Posts Tagged faith

Why the tears?

“If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.”

― Vincent Van Gogh

No matter how successful we become, doubt will occasionally crawl into our minds and refuse to leave, like a song you don’t like but can’t quit hearing. It will haunt us in quiet times and in inopportune times, and it often seems that the harder we try to rid ourselves of doubt, the stronger it takes hold.

When doubt is confirmed by its partner failure, it starts to attach itself to our souls and can be as debilitating as the strongest virus. At those times, it takes a Herculean effort to destroy it – like it takes a Herculean effort to escape the almost-certain pin of a very strong opponent. That’s what happened on the mat a few weeks ago, with my son in his final state wrestling tournament.

Two years earlier, as a sophomore in his first year of varsity wrestling, he had stepped off the championship platform at the state wrestling tournament with a third-place medal around his neck. Standing above him were a senior and a junior, and with five consecutive pins to close out the season, the future looked bright. The very next day, we were in the gym, trying to climb two steps on that platform in 364 days.

Eight months later, he suffered a knee injury in the final football game of his junior year, causing him to miss a crucial season of development. Twenty-one months passed between wrestling matches. Still, he had never lost to anyone in his weight class in the state, and thought that he could have an undefeated season. That, and a state championship, became the goal. Sadly, the goal of an undefeated season didn’t make it past the first tournament of his senior year.

After three first-period pins, he lost the championship match in overtime to a wrestler from another state. Still, it was only one loss, and it was to a wrestler he wouldn’t face for the rest of the season. Then, the next tournament happened. He came down with a pretty bad cold and wrestled like it. Three more losses – all to wrestlers rated 1 or 2 in their respective classes. Though he avenged one of those losses later in the season, because all three opponents were either in different classes or from different states, they wouldn’t be obstacles in his quest for a state championship. He just couldn’t lose to anyone in his class. That happened three times in the next month.

Several times throughout the season, he reset his goal to “no more losses,” and each time, a loss followed. All told, he entered the pinnacle tournament of the season with ten losses, never winning a tournament until the district tournament in the week prior to the state tournament. With each loss, doubt became louder and stronger. We didn’t want to talk about it, but it was there, and he was going to need that Herculean effort to silence it.

When the state championship tournament came around, the no-more-losses goal intertwined with the state championship goal. You can’t lose in the state tournament and win a state championship. That wasn’t going to be easy. Two wrestlers in the tournament had pinned him earlier in the season. If he made it to the semi-finals, he would likely face a wrestler who had pinned him twice in the past six weeks. We didn’t want to have doubt, but logic wasn’t on our side. We were going to have to depend on faith instead.

Faith was rewarded in the semi-finals, when Patrick pinned the wrestler who had pinned him in their two earlier meetings. On the very next mat, almost simultaneously, the wrestler who had pinned Patrick in their only meeting was qualifying for the finals with a pin of his own. The semi-final pin helped to quiet the doubt, but with a talented wrestler who had already pinned him waiting in the finals, logic wasn’t on our side.

When Patrick was flipped to his back in the second period of the championship match, it looked pretty grim. Even the television commentators said that it was all but over. Somehow, in that moment however, he finally killed the doubt that had been haunting him all season, completing an improbable move and winning the state championship he had worked so hard to earn over the course of six years.

Unlike his dad, Patrick doesn’t often cry, especially out of happiness. This time, though, the emotion got the best of him, and the tears flowed almost immediately. Doubt literally had him on his back, but he didn’t allow it to win. The realization that he had beaten doubt and won a state championship had him bawling like a baby in front of 15,000 in the arena and many, many more on television.

We’ve talked about it several times in the days since, as the exhilaration of victory has faded into appreciation for the experience. Looking back, we’re able to see that three things helped him win that championship: 1. faith in the process, 2. not accepting less than his goal, and 3. never quitting. If he had waivered even a small bit in any of those areas, he surely would have been beaten.

Wrestling is now behind him, but its final lesson was a powerful one that we can all learn from: don’t EVER give up on your goals. Doubt is merely an obstacle, and it is only as powerful as you allow it to be.

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Don’t Live Like You Drive


“Assume everyone is stupid, distracted or out to get you,” I told my 14-year-old daughter the other day, as she steered us through West Omaha traffic. We were continuing our odyssey toward achieving a level of comfort with her behind the wheel.

