My family recently had the opportunity to host members of the Watoto Children’s Choir, a group of children and adults from Uganda that travel the world in Christian Evangelism. The Choir travels throughout the U.S. to advocate for the estimated 50 million children in Africa, orphaned as a result of HIV/AIDS, war, poverty and disease.
The Watoto Choir was scheduled to visit our Church and needed volunteer host families to provide homes for the children and their chaperones to sleep for the night. We volunteered weeks before the event, and as the day quickly approached we found ourselves extremely busy with our kids’ activities, my birthday, and other commitments. I began to regret volunteering for the task.
On Saturday, the day we were scheduled to host, I woke up at 6:00 am and worked in the yard and the house all day. I was exhausted by the time I went to the Church at 9:30 pm to greet the Choir. They did not arrive until after 10:00 pm because they were traveling from an earlier performance in Indianapolis. Their large tour bus pulled in with a huge trailer in tow. Three adults stepped out of the bus with big smiles, and a young woman greeted us with, “Thank you for hosting us!”
We proceeded to help the adults, a group of men of women in their early 20’s, set up their stage equipment. They were all very polite and patient as I stumbled around and tried to assist them in the process. I think I was more of a hindrance, but they were very gracious and kind as we worked to finish the set-up process.
When it was about time to head home, the children began filling the sanctuary. They were all neatly dressed in black uniforms with overnight bags hanging off their backs. They were full of energy and bright smiles. We received a quick briefing from the Choir Liaison on what was expected of us and then were assigned our group. I stepped forward when my name was called and was greeted by my three kids – Asruf (12 years old), Timothy (12 years old), Brian (10 years old), and their chaperone, Michael (24 years old).
The boys hugged me and thanked me for hosting them for the night. Michael shook my hand and thanked me as well. We arrived at our home just before midnight. The boys walked in and took off their shoes, and neatly placed them next the door. They met my wife, Alia, hugged her and thanked her for hosting us. We offered them a snack before bed, which they gratefully accepted. They sat down and waited for us to bring them food, at which time Michael blessed the food. Michael and I engaged in a fun and lively discussion while the boys eagerly ate their snack.
The boys were polite and fun to talk with at the dinner table. They smiled, laughed, and asked me thoughtful questions. They listened and obeyed Michael and were ready for bed by the time I showed them their room. Michael and I discussed what time we would meet for breakfast and he thanked me again for hosting them. We did not hear them the rest of the night, nor did I hear a peep from them in the morning, I almost forgot they were in our house!
The next morning, I was sitting in the kitchen as Alia made the final preparations for breakfast. Michael and the boys appeared at the exact time we discussed the night before. They were neatly dressed with warm smiles. The boys were eager to meet my children, Ashley, Ryan and Adrian. They hugged my kids and thanked them for allowing them to stay in our home. They laughed and danced with each other in the living room while Alia put the food on the table.
Soon it was time for me to take them back to our Church, so they could prepare for the performance in a few hours. Unfortunately, I was going on a business trip and could not attend. When I dropped them off at the Church, they again hugged me tight and thanked me multiple times for our hospitality. I waved goodbye and drove off to the airport feeling great about the experience.
That night, after I settled into my hotel room, I called back home to speak with Alia and ask how the performance went with the Watoto Children’s Choir. Alia began to share with me how beautiful the performance was and how heartbreaking their story was as well. I found out that the children were orphaned due to losing their parents to war and disease and they live in shacks and horrible conditions back in their homes. Alia then began to share what she found in the room they stayed in at our house. She told me how they had folded all the linens and towels they used, let the air out of the air mattresses and neatly folded and placed them in the corner of the room. She was shocked at how they meticulously cleaned the area.
I was touched by the experience, even more so after I discovered their back story and what they represented. Their gratitude was unmatched and inspiring. Ashruf, Timothy, and Brian had lost so much at such a young age, yet they showed unbelievable courage, grace, and gratitude. They were thankful for every moment they stayed with us and were not afraid to share it.
