Persist and Stay in the game

It’s that time of year when many Americans turn their attention to college basketball. The NCAA has done an amazing job in promoting and branding the March Madness tournament (AND FINALLY ALLOWING WOMEN TO USE THE BRAND). There will be millions of brackets filled out and busted (Kentucky, Iowa).

I write this short post to remind people to stay in the game. Don’t quit. If you focus on the result you want, it will become your reality.

Last night, the Creighton University mens basketball team was down by 9 points with 2:29 left in the game. The team chipped away and tied the game at regulation to send the game into overtime. Down by two in overtime with 2:42 left, one of Creighton’s best player suffered an injury and left the game. Seconds later, another key player fouled out. Through persistence, belief, and teamwork, Creighton won the game 72-69.

This reminds me to persist and stay in the game. I will never achieve my goals if I stop trying. Each day I do something to move towards my goals. Persist. If I have a set back, I make adjustments and always keep moving towards my goals. Persist. Have a great weekend. Watch some basketball and move towards your goals.

St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. He is often credited with driving the snakes out of Ireland and bringing Christianity to Ireland. Note: According to at least one article, there weren’t any snakes in Ireland – so his act may not be all that impressive. Nonetheless, today, March 17, is the day the Irish (and many who claim to be Irish, wish they were Irish, know an Irish person, or hope someday to go to Ireland) celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. While it was originally a religious feast, it has become secular celebration founded by Irish immigrants in America. Simply put, it’s a big deal and it is a big party.

People all over American celebrate this day. There are parades, green beer, green rivers, and lots of fun. My mom was 1/2 Irish and raised Catholic. She loved St. Patrick’s Day and she loved a big party.

Do you know why we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day today? Why March 17? Was he born on this day? No. Is this the day he introduced Christianity to Ireland? No. Is this the day he drove the snakes out? No. We celebrate this day because it is believed he died on March 17, 461.

I’m not a huge fan of this day. It is a day I will never forget. I was headed out to work when the phone rang (this was back in the days when people had landlines). My wife answered the phone. She quickly made eye contact, mumbled some words into the phone, and held up her hand indicating I needed to stop. Being the ever obedient husband, I stopped. A blank look came over her face. I asked who was on the phone. She said, “It was the nursing home. She said your mom isn’t doing well and you should get there soon.”

My mother had been in the nursing home for a couple of weeks. She was recovering from surgery to repair a broken hip. Additionally, she had Parkinson’s Disease. She was no longer the smiling and engeretic person she once was. For 13 years, Parkinson’s Disease had ravaged her body and her mind. We knew the end was near.

I drove quickly to the nursing home. When I walked into her room, I immediately noticed what she was wearing. She wore a very bright multicolored sweater. If you knew my mother, this sweater matched her personality perfectly. My mom had picked the sweater to wear. It was the perfect sweater for her to wear to big party. I think she knew.

Also in the room was a nurse. The nurse said my mom was having problems breathing. My mom was laying in her bed. I sat down next to her. I held her hand and let her know I was there. And then, it happened. All the stress and tension that Parkinson’s Disease had put in her body went away. My mom’s Parkinson’s mask disappeared. She was so peaceful and relaxed. I had not seen her that way in years. I felt a warm rush of calm serentiy fill the room. But then it hit me, my mother had passed away. She was gone and just like St. Patrick, it was March 17.

I kept the sweater and found it again the other day. It reminded me of what a bright star my mom was. It is pictured in this post. So as you celebrate your Irish heritage today, raise a glass to honor my mother, raise a glass to honor your mother, and raise a glass to honor St. Patrick.

Gratitude and Identity

This will be a short post. Today I am feeling extremely grateful. As background, many of you know I have been a professor at a university for the last 15+ years. A perk of the job is free admission to most of the sports and cultural events. For the past 15 years, I have attended most of the home basketball games. In the early years, I took my sons with me. It was a wonderful father-son experience. In the later years, I went alone. My children grew up and became busy with other things. To watch this program grow from mediocre to excellent (Division II National Champions 2016), has been an incredible experience. It has been fun to get to know the coaches, the players and the fans.

Over the last few days, this program has hosted the regional NCAA basketball tournament. The team won its first two games to advance to the regional final (Sweet 16). Last night the team played on its homecourt with a chance to advance to the Elite 8. It was an amazing game between two excellent teams. The arena was full, people were cheering, pep bands were playing and spirit squads were dancing, cheering and stunting. “My” team did not win. It is not the result I desired. For seven seniors, their college basketball careers end.

