Free Beer Tomorrow

Have you ever seen Free Beer Tomorrow signs in a bar? I always crack up at these signs. Can you imagine someone falling for the sign and believing they were going to get free beer the next day? When you show up the next day to get your free beer, the sign is still going to read Free Beer Tomorrow.

As it turns out, plenty of people fall for those signs. I have a coworker who is a former bartender, and she swears that she used to get at least one person a week who came looking for the free beer. They were sadly disappointed to realize that the date had changed, but they hadn’t actually arrived in tomorrow.

The truth is, we all fall for this reasoning sometimes. We think if this or that happens, or when the weekend/vacation/bonus check/etc arrives, then I will be happy. Happiness doesn’t work that way, and neither does time.

Sure, we might be happy about time with friends and family or a vacation, but when we believe those things make us happy, we start becoming beholden to the idea that the outside world creates our inner thoughts and feelings. We also believe that another time and place can make us happy even though we never – ever- leave now and today. It’s a trap that can get very sticky quickly.

As you travel across the timeline of life, the dates and times change names, but you never arrive at any. You just pass through them. As you pass through each date and time, you travel in the same vehicle, the moment called now. We only ever exist in now, which happens today, and we can never leave it for another moment.

So here is to not wishing away your time. Enjoy today. Get after it now. It’s all we ever get.

Sinners Like Me

On the day I die, I know where I’m gonna go, Me and Jesus got that part worked out, I’ll wait at the gate ’till his face I see, And stand in a long line of sinners like me, I’ll stand in a long line of sinners like me, I come from a long line of sinners like me, Here’s to a long line of sinner like me, I come from a long line of sinners like me.

From the song Sinners Like Me, Writers: Eric Church, Jeremy Spillman

Tonight I am going to the Eric Church concert. Love EC. My beautiful wife bought us tickets for Christmas. It’s a perfect gift because it is something I will enjoy immensely yet probably wouldn’t go out and buy myself.

So in honor of EC’s music and an important topic, imperfection, I want to tip my hat and give a nod to his song Sinners Like Me. If you ask anyone who knows me, admitting faults hasn’t historically been one of my strong suits. The earlier you met me, the more this was true. The closer you are to me, the more you know it’s true.

I love the quoted line from his song, not necessarily because I agree with his version of judgment day (I have no clue what happens, and I wouldn’t preach to you about that one way or another), but because it paints us all as equals. We all have faults. We all have talents. We do the best we know how to do at the moment, and nobody is perfect. We are perfectly equal in our imperfections, and I think we get along better when we admit it.

I for one need to remember my imperfections. More and more, when I am tempted to be critical, I need to shrug it off and admit, “You know, I make mistakes too.” Humility is a good thing.

I thank my wife, not only for the EC tickets, but for reminding me of my imperfection at times. I like to think I deserve both.

Losing Control, Gaining Gratitude

A Super Bowl champion will be crowned today, and football fans and announcers will talk about how the winning team controlled the line of scrimmage, emotions, and the game. Perhaps the ultimate misnomer will be thrown out: Controlled their own destiny.

I’ve played and coached football, and lived life with what I like to consider a keen eye for observation for 43 years, and the term control should rarely, if ever, be applied to either. Sure, football and life both have elements of command, composure, and overpowering, but control is never complete. It is always limited. It is always conditional. And even when it seems like it is complete, it’s only because we aren’t considering at least a dozen factors we don’t control but are going in our favor at the moment. We have complete control over  nothing in life, and what we believe we control is only by definition, not reality.

What do we completely control? Emotions? Good luck controlling them. We don’t control our emotions any more than we control the weather. If we truly had complete control over our emotions, most of us would exert our control in order never to feel lonely, anxious, sad, or irritated, and yet we do. Emotions come and go. Sometimes they match what we want, sometimes they don’t. We don’t control our emotions, and yet, it’s not a problem.

What do we completely control? Our thoughts? I don’t know about you, but I have doubts, fears, and distracted thoughts all the time. If I controlled my thoughts I would always choose to be focused and confident. If I completely controlled my thoughts, I would control them into inventing a helpful product everyone in the world desired and would purchase for a nice profit, and I’d sit back, cash checks, and write witty blog posts all day. But I don’t control my thoughts, so I go off to work 6 or 7 days a week trying to point in the right direction and influence what I can. We don’t completely control our thoughts, and yet, it’s not a problem.

What do we completely control? Our actions? I will grant this, if it seems like we control anything in life, it’s simple actions that don’t involve interacting with too many other people. We might control little actions like getting dressed and selecting music on an ipod, little things like that, but if you’ve ever been injured or sick, or had a coach or someone else who influenced when, where, and how you conducted your actions, your illusion of control over your physical actions was probably challenged.

