Friday, July 25, 2014

Papa Joe

I've always wondered why I can't just be content with my job. By all standard measures I've got a great one. I make good pay, receive great benefits, and have a good boss. So why am I so unhappy with it? I used to think something was wrong with me and I should suck it up, but after last weekend, I finally understand my problem.

My grandpa was an Air Force pilot. 
This is the type of jet he flew.

Last weekend I had the opportunity to see it in action for the first time in my life.

I've always been proud that my grandpa was a pilot, but never knew much about the plane he flew. Witnessing his machine in action for the first time was eye opening to say the least. The F-80 ushered the Air Force into the jet age. It has a top speed of 600 miles per hour, a service ceiling of 41,000 feet, and a range of 1000 miles. Even cooler is that it looks like something out of Star Wars.


While not impressive compared to the super-sonic stealth jets of the modern day, for a short period of time, it was the cream of the crop, and it was my Grandpa's job to bring it back in one piece.

It takes a special type of person to fly a fighter jet. You've got to be quick, you've got to be smart, and you've got to be bold. In the early days, when the technology was new and unproven, you had to be especially bold. Flip through the pages of Grandpa's flight-school yearbook and you'll find notations next to the pilots who were killed in training accidents. There are close to a dozen. The dangers of the job were always present. In the end, it was a technological malfunction that ended Grandpa's flying days. While flying at a high altitude, his oxygen mask failed and rendered him hypoxic. Hypoxia is a condition where the brain is starved of oxygen and cannot function properly. To give you an idea of the effects of hypoxia, watch the following video.

I will admit it's pretty hilarious, but there's a reason pilots go through this training. Imagine trying to drive your car when you're too drunk to successfully identify a playing card. Now imagine trying to fly a jet in the same condition. As the effects took hold, Grandpa's plane began to fall out of the sky. His friend in another jet likely saved his life when he started yelling at him over the radio. It took a bit, but Grandpa regained consciousness, managed to control of his plane, and was able to land it safely. Unfortunately, the hypoxia was severe enough it had lasting effects and his flight career was cut short. Grandma said it was like they had taken away his child.

Last weekend, as I watched the F-80 pilot bank and curve his aircraft, the same kind of aircraft my Grandpa used to pilot when he was my age, I instantly understood my problem. I inherited the blood of a fighter pilot. 

I'll never be an actual fighter pilot. Poor vision nailed that coffin shut for me a long time ago. On the other hand, I know I wasn't made this way by mistake and I've got to do something to fulfill my nature. I'm tired of trying to squelch out things I feel are important in favor of things that are safer or more acceptable. I'm ready for a new challenge. I'm ready for a little danger. I'm ready to dive into something that requires me to be quick, smart, and bold, and I don't think I'll be content until I do so.

I only have a couple regrets in my life. One was that I didn't really get to know Papa Joe. He passed away from cancer when I was young. I remember his chuckle, I remember him grilling steaks, and I remember him taking us to the park in the Monte Carlo, but I don't remember any of his words. I don't remember talking to him. I would love to talk to him as an adult and hear his stories first hand.

I imagine he'd have a lot of good tips for living life as a fighter pilot without a fighter jet.

Thursday, July 17, 2014


Before you play the video below, take a look at the picture and try and guess what this musician sounds like.

Got it figured out? Good. Now play the video, even if only for 30 seconds .

If you're already familiar with Sam Smith, you probably weren't surprised by what you heard, but for those who were not, how did your expectations align with reality?

While he may have done nothing for you, I can honestly say it's been years since an artist has captivated my attention like Sam Smith has. When I first saw his picture on SNL, I assumed I was about to hear a Boy George clone. I had my hand on the track pad ready to skip to the next sketch... but then he opened his mouth and I got chills.

There are plenty of artists out there who sing better than Sam Smith and I could care less about them. Sam Smith is nowhere near my style of music. Why is he so captivating?

I think it's the same reason I'm captivated by Susan Boyle or Paddy & Nico on America's Got Talent. They're unexpected. 

