My Dad and the Social Value of Always Having Jokes

Anyone who knows my dad also knows one simple truth, he’s always got jokes. I bet you that he’s told me over a thousand in my lifetime and nearly every time we spend any time together he somehow has another one in his arsenal.

I used to think that he was part of some underground joke organization that was always coming up with and distributing new material. But, over time I realized that my dad, just like a few other friends of mine, has built up a network of other people who love jokes just as much as he does.

Storytelling is the key to a good joke

Of course, knowing the joke and being able to tell it the right way are two very different things and the storytelling is what separates the pros from the wannabes. This is that my dad has mastered over the years like a carpenter who has mastered his tools, able to cut and sand any piece of wood to his will.

My dad will tell it as it’s supposed to be told, pulling you into the story and playing the roles within the joke as if he’d been practicing for months. Timing is also important and as he finally gives the punchline his laughing alone is enough to make you think it’s funny (even if it isn’t).

Telling jokes adds social value and creates connections

Over time I’ve also realized the social value of always having jokes to tell — especially when it’s expected of you. My dad has become that guy, the guy who always has a joke ready and whether you like it or not, he’s going to tell it to you. Some are good, some are bad, and some are a little offensive, but it’s what my dad does and I’ve grown to appreciate it as something that makes him unique and interesting.

I’ve tried to tell jokes like my dad does, but it’s just not my thing. I can never remember the stories and the punchlines end up falling flat. But, I’m sure being constantly exposed to his storytelling over the years has something to do with why I love writing and sharing stories, too. For my dad, telling jokes as a way to connect with other people works and I’m sure it could also work for others who are looking for a unique way to hop into a social situation and add value.

The photo below is of my dad laughing after he finished up telling me a joke at Bob Evans. I didn’t think it was that funny, but no matter what he still somehow gets a laugh out of me. What can I say, the guy’s a pro.

Draining Steve, the Huge Ganglion Cyst on my Wrist, with Aspiration

For over a year and a half I’ve been attached to Steve, which is the name I’ve given to the ridiculously large ganglion cyst on the top of my wrist. Steve has become bigger and bigger over that time and he finally got to the point to where he was causing some pain in my wrist — especially while I was doing pushups during my workouts. This meant it was time to say goodbye to Steve.

Why Steve?

I ended up calling my ganglion cyst Steve because he was always a hot topic of conversation and it was only a matter of time before someone noticed him. Honestly, having a huge growth on my wrist didn’t really bother me aesthetically and it was actually kind of fun to tell people about it, but as time went on Steve just kept on growing and I worried pretty soon that I would end up being just a growth on Steve if I didn’t do something about it.

The Options

Anyone who has a ganglion cyst basically has two options of how to get rid of it. Well, three if you consider smacking it with a book as an option, which believe it or not has been a way to get rid of them for years. Even when I went to the doctor to get Steve drained the nurse told me about how she smacked her ganglion cyst with a big medical book and it’s never come back since.

So, that’s an option if you’re up for some excitement, but if your cyst is big like mine or if you’d rather let the professionals handle it you have two options — either drain it, which is called aspiration, or cut it out completely through surgery. Me, not really wanting to have surgery if I don’t have to, decided to to the aspiration route first to see if that could take care of Steve without having to go under the knife. If not, surgery could possibly be in my future.

Ganglion Cyst Aspiration Procedure

As I said, draining a ganglion cyst, or aspiration, is a piece of cake. Almost any doctor can do it and if you’re not too scared of needles it’s quick and painless. Steve, my ganglion cyst, was about as big as they got on the top of a wrist and it still took less than five minutes to drain it and besides a little prick of a needle it was completely painless.

Draining the Fluid

The basic order or operations, which you can also see in this video I made, went like this. First, the doctor wiped the cyst with some iodine antiseptic and shot me up with a little bit of local anesthetic through a small needle. Then he took a larger gauge needle and stuck it directly into Steve and started draining the thick, clear lubricating fluid that he was filled with. I had a lot of fluid in my cyst, so this took a few minutes. The doctor then removed the larger needle and squeezed out what was left of the fluid (and a little blood) just like you would squeeze a pimple.

Finishing Up

Once he was finished he had a half-filled syringe full of Steve’s fluid and put a gauze pad on top if it to soak up any blood or fluid that was still draining out of where he stuck in the needle. A nurse then came in and wrapped it up with some flexible tape to add some compression, which I wore for the rest of the day and night until I took a shower before I went to sleep.

Recovery

While I’m writing this Steve is almost completely gone and he’s gotten smaller every day since he was drained. From what I can tell the tissue and fluid that was left over from draining my ganglion cyst is still being absorbed into my body and it’s going to take a few more days for it to finish up.

