Don’t Let Jealousy Drive Judgement

When Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck abruptly announced his retirement a couple of months ago, many fans harshly criticized his decision. In fact, he was booed as he walked off his home field by the same fans who presumably cheered his success when he was healthy and on top of his game. His offense? Prioritizing his health over playing a game.

Luck’s was an extreme case, but it caused me to think of how quickly we tend to judge the decisions of others without considering or knowing all of the factors leading to those decisions. This seems especially common when someone is in the spotlight or deemed fortunate, like Luck obviously was. When someone like that shows weakness, we feel entitled to judge.

As the father of a college football player, I’m more sensitive about this than I used to be. Now, I know a lot more of what goes on behind the scenes, and I’m embarrassed by the sharp criticisms of players that I’ve offered in the past. We simply don’t know what challenges the competitors we cheer for are facing both on and off the field.

The same thing is true with the people we encounter in everyday life. Just the other day, as I was pulling up to the gym, I watched what appeared to be a perfectly healthy person walk seemingly effortlessly to his car, which was parked in the handicapped section. As someone who resisted getting a handicapped parking placard for many years, I am highly sensitive to abuse of that accommodation, and that sometimes causes me to rush to judgement.

I rushed to judgment that day. The guy I was angry with waited for me to get out of my vehicle, and as I passed by, he rolled down his window and asked me if I needed any help or if I wanted the spot in which he was parked, and I could hear the labored breathing. Just because he walked better than I do doesn’t mean that he needed that parking spot any less.

Though it was on a much smaller scale, I was as guilty of misplaced judgement on the wheezing parker as the Colts fans were with Andrew Luck. In both cases, we felt justified in our criticism because the object of our criticism was someone who seemed privileged. In reality though, we have no idea what challenges they face.

Challenges, physical and otherwise, are often not obvious or visible. Just as athletes have numerous sprains, tears and concussions that we never learn about, we don’t often don’t know about the struggles of our neighbors. They might appear to have it all together, but bad breaks, like relationship, health and money problems, often happen behind closed doors.

Andrew Luck had a brilliant career, and when he left it, he gave up around $58 million that he would have earned had he played two more years. The Colts owner estimated that he was giving up as much as $450 million in future earnings. He had already earned more than $97 million during his seven-year career. While those numbers are staggering, they don’t negate Luck’s prerogative to decide what’s best for his future.

It’s not our prerogative to judge, especially when that judgement is driven by jealousy. The next time you’re tempted to boo from the bleachers or criticize from the pews, try this exercise: consider what motivates your judgement and ask yourself if you have all of the facts. It’s not that hard, and you’ll be happier when you’re not judgmental or jealous.

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Dropping Lbs with Bourbon and Bacon

When I was a teenager, I pumped iron for hours on end, dreaming of looking like Arnold Schwartzenegger. To add mass, I took whatever rudimentary supplements were available in the late ‘80s and ate everything in sight, and I still struggled to gain weight. That changed shortly after I turned 30, and by the time I reached 45, it was time to reset the clock.

The keto diet worked for me in a big way, because I saw results quickly, while still eating most everything I wanted to eat. I’m not a dietician or a physician – I barely passed Biology 101 in college – so I’m not an expert, but I wanted to share my story, in case it can help someone else.

Shortly after I turned 30, I hit the 200-pound mark that had alluded me for so long. That probably would have been a decent weight for me, but I kept going, adding about two pounds per year. I was still in the gym four or more times per week, and I wasn’t eating any more than normal. The weight just kept coming, until I hit my all-time high of 232. At that point, I began to count calories, and that helped me get to a steady range of 220 to 225 pounds.

A lot of that weight was muscle, but I also had a mid-section that definitely wasn’t muscle. I reasoned that I could probably lose ten or so pounds, if I cut back on calories, but I wasn’t willing to drink light beer and watch my diet that closely. Unfortunately, I needed to do something.

Readers of this blog know that I have extremely weak legs, due to a reaction to a polio vaccine. I rely on strong arms to get me out of a chair or bed, and if I fall on the ground, I can’t get up with just my legs. Plus, years of limping around awkwardly have inflamed and tightened my joints. Because of this, I feel every extra pound.

Shortly after my son left for college in 2017, I suffered a couple of falls, and for most of that summer, I could barely walk and was in pain when I did, so I decided to do something about it.