She was driving down a busy street and into a parking lot, and I wanted her to know that danger could appear out of almost anywhere. That guy driving beside you? He could suddenly switch lanes or unexpectedly jam on his brakes. That lady approaching the intersection? Don’t assume that she’s going to yield to you. Don’t trust anyone. Assume the worst, and be prepared for it.

That is exactly how we should drive, and exactly opposite of how we should live, but how often do we live like we drive?

Maybe a friend doesn’t immediately return our call, and we assume that there is tension in the friendship. Maybe our boss wants us to meet him in his office at the end of the day, and we’re certain that we’re going to get reprimanded or worse. Maybe we have a headache, but instead of taking an aspirin and relaxing, we head to WebMD and start researching brain cancer.

We’re often looking for trouble that doesn’t exist, and because of that, we’re making ourselves needlessly miserable. If we’re always looking for someone to pull out in front of us, we’ll never enjoy the journey.

I had to get over this when I first start dating my wife nearly 22 years ago. I had experienced a bad break-up of a four-year relationship the year before, and I had promised myself that I wasn’t going to put myself through that again. Everything was going to have to be perfect, I told myself, before I would ever become emotionally attached to another person.

It was far from perfect. She lived in Washington, DC. I lived in Nebraska. I was a teacher. She was a medical student. Our lives were occurring in different places and following different paths. Getting into such a relationship seemed like speeding on an icy road; there were too many things that could go wrong, but instead of slowing down, I stood on the accelerator, and I’m very glad that I did.

The bad break-up I feared never happened, but for the first year, I drove with my foot hovering over the brake. When I should have been feeling contentment and happiness, I felt anxiety and fear. We shouldn’t live like that.

A modicum of caution is essential to an orderly life, but there is a huge difference between expecting the worst and simply acknowledging its existence. We don’t have to scan our yards for prowlers before locking the doors at night. Likewise, we shouldn’t anticipate failure when we’re pursuing success. Failure doesn’t need that advantage.

Kelly is getting much better at driving. Like her older brother who was taught the same lessons when he was learning to drive, she drives with heightened awareness of the potential dangers she might encounter. That will make her a cautious driver – exactly what you want when you hand the keys to a teenager.

There will be dangers in her life off the road too, and I certainly want her to be aware of them, just not looking for them. When we constantly look for trouble, it seems that we usually find it. Part of life’s beauty is that the same is true for hope and inspiration. Expect it and look for it, and you’ll likely find it.

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Getting Stuck in Your Own Tracks?

Many of us will never reach our full potential because we’re afraid to change. We stay in jobs that are going nowhere, and in relationships that are unfulfilling. We continue habits that we know jeopardize our health and happiness. We wall off personal development with excuses. We spurn opportunities to grow. All because we’re afraid to change.

Change evokes anxiety. Routine is comforting. It’s why you are you more relaxed at home in your recliner than trying to make a connecting flight on a snowy day. You might hate your job, but you know where to park and when to leave to beat traffic. That girlfriend who doesn’t like your friends, family or hobbies? At least you don’t have to worry about finding a date on a Saturday night.

Fear of change can paralyze us, and we’re not always in the optimal spot when it does.

As the owner of a recruiting company, I see fear of change almost daily. Our mission is to find highly qualified talent for our clients, which means that highly qualified talent has to change jobs. Employment surveys tell us that most people are considering a professional change, but that very few follow through, and our experience confirms this. Fear of change often stands in the way of a career transition.

Our initial contact with a prospective candidate is designed to allow us to understand his motivations, i.e. How happy is he with his role, his work/life balance, his boss, his income, his career path? Does he daydream of something better, and if so, what does that look like? If he is perfectly content or won’t admit that he isn’t, the conversation ends there, but it rarely does. Most people are looking for something better. Actually moving toward something better is not as easy.

Many candidates discover a new tolerance of their job and their employer in the latter stages of accepting a new position. All of the pain we uncovered in the initial conversation begins to seem manageable, especially when compared to the POTENTIAL pain of change.

All too often, we focus on potential negatives, rather than potential positives. We then compare a rosy version of our current status to potential negatives, rather than potential positives of a change. When evaluating a new job, instead of the promise of career advancement, we focus on the fear that maybe we won’t like the new boss. Instead of dreaming about where the career move could put us in five years, we create nightmare scenarios of job loss. Maybe our career path is stalled, but our current job has predictability and stability. Isn’t it possible that the new job could have all of this?

You have to have faith to make a change. Most times, we don’t need, and won’t have the precision of a bridge-builder or brain surgeon when contemplating change. We have to accept risk and a certain lack of information with most change. Most change doesn’t come with guarantees.

