About six weeks ago, I came to a conclusion.
I was unsatisfied with a lot of things. How I felt. How I acted. How I thought.
Other than that, things were good.
Before I get too dramatic here, there were plenty of aspects of my life that were by any standard, in fine shape. I was relatively healthy, relatively successful, relatively happy.
(Can you tell I have a thing for groups of three?)
Ultimately, though, I know what I’m capable of, even as I frustratingly fell short of my expectations.
My perceived failures seemed to follow a similar two-step pattern:
- Approach an anticipated event — be it a broadcast or assignment or workout or golf round — with enthusiasm.
- Run into difficulties, either in the preparation or the execution, and subsequently beat myself up.
Talk about depressing. As far as I could tell, I was falling short from a work ethic standpoint, but why? I want to succeed, so why can’t I make myself make the necessary commitments?
Suddenly, I was transported back to my sports broadcasting class at Marshall University, in the fall of 2006. We all had to do radio play-by-play for snippets of football and basketball games and submit the samples for the student station head, Dr. Chuck Bailey.
I’ll never forget when I got my review back on football, a multi-page treatment that featured Dr. Bailey postulating that I thought I was too good to prepare for the game properly.
With all due respect to a man I still admire in certain ways, he was on the scent, but headed in the wrong direction. While it might seem on the surface that I was overconfident and/or arrogant about my own abilities, what lay beneath the surface was a persistent insecurity.
In my subconscious mind, I was skipping out on the necessary prep work in order to give myself an excuse to underperform. Thus, I could avoid the painful scenario of pouring every ounce of my being into a project, only to come up short.
My holding something back, I would never find out if my best was (or wasn’t) good enough.
That might sound twisted to you, but it made sense on some level to a young man trying to find his way in the professional world.
More than a decade later, I have been able to blunt that self-defeating instinct, but I haven’t found the strength to kill it. For instance, sometimes when I apply for a job I really want, I’ll speed through the application because, ‘Do I really want my best to be rejected?’
With all this in mind, in the middle of May I dubbed this the No-Excuses Summer. I determined that I was going to properly pour myself into all my activities, both personal and professional, because that’s the only way I’ll ever reach my potential.
Is it scary to put your best foot forward? For me, sometimes it is, but holding something back just seems silly at this point.
Well, the summer is far from over — meteorologists would say it’s only just begun — but it’s time for a progress report.
One of the areas I wanted to improve was in being a better Daddy to you and a better husband to your Mommy.
Admittedly, this is a difficult thing to measure, but my resolution was to help more with the little tasks and chores around the house, plus spending more ‘intentional’ time with you, instead of letting my mind drift to stresses and concerns.
Mommy could probably be a better judge of my progress here, but I’m OK with saying that I’ve been moving in a positive direction, although I could afford to take more initiative with the laundry and the dishes.
On the other hand, there’s one habit I’ve picked up that developed easier than expected. I’ve been opening up more to your Mommy about what’s on my mind, both positive and negative. Amazing how much a good chat can lift a weight off your shoulders.
Confession: I flat-out stink at praying. I’m even worse at meditating on the mysteries of life, letting the presence of the Almighty wash over me.
I hesitate to go into too much detail, because my faith life is my own and I also don’t want to come off as pushing my religion on you, the dear reader.
Suffice it to say that I’ve designated a 15-minute period of time every day to consider the existence of my God and how His followers have conducted themselves over the years in pursuit of Her.
(I played with the pronouns there just to mess with your preconceived notions of divinity.)
And, with a little crossover to the next section, a couple of self-directed yoga sessions per week — with breathing as the prime focus — gets my mind right for pondering the Big Questions and What It All Means.
Like I said above, I’ve been relatively healthy and fit since dropping 75 pounds over a calendar year about a decade ago. (Your Dad can sure humble-brag with the best of ’em.)
But one night in mid-May, as I gorged on the media spread at Highmark Stadium, I realized that I just didn’t feel as good as someone who pays close attention to his well-being should.
So I finally took a plunge I’d been dancing around for a few years: I eliminated grains from my diet, adopting the so-called Paleo plan.
Not to be confused with the keto diet — hi, Adam! — the Paleo plan attempts to mimic the diet of humans before agriculture became A Thing.
Long story short, it’s worked in a big way. For the first time in my life, I can see my abs! As someone who’s always been self-conscious about his midsection, I can’t express how big of a deal this is.
The best part is: I didn’t have to deprive myself of calories to do it. Quite the opposite, in fact. Throw in a focus on high-intensity workouts instead of long, plodding jogs, and I feel like Ponce De Leon wandering up to the Fountain of Youth.
As a nice side effect, with help from the extra energy from my cleaner diet, I’ve been able to greatly reduce my dependence on any unnatural pre-workout supplements.
Big success in this category.
Here’s where the No Excuses Summer gets tricky. My primary frustration in my career right now is in my broadcast ‘delivery.’ That basically means the way I say things.
I think it’s passable, but it’s nowhere near of my potential. In my view I can be more assertive, more natural, more definitive in how I speak. (There’s that group of three thing again.)
The problem as I saw it was that I need more repetition, more than what my twice-monthly Pittsburgh Riverhounds soccer broadcasts could provide.
So, I implemented a two-prong plan. First, I would commit to reading magazine articles aloud for an average of a half hour each day. It’s something I’ve done intermittently in the past, but I’ve never really stuck to the routine for longer than a couple of weeks. (Plus, it helps get my money’s worth on the subscriptions.)
Second, I would record at least one live podcast per week, to get more realistic reps in addition to the added volume of speaking time. I actually ended up starting a series called Pittsburgh Postgame that I’ve enjoyed refining over the past six weeks.
It’s been a lot of work — fun work, to be sure — but I have felt the difference on the last two Hounds matches I’ve called. That goal to call World Cup matches in seven years? Still in play.
Finally, the fun stuff. Or at least it should be.
In recent years, I’ve derived more pain than pleasure from my summer sport of choice, golf. You might counter with the argument that golf is by design a frustrating game, but I always felt like I had a decent natural talent for it that I never truly cultivated.
This thought actually hearkens back to about a year ago, coming off yet another disappointing performance on our annual Michigan golf getaway with Mommy’s family, I dedicated myself to practicing in some form or fashion every day through September, even if it was just for 15 minutes.
Those focused repetitions paid off when I played reasonably well in the first real tournament I’ve entered in more than a decade.
This year, I’ve set my sights higher from the start, with the goal of qualifying for the Western Pennsylvania Mid-Amateur in early September. As an added bonus, the tourney takes place in Daddy’s hometown on a course he knows well.
The catch is that I have to lower my handicap from its current 6.0 to 4.4 by the Aug. 15 registration deadline. It’s doable, but I’ll have to play my best golf to pull it off. Game on.
It’s fitting that I closed with the golf aspect of the No Excuses Summer.
Part of the reason why I enjoy the sport is the discipline and self-control it takes to succeed in it. Call me shallow, but there are few things in this life that feel better to me than hitting a golf ball well. It’s the simple, but profound joy of mastery.
On my 35th lap around the sun, there’s never going to be a better time for me to go about the work of mastering the things I want to master.
Luck aside, if you want to improve upon something, it takes the foresight to make a plan and the determination to stick to it. And I don’t think there’s anything more satisfying than aiming to get better in some aspect of life and pulling it off.
It’s an active pushback against the part of human nature that trends toward the status quo. I hope if you take anything from watching me go about my business, it’s that I never stayed satisfied with things as they are.