Thursday, December 6, 2012


It's time for clarity.

REAL clarity.

As we wrap 2012,  I think it's time to honestly assess what we are striving for and why.

At work.

On the track.

And at home.

What are the things we are working so hard for?

And perhaps more important....

What are the things we are NOT working for?

These are questions that demand tough choices.

Choices like, what is the work we should focus on that is really going to stand the test of time and actually be worth something after we're gone?

Choices like, do I give up Summers with my kids for that high-paying administrator job?

Choices like, do I train for that marathon to benefit my HEALTH, or take that night class to benefit my JOB?

What is the sorting mechanism to really, and I mean REALLY choose what is important?

And please, no cosmic, esoteric, hippy-trippy cliches from an Oprah book.

Only concrete solutions thank you very much.

I think the late Steve Jobs may have nailed it when he gave the 2005 Stanford graduates the following advice:

“Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.

Almost everything--all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure--these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

That's clarity.

If Mr. Jobs were alive, I think he'd caution us that when we reach the finish line of life we will find two lists:  1) a list of the things we DID DO that we should not have and 2)  a list for the things we DID NOT DO and wish we had

I suspect the second list will be longer.

Much longer.

I think we will regret the time we did NOT spend with our kids because we had to work weekends.

I think we will regret the business we did NOT start because settling for the corporate job for 20 years SEEMED the safer bet.  But wasn't.

I think we will regret the piano lessons, watercolor lessons or acting lessons we did NOT take because we feared we had no talent.

I think we will regret the marathon we did NOT train for because we deemed ourselves too young, too old, or too busy with schoolwork or yardwork.

My 2000 Ford Windstar's odometer just hit 161,000 miles.

One of the electric doors doors is broken and I'm finding oil spots in the driveway.

I love teaching more than any corporate job I ever had. Indeed, the work is meaningful and has a lasting impact that most corporate gigs lack.

But I admit, I sometimes contemplate trading in my teaching spurs for the soul-killing corporate gig that comes with a fat bonus.

Because trading in the oil-leaking Windstar for that new, pearly-white Suburban with the XM satellite radio sounds really good.

But trading the Summers with the kids for more money--albeit much needed money--doesn't feel quite right.

I guess the choices are money OR time.

Not "all of the above."

I can always make more money--but I CAN'T buy back the TIME.
Tough decision.

A decision requiring CLARITY.

I think death is the ultimate clarifier to life's difficult decisions.

It clarifies the LONG VIEW over the SHORT VIEW.

It clarifes WHO is important over WHAT is important.

It clarifies the value of TIME over the value of MONEY.


This Summer, we are planning a road trip to South Dakota for my wife's family reunion.

The Windstar will never make it.

But that's okay.

There's a Hertz rental car nearby...

And I hear they rent white suburbans.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

No "Wrong" Weather

When I started running 12 years ago I learned a great mantra about winter training:

"There is no such thing as the WRONG weather, only the WRONG clothing. "

In other words,  if we only wait for sunny days to begin our training, we will never begin our training. 

In other words, don't wait for the weather to change.

WE must change to the weather.

I think this notion is a metphor for our non-running lives.

We wait to start that college degree.

We wait to start that business.

We wait to write that book.

We wait to start that diet.

We wait...

For so many reasons...

Until the weather changes.

Until the economy changes

Until our boss changes.
Until our amount of free-time changes.

The problem with waiting for these external things to change...

Is they may NEVER change.

Which means we'll never start the things we need to start.

When my running partner and I ran the Leadville 50 last Summer, we hoped for good weather.

But we also brought small backpacks--to carry our jackets, gloves, and hats.

Because when you are running for 13 hours at 12,000 feet, any, and I mean ANY kind of weather is possible.

So here is what I have found to be true:

Great living, like great running, is NOT about waiting for the weather or the economy or interest rates, or the politicians to change to begin the journey.

It's about putting on our "backpacks" and beginning the journey, and then mustering the strength and courage to continue DESPITE the weather, the interest rates, economy or whomever is in office.

Because, when you find the courage to take that first step forward...

And not first wait for OUTSIDE things to change.

Something really does begin to change.



Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Comrades in Pain

We hear the cliche that some people are so kind they would "give you their shirt off their back."

A few months ago, I encountered one of these people--and he really offered me the shirt off his back.

I was on my third and final iteration up Lookout Mountain on a July afternoon.

The clouds were rolling in.

The rain was coming. 

And the temperature was dropping.

Unfortunately, I had made the lousy decision to leave my shirt back at the car for the final trip.  It was July after all. What could be the problem?

Bad move.

Especially when it's wet and cold.

Amazingly, my guardian angel appeared.

He didn't appear with wings and a halo however.

But on a Trek 7-Series Carbon Triathlon with aerobars.

He tossed me a jersey and uttered "good work" as he passed me up the mountain.


In my 43 years on this planet I have never had a stranger offer me anything--no less an expensive race jersey--after a 15 second introduction.

It was a gift.

And a reminder.

A reminder that when it comes to conquering the biggest and baddest giants--especially the painful ones--human beings have an enormous capacity to work together.

To be comrades.

Comrades in pain.

Pain is a unifying force.

It is the one force that can truly bring people together and transcend almost any difference.

Republican versus Democrat.

Christian versus Buddhist.

Because when the monster is big, and I mean REALLY big, like when you are running in the middle of the night in freezing rain--things like party affiliation or religious preference begin to look small.

Perhaps even foolish.

It's funny, an hour earlier, this guy on Lookout Mountain and I may have been competing for the same job on or speeding to the same parking space at the mall.

But on the mountain that day....

We were fighting a common enemy.

A big enemy.

We were comrades in pain.

So how about this for an idea...

Admittedly, a naive idea...

Instead of another Blue Ribbon panel to bring our leaders together to solve our nations woes, how about signing up our leaders for a RACE.

A big, gnarly race.

The Leadville 100 perhaps.

Where they will confront a daunting challenge far bigger than Republican or Democrat.

A challenge that will require the courage to work together.

And perhaps even require offering up their shirt for a comrade.

To get across the line.


As comrades in pain.


Saturday, September 15, 2012

"Why" is a Big Word

"He who has a WHY to live, can bear almost any HOW."
                                                     ---Friedrich Nietzsche

"Why" is a small word with a big meaning.

A word that can determine if you succeed—or quit.

Each person’s “why” is unique.

But what’s  not unique is the size of the “why.”

It has to be big—no room for sissies here!

Because each person’s “why” has to big enough to motivate when there’s no more motivation.

To provide that swift kick in the butt and get you to do what you said you would do---when it’s no longer fun.

And when it hurts.

Especially when it hurts.

A big “why” will get you out of bed to lace up in the middle of February when it’s cold, dark and an inch of snow on the ground.

A big “why” will force you to open your Accounting book instead of watching the Bronco game.

A big “why” will force you to press on with that fledgling business —even when it’s tough making payroll.

Especially when it’s tough making payroll.

A big “why” will force you to send out more resumes and continue the painful job search—despite the  rejection letters piling up on the kitchen counter.

I think a big “why” trumps brains and even talent.

Because brains and talent don’t provide the inner strength and mental toughness to keep going when it gets tough and you want to quit.

Because it will get tough.

And you WILL want to quit.

So here’s the deal: this week, before signing up for that marathon you have always wanted to run, or are about to quit your day job to launch that new business you have dreamed of opening, or are about to enroll in that degree you should have earned a long time ago.

