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doomsday preppers

I’ve long been a fan of the National Geographic channel. I was a History major in college and I’m very much a non-fiction type of guy, so the programming slate on Nat Geo tends to fit my personality very well. I gravitate towards personal documentaries in particular. A couple years ago while I was tuning in to an episode of one of my favorite shows, Locked Up Abroad I saw an advertisement for a new series getting set to air, Doomsday Preppers.

Doomsday Preppers is a reality television series that documents the preparation efforts of survivalists planning for extreme circumstances that could lead to the end of the world as we know it. Driven by seemingly obsessive paranoia, the show’s stars develop and coordinate “bug out” plans for the end of days. Most of the individuals profiled are motivated by specific fears, be it of a potential natural disaster, a terrorist attack, or a full scale economic or social collapse.

Having wrapped up its fourth season this August, the show has succeeded in achieving what nearly every reality TV series seeks to attain, shock value. It’s gained a very loyal following, and has become the most watched series airing on Nat Geo. And while most viewers would likely claim that they tune in for its absurdity more than anything, there’s undoubtedly another internal mechanism at work that is leading them to the television each and every week – and that mechanism is fear.

Whether we choose to hatch a grandiose plan for surviving the end of the world or not, there is a likely a little bit of “doomsday prepper” in each and every one of us. As Americans we are creatures of comfort. We tend to make decisions based upon what’s going to lead us to the greatest level of security. We’ve been trained to seek out opportunities to set ourselves up comfortably for the uncertain times that lie ahead. Like the “preppers” who have risen to survivalist stardom on Nat Geo, we make every effort to ensure personal stability in a world that is always threatening to turn itself upside down.

But we cannot by being careful or prepared avoid life’s adversities. We are not in control of most of the circumstances that arise in the world in which we live and if disaster strikes, there is no guarantee that we will have any ability to save ourselves from peril. Man cannot determine the timing nor can he predict the events that will lead to the end of the world. Only God knows the day and the hour.

Far too often we design our futures based upon our fears of today. There is no harm in prepping for the road ahead, but it’s critical that our plans be motivated by feelings of hope, not paranoia…by ideas of prosperity, not instability. When we make decisions based upon fear, we limit ourselves and restrain the positive influence that we may be destined to have upon the world and its people. We can become so obsessed with comfort and security that we neglect our true callings. And when we choose prepping for doomsday in lieu of chasing our dreams, the world suffers immensely.

I believe that now more than ever, given the current economic state in America, it’s easy to be motivated by fear and a need for personal financial security. As times have grown uncertain in a nation that was once very prosperous, many of us have felt the nudge to take on less risk and hunker down in survivalist mode. In a sense, we’ve been encouraged to launch our plans to “bug out” like the “preppers” on Nat Geo. From an employment perspective, we’ve felt the pressure to firmly establish positioning in a job with a stable salary and health benefits. On the real estate front, we’ve refinanced our homes and have locked in rock bottom interest rates before the inevitable rise begins again. And we’ve begun making plans to live a more frugal lifestyle at a time when the demands on our resources are greater than they’ve ever been. We’ll wait it out, and in time things will change…right?

Wrong. Nothing can ever possibly change unless we take action. We’ve been fooled into believing that there is security in the lifestyle that I’ve described above. Perhaps there is today. Or for the next couple of months or maybe even years. But in the long term, there will be no comfort gained by efforts made to wait out the storm. The individuals who will be successful in the future will find opportunities today to elevate themselves despite the unstable conditions raging on outside of their personal security bunkers. They will set sail on the rugged seas amidst the hurricane of instability that is our nation and this world and they will use the winds of change to propel them to new destinations of prosperity. They will create their own futures and will not consent to living as prisoners to fear and uncertainty.

In an insecure world, we are our only security. That may be a bit of an unsettling idea for some, but for those who believe in their talents and skills, for those who are willing to commit the time and the effort to developing their visions and chasing their dreams, the possibilities are endless. There are very few “prosperity” planners in our society today. Our nation has become overwhelmed with paranoid, “doomsday preppers” who desire nothing more than to hunker down and survive the times. So the opportunity is great for those who choose to live in hope and thrive under even the most unstable circumstances.

If I’ve learned anything of significance during my time on this earth, it is this: there is a God, and I am most certainly not Him. I can plan for life’s tragedies, but no matter how well prepared I may believe myself to be, there will always times when adversity will catch me by complete surprise. I cannot escape hardship by being fearful and prepared. And if I choose to limit myself by allowing my mind to be flooded with “what ifs” then I will also need to understand that as a consequence I will later be left with a whole lot of “what might have beens”. I don’t want to live in regret. I believe that God has called me to a greater purpose just as He has each and every one of you. And I believe that each of us is meant to live and fulfill that purpose despite any worldly circumstances that may seek to interfere with or deter our actions.

If we want to free the people of this world from the bunkers of security to which they’ve prepared to make their retreat when times get tough, we need to begin by taking action on our own dreams, leading by example, a life filled with hope. God will determine when our days up. We are not called to worry about the hour unknown. We are called to live in faith.

Prepping for doomsday is in essence the equivalent to putting down a deposit on turmoil. You only have so much time here on this earth. Invest it wisely. Choose to prep for prosperity instead. Don’t allow the instability of the world to cause you to live a small life driven by fear. You have been called to do BIG things, and the people of this world need you now more than ever.

May God Bless!

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finding our carolina way

In an effort to meet my graduation requirement within the traditional four year window, I spent the summer of 2004 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on campus enrolled in a handful of different courses. I had transferred in to UNC as a junior in the fall of 2003, and in doing so I had no other choice but to sacrifice 13 business related course credits that I had accumulated at my previous institution. UNC has a very proud business school in Kenan-Flagler and they do not generally accept transfer credits from competing institutions. Sacrificing credits definitely put me a bit behind schedule for an on-time graduation as I was asked to give up nearly a full semester of work. But in my eyes it was absolutely worth it to gain admission into such a prestigious university. And I was happy to stay for the summer of 2004 to make further headway on my degree. UNC is a wonderful place and I was not eager to head back to my roots in Pennsylvania. Chapel Hill was my new home.