You have to have courage to make a change. I still remember my first time on the high diving board at the pool when I was a kid. It was a lot higher and scarier than I thought it would be, and I was extremely tempted to back down, even though I knew my friends would taunt me mercilessly. I jumped, because I told myself that I would jump – that jumping was something I wanted to do and yearned to do. I didn’t want to let fear take that excitement from me.

You have to have commitment to make a change. Many experience regret right after making a change. Most experience a temptation to go back. I see this at my gym at the beginning of every year. January starts with an influx of new members, because deciding to add exercise to your daily routine is fairly easy. Getting to the gym is easy too, at least at the beginning, so the gym is still fairly full in February. By March, however, mostly only the gym regulars remain. It takes commitment to overcome the urge to give up, while you struggle with the unfamiliarity and uncertainty of change.

The end of the year is a great time to consider change. In a few short weeks, we’ll be given a new year to make the changes we’ve always thought about. Are you ready to make this the year of positive change?

For a unique perspective on change, view a video of a Jim Carrey graduation speech.
“So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality.” – Jim Carrey –

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Succeed with an Immigrant Attitude

A recent CNN/Money poll revealed that more than 60% of Americans don’t believe that “The American Dream” is attainable. Although the poll was conducted without a concrete definition of the American Dream, its results are concerning, because it reveals that pessimism is overtaking optimism.

Most consider the prospect of the American Dream as a source of optimism, and for the most part, most generations have been able to improve their economic condition over the course of their lifetimes. Perhaps this improvement deluded us into thinking that the American Dream was to be expected with little sacrifice, almost entitled.

When we feel entitled, we misunderstand challenges. Instead of seeing challenges as learning opportunities, we see them as annoyances. We respond to opportunities, and we whine about annoyances. Opportunities advance us, while annoyances bog us down. Over time, annoyances become pessimism.

Zig Ziglar wrote and spoke about what he called, the Immigrant Attitude. The Immigrant Attitude is a belief that hard work, perseverance, sacrifice and thrift will pay dividends.

The Immigrant Attitude is more than a theory. First-generation legal immigrants are typically more successful than their native-born counterparts. They are three to four times more likely to become millionaires, and though they are only 11% of the United States population, they comprise more than 40 percent of the Ivy League student population.

Why? Because they’re optimistic about the opportunities available to them in the United States. They are optimistic, because they recognize the true high value of opportunity. Their appreciation of opportunity often comes from their experience with adversity. Persevering through adversity is a lifestyle for them.

I had my own optimism and appreciation tested a couple of years ago, while on safari in Africa. After a successful morning of hunting, I was enjoying a cool beverage in the shade. A young Zimbabwean named Pretty was waiting on me.

Pretty opened the conversation by asking me about my trip to camp just two days earlier. It’s really hard to find the positives of a 17.5 hour flight and five-hour bus ride, so I said something to the effect that I was glad it was over, and I wasn’t looking forward to the trip back.

“It’s my dream to fly to the United States,” she said. “There is just so much I could do if I was able to get there.” Pretty then told me how she had fled Zimbabwe for South Africa, leaving twin boys behind, during her native country’s political turmoil.

I began to feel really small. I was in Africa, on vacation from work and enjoying being pampered by my hosts. She was in Africa worried sick that she wouldn’t have enough money to support herself, let alone see her children again. I was leaving in five days to return to my comfortable life and its trivial worries in the world’s most prosperous country. She wasn’t sure what would happen to her in a few weeks, when the hunting season ended.

I think of Pretty when my day in the office doesn’t go so well or I find myself fretting over something petty, like a hail-damaged car. I picture Pretty with a huge smile, taking it all in and making the most of it.

If an immigrant were in your shoes, behind your desk, with the same 24 hours in his day, would he be more successful? If the answer is yes, consider adopting the Immigrant Attitude.

“Real optimism is aware of problems but recognizes the solutions, knows about difficulties, but believes they can be overcome, sees the negatives but accentuates the positives, is exposed to the worst but exceeds the best, has reason to complain but chooses to smile.” ― William Author Ward

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Learning About Life in a Soccer Game?

If we pay attention, we are occasionally rewarded with unexpected opportunities to observe the brilliance of life when triumph and defeat collide. Such was the case, earlier in the week, when I watched the championship game of the Nebraska Girls State Soccer Tournament, pitting Elkhorn South against Gretna.

