One Green Blood's State of Mind

This Holiday Be Grateful For Those Who Serve

By Scott Westerman
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I marvel at our men and women in uniform. These days, it’s hard to get kids to make this a career, so I have a particular appreciation for those who have dedicated themselves to protecting our way of life for decades.

They must work, even on the days we do not. Money may not be their primary motivator. They are dedicated and steadfast at their posts, doing the things we take for granted. The things we won’t do.

The best can be almost invisible. They accomplish often complex missions, directed by commanders who often second guess their own orders and then blame those that serve if they are not carried out to perfection.

They treat their team members, officers and civilians with equal respect, many concluding each interaction with, “It’s an honor to serve you, sir.”

What we don’t say often enough in return is, “Thank you for your service. Thank you for doing what you do, day in and day out, sometimes with too little appreciation and with singular commitment. Thank you for doing a job that we have purposely avoided, a crucial job, without which our nation would soon find itself in deep trouble.”

These are people who are instantly forgotten when they shed their uniform. Only a very few achieve significant notoriety. And they’re ok with that. They aren’t in it for the fame and certainly not for the money. Some do it only until something better comes along. Others do it because they see it as their only option. But most do what they do because they believe that “honorable service above self” is more than just a tired cliche. It’s a calling.

This holiday, you will cross paths with many of them. You may nod in gratitude or mechanically thank them for the important job they have done to protect the lifestyle to which you have become accustomed.

I hope you will do more than that.

I hope you will tell every server how much you appreciate them. I hope you will tell every one of those pros who used to be called “waiters” and “waitresses”, the people who generously give you their name with a  reassuring, “I’ll be taking care of you this evening,” that you are genuinely grateful that they are there for you.

I hope you’ll single out the supervisors of those who are particularly good, to let the boss know how lucky the restaurant is to have them on the team.

Most importantly, I hope you’ll show your appreciation with the maximum possible gratuity that your holiday financial largesse is capable of providing.

The alluring aroma of a richly created menu, the spotless table that is prepared especially for you and the warm feeling that permeates your being as you leave the comfortable confines of your favorite restaurant. None of this would be possible, but for the dedication of those who serve.

It is, in fact, a rare gift. In its highest art form, it can create a happy memory that may last for a lifetime. There many who do it well and a few who practice their art to perfection.

For every server everywhere who will be working this holiday season. We give thanks.

LIfe would not be the same without you.

Feedback welcome to scott@spartanology.com or @MSUScottW on Twitter.

Remembering Tanna

ScottNTannaMemorial“Let’s get the kids a dog.”

I can’t remember which of us said it but there was a lot of discussion about the particulars. Our house in Florida was small back then and the kids were not yet in high school. We had tried our luck with a Brittany Spaniel several years before but drew a hair brained knucklehead, out of control from the start and clearly unable to make the trip with us from Illinois to Florida.

It took awhile but we somehow settled on the Yorkshire Terrier breed and rescued our first, “Casey”, from the puppy mills that churn out product for pet shops.

Casey was high strung, barked a lot and didn’t like being snuggled. But boy was she protective. Even the hint of a tickle fight and she was all in, biting the stronger competitor as if she knew who might need the help.

In 1999 it came to pass that we would add another furry family member. A local breeder had sold all but one of his litter. The last one was said to be the feisty one. But, unlike her older cousin, she loved to be hugged, only barked when she had something to say and took over the house the minute she arrived. The kids named her “Santana”, after Carlos. That was quickly contracted to “Tanna” and the pecking order was established. Casey acquiesced to Tanna’s control almost instantly. Our older pup proved to be the smarter of the two when it came to fetching things, Tanna would always rather have a tug of war than work hard enough to go get something. And Casey still reigned as watchdog, barking her head off whenever the doorbell would ring or a leaf brushed against a window.

Tanna could have cared less about these things. She became Colleen’s shadow, preceding her into every room, licking the water off of her legs after a morning shower and submitting to cuddles whenever any of us felt like it.

