March 31, 2013 Comments Off
You get used to a pretty busy schedule of meetings at Microsoft. Either you let it get to you, or you adapt. I had adapted quite well. I had a full slate for the week, with a fairly important release coming up the next week, and meetings stacked up on most of my days. I had a late call for a “Skip-Level” or a meeting with my bosses’ boss. This wasn’t all that uncommon, and usually involved a bit of outreach from the higher management, a bit of chit-chat, and back to work you go.
So I completed my round of meetings in the morning, had the release drop prepped for a review later, and made my way over to the big bosses’ office. There was someone already in there, so I waited outside. After a bit, she opened the door, and asked me inside.
“Mark, thanks for coming. This is to inform you that your position has been eliminated at the company, and as of this moment your duties are finished.”
I was laid off.
I held the packet of severance information in my hand as I walked out. I was actually one of the lucky ones, I had two months for internal job search before I was terminated. But I was still in shock. I headed home. Then I had the pleasure of telling my wife that I no longer had a job. The look on her face made me want to cry.
Fortunately, and frankly accidentally, I had been prepared for this. I was not prepared to go out and market myself, I had a stale resume, and I don’t interview very well. I’m nervous talking in front of people, and twice as nervous talking about myself. But I had two things going for me.
First, my job for almost thirteen years has been about firefighting hot issues. Website failures, system failures, publishing failures. Big, high-visibility, high-pressure issues where vice-presidents were breathing down my neck and thousands of dollars were lost every minute. I could buckle-down and ride this kind of stress with no problem. I instinctively knew to hunker down and focus on working the issues. No blame, no anger, just resolve the problem at hand.
Second, I had my health. This might seem like an irrelevant thing, or something silly, but at the time if felt critical. From my weightlifting and kettlebell work, I knew that I was capable of pushing through personal suffering and short term pain for a goal.
It may sound silly, but knowing that I could focus and survive making 100 Kettlebell snatches in 5 minutes told myself that I could dive and survive interviews. No ifs, ands or buts. Most of physical exertion is mental at root. I knew that I could tap that experience and use it to my advantage.
I had to focus on the process forward, not blame backward. This meant casting aside the immediate self doubt that was creeping in, and focusing on what I knew I did right. I knew my job, I knew I was good at it. Now I needed to get out there and ignore the potential for failure to sell myself.
I was given access to a placement resource, and they offered classes on things like networking and negotiation. I attended everything I could. I cast a wide net on the internal search tools, and started contacting individuals on the teams that were up. I fixed my resume and sample works so folks could see what I did.
I ended up getting an offer from the first group that I met with. Lots was happening in parallel, but the first contact made me an offer. In the end, it will be a great advantage to move to this new team. But the path here was rocky, to say the least.
Our professional world draws on the personal, just as much as the opposite. A solid personal foundation serves us all well, and can’t be ignored. Physical exertion lays a foundation that can be called when you need it most. And in many ways, our mental state calls on the physical abilities that we have grown.
I landed well, but that outcome was not set in stone. It was earned. I have the support of many, including my wife, family and friends. I have the support of my co-workers, but I also have invisible support from my network of trainers and friends. Solid physical health gave me an edge on mental health. I can draw on all that when needed, and this was one of those needs.
Now I’m excited to move on to my new work, and thankful to all those who gave me a helping hand, whether they know it or not.
January 4, 2013 Comments Off
Anyone who has the misfortune to spend much time around me knows that I have a pretty serious obsession with health.
Not just in an abstract fusion either, but I like to drill into what can practically be done to impact weight, longevity, quality of life, disease, all that crap. I’m not terribly big on so much of the “hey, heres some abstract concept on this obscure part of diet, but there’s nothing you can do about it” type research that seems popular. I like to focus on what we can do.
I just finished reading “Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease” By Dr. Robert Lustig, who if you don’t know is famous for his “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” Lecture on Youtube. This is a great resource on the biochemistry and politic side of obesity and the impacts of Metabolic Disorder.
I Have also been thumbing through “Testing Treatments: Better Research for Better Healthcare ” Which has a great discussion on how clinical trials are generally mishandled, and “Death by Prescription: The Shocking Truth Behind an Overmedicated Nation” Which gives a lot of data on taking personal action in your use of prescription drugs.
Much of this is interesting by itself.
I started caring about this because I hit a point in my personal life where I was tired of being fat. As a typical obsessive-compulsive nerd, I was drawn in as I dug deeper. Americans (followed by the rest of the world) live longer lives now. But the quality of those years has declined. We have had was was once the last five years of our life lived with “significant” quality impairments increased to the last “twenty” years of our lives. See the rise in those fucking scooters for the mobility impact.
