Near the end of July 2010, a friend of mine, who has since gone on to create an amazing bike challenge called Bike Zambia, posted on Facebook that he wanted to do a Tough Mudder race. Up until this point in my life I had never heard of a Tough Mudder, and after researching it I thought three things:

1) Oh man that looks so difficult.

2) I want to do that!

and 3) I am currently in no physical shape to do that.

Yes, I chose to do something like this.

At the time I just was back from Peace Corps for a short time (read a single month) before I left the country again, and as I sat there watching the videos on the website I decided to give myself a goal. I wanted to run one of these in my life. I wanted to do it if for no other reason than because I wanted to prove that I had it in me to run that far (10-12 miles) and do all of those challenges. But also in part because it looked like there was more to it then just throwing yourself at the obstacles, it was about team work and coming together with strangers to overcome those obstacles. As I was trying to figure out where my life was going next, that sounded very appealing.

So I started running.

At first I ran in place in my kitchen in Tajikistan because a) it was super hot everywhere and b) I had no idea where I would run where people wouldn’t look at me like I was a crazy man. So I ran inside in place in my kitchen. First for 15 minutes, then for 35, then up and up and up. By the time I left Tajikistan I could run in place for over an hour.

When I got back to the US I decided to take my running outside. It SUCKED. I knew I could run in place for a long period of time, but running outside was harder than I had imagined. My knees hurt, my feet hurt, my lungs hurt (though that might have been because I was running outside in a city) it was way different from running in place (not on a treadmill, just in place). At first I could only run 2 miles, but I kept pushing myself, and soon I could run 4, then 5, then 7, then 9. I pushed my base running distance (the distance that you can run without a problem after taking a month or so break) from half a mile to 4 miles.

Then I ran my first 5k, then my first 10k.

After I finished my first 10K I thought “Ok I can do a Tough Mudder now… maybe.” A group of my friends from Peace Corps and some of their friends signed up with me. Those guys made me train harder than I had before and I was psyched and scared, as I had also signed up for a Ragnar Relay two weeks after that race. The morning of that Tough Mudder it was cancelled due to weather (via a 3 am text message).

Two weeks later I ran in someone elses goal, a Ragnar Relay.  It was an experience I will never forget, and actually wanted to do again almost as soon as I finished (almost).

Then my best friend in DC told me he wanted to do a Tough Mudder and asked if I could join. I immediately said yes, after all this had been a goal of mine at this point for almost three years. This time, there was no canceling, though there were complaints (even by me) of how cold it was the morning of. I didn’t complete all of the obstacles (actually I flew off the second handle bar on one and into the water due to both exhaustion and muddy hands), but I tried to do all of them, and can therefore honestly say that I feel different (mentally and physically) than the man I was three years ago when I thought of that goal.

So today I sit here bruised, sore, and have a number still visible on my head from a sharpie, but I am feeling great. I started running and going to the gym, because of this goal. I started eating healthier, and thinking about things I had not thought about before (like how the movies I watch affect my actions) due running. I started rock climbing because I was already exercising and it seemed like another way to do it. In the process of pursuing this goal, I helped others achieve their own goals, I have picked up new hobbies, and I found new ways to relieve stress and simply have fun (yes running and rock climbing are now a form of fun for me). It wasn’t my only goal during those three years,but it still had multiple side benefits that I had not even contemplated when I started towards it a little less than three years ago.

That’s what is amazing about goals to me. They are not things that should come easily or quickly, for during those long hard hours of training, practice, or patience, the pursuit of your goal will bring you into many other amazing places, offer you other benefits you hadn’t thought about, and show you the door to even more goals. Look at America’s goal of getting to the moon, it gave us Tang, personal computers, Velcro, scratch resistant glasses and so much more. Or look at the goal of landing a job you love to do, sure it affords you money to do many things, but it also gives you friendships, contentment, and possibly even free coffee (mmm free coffee). Goals all have many side benefits you find a long the way that can make your life feel better, while helping you turn the impossible into the possible.

