Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Fitness Goals: The Mudder

I have one fitness goal for 2013. 6-pack? Fitness competition? Catalog shoot? Look awesome at the beach?'s to run the Mudder in 2014. Everything else is superficial. This is life-changing. You want abs? Pick a challenge that will make you better, and the abs will be a side effect.

Be. More. Awesome.

I posted this status update on my Facebook earlier this week. The last part ties in with the motto and theme for The Man Sphere in 2013. And coming up on December 3rd, it's a "New You Issue," with advice on goals and personal development designed to give readers a kickstart on the whole New Year's resolution thing.

Plus there's a course coming out. But more on that later.

The important thing is that this little status update, aside from being a face-slapping motivational message, serves as my subtle way of announcing to the universe that I am, in fact, planning on running in the 2014 Tough Mudder in Toronto. I'll be 39 in 2014, and this is my bid to do something big before I turn 40.

It also means I have to work my butt off. I'm not totally out of shape, of course. But I've never run a 12 mile obstacle course (I'm looking for a team, by the way...).

One of the things I'm doing to keep myself motivated and looking forward is really concentrating on learning from the people I interview for TMS. Like Plex, the Toronto-based recording artist who worked his way up from addiction and poverty to become an influential player in his own right. In fact, there's a lot of credence in the idea that to achieve something you should look at others who have done that much or more, and learn from their example.

Again, for me it's about focusing on my one goal (not the Mudder...something else), and understanding that all these little objectives, like launching a successful online magazine and running a brutal military-style obstacle course, are part of the process of becoming something more than just a guy making it by in the world. It's about potential and pushing through obstacles. Like I shared on The Man Sphere's Facebook page:

Pick a challenge that will make you far greater for having failed than you could ever become by not trying and you will train yourself to take as much pride in your efforts as your successes.

Be. More. Awesome.

Being more awesome is both the goal and the process. You coming?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Holiday Time!! (well, almost)

Oooooohhhhhhh! Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the waaaaaay!
Oh what fun is on a ride on tim hortons soap and sleigh! Hey! ~ (Mila's version)

It's almost holiday season. That means two things: trying to come up with a Christmas list for the one or two people who might want to buy me something (love you, Mom), and binge cleaning my apartment to make room for the Christmas decorations.

I love Christmas. This year might feel a little leaner, just because the space restrictions in a smaller apartment will make it difficult to hold my traditional open house party. This is a party where I throw open the doors just after lunch, and leave them open for anyone to come and go as they please. Last year I had 21 people in my home for dinner. That'll be a tight squeeze in the new place (last time, we had the entire main floor plus the Man Cave downstairs).

Maybe I'll just scale back the affair. Who knows?

In the next while, thought, I'll post a few of my favourite recipes and other entertaining bits and pieces. Some guys go crazy decorating for Hallowe'en. I'm a homebody. I like cider and homemade eggnog, a cozy blanket and The Muppets Christmas Carol on constant replay for six weeks. That's my idea of a holiday.

What's yours?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Let me tell you about Peng...

Peng was my Taiji (T'ai Chi) teacher. This is a guy everybody should get to know. He's friendly, outgoing, and a brilliant businessman. He's also doggedly determined, and more disciplined than anyone else I know.

Peng came to Canada looking to earn a living. He started out small, offering just a few classes at a local seniors' centre. As his reputation grew, he found he had enough money on hand to buy a rental property, which he used specifically to put up Chinese university students.

Word of his rentals spread quickly among the Chinese community (being from China and speaking fluent Mandarin helped), and he became a valuable asset in that community. As his teaching grew, he earned enough from both enterprises to open a restaurant.

Not content to merely cook good food, Peng made trips back to China, sometimes three or four times a year, to study both cooking and Taiji. Being a leader in the local Chinese community and in the martial arts community, coupled with constantly improving his skill and never losing sight of the value of customer service made his restaurant a huge success.

In 2000, as part of the July 1 Canada Day celebrations, I was honoured to participate in a public demonstration involving 1,000 people, all members of Peng's T'ai Chi association. That demonstration was the highlight of that year's International Taiji Festival--another first for Thunder Bay.

That festival led to even greater ties between Peng and the martial arts community in Thunder Bay and in China. In 2007, Peng was awarded a 7th duan ranking in Chinese wushu (martial arts). There are only 10 duan, and he was accepted as a disciple of the great Chen Zhenglei, 15th generation grandmaster of the family that invented Taiji in the 1600's!

In 2010, Master Peng opened the Peng You International Taiji Academy in Thunder Bay. He was able to sell his restaurant and do martial arts full-time, realizing his dream of bringing the benefits of Taiji to the world.

