anger (1) anxiety (1) diet (1) EMOTIONS (3) entitlement (1) fatigue (1) fitness (1) grandparents (1) grief (1) HEALTH (1) JOB (1)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

California Dreaming

I was raised in California during the 1970's when the California "way of life" was essentially a watered down religion based loosely on a mix of principles from Eastern Mysticism and Western Hedonism. Several spiritual movements started to take shape from the burst of challenges to the norm of American social order in the 60's and a few began to flourish in the 70's. My parents were hip deep in one of those movements and I was raised, essentially, as a fatalist. In my parents world view, all decisions past and present were always made according to God's will. They used to coach me in the process of making decisions that it didn't matter what I chose, the choice had already been made by God. I merely needed to look within to discover what it was that God wanted me to do and follow that instinct.

I think that kind of logic would have been great if I had been brought up in the Mid-West with a fairly strict moral social fabric as a back drop. Perhaps that advice would have been the perfect foil to a young mind agonizing over the right thing to do. But we weren't in the Mid-West. My parents had moved from Richmond, Indiana to Los Angeles, California when I was 5. The advice my parents offered me was probably a wonderful balance to pressures they experienced in their upbringing, but Cali offered very little of the same structure. In fact, the advice my parents offered acted more as an accelerator to my rather single-minded pursuit of the California Dream in which life was always easy and smooth if you only yielded to it. The result was a kid (me) that began at a very early age to believe that nirvana was not only possible to obtain on earth, but that if you just let go the stresses of the mind, it was literally right around that corner.

So I set about divorcing myself of stresses, of external distractions. I focused looking inward and trying to find the path of least resistance to my own life's story, which, according to my parents had already been written. Do you know what a teenage boy does when he follows the path of least resistance to his own inner callings, especially inner callings shaped by the images of sexuality in media and marketing that screamed out from every corner of the greater Los Angeles basin? Yeah, don't think too hard about that, it might make you sick. But hormones weren't the only problem. The hedonistic tendencies of California life fueled a larger, broader commitment to being stupid. Very little in pop California ethos speaks of personal integrity, of commitment to others over the satisfaction of the self, of financial planning, etc. etc.

Sure you can find gurus all over California who bring and incredible wisdom and commitment to each of those areas above. Several of them led the religion that my parents followed. But inevitably, they moved to Cali from New York or some other high pressure environment in search of balance and found it in these kinds of pursuits. For a kid growing up without that counterweight, my parent's encouragement only served to launch me into the stratosphere of ego gratification, relatively ungrounded.

Depending on how you look at it, the good news or the bad news was that I had talent in more than a few areas. So I succeeded in spite of my complete lack of attention to the basic principles of success in life. I drifted, per the instructions provided, from one situation that felt "right" to the next. For a while things went fine. But by my early 20's, I was already racking up debt, hurting people who trusted me, acting without integrity, etc.... all justified in my mind because "God had directed me in these directions and it was all pre-determined anyway".... I was just following what God was telling me.

The principle question that I never asked myself until later is: "How do you tell the difference between intuition and strong emotion?" Theoretically the former is a deeper form of knowing. The latter can be driven by a whole host of toxic crap. The answer that I've got so far is that its really, really hard to tell the difference. So you need things like ethics, personal integrity, honesty, etc. These constructs are critical to checking your own instincts and impulses and keeping you on some sort of moral ground, even if it isn't the high ground.

But with the birth of my daughter, again the spectre of making "right" decisions seems more important than ever. It's hard for me at the moment because all of my training growing up seems to cater to a decision making style that is too haphazard, too reliant on luck and talent as opposed to one based on careful planning and calculated risks. Going too far in either direction is wrong, of course. You need a balance of the two. Good thing I moved to New York after I met my wife - got some balancing to do.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Dropping Entitlements

I work really "F"ing hard. Every day. I don't take plays off, I play hurt, I sacrifice for my team... and I expect to get something back in return for all of that. I expect to get some things back that work for me, that I need, that make my life easier. That's the deal.


