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!

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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).

merivis2

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!

peter

 

The Power of Diversity – A True Game Changer

Diversity of opinion and the ability to share ideas across cultures, creeds, generations and genders is transforming.  Each of us bring to a solution a unique perspective that no one else can totally replicate.  It is tempered by our experiences, upbringing, and the place each of us call home.  Each person was put on this earth to fill a unique purpose.  It is the mission of a true leader to meld the singular talents of each person to gain the best result.  What unites us is surely greater than what divides us and what unites us is the spark of humanity that is in each person! It is also imperative for personal growth to learn from one another; to celebrate the differences.

Diversity is part of the secret sauce of my company Accenture.  We take the best of each member of our team and meld it to solve some of the world’s most difficult problems.  Here is a link to the thoughts on diversity of my company.

Diversity in Accenture

In the next few days I will provide vignettes from another leader in diversity – my school West Point.  This is where I learned first what people with different viewpoints and cultures could do together.  The first vignette will be about the person that you see in the featured image (that is for the next post however!)

In closing, Gene Rodenberry perhaps said it best.

“If man is to survive, he will have learned to take a delight in the essential differences between men and between cultures. He will learn that differences in ideas and attitudes are a delight, part of life’s exciting variety, not something to fear.”
Gene Roddenberry

Who can think of Star Trek, without thinking of the empathy of Bones McCoy, the bravery of Kirk, the logic of Spock, the communication skill of Uhura, the ingenuity of Scotty, the determination of Sulu, or the spirit of Chekov?  Let us celebrate diversity and boldly bring us to a better world!

Ms. Jordan’s Lessons on Civil Discourse

Many of you who pass through Austin have seen the statue of the airport’s namesake, Barbara Jordan shown below. I have on my desk with the same image and her words – “My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total.” The statue captures the essence of Miss Jordan – a towering intellect, the epitome of integrity, and a hero to all Texans. She also encapsulated in one person both the power of diversity and the spark and spirit which binds us together.

Barbara-Jordan-statue-at-airport-photo-by-Joshua-Tang-October-2012

There is no more improbable and meteoric rise in politics as the one accomplished by Barbara Jordan. She was the first African American woman to be elected to Congress in Texas. Later in life, she became disabled and was confined to a wheelchair. Instead of this being an obstacle, this disability allowed her to gain perspective on issues facing those with a disability. Miss Jordan’s diverse background and experiences provided her both an unmatched perspective on issues facing minority groups and a unique ability to bring disparate groups together. Her differences and how she articulated them brought people together instead of driving them apart.

She is known as one of the great orators in American history. She came to prominence during Watergate as a member of the House Judiciary committee where her speech before congress is still cataloged in many lists as one of the top ten speeches in American History. In fact, the first time I came into contact with Miss Jordan was at Speech Class, a mandatory course at West Point. In Speech class, we were required to review a video of her speech along with those of JFK, Martin Luther King and others to learn the art of persuasive argument.
What I noticed in that speech were three elements that define the art of civil discourse, leveraged her unique experiences from disparate groups, and made her an American Icon.

1. She understood all angles of an issue. In particular, she could articulate the opposing views perspective often better than they could themselves.
2. She would then clarify were she agreed with their perspective to emphasize where there was common ground.
3. Only then would she respectfully bring up where she differed from the group or person’s perspective with concise arguments based on her view of the facts.

I became very familiar with this approach and had the opportunity to practice it myself with her while attending graduate school. I had the profound privilege of attending two Ethics in Government classes with Professor Jordan, my favorite teacher of all time. I also had the distinct honor of assisting her from the wheel chair to the table before each class.

We looked a bit like the odd couple if you looked only at the surface. Newly departed from the military, I still sported a buzz cut and was thought to be conservative for the LBJ School at the University of Texas. I reveled in her class, the lessons she taught, and the debates we had. Each week she would give us 500 or more pages to read from a diverse set of opinions.  We then would have class debate following Professor Jordan’s three lessons of civil debate quoted above. Unbeknownst to her, I often agreed with her but took the opposite line of argument just to match wits with her brilliant intellect and learn more. I sometimes exasperated her because I had not yet learned her three rules of civil discourse to find commonalities. Professor Jordan was known to have a deep sonorous voice – I called it the voice of God. On one occasion, when I was making one of my points a bit too spiritedly in the impossible effort to rattle her, she said with a twinkle in her eye “Don Grier, I am not sure I can take you three times a week in my class.”

The last vignette serves to show how Professor Jordan brought people together upon common ground. Each year, West Point awards the Thayer award to the person that best epitomizes its motto – Duty, Honor, and Country. It is usually given to a General or President but in 1995, three months prior to her death, it was given to my hero and mentor Barbara Jordan. An icon, her integrity, dedication to service, and ability to bring others together was honored by one of the most conservative institutions of our country. Here is a link to her remarkable acceptance speech and a picture.

http://www.blackpast.org/1995-barbara-jordan-s-acceptance-speech-sylvanus-thayer-award-united-states-military-academy-west-po
To end, I try to live Miss Jordan’s rules of civil discourse each day even though sometimes I fall short.