The reason I told this story is that this theme is what has opened my eyes to my own shortcomings in business. Peng's success can really be summed up in his association's motto:

Health. Friendship. Happiness.

So Peng represents both the business model and the life-planning model. In business, what did he do?

  1. Start by sharing something he believes in.
  2. Leverage small profits into larger enterprises.
  3. Leverage customers from one enterprise to the next.

The last one is a must-do move if you're building something up, because those people become your best advertising. They are, in essence, your marketing team (come to think of it, I don't think I ever saw an ad for Peng's restaurant outside of the phone book). His marketing plan, then, looked something like this:

  1. Become a respected leader in the community.
  2. Become an authority in the field, and always improve.
  3. Make loyal customers assets who will do the marketing for you.

So, what about the goals? Well, Peng told me all along that his only real goal was to bring Taiji and its health and community benefits to the world. Renting low-cost housing to students and owning a restaurant were only tools to achieve that objective. But they're both still tools based on being of service to his this case, the Chinese cultural community. The wider martial arts community, including his own students, frequented his restaurant, where he always greeted customers personally and had a big smile. Everyone who went there felt they were dining with friends (and this is no exaggeration--he either knew most people by name, or he'd come out and introduce himself and learn your name). He united people across cultural boundaries, age groups, and even in an often deeply divided martial arts community where rivalries had deep roots.

Because he had properties to maintain, a business to run, and a family to raise, Peng was often down at the marina practicing Taiji at 5:00 in the morning. He closed the restaurant every night...I don't think he ever actually slept. His focus and determination was on building a great martial arts community, and that's where his mind stayed. But don't think he did it alone: he had a team of people who helped out by keeping the books on his association, keeping an eye on his properties, attending meetings with officials and dignitaries, and yes, he has the most patient wife in the history of the universe. Everyone did these things willingly because he had helped them in some way. They became personally invested in his vision, and as a result they formed his mastermind group in a spectacularly elegant example of what we might call "community engineering."

In 2006, seven of the foremost grandmasters of the art of taijiquan met in Thunder Bay--their first meeting ever outside of China. Guess who organized it.

Yup. Peng.

And to commemorate that auspicious event, the association and the city built the beautiful and serene Thunder Bay International Taiji Park. The project is ongoing if you'd like to make a donation (, but what you should take away from it is that this is sort of a culmination of a life of determination. Peng could have written either Think and Grow Rich or How To Win Friends and Influence People. He's like a textbook case in action of exactly the kind of manifestation and leadership espoused in those two books.

And, as a humbling coincidence, his full name is Peng Youlian. The Chinese word for "friend" is pengyou. The coincidence is not lost on those who read Chinese in the characters on his association's logo, nor on anyone who comes to know this remarkable leader.

Three Videos to Get You Pumped

Here are three incredibly motivational videos to get you revved up for your day (and your life). Take notes on them...especially the last one!

Special thanks to Alex Cane, whose Facebook post of the first video led me to dig up the other two. Total rush.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Funny Crap My Kid Says

I have a four-year-old daughter. If I could draw, she (especially in combination with my cat) would be my comic strip. The things that come out of most kids' mouths are usually pretty priceless. But when her cherubic little countenance spouts these things, there's just no way to stop from laughing.

...or cringing.

[after taking a chunk out of her toe on a concrete step]
"Shhhhhh! Aahhhhhh...Good lord!...Hey look, Daddy: I can see the inside of my foot!"

 Her: Are you going to play with the choir now?
Me: No sweetie, the choir isn’t here today.
Her: you’re playing with yourself.

Her: Who are you talking to?
Me: Nanny.
Her: What nanny?
Me: Your nanny.
Her: I’m not a nanny!

"Daddy, make sure there are no flies in here. I don’t want them to sping me. Especially bees and wops."

Her: Excuse me...How old are you?
Waitress: Um...I’m 22. How old are you?
Her: I’m four. What’s your number?
Waitress: [casts a sideways glance at le dad, who is trying to hide under the table] 

Store employee: Hi! What’s your name?
Her: I’m Mila. What’s yours?
Store employee: I’m Dana.
Her: Well Dana, it’s very nice to meet you [handshake].
Dana: [lol] How old are you?
Her: I’m four. How old are you?
Dana: Oh...too old sometimes.
Her: Are you as old as like my daddy?
Dana: I don’t know...maybe.
Her: Wow! You must be a pro!

Her: So, um, Daddy...
Me: Yes?
Her: Did we do a Barney break? [that's after watching the same DVD 5 times in a row] 
Me: Yep.
Her: Sooo...we had a Barney break then.
Me: Yep.
Her: So, I guess that means we can watch it now, huh?

