Day 1,245 – Thankful for an Impromptu Leadership Training and Team Appreciation

What a day it’s been! Nonstop since this morning and there’s still stuff to get done this evening. With that in mind I’ve been so thankful for today as I’ve been smiling all day long.

This morning I met up with Becky’s PhD advisor, Martin, for coffee before work. He was in town and I always appreciate the opportunity to meet with him. While we talked today the conversation drifted towards leadership. While we traded stories of leadership lessons learned I had a lightbulb moment. In the span of several minutes I had a realization of something that all of my best mentors have done. Long story short, they pushed me to the edge of what I dreamt possible while making sure I knew they loved me too much to allow me to fail. More on that realization down the road once I have it fleshed out a bit more cleanly.

Some of my best learning seems to come when I’m not necessarily looking for it. Also, it often seems to happen when I’m talking with someone outside of my normal sphere of business. Now that I mention it I realize there’s much learning like that when I’m on vacation as well. Hmm… regardless, I’m so thankful for an impromptu leadership lesson mixed into a conversation with a friend.

Mike, the manager of our Winona office had a wonderful idea for our team meeting today. We each went around the room and shared why we are thankful for each of our team members. What an awesome experience in so many ways! The opportunity to share our gratitude for each other while receiving it as well was an incredible way to keep growing our team. Needless to say there must’ve been a ninja hiding in the room cutting onions more than a couple of times.

Time to start wrapping up the night and prepping for tomorrow. If today is to be my last I’ll go with a smile knowing I was leaving on a high note.


Day 1,244 – Thankful for Time with My Boys, a Deep Dive Into a Short Chapter, and Safe Travels

Let’s go in reverse tonight!  Once in a while we’ve got to live a little and do things a little differently, right?

First off, I am so thankful for safe travels.  Between all of my Express cohorts, myself, Becky, her family, and the boys we’ve been so blessed to have had travelled without issue.  Sure, there may have been some bumps in the road here and there, but we’re all safe.  It is something that I often take for granted, but today I caught myself thinking just how fortunate we’ve been with all our recent travel.

I know, you’re probably starting to get sick of me talking about Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.  Much of my second flight was spent on re-reading the same chapter of Meditations several times (most of my first flight was spend examining my eye lids for cracks).  I even fired up the audio version to close my eyes and listen to in order to get things at a slightly differently level than when reading the paperback.  Even tonight I’ve gone back through that one chapter a couple of more times and have been jotting down notes to myself.

The entire chapter is Marcus taking time to say why he is thankful for many of the most influential people in his life.  As I’ve gone through it I’ve noticed a pattern of themes that appear over and over again.  In finding those commons themes of the seven values he seems to be grateful for most often I’m seeing a roadmap to how to shorten the gap between who I currently am and who I should grow into.

The themes I’m seeing repeated over and over are:

  1. Gratitude – The entire chapter is essentially an exercise of thankfulness.
  2. Simplicity – Marcus often points out how so many of those around him could have lived lavishly but instead chose a path of simplicity
  3. Logic – This is repeated over and over throughout.  The ability to pause, think, and focus on the correct answer as opposed to emotion was critical.
  4. Love – While much of the chapter is almost “anti-emotion” there is a strong sense of loving thy neighbor that keeps coming through in many different ways.
  5. Learning – He was continually focused on those who asked questions, surrounded themselves with others who were more intelligent, and had a passion for learning.
  6. Work – It is very clear that Aurelius valued hard work and those who never shirked their responsibilities when the path got too difficult.
  7. Optimism – How interesting that one of my favorite quotes from the Dalai Lama would have sounded natural being penned by Marcus; “What can I learn from this?”

In spending so much time reading and re-reading it I am catching more than I normally would.  How funny that it was brought about by a quote from the book…  “To read attentively – not to be satisfied with ‘just getting the gist of it.'”