So think long and hard about your goals. They can change you and the world around you (if simply because they change you), even if the goal is simply running in a race or learning to spell minute correctly.

So today I want to sorely thank goals. They can push us towards a better version of ourselves and our world.

I also want to thank that original friend who put the goal in my head, JD; and my friend Jimmy who today is sore with me.

Next goal? Run a Tough Mudder and Ragnar Relay within a month of each other. Third times the charm right?


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Lessons Learned: An Introduction

Hello young (at heart?) reader,

I started doing this almost two years ago via e-mail (wow… that’s been a long time). I have hundreds of lessons learned at this point. Some fascinating, some kind of gross, others personal. I have been asked by many of the readers to create a blog of Lessons Learned and so I thought I would start by reviewing a few of my favorites from recent ones so you get the general idea of how these works. (usually there are only 10, and thus this one will only have 10 as well)

Lessons Learned:

1) For over ten years the US government, mainly the DHS (Homeland Security), funded research into efforts to create a new kind of fertilizer. Though Homeland Security creating fertilizer may seem odd, the new technique made the fertilizer more potent and also non-explosive (readers who around my age may not remember that in 1995 fertilizer was used as a giant bomb against a government building) It was released about a year ago now and the data is starting to come in on its effectiveness. Though it is a great step forward for those trying to ensure things do not blow up, the jury is still out on environmental ramifications, but that’s a different issue.

2) The word auspices comes from Roman times (You don’t say. A Latin based word in English?). ahh but what was it about back then? First back then it was auspiciis , but it still meant a sign from the heavens actually. It was commonly part of a phrase “taking the auspices” which entailed the examining of the will of the gods by looking at birds by Augurs. The Augurs would take a crooked cane (like you see on a lot of Roman coins) and draw a square in the sky, and then observe that piece of the sky for birds and figured out due to direction birds were flying, how many, how they were flying, cutting them open and looking at their entrails, possibly if one pooped on the emperor I imagine, what the gods were thinking. As Livy said near the beginning of his tome:  “Who does not know that this city was founded only after taking the auspices, that everything in war and in peace, at home and abroad, was done only after taking the auspices?” Finding that quote actually made me look up the word auspices… thus kind of making it an auspices quote?… not really… I don’t think.

3) I am what is called a bifurcated sleeper (if I got to sleep early enough). I thought that what I do when I go to sleep early is abnormal. I did not realize it might actually be the healthier way of sleeping as it showcases that I do not have sleep deprivation (after high school I am surprised this has ever happened), nor that this is how most people used to sleep before the industrial revolution. (DAMN YOU ELECTRIC LIGHTS!)

4) Your appendix. It is the most useless part of the human body right? Not so fast. Apparently the appendix may be useful for bacteria. (Those tiny little things there are more of in us, than actual cells) The gut, where we digest most of our food and get the nutrients into our blood stream, is a busy and hectic place. There are constantly things that are coming through and messing with bacteria, and bacteria are messing right back, while trying to work with the food we put in. Its all work work work in the gut. The appendix may actually be something like Hawaii for the bacteria. A place to relax and breed in order to ensure that you can keep eating all those delicious things.

5) The more I find out about private and public space enterprises the more excited I get. Not simply by the idea that in my lifetime I may experience space flight (which has been peoples dream since the 1960s), but because of what is called the overview effect. What on gods green earth is that you wonder (and are too lazy to click the link and read)? Its the name of the cognitive shift in astronauts when they look back at earth from space. Many astronauts (and cosmonauts for that matter) say that when looking at earth be it from orbit, or the surface of the moon it changes how you view not simply yourself, but the entire world itself. Hell, the the first American in space cried when he turned around and looked at earth from the moon. That would be ALAN “Balls of Steel” SHEPARD. To me this could mean something very important. It means the human race could stop being as nationalistic, and instead start looking at everyone from the planet as a whole, instead of from a part of it. Only after we cry though, there will have to be tons of tears.

6) After calculating if you sleep 7 hours a night (which is about average for me) you are sleeping for just over two days every week.