The next day, at my hotel, I sat down for breakfast and overheard a woman complaining to her friend that her coffee was too hot and she was annoyed that she had to wait for it to cool down. I looked over at the woman who was dressed in expensive clothing and wore fine jewelry. My thoughts drifted back to the boys from Uganda that I spent a few hours with a day earlier. She had everything, yet seemed bitter and annoyed. Those children had very little, yet were grateful for every moment. They inspired me to be more grateful for what I have and not focus on what I don’t have. They impacted me more then I impacted them and I am grateful for the experience.
If you want to learn more about the Watoto Children’s Choir, visit their website at http://www.watoto.com/the-choir
One of the first things I recommend to any runner is to learn to relax your face. Do you ever notice the faces of Olympian sprinters on television when there is a replay of their race in slow motion? It’s almost comical to watch as their faces seem to melt off as they push towards the finish line. They look like this because they have been properly coached to release all of the tension from their faces, but why?
It is impossible to run your best if your body is tense. It starts in your face, works through your shoulders and arms and down to your legs. When you run tense, you constrict your lungs and don’t get the optimal amounts of oxygen flowing through your body. When you are tense, you constrict your muscles, which shorten your stride thus not getting the most of your body’s potential. Finally, when you run with tense muscles, your body will fatigue prematurely resulting in a subpar run and frustration.
So it all starts with your face. When you run relaxed in your face, it percolates throughout the rest of your body and allows you to run with optimal form. A calm and relaxed runner is a confident runner and ultimately faster runner.
Our daily lives are not much different. When we our tense as we approach our tasks, then we constrict our workflow and creativity. This leads to frustration, fatigue and strained relationships at work and at home. I often have to remind myself to relax at the start of my day and to intentionally allow myself to get into a rhythm.
Now I must admit, this is probably one of my greatest struggles. I can run relaxed all day, but often struggle to relax in my work and home life. I can tell when I’m not relaxed just by the way my family interacts with each other. If my family is tense at dinner, it’s usually because I have been tense myself. Sometimes, I can take myself a little too seriously with even the most mundane tasks and have to remind myself to slow down, relax and get back into an appropriate rhythm and flow. The key for me is to recognize when I am tense and have measures set in place to ensure I stay relaxed.
Here are a few tips that I use every day to keep myself relaxed:
- Quiet time – I allow myself about 30 minutes of quiet time each morning before I get up. My alarm goes off at 5:00 am, but I don’t allow myself to get out of bed until 5:30 am. I use that 30 minutes to set my mind right and prepare myself for the day. It is my “relax your face” moment.
- Write – I spend the first hour of my day writing. I write on my blog, in a journal, and play around with some fiction. This is a relaxing task that allows me to get my creative juices going. It’s kind of like warming up before a race!
- Exercise – I work out for at least for one hour, six days a week. I usually do this in the morning or at lunch time. Exercise is necessary to keep you healthy, and is an excellent way to get the blood circulated in your body and to renew your mind.
- Pray – Spending time with the Lord is essential for me in that He guides every facet of my life. Not connecting with Him is like not plugging in my iPhone. Prayer has a way of keeping your life in the proper perspective.
- Reading – I try to read for at least 15 minutes a day. It really does not matter what it is, as long as you are in the habit of exercising your brain.
- Healthy Relationships – We are interactive beings. I make an effort to relate with my family in a way that is memorable and meaningful. I do this through activities and active listening. We make a point to have family dinners almost every night. For you, it may be close friends; the point is to be intentional with your relationships and to associate with people that will have a positive impact on your life.
Life is just like a race. It can be intense, it can be hard, and it takes incredible effort to compete well and to finish strong. In order to get the best from yourself, you must learn to “run your life” relaxed. Are you relaxed?
“I know what you want me to say, Erick.” My mother’s words were slow and steady over the phone, “I’m not going to say it.” My heart sunk and despair percolated through my body like a heavy spring rain. I closed my bloodshot eyes and tried to understand my mom’s motives. I was her son, and I was hurting. She of all people should empathize with me and allow me to come home!