I hadn’t planned on watching the game – I’m not sure that I’ve ever watched an entire soccer game, but I was interested in this one, because my children attend Gretna schools, and my wife and I have known a handful of the Gretna players since they were very young. I didn’t even realize that the game was televised, until I sat down and read the newspaper. When I tuned in, Elkhorn South had just scored the game’s only goal to take the lead 1-0, and only five minutes remained.

Things didn’t look good for Gretna. They had already been beaten by Elkhorn South twice this year – not only beaten, but shut out. In fact, over the past two seasons, Elkhorn South had shut out Gretna five times. Shut-outs are a bit of a thing for Elkhorn South, which was going for its 18th shut-out of the season and 19th straight win. Gretna had only five minutes remaining to do what very few had this year – score a goal on this incredible defense.

As time ticked away, it looked like Elkhorn South would capture the state title that had evaded them the year before. In that championship game, they had given up the lead with 35 seconds remaining, and would go on to lose the game in a shoot-out.

Forty-four seconds remained this time when defender Sarah Zeleny took a shot from 40 yards away. The senior had never scored a goal in her high school career, and one of the state’s best defenses was between her and the goal. None of that mattered, as she placed the shot perfectly just above the goalie’s reach to force overtime.

Even Zeleny was surprised. “Usually when I shoot it, it doesn’t go anywhere near the goal,” she said in a newspaper interview.

The Elkhorn South team never recovered. Just like last year, they gave up a late lead and lost in extra minutes. While they were stunned in disbelief, Gretna was ecstatic. Meanwhile, from my recliner, I was thankful for the lessons in fairness, faith, opportunity and momentum that the game provided.

Fairness: Elkhorn South played a near-perfect game and had been dominant all season. After their heartbreak in last year’s final, they were due some good fortune. Instead, luck went the other way, and their dominant effort ended in frustration. Sometimes, we can do everything right, and still not succeed. Life isn’t always fair.

Faith: Facing daunting odds, the Gretna team didn’t give up. It would have been easy to accept their fate as another shut-out victim, but they didn’t, and though she had never scored a goal, Zeleny seized the opportunity to help her team. When the odds are against us, faith gives us a chance.

Opportunity: In a normal situation, Zeleny would have never tried such a long shot with such a low probability of success; she would have tried to move the ball to a teammate. However, in this case, because precious little time was left, doing what she normally did would have likely resulted in defeat. Though she hadn’t made a goal in her entire career, she had practiced for that moment for years, and when it came, she didn’t hesitate. Sure, luck was involved, but luck happens when preparation meets opportunity.

Momentum: Since I know very little about soccer, I rely on others, and the consensus seems to be that Elkhorn South played better than Gretna, until Zeleny’s goal. Shortly after that goal, Gretna scored the game-winning goal and then held on to win 2-1. I don’t know if the Elkhorn South team ever gave up two goals so quickly. Momentum can be energizing when it’s with us, and crushing, when it isn’t. When momentum favors us, we need to do everything we can to capitalize.

I watched the Nebraska Boys State Soccer Tournament Final the next day, and whatever luck and momentum Gretna had came to an end early, as the boys lost 1-0. In fact, they lost to a team coached by one of my former students at the school where I once taught and coached myself. Though, I’m still not a soccer fan, both games were gifts I didn’t expect to receive this week.

Congratulations Champions: Gretna Lady Dragons and Columbus Scotus Shamrocks (especially Coach Brezenski)

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Not Wishing I Could

The weight room at my gym is where I do a lot of thinking. For an hour, four or five times per week, it’s just me. my thoughts and my body. I experience the highs and confidence of pushing more than 300 pounds with my arms, and the lows of struggling with even the smallest of weights in my leg workout. When I work my upper body, I think, “What if?” When I work my lower body, I think, “What’s next?”

Toward the end of one of my workouts the other day, as I was gazing out the window between sets, I saw one of the trainers returning from a run on the trail beside the Papio Creek. For a moment, I let my mind stray into the dangerous territory of “I wish I could.”

We all wish WE COULD something. We wish that we could have more money – that we could be taller, not as fat, not as bald – that we could have a better job, more friends, fewer worries. Heck, I wish I could stay awake through a movie with my wife, and she wishes I could get along with her mother. Some things are just not going to happen.

In this way, my physical disability has been a gift. I understand that certain capabilities are beyond my reach, and this awareness has allowed me to see more clearly the blessings that I do have.