Doesn't quite work like that. Don't get me wrong, you can set your life up like that. Lord knows I gave it a really good try. But over the last 18 weeks I have started to learn (not sure I'm going to finish this lesson any time soon, by the way) that all the stuff that I think I'm entitled to by putting in all the effort I do, might come my way, but it really might not. And I need to put that level of effort in anyway.

For those of us who have grown up with sports, keeping score, setting goals and achieving them, this is really hard. Sounds like a really raw deal. Life should be more transactional. "I want X, so I'm going to do Y." But I don't care what X is - a good night's sleep, a sincere thank you, good sex (any sex), time just to think or watch a game on TV - being a parent and a good husband has got nothing to do with this equation. Simple, brutal truth is that being a Dad means putting in 110 percent every day because that's just about the minimum amount required to keep your family up and running and your kid safe and supported. I know it feels like a super-human effort, but that super-human effort isn't even going to get you on the travel squad. You got to put that in just to get invited back to practice.

OK, but just because the transaction is jacked up, doesn't mean you don't get something out of it. Its just that instead of getting "X", you might get a "W" or a "B" or a "£%". You don't know what you are going to get or when. But if you let go a bit of X, you realize that all the other stuff you are getting is pretty damn fulfilling. Doesn't mean you won't grieve (and I mean that in the most literal way possible - full on stages of grief too - I am going through denial, bargaining, anger, depression and acceptance on just about every piece of my X that I'm giving up). Part of my motivation for finding time to write this morning is that my wife and child are asleep this morning after I stayed up half the night dealing with a fussy little girl. I'm tired, I'm exhausted, I'm behind on work, and you know what, my wife isn't going to thank me for last night. You know why? Because she's more tired than I am.

My daughter isn't going to remember last night and won't thank me either. BUT - she makes this squawk now when she's excited, kind of like she's impersonating a Pterodactyl, or a chicken with a brain tumor and she made me laugh so hard last night, I almost woke up my poor wife from the next room. These moments come between extended periods of fatigue and drudgery, but they come.

I just have to keep focusing on what I have and all the new stuff that comes every day and keep letting go of all the things I think I SHOULD be getting out of this. Being a Dad just doesn't work that way.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Getting and Staying Healthy to be a Dad4Life

I wanted to take some time to share how fatherhood helped refocus my commitment to living a healthier, cleaner lifestyle.

Over the course of the last 6-8 months I’ve managed to lose 60lbs, dropping from 220lbs to 160lbs. More importantly, I was able to decrease my total cholesterol level from 243 to 172 and triglycerides from 405 to 105. Six months ago, my triglyceride levels were so high that it wasn’t possible to calculate my LDL (or bad cholesterol) and my HDL (good cholesterol) was below 30. My physical exam and test results were a hard dose of reality. I could no longer lie to myself that I was doing fine. The reality as my doctor had said was that I was well on my way to beating my father to a life of angioplasties and heart medication. My father had an angioplasty around his 50th birthday and so it meant that I had about 10 years or so before I would probably go through the same thing.

Following protocol, the doctor recommended that I start on a low dosage of cholesterol medication and handed me some pamphlets on heart disease and tips for eating heart healthy. I asked him point blank, “If I don’t get on medication right now, will I die in the next 6 months?” His response was that it wasn’t likely. For me, it was all I needed to hear to suggest that I take the next 6 months to change my lifestyle from one that was essentially going to kill me to one that resembled someone that I consider a coworker, mentor and friend - Aaron Usiskin.

My transformation actually began prior to visiting the doctor’s office. It began a few weeks earlier when I went to the gym with Aaron. In his early 40’s, I had long admired not only his dedication to a life of fitness, but also his dedication to raising his 2 children with the same values about fitness and athletics. Aaron wakes up at what I and many would consider ungodly hours to make sure that he trains so that he could later pick up his kids from school and take them to whatever activities they had planned for that day. As a father of my own 6 year old girl and just finding out that I had another on the way, I decided to finally take Aaron up on his offer to help get me in shape. The decision that I made that day to quit thinking about getting fit and finally set the wheels in motion was and put my trust in Aaron was one that I made not only for myself, but for my family. I don’t just want to live to a ripe old age, but I want to live as a healthy, productive person that is not dependent on medication to stay alive. I want to be there to help my daughters for as long as they need me. I want to be a dad for life.