Casey lived long enough to follow us back to the midwest. She was clearly ready for her exit when the time came. Blind and pretty much clueless at the end, but still so hard to let go. We waited longer than we should have but it finally fell to me to send her on her way. Colleen couldn’t bear coming along.

Tanna, ever the adventurer, would christen 8 more of our dwellings during her time. We knew she approved when she made the appropriate deposit in the hallway. It would only happen once but it was her way of making sure everyone knew whose house it was.

She was also Colleen’s faithful companion, there for her when I had to go on ahead to Albuquerque while the Queen sold the house we had just bought in West Des Moines. First with a greeting and insistent on sleeping between us, purring away like a cat until she decided it was time for us to get up.

When cancer came into our lives, Tanna was our rock. She was a strong elixir, mitigating the horrors of chemotherapy and staying grounded to Colleen over the long hours of recovery between each course. When I left to start my Spartan Life at the Alamo Bowl, I felt better about it, knowing that Tanna would be there to take care of my soulmate.

She could never grasp technology. Our grandson could call her name across a Florida Facetime connection and Tanna would look everywhere but at the screen. In her prime her preferred nap location was in a laundry basket full of freshly washed clothes.

She didn’t like riding in the car, an exercise Tanna associated with shots and boarding. When she traveled with us on longer trips, it took a good half hour before she decided that we weren’t submitting her to unpleasantness. Then, she would conk out on Colleen’s knees, uninterested in the passing scenery.. until she decided that we had been on the road long enough and marched between the two of us almost commanding me to find a place to stop.

Like most thoroughbreds both Casey and Tanna came with issues, food allergies being the most prevalent. We experimented with a variety of concoctions until finding the right combination that she could eat without breaking out in a rash. In the end she was taking at least four pills a day for her various complaints, most hidden amongst her favorite treats.

Tanna only had one brush with death. A fondness for the taste of well worn underwear got her into trouble early on, so much so that our vet had to open her up when she decided that she could ingest an entire item with the tenacity of a snake devouring it’s prey.

We both had learned a lesson. The house became better organized and Tanna a bit more selective in her cuisine. She always had a nose for the crumbs that we might drop, mostly unintentionally, and it was when she started to have trouble finding them that we began to take stock of the quality of her life.

At the end, she struggled with incontinence, ate sporadically and became more selective about what she consumed. We began to notice that she slept much of the day away and sometimes couldn’t get her back legs to work. Her grasp on the present was often unsure. There would be good days intermingled with days where we wondered if she really recognized us.

It took a long time for us to conclude that the quality of life she deserved had deserted her. It was so clear with Casey, but Tanna’s decline was much slower so we couldn’t fully comprehend it until we would see other, younger dogs in the neighborhood who did, “what Tanna used to do”.

Even after every objective bone in our bodies told us it was time, our hearts selfishly held on to the face that was the first thing we saw in the morning and the last thing we touched at night. She could still curl up in our arms and we just didn’t want to let go.

Last week, we made the decision and almost instantly were second guessing ourselves. The closer it came to our self imposed deadline the sadder we became. On Sunday, we were emotional wrecks. I couldn’t attend the three events on my dance card and struggled to pack what little I would need for my Monday trip to Chicago. We invited Aunt Patti over for one last walk. Colleen’s sister was Tanna’s second mother, our preferred caregiver when we traveled, and Tanna would squeal whenever she heard Patti’s voice.

I didn’t sleep much last night. This had been a year with too many goodbyes. We’re at that time of life where this stuff happens. And I knew in my heart that we were releasing our little girl from a body that had become her burden and no longer her blessing. I also knew that I couldn’t be there when we would let her go. Some of you will understand, just as others will understand why Colleen was insistent on staying by her side until the last moment.

I said my final goodbyes to her this morning. Ironically, she was just as she was when we first met, disinterested, eager to be held by Colleen but looking away as if shaking her head at how stupid it was that this other human wanted to give her any affection.

Part of our sorrow was the final realization that we would, at long last, become “empty nesters”. Our children were grown and gone. The house would be silent and empty when we came home. But were also liberated from responsibility for our perpetual child and able to do the extended, sometimes impulsive things that were impossible to easily do “with a kid in the house”. We resolved to take a full week of total vacation in January, our first in 16 years.

