Look for Inspiration, Not Comparison

running-man-inspirational-sunlight-photography-water-nature-1920x1200-wallpaper106204It’s 5:15 in the morning and I am my CrossFit gym for the first class of the day. As part of the workout we are all trying to establish a 1-rep max clean and jerk. Inevitably, as everyone is starting to throw weights on their bars, I am scanning the room to see how much. I’m ignoring their age, height, weight and countless other characteristics that distinguish them from me and making a superficial comparison. I take a deep breathe and remember to focus on myself and my own bar.

In the gym, especially in a group class setting like CrossFit, it is hard not to compare yourself to others, whether it be how much weight someone lifts, how many pull-ups they do in a row, or how many abs they have on display. Yet our tendency to make comparisons don’t cease when we leave the gym. We find ourselves examining every aspect of our lives, especially thanks to the more transparent world we live in via the internet and social media. Whether on purpose or not, we find ourselves comparing our lives to others via what they post on Facebook and Instagram. Vacations, parties, even lunches, are all ripe for envy when they are so accessible and in our face.

Over the last few months as I have focused heavily on my diet and nutrition, tracking macros and body metrics, I have learned that the best comparison is me to myself. It is not a revolutionary philosophy nor do I feel I am suddenly enlightened, but I have started to acknowledge that the comparisons to others are futile and undermine my own progress.

“A flower does not think of competing to the flower next to it, it just blooms.” – Zen Shiu

Recently I recommitted to doing a daily online Yin stretching program called ROMWOD. Each day there is a 20-minute video of 1-2 athletes doing the routine for you to follow along to. Some of the athletes are extremely flexible and have a wide range of motion. For example, in a seated forward fold their nose is touching their knees. Mine is far from it. However, I appreciate that the instructor emphasizes to not compare yourself to the people in the videos. They are where they are supposed to be for their bodies and you are where you are for yours. This mindset is echoed in yoga.

If I constantly compare is will lead to a world of disappointment. “The grass is always greener on somebody else’s front lawn. Somebody else’s weiner always has a lot more relish on.” The fact is there will always be people smarter, faster, stronger, younger, skinnier who make more money, more friends and have more Instagram likes. Dwelling on those adjectives and those “more than” and “less than” me thoughts will create a negative mindset. It undermines my own progress and success. I need to focus on the before versus after, rather than the him versus me.

“Comparison is the death of joy.” – Mark Twain

In that vain, I am not going to stop looking around the room, but rather than looking for comparisons I’ll be looking for inspiration. Who can I learn from? Who can motivate me to do better? Who has aced their meal prep or improved their mobility?

With that in mind, here are some people of late who inspire me:

On my 34th Birthday

Here I am on the day of my 34th birthday, sitting quietly in my kitchen post 5:15am workout, eating some bacon and eggs and reflecting upon the year that passed and the year ahead. The last 365 days have flown by, as time always seems to do, but yet were the most challenging to date both in my personal life and professional career.

The responsibilities at work have grown immensely and the expectations are higher than ever. Everyday I am tasked with being bold, aggressive and creative; and, at the same time, organized, diligent and transparent. My modus operandus is no longer able to be blanketed in a spirit of newness and learning. Mistakes happen but they are tolerated less and less and are more costly as I lead projects. While there is so much to improve on, I need to operate everyday with the confidence in my abilities.

The past year in regards to the gym was one of transition as I started at CrossFit Kingfield and introduced a whole new group of coaches into my pursuit of health and wellness. I went from pushing myself to compete to pushing myself to embrace the routine and seek transformation through my daily habits. This continues to get refined, especially as I am now working with a dietitian and rigorous about going to class Monday through Friday mornings and pushing myself to fully embrace an active lifestyle even on my rest days. I have to be patient and trust in the methodology and know that the desired physical changes will come.

Outside of work and the gym, I am hyper aware of my relationships, both social and romantic. With all this focus on myself, I have to push to keep looking outward and not to be shy or embarrassed about my personal pursuits. The friends that I want to surround myself with support my growth. And so too will the right partner. There is no point in hiding my passion for personal betterment, rather I need to find those who engage in a similar journey and who are willing to grow together.

All this boils down to the fact that on the start of my 34th year, I believe in myself. As Stuart Smalley would say, I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggonit, people like me!” Last year on my birthday I challenged myself to think bigger. This year, I want to act on those thoughts. I have the support and resources I need thanks to my work team, family, friends and coaches.

