One Continuing Step for Mankind

When I was a kid, I was part of the Star Trek generation. Well, actually the generation that saw “Star Trek, The Original Series”, really take off in its first set of reruns in the early 1970’s. I remember thinking, in the early 1970’s just how far away the year 2000 was and thinking “Wow, I’ll be 36 years old in 2000. That’s old. And we’ll have starships like the Enterprise then”.

enterpriseIt was September 17, 1976 when OV-101, the Space Shuttle Enterprise was rolled out by NASA. How cool was it that the first test shuttle off the line was named after the Enterprise? Pretty cool for me. This Enterprise never went into space. She was only used for the original glide testing. She was a pioneer, nonetheless.

My love for science fiction never waned over the years. I like it all. All of the Start Treks, Star Wars, Stargates, Battlestar Galacticas, and Firefly. The idea of traveling the galaxy is so appealing that I can’t help but getting sucked into it.

It’s 2014 and NASA’s Space Shuttle program has been mothballed, retired, whatever you want to call it. I was wounded when it happened and we didn’t have a replacement. But one thing that is happening that is interesting and exciting is that guys like Richard Branson and Elon Musk are using their billions to continue to push space exploration. I read this article by Richard Branson today and it excited me all over again. If it can be done, these guys will do it. If I had to do it all over again, I’d work hard to get a job with Virgin Galactic or SpaceX so that I could be a part of this amazing space adventure.

I have to admit, I am a little concerned about the commercialization of space travel. I am afraid that the first viable space travel for the common folk will be a doubledecker tour bus that shoots out around the moon and back. “Coming up on the left is the Sea of Tranquility and ahead we’ll see the construction beginning on the new George Jetson Space Burger  Fly-In Restaurant, which will be run by McDonald’s”. There are a lot of examples of big business ruining cool things.

bransonmuskRegardless of how it turns out, and I imagine it’ll be after I have moved on to a different and more final frontier, the idea of space travel will continue to enthrall and inspire the young and old. The idea that billionaires are using their billions to foster a spirit of exploration is one of the most inspiring things to me. Elon Musk inspires me daily with the projects he takes on. Each cooler than the next, and each seeking to make the world a better and more sustainable place. I like to think that when I make my billions, this is how I will choose to spend them too.

In the article, Richard Branson says “This inquisitiveness is a healthy thing, and leads to new innovations. Only through exploration of the unknown can we continue to grow and evolve.”

I hope that generations in the future, when space travel is viable, whoever is in charge of naming starships remembers to name one the USS Elon Musk and another the USS Richard Branson to acknowledge their contributions to space travel. They are true pioneers that keep reaching for things that are well beyond their grasp. Go big or stay home, right? That is incredibly inspiring to me. I wonder what their parents did to encourage them. Find your inspiration, and inspire others, particularly your kids.

A Different Kind Of Christmas

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” the old song says. It is funny, but when you are out shopping, it certainly doesn’t seem like it. “So, don’t wait until the 23rd,” I can hear you saying. I didn’t. I went out on the 22nd this year. I am not sure why, I just noticed A LOT of really stressed out people. There was one woman in Penney’s who looked like she hadn’t slept in a month, on the verge of tears, loudly telling someone on the the other end of the phone, “I just hate Christmas”.

I’m often that guy. The consumerism of the season completely overwhelms me, and I forget that there is a lot of happiness and joy to be found in the magic of Christmas. My own son is nearing his 22nd birthday. There isn’t excitement about presents and waking up early and putting out cookies and carrots for our midnight visitors. I do, however, have lots of little nieces and nephews that I can live the joy through, if I look.

As I type, I am watching a news TV show that just announced that Kohl’s had been over for over 100 straight hours. There was all sorts of hullabaloo when the Galleria Mall in Buffalo announced it would be open on Thanksgiving Day, and it leaked that the mall would fine stores that did not open that day. It’s easy to get lost in the bad parts of Christmas, and it’s often difficult to find the joy through all of the noise.

Christmas 2104 3

Presents for the family we adopted.