I enrolled at UNC in 2003 as a History major. I chose for History to be my focus quite simply because I truly enjoyed it and my plan as an undergrad was to pursue a master’s degree in Sports Administration or Sports Management following the completion of my Bachelor’s anyway. So I wasn’t really all that concerned with my undergraduate focus. I simply wanted to expose myself to all of the educational resources and riches that a place like Chapel Hill has to offer. And the university really does a great job of encouraging students to get involved in a variety of courses outside of their major. I believe there is tremendous value in that. College is meant to be a growth experience. And growth is fostered in situations where students are asked to participate in areas a bit removed from their comfort zones. Exploring new, challenging subject matter promotes the development alternative modes of reasoning which allow for greater successes later on in life.

One of the requirements for graduation at UNC Chapel Hill is the fulfillment of a number of different “perspective” courses. I can’t recall all of the individual headers of the groupings, but I do remember there being perhaps five or so of them in total that we as undergrads needed to fulfill. During the summer of 2004, I enrolled in The Ethics of Sport, a course that would fulfill the requirement of my philosophical perspective. The lecture style course was to be led by Jan Boxill. In entering the class I knew very little about her. Today, Jan is known by everyone inside and outside of UNC who has been following the Wainstein investigation into the academic scandal that took place in the AFAM department between 1993 and 2011.

The Wainstein investigation uncovered some very incriminating evidence regarding Boxill and her relationship with AFAM scandal spearhead, Deborah Crowder. But I am not here to write about the investigation and Boxill’s wrongdoings in relation to our student athletes. I’m here to share my perspective on Jan and on UNC academics and athletics based upon my personal experiences in Chapel Hill. The national media has had its opportunity to take a swing at our university and its faculty, administration, and proud athletics program. And they’ve done so with strong condemnation of our systems and oversight. And rightfully so. I am not here to debate that. We screwed up…big time.

My experience in Jan Boxill’s Ethics of Sport class was a very positive one. It should be noted that her summer enrollment was largely comprised of athletes…mainly football, women’s basketball, and a couple of men’s basketball players. But there were non-athletes like myself as well. And it shouldn’t be a surprise that athletes made up a high percentage of her class; athletes accounted for the largest percentage of individuals remaining on campus for the summer as a result of the offseason conditioning demands of their sports.

We did real coursework in Jan Boxill’s class. And it was not by any means the easiest course that I took while at Chapel Hill. Jan was a very engaging woman. And she encouraged the participation of all of us in discussions during her lectures. She did not shy away from calling on athletes. In fact, I would say that it was quite the opposite. She often joked with them in a manner that would allow them to open up a bit and put down their guards as on-campus celebrities. You could certainly tell that she enjoyed working with them. Perhaps there was favoritism offered in the gradebook, but I never witnessed anything of that nature openly.

Another thing to note is the attendance of all athletes in Jan’s course. I can tell you with certainty that the athletes in her Ethics of Sport class attended our lectures on a regular basis. And they did not come in and simply sit down to take a nap. Jan would have never allowed that. It was in her course that I first took note of the academic support staff sitting at the back of the room with printouts of headshots of members of the football team. That staff was monitoring attendance and ensuring that everyone was in their seats as they were meant to be. Those guys did show up. They had to – the coaching staff and administration made sure of it.

I actually had the privilege of getting to know basketball players Marvin Williams and Quentin Thomas as a result of that Ethics of Sport course in the summer of 2004. Both Marvin and Quentin were incoming freshmen. And they were great kids. I was always amazed at how very humble they were despite their BIG reputations as stars of the hardwood. They did not appear to have any sense of entitlement. They came to Chapel Hill ready to work for all that they would ultimately achieve. Marvin made his impact immediately. He became a key contributor to the overall success of our 2005 National Championship team. Unfortunately for Roy Williams he departed for the NBA after just one season in Chapel Hill.

The realities brought to light by the recent investigation into the academic scandal of the AFAM department on campus have really been harmful to the overall perception of the student athlete at UNC. The actions of a few have cost the reputations of many. And by a few, I am referencing Deb Crowder and those on the academic support side of the athletics department who understood her intentions and utilized her course offerings to bolster GPA’s and keep athletes eligible. I will never deny that 3,100 (students overall) is a big figure. That’s a whole lot more than a “few” and those figures have resulted in a major black eye for the university. But let’s keep in mind who really failed here. It was not the student athletes involved in paper courses, but the handful staff members that drove them there.

My perception of Jan Boxill was that she was a great lady. Very intelligent, well spoken – I felt that I got a lot out of her course. She definitely enjoyed working with athletes, and perhaps in an effort to support them she made some really, really bad decisions. I don’t necessarily believe that Deb Crowder was a woman with ill intentions. She simply desired to help those that she felt were not well prepared to handle the demands of the curriculum at UNC. And I don’t believe that any of the members of the academic support staff affiliated with our athletes were bad people, either. They simply offered an inexcusable solution to a problem that every major college athletics department faces. How do we keep student athletes eligible when the demands of their sport begin impacting their ability to succeed in the classroom?

My position on this subject is the same as it is on the administration of our country. If you want to encourage individuals to make the most of their talents and skills, you do not simply hand things to them, you empower them. As Chancellor Folt eloquently pointed out at yesterday’s news conference, our administration failed our students and our student athletes by allowing this to happen. Student athletes in particular were judged upon their ability to succeed before they were even given the opportunity to fail. We sought an easy way AROUND the problem, not a solution for it. And that saddens me. We are better than that. And so are our student athletes. I know that to be true as I could immediately recognize the innocence in the eyes of guys like Marvin Williams and Quentin Thomas. They were scared kids as incoming freshmen, and we had the ability as a university to help mold them into something that they could be proud of both athletically and academically. It’s a shame that we decided the academic fates of so many our student athletes by assuming that they were not capable of success in the lecture hall. That’s the easy way, not THE CAROLINA WAY.

