Sitting in discomfort. And being ok with it.

I told a member of my team at the office earlier this year that her mission was to “be comfortable with people being uncomfortable with you” based on the kind of work we’d have to do this year, which would take some people outside their comfort zones.

Ironic, including in the wake of my recent post on balance, that I’m totally uncomfortable today.

Do you like being uncomfortable?

I fucking don’t.

And I’ve been there all day.

I haven’t felt on my A-game in a while. That happens sometimes. But, the last couple days I really haven’t felt it. I’ve been worn out, lacking energy, and more negative than positive…culminating in today just not being in a good place and having to deal with the reality I wasn’t showing up the way I wanted to at home or at work.

I hate that.

One of my faults in the past is I would have dwelt on that and not been able to get out of the spiral. Kinda like this:

yoda grumpy

Trust me, that doesn’t help you show up better. Grumpy Cat is false!

My solution today: clearing my head. Letting go of what I couldn’t control. Focusing on my breath. Swimming. Getting a massage. Cranking through many a to-do for work before I totally disconnect for a week

Am I better now? Kind of.

I’m definitely not grumpy cat. I’m also definitely not perfect and have some good reminders of where I can and should continue to grow.

Maybe that’s the yogi in me. Yoga instills a lot of that acceptance of imperfection — without losing your shit — and inevitably requires you to look at where you can improve moving forward. Dwelling in the past isn’t really an option.

That was my day. It was imperfect. My ego doesn’t like that.

Can you tell your ego, “tough shit!”?

I hope so. I’m only slowly getting better at it.

Balance. I found it, kept it, and highly recommend it.

A friend asked me recently:

how did you fit exercise into your life–how did you actually make it work? I know what it’s like to work at Premera … plus you’re a husband and father. …  I think a lot of people struggle with daily life taking over.

That’s 100% true. The struggle is real. The answer: I just make it happen.

How? Make it a priority and let other things fall by the wayside.

I read this answer from former Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca more than a few years ago and it has always stuck with me:

‘How could somebody as busy as you go to all those swim meets and recitals?’ “I just put them down on my calendar…”

Yes, he was talking about making appointments to be there as a parent. That’s one thing, and important. But, why stop there if it’s a priority? Just put it down on your calendar.

I’m a successful health insurance executive and I currently have on my work calendar a twice-a-week break in the middle of the day where I go to a nearby, outdoor pool for a lap swim and then come back to work. That’s just during the summer because swimming outside is great for both my physical and mental well-being. And if there is a true need or conflict at work, I won’t be able to leave. It also doesn’t detract from the amount of work I still have to accomplish in any given week. But, it’s just on my calendar.

Can everyone leave work in the middle of the day like that? No, but you can find time at some point in the day to focus on your health. Since my daughter is not yet 16, my workout schedule this past school year often revolved around her. I frequently worked out before taking her to school (for a painful 7:20 am start time)…and/or took a yoga class while she was at dance classes in the evening.

The same principle of prioritizing and making it happen applies to the rest of my life. I have four big priorities right now: being a husband, being a father, being a professional, and being healthy.

That’s it.

I don’t have time for more if I’m going to give those the attention they deserve.

Not on that list anymore:

  • Watching TV shows, except Game of Thrones and Vikings (both of which have concise, limited seasons).
  • Paying attention to politics. That used to be one of my things. I hardly follow it now, let alone participate.
  • Playing video games or related entertainment. Do I like that stuff? Yep. Don’t have time for it though.

You know what else I don’t have time for? Wasting time at work.

I have a demanding job with a lot of responsibility. I’m very intentional now about being as efficient as possible, declining meetings I don’t need to attend, and trusting my team to do their work well. Otherwise, my job could suck the life out of me. And I’m a much better professional when my life is in balance anyway.

The root of that balance is when I started time-demanding training for a Tough Mudder, which pretty much required me to prioritize to stay sane. It helped then that my hardest training was when my kids were out of school for the summer. But, it still required me to set those same four priorities I hold today.

Why have I kept them? The husband, father, and professional ones speak for themselves. But, being healthy? Bluntly: I found I feel amazing when I’m eating well and staying fit, with related benefits for my mental, spiritual, and emotional health. Trust me, that’s so very worth it.