7) From an FAO report released roughly one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally, which amounts to about 1.3 billion tons per year.

8) Spray on clothing could happen sooner than you think. The guy who created it imagined it to be used in the future for spray on bandages as well. Either way this is crazy.

9) You are technically always living in the past. When you think about how fast electricity moves through your bodies nervous system, you think all nerves are the same (well I did). A famous experiment with frogs and electricity by German (its always the Germans right?) Herman Von Helmholtz (who himself is pretty awesome) found that electricity runs through their nervous system at 60.3 miles per an hour. Now, that’s not true for all neurons though, some travel a lot slower (pain and pleasure apparently travels at 1 (ish) mile an hour… which is a problem for the 70 miles tall people walking around). So our sense of touch is actually in the past, we’ve already touched it. Our sight is also really in the past as it takes time to see light reflected back to us and for our brains to decode it (which can best be summed up in the Flash Lag effect). Sound waves move slower than sight right? so what we hear is from the past. But actually sound may give us our quickest response time, mainly because it skips the brain. It goes from your ear to your spinal neurons (Startle Response is just cool to me). So what about your thoughts? Well if you are thinking words, that’s not here and now because you have to create the words, and even images in our heads are milliseconds away. So we can never quiet get into now. This to me is slightly liberating, and made me rethink the purpose of meditating. Its not about focusing on the present moment, but instead about watching your thoughts. (fun Radiolab show about this topic, and for the more visual a VSauce episode)

10) Apparently there exists really small electronic chips (suuuuper small) that can be powered by your blood stream. Stop conspiracy theorists amongst you, they’ve only made a few of them, so you probably don’t have one… maybe. They work by taking the glucose from your blood stream and the oxygen from your blood stream to create a small amount of power needed to power said chips. Now this has only been done a few times for a few medical issues, and the people have teamed up with this chip that keeps track of peoples vitals, but it makes me think of something else. One of the possible reasons for why we are getting fatter (besides air pollution and epigenetics) is that due to indoor heating and cooling we no longer have to consume as many calories. In the future (think 20 years) when we have electronics that are added to our bodies (not out of the realm of possibility), I imagine they will use our own blood stream to power them, thus we will need more calories to power this device. This means that these new electronics could be marketed as… a weight loss program. Want your arm to be your phone? Well, looks like you need to eat that double chocolate chip cookie after all.


Stay tuned for more lessons learned in the future.

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Since it has been… a while since I did these I have had many new people come into my life. There have also been some developments in the world, both politically and scientifically, and some developments for me personally both positive and negative. But here is one thing, through out it all, that I’ve had: Friends, old and new.

I can now honestly say, for possibly the first time ever, I have a good group of guy friends. Before a lot of my friends where girls, with a spare guy or two thrown in there (like my best friend Noah who is probably laughing at this right now). I still have many friends who are girls true, but for the first time I truly have a solid group of male friends.

Actually kind of looks like me and my four good guy friends.

To me though one of the better aspects of my life is that my friends are spread out all over the world. In many countries I have someone I can call upon in case I am in trouble, or I just need to see a smiling face. This is what I commonly think of when I think of friends: a helping hand and a smiling face, the ones there to give you words of comfort.

I am not sure that I realized how important my friends truly were until I had lived abroad for a while. I came home to go to one friends wedding. My best friend (mentioned earlier) flew half way across the country to meet me, and my other best friend called him so that we could talk while I was still in the US. I remember sitting at the wedding, watching my high school friend have one of the largest smiles I’ve ever seen him have and thought, “Holy shit. This is why you have friends.” I’m not talking about having friends so you can have people at your wedding or so you can go to there weddings… well I kind of am.

That is one seriously happy man.

That is one seriously happy man.

Let me explain. Science has only recently begun researching friendship and the psychological effects that happen because of it. Instead of things like, why do some people make lots of friends, and some make few but really strong friendships? And why are some people horrible at keeping in touch with friends? (that would be me) They’ve found out some things that are more interesting.

