A Mother’s Day Memorial: The Leader of the Family

My site is about weight loss and leadership. And today, midway between the day of my Mother’s passing (May 7th) and the day to honor her (Mother’s Day), I feel called to write about the lessons of leadership and life that I learned from my Mom.

Just as my Dad was known as Big D for his size and hailing from Dallas, my mom was known as Big Pat. I of course was little D or little Donnie.  My Mom’s counterpart was Pat Buckland, one of our great friends who was smaller in height and a member of the club.  (Two side notes.  The club was a group of family friends who all worked at DeLaval  in Jersey and little Pat who barely reached 5 feet could match my Mom’s stature in the 70’s with her boufant hairdo that was at least 5 – 6 inches high!  Little Pat was also a great role model).

My Mom was the secret leader of the family.  Dad was the external leader and I have wrote a few blogs about him already – here Lessons from Leaders – How to Get the Iron Out the Door (and not have it come back in!)  and here Life’s Game Changers – The Power of Thanksgiving .   But Mom was the internal leader of the family.  She was the soul and the heart who taught us how to laugh, love and get along in the world.  I learned many lessons from my mom but here are just five with appropriate antidotes.

  1. How not to take myself so seriously!  Anyone who knows me knows that I am an intense guy.  Part of that is from my Dad who always said this or that is the greatest or the best thing ever.  And part of that is just my anal retentive self.  Mom was the opposite.  She used to loosen me and my Dad up.  Here is an anecdote.  My mom went with me to back to school day back in my junior year when we moved to Texas.  Every 15 minutes we would have to switch classes and meet the teacher.  I walked directly to class while people were trying to flag me down and say high.  My Mom in her Jersey accent would say Donn…nie, why didn’t you say hi to those cute girls that were saying hi to you!  I said something like Mom we have to get to class and I do not want us to be late.  As always, I was too focused on the mission and what was next.  My Mom tried to focus me on relationships and what was now.
  2. If Before the Gospel, Everything is OK.  My mom was a Catholic and my Dad a back sliding Baptist (although always supportive of my Mom).   Although she was never intense in her religion, she always took us to Church and had us go to religion school.  She  also taught me that God loves you no matter your sins.  Another anecdote and an additional example of how she calmed my intensive nature).  With three siblings and a host of other activities, we were habitually late to church.   I would be stressing in the car as we drove to our parish (which surprisingly enough had the same name as the church I go to now – St. Vincent De Paul!).  She would say “Donn…ie, if we make it before the Gospel we will be alright!”  And truer words could not be said.  Half the battle in life and with your relationship with Jesus is showing up and making the effort to love and serve.
  3. Do not be a GOM!   Don…nie, Garry, David, Lori don’t be a GOM was a common phrase.  I knew what it meant from context.  Do not be hoodwinked, naive, tricked.  But I did not not know were it originated until I looked it up.  A GOM is Irish slang for a fool.  It was one of my Mom’s favorite terms (believe it or not in an endearing manner).  It must have come from my Grandpop Henry and his Father Charles who came over from Ireland during the potato famine.   Mom would use this term in one of two ways:  1.  Ewe, Don..nie don’t be a GOM.  When I said something humorous or silly. 2.  Donnie, don’t be a GOM they are trying to trick you!.  I liked the former better than the latter, but was appreciative of both.   No one could ever pull one over on my Mom.  She was not so silently shrewd and no one could pull one over on her eyes.
  4. Sing from your heart.  My love of singing and whatever literary skills I have come from my Mom.  She loved Debbie Reynolds and old Irish songs.  I grew up with the songs “Tammy”, Irish tunes, and “Frankie and Johnnie Were Lovers” running in my mind.  She taught me to sing from your soul, from my heart.   She also was quite a writer herself as was my Mother In Law Audrey.  To this day, I can never hear the song Tammy without weeping out loud.  It was the song of my childhood and is cemented on my soul!
  5. Love, love, love to the End!   What is it with Mothers?  They love us always and to the end.  My Mom was the same way (as was the Mother of all, the blessed Mother).  Two anecdotes stand out.  I remember back in Jersey being bullied by some kids.  I was the nerdy kid.  Heck my nickname was Richie Cunningham.  My Mom one day tracked them down and chewed them out.  They never bothered me again!
  6. Last thoughts.  The last memory of my Mom is the most meaningful.   I was sitting in the hospital in Richmond, Texas.  My mom was on a respirator and the Doctor asked me and the rest of the family if we should pull her off the respirator.  Even though she pointed to it to stop, we were struggling to give our OK.  We sat there and finally gave our OK.  But Mom had saved us.  She knew her time and had passed.  I will never forget her final act of love.  How she protected us from that decision.