As a proud alum of our great university, a passionate follower of our athletics program, and a current resident of Chapel Hill, today is a difficult day for me. I didn’t sleep well at all last night. In fact, I had dreams about this stuff that kept me restless until morning. But when morning did finally arrive, the sun did rise again. And as I look out the window now I am able to see a cloudless sky painted in Carolina blue. And I’m reminded that we too will rise again. This isn’t the end of our novel, it’s simply a chapter in the evolution of a great university and its storied athletics program.

We can’t always choose what happens to us in this life. And we cannot rewrite the past. Sometimes there is no other option but to stand tall in the face of adversity and keep grinding. I think as alumni and fans, we need to pull together and grow from this experience. It’s important for us to try not to get involved in the negative discussions taking place outside of the UNC family. It’s not beneficial for any of us. We need to rally around our student athletes and around coaches like Larry Fedora who are doing the right things and who weren’t even on campus at the time that these scandals took place. Those men and women have been working hard to represent our university with class and pride throughout this painful investigative process over the last several years. And they’ve had to bear a whole lot more of this burden than we can even begin to imagine.

A couple of weeks ago I sat in the stands at Notre Dame and watched one of the gutsiest Tar Heel football performances that I’ve ever seen in a 50-43 loss to the then 5th ranked Fighting Irish. I was filled with pride for my team and our great university as a result of what I witnessed in their effort on that picturesque fall afternoon in South Bend. It was by no means a perfect performance, but it was special nonetheless. To see a team battle that hard in the face of adversity and criticism prompted by three straight losses made me feel honored to be a Tar Heel. And I think it’s time, in the wake of this scandal that we come together and offer to go to battle with them. They have not stopped fighting for us. Why should we quit on them?

It would be a great disservice for the Carolina family to turn its back on our student athletes due to the findings of the of Wainstein investigation. Let’s not repeat history. We’ve failed them once. Let’s not allow for it to happen ever again in our future. We need to empower our student athletes. They have been working hard and are committed to doing the right things. They need our support. Now more than ever we need to wear our colors with pride and rally together. We may have lost our way momentarily, but together I am certain that we can find our way back.

Grow through adversity, and never cease in the pursuit of excellence. Get up and fight…because that’s THE CAROLINA WAY. Go Heels!

hitting the curve

Over the course of a long season, life is going to knock you down…repeatedly.  Sometimes you will be able to anticipate adversity’s arrival, and other times it will strike with ruthless force in completely unexpected fashion.  But no matter its entrance, whether grand or subtle, there is one thing that you can always count on – it WILL show up.  I know, it sounds cliché, but that’s life.  It’s a rollercoaster.  We must learn to take the ups with the downs.  After all, most of us didn’t embark on this crusade having made the assumption that it would be a smooth ride all the way through.  We simply rose to our feet, hopped on board, and strapped ourselves in tight with the intention of following a calling from birth.  And common to each and every one of us, that calling was to live, and to live well, despite any obstacles that we might encounter along the way.

We cannot escape hardship.  No matter how well we’ve prepared ourselves for the next dead red fastball, inevitably we’re going to need to protect the plate and swing at a few curves from time to time.  And we’re not always going to connect.  Sometimes we’re going to swing and miss.  But that doesn’t mean that we can’t get back in the box and learn to see the ball better and adjust to the speed and movement of the pitch.  A baseball player committed to excellence does not get discouraged simply because he struggles a handful of times at the plate.  He gets back in the cage and hits more balls.  He trains himself to respond accordingly to the pitches that trouble him.  And in time, perhaps only after enduring several seasons littered with strikeouts and managerial criticism, something begins to click for him.  Miraculously, he shows that he is now able to react to the curveball just as would the dead red fastball.  This is the moment when he becomes a truly dangerous hitter.

You see when you learn to shift your focus from eyeing the fastball to seeking the curve everything begins to change.  It’s about anticipating hardship and responding with confidence instead of fear.  It’s about maintaining an understanding that you’ve been trained to see difficulty and react accordingly to it.  When you decide to accept discipline in response to adversity, you will begin to realize that you no longer need the dead red fastball in order to knock the ball out of the park.  You will instead learn to adapt your timing and swing to allow yourself to hit any pitch over the wall.  You will prove to your teammates and fans that you are no longer a one trick pony; you will become a versatile hitter.  And you won’t need a short lived hot streak at the plate to solidify a positive public view of a less than fulfilling personal career.  You’ll be equipped to play the game forever at a high level, because you will have learned to adapt and advance your play as a result of your responses to adversity.

I’ve been thrown a lot of curveballs in my life.  And for many years I responded ineffectively to them.  I had my heart set on the fastball.  I wanted an easy ride.  I wanted to hit it out of the park on my first at bat and hear the crowd chant my name as I rounded the bases.  So when I whiffed on a bender, I didn’t react well to it.  I blamed the guy that threw the pitch, I blamed the coach that trained me, I blamed the distractions from the stands…I blamed everyone but myself for my inability to see the pitch effectively and adjust my swing.  I didn’t want to learn to hit the curve.  That would involve me accepting the pain of my failures as my responsibility.  It would require me to look inside and grind my way to an answer.  I was not ready for that.  I wanted to be angry about my circumstances, because I believed that I was offered an unfair at bat.

Thankfully, I’ve learned through a rebirth in faith to better accept reality over the years.  And in doing so, I’ve grown to understand the impact that my lack of discipline at the plate has had on my ability to be successful.  I’ve swung at bad pitches out of the zone.  I’ve jumped out in front of off-speed offerings with an anxious, impatient mindset in the box.  And I’ve frozen time after time watching third strikes pass in fear of the uncertain and unknown.  I’ve recorded a lot of K’s in the old scorebook.  And I’ve had many less than stellar seasons.  But in recent years I’ve learned to accept the discipline and training that I’ve received as a result of those experiences, and I can assure you that that acceptance has most certainly allowed me to be better prepared for future meaningful at bats in my life.