All of these thoughts were swirling in through my mind as I gave Tanna’s furry head one last rub. I kissed my tearstained wife and tried to keep my own vision clear as I pointed my car in the direction of the Amtrak station, grateful for all joys and inconveniences that only pet owners know… and love.

Tanna joined Casey at 5:55pm tonight.

Colleen and Tanna

 

(From Colleen)

Dear Tana,

You came to us a wiggly, squeaky 2 1/2 lb little fur ball. You claimed our hearts and our house instantly.

We were warned that you were willful. That couldn’t have been more true. But you had such personality, energy, happiness, devotion and eagerness that it was easy to deal with your willfulness. You loved going for walks, biting on the leash and pulling on it so mommy would walk faster because you couldn’t wait to go. You thought you were the neighborhood greeter, everyone was your friend, except other dogs, who you puffed out your chest at. I remember the day you frightened a Doberman. I really don’t think you had any idea how tiny you were.

We moved you seven times and you never missed a beat. Your resilience was enviable. You loved opening wrapped presents eating carrots, apples and yogurt. You guarded our home, sounding your alarm at the slightest noise. You kissed our noses, hogged our kingsize bed, snuggled close to daddy at nap time and never left my side through 8 surgical recoveries and two complete rounds of chemotherapy.

The way you snuggled under my chin and hugged me was one of the best feelings ever. You made us very happy. I only hope that we made you happy too. How blessed we were to have you with us for 15 years.

Goodbye to you, my sweet baby girl. Mommy will miss your sweet kisses and knowing you were there to greet me when I came home. Whenever I take a walk around our neighborhood I will think of you, remembering the feeling of your slight tugging on the leash. Feel the freedom from the pain of injuries and ailments and run and play with Casey and the other furry ones we have loved. We miss you already my baby girl.

Rest in peace. We love you always.

Momma and Daddy.

Monday Motivator: When You Can’t Agree

By Scott Westerman
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“Friends become wiser together through a healthy clash of viewpoints.” ~Timothy Keller

We are a judgemental species, filled with division and prejudice. We are influenced by provocative sound bytes that are often inaccurate and oversimplify complex issues. Tightly held paradigms build walls that can blind us to opportunity. Fear of losing what we think we have keeps us silent when we should speak out.

In a political environment where victory may depend on pandering to extremism, intransigence is often the order of the day. In the walled gardens of social media were negativity multiplies at internet speed, we can be afraid to challenge an idea for fear of retribution.

And yet, it is only through conflict that change occurs. “Peace,” writes Dorothy Thompson, “is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict — alternatives to passive or aggressive responses, alternatives to violence.”

What can you do when you can’t agree?

Walk a mile in their shoes. – Understanding is built on experience. Compassion is rooted in knowing the backstory. Seek to understand. Listen with empathy. Spending time in another person’s world can put you both on common ground. That’s where progress begins.

Avoid provocative labels. – Words can enflame or enlighten. Imagine how you would feel if what you said was reflected back at you. Hateful speech can only breed hatred. It’s possible to be firm without flames.

Give a little. Get a little. – This is the essence of compromise. It may not always feel like the trade has been equal, but the habit will ultimately lead to an inhabitable middle ground.

Pick your battles. Pick your battlefield. – Not every hill is worth dying for and sometimes, timing is everything. Complex problems take time to solve. You won’t solve them all in your lifetime, but you can push the flywheel of change in their direction.

Find the real issue. – What we fight about sometimes has nothing to do with what we are seeking. “It’s loss and regret and misery and yearning,” notes Margaret Atwood in her book, Blind Assassin, “that drive the story forward, along its twisted road.” It’s often possible to win the battle and lose the war. Understand what’s really driving the conversation. Keep an eye on the ultimate outcome you seek and you will find the courage to work through the obstacles.

Most importantly, approach everything you do with an open heart. Author Bryant McGill believes, “Grace in conflict is a study in love.” Those who win by force seldom preserve their victory. History’s greatest people are driven by solicitude over ego and service over self.

