Category: Action

21 May 2013

“The Hay Is In the Barn!” – Running Life Lesson #9

“The hay is in the barn!” was a term I heard often in college as our nationally ranked cross-country team would step to the line for another highly competitive Division I cross-country meet.  It was a phrase to remind us that we had done all the training we could and made all the necessary preparations to ensure our success.  We trained hard, ate well, were diligent in our sleep, and we were as ready as we could be for any race.

But, like anything in life, everything is fine until I would step to the line and see the hundreds of other highly trained and prepared athletes looking forward to the opportunity to kick my butt off the race course!  Doubt would inevitably creep in and I wandered if I had done enough and if I was ready to compete with the best the sport had to offer.  I needed to be reminded that I had physically and mentally prepared myself, and hearing, “the hay is in the barn,” would do just that.

At times my best was just not good enough and I would be beaten, but I always finished the race with the satisfaction of knowing that I used the talents that God gave me and that I gave it my best shot.

I learned that I must approach life in similar ways that I did on race days.  In order to compete well in life, I must show up physically and mentally fit.  I accomplish this through disciplines that I work at consistently every single day, because in the end, those that are consistent with good daily habits are the ones most likely to win the race.

Here are some of my consistent habits that I do to ensure “the hay is in the barn” in my everyday life:

  1. I get at least seven hours of sleep every night;
  2. I lay still for 30 minutes in quiet time;
  3. I write to get my thoughts out of my mind and on paper;
  4. I exercise at least one hour six days a week with one full day of rest;
  5. I read something that is going to fill my mind and heart with positive reinforcement;
  6. I develop my relationship with the Lord through prayer and meditation;
  7. I meditate on my life goals;
  8. I make conscious healthy eating choices;
  9. I drink lots of water;
  10. I reflect on my finances to ensure my family is on the right path;
  11. I find at least one character trait to praise my kids and wife on every day.
  12. I review my plan for the next day.

Life is nothing but a string of good decisions that are managed daily.  What are the things you are doing to make sure you are prepared for your “race day”?  Don’t ever “toe the line” without having “the hay in the barn!”

13 Sep 2012

“See you in Boise!” Running Life Lesson #3

One morning, in the fall of 1994, after finishing a subpar practice where I lagged behind the United States Military Academy Varsity Cross Country team, my team captain sat next to me while we stretched.

The year before, my junior year, our team finished 6th in the nation at the NCAA Division I Championships in Lehigh, PA.  My senior year we had another shot at qualifying for Nationals and were working hard to reach that goal.  Nationals were scheduled to be run in Boise, ID.  Mike Bernstein, our fastest runner and highly respected in the collegiate running community, was the team captain that year.  He began stretching next to me without saying a word.  Mike had already received All-American honors and had a good shot at repeating that feat our senior year.  He would eventually go on to train in the Army World Class Athlete program and take a shot at competing in the Olympics during the 2000 Olympic Trials, a few years later.

Mike and I had become close and I respected him.  He pushed me to compete at a high level and never allowed me to “slack” in our practices and always expected my best as the “number two” runner on our team.  As our stretching session ended, Mike sprang up to his feet and offered his hand to help me up.  “I noticed you lagging a little behind the team today in practice.” Mike stated in a matter-of-fact tone as he helped me to my feet.  “Yeah, I was not feeling the run today, Mike.” I responded apathetically back.

Mike paused and put his hand on my shoulder while looking intently into my eyes.  “See you in Boise, Rheam.” He lightly squeezed my shoulder and walked off towards the barracks area. “See you in Boise.”  I hated it when he said that!  He never accepted an excuse or wanted to hear my reasons, he would just say “See you in Boise.”  That became our mantra all season.  Whenever someone came up with an excuse for why they could not perform properly, someone would say “See you in Boise.”

 

Our team had tasted success the previous year.  We were developing a strong distance running program at West Point, one that the Academy, the cadets and alumni could be proud of.  It took dedication and swagger to go and compete at each cross country meet with the intent and drive to win.  Mike Bernstein knew we needed a clear vision for the season and wanted to make sure he communicated it effectively.  “See you in Boise,” was his way of constantly reminding us of the ultimate goal, the National Championships.

Our team practiced hard that year and at the Regional Qualifier, in Boston, we missed qualifying for Nationals and the opportunity to compete in Boise.   I missed qualifying individually by eight seconds.  It was a bitter pill to swallow and I will always remember the gut wrenching feeling knowing that I had just competed in my last collegiate cross country race, just short of my goal.  One of our runners did make it to Nationals; however, and it was our team captain, Mike Bernstein.  He went on to finish in the top 25 in the country which earned him “All American” status.

Mike had the vision set in his mind and worked harder than the rest of us.  He implemented a plan and executed it perfectly.  He did not allow for distractions and kept his eyes focused on what he planned to accomplish in Boise, ID.  Mike embraced the vision of Nationals that year.  I missed competing in Nationals by eight seconds and I know why I missed it.  I did not catch the vision and I was not fully willing to sacrifice for the goal.

We all want to succeed in life and we all have our “Boise”.  The question is, are you willing to do what it takes to get there?  Mike Bernstein did and I did not.  Don’t be like me and go out there and get your ticket punched for your “Boise”.

Here are five things I learned from Mike Bernstein’s example to help you accomplish your goals:

  1. Crystallize the vision for your life.  Where do you ultimately want to go?
  2. Develop a list of tasks that will get you started towards your goal.
  3. Take the first step and start with task #1.
  4. Have an accountability partner to help you stay on track.
  5. Don’t be afraid to fail and never quit!