I’ve learned to embrace the curve.  My relationship with God has taught me that there is not a pitch that I cannot hit if I keep getting back into the box with a willing mindset to accept failure as discipline.  If I remain confident and view adversity simply as an opportunity to train my mind, body, and spirit for better outcomes in the future, I will be successful.  And when life tosses me an unexpected bender, I will not fear.  Instead I will react with confidence, trusting in the process that the Lord has established for refining me into a more versatile, battle-tested, career hitter.  I will swing away with assurance in His vision.

You cannot escape hardship in life.  Whether you feel that the lot that you’ve been given is fair or not, you will need to understand that it was offered to you for a very real reason.  There is great purpose in pain and failure.  And if you can learn to accept that, life will become very fulfilling.  You don’t always need to see a fastball to widen your eyes and envision a homerun.  You have the choice to see those opportunities everywhere, even in the pitches that you once deemed impossible to hit.  Nothing is impossible with the Lord’s training and discipline.  Allow Him the opportunity to coach you to greatness.

May God Bless!

crossing the bridge

Anxiety is often brought on by specific phobias.  In my life, I’ve had my fair share irrational fears.  Many of those fears I have worked to dispel over time.  But others still remain.  One of my most stubborn phobias that to this day I haven’t been able to overcome or fully understand is my fear of crossing elevated bridges over large expanses.  I’m particularly apprehensive of traveling across structures rising high into the sky and navigating several miles over bodies of water or broad canyons.  The majority of bridges do not cause any panic within me whatsoever.  But there are a handful of behemoths in this country that I’ve encountered while on the road that strike fear directly into my heart.  Honestly, I can make myself shake with anxiety looking at photos of those select few marvels of engineering that most people would simply gaze at in awe.  My phobia of such structures is something that I certainly hope to defeat before I die.  If I continue to make efforts to avoid the things that intimidate me, I’ll never cross over into new opportunities to explore the limitless life that I’ve been provided at its full potential.

Recently I was given the opportunity to begin taking the steps to develop a new, fulfilling venture in my life.  And as often is the case when promising circumstances arise for me, shortly after receiving the news I began to feel the pokes and prods of the devil.  He seems to delight in his efforts to steer me off course when I’ve proven by my actions that I am ready to follow my calling in faith.  It’s in these moments that he perceives me as a real threat to his schemes.  And he seems to begin working overtime to distract me, preying upon my weaknesses and tempting me to retreat.  I’m thankful that today I am mindful enough to recognize the threat that he poses so that I am able to deal with him accordingly.  In the past it wasn’t always easy for me to identify his efforts to discourage my progress, and as a result I stumbled time after time in converting meaningful opportunities into success.

I’ve found in my life that the time that I am most vulnerable to attack is during my sleep.  When in the grips of a period of extreme panic and anxiety, I have always suffered the most when retiring to bed.  During the day I’ve been able to manage my outcomes far more effectively.  If panic arose unexpectedly, I knew that I had the necessary strategies in place to deal with it accordingly.  I was never ill prepared.  I understood by result of my experiences what steps I needed to take to calm my mind and body and restore my balance.  But during periods of “rest” I was never able to react in the same manner.  A strike delivered during sleep was something that I was never skilled at handling.  It always caught me off guard, causing me to shake, sweat, and gasp for air as I awoke to the sensation that I was dying.  It was a terrible experience each and every time.  And as I got better at dealing with anxiety during my waking hours, nighttime attacks became the weapon of choice of the devil who sought to keep me in bondage.

The evening that I received the promising news of my newest venture, I was forced to encounter evil in my sleep in the form of a terrifying dream.  I believe that this was one of the devil’s last ditch efforts to discourage me from moving forward and perhaps crossing a bridge over into new opportunities in my life.  The vision was clear.  I don’t know how I managed to arrive there, but I found myself laying along the edge of the road in the middle of the Bay Bridge in San Francisco.  I remember feeling the air being torn from my lungs as I peered to my left to see a fog covered San Francisco Bay hundreds of feet below.  I was terrified.  My legs felt completely weak and my knees buckled as I made an effort to move from the shoulder and look out ahead.  Seeing nothing but endless road and fog awaiting me in the distance, I crouched back down and held tight to my position.  I was too scared to move.  I was trapped by my anxiety, and I felt that there was no other option but to resign to defeat.  So I somehow channeled my brain and caused my mind and body to awake in order that I could allow myself to escape the situation.  When I opened my eyes, I felt relieved to return to the sense of normalcy that I needed, but discouraged by my willingness to quit in the face of fear and seemingly overwhelming circumstances.

So last night before I went to bed, I prayed that God would give me the strength to stand up to any fears that were presented in my sleep so that I could actively fight for my freedom from bondage.  I don’t want to allow the devil the opportunity to pray on my mind while I am at rest.  I need to be a warrior in my dreams during the nighttime hours so that I can awake confident and ready to see those dreams through to completion during the days that lie ahead.  It may be true that I’ve found myself at a bridge in my life.  Perhaps I am crossing over uncharted waters.  But I must keep moving despite the unknowns, understanding that fear will inevitably present itself as I challenge the old conditioning that has been prompting me to retreat and quit.  I must accept that I may not be able to see far ahead on the road that I am traveling and that I may very well need to encounter some things that I’ve avoided for my entire life.  It’s not going to be easy journey.  But it’s one that I can most certainly make in faith.  I will see myself through to the other side.  And perhaps that’s where my future will reside.

