Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Act or Idea

 Anyone who knows me well, knows that I have a lot of interests. For me it can actually be a problem how many interests I have. I’m interested in so many things that I often have problems sticking with anything. Thankfully I noticed this about myself and took some steps to focus on the things that are most important to me. The primary hurdle I had to overcome to get to my new mindset was to differentiate between “act” and “idea.”

I have a really good imagination and I like to use it. In a lot of ways, this helps me in life. In other ways it hurts me. One of the ways that it hurts me is that when I get an idea; any idea, I tend to blow it up into unreal proportions and get myself so excited about it I just have to act on it. While this isn’t necessarily harmful in itself, it can be when you get a new idea every week. My usual pattern would be to get an idea, work it up in my mind and get so excited that I’d go spend money to try and make it happen. Then a week later, maybe a month or two if I was lucky, I’d be so burnt out on the idea, I’d drop it and never look back. After some self-examination, I realized that while I often fell in love with the idea, I never fell in love with the act of bringing that idea to fruition.

There have been a few examples in my life where I have strayed from this pattern. When I was a pre-teen I often fantasized about becoming a rock star. I pictured shiny guitars, big amplifiers, tour buses, crowded arenas, and world tours. Eventually I picked up a guitar. Surprisingly, I liked practicing. I practiced nearly every day for hours and hours. While the fantasy was still strong in my head, I enjoyed learning new songs and eventually writing my own. Then I started a band and I liked that too. Then I went to college and started a real band, and we started to get paid to play shows and we started traveling and recording cds, and I really liked that. The reality of the situation was nothing close to what I had fantasized about. We toured the midwest instead of the world, we traveled in a van instead of a bus, and we played at small venues instead of packed arenas. None the less, I loved it. Guitar was one of a few things that has had staying power in my life, and it was because I loved the act of being in a band, more than my idea of what being in a band was supposed to be.   

These days fitness and Jiu Jitsu are my new passions. I still play guitar, and will eventually be doing it more than I am right now, but I’ve chosen to focus on one thing at the moment. I love working on my technique, pushing myself harder and harder, strengthening my mind and body, and focusing on a healthy diet. I’ve found that for me to focus on something as intensely as I should, I really can’t have a lot of other stuff vying for my time. I’m busy enough as it is, I can’t keep up with 7 hobbies. This is tough for me because as I’ve mentioned before, I get interested in a lot of stuff, but I’ve found I’m most content when I focus on something that I enjoy doing and really work hard at getting good. 

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t try new ideas. You have too in order to find what it is you love. But once you find that, try to avoid the temptation or even the outside pressure, to get involved in a bunch of other stuff. I think you’ll be happier in the end.  

I’ll leave you with an excerpt from a blog I like called “The Art of Manliness.” If you want to read the whole thing (and I would suggest it), you can find it at here.

What is Sacrifice?
When we hear the word sacrifice, we often think of completely selfless acts in which someone does something for another entirely for the other person’s benefit. The image of a soldier sacrificing his life for his comrades frequently comes to mind.

But sacrifice isn’t purely altruistic. The best definition of sacrifice is this: “To forfeit something for something else considered to have a greater value.” (American Heritage Dictionary, emphasis mine). Sacrifice does not mean giving up something for nothing; it means giving up one thing for something else we believe is worth more.

This does not at all take away from the virtue of sacrificial acts. Instead of locating the merit of sacrifice in unselfishness, we can find it in a man’s chosen value system. The man who lays down his life for his family or for his comrades has chosen to place more value on their lives than on his own. What is more praiseworthy than that?

The Law of Sacrifice
So if that is the definition of sacrifice, what is the law of sacrifice? The law of sacrifice says that you cannot get something you want, without giving up something in return. In order to attain something you believe is of greater value, you must give up something you believe is of lesser value.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Number 4

I started making a bucket list a few months back. I was feeling in a rut, so it felt good to think about a bunch of things I wanted to accomplish, get them written down, and then start scheming ways to make them happen. In what came as a surprise to me, I was able to cross number 4 off my list yesterday which was to get a Blue Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. 

I've been training Jiu Jitsu for a little over a year now and it's become one of my favorite hobbies. At 30 years old, I still have a lot of testosterone pumping through my veins, and sitting at a desk all day staring at a computer screen doesn't do much for my soul. 