I am reminded of a scene towards the end of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Finch, the main character, has moved quickly up the corporate ladder from his lowly start as a window cleaner. He is now preparing to present his big idea to the boss, but all the other corporate underlings are plotting against him. Finch gives himself a pep talk that reflects his success throughout the movie – a strong belief in himself. Contrary to what you may assume, I don’t start my days staring into the mirror playing the Rocky theme and spitting out cliches to psyche myself for the day ahead. But more than ever, I tell myself, “I believe in you.”

Now there you are;
Yes, there’s that face,
That face that somehow I trust.
It may embarrass you to hear me say it,
But say it I must, say it I must:
You have the cool, clear
Eyes of a seeker of wisdom and truth;
Yet there’s that upturned chin
And that grin of impetuous youth.
Oh, I believe in you.
I believe in you.

I hear the sound of good, solid judgment
Whenever you talk;
Yet there’s the bold, brave spring of the tiger
That quickens your walk.
Oh, I believe in you.
I believe in you.

And when my faith in my fellow man
All but falls apart,
I’ve but to feel your hand grasping mine
And I take heart; I take heart

To see the cool, clear
Eyes of a seeker of wisdom and truth;
Yet, with the slam-bang tang
Reminiscent of gin and vermouth.
Oh, I believe in you.
I believe in you.

False Confidence

“Did I do something stupid that no one else did?”

“Yes, and you’ve asked that eight times now.”

“What? I did.”

In a flash, I was suddenly aware of my surroundings and realized I was laying on a gurney in the emergency room talking to my sister. But why?

My sister sighed with relief as she realized that I was no longer repeating myself. She explained that I had been in an accident while sledding. I had hit my head, went unconscious, and then had been looping for the past four hours, asking the same few questions over and over.

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Reenactment of me landing in the snow.

The accident was back on December 30, 2012. Years later, the majority of what I know about it has been told to me by friends that were there as I have little to no memory of that day. In short, we were cold and tired and ready to call it a day but I pointed to a mound of snow some kids had built and informed the group that one of us had to sled down the hill and go over this makeshift ramp before we left. Despite multiple warnings from my friends, I decided it should be me. I’m not sure where this bravado came from. Perhaps I was trying to show off? Nevertheless, I took the bright blue snowtube and swooshed down the hill. I hit the mound and was flung 10 feet past and landed on a snow-covered running path. I bruised my ribs and my head hit the ground, rendering me unconscious. An expensive ambulance ride, multiple X-rays and hours later I found myself with my sister clueless about what had happened.

The concussion and week spent on bed rest hopped on Vicodin was not worth it. Nor did I garner any enjoyment from the large hospital bill. There was no glory in this moment of false confidence. Why did I think I was qualified to make this jump? That morning was the first time I had been sledding since I was a kid. I was ill-prepared. I lacked a proper helmet or sled. The snowtube was borrowed and the gusto was founded upon nothing.

A trip last week with my Dad to Las Vegas made me think about this display of false confidence. While he and I sat at a card table playing poker, methodically learning the flow of the game, I was struck by others who walked up threw a large bet on the table and quickly lost it all with one bad hand. Now Vegas is a place to take some fun risk and so might not be the right analogy. However, it reminded me that in my life the moments of false confidence have led to nothing but trouble.

The other major instance of this was when I was 22 years old, right out of college and playing in a softball tournament for work. We played a full game in Central Park in the late afternoon and then headed to a nearby bar on the Upper West Side for a happy hour. I decided to challenge a friendly but older team member to go shot for shot. I was not a big drinker, especially compared to him – a regular bar fly with at least 50 pounds on me – but for some reason I puffed up my chest and decided I was going to try and prove something that day. Perhaps the impetus was my performance in the softball game? I had spent the majority of the time on the bench, probably due to my lack of athletic prowess. Perhaps I wanted to prove that the young new kid could hold his own? Whatever the reason, you can easily have guessed that it led to me getting drunk and blacking out. I embarrassed myself in front of my colleagues and endangered my own health. My boss was not impressed and set me straight the next morning at work. I didn’t touch an ounce of alcohol for the next few months. To this day, I never drink liquor at work events and keep to 2-beer maximum.

Reenactment of me passing out at the bar.
Reenactment of me passing out at the bar.

