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Geezers, Fools… and Ignoring Greg Allman

How fine is the line between optimism and delusion? Do you respond when reality taps you on the shoulder, or do you wait until it hits you over the head? Those questions played out personally as I tried to apply the works of leadership consultant and author Dr. Henry Cloud. My thought process was impacted by, of all things, a press release by quarterback Philip Rivers, and some lyrics penned by Greg Allman. Go figure.

henry-cloudI spent the last two days facilitating full day Vistage meetings and we discussed some of the management concepts of Henry Cloud. Among his many insightful and provocative ideas is the practice of classifying people into three categories: the Wise, the Foolish, and the Evil. The latter are easy to identify, and are addressed with what rocker Warren Zevon recommends: lawyers, guns and money (read Dr. Cloud’s work, trust me).

Distinguishing between the other two categories comes down to how people deal with the truth.  When confronted with the truth, do you listen and adjust to reality? If so, you’re Wise. Or when confronted with reality do you fight or deny, and try to adjust the truth to fit your purposes? If so you’re a Fool. Dr. Cloud doesn’t mince words.

rainRarely do I get to put a theory to test so quickly. After work yesterday I went to the gym for a workout. Rain was coming down in buckets and small lakes dotted the parking lot between me and the front door. I opened the car door and started sprinting towards the gym. I hadn’t taken two steps before a searing pain in my calf stopped me in my tracks. I finally managed to hop and stumble my way to the front door. The girl at the front desk gave me a sympathetic look as I hobbled (and dripped) past, while her associate turned his head so he wouldn’t snicker in my face.

The calf pain was a result of running six miles last weekend. I guess I should have worked my way up to six miles, but I’m in a hurry to get in shape to run a half marathon. I’ve never run more than five miles in my life, but I promised my daughter Carla I’d run a half marathon with her this year. So time’s a wastin’.

I went over to the dumbbell rack and reached for my normal weights. I heard shouts and turned around. Immediately behind me a group of eighteen year-olds were gathered around a friend on the bench press. I looked at the dumbbells in my hands. I set them back down and grabbed two that were ten pounds heavier.

The last time I knowingly lifted weights that were too heavy for me I was trying to keep up with my son Kevin.  The result then was numbness in my arms, pain in my shoulder, and four herniated discs in my neck.

As I leaned back on the bench to do flys, two of the teenagers glanced over at me. Uh-oh.  Someone was watching. After a couple of reps I was struggling, and I knew my shoulder would start screaming any second, but it seemed kind of wimpy to stop so soon. I kept going.

After completing the set I looked up at the ESPN telecast on the television above me. The scrolling message at the bottom of the screen read, ““Phillip Rivers says his best years are ahead of him.”

My initial reaction was, “That’s news?” What athlete doesn’t expect to get better every year?”

Just then the song on my iPod changed to Molly Hatchet’s “Dreams I’ll Never See”  (yes, I know it’s sacrilegious, but I prefer this version to the Allman Brothers original). The chorus, repeated several times during the song, is:

“Cause I’m hung up on dreams I’ll never see,

Ahh, help me baby, or this will surely be the end of me.”

I looked in the mirror. Sometimes the grey hair around my temples blends in with the background and you can’t tell there is any hair there at all. When that happens, it looks like I’m wearing a toupee.  I moved a foot to the right and the light caught my grey hair. The toupee disappeared.

I laughed out loud and sat down on the bench.

Are Greg Allman’s lyrics at play here? Am I pursuing something I’ll never achieve? Is it time to climb down off the hilltop? Or do I believe Philip Rivers, and believe my best days are ahead of me?

OK, Dr. Cloud, the moment of truth. Do I accept reality? Or do I deny it?

I limped back to the dumbbell rack and grabbed some lighter weights. Sanity had returned. Momentarily. I couldn’t’ help myself and I did two more sets than I’d normally do. I think I climbed on to the Philip Rivers train. The eighteen year olds were long gone – and they weren’t watching me anyway. But I knew.

I walked out of the gym with two thoughts in mind. First of all, this aging process stinks. Secondly, I’m now determined to be stubbornly passionate and purposeful. I may occasionally redline in that space, but I don’t plan to jump off the cliff into pure delusion.

