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It’s Not All About ME…(Anymore)

I’m a big weenie.

I hate to admit that, but it is becoming more evident to me every day.

Three weeks ago, I ran my first 5K. I made a big deal about it to anyone and everyone who would listen. I didn’t want to fail, so I put myself so far out there publicly that, if I DID fail, I would look like a weenie.

I didn’t fail in running the race.

But I have failed in the three weeks since then.

You see, I haven’t run at all since that race.

I haven’t written anything since the race either.

The two go hand in hand…

You see, a couple of days after the race, I injured my back. The doctor doesn’t believe it was race-related (thank goodness), but I have been in quite a bit of pain for three weeks. Multiple trips to the chiropractor and daily ice and heat treatments have been intermingled with my teaching course load, making it difficult for the back to completely heal. That’s the main reason I haven’t done any running for the last three weeks.

So why haven’t I done any writing?

Well, that’s where the whole, “I’m a big weenie,” thing comes in…

I am someone who has difficulty compartmentalizing various parts of my life. In other words, when one area of my life is not functioning smoothly, I can’t avoid having it spill over into other areas of my life. This is very frustrating.

And being in chronic pain has sucked the enjoyment out of my writing.

Even now, as I sit on an ice pack, I am struggling to force out words. It’s an effort, not a joy.

And to me, writing has been all about the joy.

Therein lies the rub…

I want my writing to become more than just a creative outlet…I want it to become a meaningful place for others to reflect and discover something in themselves, borne out of shared experience. I want people to resonate with my words…to be encouraged, chastised, convicted, and motivated. I want my words to drive people to take action.

And if that’s the case, then I need to be writing daily…not just when I feel like it. Good writers are disciplined…good writers write nearly every day…even if they write something that no one ever sees except themselves. And I haven’t even been doing that.

Instead, I have been completely unmotivated, resulting in a complete waste of time on mindless junk…like Facebook Scrabble and BTD5.

So here I am on Labor Day, 2012, celebrating the spirit of the American worker…and I’m not doing anything worthwhile.

I have to get up and go…I need to move. Even if it hurts…and I need to set a goal that will motivate me to run…and to write.

I have set that goal:

  • On October 20th, I will be running another 5K.

Now before you go, “Oh no, here we go again,” let me explain.

My last 5K was all about me, I admit that. I had to prove to myself that I could do something I did not imagine possible. But life can’t continue to be “all about me” or it becomes pointless. I firmly believe that our lives need to be centered on serving God and serving others.

Food Bank of Northwest IndianaSo on October 20th, I will be running in the “Hope’s Harvest” 5K run/walk to benefit the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana. I am looking for sponsors who are willing to donate any amount in support of the run. All proceeds will go directly to the Food Bank, whose mission is to support area food pantries.

I also want to encourage people who may want to walk or run themselves to be a part of our team! The entry fee of $25.00 also goes directly to the Food Bank and will provide all participants with breakfast, lunch, and a goody bag, including an event T-shirt. You can join the Cornerstone Food Pantry Team by clicking on the “Hope’s Harvest” banner at the end of this blog.

There you have it folks…I need to have a goal to pursue, or I get complacent…sluggish…unproductive… ok, I admit it; LAZY! But now that I have another short-term goal to pursue, I feel so much more motivated!

I also have the opportunity to help those in my community who do not have the resources to feed their families. What better way to serve? So get motivated yourself! Set yourself a short-term goal-something you can accomplish in the next 6-8 weeks, and something that will be a service to someone in need. Then, get off your butt, and get going!

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Chasing Down a Dream

I can put the napkin down…I do not have egg on my face. And I am so relieved.

After highly publicizing my intention to run a 5K race-something I have NEVER done before in my life-yesterday, I did it…and I finished.

With a good luck kiss from my wife, and the encouraging words, “just don’t throw up” echoing in my head from my good friend Rachael, I was off. And my life was changed forever.

I know that sounds a bit dramatic, but it’s true.

You see, when I weighed 360 pounds and I could barely walk up a short flight of stairs without stopping because of severe knee pain and extreme shortness of breath, running a road race wasn’t anywhere on the radar of plans for my life. In fact, I genuinely believe that if I had tried to run at that point, I probably would have had a heart attack.

And I was probably right.

But that was then…In the last four years, I have lost weight…close to 100 pounds.

And with the loss of fat has come a gradual gain in self-confidence.

But it was a series of challenges that brought me to the point where I am able to write this particular blog post:

  • Steve challenged me to run one mile, because he saw my lack of belief in myself;
  • Larry, Bryan, and Mark challenged me to run a 5K with them;
  • And I challenged myself to risk looking like a fool if I failed by telling anyone and everyone who would listen what my goal was.