If you are facing a bridge in your life, don’t be afraid to cross it.  I’ve found that the expectation of the turmoil ahead is always simply a trick utilized by the devil to discourage your efforts and keep you in bondage.  Navigating the crossing is far less overwhelming than what a fearful mind may deem.  And the reward that awaits you at your destination is tremendous.  Life offers a far different perspective at the other side of bridge.  So saddle up and head across.  Enjoy the freedom that awaits you.

May God Bless!

called into service

As shorter days and cooler evenings begin their inevitable approach, millions of Americans will soon find themselves reaching deep into their closets to pull out their favorite team hoodies in preparation for the fall season.  It’s a great time to be fan.  By the third week of September, football season really begins gaining momentum and conference and division races start to take shape with rivalry matchups approaching off in the distance.  This is the time of the year when the schedule that we’ve seen for months finally comes into focus.  Every weekend seems to offer a nail biting experience as we eagerly await and anticipate the journey that our team will travel in the coming weeks.  It’s not always easy on the old ticker watching the games unfold from the stands.  But our experiences cannot begin to compare with those of the individuals on the field sacrificing themselves for our weekend entertainment.

There’s very little risk involved in being a fan.  Sure, we may have invested some money in tickets, concessions, and gameday gear, but that’s all part of the experience that we’re seeking to be a part of, and it’s not free.  So what if our team misses expectations and we feel discouraged by the outcome…big deal.  We should have understood coming in that our personal sacrifice would be minimal and our potential gain at the sake of the athletes would be great.  The players and coaches on the field of battle are the ones making the real investment, not the fans.  They are the individuals asked to perform at an elite level week in and week out in front of a stadium filled with relentless fans and critics alike.  And I don’t think we should ever downplay the value of their investment, because it’s huge, and it takes guts.

Some of us may have had dreams of playing sports at the collegiate or professional level when we were younger.  And a small percentage of us may have decided to pursue those goals relentlessly only to ultimately find that we were not well equipped to see them come to fruition.  But I’d wager to say that the majority of us stopped long before we were ever denied the opportunity.  Most individuals choose to become fans because for them it’s easier to watch from the sidelines than to put in the work and risk failure on the field.  That’s why I am so impressed by the young men who make the commitment to do it week after week in front of fifty to one-hundred thousand or more fans.  That’s impressive and it deserves recognition, whether the scoreboard tally is in the team’s favor or not.  To have the courage to sacrifice everything that you have in preparation for a long season where you will routinely risk failure in front of the masses is a noble thing.

It reminds me a bit of Christ’s journey with his disciples.  Twelve men gave up everything to follow Jesus from town to town preaching and delivering the Good News.  The Lord requested that they take nothing with them on their journey: no traveler’s conveniences, no food, no money, not even a change of clothes.  And in faith they answered His calling and set out on their journey, relying on the kindhearted individuals they met to receive them and welcome them into their homes.  They knew that they would meet resistance, and that their lives might be placed in jeopardy as a result of the Gospel, but they followed anyway.  They risked the lives that they knew in order to fulfill their callings from God.

As Christians, it’s easy to step back and simply be a fan of Jesus.  We can sit on the sidelines and cheer from the pew in church, but it takes guts to surrender to the Lord’s true calling for our lives.  Not everyone is built to be a college or professional athlete.  Most of us have been called to a far different service.  But we won’t ever be able to fully realize the depth of our purpose if we aren’t willing to suit up and head into battle with Christ.  We cannot fulfill His calling looking on from the distance.  Jesus appreciates our praise and support, but He also desires our surrender to His plan and our willingness to see it through.  The Lord needs warriors on His field of battle with Him willing to risk it all in front of the masses in order to glorify him day after day, week after week, and year after year – win or lose.

This Saturday when my Tar Heels head east to Greenville for their first away game of the season at East Carolina, I’ll be reminded of the guts that it takes to go out on the road and risk failure in front of an overwhelmingly hostile crowd.  As I sit on my comfortable couch in front of my TV at kickoff, I’ll remember the sacrifices of the young men going into battle for the sake of myself and fans across the state and around the country.  And I’ll be inspired to get back to pursuing my own purpose when that contest ends.  Because while these days I may only be a fan of football, I will forever be a disciple of Christ.  And I will not merely cheer on His ministry from the sidelines.  I will go out and share it with the masses despite any resistance that I may encounter along the way.  Jesus never guaranteed that His way would be the easy way, but He did ensure us that it would be the best way.  So I will see my calling through to its completion, persevering through the hardships of a long season with the knowledge of my eventual victory in His amazing grace.

Will you choose to suit up for Christ with me?  There are plenty of open spots on the roster…

May God Bless!

negativity: the (not so) silent killer

Negativity is poison to the mind, body and soul.  It really should come labeled with a warning from the Surgeon General.  It’s an absolutely devastating epidemic that is spreading quickly and relentlessly across the globe.  And yet most of society seems unaware or perhaps simply uneducated about the impact of its presence. If an illness of any other type were to wreak as much havoc as negativity does each and every day, it’d be front page news and we’d be making efforts to quarantine those afflicted and protect the rest of society from becoming infected.  But very few individuals seem to desire to invest the time necessary to understand the true effects of negativity. In fairness, its impact can be very difficult to quantify.  But one thing that we do know for certain is that much of what we recognize as disease originates from stress on the body, leading to the physical ailments that we label and treat accordingly with medicine.  A body with disease is simply a one that is not “at ease”.  And negativity is often a major factor in disrupting the balance essential to keeping us healthy and functioning at optimal levels.

Admittedly, I was not born with a smile on my face and a willingness to offer a positive outlook towards everything that life was going throw my way.  It’s taken a very arduous journey in self-realization and faith for me to construct a healthier mindset and commit to promoting more positive outcomes in the lives of others.  I’ve had to work through a load of deep-rooted, negative conditioning that led me astray for the majority of my years on this earth.  And to this day, I am nowhere near perfect.  I still slip back into my old patterns of thinking and behavior from time to time.  But now I generally recover very quickly.  I am far more aware of the presence of negativity today than I ever was before.  And thankfully now that I’m more cognizant, I’m able to routinely escape its most devastating effects on my life.  There is great opportunity for protection and response with awareness, as there is with any other disease present in this world.

