Tag Archives: keep going

Momentum Matters.

locked door

I hate feeling stuck.

I hate those weeks where you feel like things aren’t moving forward — your relationships, your job, your life. You feel like things aren’t going at the speed you want.

I’ve been there enough times to know how to get myself unstuck, and it might work for you, too:

By starting something.

A new series of classes at the gym. A new writing routine. A new challenge: reading a new book every month, cooking a new recipe every week, whatever.

I find that as soon as I get a little energy behind a new thing, even if it’s a small thing, everything else my life tends to open up, too. Motion turns into momentum. I start noticing new ways to attack a problem at work. I start developing new ideas for launches or ways for teams to work together.

There’s something about trying a new thing that kickstarts my brain. I know I can get stuck in my head, dwelling on a problem or project for way too long. Starting something new gets me past that and focused on what’s ahead. And often a simple act — deciding to start — is enough to get me past a big obstacle.

———

This post got me thinking about getting past the obstacles in your life — hence that photo of a locked door. The photo’s by Cristina Gottardi, and was first published on Unsplash.

The One Thing You Can Control Is The Way You Work.

start of the Olympic race

Imagine for a second that you’re a kid again, and you’re fast. You’re really fast. You’re the fastest kid on your block. The fastest guy in your neighborhood. The fastest guy in your school. When you run, everyone else spends a lot of time looking at your backside as you pull away. You don’t run as much as you glide, effortlessly, as though you were born to do this one thing. In a way, you were. For you, running is effortless. You’re the fastest guy in every meet you enter. You’re the fastest kid in the county, the state.

You keep running. You start training with coaches whose whole purpose is to help you find ways to run faster. Your speciality is sprinting, a sport where every hundredth of a second matters. You train to shave .01s off your time. Every fraction of a tick is important. Imagine how many ticks in your life have gone by that you didn’t even notice, and now they all matter. You push every day to find ways to get faster. Your times keep getting better and better. You’re now the fastest guy at your university, the fastest guy at every meet, and those meets are full of runners who were the fastest guy on their street and at their school and in their state — until they ran against you. Imagine that for a second: You were faster than all of them.

One day, you go to a national meet, and you find out that you’re the fastest guy in your entire country. You go to bigger meets, and you win those, too. It’s hard to believe, but the results say it’s true: You’re the fastest guy on the entire continent. Imagine that: the fastest guy out of a billion people! You!

And imagine that you’re so fast that you make it here: To the Olympics. It’s 2008, and you’re in a stadium of tangled steel that the Chinese call the Bird’s Nest. You’re running faster than ever. You’re fast enough to make the quarterfinals of your best race, the 200 meter dash, and then the semis, and then the finals. There are almost 100,000 people in the stands to watch you run for a medal. Imagine: You are one of the eight fastest humans in the world, and now you will run to find out if you are the fastest.

You are not.

200m-final

You are fourth fastest — still impossibly fast by any definition of the word, but no one seems to care, because the guy one lane over turns out to be the fastest man who ever lived. You are fast, but the guy in lane 5 is a tall Jamaican who runs at speeds that scientists said were unthinkable for humans to reach. He passes you less than five seconds into the turn — nearly impossible in the 200 meter! — and by the time you hit the straightaway, for once, you are looking at someone else’s backside. At the 150 meter mark, you could parallel park an SUV — not some rinky dink little thing, but a Cadillac Escalade — in the gap between him and you.

You still finish fourth in an Olympic final, the fourth fastest human in the world. You’re a quarter of a second away from a bronze, which is damn fast. You’re still the fastest guy on your continent, and an Olympian.

But the Jamaican in lane 5 finishes nearly a full second ahead of you. It’s impossible to imagine, but you try anyway: You are this fast, and yet, there is a human who is that much faster than you. The difference in that one second is the difference between you and sports immortality.

That one second is the difference between you and Usain Bolt.

———

I think about that 200 meter race a lot. I remember watching the finals live from my hotel room in Beijing, and I remember watching Usain Bolt pass the runner in lane 6 within steps. I couldn’t believe it then, and re-watching that race recently, I can’t believe it now. Bolt’s speed is unfathomable.

