What you see from Mountain Tops

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A week ago, our family hiked to the Highest Point East of the Mississippi – Mt. Mitchell – just a couple of hours from our home in North Carolina. It is amazing what you can and can’t see from a mountaintop.

Obviously, on a clear day from the top of a mountain you can see grand vistas and miles and miles of land laying out before you. When we were at Mt. Mitchell, we could see for probably a hundred miles to the West. On the other hand, you can literally have your view “clouded” at that height. Despite the fact that it was a beautiful fall day, our view to the East was only a mile or two as that side of the mountain was foggy and cloudy.

The other thing that struck me that day was that your perspective changes on the mountaintop. You sort of feel in a power position until you start to try to focus on specific things in the valley below you and recognize that the details are hard to make out from up there. You can gain a broader understanding of the terrain around you, but the exact twists and turns, rivers and rocks that you might encounter are difficult to discern.

The mountaintops of our lives can be the same – it feels great to be soaring high and seemingly in control of things. But when you look out on the horizon of your life from those high moments of life, it is sometimes a clear view and other times a bit cloudy. I’ve been experiencing this feeling a lot lately. Things are going great – a healthy, loving family, fantastic new house, professional successes, financial stability. But when I look out across the landscape, it is difficult to see the details of what might be ahead. Things are a little hazy and cloudy. So here’s what we did when we were on the physical mountaintop…

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We found the trail and started to walk down. And you know what we found out? There were things on that trail that were WAY cooler than what we could see from the mountaintop. There were interesting plants, rocks to climb on, side trails to explore, warm sunshine, and cool shady areas. It was rocky and steep in places and smooth and easy to walk in other places. But the journey along that trail was may more fun than just standing on the mountaintop.

I think that’s the plan for me in life today too – time to head down the trail and see what else is down there. I’m sure there will be some surprises, the trail may get tough again. But the walk is the adventure and life can only really be experienced if you get off your mountaintops and keep on going. Here’s to a good walk down life’s next trail.

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I LOVE my job. I HATE my job.

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Is there anyone in the world who doesn’t at some time HATE their job? I’m not talking about perpetually disliking what you are doing, wanting to quit, gotta get out of here feeling, I’m talking about the days or stretches of days that pop up where you just feel like you’re being ground up. Where you can’t get in the groove and gain traction. I’m having one of those stretches of days. My response has been to just put my head down and keep grinding. Now I’m not so sure that is the right thing to do.

I love my job. And I realize that the opportunity to work in sports on some of the coolest stadium and arena projects in the world (see below) is a responsibility that MANY people would trade with me. So why the rut that I can’t seem to grind myself out of?

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When I sat down to get started at work this morning, I had this thought run through my head: Does my career bring me satisfaction and add value to my life? Like many big questions that hit me like that, the best way for me to process it is to write. I guess I’ve not had too many big questions in my head recently since I haven’t written a blog post in over 3 months. Hmmm, maybe there is a correlation here.

Since mid-May I’ve been pretty bogged down in the weeds. We had another awesome year of the Jay Bilas Skills Camp in June, but there were a lot of little details we had to work through the last few weeks of May leading up to it. It was time consuming and mind numbing. At that same time, we have been working through the final phases of three huge projects at work. The end of projects for us is always when we’re looking at the details closely, figuring out what we’ve missed, trying to fix little bugs, and going over software incessantly trying to find those bugs. It is exhausting detail work that can only be done onsite and requires regular uncomfortable conversations with clients who want everything to be perfect the first time.

On top of all of those mind-numbing, detail driven work, we bought a new house, which we love, but it was painfully slow to get it closed and it is a lot of work.

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So I’ve been in the weeds. I’ve been moving information around. Sitting on conference calls to discuss details. Working in the minutiae. It’s been a long time since I sat 30-40 minutes aside at the beginning of the day to be mindful, ponder some big question, and write down my thoughts. It seems like a long time since I climbed up to the second floor of life and looked out at the horizon.

On the horizon you can see that there are great things coming – you can see the sun rising to a new day, you can see the beautiful mountains in the distance, you can see the vast lake reaching out before you. And in life you can see all of the opportunity that is out there. You can see the new challenges and new projects that are coming your way. You can start to think about how you are going to win the next great project or be a part of something innovative.  The horizon is what energizes me – it’s what makes me excited to get to work each morning.