So here I am, 24 hours later, reflecting on my first 5K. The race route has been cleared, the road has returned to normal, and the only reminders I have of the race are a couple of tired legs, some great memories, and a few nice pictures.

And, oh yeah, I also have more than 100 comments and “likes” on Facebook from well-wishing friends and relatives. Thanks to everyone for their well wishes.

To be honest, I was a little bit surprised at the massive groundswell of support. People who had friended me and then disappeared from my Facebook feed are popping back up to congratulate me or to tell me that they are inspired to set a similar goal.

You know what that means?

It means that during a time when the stock market is down and gas prices are up…when the politicians on both sides of the aisle can’t stop the attack ads and negative campaigning…when the Middle East situation continues to spiral out of control…

People from all cross-sections of society NEED to hear a feel-good story.

As I ran this race, I was energized by the people along the 3.1 mile route, shouting encouragement, clapping for the runners, handing out cups of water, and even spraying willing runners with a hose to cool them off.

I joked with a couple of people sitting in lawn chairs at the end of their driveway that I would trade places with them if they wanted. They laughed, politely declined, and encouraged us to keep going. As I approached the finish line, the race director was standing at the top of the hill, shouting encouragement, “Keep going! You’re almost there! Good job!”

And then I heard the calls from my friends, my wife, and my kids:

“Keep going, Jon! You can do it! Go Dad! WOO HOO!!!” I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face and was immediately mobbed by my favorite people in the world…my family and friends.

With my son, Andrew, who finished 17 minutes ahead of me. 🙂

And as I thanked them for their encouragement, I also thanked God for giving me the strength to do what I could never have done on my own.

So now I have done something I never IMAGINED would be possible…I’m looking for my next challenge…and I’m excited to figure out what it will be.

In the meantime, I am planning to run my next 5K. It’s at the Valparaiso Popcorn Festival. And it’s in three weeks.

I guess I better keep running.

Because I can’t accomplish my dreams if I’m not willing to chase them down.

 

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Outside “The Zone”

In one of the most impacting blogs I have read recently, Michael Hyatt suggests that frequent trips outside our comfort zone are critical to our growth. Hyatt states that “the really important stuff happens outside your comfort zone.” Notice that he doesn’t say “SOME” really important stuff happens…or “OCCASIONALLY,” really important stuff happens…he says that “THE” really important stuff happens outside your comfort zone.

I’ve come to recognize the truth of this simple statement.

Like many people, I shy away from anything that causes me to be uncomfortable. I am not someone who enjoys surprises or new experiences. I prefer to stay within previously established parameters for my life. And when something happens to push me beyond those parameters, I’m not happy.

It’s these comfort zone parameters that have kept me from accomplishing so many things in my life. And now, my life is half over (I HOPE it’s only half over) and I feel like I have wasted so much time in my comfort zone, that I’m not completely sure how to get out of it.

So I’m doing something radical…

This Saturday, I run my first ever 5K race. For those of you who are metrically challenged, that’s 5,000 meters…or approximately 16,400 feet. That doesn’t sound too bad, until realize that this is a bit more than three miles…

THAT’S outside my comfort zone.

I’ve been running a couple of miles three times a week. I even got up to 2.5 miles once.

But THREE miles? Whoa…

I have also been thinking about the hundreds of other runners who will be there on Saturday…most of them have done this before. This is not new to them.

It’s new to me…and I’m intimidated. In fact, when I was running yesterday, I psyched myself out so bad that I almost stopped running and decided not to run in the race.

I’m such a weenie…

But I kept going back to Hyatt’s statement:

“The really important stuff happens outside your comfort zone.”

And I know that he’s right…

For me, this race is really important…

It signifies something that I never imagined  being able to do. It acknowledges the fact that I am capable of learning, growing, and improving, even as I approach the receipt of my AARP card.

And it opens my mind to a world of possibilities…if I can run my first race at the age of 47, what else can I accomplish in my life?

Harland Sanders started Kentucky Fried Chicken at 65. Grandma Moses was 78 when she had her first art exhibition-selling small prints for just $2.00. Ronald Reagan was not elected to his first public office until he was 55, and Winston Churchill didn’t become Prime Minister of England until he was 62. Takichiro Mori (WHO?!?!?) was an economics professor until he left academia at age 55 to become a real estate investor in 1959.  When Mori died in 1993, he was the world’s richest man with a net worth of around $13 billion. And Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t publish her first book until she was 65.

I don’t want to be a restaurateur or a painter. I’m not interested in politics, or being a billionaire (although MILLIONAIRE wouldn’t be so bad). I WOULD love to write and publish books…and I guess I still have a few years to work on that before I pass Laura’s age…

But it all starts by being willing to get outside my comfort zone…by risking failure and then risking failure again.

