Archive for July, 2013|Monthly archive page

Ever Changing

We all go through Changes*. Yes, I capitalized that word for effect.

There’s “changes”, examples of which include:

  • Trying a different cereal at breakfast.
  • Wearing “business casual” shirts at a convention.
  • Taking an alternate route on the commute home to see if you save time or gas.

And then there’s “Changes.” Big things, like:

  • Losing a portion of your body to disease or injury.
  • Taking up a fitness regimen.
  • Seeking out help for that Problem you have.
  • Shaking loose of a bad habit to pick up a good one.

In a sense, Changes are either reactions to Big Things That Can Hit Life Really Hard, or they’re born out of Desire. I know I’m doing a lot of capitalization, but again, there’s desire and there’s Desire. The latter is born from passion. It’s being so fed up with the status quo that you finally do something about it or you just wake up and say “Let’s do this.”

I went through a combo of a Change when I embarked on my Fitness Quest back in January. Diet, weights at the gym and going back to Karate were all a part of getting healthy. It wasn’t out of any desire to be “Teh Sexxah Geek”**, but more because I was tired of being heavy and out of shape. Even though I’m not where I want to be in terms of fitness and physique, I do know that it’s a hell of a lot better than where I was seven months ago.

Likewise, earning a black belt in a martial art can be a “change” or a “Change.” Some people don’t make it that far, while others stop shortly thereafter. For those, the achievement is a change – and a notable one considering the effort that one makes just for the title of Shodan. While it may be a peak for some, it’s a beginning for others, making it a Change. You step it up at that point – become a leader in the dojo, leading classes, giving lessons, all while you’re training for that next rank.

In other words, becoming a Black Belt can be a change of lifestyle. It’s something I’ve wanted to do, and to be quite honest the idea of quitting Karate after reaching Shodan – especially now – just isn’t in my headspace at all.

As I’ve mentioned before, Sensei Dan is planning on holding Black Belt tests in November. I’m confident I’ll be ready. I’m confident that I can pass (whether I will or not will be decided when I reach that gauntlet). Dan wouldn’t have brought it up if he didn’t think I could. I have every intention on making the Change, but I think I need to make another Change beforehand.

I know it seems pretentious to announce something like this, but if I don’t say it I have a greater risk of chickening out:

On the 24th of October, I will quit drinking.

Here’s a little history. I didn’t drink until I was 21 because I knew that with my luck, I’d get busted if I did. Even then, I drank sparingly – occasionally – until I went to Seton Hill. For a writing degree. Funny how that works, don’t it?

I went dry for Lent this year to see if could do it, and truth be told it wasn’t as hard as I thought. I know I’ll miss beer (especially Guinness), I know I’ll miss wine (especially the pinots), and I know I’ll definitely miss whiskey (oh, Green Label…), but I think it’s time to call it quits. I have reasons:

  • My capacity for drinking has diminished greatly with the loss of weight. This means I’m buzzed on one or two drinks nowadays.
  • That diminished ability has made me more susceptible to hangovers – even mild ones.
  • I just don’t need the calories that come with booze, plain and simple. Getting it out of the way should help as I try to improve the shape I’m. Why settle for good when I can go for awesome?
  • If I have a problem with drinking, it’s that it’s difficult for me to have “just one drink” as opposed to not having a drink at all. Once that first round is down, I want another. More often than not I’ll get it. (The exception to this has been Green Label, which is meant to be savored)
  • A portion of my family medical history does not sit well with alcohol. This is something that has bugged me for the past few years. It’s further compounded by phrases like “cancer” and “congenital heart condition.” I guess I’m at that age where these facts of life become important, because let’s face it:
  • It’s time. That date I mentioned? One day after my birthday – my fortieth birthday. Forty may be the new thirty, but plenty of people will say “it’s all downhill from here.” Fuck. That. Noise. My Dad is still lean and healthy and active at 67***. That’s where I want to be. At 90. Maybe by then I’ll feel ready to slow down.

Maybe it’s a little weird to assert this sort of thing now, but better late than never, right?

Then again, is it really late? All things happen for reasons – even if we cannot observe them. I don’t think I was ready for being a Black Belt twelve years ago.

I am now…

I wasn’t ready to be even something remotely close to athletic.

