Why I pray

Winter is here. It is the holiday season. You see it in the decorations, hear it in the music, and taste it in the special foods we eat this time of year. I really enjoy the holidays for many reasons. One tradition I delight in is gathering around the family table to enjoy a meal together.

Praying before the meal

For many families, it is normal for someone to say a prayer before the meal. It is part of the ritual and adds a nice spiritual component to any gathering. This year I am noticing that some people do not know how to pray before a meal. They really don’t. More specifically, I have witnessed several young men stumble and bumble their way through a pre-meal prayer. Usually, it is awkward, and they are embarrassed in the end. I am glad they had the courage to attempt to pray but slightly concerned they do not actually know how to. Praying before a meal is not that difficult, but I guess it can be a daunting task if you have limited experience or practice talking to God.

Many families say grace before a special meal.
Many families say grace before a special meal.

Is it important to know how to pray?

In the grand scheme of things, not knowing how to pray before a meal is not a big deal. It really isn’t. The meal is not ruined, and most family members will completely forget about the misstep quickly. But, I do think it is important that you know how to pray. It is a life skill that can really make a difference. It is a Christian discipline that you should exercise on a regular basis. Prayer has helped me immensely over the years. I think prayer can create the same positive impact for you. Therefore, I am going to devote the next few blog posts to this topic.

Praying can positively impact your life.
Praying can positively impact your life.

Why I choose to pray

Before describing how I pray, I thought it would be useful to share why I pray. In fact, I am going to share five reasons why I choose to pray. At this point, I feel it is important to say that I am not claiming to be a great man of prayer. The reality is that I am not that great at praying. I know that because I have heard many other people pray who are much better at it than me. I am not embarrassed to say that. Praying has been a struggle for me over the years. None the less, it is now a daily discipline for me. As a result, I have gotten better at praying the past few years. Like most things in life – you get better with practice. Do I miss a day every now and then – sure I do. I think many Christians miss a day of prayer every now and then…and God does not get mad at them.

This picture of a man praying hangs in your Great-grandparents dining room.
This picture of a man praying hangs in your Great-grandparents dining room.

I pray to give thanks to God

Every morning when I wake up I have many reasons to give thanks to God. I am alive today. God loves me. Jesus loves me. Jesus died for me. Because of his death and my faith in Him I will go to heaven when I die. I will be reunited with God, Jesus, and my loved ones in heaven, and we will live forever. That sure seems like plenty of reasons to thank God every morning. You should thank him too.

I pray to show gratitude to God

God has blessed my life in more ways than I can count. I have a roof over my head, food to eat, great kids, a loving family, a good job, and decent health. My blog post from last week includes more reasons we are blessed. I would include more blessings here, but the list would go on forever.

Studies show that gratitude is a healthy habit.
Studies show that gratitude is a healthy habit. Practice it daily.

I pray to talk with God

Praying is not complicated. You are talking with God. Nothing more, nothing less. My sense is that many people overthink prayer. They try too hard to use complicated terminology or speak in flowery language. I just try to talk with God about my life because I know He loves me and wants to hear from me like any loving father would.

I pray to ask God for help

I need help, a lot of help every day. You do too. We all do. The question becomes – where does your help come from? I choose to ask my heavenly father for help. Why in the world would I look elsewhere first? Why not ask the one who designed me, who created me, who created the world, who knows all, and who loves me. To not take advantage of God’s help seems crazy to me.

I pray to God because He listens

The last reason why I choose to pray to God is that He listens to me. I believe He does. I really do. Why else would I spend time praying? If God is not there listening, then all I am doing is talking to myself. That might be useful, but not overly helpful. I would rather talk with someone who listens to me. Many times it is hard to tell if someone else is listening to what I say. I know this is true because sometimes it is difficult for me to pay attention and listen to someone else who is talking. I think we all have that struggle. But, God is there for me, and He is there for you too.

Psalm 40

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
    and put their trust in him

One way to control your weight

Thanksgiving is this week. I am a big fan of Thanksgiving. It is a holiday full of traditions and time spent with friends. As Americans, we gather at the family table to give thanks for all that we have. Next, we eat turkey, ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, rolls, pumpkin pie, and anything else that is offered. I am getting hungry just typing up this list. Then, we watch football, try to hold off the food coma, and finally fall asleep on the couch. After we wake up it is time for turkey sandwiches and more pie. It truly is a gluttonous day – full of family, fun, and lots of food. Lots and lots of food. I am not saying this is a bad thing. In fact, I actively participate in this annual ritual. Rather, this blog post is about the rest of the year. Every day, except Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving Dinner is a special event that should be enjoyed.
Thanksgiving Dinner is a special event that should be enjoyed.