As I've mentioned before, I got into Jiu Jitsu by accident. I was really just looking for a good workout when I happened into Mick Doyle's Gym. The Jiu Jitsu classes came free with what I paid for my training sessions so I started going for the extra exercise. Personally, I'm surprised it stuck. For the first 6 months I felt like a giant bruise. My throat was constantly sore from getting choked out, I often came home covered in bruises, and I just couldn't sleep enough with all the recovery my body needed. But eventually I adapted. The skin on my knuckles grew tough from having the gi ripped from my grip, I started bruising less, my throat stopped hurting, and my neck muscles got a lot stronger. Finally I was tapping people instead of constantly getting tapped. I tried not to concern myself with the quest for a belt, but I knew I wanted one, so I made it my goal to get one by the end of 2012. 

While the instructors and Mick Doyle's are awesome, they were all blue belts themselves, and the gym was in need of a higher level instructor. Mick's previous instructor, Louis Togno, a black belt out of North Carolina, had been tragically killed in a car wreck. Cleverson Silva, took over as the gym's black belt for a while, but ended up going back to Brazil. Greg Nelson was likely going to fill the void, but was a bit too busy training his UFC fighters. Then the UFC came to Omaha and brought Bob Bass and one of his fighters, Sean Loeffler, who was going to be featured on the card. Mick was kind enough to open up his gym for them to train the week of the fight, and like he does so well, struck up a friendship with Bob. 

Bob Bass started learning Jiu Jitsu under the Machado Brothers. For those unfamiliar with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, this is like saying he studied politics under George Washington. The Gracies and the Machados are the reason we even know what Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is in the United States and Bob was there on the ground level. Bob went on to win world championships, train Chuck Norris, and eventually become the first American to ever earn a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and he's now the black belt for our team. He was in town this weekend (he's got his own gym in California) so I was able to have a private session with him on Saturday, and on Sunday he taught a 4 hour seminar. By the end of the seminar, I was exhausted, bruised, and completely soaked through my gi in sweat, but Bob was watching, and at the end of the seminar, he felt that I, and 2 others, deserved to be promoted.

While this is a great honor for me, and the culmination of a lot of hard work, it's really just the beginning. With my blue belt, I'm still a baby in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, but at this point I've been mostly potty trained. As a white belt, you're really just "dating" the martial art. There's no commitment. You can leave when you want without much after thought. A blue belt is a wedding ring and with it comes a lot of commitment, hard work, and extra responsibility.  

I look forward to the challenge, and to working my way towards number 8 on my list, which is to earn a purple belt.

Monday, May 21, 2012

I built a smoker

I've had a rabid craving for BBQ lately and was reading on the internets how to make a smoker out of a couple clay planting pots. Since I didn't want to spend 30 bucks on those on top of all the other supplies, and I had a brick planter in the back that wasn't being used, I decided to use that instead.

This is the planter box that I converted.

The bottom wasn't level so I filled it in with some Quickcrete.

I stacked some bricks to make a stand for the grill. The hotplate in the bottom heats the chamber and burns the wood. This setup didn't work, though. The hot plate has a thermostat and turns itself off before the chamber could get warm enough.

I knocked out half a brick to get ventilation and to get the power plug out.

I bought a concrete paving stone to use as a cover and drilled a hole for the thermometer. The thermometer setup didn't wrk though, as not enough of the rod from the thermometer was exposed and I wasn't getting accurate heat readings.

I ended up rigging the hot plate with jump wires so that the heating element was inside the chamber but the unit with the thermostat was outside the chamber. This also made changing the temperature easier.

I bought a small cast iron skillet at Walmart to hold the wood chips and a pork roast at Hy-vee for a first try.

I added a drip pan to help keep the inside of the chamber clean, and put the skillet on the hot plate.

Then I covered it up and let it smoke. 

Almost up to temperature.

Molly giving me advice on how to cook the meat.

All in all, this is about what I spent on the whole project.

$16 Hot plate (but it has a $3 mail in rebate.)
$2  Concrete paving stone
$3 Quickcrete
$10 Cast Iron Skillet
$4 Jumper wire and spade connectors

The primary problem we ran into was that it took a lot longer to cook than anticipated. I read online to cook it at 220 for 1.5 hours per pound. This didn't even come close to being done. After 5 hours the 2-pound roast still wasn't finished and since we had started it at 5:00 pm (later than I wanted too, but the soonest we could get to it) we eventually had to pull it out and finish it in the crockpot. Next time I'm going to start it earlier, and cook it a little hotter. In the end though, it was actually pretty delicious.

 Done. Finally.

Also, next time around I'm going to use wood chunks instead of wood chips. I have to turn the hot plate up so high to heat the chamber that the chips get burnt up after about 45 minutes. I had to add chips 5 times and had to soak the last 4 batches of chips to make them last longer. Of course every time I opened the top I'd lose a bunch of heat which probably accounted for the extra long cook time. This is design flaw that a professional smoker wouldn't have, but have you priced those things? I'll just be patient.