This year, we tried something different and it helped revive the season for me. There is a strong belief in our family that we are very fortunate in life. We survived some really bad things in life, and even in the past 5-6 years when the economy left some casualties in the form of people losing jobs or being economically ruined, we were spared all of that.

Each year, my wife Linda volunteers through her company at St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy, a local mission that serves the abject poor and the homeless. Each year our family also participates in a gift exchange. We are a large and close family, so it would be impossible to buy for everyone. A gift exchange makes sense.

After her volunteer experience this year, Linda came home and suggested that maybe, for this year, instead of buying gifts for each other, we all take the money we would normally spend on each other and adopt a family in need this year. So, we did. We adopted a family of seven, and spent all of the money we would have spent on gifts for each other on presents for them. They provided a list of things they wanted and the list was filled with things like bedding and socks. I was touched by the self-awareness and humility in that. The shoppers in our group, of course, bought all of those things, but also found some room in the budget for some toys for the kids.

Christmas caroling at a nursing home.

Christmas caroling at a nursing home.

Another Christmas tradition for us, it’s been probably 10-15 years, is that we rent a limo bus, and we go Christmas Caroling. We start the evening by going to nursing homes where our family members are now living and it brings such enormous joy to the residents of the facilities. There have been people we’ve visited over the years who could not remember the names of their loved ones, or who don’t talk much at all, but who could remember the words of the carols and sing along. There has not been a year, in all of them, that I have not gotten choked up at the reaction of people to such a little thing on our part. All of the musicians in the family bring their instruments and play along. It’s awesome.

Life is full of people worse off than we are. This experiment we tried this year was filled with a double positive. It gave joy to someone, who without us, might not have had a Merry Christmas. For us it added joy, knowing that we made the world a little bit better place. We have everything we need. We have roofs over our heads, cars in our driveways, and food on our tables. We’ve got a family that is filled with love and generosity, and I know that I am proud to be a part of it.

One of the reasons that our family is in a spirit of giving is that the older generations TAUGHT us to give of ourselves. They taught us that the world doesn’t center around us. They taught us that we should be grateful for what we have, because things could always be way worse than they are. We’ve lived through some of those worse times. You have to teach younger generations the importance of generosity and community service. I truly believe it is so important to give of yourself to lead a happy life. I think it is so important, I included an entire chapter on it in my book.

Tonight, we’ll gather as a family, we’ll pray, and we’ll break bread. And that is all of the gift I need for the season. The gift of family and of love. I hope it is the same for you.

What tradition could you add to make generosity and service a part of your family holiday traditions?

Thoughts From Under a Glacier

Alright, so “under a glacier” might be a bit of an exaggeration, but I live just outside of Buffalo, NY. And by just outside, I mean in the area that you’ve seen on the news over the past few days. I’ve lived here my whole life, and this was a granddaddy of storms. In the whole of my 50 years, I’ve only seen a few like it. The storm set up because Lake Erie was a lot warmer, 24 degrees warmer at the storm’s start, than the air rolling over the top of it. That causes some weather magic that results in a year’s worth of snow in 4 days. Abracadabra, just like that.

A view up the driveway at the cars.

A view up the driveway at the cars.

It’s been a hard 5 days. Over the duration of the storm we got 84″ of snow and four days off of work. Well, if you consider shoveling for 5-8 hours a day “days off of work”. As usual, when one of these big weather events happen, we got some sore muscles, some good stories, and some great bonding time. All of that is kind of priceless, if you ask me.

Some of the shoveling time we spent together, and other times we worked in shifts. One of the things I like about these storms is that, at times, there is a certain amount of solitude. And, for me, that leaves me alone with my thoughts…..and that’s dangerous for everyone involved. I came up with 3-5 new business ideas (my wife is thrilled) and I got to think about the different things I know or I learn in these situations. Here’s 10 things I learned or was reminded of over the last few days. You know how I love 10 Things.