I had been at the United States Military Academy at West Point less than three weeks and I was ready to give it all up and head back to the comforts of my home in Indiana. I had already dreamed of other alternatives in my head during a long forced road march in some back road in upstate New York at West Point a few days earlier. Most of my high school friends were attending either Indiana or Purdue University, it would be easy to reunite with them and slowly forget about the Academy.
By the time I spoke to my mom on the phone, I had already made up my mind and I just needed her blessing, but she would not give it to me! She was always level headed about these types of life decisions and I respected her. I could not quit West Point without her on my side, besides if she said it was “o.k.”, then I knew it was the right decision. I was not expecting her response. My mind cringed and my heart ached at the thought of spending another week at West Point, and it made me sick to my stomach.
I protested with her through tear filled eyes. “Mom, you don’t know what I’m going through.” I pleaded.
“I know, son, but you need to give it one year and then we can talk.” I gasped, ONE YEAR! The idea tumbled through my mind like hot amber. I could not make it here one year, not going through what I experienced so far.
“Erick, listen to me,” she interrupted with a calm voice, “I’m not given you permission to quit, because I know you will regret it later.” There was a pause; I didn’t know what to say. “You are going to form special relationships there that will stay with you the rest of your life. You are going to have wonderful experiences that very few will. Give it one year, and then we can talk.”
I lowered my head and made an agreement with her over the phone. I was not happy with her and I was devastated at the thought of staying even another day at the Academy, but I did it because of my mom’s strength, not mine. I buckled down and did what I had to do to make it through the next few weeks.
Over time I found my groove and made some great friends. It eventually became a lot easier as my mind and soul began to adapt to the West Point way of life. I accepted my new life and was actually enjoying the experience.
At the end of my first year, Mom and I were basking in the warm spring sun at Trophy Point, a land mark overlooking the great Hudson River. My first year at West Point was over and we were waiting to take wedding pictures with my sister and her new husband, a freshly minted West Point graduate and newly commissioned officer in the U.S. Army. They had just married at the Cadet Chapel a few hours earlier. The whole family was there and it was a happy day. It was happy because my sister was beginning her new life with her husband and for me because I survived my first year.
I was officially a Yearling (sophomore) and had the freshly sown stripes on my uniform to prove it. My mom and I never discussed whether I should stay at West Point again, because she was right. I formed the foundations for lifelong relationships that first year and experienced wonderful moments that stayed with me forever.
I leaned on my mother’s wisdom 22 years ago and made a decision that affected my entire life path. I found out later that she was hurting too and wanted nothing more than to have me come back home, but she understood what I understand now. Quitting is always an option, but only after you give your experiences time to form so you can fully understand what you are giving up.
Too often we quit before we give life a chance. My mom would not allow me to be a quitter that day I called her, and I have never forgotten that life lesson. To this day, I tell my own kids, “Give it a year first, and then we can talk.” What a lesson she taught me, thank you Mom!
What is going on in your life now that is making you want to quit? I suggest you take my mom’s advice and give it some time, and if you still want to give it up, then at least you know you gave it a chance and there will be no regrets.
Last month, I attended my Cousin Ashley’s funeral, who was tragically murdered in her home. It was a horrific situation and a sad day for the entire family. I came by myself and expected to pay my respects and mourn with Ashley’s family as we laid her to rest and to try to make sense of the motives behind her killer. What I did not expect was to be inspired.
Gas City, Indiana, is a small community about an hour south of Fort Wayne. The community was rocked by Ashley’s murder, a 29 year old single mother of two young children. When I arrived at the funeral home, I was surprised to see over 100 motorcycles of every make and model parked outside, poised to escort Ashley to her final resting place. The funeral home was standing room only, so many showed up that some had to stand in a side room and watch the service on a closed circuit television.
The service was touching and I watched with tear filled eyes as a video tribute was played and Ashley’s uncle, a preacher, provided the heartfelt message. It was a beautiful sunny day and I rode with two of my Aunts to the gravesite. The motorcycles rumbled through the city streets as they solemnly escorted Ashley to the cemetery. Hundreds of Gas City residents lined the streets and quietly watched the parade of vehicles pass by them. Cars pulled to the side of the road and people stepped out of their cars and held their hands over their hearts. I saw heads bowed in prayer. I witnessed a town coming to a complete halt as one of their daughters, whose life ended too soon, passed through the streets of Gas City one final time.