That runner I asked you to imagine? His name is Brian Dzingai, and he’s from Zimbabwe. He was the only African runner to make the 200 meter finals in Beijing. I like to think about the work he must have put in to make it to the Olympics. It must have taken an astonishing amount of work — physically, mentally, emotionally — to reach those starting blocks. I imagine that journey often, from the fastest kid on his street to one of the fastest men in the world. But I cannot imagine what it must have felt like to realize, after always being the fastest in every meet, to realize that there were humans who were actually faster than you.

I’ve written before about the idea of running your own race in life, and I’ll take the analogy a step further here: What I learned from watching that 200 meter race is that you truly cannot control what happens to the runners beside you. You cannot control how tall they are, or how fast they are. (Bolt was taller by a head, and faster by 0.92 seconds.) You cannot control the resources they have — money, training facilities, coaching. (Bolt surely had the better of all three.)

And you cannot control what you, yourself, are born with.

What you can control is this: The way you work. The hours you work. And the intensity with which you work.

Everyone else is going to run their race. You have to accept that you can only run yours.

When I re-watch that race, I always think about Brian Dzingai, and the work he put in to reach those starting blocks. There’s a man who imagined greatness in himself, and put in the work to be great. You can only control the work you do, and Brian Dzingai did just that. His work got him to the Olympics.

Here’s to you, Brian — and everyone else who puts in the work.

———

That photo was taken by photographer Ross Huggett at the 2012 London Games, and is used here thanks to a Creative Commons license and Flickr.

What Would Make This A Great Year?

get running

December is here, and it’s the time of year when I always ask myself one question: What’s left that my team can accomplish before Dec. 31?

I know it’s hard to think about work this time of year. The holidays are almost here, and every week brings more and more people on vacation. You’re shopping. You’re going to holiday parties. I get it, I get it. It’s hard to get big projects done at the end of the year.

But that doesn’t mean your work should stop just because the new year is approaching. The first week of December is a week when I start going through plans from mid-year — or even back at the start of the year! — to find projects that we never quite finished for one reason or another. There are always a handful of them, work half-done, just waiting for someone to finish the job.

When I look through that list of potential December projects, I’m looking for projects that might help my team finish the year strong. I ask myself: What work could we finish this month that would top off a great year of work? Sure, we didn’t do everything we wanted to. But we can always end the year on a high note.

It helps to think of December as a sprint month. It’s that last mile of the marathon, when you find a little more juice in your legs to get to the finish line. It’s an opportunity to get as many things done as possible before that Dec. 31 deadline. And the more you can finish now, the more space you’ll free up to take on bigger, more exciting projects in the new year.

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That photo was taken by Tim Gouw, and published on Unsplash.

Let’s Get To Work.

Obama at Mizzou

My wife and I sat down on Wednesday night to watch TV. We just wanted some quiet. We flipped through on-demand to find something to watch, some bad TV to take our minds off everything.

Except that during the first commercial break, this ad appeared on our TV. It was an ad the Hillary team aired across the country on the night the show originally aired — the night before the election:

The day after the election, it was a very hard ad to watch.

But we watched anyway. And then we paused our show and talked for a long time about this one thing she said (italics mine):

“First, it’s not just my name and my opponent’s name on the ballot. It’s the kind of country we want for our children and grandchildren.”

And then this one, from Hillary’s concession speech on Wednesday morning:

“We have spent a year and a half bringing together millions of people from every corner of our country to say with one voice that we believe that the American dream is big enough for everyone, for people of all races and religions, for men and women, for immigrants, for LGBT people and for people with disabilities. For everyone. So now, our responsibility as citizens is to keep doing our part to build that better, stronger, fairer America we seek, and I know you will.”

I want to remember this week, and all of the confusion and the anger and the sadness I feel. But I also want to remember Hillary’s words: We have to fight for the America we want to live in — a more just, a more equal, a more loving America. We have to work for it.

There is much more work to be done. And as we say in my family: Today is a work day.

Let’s get to it.

———

That photo at top is one that I took eight years ago on the quad at the University of Missouri. It was four days before the election, and then-Senator Barack Obama came to campus to campaign. We had more work to do then — and we have even more work to do now.

Being A Sports Fan Made Me An Optimist — Even Though My Teams Always Lose.

Maryland football

I love sports. I love my Washington Capitals and Washington Nationals. I love my Missouri Tigers. I love my Maryland Terrapins.

