Fight the Good Fight

Remember the good old days when Memorial Day was celebrated with big parades and lots of free candy?  Flags were flying, bands were marching, and those motorcycle guys were doing their fancy riding patterns.

Memorial Day was my favorite holiday as a kid, especially in the early days when it was always celebrated on my birthday, May 30.  As an added bonus, it was also the traditional opening day for all the swimming pools.  But in 1971 they moved the official holiday to the last Monday in May.  Now I only get the occasional birthday parade.  Oh well…

Memorial Day commemorates the men and women who died while serving our country in the military.  They made the ultimate sacrifice to protect the rights and freedoms we all enjoy in these United States of America. It is a day for us to remember, appreciate, and honor that sacrifice.  Did you know that we are to hold a national moment of remembrance at 3pm?  Interesting, that is the same time Jesus died to save us from our sins.  Coincidence?  I think not.

The thing I like best about this day is seeing flags displayed proudly all across the land.  I find it a great reminder that we are “…one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

The stars and stripes also remind me of other phrases in our national songs and documents, such as:

  • Sweet Land of Liberty
  • Land of the Free
  • Home of the Brave
  • All Men are Created Equal
  • Endowed by their Creator with certain Unalienable Rights
  • Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

I find myself reflecting on three words every year on this holiday: freedom, courage, and sacrifice.  Our predecessors fought for freedom from a tyrannical ruling class.  That took tremendous courage and sacrifice.

I find it interesting that God granted us freedom from the beginning.  He gave us a few rules and the free will to do as we please.  Yet we are constantly fighting to maintain that freedom from people who want to take it away. Thankfully there have been many brave souls throughout the ages who have fought the good fight for freedom, too many paying the ultimate price with their lives.

I ask myself two questions at this time every year; (1) What am I willing to fight for, and (2) What would I die for?  God? Country? Family? Friends? Values? Principles? Beliefs?  Tough questions, especially if you are attempting to be completely honest with yourself.  I think it is difficult to know for sure unless and until you are faced with a life or death situation.

Here’s what I do know, it takes courage to stand up for your beliefs.  Our soldiers take that stand every day.  Saints do the same in promoting and defending their belief in God.  Just as many military men and women have died protecting our country, so too have many Saints in protecting their faith in God.  In fact we have a name for them, martyrs.

A while back I wrote an article about the first Christian martyr for a friend.  It is a story of great faith and courage.  I thought it appropriate to share on this Memorial Day.

The Stone-Cold Truth

Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God? I do. Oh, by the way, you will be stoned to death if we don’t like what you say. Wait … what?!

Welcome to the world of Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Little is known of Stephen other than the account in The Act of the Apostles, chapters 6 and 7. He lived from around 5 to 34 AD and was among the first seven deacons appointed by the twelve apostles. They described him as “a man filled with faith and the holy spirit.” Soon he was “filled with grace and power, and was working great wonders and signs among the people.” That could only mean one thing back in those early days of Christianity; Big Trouble is on the way!

The authorities didn’t like what he was saying or the growing number of followers he was attracting. This story sure sounds familiar. He was brought in for questioning for the crime of blasphemy. All of those gathered saw that “his face was like the face of an angel.” He proceeded to offer a divinely inspired history of God and His chosen people. Basically, the message was that God is good and His people had not been, especially their earthly leaders. Stephen made it painfully clear that they were repeating that history and referred to them as stiff-necked, persecutors, betrayers, and murderers. Ouch!

Just in case he hadn’t angered them enough he added, “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” That was all the proof they needed to convict him of blasphemy. He was dragged out of the city and stoned to death. His last words were, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Yes, I have definitely seen this movie before. Do nothing wrong, tell the truth, and be viciously killed. At least the last edition of this story ended in resurrection and eternal salvation for us all. What is next in this sad tale?

Well, there was a young man named Saul of Tarsus present at the stoning. He was one of the chief persecutors of the early Christians. The faith, courage, and sacrifice of Saint Stephen puzzled and later inspired Saul. Soon thereafter he was struck down on the road to Damascus and converted to Christianity. This improbable and sudden conversion became the spark needed to ignite the rapid spread of the faith. Saul became Saint Paul the Apostle, one of the most influential saints of all time.

We have a painting of Saint Stephen in our home. I just stared at it and asked, “What is your advice for us.” The thought that immediately came to mind was, “Have the courage to seek, find, and live the truth.”

What is the truth you ask? Well, first of all, there is truth. In a world where truth has somehow become relative, it seems difficult to find objective, universal, and absolute truth. But it does still exist. There is not your truth and my truth. There is only the truth. God is truth. His word is the truth. He only asks that we love Him and our neighbors (i.e. everyone else). Everything in our lives and in the world is better when we do.

We show our love by striving to be what we were born to become, saints. To live in this world as best we can in order to make it to the next. To develop and use our God given talents to serve others. To seek and find God’s plan for our lives. To say yes to that plan and carry it out by behaving virtuously.  To allow the holy spirit to guide our thoughts, words, and actions. To be courageous and stand up for what is right and true, no matter what the consequences may be.

You will survive and thrive with the truth on your side. Like Saint Stephen, you might even inspire someone to do incredible things to make the world a better place for us all. It might even be you.

Become the saint you are meant to be. Seek, find, and live the truth with courage.

Your challenge for the week is to give serious consideration to the questions, (1) What do you fight for, and (2) What are you willing to die for?  Then take at least one moment of silence to thank those who have fought and died for you.

I find that my list basically boils down to our pledge of allegiance.  Say it with me now:

“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, Indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.”

Have Courage my Saintly Friends, Scott

Great Saints Alive!

In my youth I recall hearing adults occasionally exclaim, “Great Saints Alive!” It was used when something amazingly good had happened.  I took it to mean that there are saints among us performing miraculous acts to make this world a better place.

To all you great living saints I say: Come out, come out, wherever you are.  We are in desperate need of your services.  Who am I talking about?  All of you!  We are all capable of being those great saints alive!

Recently I’ve had a few of you ask me to list the key attributes of a striving saint.  My initial reaction was to refer you back to the sAint Me?! book.  Surely I listed saint traits in there somewhere.  But no!

I defined a saint as someone who was striving to become their best, and to give their best for the benefit of others.  I included a saint striving formula, RT x RW x G = S.  That is, do the right things in the right way and by the grace of God you may become a saint.

The book walks you through what I believe those right things and right ways are.  But to my great surprise there is no full description of what I believe the attributes and traits of a saint to be.  Oops!

Looking back, I must have assumed that saint traits are self-evident.  They really don’t need to be described.  They go without saying.  We know them when we see them.  We know them when we be them.  I thought I knew better than to assume … apparently not.

So I set off to define those traits.  Now after a week of research and contemplation, I’ve identified seven key attributes of living saints for your consideration.  They will help us to be both our happiest (Playground) and best (Saints) selves. Playground Saints are people who are:

  • Focused
  • Courageous
  • Thoughtful
  • Virtuous
  • Disciplined
  • Collaborative
  • Persistent

What do you think?  I would guess that every single one of you have other traits that you would add.  Me too.  In fact I started with a list of over 50.  Then I went through all sorts of gyrations to group like concepts, finally arriving at seven that I found to be unique and which encompass all the others.

I will share the full list with you over the next however many weeks it takes, describe each in detail, and talk about how you can build them into your very being and demonstrate them consistently.

But there is one problem to solve first.  Maybe it’s not a problem for you, but it is for me.  The list is difficult to remember.  The best way for me to recall a list is to turn it into an acronym. So I set out to find one.  Trouble is, there is not one single vowel available, so no word to be spelled.

New strategy, let’s start with a relevant word and adjust the list accordingly.  How about “playground?”  Nope too many letters.  “Saint?” Too few, we need seven.  “Saintly?”  Yep, that works. Now we just need to change the words to fit.