It was not until I stood at the gravesite that I began to look around at everyone who gathered to say goodbye. I was touched by what I witnessed. I saw a lesbian couple, black people, white people, Hispanic people, rednecks, bikers, Christians, non-Christians, people from every demographic and social status. But instead of seeing their differences, I saw a group united in grief.
At the end of the graveside service, before the group departed, balloons of different shapes, colors, and sizes were distributed among the crowd. Ashley’s two young children were given special metallic balloons. The group gathered in a circle and someone from the crowd cried out, “For Ashley!” and the balloons were released in unison. The cadre of balloons filled the sky of Gas City; they rose like rockets into the pale blue sky. It was a beautiful sight, so much that there was an audible gasp from the crowd. And like a flash, the balloons were gone. They drifted too high to see, like they rose to Heaven.
That same diverse group gathered for a dinner at a church hall back in town. We were treated by a fully catered meal, all donated from several restaurants in the city. I spoke to one of my cousins, that was tending to the food, and she stated that the food just started showing up. Total strangers brought hot freshly made entrees, desserts, and money to help pay for the funeral and take care of Ashley’s kids that were left behind. Shirts and buttons with Ashley’s picture on it were sold to help raise funds for the family. The night before, hundreds gathered for a vigil to honor Ashley’s memory. I heard that one of the meanest looking bikers of the group committed to take some of his monthly pay check and donate it to the family to help them pay for the funeral. Amazing!
Ashley’s funeral reminded me of the human condition. Life is tragic and eventually we all end up at a gravesite. Wherever there are two or more people, there will always be conflict and pain. Our country is not perfect and we have shameful periods in our past, but the entire human race has that. The United States is about as diverse as a nation can be and we have many differences, but in the end we always find a way to unite and support each other when it becomes necessary. Ashley’s funeral reminded me of that.
I saw beauty in the human race that day. I witnessed grace and understanding. We were not lesbians, conservatives, or liberals; we were just a community of souls mourning the loss of a young mother. Although the situation was tragic, I was inspired by how those in our family and community responded in such a positive and uplifting way. I was proud to be a member of the Rheam family, I was proud of the Gas City community for taken care of one of its own, and I was inspired by a group of Americans that showed up and were united.
A colleague recently asked me if I could provide some advice for his son on how he might improve his running going into his senior year of High School Cross-Country. His son was not the star on the team, but he was in the top five and was interested in running well next season.
I asked my colleague to e-mail a sample of his son’s training schedule, which he sent to me a few days later. When I studied how his son trained over a two week period, I noticed that every day he was training at or near race pace at some point during the training session, essentially making each day a hard day of training with no recovery days.
My advice to him was simple; replace several of his hard training days with some easy days or recovery days, and to never have two consecutive hard training days in his training schedule. I explained if he did this, he would see a dramatic improvement in his times and would run stronger and faster in his races.
Our bodies and minds were not meant to operate at peak levels everyday for long periods of time. Hard days are meant to stretch our bodies and to train them to become more efficient and to accept and adapt to the pain at higher levels. However, easy days are just as important as they give our bodies a chance to recover and repair strained muscles. We tear our bodies down on hard days, and we allow them to rest and get stronger on the easy days. Easy days of training compliment hard days and are just as essential in order for us to become optimal runners.
I implemented this philosophy this past year for the High School Varsity Cross-Country team that I coached. My training plan only had three hard days and four recovery days over a week, and my team won our league championship last year. The success of my cross-country team is living proof of the power of the hard/easy day concept.
Life, like running, requires days that we must work hard in order to achieve success; however, we must also schedule in times of recovery. Our bodies and minds require rest and periods when we must disengage and recover from the daily grind and obstacles in life.