In closing, there will never, ever, ever be someone as great and more deserving of your respect than your mother.  Love them!  Bless them! And, thank them for what you are and what you will be!

THINK Yourself to Weight Loss and a New You

Several, seemingly unrelated events conspired to inspire this latest blog.  About eight months back, I listened to the audiobook the Power of Habit while doing my Saturday long walk.   I mentioned this book in previous blogs that you find here. Fat to Fit Again! The Power of Habit

In the book, the author provides insights on how to change habits in individuals, companies and lastly cultures. After hearing the last part on cultures, I had an inspiration about how we all can change our current social media culture.  Immediately upon returning home, I got the idea “Let’s make Kindness viral! Let’s infect the culture with love! Think before you speak or write! Click like for love. Hide posts that discourage.”

So immediately upon coming home, I started clicking like on every inspirational quote I could find in Facebook.  Also, I wrote a whole bunch and joined inspirational Facebook pages such as Spreading Positivity. Over the next few weeks, I kept it up until my Facebook feed was flooded with positive messages!  You really can make the algorithm work for you!  And if enough of us do it, like the Ice bucket challenge did to raise money for a worthy cause, we can collectively help change the culture from one of sarcasm and discord to kindness and positivity.

 

So, Saturday, because of my positive Facebook feed, I received the following image related to an acronym on thoughtful communication – THINK.  kindIn addition, our Saturday Weight Watcher’s class was on self-kindness.  Lastly, Facebook declared Saturday “Pay it Forward” day asking us to show random acts of kindness.  All three of these together, made me think that I should explain how I used the THINK acronym to help guide both my external dialogue but more importantly my internal one.

By using the THINK process, you can shape the running dialogue in your mind to inspire self-kindness and in so doing drive weight loss.

So, let’s impact the acronym with some examples.

  1. T – Is It Truthful? Here is one of the thoughts that ran though my head when I was 358 lbs.  “I do not have any will power and I am too tired to break out of this rut!”  That statement was not truthful and on second thought I realized it.  I had jumped out of planes at Airborne school and passed the tough discipline of the black hats.  Heck, I even passed West Point’s Indoor Obstacle course despite not having natural coordination and brought to successful closure many projects both in school, the Army, and my current employment.  I definitely had the will power so it was not a truthful statement.  And by dwelling on it, I had gone away from the truth – I was depressed, had a medical condition, and was overworked/overstressed. If you focus on falsehood, instead of the truth, you attack yourself, others, and the wrong problem.
  2. H – Is it Helpful? Do not dwell on the mistakes of the past.  It is not helpful to dwell on the Quarter Pounder that you just ate.  Instead, it is helpful to think about what triggered the momentary lapse (or not if you planned it as a treat) and plan on how you will do better.
  3. I – Is it Inspiring? I cannot tell you how much reading inspiring books and quotes have changed my inner dialogue and fashioned my outer dialogue.  Don’t preach to the choir, Be Inspired both when you communicate to yourself and others!
  4. N – Is it Needed? Both in our inner and outer dialogue, too many random, negative thoughts clutter the message:  Each day I am getting healthier and happier!  Do not cloud your thoughts with unneeded worries or fears, focus on what’s now and needed!
  5. K – Is it Kind? This is the most important part of the acronym, Be conspicuously kind to yourself and others.  A kind act to yourself will allow you to drive to greater health when you have a momentary setback.  Being kind to others will have a double whammy.  It will bring you joy, lower stress.  But more importantly, it will bring joy to others. Above all else – Mentor do not mangle!

So, there you have it!  THINK your way to weight loss and health!  THINK yourself to a new you and a new society!