If like me, you’ve been sitting in the weeds dealing with details a lot lately, do what I’m going to do the rest of the week – fill your open moments with time looking at the professional horizon because there is so much great opportunity out there and you can’t see it if you’ve always got your head down. And when you allow yourself to look out at the horizon, you might realize, like I have, that you actually LOVE your job.

Instruction v. Exposure

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For anyone who works with youth sports, particularly high school aged youth sports, you’ve probably heard a player or parent ask: “How can I get more exposure to college coaches?” I believe that we should refocus this question to “Where can I get the best instruction?”

I understand and appreciate the desire to “be seen” by college coaches in your sport. I had the opportunity to play college basketball and it was one of the most impactful and important experiences of my life. I have seen, however, too many families who are only focused on the exposure they are getting once they have made it to high school and have started to dream about the possibility of playing their sport in college. Instead of enjoying the game and improving their skills, they focus on who is watching and how their individual play is being evaluated. Why is this a problem? In order to understand it, it is important to look at the roots of the words “instruction” and “exposure.”

The word instruct is simply defined as “to teach someone a subject or skill.” When you are receiving instruction in your sport a coach or other teacher is spending time teaching you skills important to the game. The environments that this teaching takes place usually are safe places where it is ok to make mistakes, it is ok to stop and discuss things with the teacher, and it is ok to ask questions of others. By nature, a teaching environment does not contain the pressure of a performance environment, thus allowing the student to learn at his or her own pace and focus on improving weaknesses. All too often, when athletes get to the high school level they believe that they don’t really have anything else to learn; they usually know the basics and their physical abilities have made them better than most of their peers. This false sense of security leads players to de-emphasize or completely ignore their need for skill instruction from qualified coaches and teachers of their game. The reality is that as your game advances, it becomes even MORE important to get quality coaching and instruction to get better. One of the coaches that I’ve had the pleasure of working with at the Jay Bilas Skills Camp is Alan Stein and he shared his experience in working with Steph Curry, arguably the most skilled player in the NBA today. Continuing to learn and receive instruction will ensure that you continue to improve your game.

On the contrary, the word expose is defined as “to reveal something hidden.” If you think about this, how often do you really WANT exposure? Players and parents alike think that anything that is providing them exposure to college coaches and scouts is a good thing; the reality is that every one of those “exposure camps” or “exposure events” is designed to reveal something hidden. Every time you play in front of a college coach, they are looking for you to expose your weaknesses. If you can’t guard one on one, that will be exposed. If you aren’t a good teammate or aren’t coachable, that will be exposed. If you are one dimensional in your offensive skills, that will be exposed. The whole purpose of exposure events and the evaluation periods for college coaches is for them to determine which players they are going to spend time pursuing in a more personal manner. The easiest way to shorten that list is for your skills to be exposed in relation to others of your same age group. Once you step between the lines in games at these exposure events, your game is what it is and it will be exposed.

I get it, players and parents still want a chance to play their sport at the college level and our current system relies on exposure events to give college coaches a chance to see players who may be able to play at their level. I’m not suggesting that there is no value to exposure events and that everyone should stop attending them. What I am suggesting is that skill instruction SHOULD NOT BE OVERLOOKED for high school athletes. It isn’t good enough to just get your teaching during your high school season and then go play on a club team or travel team to get exposure. Players who are serious about continuing to improve so that they can COMPETE at the next level, should seek out opportunities for instruction in the off season as well. This might mean choosing a club team or AAU team that is focused on teaching and improving your game. This might mean going to camps where the focus is on improving your skills, not showing off for college coaches. This might mean skipping a few ‘exposure events’ so that you can get some one on one instruction from a qualified teacher of your game. And it definitely means a lot more individual work on your own and small group work with your friends to improve your skills. If you focus more on INSTRUCTION, I can almost guarantee that there will be less to EXPOSE when you’re in front of those college coaches.

Airport Tips for the Amateur Traveler

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Every now and then, when I’ve got a busy week of travel, I start the week by reminding myself of the best practices I’ve learned over years of business travel and then I take a deep breath before I head to the airport because I know that there will be a lot of folks acting completely insane and irrational. I’ve learned there’s nothing I can do about them or any of the other myriad of frustrations at the airport. However, I can help inform my friends and family who read this that don’t travel as much about some often overlooked tips.