I apply the 6/1 rule in my life that seems to work quite effectively. I engage life hard for six days a week, but on the 7th day, Sunday, I rest and recover. My Sunday’s are quite simple. I rise fairly early and allow myself two hours in the morning to plan my week. I have breakfast with my family, I go to Church, and then I come home or go out for a nice lunch with my family. After lunch, I lounge on the couch with my wife, and watch movies all day and into the night. I turn off my phone, I don’t check e-mail or social media, and I don’t exercise or fill my schedule with any events on this day. I totally disengage with the world outside of the cocoon and comforts of my family and home. Sundays, have become a special day and something I look forward to each week. When Monday comes and my week begins once again, I feel energized and ready to attack what the week has for me. I can do this each week with ease because I have a recovery day built into my schedule.
The key for you is that you intentionally plan recovery time in your week. The 6/1 rule works for me; you must discover what works for you. The point is to recover and allow your soul to rest and get stronger. Do you intentionally rest during the week and if not, what are your waiting for?
My first three weeks of the six week orientation, known as Beast Barracks, for New Cadets at West Point were rough, as it was for most of us who were struggling to adapt to the daily grind at the Academy. I could never seem to get anything right. I was like sticky fly paper, Upper Class Cadets would hover around me just waiting for me to mess up, and I often did not disappoint them.
“What are you doing here, New Cadet?”
“Do you think you deserve to be here, New Cadet?”
“I’m going to make it my personal mission to get you to quit!”
Those were a few of the many comments I heard several times throughout the day. However, there was one phrase I heard the most, and it helped me immeasurably during my initial few weeks, “Never settle!” This was the motto of my Squad Leader, my assigned leader during my initial phase of Beast Barracks.
My Squad Leader would approach me after several Upper Class Cadets had their way with me and would simply whisper, “Never settle.” Whenever I encountered him, I was required to cry out, “Never settle, Sir!” This phrase was short for “Never settle for mediocrity.” A phrase I came to internalize early in my young adult life.
I must admit, I could get down on myself quickly in those early weeks at the Academy and many times I could see the frustration in my Squad Leader’s face when he stood in front of me after I failed in something, but instead of berating me he would simply say, “Never settle.” Over time I adapted to my new life at West Point and began to thrive. Even today there is a little voice inside that dares me to be extraordinary and to never settle for anything, but my best. I could have gone either way in those early days at the Academy and I truly believe my Squad Leader’s belief in me and his daily challenge to “Never settle” was critical to my sustained success. It helped me become a successful Cadet and eventually graduate as an officer in the U.S. Army.
So how do you know if you are settling in your life? I believe there are three main indicators that you may be on a path of mediocrity and need to assess where you are in your life:
First, you will feel unsettled by your situation. It is a gut feeling that things are not right. This is hard to explain, but everyone reading this knows the feeling because we have all been there at some point in our life. If you have a feeling of despair on Sunday night at the mere thought of starting another work week, then you are probably settling and need to rethink your path.
Second, “good enough” is often a sign that you have taken on too much. It is easy to get overwhelmed in tasks and responsibilities to the point that we are not adding value to any of them. If this is you, then you need to seriously think about editing your life and focus on not being good at many things, but outstanding at a few.
Third, if you are not energized about your work or what you are doing in your life then you most likely are settling for mediocrity. When you work within your strengths and accomplish things that you are uniquely qualified, then you wake up every morning excited about the day. People who are excited out of their minds are those that are pursuing extraordinary goals, which is what we are all meant to do.
Are you living in excellence or are you settling for mediocrity? If the answer is anything short of excellence, then I suggest that you stop settling, and start pursuing extraordinary success.
My Head Cross Country/Track Coach stared at me from across his desk. It was the end of a frustrating Yearling (Sophomore) year at the Academy. I started the year with such promise. I trained hard over the summer and entered the Cross Country season strong and ready to compete for one of the top spots on our team. Based on how I was practicing, there were hopes that I would even win some races that year.
Practices were going as planned and I was progressing nicely, but I was injured early in the season which sidelined me for the rest of the Cross Country season and part of the Indoor Track Season. I was able to compete in the entire spring for Outdoor Track, but I was a mere shell of a runner compared to what I was only a few months earlier.