1) We have more confidence when we merely think of our friends. Just thinking about our friends helps us overcome difficulties. We see our friends as an extension of ourselves, and actually better extensions of ourselves. When they accomplish something amazing, we feel great. When we do something amazing, we make our friends feel better too (trust me this happened when my best friend proposed a few months ago). It all builds off each other, we push each other forward to bigger and better things.

But that’s not all.

2) You actually are more open to working on faults and problems when you simply think about your friends. If you picture their faces, their voices, their words when trying to work on bettering yourself, you actually able to keep at it longer. If they are around, you are better able to come to grips with hard truths about yourself. Its why friends are the most important people to have at interventions (sorry family), because you’ve chosen to have them in your life, and thus, you listen to them much more carefully than you would your parents.

So not only are friends amazing people to have to help you through tough times, and are hopefully people who will offer you a big smile, but they also make you a better person mentally.

So today take a moment to thank your friends. Whether they are near or far. Whether you see them everyday or once ever few years, these people not only help keep us strong, but make us stronger.

Guy who flew halfway around the country to hang out with me. Also the funniest sign ever.

Guy who flew halfway around the country to hang out with me. Also the weirdest sign ever.

Thank you friends!

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Time off

I’ve previously talked about vacations. At the time I believed that I would be doing this everyday for the foreseeable future.

Then I went back to university, with amazing teachers and fellow classmates. Started spending much of my time in the library, or at work. I raised my own expectations, and changed my course about 100 times. (see what I did there) In the process though I always remembered to do something that I feel is amazingly important.

Where I write my papers. On the left.

Many of my new found friends (those of you who are reading this blog for the first time probably) have asked me from time to time how I could possibly seem so relaxed all the time. After all I work, I study, I do fairly well, I write, I used to lead an organization, I had internships, practicums, language classes, relationships, friendships and transit to and from all those activities. How in the world do I seem so relaxed?

First off, I am not always relaxed, I may appear to be so, but that is not the case. But I always take time off from what I am doing. In the last few weeks of any semester I meditate for 15 minutes a day, since that is all I can really afford. Other times I take 2 hours every weekend to just read for fun. I have favorite movies that I watch often (sorry roommates for having to hear one movie around 500 times). I also run a lot. These things may not seem like taking time off to you, but trust me. I look forward to these time periods. Be it 40 minutes on a treadmill or 2 hours in a coffee shop with a book.

Not me, but I do love this coffee shop.

Different people need different things to recharge. Mine have been mentioned above. Many of my roommates play video games to do the same thing. One of them cooks (which I wholeheartedly endorse). Whatever it is that takes you away from what you are “supposed” to be doing, and getting you out of that day to day mindset to calm yourself down, do it.

Its like a mini vacation everyday. Its why we have breaks at work, so you can take a moment and stop worrying.

That is how I appear so relaxed. That is the secret. Honest injun’ it keeps me sane, and keeps me level.

Thank you time off.

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One of the things that hit me hardest upon returning to the US from living and working abroad was all the options that we have here. You walk into a grocery store and you can choose from 15-35 different types (not simply different brands) of salsa. The same is true for cereal, milk, meat, cheese, tea, coffee, places to live, things to do.

I am not quite sure I fully grasp the amazingness of these options even now. They are so plentiful, and in so many areas, that at least my generation, has come to think of these things as common place.

In many countries of the world, you can’t move unless you get special permission from the government.

You can’t change jobs unless your boss says its ok for you to leave.

But here in the United States if you hate your job, you could (in theory) quit, move somewhere else in the country, and start a new job, a new life.

When I was beginning high school I was worried. There were so many classes that I wanted to take, I wanted to try everything, but thats not possible. It wasn’t done, it wasn’t right. I remember asking my dad what to do and he just said, “Take what you want. Just cause something says its for a year, does not mean you have to do it for a year. When else will you be able to do this?” (thanks dad) So in this vain I took more subjects than I might have otherwise done in the non-required course area, and with one teacher I even help to create a new class that I wanted to take but was not yet offered (it lasted only a few years, but it was fun).