If Usher or Justin Timberlake had been on SNL and sang the same song, I would have skipped ahead. R&B is not my style of music, but Sam Smith was so unexpected, I couldn't look away. Now I listen to his songs whenever they come on the radio. 

It's likely that this was all a well devised marketing scheme. Shock value is nothing new and probably overused to some extent. On the other hand, if a pleasant surprise was enough to get me, a guitarist and metal head of all people, to enjoy R&B, it's capable of anything, and I can use it to my advantage in building my business.

The concept is nothing new, I've just never looked at it this way before.

Thanks Sam.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Wrestling Gators

“I want to get more comfortable being uncomfortable. I want to get more confident being uncertain. I don’t want to shrink back just because something isn't easy. I want to push back, and make more room in the area between I can’t and I can.” - Kristin Armstrong

If you woke up one morning and there was an alligator at your front door, what would you do? 

You might try to shoo it away by yourself, or you might call the Gator Boys, but regardless of the method, priority number one is alligator removal.

I wake up with an alligator at my door every morning. I used to ignore him. I'd busy myself to take my mind off of him, but at the end of the day, there he was, right where I left him, waiting to bite me. 

One day I decided I'd had enough. It was a lot of work, but I wrestled the gator away from my door. The next morning when I woke up, he was there again, so I wrestled him away again. Day after day he showed up and day after day I wrestled him away. Eventually, after enough repetition, I had trained him not to come back. The alligator at my door was my own weight gain. Wrestling him meant eating better. Training him meant establishing good habits. Wrestling the alligator allowed me to lose 30 pounds and I've kept it off for more than 3 years now. 

These days I've got a lot of my alligators trained but new ones still show up every morning. They're the uncomfortable issues I need to address, the important tasks I need to accomplish, the actions that are uncomfortable but stimulate growth. Wrestling alligators is a lot of work, but ignoring them accomplishes nothing. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Sometimes it doesn't work out.

I knew what I wanted to do with my life the day I wrapped my fingers around the neck of a guitar. I was 13, and from that point on, nothing else mattered. School, friends, sports; it all paled in comparison to the feeling I got from running pentatonic scales.

I practiced for 4 or 5 hours a day, sometimes longer. I started my first band when I was 17. We were pretty terrible but managed to get booked for a couple shows. I'll always remember the first time I got paid. We played a show on a farm for $60. I don't remember what I did with the money, but I'll never forget the check as it was placed in my hand. "You're a professional now," she said. 

I didn't put any thought into where I was going to college. All I wanted to do was start a band and tour, and I didn't need a degree to do that. I applied to one school and got accepted. Classes started but I barely paid attention. I was on the hunt for a band. The first group was promising and we won second place in a talent show, but split up after that. The next group was a lot more fun, and we played two gigs, but called it quits when summer break came. The third group was more of the real deal. We played about a dozen shows and even did a little traveling, but that band broke up as well. Then there was The Livingstons.

The idea for the band was sparked while trying to fix an antifreeze leak. Once we started practicing together, we didn't look back. Eventually we signed a management deal, changed our name to Fate of Angels, recorded an album with a Grammy winning producer, played hundreds of shows all over the country, opened for some big name acts, and then after seven years, we broke up. No record deal, no gold records, no money in our pockets.

That was five years ago and I've hardly played guitar since.

Sad story? Maybe. I was depressed for quite a while that it didn't work out the way I wanted. I believed with every fiber that it would, and I was wrong. On the other hand, I knew my chances of succeeding in the music business were slim but chose to go for it anyway, and I'm proud of that. I'm also proud of what we accomplished as a band even though the end results weren't what I hoped for. Those seven years were some of the best in my life.

The odds are always stacked against those who try to achieve greatness. Unfortunately, too many people fail at their first attempt and never try again. I fell into this camp for quite a while but I'm ready to give myself another shot. It's very possible I will fail, but I believe the bigger failure is not trying. 

Like Jared wrote in The Friction, "Throw-downs with this world are never easy to win. Nothing worthwhile in this life has ever been."

Tuesday, July 1, 2014


"It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it." - Warren Buffett
If you need proof of how true this statement can be, take a look at the following headlines and the dates that accompany them...