Sunday, August 29, 2010

Like Falling Off a Bicycle

Went sailing yesterday afternoon for the first time in too long. It was a very windy day, but with two of us, we got the boat in the water just fine. The last time (before yesterday) that I went out it was also a very windy day, but I was by myself. I could not even get the boat launched because there was too much for one person to coordinate. (Can you coordinate with yourself?) The memory of not even getting off the beach probably kept me on shore for much of the summer, but not yesterday. There were a few dicey moments trying to launch in to the wind--and not being quite sure where the wind was coming from--but once we got out into the lake it was the bet sailing in years. Lots of wind. Lots of speed. Lots of spray. Lots of having the boat up on edge.

The key to yesterday being a positive sailing day was another person along to handle some of the load. Most of the time I run by myself. I love the solitude and the time to just let my mind go where it wants to go. But when the run is challenging, another person can make all the difference. On the brutal trail run in July, I don't know if I would have finished if I had been by myself. On the steep uphills, all of us on the climb would shout encouragement to other runners--whether we knew them or not. And that encouragement made the difference between running up a hill (such as it was) and walking--or stopping. When everything is smooth or relatively easy, solitary running is just fine. But when the circumstances get tough, others make the difference.

The other day I was reflecting on friends and how we make them and keep them. I have a few people with whom I am becoming friends (World's Greatest Small Group), but a small number of long term good friends--for whom I am thankful.

So thanks to Frank, and Jeff, and Robin, and Nancy, and Michael, and Dan, and Jay--and first and foremost Carmen. I couldn't do this without you!

Pressing On!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Fuel Gauges and Keeping the Tank Full

Several years ago I had a car with a broken fuel gauge. Most of the time it was not an issue. Fill up the tank from time to time. Reset the trip odometer each fill up to keep tabs on elapsed miles for that tank of gas. But every now and then I would either not get a full new tank, or I would forget to reset the trip odometer. Having lost track of my informal fuel measures, I was forced to either fill the tank and reset the measures or take my chances. The gas can in the back of the car would tell you that chance-taking was often my choice and sometimes not the most prudent option. (There are few things more automotively embarrassing than running out of gas while at the drive through window at the bank. "Sorry folks, I will be just a moment to run over to the gas station next door.")

What about "devices" that have no gauge? How can we tell our fuel levels? What about physical energy? A friendship? A marriage? The heart? The soul? These things have no fuel gauge, yet keeping the tank full enough is far more important than with a car. All too often I think that I only notice that these other tanks are nearing empty when the engine starts sputtering. Then I just hope that I can get some fuel in the tank before things grind to a halt.

I also notice some crossover effect. If my physical energy tank is almost empty, then I have less reserve for the other tanks. And vice versa. The other day I was out for what should have been a pretty easy run. Not too far and not too fast. But for some reason about five miles in I started feeling like I was running in mud. My legs were heavy and my breathing labored. I was at a loss for this sudden performance decline. After all, it was a regular run that I have done dozens of times before with no problems. And all I was doing in the rest of life was preaching at my church, starting a new business, taking my youngest off to college, and only sleeping about 70% of what I usually need. It was a light bulb moment.

It seems like we cannot manage our fuel outflow nearly as much as we think we can (or maybe it is just me). But the thing that I can manage is my fuel intake. Am I doing the things that are restorative? Refreshing? Re-energizing? Not becoming a recluse or dropping other responsibilities, but being mindful to keep the tank full.

With my car I often did not want to take the time to stop and fill the tank. But in the long run it would have taken less time to stop for gas every now and then than to try to find an open--and close by--gas station when I finally ran it dry. Thanks for the lesson Capri!

Pressing On,

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Cantilevers and Such

Do you ever find yourself feeling something, but not being quite able to know it clearly enough to name it? That was a part of my recent experience until yesterday. A friend of mine is an exquisite blogger who wrote about the engineering concept of a cantilever. A definition related to the building trades is, "any rigid construction extending horizontally well beyond its vertical support, used as a structural element of a bridge (cantilever bridge), building foundation, etc." The nub of it is that a cantilevered structure has one end anchored and the other end apparently hangs in mid air. Cantilevers are stunning architectural elements, but the engineering behind them must carefully balance the load, the amount of the structure that is extended beyond the support, and the extent to which the cantilevered element is anchored at the non-extended end.

A cantilevered structure can appear to be weightlessly suspended above the ground, but if the engineering was not quite right, it can all come crashing down. To a non-engineer, it appears that there are three aspects of a cantilevered element that can be managed: the load that the elements bears; the strength of the anchoring into something solid and stable; and the amount of the element that is extended beyond a support.