My Head Coach was crass and would just call things as he saw them. On this particular day, he called me to his office. He never beat around the bush with things and proceeded to berate me on my attitude and approach towards my training and racing. I lowered my head in shame as I listened to him go over my subpar race results and share his frustration with what to do with me next. I honestly expected he would release me from the team that day. Finally, he paused for a long moment. I looked back up at his disappointed gaze. “Rheam, you have to make a decision, do you want to be a West Point Cadet? Or, do you want to be a track star?”
I was surprised by his question. He did not give me a chance to answer, it was rhetorical. “Get out of my office, Rheam, and get your head back in the game!” He grunted in his low baritone voice and turned away from me to tend to a pile of paperwork on his desk. I left his office and took my time on the long walk across campus and back to my barracks.
I took stock of my life at West Point thus far. I was doing fine in all facets of my cadet experience. I supported my classmates in the daily duties and responsibilities; I studied hard in my classes and took on a heavy class load to include scheduling to go to summer school to take Chemistry so I could get ahead for next year. I spent long hours studying, cleaning my room, polishing my boots and shoes, and volunteering for other duties to support my Company. I worked extremely hard in my Department of Physical Education courses, to the point that I was ranked in the upper 3% of the entire cadet class. However, as I assessed everything, I realized that I was exhausted.
I was doing fine at many things, but I was not great in most of them. I was not known as being the best cadet in my Company and was not going to win any awards, my grades were fine and above average, and obviously my running was suffering. I had to remind myself why I came to the Academy. I wanted a good education, to serve in the military, but most of all I wanted to run and compete at the Division I collegiate level.
I made my decision, I wanted to run and be my best in Army Cross Country and Track. I regained my focus and put my efforts towards becoming a better runner. I maintained my grades, spent much less time in cadet activities and devoted my discretionary time towards studying, training, eating, sleeping, and competing for West Point at various Cross Country and Track Meets.
It took me over a year to get in proper shape and to compete well, but I achieved success. By my Firstie (Senior) year at West Point, I was the second fastest distance runner, behind All-American and Team Captain Mike Bernstein. I had a satisfying senior season that ended with my Head Coach coming up to me during one of my last Track & Field meets and stating, “Rheam, I have to say, it has been my pleasure coaching you this year.” I still remember how great I felt when he said that.
My last few years of running at the collegiate level and experiencing West Point taught me a valuable lesson in life. If you want to achieve anything of significance, then you must be willing to focus on the main things, and let the minor things remain minor. Sure, there are tons of activities and responsibilities that tug at you throughout your life, but you must have the wisdom and courage to say “no” to most of them and focus on what is important in your life at that moment.
I still run and compete for fun, but it is no longer my focus. Now I concentrate on being a husband, a father, and businessman. I still say “no” to several things in my life and remain of single mind on what I ultimately want to achieve. If you want to live a life that matters, then learn to be single minded and to cut out the distractions. Do you want to be good at several things or do you want to be unbelievably outstanding at a few? Start saying “no” to the minor things and focus on the major things as they lead you on a path of significance.
A few weeks ago, my computer died. I had to be without it for six days and it was very disruptive to my workflow and was a cause of frustration as I worked with a local PC repair shop to figure out a solution to fix it. The local Service Techs were great and worked hard to get my computer back in operation. The Service Manger; however, was a totally different story.
I visited the PC shop on three different occasions to discuss options with repairing my computer. The Service Manager never took the time to learn my name and hardly remembered me when I came back in to the store for updates on my computer.
Luckily, I did not have to interact with the Service Manager very often as he was not the one that was actually fixing my computer, but on one occasion he was involved in a discussion regarding my computer. He was listening to one of the Techs explain to me some of the options to revive my PC. The Service Manager interjected himself in the conversation and stated, “Well, we are probably going to just wipe your hard drive and get this finished; we are not going to make any money on it.”