I will see YOU in Boise!

24 Aug 2012

“No excuse, sir!” West Point life lesson #2

Reception day or “R-day” is the first day of orientation for a New Cadet entering West Point.  This is the first day of a New Cadet’s summer training known as, “Beast Barracks”.  R-day is a day that every West Point graduate remembers in vivid detail.

I can remember the butterflies in my stomach and the terrible feeling of despair at the realization that maybe I made a mistake by deciding to attend West Point.  I remember the feeling of my hair falling off my head as an old Italian barber, with a heavy Broklyn accent, shaved my head nearly bald.  R-day is a long, hard day filled with confusion, regret, and self discovery.

A New Cadet never wanted to hear the statement “Report to the Cadet in the Red Sash”.  The Cadet in the Red Sash was a “Firstie” or a senior that was neatly dressed in his “white over gray” class uniform with a  crimson sash wrapped neatly around his waist.  The Cadet in the Red Sash was a mythical and daunting figure of intimidation that would make any New Cadet tremble in fear.

I had the pleasure of interacting, involuntary I might add, with the Cadet in the Red Sash.  I met up with him almost immediately during my R-day experience.  He asked me a silly question that I really could not answer and when I tried, he stopped me and stated, “You have only four appropriate responses, New Cadet – yes sir, no sir, no excuse sir, or sir I do not understand.”  No matter what he asked me I always tried to answer with all the reasons that ran through my mind.  It did not matter what he asked me, he would stop me and demand that I answer his question.  Finally I responded, “No excuse, sir.”  At which he barked back, “That is right, New Cadet, there is no excuse for you, now get out of my face!”

No matter what situation I found myself in with an upperclass cadet, it seemed like, “No excuse, sir!” was the only acceptable answer.  It frustrated me tremendously as there was always a good reason why I found myself in whatever predicament I was in at the moment.  I was never given the satisfaction to fully answer a question and spent days popping off with, “No excuse, sir!”

I was weeks into my Beast Barracks experience and feeling sorry for myself, when my team leader looked me over one morning during a Saturday morning inspection.  After berating me about my sloppy uniform, my unkept room, which I spent hours cleaning to what I thought was perfection, he finally asked me, “New Cadet Rheam, do you know why I don’t care about your excuses?”  I was taken aback.  My Team Leader was a pain in my side and seemed as if his personal mission was to make my life miserable.  Our only interaction for three weeks was him barking orders at me and constantly correcting me for every minor detail about every facet in my life.  “No, sir” was the only response I felt was appropriate of the four options I was given on R-day.

“New Cadet, I don’t care about your excuses,” my Team Leader stated, “because excuses won’t keep your soldiers safe, they won’t defeat the enemy, and they won’t bring your soldiers home safely to their families.  Try writing home to a parent that the reason his son or daughter will never come home again, was because of some excuse.”  He paused and stuck the bill of his dress white hat firmly into my forehead, “If you want to live a life of excuses, then you need to do an about face and leave my Army, because there is no place for you here.  America’s sons and daughters deserve better.”  He walked out of my room and left me alone to reflect on what he just said to me.  I vowed to never excuse my actions again and to this day, I think twice before I begin to offer an excuse in any facet of my life.

Excuses are easy, but personal responsibility is hard.  You want to live a life of significance?  Then stop excusing your poor decisions, take stock of your life, and begin living a life of excellence, free of excuses.  Don’t like where you are in your life?  What is your excuse?  If your answer to that question is anything other than “No excuse, sir!” then I suggest you read my post again.

22 Aug 2012

“In the absence of further orders…ATTACK!” West Point life lesson #1

By my second year at West Point, I became very familiar with the maze of corridors of the huge castle-like structure that I would navigate to get back to my room from a class.  This became especially handy during bitterly cold winter days.  I preferred finding my way through the maze of old and historic hallways,  inside in the warmth and comfort as I made my way back to my room after a long day of studying and attending classes.

 

My route would take me past the history department.  I always knew I was passing through the history department because I would see a sign that read, “we teach about those we taught”.  It was a cool sign that would always remind me of the great institution in which I had the pleasure of attending.  It was not usual to find a quote or a motto posted outside a history officer’s door.

I enjoy reading quotes and mottos as they represent a core belief or mission statement.  One particular quote always caught my attention and stuck with me over the years.  I could not miss it, because it was posted predominately on a door outside an officer’s office at the end of a long hall.  It was the last office before I would make a sharp right and down the stairs into my barracks area.  The quote said, “In the absence of further orders….ATTACK!”

That quote eloquently summarizes the American spirit and the way I chose to live my life and it has served me well.  I decided that I will approach life head on and would create my own way when there was not a clear path guiding me.  I would not wait for someone to tell me the next step or have someone dictate my journey.  West Point and my short career in the U.S. Army gave me many opportunities to live by this motto and I have never regretted the decisions I’ve made.

Life is not perfect and you can never have all the information you need to make a decision, but you don’t need to know all the variables.  Do you want to separate yourself from the pack of mediocrity? Stop over thinking your situation, over planning your life, and start attacking your life by taking action.  Think about an important project or goal you have in your life and ask yourself this, “what next?” then do it. Stop waiting for everything to be aligned perfectly before you make the jump to begin a new career or take on that new hobby or to ask for that promotion you know you deserve.  No one is going to give you clear cut directions on what you need to do in your life, you simply must learn to take action and to gain control of your life.

What action can you take right now that will advance your cause and get you closer to your lifelong dream or goal?  So why are you not doing it?  ATTACK!