1. Know the other side’s view at least as well as they do
2. Seek first commonalities and build on them to establish a relationship
3. Then and only then; civilly and with respect explain any differing viewpoints

Life’s Game Changers – The Power of Thanksgiving

I will start the first of the Game Changer series with a story appropriate for the current holiday season. The event it depicts is both one of the happiest and saddest in my life. As I spoke about in one of my recent blogs, I learned many lessons on leadership and life from my dad -Big D. This story is the last one that I learned from Big D and one that I will never, ever forget. It is about the power of being thankful – the ultimate game changer. So without further to-do here is the story of the Thanksgiving Calves.

Big D and my mom moved out to “The Land” in the late 90’s when my Dad retired from Turbocare in Houston. The Land was a 30 to 50 acres of land (depended on how pumped up Dad was feeling that day) in a little town called Slocom in East Texas (population 250). On The Land there was a lake (built by my Dad and mom), trees (sycamore, sweet gum), acres of Coastal Grass, and 10 extremely overweight cows.

The cows were overweight because my Dad treated them like pets and allowed his grandchildren to feed them early and often. Each cow had a name – Rosie, Susie, Big Bertha, etc. – and each one was given to a grandchild for a portion of their inheritance. Dad use to point to a cow and say something like this:

Big D – You see Rosie over there.

Kerri – Yes, that’s my cow! She likes to eat this feed.

Big D – Well Rosie will have a cow and that cow will have another cow and that will be for you.

Kerri – Yeah, Grandpop. I love cows.

In the summer of 2002, each of those cows was ready to make the first deposit on the grandchildren’s inheritance. Each was pregnant and set to deliver sometime in November. Unfortunately, Big D was not to see it from here on earth. On November 5, 2002, Big D passed away from a heart attack out near the fence where we would feed the cows. This is the sad part of the story.

thanksgiving cows

Now let’s turn to the happy part and the moral of the story. I and my entire family went out to The Land for one last Thanksgiving to be with Mom. As we arrived, some light snow had fallen. As we rounded the bend to The Land, we saw two calves that were just born and starting to walk. The rest of that day and into Thanksgiving Day, nine of the ten calves were born. The only issue was Rosie and her calf – the one belonging to Kerri.

You see Rosie got extra feed from Kerri and Big D. This was on top of the prodigious coastal grass. Needless to say, Rosie was having trouble birthing her calves. With one hour to go to before Thanksgiving dinner, the issue had reached a crisis.

Rosie was mooing loudly and was running around with her half born calf. Jim Bachman in the farm over had come by to wish us well. He immediately assessed the issue and told my brother and me that we had to get Rosie to the vet. Jim went and got his truck and trailer. He also brought our other neighbor, John, another admirer of my Dad, and we started to try and corral Rosie into her pen so we could load her into the trailer.

So for the next hour and a half while the turkey was getting cold, we went up and down The Land trying to get Rosie into her pen. After many fits and starts (a cow in birth distress is really fast and scared), we finally got Rosie behind the plywood gate that passed as our pen.

The next step was filled with hilarity and near tragedy. My brother Gary before anyone could stop him got this great idea that he could rope Rosie. Doing his best rendition of John Wayne, he made a makeshift lasso and threw it at her. It did not land correctly but did serve to spook Rosie yet again. I was just outside the pen when a 700 lbs. cow broke through the plywood gate and straight at me! Let’s say that I moved faster than I had ever done before or since jumping away and landing face down in the mud. Rosie just barely missed me.

Although that last action nearly killed me, it also served to finally tire Rosie out. At 7:00 PM, we finally got Rosie in the trailer. John went back to what was left of his Thanksgiving Dinner after I and my brother thanked him profusely. Then off Jim and I went to see the vet who was on call 3o miles away.

On the way to the vet, I was secretly saying a prayer that the calf would be all right. Over and over again, I thought “Please let the calf be alright” while I and Jim told stories about Big D and how he would have dealt with Rosie and the calf. I knew he was up there somewhere smiling. We finally got to the vet about 7:40.

Now what comes next is amazing. I had never seen a calf being born and it is awesome site. The vet wrapped a rope around the half born calf and pulled. After a few moments that seemed like an eternity the calf was born – Rosie, Jr. After lying on the ground for a few moments, the calf made its first few steps and was alive. Rosie although in rough shape at the time fully recovered.

And at that moment in time, despite missing Thanksgiving Dinner, I was never more thankful. I was thankful for the gift of the cows from my Dad. I was thankful for the timing and the happiness that the birth of the calves gave to me and my family. I was thankful for Jim and John who gave up most of their Thanksgiving to get Rosie to the vet. I was thankful for the gift of new life facilitated by the vet.

Now, whenever I feel let down or frustrated, I think back to the story of the Thanksgiving calves. And that is a Game Changer. Being thankful can change your attitude. It can lift you out of the despair of failure and lift you toward the hope of tomorrow. Here are some thoughts on the power of giving thanks.

1. Like Jim and John who helped to catch Rosie, thank your family and friends that help you on a daily basis. No person is Island and our loved ones help us to accomplish the mission that God has given us!

2. Be thankful for your vocation. Your vocation gives you exciting, interesting work that quite frankly puts Thanksgiving dinner on the table (of course sometimes it prevents you from eating it).

3. Be thankful for the inheritance that was given to you from those that have led the way. Like the Thanksgiving calves that were the inheritance given to my kids from Big D, we all need to remember the people that helped you along the way.