To this day I think this was probably the most important aspect of my educational choices. Almost more important than where I went to undergrad or even graduate school. The reason is simple.

We put so much stress these days on choosing “the right path”. That if screw up  and we do not follow the right path then our lives will be horrible and depressing. But the beauty of life is that no one really follows the same path, and therefore there is no “right path”. We worry about money, so we chase after money. We worry about love, so we chase after love. We worry about legacy, so we chase after legacy. We tend to ignore though, that there are other options to each of our choices. By trying about 15 different classes in a time and not making honor roll, when most of my peers were trying 6 and getting salutatorian (no offense buddy, you are awesome), I was learning something that was not taught in any of these classes, that in a land of millions of options you need to keep a more holistic viewpoint of the world and progress from there. There is no right path, and therefore, there is also no wrong path to be followed. All paths are great, you simply need to look at all the options and choose from them.

The best part?

This literally never ends until you do.

Thank you options.


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This American Life, Stuff you Should Know, My history can beat up your politics, Wait Wait Dont Tell Me. These are all just a few of the Podcasts that I listen to. A few of them are on the radio, a few of them could read just as well on paper as articles in newspapers, or magazines. A few would make really fun books. But they aren’t really any of those things. They are something different.

Podcasts were around for a while before they became really popular, and the reason they became popular I believe is because people want to listen to these shows whenever they have free time. I’ve tried to find Wait Wait don’t tell me on the radio, and This American Life, but its hard. If you are constantly in different areas finding the show time on a new NPR broadcast is hard. Its so much easier to just get it from the websites. And for the most part these are free.

People love information. We are information junkies in the west, and I for one love learning anything and everything I can about the world around me. So if I am on the metro, or walking down the street I will probably be trying to learn something by reading, or listening to a podcast.

And that’s whats so amazing about them. You can listen to them anytime anywhere as long as you have the equipment. Whether its a phone or a portable music player, you can listen to all sorts of things these days if you just look for them. And that is amazing.

So whether you listen to podcasts or not, take a moment today to thank them. They are usually quick and full of information (sometimes highly opinionated information) that allow us to always be learning new things.

So thank you Podcasts!

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Streaming Video

I am not a fan of owning a television. The commercials could bore me to death most of the time, when I have one I tend to have it on whether it should be on or not, and I didn’t have one when I was younger so I figure why own one. But every once in a while I want to watch a TV show. It might be something fun and mindless, or thought-provoking. When I was in college this aspect was the reason behind me owning a television. It cost a lot of money to have as well. Upwards to 90 bucks a person in one of my houses. Thats why today I am so happy to have the ability to watch certain things on my computer, and the ability to close them again.

Netflix, Amazon, Blockbuster, Hulu, all of the major networks, the Daily show, the Colbert Report, MLB.com, NFL, even Al Jazeera have something in common now. Streaming video.

Netflix may be messing with people today, splitting into two different companies in one of the stupidest company moves in many years, but it was the pioneer of streaming video. Back before NBC, CBS, even CNN had video you could watch on their websites Netflix had it. Then channels found that if they put their videos up online for all to see, they wouldn’t have to worry as much about people like me illegally downloading tv shows.

But this all misses some pretty large advancements that needed to happen before video could be streamed.

In the 90’s when streaming multimedia started, bandwidth was fairly small as was memory capacity of computers, and you couldn’t stream (live) anything really except audio. Even into the early 2000’s it was radio that was streamed online. (I remember listening to the run up to the Iraq war in my dorm room on BBC radio). But around 2004 something began to happen, and suddenly not only could computers hold the data needed to stream but internet bandwidth could hold it. The bandwidth was in part due to the internet infrastructure, and partially because of data bundling (which you can ask your loving Tech friend about something and they will talk for a bit).

So today as you sit at your desk and watch your baseball games on your phone (you know who you are), or you watch an episode of 30 Rock on Hulu, or a horribly good movie on Netflix, take a minute and thank streaming video. This technology is roughly 6 years old, but imagine the world today without it, its pretty hard.

Thank you Streaming video

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