My 2015 Tough Mudder Lesson: Make a Difference When It’s Not Expected

You make a difference and have an impact everyday, even if you don’t know it.


Maybe it’s positive…maybe it’s negative. But, you have an impact on someone.

I had a splendid reminder of that this weekend when I did my third Tough Mudder. I went into it not having been able to train as well as my previous two thanks to a nagging knee injury, so I wasn’t relishing the physical challenge as the big day approached. What I found myself looking forward to instead was being with my people.

I’m not talking about just the team I ran with (including my lovely bride!), I’m talking about the people of Mudder nation. Participants are there to challenge themselves and lend a hand to their fellow Mudder, because no one gets left behind on the course…and everyone will need a hand at some point with obstacles like these. Maybe you can’t really truly get the power behind that until you hear the opening pep talk from this guy, which is how all Mudders start their event (I’m not kidding, look it up …Tough Mudder pep talks are for real!). Either way, it’s a phenomenal environment of camaraderie.

Check out this montage for a flavor:


These images capture part of what Tough Mudder is all about: lending a hand to strangers, helping your teammates, and having fun (by keeping things in perspective!).

At the top are Mudders helping other participants who are running up the Mt. Everest obstacle and needing a hand to the top. Often you’re not helping your own team, you’re giving aid and encouragement to a stranger brave enough to tackle the same damn challenge as you. And this is far from the only place in the course where this happens. Almost every obstacle that includes climbing or scaling includes helping and being helped by a stranger. It’s one of my favorite parts of the Tough Mudder experience.

On the lower left are three strangers helping one of my teammates at the top of an obstacle, while I’m ready to assist (and another muddy dude is cheering like a mad man!). She attempted that obstacle multiple times and failed. This time she got to the top. The key: she didn’t fucking quit. She challenged herself, and kept putting herself out there…because what you can’t see in this shot are the dozens of Mudders waiting to tackle the obstacle too. She failed publicly, and repeatedly…and kept coming at it.

On the lower right is me having fun on the course. Why? Out there, you not only give your fellow Mudders a hand, you encourage them. You give them a high five. You offer a word of support. Hell, sometimes you just scream together in jubilation after tackling a challenging obstacle (like the Arctic Enema!). All with both your teammates and total strangers. That’s why I had a big smile on my face; being part of that is fun.

Every Tough Mudder for me has been a little different. My first Mudder will always be special to me: a day my personal transformation came booming to life in full form, with my exuberant inner-coach and cheerleader boisterously encouraging my team of fellow Tough Mudder newbies as we smashed that eleven mile course to smithereens. The second, I conquered with my lovely bride and a great friend as part of our team. It was a great experience with my friend and a phenomenal statement for the new relationship my wife and I share. The third, I didn’t have any expectations, largely because of my injury. I just showed up.

I showed up to cheer, to encourage, to lend a hand.

When you do that you see the smile on someone’s face when they conquer an obstacle, you see the look of accomplishment after they achieve something they didn’t think possible, and you watch the expression on their face be lifted in response to an unexpected high five and word of encouragement.

It’s all magnified because there are people out there conquering demons. Doing things they didn’t think possible — climbing walls, leaping into water (sometimes really, really cold water!), and running for miles — generally pushing themselves harder physically and mentally than they may have thought possible. Often they’ve chosen to do all that because there is something else in their life they want to prove they’ve overcome and run the Tough Mudder as a tangible act of putting it behind them. Being a part of that is glorious.

One of the key words above is “unexpected.” It’s not the expected impact you have that makes the most difference, though it’s certainly good. It’s the unexpected impact that can mean the most to someone. That helping hand, that encouraging word…that often means more to someone who is grinding through events on their own, not expecting someone else to have their back in that moment.

That’s cool.

Now stop and think if you did that in the rest of your life. If you were the helping hand and encouraging word that made that difference not just for a few hours on a weekend, but every day.

Every. Damn. Day.

You can. I’ve been able to do it at times since my first Tough Mudder experience, but not nearly as often or with the consistency I’d like. It’s something I consciously think about putting myself in a position to do. It’s something I think about more and more about as I consider my dharma, my life’s purpose.

Call it a lesson from Tough Mudder that has nothing to do with mud, and everything to with how we live our lives.

That’s what I’m thinking about today.

Well, that and getting the rest of the mud off me that is still lingering under my toe nails after several showers.

Be Your Damn Self

Be Your Damn Self

If there’s one piece of advice I could give universally:  be your damn self.

Don’t hide from it. Don’t cover it up. Don’t fear it. Take the expectations — real or perceived — from others that aren’t what who you truly are and shove them.

The image with this post features my lunch while working in Portland yesterday as well as one pair of socks, among several, I rocked in the last couple days in professional attire. Why?

Two everyday examples of me being my damn self. Lunch was kombucha, juice, and a great chickpea garden hash from one of my favorite vegan restaurants: Harlow in Portland. That probably sounds weird to a lot of people. That’s cool. That lunch represents who I am, re-fueling and re-hydrating after working out earlier that morning before my day of work. That’s how I roll. The socks are a more recent addition to being my damn self. My way of injecting some flair into professional attire in an at times drab industry.