I want to close with a quick end-note.  Most of my blog ideas come from Saturday morning walks from 5 – 7:30 AM while listening to audiobooks or podcasts.  If you are ever at Austin North Lifetime Fitness, you will see me on the treadmill lost in thought walking and listening to my iPhone.  Then all of sudden you will see me talk to Siri and say take Note and ask her to transcribe a blog idea.  It often gives the person on the treadmill near me a shock to hear a guy suddenly talk to his phone out of the blue.  It doesn’t help that Siri sometimes mangles my most profound thoughts!  Example: “Sheer was not taken away, Kurt was given” for an upcoming blog called “Fear was not taken away, Courage was Given”.  (Siri really needs a grammar checker!).

The Lessons I Leaned When Running Away

When I was 16, I made the rash decision to run away.  I was distressed that I was moving away from my home in New Jersey and losing my friends.  It was understandable in some respects.  I was half way through my junior year and was tied to my school and in particular my first girlfriend.  I thought the world was ending but really it was only beginning.

I remember the day as it is almost yesterday.  My Dad was a bit steamed after my Grandpop, Uncle, Aunt and cousins came over to wish us off.  As to be expected, everyone was sad to see us leave and a lot of tears were shed.  I remember my Dad saying something to the effect that he could not take another person crying (my Mom’s family was Irish and as the stereotype goes a bit emotional).  I just got upset and belligerent after hearing that.  I told him “Well, I am half my Mom’s side and I am not crying and promised to take off.”  He half dismissed it but I did not.  At that moment, I decided to run away.

My great idea was I would run as fast as I could the 5 or 6 miles to Yardville to my Uncle Johnny’s house and hide out in the woods.  Then when my family left for Texas heartbroken, I would have my cousin bring me food while I lived out in the woods behind their house (I said the idea was rash!).  Just to show what crazy things teen age love can do, I decided then and there to take off.  I ran with all my might and with the stuffed toy Dog (Little Rascal) my girlfriend gave me.  I set off to Yardville to hide out in the woods.

Back then I could run fast.  I ran out of Crosswicks out past Ocker’s Barrel where my Dad worked when on strike (which you see below).  I got 4 and a half miles and was just about to turn off the main street to my Uncle Johnnie’s house when my Dad in the car caught up to me.

Ocker's Barrel
Ocker’s Barrel as I ran past

I do not know how he knew where I was going.  I will never forget it.  He told me that he was sorry and that I and all of my Mom’s side were tough.  He then explained that we needed to move to Texas to make a better life.  Part of the steel mill was moving down South and as a result he was not reelected as union Vice President.  He got an offer in Texas for his work and we needed to move to make a new life.  He then hugged me and I got in the car.

My brothers and my sister (although she was a bit young) can attest that I was not a happy camper on the way to Texas.  I sat sullen and made sure that I never took a turn in the middle seat.  My brothers adjusted better.  Each chance I could I would either write or try and call my girlfriend.  Let’s just say I was not a happy camper.

But I should have been!  Texas turned out to be a great place to complete my High School years.  And we literally were still in Jersey (not New Jersey but Jersey Village, outside of Houston)!  I learned four valuable lessons on my attempted run away and capture:

  1. I was self-absorbed. Yes, I lived 16+ years in New Jersey but my Mom had lived 38!  She was leaving the family and friends she grew up with for the family she nurtured and loved.  I still remember my Granpop’s hands shaking and my Mom tearing up on the day we left. My Dad, although a Texan by birth, was also leaving behind more. He had lived in New Jersey for 20 years and was now had ties as deep there than in his native state.  Known as Big D, he was leaving his friends, co-workers and the community where he was the coach of the Red Sox, the Cubmaster of Pack 55, and institution at NBC wresting matches and football games.
  2. Moving to a new place meant new friends. After a few months adapting (boy the football coaches had fun with me and my brother’s accents!), I met new friends, dated new girls and created lasting relationships that still endure.
  3. I learned a lesson that I covet as a Father. Sometimes when you are providing for your family you have to make a hard decision.  My Dad would have liked nothing more than to stay in New Jersey where he built so many bonds.  But the steel mills were moving South (and later off shore).
  4. The last lesson from him is the power of apology.  I should have apologized to him not the other way around! I will never forget when he caught up to me in the car and took me home.  It takes a big man to apologize to angst filled son!