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Lesson from Hick Abbott

As you know, The Man Sphere is all about improvement. Over the weekend, we in Canada celebrated the observance of Remembrance Day (Veterans' Day in the US), which of course commemorates the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I in 1918. It's a time to give pause and reflect on the sacrifices of veterans from the Great Wars, and of those who continue to serve, in the advancement of the cause of peace.

But it's more than that. To the man looking to be all that he can be (if it's not too cliche to quote the US Army), it's a time to pause and think about the sacrifices we're able to make in our own lives. Can we, in fact, be more than we are? Can we create a greater contribution in the lives of others? Is self-improvement a selfish act?

This passage floated across my Facebook feed this weekend. It's from a general speaking at the funeral of Edward Lyman "Hick" Abbott (read more HERE). It summarizes what was then a good assessment of a stout Canadian, and what is, I think, the standard to which many of us aspire in life and business:

"He was the type of Canadian, and the type of Britisher, that the Germans cannot understand; the type that fights with a silent fury and yet that does not hate; too much of a sportsman to fight unfairly, but more dangerous in attack than their finest products of hate-inspiration because of utter recklessness combined with a deadly skill and total inability to recognize defeat.”

Give that a good read once again. Of course this is a piece out of history, where these ethnic and country lines were drawn much more sharply than they are in today's pluralistic world. But the attitude described is one worthy of note. He fights with a silent fury, but doesn't do so out of hate. He does so out of motivation to succeed; out of a sense of honour and defense; out of a sense of obligation to protect that which is most valued in his life, and the lives of those he loves.

See the next part? Too much of a sportsman to fight unfairly, but dangerous because of utter recklessness combined with deadly skill. Carry this into other spheres of endeavour, and our own desire to deal fairly with others can be tempered with a sound acumen, be that in business or personal life. Acumen, I think, is that combination of willingness to take risk (utter recklessness) and solid training and awareness of the field (deadly skill); in other words, being trained, motivated, and willing to risk the adventure for the sake of the goal.

The last point, though, is one I find most poignant: "total inability to recognize defeat." We talk a lot about perseverence through adversity, and when it comes to setting goals for our own improvement this process is vastly enhanced by the knowledge; not the mere estimation or assumption; that things will get tough. Not recognizing defeat doesn't mean being blind to the reality of failure. It means understanding that failure is not an end; that there is more life and another process beyond that. That's perseverence.

Fury without hate. Fair but dangerous. Reckless but with deadly skill. Unable to recognize defeat.

Sounds like the kind of guy I'd like to be.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Live How You Want To Live

I read an interesting meme on Facebook this week that got me thinking. The quote is from Doctor Who, and it reads:

Some people live more in 20 years than others do in 80. It's not the time that matters, it's the person.

This struck me as poignant, because I, like many other modern males, have recently discovered that I haven't "lived." Not by this definition at any rate.

I'm a big fan of Tim Ferriss' work, and some of his ideas do permeate my to-do list. I also see that there are a lot of women (a LOT) on dating sites who are looking for travel and adventure. And it occurs to me that there is a curious modern mindset that in order to have "lived," one must have lived extensively by experiencing "all that life has to offer."

Here's my problem: what if you don't actually like to travel? What if your personal idea of contentment is actually coming home to a place of comfort, putting on a favourite movie, and kicking back? What if partying on the beaches of Ibiza is so contrary to your personal nature that the thought of it actually makes your guts clench?

There's a disconnect here between ideas of self-acceptance and ideas of life fulfillment  Let's assume for a moment that we accept the notion that different people have different barometers for happiness. We can't, therefore, assume that the desire to collect nice things and avoid vagabonding is a kind of failure. Yet memes like this seem to suggest that the object of the game is to get out and live more; "more" having the subtext of "better."

Some people don't like to travel. Some people don't like to attend gala parties. Some people don't like to stay at home on their vacations. Some people don't like to go to bed at 10 p.m.. These are the realities of personal differences, and we have to accept them. Constantly telling people that not living up to a certain level of adventure is a failure of life by some arbitrary measure of someone else's happiness is a recipe for depression.

Guys, you're grown ups. Live how you want to live. If you like adventure, go for it. If you like kicking back at home, go for it.

The Doctor doesn't get to tell you how to live.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A Much Easier Way To Live

Grandmaster Wong Jianhua (to me, translated by Master Peng): "Don't attack. When you attack, you always have to plan. Where to hit. Where to look for weakness. Where to block. What can he do if you do this or this, and what can you do for each response? And you do this all before you make a move, and if your opponent doesn't do what you've planned for, your attack is finished. Instead, defend. Then you only need to respond. If he does nothing, you do nothing. If he does this, you do that. Attack clouds your mind with strategy. Defense only has one strategy: counter the attack. This is a much easier way to win, and a much easier way to live."