1. Things don’t always go as planned – I was not even believing we would have a snow day when the whole thing started. It’s Buffalo. It’s before Thanksgiving. No way. I didn’t take much home. I grabbed one small project to work on, but wasn’t believing it would happen. Every day as I moved more and more snow, it seemed like it would never end. Also, that small project I brought home? Hahahahaha. Yeah, right. I shoveled and shoveled and shoveled and then I sat still, very, very still to avoid pain, sharing pictures of Mother Nature’s handy work on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

2. Panic, as a rule, is a bad way to manage situations – The snow started on Monday night. I actually went out and shoveled the 6 or so inches before I went to bed. Tuesday was a different story. I woke to a robo call from work saying that we were closed, so I rolled back over until it got light out. When I opened my eyes there was snow up over the bottom of the bedroom window. Throughout the day, snow built up around the bottom of all the windows. A huge drift started to hang off the front of the house and over the front door, as the non-stop snow continued to fall. As the day wore on, it got darker and darker in the house, and I felt myself getting panicky. I don’t panic about these things, but I felt my heart racing and my breathing getting shorter and my thoughts becoming disjointed. “What if the drift falls and traps us in here?” and “What if the power goes out?” and more. All of this was fed by the continued forecasts that called for three solid days of snow. I ended up recognizing what was happening and took time to reconnect with the present moment through some techniques I learned from Dr. Frank Wood and his “Thriving With Stressprogram, and Kate Sciandra over at The Healing Presence . Once I was able to stem the panicky feelings, I was able to formulate and work a plan.

Digging out the furnace vents.

Digging out the furnace vents.

3. Know Things – I am a learner of stuff. Doesn’t even have to be important stuff, but sometimes it is. In this case it was very important. Coming in from shoveling, I smelled gas. I figured Linda had started the stove and cooked something. Didn’t think about it again. Later Linda came in from shoveling and smelled it too. Light bulb went off. A couple of years ago we had a high efficiency furnace installed. It vents through the wall of the house, not through the chimney. The snow was so high it covered the vents. The exhaust was blowing back into the house. That could have been tragic. I’d have been really mad if we died. Take a few minutes to learn how your critical systems work at home, and at work. Furnaces, shut off valves, hot water heaters, main circuit breakers are all pretty easy and a little knowledge can be a life saver.

4. Sometimes you have to take little bites – The ground was warm when the snow started to fall. So the bottom snow melted while lots more fell on top. It made the bottom heavy. Also, there was so much snow that fell that the piles were really high on the sides of the driveway. So, in order to actually get the job done, I had to maintain my strength, and that meant I had to pace myself. Small shovelfuls that I could toss them as far as I could so that the piles didn’t get so high I couldn’t throw over the top. This is a true story. Shoveling strategy is a real deal.

One step at a time. We didn't get to the street for hours.

One step at a time. We didn’t get to the street for hours.

5. Nature is beautiful, even when she is kicking your butt – The pictures won’t do it justice. When I woke on Wednesday morning, still tired and very sore, I looked out at the sunrise. Everything was covered in a pristine coating of new snow. Spectacular. The air was crisp. It was breathtakingly beautiful. Even as I continued shoveling…slowly…I was invigorated by it. It was truly awesome.

6. Might as well laugh – Seriously, what good would moping around do? We still had to dig out. So, on the day that I broke everything I touched (I did. I broke a plumbing pipe, a window, and the skin around my thumb), and my wife spilled her coffee and drop her eggs on the floor at breakfast (that was funny for everyone, except the puggle named Moxy, who believed she won the doggy lottery) we laughed a lot and moped very little. Maintaining your sense of humor is key. Don’t get me wrong there was the very occasional mini pity party. Life is what you make of it. We chose to make smiles, even in a challenging time.

7. You might have to be creative – When you no longer have access to grocery stores and hardware stores and your desk at work, you may have to get a little MacGyvery about things. If we had gone one more day without being able to get to a store, our next meal would have, as my friend, Lisabeth Pieters, said, “Another few days of this and the meals around here will be out of an episode of “Chopped”! We were feeling the same thing. What can you make for dinner out of vanilla pudding, Frank’s Red Hot Sauce, stale Triscuits, a jar of pimentos and 3 cans of baked beans? Thankfully, we didn’t have to try.

