I can write the book on how to make yourself miserable, and I’ll do that at some point, but right now I want to focus on what it takes to be ridiculously happy. The kind of happy that makes you jump out of bed in the morning. The kind of happy that makes strangers think you’re crazy because you’re walking alone grinning from ear to ear. The kind of happy that makes you look back at the most painful moments of your life and say, “I wouldn’t change a thing.” Ridiculous happiness means you know how to recognize life’s most beautiful moments. Recently, I’ve had several people ask me, “How do you stay so positive all the time?” Here’s my answer.
“Having problems is not a problem. Expecting otherwise is a problem.”
Understand that life is never going to be easy. You will have problems every day. No day will go exactly as planned. Just like your mom used to say, “The world doesn’t revolve around you.” Accept that. Accept that there will be circumstances that are not “fair.” Understand that most things in life don’t make any sense. Ridiculously happy people see obstacles as a personal challenge, and find a way to overcome them. Happy people know life is full of adversity, obstacles, “unfair” circumstances, and really shitty days where just about everything goes wrong. To be happy is to be thrilled to play the game, even when it hurts. Adopting this attitude takes time and practice. I believe sports are a great way to learn to keep your wits about you, to stay calm, and to learn to move on to the “next play” when things go wrong. When I was younger, basketball taught me these lessons, now I’ve taken up Jiu Jitsu, and I don’t think there is another sport that so perfectly imitates the struggles of life. Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. It took me a long time to learn this lesson. I’ll save those stories for the “how to make yourself miserable chapter.”
“Wake up each day like it’s on purpose.”
Find your purpose (DREAM BIG). Make a plan and WORK. Big dreams require focus, and they require us to resist immediate gratification in favor of staying the course (and suffering). It’s the willingness to suffer to achieve that makes us great. Dreams and goals give life purpose. People with a purpose work. If you want to be happy, find your purpose and work your ass off. When your friends and family tell you “you’re crazy” for working so hard, you know you’re on the right track. Typically, it won’t feel like work to you. You have a purpose and you love it.
“We all have a family of chance and a family of choice.”
Surround yourself with good people. I’m lucky, I won, what I like to call, “the people lottery.” The death of my parents put me in West Bend, Wisconsin where I was taken in by amazing people who have shaped my life. We all need people in our lives who will tell us the truth even when it hurts (in time, you realize, good people tell everyone the truth). These are the type of people that never let you make excuses or place blame on others, they keep it real. As a youngster, my siblings always kept it real. I distinctly remember my older sister lighting me up for having a bad attitude and I often tell my athletes the following story; My freshman year of basketball I was not “moved up” to play with the junior varsity team. Frustrated, I complained to my older brother that I was just as good, if not better, than my friends that did make JV. He looked at me and said, “Sara, that may be true, but are you dominating on the Freshman level?” I answered honestly, and the answer was “no.” It was that simple conversation that shaped me as an athlete and person. I think about it every day. No excuses, just get better and if you want to play at the next level you must be so good that the powers that be cannot ignore you.
Great people make you better. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and people who support your big dreams. You must also have people in your life who will talk you off the proverbial cliff when you are being illogical, irrational and impatient (we all are at some point). Choose to surround yourself with people who will save you from yourself.
“It is our choices… that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
Remind yourself that you have choices. You will have bad moments, days, and even weeks. You choose how you react to situations, you choose your direction, you choose the people in your life, you choose your attitude. The second you realize you have a choice, that you have control, you will be able to crawl out of whatever hole you’ve found yourself in, and you may even be able to avoid the hole all together next time.
The man I’ve called my dad for the past 15 years, shared this poem with me some time ago. I still use it as a reminder that if I’m in a bad spot, it’s very likely that I made a choice that put me there. It also reminds me that I’m in control and I can choose to not make the same mistake again. It’s called “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters” by Portia Nelson. If you want to be happy, get to Chapter 5.
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost…I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend that I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in this same place.
But, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep whole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in…it’s a habit…but,
My eyes are open
I know where I am
It is my fault.
I get out immediately,
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.
I walk down another street.
So you think you’re a leader?