Needless to say, life has been a bit of a zoo this summer. One wedding, a graduation open house, then a graduation, then another wedding, then the reception for the first wedding, and finally taking one off to college. (A Dad almost feels like he could use a nap.) Oh, and in the midst of all of this, leaving a large and established company to launch a new law firm. I feel a bit like the beam that is cantilevered about to its limit. I cannot do anything about the amount of life that feels like it is hanging out beyond any meaningful support. And I really cannot do anything about the load that comes along with life. But I can (and must) make sure that I am remaining firmly grounded in the things that give life substance and support. For me, those things are solitude, faith, and running. And fortunately running and solitude often go together.

Running puts me in a bubble of re-energizing solitude and reflection. Some people recharge by being with other people, but not me. I recharge by being by myself. I like people, but interaction is a net energy outflow in my world. The tension comes when the cantilevered aspects of life conspire to try to fill my solitude with constant activity--like all of the things listed above. Lately I feel my moorings getting mushy and the result is not pretty. Not outward, and not inward.

But at least now I can identify what has been going on (thanks Robin) and can try to figure out how to get my cantilever engineering back in shape. I do know that the place where I need to begin is my moorings--by setting aside time to run enough (but not too much) and to nurture my faith. Keeping those parts of life in balance should allow my cantilevers to soar above the ground in a dynamic and dramatic adventure.

Pressing On!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Midway Mirror

Apart from the Bearded Lady, the oddest sight on the typical State Fair or circus midway are the distorting mirrors. The tall appear short and the lean appear rotund. Depending on how close you stand your head becomes enormous or shrinks to the apparent size of a grapefruit. But the truth is that the viewer has not changed--only the reflection has changed.

I have a mirror like that at my house, but the mirror's message was shattered last weekend. More than 20% off this year's incoming freshman class at DePauw has an alumni connection. Part of what that means is that some of my classmates were among those parents who were dropping off incoming freshmen. As I looked around I must confess to thinking that some of the "Class of '82" name tags must have gotten on the wrong generation of people. When did my peers get to be so old? And I started to wonder if my mirror has been lying to me. It has--or maybe it is not the mirror's fault.

The book of James talks about the foolishness of the person who looks in the mirror and forgets what they look like when they turn away. After this weekend, I realized that I not only forget what I looked like, but I can look right at the face in the mirror and see a person from years gone by. I must have this idea of what I used to look like and my mind goes back 15 or 20 years. So on Sunday I took a long, hard look. Whew! While it may make me feel better at the moment, self-deception is rarely the answer to anything.

John Bingham once said that a light bulb came on for him when he realized that if he was to become a runner, he would have to run with the body he had. That goes double for me. As I consider my running today--from training to pace to results--I cannot view my current experience as if I were ten years younger. Because I am not. And nothing good will come of trying to run as if I were ten years younger.

Not only that, but if I view myself at a stage of life that does not reflect my current reality, then how can I grow and develop? Either I will have too high of a view, or too low of a view. Too high of a view may make me complacent or arrogant (not wonderful traits) and too low of a view may cause me to be unduly discouraged. But an accurate self-assessment is tough. And that is where a good mirror comes in.

A good mirror will not distort the image to suit what I want to see, nor to reflect something other than what is. If I am willing to look intently and thoughtfully into a good mirror, I should see what is, as opposed to what I want to see. Sometimes that mirror will be a trusted friend. Sometimes that mirror will be God's truth. Sometimes that mirror will be the scale or a tightening waistband (How did these pants shrink going through the wash?). No matter the mirror, I must bring to the process a willingness to see what is real, and go on from there.

Pressing On!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Same, But Different

Dropped off my youngest at college yesterday--at my alma mater of all places. I have not been back to campus to walk around for nearly 30 years, and the mind does interesting things. Some places looked just like they did in the spring of 1982 when I last walked through campus. But so much has changed. The dorm where I was an RA for my last two years no longer exists. The dorm at the top of the freshman quad (next to where I lived and RA'd for the first two years) burned and has been replaced by several dorm-lets. The Ultimate Frisbee filed has a volleyball pit and net right in the middle! The snow football field is now a parking lot.

Yet, the new science building will be a place where Abby will find much "joy of mathematics." The new biological sciences building will be a huge step up from Harrison Hall's cramped lecture rooms and labs.