I say wait.

That’s right, wait.

And don’t contemplate HOW you will achieve these goals—at least not yet.

Focus on the “why” first.

Make sure it’s big enough.

And strong enough.

To provide you the strength for when it gets tough--and it’s no longer fun.

Because it will get tough and no longer be “fun.”

Because you will want to quit.

But here’s the good news.

If your “why” is big enough.

And strong enough.

You WILL find the strength to keep going.

Even when it gets tough.

Especially when it gets tough.

Because a big enough “why” makes the impossible-looking how become possible.

Revealing the path to victory.

Sunday, September 9, 2012


Great running gear can only be considered "great" after it has been tested in the field.

And I mean tested.

A 31-mile round-trip hike up 14,000 foot Mt. Evans in pouring rain will let you know if that "water-proof" jacket is as waterproof as the fancy ad in the running magazine clams it is.

An 8-hour march up and down the stairs at Red Rocks Ampthitheater in the 90-degree July sun will test just how "breathable" that breathable shirt really is.

In other words...

Great equipment is only great if it performs when TESTED.

I think this is true of people.

The Roman poet Horace said: 

"adversity has the effect of eliciting talents which in prosperous circumstances may have lain dormant."

I agree.

Adversity often brings out the best in us.

I teach accounting at a community college.  When hiring new accounting faculty, the candidate is required to perform a 20-minute teaching demonstration to a NON-accounting search committee.

At the end of the teaching demo, if the committe is confused and unimpressed, the candidate is rejected--no matter how impressive the resume and interview.

The premise is that no matter how many ivy league degrees are on your resume or how slick your interview skills, you gotta be able to teach.

In other words...

Great teaching becomes TRULY apparent when TESTED.

I joke with my colleagues that the best pre-marital counselling for young prospective newlyweds may not be in a pastor's office.

I say have the smitten couple do a two-week, cross-country road-trip in an un-air-conditioned 1979 Chevy Chevette--with two small children!

Nothing like a family road-trip to strip away the thin facade of civilized humanity!


Great relationships are only great if they survive when TESTED.

Indeed it is human nature to avoid pain, yet, at Horace said, it IS often through adversity that we  discover our true talents.

This is why I agree with US Olympic psychologist, Dennis Waitely, that the biography section is the BEST place in the library.

For it is the biographies that hold the answers on how to survive any adversity the universe tosses our way.


Cancer survivors, POW survivors, plane-crash survivors, bankrupt business men, couples lost at sea.

It is the biography section where you find the PRACTIONERS who survived such feats.

Those whose lives became defined by their heroism when they were TESTED.

And wrote how they did it.

Shackleton, Lincoln, Churchill.

Just three of literally thousands of surviors who penned guides on how they found strength when tested.

My wife and I celebrated out 19th wedding anniversary last week.

We have had a lot of great times and have seen a lot of wonderful places together.

We have also, metaphorically speaking, traversed some really tough roads...

In that metaphorical 1979 Chevy Chevette I just mentioned.

Some of those trips hurt.

Especially when the air conditioning failed...

And it got hot.

Really hot.

But we have survived.

Although I wouldn't want to repeat some of those trips, I am thankful for the strength we derived because of those journies.

Strength that I would not have been able to muster going solo.

So here's to 19 more years and beyond Honey!

And also a "thank you."

Thank you for the drive--especially when the road got rough.

And we were tested.

And for not getting out of the car.

Happy Anniversary.


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Leadville is a State of Mind

The Leadville Silver Rush 50 Mile Trail Race is a daunting mental and physical final exam.

A test with only two grades:



"Did Not Finish"....the capital letters "DNF" affixed to your name.

The founder of the the Leadville Series of races, Ken Chlouber, is a tough teacher.

And he doesn't grade on a curve.

Nor does he give you all day to finish.

You get 14 hours.

After 14 hours, you're free to cross the finish line.

But you will be disqualified.

I was almost the LAST qualified finisher.

But NOT last.

Finishing time:  13 hours, 51 minutes and 32 seconds.

Only 8 minutes to spare.

Missing that deadline would have meant for a long drive home from Leadville.

Heading back with no finisher's medal around my neck.

Just contemplating the "what-ifs" and wondering whether to face that monster again next year.

Nothing on the course came easy that day.

By mile 17, the nauseous stomach and self-doubt began knocking.

And never stopped.

At the mile-21 aid station, I grabbed some PBJs and watermelon slices despite the nauseousness.

I needed the fuel.

But the gag-reflex was the final arbiter of what would enter my stomach.

Must have been that blue-colored drink at the last aid station.

Damned power-drinks.

Twenty-nine miles to go.

The contrast of absolute beauty and searing pain were striking that day.

Especially at 12,000 feet.

There were the panoramic "Sound of Music" views...accompanied by relentless hills...

Hills meant to trash your quads.

Hills meant to demoralize.

Hills meant to crush your will.

Ball Mountain...I will never forgive you.

A fellow runner told me the contrasting beauty and pain was the "course's way of seducing you....

...while flipping her middle finger...right in your eye."

I couldn't have said it better.

By mile 34, there was a reckoning.

A reckoning that demanded I pull off the trail, puke it out, and DECIDE--and I mean REALLY DECIDE-- if I wanted to FINISH.

A reconciliation.

A reconciliation of the pain and months of training, with the reamining strength to finish what I started that day.

Training that included 3:30am start times running up and down stairs at Red Rocks Amphitheater.

Training that included multiple evolutions up Lookout Mountain Road with screws in my shoes so I could run in the snow and ice.

A reconciliation that I prayed would yield a ledger balance positive enough to endure.

To finish.

Even if it meant coming in last.

I knew finishing in 14 hours would be tough.

Because meeting the 14-hour deadline means you can't just walk.

You have to run.

Sometimes fast.

No easy A in this class.

That's how the course is designed.

Ken Chlouber, a former miner, started the Leadville Race Series beginning with the Leadville 100 in 1983 after the town lost 40% of it's population in 18 months after the molybdenum mine closed.

He wanted to make Leadville a destination.

He succeeded.

Because Leadville has become more than just a place.

It represents a state of attitude.

An attitude of people who have experienced hard times--at 10,200 feet.

A mentality that says "I WILL keep going...even when it hurts."

Especially when it hurts.

Ken's mantra is "you are better than you think you are, and can do more than you think you can."

That's Leadville.

I think everyone is running their own Leadville race in a metaphorical way.

Losing a job...but not giving up.

Losing a business...but not giving up.

Losing a loved one...but not giving up.

Even when it hurts.

ESPECIALLY when it hurts.

That's the Leadville Silver Rush 50.

That's Leadville.

I don't plan on running the Silver Rush 50 again.

My bucket list only needs ONE check mark in the "ultra-marathon" category thank you very much.

So last night I asked my wife if she would be interested in running the Leadville 10k together next Summer.

She didn't say yes...

But she didn't say no either.

Thus I am optimistic.

I mean, hey, the only thing better than doing something you love... doing something you love...with THOSE you love...right?

So perhaps...

...when we cross the Leadville 10k finish line next year...

We can stroll past the Leadville Trail 100 booth.

I hear they have still have a couple of open slots.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Inch by Inch

Comebacks are almost always measured in inches.

Overcoming an illness.