Here’s the new “saintly” list:

  • Stouthearted (Courageous)
  • Asceticism (Disciplined)
  • Incorruptible (Virtuous)
  • Never-ending (Persistent)
  • Teamwork (Collaborative)
  • Laser Focused (Focused)
  • Y – Wise, hey it sounds like a “Y” word (Thoughtful)

In going through the work to get to these words I found an interesting tool called the graphic thesaurus at the website  You type a word in the search field to find alternatives.  Once you hit enter it brings up a spider web looking graphic which provides two layers of similar words.

For example, for the word “saint” it provides 5 first level words, and another 25 at the second level.  To go deeper you can click on any of the suggested words to find even more.  As an example, one leg of the web took me from “saint” to “model of excellence” to “paragon” to “exemplar.”  Cool words!

I spent a couple of hours messing around with this.  Try it out for yourself by clicking here.  But be forewarned, you may be going down a rabbit hole for longer than you might expect.  I’ve bookmarked the site for my future use.

Since I probably just lost most of you, let’s end it here for now.  For your challenge, come up with your own list of Playground Saint attributes.  In fact, send them my way and I’ll make sure they are considered.  Keep your list handy and cross off the ones we touch on in the coming weeks.  If at the end you have any left over, let me know and we’ll address those too.

Be Saintly my Friends!  Scott

Who Was That Masked Man?

Hi-Ho Silver!  Away!  Or was it Hi-Yo?  I just learned there is disagreement about which it was.  Regardless, cue the William Tell Overture theme song.  The Lone Ranger chased bad guys and always won.  He wore a mask to conceal his identity and worked together with his trusty companion Tonto to fight for justice.  He used silver bullets to remind himself of how precious life is and to only use them as a last resort.  He didn’t smoke, drink, or curse.

After he saved the day and rode away, someone would ask, “Who was that masked man?”  I’ve been asking a similar question about the increasing number of people I am seeing wearing masks to combat the virus.  Some make sense, like older people, or those with obvious health conditions.  Others I find curious, like people who are outside, all by themselves, far away from others while walking, running, biking, or driving around in their cars.  I don’t get it, why the mask?

I was curious and decided to do some in-depth research to determine what the proper course of action regarding mask usage should be.  I didn’t realize I was walking into a firestorm.  A quick review of Facebook comments nearly scared me away.  Apparently you are labeled a “covidiot” whether you choose to wear a mask or not.  The sides have been drawn and the insults are flying.

I initially thought this was going to be a fairly simple task.  I’ll just use my dig-deep research method which has served me well for decades in order to get to the definitive truth.  There has to be truth out there somewhere, right?  Wrong!  After reading everything I could find, from every possible angle I could imagine for an entire day, I found no clear and compelling answer.

I did find strong opinions stated as the definitive truths.  They all relied on cherry-picked facts and contained statements like, the fact of the matter is, there can be no disputing the fact, the truth is, or my new favorite, the science says, followed by a half truth, or worse, and outright lie.  I’m sorry, but you can’t say, the science says, and then provide a conclusion that is easily disproven by … science.

Unfortunately all the opinions sound very convincing, especially if they align with your preconceived notions of what the truth is.  And who has the time and energy to dig into the details, look at all the angles, and come up with their own opinion?  It’s so much easier to trust the “experts.”

After getting deep into this topic I wished I hadn’t.  It became clear that this is yet another topic with strong ideological divisions.  In general, liberals like masks and conservatives don’t.  Whichever side you are on there are plenty of facts to back you up.  In fact, give me your conclusion and I can get you there with all the relevant statistics … we’ll call it science.

But since I did wade into the deep waters of this controversy I might as well come to my own opinion and share it for your consideration.  Below is my attempt to be completely unbiased.  It shouldn’t be too hard because I actually have not yet formed a solid stance.

Here is the main question I am trying to answer; What would a striving saint do?  In other words, what is the best approach to take regarding masks for a person who is striving to be their best and to share their best for the benefit of others.

Let’s start with understanding the odds of getting the virus.  Sadly there is no good data on this, we’ll have to make do with what we have.  The math on the current numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tells us that there is a 0.4 percent chance you will get the virus, and a 6 percent chance you will die if you do get it.  But not to worry, overall there is only a .02 percent chance you will die from this virus, and much lower than that if you are young and healthy.

Here are some other interesting notes from the CDC.  They state that “a significant portion of those with coronavirus are asymptomatic” (i.e. experience no symptoms).  Further, for those who do have symptoms, “most people have mild illness and are able to recover at home.”   And those we really need to worry about are “older adults and people with severe underlying health conditions.”

How about an example to quantify the risks? Let’s inflate the chance of getting the virus from 0.4 percent way up to … well how about 100 percent, everyone gets it.  To make it personal, think of 100 people you know.  They all now have the virus.  But a significant portion, say 70 percent, will experience no symptoms.  Of the 30 left, most will have mild symptoms, let’s say that leaves 10 to worry about.  What will happen to them?

One consistent statement in everything I have read about those who are dying is that they are “nearly all” older adults and those who had serious underlying health conditions. If you have some of those friends, sadly you may lose a few, but statistically less than 1 of the 10.

From this I am drawing one conclusion so far.  I will wear a mask when around older adults and people with serious underlying medical conditions.  The good news is that should rarely be necessary since those folks shouldn’t be out and about anyway.  They should remain in self-isolation and get the help they need from their younger and healthier family, friends, and neighbors.  We are happy to help.

I see the CDC’s latest guidance on masks is to wear one “in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.”

Okay, got it, but I’m still wondering why.  If those with issues are staying home, how big is the risk we will be spreading the disease?  Yes I realize there is some chance we may have it without knowing it, but even if we spread it to other non-high risk individuals there is very little risk of that leading to serious illness or death.

And what about this herd immunity thing?  Building resistance to the virus through exposure.  There is concern that there will be a second wave of illness once we break isolation from a lack of this exposure and resistance building.  Maybe we should start that sooner rather than later?

At this point the only reason I would wear a mask in public is to avoid the nasty looks and comments I will no doubt get from some. I’m concerned we are about to get into a Dr. Seuss Sneetches scenario where the masked and unmasked are arguing about who are the best Sneetches on the beaches.  If you don’t recall that story, do yourself a favor and go read it for a mental health break.  Let me know who you think Sylvester McMonkey McBean is in this scenario.

Speaking of mental health, what is the impact of wearing masks in that regard?  I’m sure there are some positives but I see only fear. We don’t need more fear, we need hope.  The proliferation of the use of masks is not hope inspiring.  They are instead a constant reminder of fear.

The thing about fear is that it produces anxiety, which causes stress, which leads to panic, irrational decision making, and interestingly, a weakened immune system.  Why do we want to spread more fear?  I think the spread of fear is actually worse than the spread to the virus itself.  It is paralyzing.  It must stop!  The numbers certainly don’t justify it.

Now many argue that wearing a mask is a minor inconvenience, that there is no harm in wearing one, so why wouldn’t you?  You care about other people, right?  Right, that’s why I will not be wearing one.  I’ve come to the conclusion that they actually do more psychological harm than physical good.

So based on the numbers and trusting that people are doing what is in their best interests based on their risk factors, here is what I will do.

  1. Wear a mask when around those with high risk factors;
  2. Not wear a mask in public.
  3. Not do business with those who require a mask.
  4. Actively support businesses that do not require masks.
  5. Respect the choices of others and hope they will do the same.

Obviously what you do is your choice, and I respect whatever that is.  You must be comfortable with your decisions and able to defend them to others when challenged.  I hope the above has helped you in some way.