It wasn’t until I truly hit my bottom with anxiety that I began to understand the impact that negativity could have on both my mental and physical well-being.  When I was reborn in my faith and invited to confront my demons, I came to view things as I never had before.  Somehow my senses became perfectly tuned in to absolutely everything around me.  It’s as though I could finally see and feel things in their true light, as if the veil had been lifted from my eyes and heart.  And while that sounds wonderful (and it truly was) it was also a bit overwhelming from time to time.  Because being in the presence of negativity and darkness felt deeply uncomfortable to me.  And I became much more aware of where it resided.  The unfortunate thing that I came to understand was that it was present in many of the areas of my life where I had spent a considerable amount of time in my past.  So in order to get myself to a healthy place, I learned that I needed to cut some ties and prepare myself to better handle certain things that I couldn’t immediately release.

With God’s mercy and grace backing me, I worked extremely hard to pull myself from the depths of despair and overcome some of the worst anxiety that a person could ever know.  And in order to make the strides that I did, I had to be extremely diligent in my efforts.  The slightest misstep could send me spiraling back down to the dark abyss where life was virtually unlivable.  It took great awareness for me to restore myself from an agoraphobic mind to one that could function normally again.  I knew that I had to escape negativity whenever possible, because I recognized it as a completely destructive obstacle in the way of my progress.  When subjected to it, it was literally as though I was swallowing poison.  My body would shake, my chest would get tight, and I would feel deeply uncomfortable in the environment that I was in.  Those symptoms prompted me to make some tough decisions about how I wanted to live my life and where and with whom I wanted to spend my time.  And I’m thankful today for the pain that I felt in the presence of negativity because that adversity helped me to make the choices necessary to promote a better future for myself and those around me.

Sometimes you don’t realize how devastating something is until you find yourself in a vulnerable place where you need those around you and the environment in which you reside to serve as catalysts for your healing.  Many people spend their lives beating down their bodies with negativity.  But it won’t likely be until they are ill with disease that they will question what led them there.  And often, that’s a point in time when it’s too late to reverse the damage.  You may not see the effects now, but trust me negativity is having an impact on your life.  Take it from someone who has witnessed its strength first hand.  Its effects on the mind and body are horrific.

I encourage you to not waste another minute of your life fostering negativity.  Learn to identify its presence, first within yourself, and then within those around you.  And begin making every effort to eliminate it from your life.  Choose your friends and acquaintances wisely.  Get involved with people who promote positivity with their thoughts, words, and actions.  Flood your brain with positive reinforcement in moments when you are most vulnerable.  I often listen to motivational audiobooks and speeches before bed to ensure that I dream well and rest easy.  Whatever your personal needs may be, choose to take the steps to overcome your susceptibility to negativity.  It will be the best decision you have ever made for your future.

May God Bless!

ditch the pitch

As a person who’s made a living selling his entire (albeit short) career, I’ve grown a bit sensitive to the sales process when I’m on the other side of the table.  I’m not a big shopper.  When I do head out to make a purchase, most times I’ve done my research in advance and want nothing more than to snag the product that I’m looking for and immediately head to the register with it so that I can get out the door and return to more important matters.  But there are times when I simply cannot avoid speaking to a sales representative in a retail environment.  And many times it’s just a painful experience having to endure the rehearsed pitches of workers who have been trained to lack confidence in their own abilities and trust a “proven system” to sell the product for them.  There have been moments when I’ve wanted to interrupt their canned proposals midway through and just say “stop” and turn and walk out the door.  Because I enjoy dealing with people who are authentic, so the system doesn’t serve me well as a buyer – I’m not a robot.

Remember when I said earlier that I’ve generally done some research before entering the store so that I am able to locate the item that I am seeking quickly and head to the check out?  Well I believe that to be a common characteristic of most buyers today.  This is a very tech savvy generation.  Most of us have all of the resources that we need handy to allow us to build a case for or against the items on our shopping lists, and generally we utilize them well in advance of our trips to the retail stores.  We’re a generation that is experiencing unprecedented demands on our time, so we desire to make fast decisions in order that we can check the items off of our to-do lists and get back to living.  There is little to no value in offering us a canned pitch to entice us into purchasing your product.  Nine times out of ten, it’s falling on deaf ears.  If you want to win our business and ensure that we return again, listen to us, and respond with confidence so that you may leave an impression on us that will be memorable.  Be you.  Inspire us to go home and tell our friends and family about the great guy or gal that we met so that we might be motivated to send more business your way.

We are simply not going to remember a rehearsed sales pitch.  There are far too many other reps out in the marketplace offering the exact same type of presentation.  And it’s just not likeable.  So at best, your proposal is going to get tossed out of our memories quickly.  At worst, it’s going to deter our return because we’re going to want to avoid involving ourselves in it a second time.  Buyers enjoy vulnerability.  That doesn’t mean that you are weak as a salesperson, it means that you are real and authentic.  It means that you are strong and confident enough in yourself and in the product or service that you have to offer to say “the heck with the pitch…I believe in this product and my customers will sense that and feel compelled to be a part of it.”  Ultimately, consumers are purchasing an experience, no matter the item or service on their shopping list.  If you can add value to that process by making it unforgettable, you’ve done your job as a salesperson and you’ve attached to their minds a memory that they will be able to recount with others so that your business and personal footprint will grow exponentially over time.