Overcoming a bankruptcy.

Overcoming a business failure.

Overcoming a divorce.

Overcoming an addiction.

Overcoming an injury--while training for that big race.

These are recoveries that are seldom quick.

And never easy.

Brains and talent don't speed up the process.

Neither does hard work and dogged persistence.

They keep the process from stopping...or falling backwards.

Inch by inch.

I heard an interview with Jack Canfield, one of the authors of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, discuss how he and his business partner kept pressing on with their Chicken Soup for the Soul book despite being rejected by over 140 publishers.

One Hundred and Forty.

He said that he and his partner promised each other to do five tasks (no matter how small) each day to reach their goal of writing and publishing their work.

He likened the process to cutting down a large redwood tree.  He said that the tallest redwood tree will fall to the smallest knife if that knife hacks a little bit away at the tree EACH DAY.

Each day.

In other words...inch by inch.

When trying to achieve a goal, we often question if we have the brains, the talent, or the time to achieve the goal we seek.  We look at the size of that metaphorical redwood tree Jack Canfield speaks about and become discouraged.

And stop.

Or never even start.

Perhaps we should stop focusing on the the size of the tree.

And the size of our axe.

And focus on our DIRECTION...forward.

Towards our goal.

Even if it's inch by inch.


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Changing Course

I’ll never forget that morning. 

It was 5am and my Blackberry was already convulsing with messages screaming for attention.  I laced up my Asics and headed out of my $49 motel room and into the darkness. It was February 2008 in Lakeland , Florida and it was cold. 

And the rain was pouring. 

But I needed to run. 

I thought the sprint in the darkness would numb the leftover pain from the hostile meetings yesterday and the "food-fight" meets ahead of me today.  On this morning, however, I was unable to outrun the demons that had been drafting me the past two years at this job.  As my stride increased, so did the rain.  I was drenched but didn't care.  As I approached the busy intersection I should have slowed but my stride only increased.  Despite the solid red “Do Not Walk” signal, I continued to run looking neither left nor right. Only straight.  It’s not that I wished to die but simply cared less about living.  It was only upon the return to my dingy motel room that I realized what I had done—or almost done.  It was at that moment, in that motel room, that I decided I had to change course.  

But inertia is a powerful force. 

Whether it’s squirreling cash in a Vanguard IRA, losing 10 pounds of flab to fit the size 32 pants, raising grateful kids, or deciding to quit that unhealthy job, life seems to blow a strong and steady headwind to discourage us from making the course changes we need to make, to arrive at the ports in life we were meant to arrive. 

Other times, however, fate forces our hand and provides a horse-pill sized dose of reality to force us to change course. 

After my run in the rain that February morning, I visited my doctor to obtain a THIRD round of antibiotics after a double dose of walking pneumonia.  On this visit however, my doctor’s prognosis included a word that left a tattoo on my memory:  depression. 

Reality check. 

Big time. 

It has been over four years since that morning run in the rain. 

My decision to change course in my career is a “story in process” so to speak, with, what looks like a  happily-ever-after ending. 

After leaving the big salary, big headache corporate accounting job to take an executive recruiting gig--only to get laid off one year later as the economy flew into a hurricane-- left the nerves and family finances in near ruin. 

But the sun came up again. 

And the dividends of deciding to change course slowly emerged. 

After graduating college over 20 years ago, I can proudly and LOUDLY say I love my job. 

I am at port I was meant to arrive at. 

As a faculty member in the Business Department for a community college in Denver, Colorado. 

I would be a liar if I said that I don’t occasionally feel the urge to turn back to my former life of comfortable misery and snag the big paycheck. 

But by the end of that second cup of Starbucks, I always remember that change requires courage. And am constantly reminded that the time off with the family that a teaching career provides is time I can NEVER buy back. 


I remember a question a friend of mine named Greg once asked: “ which life is fuller, maintaining a life of comfortable misery or pursuing a difficult and perhaps uncertain victory?”  

Two weeks later, Greg quit his job in Denver and joined the Navy to become a chaplain in Iraq. 

I say good luck Greg.   

And thanks for helping me find the courage. 


Monday, June 11, 2012

There Are No Theme Parks in Self-Doubt

Self-doubt is a lonely place.

A place you don't want to visit for very long.

An extended stay here is expensive--big time.

It may not cost a lot of money to visit.

But it will certainly bankrupt your energy and motivation.

Self-doubt is a place where you will hear whispers in your head.

Whispers asking nasty questions like "can I really do this?"

These whispers repeat.


And over.

Trips to self-doubt often occur as you are about to do something big.

Really big.

Like a job interview.

An important sales presentation.

A first marathon.

It seeks to undermine all the energy and hard work you have put forth.

It seeks to convince you that you will fail in your effort.

Or worse...

It will convince you to quit.

Or not begin at all.

So how do we parole ourselves from this mental prison?

There's no magic key--believe me, I've looked.

Instead, I have found only a few simple reminders to help me escape...

Reminders such as:

1.  Reminding myself of the reasons I want to achieve the goal.
2.  Reminding myself that I have put in the required time and work to achieve the goal.
3.  Reminding myself that others with equal (or even lesser ability) have achieved this very same goal.
4.  Reminding myself of previous times where self-doubt crept in--and I succeeded anyway. 

These corny reminders won't stop the trips on the "Self-Doubt Express."

But they can minimize the FREQUENCY and SEVERITY of the trips.

In running, the battle is often won in our head, BEFORE it is won on the track.

I have found this to be true in most other endeavors.

So the next time you find your confidence shaking...

And your mind wandering towards the train to self doubt...

I say start walking to another train.

A train going to a better location.

And leave behind the train to self-doubt.

Because you have already been there..

And it's not worth a second trip.


Monday, June 4, 2012

The Shared Miles are the Best Miles

I ran the Bolder Boulder 10k with my 12-year old son last week.

It was his first road race.

And it was great.

Nothing like watching your 12-year old finish a 6.2 mile race in a stadium with 30,000+ people congratulating you for a job well done.

While standing in line for the our post-race bag of goodies, my son, Alec, told me he thought the race was "easy."  And that he wanted to run the Georgetown to Idaho Springs Half Marathon together this August.


I was blown away.

I thought he viewed his dad lacing up every morning as some kind of alien ritual. Akin to doing algebra homework on Saturday morning. 

I thought he found the Monday and Thursday Bolder Boulder training runs with his 7th grade classmates as drudgery.

I feared the Bolder Boulder would be his one and ONLY race.

I was wrong.

And glad I was wrong.

Watching him train for, and complete this race was a reminder that sometimes, just sometimes, the parenting gods throw us clueless moms and dads a bone.

A reminder that our kids do indeed take to heart and model at least SOME of the good things we try and impart on them.

Unfortunately, our kids rarely TELL us we are influencing them in a positive way.  We parents have to figure that out for ourselves.

In between all our failings.

Failings that are certainly noticed.

And unfortunately taken to heart as well.

That race reminded me of something else:

Achieving big goals and pushing beyond what you thought was possible feels great.

But helping SOMEONE ELSE achieve big goals and helping SOMEONE ELSE push beyond what they thought was possible feels even greater.

And yields greater results.

I have found this to be true when building a great team at work.

Or building great kids at home.

It's not easy.

You make a lot of mistakes--and I mean a lot.

But if you persevere.

And strive to do the right thing for your team, and your kids...