How do I stick with it now? Being relentless about not dwelling on things. This riff from a college friend resonates with me:

Q. What everyday thing are you better at than anybody else?  A. Compartmentalizing.  I have several fulltime focuses, but only a limited amount of emotional and mental energy to devote to each one.  Here’s a visual for my process.  Pretend each item you’re dealing with in life is a room where you have to walk in and solve an equation on a white board. You have a countdown clock with less than an hour to get the problem solved, or take a single step in the right direction, and then shut the door and go into another room equally as important.  You spend your entire life going from compartment to compartment, and if that sounds hectic, that’s because it is.  But I get a hell of a lot done and usually don’t get overly hung up over anything.

What’s your balance? What will allow you to move from room to room without getting hung up?

Find it. And do whatever you need to do to keep it.

My girl rocks.

My girl rocks.

Yeah, this girl.

I’m a proud papa as this Father Day comes to a close. Sophia slayed a long weekend of dance performances, 37 numbers in four performances spanning three days, culminating an entire school year of dancing.

People ask me sometimes, “what does she dance, ballet?”

Yes, and jazz, and modern, and tap, and hip hop, and can-can, and in the senior company for the best of the studio’s dancers. The kid literally does it all, which was on full display with her performances this weekend.

Here’s what I was reminded of while watching my 15-year-old daughter:

  • She’s beautiful…and fierce.
  • She’s athletic…and artistic.
  • She’s powerful…and graceful.

And, my God, does that girl have a stage presence. She lights up the room when she’s performing.

During the Saturday evening show Stephani and I both had friends contacting us out of the blue who were at the performance to say Sophia was absolutely killing it on stage. She was in the last number of the first act and nine out of 29 numbers in the second, so ya kinda couldn’t miss her.

Ok, great, you might be thinking. Your daughter’s a good dancer. You should be proud of that.

You’re right. But, that’s only part of why I’m proud of her right now.

I sometimes used to tell the swimmers I coached in college to leave it all in the pool, especially at a big meet. Tonight, before Sophia performed, I hoped she would leave it all on the stage.

She did. We could see it, closing out the show with the entertaining but absolutely grueling can-can act that ended each night’s event this weekend.

She spent some emotional time hugging her teachers afterward during the curtain call, and some fellow students. She gave Stephani, and I, and Joseph each a long hug later (yes, she hugged her big brother…teenage siblings can be nice to each other sometimes!).

Sophia and talked while I held her about leaving it all on stage. I told her I was proud of her for doing that. We talked about the tears that came when she hugged her teachers after the show. I confessed to her as she was still in my arms that I teared up too watching that.

And rightly so.

There’s a lot I’m proud of my daughter for being: a near straight A student in honors classes, for having a more intuitive and developed sense of right and wrong than most adults, for being hyper articulate, for caring like hell about the right things in life.

Those are topics for another day. Tonight I’m proud of how she danced, and how she showed what kind of all-around, gifted woman she is becoming. Thanks for exclamation mark on my Father’s Day, Sophia Leigh.

The Story of My Boy.

Joe graduates

My son, Joseph, graduated from a private college prep school last week, the same one as me. His story is probably not what you expect. It’s part of why I love him the way I do.

His graduation ceremony acknowledged family connections to the school, including 2nd generation students like him. There were several of those in his graduating class, with a big difference: those kids’ parents were almost all graduates in the 80s, even the 70s. For Joseph, they noted that I graduated in the class of 1993. There’s a reason for that.

Joseph was born to two parents who didn’t know what the hell they were doing.

My now lovely bride discovered she was pregnant with Joseph after going to the hospital on the heels of miraculously escaping serious injury in an ugly car accident in the summer of 1996. She was 19 at time. I was 20. I was in between my junior and senior years at college in Virginia. Stephani lived near Seattle, where we met. This was neither planned nor ideal.

We made it through my senior year near the end of the era when long distance phone calls existed, cell phones and email did not. We had a brutal scare when Joseph was almost born way too early when I was home over Christmas break. Stephani was on bed rest from there until when Joseph was born. I wasn’t there for the birth on February 26, 1997. All of that sucked.

I came home after graduating and got a job as a Congressional staffer (pretty much like being a starving graduate student). Stephani and I moved in together and got married on March 28, 1998. Life was not easy.

