Ask More Questions & Listen More

Questions

Often times I need to take a step back from everything and ask myself, “is there an overarching theme or pattern happening in my life?” It’s fascinating to see how various facets of my life are intertwined usually to teach me – and maybe the world – something.  That current “something” is that we don’t know everything. We think we do so often, assume a bit too much, and because of that often miss something critical. We must ask more questions. It is a significant step to understanding of all manners of things, especially ourselves.

At work, I try to teach and encourage those on my team and around the company to not take anything at face value. Too often someone takes a task or project request and runs with it. At surface level, everything seems straightforward. But peel back even one layer and finding out the “why” that is driving that request and you learn that on-the-surface craziness has some context and reasoning you can support – or at least acknowledge. Or you ask your client to expand on an idea and all of a sudden a great idea is sparked to take the project to a new level or a future potential issue is avoided.

In relationships, questions are the basis for learning more about other people. You know what everyone’s favorite topic is?  What they know best of course: themselves. In my life, I have had many conversations with people without uttering much beyond my name, where I’m from or live, and a gloss over of what I do. How? By continually asking questions about just about anything they want to talk about. I’m amazed by how much others like hearing their own voice. I tap into this by keeping the focus on the other person with questions crafted and carefully selected for them.  When I’m not in the mood to talk about myself, it’s a powerful deflection tactic that works on at least 80% of people I talk to (a couple close friends are on to me.)  The only problem? When I do want to share something about my life, people still like to talk about themselves even when I’m not asking them anything. This cumulatively results in only one person feeling like they are known better; often times that person is not me. It can lead to a sense of isolation or not feeling cared about.

When it comes to ourselves, how often are we asking the really tough questions in a way that results in action or real insight? The right questions can be uncomfortable to respond to. Why? Do we not ask them because we don’t care about other people or about ourselves? Or is it because we’re afraid someone will ask us about stuff we don’t want to talk about? Maybe it’s why I direct a lot of conversation focus back to other people.

One of the worst things we do is assume we know everything we need to know from work to friendships. Without questions, we are left to assume what we don’t know, and Assuming takes you to dangerous places. So don’t be too taken aback if I ask lots of questions. It means I care and I don’t want to miss something along the way.

 

Discovering Depth in Discipline: Marathon Insights

Above: Photo gallery of Missoula and the state of Montana
It took four months of training and Saturdays where I didn’t sleep in until noon and many other nights during the week skipping out on TV, laying on the couch, or hanging out with friends over a beer or other tasty beverage. It all led up to one Sunday morning in Montana and a 26.2 mile route ahead of me. The Missoula Marathon had finally arrived. But there was so much more than just those 5+ hours to share.

I could write about the time in Montana before, during, and after the race. I could share about Troy, the guy at “The Hub” who told us about so many great things to do around  the area; about Doug, the guy who took us via boat and led our expedition across Flathead Lake over to Wild Horse Island and dropped knowledge and factoids like sick beats; and then there were the various events and friendly faces around Missoula that made our time there magical.

It’s already been three weeks since the race and there’s still elements of the total experience that I’m unpacking in my mind. I can share what I’ve learned about running and myself so far:

Training stretches you beyond your limits (almost) without you noticing. It’s hard to believe that before March of this year, the longest I had ever run was 5 miles and that by July I considered that a “short” mid-week run. The small incremental jumps in distance in each week trained my body to take on a little more, mostly in chunks it could handle.

Training is MUCH better with others. I don’t know if I could have done this without others, especially for the weekly long runs. Even without many words, the encouragement of having a friend or two by your side does wonders for your ability to continue going.

Big goals require a lot more change in your life than you plan for.  By far the biggest noticeable adjustment for me was not sleeping in on Saturdays. For anyone who knows me, Saturday morning is not a time you assume I’m awake or available for anything. Waking up as early as 5AM once to get my training run in took me way outside my comfort zone.

The body and mind is capable of far more than we normally give it credit for.  Growing up and living with asthma, running long distances never seemed to be something attainable to me. In the last few years I seem to have mostly grown out of it, however, and it allowed me to complete a marathon.

With this achievement under my belt, I look ahead to what else I can do. Perhaps it will be another marathon to push for a faster time, or to improve and increase my writing abilities, or to actually learn how to fix more stuff around the house. At the expense of sounding cheesy, “if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.” (Marty McFly, Back to the Future).

me at Missoula Marathon

Myrtle Estates Makeover: Kitchen Edition – The Reveal

It’s been 3 weeks since the kitchen project was completed and I finally made time to select a few photos to show off the final product. 6 weeks of work, a couple unexpected delays, and a lot of eating out and leftovers (thanks Mom!) and I have a space that I hope to one day cook more than ramen and plain rice in. I invite those who like to cook or just want to hang out to come over!

I present you with the final Myrtle Estates Makeover photos! It’s hard to believe just a couple months ago it was so dated and 60’s. Today the space is far more inviting and handles more than two people far better. The photos were taken before I put everything back on the countertops. I had to show off the granite in these pics. There is a list of items purchased, colors, etc. at the end of the post for those interested in the details.