And strive to be CONSISTENT in being a positive influence...

Slowly, slowly, positive results ensue.

Often when you least expect them.

So tomorrow morning I will lace up for my morning run.

It's Summer time, thus, the sun will be up.

I won't be alone though.

Alec is coming with me.

We'll probably run four...maybe five miles.

Just like we did yesterday.

He says he enjoys the miles.

I do to.

It's a good thing...

We have some training to do.

Georgetown to Idaho Springs is a long way.


Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Problem with Plan-B

The problem with having a Plan-B is that we often take it.

It's a fall-back plan.

To keep us from failing.

Or so we think.

The problem with falling back to "Plan B" is that we do just that...

We fall back.

Way back.

The actor Will Smith nailed this notion in an an interview:

"There's no reason to have a Plan B because it distracts from Plan A. Being realistic (i.e. having a Plan "B") is the most commonly traveled road to's unrealistic to walk into a room, flip on a switch and have the lights turn on...fortunately, Edison didn't think so."

In last October's Denver Rock and Roll Marathon, there were 2398 finishers.

Yet there were 8957 finishers for the HALF-marathon.

Don't get me wrong, running a half-marathon is indeed no small victory.

It requires a great deal of training and discipline.

But when less than 25% of the Denver MARATHON participants actually run the MARATHON event, I wonder how many people short-changed themselves.

How many took the "realistic Plan-B" option of the half-marathon for fear of failing?

I think taking a "realistic Plan-B" is a strategy of playing aggressive defense.

It's managing the downside.

Instead of reaching for what we really want--and can do.

We play it in our running and in our lives.

All the time.

An aggressive defense chock full of "Plan-B's" will often prevent losing.

The problem is...

It also prevents winning.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Food For Thought--Part II

Distance training will change the way you look at food.

In a big way.

As a non-runner, I saw food as a source of pleasure.

A social-facilitator when meeting up with friends.

And an indulgence whilst watching TV--especially a Bronco game. I mean, hey, nothing like snarfing an entire cheese-lover's pizza dipped in garlic butter and ranch dressing to satisfy the palette, right?

Distance training changed all of that.

Big time.

I have found pre-race snarf-fests like that will make for some truly miserable stops at the aid station porta-johns--assuming their are some.

Distance training DEMANDS we change the way we look at food.

The change begins not in the isles of the grocery store.

But in our heads.

Because first,  food must be viewed as more than a source of PLEASURE.

It must be viewed as a source of FUEL.

For our body.

And our mind.

To function at peak condition.

Especially when the course gets tough.

And it WILL get tough.

When we change the way we look at food, I think our shopping list changes.


And for the better.

Think about it.

If you view a Totino's meat-lover's pizza and 2-liter bottle of Mountain Dew through the "lens" of good fuel or bad fuel instead of the "lens" of pleasure, I think the contents of your shopping cart HAS to change.

This is especially true after some hard lessons on the trails.

Lessons that include long runs involving bathroom breaks in the woods where there are no bathrooms--or toilet paper.

A result of carbo-loading on Bud Lites and smothered chimichangas the evening before.

But here's what's cool...

A great diet will begin to yield great performances....

And great performances will yield a great diet...

Thus a wonderful feedback loop begins.

Success breeds more success.

But there's more...

A killer diet to super-charge the training up those gnarly hills will spill over into your NON-running life.

Opting for hot cocoa over the Double Dutch Fudge ice cream after dinner will make for better sleeping.

Grabbing the Chobani pineapple yogurt over the Lamar's 12-inch maple doughnut means not "crashing" for your 1 o'clock class Accounting class.

I'm serious.

In other words...

Saying "bon appetit" to the right foods and saying "thanks anyway" to the wrong foods will not only help us push through and go the distance on the trails.

But help us push through and go the distance in LIFE.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Food For Thought

What are you putting your head today?

Are you feeding it a turkey sandwich?

Or a Wendy's "Baconator?"

The late, great business philosopher, Jim Rohn, often said that in five years we will become the sum of every book we read, and every person we associate with.

A profound statement.

With profound implications.

So, what are you reading?

And, who are you associating with?

Because as Mr. Rohn opined, we will arrive SOMEWHERE in five years.

In other words, who we become and where we arrive depends on what we "feed" our heads.

The books we read.

The friends we make--or don't make.

The TV shows we watch--or don't watch.

The radio shows we listen to--or don't listen to.

The people we help--or don't.

All helped determine how we arrived where we are RIGHT NOW.

And will continue to determine where we arrive, FIVE YEARS FROM NOW.

So perhaps it's time for a diet for some of our choices.

And time to gorge ourselves on others.

So we don't arrive at the wrong destination chosen by other people.

But arrive at the right destination chosen by us.


Friday, May 11, 2012

Run Like an Old Woman

Nothing like a good butt-kicking to instill humility.

I recently ran up Lookout Mountain with a running buddy I hadn't seen in a while.

I could barley keep up with him.

He's about ten years older than I.

While choking and gasping, I recall him lamenting his "disappointing" time at a marathon he just finished.

He ran a 3:10 time.

Humble pie ala mode.

This experience made me reflect on a section in Chris Mc Dougall's book, "Born to Run", where he insightfully points out how human  physiology is turned on it's head when it comes to distance running--particularly distances beyond the marathon.

He points out that the winners of many ultra marathons are women, not men.  And that the top finishers are often the 40 year old school teachers, not the 20 year old freshmen.

In other words, what we lose in SPEED as we get older, we gain in DISTANCE. 

In other looks like it's EXPERIENCE that matters.

Looks like EXPERIENCE trumps youth and talent when going long.

ESPECIALLY when going long.

Sounds like a metaphor for life.

I think experience trumps youth and talent--in MANY endeavors.

Running a successful business.

Being a great teacher

Flying a plane.

Raising good kids.

So the next time I am out for a run, and I find myself heckled by the occasional loudmouth motorist for "running like an old woman," I'll try not to get upset.

I might even try to smile.

And know that "running like an old woman" is exactly what I should be doing.


Saturday, May 5, 2012

It's What You DON'T Need

Training for the Leadville 50 has been race training, part science project.

And I'm the mouse.

Playing amateur scientist in search of the outer limits of human physiology, psychology and nutrition has been a bit tiring.

But also very insightful.

Interestingly, what I have found thus far is that there are far more things an athlete DOESN'T need to successfully train for a big race than he / she DOES need.

Here is my list of FOODS you DON'T need:

  • Power bars
  • Power gels
  • Power gus
  • And any other food that comes in a wrapper or box. The fewer human hands that have touched the food, the better.

Here is my list of DRINKS you DON'T need:

  • Any drink with the word "power" in it
  • Any drink with the word "recovery" in it

Other NON-ESSENTIAL items:

  • IPods
  • Heart-rate monitors
  • GPS devices
  • Heart-rate monitors that are ALSO GPS devices
  • And any other device that velcroes to your body besides a simple watch
  • Cell phones--especially cell phones!
  • Health club memberships. 
  • Treadmills--although they can be a good location to hang your shirts.
  • Personal trainers.
  • Exercise videos.
  • "Breathable" shirts and shorts.  Let me be very clear here.  There is NO such thing as "breathable" clothing when you're sweating like a hog in heat going up the mountain.  No matter how "breathable" your clothing is, and no matter how many logos you have on your shirt and short, you are going to sweat and get wet if you are really putting forth effort.  Period.
So what DO you need to successfully train for a big race?