The only thing is: I happen to root for teams that almost never win the big one.

In my lifetime, my teams have combined for one championship: Maryland’s 2002 national title in basketball.

The rest have a history of coming up a little short. The Caps have been to the Stanley Cup finals only once — but never won a title. The Nats have never won a playoff series in their short history. Missouri basketball is one of the winningest teams to never reach a Final Four. Missouri football has made four conference championships games in the last decade, but lost all four.

For some, watching so many teams come up short might make them pessimists. I’m just the opposite. I’m optimistic because my teams still have yet to raise that big trophy.

Watching those teams has given me such wonderful reminders about the things that make great work happen. To have success, you need great, experienced leaders for your team. You need great team members. And you need to be a little lucky — being in the right place at the right time makes the difference, sometimes.

And I’ve been fascinated by the way my teams handle themselves despite pressure from fans and media. When everyone’s telling them, “No, you can’t,” it’s amazing to watch teams show resilience and unity.

Above all: The championships offer a carrot to keep chasing. There’s is always more work to do. There is always room to get better. There is always time to rewrite your own script.

I don’t know if this year is the year for my teams. But I’m optimistic — as always — that success is within our grasp.

———

That photo of the Maryland football team comes via Flickr user dbking and a Creative Commons license.

You Don’t Need Permission To Do The Best Things In Life.

photo-1475869568365-7b6051b1e030

You don’t need permission to call someone you care about just to say hi.

You don’t need permission to send a kind email to a friend.

You don’t need permission to take a long run in the park.

You don’t need permission to learn something new.

You don’t need permission to try a recipe you really want to cook, or to listen to a band you love.

You don’t need permission to share a secret with someone, or a story.

You don’t need permission to do something nice for someone else.

You don’t need permission to stay up all night to write, or to read, or to talk.

You don’t need permission to sing in the shower.

You don’t need permission to treat yourself to that thing you always wanted.

You don’t need permission to go on an adventure, and you don’t need permission to get lost.

Sometimes, you have to remind yourself: You don’t have to wait for the things that matter most to you in life. Those things are always there, waiting for you, whenever you decide to start.

— — —

That photo comes via Unsplash and photographer Saksham Gangwar.

Your Fuckup Probably Isn’t A Big Deal.

7892591408_db8bc41f58

In 2012, I wrote a blog post on this very site that asked a rather uplifting question: “How long are you willing to suck?” In it, I suggested that if you were going to get really good at anything, you were going to suck at it for a very long time first. It really does take a long time to master a skill. The people who do eventually get good at something are the ones who keep working to get better.

And today, I’d like to add on a corollary to that theory: As you work to get better at something, you’re going to make a tiny thousand fuckups. They’ll probably feel like a big deal at the time, but here’s the thing: They really aren’t.

Here’s a story:

I was 15 years old, and I was covering my first Washington Redskins game as a credentialed reporter. I got to sit in the press box with the other reporters, and I got to interview players after the game. I was very nervous and very excited to be there.

My first game was a meaningless preseason game. My job was pretty simple: At the start of every quarter and at the end of every half, I called this company’s central office and told a guy what the score of the game was. After every scoring play, I called that guy with an updated score. After the game, I called that guy and gave him a few quotes from the locker room. Then they’d send out game updates based on my updates.

That was it. It was a very, very easy job. It required me to watch football for money(1), but without actually doing any real work. I didn’t have to write a game story when the game was over, and I didn’t have to go on air. I just had to watch football, talk to a football player or two afterwards, and make a dozen phone calls.

I remember my first locker room experience. I’d gone to RadioShack to buy a brand new tape recorder — literally, it recorded audio on tiny 1-inch tapes.(2) I remember walking into the locker room and noticing the way the room was laid out, each group of players in their particular corner. I remember walking over to Champ Bailey and Chris Samuels, both Pro Bowlers, to ask questions.

And I remember this most of all: Getting back to my car after the game, pressing play to listen to the interviews I’d done, and hearing…. silence. I remember looking at my tape recorder, and realizing that I’d accidentally pressed the play button, not the “REC” button to record. I hadn’t recorded a single second of my interviews.

I felt like the biggest fuckup in the world. My first time in the locker room, and I didn’t do my job correctly.