We were figuring it out as we went, with our own individual problems, the financial challenges of a young family on a small income, and the stress of parenthood all colliding. We started having kids young, so we decided to finish having kids young too. Joseph’s sister, Sophia, was born on September 23, 1999.

We were flawed, but we made our kids a priority. Joseph has gone to private school from preschool through today. My God, that hasn’t been easy. While we tried hard, we were far, far from perfect parents…which is the whole reason Stephani and I had cause to have life-changing transformations in the summer of 2013. Those serious flaws certainly didn’t help either of our kids in their own growth and development.

Along the way, we didn’t pay enough attention to some warnings that Joseph was having problems despite generally good grades. Early in 6th grade, the wheels started coming off the bus and he was diagnosed with ADHD. His behavior was fine, his organizational skills were a walking disaster. The rest of 6th grade, and junior high, required a lot of hands-on attention from us that was time consuming and often brutally maddening, as fellow parents of kids with ADHD will attest.

Joseph was never a natural athlete. He played soccer a bit when he was young. He finally found a niche in tae kwon do. He became a black belt, which in retrospect foreshadowed his future toughness and dedication. In junior high he started playing football. Politely, he wasn’t very good.

To his fortune, King’s High School is a no-cut football team. They’re a perennial state play off team now. You turn out, you make the team. You might not play much but, you’re on the roster. That’s pretty much what Joseph was facing as a freshman.

Head Coach Jim “Shap” Shapiro said of my son that from that point “Joseph set out to be the best Joseph he could be.” Shap said that after Joseph’s senior season when he was receiving his 2nd straight Coach’s Award for being exactly the kind of stellar teammate a coach and other players want (which is a testament both to Joseph’s character and hard work as well as to Shap’s leadership of that program that turns boys into young men like nothing I’ve ever seen). Joseph went from having little business being on the team to starting on the offensive line in the playoffs for a squad that went to the state quarterfinals. He was a team captain the night of his last game. I’ll never forget that.

Meanwhile, we steadily took our hand off the till with Joseph’s school work. Long, frustrating, nightly sit downs to review homework, organization of his notebook, and other basic tasks eventually evolved into the simple, normal: “did you do your homework tonight?” He’s graduating from that prep school with a 3.4 GPA. He took AP courses and classes like Physics. He’s a history geek (like me). He’s incredibly smart…and his grades would have been higher if he remembered to turn in his homework!

Here’s what counts: that kid who was born in less than ideal circumstances, to two flawed parents, who suffered with ADHD, who isn’t a blessed athlete…is an absolutely amazing person.

  • He obviously graduated from a high quality, college prep high school with a strong academic career.
  • He lettered in football twice, and for three years in track & field (where he also won the Coach’s Award this year too).
  • In August he’s going to Carroll College, the #1 ranked regional college in the West. There he’s going to join the Army ROTC, because that’s the kind of guy he is.
  • And in the words of my lovely bride: “He is kind. He is compassionate. He is smart, funny as hell, and his energy is healing. He’s quiet and doesn’t say much most of the time, but loves so fucking deep it’s painful to watch. He’s a natural leader: his football coach stated…’Joe is the kid that would run back into the burning building to save his friends.’

Yes, he is. He is that kid. In spite of the challenges he faced. And now he’s that man.

That’s my boy. And I love him more than words can describe

Embracing Imperfection.

I’m not very good at some things.

Do you like being imperfect? I don’t.

I struggled for years with reconciling who I wanted to be with who I was. That manifested itself in all kinds of shitty ways: ego, fear, avoidance, and unhappiness.

Today, I can reconcile those things. A modest example: I’m an active, fit, healthy individual. Guess what? My body also has serious issues.

My knees are a mess. I have patellafemoral syndrome: loose kneecaps that move out of place too easily during some activities. That and tendinitis in my knees cut my swimming career short in college. To this day I don’t do leg work in the weight room or plyometic activity like squat jumps. I don’t often run, and when I do, I wear braces to help hold my kneecaps in place.

Also, my back is screwy. I carry a lot of tension and stress in my upper and middle back. My muscles are an interwoven web of tightness if left unaddressed. Look at a detailed, layered view of the the muscles of the back and you’ll get my visual if you think about multiple of those muscles tightening up. Related or not: my hips off-kilter, with one hip being higher than the other. Trust me, that’s not good.