Anyway, this is what I think a striving saint should do.  I believe that saints take calculated risks in the overall best interests of all people.  They are courageous and fearless in their attempts show their love for God and neighbors.  That is not always simple and the choices are not always easy, but they do the best they can given the facts and circumstances.

If you are with me, get out there and show the world your smiling face and your joy for the opportunity of a new beginning.  Share your faith, hope, and love for your fellow citizens.  Display your courage and confidence that better days are close at hand.  And leave them wondering, “Who was that unmasked man?”

Finally, for our health care worker friends, Thank You for fighting the good fight.  We hear you are getting bruised faces from the constant pressure of wearing your masks.  We are so sorry to hear that on top of the constant stress of doing your job.  You are all saints!

Keep the Faith my Saint Striving Friends, Scott



Is It Safe?

Ever since I first watched the 1976 movie, Marathon Man, the question, “Is it safe?” has evoked a sense of fear and pain.  In short, the plot is that a man named Babe Levy (Dustin Hoffman) unwittingly becomes embroiled in a scheme by a Nazi war criminal Christian Szell (Laurence Olivier) to retrieve stolen diamonds from a safety deposit box.

The movie is most remembered for the scene in which Szell, who is also a dentist, poses the question, “Is it safe?” to Babe.  No matter what response is given, he asks the same question again.  Eventually he proceeds to torture Babe with dental tools, again, no matter what answer he gives.  You can nearly feel the pain while watching, brutal…

While obviously not as physically painful, we are all probably suffering in some way from the lack of a good answer to the same question as it relates to the virus.  If you say to yourself, “yes, it’s safe” and venture out into the world, you see nervous people in masks avoiding any interaction with each other like we all have the plague. If you answer “no,” you continue your lonely self-isolation.  Either way there is some emotional pain involved.

Of course the true answer to the general question, “Is it safe?” is painfully obvious and always the same.  No, it’s not safe.  Life is never perfectly safe.  It never has been, it never will be.  We are all at risk of sickness, injury, and death every single day of our lives.  I guess we could always play it safe and rarely venture out, but safe for what purpose?  That’s not living.  Don’t take unnecessary risks, but no risk means no reward.  Strike a healthy balance.

Obviously the difference in this present situation is that there was an immediate threat and seemingly imminent danger to the health of us all, worldwide.  Therefore drastic measures were taken.  Maybe that was the right thing to do based on what we knew at the time.  Maybe not.  We will never know for sure.

The initial projection of U.S. deaths was 2.2 million.  Scary.  The current count is around 65 thousand, slightly more than an average flu season, still growing but at a significantly reduced pace.  Would it have been considerably more without intervention?  Probably.  In hindsight, were the measures taken the right ones.  Probably not.  Did they do more harm than good?  Time will tell, but I’m fairly certain the answer is yes.

Allow me to elaborate.  We now know that 80 percent of those who have died from the virus are over the age of 65.  And nearly all of those under that age who have died had underlying health issues.  It appears we could have limited ourselves to isolating and caring for those folks, and had roughly the same outcome.

Unfortunately I’m afraid the steps taken to avoid a health crisis will in fact create a much bigger one.  They have created record unemployment of those who can least afford it. Combined with record debt and low savings, defaults will escalate.  Even those who have been able to keep working have seen their retirement accounts lose significant value.  People are anxious and depressed which can lead to all sorts of unhealthy behaviors.  Overeating, lack of exercise, abuse of alcohol, drugs, and each other.

Annual deaths caused by suicide, drug overdoses, and alcohol abuse are now in excess of 200,000 annually.  I wonder what it will be this year?  Depressing.  The point is, the negative consequences of the lockdown reach far beyond those contracting and sadly dying from the virus.  The precautionary “cure” has arguably been worse than the disease itself.

So what are we to do?  Well, the main premise of the sAint Me?! book was that if we are all striving to be the saints we are meant to be, we can work together to solve all the world’s problems.  I believe this to be true as it relates to this virus.

Striving saints work to be their best and to share their best with others.  We therefore work to keep ourselves and others healthy.  We also seek to find and live truth.  The truth as I understand it is that unless you have underlying health problems and/or are over age 65, even if you do contract the virus, your symptoms will likely be mild.

If you aren’t feeling well, stay at home until you’re better.  That’s just common sense, common courtesy, and showing respect for your neighbor.  Continue to take the normal precautions of hand washing, cleaning commonly used areas and equipment, and keeping your distance from those who do have high risk factors in order to protect them.

Hopefully with what we know now, more rational and compassionate approaches to containing the virus and limiting its toll will be implemented soon.  Better data usually means better decisions.  Let’s hope that is true and that the politics of an election year don’t interfere with doing what is right for all the people of this great country.

Regardless, there are things we striving saints can do immediately to help:

  • Keep hope alive.  Comfort those in need.  Reach out.  With the technology we all have at our finger tips there is no excuse for not staying in touch with those who need us.
  • Keep your mind and body active.  Learn new things.  Exercise.  Take nature walks or rides.  Be outside.  Eat healthy.
  • Enjoy the calm before the next storm.  Prepare yourself to shape and adapt to a new normal.  Do what you can to influence a better way going forward. Be relentlessly positive and share your joy for the prospects of a quick recovery and a brighter future.
  • Question everything in the comfort of your own mind. You will likely be tempted to accept whatever changes are thrown at you as having been well thought out and necessary.  Unfortunately many will be driven by fear and the desire to limit risk exposure.  Don’t go along to get along when things don’t make sense.  Think things through in a rational and calm manner.  Respectfully express your thoughts and propose alternative solutions when needed.
  • Lastly, or it should be firstly, be grateful for what you have, and generous in helping those in need.  Use the money you have saved on gas, eating out, gym memberships, and your unneeded stimulus windfall to help out local food banks, shelters, and others you know have a need.  And show your support for local businesses to help bring them back to life quickly.

Politicians have a saying, “Don’t let a crisis go to waste.”  Meaning, there are things they can get done in crisis that would not be possible during ordinary times.  I’m not sure that is a good thing as it relates to governance.  Look at how easily we let them take away our freedoms without question.

I prefer the Gandhi approach – “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  The world needs more of you.  More striving saints.  Maybe this crisis has helped you realize that you have so much more to give, and relatively little time to make it happen.  Don’t let your many talents go to waste.  Be the saint you are meant to become.

Be Saintspirational!  Scott


Opening Day

We burst through the paper ring, emblazoned in our school colors with a menacing image of our mascot, onto the basketball court for the season opener.  The pep band is playing our fight song, the cheerleaders are revving up the crowd, and our family and friends are cheering us on. It’s game time!

I can still feel the excitement, four decades later.  After months of practice, isolated in the gym for hours on end, we were finally getting the opportunity to show our stuff.  To prove to ourselves and our fans that the grueling workouts, endless line drills, repetitive skills training, monotonous running of plays, and scrimmages have paid off.  Let’s go!

But first, the pep talk.  The locker room was buzzing with nervous energy.  Some at sitting in quiet contemplation, while others slap lockers and each other.  One was pacing like a lion in a case, we stayed away from him.  Another was puking, we stayed far away from him.  Come on coach, we’re ready!  Is it time yet?  Let us out of here!

Coach reminded us of the shared vision and goals we had created as a team for this new season.  About all the hard work we had put in.  Of all the progress we had made; the daily lessons learned and improvement shown.  How each of us had grown and were important to the success of the team.

Then he went through our game plan.  The overall strategy and specific tactics we would employ to give us the best chance of victory.  Sometimes we’d emphasize offense, pushing the tempo.  Others times defense, controlling the pace of the game.  Once the strategy was to stall the entire game, only taking shots that couldn’t be missed, then playing keep away until the clock ran out.  It worked.  We won.  Boring, but effective, thus the invention of the shot clock.

