Selling Widgets


by Dr. Jason Pittser, Fellow Traveler on the Path of Simplicity and Awareness

This past Saturday afternoon a great friend and I, along with our wives, were at a downtown Nashville honky-tonk. It was the typical downtown Nashville atmosphere – people from all over, great live music, drinks flowing. Interacting with the crowd between songs, the lead guitar player (above) asked if anyone was in Nashville on business, “trying to learn how to sell more widgets.” My friend and I laughed and agreed that to a man who plays guitar for a living, most of the business world must look like a chaotic mess of people rushing around trying to sell more widgets.

When you take a mindful look at it, selling widgets is exactly what many of us do in our professional lives. Some widgets are more important than others and some widget-selling is more meaningful. But when you boil it down, it is still selling widgets. My friend is a contractor and I’m an optometrist. Having shelter and being able to see are important, but custom homes and high-end eyewear are nothing more than widgets. Gregg Popovich, head coach of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, holds the NBA record for most consecutive winning seasons and is one of only five coaches in NBA history to win five or more championships. In an era when professional sports franchises change head coaches on a whim, he just finished his 19th season as the Spurs head coach. P. J. Carlesimo, one of Popovich’s former longtime assistant coaches, was asked what has made Popovich so successful for so long. His first response? “He has a lot of interests outside the game of basketball.” Before his team played an Elite Eight game in the 2015 NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament, Gonzaga coach Mark Few was asked if a win and a trip to the Final Four would validate him and cement his legacy. He responded, “As long as I can look into the eyes of my wife and children and see that I’m okay, that’s all the validation I need.” Two of the most successful coaches in the game seem to have an awareness that coaching basketball for millions of dollars, on some level, is nothing more than selling widgets.

What occupies much of our attention in our personal lives amounts to selling widgets as well. Ask the parent of a terminally ill child how important it is to get your child onto the best youth sports team or into the best private school, and I bet you’ll hear something similar to selling widgets. Arguing about what religious denomination has the right formula to get you into Heaven? Selling widgets. Wearing the right clothes or driving the right vehicle? Selling widgets. Getting into a back and forth about politics? I’m not sure that even reaches the level of selling widgets.

Widgets matter and selling them matters. Both may improve our life situation, and as in all things, we should always sell widgets to the best of our ability. Widgets aren’t good or bad, and neither is selling them. What is bad is losing awareness that we are merely selling widgets. And contrary to what our unobserved thinking tells us, maintaining an awareness that we are simply selling widgets makes us better at many things – including selling widgets.


Walk Away


You’re obese.

This wasn’t a phrase I ever imagined someone saying to me, but this past Friday when I went to the doctor for my annual physical, that is exactly what he told me.

I was a college athlete, have been active and athletic my entire life. I ran a marathon less than 2 years ago for God’s sake. How in the world could I be obese? Pretty easily, actually. Even though I’m 6 foot, 3 inches and have always had a big, broad frame (ask my mom how broad my shoulders were when I was born), I’m approaching 40 years old and lifestyle is catching up with me. The late night dinners on the road, the rich meals accompanied by richer alcohol with clients, the relaxing on the porch on a Saturday afternoon while the ribs slow cook and a six pack disappears, the seconds and thirds that I routinely take…it is all making me obese.

The doctor could obviously tell I was shocked when he said the words, so he quickly followed up by saying:

John, fixing this problem is easy, you need to walk away from food and drink sooner than you do now.

Still staring blankly back at him, I suppose he thought I needed a little more instruction:

I can tell you’re exercising and that is great – your blood pressure (112/80) and your resting heart rate (59) tell us that your heart is healthy and that is from the running. Here’s the thing, exercise doesn’t do much for weight control. Managing your weight is all about the amount of calories you consume each day, and what makes up those calories. This is where you have to make a change.”

Once the initial shock wore off, we had a serious conversation. Mostly about stuff I already knew, but needed a professional to tell me to sink in. My Body Mass Index (BMI) is 31 at 257 pounds and 6’3″ tall. A BMI of 25-30 is normal, under 25 is healthy, over 30 is obese. That, combined with a look at the belly fat around my mid-section, were all the doctor needed to see. His prescription was this…

…this will be simple, but not easy: reduce your caloric intake by 500 calories a day and you’ll lose a pound a week. Drop it by 1,000 a day and you’ll be at the 220 lbs you should be at by your 40th birthday.