As of now, I feel like I don’t need to drain Steve through aspiration again, but there is always a chance of him coming back again. If that happens then I’ll need to decide whether or not I want to have him surgically removed. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that, but I’ll just have to wait and see.

See ya Steve, it’s been real and I really hope you don’t come back.

The Time Between Things

Time

I can’t say that managing my time is one of my strengths. I have to structure my days in a way that makes sure I’m up on time and where I need to be when I told someone I’d be there. I’ve written about some of the different ways I make sure this actually happens and most of the time it works. Most of the time.

When it comes to being on time and getting things done I’ve found that there’s a culprit that causes more problems than anything. I call this culprit the Time Between Things. This is usually the time that’s filled with checking my phone for something that doesn’t really matter but other unneeded activities can eat up this time, too.

The Time Between Things are the minutes between having plenty of time and rushing. It’s when I’m about to jump in the shower but I decide to play with my dog for a few minutes. It’s that time after lunch when I should put away my phone so I can be early to my next meeting but instead I scroll through my Twitter feed one more time. It’s the time between getting into bed going to sleep after I’ve looked through Facebook for an hour.

The Time Between Things is between my first alarm and after I’ve snoozed 5 times. It’s what decides if I drive the speed limit or sprint to the train. It can cause more anxiety and stress than most things in my life and I’m over it.

The Time Between Things needs always requires my attention and now I’m going to do something about it…right after I watch one more YouTube video.

 

Another Year, Another Marathon Fail

Running Fail

I’m not happy that I’m writing this post right now but hey, that’s how things go sometimes. For the third time in four years (here’s last year) I didn’t end up running the San Francisco Marathon I was training for (so much for this post). To be honest I’m not sure if I’m ever going to run a marathon. My body seems to be telling me that it’s not the best idea and if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a runner, it’s that I should be listening to what my body’s saying.

So why did I miss it? I was getting towards the end of my training and ramping up my mileage but an ankle sprain took me out of my groove a few weeks ago. I’m just now getting back to running in the mornings, which is awesome, but it’s slow going (and I’m ok with that for now).

Failing and not following through with something sucks but it’s also when I learn the most about myself. Looking back at my failed marathon training here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.

Don’t Rush Training

From the beginning I was pushing it to ramp up my distance for the marathon. I ended up cutting a full training schedule in half to accommodate the time I had before the race, which wasn’t very smart. Pushing my mileage to the level needed for a marathon takes a level of time and attention that I wasn’t giving it. This isn’t what knocked me out but it played a part.

Don’t Change A Running Gait Halfway Through Training

I’m not sure what I was thinking with this one. Sometimes I do the dumbest things. For some reason I decided to change my heel strike to a mid-foot strike right in the middle of my training and the first time I made the change was on a 10 mile run.

My calves were so sore I couldn’t walk right for the next week and I’m sure I did more damage to my body than I’ll ever realize. After talking to a doctor who knows much more than I do about running he would have made a more gradual change to get me to where I needed to be.

Warm Up Before Running

My buddy Smitty is a triathlon maniac and one big thing he taught me was that warming up before going for runs is really important. I’m not talking about doing a few stretches, this is a focused 15-20 minutes of stretching and warmup exercises before the real running begins. I’m almost always in a rush to get out the door in the mornings so this is a hard one to make happen but it’s something I need to do every time. It’s better to take more time warming up and running a shorter distance than running farther and potentially getting hurt. I want to be able to run for a long time so I need to do the things that will keep me healthy.

I’m sure I learned even more but these are the three main things that came to mind. Running, especially as I get older, requires more time and attention than I’m used to giving it. I need to make sure to stay on top of these things if my 33 year-old body is going to keep moving into my old(er) age. It’s not going to get any easier.

 

Being Mature Enough To Know I’m Immature

Immaturity

There was a point in my life not too long ago when I realized I was being immature. Not pick my nose and you’ve got the cooties immature but something much worse. I was immature in how I interacted with the world and what I expected from it.

From the outside I looked like I had it all together but on the inside I was floating along, doing what I thought I needed to do to live a successful life. Good job — check. Plenty of friends — check. Going to church — check. Muscles and a tan — check (lame, I know). Women — check. If you knew me around this time you would have probably thought I had everything going for me or at least I looked like I did. But what I started to realize was that I had everything I thought (and what other people thought) I wanted but nothing that I actually needed.