Finally he’d remind us of our individual roles, such as; Froyen, get all over them on defense, get me some steals and rebounds, pass to the guys who can actually score, and don’t shoot unless you have a lay-up.  Got it Coach!  We’d conclude by reciting The Lord’s Prayer for a little help from above, and a single shouted word together, “Team!”

What’s this got to do with anything?  Well, I’m feeling the same anticipation for the opening of our world from our virus lockdown as I did in the locker room so many years ago.  Set me free!  I want to get back into the game of life on the outside world court.

This has got me thinking about what my game plan should be going forward.  What is my strategy?  Will I emphasize offense, defense, or stall?  How about the tactics, what specifically will I do?

It has been a tough “off-season” these last couple months.  So much has changed.  We want things to go back to normal, but what will normal be?  The only thing we can know for sure is that it won’t be what it used to be.  How will it be different?  I don’t know.  I do know that our collective behavior will determine what the new normal is.  And I have my personal hopes and dreams for what it will be.

My hope is that we have all learned what is truly important in our lives, and what is not.  That we will use this knowledge to lead more intentional and impactful lives going forward.  My dream is that we have a renewed sense of purpose that manifests itself in what we choose to do to provide value to each other in our quest to make the world a better and happier place.

A game plan is designed to give you the best chance of winning.  What is winning?   To me it is demonstrating improvement.  Improvement towards what?  Toward realizing my hopes and dreams.  To striving to become the best I can be and to provide value to others in their quest to become the best they can be.  And round and round it goes…

I decided a couple of years ago while writing the sAint Me?! book that my life strategy is to emphasize offense.  I encourage you to do the same.  Too many of us are playing defense or stalling.  We go into a prevent defense trying to protect the lead we believe we have attained in life, or we hold the ball hoping to run out the clock.  Unfortunately a prevent defense only prevents you from winning, and stalling is a boring waste of your time and talents.

My game plan therefore is to play offense through proactively striving to employ the following strategy and tactics.  I call the strategy, playground rules.  The tactics are daily reminders of what to do to live out the strategy and strive to win – continually improve towards achieving my hopes and dreams. Here they are for your consideration:

Strategy – Playground Rules

  • Be virtuous, be good.
  • Be selfish in development and expression of your true self.
  • Be selfless, help others by being you and doing good.
  • Don’t let anyone or anything bully you into being somebody else.
  • Get better every day.

Tactics – Daily Reminders

  1. Play your game. Be your true you. Do the things that make use of your talents and interests, and that provide value to others.
  2. Be good and play nice. Live the heavenly virtues: humility, charity, kindness, patience, chastity, temperance, and diligence.  Be courageous and fearless.
  3. DIG DEEP. Search, find, and live the truth.
  4. Child size your life. Know your needs from your wants. Keep it simple.
  5. Make everything a game. Practice, compete, enjoy.  Winning is improving – strive to get better every day.
  6. Manage your bullies. Don’t let anyone or anything get you down.
  7. Demonstrate selfish-less-ness. Be selfish in development of yourself in order to selflessly provide value to others.
  8. PLAY every day. Ponder, Learn, Act, and Youthify.
  9. Fill your TIP JAR. Work hard to make the world a better place for all.
  10. Help someone every day.

I offer the above as an example of a game plan.  They are obviously summary points, and I hope mostly self-explanatory.  Oh, Dig Deep and Tip Jar are acronyms.  You can refer to the Playground Heaven book to learn more.

So that’s my plan, what is yours?

I urge you to take some time to think about all you have experienced and learned over these past months.  Who do you want to be going forward as a result?  Have you discovered what it truly important to you?  What are your hopes and dreams now?  How will you achieve them?  Do you need to do anything differently as a result?  How will you ensure you don’t go back to business as usual?

So many questions.  Now is the perfect time to consider them before “opening day.”  Give yourself the gift of taking the time to ask and answer them.  Make your own game plan.  Start with your hopes and dreams.  Envision your ideal future.  Then go on offense by developing a winning strategy and specific tactics designed to ensure your ongoing success.

Finally, here is your pre-game pep talk. There is no sugar coating this.  It has been a rough time in history.  You have endured many hardships, a roller-coaster of emotions, and physical isolation over these past several months.  But you have survived.  Yet another life challenge overcome.  Not without a struggle, but you did it.  And you are no doubt stronger as a result.

Now it’s time for a new beginning. It’s time to get back out onto the field of life and do what you were born to do.  To be yourself, your best and happiest self.  To develop and use your talents to provide value to others.  To enrich their lives through living yours to the best of your ability.

You have been preparing your entire lifetime for this moment.  Now is your time to shine.  You know what to do and how to do it.  No one can stop you but you.  Get out of your way and make it happen.  Run out there and show yourself and the world what you can do.  Be your best and give your best.  Make the world a better and happier place. That is winning. We can make it happen.  We can do it together.  Team!

I look forward to seeing you out in the real world very soon:-) Scott

Are We Nearing the End?

One of our striving saints and playground heaven friends sent me an article he had written a while back.  I’ve been looking for the right moment to share it with all of you.  Now seems like that time given that we are hopefully nearing the end of our quarantine journey.

Steve Dickinson is an engineer by training who, following a successful corporate career, ran his own consulting business for 24 years prior to his retirement in 2014.  He is a recognized expert in organizational strategy, planning, and execution with an emphasis in customer focused process improvement.

His business objectives were to; (1) help people, (2) have fun, and (3) make enough money to continue doing 1&2.  He continues to focus on the first two in retirement, and his energy and enthusiasm for doing so are unmatched in my experience.

IMG_0146[1]He and his spouse Helen have traveled most of the country in their RV in addition to visiting many countries around the world.  They volunteer with their church, tend to a sizable garden, and enjoy outdoor activities including kayaking, biking, and fishing when they are at their home in Florida.

I could go on about his many accomplishments, talents, and interests, but without further ado, take it away Steve…

It’s the Journey.  Authored by Steve Dickinson

Have you ever known something but not know it?  Like deep down you knew, but you weren’t aware of it?  As I read Scott Froyen’s book Playground Heaven, I had a sudden realization.  I wrote about it to capture my thoughts and to share it with you.  Here goes….

All throughout our lives we are faced with what I will call “Ends.”  By Ends, I mean that almost all of our activities have some sort of an End, often with an objective attached. Some objectives are serious, like deadlines for projects at work.  Others are assumed, like getting to our destination when we travel.

Recently my wife Helen and I took a trip to Charlotte, North Carolina to see “The Real Christmas Story” at one of our favorite theaters, Narroway Productions. It’s about an 8-hour drive from our home.  Normally we would load up our luggage and take off early in the morning to be sure we got there in time, to reach our End in one long day. With the End mindset, the key to planning is to focus on the destination.

While this has made sense to me for 30 years or so, I think there is something missing. Don’t get me wrong, it is important to know what the End will be when doing something important, such as an important project, or traveling to a specific city for a specific reason.

So, what is missing?  The Journey, how we get to the End. At times, the Journey can be much more important to achieving the Halo High, as described by Scott in his book, than the End itself.  Let me first define the term Journey.

The Journey is all the activities that take place between the start of an event and the End. This includes choosing the event, the planning, the travel itself, the activities, places, and any other things that take place between the start and the End. If it happened after the start and before the End, it happened during the Journey.

Allow me to give you a few real-life examples.

Take our trip to Charlotte.  In the past we had made it a one-day trip.  This time we decided to take an extra day and spend a night in Savannah, Georgia on the way. We have been to Savannah several times, but each of those times it was an End. This time it was part of the Journey.

On departure day, instead of having to get up early and rush out the door for an 8-hour drive, we slept in, leisurely packed and headed out for our brief 4-hour road trip. We got into Savannah in the early afternoon, well rested and ready to enjoy the city.