I am now…

And maybe – just maybe – I wasn’t ready to push myself and see just what I can be.

I am now…

So let’s do this.

Stepping Out

I’m writing this from a hotel room in Connecticut, where I’ve been since Sunday. We’re commissioning a new sortation site in South Windsor, and that means bringing a lot of hardware together to assemble and test. By “a lot” I mean a metric shit-ton of conveyers, scanning equipment, chutes, walkways and rails, all welded, wired and bolted together.

As an admin, I’m normally not on the site, but with only one guy on our team specialized in hardware the rest of us need to expand our skill set so we can assist in whatever way we can. I asked to accompany our guy, Nick, so I can learn more about what goes on during a commissioning. Sixteen hours of work later (starting Sunday afternoon and going into Monday), our job was — for the most part — done. The rest was just assisting our developers test everything, and at that point, I’d just be wasting my time there. Thus, I spent half of Tuesday and Wednesday, connected via VPN to the day job, being productive.

However I did get to help test portions of our million dollar sortation equipment with a cardboard box on a string. My job has its moments of awesome.

What I got from this experience is … well, a bigger picture. Normally during a commissioning, I sit in my cube and wait for a phone call or email from Nick telling me the servers I support are up. At that point I run a bunch of scripts and shell commands to tighten things up and voila, we’re ready for the go-live date. That part takes me about twenty to thirty minutes. Now having been to the site, I can say it takes about twelve plus hours of work to get to that point, assuming everything goes smoothly.

It’s easy for us to lose ourselves in our own roles, to become that cog in a machine without knowing just what the whole mess of gears does. Doesn’t matter if it’s Big Business or family or that one circle of weird friends you always end up with on a Saturday night. It helps to take a step or two outside yourself to see just what it can be that your life — and your actions — can touch.

This is one of those lessons we can forget all too easily — I know I’ve done it more than I’d like to admit. Fortunately, its one that can be practiced time and again. All you have to do is just take that first step…

Excellence Through Imperfection…

In any field of study — be it the arts or sciences — a student must take care to not fall into the mindset of completion. We’ve all run into it, that feeling that we know everything we need. That school’s out, time to get to work. It happened to me when I worked at Mellon, and was cast aside shortly after I went to FedEx. I’ve seen it happen on the fencing strip and in the dojo. I call it Green Belt Syndrome.

With Green Belt Syndrome(GBS) comes two things:

1) That previously mentioned sense of complete expertise such that no further education is necessary.

2) A sense of entitlement to have that expertise acknowledged.

I recently saw a literal case of GBS when a fellow karate student was going from Black Belt to Black Belt, insisting on being tested for advancement. The problem with this — which was already spelled out for the student — was that any testing past Green Belt was at the teacher’s request. The sad thing is that the teachers are actually saving this student from an embarrassing failure. As it stands, there’s no way this person would pass. Two reasons:

1) The student’s Sanchin is terrible.

2) Anyone can see the lack of commitment.

When a student is standing around bored for five to ten minutes, that’s a problem. When a student receives instruction and doesn’t follow through, that’s another problem. How do you promote such a person? You can’t.

That way of thinking is easily broken by the simple realization of imperfection. It doesn’t have to come across as a negative (“You know nothing, Jon Snow”). In fact it’s better when that realization comes from within. It’s when you understand that there is much more to learn. Once that kicks in, you can decide whether you want to keep going or step away. It’s great to do the former, but it’s also okay to choose the latter. Sometimes we need to stage things back because we’re not prepared or willing to undergo the changes that come with new knowledge.

But if you decide to step up, then do it. Do it big, do it loud, do it greedy. Devour every morsel of wisdom and knowledge you can to make it a part of you. Figure out what works so you can make it yours and what doesn’t so you can put it in the trunk for later. Go and grow, but above all don’t give into fear…

Don’t be afraid to suck.

Don’t be afraid of makin mistakes.

Don’t be afraid to get hurt in some form along the way. It happens and not always by malice.

Steel is stronger than iron, but it has to endure fire and hammer to get there. Committing to that new path is a change of lifestyle, don’t underestimate that. Instead, commit. Learn. Grow. Find your limits — and learn which ones you can blow away.