Author: Erick Rheam

03 Oct 2017

If You Could Do It Over Again, Would You?

There’s nothing more majestic than a crisp, fall, Saturday afternoon at West Point, nestled off the Hudson River, among the rocks, deciduous trees and the fall colored leaves welcoming the changing of the seasons.  The sights and sounds of a collegiate football game fill the air as I sit with my longtime friends and enjoy the pageantry that comes with a gridiron contest, a tradition nearly as old as West Point itself.

Jason Stewart, the Captain of the 1993 sixth place finishing NCAA national college men’s cross country team, is the reason I find myself reminiscing with some of my closest and dearest friends this afternoon.  We descend upon the Academy, 24 years after our journey began, to celebrate Jason for being inducted into the Army Collegiate Sports Hall-of-Fame, with five other well deserved former Army athletes that make up the Hall’s class of 2017.

It’s an emotional and inspiring weekend filled with hugs, smiles, and old stories that bring a flood of memories back to the surface, allowing me and my teammates to reconnect and rediscover our forgotten youth.

I find myself sitting with my longtime friend and teammate, Jack Swift, during the football game.  We share a bucket of popcorn and a bottle of water.  We cheer on the Army football team and catch up on our families, careers and lives.  As always, when I gather with this group of men and women, I reflect and take account of my life since I graduated from the Academy.  Jack and I engage in a genuine conversation about life and compare our thoughts on the world, our accomplishments, and our dreams.

I turn to Jack, during a pause in the action on the football field, “Jack, let me ask you something.”

He turns and smiles, “What is it?”

“If you could do it all over again, knowing what you know now, would you?”  I scan his face and wait for his response.

“Definitely.” Jack states with confidence and without hesitation.

“Why?” I ask, probing his answer.

“Because this is real.” Jack gestures to our friends and teammates talking and laughing with one another in the stands. “What we have is real.”

“What do you mean?”  I ask.

“So much of our world is fake and only surface deep.  A kid goes to Harvard, because of his dad’s money.  Some rich guy buys a nice place on the beach in Malibu, but there is no true value in it.  Not the kind of value we developed as a team, as brothers.”  He pauses and looks over at me.  “I’ll take what we have, our relationships and our experiences.  You can ask anyone of these guys for anything, and they’ll give it to you, because we love and support one another in any situation.  Yup, I would do it all over again, no doubt.”

Our group rented a house overlooking the beautiful Hudson River.  We gather each night in the living room around a roaring fire and share memories, discuss current events, and debate politics and social issues.  I cherish every moment of it and feel honored to be a part of such a great group of people.

Eventually, like all good things, the weekend comes to end and we hug one another and say our goodbyes. I head home inspired to know that I’m a part of something special, and yes, something real.

I ponder my conversation with Jack on my flight home.  He’s right, our group has a deep and meaningful connection that time nor controversy can destroy, but why?  What makes our connections real, what makes anything real?  I believe it’s because of four simple, but powerful elements that true friendship provides:

  1. Grace – Our group extends grace to one another. We come from all walks of life and have varying backgrounds and beliefs.  We respect each other’s opinions, although we may not agree, and we accept each other unconditionally, despite our flaws and past mistakes.
  2. Respect – We respect each other for who we are as people. We laugh and joke with one another, but there’s always an underlying respect for every person in the group.
  3. Unconditional Love – There’s a basic, simple, and foundational love we’ve built over the years that’s undeniable. We cheer for each other’s successes and we feel each other’s pain.  We don’t keep score nor do we manipulate each other.  We simply love one another and truly enjoy every interaction, every moment, and every memory we share.  We embrace each other as brothers and sisters, as a family.
  4. Servanthood – Above all, we serve each other. We approach our interactions with humility and search for ways to help others in our group.  Whether it’s tickets to a game, sharing reward miles for cheaper flights, lending money for business ventures, offering advice on life, or simply showing up and supporting each other in times of joy and sorrow, we continually serve one another without expecting anything in return.

I’m blessed to call my former Army teammates and classmates my friends.  I’m honored that they accept me for who I am and love me, despite my flaws.  Most important, I’m blessed to have something real in my life.  In the end, I’ve come to my own conclusion that if given the choice, I too, would do it all over again.  How about you?  Would you make the same decisions, or choose the same path if you could do it all over again?  If your answer is, no, then what do you need to change in your life to make it more real and worth choosing again at the end of it?

18 Sep 2017

Stretch Yourself To Success

I developed a love/hate relationship with the nurses at the Eskenazi Burn Unit during my recovery and physical therapy after my fire accident.  Twice a week I would make the journey up to Indianapolis and meet with my burn team that oversaw my care and welfare.  They would greet me with a smile and then proceed to remove my bandages, exposing my injuries, and aggressively clean my wounds, not seeming to care or notice that it hurt me.