We stayed downtown on the waterfront where we could walk to wherever we wanted to go.  We did a little shopping, walked to dinner, sat on a bench by the river, watched the freighters go by, and simply enjoyed the evening. In the morning we had a nice breakfast at a French Café, leisurely packed up, and drove the remaining 4 hours to Charlotte.

My intent here is not to fully describe the trip to Savannah, but instead to make the point that hit me like a ton of bricks while reading Scott’s book.  In this case the Journey ended up being just as fun, or maybe even more fun, than the End we had planned. As we think back on the trip, what we talk about most is the stop on the Journey, not the End.

Another example.  During my consulting years a typical week was getting on a plane Sunday afternoon, working long weekdays, flying back home on Friday, and spending Saturday planning for the next trip.  Then back to the airport again … a seemingly endless journey that lasted decades.  Then about 13 years ago we bought a camper, an RV. We began using the RV as a home when I had jobs that would keep me in one place for a while.

In one memorable RV business trip we drove from Florida to Phoenix, Arizona, almost exactly 2000 miles away. I worked for two weeks, coming “home” every night to Helen, and her fabulous home cooked meals! Then we took two weeks off to tour southern Arizona, visiting a few state parks and spending almost a week in Tucson. And then back to Phoenix for two more consulting weeks prior to heading home.  It was a great Journey. I don’t remember much about the work, but we sure remember the Journey.

Ever since I began planning our summer RV trips for the Journey instead of the End, they have been much more relaxing, enjoyable, and memorable.  We take time to explore the local towns and sights, and by doing so we have discovered things we did not know existed, such as South Dakota’s Corn Palace.  We found it by accident, by exploring on our Journey to our End destination.  It’s worth a look on the net, and a visit if you can.

You may be saying, “But I don’t travel like that, how does this apply to me?”  I remember that as a child, mowing the yard was an End I was tasked with accomplishing.  I didn’t realize what I was doing at the time, but to make the Journey fun I made a game out of it, mowing little squares, comparing how long it took for each, and assessing the degree of difficulty each required.

How about walking to school?  Yes we walked to school, no not uphill both ways, but we made all kinds of games up to pass the time, to enjoy the Journey. We’d take different routes, throw buckeyes (I’m from Ohio) at each other, and race to see who could get to a spot first.  We even stopped one day and damned up the local creek, got home in solid mud, and thus our name was mud!   But it was fun, we were on a Halo High. I remember these Journeys vividly to this day, some 60 years later.

Last and most important story.  Three days ago my father passed away.  It fell upon me to help my sister reconcile his estate.  Not an easy task. In this grieving process, it finally dawned on me that his life was over.  The “End” had come for him. There will be no more activities for him to participate in, at least not on this earth. That got me thinking.

Now at the “End” and looking back, what really matters, what is it that the family sits and talks about?  What was it that we talked with him about as he awaited the eventual “End”? Did we talk about goals? Did we talk about milestones?  Did we talk about wealth? No, we talked about the Journey. The Journey we had lived together as a family. We talked about the good times, the things he had taught us, the things we used to do that we would miss dearly.

In closing, let me ask you a few Journey enjoyment related questions:

  1. When you drive to work what do you do to make the time more enjoyable? Music, motivational speakers, allowing yourself time to stop for a coffee, getting to work early so you can relax a little before getting started, taking a different route to change up the scenery?
  2. What do you do when you cook or do other work in the kitchen? Watch a little TV, music, maybe a nice beverage, allow yourself plenty of time so you don’t stress? Is the last dish you put into the dishwasher your beverage glass?
  3. Is all your time spent on the computer trying to get to the End of your email and other responsibilities? Do you promise yourself just a little time for pleasure? For example, I commit myself to one game of Free Cell every time I sit down at the computer. Average time to complete one game is about 2 minutes. Not a huge commitment, but a little fun on the Journey. And when I get a game done in under 1 minute I have a brief shot of the Halo High.
  4. How do you plan your weekends? Do you plan only the Ends, or do you also plan some Journey time as well?
  5. When you are traveling, do you leave enough time to tell the spouse and kids that if they see anything interesting that they’d like to stop for, they can just say so, and you’ll stop and check it out? We have found some wonderful things this way.
  6. How do you incorporate those that are important to you in this Journey called life?

There are Endless examples of the need to enjoy the Journey and not just the End. Give Journey thinking a try, you will like it. You just might find your Halo High along the way.

Be Fearless – There’s an App for That

I am writing this on Easter 2020, stuck at home, no church or family gathering.  So strange!  I find myself on an emotional tilt-a-whirl going from the joy of salvation, to worry for all those suffering directly or indirectly from the pandemic, to fear of the unknown, and finally to hope that a bright future is just around the corner.

I view Easter as the beginning of my spiritual new year.  My resolution is always the same – to work to be a better person than I was the year before.  As you know, my calendar year resolution is to be a happier person.  Taken together, 2020 will be my happiest and betterest year.  Sounds nice!

As mentioned last week, I believe people tend to be better when they are happy, and happy when they are better.  And we are all better and happier when we are striving to be and to give our best for the benefit of others.  Or as I think of it, when we are striving to become the saints we are all meant to be.

Saints are fearless.  They do the right thing no matter what.  They are not afraid.  They take the bible message that is said to appear 365 times, once for each day of the year, to heart:  Fear Not.   Maybe since this is a leap year it is okay to be afraid for one day?  No doubt we already have been.

The definition of fearless is lacking fear.  Is that possible?  To have no fear?  I think not.  Fear is a built-in defense mechanism designed to keep us safe.  But we can all certainly fear-less.  That is what saints do.  They are not without fear, they just fear-less than the rest of us.  And they are willing to face and overcome those things they do fear.

I’m no saint but I do have an app to deal with my fears.  No, you can’t download it to your digital device.  App is an acronym for the three steps you can use to become fear-less.

First let’s review the app that seems to be most in use these days: Avoidance, Paralysis, and Panic.  Avoid facing your fears, become paralyzed, unable to act when forced to face a fear, and therefore panic when it rears its ugly head.  Sound familiar?  There will never be a pandemic that affects me.  Oh no … what to do?  Buy toilet paper!

Here’s a better app to help you become fear-less.  Acknowledge, Prepare, and Prevail.  Here’s how it works.

Step 1 – Acknowledge Your Fears

What do you fear?  Make a list. Some of our common fears are death, illness, social phobias like being judged, not being accepted by others, being alone, being in crowds, and speaking in public.  The thought of running out of money is scary.  Many also have a fear of heights, small spaces, flying, darkness and a variety of creepy crawlies … especially in the dark … ugh!

Make your list.  Be honest and comprehensive.

Step 2 – Prepare to Overcome Your Fears

All fears are future focused.  You may not ever have to face any of them.  But just in case you do, you should have a plan to overcome them. As the saying goes, failing to plan is planning to fail.

For each item on your list, determine two things; (1) what can you do to mitigate the possibility that you will ever have to encounter your fear, and (2) what will you do when you are forced to come face-to-face with your fear.

Let’s use this pandemic as an example.  It has invoked the fears of illness, death, job and financial loss, and prolonged isolation to name a few.  So what could we have done to mitigate the possibility of encountering these fears?  How about:

  • Maintain a healthy body weight. Move more and eat less.  Being overweight causes a variety of health problems that make us more susceptible to catching colds, the flu, and this virus.
  • Keep yourself and your surroundings clean.
  • Save for a rainy day. Financial experts have long advised that we all accumulate 6-months’ worth of expenses in savings.
  • Maintain an emergency supply of essentials like food, water, and apparently toilet paper at all times.
  • Keep your Will up to date to ensure your wishes are carried out in a worst-case scenario.
  • Maintain a close relationship with God. It is nice to know you don’t have to deal with your fears on your own.  Be not afraid.