Here is what I have discovered you REALLY need:

1.  Shorts, shirts and and a couple of "hoodies" from Walmart--not the fancy running store.  Make sure all are comfortable, loose and CHEAP. You want to be ready to discard any of the above when the weather and your body begin to swelter.

2.  Decent shoes--an $80 pair of shoes should last a few years.  That's right--a few YEARS.  Only replace when a hole develops in the sole--and no sooner.  The notion of replacing shoes  every 500 miles is the same snake oil we were sold by the oil change companies telling us to replace our oil every 3,000 miles--it simply isn't true.  Read Chris McDougall's book Born to Run and read the section that talks about the running shoe scam.  You'll want to throw your Nike's through the television.

3.  Water bottles--filled with WATER.  That's right, WATER. Want flavor?  Add a lime.  Leave the sports drinks and sugary crap at home--it will only make you puke at mile 20.

4.  PBJ sandwiches.  I know, not very sexy.  But here's the deal:  look up the nutrition specs for this good old fashioned stand-by that mom used to serve us when we were  kids.  It kicks the ass of any "energy" bar.  Looks like mom was right.

5.  A $40 Timex Ironman watch.  If you spend more than this, you are wasting your money.  These watches have a stopwatch, the date and the time.  And they last longer than the wristband.

Here is one last observation I have made in my training training.  Besides becoming a "less is more" guy in my training, I have found myself adopting this philosophy in other areas of my life.

Do I really need a house with THREE Garages--and TWO air conditioners?

Do I really need 400 TV channels?

Do I really need a cell phone with 200 phone rings?  In I really need a cell phone?

I think distance training forces a person to "peel back the onion" so to speak and examine what is really important.

So maybe, just maybe this Leadville 50 training will not only change the way I approach training for races.

But change the way I approach the bigger issues.

On and OFF the trails.


Saturday, April 28, 2012


How will we defined?

How about this list for a starting point:

  • The DIFFICULT decisions we made, not the easy ones.
  • The UNCOMFORTABLE conversations we found the courage to have, not just the comfortable ones.
  • The ADVERSITIES we overcame, not just the successes we enjoyed.
  • Those we HELPED WIN, not those we won against.
  • The CREATIVE WORK we made, not the jobs we had.
  • The right things we DID, not just the things we did right.
  • The risks we courageously took, not the paths we thought were safe--but really weren't
  • The things we finished, not those we simply started.

In other words, I think we are defined more by our CHARACTER, than our SKILLS.

Skills can be learned from a textbook.

Character must be developed from experience--and then tested.

Over, and over.

Until it becomes a suit of armor that protects us during the storms.

And there will be storms.

And character will be that medal of honor we display that not only gets us through the storms, but across the finish line.

To victory.


Friday, April 20, 2012

Winning vs. Not Losing

Only twelve more weeks until the Leadville 50 Race.

And the training is getting tough.

Real tough.

The training has consisted of running successive 9-mile round-trip repeats up and down Lookout Mountain Road.

Last week on my 43rd birthday I finally ran 3 repeats--27 total miles.

The farthest I have ever run.

This was after a disastrous run the prior week--a run that left me exhausted.

A run that destroyed my confidence and left me asking myself why I signed up for such a ridiculous event.

A run that humbled me and forced me to confront the big "why."

Why this race?

Why is this important?

I just completed a book called "The Warrior Elite" by former Navy SEAL Dick Couch. A book that profiles SEAL class 228 as they progress through 27 weeks of training.  Training that begins with 114 men and ends with only 20.

At the end of the book, Mr. Couch reflects on the men that made it through the the 27-week raining and the men who did not.  He concludes the following:

"I personally have come to believe the single trait that will get a man through BUD/S is the will to win.  The desire to win is different from refusing to lose, or not quitting.  A man can get through BUD/S  by refusing to quit....but he will not be a leader--a "go-to" guy in his SEAL platoon.  BUD/S cultivates this will to win, but to one degree or another, top trainees bring it with them when they walk through the door..."

In no way am I comparing Navy SEAL training to training for the Leadville 50 race.

But the mentality that is required to complete Navy SEAL training is instructive.

Achieving any big goal requires the desire to WIN.

Not simply the desire to not LOSE.

In other words, every fiber your body and mind must be focused on looking up the mountain at the goal of summitting.

And not cautiously looking down the mountain to prevent falling.

It's playing aggressive offense.

Instead of fearful defense.

So here is the question:

What is the one thing in your life that you want to win?

NEED to win.

Can't NOT win?

Perhaps it saving your family's house from foreclosure.

Or landing that job that was meant for you.

Or saving your teenage son from addiction.

Or crossing the finish line of that first marathon.

In my opinion, a person who wants something more than breathing and life itself is a person who is unstoppable.

For that single-minded, laser focused mind-set will get a guy through the tough days.

And there will be plenty of tough days.

The kind of days that require remembering that succeeding means wanting to win...

And not just wanting to not lose.

My running partner and I are planning 3.5 repeats up Lookout Mountain next week--32 glorious miles.

Miles that will be achieved by eating right, sleeping right, and drinking lots of water.

But the real means of getting up that mountain all those times will not be our ability to run the miles..

It will be our ability to come up with a REASON run the miles.

A big reason.

Like the desire to WIN.

And not simply, not lose.


Saturday, April 14, 2012


Webster's dictionary defines discipline as:

"orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior."

Great definition.

I think discipline is also applied commitment.

The willingness to continue doing the activities you need to do to achieve your goal...long after those activities are no longer fun to do.

Discipline is getting up at 5am for those training runs--every day--when you don't want to.

Discipline is doing the calculus homework--instead of watching the Bronco game.

Discipline is eating ONE slice of Hawaiian pizza--instead of three.

Discipline, coupled with ambition, is the bridge between dreaming a goal and achieving a goal.

It's the difference between dreaming about running a marathon--and running through the winter to be ready for it.

It's the difference between dreaming about losing 20 pounds--and electing the popsicle over the Ben and Jerry's ice cream to lose it.

It's the difference between wanting an "A" in Chemistry class--and turning off ESPN to to do the work to EARN the "A."

So like I said,  I like Mr. Webster's definition of discipline.

Because discipline is not about brains or talent.

But about behavior.

Behavior that can change the course of our lives.

And those around us.

And make big dreams into big realities.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Formula for Results

I love a great idea.

But I love a great idea that produces great RESULTS even better.

The problem is that most great ideas never advance beyond the INSPIRATION phase.

And a great idea that never moves beyond the inspiration phase simply remains...well...a great idea.

An UNREALIZED great idea.

Because inspiration alone never produces results.

An inspiration to run a marathon won't get you across the finish line.

An inspiration to go to college won't get you to graduation.

An inspiration to lose weight won't reduce the waistline.

An inspiration to raise great kids won't produce productive adults.

Because real results require more than just inspiration.

I have found great ideas become great results when I mix the following:

Results  =  inspiration + perspiration + preparation + focus

The formula is simple.

But rarely easy.

But when applied consistently, produces great ideas.

Ideas that are inspiring.

But also real.


Sunday, April 1, 2012

Seeing is Believing

I planned on running up and down Lookout Mountain Road three times this morning.

I only made it twice.

The body was ready for the third was the brain that said "we're done."

