Does One Bad Apple Really Spoil the Whole Bunch?

I’m currently fascinated by Bad Apples. Bad Apples the metaphor for people, not so much the fruit. But of course there are corollaries. So the first question at hand is, “does one bad apple really spoil the whole bunch? For fruit, the answer is yes. Because ethylene. But what about people? From my experience, the answer is also a resounding yes. But don’t take my word for it. Check out this University of Washington study overview, which defined Bad Apples as “negative people as those who don’t do their fair share of work, who are chronically unhappy and emotionally unstable, or who bully or attack others.” They found that Bad Apples elicited coping mechanisms in other employees such as “denial, social withdrawal, anger, anxiety and fear.”

I know, I know, this is not really new. The saying exists for a reason. However, it does set the stage for some further inquiries I’ve been making around Bad Apples. So stay tuned for the Bad Apple series as we explore Bad Apples in Sports, how to deal with Bad Apples in your circles, and how to avoid becoming a Bad Apple.

Let your hair down

Sometimes, you have to let your hair down. This is week three of my marathon training. Tonight I should have lifted weights while I let my legs recover from yesterday’s interval training. But instead, I came home, did a couple of chores, and then took my better half out to our favorite local eatery for Spanish wine and our favorite dishes.

Like the kid in We’re the Millers, I’ve got “no ragrets.” Not even one. We had a lovely evening and now tomorrow I’ll be doubly motivated to knock out my tempo run after another busy day at work.

Are you motivated after letting your hair down? Or are you more of an “inertia person” who once is at rest stays at rest?

My Wife is a Zen Master

We’ve been doing a lot of travel lately. Since March, we’ve been to Ireland, Montreal, New York City, we ran a 150 mile relay race in Southern Ohio, and last weekend, we went to New Orleans. At first, I expected to write some travel-related posts about these trips, but as you might imagine, home life has kept me pretty busy in between. I mean, we have to work during the week to foot the bill for this Instagram lifestyle. Honestly, we’re a bit tired. We wouldn’t have chosen to do all of that travel in such a short period of time, but several of the trips were not really our plan. In fact, almost all of these trips were to celebrate birthdays of other people. We’re all for celebrating other people. But with so much travel and none of it really specific to our plans, I can get knocked off my game.

During the trip to New Orleans, we met several other couples to help one of my wife’s college friends celebrate her 40th birthday. We casually knew most people involved, but this wasn’t exactly a close-knit group for us. How bad can it be? We’re flexible and congenial and can get along with most anyone. Well… at least my wife can. I on the other hand, seem to invite controversy. When I talk to people about my past and the amount of arguments, threats of physical harm, and actual fist fights I’ve been sucked into, people are astonished. In fact, I wrote a whole other post – nearly 2000 words – about this topic but I have opted to scrap it because it sounded like a bit of a sob story. I’m not one for that. But suffice it to say, if a street bum is going to pick out someone from a group of 10 people and start messing with them, it is going to be me. I know, because I’ve seen it happen. Repeatedly.

OK, we get it, you seem to have a tractor beam for aggressive-types; so what’s this bit about your wife being a Zen Master? I’ll get there. So let’s say the trip to NOLA was not without its controversy. I actually handled it in stride during the trip. I took the grief I was given and offered myself up for a bit more. In the midst of the grief-handling, my daughter called me while crying because her car had broken down on a fairly busy community road. She and I worked together to sort it all out, and the bill was going to be in the $1200 range. I’ll come back to this in a minute. So, fast forward to Monday and people at work asked me how my trip went. I started giving one person some of the details about the grief I got and he was aghast. He said, “if that was me, I probably would have ditched the group and gone to the Jazz Fest on my own.” While I was rehashing the story, my Mom sent me a text. Over this same weekend, she took a break from the move into her new condominium, went to a casino for a couple of hours and won $1200 on the slots. I congratulated her good fortune but thought a bit more about it. I sent my wife the following text, “I spent the weekend as a social pariah and it cost me $1200 on our daughter’s car. My Mom played the slots for a few minutes this weekend and won $1200. She is definitely living righter than me.” I was mostly being funny, but many a true word is spoken in jest. My recap of the weekend to some of my co-workers had set the wheels of self-pity in motion.

At first, the Zen Master who is my wife played my comment down as funny. But then she said that I wasn’t a social pariah. What? You were there! I was incredulous. I began to recount to my wife the events of the weekend as if she hadn’t experienced them first hand. How could she say that I was not the outcast? She let me moan on for a bit all the while saying “OK” and “Sure.” If a man wants to dig a hole, there’s no point in standing in his way I guess. After I had more or less exhausted my digging, she hit me with this: “I don’t know why you’re upset now. You’re a nonconformist and you’re fine with the attention that it brings. I thought we had a nice weekend together.” She was right of course. We had a great breakfast at a lovely little French cafe. We had an incredible dinner at an Italian restaurant. We hung out together at a rooftop bar while the sun set. The weather was perfect. We held hands and walked around the French Quarter. I was down there for her, and here I was picking at the tiny dark spots on an otherwise amazing weekend. I let it go.

That evening, I was re-reading Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen, and about 10 minutes into my reading, the following passage hit me squarely between the eyes:

We try so hard to preserve the very thing that’s making us miserable. We cling hard to our pain because we mistakenly think that that pain is who we really are. We define ourselves by what we don’t like or we define ourselves by what we like. Either way we miss the truth. We harbor some inexplicable fear that if we start to enjoy everything about life without picking and choosing we might cease to exist.

