Monday, June 30, 2014

It Is Time to Break Out!

I am comfortable living inside my box.  When I was in utero, I was inside a closed space, where I was comfortable and warm.  Someone else provided for me.  After birth, I was well tended to, my parents provided for me and I had all my needs taken care of by want of only a cry, and I was comforted.  In my youth, I lived inside a room within a house, a box within a box.  My brothers and I had no thought of our needs not being met; we did not ask for much and were comfortable.  We were in a category that went under the title comfortable; we were an average family.  I went to school, went to college, got a job, got married, bought a house.  When moving into our first house, someone joked that the kids come next.  On cue, Gabrielle arrived, then Rebecca.  Debbie and I were following the script…and we were comfortable within this world.

OMG!!!  I could have started a paragraph earlier with a similar story for my father and continued afterward with a paragraph for my kids – Who’s script are we following?  Have all of our lives become this repetitious pattern following a predestined path that we are doomed to repeat over and over.  Yes, I know…in this pattern, life is safe – no fears, no unknowns and no excitement.  We tend to live inside the world we create, within a box, and rarely move to push on the boundaries to expand our world.  My wife and I enjoyed eating at a Chinese restaurant, by an award-winning chef that is 30 minutes from our house.  People asked us why we had to travel so far away to eat Chinese food, there are places closer.  They do not have to join us next time we go.    While I like places closer, it gets boring eating at the same places when there are other choices.  We do not mind occasionally stepping outside our comfort zones.  Rebecca, our shy child, is stepping out of her comfort zone and going to Germany for two weeks.  She is uncomfortable going to a country where she barely knows the language, but she likes to travel and this was a great opportunity for her.  Go Bec!

We do not live inside of a Bugs Bunny cartoon, where Bugs continually dares a befuddled Yosemite Sam to step over the line and we do it.  We have to be cognizant that we are living each day, week, month and year in repetition and with great intentionality making the choices to step outside the routines that define our lives.  Easy?  Absolutely not!  If one is comfortable living that cycle of life, then all is good.  It is easy to wait for somebody to tell us what we should do, rather than take initiative and determine the actions required.  Many years ago, I had a desire to do some writing and dreamt of becoming a speaker.  As the years passed by, I still had the same desire, but no mystical being appeared in front of me to point the way.  I needed to step outside of my personal comfort zone to make this happen, which I eventually did by deciding to write a weekly blog and join Toastmasters.  I had to take action to move from daydreaming to realization.

Breaking out is done by what John C. Maxwell refers to as intentionality, otherwise we never move out of the rut in our lives.  I have talked to people that continually do the same things every day, month after month, year after year, and are not very happy with the repetitive routine…OK, sometimes they outright complain about it.  After releasing their feelings and we say goodbye,  inevitably their last words are always, “I will see you tomorrow.”

Monday, June 23, 2014

Do I Have To Do It Again?

“It sounded good to me.”
“I think that I was at 95%.”
“What?!? More like 15% correct.”
“We need to do it again.”   ~ Friday Night, 6/20/2014

This was a conversation during band practice Friday night.  Here we are, the physical embodiment of middle-aged men working on some music that we all know.  Like the children we sometimes act like, the fault is never our own, but the next guy in the band.  We, do, however, review the issues, practice the parts over and then can move on.  This is not a unique scenario, but one that happens throughout the night…both in terms of the music and the vocals.  As a band, we succeed or fail together as a group, not as individuals.  I guess that I could play solo, like the time, in college, when my roommates walked in on me while I was playing the entire The Wall album, by Pink Floyd, on the accordion.  That is right, on the accordion!  In either case, practicing would need to occur.

Too often, we all wish that we could pick up a new skill and be instantly good at it.  Some people believe that you have to do something 10,000 times to master a skill.  I am not sure of the correct formula, but consistency and repetition do lead you in the right direction.  There are songs that the band has worked on, we cheered when we reach our goal on that particular song, but needed to play every practice so that we maintained the level of play on that song.  My daughter, Rebecca, just finished taking her last (hopefully) SAT.  She did not open a study guide the night before to prepare for the test.  She had a tutor, and then went to the Huntington Learning Center to practice over and over again in preparation.  We often forget that as children, we had to constantly read, or practice (music, sports, etc.) to get better.  As we get older and living in a world of instant gratification, we seem to lose the patients that it takes to improve.

There is a scene in the Three Stooges short “Disorder in the Court” where the boys break out different instruments – Moe on harmonica, Curly on bass and Larry on violin (which he really played).  As you can expect, shenanigans pursue, including swallowing the harmonica and various slapstick gestures and the accompanying sound effects.  There are times when I feel like our band practice was about to degenerate into such antics, due to loss of focus on a song, or frustration on not being able to find the right chords.  We always take a deep breathe, play something else, then revisit the issue.  Usually the break helps.  While we enjoy the time together and the music we play, working towards and accomplishing something new always brings great satisfaction.  We realize, however, that we are our own harshest critics.  At each practice, we know who practiced during the week.  As violinist Jascha Heifetz said, “If I don't practice one day, I know it; two days, the critics know it; three days, the public knows it.” 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Father’s Day

As my oldest daughter was exiting my wife’s lower body cavity, I was hit with the thought, “I’ve become my father!” Have I really become my Father, or was it the realization that now I am a dad and have to take responsibility for the life that my wife and I had been blessed with.  From that moment on, whatever my thoughts were, they became filled with the life of someone that I had brought into this world and whose life I needed to be responsible toward!  Two years later, we were blessed with a second child.    