This is the point in my life where I was mature enough to know how immature I really was. Like my junior year of college when my metabolism changed there was something going on much deeper inside of me that needed my attention. I had been going through my life doing what I thought I should be doing but there was something missing. I had so many amazing things going on around me but I still felt empty. It was all about me but living like that only made me realize that there was never enough out there to fill me up.

From that point until now I’ve been working on being mature and it’s been a several year process up to this point. Yes, there are still times when I act stupid and have some fun, that’s not what I mean. I’m talking about becoming the type of man I really want to be. Someone who has one foot planted in the present while the other foot is moving me into the future where I’m more mature in all parts of my life.

It’s not been an easy path but I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by several men (and women) who have put an investment in me that’s worth more than I’ll probably ever realize. They’re my role models, the vision of the man, father and husband I really want to be and they know what it takes for me to get there. It’s a daily struggle to focus on what they’re telling me but I can already tell it’s totally worth it.

Being immature is the easy way out and it’s not a good way to live. True maturity in all parts of my life is something worth working on and it’s never too late for anyone to start. And don’t worry, you can still pick your nose — just try not to do it in public.

 

Why I Owe Money On My Taxes And The Importance Of The W-4

The tax man cometh!

I’ve been paying my taxes for a long time now but to be completely honest I never had any idea how it all actually worked. My tax information isn’t very complicated. It’s me and Stephanie’s W-2s and a couple other minor things so there’s not much to them. Most years I punch in a few numbers into TurboTax and like magic it shows me a couple of green amounts that end up being refunds. It usually wasn’t that much, like around $1,000 or so but over the years I’ve grown to really like refunds.

What Are Those Red Numbers?

But unfortunately this year’s taxes were a little different. After punching in the tax numbers into the assigned boxes the upward scrolling numbers on my screen weren’t green, they were red. Not good and first I thought there was something wrong with TurboTax. I changed a few of the numbers that I thought might have been the problem and the scary red dollar amounts didn’t budge.

Was it possible that we owed money on our taxes this year? It didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me but like I said, I didn’t really understand how taxes worked at this point. I just punched in the numbers TurboTax told me to and like magic it would tell me how much money I was going to get back. It used to be like Christmas in April but this time around it wasn’t going so well.

After the shock wore off I decided to do some research into why we owed so much money and how this could have happened to us. After searching around on the internet for a while I quickly learned why we were into the situation in the first place and the mistakes we had made to get us there. I thought it would be good to share some of these learnings so that if any of your are ever in the same situation you can make better decisions than we did.

It’s All About The W-4

When you first get a salaried job you’re given a W-4 form to fill out. It’s probably one of the most confusing forms you’ll ever see and the more you read it the more confused you will become. I’m not sure what robot was assigned to write the copy for this thing but it’s a doozy.

However, believe it or not the purpose of a W-4 is not to confuse you or make you feel stupid. It’s there to help you tell whoever’s doing your payroll how much money to take out of your paycheck each month for taxes. The money they take out is called withholding allowance and what you choose on your W-4 will determine how much they withhold each time you get paid. The amount that is withheld eventually ends up on your pay stub under the taxes section (always our favorite part).

The most common way to determine your withholding is by choosing exemptions, which you can select on the W-4. These include single, married, kids (dependents), low wages and so on and the more you choose the less you’ll be taking out of your check each payday. These exemptions are then added up and the total number of exemptions you have will then determine how much you’ll be withholding each time you’re paid.

W-4 Confusion

The more exemptions you choose, the larger your paycheck it going to be but the less you’re going to be paying in taxes during the year. This is great short-term but it can come back to bite you later and this is what happened to me and Stephanie. We both filed as married on our W-4s which meant we were withholding less taxes than we should have. Mix that and a few other factors like getting paid more this year than last year and we still owed Uncle Sam a good chunk of change (and Uncle Sam always gets what he wants).

Understanding Your W-4

I guess what I’m saying is be sure to do the right thing on your W-4 and you should be ok. Now that we both know this neither of us are claiming any exemptions which should help even everything out. Who knows, maybe we’ll get another refund next year?

If you need an easy way to figure out how much you’re withholding simply divide your total taxed income (do it for both Federal and State Taxes) by how much total income you’ve brought in year to date. For example, if you have earned $10,000 and have paid $1,000 in federal taxes then you’re withholding 10% of your earnings on the federal side. Do the same thing for your state taxes and you’ll know your the total amount of withholdings.

The next thing you need to do is figure out what federal and state tax bracket you’re in and if your tax bracket percentage is higher than what you’re withholding from your earnings each month then you’re going to owe the tax man at the end of the year just like I do. On the other hand if you’re withholding more from your earnings than what’s required by your combined federal and state tax brackets then be ready for Christmas in April because you’re going to get a refund.