My goal to stay under 200 pounds

This year I decided that I needed to lose some weight, about 15 pounds. I was over 200 pounds and did not feel healthy. In the morning when I woke up my joints ached, and I would get strange pains throughout the day. I am sure that old age has something to do with it, but I was convinced my weight was also an issue. During my adult lifetime, my weight typically hovers around 200 pounds. It will spike as high as 210, and go as low as the high 180s. My doctors (one is my primary physician, and the other gives me an annual executive physical) recommended that I get my weight below 200 pounds for a few reasons.

  1. He said I would feel better – he was right. I do.
  2. She said my running would improve – she was right. It has.
  3. They both said I would have more energy – they were both right.

The Keating genes – short and stocky

Losing weight is usually not too difficult for me because I weigh so much, but it has gotten harder the older I get. It seems like every year I lose the same 10 pounds as last year and end up weighing 200 pounds. Also, my family genes do not work in my favor. My mom is skinny and has been her whole life. She can pretty much eat whatever she wants. My father, on the other hand, is heavyset, as are almost all the Keatings. We are a clan known to be short, stocky, and stubborn. My genes seem to come more from my Dad than my Mom.

Picture of Dad and I from several years ago.
Picture of Dad and I from several years ago.

I am not a big fan of complicated plans, especially when it comes to eating. I read several health magazines and they tend to recommend eating a lot of small meals, measuring your food, recording your calories, and exercising a lot. This approach works for many but is a challenge for me to follow. I spend a majority of the day at work and don’t have time for a high maintenance approach. Food plans are another option, but all that costs money and requires constant attention. I decided to keep it simple and implement one major change to see if it would work. It did. The change I put in place is intermittent fasting.

Intermittent fasting is a simple solution

Intermittent fasting is not complicated. It is becoming more popular these days and I can see why. It does not take a lot of effort. I read several articles about it, and there are two basic approaches. Either you limit the number of hours you eat during the day, or you choose a few days a week to skip food altogether. The former approach is the one I prefer. No food all day would make me grumpy. An eight-hour window is what I aim for. I eat foord from Noon to 8 pm during the day. Basically, I do not eat a real breakfast anymore. Instead, I drink two cups of coffee in the morning. One is bulletproof coffee (recipe below) which includes butter and an oil-based compound. The second one is black – no cream or sugar. I get the calories I need to start the day without eating any food. Drinking coffee black was a big change for me. I have drunk coffee for decades always with cream and sugar, or a sugar substitute in it. Luckily my taste buds adjusted to drinking black coffee after only a few weeks. Added benefit – black coffee is the fastest way to get through the line in Starbucks. It also prevents the barrister from messing up your order or misspelling your name.

Brewing Bulletproof coffee is not difficult. It provides the calories you need in the morning.
Brewing Bulletproof coffee is not difficult. It provides the calories you need in the morning.

Hungry by lunch? Yes!!!

Starting at lunch I eat a regular meal. Am I hungry by the time lunch rolls around? You bet your ass I am. I usually enjoy a small snack when drinking another cup of coffee in the afternoon (I have done this for years also), and eat a normal sized dinner. If all goes well, I stop eating anything by 8, or 9 o’clock at the latest. That way I do not go to bed feeling bloated. It goes without saying that not every day follows this plan. Some nights I have business dinners, and the weekends tend to be somewhat different. But, in general, I have stuck to this plan, and it seems to be working. I lost the weight I was hoping to lose and have kept it off without too much pain and agony.

Intermittent fasting means eating within an 8 hour window.
Intermittent fasting means eating within an 8-hour window. Not hard to remember.

Is intermittent fasting suitable for everyone?

I doubt it. I am not a doctor, a nurse, a nutritionist, or a personal trainer. I am not offering professional advice. Rather I am sharing my own personal experience. I like intermittent fasting because it is pretty simple to implement and produces the results I want.

Boys – just so it is clear neither one of you need to lose weight. In fact, both of you are tall and skinny. I guess you got Oma’s genes. Perhaps they skip a generation. For your sake, I hope the baldness genes also skip a generation. But I wanted to share this information with you at a young age in case you need it for later in life.

 

 

Process to change your approach

If your approach is not working, then you may need to change it. I am doing a short series of blog posts on this topic. Last week, I discussed three indicators that your current approach is not working. If any or all of these are true, then you should seriously consider making a change. In this post, I will describe how you do it – the process to change your approach. The process is easy and described below. I hope you learn from my experience and do not make the same mistakes.