Twelve years ago I was a redshirt freshman basketball player at Cardinal Stritch University. I was unheralded, unrecruited and unathletic, but I worked my ass off. I practiced every day as hard as I could, and I loved it. There was no pressure for me in practice. I aimed only to get a little bit better every day. In addition to honing my physical skills, I began to study the art of communication, and leadership, in particular. I have continued to devote much of my life to being a student of effective leadership and communication. It makes me a better trainer, coach, boss, professor, business owner, and person. These are just a few of my thoughts.
“You do not lead by hitting people over the head — that’s assault, not leadership.”
— Dwight D. Eisenhower
This quote by Eisenhower is one of my favorites on leadership. I can’t count how often as a coach or athlete, those handed power, whether it be by the “captain” title or simply through their status as a veteran, have tried to “lead” by force. In a team environment, this often manifests itself as screaming, and placing blame on teammates or even coaches. Don’t get me wrong, there are moments when raising your voice to make a point can be constructive, it can light a fire under a player, it can let someone know that this is a serious situation. However, if you are always raising your voice, if you are constantly yelling, the urgency disappears and in fact, your voice becomes a whisper. People stop listening. Guess what? You’re not a leader if nobody listens to you.
Inevitably, coaches and captains will say to me, “So and so needs to have thicker skin.” My answer is this: Maybe she does, but you can’t control how sensitive she is. You can’t control how she feels. What you can control is how you convey your message. The true leader knows she must speak to people in a way in which the listener will absorb and internalize the information as if it is her own. Communication is not about the speaker’s intended message—it is about what the listener perceives. Leaders (and winners) understand this concept.
Enduring setbacks while maintaining the ability to show others the way to go forward is the true test of leadership.
I’ve cbeen a part of many teams in my life (as a player and coach), the best teams have been the ones that don’t panic when they face adversity. There are just 3 things that happen when teams face adversity.
- Apathy - nothing happens. Nobody steps up, the intensity doesn’t change, and the team loses. These teams usually do not have a leader.
- The freak out - Mistakes are compounded by frustration. The team falls apart. The athletes start to blame each other (this can be verbal or non-verbal). The team loses. These teams have poor leaders.
- The climb - You see the fire in the eyes of each team member as she internalizes her role. Pinned against the wall, the team comes together with a calm confidence that never waivers. This is the only scenario in which the team has the opportunity to win. These teams have great leaders.
The teams that emerge victorious in the face of adversity become great teams. Rough waters make great sailors. As coaches we hope for those situations that force our teams to grow strong and grow together.
I ask my players, “Do you compound your mistakes with frustration? Do you compound the mistakes of your teammates by getting frustrated with them?
Leaders do not. Leaders have a calm confidence, they understand there will be setbacks, things will not always go as planned. Great leaders, while in the midst of a bloody battle, are not only able to land a few punches of their own, but they also, with calm and unwavering confidence, keep teammates moving forward towards the ultimate goal, lifting them all to a whole new level.
Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.
- John F. Kennedy
Like all physical skills, communication and leadership take practice. You must consistently and honestly evaluate your ability to convey a message. You must learn to channel frustration and you must gain the ability to help those around you when your world is falling apart.
My final thought:
Stubbornness is a leader’s greatest enemy.
The Peachtree Road Race is the world’s largest 10 kilometer race with about 60,000 participants. It is held every July 4th in Atlanta, GA. The first Peachtree was run on July 4th, 1970. It’s an Atlanta tradition, and hopefully, now, a family tradition for me.
This was my first 10k race and I enjoyed every second of it. There was even a point along the course where I thought to myself, “Sara, slow down, relax and take this all in.” With thousands of people lining the streets, not a second went by without cheering, clapping, cowbells, or whistles, for all participants; whether we were sprinting or walking. For that 6.2 miles all of us felt like world class runners.
Peter Kirui of Kenya (shocker) finished the race in 27:37. If you do the math he was pulling approximately 4:30 minute miles. My race was just slightly different from his.