8. You’ve usually got more in you than you think – This is one of the lessons I learn every single time one of these storms happen. (Yes, lucky me, I live in a place that every 3-5 years provides me with this valuable lesson.) An hour or two into shoveling on day number two, I was content with the idea that this was it. I was going to go back in the house and give up on all it. Snow would cover my house and people would wonder where I disappeared to. And yet, I didn’t. Each little goal was realized, we were invigorated with the reaching of goals, and slowly but surely we were dug out. Then we found the energy in ourselves and went and helped others get free. I’m still a little sore. Turns out I have 467 muscle groups I don’t use regularly enough to know I have them. To stick with the snow shoveling analogy, dig deep. It’s down there.

Help has arrived.

Help has arrived.

9. We get by with a little help from our friends – Thank you Ringo Starr for pointing out this essential truth. In my book, I talk about how important our relationships are in our lives. Sadly, sometimes it takes us an epic event – a wedding, a funeral, a bad ass snowstorm – to see it. We would still be trapped if my brother-in-law didn’t brave the weather and drag his snow blower over here. Who in your life would do that for you, and who would you do it for? Those are the people who are most important to you. Make sure you take care of those relationships.

10. Why does it take an epic event for kindness to overflow? – There are events in our lives that everyone remembers where they were when they happened. President Kennedy’s assassination, landing on the moon, the Space Shuttle disasters, and of course 9/11. After these events, and huge storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and forest fires, we forget our divisions, we put aside selfishness, we open ourselves to our neighbors, to comfort them, or to roll up our sleeves and help each other out. In those moments, our politics or our other divisions (I’m looking at you New England Patriots fans) don’t matter and we work together to make sure everyone has what they need to get through. We clean up, dig out, or share a plug on our generator. It is amazing, and sadly short lived. One of the unexpected things about weekdays off is that I sometimes get to see the Ellen Degeneres Show, and I really love that she ends every show with “Be kind to one another”. How can we harness that camaraderie and feeling of kindness everyday, and not just in times of trouble?

The view across the street to my neighbor's house.

The view across the street to my neighbor’s house.

As I said at the beginning, I’ve lived in Buffalo my whole life. It’s a rust belt town that has had its share of good days and bad. We get these storms. It’s part of the price for living here. We don’t get tsunamis, mudslides, wild fires, or hurricanes, but, man, do we get some snow. When we do, we band together, we use our muscles, we share our food, we take shifts staying awake and paying attention to generators or sump pumps. We hop on snow mobiles and go get medication for people who can’t do it themselves. We help out friends, and we help out strangers.

When the comes to bad situations, there is no place I’d rather live than Buffalo. It reminds me of what good things can happen when people work together.

Thanks to all of you who checked on us frequently, commented on my silly posts, and shared all of the pictures. I’m happy to have you in our circle of friends.

Want to see the pictures? They are all on my Instagram page. Enjoy.




When Inspiration Hits, Take Advantage

bloomsburyshelfIt was a good week for the “10 Things We Should Teach You In High School and Usually Don’t” book. We picked up three retail locations, and our first book signing. You can get your copy at Bloomsbury Lane Toy Shoppe and Books in Lancaster, NY in the east. On the west coast you can get copies at both the Ballard and Greenwood locations of Sip-N-Ship in Seattle, Washington. I am talking to two other bookstores in the Buffalo area and hope to have some more retail locations soon.

I’ll also be signing copies at Bloomsbury Lane at 1. W. Main Street in Lancaster on “Small Business Saturday”, November 29, from 11 am- 1 pm. 

I’m not sure why, perhaps it is because I often think about the things I am thankful for during this time of year, but this week I was thinking about what it was that inspired me to write “10 Things We Should Teach You In High School and Usually Don’t”. The truth is, it was kind of the perfect storm of events that inspired me.

It was February of 2012. I had just read two different books that really inspired me. Carrie Wilkerson’s “The Barefoot Executive” and Brendon Burchard’s “The Millionaire Messenger”. Reading those two was absolutely the tipping point for me.
Here’s a picture of my two copies. burchardwilkersonbooksYou can see they are dog earred and filled with Post-it tags. I still look back to both of them for inspiration or for ideas for lessons for my students. Generally, books that I love are very well used. I get my money’s worth.