So I will run my race on Saturday. I will crowd in with all of the other runners who are more experienced than I am. I will be left in the dust by the majority of them.

And I won’t care.

Because I’m running.

And that’s something that’s going to happen outside my comfort zone.

Where the “really important stuff happens.”

 

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The “Domino” Life

When I was young, I watched a TV special about these guys who wanted to set a world record for tumbling the biggest field of dominoes. They spent weeks and weeks meticulously setting up dominoes, one at a time. If their placement was off at all, it would cause a failure in the pattern, and not all the dominoes would fall. On the other hand, if, during the setup, they accidentally knocked over a domino, it would cause a cascade effect that would cause hundreds of dominoes to fall early. They would frantically find a place to remove a domino somewhere up the line that would stop the untimely chain reaction, and then they would have to clear the fallen dominoes and start to rebuild from the point of failure.

As I reflect on the patience one must have to undertake such an effort, it reminds me of my life. I spend a lot of time trying to maximize my effectiveness in so many areas: spiritual, physical, emotional, mental, relational…and when one area of my life is not going well, it tends to cascade over into the other areas of my life, like dominoes that aren’t meant to fall until the entire “puzzle” is set up just right.

Recently, I have been struggling mentally. As the summer semester draws to a close, I find myself completely drained. I’m having mental lapses, making careless computational errors (not good when you’re a math teacher!), and just having trouble focusing in general. This has made it difficult to run.

Yes, I said run…

You see, I have come to realize that what everyone says about running really IS true. It’s all mental. In the last couple of months, I have increased my base running distance from one mile to two miles. And it has been that mental focus that has enabled me to do that. Being mentally drained from teaching has made it difficult to run.

Being the emotional person that I am, this has been discouraging for me. I have felt slightly depressed over the past couple of weeks, and a lot of it is rooted in my self-perceived lack of progress with running. I have my first ever 5K in just nine days, and I do not feel ready for it. This makes me worried, draining me emotionally.

Being drained emotionally has made it difficult to give to my family in the way that they need me to. I am a husband and a dad. My wife and kids require and deserve that part of me which meets their emotional needs…and it has been hard to give the way I need to.

And when I am having trouble meeting the demands of life, I often find myself being frustrated with God. I ask Him to give me the capacity to meet the challenges of daily living, and yet, at the end of the day, I look back and see a series of little failures along the way that add up to a non-productive day.

Does anyone see the problem here?

I believe that the victories in life flow from my spiritual relationship with God first and foremost. When I look back at what leads me to ultimate spiritual frustration, I recognize that it is because I am coming to God with the scraps that I have left at the end of the day. And I’m mad that the scraps are not pleasing to God.

My most useful, productive days are those where I place God at the forefront of my day, where He belongs. Drawing on His strength enables me to be more focused and mentally tough. And then, like the fall of the dominoes, the rest of my day cascades into place.

And when the dominoes fall the right way-the way that they are intended to fall-it creates a beautiful design…one that I can look back on and say, “Thanks for using me today, God.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Quest for Mental Toughness

Vince Lombardi, Hall of Fame coach of the Green Bay Packers, defined Mental Toughness as “sacrifice and self-denial combined with a perfectly disciplined will that refuses to give in. It’s a state of mind – you could call it ‘character in action.’”

I know many who fit this definition. Among them are cancer survivors, pilots, businessmen, marathon runners, sky divers, pastors, missionaries, scientists, professors, rugby players, professional speakers, authors, actors, and soldiers. They come from diverse backgrounds, experiencing life in its many facets, drawing from their experiences and sharpening their minds and their bodies, refusing to give in to the obstacles that they face, and overcoming them through sheer self-discipline. They believe without a doubt that they can accomplish their objective, and, invariably, they do so…because they will themselves to do it. They are mentally tough.

I am not mentally tough.

I am usually the first person to quit when things start to get hard. When the going gets tough, the tough get going…and I get going in the other direction. I want to be comfortable, and pushing myself beyond my limits is not comfortable.

So I stop.

I have always believed that being mentally tough is something that you are “born with…” that it is just a part of how you are wired from birth. Those of us who don’t have it can never get it, and those who DO have it will always come out ahead of those of us who do not. It’s the way of life, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

My friend Steve pushed me back hard on that idea. Steve falls into a few of the aforementioned categories, and I have always admired his ability to get things done. I have also felt a little envious of his ability to set and accomplish goals. He is currently training to run a half-marathon (13.1 miles), and he recently passed the six mile mark in his training schedule. When I commented that I had never run a mile in my life-and that there is no way I could ever do so-he said, “Oh, yeah, you could run a mile. Running is all mental. You just have to put your mind to it.” (I found that humorous, because whenever I see someone running, they are using their legs…but I digress.)