For your traveling pleasure, might I remind you…

  • If you don’t travel a lot and know your way around your home airport, don’t push it time-wise. It will take you longer than you think, so get there at least 1.5-2 hours before your scheduled departure.
  • Pack light: If you can avoid checking a bag by getting everything in a roller board or bag that will fit overhead, you’ll save yourself a ton of time on both the front end and back end of your flight.
  • Check in ahead of time. A few years back, Al Gore invented the internet. Despite their tardiness, all airlines have completely adopted online check in. I would encourage you to use it and either print your boarding pass at home or use their handy apps to get your boarding pass. If you heed the above mentioned light packing, you’ll avoid the ticket counters altogether.
  • In America, we walk as we drive, on the right side. If you can remember this, we’ll all move more smoothly in the airport and not have traffic jams. On a related note, if you see someone running, kindly move out of the way. They are in a hurry and are about to miss a flight!
  • Be kind and patient with one another. It has been my experience that gate agents don’t try to screw people over on purpose. They have a job to do and strict guidelines to that job. It probably isn’t personal and you attract a lot more flies with honey than vinegar.
  • Don’t line up until your group is called. Some of us travel a lot and we’ve earned the status that gives us the right to get on the plane first. Creating a big crowd of Zone 4 people right by the gate is actually slowing things down because I’m getting on before you one way or another and I’m not getting up and adding to that crowd until I hear “Now boarding Executive Platinum for Milwaukee.”
  • If the gate agent tells you to gate check your bag, gate check your bag. Some planes aren’t big enough for the giant Wal-Mart roll on you brought. And if you are in Zone 4 and have been standing there blocking things for everyone else, there probably isn’t any overhead room anyway. Just check it.
  • If you choose to dress like a slob, ignore everyone around you while you loudly talk on the phone, make a mess of the terminal, and act like an ass then expect to be treated like the unprofessional person you appear to be. If you want to be treated like a professional, dress like you’re not getting ready for a sleep over and treat other people the way you want to be treated.

I hope that helps all of my amateur travel friends. Happy flying!

Too Much Stuff!

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This is NOT the home of a hoarder. At least not the kind you find on A&E and grab your spouse to show them you’re not that bad. No, sadly this is my garage today.

I have an excuse, though!!!! We’re selling our house and the realtor and stager both told us we needed to ‘de-clutter’ so that potential buyers could see themselves in our home, not all of our junk. So we spent all of last weekend boxing and bagging, and eventually just tossing all of our overage into the garage. The house looks fantastic.

This morning, however, as I stepped out to the garage for a moment and saw this, it really got me thinking: Do we really need all of this stuff? Its been over a week since we put it out in the garage and we’ve been out to retrieve one thing – the binder with all of our favorite recipes so we could make Spicy Salmon.

I’d say there is a very good chance that we’ll pack all of this stuff up into a moving van and lug it to the new house without having the need to retrieve a single thing for weeks or maybe even months. We’ll unload many of these things on the other end at our new house and open boxes with a series of exclamations: “oh, I forgot all about that!” And THAT is where I’m going to break this cycle. I’m not going to sift through this mess in my garage right now, but I vow on the other end to NOT put things back into my new house that I both did without and completely forgot about for the weeks that it sat in my garage. I’m going to break ties with useless stuff in my life.

Sure, there will be pictures from the past that are important and we’ll hang on to; I’m sure there is some of the kids’ artwork that we’ve stashed in there for posterity. There are likely several dozen books that are important to us that will find a home on a bookshelf in the new house. I’m not suggesting flushing our memories.

But there are certainly pots and pans that we never use, or a few dozen beer glasses I’ve collected over the years. I’m certain there is 10 year old wrapping paper in that pile and there is bound to be a box of Franklin Planners from before 2000. My guess is that at least one of those boxes contains t-shirts I just can’t give up or toys the kids say they still “love.” These things all need to pass on to their next life. If they’re that important, they need to be used, repurposed, or displayed. If not, they are not going to add to the clutter of life anymore.