All of that is something I’ve had to intentionally work through in yoga. I also went through an intensive period of chiropractic care last year to address some structural issues in my back and hips, supplemented with massage therapy to work out knots and muscle adhesions.

You might not guess those physical maladies based on seeing my Facebook or Instagram activity, or seeing my physical transformation in person, the last couple years.

Isn’t that life sometimes? We get a vision for someone or something based on what we see, which isn’t complete. We can’t or won’t see the hidden struggle; the unknown barriers and demons that shape them in ways we can’t appreciate or understand.

Life is an imperfect bitch and beautiful experience all at once. We have a choice on which one wins the day.

My choice: I don’t do leg work in the weight room or run. Instead, I do yoga, I use the elliptical machine at the gym, and I swim. And I when I hike or do stair workouts (like this gem!), I wear those knee braces to keep impact on my knees manageable.

Speaking of unknown barriers and demons: the health and fitness journey that I had to adapt to my physical reality produced something else. The blood pressure and depression medication I used to take? They’re gone. My doctor was duly impressed when my health improvements let her take me off those prescriptions.

You might be thinking: “Wait, he just admitted to taking medication for depression.”

Yes, I did. I was also in counseling. I was a mess (thank God that changed!). Mental health is a serious issue that we in society don’t talk about or consider enough. I’m grateful beyond words that my transformation punched that problem squarely in the face. You may not have guessed I ever dealt with a mental health issue. Welcome to imperfection.

What about you is imperfect? Are you embracing it or are you trying to ignore it. If the latter, how’s that working out?

What about people you see everyday? Do you know the demons of those you idolize? Do you know the triumphs of those you don’t?

I can’t say I always do. I try, knowing I can never know in full except in those uncommon instances in life when you can truly get real with someone. But, I do give myself the grace now to be imperfect, and focus instead on what I can and will accomplish. I also try to give others the same grace and empathy, which let’s be honest, is not always easy.

I encourage you to be brave and vulnerable enough to give that a try, both with yourself and others people in your life. I’ve lived the alternative, and it’s not worth it.

Give Yourself Permission.

Give Yourself Permission.

It’s Monday. I’m not working. My work email has an auto-reply on it saying I’m not checking it. Text or call if you need me before Tuesday…and really, it better be an emergency.

Why? I know I need to take care of myself.

I had a long spring at work. I had to pretty much put my personal life on hold for a month. Some people can do that without problem. I can’t. It’s not how I roll. It’s not how I find balance and enjoyment in life. But, at the time it needed to be done because it was one of those times my employer needed me most.

Now, I have to be extra intentional about giving myself permission and space to re-charge. If not, I’m not the husband, father, employee, leader, or friend I want to be.

Today I took my daughter to school. I went to a coffee shop and wrote. Then I took a yoga class. Late in the morning I had a glorious swim outside in the sun along with my lovely bride. I’m sitting in a different coffee shop now, writing this post. The garage door that forms a wall here is up and open, embracing the current, glorious weather in the Pacific Northwest.

And I’m not fucking working. The email count I can see on my phone is growing. That feels glorious.

I had a lovely weekend with my wife doing a mud run and taking a short overnight trip for a fun wedding, but it didn’t address the need I have for time that wasn’t dictated by other people’s schedules. I’ve taken time off at other points since that chaotic stretch at work, but I could feel this day off coming when I realized in recent weeks I was getting precious little time to myself, day-in and day-out.

I used to be terrible at dealing with that. Things would spiral. I would be unhappy. And I sure as hell wasn’t able to show up the right way at home, work, or elsewhere.

I just have to own that now and do what needs to be done moving forward.

My day’s activities may sound odd, but it’s what works for me. My wife and were both seriously excited to swim outside in the sun, let alone together. It’s something we both appreciate and value. The water calms us as individuals, in addition to feeding our desire for fitness.

What’s your pool? What do you need to find time to do for your own health, well-being, and sanity?

Find a way to jump in that pool…and let your significant other jump in theirs! Who cares what other people think about it. I didn’t give myself permission to do that for way too long. And it’s one reason much of life almost fell apart a couple years ago. Trust me, you don’t want that.

So, happy jumping! It can make all the difference.