Determine where you are

The first step in changing your approach is figuring out where you are. When I was in US Army Ranger School we would navigate through various terrain to include mountains, swamps, and deserts. If you were in charge of the patrol it was important to always know where you are. At some point during the patrol, the Ranger Instructor would ask the patrol leader to point out where you were on the map usually with a pine needle. You were not allowed to use your fat finger and fake it. Pinpoint accuracy is what they expected. If you were wrong, you were in trouble, and you knew it. They drilled this expectation into us because it is really easy to get lost if you have no clue where you are. Any path will work. I think the same can be true in life. If you have no idea where you are on the map of life, then how will you know if you are lost.

Determine where you are on the map
Determine where you are on the map

This step sounds simple, but it can be a real struggle. The reason why is that many of us are overly optimistic when it comes to evaluating where we are on the map. Are you ahead of schedule, or behind? Are you on a mountaintop, or in the valley? Have you crossed a bridge, or not? For example, if you have changed jobs, then you have already crossed the bridge. If you determine that the new job is not working out, and a change is needed, then you need to decide what to do next. Walk back across the same bridge (assuming that you did not burn that one), or find a new bridge to cross by finding another new job.

Have you crossed a bridge, or not?
Have you crossed a bridge, or not?

Based on my own experience, I tend to overestimate my current situation. In my head, I picture that things are not as bad as they seem, and will work out in the end. What I have learned is that I need to be honest with myself when determining where I am. You may need help determining where you are. Friends, family, and colleagues can provide perspective. When in doubt, ask you heavenly father for help in determining where you are. He sees all and may open your eyes to see a bigger picture than what is right in front of you.

Seek guidance from others

After you determine where you are, next you should think about what you will do next to change your approach. When I was younger I tended to try and figure out most things myself. A stupid mistake that really limited my options. Nowadays, I am a big fan of getting help from others. I have learned over the years that I do not know much. Others possess wisdom, knowledge, and experience that can benefit me. Why not take advantage of their life lessons. Don’t be afraid to talk with your friends, family, and mentors about your situation. They may have dealt with what you are going through, and have ideas for a better approach. In addition to seeking guidance from people you know, you can also learn a lot from experts. The number of resources available to you from experts in all fields is staggering. You can read books, watch videos, listen to podcasts, and research on the internet. Remember everything you find on the internet may not be true, or helpful, but there is plenty of great content available to you. Take advantage of all these resources when trying to figure out how to change your approach.

Seeking guidance from others can help
Seeking guidance from others can help

A simple example from my life

In the last blog post, I mentioned that my approach to running was not working. I trained hard, probably too hard, to maintain the same pace and race times as I got older. But, it came at a price. My body suffered. I experienced multiple injuries and did not feel well almost every morning. Just getting out of bed was a painful event. Something needed to change. I spoke with several of my friends who also run, and they noticed the same thing. They were experiencing more pain and suffering than normal. I listen to a podcast called Fitness over 40. During one broadcast the guest was two college professors who created a training plan for runners to keep running into their later years. I read their book, and it really opened my eyes. The research they conducted shows that too much running is bad for you, and results in injuries. Duh – exactly what I was doing to my body. The book contained the training plan, that I implemented earlier this year, and I can already tell the difference. I feel better physically, and have a much better approach than the one I was using the past decade of my life. I can only imagine how much damage I would have done to my body if I kept to my old approach. I am avoiding all that pain in misery because I was smart enough to seek the guidance from others. BTW – I let all my friends know about the book. It is shown below.

Train smart to run forever
Train smart to run forever

Craft your plan

The last step in changing your approach is to craft your plan. Don’t spend too much time thinking about what changes you are going to make. Go ahead and craft your plan with all the details you will need for success. I am a big fan of actually writing down your plan. Writing it down forces you to really think through the details. I tend to get more clarity when I commit my plans to paper. In fact, I write down my goals for each year. Last year, I read Michael Hyatt’s book Living Forward. Michael recommends that you create a life plan, and offers other life planning tools that I used for the first time this year. The tools really helped me craft my plan for the year. I highly recommend both the book and tools to others. It is one thing to craft a plan for a new approach- that is the easy part. It is another thing to implement the new approach. Next week I will cover that topic.