My wife also wanted to lose weight, and in spite of a relatively healthy diet and regular exercise, neither of us could shed the unwanted pounds, so we started to look at what we were eating. That’s when we discovered that what we thought was healthy eating was actually what kept us from losing weight.

As an example, my breakfast typically consisted of a bowl of cereal and a glass of orange juice. I always thought that was a healthy alternative to eggs and bacon. What I didn’t realize was that meal was full of carbohydrates, as was my mid-morning snack of a banana. While there are benefits to these foods, they are also loaded with sugar, which packs on the pounds.

Similarly, my wife liked to snack on apples, pineapple, grapes and wheat crackers. Conventional wisdom had us thinking that those were healthy snacks, and they can be if you eat them occasionally, but they are also full of natural sugars and carbohydrates. When you add pastas, breads, potatoes and other carb-heavy foods on top of this, you are giving your body more carbohydrates than it can handle, and it turns those carbs into fat.

I don’t want to get into the science of ketogenic eating, because I would probably misconstrue it. The basic premise is that you burn fat instead of carbohydrates when you limit the carbs in your diet, and I am proof. A couple of months after starting the diet, I had lost 15 pounds. A year after that, I was down another 15 pounds, and that’s where I’ve hovered for the past six months, right around 190.

I worried that my high-fat diet would have negative impacts on my cholesterol and other labs, but I just had my annual physical, and everything came back great. Plus, losing 30 pounds has made getting around much easier, and my joint pain is almost completely gone.

This is how I did it.

I generally avoid cereals, breads, pastas, potatoes and other carb-heavy foods. This was a big change for me, since I grew up in rural Nebraska on a meat and potatoes diet. Most meals included some kind of starch. If it wasn’t potatoes, there was pasta or bread on the plate. Even rice contains a lot of carbohydrates. Now, I eat hamburgers without the bun, and pile taco meat on avocadoes. If I want to do a stir fry, I substitute riced cauliflower for rice, and I discovered that I really didn’t need potatoes with my steaks.

I eat a lot of fats, and some of them are healthy. Fat makes us feel full, which keeps us from eating carb-heavy foods. Instead of cereal for breakfast, I eat two eggs, Canadian bacon, Greek yogurt and half of an avocado. Lynda and I also scramble eggs with peppers, onions, salmon and cream cheese, throwing in some diced avocado after it’s cooked.

Before I head to the gym for my noon workout, I eat a handful of nuts. Lunch is typically spinach topped with tuna and cottage cheese. I top my salad with ranch or whatever dressing sounds good and sunflower seeds, but not croutons.

Dinner typically consists of grilled or roasted meats and vegetables. We use flavored oils, like sesame, siracha and avocado, for roasting or stir-frying vegetables. We eat salmon for dinner at least twice weekly. Other dinners center around pork, chicken breasts and steak. If we want something sweet for dessert, we’ll eat a small amount of blueberries and blackberries with some whipped cream that we make without sugar.

I switched from PBR to light beer, and was thrilled to learn that bourbon and most spirits contain no carbs. It’s sodas and pre-make mixes that we add to our cocktails that make them heavy on carbs. Just be careful with the drinks. I learned that you lose tolerance with pounds.

Exercise is important, especially on those days when we slip on our diets and maybe eat a piece of cake or a slice of pizza. Exercise helps you burn those extra carbs and keep your heart healthy while you’re eating bacon, eggs and other foods that make cardiologists cringe.

Consistency is also important. You can’t get into ketosis by doing it part-time. That means that you must push through the urge to quit, especially early on while you’re switching your body’s energy source from carbohydrates to ketones. During this transition, you will probably feel less energetic and experience cravings for carb-heavy foods. This is commonly referred to as keto flu. Just remember that it’s only temporary, and the benefits are worth pushing through.

Lastly, do some research online for recipes and ideas, and consult with your physician, if you have concerns about how the diet might impact your health.

Good luck.

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Expect It from Yourself

There’s no question that Bubba Starling heard the doubters who grew louder with each season he spent in the minor leagues. Many openly speculated about how long the Kansas City Royals would hold on to their million-dollar investment before they swallowed their loss and moved on. I’m sure that Bubba himself wondered the same thing as he struggled through eight years of not meeting the expectations of the pundits, let alone the expectations he had of himself.

Those expectations were astronomical when the Royals signed him, straight out of high school, with the fifth overall draft pick. The $7.5 million signing bonus he received guaranteed that he wouldn’t escape the scrutiny that came with those expectations. When he signed, it seemed like a win for all sides. It’s unlikely that anyone saw the eight years of struggle ahead.

