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Inspiration from an Old Lady on an Airplane

21 Jun

TripOn a flight from Raleigh to Hartford I sat with my 10-year-old son and listened to him ramble on for almost 90 minutes. It was beautiful, at times incoherent, but beautiful. If he’s where the world is going, I’m in.  Two rows up from us in an aisle seat was a little old lady. She looked lived in, hunched over; her hair dyed red, frail but stable, wearing a Yankees ball cap and chewing a piece of gum. Midway through the flight she turned to both of us and then looked my son straight in the eye. With her right index finger gently tapping the side of her head, she said this:

“Your fathers a smart man”

And with that, she abruptly turned back around.

I was puzzled. Why did that happen? Why did she do that? Did she really think I was smart? Do I look smart? Is it the glasses? Could she hear what Max and I were talking about earlier? Had I said something smart? That’s a lot of pressure to put on me! Now my son thinks I’m smart. What if I’m not? Hey lady, knock that shit off, it’s hard enough being a parent without the expectation from your kids that you might actually know what you’re doing.

I digress.

Perhaps it isn’t what she said, but what we heard. I’ve believed for a long time that people come in and out of our lives with purpose. You do the same to others. I’ve written a few things on this and simply put I think I needed that. Encouragement comes in clever doses sometimes. The real shame in these moments of impact would be not listening and not receiving the note.

A message for Max to remind him that his father, misguided at times, won’t lead him astray. Something she thought he needed to hear. For Dad, a reminder that maybe I am capable of more than I think. That I’ve already been given the skills needed to accomplish the goal, all that’s left is to start the journey.

An old lady with a baseball cap has generated a spark. Something tells me she knew exactly what she was doing.

The Rubber Brick

2 Jul

My middle school had an indoor swimming pool. Two reasons why this was bad, first off it meant I had to see other naked guys. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just that in middle school you can’t help but look and compare. Everybody has varying degrees of body hair. We look ridiculous.

The second reason was swim class. What a mess. The kids that could swim had the time of their life. They also had swim goggles. I was not as fortunate. I could swim alright if my eyes were closed, but I couldn’t (wouldn’t?) open them under water.

Now enter the “Rubber Brick”. Seriously this was a brick coated in thick rubber and used to torture young middle school kids like me. The teacher would throw the brick in the deep end of the pool while each student took turns diving after it.

I have no idea why we did this.  It’s obviously very useful in real life. I can’t tell you how many times since I’ve swum to the bottom of a pool and back up. :)

I remember, I was clinging to the edge of the pool putting off this torture as long as I could. I had no idea how this was going to work. “If I can’t open my eyes underwater, I can’t see the brick. If I can’t see the brick, I can’t get it.”

Kid after kid, dive after dive, one after another like missiles, they dove down and came up with rubber gold. Each time, it was getting closer to my turn. I tried convincing my buddy, John (resident swim star), to loan me his goggles. John, being an ass, kept refusing.

Then, in slow motion (because it’s my story and I can do that), the rubber brick was launched into the pool. The teacher blew the whistle and called my name.


I remember thinking if I jump after it now, I can dive out with my arms extended, and it will just hit me. I release my hand from the side of the pool, head toward the most embarrassing moment of my life, and as luck would have it, the bell rings.

Shock! Relief! A wink! Was that a wink? Yes, it was…from the teacher.

She let me off, she knew.

We want all our stories to end with success and accomplishment, but sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they just sink. The good news is those failures build your character…one brick at a time.


26 May

I’ve been watching a series called The NASA Missions “When We Left Earth”. It’s the remarkable story of how NASA landed a man on the moon in less than ten years.  It’s the story of how smart engineers, pilots, and scientists had the audacity to put human beings on top of a 35 story rocket (Saturn 5) that held a million gallons of fuel, and shoot them into space.

It’s insanity in action.

Three astronauts died while training for Apollo 1, Neil Armstrong himself was ejected horizontally out of a craft while training, shit broke, didn’t fit, exploded, and caught fire.

They never stopped.


Belief is why things are created, why we innovate, why we accomplish things that we weren’t sure we could. Belief is powerful.

Forward progress stops when you stop believing in where you’re going and what you’re doing.

Believing in the unbelievable is what makes things possible.

They put a man on the moon. What will you accomplish?

Nobody Knows What They’re Doing

6 Oct

I volunteered to help coach my son’s flag football team.  I’m the Defensive Coordinator. I have no idea what I’m doing, and it shows

Two games deep into the season, and we can’t stop a parked car.

Here’s the problem. Nobody on the team has any idea what their specific job is.  I’m trying to give every kid a chance to play each position, and what’s happening is that nobody really understands fully how to play any of them.

Our teams at work face the same challenge; we have to provide clear lanes and clear direction or nobody will be able to drive down the field or make a play.

Do something crazy, sit down with each employee and ask them three questions.

  • What do you think your job is?
  • Are you clear on what it is you need to do and how you can achieve your goals?
  • Is there anything I (the company) can do to support that effort?

If things are working, this should be embarrassing, and you’ll have a good laugh.  If things aren’t, you’ll figure out what needs to be fixed and fix it.


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