Living Forward by MIchael Hyatt
Living Forward by Michael Hyatt

Leaders go out the door first

This blog post is my 82nd one. The number 82 has a special meaning in my life. When I hear the number 82, I think of one thing…the 82 Airborne Division also known as the All-American Division. This year the 82nd Airborne Division is celebrating its 100th anniversary. The division was created way back in WWI. It is a famous unit with a storied history. It also has a special place in my family’s history. My father served in the 82nd Airborne after graduating from West Point. It was his first duty assignment as an Infantry Officer. Many years later I followed in his footsteps. I joined the 82nd in 1991 as an Infantry Officer. My first assignment was rifle platoon leader in Bravo Company, 1/325 AIR. After that role, I transferred to the Signal Corps and joined the 82 Signal Battalion. While there I served as a Signal Node Platoon Leader, Division Assault CP Platoon Leader. Yes – I was a platoon leader three different times. I finished my time at Bragg as a Company Executive Officer. These jobs were with the same unit, A Company, 82 Signal Battalion. The 82nd is a great unit, and I learned a lot while there. Lessons that have served me well over the years. For the next three weeks, I plan to share the top three life lessons I learned while serving as an All-American paratrooper in the 82d Airborne Division. Below you will find the first one.

Leaders jump first then others follow

Lesson one – leaders go out the door first. The 82d has a somewhat unique culture, full of traditions that have been created over the years. One tradition regarding their leaders is that they jump first during airborne operations. This tradition started back in WWII. What does that mean – leaders jump first. Basically, the most senior leader of any airborne operation will go out the door first, before anyone else. For example, if the Commander of the 82d (a two-star general) is part of a jump, he will jump first followed by the rest of the paratroopers. During WWII legendary commanders like Matthew Ridgway and James Gavin jumped and fought alongside their paratroopers. No cushy office for them. This act is not one of privilege, but rather of leadership in action. This tradition visibly shows all the paratroopers in the plane that you are willing to lead them by jumping first. The 82d expects danger when they jump into combat. Its leaders are expected to face this danger first. This tradition clearly demonstrates that the leaders are willing to do what they are asking their followers to do. It is a powerful way to show others that I am with you and fully committed, just like you.

General James Gavin getting ready to jump
General James Gavin getting ready to jump

Jumping into Puerto Rico

I learned this lesson firsthand while serving as the Division Assault CP Platoon Leader. My platoon’s mission was to support the Division Command Group with communications capabilities. We jumped in the radio equipment the Divison Commander and other senior leaders used on the drop zone during airborne operations. Many times we jumped from the same plane as the Division Commander. He would go out the door first, followed by his Aide, and then members of my platoon. For larger airborne operations that involved many planes, my platoon would be split into small groups and jump from several different aircraft. Usually, we would be one of the first to leave the plane so that we would land near the command group members. I remember one mission where jumping first was somewhat troubling to me. For this operation, we were jumping into Puerto Rico. The drop zone was not big so we jumped from C-130s. The Division Commander was in the first plane. I was in the second plane and would be the first jumper from that aircraft. Everything en route went fine. As we approached the Puerto Rico, the Jumpmaster gave me the command to “stand in the door”. That means I am positioned in the door, waiting for the jump light to turn green. When it does, you jump. Usually, you stand in the door for less than 30 seconds. As you stand in the door of a C-130 you can see out of the aircraft. When I looked out I noticed a potential problem – all water, no land. I am a good swimmer, but I certainly did not want to experience a water landing. I peered at the jump light – it was still red. Thank God. I watched and waited, hoping that the light would not turn green until we were over land. I kept waiting for what seemed like well over a minute.

The light finally turns green

Eventually, I saw land, then the drop zone, green light, and I jumped, followed by my fellow paratroopers. What I learned later was that the jumpmasters decided to put the first jumpers in the door earlier than normal because there was real concern that all the jumpers would not be able to exit the aircraft in time because the drop zone was so small. They did not want any paratrooper to miss the drop zone, and have to ride all the way back to Fort Bragg.

Mike Steele - 82nd Airborne Division Commander. He served with my father in Vietnam.
Mike Steele – 82nd Airborne Division Commander that I supported. Great man. He served with my father in Vietnam.

After the operation was complete I thought to myself what would have happened if the light had turned green while we were still over water. I knew the answer – I would have jumped. I would have done what paratroopers have been trained to do for decades. The light turns green, and then you jump. I could not turn to the paratrooper behind me and say why don’t you go first, it looks kind of dangerous with all that water. No – I had been trained as a leader in the 82d that you jump first, and deal with whatever happens next. You lead from the front, not from the rear. That lesson has served me well in many other situations. Sometimes when I find myself in a somewhat scary situation I think of my days in the 82d, and what it taught me as a leader. You go out the door first. Airborne.

For more about the 100th Anniversary, see this video below from All-American Week.

Follow the 10-10-80 rule

Gavin finished his first summer job recently. He earned a fair amount of money and asked me about the process I use for managing my money. Gavin is just learning about money. I recommended that he keep it simple, and follow the 10-10-80 rule. This formula represents how you should allocate the money you earn – save 10%, give 10% (some call this tithing), and spend the remaining 80%. I cannot remember when I learned this rule, but I have tried to use it over the years. It seems to work well, although it can be tempting to spend more than 80%, especially if you experience a windfall.