Let’s Go Over This One More Time

Just to be clear let me go over this one more time. If you’re withholding 10% of your earnings for federal taxes and you’re in a tax bracket that’s 20% then you’re going to end up owing back 10% of your total yearly earnings to the federal government at the end of the year. Believe me, you don’t want to do this. It’s not a lot of fun.

The easiest thing to do, even if you’re married, is to claim yourself as single on your W-4. That way you’ll be withholding more than enough from your earnings during the year and you won’t have to worry about it. If you’re making an obscene amount of money you might want to take out even more but if that’s how you’re rolling you’ve already hired a good CPA to take care of this in the first place.

I hope this is helpful because the last thing I want to happen to you is what happened to me. No one likes to owe taxes and if you follow this advice you should never have to. If you have any thoughts, questions or corrections on this topic of taxes feel free to let me know, I’m learning just like you are.

 

Getting Back Into Working Out? Take It Easy On Yourself.

It's hard to be patient

I’m going through one of those times when it’s hard to get back into the groove of a routine I want to do. That routine for me is getting up in the morning and running and it’s been tough for me to make it happen.

A year or so ago this situation would have really taken a toll on me mentally. The mornings I wouldn’t run would consume my day and give me an excuse if I didn’t feel like doing something. “I didn’t get my run in this morning.” would become my catch-all for being irritable and for not getting as much stuff done during the day at work.

In situations like this I also used to go to my backup plan of not getting my run in — drinking more caffeine. That would give me a temporary fix of the natural energy that running usually provided but it didn’t last long and I would end up drinking more and running less. Not good (which is why I quit).

Now I have a much more easy going attitude toward getting back into my morning running groove. I look at it with more patience and less pressure on myself in bouncing back into where I was before I got off track. For instance, I was out of town for most of March and even though I got some runs in here and there I was totally thrown off my normal schedule.

Now that I’ve been back for a couple weeks I’m starting to get back to where I was but I know it’s going to take at least a month to get back to running consistently. My entire schedule was thrown off and I’m staying up much later which means I’m not getting up earlier and not running. But, little by little I’m getting back there and it’s going to happen, I just need to keep chipping away at it.

So on one hand I want to always be running in the mornings and doing it consistently. Deep down it’s what I love to do and it gets me ready for the 60+ hour workweek I put myself through on a regular basis. But I also need to cut myself some slack when I know I need some time to get back to where I want to be.

Running and working out consistently is a mental game more than anything and the last thing I want to do is go through unneeded and self-inflicted mental pain while on my way to physical gain. I just keep moving forward and soon enough I’ll get to where I need to be once my mind, body and schedule is ready. So take it easy, you’ll get there.

Getting To The Airport Early

Airport Security Line

I’m standing in the security line at the Austin airport after nearly a week at SXSW and something feels different. As I notice people getting all anxious about missing their flight I realize, for once, that I actually have plenty of time. I’m pretty sure this has never happened before and I have to admit that it feels pretty good.

Even though I’m not one to stress out about things it can get kind of crazy when you’re literally the last person through the gate before they shut the doors. As I’m standing here this morning, already checked in and still over an hour away from my plane boarding, there’s a sense of calm about me that I’m not really used to. I continue to zig-zag my way through this seemingly never ending line of people prepping to go through metal detectors and body scanners and there’s no doubt in my mind I’m going to make it with plenty of time to spare. It doesn’t make for nearly of an exciting morning but damn does it feel good.

Being places on time (or ahead of time) is something I could definitely get used to. There’s nothing wrong with not having to run to wherever I’m going and in fact it’s kind of nice. Thanks to my ridiculous focus on getting up early making it to things ahead of time is only getting easier and here’s to it staying that way.

I’ve never written a blog post on my mobile phone and this was my first shot at doing it. It wasn’t nearly as painful as I thought it would be. 

The 15 Minute Gap

15 Minutes

I’ve got a 15 minute gap problem and I’m not sure what to do about it. The 15 minute gap is the time between when I should start doing something and when I actually start doing it. It’s usually created by getting distracted by something, sleeping in for another few minutes or some other non-productive procrastination.

Instead of moving when I need to I wait until the last minute, which results in all kinda of stuff I don’t want. Things like having to run to the train, being late to meetings and unneeded anxiety. I do this to myself and I do it way too often.

You wouldn’t think that 15 minutes would mean a whole lot in the scheme of things but it does. There’s a big difference between being on time or being 15 minutes late. There’s an even bigger difference between being 5 minutes late (which is usually acceptable) and being 20 minutes late (which is just plain embarrassing). The 15 minute gap bites me every time but it’s still hard to overcome.