Last, but certainly not least, I am thankful for time with my boys.  Even though we weren’t apart for very long it felt like we had a ton to catch up on.  They must’ve felt the same way as they were totally in on everything from going to get the dogs with me to walking the dogs with me to spending more time talking than watching during our show tonight (Alone).  We spent more time in attentive dialogue with each other than normal.  Funny how sometimes the absence of those most important in our lives reminds us to appreciate those times we have with them even more.  So similar to what I wrote about on Friday in a very different yet oddly similar way.

Being home with them and spending time with them was exactly what my soul needed today.  I am so grateful for each moment we get together… and we have much more of it planned for the week ahead.


Day 1,243 – Thankful for Four Simultaneous Adventures, Getting Reacquainted with Country Music, and Remembering/Rethinking the Why

For most of the day all four members of our family were each on their own adventure. As luck would have it we were all heading in different directions and each had our own adventure planned for the day. Gavin had a sleepover and a basketball tournament, Dominic had a Scout camp out, Becky was flying to Hawaii, and I was in Nashville. Each of us headed in our own directions and having our own adventures.

I absolutely love the time with my family when we are all together. I also appreciate times like this when each of us is independent enough to each go off on our own. Knowing each of us can go our own way without hesitation and knowing each of us is happy for the others’ experiences is awesome.

With that in mind, I am also thankful for the time we all are together again late next Sunday.

After our experience at the Grand Ole Opry I’ve had a couple of songs stuck in my head… all of which were played by Dustin Lynch. While getting a sweat on today in the gym I was listening to many of those songs as well as many of his others. From there I drifted into other country music I used to like back in the day. It felt good to take some time to enjoy country music again. It’s not usually my jam, but it felt good to spend some time getting reacquainted today.

This last one isn’t necessarily going to be a complete thought. Throughout the day and past few days there’s been a recurring theme focused on the “why” of what I do for a living. It’s been great to have some time thinking about why I do what I do. What is it that is truly important to me? How do I make the most significant impact in that direction? Why do I do what I do?

It’s an interesting thought process. Pausing to think about why. There are so many ways to make a living and so many reasons to live the way I do. As opposed to just defaulting to the direction that life has pulled me towards what if I looked deeper into the why. Would I do things differently? Would I do more or less in the same of other directions? The why really set the tone and I need to pay more attention to it. As one of our speakers said, “If your premise is wrong every decision afterwards will also be wrong.” Taking time to think about why is a healthy way to confirm that we’re headed in the right direction or to signal it’s time for a change. Today I’m thankful for that thought process.


Day 1,242 – Thankful for Unexpected Spiritual Learning

When I came to training this week I was firmly focused on very tactical and technical learning. I usually come to events like this with the mindset of strategic learning. Instead this has been a well of spiritual learning (and healing).

Funny how I go into something thinking I know exactly what I need. My mind is already made up of knowing that I will hear exactly what I expect. In some ways I am wasting my time in this mindset. If I already know what I am going to learn I can just skip it, right? My head was already pulling in this direction before I came to Nashville. Imagine my surprise as I’ve really noticed more focus on spiritual learning (and healing) over the past few days.

There’d already been a small handful of moments in which I’d had lessons along those lines, but today I was hit head on. This morning was our prayer breakfast. Yes, our organization has a beautiful prayer breakfast which is truly 100% and it’s something that I’ve grown to appreciate more and more each year.

Our speaker this morning was Annie F. Downs, an author, podcaster, and speaker who pretty much blew my mind. She shared a couple of stories that really helped me see the world just a little differently, but both in deeply profound ways. Annie walked us through a personal event and tied it back to a story form the Bible that I don’t really remember hearing; the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

I’ll share my own super condensed version of the story to give you context and then get to the good stuff… the specific lessons that hit me so hard today in a wonderful way.

Three young men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow to the idol of a false god that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, commanded all to do. Their faith in God told them they were only to bow to their God. Nebuchadnezzar was obviously very angry and ordered them to be thrown into the fire, specifically the furnace that was so hot that it was used to cast the idol. He chides the three young men and asks them who their god is who will deliver them from his fire. They respond that their God will save them, but even if he doesn’t they are still only serving their God, not his false god. As the guards push them towards the fire the guards die from the fire and the heat. Nebuchadnezzar looks into the furnace to watch their death and sees that their shackles have been burned away. He also sees them completely unscathed by the fire. He also sees a fourth person walking with them in the fire. All three came out of the fire unharmed and unbound. Like I said, this is the super short version, check out Daniel 3 in the Bible of your choice for the full story.