Monday, March 26, 2012


As I sat in the theater yesterday watching The Hunger Games, I was reminded how much I love a good story. As I was walking out of the theater after the movie was finished, I had an strong sense of longing. I wanted to re-live the time, before I read the books, so that I could experience reading the story again for the first time. If you’ve seen the movie and haven’t read the books, you should. The story only gets better in "Catching Fire" and "Mockingjay."

Another reason I felt longing though was that I want my life to be a good story. I would say I had a great story going several years ago, but if you were reading my story over the last 2 years, you’d probably be skipping pages out of boredom. It’s time this changed, and I’m making it my mission.

On the bright side, someday I'll long for these days back so I can re-live reading my own story again for the first time. Book one is drawing to a close. Books two and three will blow you away.

“You will not be measured by the easy decisions you make, but instead by the most challenging ones.” – Martin Rooney

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Success by the Numbers

Just a note before I write, this blog is more or less an advice column to myself. Not that many people read my blog as it is, but I don't want the ones that do to think I've got it all figured out and I'm trying to give them advice. This is all just me trying to figure out my own mind and figure out ways to motivate myself and accomplish things. If you get something out of it, that's great. If you think I'm kinda crazy, you're probably right.

A while back I read a great post by Derek Sivers, one of my favorite entrepreneurs/bloggers. It only takes about 2 minutes to read and you can find it here. In it, he talks about how a great idea is worthless unless it has great execution. While it all made sense, I really wasn’t sure how to achieve great execution (and therefore success). After some thought, I came up with a formula.
x  = W(a^p)
x = execution
W = hard work
a = ability
p = performance
(For this who haven't done math for a while, the ^ stands for "to the power of" so the formula reads:
execution equals hard work multiplied by (ability to the power of performance)

As it happens with most people when they age, I'm starting to understand a lot of the misconceptions I had when I was younger. The longer I’m alive, the more I realize that achieving anything worthwhile takes a lot of hard work, and herein lies one of my biggest misconceptions.

For the longest time I thought I knew what hard work was. As a child, I watched The Karate Kid and was highly influenced by the montage, where in the course of a week, Ralph Macchio went from being a weakling to being a karate king that could take out all the black belts at the tournament. When I started Judo in 2nd grade, I thought the same would be true for me and in no time, I'd be kicking Eric Headley's butt (the bully next door). That didn't happen, and after about 2 months, I quit Judo. Now that I've seriously taken up martial arts again at the age of 30, I really wish I would have stuck with it when I was a kid (and I wish I wouldn't have quit wrestling as well).

Now 30 years old I (finally) understand that hard work must be carried out consistently over a long period of time to accomplish anything worthwhile. I was and am the king of working on something furiously for a week and then losing interest. This pretty much accomplishes nothing but frustration.  

Looking back at the formula though, hard work is only part of the puzzle, and its not even the most important part. Performance is all anyone really cares about. It doesn’t matter how hard you study if you can’t perform well on the test. It doesn’t matter how hard you practice unless you can perform well in front of people or in a stressful situation. Performance is what makes your hard work tangible.

In all reality though, there is another factor that weighs in and that is of personal ability. Your performance in any given subject is only going to be as good as your natural abilities allow you to be. This is not to say that if you are not immediately good at something, you should quit, but on the other hand it does mean there will be certain things you just weren’t made to do (there’s no amount of hard work that could bring my basketball performance level up high enough to compete in the NBA). Some things really are just out of our grasp. While some would consider this a negative point of view, I feel it’s the opposite. Knowing that I’m never going to play in the NBA, fly an F-35, or be a famous actor allows me to seek out and focus on the things I can be, rather than pout about what I cannot.

So if this post wasn't nerdy enough, let's plug some numbers into the formula. I would suggest grading yourself on a -5 to 5 scale. The following examples are hypothetical, but feel free to think about some things in your life that you're trying to accomplish, honestly grade yourself in each area, and plug in the numbers. Then change some of the numbers. What if you worked a little harder? What if you performed a little better? What if you started working on something new that's well within your abilities rather than grinding away at something that isn't? I personally think the magic number to hit is 100 and the higher you can go, the better. So what do you need to do to get there?