My first workout with Aaron was at his barn and it consisted of basic exercises using TRX straps during our lunch hour at work. He took it pretty easy on me as we went through some simple exercises. We did this type of work-out a few times and admittedly, I was lulled into a sense of “Hey, maybe I’m not in as bad a shape as I thought I was.” One morning, he changed things up on me. I met him at the gym at 4:45AM for what turned out to be a workout that broke me down and opened my eyes to where I really was in terms of fitness levels. Starting with simple box jumps, he jumped up onto a platform that was about 2 feet high and jumped off. He did that a number of times and then it was my turn. I proceeded to jump onto the platform and then of course, the momentum of my 220lbs causes me to fall off the other end. It was an embarrassing but indicative start to my day. Aaron worked his way up to a 44” box jump and was holding dumbbells! I had to work down to a 6” jump that thoroughly exhausted me.

The workout consisted of a jumping, pushing, pulling, lunging. It was something that I had never done before. He and I after the workout drove the 50 miles or so to New York City and I’ll never forget how my right knee gave out as I tried getting out of the car. THAT was the catalyst that finally sent me to the doctor that eventually outlined the seriousness of my condition. THAT was the catalyst to finally admit to myself that it wasn’t just that I was overweight, I was unfit. It took an extreme workout and extreme test results for me to stop lying to myself. It was easy to ignore being out of breath going up a flight of stairs and it was easy to ignore random aches and pains that I never felt before, but I could ignore the blood work nor could I ignore falling on my face at the gym or barely walking the two blocks from my car to the office.

I realized that not only did I need to make several changes in my life; I needed to be extreme about those changes. Taking baby steps or a half-hearted approach was not going to save my life. It was not going give me the energy to help my wife through her pregnancy and it sure as hell was going to be there for my daughter when she needed me. I put my trust in Aaron’s fitness recommendations and decided to not do any further research on that. I focused my attention on something that I can control – what I put into my body. I bought Joseph Piscatella’s book “The Road to a Healthy Heart Runs Through the Kitchen” as a start. It helped me branch out my nutrition research to other resources, including websites, journals, books and other doctors. (By the way, I just want to mention that my story is not about being anti-medicine but rather taking a natural approach if and whenever possible.) My research eventually led me to lead a lifestyle that was somewhere between vegan and vegetarian. I firmly believe in a plant-based diet that only includes organic fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and whole grains. I do however, allow myself as a personal choice to have Omega-3 rich fish at least twice a week.

The results I’ve already mentioned speak for themselves, but what I didn’t expect were results as quickly as they appeared. I didn’t expect the abundance of energy that stays with me from the time I wake up (at what was once an ungodly hour) to the time I go to bed. I most certainly did not expect a renewed sense of focus and determination that has helped me become a better father, husband, son, friend or employee. My wife sees the difference in me, as do my friends and employer. My manager commented recently, “…these last 4 months or so is like you put afterburners on.” I would have to say that people who are approaching me for weight loss advice also see the difference.

One of the people that also saw a difference was Chris Rivinus who although I hadn’t seen in over a year. Chris was my manager (as well as Aaron’s) and like Aaron, I had long admired him for completely different reasons. I’ve never met anyone so adept at engaging those around him. He’s one of those guys that can relate to the CEO of a large firm or an entry-level employee. His ability to observe his environment, synthesize it and then understand how to relate to it is remarkable. It helped him rise through the ranks of our company and become known in the knowledge management industry. Although Chris was my manager, he always took the time to help me through professional and personal issues. I worked for him for about 2 years until he took a position overseas in what has turned out to be a phenomenal career move. I saw Chris on a recent business trip to the United Kingdom and was not only happy to see him, but extremely flattered that he took the time to get together on the day that his wife gave birth to their first child!