My wounds continued to heal and new skin begin to replace the old skin that was damaged or lost due to the fire.  The new skin on my right foot looked and felt like thin paper.  It seemed fragile as one of the nurses poked and prodded the skin to assess its condition.

“I need you to point your toes.” The nurse politely commanded.  I responded by pointing my right foot away from my body.  However, the new skin resisted and so I stopped.

“Keep going.” She stated without looking up at me.  I refused her command, my new skin was tight and I was afraid to stretch it.

“I know.” She looked up at me with an empathic smile, “It feels like your skin is going to rip or tear, but it won’t, trust me.”

“Are you sure?” I ask.

“Positive, everyone feels the same as you, but this exercise is necessary for healing and growth.  We need to stretch your skin so we can make it pliable and allow it to expand across your wound. Now, point your toes further.” She commanded and looked down at my foot.

I wince as I point my toes as far as I can, hoping that my rigid new skin could handle it.  My skin resisted and it was painful as I stretched it through the exercise.  Sweat found its way to my forehead and trickled down my face and dripped off my chin as I pushed my skin to stretch out beyond comfort.  I was relieved when the nurse told me I could stop.

“I know it’s uncomfortable.” She smiles and stands up.  “You need to do this twice a day so you can train your new skin, ok?” She waits for my response.  I nod and look away from her.  I’m annoyed by the request and not overly pleased by her insistence that I continue to push my skin with this exercise.

I reluctantly follow the prescribed exercise regime, and over time, my skin no longer resists but becomes fully pliable and functional.  Now, I don’t notice it as it’s fully healed.  I can run and exercise, just like new, and I regained full range of motion.  My skin resisted at first, but over time it stretched and adapted to its role on my foot.

Stretching out of our comfort zones in any part of life is uncomfortable, if not painful.  My skin was new and felt fragile.  Everything in my mind told me not to push it, but my veteran nurse knew better.  She knew my skin would stretch and pushing it with my physical therapy was necessary for growth and to ultimately get it where it needed to be so I could lead a healthy life.  How often have you resisted growth and failed to push yourself in some area of your life?

I was convinced my skin would tear if I stretched it too far.  I would’ve let fear hold me back, if my nurse didn’t encourage me.  I had no experience that verified my fears but just assumed my skin wasn’t ready.  We give too much power to our fears.  Many fears are unfounded and not logical and based on emotion.  Our lives, like my skin, are more resilient than we realize, yet we fall short of stretching ourselves to new heights.

Today, my new skin is discolored and it’s evident that I was involved in an accident.  Life is a lot like that.  When we stretch ourselves, it changes us and alters our personality, our character, and our behavior.  Change is uncomfortable but necessary for growth and success.  What area of your life are you resisting change?  Is it time to stretch beyond your comfort?

05 Sep 2017

The Day We Met an Angel in NYC

My family followed me down the steps into the busy underground enigma that is the New York City subway system.  The sounds, the smells, and the visuals are like no other experience on earth.  The mass of humanity and the stale air can be daunting to outsiders, like me and my family.

We wanted to see the Statue of Liberty that day, a must-see experience for every American.  I decided to lead my family underground and try my hand at NYC’s infamous mass transit system.  I stared at the signs and attempted to make sense of it all.  I was confused as I tried to decipher the signs and the colorful maps that seemed to mock me.  My wife, Alia, and my kids stood patiently behind me as I tried my best to put on a confident demeanor and hoped that they didn’t pick up on the fact that I was clueless.

“You need some help, Buddy?  Where are trying to go?” A determined voice interrupted my thoughts.  I looked up to find a man in his mid to late 40s standing a few feet away and staring at me with an impatient look on his face.

“Um, yeah, I’m trying to get to the Statue of Liberty.” I respond meekly.

“Follow me, I’ll take you where you need to go.” The mystery man responded and turned away and confidently motioned me to follow.  I paused and looked back at Alia.  She shrugged her shoulders.  I found myself following the man as he weaved around other travelers navigating the platform of the subway tunnel leading us to the train that would take us where we desired to go.

The stranger, an average sized man about my height, was casually dressed in flip-flop shoes, loose fitting designer shorts, a Tommy Hilfiger long sleeved blue collared shirt, and a white fedora hat with a colorful band wrapped around it just above the brim.  His hat was jammed on top of his disheveled peppered grey hair that playfully peeked out of the bottom and haphazardly laid over his ears.  He looked like a retired mob boss, and dressed like he should be betting dog races down in sunny Florida.  His playful smile and kind eyes drew me in, so I continued to engage with him.  He found a seating arrangement on the train for my family and proceeded to plop down next to me and engage in conversation.