I read Brendon’s book first and I found the most important inspiration right on page one. (That, by the way, is awesome. There is no better hook than having a huge pearl right up front.) Brendon says “You are here to make a difference in this world, and the best way to do that is to use your knowledge and expertise (on any topic, in any industry) to help others succeed.”

That quote sums up my entire career. I am a teacher, at a Catholic high school. I certainly didn’t do it for the money. I do it everyday, because I think that sharing with my students the lessons that I learned is a good way to pay forward my gratitude for all of the successes I have had in life. I like to help people find the things they need to succeed. No matter where my career takes me from here, I know that I will always be teaching in some capacity. Brendon nailed it….”use your knowledge and expertise to help others succeed.” I thought to myself, “I can do that”.

Carrie Wilkerson’s book inspired me through her style. Her easy does it, laid back approach to writing was exactly what I needed. I absolutely knew that I couldn’t write in the stodgy, expert style that so many books are written in. It was intimidating. Carrie, however, wrote in a style that screamed “I work from home in my bare feet”. As a life long Jimmy Buffett fan, I really appreciate…nay….yearn for the barefoot lifestyle. I definitely thought I might have a chance at writing in the easy does it, laid back style that Carrie writes in. I think I did OK in that regard. Don’t get me wrong, there are so many other nuggets of wisdom in this book. The worth goes well beyond her writing style. Very worth the read if you want to be your own boss.

Both books taught me the importance of good titles. That is for certain. I bought Brendon’s on the recommendation of a good friend. I bought Carrie’s because I looked at the title and said, “Oh yeah. That’s the life I want.”

I’m a fan of mentoring and having mentors. I consider both Carrie Wilkerson and Brendon Burchard to be mentors even though I’ve never met either of them. Mentoring doesn’t have to be face to face. You can be mentored through a book or social media or a video series.

The third inspiration came in the form of a leadership conference for school that, at the beginning, was the worst professional development I had ever attended. I was anywhere but mentally present at that conference. It was mostly for elementary school teachers. After lunch, however, they took the handful of high school teachers and put us in a room with some college professors who asked “What do you want to learn today?” I said, “What are our kids lacking when they get to you?” Without a moment of hesitation they said “writing, skills, time management, independence, and critical thinking skills”. I remember walking out of that session and thinking “I wonder what else these kids need to be successful in life”.

So, in February of 2012, looking only to cross “write a book” off of my bucket list, I outlined “10 Things We Should Teach You In High School and Usually Don’t”. Now it is on the shelves in several book stores and available through Amazon. I’ll consider that a success. I’ve always got my eyes open for things that inspire me. Books, movies, walks in the park, people I meet. Inspiration comes in strange places and often when you least expect it. Make sure that you keep your eyes and your heart open to whatever inspiration may come knocking.

What unexpected thing inspired you to do something you are proud of? Share some inspiration below.


Some of the links in the above article are affiliate links. I receive a small commission if you purchase the book or product through these links. I, however, would never recommend a book or product I haven’t read or used, or don’t think you will find value in.



They Say Frat House Like It’s a Bad Place to Live

It was 2011 when Dartmouth College professor, Charles Wheelan, was asked to speak at the college’s annual Class Day. His speech “10-1/2  Things No Commencement Speaker Has Ever Said” was later turned into a book, because of all of its wit and wisdom. The number one thing that Wheelan insists no commencement speaker ever said is “Your time in fraternity basements was well spent”.

Delta SigsThis past weekend I had a really great weekend. I took a trip back to my college, Wittenberg University, to spend a few days with my brothers from the Delta Sigma Phi Fraternity. 36 brothers that I went to school with attended, and then other brothers from various years stopped by, as well. Also fun, was that many of the current active brothers attended, and were very interested in our traditions and the memories of our times spent in the Delta Sig House.

Right before I left for Wittenberg, I had been contacted by a professional group for college admissions counselors about speaking at a professional development event they are having. I had no idea what I would speak to them about. As I made the 6 hour ride home, however, with a smile on my face the whole way, I realized that I had a great speech for that group, because I learned some of my most important life lessons by being a member of a fraternity.