I’m guessing I walked the first 1/4 mile before my corral of 200-ish thinned out enough for me to take steps big enough to be called a jog. As soon I started to run I had an overwhelming urge to use the restroom. I was in pain until the 1 mile mark when I spotted my saving grace, the Port-o-John. Unfortunately, many other people seemed to have my issue, and I stood in line for 8 minutes. So, my first mile was about 18 minutes long. To put it in perspective, if Peter Kirui and I would have started at the same time, he would have been finishing mile 4 by the time I got out of the bathroom. Well rested, my second mile took just 7 minutes. After that I reminded myself I wasn’t there to compete. I looked around at the Atlanta skyline, gave high fives to the kids that stood along the street, ran through sprinklers, and slowed down when I saw the guy playing the acoustic guitar, just so I could hear a little more.
I plan to do more 10Ks. It’s a distance in which I can train to improve my speed, or just run for the fun of it at a moment’s notice. If you have the chance, whether you are a veteran runner or newbie, you can’t go wrong with the Peachtree Road Race!
Just remember hit up the port-a-potty one last time before you start your run. Oh, and if you want a beer from Park Tavern, you better be a fast runner! By the time we arrived they had “closed.”
A. Be positive, remind yourself before every decision or choice that you have a great life and you are blessed to be wherever you are.
B. Be honest, tell the truth always. It’s easy to fake it in life and easy to not own up to your mistakes. Do it anyway, and tomorrow will be easier.
C. Do the things today you’d regret tomorrow. Get that workout in, just put the damn clothes in the laundry, tell the ones you love that you love them…right now.
I had a successful college basketball career despite not being blessed with any real athletic talent. My former coaches will tell you that I was often the slowest player on the floor, could barely jump, and the word explosive never applied to me. In fact, at 29, I’m much more athletic than I have ever been.
In college, I played every possible role in my 5 year career. I started out as a redshirt, working my butt off in practice every day, but never suiting up. As an eligible freshman, I was described (by the coaching staff) as the 14th best player on a team of 14. My sophomore year I led the team in scoring and led the nation in 3-point field goal percentage - off the bench. As a junior I continued to come off the bench as a role player and it wasn’t until my senior year that I finally got to hear my name called as a starter. In my 5 years at Cardinal Stritch, we won 5 conference championships, 4 tournament championships and we advanced to the NAIA National Tournament 4 times.
Now, as a coach, I use my experience as a player to motivate and teach young women how to reach their full potential as basketball players. I’ve been coaching girls basketball since I was 18. Through the years, I’ve seen quite a bit of “potential” fail to develop, and I’ve seen kids with very little natural athletic ability find a way to exceed all expectations.
I spend a lot of time thinking about why some players excel while others are content with mediocrity. Having coached mostly young women, I believe they face a distinctive set of challenges, and to excel, she has to possess a unique attitude and mindset. Although, the following characteristics were developed with young women in mind, many of them certainly apply to all basketball players.
Here are my top 4 (nonphysical) attributes that every player MUST have to make the leap from average to great.
Show me a player that possesses all 4 of these attributes and I will show you a player that will succeed on the court regardless of athletic talent, and I will show you a person who will excel beyond basketball.
Believes she is in control of her own destiny.
In order to succeed (in any avenue) we must all believe we have control. We must believe we can “find a way” to get noticed. On the court, this means young players believe they can earn playing time or their place on a team.
When athletes fail to believe they are in control of their own destiny, excuses start to settle in. We hear things like, “The coach doesn’t like me,” “I don’t get the ball enough, so I can’t show what I can do.” “I’m playing the wrong position,” or “our offense doesn’t work.” All of these thoughts give control to something beyond ourselves. Giving up control is a downward spiral of which I’ve seen very few players recover. It saps the energy out of them, energy that could be spent finding a way to succeed.
A basketball player must believe she has control, focus on the things she can control, and challenge herself to be so goodthat she can’t be ignored.
It’s impossible to believe you are in control and to make excuses at the same time!
The “sponge” attitude.
One of my AAU coaches and mentors once said to me, “Be a sponge, absorb everything I tell you.”
“The Sponge” is a student of the game. She just doesn’t want to learn a skill, she wants to know when to use it and how. She not only learns from her own mistakes, but the mistakes of her teammates and opponents.
When the coach is correcting or teaching other players, she absorbs that information as well. This type of player progresses faster than her peers. She takes in and retains information and then puts it into practice.
Understands failure is part of the process.