If forced to have a close encounter with your fear, do the following:

  • Envision a positive outcome. Visualize success.  See it clearly in your minds-eye.  Your mind doesn’t know the difference between something you vividly imagine and reality.
  • Keep yourself busy.  An idol mind and body is the devil’s workshop of fear.
  • Lean on your relationship with God. He will help you overcome.

Step 3 – Prevail

This step actually takes care of itself once you have identified your fear and developed plans to overcome them.  You simply work the plan in order to prevail.  Take the actions required to achieve the desired outcomes of your plan.  Be disciplined and consistent in carrying out your plans.

The Hidden Advantage of Fear

Now that you have an app to overcome your fears, let’s learn how to use fear to our advantage.

The thing I fear more than this virus is people’s desire to “get back to normal.”  In my opinion, the old normal is not good.  We are too busy doing things that don’t matter at the expense of those things that do.  I believe this time of self-isolation, surrounded by only those closest to us was given to us for a reason.

Now is the time to define our new normal.  A time to contemplate what we should be doing with our lives, how we can be better and happier people, what we can do to help others do the same.

I use fear to help me do that.  Mainly a fear of regret.  I think way into the future, to my 100-year-old self.  I don’t want to look back with regrets.  So I identify potential regrets now in order to take the actions necessary to avoid them from ever becoming reality.

Here is what I fear.  I fear us as a people continuing down a path in these United States of America where:

  • 78 percent of us live paycheck-to-paycheck
  • Debt for homes, cars, student loans, and credit cards are at their highest levels ever.
  • 70 percent of us are overweight and highly susceptible to serious health issues as a result.
  • The number of suicides, drug related deaths, and addictions are at their highest levels.
  • The population is aging and very few have saved enough money for retirement.
  • The national debt continues to rise with no end in sight.

This list goes on and it all just got worse.  This can’t go on.  We are in big trouble.  Who can save us?  Us!  It starts with each of us individually working to become our best.  Then it takes us working together to solve the significant problems we face.

Each of us have tremendous talents.  Our individual talents tend to complement each another.  If we are all striving to be our best and to give our best for the good of others, then by working together I have confidence we can solve all of our problems over time.  Let’s get started!

Here’s my biggest fear, that I don’t do my part.  That I give up.  That I choose to live out my life in my own little comfortable world and not help those in desperate need.

I’m guessing that many of you are like me.  You are doing well and not significantly impacted by current events.  You have taken care of yourself and planned for a bright future.  Nice work and congratulations!  The world needs people like you now more than ever to help others to achieve your same level of comfort.

What can we do?  I’ll say it again, actively strive to become the saints the world is in desperate need of.  Be fear-less.  Get out there and do what you can.  Don’t live with the regret of knowing you could have done more for your fellow man.

Here’s you challenge for the week.  Apply the fear-less app to overcome one of your fears.  And for bonus points, decide who you will be when things get back to “normal.”  I hope you will decide to become a striving saint.  More on that next week.

Be Fear-less My Friends!  Scott



Holy, Holy Week!

How are you doing in having your happiest year ever?  Seems we might have picked the wrong year to make this resolution.  Or maybe it was the best if you like a challenge.  I sure do.

Each week I let a topic come to me.  It appears out of nowhere, usually with a catchy title.  This time it happened walking by a television which was tuned to a channel that plays old 1960-70’s era shows.  Batman was on and Robin exclaimed, Holy Pianola!  An evil piano player played by Liberace was feeding the dynamic duo into a machine that punched out the cards (pianolas) for player pianos.

Anyway, since this is Holy Week for us Christians I figured that is what I was supposed to write about.  Makes sense in terms of our happiness theme.  This week should be our happiest of times.  We are saved from our sins and given the hope of eternal life.  Plus the Easter Bunny brings us candy.  What could possibly be a happier time?!  Gee, I hope the bunny is not quarantined!

The term “Holy…!” followed by a descriptor is a common expression of surprise.  It was Robin’s catchphrase.  He used it in 359 different ways over the 120 episode run of the Batman television series.  The last one was, “Holy astringent plum-like fruit!”  The show was cancelled following that one, go figure.

Anyway, while I am not surprised that we have arrived at Holy Week, I am amazed at the state of the world.  We are in isolation, quarantine, lock-down.  The churches will be empty on Easter Sunday, always the most attended church service of the year.  Unbelievable!

This week has always been a time of reflection and renewal for me.  It’s my religious new year celebration.  A time to look back on how I’ve done and to resolve to do better going forward.  A time to remember what is important in life, and what is not.  Being in isolation, away from the usual distractions of life makes this a perfect time for us all to take a little time for introspection.

I refrain from doing this often, but this week I feel compelled to write about the topic of God.  I will give you my personal thoughts in hopes of encouraging you to give some thought to your own views.  Whether you a believer or not, and no matter your religious affiliation, I think it does us all good to contemplate the subject in some depth occasionally.  Right now seems to be a pertinent time to do just that.

Since my friends are a mix of faiths ranging from none to evangelical, I’ve had some very interesting and entertaining conversations since publishing my first book, sAint Me?!  Some thought is contained too much God, some too little, and many others to my surprise thought it was just the right mix.

I use the word saint with a lower-case “s” to denote a person who is striving to be their best in this world for the benefit of others.  The “A” is capitalized to indicate that I do not claim to be one of those people, thus an Aint.  Question mark, could I and should I strive to be a saint?  Exclamation point, yes I should!  Cute, huh?

The premise is that if we were all striving to be saints, to be our best and to give our best, this world would be a much better place to live.  The book helps you build your personal plan to do just that.

Since its publication, I’ve had the opportunity to answer a number of very common God questions such as, why do you believe, what do you believe, and what are you doing about it?

I’ll share my answers in summary form here.  Again, my hope is that they will get you thinking about your own personal beliefs.  I’ll do them in summary form to spare you the long monologue that typically accompanies them.  You’re welcome and here goes:-)

Why do you believe?

  1. Look around and try to explain the wonder of the universe in any other way.
  2. I can’t explain all of the natural talents we all possess in any other way.
  3. There have been too many “coincidences” in my life for it all to have been random.
  4. I’ve witnessed many prayers answered, some which seem to have been miracles.
  5. Christianity is backed up by significant historical facts and it makes sense to me as the best way to live a productive and happy life.
  6. It gives me hope that things can get better and that this is not all there is.
  7. Why not? There is an upside to believing and a downside to not.

Here’s my logic on that last point:

  • If you believe and you’re right, you will likely gain eternal life in heaven. You will also probably have led a happy life on earth through practicing your belief system.
  • If you believe and you’re wrong, you will never know it. You will die into nothingness.  There will be no “I told you so,” thus no embarrassment.
  • Alternatively, if you don’t believe and you’re right, you will never know it. You will die into nothingness with no opportunity to revel in your rightness.
  • But if you don’t believe and you’re wrong you will suffer the ultimate embarrassment, begging for mercy from eternal damnation. Most of the non-believers I know are very fine people, so hopefully they will get into heaven anyway.

Oh, I forgot the other growing category, agnostics: a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God.

I’m reminded of a famous saying, “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.”  Please pick a side my agnostic friends.  My advice, go with the low risk and high potential reward option, believe.  What do you have to lose?

What do you believe?

  • God is the creator of heaven and earth.
  • He gave us each life and natural talents.
  • He has a plan for each of us, it’s up to us to figure it out, and carry it out.
  • He gave us a few simple rules to follow.
  • He gave us a conscience to know right from wrong to help us follow the rules.
  • Obeying the rules will ensure our happiness on earth and prove us worthy of Heaven.
  • He gave us the gift of freedom to choose our own path and actions (free will).
  • We humans have proven to be incapable of consistently following the rules.
  • So He sent His son Jesus to show us the right way to live and to save us from our sins through His death and resurrection.
  • We can also rise from the dead and live for eternity in Heaven through our belief in Jesus and striving to live by His example.
  • Everyone who makes it to Heaven is considered a saint.
  • We can all be saints. We should all try.  If we did, this earth would be a much better and happier place in which to live.