Save 10% for yourself

There are multiple reasons to save 10% of your paycheck. First, it is helpful to have an emergency fund to deal with surprise situations that may arise. Opinions vary about how much money you should have in an emergency fund. One month salary is a good starting point. Second, you may want to save money for a specific purchase so that you don’t have to borrow money and pay interest. In general, I like to stay out of debt as much as possible, but I think it is okay to borrow money for some purchases. For example, you will likely need a loan if you decide to buy a house. Third, you will need money for retirement. In fact, you will likely need a lot of money. Start saving early for retirement, so that you don’t have to play catch-up later on. I did not save nearly enough early on in my career and am paying the price now. Avoid this mistake if you can. Most companies offer employees ways to save for retirement. Take advantage of these savings opportunities. Here is a video that talks about various ways to save for retirement.

Give 10% for a worthy cause

Giving honors God and helps those in need. I would love to say that tithing is easy, but it can be a challenge to give away 10% of your money. I recommend starting early so that it becomes a habit. Don’t tell yourself that you will give money away when you earn more and can “afford it”. I think it actually becomes more challenging the more you make. Once again, keep it simple. If you are a member of a church then you should tithe to that church. The tithe is intended for the church to operate and support the local community. If you are not a member of a church then look for a worthy cause to support. Plenty of them exist. I have taken different approaches when it comes to charities. One year I decided to support as many as possible – even with only a small amount. More recently, I decided to focus my donations to a few specific charities that I am passionate about. For example, this year I am focused on the Lead the Way Fund. They do great work. Lastly, some charities are not worth supporting. They spend too many resources fundraising, or other events, rather than making sure the money gets to those who need it. For example, I used to send money to the Wounded Warrior Program but stopped due to a recent scandal about how they were wasting donor’s money.

Spend 80% to live your life

This part covers the rest of your expenses like housing, food, utilities, clothes, and other bills. 80% sounds like a lot. Not spending more than that seems easy, but I will warn you that it is not easy. What is easy is spending more than you earn by using credit cards and other methods for borrowing money that you do not really need. Trust me, it is really easy to buy stuff, especially nowadays. You don’t even have to leave your house to shop and they will deliver many things straight to your front door. I am a big fan of online shopping, but it can be a slippery slope when it comes to spending money.

Beware of credit cards

Lastly, I have warned you before about the dangers of credit cards and will reiterate to be careful. At one point in my life, I wracked up over $10K in credit card debt and had to refinance our house to pay off the debt. Really big mistake on my part. You should not be shocked to learn that the credit card company never called me to ask why I was spending so much money. The reality is that we had just moved and it cost a lot more money getting the new house set-up than I anticipated. The credit card company did not care because they make money out of the deal. The more I borrow, the more they make.

Managing your money can be tricky. I recommend keeping it simple, following the 10-10-80 rule, and avoiding debt as much as possible.

Here is another video in which Dave Ramsey and Chris Hogan answer a question about retirement from someone who is 23 years old.

Dunkirk Reveals Human Nature

War is hell. We all know that – at least I hope we all know that. We are reminded on a regular basis about both the horrors and heroics of war. Bottom line – it brings out the best and the worst in mankind. We have many books, movies, television shows, videos and monuments all aimed at giving all of us insights about war, and what it is like. As you know, I served in the military, but I never deployed into combat. I did spend many years preparing for it, studying it, and learning about it. Based on what I know and have learned from others – we get unique insights into human nature by learning from previous wars.

Occasionally a movie comes along that reminds us how awful war can be. Dunkirk is one of those movies. It is a grim reminder that WWII did not start well for the Allies. In fact, it was a military disaster on all fronts. The Germans were able to conquer much of Europe quickly. I watched Dunkirk last night, and really enjoyed it. The director lets history tell the story and attempts to personalize it by focusing on a small group of individuals who are caught in the action – soldiers and civilians. The movie is intense, and I think it points out three things about human nature that are worth reflecting on after watching the film.

We are all selfish

The battle of Dunkirk focuses on the fact that a large part of the British Army was surrounded by the Nazis early in the war and needed to be evacuated back to England before it is annihilated. It is a dire situation. The movie does an excellent job portraying how bad things were for the British. The enemy is closing in. All the British are trying to get out of France, and the only way out is via the English Channel. There are not enough ships for everyone. Time is running out, so various characters in the movie start to take matters into their own hands. It is an “only the strong survive” type situation which leads to selfish behavior. It should not be surprising that people get selfish. It is in all of us – the will to survive. It comes out especially when the stakes are high. Putting other first is a difficult choice to make, and does not happen naturally. Usually our basic instinct is to take care of ourselves first. Something to think about anytime you are in a tough situation. Look for this behavior in others, and monitor it in yourself.