One more anecdote, courtesy of Aesop, to help drive the point: “A Donkey and a Rooster were together when a Lion, desperate from hunger, approached. He was about to spring upon the Donkey, when the Rooster (to the sound of whose voice the Lion, it is said, has a singular aversion) crowed loudly, and the Lion fled away. The Donkey, observing his trepidation at the mere crowing of a Rooster summoned courage to attack him, and galloped after him for that purpose. He had run no long distance when the Lion, turning about, seized him and tore him to pieces.” Moral of the story – false confidence often leads into danger.

As I reflect upon my effort over the last few years to develop my self-confidence, I realize it is built upon my training and hard work. I didn’t enter Freeze Fest or Granite Games on a whim with no preparation. My confidence entering those arenas was based on the fact that I had spent weeks, even months, lifting, practicing skills and movements, and working on my sleep and nutrition. I feel confident going into a workout or a competition because I know I have put in the time and effort to justify my enthusiasm and bravado.

Similarly at my job, I speak with confidence to my clients when I have done my research and come well prepared with all the facts and analysis. I feel my best on a property tour with a prospective tenant or buyer when I have anticipated all their questions and have the answers at the ready. As much as I’d like to think my charming personality could help me even sell the Brooklyn Bridge, I know that false confidence would be built upon a very shaky foundation and eventually will crack.

False confidence only masks our insecurities. It is good to be brave and take risks. It is even better to walk through life brimming with confidence.  However, that strong mindset and the actions that follow  need to be grounded in reality.

 

Year of Transition

“The only time you should ever look back is to see how far you’ve come.”

As 2015 comes to an end, I can summarize the year in one word – transition. While 2014 was a year of building towards change, 2015 was about handling all of that change.

It was my first full year as a homeowner – handling a mortgage, shoveling the walkways, mowing the lawn and becoming President of the HOA.

It was also my first full year as a commercial real estate broker – the security blanket of a salary was gone and now I was working on commission and making cold calls, giving property tours, selling properties and leasing office space. It was a sharp learning curve with many bumps along the way as I learned my new role. It was also a transition from a predictable 9 to 5 job into one where I worked a minimum of 60+ hours per week, never knowing if I would have to attend a school board meeting, speak in front of a City Council or meet the Archbishop. I was extremely busy and it was very challenging, but also rewarding as I received a promotion and have found myself part of a successful, winning team.

It was also a year in which I started off having just left my CrossFit gym. I became a gym nomad for the first six months trying out classes at Alchemy, [solidcore] and Pelicano Endurance Coaching. I also returned to UpperCut Boxing Gym and paddleboarding with Flow Fitness. But it wasn’t until I met Danny, the head coach and owner of CrossFit Kingfield, that I finally found a new home. Over the last six months, Danny, Amanda, Chris, Tony and Caitlin have greatly improved my form and technique, identified mobility issues and helped me set clear goals for 2016.  I have grown to fully embrace their motto, “No crowns. Just courage.”

In looking back, I realize that the highlights of the year are many:

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  • Attending the Strong Man Seminar at CrossFit Uffda with Jake and Nate.

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  • Traveling to Nicaragua with Paleo Nick and an amazing group of 25 strangers where I learned how to surf, learned how to play Bananagrams and Cribbage, and rediscovered my love for CrossFit.

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  • Completing “Murph” on Memorial Day side-by-side with my buddies Josh and Ryan at Solcana CrossFit.

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  • Competing in the Granite Games with Nick and Chris, where I proved to myself that I have the capacity to go beyond my perceived limits when I have the focus and the drive.

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  • Tying for first in the Twin City Throwdown on Halloween with my teammate Tom.
  • Completing the 21-day sugar detox, which helped me sleep better, eat better, think better and feel best both mentally and physically than I have ever felt in years.
I’m ready for the new year. I don’t anticipate there to be more changes; rather, I believe it will be a time to focus on constantly improving at my job and at work. I’m going to minimize distractions for the year and I’m going to find ways to better handle the “new normal”.

Just Listen

Last Monday, I gathered in a circle with my fellow athletes for the 7pm class at CrossFit Kingfield. The 6pm class was still finishing the WOD and so Coach Caitlin welcomed us amid a cacophony of clanging barbells, thumping beats and strained grunts. She was asking us how our day was and truthfully mine had not been great. I was standing next to her but was distracted by all the surrounding activity.