Think of the big picture. Leonard Nimoy’s Spock gives us the secret of success in moments of conflict in Star Trek II – The Wrath of Kahn: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

I think that philosopher Jeremy Bentham may have said it best. “It is the greatest good to the greatest number of people which is the measure of right and wrong.”

Have a great week!

Feedback welcome to scott@spartanology.com or @MSUScottW on Twitter.

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Monday Motivator: Commitment

By Scott Westerman
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“There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when circumstance permit. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results.” Unknown

One of my favorite success quotes is attributed to the actress Mae West. “An ounce of performance is worth pounds of promises.”

We live in a world where people are increasingly choosing careers that suit a 9 to 5 schedule. Gen Y kids are said to switch jobs in a heartbeat, if it doesn’t fit their lifestyle. And everybody knows about the uncomfortably high divorce rate.

In the elite world of high performance you always need to be on your A-game. The difference between leading the field and getting stuck in the pack is the work you’re willing to do on the extra mile. (more…)

Notes from my presentation at Florida Blue

Social Media and your Personal Brand:
By Scott Westerman
It was a pleasure to spend time with the Florida Blue team last month. Here are the key take aways from my presentation on Social Media and Your Personal Brand.

Like it or not, we all have a personal brand. It’s the perceived image your organization & people present to the world, personally and professionally. In the Internet age, we’re on stage 24/7. Whatever we say may be tweeted. Whatever we do may end up on youtube.

Social Media is that stage. You don’t have to play on it, but if you’re in business, your customers and competitors will likely be there. You can choose to let others define who they think you are. Or you can engage to define yourself. (more…)

Monday Motivator: Learning from Sherlock

By Scott Westerman
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“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” Sherlock Holmes – from A Scandal in Bohemia

One of my favorite phrases comes from Ken Blanchard, author of  The One Minute Manager: “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”

I love the BBC reboot of the Sherlock Holmes series. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman channel Conan-Doyle’s sleuths with 21st century precision. Sherlock’s agile brain has been laser focused to make a productive difference in the world of detection.

He gets the job done.

He is also aware of the weaknesses inherent in being a “high functioning sociopath”. Sherlock can be difficult to work with. We endure him because of his proven ability to deliver amazing results. In reality, it’s his ability to seek and receive feedback that is the key to his success. (more…)

Monday Motivator: Mike Rowe’s 12-Point Pledge

By Scott Westerman
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“I believe that I am the product of my choices — not my circumstances.” ~ Mike Rowe

Mike Rowe has become a well known personality as a result of hosting “Dirty Jobs” on the Discovery Channel. He’s also a terrific writer with a great sense of humor and some laser beam insights into life. Mike’s 12 Point Pledge has been in circulation again recently on the Internet. It contains some gems of wisdom that are worth sharing.

Here it is with my annotations in italics. (more…)

Monday Motivator – Doing the Right Thing

By Scott Westerman

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“The reputation of a thousand years may be determined by the conduct of one hour.” ~Japanese Proverb

What would you do if you witnessed and act of injustice at work; something you knew was very wrong? Would you speak up? And what if those who had responsibility for dealing with it didn’t act? Would you keep speaking?

You may not ever have to face a crisis of conscience of the magnitude being discussed this week well beyond the boundaries of State College. But what if you did? (more…)

Monday Motivator: Perspective

By Scott Westerman
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“Once a photograph of the earth, from the outside, is available, a new idea, a powerful as any in history will be loosed.” ~ Fred Hoyle – 1948 (more…)

Monday Motivator: Fatherly Advice on Love

By Scott Westerman
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“If it is right, it happens — The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away..” – John Steinbeck

When our children ask us about the complicated miracle of love, our answer is often demonstrated more by our actions than by our words. Author John Steinbeck was a master of both. From “Steinbeck: A Life in Letters“, we get a glimpse at the breadth and depth of his wisdom.

Here is a letter he wrote to his teenage son, when Thom Steinbeck confessed to be desperately in love.

Thanks to Leigh Graves Wolf and Maria Popova for the inspiration. (more…)

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