Please, No Bucket List

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I’m not a big fan of the “Bucket List.” I think there’s something inherently negative (or maybe it’s the fatalism) about wanting to do things before you die. I have more of a life to-do list. It’s probably not that fundamentally different from a bucket list, only it’s got a much more positive view and it’s more about how I live and not what I do.

Even so, some life experiences of late have led me to realize that whatever list I manage to, there are some things that I never thought I would do, and could well have gone through life without having to do. And these unpleasantries, because of how I try to live my life, can actually be valuable and affirming experiences.

Like this week, which saw me waiting in a long line to pay my respects to the family of a murder victim. It was the son of someone who I’ve met through some volunteer work I do. I thought of the life cut short, and the countless broken hearts of loved ones left behind. The experience I had at that wake illuminated several key points for me:

  • Sometimes the right thing is the most uncomfortable thing, and after you do it you find you’ve traded a little discomfort for an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and relief and good-ness.
  • Be present in every moment, because subsequent moments are a gift and not a promise.
  • Volunteering matters. You may not always know it when you’re doing it, but I now know in no uncertain terms that getting up at 4:30am once a week and giving an hour of myself has an exponential and meaningful impact.

Consider the lessons I learned, consider what matters to you, and go ahead. Start. Make positive change now.

Go.

Holiday Math

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If you’re on holiday overload like so many people I know, consider the following equation that came to mind as I was hustling about today.

Take 1/2 the time spent complaining about all you have to do and apply that time to actually doing stuff, and I bet you end up getting more done than you were even complaining about in the first place.

So, as I like to say, Go! Start. Now. Do!
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Friday Night Lights A-Blazing

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It’s cold, rainy, and a few weeks until Christmas. Here’s one to make you feel great this holiday season. It’s the story of my college classmate Michael Burnett, the particulars of which I’ve been following on Facebook, and it’s a story of friendship, family,and football. I have not fact-checked the details, nor have I wordsmithed my sentences. It’s such an awesome story, I really wanted to get it out there as fast as I could, and before the big game.

Mike and I both played basketball in college, there was a fair amount of social overlap between the men’s and women’s teams, and that wasthe context in which I met and knew Mike. He was a great guy, a hard worker, nice, friendly, laid back, quick to smile,and quicker to laugh. Fast-forward 25 years, to our 25th reunion; maybe I had seen Mike once since graduation, a brief exchange at another reunion. Maybe not. Doesn’t matter. In any case, I reconnected with Mike over drinks at the Mere Point Yacht Club, met his family, and even though so much time had passed, it took no time at all to remember that when you are in Mike’s presence, you’re in the presence of one of the good guys.

In the course of the catching up that night and over the weekend, I learned about Mike’s non-traditional life trajectory after college; he spent time as a lawyer and carpenter before making his professional home as a history teacher and football coach. I admired him for his commitment to finding his way and embracing his passion, and I sort of envied his happiness.

The weekend ended with rekindled friendships, fueled and facilitated by social media. And that was how I learned about a tragedy Mike experienced not long after reunion, the death of his best friend and assistant coach, a man by the name of Adam Fortune.The publicity around Adam’s death is where I learned more about Mike’s remarkable story. If the story of Mike Burnett and the Tuscarora Huskies were a movie, you might deem the plot a bit of a stretch. And that’s what makes the story so good, why I need to tell it, and how grateful I am that I know Mike.

Mike is a smart guy, went to law school, got a Master’s Degree, worked in litigation, and ultimately pursued a career as an educator,working on both coasts before settling in Virginia. He was a very successful coach in his first four years at Broad Run High School, turning around a 1-9 team and compiling a 43-6 mark, leading the team to back-to-back undefeated seasons and Virginia AA Division 4 Championships. In January 2010, a month after the second championship, Mike announced that he was leaving Broad Run to take on the roles of Social Studies Department Chair and Head Football Coach at Tuscarora, a new school set to open in Leesburg that Fall.

While the decision wasn’t an easy one, it was the right one for Mike, for both personal and professional reasons. It was also the right decision for three of Mike’s assistants, who trusted in his vision and leadership enough to follow him, and to stay with him. When Tuscarora opened its doors, it had a full Varsity football schedule; Mike and his staff guided the inexperienced and senior-less team to an inaugural 5-5 season. The next three seasons saw records of 9-3,10-2, and 9-3. In four years, at a new school, Mike had an impressive record of 33-13.

This summer, Tuscarora was touched by the tragedy referenced earlier, the death of Mike’s best friend and assistant coach, Adam Fortune. He had been by Mike’s side for eight seasons as his defensive coordinator, and in July—while vacationing with family—died of cardiomyopathy. He was 37.

Tragedy has the unique power of being able to bring a community together or to shatter it, often depending on who and what is leading the community’s response. In this case, a unique combination of Adam’s legacy and Mike’s leadership galvanized Tuscarora. In a season dedicated to the memory of Coach Fortune, the Huskies finished 10-0, playing its home games in astadium that was renamed “Fortune Field.” The team lived the words of their departed, beloved coach: “Don’t strive to be good. Strive to be great.”

Which brings us to today, with the Tuscarora Huskies having won four playoff games, including one against Broad Run, preparing for their next opponent. The offense is led by the Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year, Noah Reimers. And the team is led by my college classmate, Mike Burnett. On Saturday, at the University of Virginia, the team will be playing for Adam Fortune and the 5a state championship. I’ll be rooting for the good guys, and enjoying the reminder of how important it is to pay attention to what really matters. And as hokey asit’s sure to sound, no matter the outcome of the game, Mike Burnett and his team are ending this season on top.