I asked, “Can you speak a little louder?”

She quickly replied, “I can speak as loud as I need to, but I also need you to be a better listener.”

Well, good day to you too!

I was a bit taken aback by her blunt response and it sat with me for throughout the warm-up. It had rubbed me the wrong way but I ultimately grinned and moved on and had put it out of my head by the time we got to the main workout.

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The next morning, after my boss and I had just finished a property tour with an important, he stopped me in the parking lot  to talk. Recently at work some mistakes that I had made over the last few weeks bubbled up to the surface. He wanted to take a step back and discuss what was going on.

He said, “I really appreciate your passion and your excitement for the job, but I need you to start listening more. I feel like when I am telling you things you are thinking ahead to your response or the next action. You have a superior intellect to most and I can see that you are just in your head about stuff, going quick, but you still need to learn.  So I need you to just listen and take a breathe and make sure that when I am telling you something that it is sinking in.”

I am not going to lie, it was difficult to be standing there in the middle of a parking lot getting this feedback. I don’t like being told that I’m not doing a good job and that I need to improve. I have an ego about these things and am a perfectionist. I get immediately defensive when I hear negative comments. However, in this case I just took it all in. When someone is telling you to be a better listener, the appropriate reaction is to make it clear that you are listening. Especially when it is your boss.

That evening I went to my first yoga class in probably two months. I had been running around with work and the Granite Games and social events and I wanted to be back on a mat in a calm setting for an hour or so. I decided to try out Yess Yoga as it is right around the corner from my house. My friends Jake and Chelsea met me there and it seemed so did everyone else from the studio. The room was packed. I wasn’t sure what to expect and was a bit out of habit. And now, not only did I not know the instructor, but I didn’t have a clear sightline. Suddenly the yoga class was going to be exactly what I needed – a lesson in listening.

In the countless yoga sessions I have done with my friend Wendy as an instructor she has always spoken about how in yoga we have to listen to our bodies. We must be mindful of our breathe and we must be must mindful of our body and make sure we respond in kind. If our hips or our shoulders or even our head is saying that where we are is where we are supposed to be or that we need to take a break and go into child’s pose, then we are advised to listen and act accordingly. We must listen to the internal dialogue.

But I realized that evening that yoga also tasks everyone with being a strong listener to the external. The instructor goes through the flow and as he or she tells you to transition from downward dog to a forward lunge to a small twist we often can’t see them or necessarily any of the other students. We have to listen carefully for where to move our feet and our arms. You quickly ruin the flow if you think ahead and assume what’s next.

So for the hour I worked on waiting for each instruction and listening to the clear direction of the yoga instructor but it was hard. I had so much in my head that I was trying to work through.

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Life is weird. I’m not sure why Coach Caitlin decided to make such a strong statement about my listening skills or why her comment was so loudly echoing the feedback that I was getting at work. I’m not sure why I then found myself at yoga connecting all the dots. But the message was clear and it was honest and it was true. I need to be a better listener.

Any of my coaches who have taken the time to work closely with me have identified that I think too much. I am in my head going through ever bit and piece of information they have given me, ripping it apart and putting it back together and trying to place it in some larger context. Instead, I should just quiet myself and take in the valuable advice that is being given.

As my other senior teammate at work said to me this week, “I am giving you advice for a reason and I assume that if I am taking the time to help you and point out these things that you are listening and following through on them. If not, then why I am bothering. It doesn’t bode well for our relationship and our success.”

I’m not purposefully ignoring what she or my boss are saying to me with any ill intent. They advise me and for some reason, some flutter of activity, some misguided reasoning, I make a decision that steers me in the other direction. I think about what they say and then think about twenty other reasons why to act differently. It leads to mistakes and they are biting me in the ass. And I don’t progress like I want to.  I want to be great at my job and for my clients and peers to see great execution, not hiccups and flaws.

I have had the same downfall in the gym. My coaches give me clear advice about my lifts or workout schedule or nutrition. I take it all in but am not truly listening because then I go and read a whole bunch of articles that contradict and I make assumptions and ultimately don’t see the progress that I want.  I sputter in the same gear rather than progressing in my lifts and achieving the results that I keep aspiring to  have.

My boss said it best yesterday morning as a follow-up to our conversation about listening. He told me on an early morning phone call, “You need to be humble. You need to be a soldier before you become a general. You’ll get there but for now listen and execute and learn.”