He introduced himself as Matthew, or “Macky”, as most call him.  He’s a writer, a Vanderbilt University graduate, and a lifelong New Yorker.  He asked where we’re from and what we’re looking to see on this trip.  I explained all the sights we were attempting to take in that day, at which he enthusiastically responded, “Look, I’m off work and heading home.  If you like, I can show you around the city, from a New Yorker’s perspective, are you interested?”

Alia and I made eye contact and were skeptical, what did he want from us?  “Hey, I’m not here to scam you, friends.”  Macky smiled, as if he read our minds, “You seem like nice people, and I’ve got nothing else to do until about 5 pm, when I’m scheduled to meet up with the boys for a few drinks!” He peeked over at me and winked, then playfully jabbed me in my ribs.  I decided to give Macky a try and I agreed to allow him to escort us around the city. “Great!” Macky claps his hands and briefed us on his plans and the various stops he would like to show us.

We found ourselves in the heart of Chinatown with Macky explaining various facts and interesting tidbits about the area.  Macky was a congenial fellow and seemed to enjoy showing us his city.  He pointed out various landmarks and carefully explained where we were going next and why.  He slowly gained our trust as he shared more about himself, joked with my kids, and expertly navigated us through the various obstacles of the city.  He seemed to know exactly when to jump on the subway and which ferry to take and the best route that would maximize our tour.  He stopped and took pictures for us and found the best New York hotdog in town for us to feast on and keep up our strength.  At one point during the tour, my son, Adrian, puked due to over stimulation and low blood sugar.  Macky didn’t miss a beat.  He guided Adrian to the nearest bathroom and took care of him.  After he returned, he gleefully announced, “I think Uncle Chuckles is going to be ok!”  We all laughed at Adrian’s new nickname and continued our tour.

Eventually I asked Macky how we could compensate him or return the favor for his generosity.  Macky smiled, “No need, I’m happy to do it.”

“But, why?  Why would you take your time to show total strangers around town like this?” I asked.

“All ships rise in a high tide, my friend.”  Macky turned towards me and gently patted me on my back.  “Visitors, like you and your nice family, are critical to our city and it’s important to me that you have a good time.  I hope your kids will remember this and one day go out of their way to help those around them too!”

Macky took us through Chinatown, over the Brooklyn Bridge, past City Hall, and on a Ferry, that sailed us right next to the Statue of Liberty, allowing us to take great pictures along the way.  Whatever we wanted to see, he obliged us and took us on the best and most fun route he could find.  Over a four-hour period, Macky entertained us with jokes, educated us on fun facts about certain landmarks, humored us with our silly New York questions, and did it all with a joy and kindness that I was not expecting from a native New Yorker.

When it was time for us to head back to our hotel, Macky guided us back to the Subway and got on board with us and made sure we knew how to get back to our hotel.  When the subway car slowed, and stopped where Macky would depart us, he shook my hand, patted my kids on the head, and politely kissed my wife goodbye on her cheek.  He tipped his hat to me and my family, winked at us as he stepped out of the subway and yelled back, “Until next time!” and then he disappeared among the mass of humanity exiting the train.

My wife turned and smiled at me as our train car jerked back to life, “I miss Macky already!”  I nodded and agreed with her.  What an experience and a life lesson Macky taught us that beautiful day in the heart of one of the busiest places on earth.  Despite being busy and having his own life to lead, Macky chose to slow down and show up in our lives and extend a kindness that left an impact on my family.  I’m sure Macky had several things he could’ve done that day, but he spent his afternoon with us instead.  Hundreds of people passed us by in that Subway, but Macky chose to stop, to slow down for just a moment, and to sacrifice for us.

The ultimate expression of love is through sacrifice.  The most precious commodity we have on earth is our time and our health, both are perishable gifts that we must steward and carefully expend on things that matter.  What better way to spend one’s time than to spend it loving another human being.  Macky didn’t know my family and had no reason to stop and help us, but when he did and proceeded to give us four hours of his life, he showed us the greatest example of love and made a life-long impression on us.

The world can be very dark and there are indeed evil people that walk among us, but for every evil soul that occupies this world, there are dozens of Macky’s spreading love and kindness that will ultimately defeat all darkness.  New York is a better place because Macky lives in it, and my family and I are grateful we had the pleasure to experience true kindness and love from a lifelong New Yorker that we’ll never forget.  Thank you, Macky!

28 Aug 2017

The Two-Part Formula to Have an Impact in Life

I believe we all want to have an impact in our lives and in the lives of those that are close to us.  Nobody wants to live a meaningless life.  What does it mean to have an impact?  It means that you alter the behavior of others in a way that it makes a positive difference.

Life comes down to your relationships and experiences, and the way you add value to your closest and most meaningful relationships.  Your legacy is only as strong as your relationships for it’s those bonds you build and maintain with others that will outlast your beating heart.  So, what’s the formula? What does it take to have a lasting impact?  The first part is passion.