It takes Grit to Lose Weight and to be Born to Run!

I have just finished two books that reflect some lessons that I learned on my Weight loss journey.  Both are about that sometimes-elusive quality called Grit (not Grits which would be, especially the buttered type, counter to Weight loss).

The first book tied to Grit is obvious.  It is called Grit by Angela Duckworth.  It is a study on what constitutes Grit and why Grit is so important to success of all type.  Grit in her definition is the combination of passion, perseverance and persistence (the three P’s).  Her book opens with why one third of the cadets at West Point even after passing the rigorous entrance exams, drop out after the first 6 weeks period known as Beast Barracks.  There departure was not related to their ability as demonstrated by their recruiting scores, academic prowess or military bearing.  Indeed, some that scored the highest in the entrance criteria were the first to fall out when the going got tough.

What Professor Duckworth determined that the quality of Grit had the closest correlation of any factor in determining who would make it through those first few brutal weeks.  Those with the passion for an Academy diploma, combined with the ability to bounce back after failure were the ones that made it.  Some of the people that scored high on entry had other options so simply did not have the passion.  Others who had the passion, did not have the faith – the crux of persistence and perseverance – to make it through the four years.  The rest of the book goes through a scientific and psychological study of what constitutes Grit and why it is so important to success of all kinds.

The second book is a case study on Grit.   It is Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography Born to Run.  The Boss was not blessed with a great singing voice, natural guitar playing ability, or writing skills.  What he was born with was an overwhelming passion for playing Rock and Roll after falling in love with the playing of Elvis, the Beatles and other early pioneers.  He simply loves what he does with a passion that is consuming and will not be distracted from writing music from his soul.

He also has perseverance.  He played in 3 bands from 16 to 25 before he made it big with the Born to Run album.  He honed his sound playing both in NJ, Virginia and California.  You can hear his progression of music when hearing the rudimentary sounds of the Castilles, the heavier rock of Steel Mill, the Dylanesque ramblings of the Bruce Springsteen Band until if finally congealed into Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.  He was driven to pursue the Music he loved and would not get sidetracked by the drugs, loneliness or carousing that has claimed so many talented stars before they fully reached their potential.  I commend the book Born to Run to everyone and think it is one of the five best books I have ever read.

So, what does this have to do with Weight Loss.  Grit is the only way I know to lose weight and more importantly to keep it off.  When I began my weight loss mission at 358 pounds, I had an overall passion to become the image of an inspiring leader that I had seen in so many of my West Point classmates that had made it to General and the higher ranks.  Even though I had been out of the military for a good 25 years, I built in my mind an image of a fit, 50+ leader that others would be inspired by and follow whether on the battlefield or in my case, the next IT project.  Next, I had to have perseverance and persistence.  It was a long way from the days when I could put on my ruck and run 13 miles as I did back in the day.  But I vowed that despite the obstacles and setbacks, I would pick myself back up and continue.  At one point, I was stuck at the same weight or slightly higher for over a month.  But I kept at it and tried different things until I hit on the correct tweak that would bring my passion to realization. Champs like Us Maybe we were Born to Run! So keep at it and show some Grit!

The Courage to Climb the Steps of Ike Hall

This is the second of my blog series – It Takes Courage.  As explained in the other  blogs  here It Takes Courage to Show God’s Smile  It Takes Courage in this World, courage is not only manifest in monumental acts such as those on the battlefield.  In addition, people we meet on the street each day are exhibiting courage that lies just below the surface –  dealing with a fear, a first-time event, loneliness or an illness. We are talking common courage, the example being a child jumping off the blocks at a swimming race for the first time.  Taking the plunge to get to the other side of the pool or life for that matter.  We all carry crosses that we bear silently so it is imperative to be kind to one another and to celebrate courage where and when it comes to light.

Today I want to celebrate the courage of those that deal everyday with Diabetes.  This prevalent disease whether it be type 1 or type 2 takes courage and resilience to keep under control.   You must daily face the challenge of balancing your diet, your activity, and your medication.  Even then you may not get the combination just right leading to complications.  My wife and I have been fortunate that we and our kids have not yet to deal with this personally.  But our relatives on both sides have had to deal with it.  It is through their struggles and triumphs that I have witnessed courage first hand.  I want to relay three vignettes that display the everyday courage of those with diabetes.