32 Minutes

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This year, it took me 32 minutes round trip, up from 28 last year.

I bet we all waste at least 32 minutes a day, so why don’t more people proactively invest 32 minutes A YEAR in their own lives?????

What am I talking about?

Preventive healthcare, also known as preventative healthcare, also known as taking care of your most precious possession—yourself!

So many people make so many excuses not to take care of themselves. But there’s no good excuse. None. And it’s a decision that can end up costing you your life.

This morning my mammogram was scheduled for 10:10. I left the house at 9:59, checked in, scheduled my appointment for next year, changed, wiped off my deodorant, got my four angles, changed back, and was home at 10:29.

I realize not everyone lives as close to their place, and sometimes you experience a wait and blah blah blah, but the bottom line is this—you have time to take care of yourself. So do it.

There’s nothing to be afraid of. And if you are afraid, trust in your practitioner. To answer your questions, walk you through it, allay your fears…whatever you need, advocate for yourself. But first and foremost, advocate for yourself by making the appointments you need. I know there are a lot of tests and procedures and whatever that are “uncomfortable” or “invasive.” But routine physicals don’t hurt. A mammogram is a small price to pay for your life. And colonoscopies get a—wait for it—bum rap. (That was too easy.) Yeah the prep is kind of intense, but the procedure itself? You’re out cold for it, so it’s all good.

Taking care of yourself proactively might save your life. So please start now. If you’ve been putting off your routine care, make one appointment right now. You’ll feel better about feeling better.

What are you waiting for? Take care of yourself. Call now.

Please.

And thank you.

If You Don’t Take Time To Laugh, Make Time To Laugh

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Lately I’ve been trying not to take myself too seriously, trying not to be wrapped too tight, trying to roll with life, trying to scowl less and smile more. Sometimes being happy is a lot of work, but that doesn’t mean the happy is forced.

It’s about being conscious of yourself, cognizant of your actions, and being attentive to, caring about, and responsive to your needs, your wants. I realized that in a different way this morning, when I found myself talking about a difficult situation I’m facing. It would be so easy to be consumed by and subsumed into the bleakness of it. But it’s not that much work to frame the difficulty more positively and ensure that it’s the right size and in the right place in the landscape of my life.

This week, as scheduling has it, I went to trivia night twice this week. On Sunday with one group of friends and last night with a couple, also friends of mine. We did terrible both times, which actually is unusual, but man, did we ever laugh. A lot.

And there it is. Yeah, I’m not working now and money is tight and my life is kind of, uh, lean right now. Even so, making sure that my heart stays happy has to stay as a huge priority.

Life is busy. It’s easy to make excuses. The holidays can be stressful. It’s easy to get swept up in everything around you. Take stock of what that is, how it feels, and what you want. And if you find you’re not having fun, take a break. Do something that makes you happy. Whatever it is, take the time to do it. Give yourself the time to be happy.

This weekend, I’m also doing something that makes me happy. An annual volunteering event called Harpoon Helps Spread Holiday Cheer. The six of us are signed up (my sister’s family and I) and my holiday Chucks are dusted off. I’m ready to head into the city and decorate a shelter. Giving people hope, giving people smiles, giving people a little bit of happy—with people I love—is something that makes me happy.

Take a minute, reflect…and commit. To happy. Go!

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The Books You Read Tell Your Story

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I looked at the books on my bed, and it got me to thinking that what you read, and what you want to read, can say a lot about you, in that moment.

For me, right now there are four books on my bed. No magazines. I usually read one book at a time, but now I’m actively reading all four of them. The four I’m reading, and my rationale for doing so/what I think that says about me are:

The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan. Her tragic death as a recent college graduate overflowing with potential got a lot of publicity here in MA, because it’s where the accident happened. The eponymous essay got a lot of attention as it went viral almost immediately upon her death. That essay intrigued me, the book is popular, and I’m curious to explore what other emotions dominated mind of a young person so perfectly poised for greatness.

Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff, PhD. The cover says “Stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind.” Since that is what I (desperately) need to do, I’m having a crack at it. I have some friends that snicker when I dabble in self-help books, but sometimes I need it. Despite having excellent self-awareness, it is easy to forget that one is not alone, in anything really.

On Grief and Reason: Essays by Joseph Brodsky. This one was pointed out to me in a few different contexts, and I figured a cerebral yet motivating read would challenge me to stretch both my brain and emotions, and what better and more satisfying challenge is there?

Think Happy, Be Happy” by a lot of people. This small, square of a book has pages packed with happy. Quotes, pictures, trivia. You name it, it’s in there. Surround yourself with happy, and happy will follow you, right?

In total, these books reflect the critical place I am in my life’s journey, given the fragile nature of life and love, with a layer of “oh shit, I really need a job.”

But in the end it’s all good, even the things that aren’t good. Only I can choose how I look at things, how I feel, and how I respond. Sometimes I can do that on my own, sometimes I need friends, and sometimes I need my books.

Bottom line is I am doing something about it, something to help myself. Want to change? It’s as simple as starting the process. So go do something now and let positive momentum drive positive results. Just start. Now. Go. Feel happy, do happy, be happy.