Enjoy!

Before (view from living room):

Kitchen before

After (view from living room):

Kitchen - view from living room

Before (view from back door):

Kitchen before - back door

After (view from back door):

Kitchen - view from back door

Before: cluttered open storage

Kitchen - view towards back

After: clean! Everything is put away and has its place (read: hidden)

Kitchen - fridge/pantry view

The new sink and faucet!

Sink and faucet view

Granite, white subway tiles, and LED under cabinet lighting make a great team.

Bianco Romano

For those interested, here is a list of my sources for everything that went into this kitchen:

 

 

 

 

 

Myrtle Estates Makeover: Kitchen Edition (Part 2 – Sneak Peeks)

The first week of the kitchen renovation process has already come and gone. While there isn’t much to really see in terms of progress as much of the electrical work was done. You can see a picture below of the emptied room with the original floor being the only original thing remaining.

Since there won’t be much else to show for another week at least, this post will be a showcase of some of the individual elements going into the space. One remaining TBD to decide in the next couple days is the wall color. Check back soon for more updates by next weekend.

kitchen week 1 progress

If you look real close, you will notice the new electrical and recessed lights are in! The update pic isn’t flashy and I’d be concerned if it was since I didn’t want a strobe light in the kitchen. #wordplay
cabinet and tile together

Shown above is what the floor tile will look like against the cabinets (sample is of color only, door style will be shaker.) The tile is called “Clasico Ivory” in a matte finish. It’s the same tile in my bathrooms. I was such a big fan I figured why not use it again!

bianco romano granite

And a shot of the granite slab I picked out (right at the warehouse). It’s called Bianco Romano. I was looking for something with lots of white and some gray. This was the perfect fit.

kohler stainless steel sink

I decided that I wanted to go for a deep single basin stainless steel sink. It will be deep enough to wash huge pots, whole turkeys, and infants (in a pinch). After a misstep in ordering a new sink that was too big for the sink cabinet, I landed on the one pictured above from Kohler.

kitchen faucet

And the kitchen faucet. Satin nickel with a pull down faucet/head. Should be nice.

Frigidaire microwave This is the microwave. Very exciting, right? At least it will be over the stove and not taking up counter space.
whirlpool dishwasher

Perhaps the most exciting part of this  renovation! That new sink should rarely see a plate or utensil.  There’s nothing like not having to hand wash stuff to make my day that much better.

Myrtle Estates Makeover: Kitchen Edition (Part 1 – The Before)

Another year, another round of improvements to be made to the Myrtle Estates. This one was a couple years in the making since it’s 1) complicated and 2) expensive. I decided it was time to take the plunge and do a complete renovation. Everything else upstairs has joined the 21st century. So long 1960’s kitchen! I’ll miss you, sort of. Monday, April 28th officially kicks off the project!

Over the next 2-3 weeks I will be posting photos of the project and transformation. Be sure to follow the blog for updates. I’ll also aim to have a final post listing color choices, tile selection, appliances, etc. The windows were just replaced this past week as already posted on Facebook.

In the meantime, take a peek at what it looks like now and understand why it’s time to update. Kitchen - view towards back

You’ll see in this picture the current butcher block and spice shelf. Most of these items will be stored in the new pantry or cabinets.

DSC_7086

A more complete view of the kitchen from the dining/living room. I will not miss the yellow countertops matched with the brown cabinets. The floor, while full of character, is … just that.

I will, however, miss that light fixture currently over the table. I may hold onto it for posterity’s sake.

DSC_7091

Soffits over the cabinets will be going away, as will the attached wallpaper. The old school vent hood over the range will say goodbye as well. In fact, the range is moving to the outer wall left of the sink. The peninsula is also being removed in lieu of cabinets and countertop along the wall.

DSC_7088

Final view from the back door. You can see a much better view of the floor. Some would call it “classic.”

5 Weeks of Running In: Where have I gone so far?

As readers may know, I decided to sign up for a marathon in Montana this July, which is actually 3 months from today. This weekend, I completed the 5th week of training with yesterday marking my very first double-digit run at 10 miles.  A couple weeks ago I also completed my 3rd Shamrock Shuffle 8K, besting last year’s time by a few seconds. It doesn’t seem like much, but I’ll take it.

What measurable things have I accomplished so far?

  • 84 miles run (combined treadmill and outdoors)
  • 10582 calories burned

Me so happy after the Shamrock Shuffle.

Yesterday’s post 10-miler lunch went down with ease.

I’m pretty sure all of 2013 I didn’t run 84 miles! And to think there’s still 3 months of training ahead. There will be many more burgers and other high-calorie meals in my future to not feel guilty about.

What about the non-measurable stuff?