I use the following phrase during every practice and every workout: “You will fail, you should fail.” Each time you try something new, any time you step out of your comfort zone and any time you begin to learn a skill, you will fail. Failure is the only way to make progress.
When freshmen enter one of my programs and we start to focus on shot form, I say to her, “You have 4 years perfect your form. You can either keep doing what’s comfortable for you, and never get better, or you can make this adjustment and be great.” Ninety percent of the time a player will revert quickly to doing what is comfortable, unable to deal with failing, or unwilling to put in the countless hours it takes to make the adjustment.
I try to instill a culture of failure in my teams. Mess up. Mess up 100 times - just mess up while trying to do it right!
The player that understands (and can deal with) the fact that she must fail, repeatedly, to perfect a skill, is the player that will rise to great heights. This type of player is a rare find.
Embraces coaching (criticism).
The player that embraces coaching by actively listening, the player that keeps her head high no matter how harsh the criticism, the player that can put her insecurities aside by saying, “Yes Coach,” rather than making an excuse, is the player that will have the fastest learning curve. Be that player. Spend your energy embracing coaching rather than deflecting criticism.
I know the bruises and finger prints on my shins and arms are ugly, and probably disturbing to some, but to me, they are a source of pride, a reminder that I can push myself beyond limits that most people regard as reasonable.
Jiu Jitsu is a martial art, combat sport, and self defense system that focuses on grappling and ground fighting. It combines mental acuity, technical skill, and the ability to endure, with high intensity exercise. It teaches that a smaller, weaker person can successfully defend against a bigger, stronger assailant by using leverage and proper technique.
I’m 29. 125 pounds. Some of the guys I roll with top 240.
It’s the most exhausting form of exercise I’ve ever done in my life. Mostly because I, more often than not, end up on the bottom and have to work my ass off to get out of a terrible position and defend against submissions. Sometimes, I just have to struggle to breath, 200 pounds pressing into the solar plexus is not comfortable!
I started at Neutral Ground (Grafton, WI) about 45 days ago. There has not been a single session that I have not been pushed beyond my comfort zone. In fact, every time I walk in, Luke or Perry demonstrate and teach a technique. After which, I immediately think to myself “there’s no way.” But every session, I’m able to perform the instructed skill. Actually, it surprises me (and I’m a fairly confident person). That’s the thing about Jiu Jitsu, there is always a way.
To me, Jiu Jitsu is all about focus. It’s about being in the moment at all times. Your mind never wanders from the task at hand. When I’m on the mat, I am free… Yes, even when I’m pinned or mounted. Free from the pressures, worries, and responsibilities of the outside world. Achieving ultimate freedom, for an hour, or even a moment, is what I covet the most in life.
It should be noted that I chose the right place to learn. The guys that teach and train at Neutral Ground are nothing short of amazing. It would be easy for them to make my experience terrible (if you’ve never seen Jiu Jitsu, you are put in MANY awkward and uncomfortable positions). Every guy I’ve rolled with has been extraordinarily helpful and eager to teach. It’s been a lesson in trust, letting complete strangers put me in precarious positions. I could easily be injured, but it has never happened.
As I drove home from Jiu Jitsu last night, I thought about how it’s impossible to learn this sport without training partners. Guys to roll with that are willing to put their egos aside, to teach and to help. Although the actual competition is obviously individualistic, you can’t really learn or practice technique without a partner. In this way it is completely unlike any other sport I’ve been involved in.
As a basketball player, I could practice my jump shot alone until I achieved perfect form. As a short stop, I threw the ball against the garage door a million times and fielded it from every angle imaginable. However, I can’t practice my guillotine defense, I can’t perfect sweeps, and I can’t learn the arm bar without a partner.
It’s this part of Jiu Jitsu that may be the most frustrating. I’m fiercely independent and have (up until this point) convinced myself that aloneness is, more often than not, an ideal situation. The ability to rely on myself, and myself only, is a freedom I enjoy. Solitude can’t exist in Jiu Jitsu, creating a frustrating situation where I must trust and rely on others, making myself vulnerable.
Not only does Jiu Jitsu give me the adrenaline rush and constant matriculation of skill I crave as an athlete, but it forces me to transcend limits - physically AND emotionally.
I can already feel a transformation. I am becoming a better athlete, a better coach, and I’m developing a deeper sense of self-awareness.