But here is the thing, even though it wasn’t the end result I wanted, I am so happy today. I am grateful for the journey. I am grateful for this season and all the previous ones. I am grateful for each of the coaches and players I have interacted with over the years. I am grateful for the experience of the last four days. To see the players, the coaches, the spirit squad, the students, the band, and the fans come together for a couple of hours was wonderful. It is something I have not felt since before the pandemic. So today, I am grateful for all that is the Augustana Basketball program. I am grateful for all who make it fantastic. While it is no longer my identity, it is a major part of who I am. What are you are you grateful for today?

Reunions and Identity

I would be remiss if I let today finish without a mention of the significance of this date. On this day, in 2019, my mother and I met for the first time. It’s an interesting story that you can read about here (Argus Leader) or here (Augustana Mirror).

My identity changed in ways I never knew it could. I added to my family three years ago. Love multiplies it doesn’t divide. Have a great day.

Who are you? (Part II)

In recent posts, I discussed identity. Identity is how you view yourself as a person. While identity is how YOU view yourself, we often have identities that others created for us. Further, our identities can conflict.

I did a three-step exercise with myself recently and found it helpful. I brainstormed as many of my identities as I could in two minutes. I utilized “I am” statements to list my identities. Example: “I am a father”, “I am a husband”, “I am a son”, “I am a brother”, and “I am a professor” I tried to cover the various aspects of my life including family, personal, professional, and health. After this step, I got a better picture of my own identity.

The next step provides meaning, importance, and priority to each identity listed in step one. If I am a husband, what does that mean? How important is this identity to me (extremely, somewhat, very little)? Finally, I rank each identity in order of importance and priority. This step takes a bit longer than two minutes. It requires you to dig deep. What does it mean to be a husband or a father? Where does this identity rank compared to being a professor or volunteer?

The third step is to determine if the definition and/or identity is something I wanted to keep, modify, or remove. Of the three steps, I struggled with this the most. It required me to examine long-held identities. In the end, I discovered identities that weren’t my own.

In diving into my various identities, I recognized that many of my identities came from other people. Put another way, most of MY identity was not MY identity. My identity evolved from what others believed I should be. My identity as a husband came largely from what I had observed from my father and what society expects of husbands. Similarly, much of my identity had its roots in how and where I was raised. This isn’t necessarily bad but it allowed me to modify some of my identities to meet who I really want to be.

Perhaps the most revealing part of the exercise concerned my professional identity as a professor. I became a professor, in part, to be a better father and husband. I wanted a career that allowed me to have a flexible schedule which allowed me to spend more time with family. The family was more important work. Yet, over time, my identity as a professor became more intertwined with my employer. Further, being a professor became more important and took up more of my life. Where initially the identity was a vehicle to be a better father and husband, it ended up actually harming the other identities. Had I recognized this sooner, I could have changed course sooner and avoided the unintended consequences.

This leads me to my final point for this post. Identity can be changed. In fact, identity should be changed. The world is changing all the time. James Clear provides a three-step process to jump-start an identity change and creation of identity-based habits. First, name the goal you and/or identity you want to achieve. Second, in one sentence describe the type of person who would achieve your goal. Third, list five very small steps you can take to become this person. Do each step for a week before moving to the next step. After five weeks, you will be closer to the new identity than before.

Do something today that makes you better tomorrow. Grow each day.

The importance of stories

This picture is of my mom and her dad.  There is no date on the picture, but she looks about 2 or 3 years old. Even at this age, her smile lit up a room. I never met her dad. He died before I was born. Yet from the stories my mom told and this picture, it is clear the two had a special bond.

Today is my mom’s birthday. She would have turned 90 years old. It has been 17 years since I celebrated a birthday with my mom. I wish she could see how great her grandkids have turned out.

I think about my mom every day. Around her birthday, I think about her a lot. March is the month in which she was born and died. There are so many stories I could tell about my mom.  Like the time I fell out of the car and she kept on driving – she hated it when I told that story. Or how sometimes when she and my dad would argue, she would begin to cry and through the tears say “Well, Shit!” and the argument was over. Or how about time she kept sneaking chocolates to my youngest son when she was in the hospital for the last time.

On her last birthday, I could tell mom was tired. Life and Parkinson’s disease had taken a toll on her mind and body. She was no longer the active vibrant woman of my youth. Yet, there was an occasional twinkle of mischief in her eyes. She wanted to say things but her body and mind wouldn’t let her. But through it all, she smiled when we sang happy birthday. She ate her cake and tolerated the grandchildren running around the room. This is how I remember her last birthday.

Mitch Albom wrote, “Sharing tales of those we’ve lost is how we keep from really losing them.” In this post, I shared a couple of stories about my mom. So today, take a moment and share a story about someone you love. If you have a story about my mom, send it to me, I would love to hear it. If your parents or grandparents are still living, call or visit them. Let them tell you a story that you can carry with you forever.