We can all be heroes

The evacuation of Dunkirk ended up being successful because of the extraordinary deeds of many average people. The British government send out a call for help, and many answered. The film focuses on one family who joins in the action and plays their part in the evacuation despite many challenges. The director does a nice job keeping these everyday participants anonymous during the action. He does not treat them like superheroes. They don’t have superpowers or any special abilities. They simply do what is necessary to get the job done. The same holds true for many other participants to include the Air Force pilots who fought bravely to keep the evacuation ships safe. Remember – heroes come in many shapes, sizes, colors, and backgrounds. Don’t be fooled by Marvel and DC comics – there is no real Superman or Wonder Woman. They are not coming to rescue us. Rather it is up to normal people like you and me to be heroic when called upon.

David Bowie was right - we can all be heroes.
David Bowie was right – we can all be heroes, if just for one day.

We can fight another day

When WWII begins – the Nazis are prepared. No other country really is ready and it shows. Dunkirk is a pivotal point in the war. The French are defeated, and England evacuates in order to prepare for a potential invasion. British leadership is forced to make some really tough decisions. They are outmatched, and they know it. They need a new strategy. They decide to do something a little different than normal – they celebrate their retreat from Dunkirk. Normally in military operations, any retreat is seen as a loss and should not be celebrated. But, British leadership realizes that the evacuation allows them to fight another day, and fight they will. The movie ends with Winston Churchill’s stirring speech that finishes with “we will never surrender”. Anytime I hear this speech – it inspires me. Also, it reminds me that some days you will lose. In fact, you may need to retreat, regroup, refit, and prepare to fight another day. Notice that I did not say quit, but live to fight another day. It is a perfectly suitable strategy in some situations.

If you have not seen Dunkirk – I suggest that you do. Below is a link to the trailer for the film. Hopefully, you get a lot out of the film like I did.

Lessons from the Tour de France

July is here and that means it is summer time. A major international sporting event that happens every July is the Tour de France. It is the most important bike race in the world, and it is brutal. It always has been. Basically, 200 bike riders race all over France until the winner is declared. This year the race includes 21 different stages that cover over 3500 kilometers. The graphic above shows even more statistics about the race. I like the Tour, and enjoy watching the race, even though cycling is generally boring. Just a bunch of bike riders peddling around the countryside. One of the reasons I enjoy the tour is that it teaches many lessons that you can apply in life. Here are three that come to mind.

Life is a team sport

Many people think that the Tour de France is an individual event due to the fact that there is a single winner. The overall winner is awarded the coveted yellow jersey. The reality is that every rider belongs to a team, and it takes a team to win. No single person will outperform everyone else. Instead, you need the help of your team whether it is drafting off them on the flats, or following behind them on the climbs. I think life is a team sport also. You will need help along the way, and be willing to help others. To go it alone would be a tragic mistake, and lead to misery. Life is tough. Don’t go it alone.

Teamwork is critical for success in the Tour de France.
Teamwork is critical for success in the Tour de France. No one wins without a strong team.

Keep peddling, especially in the mountains

The Tour is a really long race. Day after day the riders have to cover hundreds of miles. Some have compared riding the Tour de France to running a marathon every day for three weeks straight. Ouch. One of the things that make the Tour so difficult is the mountain stages. All the riders have to navigate up and over towering mountains to include rides in the Alps and the Pyrenees. I have driven a car over some of these mountains and they are really tall – up in the clouds. Some riders specialize in climbing, but these stages are tough for everyone. If you are a sprinter, the mountains are especially difficult, but they still have to ride over them. They are not allowed to skip these stages and wait for the next flat course. I have watched these stages for years, and I remain amazed that anyone can make it through the mountain stages.

Profile for a Tour de France Mountain Stage. This one includes three mountains.
Profile for a Tour de France Mountain Stage. This one includes three mountains.

I think there is a parallel in life in that we all will face tall mountains, obstacles that we have to get over. How do riders get over the mountains – they just keep peddling. They use different techniques, different gears, and different approaches to make it over. It is not always pretty. In fact, for many, it is rather ugly, but they make it. Sometimes we have to do the same thing in life – head down and just keep peddling. Don’t quit, keep moving forward, dealing with what life throws at you. The easy way out would be to quit. Many people do. But, I want to encourage you to keep peddling, even when it gets ugly. You will find joy after you reach the peak, and enjoy the ride down the back side of the mountain.