I remember the day I graduated college, I had one life that I was responsible for – my own.  Truth be told, I was living at home and had my parents as a safety net, for which I am grateful.  Then I had the good fortune to meet the woman that I would share my life with – my beloved wife.  OK, so now I had two people that I felt responsible for, except that my wife had a job and had the ability to take care of herself.  I did not think that I was prepared when the day came when the “stork” paid us a visit and left Gab on our “front porch”.  Would I be up to the job of not just being a father, but being a Dad?
As a new parent, we do not know what the future will bring.  Children do not come with a manual and therefore we need to go through on the job training.  Yes, we have our own parents to look at for guidance, but the lives that we hold in our hands are our responsibility.  The lessons we teach and the values we pass on are the things that will potentially shape their futures.  As we celebrated Father’s Day yesterday, and celebrated Mother’s Day last month, we give honor and tribute to our parents for all that they have done for us.  But when we receive the love from our own children, we truly appreciate these two days, and every other day of the year. I am happy to be called Dad, and truly feel blessed with the birth of both of our children.

I hope that you had a great Father’s Day.  A day where we have a chance to honor our Fathers and a day, as parents, we get to appreciate our children.

Monday, June 9, 2014

I Should Be Committed

“F*** Cancer, Woo!” I heard as I rounded the corner.  “F*** Cancer,” came the reply off in the distance.  It was almost 4:00 in the morning when I heard these calls.  My arm lifted as if it had a mind of its own and I found myself yelling out “F*** Cancer!  Woo-hoo!” in solidarity, as if in a dreamlike state.  We were some of the remaining 800 plus people that still had the energy to keep walking, as was part of the commitment made many hours earlier.  11 hours is a long time to commit to keeping in motion after having spent a full day at school or at work.  I kept thinking that I could make it, only another hour and a half to go.  People I know were telling me to sit for a few minutes to talk.  However, I knew that placing my derriere down on any object, whether it was soft and comfortable or hard and unfriendly, the rest of my body would lapse into a semi-comatose state and my commitment to walk until the closing ceremonies would be over for me.

Almost every Friday night for the past 14 plus years, I have spent playing with our band, Mystery Train (some online samples – for audio: or for video: ), first at my house, and over the last few years at my brother’s home.  We start at 10:00 and play until 1:30-ish.  That is 10 at night until 1:30 in the morning…sometimes later.  We play out occasionally, and always at our own parties.  Some people work out to refresh their minds of the stresses of the day-to-day.  We play music.  This means I am not the most in shape of people – good at music, bad at exercise.  So, how did I end up walking around a high school track until sunrise? 

I was approached by a Relay for Life team captain in my town of Paramus.  Having lost my mother to cancer 18 years ago, lost an Uncle years ago, having a cousin, friends and a sister-in-law as survivors, I understand raising monies to fight cancer and made the commitment to join the team.  Based on the people in my life, I can fully support eradicating this is one disease from the face of the earth.  At the opening ceremonies, a high school freshman told of his battle with cancer – A HIGH SCHOOL FRESHMAN!  In my youth, I would have thought that older people made poor choices that led to sickness (e.g., cancer), from smoking, poor eating habits, etc.  A youth cannot have the time to make the bad choices that can lead to life altering sicknesses.  Relay for Life, for me, was an easy choice to help by committing my time to the walk and to helping raise money.  Of course, when the team captain that approached you is your wife, backed up by her co-captain, may daughter, I knew this was the right choice. We do do this as a family (ha, ha – I said doodoo) because we believe that this is an important thing to commit to.  When the closing ceremonies finished, we all had a great sense of accomplishment at having made it to the end…even if a certain keyboardist did sneak off for band practice from 10:30 to 1:30…

Monday, June 2, 2014


Darren Hardy, the publisher of Success Magazine, often tells the story about a company that wanted to hire Richard Branson as a speaker.  They wanted him so badly that they offered some ridiculously large dollar amount for a short speech.  He kept refusing, so they asked Mr. Hardy to intercede on their behalf.  The answer stayed at no; when pressed for a reason, the answer was that public speaking was not what Mr. Branson was focusing on at this time.  I have heard it stated before that high achievers tend to focus on about three things at any one point in time, as was clearly presented in the story just related.  I have heard this story a couple of times over the past four years and I am always inspired by the laser-like focus of highly successful people.  Especially as I find that maintaining a directed focus for long periods hard.

It is funny, because it is always easier to point to other people for examples.  For instance, I observed a friend allowing things out of his control distract him from the goals in front of him, including the comments of other people.  As I sat down to write this morning, I was clear about what I wanted to write about, with the goal of being in front of my computer and letting the thoughts flow.  I was up before anyone in the house, so that there were no distractions.  As I walked downstairs, I realized that I really should have some breakfast.  When I got to my computer, I started checking emails, looking at my Relay for Life (Click here to visit my PERSONAL page.) to see how many people have donated since I checked after midnight before I went to sleep, looked on Facebook…where was MY FOCUS?!?  If I held myself to the standard of focusing on no more than three things at any given time, I would be done for the day before I wrote down the title!

We all have distractions that go on in our lives, and, truth be told, we also have the ability to procrastinate.  Both of these things tend to pull us from our goals and objectives and cause us to take longer to complete what we have set out to do.  Often we know we are in the middle of these diversions, but welcome them because they are easy, or more pleasurable.  We need to be more diligent about having the discipline to remain focused.  Now that I did the things that I allowed to take my attention away, I can get down to the business of writing.  Oh, wait, I hear someone upstairs in the kitchen, I wonder who is up…