Instead of lamenting the fact that I can’t play basketball at the gym, I’m happy that I’m healthy enough to exercise and build muscle. Rather than being bitter about needing to turn down tickets for a Nebraska football game, I’m fulfilled that I’ve found the skills to build a reasonably successful business.

Few of us spend much time thinking about everything that we can do, while we spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking about the things beyond our reach. Doing this robs us of the joy of the moment and impedes our progress toward our goals. This is a lesson I constantly review when I go hunting.

Hunting is my passion, and it’s one that challenges my will to focus on my strengths rather than my limitations, because it’s a pursuit best undertaken by not only able-bodied individuals, but individuals in fairly athletic shape. This is because the highest number and best trophy animals are often in the most remote and unforgiving terrain – terrain that is almost always beyond my reach.

Many times, I can see where I want to go, and I can sometimes even see the game I’m pursuing, yet, my legs can’t get me there. November 2010 was a good example of that. I was out in Nebraska’s Sandhills, trying to fill the spot on my wall for a trophy whitetail deer.

The whitetail is one of the most challenging North American trophies, because the mature, large bucks became large and mature by associating humans with danger and avoiding them at all costs. The best way to get close to them is to quietly sneak into their territory, leaving as little scent as possible. Most people park a mile or two from where they are going to be hunting, and then walk in.

I’m not most people. This year, like every year, I had to have someone drive me to the blind where I was to sit for the remainder of the day. My guide Aric then drove back out, and returned on foot a short time later to sit with me, probably scaring every deer within a mile. Because of the commotion we made, it was no surprise that we didn’t see anything all morning, and we decided to take a mid-day break.

Shortly after Aric left to get the truck, he came running back to the blind. He had seen the big deer that we knew was out there. In fact, my trophy stood and stared at him from 50 yards. It would have been an easy shot, extremely rare for a trophy buck, and if I had been with Aric, my trophy would have been in the back of the truck.

Instead, Aric and I sat there until nightfall, and for several more days. We saw the trophy deer a mile or so away a couple of times, but we could never get him to come close enough to us for a shot.

I could have left the Sandhills angry and frustrated, because I felt both of those emotions over the long days in the blind, but being angry and frustrated is counter-productive, especially when you are trying to enjoy your passion. Instead, I felt thankful for the excitement I felt knowing that this deer was close and might appear at any moment. I had also enjoyed watching many more deer and clearing my mind from mental clutter, as I had nothing to entertain me but some of nature’s best beauty.

I think that all of us have those deer blind moments when we can’t seem to get what we want and it seems to come so easily for everyone else. We look enviously through our windshields at the Mercedes, oblivious to the freedom that our own transportation provides. We’re jealous when we learn that our friends earn more money than we do, instead of reassured knowing that we have relationships with achievers. We see a trainer returning from a run on a sunny day, and we feel helpless that we will never feel that exhiliration.

That’s the wrong way to live. It robs us of happiness and closes our minds to hope and possibilities.

Each one of us has capabilities that someone else wishes they had, even if it is as simple and basic as our health.

I was reminded of that one morning, years ago, as I made my way to an early morning class at the University of Nebraska-Kearney. I was having one of those mornings where everything seemed to go wrong. A series of drops and spills had made me a few minutes late, though I awoke at the right time. My tardiness cost me a shot at the close parking spaces near my classroom building, so I had to park a few blocks away and hike in.

By the time I reached my building, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. It was then that I met a young man in a wheelchair.

“Hey, I hope you don’t mind me asking,” he began, and before I could respond, he asked, “Were you ever in a chair?”

Being in a chair is one of my biggest fears, one of my largest motivators for time in the gym and a likely future according to some in the medical field. For those reasons, I resist even thinking about the possibility. I stammered my answer. “Umm . . . no.” Then, quickly, almost defensively, I followed up, “Why?”

“I’ve noticed you and thought that maybe, since your upper body appears so strong, that maybe you spent some time in a chair, but trained your way out,” he said and looked away.

It became quickly obvious to me that he watched me limp around and saw hope. While he was watching me and hoping the same for himself, I fought self-pity. We were unaware of each other’s struggles.

If I could borrow a healthy set of legs for a day, I’d return them sore and tired. I’d find something to hunt, and then pursue it through the thickest, nastiest terrain. I’d walk through the Old Market and over the pedestrian bridge. I’d play a game of basketball with my son in the driveway.

But, none of that is going to happen. And I’m OK with that. Because life is too short and too precious to waste time sulking, I’ll enjoy the life that I can live within the restraints that cannot be changed, and I hope the same for you.

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