Ouch. How in the world am I going to do that? Do I even want to do that? Well, I don’t WANT TO, but I know that I need to make this change. The doctor had been through this before (40% of Americans between the ages of 40-59 are obese), so he suggested that I start tracking my calories with the MyFitness Pal App. It is scary how much information about the food we eat is in there, and it does make you stop and think. It estimated that my diet last week was well over 3,000 calories per day. So my target is 2,000 calories per day and high quality calories as much as possible (protein, natural sugars from fruit, fiber, etc). When you start to track the food you eat, you start to have decisions to make if you’re trying to stay under 2,000 calories per day. The waffles with butter and syrup I had this morning were about 350 calories, and 2 chicken enchiladas at lunch would have been 1,000 calories, so I chose 1 instead. We had a delicious dinner of grilled chicken, spaghetti with marinara, and a side salad last night for dinner (750 calories with a piece of bread), but the Malbec was 125 calories per glass. Needless to say, it has been a wake up call. I love to eat and having some wine or beer while I cook is a part of the experience I enjoy. Eating is an experience for me and when I’m enjoying a good meal, I like it to last as long as possible. As I’ve started tracking, it is quickly obvious that portions are important and that hours of drinking before or after a meal are just worthless calories that have made me obese. Period. Like the doctor said – simple solution, not easy to do.

If you happen to read this, and you are my friend, you will ask me about how I’m doing. I’ve told my wife I want her to check on me and help keep me accountable. I’m going to send this to the 2-3 coworkers that I travel with the most. I hope my close friends and family will read it and ask if I’m staying with my 2,000 calorie per day limit. That is the only way I’m going to get there. I’ll continue to run (maybe an extra day each week to help the process along), and I’ll make sure that our family is outside and active as much as possible. But that can only have a limited effect. 2,000 calories a day will get me to 220 lbs by my 40th birthday on October 7, 2015. I haven’t weighed that since I was 22 years old, and it would be a great accomplishment for me personally. I’m going to remove myself from that 40% statistic because it is important to me, good for my family, and because I don’t want to be obese. All it takes is to walk away from the table a little sooner than I used to.


There is a quote that is attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson that reads:

“Moderation in all things, especially moderation.”

Reading or hearing this quote always makes me stop and pause to think about the balance in my own life. While I think it is important, and I strive for, moderation in my life, I also find value in moments of excess. I suppose it all depends on where you expend your excess that determines the value of it to your life. Balance is most important when you overextend yourself in one way or another and need to physically or emotionally ‘land on your feet.’

I am fortunate that some days my work schedule allows me to go for a morning run, sit down with a cup of coffee, read or reflect, maybe write a little and start my ‘work day’ pretty much whenever I’d like to start it. Other times I’m racing from the bed to the shower to the airport to a meeting and the day seems to start and end at breakneck pace. The thing that always allows me to land on my feet when I’ve overextended myself with a series of those breakneck days is balance. Balance emotionally, physically, relationally, and spiritually.

On a normal day, home or on the road, I don’t have time for both a morning workout and morning reflection and solitude. What I have chosen to do is balance those things. Yesterday after I walked the kids to the bus stop I went for a 3 mile run and then came home, ate breakfast, showered and started my day. I was at the computer working at 8:30a. This morning after the bus stop I came back home, ate breakfast, read, prayed, and journaled for 40 minutes and started my day. I was at the computer working at 8:30a. I didn’t feel guilty yesterday for not having time for reflection. I didn’t feel guilty this morning for not having time for a run. I am trying to create a balance in my life so that next week when I’m flying from coast to coast with presentations, client meetings and spending days full of work and craziness that I land on my feet and don’t fall over (emotionally or physically).

Don’t get me wrong…if someone was going to pay me to structure my day exactly as I’d like it, I’d have time for a run and reflection every single day. But that isn’t in the cards in this stage of life for me so rather than throw my hands up in frustration that I can’t be more diligent to run 5 days a week or getting down on myself because I only make time to pray and journal 2-3 times a week, I just try for balance. When I have that balance, I truly can achieve moderation in all things, including moderation.