Ditch the pitch.  Sell from your heart and lead with a candid approach towards your clientele and you will be sure to fill your funnel with more referrals and repeat business than you can imagine.  Sales is not rocket science.  Most people make it far more complex than it needs to be.  It’s about relating to people, and you can’t begin to do that when you’ve allowed yourself to get all wrapped up in a mundane, rehearsed script that we as buyers don’t have the time or willing ears to hear.  Listen to us.  Be confident and memorable as person – we enjoy that.  Make us feel good about your product through your unique, personal representation of it so that we attach more value to it than what’s listed on the label.  Be authentic and genuine.  Trust me, those qualities alone will set you apart from the competition in this profession.

May God Bless!

policing the perfectionist

Have you ever known someone who has taken a perfectionist mindset into every venture that they have ever pursued?  If you have, you know very well that it can drive you sort of crazy interacting with these types of people, can’t it?  Indeed, sometimes working alongside or coexisting with perfectionists can be downright exhausting.  It can be a real challenge to match the expectations of those who demand such high standards excellence from themselves.  You may wonder if your efforts will ever be strong enough to please them.  Will the completion of the task at hand alone ever be satisfactory?  Or will there always be discontent with the process that you followed leading you to your final outcome?  It can be brutal.  Believe me, I know first-hand how very difficult it can be living with someone like this day in and day out because well, I myself am a perfectionist.

Perfectionists are generally great people at heart.  And I’m not saying that to pat myself on the back, I’m saying it because I believe it to be true.  There is nothing more a perfectionist wants to do than to please those around them.  You’ll note that most perfectionists will bend over backwards for you, be it in a personal or professional environment.  These individuals will work late and willingly sacrifice themselves for the better of the team.  You will find them constantly striving to exceed the expectations of their superiors because they want desperately to be acknowledged and accepted.  Such desires come from what many would deem deep-rooted personal flaws.  And perhaps there is some truth to that.  But I can assure you that it’s not out of selfishness that they demand such performances of themselves and those around them.  Trust me, no one would openly choose to pressure themselves to the level that a perfectionist does on a daily basis.

The stress associated with being a perfectionist can be debilitating.  I understand it because I’ve lived it.  You can run yourself ragged chasing one goal after another only to realize that the attainment of such benchmarks never really leads you to any true fulfillment.  As a perfectionist, you tend to always feel that you could have done things better.  You may fear that those around you serving witness feel the same.  And that may temporarily motivate you to focus harder and be more precise next time.  But eventually as time wears on and effort after effort continues to fall short of perfection, you tend to begin to fear taking action altogether.  Sometimes it’s an easier decision to not compete at all than to risk failure in front of the biggest critic that you’ve ever known…yourself.

Over the last few years I’ve found my perfectionist mindset to be very disruptive of my efforts to continue writing in pursuit of my passion and calling.  There have been periods when I’ve gone months on end without even putting any words together because I’ve feared that whatever comes out will not be worthy of my stamp of approval.  I’ve wrestled with my mind endlessly, and far too often I’ve allowed my irrational desires for flawlessness to dictate my actions, or more accurately, my inaction.  I honestly cannot begin to tell you how much I have despised the conversations regarding my performance that I’ve encountered in my own head during the course of my life.  Nothing has ever really been good enough to match the demands that I have put on myself.  And honestly, I’ve grown tired of failing, not so much in front of others, but in front of myself.

But despite my internal struggle, I cannot and will not quit.  Today I plan to take the first step towards putting an end to my need for perfection.  I’m going to let go of my desire to meet the impossible demands of my mind and simply focus on following my purpose in God and allowing Him to determine what is worthy of praise.  My faith tells me that I alone can never achieve perfection on my own.  I can strive for it, but only in partnership with God can I ever offer anything truly remarkable to those around me.  My perfection comes through my total surrender to Him, in my willingness to accept and implement His plan for my life.

Flawlessness is beyond the reach of any man.  Only God knows the path to perfection.  So let’s all decide today to let go of any desires that we feel to act as the final judge and jury of our efforts and instead choose to love ourselves and find our peace through an undying commitment to living His purpose.

May God Bless!

500+ for 50 – day 50: sprinting through the finish

Today marks the culmination of my journey to write 500 or more meaningful words for 50 consecutive days.  It’s a bittersweet ending for me.  While I could most certainly benefit from a day off, it’s hard for me to say goodbye to what’s become my daily routine.  My goal throughout this process was to prove to myself that I could commit to an ongoing effort to develop my talents and skills.  And I’ve been successful at that.  This has been a tremendous experience, and it’s one that I will be forever thankful for as I move forward in my life. 

As a result of the demands of my commitment to writing, I’ve created some very beneficial habits for myself that will undoubtedly serve me well in the years to come.  I’ve learned to manage and prioritize my time more effectively as I’ve gained a better understanding for what is valuable to my growth.  And I’ve been able to more effectively identify the things that provide little or no benefit to me and make the decision to eliminate them from my life.  But perhaps most importantly, I’ve learned to make my writing a part of my daily routine.  After 50 days without a lapse, it’s become second nature for me to pull out my laptop and begin stroking some keys.  And it feels pretty good knowing that I am now finally wired to effectively utilize God’s greatest offering to me each and every day should I choose to do so.

You’ve probably already recognized through earlier posts that I have often utilized my experiences in football metaphorically to develop a great bit of my vision for personal development.  Although I did not understand the reach of its influence at the time, football taught me countless valuable lessons about life that I utilize each and every day.  Today I’m reminded again of my time playing for my Dad as a kid.  My father was the greatest coach that I ever knew.  He had this way of motivating us to get more out of each and every effort made on the field.  One of the things that he taught me at a very early age was to “finish strong”.  My Dad is a man who values effort, and there was no better place to gauge a player’s heart than during the last few yards of a long sprint at the end of practice.  I can hear him now yelling “turn it on!” and then see him jumping with excitement to congratulate those of us who summoned the will to dig deep to grind it out, leaving everything that we had on the field.