Play by the rules

It is well known that cycling has experienced many scandals over the years. The most famous is Lance Armstrong, who used to be a hero of mine. Lance “won” the Tour more times than any other rider, and became a sporting legend around the world. But, the reality is that all those victories are tainted. They were taken away because he cheated to win. He broke the rules repeatedly, lied about it, and was finally caught years later. He has been dealing with the shame of these revelations the past few years. Many years ago, I was a big Lance fan. I wore a live strong bracelet, read the books he wrote, and really enjoyed watching him ride. But all that admiration was based on a lie. Learn a critical lesson from Lance, and that is to play by the rules. No victory is worth breaking the rules, and cheating to win. In life, you will be tempted to cheat, to bend the rules in your favor. The reality is that many cheaters don’t get caught. Even so, don’t fall into this trap. It will take away the joy of victory, and you will always know what you did, even if others never find out.

For anyone not familiar with the Tour this video helps provide some context about why it is the most challenging bike race in the world.

Master your craft – lessons from a Jumpmaster

This week our country celebrated the 73rd anniversary of D-Day. Despite many challenges the invasion was successful and turned the tide of WWII. Many brave men participated in this operation to include multiple US Army Airborne Divisions. Paratroopers actually jumped into France the day before D-day to secure critical roads, bridges, and other strategic objectives. Their bravery, valor, and courage contributed greatly to the success of the invasion.

My first duty assignment as a brand new Army Infantry Officer was with the 82 Airborne Division. My job title was rifle platoon leader, and one of my roles was serving as a Jumpmaster. A Jumpmaster’s job is to make sure all the paratroopers aboard the planes exit the aircraft safely so that they can land and complete their assigned mission. Jumpasters play a critical role in every airborne operation. It is expected that all leaders in the 82d complete Jumpmaster training, and serve in that role. I learned a lot as a Jumpmaster. Below are the top three lessons.

Master your craft

The title Jumpmaster says it all. You are expected to become a master parachutist. Jumpmasters are required to complete intense special training to earn the title. The training includes multiple hands-on tests during which you have to clearly demonstrate you know your stuff. I remember being extremely nervous before one of my exams because so many students did not pass it. Once you complete that training, you are required to serve as a Jumpmaster on a regular basis so that your skills stay current. Over time, Jumpmasters earn special awards (senior parachutist badge, and master parachutist badge) to recognize their expert skills and experience. I think it is important that you master your craft over time. Become the best that you can at whatever it is you decide to do. Don’t be satisfied with just getting by.

Student completing JMPI test while blackhat instructor grades.
A student completing JMPI test while blackhat instructor grades. This test is difficult.

Realistic rehearsals enhance execution

Before every airborne operation Jumpmasters walk everyone that is jumping that day through several realistic rehearsals. The first rehearsal takes the paratroopers through the steps involved when jumping. As the Jumpmaster talks the paratroopers simulate exactly what will happen to them during the jump. The rehearsal also covers things that could happen such as your parachute does not open, or you have to land in the trees. In case you are wondering – tree landings are scary. Next, everyone practices landing…BTW it usually hurts when you land. After that, all jumpers practice “actions in the aircraft” as a group. During this step, you literally rehearse everything that happens in the air on the ground. The reality is that everyone has jumped before, so you are not teaching anything new. Rather, you are practicing as a group so that every jumper knows exactly what they are supposed to do once you get in the air. No one wants any surprises in the aircraft.

Members of the 82 Airborne Division conduct pre-jump rehearsals.
Members of the 82 Airborne Division conduct pre-jump rehearsals.

I have jumped over 50 times, and I can tell you that all these rehearsals work well to enhance execution. On more than one occasion something went wrong in the aircraft, or during the jump. For one operation the Air Force pilots flew along the edge of the drop zone thinking that the wind would blow us over the target. It didn’t. In fact, the opposite happened. Every jumper was forced to land in the trees. After exiting the aircraft, I gave the pilots a middle finger salute thanking them for their incompetence and then executed all the steps required for a successful tree landing. I recommend that you use realistic rehearsals to enhance execution in your own life. Practice every step as realistically as you can. It will pay dividends. I know from my own experience that rehearsing before any presentation is a really good idea. It prevents gremlins from showing up.

Confidence calms fears

Jumpmasters are trained to be calm at all times in the aircraft. Your job is to set the example for the jumpers to follow. Jumping out of a perfectly good plane at 800 feet with over 50 pounds of equipment, many times at night, is not a natural act. In case that does not scare you – every piece of equipment used in the operation, to include the plane, was built by the lowest bidder. It makes perfect sense for every jumper to have fear and/or anxiety as you prepare to jump. I know that I was nervous during every jump I ever made.