There were several points that Annie made that hit me right in the heart in positive ways.

First off, they didn’t know how the story would end. We have the benefit of being able to read the story and see the way it ends, but they did not. In each of our lives we never have the opportunity to see the end until after it’s come. We can only look backwards to connect the dot, not forwards. We have to trust that we are in a specific situation for a reason and it is our duty to help find the reason.

Next, only the shackles were burned off in the fire. Sometimes we have incredibly difficult challenges and struggles in our lives to face. In those times we must remember that sometimes we need those to burn away what may be holding us back. The struggle or fire may hurt, but it’s in order to help heal us. This is tough because we don’t like pain, but sometimes it has to happen to help us be healed. Think of it as a spiritual band aid being ripped off. Through the pain our healing begins.

Finally, and this line is continuing to haunt my thoughts, “but even if He doesn’t…” Things aren’t always going to turn out as we’d hoped. It doesn’t mean The Big Dude Upstairs doesn’t care about us or or wish us ill will, it’s just that we don’t always have the full vision of the how and why of our life. He gets the big picture because The Big Dude Upstairs is The Big Picture (btw – I can’t help but giggle seeing that the auto type feature of my iPad now follows up the words ‘The Big” with “Dude Upstairs”). Even if God doesn’t do exactly what we’d hoped it doesn’t mean that we should act differently. We should always focus on doing, acting, and loving the way He wants us to, regardless of it may put us in His favor. I need to remember to do the right thing even if He isn’t going to make things better / easier / healed. My faith must grow stronger than asking for a bargain or proof. I know, it’s not all the way fleshed out but that’s one of the reasons I blog… it helps me work stuff out.

After Annie’s presentation and a wonderful rest of the prayer breakfast my heart and brain were both full. My head has been spinning ever since as I think through that story and see so many new facets of it and apply it to so many different aspects of my life.

Another interesting thing along those lines have been several somewhat serendipitous conversations that have also helped me focus on why I do what I do. Not just work, but the way I act in general. How and why do I maintain my optimism and positivity? How much has a mindset of gratitude improved my life? How have I turned my mess (lack of gratitude) into my message?

While I was anticipating technical answers to practical challenges my soul has been filled and renewed with a much more important type of learning, spiritual learning.


Day 1,241 – Thankful for Hiking and Running In New Zealand This Morning

Sadly, I was not ACTUALLY hiking and running in New Zealand. Fortunately I had the next best things; a treadmill showing videos of hiking in New Zealand and memories of being on those trails in real life.

I definitely prefer running outdoors to being on the “dreadmill” but sometimes it’s just easier. This morning was one of those times. When I got on the treadmill there was an option of watching a hiking trails. Seeing tours of both the north and south islands of New Zealand had me grinning from ear to ear. Without a second thought I fired up the North Island and I was off!

It was pretty wild to be hiring along the same trail I’d hiked before to get to Cathedral Cove. I remembered many of the twists and turns and we hiked as a family. While I watched the screen show more and more locations I’d been to I would occasionally space out and get lost in my memories.

What a wonderful start to the day. Exercise always feels great, but to do it while being mentally transported back in time a couple of years was amazing. My time in New Zealand was amongst one of my favorite family vacations ever (for numerous reasons) and to be reminded of that experience was priceless. After we retire we plan on spending our first winter living in New Zealand and I think of it as one of my “homes.” The others include The Big Island of Hawaii and La Crosse. This morning I got to spend some time at home while I exercised – perfect!