My Uncle Johnny was a hero of mine growing up and his example still echoes in my heart and mind.  He was a diabetic from his early teens and took insulin from a needle each day.  Despite being diligent with his medication, later in life he lost both of his legs.  But that did not stop him!  I remember one event that will forever define the courage of this good man, example and father.

It was Plebe Parent Weekend at West Point and I was excited because my parents, sister, and other relatives including my Uncle John were coming to see me.  We were going to have an event in Eisenhower Hall back before the days that the American with Disabilities Act was in place.  Even for us with two working legs the stairs of Eisenhower Hall are daunting.  On a hill overlooking the Hudson River, the hall has about 500 steps to reach the entry door or to climb back up.  I still remember my Uncle Johnny hanging with us both for the downward journey to the hall and back up to dinner in the Mess.  You can see the steepness of the steps in this picture.

Steps of Ike Hall Steep
Beginning of the Steps of Ike Hall

500 steps can leave even those with all their limbs breathless.  But Uncle Johnny did it with two wooden legs, strong arms, and a determination to be a part of our lives.

One more humorous story about my Uncle Johnny.  He had taken off his legs to get to painting the low parts of the wall in his living room.  He was just about to finish and go and get his legs when he found one of them gone.  A lesser man would have got upset when he found that my young second cousin who was 6 or 7 at the time had taken the leg and was using it as a makeshift gun in an imaginary game of Army.  Instead my Uncle Johnny just laughed and waited until my cousin was done.

The second person I knew who dealt courageously with diabetes was my father in law – Cal.  Cal lived with diabetes for over 50 years but was still able to raise a family of 10 supporting them as a brick layer and farmer on the family raspberry farm.  Despite his disability, Cal was the most diligent worker that I have ever known.  I still remember the first time I met him trying to impress him by out working him planting potatoes with him and working in the raspberry patch.  Despite being 30 or 40 years my senior he worked me into the ground.  That level of activity with this chronic disease takes discipline, courage and a loving wife and family.  There were several times that Cal despite his diligence did not get his dose right and went into diabetic shock.  Just think of how scary that is.  But each time, his wife Audrey who was a nurse knew what to do and was able to revive him.

In addition to my Uncle and Father-In-Law, Type 1 diabetes has touched the lives of 3 of my nieces and nephews and my cousin who passed away from complications of this disease.  In addition, two of my siblings deal with the daily diligence and courage that it takes to deal with this disease.  Juvenile diabetes is particularly hard with which to deal and takes constant vigilance.  It is particularly hard for a kid to tell his peers that he can’t play until he has something because his sugar is low.  Or has to skip that piece of cake that other kids are having.  Sounds like a little thing but it isn’t.   Please consider donating to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.  Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation

To close, it takes every day courage to deal with Diabetes.  Like the 500 steps that my Uncle Johnny took to get to Ike Hall, it is a courageous climb to fulfill your purpose, while dealing with this chronic disease.  Let’s support those in the workplace with this and other disabilities reach their purpose!

It’s Not Easy Being Third!

Last week when thinking about the legacy of Dr. King and thinking of other selfless people like Gandhi and Mother Theresa, I was trying to find the common thread that pulled them all together.  And I realized it was because they were each Third – behind their religious beliefs and their care for others.  I then thought how hard it is to be Third in my own life and thought of that classic song – “It’s Not Easy Being Green”.  So I decided to write this song/poem to the tune of It’s Not Easy Being Green.  I hope you enjoy it and my thanks to Kermit!

Kermit_the_Frog

It’s Not Easy Being Third

It’s not easy being Third,

Putting yourself behind our human family and God’s word,

And people tend to pass you over,

cause you’re not in the latest fashion,

or have cool toys like some other guys.

 

But Third’s the purpose in your life,

And Third can help end earthly strife,

And Third can change the course of a nation,

Or build bridges to others, or define history.

 

When Third is what your meant to be,

It could make you ponder why, but why ponder?

Why ponder, I am Third, it’s written on our Souls

And it is where God wants us to be!