Let’s say I decide today that I want to play in the NBA and I practice 8 hours a day for the next year. Will it happen?
Hard Work (W) = 5
Performance (p) = 3
Ability (a) = -3
5(-3^3) =  -135 (not likely)
Let’s say I practice guitar really hard in my bedroom and I'm a naturally talented musician, but I’m terrified to play in front of people.
W = 5
p = -3
a = 5
5(5^-3) =  .04 (not likely)
Same example as above but I'm not terrified of performing, I’m just not really that great in front of a crowd.
W = 5
p = 1
a = 5
5(5^1) =  25 (better but not likely)
Same example again, but I work really hard on my performance skills and get a lot better on stage.
W = 5
p = 3
a = 5
5(5^3) =  625 (looking good)
Let’s say I’m an intelligent person and I study real hard and ace the Bar Exam.
W = 5
p = 5
a = 5
5(5^5) =  15,625 (very likely)

Obviously, there are a lot more factors that go into truly being successful, but I think this is a good base model, and it's a model I plan to use to help decide whether or not to start a new project, figure out what's holding up a current project, and even as a basis for when to quit a project. I'm sure I'll let you know how it works out.

PS One of the projects that I ran the numbers on and have chosen to take up is computer programming, thus the fancy colored numbers and letters above. Just practicing a bit :)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


I think I may have found a formula for success.

x = W(a^p)

I'm going to ponder it a bit longer and then write an explanation if I still think it adds up.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

2011 in review

I was looking back at my 2011 “New Year’s” post where I said one of my resolutions was to read less and do more. If 2011 embodied anything, it was this resolution. I mostly kept my word and only read 14 books (about half what I normally read in a year). Some were really short, some were long, some were re-reads, and most of them were fiction (which I’m going to be reading more of from now on). In the end though, it wasn’t really the number of books read that I’m proud of, but what I was able to do with the time I found cutting out things that weren't important to me.

I mentioned in last year’s post that I wanted to spend more time learning music theory and playing piano, and I tried, but it just didn’t stick. I haven’t been playing music all that much lately, and frankly, I don’t really miss it. I tend to go through seasons in my life, and I’m sure I’ll swing back around to music eventually, but right now there are things that are more important to me. If I took just one thing away from 2011, it would be to focus on what’s important and not to bother with the rest. From here it was just a matter of finding what was important.

I realized towards the end of 2010 that a big reason I was unhappy was that I was getting fat. I left for college 10 years earlier at about 175, and hit about 185 after my first year. Ever since my weight has been gradually increasing.On January 9th, the day of my 29th birthday, I was at 210.5 pounds. I realized that day that this is not how I pictured myself at 30, and I knew I only had a year to get myself up to par. I ended up finding “The Four Hour Body” and followed its lessons exactly. Thanks to the book, I lost 30 pounds in 6 weeks.

That was only the beginning of the journey though. Once I was skinny again, I realized I still wasn’t in shape, so I started going back to the gym. Unfortunately, the gym I was going to sucked, and I wasn’t getting anywhere. On the advice of a friend I signed up for 10 training sessions at a kickboxing gym called “Mick Doyle’s,” and that’s where things got really interesting. I signed up simply because I was told it would be the hardest workout I’d ever have. What I got was a whole lot more. I soon found out that paying for my training sessions got me full access to any of the martial arts classes taught there. After a couple sessions with my trainer I was brave enough to venture into both the Muay Thai and Jiu Jitsu classes. The classes were great and I soon found myself obsessing about Jiu Jitsu (and coming home covered with bruises in the body hardening phase). With help from my trainer I started following another nutrition plan and adding prescribed weight lifting programs to my regimen. The results have been great. I turned 30 a week ago and I’ve never been in such great shape.

Getting stuff done didn’t stop with fitness though. After some remodeling work in the basement of my house I realized that made financial sense to finish the work with renters in mind rather than myself in mind, and this lead me to start looking for other houses. We found one in October and moved over New Year’s weekend 2011/2012. Now we just need to get renters lined up… (New house pictures in the post below this one.)

I also realized towards the end of the year that I wasn’t happy with my current position at work and switched to something that I’m much more satisfied with.

2011 also had a couple firsts for me.

We went to my first NFL game.

I competed in my first Jiu Jitsu competition and took home a bronze metal.

We went to Vegas for the first time.

I got my first real black eye.

I would say that overall, I’m pretty satisfied with 2011. I took some big steps in the right direction, took some risks, had some fun, and I’m looking forward to it again this year. 2011 obviously wasn’t without it’s mistakes, but if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not trying. I’m not afraid of mistakes and look forward to learning from many more of them in 2012.

I’ve set some new goals for myself this year in several areas of my life. Some are big and some are small. I actually achieved one goal already this week at the gym by going 1000 feet non-stop on the versa climber, another thing I’d never done before (but in all honestly have never tried). Apparently I could have set that one a bit steeper. Regardless, here’s to 2012.

Focus on what’s important. Forget the rest.