Alzheimer’s and cognitive issues are on the rise. Cancer is on the rise. Fuck, the lack of fitness in Americans has impacted the military recruitment, and is becoming a National Security issue. Fuck, can we start taking this seriously yet?
I have some deep opinions on the best way to do things, but that’s no longer even the point. How about we simply stop doing the worst fucking things possible?
Eat less than 130 pounds of sugar per year.
Safe levels of sugar were once calculated back when the average was 40 pounds per person per year. now we eat 130. If you want to know why this is an issue war Dr. Lustig’s video above. Or of you think that only calories are the issue then just imagine the calories (hint: at this amount, the calories are overwhelmed but the impact on insulin and your liver)
Actually, I can stop advice right there. Just sugar alone is probably the worst of the worst of the worst. Just fixing that in anyone’s diet (stop drinking sodas and fruit juice, quit foods with added sugar, etc) would make a big impact.
Then, get off your ass and do something. Anything. (but not jogging, that shit’s useless) Do 50 pushups each day. Take the whole day, I don’t fucking care. do it. Add 20 sit-ups. get two empty gallon milk containers, fill them with water, and duck-tape them closed. carry one in each hand and walk around the block.
If all that’s too easy, go buy some Kettlebells. Show up at my house and I will personally show you how to use them. Lift more heavy shit.
Personally, I chose to do a lot more. I still eat a paleo diet, and have barbells, kettlebells, and bodyweight workouts that I mix. But not everyone needs to be as insane as me to make a difference. Just. Do. Something.
October 19, 2012 Comments Off
I fear Cancer. I had the distinct displeasure of watching my good friend Chuck slowly waste away and succumb to cancer, for no particularly good reason. My Father and Uncle both survived. My Mother-in-Law is a Stage 4 survivor.
I fear Alzheimer’s. For a time my grandmother thought that I was my father, and that My father was her husband. I got to see the confusion on her face and the pain in my father’s face. She was taken from us ten years before she died.
I fear Diabetes, joint failure, injury and sickness. We all see friends and family suffering from one thing or another. It is truly a rare occurrence to know of someone who is free from all disease or condition than the opposite.
But I don’t fear dying young. I have said before, and I think it is still true, that with the state of today’s medicine, it is very unlikely that Most of us alive today will die before our mind or bodies wear out.
That is perhaps the greatest thing to fear.
Think for a moment what that implies. Get a disease? There’s a drug for that. Failing organ? There’s a drug for that. Chronic Pain? There’s a drug for that. Clogged arteries? There’s a drug for that. You aren’t healthy but we aren’t sure why? There’s a drug for that. Potentially fatal drug interaction? There’s a –oh wait, shit.
Smash yourself up and we can sew you up. Things that would have killed us 20 years ago are routine to survive now.
But surviving isn’t living.
While nothing can guarantee a long healthy life, I look at my health like a game of poker. Every day, I have to push all-in. We all do, we have no choice. We put our lives on the line all day by crossing the street, stepping outside, picking up a trash can, everything. Hell, some folks bite it taking a dump.
We don’t control our bets, and we sure don’t control the cards on the table, so that just leaves the cards in our hand, our “hole” cards. And in that case, we have some options.
In real poker, I want aces. If I have a crappy hand, like 2-7 off suit, I won’t play. In life, we get to pick our “hole” cards.
We can choose to be active, strong and healthy. We control what we eat. While most everyone our in the world will argue about what the “perfect” diet or exercise might be, we all know what the worst is. We know that the standard, American, processed, sugary diet is killing us. The lazy, tired, sedentary life is killing us. We probably don’t need to be “perfect” but even being pretty good gives us all a fighting chance.
We hear in virtually every study that obesity is the primary marker for almost every disease of civilization. Eat natural food. Do some walking. Your weight will come down.
Congrats, you have pocket tens.
Start experimenting with your diet and find if you need lower carb or higher protein. Try different workouts. Build some muscle. Take some vitamins. Eat some Kale.
Push for Jacks or Queens.
If we are willing to give ourselves a shot, the benefit of the doubts, then we have a better chance of avoiding disease, cancer or injury. We have a better shot at healing faster when we do get ill or injured. There are not guarantees, the best we can do is improve our odds.
I’m pushing for aces myself.