A Penny A Minute, A Lifetime of Lessons

One of the greatest influences on my life was from my first employer, Captain Barber and the town I grew up in Crosswicks, NJ.  Both taught me lessons that I follow today both in my career and as I strive to live a healthy life.  These lessons on fairness, honest business dealings, and how to live a healthy life I honor and try to follow each day.

Captain John Ronald Barber was born in 1891 in the town of Fairmont, Minnesota and died in 1980 in the town of Crosswicks, NJ.  He was  a Captain in the Navy where he served as a dental surgeon.  I have included a picture of his name from the Naval records of 1914 below.   I include this tidbit of knowledge both to honor his service, but as an Army guy because I learned so much from a Navy Captain!

2018-01-14

I met him in Crosswicks when I was 11 years old after reading a local advertisement for help maintaining his property and gardens.   I answered the ad because I wanted to buy a Sears 10 Speed Bike.  Little did I know that beyond getting money for the bike, I would get so much more!

I walked up to the door of his house and cranked his door bell (more on that later).  At the time, Captain Barber was approaching his 80’s but still was the epitome of health.  I asked him about the ad and we began to settle on the contractual arrangement.  I can still remember the words of our deal as they were yesterday.  Captain Barber said, “I will pay you a penny a minute, a penny a minute I say.  You should pay me a penny a minute for all the lessons you will learn”.  Little did I know at the time how true those words were!

The next day, I started a 2+ years working relationship with Captain Barber for 60 cents an hour.  Sounds like not a lot for those younger than 50 but that was a good amount of money in the day and I soon earned enough money to get that Sears Bike (I have to admit I am sad to see the fiscal issues with Sears currently).  Here are the lessons that I learned from this great man.

  1. How to stay healthy – Captain Barber was an organic gardener and follower of homeopathic medicine way before both were in vogue.  He lived to be 88 and was still trimming his tress in his eighties! When I started on my weight loss journey where I lost over 170 lbs I remembered some of the lessons from Captain Barber.  Chiefly these three:
    • A varied, vegetarian lifestyle is a key component of health and maintaining your weight.  Captain Barber grew all assortments of vegetables in his garden.  He had the standards in his 1+ acre garden – tomatoes, corn, strawberries; but also some not so ordinary like asparagus, rutabagas, grapes (for wine), and castor beans (more on this later).  He ate many of these items from his garden on a daily basis.  The first time I ate asparagus was at Captain Barber’s table.  When I began my weight loss journey this became one of my key staples!
    • Captain Barber was an organic farmer.  He had a large compost pile that I was required to turn on a weekly basis with a pitchfork.  I had to climb a ladder to get into the compost pile that was staked out by large tree logs he had harnessed together.  In addition, there was no weed and feed in his garden.  On the contrary, I and he got on our knees and pulled out the weeds.  I used to be terrified to do the strawberries because sometimes the weeds and young strawberries.
    • The way to stay healthy is to be active.  I did not work in the garden alone.  Each day. Captain Barber would be out and about tending to his garden.  I still remember in amazement as he got up in a tree and trimmed down branches.
    • Homeopathic Medicine.  I do not recall Captain Barber being sick.  He not only ate well but made his own medicine and essential oils.  I remember tending his Castor bean plants and he took a teaspoon of Castor oil as well as other oils daily.  He was  the first person that I knew who used homeopathic medicine.
  2. Be fair in your business dealings.  Captain Barber set a fair wage (for the time) and settled with you on a daily basis.  He asked you to prepare the invoice before leaving and calculated the work down to the quarter of hour.  You then had to calculate you wages at 60 cents an hour.  He was fair but stuck to his guns.  I remembered one time when my brother who also worked for Captain Barber tried to give himself a raise.  Instead of 60 cents he used 90 cents.  He handed in his invoice and Captain Barber said it did not seem right.  My brother said he deserved a raise.  Here is the rest of the conversation.   Brother – I need a raise.  Captain Barber (feigning hearing loss) – A blaze.  Yes the sun was a blazing out there!  Brother – No Captain Barber, I want a raise!  Captain Barber –  You want praise.  Well you done well my son!  Brother – No Captain Barber – a raise, I want a raise.  Captain Barber – Oh a raise.  No you can’t have one.  We agreed on 60 cents.  It actually went on a bit longer than that but you get the picture.  Captain Barber made a fair deal and you could not pull one over one on him.
  3. Do it the easy way!  Captain Barber was always driving us to improve.  He would look at how you were doing something and offer suggestions on how to do things more efficient.  One time I was raking the leaves.  Captain Barber came by and said let me show you the easy way!  He then showed me a different way to hold the rake that was more efficient for him.  Although I did not adopt it exactly, I swapped up the way I did the rake and co-opted some of the information that Captain Barber gave.  What was great about Captain Barber was he saw how I modified his style and also adopted my technique.  Unlike others more senior, he was willing to learn as well as teach even at Eighty.
  4. When it rains, take care of the Troops!  I was hired to help Captain Barber with his garden but sometimes like life it inevitably rains.  Instead of sending me home without the money I wanted for my bike or missing an opportunity, he would teach me something useful that would also help him.  One thing that he taught me is how to correctly polish silverware.  We polished his silverware when it suddenly rained hard.  How did this come handy?  When I was at West Point, I had to polish my belt buckle and the my parade brass.  I may not have been a great shoe shiner but I never got a demerit on my brass.  In addition, he also taught me how to tie navy knots and paid me for the opportunity.  He could have sent me home when it rained but he taught me something!
  5. Share your life.  One of the greatest honors that I ever received is when Captain Barber invited me to a horse show.  He loved horses and for that day instead of working in the garden, he took me to a horse show in Central Jersey.  It was quite an experience and he treated me to lunch.  In so doing, he rewarded me for my hard work but more importantly, he allowed me into his life and to understand what he loved and held dear.
  6. Have Fun!  Now back to the hand cranked door bell.  I knew Captain Barber as my boss, a mentor and a hero.  My friends who did not work with him knew him as  the popcorn chef on Halloween.  In Crosswicks, we had the greatest Halloweens and holidays in general.  On Halloween, we would go to Mrs. Bumbera’s cauldron to get hot cider, the Caldwell’s  to get scared out of our wits by their haunted house, the Community House for the annual costume contest, and Captain Barber’s house for organic popcorn.  Here is the ritual.  You would knock on the door and he would come out in a big chef hat and say “Crank the bell, crank the bell”  and close the door.  You would then crank the bell, and he would come back out with his chef’s hat and say do you want one scoop or two scoops of popcorn (it was organic!).  Most people would say two scoops that he would then promptly dump directly in your Halloween bag. Then with a twinkle in his eye, he would say do you want butter!  For the uninitiated, they soon get a ladle of butter in their bag!  He had a sense of humor and I do suppose that was a hold out to his Minnesotan roots (married into Minnesotan family, they put butter on everything).