In this short period thus far, I’ve already been seeing changes in routine that would never have occurred were it not for this marathon challenge. I’m waking up before 11AM on Saturdays, actually eating something  for breakfast, and often times already out on the road and paths getting my miles in.  There was even one Tuesday that I woke up early to do my scheduled run. The cold harsh wind hindered me from doing it outside, along with my lack of proper cold weather running gear, but I hit the office gym and got it done before work. I am not a morning person at all, so this was quite a feat.

Time on the treadmill, trails, and roads certainly provides a space to think with little else to distract you, except that burning question of “Am I done yet?” No email or phone calls bother me out there and my mind is able to work out problems I can knock out later on. Honestly, the monotony is sort of therapeutic in that sense.

While my eating habits aren’t improving just yet, I do find myself sleeping quite soundly and taking more naps as my body forces me to stop and allow it to rebuild and rest my muscles and joints. The stress of the longer runs is felt, but my hope is that it gets better as I gain strength and endurance.

I also finished a book I was reading (“Perelandra” by C.S. Lewis) over the course of many months, but am making quicker progress on another one (“Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell.) Maybe it’s the required focus of the schedule or the forced physical rest running has brought, but my mind feels sharper lately. Ideas are flowing in and out of work and I’m excited for what’s to come.

More to come. Excuse me while I go buy new shoes and hit the paths again.

Running Into Discipline

Earlier this year, a friend and I started talking about the realities of running in a marathon this year. My initial reaction was “are you serious?” He said, “you’ve run the Shamrock Shuffle. You can definitely train yourself to run a marathon.” So after some consideration and entering my credit card info on the registration page, I signed up to run the Missoula Marathon on July 13th, 2014. Yes, this race is in Montana.

Why this year? Isn’t it too much at once?

That’s a great question. On the brink of a new year with a promotion at work that brings new demands and other responsibilities outside of the day job, adding on a training schedule between now and July seems like a ridiculous idea and a sure fire bet for burnout.  And on paper, it very well could be. A full time job that often takes me beyond the 40 hour work week, a proposed 4 day a week marathon training schedule, me wanting to read more books, write more here on this blog, watching TV shows that everyone’s talking about, AND spending time with people: is it all possible? Can it all be done by one man? Can I be all things?

Maybe, but with a large dose of discipline.

While I naturally love to have a flexible schedule and be open to the random opportunities life has to offer at any given moment, the fact is that won’t work for getting myself ready for a 26.2 mile run. I’m not a fan of living by a strict calendar when I’m outside of work. I love the space I leave for myself to think, mentally wander, and just “be.” However, the body and mind don’t magically become capable of big achievements without some serious work.

And change.

Yes, it’s going to mean things like swapping out Netflix for a 4 mile run after work on Tuesdays followed up by reading a couple chapters of a new book. It will mean forcing myself to call it quitting time from work before 8PM so I can spend time reflecting on whatever’s on my mind and writing about it here. It will mean trading in my precious Saturday mornings in bed for a double digit endurance run. And it will also probably mean (trying to) eat better so I have the energy I’ll need to do all of this and not pass out.

I can’t expect my life to ever be any different if nothing about it stays the same. I suspect I will learn useful life lessons while I train for this marathon, many of which plenty of marathoners before me already have learned, but I hope my personal perspectives and reflections will be of some interest to you over the coming months.

Now excuse me while I avoid all that tries vehemently to distract me from everything I’d like to do this year.

You Won’t Believe How You Feel After Reading This

I don’t know about you, the reader, but I grow more concerned and fearful every day that our culture is falling deeper into this trap of wanting more “wow factor” out of just about everything we experience. And of course, these experiences cannot come from a longer drawn out process. No, they must be instant, emotionally touching (but only positive), and promise to change how you view the world. This has become a noteworthy characteristic of places like Upworthy and similar viral content focused sites. Social media sharing has primarily become about the feel good moment.

However, leave it to news outlets to pick up the slack on the other end of the spectrum. We all know by now how the news (perhaps a misused term these days) use outlandish titles and exaggerated terminology to describe just about everything to keep us hooked in. This is nothing new and has been a tactic used for decades.

Social media, and us as creators of most of that media, have fallen right into the same patterns that has made us hate the news and write that way in status updates. We even do it in our day to day conversation. Our stories must be dramatic, “epic”, “amazeballs”, or whatever other terms are in now. (I’m clearly showing some age now.) It hasn’t helped that we’ve been telling our kids and each other we’re all “different and unique” in our own special ways. So now we all think we have some great story to tell – and really some of us do. I have wondered before how the Internet and social media channels have increased our narcissism or simply given us an outlet for what was always there. And thanks to Facebook, we all have a mini montage of our lives with a emotion-inducing soundtrack to watch and share in case you weren’t there the first when you posted all of it.

I’m waiting to see the day when this one-upping of everything bubble will burst like the early 2000’s tech bubble or the mid 2000’s housing bubble. This can’t go on for much longer without it imploding.  In ways, I look forward to seeing where we can do next. Perhaps it’ll be a world where solid content speaks for itself and we can analyze and identify it for what it truly is instead of being told it’s the best thing we’ve ever read. No seriously – THE BEST.