I just couldn't "see" doing it again.

In distance training, when the brain doesn't SEE a goal, the heart won't BELIEVE the goal.

So the legs stop moving.

As Olympic psychologist Denis Waitley says: "the software drives the hardware."

I think this tough lesson applies to any goal--completing college, starting a business, running a marathon.

It all begins with "seeing."

So you can believe it to be possible.

No amount of training will allow a person to run a marathon if she believes the distance is too long.

No amount of college business degrees will enable an entrepreneur to start a success business if the entrepreneur doesn't first see and believe a successful path exists.

No amount of brains will get a student through college if she doesn't see and believe she is smart enough to graduate.

Indeed, brains, talent, and motivation are necessary ingredients for success in running or any other endeavor.

But I think it really all begins with seeing.

And believing.

I am going to try again next Sunday to run Lookout Mountain Road three times.

I'll make sure I bring the same fuel--plenty of water and two PBJ sandwiches.

But I will make sure I bring a different set of "eyes."

Eyes to help me "see" that it is possible.


Thursday, March 29, 2012

More Coaching Wisdom

Have been taking some time off for Spring Break...but found this great reminder in my email today (from a coach of course):

“Ability is what you are capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it. ”
Louis "Lou" Holtz (born 1937);
American football coach

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Coach

My colleagues and I are searching for a new faculty member in our Business Department.

After reviewing resumes, conducting interviews and witnessing teaching demonstrations of prospective candidates,  my team and I come back to asking ourselves a basic question:  "what really is a great teacher?"

I realize hundreds of titles have been written on this subject.

But based on the great teachers I have witnessed both as a student, and as an instructor, I believe a truly great teacher resembles a great COACH.

That's right--a COACH.

I heard an instructor at a four-year school credit his students' success to the fact that he "

"...gets them (his students) to do the things they don't want to do--but will thank him later on for making them do."

Sounds like a coach.

A coach does more than just explain the rules of a game .  A good coach, a GREAT coach, a coach that consistently wins games does the following:

1.  establishes the direction and strategy of the game
2.  inspires his players to do their best--especially when those players don't believe they can
3.  has the guts to be brutally honest--especially with players that don't WANT to do their best
4.  enforces the rules of the game--in other words, no cheating, no shortcuts--ever.

Joe Newton, Joe Vigil, Tony Dungy, Vince Lombardi.

Different coaches.

Different sports.

But the SAME APPROACH to winning. 

An approach that applies to any leadership position.

The classroom.

The boardroom.

And in raising kids.

Perhaps, instead of another leadership book written by another leadership guru, or another manual discussing the latest teaching theories to reach Generation X or Y....

Or another parenting book on raising an honor student...

Perhaps we aspiring executives, teachers, and parents should peruse the SPORTS section of the library.

And read about the great coaches.

The coaches that made a difference.

To their game.

And to their players.

So we can learn to be "coaches" that make a difference.

To our games.

And our players--at work, at school, and at home.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Words Matter

As children, we were taught: "sticks and stones may break our bones, but words can never hurt us."

I believe this is untrue.

Because broken bones heal quickly.

But the effects of words do not.

Because words matter.

The words we say can be like planting the seed of a tree.

The seed takes root.

And the roots grow deep.

Setting the direction of the tree.

Just like words can set our direction and the direction of people we care about.

Because words matter.

I am reminded of Emerson's words when he opined: "we become what we think about all day long."

What words do YOU think about all day long?

What words are you "planting" in yourself that impact your performance on the track, at work, and at home?

What words are you "planting" in others that impact THEIR performance on the track, at work, and at home?

Because words, just like roots of a tree, often set a person's direction.

Yours and mine.

For good...or not.

Because words matter.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Thanksgiving is the best holiday of the year.

I love this holiday because for one time every year, it forces us to do something we seldom pause to do...

Be grateful.

And gratitude, like most virtues, doesn't come easy.

It requires practice.

But there is an awesome side-effect to practicing gratitude:

Grateful people are happy people. 


Because I have yet to meet a happy complainer.

I think this is because true gratitude transcends current circumstances--which enables HAPPINESS to transcend circumstances.

The truly grateful person is grateful that their kids are healthy and love them even though they just lost their job.

The truly grateful person is grateful they are running the upcoming race even with a painful knee injury--because they know many athletes are competing from a wheelchair.

The truly grateful person still finds beauty in the amazing alpenglow sunrise despite the grim prognosis from the doctor.

I think grateful people have figured out what really matters.

And what doesn't.

What has lasting value.

And what doesn't.

I think distance training helps us figure this out.

To show us that gratitude, like happiness, is not a place.

But a choice.

And that it's up to us.


Saturday, March 10, 2012

You Gotta Earn It

The Portland Marathon is one of my favorite races.

It's not just the flat terrain, 50-degree weather, and sea-level advantage that I like about the race.

It's the philosophy of the race organizers that I like.

The runner gets the "finisher" shirt only AFTER she finishes the race.


While most city marathons hand out the "finisher" shirt with the athlete's race bib the day before the event out of convenience and, I suspect, to make everyone feel good whether they finish the race or not, the Portland Marathon (which does NOT have a half-marathon option by the way) is pure "old school."

You get the "finisher" shirt when you...well....FINISH the marathon.

Only after the runner's bib has been tagged by the officials at the finish line does the athlete receive the "finisher" shirt.

No finish.

No shirt.

This may sound petty.

But it sends a message.

A message that says...

You gotta earn it.

Towards the end of each semester in my Principles of Accounting I class, I have to remind my students that I don't GIVE grades to students.

They have to EARN their grades.

It's not that I am in the "winning is everything" camp.

But I have been a teacher and parent long enough to know something about human nature.  A nature that says that things that are not earned are often not valued.

I have seen many a student fail in school despite endless parental support.

While the student who is a single parent, working evenings at two retail jobs, and taking care of aging parents earns academic honors.

Because finishing is seldom about brains.

And often about ambition.

And determination.

You gotta earn it.

It's a concept that sounds cliche.

But a concept I believe it to be true.

Because it applies to more than just marathon running and Principles of Accounting.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Hitting the Wall

The marathon is 26.2 miles.

It is at mile 20 that the marathon becomes a different race.

It is the  physical and mental turning point--no BREAKING POINT--for many runners where exhaustion and self-doubt are at it's peak.

The point where where the athlete has to remind herself of the reason she STARTED the journey.

And remind herself of the reason to FINISH it.

This point in the marathon is known as hitting "the wall."

I think we experience "the wall" in nearly any endeavor.

Why should I continue with this difficult calculus class--or even continue with school?

Why should I continue with this business that is draining me mentally and financially?

Why should I keep working this second job to pay the mortgage when I am so exhausted?

It is at "the wall" where pure honesty occurs.

Honesty with ourselves.

The point where finishing what we started is predicated on coming up with a damn good reason to give more of ourselves when there is nothing left to give.

A big enough reason to help us dig really deep and find that reason that will transcend and carry us through the pain of those last few miles to victory.

This is not easy as I have seen many a runner hitch a ride home at mile 23.

But the experience of breaking through the wall ONCE provides us the strength to break through the wall AGAIN.

In running.

And in life.

I think Coach Vince Lombardi sums it up best:

"I firmly believe that any man's finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle - victorious."

Couldn't have said it better.


Monday, March 5, 2012


When is it time to move on?