October 12, 2012 Comments Off
We were watching Anthony Bourdain’s travel show the other day, and I was really hit by a comment that he said. The show was a tour through the Burgundy region of France, and if you have been to any part of France outside of Paris, you can really appreciate the beauty of the provinces. But Bourdain’s show is about Food, and also, his reactions to food. So this comment erupted after a tour of wineries, shops, all the usual places, and he and his traveling companion were in some side market, tasting vegetables from the region. After tasting some random – whatever, he said:
“If vegetables tasted like this in America, people would actually eat them!”
I was floored.
This comment reactivated ideas that had been swimming in my head for a long time since I have started eating a “Paleo” type diet.
I went today to get my Flu shot at Microsoft. It is one of the cool corporate benefits that we get, and they will also to a quick health screening as well. A mail get sent around to everyone to click a link that takes you to the internal wellness site, where you can pick a time to get your shot, and even take the spouse along for free.
When you sign up, the tool also walks you through a short series of questions about your health habits, do you exercise, how many hours, what do you eat, etc. The one that made me pause was, “Do you eat fatty red meat such as Hamburgers, Pizza…”
I stopped right there.
I’m not sure where you eat, but the last time I saw a hamburger, the “meat” was the smallest part of it. And most of the “red” on the last pizza I saw was sauce. The next choice was eating “Lean” meats such as chicken breasts. Third place is you’re fired.
My eating habits, of eating “fatty” cuts of meat that aren’t wrapped in a great blob of gluten isn’t even a choice. How about the quality of meat that I eat? Do they really think that the source and feed or hormone profile makes no difference?
If you have ever read any paleo blog or book, a common refrain is the poor quality of studies that claim the benefits of whole grains or the dangers of fats in the diet, when confounders in these studies wipe out any chance of getting valuable data. Calling Pizza a “Red Meat” happens often. Not controlling for food quality is common.
If you talk with someone who advocates a “Low Carb” diet, it will be uncommon to find two people who agreed what “low” exactly means. And virtually none of the studies out there, pro or con, state this clearly.
We frequently hear about how a ratio of macronutrients will give one he alt benefit or another, vs how many calories are needed per day. But does your body treat 100 calories of cake the same as 100 calories of spinach? How about 10 ounces of cheap, feedlot beef vs 10 ounces of prime, organic grass-fed bison? Are carbs the same in apples and bread? Is fat the same between Soy oil and avocado? How fresh are the ingredients?
If I buy a tomato from the store, even from the organic pile, and eat a slice, it’s pretty good. But its just a tomato. We get freshly picked tomatoes delivered each week ripened on the vine, and cutting into one release smells of the vine and soil, and with that I can remember being 12 years old, running in my grandparents yard and brushing against their tomato plants, potted in wine barrels, releasing that same smell when I hit them.
If the quality of food can impact my memories so much, how is that impacting my health? How is the lack of that quality impacting our health?
The whole concept of eating high-quality, clean, natural food is such a novelty in our culture now. We look to packaged, enriched foods and expensive drugs to make up for missing basics in our diet. We want simple, easy numbers to track (100 calories! 50 carbs!) so we can check them off of a list.
But our bodies don’t run on checklists.
We are what we eat. We are what our food eats. We are where our food grows.
Those are first principles. Eat real food.
After that, we can discuss eating more of one thing or less of another. But discussing and arguing over how much garbage and chemical by-product we should eat isn’t the answer.
Once first principles are correct, we can move to the next step.
September 21, 2012 Comments Off
As usual, I am reading far too many things at once.
Yulia and I are signed up for a class on Sunday. This particular class is Primal Move, which comes from the folks associated with DragonDoor, the home of the Kettlebell system that I use so often, and write about when I’m not lazy as hell.
Several natural-movement based systems have sprung up in the last few years. You can count in there the barefoot running, minimalist shoe movement, MoveNat, and Primal Move, is the latest. I particularly like that it has foundations in Grey Cook’s Functional Movement Systems, as well as Krav Maga, and a bunch of other ingredients.
I like to prepare for courses and classes like this. The last class I took at this studio was with Pavel Tsatsouline, and was based on his books Bulletproof Abs and Naked Warrior. I already had those books before the course, and I re-read them before starting the course.
So when we signed up for this, I took time on the Primal Move site (primalmove.com) and read interviews with the founder, Peter Lakatos (who I was familiar with from Russian Kettlebell training). He mentioned Grey Cook, Kettlebells, and several other inspirations for the system, one of which is the book Play by Stuart Brown M.D.
Naturally, I had to prep for the course by starting to read this.
I’m about halfway in, but It is such an absorbing and moving read that I have been really amazed with every page. There are a lot of motivational elements that I have found as I have followed a Paleo diet over the last year or so, and the lofty idea of getting back to the general roots of the human animal has been one of the most basic yet strongest elements.