Follow-up question.  If God is so great, why does he allow suffering.  My short answer is, He doesn’t, we do.  Through the exercise of our free will we have created all the problems in the world through our collective bad behavior.  But good news, we can solve them all by working together in the way He intended.  There is still time.

But why do bad things happen to good people?  I don’t know.  To test our faith?  To make the rest of us grateful?  To get the rest of us to help?  I have to assume there is a plan that is beyond my comprehension.

This life is short, eternity is forever.  Hopefully those who have suffered through no fault of their own will all enjoy the kingdom of heaven for an eternity.

Does God ever intervene to make things better or worse to suit His plan?  I don’t know.  Maybe often but we don’t realize it?  Maybe never.  It has got to be hard for Him to watch what is going on.  Like parents letting their kids learn everything the hard way.  Maybe He only gets involved when we ask or when it is absolutely necessary for our continued existence.  It would be nice to know for sure.

Maybe it’s best to assume He never gets involved.  That leaves it all up to us to do the best we can.  He already told us what to do through the greatest commandments, to love Him and Neighbors (everyone).  Everything will work out for the best if we do.

What is the best way to show our love for God?  I think it is to develop and use your God given talents to help others, and to behave morally.  That is the best way to show our love for neighbors too.

Intellectually seems so easy.  By striving to be my best and share my best with others, I am demonstrating my love for God and neighbors.  I will also be doing my small part to make this world a better place, and giving myself a chance to live for eternity in heaven.  Simple.  So…

What are you doing about it?

I’m striving to be a better and happier person.  Interestingly I’ve found that when I’m better, I’m happier.  And when I’m happier, I’m better.  Better and happier seem to compliment and build upon each other.

How about you?  What do you believe and what are you doing about it?  Please do yourself a favor and take some time during this Holy Week to examine your beliefs and think about what comes next.  Easter is a great time for us all to let those parts of us that are less than helpful die, and to resurrect that better and happier you that exists within.

Personally I am rededicating myself to striving to be the earthly saint I believe we are all capable of becoming.  I urge you join me.

Next week I will write about what specifically we can do.  Working together we can emerge from this temporary crisis as a better and happier people.  Lord knows we are going to need all the striving saints we can find to help those in need recover from this mess we are in.  Let’s be those people!

In the meantime, have a Healthy and Happy Easter everyone!  Scott

The Learn a New Skill Fast Challenge

A childhood friend of mine once called me a “jack of all trades and master of none.”  I said, thank you.  He said it wasn’t a compliment. I wish I had known the term renaissance man (a person of many talents and areas of knowledge) at the time.  I could have come back with that as a defense.  But at the time I had no reply.  Guy stuff, he won that round.

As it turns out, he was right on.  Nothing is more exciting to me that learning new skills.  But once I have, I get bored and am ready to move on to something else.  Therefore, I never master any of them.  Wait, except for maybe one … learning new skills quickly.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell suggests that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become world-class in any field.  Working 40 hour weeks, that is close to 5 years of dedication to a particular field of study, or 20 hours a week for ten years if you are in no hurry.  I’ll bet I’ve done 5 hours a week for 40 years of learning new skills, that math works too.

Anyway, I am always at my happiest when I have learned and am able to demonstrate a new skill.  There is just nothing like the feeling of accepting and successfully completing a difficult challenge.  Proving to yourself that you can do something that you had your doubts about will make you happy too.

In fact, whenever I am feeling a little down I choose to learn a new fun, interesting, and challenging skill.  It takes my mind off of whatever is troubling me, and serves to restore my confidence that I can overcome any obstacle.  It will work for you too.

I actually believe that the ability to learn new things quickly is an essential life skill.  It helps you to build your courage to try new things, your confidence as you experience success, and your ability to become your best and share your best with others in order to make the world a better place.

So without further ado, I hereby challenge you to learn a new skill … this week.  I’ll give you my simple formula for success below.  Oh, and good news, it will only take you one hour a day or less.  Can you spare 7 hours this week to learn a new skill that you can use for a lifetime? Yes you can:-)

I’ll give you the basics below, four simple steps.  It occurred to me during this writing that I have enough information on this topic to create another book.  But then I thought, why not learn how to do something you haven’t done before? So I have decided to develop a comprehensive on-line course instead.  I’ll let you know when it’s available and provide it to you free of charge for being such dedicated readers.  Thank you for that by the way:-)

Okay, here we go. You can do it!

Step 1 – Know Your What, Why, and Goal

Decide what skill you want to acquire, why you want it, and specifically what you will be able to do in order to declare success.

For purposes of this challenge I’m going to give you your why:  To provide a fun distraction during this strange time in history.  As long as so many of us are self-isolating to avoid the virus, we might as well put the extra time to good use.

The what you are going to learn is up to you.  I suggest it be something that you have wanted to do for a long time, but that you never felt you had the time for.  Something that you might not think is important, but you know would be fun to know how to do.

Choose something that will amaze your family and friends.  Something that you have seen others do and thought, “wow, that’s cool, I wish I could do that.”  Like juggling, twirling a pen, or a fancy dance step like the moon walk.  Or maybe you already play an instrument and you want to learn a new song.  Or enhance your skills with a ball or racket. Learn a card trick or fancy shuffling.  Choose something you know will make you smile when you succeed:-)

Take a few moments to brainstorm a list of skills you would like to have.  Now choose one that you think is possible to learn in a week.  It should be challenging but not impossible.  And you should be able to do it on your own and have ready access to the equipment and supplies required.

Now set a specific goal.  Define what you will call success.  Like, I will spin a basketball on my finger for 10 seconds, or juggle three balls twice through the rotation without a drop.  Make your goal a double D, difficult but doable.

Moving on … steps 2, 3, and 4 all start with the letter P to make them easy to remember: Probe, Practice, and Play.  Taken together I call them the Tricycle system since there are three steps which are designed to be cycled through as needed until you successfully accomplish your goal.  Plus, anyone can learn to ride a tricycle quickly, as can anyone learn a new skill fast.

If you have the Playground Heaven book you can read more about the system in Chapter 15.

Step 2 – Probe

Start with an internet search of “how to fill-in the blank with your desired skill.” Take a Goldilocks “just right” approach to this step. Learn enough to understand the basics, but not so much that you become overwhelmed.  Learn to the point of feeling, “I can do this” and stop before you get to, “Wow, this is way harder than I thought it would be.”

I suggest browsing first and then honing in on a few articles and videos that you can easily relate to.  Make sure they break down the skill into its basic steps.  There are usually a few key steps to being able to acquire a skill.  Knowing those critical few will accelerate your ability to succeed.

Personally, I go to YouTube first.  I am so thankful for all the people that take the time to share their skills and know-how with the world.  I learn the fastest by listening to advice and seeing a demonstration of the skill from others who have already succeeded.  If I need more detail I then move on to reading articles or books.

Step 3 – Practice

Practice makes perfect.  Perfect practice makes perfect.  Practice makes progress.  Common locker room signs.  I like the last one best for our purposes.  We are not going for perfect. Our goal is progress, gradual improvement, getting better every day until we achieve our goal.

First, make a plan.  What are you going to practice?  When?  Where?  How, and for how long? And Goldilocks again, not too little or too much.  I prefer brief and frequent practices to long extended sessions.  My advice, do whatever you are in the mood for at the time.

Next, make it easy and convenient to practice.  Whatever skill you have chosen to learn probably requires a physical object of some sort.  Place that object in a place where you will see it often.  Move it around with you.  Always have it nearby.