And since, I’ve said and done the wrong thing so many times that I’ve lost count. I’ve reported on big stories and then spelled a key source’s name wrong — in the print edition. I’ve sent the wrong email to huge lists of people.

I’ve stumbled, blundered, and fucked up over and over again.

And in each new skill I learn, I’ll keep fucking up! That’s part of the process of learning. You try stuff, you fuck up, you learn, you get better. Those fuckups are always little things that can be corrected and learned from. As long as you keep learning and working to get better, you’ll come to realize that your fuckups aren’t a big deal. They’re teachable moments, that’s all.

———

That photo of an old-school tape recorder comes via Orin Zebest of Flickr and a Creative Commons issue.

  1. They paid me $35 per game. $35! To watch football! It was a dream job for a 15-year-old.
  2. The more I look back, 2002 feels surprisingly like something out of “The Wonder Years.”

Ring That Bell.

that's Mel Brooks at Radio City

Last Monday, my wife emails me an interview with Mel Brooks. The interview has a bit of news: He’s going to do a showing of “Blazing Saddles” at Radio City Music Hall later in the week, and then a Q&A after the movie. We both love Mel and his movies, so I go looking for tickets. They’re a little pricey, and we’re debating whether or not to go. I’m leaning towards going — Mel is 90, he’s a living legend, and you never know if he’ll be back again.

Halfway through our email thread, the news breaks that Gene Wilder has died.

We buy the tickets.

Of course, it was worth the price of admission, and then some. The crowd could not have been more excited — you should have heard the ovation when Wilder’s Waco Kid first showed up on screen. And then Mel Brooks came out on stage and started telling stories, and we all went absolutely crazy.

He told this one that really landed for me. He’s told this story before, so I’ll quote it for accuracy:

At one point in the movie, an old lady in a bonnet says, “Up yours, n—-r.” Brooks recalled asking John Calley, then head of production at Warner Bros., “‘Can we beat the s— out of a little old lady? Can we punch a horse?’ He said to me, ‘If you’re going to go up to the bell, ring it.'”

If you’re going to go up to the bell, ring it. I absolutely LOVE that.

And it explains so much about Mel Brooks. This is a guy who did musical numbers about both the Spanish Inquisition and Nazi Germany. This is a guy who made Frankenstein dance. This is a guy who put a fart scene into a Western.

Yeah, Mel Brooks rang that bell.

If you’re going to go halfway, you might as well go all the way. Mel Brooks taught me that last week, and I’m going to try not to forget it.

———

That’s a (not very good) photo of Mel at Radio City that I took on Thursday. Look closely: There’s a little Jewish guy at the front of the stage. That’s Mel.

Get Ready To Grab That Baton.

usain bolt running

I love the Olympics, and I think there’s a lot to learn from watching them. I’ve written before about the Yellow Line Theory. I’ve written about the importance of keeping your eyes on the road ahead. And with the Olympics just a few days away, here’s this year’s big Olympics idea.

— — —

I’ve talked to a few groups of journalism students this summer. They’re graduating next year, and they’re starting to ask: How do I get the first job after college? How do I successfully make the transition from college to the real world?

Here’s the way I think about it: College moves fast. Ever since you first got accepted to a university, your family’s been telling you: Enjoy it, because it goes by fast. And it really does. Three years blow by, and the last year moves even faster. The transition between the end of school and the start of your career is a blur.

In a way, it’s a lot like the baton toss in the 4×100 relay at the Olympics.

You’ve seen that race on TV. Each race has four legs, with the tiniest of transition areas for one runner to hand the baton off to the next. If you’re one of the last three legs, you go from a standstill to a sprint in a matter of yards.

Nail all four handoffs and you’ll save precious seconds, and maybe win the race. Botch even one — or, worse, drop the baton entirely — and you’re out of the medals.

the handoff

Whenever I watch that race, I always keep an eye on the men and women who have to run the final legs. Being a later leg of that race is fascinating to me. Those runners know what’s coming, but they still can’t move until the previous leg finishes. And then suddenly, there’s a moment when they go from a standstill to a full-on sprint.

That anticipation is a lot like what you feel as you approach the end of senior year. You start getting the big question: What are you going to do after college? You start applying to jobs. You realize that once you graduate, you’re going to have bills to pay, and you won’t have the crutch of college to hold you up anymore.