I’ll encourage you to look at your stuff today (before you have to box it up to move) and ask yourself if it is really adding value to your life? I think for most of us, me included, we too often equate stuff with quality of life. That is really backwards. What leads to quality of life is relationships, experiences, and learning. All the stuff does is block our view of the great relationships we have, hold us in place to avoid new experiences, and drag us into the past to hinder learning new things. So box some stuff up that is getting in the way this week and donate it to Goodwill or just throw it out. Let’s see how much space it frees up for people and other good things in our life. And if you see me between now and the time we move, remind me not to give in to the this pile of stuff!

Your Plate

Some mornings, I sit down at my desk to this:

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An empty plate is not a bad thing. I can attest to the fact that starting a day or a week with an empty plate can be both invigorating and challenging (particularly for goal oriented people like me). It can be fun to have to really WORK to make things happen in your business and get things moving. On a personal level, having an empty plate for me usually means things are clicking along with my family, our finances, and friendships without much conflict or stress.

Empty plates can also cause me anxiety if they stay empty too long. Here’s where the danger comes for me – when I sit in front of an empty plate too long, I start to put things on it; often without considering if they go together or not. Pretty soon, I end up with this:

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As I start my week today, my plate looks a lot more like this mis-matched pile of goodness. Lots of great stuff on there to work through. For me today, I’ve got both personal and professional opportunity on my plate. I’ve got big potential changes for our family. I’ve got two huge projects wrapping up at work in the next month and two great opportunities to pitch this week. On top of that, I’ve piled on some extra work by teaching a college class this semester and we’re in the final planning stages of this year’s Jay Bilas Skills Camp. My gravy is dripping off the side!

A full plate can often be overwhelming. I’ve had nights where I wake up at 3am just thinking about everything that needs to be done. I’ve looked at “to do” lists on Monday that seem never-ending and just wanted to procrastinate it away. I have felt the stress of family and financial pressure pushing in all at the same time as the “gravy” of life spills over.

And this is what I’ve learned: The only way to clear the plate is one bite at a time. Furthermore, it is important to enjoy and savor every delicious bite. This week, as I sit here today staring at my plate, I’m going to slowly work through this full plate of responsibility, opportunity, fear, and possibility until it is cleared and I am satisfied that I’ve tasted each task or challenge to the fullest. And I’ll take my roll and wipe up every last drip of gravy that life has poured on top.

Change Agent

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This past summer our family took a trip up to The Road to Nowhere in Western North Carolina. Besides being a really cool hike, the road passes under a bridge that has become a place of thoughtful graffiti for many, including the one above that I snapped with my son, Jack.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

There is some debate as to whether Mahatma Gandhi actually said these words, although they are ascribed to him regularly. Nevertheless, as I was moving pictures over to a new phone this week and came across this picture, it seemed relevant to me.

With all of the political “noise” going on in America today regarding the 2016 Presidential election, it is hard not to be impacted. To be honest with you, it has reached the DISGUSTING level for me. Part of me wants to just bury my head in the sand and ignore everything until the shouting is over in November when we can all go back to our regularly scheduled programming. But that seems like such a cop out. Instead, I’m going to recommit myself to being the change I want to see in the American political world. Here goes…

I want see people respect one another’s differing views and occasionally ‘agree to disagree.’

I want to see people who understand that ‘compromise’ is not a bad word, and in actuality is the way pretty much everything in the world gets done.

I want to see an actual debate where people follow rules of order, have prepared and researched the relevant topics, and conduct themselves with civility.

I want to see a person that puts others’ concerns before their own and is man (or woman) enough to put their ego aside when it benefits the greater good.

I want to see people live out their faith, not tell me about all the stuff they do that makes them “Christian.”

I want to see more servant leaders who ask what they can do to help instead of telling me how they’ll make things better.

I want to see a government that is actually for the people and by the people and understands that the needs of those people needs change.

I want to see people do the right thing, not just what they think others want them to do.

I realize this is a lofty list and I could easily go on. As with many things in my life, I look at politics and sometimes wonder “what impact can I really have?” Well, I know that I can be the change I want to see in the system and maybe my actions will affect a few and the actions of those few will affect many. When the many act, overarching change will occur. So if you want to see change in our political world as well, be the change you want to see.