe dream, no matter how noble, according to the experts. First they laughed at me.  Then they tried to ignore me. Then they attacked me.  Then I surprised them by winning the Republican primary. Then they worried about the independent ballot line I created too.  The line they said was impossible to create.  In the end, I came up a tad short on Election Day but still accomplished a great many “unachievable” goals along the way.

And still, I occasionally run into the person that says, “It can’t be done.” When I ask them why they think that the reply is something like, “because – it’s just the way it is and you’ll never be able to change that.” Incredible isn’t it? They just reluctantly throw up their hands and say oh well, that’s the way it is so I guess I have to accept it. I don’t accept it.

I had the great privilege of watching my oldest daughter obtain her MBA from Union College a few years ago.  I can’t describe in words how proud of her I was that day.  She worked hard. I bring this up because the commencement speaker struck a theme of perseverance I could personally relate to. Interestingly, his remarks contained a secret I learned myself long ago and perhaps is the reason for my own successes. Failure is a key component of success. Every time you fail, you actually get one step closer to your desired goal, because you learn something. You learn what doesn’t work. It sounds cliché, but it is the absolute truth. It’s all about perseverance. You don’t have to accept the status quo simply because it is. You can change it.

So please… tell me I can’t. It’s the biggest motivating force there is. The more I hear it, the more confident I become that I’ll eventually reach the goal. I won’t ever stop persevering. Never. Ever.

Sunday, September 2, 2012


Have you ever had anything unravel on you? Not implode or explode, but unravel? It’s a slow progress that winds up gaining unexpected momentum. The results can often be devastating. By the time you realize it’s happening, it’s too late to reverse. Sometimes you realize it’s happening but choose to ignore it, dismissing the significance of the early warning signs.

The truth is that almost every single thing is vulnerable to an unraveling. That’s right…almost everything.

It takes care to avoid complacency. Most things are more fragile than thought. An unraveling begins imperceptibly. There is an advantage gained by those who perceive it early.

(Reprinted from The Rotterdam Windmill. Originally posted January 25,2009)