Over dinner, we discussed the birth of his daughter and fatherhood. We discussed the improvement in my physical and mental well-being as well as my dietary habits. It was only a few days later that Chris contacted me as he was able to put 2 and 2 together to discuss. Someone’s well-being has many components and all need to be satisfied to some degree in order to achieve the proper balance. This balance can be achieved if you’re aware of the components and are ready, willing and able to tackle them holistically. We also need a purpose. What greater purpose is there than the love for your child or family? I’ve worked out/dieted solely for vanity and wasn’t happy even though I looked great at the beach. My family is my purpose. Whatever your purpose is, find it and use it to focus your energy on making a better you.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Before the Beginning

2 weeks before my daughter was born, my step-mom died. My step-mom was single-handedly responsible for saving my ass. When my dad and biological mom broke up, it was beyond messy. It was bad. They accused one another of all sorts of things, my mom had a break down. I reacted pretty hard to the whole thing and effectively stopped communicating with her. It was the only way I knew how to keep any sort of even keel. My dad kind of spiraled down into a pretty deep funk and my sister was too young to really understand how and why decisions were being made. I was too young to understand, but at least I understood enough to know I could make decisions. We were a family broken in more than one very significant way.

But Patti came in, effectively whipped my dad into shape, pulled me up by my boot straps and tried to help my sister out. She got it right in 2 out of 3 of those efforts which isn't bad in my book. She was married to my dad nearly 30 years when she passed. The last 10 or so were rough as her health failed her. My dad was loyal to the end, working his butt off to take care of her. But it took a toll on him. When my wife was 6 weeks pregnant, hell we weren't even 100% sure, we all met up at a wedding. My step-mom knew from the moment she saw my wife, looked at me and almost visibly bit her lip. When we finally announced nearly 2 months later, all she said was "I KNEW IT!" There wasn't much more Patti wanted in life than for me to have a kid. I waited until I was 40 to do it and that was 2 weeks too late for my daughter ever to get a chance to meet her.

When I got the news I cried my eyes out for a few hours and then promptly went about the business of pulling my shit together. My wife was due in 2 weeks, we were living in a foreign country and we were scheduled to move into a new house in 4 weeks. This was no time to go soft. But we're in the new place, my daughter is 17 weeks old and although I can't say I'm hoping to find a balance in my life any time soon. I can see what the next year or so is probably going to look like. So now it is time to grieve this thing properly.

I really miss Patti and I thank God almost every day for the day she came into my life. I really wish she could have seen my daughter even just once. Even just a picture. But hopefully she's floating around here somewhere and I don't have to worry about her missing a single thing.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

In the Beginning

Mornings like this I am acutely aware that I am not psychologically prepared to be a Dad. This is, of course, a shame because I have a 4 month old daughter. For me, having a kid seems to have ripped asunder my ability to bluff. I've spent a lot of my life pushing envelopes, gambling and taking risks.... all on the premise that I can handle the consequences. What I am feeling now is that all of this risk appetite was served in an absence of proper risk assessment. All of a sudden, the stakes are higher and I'm feeling like what I really need to do is get things right as opposed to push my luck. But when you've been bluffing for as long as I have, this is much easier said than done.

I'm spending a lot of time examining my own patterns out fear of a systemic flaw in how I go about living. The potential catastrophe that continuing on in the same old manner might cause has me re-examining my entire life to date - successes, failures, ethically questionable decisions (and worse). And I don't particularly like what I am seeing.

Somehow, I fantasize, if I had known that these days of reckoning were coming, I would have straightened up and flown right more often. I would have taken less risks, taken on less debt, treated people differently, shown more integrity under duress, etc., etc. In short, I would have been somebody else.... a better somebody else. These are the thoughts I have as I wake from a relatively sleepless night and push myself onto the train in the morning to go meet my day.

I know its out of balance. After all, I've got a good job, I've got the respect of at least some of my peers, I've got a decent financial plan, even if my income to debt ratio doesn't raise comparisons to Warren Buffet. I'm a work in progress, and I am progressing. But that doesn't stop me from waking up in the morning with a feeling in the pit of my stomach that I've created something of a monster and that monster is now coming after me and the ones I love the most. How to undo the past?