I used to take for granted the control I had over walking and standing when and where I wanted, but nerve damage from a back injury destroyed my illusion of control. All of sudden, the control I had over something as simple as standing and coaching on the sideline didn’t seem to be within my control at all. The control I might have been able to claim was only temporary. The weakness in my left leg made me feel quite out of control of my own simple actions, like walking and standing. I came to realize the simple control I used to enjoy was temporary. At best, when our actions match our intentions, I like to think we have perfect influence over actions, but it’s only because other uncontrolled factors are going in our favor. Even when it seems like control, it’s control only by definition, a misleading definition at that. We truly only have influence over our actions, and yet, it’s not a problem.

What do you control in a game or life? No interaction is completely controlled. The world is full of interacting forces/influences every second of every day. If an action or outcome of a play results in what you intended, it doesn’t mean you controlled it. The outcome simply matched your intention. That’s not control, it’s icing on the cake. It’s a bonus. We don’t always get what we want, but it’s great when we do. We don’t control any interaction, and yet it’s not a problem. Our influence is so often enough.

Do not fear this lack of control, indeed, a lack of control is one of the very reasons we compete and take on challenges. There is a reason we don’t compete in activities that have no challenge. For any activity we might be able to control (if control truly existed), there is simply nothing to measure against an opponent to make it fun, challenging, and exciting. Think of some simple actions you are tempted to believe you control. Do you engage in those activities? No. There is a reason we don’t run football plays against air for guaranteed touchdowns every time. The opponent has a purpose. The opponent creates a challenge that we do not control. Competing against an opponent creates an unknown outcome, and that is fun, challenging, and exciting.

It is precisely our lack of control that makes competition and challenge delicious. We don’t compete to control. That would be boring. We compete to influence! We want to feel powerful, and real power doesn’t come from control, it comes from successfully exerting influence over that which we cannot control.

In discovering our true power, influence, we are no longer confused or frustrated about trying to control the uncontrollable. This confusion and frustration that accompanies the illusion of control often leads to the blame game, and we begin to blame anything and everything, including ourselves, for controlling something in a direction we don’t desire.

Influence is incredibly empowering. When it works favorably, it feels like control, because the process matches our intentions, but unlike the illusion of control, it never promises what it can’t deliver. Like a boat in the water, we have some command of the boat, but so does the water. Sometimes it is exerting minimal influence, and sometimes it is exerting its influence with a raging storm. Sometimes our best influence is knowing when battle the storm and when to seek safe harbor.

I jettisoned belief control from my life about a year and half ago, and the difference I feel is impressive. With a clearer understanding of how the world works, I have an emotional freedom that I never expected but always desired. I still screw up and act as if control exists sometimes, but my recovery to clarity is much quicker now.

I think the biggest benefit of influence over control is the gratitude I feel for simple pleasures that I influence but do not control. For example, in the past year, I’ve known two gentlemen under 45 years of age who went to bed believing they were perfectly healthy but died in their sleep.Understanding my lack of control in this process has led to feeling more gratitude for waking up each day and getting another crack at this great life I have been given.

Two months ago, a wheel basically fell off my wife’s car when a strut broke and a cascade of suspension problems occurred. She thought she was in control of that car when it did her bidding, but as it turns out, the car is always under a whole set of influences few of us ever consider. He actual control of the car was the same before and after the wheel fell off, but her sense of control was vastly different, her illusion of control smashed to smithereens after the car crumbled beneath her. Thank goodness the forces of the universe came together to break the car in a parking lot instead of at 75 miles per hour on I75.

So these days, when the forces of the universe don’t converge in my favor, I try to remember that I never had control, and I try to move on by influencing what I can with as little frustration as possible. But when the forces of the forces of the universe converge in the moment to give me what I want, I can’t help but consider it…..miraculous. I’m not really a miracle kind of guy, but I can’t think of a better term to described what I sense. With that miracle in hand, I feel fortunate and experience gratitude for simple pleasures like waking up and arriving at my destination safely.

To me, this gratitude for the influence I have is the most accurate, powerful way to conduct my life. I hope you find the same and enjoy your Super Bowl Sunday. Get after making plays in your world with the influence you have at your command.

The Goal is Internal and Within Reach

Piggybacking on the last two day’s posts, which discussed being sad about death because we love life and being present in the moment to an internal goal that is within reach, I want to emphasize the importance of living in the moment. Robert Pirsig’s quote (read yesterdays post or see the bottom of this post for the quote) is an important reminder to me that it is possible to have an internal goal that I am capable of reaching, and that is really all I need to live in the moment. Understanding that my thoughts and feelings are not controlled by outside circumstances has helped me live in the moment much more often the past year and a half.