I went to college in the early to mid 1980’s. It may have been a hey day for fraternity life, with the movie “Animal House” enjoying a pretty solid cult following. And while we may have participated in one or two of the activities from the movie, there was a lot more to fraternity life than Toga parties and drinking games, well, at least in retrospect.

Front porch Sig HouseBack in those golden days of Greek life on American college campuses, fraternity houses were designed to hold a lot of guys. If memory serves me, the Delta Sig House was set up for about 25 guys to live in. That’s a lot of testosterone in one dwelling. I didn’t always like every single guy who wore a Sig shirt, and I am sure not every one of them liked me, but we did co-exist, and we did share a bond, and in the end, that meant something, even between the guys who may not call each other best friends. Every day was an experience and my time spent there was full of life lessons.

Here’s a short list of the most important things I learned living in a fraternity house.

1. If you want to eat, be on time and eat fast – In retrospect, one of the best things about the fraternity house experience was that we ate together every day. We had a cook, Jack Lattimore. A Vietnam vet who loved us all like we were his own kids. We had a dining room with 6 or 8 tables and even brothers who didn’t live in the house could participate in the meal program. So, dinner was served at a certain time every day, and we all sat down together and ate. You often hear in parenting circles how important meal time is. The Delta Sig house was no exception. We talked about stuff that was going on, shared our successes, asked for assistance, planned the next party, and razzed each other. There was generally 36 guys and 39 chicken patties, so if you wanted to eat, you arrived on time and you ate fast, but like a family meal, dinner time was essential to building the bond of brother hood.

2. In order to be a leader, you only have to step up – there were so many opportunities for leadership, you couldn’t walk by without tripping over one. There was, of course, the executive board of the house – President, Vice President, Treasurer, Recruitment, House Manager etc. But there were a lot of informal roles too. We were constantly involved in things. Intramural sports, Homecoming float building, Greek Week activities, etc. The house needed to be maintained, parties needed to be planned and marketed, pledges needed to be recruited. So many possibilities, and they addressed so many of our interests and talents. I was trying to figure out my life back then, and I wrote the “Pyramid” for a time, which was the fraternity’s newsletter. One of the early times I discovered my love of writing. That has paid off well for me over the years.

3. A little ingenuity and self-reliance can carry you a long way – We lived in an old house. We didn’t have a ton of money. None of our fathers lived there with us. I learned some of my best MacGyver lessons trying to keep things going with limited resources while living in a fraternity house. If it broke, we fixed it, with whatever happened to be around. I’m sure not every solution would pass a fire/building code review, but hey, we all lived to tell about it, right? No harm, no foul.

Pledge Class4. Who you surround yourself with matters – Look at good, successful people. Now look at the people they surround themselves with. Good people travel in packs. When I get together at these reunions, I am so happy to see my brothers. They are all wildly successful. I lived with guys in that house who now own their own businesses, who are lawyers, doctors, CEOs, PhDs, and more. We were successful in college, being at the top of the GPA scale every term, winning interfraternity sports leagues and the annual Greek Games. Good people push those around them to higher levels. We were a prime example of that back then, and it has paid great dividends now. If you aren’t as successful as you’d like to be, look at who you are surrounded by. Are they challenging you, and are you returning the favor?

Fraternities aren’t what they used to be, for a lot of reasons. Alcohol and hazing, being near the top of the list of things that colleges target. With the popularity of video games, and the internet culture, college men, for no reason I can fathom, would rather sit in their dorm rooms and game than getting out and getting involved. (My sadness regarding this trend could fill a post all by itself) Lets just say that if you are in a position to influence young men and women. Push them towards engaging in groups in high school and college. This is the beginnings of their life long network. In that same first chapter of his book, Wheelan discusses a study which found that “joining a group that meets just once a month has the same effect on your sense of well-being as doubling your income“.

Depending on who you are, either high school or college have a strong chance of being among the best four years of your life. Because of the guys and girls I hung out with at the Delta Sig house, and the lessons I learned, college was mine.

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Some of the links in the above article are affiliate links. I receive a small commission if you purchase the book or product through these links. I, however, would never recommend a book or product I haven’t read or used, or don’t think you will find value in.