I listed six lessons and a few corollaries that I learned from the amazing Captain Barber – the first organic farmer I knew, an Octogenarian that climbed trees, an honest business partner, and a mentor for life.  These are just a small sample.  It is important for the young to learn from the old and an 11 year old to earn money for his bike and lessons for life.

Last night when I researched a bit more on Captain Barber, I found out that he was born and buried in Minnesota.  It all makes sense now why I connected with him and my father in law Cal Hoehn.  When you are close to the earth, you are close to life and all that makes us human.  In honor of Captain Barber, I left the below virtual flower and remembrance.  Captain Barber I forget you not!  Let us remember those mentors and our hometowns that painted out futures.

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Improvement, Perfection (or lack thereof) and the Habit of Change!

The motto that you see on my Skype status is “To improve is to change, so to be perfect is to change often”.  Also one of my favorite songs is Bowie’s “Changes”.

A deep truth is captured in this simple motto and Bowie’s song.  No one currently on earth is perfect and if they achieve something close to perfection for a moment (a successful project or an inspiring blog),  the ebb and flow of time and circumstances will serve to make that moment fleeting.  Complacency is not the friend of improvement or perfection.  Indeed, the perfection of today is the mediocrity of tomorrow.  So what are some steps to make change a habit and constant improvement a trait:

Savor the Moment and then Move On – Sometimes when we get something right, we tend to relish in the victory a bit too long.  Everyone should take a moment to celebrate the success, but in today’s victory often lies the seeds of tomorrow’s defeat.  That is why it is important to take a moment to relish your accomplishment, but do not only focus on what you got right.   Look for the specific circumstances that made the solution right in this circumstance but also any item (there is always one) that could have been done better.