Living in the moment is a major theme of what I call making the play by being aware, awake, and alive. I understand that nothing outside me has the power to create a certain thought or feeling. Sure, sometime it seems that way, but I always remember that I am free from both external and internal control. This understanding creates tremendous freedom which I can often use to direct my attention toward the potential greatness of this moment. If I am making the play, I seize that greatness, even if it is a very small gesture.

While the play may be external, I have begun to truly understand that my ultimate goal is internal and within reach: Attempt to make plays as often as possible, and when I fail, understand that every moment is pregnant with new possibilities for making more plays.

I realize a beautiful experience of the world and happiness are available every second of every day. I know that I do not need a certain net worth, number of followers, or trophies on the shelf. I may not always have happiness, and that is fine and normal, but I certainly try to remember that happiness only resides inside me.

With that happiness, I can project it into the world no matter what is here in front of me at the moment. Obviously, some things – like the death I wrote about yesterday – occur, and my thoughts about those things preclude me from being happy for a time. That’s the way it is. It doesn’t mean that I am beholden to outside circumstances, and it doesn’t mean I am broken because I can’t power-of-positive-thinking my way out of a bad feeling at the moment. It just means I care for people, understand the fleeting nature of life, and am profoundly affected about it for the time being. I know it won’t last even if it might reoccur to me.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I have, and if you are so moved, I hope it points in an important direction. I would love to hear your thoughts. As always, thanks for reading and sharing.


To the untrained eye ego-climbing and selfless climbing may appear identical. Both kinds of climbers place one foot in front of the other. Both breathe in and out at the same rate. Both stop when tired. Both go forward when rested. But what a difference! The ego-climber is like an instrument that’s out of adjustment. He puts his foot down an instant too soon or too late. He’s likely to miss a beautiful passage of sunlight through the trees. He goes on when the sloppiness of his step shows he’s tired. He rests at odd times. He looks up the trail trying to see what’s ahead even when he knows what’s ahead because he just looked a second before. He goes too fast or too slow for the conditions and when he talks his talk is forever about somewhere else, something else. He’s here but he’s not here. He rejects the here, he’s unhappy with it, wants to be farther up the trail but when he gets there will be just as unhappy because then it will be here. What he’s looking for, what he wants, is all around him, but he doesn’t want that because it is all around him. Every step’s an effort, both physically and spiritually, because he imagines his goal to be external and distant.

By Robert M. Pirsig from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Sad About Death

I am departing from my usual post themes because in my household we are sad about death tonight. A classmate of my daughter lost his life in an accident. As a school psychologist, I’ve been around the death of school children dozens of times, too many times. I am, and have been, sad about them all.

Please note that my phrasing sad about death, is quite intentional and one of the main points of this piece. Most of us might say death makes us sad, but in truth, the feelings don’t work this way. Nothing makes us feel or think any certain way. Even death and its finality doesn’t have that power.

What’s my point? It’s certainly not to cheapen life or downplay death.

I have no real words of encouragement. I only want to point in a direction of understanding. Our reactions to death vary because our thoughts about death and life vary as time goes on. Our thoughts and feelings vary even from moment to moment. One moment we are crying thinking about loss, the next we are laughing at a glorious moment we shared with our deceased loved one. You see, death doesn’t make us sad. We are sad about it, and that changes over time even if the sadness keeps coming back when the loss is in our thoughts.

I hope we can be understanding of others. In those deaths I’ve experienced in the schools, I often see finger pointing and blame. Children accuse others of crying too much or crying too little because of perceived relationships and closeness. So and so wasn’t as close as I was, so they shouldn’t be crying as much. We all deal with death differently based on our thoughts about it, and it’s alright that we don’t all feel the same at the same time.

It seems like death makes us sad because we almost all view the loss of life as a sad event, and this is especially true when a child dies. But when we remember that death doesn’t make us sad, we are sad about it, I think this nearly universal reaction is especially informative.

We are sad about death because of the way we think about death. We are sad about death because of our thoughts about loss: What we lost, what family and friends lost, what the deceased lost, what the world lost. We are sad about death because we know some people never get over a loved ones death. We are sad about death because we believe a light that burned so brightly isn’t visible anymore. We are sad about death because we remember loved ones we’ve lost.

Mostly, we are sad about death because we love life, and the loss of it can seem unbearable at times. So if you have the chance today, I hope you celebrate life, even the life of someone who has passed away. After all, we feel our thoughts, and in our thoughts, the life of everyone we remember lasts as long as we live.