Much looked the same. Some looks different. But what about the things that really matter? I have two good friends from that chapter of life and those friendships have little to do with buildings or classes. Those friendships grew from long discussions of things that were important; doing things together; and the serendipity of having been in that place at the same time.

For Abby I wish for lasting friendships that sprout at DePauw, but that will continue to flourish and grow over the decades. I wish for her a greater self-awareness than I had--to appreciate that this a rare time in her life when she can think new thoughts; try new things that she thinks she might enjoy, but never really had the chance to try in our little town; and further develop and discover what she believes and will invest her life in. She cannot yet know, and will have to discover for herself, but she is in the best possible place for her right now. A challenging academic environment where she will have to work hard to do well, and a place where she is surrounded by (and is one herself) young men and women who are idealistic, energetic, and hopeful. They still believe that they can change the world--and maybe she will.

If my parents experienced similar thoughts and feelings to what I have felt this past week, then thank you for helping me set a course that included four years at DePauw. I am a better man for the friends I made and for what I learned there--both in and out of the classroom (mostly out). I can only hope that three decades from now, Abby will make a trip back to campus and be struck by the joy that no matter what looks new, much will not have changed. That she will look back and be thankful for the friends, the learning, and the opportunities to make a better life--and a better world.

Pressing On!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Fresh Starts are Soooo Good

When I set out to run early in the morning, my shoes never mock me for how slow they think I was the day before. The road doesn't seem to remember the places where I was thinking that walking would be preferable. My GPS keeps track of each workout--but never adds its own commentary. Every morning, in many ways, is a fresh start. Yesterday's run (or not run) no longer matters. It is just about today. And I find that to be refreshing.

Granted, the runs that preceded today's run have some influence on whether today's run is easier or harder than the day before. But even what went before doesn't determine whether I enjoy today's run. Enjoying today's run is a matter of how this run is. It is not about yesterday's or tomorrow's runs.

The Bible tells me that God's mercies are new every morning. I always wondered how an all-knowing God could not hold yesterday against me--until my kids became teenagers. Then, suddenly, I became selectively forgetful. No need to hold against them the mistakes of yesterday. The lapses of judgment. The ill-considered words. No, I just don't remember that. How does that fresh start feel?

Today was also the first day of the new adventure that is Redgrave LLP--an information law firm where I am a partner and founder. All of us joining the firm have learned a lot over the past few years. Some of the lessons hard, and others just helpful. I enjoyed my CPA Global colleagues, but the chance to return to the practice of law, with some people whom I really like and respect, was impossible to pass up. You can check us out at and see what our new information law practice is all about. And give me a call if we can be of assistance to you.

The fresh start feels really good. Not because what came before was bad, but because it is a new chance to build something dynamic and exciting with some friends with whom I want to share the journey.

Pressing On!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Environmental Slowdown

I cannot control the weather. No surprise to anyone I know--nor to me. The thermometer was pushing 95 during today's run at Noon. (Let's not discuss why I wasn't running at 5:30 in the morning when it was cooler--perhaps tomorrow.) I like running in the heat and I like running in the cold. But the environmental conditions, which I cannot control, have an impact on how I run. Typically, I run about a minute per mile slower at 90 than at 70--and that is with the same perceived effort. I feel like I am exerting the same energy, but I am simply moving more slowly.

On hot days I have several choices--to run or not to run; short sleeves or no sleeves; carry water or look for sprinklers; complain about the heat or hit the road. What I do not get to choose is whether it is hot or not. Even if I decided to get upset about it being hot, that would not change the temperature. So why bother?

Sometimes life feels like a very hot day. I want things to be a certain way, but factors beyond my control turn "my way" into "no way." What then? Do I lament the things that I cannot change? Or do I make the best of the immutable circumstances? What can I change? What must I accept? But sometimes I feel like if I complain, or play the "if only" game, or work hard to change that which cannot be changed, then I cannot be held responsible for the unpleasant, immutable circumstance.

But I am the only one who holds me responsible for those things in the first place. I often find my self apologizing if it is too hot to do something outside that I had planned to do with others (or if it is too rainy). Do I really think that it was my fault?

When I was a kid my Dad taught me how to play tennis. In those early days there was not so much tennis playing and a lot of walking up to the net or to a far court to retrieve an errant shot. When I made a bad shot I would say, "I'm sorry." My Dad finally told me that I didn't need to say I was sorry unless I did it wrong on purpose. Wise words from a wise man.

I don't need to apologize to myself when it is hot outside and I run slower than I did a week ago--or five years ago. It might even feel freeing. Who knows? Sounds like it may be worth a try.

Pressing On!