That all on the heels of my lovely bride and I being our damn selves in Portland over the weekend. We worked out. We drank juice and ate acai bowls. We drank coffee. We had great vegan food (at Harlow!). We checked out a new neighborhood. We drank more coffee. We strolled the Portland riverfront downtown and a big open air market. We did yoga. We tried a new vegan restaurant (Lebanese). We even found an amazing, vegan/gluten-free bakery and dessert joint.

And that was just one day.

That was us, being our damn selves. Other people might cringe at the idea of that day. That’s nice.

Someone could question me going gonzo with the socks. That’s nice.

There might be lessons or takeaways you find from this blog, including the personal transformations on display (both mine and my bride’s). Truly being your damn self is probably one of the most consistent themes.

What happens to me when I do that? I’m often at my best professionally. I’m often at my best as a husband. I’m often at my best as a father. I’m often even at my best as a yoga teacher.  That doesn’t mean I’m perfect. I’m not. Far from it sometimes. But, it is a pretty consistent ingredient of when I’m showing up the way I want and should.

I type this while I’m sitting in a vegan Chinese joint in Portland, rocking a different pair of weird socks (and a pony tail), with a forearm tattoo on display and a Wanderlust bracelet on my arm. Yes, I am a health insurance executive too.

Oh, and these are the wedding rings my lovely bride and I have chosen to symbolize our transformed relationship:

wedding rings

Hers is an antique. Mine is an Om symbol, found just this weekend in Portland. That’s us.

It’s odd sometimes to experience how people respond to what we write here. I lived a long time caring more than I should about what other people thought of me. I was afraid, whether I realized it or not, to be my damn self.

If there’s one thing I hope you feel emboldened to do after reading this, it’s just that.

Be your damn self.

What do I do when I screw up?

Take action, including getting real with myself, if I’m responding correctly.

I’m currently re-reading the Secret. Why? I need to get myself re-centered.

The Secret is about the Law of Attraction, and more specifically, the power of positive thoughts and intentions. Why do I need that?

I’ve gotten off-kilter on that score in recent months, which has manifested itself in negative energy and unproductive actions in my daily life. There are a lot of things I could point to as the root cause: rough stretch at work earlier this year, a frenetic and challenging stretch with two teenagers, an injury that thwarted my workout activity (and the stress relief that comes with it) …it doesn’t really matter. Because what counts is I didn’t handle all of it well. My negative self-talk became more than just thoughts, it became frustration that impacted others.

I’m not proud to say that impacted my wife and kids more than anyone, especially my lovely bride.

What’s behind all that? I’m a worrier. Some of that is in my nature. Some of that comes from a major adult in my life that influenced me growing up. What’s the exact division on that between my nature and my childhood? I don’t know and it’s beside the point.

What is the point is I’m more than a little familiar with the negative thoughts that go with worrying. It’s not one of my better attributes. A lot of those changed, consciously and subconsciously, when I transformed a couple years ago.

Changed, but not vanquished. Because they crept back, to no one’s benefit.

Thus, re-reading the Secret. It’s a little corny at times, and definitely can feel a bit woo-woo. It was also one of the single most impactful books I’ve ever read in terms of shaping how I think and function.

I’m a little over half way way through it again and it’s already has a tangible impact on me, how I’m feeling, and most importantly, where and on what I’m spending my mental energy.

Maybe the book is having that impact because I’m ready. I had to stare down the impact the return of some negative thinking was having on my marriage and my kids.

Not pleasant. And I didn’t like it.

One thing Stephani and I have both found following our respect of and shared transformations is that we have zero interest in returning to aspects of our lives that were present when our marriage went to shit.

Zero fucking interest.

So, belatedly, here I am. Mindfully working my way back into a rhythm of positive thinking so I can be the man I want to be.

Maybe you’ve looked at the Secret before and indeed found it a little woo-woo. Perhaps a book like the Charge is more your thing. Both use different approaches to get to the same end, the dramatically powerful — potentially life-changing — impact of positive, intentional thinking and actions. In my case, it partners well with the non-physical components of yoga too: the mindfullness, the letting go of your own bullshit, the ability to recognize and focus on what’s going well, and what causes you to be grateful.

My fellow friends of faith might hesitate at such things, especially as express in those books. To which I say, yes, some of this stuff challenges traditional Western thinking that we’ve become accustomed to, especially in some church settings and related social circles (notice I didn’t say challenges core theology). I think it comes down to a basic question: are you limiting how big God can be? If so, the kind of thinking and approach found in such books (or even yoga for that matter) might be troublesome and uncomfortable. If not, you’ll likely find them delightfully additive and expanding in how you look at spirituality and your faith.

Either way, I post all that because being authentic means really laying it out. If someone reads my blog and thinks things are all sunshine and lollipops then I shouldn’t be writing.

At the same time, there’s more than enough negativity in our world. It dominates the news and can easily take hold of our social media feeds too. It’s incredibly easy with the volume of information in our modern society to get subsumed by negative thinking, even before you get to the false expectations we can feel society puts on us to be “successful,” to fit in with our supposed peer group, etc.

There are ways out of that. I just shared one way I deal with that.

I spent years not understanding my negative thoughts were a problem that manifested themselves outside of my head, let alone failing to correct it. Maybe reading this will help you or someone you know make a better choice.

I hope so.