I was dumbfounded and was turned off by his statement. He made it clear that he did not have my best interests in mind. What made it worse was that he tried to sell me a new computer from his store. Of course I was not planning to buy a new computer, and if I did, it would not be from him! The Service Tech ultimately found a way to fix my computer; however, I will think twice before I go back there again, solely because I am not sure I can trust the Service Manager.
In contrast, I had to take my car to a repair shop a few days later because the engine from my car had a burning odor coming from it. I asked the shop owner if he could take a look at it and see if there was anything wrong and in need of repair. The owner asked if I could leave it with him for a few hours. I told him I could and then he offered me a ride to a local restaurant where I could grab some coffee and get some work done while I waited.
A few hours later, the owner called me to let me know that he could not find anything wrong with my car and that I should not be concerned with it. He drove my car over to the restaurant and had one of his mechanics follow him so he could get a ride back to his shop.
When I asked him how much I owed him, he stated with a big smile, “No charge, Erick, your car didn’t require any work done, so I’m not going to charge you, but I appreciate you for asking.” Wow, now that is customer service!
I had two totally different experiences within a week. It is obvious where I will go the next time I need my automobiles serviced. In contrast, it is obvious where I won’t go the next time I need my computer serviced.
Creating wealth is pretty simple; add value and look for ways to serve people. If you do that consistently then the money will soon follow. The next time you have a chance to serve someone in your community, do yourself a favor and emulate the Auto Repair Shop Owner and NOT the PC Repair Shop Service Manager!
“Run your race, Erick, run your race!” I heard that phrase from my Dad more times than I can remember back in high school. By my senior year, I had been running and competing for nearly a decade. I explored the State of Indiana competing in various road races and traveled the U.S. racing in sanctioned events and attending exclusive running camps. Eventually, running led to full ride college scholarship offers.
My running career started when I was eight years old and wanted to enter in a small local race with my Dad. My Dad and I would enter the same races and he would finish ahead of me and then wait for me at the finish line to cheer me on, but eventually my Dad stopped running and would be on the sidelines cheering me on and taping hours of video of my various competitions. As many runners know, you go into a “zone” when you are in the heat of a hard fought race. I could not hear anything or anyone around me, but I could always pick out my Dad’s voice from various stages of the course. My Dad had many sayings he would yell out at me, but the one I heard often was “Run your race!” A simple phrase, yes, but there is a lot of wisdom behind it.
I practiced hard and was well coached throughout my career. I knew what my body could do in a race and I always had a well thought out plan for each competition, but many times my plan would go awry when the pack of competitors went out too fast or started too slow. Whenever I allowed myself to get sucked into whatever the pack was doing or if I went out too fast with another runner, I was usually disappointed with the results. In races where I did not follow my race plan and abandoned my training, I would have sub-par results and would finish the race frustrated and disappointed.
Life is a race, a long race with many twists and turns. Everyone has certain talents and gifts that are unique and of value to the world. Many times, we can get distracted and submit to someone else’s goals or go down a path that was not meant for us. Whenever I find myself getting off track in my life, I think of what my Dad would say, “Run your race, son!”
Here are some thoughts on staying focused in your life:
1. Ask yourself, “Why?” This is a powerful exercise. You can get busy “doing” and forget about why you are doing the things, that in the end, don’t really matter.
2. Write down your goals and have them posted where you can see them every day. I know you hear this a lot, but there is a reason that many folks advise in writing down goals, because it works! Magic happens when you get your goals out of your head and onto paper. Don’t start another day without a set of goals written down.
3. Associate with people that are positive and in alignment with what you are working to accomplish in your life. I usually had an idea of the capabilities of my competitors before a big race. I would always identify a few runners that I would use as bench marks during a race. If I knew a guy was prone to going out too fast, then I made sure I avoided him. Avoid people that will not be a good influence on you.
4. Trust your plan. Life can be harsh and it can be easy to become weary and be tempted to quit or change your plan. Don’t do it! Trust your instincts and desires and continue to pursue your dreams and goals.
5. Have at least one good mentor in your life. Every athlete needs a good coach and everyone needs a good mentor. A mentor is your accountability partner and will ensure you stay on track and have the necessary resources to succeed.