Jumpmaster giving commands to paratroopers before the door is opened.
Jumpmaster giving commands to paratroopers before the door is opened.

To counter this fear, the Jumpmasters guide the paratroopers through a series of steps using loud and clear commands. The way it works is that the Jumpmaster yells the commands to all the jumpers along with a visual signal. The paratroopers all echo back the command indicating they heard it and then perform the action. These steps are completed so that everyone is ready to jump when the doors open. Once the doors open, the Jumpmaster inspects it and gets the first jumper ready. The pilot will turn on the green light and everyone exits the aircraft. It sounds simple, but it can be scary. Reality definitely hits you when the doors open and the light turns green. No time for fear at that point.

Control your fear

The final lesson to learn from this old Jumpmaster is that it is okay to have fear. What you do with that fear is important. If you master your craft and conduct realistic rehearsals, then you will have the confidence needed to overcome any fear. You will be able to jump when the time comes.

For anyone who is not familiar with airborne operations – this video is a nice summary. All the Way, Airborne!!

If you only have a minute, try this one. It is about Jumpmasters.

Start off by making your bed

Today marks the first year anniversary of writing this blog. It has been a great experience, and hopefully both of you have learned something from the blog posts. Several people have provided positive feedback about the blog, and indicated they enjoy reading the weekly posts. I plan to keep on blogging, to keep looking for wisdom to pass on, and to discover new topics worthy of discussion. I learn a lot from others, so I will pass along their wisdom to you, rather than just fill the page with my own thoughts. With that in mind, I am going to start the new year off sharing some simple advice from one of America’s great warriors. Admiral William McRaven.

This time of year is graduation season. Celebrities, politicians, scholars, and many others take the graduation stage to dispense advice to high school and college students as they end one chapter of their life, and start a new one. Many graduation speeches are dull – full of cliches and dumb jokes. Occasionally, you will hear one that is excellent. In 2014, Admiral McRaven gave the commencement speech at the University of Texas. It was called 10 Lessons from my Years as a Navy Seal. It is a brilliant speech full of wisdom and insight. Below is a short excerpt from his speech. It is a simple idea, but a powerful one.

Every morning in basic SEAL training, my instructors, who at the time were all Vietnam veterans, would show up in my barracks room and the first thing they would inspect was your bed. If you did it right, the corners would be square, the covers pulled tight, the pillow centered just under the headboard and the extra blanket folded neatly at the foot of the rack—rack—that’s Navy talk for bed.

It was a simple task—mundane at best. But every morning we were required to make our bed to perfection. It seemed a little ridiculous at the time, particularly in light of the fact that were aspiring to be real warriors, tough battle hardened SEALs—but the wisdom of this simple act has been proven to me many times over.

If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter.

If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right. And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made—and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better. If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.

It may sound trivial, but the act of making your bed every morning helps get the day off on the right foot. I recommend you take up this habit. In case you want to hear the rest of Admiral McRaven’s speech, here is the link to the Youtube video. It is well worth watching.

Each day has its challenges – grind them out

The reality we all face is that each day is full of many different parts, events, activities, and emotions. Some things may go well, others not so well, and some may be horrible. For example, you may do really well on a test in school, but end up with a tough homework assignment that you cannot figure out. It is very rare that I have a day that is either all good or all difficult. Even days off and vacation days can have their ups and downs.

What do you do when it gets tough?

Dealing with the good stuff is not hard. Sorting through the crappy stuff can be much more difficult. In fact, it can wear you down. I recommend that you learn how to “grind it out” when faced with something you have to do, and you know may not go well. For example, I have run many races. It is a rare occurrence that I feel good and run well the entire race. Many times it is not going well at some point in the race and doubt starts to creep in. Questions come to mind like why am I doing this…I should have stayed in bed.

Approaching the finish line of the Army ten miler. Great race but always tough finish.
Approaching the finish line of the Army ten miler. Note I am carrying my other shirt in my hand.

Take it one step at a time

Many times I seriously consider quitting, but then remind myself that I have faced bigger challenges and that I just need to grind out the last few miles. One foot in front of the other, until I reached the finish line. It may result in a horrible finish time, but at least I made it. You know that I play to win, and always want to do my best…but sometimes, just making it to the finish line is the best you can do. That effort alone will pay dividends at a future time. I believe overcoming these small obstacles is critical to achieving big things.

Adversity can strengthen you if you have the will to grind it out.
– Ray Kroc, Founder of McDonalds