When is it time to move on from that project?

Or that job?

Or that exercise class?

Or even that relationship?

There are entire sections of bookstores that try and answer this question but I think the answer depends on an HONEST answer to two very specific questions:

1.  Am I still CONTRIBUTING in a meaningful way?
2.  Am I still RECEIVING in a meaningful way?

If the answer is "no" to both questions and every effort has been exhausted in trying to correct the situation, I think a course correction is the only solution.

We often stick with a job, a project, or even a diet or exercise plan out of COMFORT or GUILT.  It's part of our daily routine despite the fact that we stopped adding and receiving value months or even years ago.

Each morning we get out of bed, make the coffee and feed ourselves the same lie we fed ourselves last week...or last year about why we need to keep at it when deep down we know the real truth.

The real truth is we cling to the COMFORT ZONE OF ROUTINE more than we cling to the UN-COMFORTABLE ZONE OF MOVING FORWARD.

Human beings are meant to move forward--like a boat.

Human beings are not meant to be stagnant in the marina so to speak.  Just as a sailboat will collect barnacles and a rusty hull if left in the dock, so to will a human being atrophy and collect life's barnacles if not constantly challenged to contribute and press forward.

So I say we finally admit to the areas of our training and our lives that are collecting barnacles.

So we can clean them off and repair our hull.

To leave the marina.

And return to the sea.


Saturday, March 3, 2012

A Reason to Keep Going

I do some occasional volunteer speaking for laid off workers at local workforce centers and networking groups.

I share job-seeking advice from my perspective as a former executive recruiter, hiring manager...

And layoff survivor.

In my presentation, I recommend that an individual should immediately do FOUR things after being laid off:

1.  File for unemployment
2.  Build a detailed budget to see where to cut costs
3.  Create a weekly job search plan

Indeed, I receive some quizzical looks on that last recommendation.

But then I relate my own painful layoff story.

And how the one thing that got me out of bed each morning to face more rejection letters and more lousy interviews, was a race I was training for.

A race I had signed up for just days before being laid off.

A 14.5 mile race up one of Colorado's "14ers" called The Mount Evans Ascent.

I recall how training for this challenging endeavor provided me four things when the job search was at it's darkest:

A Goal
The race was in late June.  I knew I had 12 weeks to plan and execute the proper training to accomplish the goal--at 14,000 feet.  The task was big, challenging, but indeed workable if the goal was calendared out.

A Place to be Each Day.
Each day began with training.  Each week the mileage grew.  Knowing that race day was rapidly approaching,  the fear of not finishing forced me to approach the daily training like going to a part-time job each morning.

Performance Feedback
Each week, I logged my mileage, speed, and body weight on a piece of paper I taped on the fridge.  Nothing fancy to be sure but effective noetheless in providing positive feedback when I met my goal.

And giving me the swat on the butt on the days I slept in.

It was white-out conditions atop Mt. Evans on race day June 2009.  But for my dad being at the top with with his cell phone camera, I would have had no photographic evidence I had finished.

The photographers went home early due to the storm.

But that day was a shining light.

A light in the dark job-search tunnel I had been traveling.  A light because the things it provided (a goal, a place to be each day, performance feedback, and victory) are all the things that provide us an identity when we HAVE a job.

And are the things taken from us when we LOSE our job.

So how about this:

Whatever tunnel you are traveling through, there are a lot of variables you can NOT control or make better.

Maybe you can't make the job market better.

Or your boss better.

Or the economy better.

Or the price of gas better.

But perhaps...

Signing up for that race.

And training for that race--that race that will really stretch you-- maybe even scare you...

Will make YOU better.

And that seems like all the reason in the world to keep going.


Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Flying Solo

I learned to fly an airplane in August of 1992.

It was a Cessna 172 Skyhawk.

A college graduation gift.

The real gift; however, wasn't the flying lessons.

The real gift was the CONFIDENCE I GAINED from the flying lessons.

Especially the confidence I gained from that first experience flying SOLO.

Just me and the plane.

Soon after that experience, I discovered the confidence to "fly solo" in other endeavors.

Running a marathon.

Starting a business.

Managing a department.

Becoming a parent.

I discovered that success in ONE area, fostered success in OTHER areas.


On the days we feel our confidence sagging...

Perhaps the cure for waning confidence isn't doing LESS to build ourselves back up.

But doing MORE.

And then DOING it.

Flying solo.

Signing up for that 10k race with your son that you think is way to far--for YOU.

Or teaching that business class at the community college even though you think you have nothing to share.

Or taking that leadership role at church or the school PTA--even though you don't feel like a leader.

Taking a chance on yourself.

Flying solo.

And being amazed at how far you can fly.


Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Lot of Lousy Paintings

I teach a beginning oil painting class on Monday evenings.

I tell my students what my painting instructor told me when I began painting:


You have to paint a lot of LOUSY paintings before you can paint that GREAT painting.

The great painting destination you will consider MASTERY.

That great masterpiece that you will paint one year from now will only year from now.

I have found this simple but important axiom to apply to nearly every endeavor.

After crossing the finish line of my first sub-four-hour marathon this past October, I recalled the many LOUSY marathons I ran where every mile was a pride-swallowing grind due to amateur training mistakes. Mistakes like carbo-loading on spicy food the night before a race and washing it down with a milkshake for "protein."

LOUSY idea.

LOUSY race.

But it took those LOUSY races to get to the VICTORY race.

The race called MASTERY.

And such it is with any endeavor.

It takes a lot of lousy songs to get to that great song.

It takes a lot of lousy poems to get to that great poem.

It takes a lot of lousy golf games to arrive at that perfect swing.

So if you find yourself in the middle of "Lousy-ville" right now on your way to your destination, I say take heart.

And know that the state of "Lousy-ville" is only a TEMPORARY stop.

Because that awesome destination called MASTERY is just down the road.

It's just a few paintings away.


Saturday, February 25, 2012

It Doesn't Matter That You Can Calculate Depreciation

Every semester, my Accounting students ask me what specific Accounting skills offer the best job prospects.

I tell them the skills employers REALLY NEED have NOTHING to do with Accounting.

I tell them that in my experience--as a former accountant--the best jobs go to the people who are really good at the following:

Finding great people.
This means having the humility to decide to surround yourself with people who are smarter and more experienced than you.  This decision, ironically, makes you smarter.

LEADING great people.  Not MANAGING great people.  A monkey can boss people  around.  Only a LEADER can inspire the group to follow him / her and help the team discover strengths and talents they didn't know they possessed.

Managing Projects. 
This means taking a room full of people from different departments and organizations  (i.e. people you have no authority to FIRE) and getting them to work together and complete a project that is  a)  on time and    b) on budget

Speaking with Passion
This means having the guts to look your boss in the eye and ALWAYS tell him or her the absolute truth --no matter how scary and unpopular the truth may be--and offer an honest and insightful recommendation. 

So here is the deal:

Learning to calculate depreciation is an important skill.

Learning to amortize a bond premium is an important skill.

Learning to produce a statement of cash flows is an important skill.

But these are skills that are not unique.

Which means they lack value.

On the other hand...

Finding great people.

Leading great people.

Managing big projects.

And speaking with passion.

Are absolutely unique skills.

And are skills that many are AFRAID to develop.

But they are the skills that are FAR more valuable to a company and shareholder value than contemplating the FIFO vs. LIFO inventory valuation methods.