The key is how you approach your passions.  We’re taught, at a very young age, to pursue our passions.  We should be in constant pursuit of what excites and motivates us.  Go after your dreams and do whatever it takes to get there.  This is a flawed paradigm.  Pursuing your passions will leave you always wanting and dissatisfied with your life.  You’ll always peek around the corner of your life and wander what’s next, and fail to appreciate the moments you have right now.  Instead of pursing your passions, take them with you.

Shift your paradigm and begin to unpack your passions and deploy them into whatever season of life you’re in now.  You’re not defined by your job title, you’re defined by your work.  If your passion is service, then serve!  Do it in your current position whether you’re a sales clerk, a mail carrier, or a CEO.  Identify what motivates you, what excites you, and then start exploring and cultivating those passions in your daily life.

For me, I have a passion for communicating.  I love to explore my thoughts, collect ideas, and then organize them and communicate them to the world.  How did I unpack that passion?  I started this blog! I began writing and posting my ideas and thoughts and presenting it to the world.  My blog is now read by over 10,000 people each year, what an impact!

The second part of the formula is to discover your strengths and then cultivate them so that you may leverage them to add tremendous value to everyone you meet for the rest of your days.  How do you do this?  Purchase the book, Strengths Finder 2.0, by Tom Rath.  Take the Strengths Finders test.  This test will identify your five themes, which will give you some insight into your potential.  Your goal is to turn those themes into strengths.

The key with your strengths is to focus on them and don’t worry about anything else.  We’re taught to focus on our weaknesses.  Don’t do that.  You’re weak on those areas and won’t add value to anyone by working within your weaknesses.  Instead, build upon your strengths and focus on them.  My strengths are networking, communicating, and inspiring others.  I studied books and took courses and engaged within my strengths and found ways to leverage those strengths to have an impact.

A few years ago, I unpacked my passions and married them up with my strengths and I took the stage at a conference and delivered a talk.  I felt something deep within my soul that resonated and inspired me to do it again and again.  This year, I will take the stage over 50 times and I’m loving every minute of it, but most of all, I’m making an impact.  I know this because of the feedback I’m getting from the event planners who hire me and from the survey results from the participants.  Several times I was rated the best speaker at a conference.  Several event planners stated that I was the best speaker they’ve ever hired.  I share this, not to edify myself, but to make a point that when you combine your passions with your strengths, there is no ceiling to what you may accomplish.

You were born to have an impact and you have a unique set of gifts that when they are ignited by your passions, will launch you into a life that you’ve only dreamed of until now.  What are your passions?  What are your strengths?  Unpack your passions and develop your strengths, so that you may become the person God created you to be and so that you will have an unbelievable and lasting impact on this world.

21 Aug 2017

Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life!

How often do you reflect on your life?  When you do reflect on your life, how do you do it?  Are you intentional about it?  Most important, what do you think about?  Do you think about the “how?” or the “why?”

According to Dr. John C. Maxwell, in his book, “Thinking for a Change”, most of us don’t know how to think.  Most don’t take the time to think and reflect on our lives.  We spend our days reacting and focusing on the wrong things, so much so, that we waste our prime years pursuing the wrong things.  Simply put, we waste our lives.

Why don’t we think?  Why don’t we reflect on our lives and make the necessary adjustments to achieve ultimate success?  Maxwell believes it’s because we’ve never been taught to think.  We think and we reflect, the problem is when we take time to think on our lives, we think and meditate on the wrong things.  We ponder the “how?” when we should reflect on the “why?”

Dr. Maxwell opens his book with one simple premise, “Change your thinking and change your life.”  Instead of constantly trying to figure out how you’re going to do something, step back and ask yourself, why?  Too often, we get caught up in the whirlwind of life and spend way too much time trying to figure out how we’re going to get through a project, or overcome an obstacle, or solve a problem.  We get so enamored with a project that we get distracted and off track, so much so, that we find ourselves mired in regret and become frustrated and disenfranchised with our lives.  Figuring out “how?” is wildly overrated, yet we spend most of our waking hours focused on “how?”.

What if you changed your thinking and began each thought with “why?”  Get in the habit of asking that critical question with every facet of your life, every project, every decision.  This simple change in thinking will change everything in your life.  When you get into the habit of asking “why?” you will constantly reset your thinking to ensure that you’re focused on the right things.  You will find yourself shedding projects and saying “no” to the wrong things and saying “yes” to the right things and focusing on what truly matters and will have the greatest impact on your life.

Dr. Maxwell states, “A person who knows how, may always have a job, but the person who knows why, will always be the boss.”  The bottom line, if you know your “why?” you will win at life, so start each day with discerning your “why?” and you will be well on your way to achieving significance.  What areas of your life do you need to begin to ask, why?