I guess it all comes down to willpower and the ability to trade a little bit of temporary discomfort for longer term gain. It’s easy to say that now but for some reason in the moment it’s a lot harder to actually do it. I guess I’m glad that I recognize that I’m doing it and soon the 15 minute gap will be hopefully be something I never have to deal with again.

 

Thoughts On Learning To Snowboard For The First Time

IMG_20130224_113209

This past weekend I was in Tahoe for an isocket offsite and after spending two days inside working me and the rest of the team were excited to go hit the slopes at Squaw Valley. Seeing as it was the first time I had ever been to Tahoe I was really looking forward to trying out snowboarding, even though I had been told it was really hard to learn.

Snowboarding vs. Skiing

While renting my gear it was decision time — am I going to go skiing or snowboarding? I hadn’t done either up to this point so I could have gone either way.

“If this is your first time on the mountain you should definitely go skiing.”, said every single person I talked to. They all told me that snowboarding for the first time is hard an painful. If I was to ski I would pick it up much faster and would be able to get more time on my feet and not my butt.

I had already made the decision of what I wanted to do way before getting to Tahoe. I was going to learn to snowboard. I could tell the decision even surprised the younger guy in the hoodie who was helping me pick the right gear to rent. He was a long-time snowboarder and me going the snowboarding route seemed to put a smile on his face. As he was getting my board ready I asked him every possible question I could in an attempt to better understand what it took to ride a small piece of fiberglass down a really big mountain.

Everything Is New

When I made it to Squaw it was like landing on another planet. Huge mountains with people sliding down them, big machines that were taking them to the top and an overall style and culture that I had never experienced before. A few things I noticed were awesome looking snow pants, lots of dreads and a parking lot full of Subaru Outbacks. “Welcome to Tahoe.”, I thought to myself while walking around the ski resort.

At the bottom of the slopes we followed the rest of the herd into the tram station that was being fed by a handful of turnstiles. All of us made our way into one of the cable cars and before you know it we were practically on top of the mountain. I had my snowboard in hand like I knew what was going on but I had no clue where we were or what I should do next. Everything was new and I was figuring it all out on the fly and thanks to the rest of the guys who were with me.

Stand Up, Fall Down

I like to fall.
Me, on my butt after falling again. 

Then it was time to get down to business. I was all good with the whole “just look like I know what I’m doing” for a while but things got real once it was time to strap my boots to the board. I wasn’t even sure how to do it but even then I figured I would be able to snowboard with no problem once I was ready to go. My friend Dom showed me how it was done and before you know it there was nothing standing between me and my first run down one of the easiest trails at Squaw. I think it was called Golden Flower or something like that.

I remember my first fall being on the softer side as I was still in the area where everyone locks in their boots before carving down the mountain. I had no speed and I had barely even stood all the way up before falling all the way down.

Over the next couple hours I fell down more times that I can remember. In fact, I don’t want to remember them at all because they really started to hurt. A lot. Dom being the awesome friend he is stuck with me through these first two hours and helped me as much as anyone could. But I just kept falling and getting up. Falling and getting up. It was tiring, it was embarrassing and I was only a few shoulder, wrist and butt plants away from giving it up completely. Dom was nothing but encouraging but every man has his limits.

In those couple of hours we only used the lifts twice. It was exhausting and painful for me and had to be just as bad for poor Dom.

The Breakthrough

I was just happy to be there.
It felt good to finally figure it out. 

Just before lunch there was a magical moment that happened. Something Dom said finally stuck and from that point on I felt like I had control of the board and started going faster and faster without falling down. I still caught an edge here and there or lost balance while trying to get started but I was able to snowboard down the entire path that once took me an hour in less than ten minutes. I guess you could say it was my Neo/Matrix moment and it felt incredible.

For the next few hours after lunch I was on my own and things only got easier. I even got to the point to where I could snowboard straight into the entrance of the lift and didn’t have to unclip my bindings to make it in there. It’s the little things.

It Was Worth The Pain

I rode the lift many more times after that and had an amazing time. I was finally able to snowboard on my own and even though it took me falling down more times than I would have liked it was totally worth it.

Getting to the point to where I could feel the speed of the mountain was awesome and I can’t wait to do it again. From here on out it’s only going to get easier and if you’re thinking about giving snowboarding a try I say go for it. I have some ideas on how to make it even easier (and less painful) to learn for first timers but I’ll save those for another day.

Photo credit: My fantastic instructor, Dom