Except that you can’t full start the next phase of your life until that first one ends. You have to pass the baton from College You to Real World You.

So you sit there, full of anticipation, just waiting for the next leg of your life to arrive.

Some of your classmates will nail the handoff, and good for them! You’ll look at them a year or two after college and think: They’ve made it already. They’re so far ahead of me.

Some will botch the handoff. A few years after college, they’ll still be trying to figure out what career paths to take and what happens next. Sometimes, the next phase of your life shows up, and you’re just not ready to hit the ground running.

It happens.

The important thing to remember is: No matter how well or how poorly that transition goes, just keep running. Your career isn’t a race, and you’re not competing against your classmates. Once you get that baton, you get to forge your own path ahead at your own pace.

It doesn’t matter where you go, or how fast you go. The only thing that matter is: Are you bold enough to grab that baton and start running?

Get ready, class of 2017. You’ll be off and running before you know it.

— — —

Those GIFs from the 4×100 relay in 2012 come via this video.

The More Things There Are, The More Things Will Go Wrong.

Downtown Pittsburgh, by David Lemonick

I’m getting married in three weeks. And: I’m excited! I can’t wait to see so many people I care about in one place, and I cannot wait to finally say “I do” to the woman I love.

Of course, there is this one thing that’s been nagging at me for a little while, and I want to say something about it out loud:

There is a typo on the welcome note that’s going in everyone’s gift bags. And I can’t do anything about it.

Let me explain.

When you plan a wedding, you end up making a thousand tiny decisions about stuff you never knew you needed to care about. From one big decision — Will you marry me? — comes a thousand tiny ones: Is this the right font for us? Should we upgrade the napkins? Are we making the best possible choice about chairs?(1)

You end up making a lot of decisions, and you end up with a shocking number of moving parts for a single event.

Which is why, eventually, you end up realizing something: The more things there are, the more things will go wrong.

If you make a thousand tiny choices, a handful aren’t going to go the way you wanted them to. It happens! The caterer is going to forget about that cheese you specifically requested. The DJ is going to play a song you didn’t want them to play. The bouquet will include a flower you didn’t ask for.

Or, yes: You’ll make a tiny typo on a note going in the gift bags at the hotel. (I forgot a comma! I should proofread more closely next time! I’m sorry!)

Say it with me: The more things there are, the more things will go wrong.

That’s how it goes with weddings, or with any big project you work on. It’s inevitable. The more complicated a project gets, or the more people who get involved, the more likely it is that things are going to go wrong. Mistakes always get made. The hardest thing is accepting the mistakes, and being willing to keep your focus on the big picture and not the little details.

They only notice the big picture anyway.

I’ll tell you a quick story. It’s about my bar mitzvah. 48 hours before the big day, I stood in an empty synagogue with my rabbi and my parents, practicing my Torah portion. I’d spent months preparing for the day, and this was the final rehearsal before it actually happened.

But during that rehearsal, I flubbed a line in Hebrew — a language, it’s worth noting, that I don’t speak! — and got completely flustered, ran to the bathroom, and locked myself inside for 20 minutes.

And I cried.

When I finally came out of the bathroom, my rabbi gave me some advice: If you screw up a line, it’s OK! Just go back to the beginning of the line, and read it all over again. Nobody will ever notice.

And on the day of: I did screw up a line. But I went back to the beginning, and read it all over again.

My rabbi was right, of course: Nobody noticed. If anything, the family members who could read Hebrew just assumed that I was supposed to chant that one line in Leviticus twice.

Again: The hardest part of mistakes is learning to let them go.

So as for that missed comma on the note in the gift bags: We’ve got enough time to fix it, but… we aren’t going to. It’s just a missed comma, and this is the first of many, many little details that we’re going to mess up.

The big picture matters far more. Yes, we’ll remember the tiny flubs. But we’re trying to stay focused on giving the rest of our guests a whole night they’ll never forget.

— — —

That drawing is by my soon-to-be father-in-law, Dave. (He’s quite talented!) It’s of downtown Pittsburgh, where we’re having the wedding.

  1. Did you know those chairs you see at every wedding have a name? And did you realize you have to pay more for those fancy chairs, even though they’re kind of uncomfortable? Weddings are weird like that.