In life we can very easily be influenced to ease off the pedal and coast into the finish when our destination finally appears on the horizon.  We are trained creatures of comfort…sometimes so much so that we have conditioned our minds to survive challenges rather than to embrace the opportunity for growth within them.  How often in life have you set out to achieve a goal, be it personal or professional in nature, with great momentum at the onset of your venture only to feel yourself begging for the finish line as you neared your journey’s end?  My guess is more often than not.  I’m here today to encourage you to stop allowing that mindset to prevail within you.  Stop sabotaging the growth process.  Your dedicated effort at the finish is just as important as it was on the day that you began.  Anyone can start out on a defined pathway to success and push it for a little while, but it takes relentless determination and guts to finish the process with the momentum necessary to carry you forward to new goals and new heights.

While you may have established a defined finish line for a goal that you are presently seeking to attain, I can assure you that there will be no finish line in life.  There will forever be opportunities for individuals like you and I to establish new benchmarks and further our reach in the world.  For me, Day 50 does indeed mark the fulfillment of one significant personal objective, but I know that I will not stop to celebrate for long.  Because Day 50 also marks the birth of new, greater opportunities for me in my life.  I am by no means finished with my journey in writing.  This is just Chapter 1 of an enduring commitment to excellence.  And because I understand that, I cannot simply coast into the finish and breathe a sigh of relief for the campaign that’s behind me.  If I want to excel in my next venture, I need to take this opportunity to feed off of the momentum of a strong finish here and turn things up a notch as I head into my next journey.  My quest for excellence does not conclude simply because I reach a defined milestone.  It simply begins again at a higher level of entry with a more elusive benchmark in sight.

If you’re nearing you target off in the distance, don’t simply allow yourself to pull up and coast into the finish.  Instead take the opportunity to reignite the fire within you and “turn it on!” so that you can harness your momentum and allow it to lead you towards the pursuit of broader, more fulfilling goals in the future.  The journey never stops…not at a Day 50 or any other for that matter.  Keep pushing and raising the bar higher.  There are no limits to what you can do.

May God Bless!

500+ for 50 – day 49: how to find job security

Remember the days when people would align themselves with a company early on in their working careers and spend the better part of their lives providing service to that business until the day that they were of age to retire?  Surrounded by a network of longtime colleagues the worker would celebrate his retirement with a cake and a few keepsakes from management.  I’m too young to recall those days, but I’ve heard that many companies would honor the culmination of an individual’s employment by offering him a gold watch as a parting gift.  It all seems a bit cliché to me, but I’m sure that it was a special time for those employees moving on to the next phase of their lives.  When you give your blood, sweat, and tears to a place for the better part of your working career, it has to be an emotional experience letting go.

My generation approaches work a bit differently than the baby boomers reaching retirement age today.  Our careers are generally characterized by victories and defeats and stepping stone jobs that we hope will ultimately lead us to positions offering us the level of gratification for which we will be willing to settle.  We did however grow up in a society that was constantly raising the bar higher, so settling can be very difficult.  And in my opinion, that’s not necessarily a bad thing at all.  We should feel motivated to keep growing throughout the course of our careers.  Sometimes that means that we will need to seek greener pastures as we outgrow our current surroundings.  The decision to head in a different direction may result in the forfeit of a gold watch at the time of our retirement, but that’s a sacrifice that most of us should be willing to make.  As members of Generation X, we live for today, not twenty or thirty years down the road.  We’ve got plenty of time to worry about a retirement keepsake later on in our careers.

Despite our willingness to move around from position to position however, the workers of my generation do, like those of the baby boomer period, value job security.  Interesting thought, isn’t it?  We want to feel that our jobs are safe, but we also want to keep the door open for better opportunities that may come knocking.  Talk about having your cake and eating it, too. It must be a difficult time for employers to be hiring.  How can you tell that you’re ever going to receive a consistent, committed effort from those that you employ to fulfill their duties and find a home within your organization?  It’s a risky venture.  But you can’t run a business without strong people behind you.  So if you want to attract and retain good quality people, you’ve got to create an environment that is supportive of employees’ efforts, one which provides opportunities for growth, and offers workers a sense of security in their positions.  Otherwise, you really don’t have a shot.

As employees, we’re taking a major risk in investing our time and efforts in the growth of someone else’s business.  It’s estimated that we will spend roughly one third of our lives dedicated to our careers.  That’s a major time and energy commitment.  So it’s imperative that we choose our career paths wisely.  But no matter how selective we may be, there are no guarantees for us.  We live in a horribly unpredictable world.  And economically, things certainly have not been on our side in recent years.  We are at the mercy of many factors beyond our control when we choose to align ourselves with the employers of today.  Most businesses aren’t planning for our retirements twenty to thirty years down the road.  In fact, there are many who aren’t looking beyond the next twenty to thirty days.  The reality is that for most, business is a grind.

We the workers of today need to understand that if we truly want to partner flexibility with job security, we need to look no further than within.  If we desire upward personal mobility and limitless opportunities to service the needs of the people, then we must develop and diversify our strengths to a level that assures us a hire no matter the times.  To obtain security in an insecure world, we’re going to need to take it.  There is no employer who can offer us immunity from hardship.  The business world is going to throw employers curveballs from time to time, and as long as we’re reliant on a paycheck from someone else, we are at risk of being a casualty.  That’s why it’s so important that we take the initiative to develop our talents and skills and remain an attractive candidate to all employers at all times.  We must build our personal brands to a level unmatched by our colleagues and provide a level of expertise and service that will be deemed invaluable among the masses if we’re ever going to excel in the cutthroat world in which we live.

The days of gold watch keepsakes and office retirement celebrations are over.  So don’t worry about marking your calendar and counting down the days until you say farewell.  Instead, start thinking about what you can do today to expand your personal contribution to the workforce.  How can you diversify your offerings and add to the development of your brand?  What’s going to make you a priceless candidate among the employers of your future?  Invest in you, and you’ll develop all that you need to ensure that when you hit retirement age you won’t find yourself waiting on a memento, as you’ll be handing them out instead.

May God Bless!