Where are you going with your life? Are you running your race or someone else’s race? How are you going to get back on track? These are great questions that you must ask yourself and clearly answer. Life can be a wonderful experience with a chance to leave a lasting legacy, as long as you continue to run your own race. Thanks Dad!
Last month I had to take in our Dyson vacuum cleaner to a local vacuum retail and repair shop. The folks at the shop were delightful and had our Dyson back in working order in a few days. When I went to pick it up, I got into a great discussion with the young salesman that greeted me when I came into the shop to pick up my Dyson.
“Well, I guess I have not thought about it, do you have something better than what I am using?” I’m sure that was music to his ears! He proceeded to give me a great sales pitch and pointed me to a very nice top-of-line vacuum cleaner that was newer and more capable compared to what I was using now.
He had my curiosity, “How much is it?” I inquired.
“Well, it’s one thousand dollars.” He replied with a smile.
“Wow, that’s pricey.” I responded in surprise.
“What did you pay for your Dyson, around five to six hundred bucks?” He did not wait for me to respond. “That Dyson is made with plastic parts and is why you had to bring it in for expensive repairs this week.” He reached over and pulled the shiny, newer vacuum in front of me. “This baby is made with durable metal parts and will last much longer and is much less expensive to repair.” He looked up at me and grinned, “You probably have another four or five years left in that Dyson, whereas you will have a good twenty years with this vacuum here.”
I contemplated his words and was comparing my old and dusty Dyson with his shiny and new beast and could picture a much cleaner house with that new toy in my home. “Can we run a test here in the shop and compare the two vacuums?” I asked, not taking my eyes off his new vacuum.
“Of course!” He chirped in response. A ringing bell, signaling that a new customer had entered the showroom, interrupted our discussion. A kind, elderly lady had come in the store from outside and approached us with a smile.
“Can I help you?” The salesman greeted his new guest.
“Yes, I need a replacement bag for my vacuum cleaner, but I am not sure what kind I need.”
The salesman walked over to her, “Okay, well why don’t we go over to my computer and we can figure out what type of bag you need.”
“Oh, I can wait until you are finished with him.” She smiled and gestured over to me.
“Oh, that’s okay; let’s get you taken care of.” He replied and led her over to a computer from across the room and left me waiting by my Dyson.
I glanced at my watch and began to think about other things I needed to accomplish before I headed back home. I looked over at the salesmen and his pending customer from across the room. I lost interest in this new vacuum he showed me with each passing second. Just a few minutes ago, he had me thinking I could not live without his vacuum, but now I started to talk myself out of it. I really don’t need to spend $1,000 for a new vacuum. I thought to myself as I looked back over at the salesman. “Hey, I’m going to take off.” I spoke up, “maybe we can talk about this vacuum some other time.”
“Okay, sir!” The salesman cheerfully waved at me. I shook my head in disbelief as I escaped the showroom with a thousand dollars still in my pocket and my trusty Dyson in tow. I’m sure he made the sale after I left with that nice, elderly lady and earned $10 for helping her find a new replacement bag; however, he let $1,000 walk out the door and I probably won’t be back for about four to five years, when my Dyson finally gives out, just as he predicted!
It got me thinking, what a lesson in sales and in life. That salesman did a wonderful job getting me interested in his product, and had me convinced it was time to upgrade. He did everything right, up until the point he got distracted, lost his focus and allowed me to walk away from the deal.
We are all faced with situations that require focus and determination to finish something significant in our life. The key is to understand the gravity of the situation and have the discernment and wisdom to remain focused and finish the task. There will be seasons when we must be out of balance, but with the understanding that it is only temporary, and necessary if we are to achieve significance in our journey.
Once you recognize an opportunity that truly is of value and will help you achieve your goals, then go after it and remain focused on the task. If you want to leave a lasting legacy in your family, in your community, and in God’s kingdom, then at some point you will have to learn to close the $1,000 deals and many times it simply requires that you do not walk away; like that young vacuum salesman did with me. What is going on right now in your life that requires focus? What are you doing to close that deal?