Day 1,240 – Thankful for an $11.96 Investment that Continues to Pay Off

I’m pretty sure I’ll never forget buying Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. The boys and I were in the San Francisco airport on our way out to Australia and I was in the mood for a good book for our long flight. We were passing time waiting for our flight and we popped into the bookstore. I knew what I was looking for and highly doubted I’d find it in the tiny airport bookstore with a very limited selection. The book I was looking for was almost 2,000 years old and wasn’t on the bestseller list. As luck would have it I found one lone copy buried off to the side of a shelf. Next thing I knew I had invested $11.96 in myself.

Fast forward to two plus years later and here I am spending time re-reading it for the umpteenth time. I am continually amazed at how often I find a new nugget of information that I somehow missed before. Sometimes there was an idea that made sense but I didn’t have the right experiences to provide context. Maybe I just wans’t ready for it the first few reads. Whatever the reason, I am continuing to learn each time I pick it up.

Over the past couple of years I’ve brought it along with me anytime I’ve travelled and am sure to pick it up at least a few times. It’s possibly my most prized travel possession. I’ve learned from it, lived life better due to it, found joy in it, created joy from lessons learned from it, and so many more things to learn from it. All that for less than $12.00; that’s a pretty solid investment!

Quick side note, what really caught my brain yesterday and today was the beginning of the book. To start Marcus shares what he learned from the most important people in his life and points out what he has learned from each of them. This process in of itself has had the gears in my head turning ever since. If I were to write this who would I write about? What would I credit them for? What an excellent thought experiment!


Day 1,239 – Thankful for Running Into Bitter Cold Winds and Drifting Snow, Olympic Memories, Waterproof Socks, and Running with My Soulmate

This morning the weather was putting up a pretty solid fight to keep Becky and I from running outside. There were inches of fresh snow. The temperature was cool, but not frigid. The wind was BRUTAL! It was blowing over 20 miles per hour. Not only did that make it feel bitterly cold, but it caused the snow to drift in crazy patterns which made running a little more crazy. Also, when you’re a due my size the wind adds a whole other level of resistance training.

The crazy thing was that I’m thankful I ran in it today. It was pretty harsh at the beginning, but it made for a memorable run. The wind also helped me feel like I really earned my miles today. Long story short, I really enjoyed the struggle and the test of my grit and attitude selection. To be clear, I don’t necessarily want to run in 20+ mph gusts anytime soon, but today it added an excellent extra challenge for which I am grateful.

Part of what made the run even more awesome were the memories I had come back to me. While I was initially thinking about how difficult it was to run in the snow like this I thought back to the Olympics back when I was a kid. There was the amazing Russian wrestler (real wrestling, not WWE) who trained in Siberia. During a mini documentary about him they showed him on a training run in Siberia. He was running, actually running, in snow that was up to his chest. It was wild!!! To think, I was mentally complaining about running in 3″ of snow. Talk about a reality check.

This also got me thinking back to watching those Olympics when I learned how the greats retired from their sport. Once the wrestler has completed his last match he sits on the mat, takes off his shoes, and leaves them on the mat. When I saw an Olympian do this at the end of his competition it was amongst the dozen most emotional things I’ve witnessed in my life. I really can’t explain it, but as a wrestler you give more to your sport than any other sport I’ve participated in. To offer this one last slice of you after you’ve left it all on the mat many times is an incredible thing. If you’ve never wrestled, trust me, it is truly a sight to behold and even the toughest of wrestlers will not have a dry eye.

All these memories from running in the snow, how cool is that?

I’m also supremely thankful for my waterproof socks. Thanks Amazon for providing me a very inexpensive way to help keep my feet warm and dry while running in the snow. For less than $15 I’ve been able to enjoy runs in snow, slush, and puddles in total comfort!

Last, and most importantly, I’m thankful for a morning run with my soulmate. Life is busy, often ridiculously so. Our time on an early morning run like that is music to my soul. Sometimes we talk the entire time, other times we’re both quiet and waking up. Regardless, it is time for the two of us to be together (along with the girls) enjoying many of the things we both love – nature, outdoors, solitude, peace, calm, quiet,exercise, and time together. Each of the days in which my morning starts with a run with Becky is a little brighter and more vibrant than the rest. I am so grateful for our morning runs.

All that from one run in the morning, crazy huh?