I recently learned how to spin a basketball.  I made sure the ball was always close at hand.  Whenever I had a moment with nothing better to do, I would give it a try.  Little by little I made progress.  Then as I got closer to the goal, my practice time increased.

Do what works for you.  Just make sure you are consistently practicing and making progress.  If you need more instruction, go back to probe for a while.  You may need other sources of information based on your practice experience.

Bottom-line, get started.  Take it slow, step-by-step.  Be prepared to fail.  Every failure is one step closer to success.  Be patient.  Repetition is key.  Keep tying.  Push through frustration.  Take breaks and come back later to surprising new abilities. And never ever give up.

Step 4 – Play

When you are feeling ready, demonstrate your new skill to someone else.  Play to an audience.  Even if you have not yet completely reached your goal.  Share you progress with others.

Knowing that you will eventually have an audience helps with your practice motivation.  You don’t want to hoard your talent like your toilet paper, do you?  Of course not, you want to share it with the world.

Here’s another good play option if you are not feeling ready for a live audience; video record yourself attempting your new skill.  It is so easy nowadays with our fancy phones.  Viewing a recording is a great way to get a reality check of where you are with your new skill development.  You will likely recognize ways in which you can improve quickly.

Finally, go back to probe and practice as needed until you are ready for prime-time.  When the time is right, record yourself again and share it on social media.  Challenge others to learn something new as well.  You can share this article to help them out if you’d like.

Okay, go!  Have fun, and share your new skill with the Playground Heaven Living Facebook Group when you’re ready.  If you aren’t already a member of the group, please join us.  All you have to do is request to join here.

Live Happy, Scott

What is the Meaning of This?!

Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.  These are the 5 stages that dying and grieving people go through.  They were first identified in the 1969 book, On Death and Dying authored by Elisabeth Kübler Ross.

I first read this book when I was about 14 years old.  I was not an avid reader at the time, but I saw it on a bookshelf one day and felt a strong call to read it, without anyone telling me to or making me … very unusual.

It was so interesting that I remember reading it in one sitting.  I found it fascinating and could see its application to situations other than dying.  Turns out that what I learned through it has been extremely useful throughout my life.  Most of what I have done has involved leading or participating in some type of change.  Guess what stages people go through during any change?  Yep, the same ones.

And guess what stages we are all going through right now?  In fact, do a quick reality check on yourself.  Which stage are you in primarily going through currently?  Of course currently I’m referring to the COVID-19 situation.  But if you happen to be reading this years from now there is likely some other event or condition you are dealing with.  Death, grief, and change are omnipresent.

Understanding these stages helps me to remember that what I am going through during tough times is both normal and necessary.  Normal because everyone goes through them in some way, and necessary in order to eventually be able to move forward.  Without experiencing the stages in some form, we risk getting stuck, maybe for a very long time.

In doing a little research about the stages to make sure I was providing you good information, I discovered that there are two follow-up books to the original: On Grief and Grieving and Finding Meaning.  The first was co-authored with David Kessler, and the second by him alone.  I haven’t read either, but thought I’d make you aware in case you’re interested.

In case you are unfamiliar with the stages, let’s review them briefly.  Then we will move on to what I think is the most important stage to our ongoing happiness, the sixth one that was added in the last book, Meaning.  Here goes.

Oh, but first it is important to note that you won’t necessarily go through theses stages in order, I find them to be random and reoccurring.  And annoying in that you might think you are finally done with one, only to see it come back out of nowhere to bite you again later.  Remember, normal and necessary.

Last preparatory point, these are my personal interpretations of the stages drawn from my experience.  I encourage you to read the book yourself if you want further details.

Denial – This can’t and shouldn’t be happening.  I refuse to acknowledge its existence.  I’ll cover my ears and shut my eyes.  Maybe it will go away.  Avoidance is my friend.

Anger – Okay fine, this is really happening.  But I don’t like it!  I know that patience is the virtue to be used in times like these, but I have no patience for that. It’s okay to be angry at a situation and express your frustration.  Just don’t break anything or hurt anyone, like yourself.

Bargaining – Hey God, if you fix this I promise to be a better person. I wonder about what could I have done differently to have avoided this situation in the first place?  Too late, it doesn’t matter, quit thinking about it or you’ll drive yourself crazy.

Depression –  This is awful.  How am I going to get through this? Can I?  How long will it take?  What will life be like afterwards?  Is it even worth it?  Yes, it is!  Start with gratitude for all the good in your life.

Acceptance – I still don’t like it, but I acknowledge that it is what it is.  I’ll do what I can to adapt to the new normal.  It will take time, but I know I can do it.

Do you recognize yourself in any of these stages currently?  Can you see that you have moved successfully through a couple of them already?  Have you gone through a few of them more than once?

Just for fun I wrote the stages on a sheet of paper in a circular fashion.  I thought about my journey over the last couple of weeks and drew lines between them in the order I recalled experiencing them.  In the end it looked like a pentagram, you know, a circle with a star in the middle.  Interesting.  Try it.

Personally, I’m tired of bouncing around them and hereby choose to escape and move to Finding Meaning.

Have you ever made a mess, like having a party when your parents were gone and not getting it cleaned up before they got home?  Of course not.  But if you had, what would they have said?  Something along the lines of, “What is the meaning of this?!!!  Clean this up, think about what you’ve done, and we’ll talk about it later!”

If in the very unlikely case that this ever happened to you, what would you have been thinking as you cleaned up?  Excuses?  No, they never work.  Reasons?  There are no good ones.  Explanations?  Nope.

How about simply saying you’re sorry and it won’t ever happen again?  Good start.  Probably better tell them what you have learned and what you will do differently going forward to ensure it never happens again.  Yes, great idea, hopefully that will lessen the punishment.

What does this have to do with our current situation?  Well I could be wrong, but I believe we all have at least a little mess in our lives.  Something that isn’t quite right.  Something that we could clean up.  And there is probably some meaning in our mess.

I choose to believe the meaning of this virtual shutdown of our normal life is to give us a little time to clean up.  To remind us of our mortality.  To cause us to slow down and recharge.  To reflect, reassess, and refresh.  To determine what is important going forward.  To redefine our priorities and adjust our routines.

Think of it this way.  My phone had been slowing down and quickly draining its battery recently, it was a mess.  To fix it I removed a bunch of apps, updated the software, turned it off, gave it a rest, and restarted it.  Problem solved.  We can go through a similar process to fix any messes we might have in our lives right now.

Actually, times like these often lead to complete life transformations.  We suddenly realize through a tragedy or near death experience that there is more to life.  We are determined to make the most of our remaining time.  We live life with a new attitude of gratitude and appreciation.  We live a life of meaning, purpose, and happiness.  Maybe this is that time for us.

I know we are all looking forward to life getting back to normal, but should we be?  How about instead we define a new normal for ourselves before that happens.  Take some time to ask and answer these questions for yourself this week:

  • What do you miss that serves to make you truly happy? Get those things back in your life as soon as you safely can.  For me it’s going to the gym and hanging out with friends.
  • What have you found that you don’t really miss? Stop doing those things.  If you said your job, maybe it’s time to start searching for work that you would miss doing.  I’ve found that I don’t miss watching sports on television at all.
  • What have you done differently that you would like to continue? No doubt you have done some things out of your normal routine recently.  What have you found that has improved your happiness.  Keep doing those things.  Learning new skills and walking in nature are a couple of mine.
  • Have you had any epiphanies? Thoughts that have come out of nowhere that suddenly make your path forward clear.  If so, what are you going to do about it?  I see the use of video in my future.

I challenged my playground heaven living Facebook friends to learn a new skill this week.  I’m learning to spin a basketball on my finger.  I’ll prove success soon through my first ever short video.  Back to practice.

Stay Safe and Well My Friends!  Scott