At our core, we are all animals, and whether we like it or not, we thrive best in an environment that fits in with out mind, body and soul, as opposed to trying to bend the world in a way that we don’t fit into ourselves. Animals trapped in unnatural zoos slowly go mad, and we aren’t all that different.
The book, Play, addresses one bar in the cage of our human zoo, and works to shatter it, freeing us just a bit. It starts with setting a definition:
Play is a state of mind, rather than an activity. Remember the definition of play: an absorbing, apparently purposeless activity that provides enjoyment and a suspension of self-consciousness and sense of time. It is also self-motivating and makes you want to do it again.
We should note that purposelessness does not necessarily imply a waste of time. On the contrary, the book goes into detail about how animals, including the human animal, use play on an elemental level to teach ourselves communication, limits, signals, and so many more things in a depth that the modern rote learning can never reach.
The concept that – the opposite of play isn’t work , but instead depression - rings so true. We can learn, work, and exercise all interspersed with play. There is nothing stopping us aside from our preconceived notions of what is the proper or adult thing to do.
We limit ourselves, and what we are willing to do, and how we are willing to act, not by what works or doesn’t, and not by what we want, but more by how we expect to be perceived from the outside. Only to our detriment.
We can live healthier, happier, and certainly more fun lives if we are willing to open up just a bit.
I am looking forward to playing on Sunday. And I am even more pleased that I get to play with my wife.
September 15, 2012 Comments Off
It has struck me recently, how a diminishing resource in our world has begun to seriously impact our lives. Everything runs through shortages at some point, perhaps with the shortage increasing the value in the short term, but as I have seen the value of this seems to be lessened as well.
The resource that I am talking about is compassion.
I have really felt over the last few years how it seems that people have hardened against each other. Cynicism is running rampant, and the bitter, dog-eat-dog nature of the corners of our souls has crept out into the light. This isn’t to say that the world has turned into the Lord of The Flies all of the sudden, but attitudes seem to be harder now.
I can’t blame most people for being more defensive of their well being. The world is a less stable place in general. So many people who just a few years ago who were doing well are now down on their luck. Families have lost their homes, people have lost their jobs, and even those who have avoided direct hardship have sat through layoffs and the pain of watching neighbors and friends get struck with tragedy.
It is unsettling to many to be suddenly exposed to the reality that the gap between a good life, and losing everything is far, far smaller than they ever realized.
A few hers back, when my workplace was going through layoffs, your yearly bonus was keeping your job. There were multiple rounds of layoffs, and when the time for the rounds occurred, everyone hid in their office. You sat and tapped away at your keyboard, looking busy and hoping that management peeked into the office next to yours for a quick chat. You could hear the crying through the walls.
At the end of the day, it was the mid level manager who was shaken the most. Upper management didn’t get their hands dirty, that task was on someone else’s plate. All you could do was offer support to them, sometimes in the form of a bottle, and a taxi ride home.
Many of them couldn’t stay after all was done. They just couldn’t look anyone in the eye anymore.
From something like that you can walk away and say, “Better you than me!” In truth or in defensive jest. But it eats you up a bit inside.
After that stopped, things became a little more competitive. A little more vicious. You just knew that your teammate was judged against you, and it might not be for a few percentage points of a bonus, it might be your job. It might be your house. It might be your family.
It isn’t a good feeling to live with, and it doesn’t leave you right away. You look at the world with colder eyes, and meet the cold eyes of those outside who have had their own experiences much the same. Or perhaps far worse.
Recently, we have had to deal with the impact in our life of some, in positions of power, who saw their status as a way to push or hold others down, justly or unjustly, it didn’t matter. Something had happened in their life, and embittered, they wanted to pass this along to the next person.
That person was us.
With newly added stress and expense, do we pass it on? Do we break the cycle? Can we break the cycle?
When you meet the eyes of those less fortunate than you, after you have been wronged, do you take solace in their misfortune, or do you want to give the compassion that they were denied, even if it was not offered to you? Do you need to offer it first to receive it? Might you not receive payback for some time?
Does it matter?
Even now, looking across a world of hardened hearts, I still see compassion as a renewable resource. But I know that the return on investment isn’t immediate, at least in any direct sense. Treating others with dignity and respect, and trying to make their lives better does not mean that you will get the same treatment, at least not in the short term. That isn’t the reward for behaving ethically.
Compassion is it’s own reward, if you choose to receive it. And you must choose.
Perhaps if we all choose so more often, then we will get the return that we so hope for.