It would have been easy for Bubba to quit and fade off into anonymity, effectively quieting the critics, but he didn’t. He expected great things of himself, and persisted until he reached those expectations.

Most of us will never experience the pressure of expectations as high as those placed on professional athletes. Our expectations instead will come from the individual we see in the mirror each morning.

Nate Lashley always believed that he could succeed as a professional golfer, but his results seemed to indicate otherwise. In fact, the professional golf world had virtually written him off, until he won his first PGA event earlier this summer. It was a highly unlikely win for the golfer who had to play his way in and missed qualifying by a couple of strokes. In fact, he didn’t get into the last spot (156th) in the tournament, until a qualified golfer backed out when his clubs didn’t make the flight. When Nate teed off on the first day of the four-day tournament, he was ranked 353rd in the PGA.

A few years back, discouraged by his lack of success, Nate had quit professional golf and started working in real estate. He admitted, in hindsight, that he probably wasn’t ready for professional golf when he began his career. His parents and girlfriend had died in a tragic plane crash just before he turned professional, and he struggled dealing with that loss while trying to compete at a high level.

His hiatus from golf didn’t last long, as he had high expectations for the guy he saw in the mirror each morning. Those expectations took him to PGA tournaments where he was forced to play his way in, like he did the 2019 Rocket Mortgage Classic. There aren’t a lot of outside expectations when you tee off in the 156th spot. Most of those golfers are hoping that they make the cut at the end of the second day, which qualifies them for prize money.

Nate took the lead on that first day, and never lost it over the four-day event. I imagine that he survived and maintained the lead because of the strong expectations he had for himself. He knew that he could do it, even when there were many others who doubted him. Now, he has a $1.314 million dollar check and a PGA card that will ensure his entry into events until the end of the 2020-21 season. Now, he knows that he belongs.

Bubba too has ascended quickly, after his slow climb into the big leagues. He is now a regular starter, and has even hit a couple of home runs and made some spectacular defensive plays, https://www.mlb.com/video/statcast-starling-s-sick-defense. None of it would have been possible if he didn’t believe in and stay true to the expectations he had for himself.

Expectations come from many sources, but none are more important than those that come from within. By setting high expectations for ourselves, we challenge ourselves to be the best that we can possibly be. Don’t wait for others to do that for you. Set your own expectations, and SET THEM HIGH!

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Don’t Wait, Get What You Deserve

The small community in which I live recently experienced a mind-numbing tragedy. Four teenagers were killed in a wreck, and a fifth was badly injured. They were all only a couple of years younger than my daughter, and because of their young, active lifestyles, it seemed like everyone in the community was affected some way.

As a parent, my initial thoughts were with the parents of these girls. When I first heard of the accident, I remember saying aloud to myself, “they didn’t deserve this. No one deserves this.”

Hardly anyone deserves the bad things that happen to them, but bad things happen to good people all of the time. In addition to the accident, in just the past year, I’ve seen a relative have a freak accident and become even more badly injured in the ensuing operation, to the point that he’ll likely never walk again. A couple of months ago, a good friend – one of the greatest and purest souls I’ve ever met – lost the home in which he spent most of his adult and childhood life to a catastrophic flood. And, I’ve helped a couple of people very close to me deal with heart-breaking ends to their relationships.

None of them did anything to deserve the anguish they experienced, and I was baffled by the injustice of it all – until I considered the futility of fretting about what we deserve.

We don’t get to decide what we deserve. We can live perfect lives, follow all of the rules and check off all of the virtue boxes, and bad things can still happen.

What we do get to decide is how we approach each day and every relationship, including the one we have with ourselves. Seeing tragedy should shine a spotlight on these things.

Because tomorrow’s happiness isn’t guaranteed, we need to see each day as a gift that shouldn’t be wasted. That’s easy on days filled with family, friends and laughter, but what about those days that, on the surface, seem full of drudgery and frustration? Those are the days that we need to look a little deeper for beauty.

I try to look for something positive every day, and it doesn’t have to be extravagant. Many times, it’s as simple as making someone smile or encouraging someone in need. I don’t wait for these things to happen. If they don’t spontaneously happen, I make them happen. I’ll look for someone who seems down, and try to engage them in an uplifting conversation. Some of these people might think that I’m crazy, but I care less about that each year. I aim for a smile, and I almost always get that.