Wear Battle-scars with Honor – Sometimes things go the opposite of perfect and go badly wrong.  Whether the battle-scar was self inflicted or due to circumstances beyond your control (for instance, hardware failing when a key program is running), there is always something to learn from it.  We used to have a segment of my group’s monthly tech talks called Battle-scar Galactica where the experienced people would tell tech war stories of what went wrong and how we eventually fixed them and also learned to get better.  This leads us into the third point.

You got to have Faith – Failing forward and learning from your mistakes give you the faith to change and try something new that improves the situation.  It provides you the capability to seek out new opportunities and change habits to constantly get better.

Bottom Line:  We are all a work in progress changing to the person we ultimately want to become.   The ultimate goal is to make change a habit to become the person and achieve the purpose that you were put on this earth to accomplish.  So make Change a Habit and move on to a better you!

Honoring Veterans and Leading in the New IT

One of the greatest lessons that I have learned from Weight Watchers is “to keep your Why, nearby!”  I had a very specific “Why” in 2016 that helped to propel me and others to better health and service.  In August of that year, in honor of one of my former Army colleagues,  I and others from Accenture decided to do a walk to raise money for Veterans.  But this was not your normal fun run or walk.  To honor the huge sacrifice of all Veterans lost in battle, the only fitting tribute was a Kennedy Walk.

John F. Kennedy introduced this 50 mile walk in 20 hours.  People still do it every year along the Potomac.  My company Accenture sponsored the walk to support the Merivis Foundation and the young Marines of the Capital Area.  The icon that you see on my blog is me at the end of the first Kennedy Walk.  The picture below is of some of the participants for the most recent walk on Veterans Day, 2017  (this year I switched it up and did 200 pushups instead of 5O miles).

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Here is the introduction on why we had the walk.  The picture of John Kennedy was given to me on my 20th birthday from my roommate at the Academy.

 

If you are a Veteran or further interested in donating, here is a link to Merivis Foundation that trains Veterans for positions in IT.

http://merivisfoundation.org/

 

 

Life Lessons – Diversity of Cultures and a Legacy of Service

This is first of three stories alluded to in my recent blog here The Power of Diversity

When the topic of Diversity comes up, most people do not immediately think of the US Army or its Service Academy, West Point, but I do.  I cannot say my childhood was totally lacking in diversity, but I really begun to appreciate the perspectives brought by different cultures and ethnicities while a cadet.   What united my fellow cadets was love of freedom and country.  What made us collectively stronger was the melding of the ideas and perspectives from our different backgrounds and cultures.
One of my good friends at the academy and to this day is Peter Vu.  Peter was a fellow member of the C-1 Cobras, my company at West Point.  (A company is like a fraternity except with none of the parties but all of the service projects!).  Peter and our fellow classmate Jean Nguyen were the first two Vietnamese Americans ever to graduate from West Point.  Peter  as a child escaped through Laos from the war in Vietnam and immigrated to the US.  I learned and am still learning many lessons from Peter.  One of the most important is the art of quiet endurance.  When we were at Airborne School together, Peter could take the intense yelling of the instructors and stand the hours in the “front lean and rest” (aka Plank position) while the rest of us secretly fumed.  He could go and endure, quietly driving through the obstacle.
I also remember meeting his family on a visit to New York and the closeness they shared.  It was also my first introduction to Pho and Hung’s love for all food.  Unfortunately I tried to replicate it without his metabolism.  I also learned the art of self-deprecating humor from Peter (something I do not practice enough).  He had to endure many hardships and overcome many obstacles as an immigrant to the US and these experiences he passed on.  Most importantly, he brought the perspective that all power must be tempered by compassion, tolerance and fairness.  Below is a posting that I have kept about Peter’s graduation and a picture from Airborne School.

 

Peter has spread the legacy of Vietnamese leading and serving in our country.  He has been a sponsor of numerous cadets all in the service to our country.  Below is a recent picture of Peter and a new batch of the Long Grey Line.  Thank you Peter for the lessons learned in leadership and bringing the best and brightest to serve our country!  We are better together when we blend our unique perspectives and talents to a higher purpose!

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