Dr. Cloud, I think I want to be a wise dreamer. Or maybe you’d view me as an enlightened fool –and I’m OK with that.

I do believe that one day I’ll be stronger than I was when I was twenty. I may not be faster in a forty yard dash, but I’ll run five times farther than I ever ran as a teenager.  I never took the time to learn Spanish when I was in school. Add it to the list. Heck, let’s throw in line dancing, changing the oil in my car, and completing a Tin Man Triathlon. (Note: If Lisel, Carla’s college roommate, can learn how to change the oil in her car, then so can I!).

Either I’m engaged in continuous improvement or I’m headed for continuous decline. I’ll take the former.

I don’t believe I’m alone. So, if you see that toupee-wearing geezer gasping and wheezing in the gym, or notice a guy sitting behind you in class who looks like he’s somebody’s grandfather, cut him some slack. He’s still trying to improve himself – and he may yet change the world.

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Mike Mason #

    As a friend told me the other day as I was heading out to help some folks in Moore, “Be careful, you aren’t as young as you used to be. Let the youngsters do the heavy stuff.” He was right.
    There as some things I can do, like mow all day. But I am realizing that I have limitations. And as friends and relatives pass away or bravely battle cancer, I am thankful for each time I can feel young(at least in my mind) and can watch my boys play soccer in the Mexican league, or help friends who lost their house and barns in the tornado.
    I have more practice laughing back at teenagers who think they are studs than you do. Next time you get the urge to show them up, smile and walk away. :)

    June 17, 2013
    • Karl Sprague #

      Mase, some pearls of wisdom from you, as usual. I don’t know that I believe you don’t get a little itchy watching a rugby match, or participating in the songs (and related activities) after the match. You’re right, though, friends provide a remarkable mirror for us to see our age and our mortality. I’m trying real hard to walk away, but every time I think to myself, “OK, this is the last time I’m going to do this.” Donna just laughs and shakes her head as I collapse on the couch. I’m not surprised that you’re spending your energy helping others. My buddy continues to show me the right way to do things. Thanks. – Karl

      June 17, 2013
  2. Jeff Arnold #

    “Younger Next Year” by Chris Crowley. A must read for all of us geezers!

    June 18, 2013
    • Karl Sprague #

      Jeff, I think you’re the third person who has recommended that book to me in the last year. You pushed me over the edge – I just ordered it on Amazon. We’ll compare notes one of these days – hopefully over a meal at Poquito Mas! – Karl

      June 22, 2013
      • Jeff Arnold #

        “Be the dog that walked on its hind legs, and set some kedges!” This will make perfect sense soon…

        June 23, 2013
  3. Kate Donahue #

    Great read Karl! You’re such a good writer – I’m inspired. And I’m definitely with you on Improving Each Day – age thing or no age thing. Becoming my Best Self has become all about Feeling Good in Life – invigorated – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually – and not necessarily all in that order. Playing with my draft horse has taught me so much and I’m having a Blast…and yup, addressing some things within that don’t really serve me any longer…so I like this age – although I keep wondering what happened to my perkiness…guess it’s more internal now. Best regards, Kate xo

    June 21, 2013
    • Karl Sprague #

      Kate, thanks for your kind words – and for stopping by The Short Distance. I love your perspective – improving each day, becoming your Best Self, and liking your age, just where you are. Sometime when I’m headed towards Fort Myers, Tampa, or something remotely close to Sarasota, I’ll let you know. I’m dying to hear about the lessons from playing with your draft horse. And I can tell from the pictures that you post, the comments that you make on FB, and what your friends still say about you – the old perkiness has just been modified into something even more appealing. Keep it up. – Karl

      June 22, 2013
  4. Kate Donahue #

    Great read Karl! You’re such a good writer – I’m inspired. And I’m definitely with you on Improving Each Day – age thing or no age thing. Becoming my Best Self has become all about Feeling Good in Life – invigorated – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually – and not necessarily all in that order. Playing with my draft horse has taught me so much and I’m having a Blast…and yup, addressing some things within that don’t really serve me any longer…so I like this age – although I keep wondering what happened to my perkiness…guess it’s more internal now. Best regards, Kate xo

    June 21, 2013
  5. Kate Donahue #

    Best of luck on your half marathon with your daughter too!

    June 21, 2013

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