So next semester, please, go ahead and purchase that textbook for Intermediate Accounting to advance your academic growth.

But let me encourage you to also develop the skills that will REALLY make a difference.

A difference to you subordinates, your peers and your future boss.

The skills that can't be found in the chapter discussing depreciation.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Eating the Elephant

The Ironman Triathlon is one of the most daunting athletic challenges on the planet.

It begins with a 2.4 mile swim in the ocean, followed by a 112 mile bike ride, and finishing with a 26.2 mile marathon---all in one day!

I read how many of the professionals that prepare for the big day utilize a training strategy called "mental chunking."  Instead of looking at the race as a threatening 140 mile event, they break the race into smaller events---perhaps into multiple 5 mile events.  This provides the athlete with a much needed MENTAL advantage as a 5 mile race is much easier to wrap one's mind around and far less threatening than a 140 mile race.

Now notice:  using the mental chunking approach doesn't change the race--it is still a whopping 140 mile long day--it simply changes the way the athlete LOOKS at the race.

Which in turn impacts how the athlete PERFORMS in the race.

The mental chunking approach is akin to the cliche question:  how do you eat an elephant?  Answer:  one bite at a time.

I have found this mental strategy to be extremely effective--on the track and in life.

A 16-week semester filled with a teaching overload, department head duties, all coupled with kid's sports and homework and an endless to-do list of other family obligations can at times look overwhelming---even impossible--- when viewed as a whole.

But I have found that taking the giant elephant of obligations called "life" and breaking it into small pieces, pieces that can be managed, one bite at a time, one week at a time, seems to make the impossible---possible.

And not let the big elephant, seem so big.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Only 100%

Steve Prefontaine (known as "Pre") was one of the greatest middle and long distance runners in American history.  He held the title in the 2,000 meter to 10,000 meter track events.  He was expected to win gold in the Montreal Olympics in 1976 but tragically died in an auto accident in 1975.

Although he died at the young age of 24, his legacy on and OFF the track inspires today.

Pre not only inspired people by his PERFORMANCE  on the track.  But by his PASSION on the track. 

It wasn't just WHAT he did.  But THE WAY THAT HE DID IT that inspired others.

He was known for his unorthodox racing tactic of "front-running." A gutsy method that meant he gave 100% effort for 100% of the race--a tactic that was contrary to the traditional racing method of holding back until the last lap, and then leapfrogging the opponents to the finish line.

He felt this traditional approach to racing was dishonest.

He believed that anything less than 100% effort--at any time-- was unacceptable.    Pre once said::

"I don't want to win unless I know I've done my best, and the only way I know how to do that is to run out front, flat out until I have nothing left. Winning any other way is chicken-shit."

I think Steve Prefontaine's approach to racing not only inspires us.  But more importantly, CHALLENGES us.

Challenges us to look within and ask what our life's work is.  Our mission.  Our source of passion.

So here is our challenge.  Our opportunity.  We can:

1.  Find work that that gives us PASSION.


2.  Find PASSION in the work that we do.

If Pre were alive he would tell us to find our gift.  Our life's work.  And do it at 100% effort.  

For as he said:  "To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift."  


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Simple vs. Easy

SIMPLE solutions are often not EASY.

Losing weight is simple:  eat less, exercise more.  Sounds easy.

But go into any bookstore or local library and you will find entire sections dedicated to the endeavor of dieting.  Diets that promise thinner waistlines by partaking of fare like seaweed soup or tofu burgers.

Next to the diet section is the fitness section where one can find over one hundred titles on RUNNING.  Yes, running.  How to run faster, farther, with shoes, without shoes...

I suspect there will be a section dedicated to breathing soon...

When you get home from the bookstore, flip on the tube after midnight and see how fast late-night comedies segue into a barrage of exercise infomercials.  Infomercials touting triple-dog-dare-power-yoga or getting mega-ripped abs while sleeping. All for three easy payments of $39.95.
Saving money for retirement is also simple:  spend less, save more.  Sounds pretty easy.

But after perusing the diet section, walk over to the personal finance section.  You'll find a plethora of "investment" advice.  Advice that includes enticing opportunities like "executive income while working from home," "real estate investing with no money down."  For the pessimist investor there is advice a plenty on ways to prepare for the coming apocalypse by parking one's nest egg into gold, freeze-dried food, guns and ammo!

How did we get here?

I have a theory.

Exercising, dieting, saving for retirement...raising good kids--anything worthwhile in other words--takes discipline, consistency and hard work.

And it's THOSE THREE WORDS (i.e. virtues)  that take the easy out of simple.

It is the LACK of those three virtues why we have stores dedicated to providing slick covered books, videos, powders and pills to prop up our sagging dedication and discipline when things don't feel quite so...well...easy.

Training for a marathon (26.2 miles) is pretty straightforward: run 4-5 days per week for 18 weeks while slowly increasing the mileage.


Disciplining oneself to CONSISTENTLY run 4-5 days per week for 18 weeks--even in bad weather.  Well...not so easy.

So here is my idea:

Instead of zipping to the nearest running store and grabbing every running book, running video, and a stash of bars, gels, and gu's--along with a heart-rate monitor and any other electronic gadget one can velcro to one's body to fool us into believing that training is easy... 

Why don't we just recognize that most of the things that we seek to grow in our life that are worth growing--our health, our finances, our families--are pretty simple to grow.

But come at a cost.

But often NOT paid in money.

Or gadgets, or books, or videos.

But instead, are often paid in large denominations of the virtues discipline, consistency and hard work.

Three virtues that are simple.

Very simple.

But not easy.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

From the Heart

I recently found an old John Denver album in my basement.

It was a 1975 live recording of a performance at Red Rocks ampitheater in Colorado when his career was beginning to blossom.

I know, I know.  I'm a geek. 

But as I listened to the four-decade old recording, I couldn't help but be impressed.  Impressed by the emotion in his music. Every lyric in every song felt authentic.

From the heart.

I doubt John Denver ever began writing a song with a focus group.  Or by hiring a team of consultants from McKinsey and Company on how he could best "leverage his synergies" to "maximize market share" to "enhance stockholder value."

I suspect John Denver first and foremost wrote songs to create great work.  Work that was bigger than him. Work that would endure beyond his life.

Work from the heart.

I suspect that even those who dislike his music would concede the authenticity in his music.  And that he succeeded in creating work that endures.

I have no musical talent.  But I hope that in some way I can create work that conveys the passion that people feel in John Denver's music.

Work from the heart.

I sometimes wonder if college business schools have it wrong.

Business schools teach students to earn a profit by identifying a need then creating a product to meet the need.

But it seems like the truly great entrepreneurs, artists, writers, athletes, and musicians do it the other way around:  They create great work, and THEN find the need.

The iPod, The Grapes of Wrath, It's a Wonderful Life....even the yellow "sticky-note" were all created BEFORE we knew we needed these items.

Perhaps college business schools and should look to children--that's right CHILDREN--in teaching entrepreneurship.

Why are we always attracted to a child's artwork?

Because we know it is made from love.

It is authentic.

It is from the heart.

What if more companies made and sold products this way?

So how about this for an idea:

Instead of asking,  "what SHOULD I do with my life?"  Perhaps the better question is "what is it that I HAVE to do with my life?"  

The work that I MUST do. 

The work that is authentic.

And from the heart.