He pointed out that the “pain” one usually associates with running is really just fatigue. And telling yourself that you are not in pain, but that you are just tired, is a mindset that you have to develop. “It’s all about becoming mentally tough,” Steve said.

Last month, shortly after Steve issued his challenge, I ran my first mile. I can now consistently run two miles (I topped out at 2.3 miles this week). My first 5K is in four weeks, so I am right on target to make my goal of 3.1 miles.

You know what I have discovered since I started running a month ago?

I AM mentally tough…because the first ½ mile of every run is the worst part of the whole experience. My calves start to burn, I get winded, my knees tighten up a little bit…

And I start to think, “I can’t do this.”

But then I remind myself that I have already done it many times…that I’m not really in pain…only a little fatigued…and I push through it. This happens every time I run.

And every time I reach a pass a previous running milestone and venture into the new territory of a longer distance than I have ever run before, I start to think, “I can’t do this.”

But I push ahead anyway.

Running has strengthened my mind…something I never thought possible.

And it has opened up a world of new possibilities.

What are some of the areas in your life where you need to become mentally tough? How are you strengthening your mind? I really want to know.

Because becoming mentally tough is a new challenge for me.

And I need the help of my friends to build up my brain muscles!

 

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No Way Out: How I Am Forcing Myself To Be Accountable

The key to accepting responsibility for your life is to accept the fact that your choices, every one of them, are leading you inexorably to either success or failure, however you define those terms.

-Anonymous

I have never been a particularly “self-responsible” person. That’s not to say I do not take responsibility. Most people would say that when I screw up, I will own it. And when I am leading a team and the job doesn’t get done, I take responsibility for getting it done or accepting the consequences of failure.

But when it comes to self-responsibility, I have never been the model to follow. This is evidenced by my repeated failures in the area of personal fitness, my seeming inability to ever satisfactorily close out a project, and my general laziness. Even when I have been in accountability relationships, my accountability partner has usually become tired of trying to keep me motivated. They seem to think that their inability to help me reach the goals to which I am being held accountable means that they have somehow failed…so they give up.

But I have discovered an accountability method that keeps an accountability partner from becoming worn out: I call it “multi-lateral accountability.”

Some people call it “not putting all of your eggs in one basket.” Seth Godin calls it building a “Tribe.” However you want to label it, there really is “strength in numbers.”

Case in point: I have chosen to widely publicize my plan to run my very first 5K race.

For those who don’t know me, I used to weigh over 360 pounds. I developed diabetes, I could not walk up stairs without huffing and puffing, and I had pretty much resigned myself to a shortened life span because of my obesity. I have since lost 90 pounds, my diabetes is under control (without insulin), and I have a renewed sense of purpose. At one time, the very idea that I would EVER be training to run in any kind of race was laughable.

So, where was I?

Oh yes, I have chosen to widely publicize my plan to run my very first 5K race….

The key words in this sentence are “widely publicize.”

I didn’t just tell my wife…I didn’t just tell my closest friends…

I posted it on my blog. I made it my status on Facebook…I am telling anyone who asks…I am telling anyone who DOESN’T ask…I’m basically putting myself so far out on a limb that if I DON’T run this race, I will lose all credibility with just about everyone I know…

And even some people I don’t know…

Because, you see, the coolest thing happened to me the other day…

One of my Facebook friends (Mike) “liked” my post…and one of Mike’s Facebook friends-someone I don’t even know (let’s call him Jerry) saw my post. And Jerry wrote me to ask how I was losing weight.

Wow…

Someone I didn’t know wanted to hear my story…

And I couldn’t wait to tell it to him. You know why? Because I’m just an average guy, like everyone else. I have my struggles, like everyone else. Like so many people in our country, I have struggled with obesity, and I never saw a light at the end of the tunnel…I never saw a future where I could ever be anything more than the “beached whale” that so many of my classmates called me in high school.

And then something changed…

And now, someone I have never met has asked me to share with him how I’m doing it.

You know what else is cool?

As I write this, I’m sitting in a coffee shop, waiting to meet “Sam,” another guy that I don’t know. Sam learned about me from another mutual friend, and he is driving up from Lafayette so that we can meet and talk about what I’m doing to get fit.

As I was exercising this morning, I was thinking about all of the people who have been encouraging me, offering me exercise and diet tips, praying for me, and cheering me on (One friend from church even said that she was going to come to the race on August 11th to support me). And I realized that I had never experienced this kind of accountability before. This isn’t a private conversation anymore. This is a developing community of accountability partners who are cheering me on and encouraging me in the fight.

And I want to say thanks.

I also want you to be on the lookout for other people like Jerry and Sam. If you think that they would be encouraged to know how someone else is fighting the same battle, please share this story with them. I want to be able to encourage as many people as I can.

And it never hurts to have a few more accountability partners too. 🙂

 

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