I also try really hard not to complain. There is enough complaining in this world, and I have yet to find a meaningful purpose for it. If someone asks me how I’m doing, I respond positively and enthusiastically, even if things aren’t going my way. Most times, that positivity and enthusiasm bounce back to me, and lift my spirit.

It’s also important to pay attention to our attitude toward life. When someone has an accident or gets some bad medical news, their chances of recovery greatly increase if they have taken care of their bodies and are otherwise healthy. The same thing is true with our minds. If our minds are in a good place, we’re better positioned to withstand and recover from a downturn. If you’re not feeling particularly happy and fulfilled, do something about it, so you’re optimally positioned to handle whatever life throws at you.

While we might not always get what we deserve, we can always seek out the happiness we deserve. Embrace what you have today, because life can change in an instant, leaving us with regrets for the days and opportunities we wasted.

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Reap Rewards Shamelessly

My wife and daughter recently returned from a two-week European vacation, which my daughter earned by achieving a goal we had set together. If you followed her or me on social media, you saw some amazing photos. It was an extravagant, but well-deserved reward that initially made me a little uncomfortable.

It’s not in my nature to concern myself too much about what other people think, but that’s what I did. If I saw the extravagance and indulgence, so did other people. Were we being insensitive to those facing financial and other struggles? Should we have used those resources in other ways? Those worries were fleeting though, as I considered the importance of rewards and what she did to earn the trip.

When my son was being recruited for football, to add extra motivation, my wife and I promised him an African safari, if he landed a full-ride Division One football scholarship. Our theory was that we could fund the trip with the money we planned to spend on his education. Once the first scholarship was offered, talk of Africa began.

My daughter isn’t an athlete, but she is a remarkably driven and focused teenager. Two years behind her brother, she watched how the work he put in earned him a scholarship and a trip, and she vowed to match his success and earn a trip for herself. Lynda and I never doubted her determination, but we knew how difficult it was to earn a full scholarship (one that includes room, board and expenses, in addition to tuition), especially a non-athletic scholarship, so we were skeptical.

We were even more skeptical when her first ACT score came in much lower than it needed to be to qualify for a prestigious scholarship. She, however, was undeterred, and resolved to get a score that better fit her expectations of herself. She studied for the next test religiously, while maintaining a straight-A average in advanced classes. On her second attempt, she cut the gap between her last score and her desired scored in half. In her third attempt, she achieved the same score as the second test. Finally, on the fourth test, after incredible dedication and work, she achieved a qualifying score.

The score qualified her for admission into the Scott Scholars Program – an extremely prestigious program and scholarship – the one she targeted when she set her goal two years earlier. Still, even with a qualifying test score, admission in the Scott Scholars Program is far from guaranteed. Admission also requires an exemplary high school record, including extracurricular activities, and a successful, in-person interview. Just like the test score, Kelly achieved her goals in those areas too, and was admitted into the program just before Christmas.

Rewards can be tremendous motivators, and it’s important that we allow ourselves to enjoy them, especially if we made tremendous sacrifices and exerted uncommon effort to earn them. My wife and I believe that sacrifice and effort are crucial for success. We taught both kids that, in order to live an exceptional life, they needed to perform at an exceptional level and exert exceptional effort. I suspect that both kids would have achieved their goals without the promise of a trip, but the trips reinforced the lesson of exceptional living.

It’s important to reward the effort and achievement for those under our influence and as well as for ourselves. Seeing the smile on my daughter’s face as she experienced an incredible part of the world for the first time drove that point home, and it eased any concerns I might have had about how the trip might be perceived.

Set lofty goals for yourself and attach lofty rewards for their achievement. Doing that will help you live the exceptional life that’s within your grasp.

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Ask, When You Need Help

Last month, I watched a Virginia basketball player step to the foul line with less than a second on the clock and his team down by two points in a national championship semi-final game. I was astonished to watch him coolly sink all three free throws to put his team permanently in the lead. That astonishment became complete amazement when I learned about the battle that the young man was fighting.

In the previous year, Kyle Guy played a key role in a season that culminated with his team in the NCAA tournament with a #1 seed. In the history of the tournament, no #1 seed had ever lost to a #16 seed, but that’s exactly what happened to Virginia. Fan outrage was intense, and Guy took the loss especially hard. Though he had battled anxiety privately for years, the loss and his ensuing emotions prompted him to take action. He met with a psychologist and began taking anti-anxiety medication.