So hopefully, now, when you see my bruises, you won’t have to ask; “Why do you do that to yourself?”
SEE IT THROUGH
When you’re up against a trouble,
Meet it squarely, face to face;
Lift your chin and set your shoulders,
Plant your feet and take a brace.
When it’s vain to try to dodge it,
Do the best that you can do;
You may fail, but you may conquer,
See it through!
Black may be the clouds about you
And your future may seem grim,
But don’t let your nerve desert you;
Keep yourself in fighting trim.
If the worst is bound to happen,
Spite of all that you can do,
Running from it will not save you,
See it through!
Even hope may seem but futile,
When with troubles you’re beset,
But remember you are facing
Just what other men have met.
You may fail, but fall still fighting;
Don’t give up, whate’er you do;
Eyes front, head high to the finish.
See it through!
I looked through 200 pictures on Tough Mudder’s Facebook page. Whyyyyyy is everyone smiling??
The race starts out with a peaceful jaunt up some muddy hills, just when you start to get a little bit chilly you see it up ahead: The Chernobyl Jacuzzi, dumpsters filled with miserable ice water. To cross the dumpster, you must submerge your entire body and duck under a wooden divider. The Chernobyl Jacuzzi knocked the wind out of me in Wisconsin in Mid July. It was probably my least favorite obstacle. In Wisconsin, it came last, just before the electric shock therapy.
They should have had a sign before Chernobyl that read “This is the warmest you will be all day, so stop crying.”
What followed for the next 2.5 hours was miserable. I couldn’t feel my feet, it was cold, it was wet, and just when you thought the worst was over, you were forced to army crawl over ice cubes (literally) and under barbed wire, all while live wires shocked you in the backside if you even thought about lifting your chest off the ground. Whomever designed this particular torture, is the devil. I bet somewhere in the crowd of spectators, the inventor was there laughing, admiring her work.
The muddy, slippery cliffs we had to climb seemed like a gift. They reminded me that my feet still existed - and I actually love running hills. The thrill of conquering a steep hill was often cut short by the shrill sound of grown men screaming. Bill and I looked at each other thinking “what the hell is going on?” As we came across the bend into the forest we saw what was causing men to cry. Guys wading through waist high muddy water, with no end in sight. Every few steps, we saw them slip and fall deeper into the raunchy water.
Finally, we emerge and again begin to run. Again, cold and wet thinking, they have to keep us dry for a while. I guess, in comparison to waist high water quick sand is “dry.” There were points when you just hoped the mud wouldn’t engulf you. Bill lost his shoe. I got lucky.
It’s pretty (extraordinarily) difficult to run covered in mud. We might as well just strapped 10 lb weights to our ankles and tried to run a half marathon. But don’t worry, all you have to do is jump off platform 30 feet high, into a freezing cold lake to wash off. No problem. Except that you stop breathing when you hit the water.
Although he could barely walk, Bill’s eyes lit up like a little boy’s when he saw those monkey bars. We both dominated them in Wisconsin. Finally! Something to make us feel athletic and amazing again. We would show this Tough Mudder! We both made valient efforts (and ended up, once again, in the water). Did I mention that it’s cold, REALLY cold?
It’s about time I can see the finish line! Just 10,000 volts of electricity between me and a hot shower! I picked up speed, deciding I would sprint and leap over the hay bails and through the live wires. Just me, my spandex pants, and my Stritch soccer jersey. I leapt, feeling a slight shock in my shoulder, I kept running, then another and another shock, just as I felt confident that I would get through with ease, I get smoked, my legs lock and face plant into a bail of hay. I tried to rise, but each time I got hit with more voltage. Finally, I decided that curling into a fetal position and rolling towards the finish line was the safest option. I hope somebody caught that display of athleticism on camera.
My face was frozen, so I wasn’t able to smile as somebody put that orange headband on me. To be honest, I couldn’t be more proud of myself and Bill for finishing in under 3 hours. I’m pretty sure we can endure anything at this point. After the race, we both agreed that we are amazing. ;) It was an experience I will never forget.
But if you want to know what the Tough Mudder is like, don’t look at the pictures on Facebook. I think those smiling people had flasks of whiskey in their spandex.