– Hardcore Zen, Kindle Edition; location 2089

So my wife is now doling out the same advice as an ordained Zen Master. That psychology degree is starting to pay off. All joking aside, this is one of the multitudinous reasons why I profess my undying love for this woman. She makes me a better person.

If you’re wondering, I was able to simply let go of the “pain” I was holding onto. While my wife triggered my letting go, it is my study of Zen Buddhism and practice of Zazen that has helped me to shorten the the cycle of letting go. I’ll focus an upcoming post on how a middle-class kid from conservative and deeply Christian Southern Ohio wound up nosing around a Japanese “non-religious” tradition and how it might help you be a little happier. But until then, let’s make with the questions from this post… 

How does your significant other make you a better person?

Are you holding on to some pain that feels like it defines you? What might letting go of that pain look like?

150 Miles, 10 Runners, 24 Hours

This past weekend, I captained a team of 10 runners that ran 150 miles in just over 24 hours. When I tell people that, they usually say, “I don’t know how you do it.” But when you break it down, its actually not very tough. Each runner covers on average 15 miles, which is really nothing compared to a marathon. The toughest thing is finding a way to rest as you cycle in and out of a van and in and out of a camp site or hotel room. However, taking 24 hours out of my life and focusing on one goal instead of balancing work deadlines and automotive repairs and upcoming graduation ceremonies, etc. offered me a chance to pick up a couple of life lessons.

Lesson 1: Let go

Coming into this run, my training wasn’t perfect. Far from it. I didn’t get to the speed work I intended to accomplish. I also didn’t do the hill work that I knew I would need to charge up and down the Appalachian foothills of Ross County Ohio. Part of the reason for my training misses were injury related. I busted my foot playing soccer three weeks before the race. My own fault. Another part was illness, I came down with some mystery bug for about 48 hours that had me all out of whack 2 weeks before the race. The other part was just life – too many irons in the fire.

My team also wasn’t much for being a team. Out of 10 runners, I had six replacements; 4 in the four weeks running up to the race. I offered up team training runs and the occasional team outing. No one replied. My Van 2 driver offered up a plan to travel together to the race location. Everyone drove separately without responding. Without any sense of team or camaraderie, I wondered how we would handle the stresses of working together for 24 hours.

Here’s the funny thing: None of it mattered. I wound up turning in great times for my segments, so my busted training plan had little effect. Where I could find flat ground, I was running 2 minutes per mile faster than I had in months and my hill work was respectable. My team also came together on race day like a well oiled machine. People knew where they were going and got there on time. We didn’t have a wasted moment during race leg hand-offs, no one forgot any critical pieces of equipment, and we cheered each other on like we were one happy family. As our last runner crossed the finish line and we all cheered him on, I paused for a moment. All my concerns were for nothing. Sometimes the best thing to do is let go and let the chips fall where they may.

Lesson 2: Leadership is a journey

I’ve been a manager in my professional life on and off for 20 years. I’ve taken training galore and read all the right books. Leadership is practically a formula, right? Nope.

I came into this race with the baggage that I wasn’t as fit as last year with the knowledge that I had signed up to take on the toughest run of the race. I wound up letting that baggage through in some of my communications. I mentioned to one new runner that I “laid the hammer down” and was putting in some quick miles on one of my early runs in spite of my lack of training. I watched him glaze over and think about something else – probably how I sounded like a self-important peacock. I wasn’t inspiring him. I was stroking my own ego to feel better about my performance; and he wasn’t impressed. I had this malarky story in my head that to be captain, I had to demonstrate that I was among the best on the team. I later realized that this was my insecurities talking, which shines through for others to see like a broken bone in an X-ray machine.

I have this iceberg belief that if a leader isn’t where he or she needs to be (preparation, experience, whatever), that leader cannot possibly ask for more out of others. I call it an iceberg because it isn’t something that I outwardly communicate, but its there lurking under the surface and it can certainly sink my ship. This comes from my blue collar, Appalachian, Protestant, ultra-egalitarian, roots. If you’re going to tell me what to do, you damn-well better be standing on higher ground than me. So I hold myself to that standard. The reality is this: Life gets in the way for everyone. At no time in life is anything ever perfect – including for the person selected, volunteered, or otherwise promoted to leadership. But that can’t stop someone in a leadership position from asking of their team what they need. The leader’s role is to lead; to get the most out of the team, regardless of other limitations. Although I didn’t feel comfortable about it, I delivered some less than perfect news to the team late into the event and asked them to deal with it. They did it without question and it worked out nicely.

So, I lived and I learned, and that’s the good news. To quote the Dalai Lama, “If you lose, don’t lose the lesson.

The satisfaction of accomplishment

At the end of the run, the whole team was there cheering on our last runner. The sense of accomplishment started to sink in for all of us. It was a bit rainy and the after party wasn’t as upbeat as the year before, but none of that mattered. As we stood around and shared stories and traded pictures that we took over the course of the run, our achievement took shape. We just ran 150 miles in 24 hours! All of us were operating on too little sleep. None of us trained as much as we wanted. Yet here we are. 150 miles later, injury free and smiling at our accomplishment. The fact that our team fees helped benefit drug prevention programs in the epicenter of the American opioid crisis certainly helped our feeling of purpose. In addition, I picked up a couple of lessons along the way. All in all, it was a good weekend.

If you’re interested in taking part in this run next year, please visit The Buck Fifty. Its a great cause and a great time. And like me, you might just learn something about yourself along the way.