The pressure on Division 1 athletes is intense. Not only do they face the academic challenges of a typical student, their athletic talents put them in the spotlight, where their performances are highly scrutinized. The more success that they and their teams experience, the higher the pressure. This is especially hard on male athletes who are expected to be “tough.” Unfortunately, struggling with anxiety and asking for help are not considered tough by some fans.

Not only did Guy admit that he needed help, he did so in a very public way on social media. Furthermore, he made public appearances in order to encourage others who might privately be waging similar battles. He didn’t need to expose himself to further scrutiny, but he did, and was better for the experience.

It’s not easy to ask for help or to expose your weaknesses. It’s even more difficult when you are battling anxiety. I might argue that what he did a year ago, when he sought help, was braver and more impressive than sinking those free throws as the world watched.

Many of us ask for help only as a last resort. While personal accountability is certainly laudable, most of us take it overboard, and we let pride keep us from getting the assistance we need to live life to its fullest.

Readers of this blog know that I’m one of those stubborn people who didn’t want to acknowledge my weaknesses, let alone ask others for help. Even as my physical abilities waned, I resisted opportunities to make life easier for myself. Instead of applying for a handicapped parking placard, I quit going to events that required a lot of walking. Instead of asking for an easier route into an unfamiliar building, I would send my family to celebrations and other occasions without me.

When long walks became virtually impossible, instead of taking a ride in a wheelchair. I simply stayed home. Only when my wife insisted that I quit letting pride limit my life did I finally break down and get the parking permit and then the wheelchair. I don’t have to imagine what I would have missed had I let my world continue to shrink. Because I admitted that I needed help, I was able to enjoy life in the way that it was meant to be enjoyed.

I have to wonder if Kyle Guy would have made those free throws if he still bore the weight of his anxiety without help. I suspect that he wouldn’t. Fortunately, he took action at a crucial juncture in his life, and now he is a national champion.

If you are struggling with something, whether it’s mental or physical, take a good look in the mirror and ask yourself if your stubbornness is part of the problem. Then, take a good look around you and notice those who would eagerly help. You might be surprised at how much your world can open.

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Finding the Positive in Taxes and Flooding

My late grandfather once told me that paying taxes is a good thing. It means that you’re making money. I understand the logic behind that statement, and appreciate the optimistic perspective, even if my instinct is to argue against it.

Despite my conservative leanings, every April, I try to convince myself to think like Grandpa. On this tax day, I challenged myself to write about taxes from a positive perspective, while maintaining my boycott of social media politics.

That wasn’t easy. In the past week, I sent the government enough money to buy a new car, but that’s far from the end of my contributions. As a small business owner, I send checks every month, as well as pay quarterly estimates every three months. Also, as a business owner, I must match my Social Security and Medicare contributions. I’m very well aware of how much I am taxed.

For these reasons, it’s difficult to stay positive about taxes, especially at this time of year. I want to think about how I might have spent the money that I sent to the government. I want to complain about how the government spends my money. I want to whine about all of the time I spend preparing and planning for taxes. Those are my instincts, and they are difficult to suppress.

To maintain a positive attitude, we often have to suppress our instincts, especially when we know that those instincts lead us in a negative direction. This is especially true in challenging times. Complaining only makes a challenging situation that much more difficult.

The positive, can-do attitude I saw in response to the recent tragic flooding in my area was a powerful reminder of the importance of staying positive in trying times. It seemed that everywhere I looked during the flooding I saw examples of the strength of the human spirit, in spite of unfathomable challenges.

I saw great people, including some of my friends, helplessly watch the water rise around their homes and businesses. There was nothing that they could do but pray that the waters would subside, and I know that some of those people are very prayerful, yet their prayers were not answered, and the floods destroyed their homes and businesses.

The injustice of it all had to be overwhelming, I thought to myself. How do they not lash out at the devastation that seemed tremendously unfair? Could I be as strong?

Instead of complaining, I saw compassion and resolve. Friends, family and strangers alike united to help where and how they could. Instead of looking around with self-pity, flood victims rolled up their sleeves and salvaged what they could. They didn’t waste time complaining and looking for places to place their blame. They got to work and moved on.

In no way do I want to minimize the devastation caused by flooding. My tax challenges pale in comparison with those losses. I merely drew inspiration from their ability to preserve and thrive in an extremely difficult situation. Plus, my grandfather was right. I did have a good year, and that is a reason to be thankful.

So this year, instead of annual April 15th tradition of looking for fairness and grumbling about how I think that things should be different, I am at peace and have accepted things as they are.

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