Sunday, January 27, 2013

To Be Fair . . .

In last week’s blog - Lancing the Boil - I lambasted Lance Armstrong for his lame apology during an interview with Oprah Winfrey.  While I still stand behind my original feelings - he never really apologized, and if he did, it was only to himself for getting caught - I have thought long and hard about the impact Lance has had on this planet.  To be fair . . . it isn’t all bad.

Lance is another athlete continuing the storyline that the only way to win is to cheat.  Enough sports superstars in the last decade have fallen from grace through doping scandals that it comes across as old hat now.  I don’t think anyone should find themselves shocked that athletes cheat.  We should only feel shock when it no longer comes across as wrong.

In 1997, before Lance Armstrong’s worldwide fame blossomed in the French Pyrenees, he fought a more dangerous battle than any before or after - testicular cancer.  His fight, the lessons he learned as he slugged it out with malignant cells, and the resulting Livestrong foundation, will sustain his positive legacy long after his unfair cycling victories fade from society’s collective mind.

The Livestrong Foundation, who recently cut all ties to the founder and former chairman, no longer contributes to cancer research as it once did (its funding was a drop in the bucket compared to cancer behemoths like American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute).  Instead, Livestrong focuses on changing the global perspective on cancer.  Due to Lance’s efforts through the Livestrong organization, cancer patients no longer endure the disease, they fight it.  Instead of cancer victims, cancer survivors emerge from their battle.  

Additionally, Livestrong focuses on guiding anyone fighting the disease to organizations that can offer preparation and assistance with the difficulties associated with life after cancer.  They offer direction on sperm banking and egg freezing to help with fertility, provide literature on clinical trials, distribute free cancer guidebooks, and connect people with organizations designed to help navigate the maze of healthcare finance.  

Livestrong has established an exercise program through the YMCA tailored specifically for cancer survivors.  Through Scholastic magazine, Livestrong at School teaches lessons to young students about cancer, ensuring from a young age that cancer no longer appears as a sure death sentence.  In 2009 Livestrong hosted the Global Cancer Summit in Dublin, Ireland aimed at removing false stigma associated with cancer in less developed portions of the world.

More locally, in 2007, Lance spearheaded the effort to pass Texas Proposition 15, creating the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, funded with up to $3 billion in public money to research the causes of and cures of cancer.  Prop 15 would not have passed without the efforts of Lance Armstrong.

The most important effort, though is how Lance Armstrong changed the spirit of how the patient should approach cancer treatment.  Through Livestrong, he offered a different mindset, one of active healing rather than passive suffering; unlike cancer, this new mindset is contagious.  Would Livestrong have yielded such great results without Lance’s cycling success?  No.  But to me, that is besides to point; I have always been a believer that the universe uses everything for an eventual positive result, no matter how negative.  Ultimately, in the final analysis, Lance’s cheating is our gain, though it make take time for us to realize it.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Lancing the Boil

This week, Lance Armstrong, cycling villain extraordinaire, took the first step towards healing the wounds caused by his extensive doping scandal.  Guided by one of the world’s most pre-eminent celebrity interviewers, Oprah Winfrey, Lance admitted to using nearly every imaginable type of banned performance enhancing substance.  He outlined    the steps he took to win, to “level the playing field,” as he put it.  The one thing that was missing?  A real apology.

A boil is typically a cyst or infected hair follicle gone bad.  The minor infection expands into a larger area of the body, increasing both in size and effect.  A severe boil can lead to more significant infection; even an average size one can cause severe fever and extreme weariness as the body fights.  The first step in treating the infection combines the repeated use of a heated compress with thorough washing.  Drawing the pus to the surface prepares it for the next step.

Lance needs to learn how to apologize.  He reminded me of the time I was caught drinking syrup from the bottle (that stuff tasted good!).  I apologized to my Mom, but I was more sorry to myself for getting caught than I was about drinking the syrup.  Lance’s delivery, his body language, even his word choices all contradicted the intended apologetic spirit of the interview.  Perhaps he felt sorry, but his demonstration of that feeling lacked merit, and to many, appeared equally as insulting.

When treating a boil, doctors will also prescribe antibiotics and topical creams to treat the infection.  Employing a multi-pronged attack helps to ensure a successful initial treatment.  Taking care to reach the infection from every angle prevents a relapse.

A true apology can be an art many of us find unfamiliar.  Our society raises up the strong, and to many, apologizing implies weakness.  This is backwards to me; admitting error takes incredible spiritual strength.  By cheating in the first place, Lance demonstrated his lack of internal strength.  Should anyone be surprised that his apology lacked strength as well?

Lancing a boil can be dangerous, and when used as the only means of treatment, often leads to re-infection or secondary infection.  When not approached in the proper way, the pus remains hard packed, continuing to clog the wound.  Not consulting a medical professional and taking the knife into our own hands often yields terrible results.  

Lance’s apology came across as a personal attempt to lance the boil of his years of lies, deceit, and outright despicable behavior.  The boil on Lance’s soul is filled from his mistreatment of friends and associates, his destructive attacks on people’s lives for attempting to expose the truth, and the incredible disservice he has done to his fans.  Because Lance did not treat his own infection before attempting to lance it, true healing is impossible.  Only after the right steps will Lance truly be able to move forward from this and heal along with everyone he has hurt.

- a good article on how to correctly apologize using Lance's apology as an instructive counterpoint

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Paper Monster

While I know it is only January, and for the majority of the country W-2s won’t appear until early February, but tax time began in my house on January 1.  With both Samantha and I owning our own businesses, tax time is a time of extra work, hopefully ending in a positive result.  The best way to earn that positive result in the end?  Good planning.

I have planned well in the past, preparing files at the beginning of the year for receipts.  Then, through the year, I consolidated information periodically to prevent a huge load of work dumped on me at the end.  This year, I employed a slightly different method - the wait and get dumped on method.

While I am only a short time into the effort, I can tell you right now that the planning method is much better.  After a year of stuffing receipts into a drawer until they really couldn’t fit anymore, I figured I better start sorting them.  With Samantha’s help, we knocked out the sorting in an afternoon and evening.  Now comes the documenting.

It has taken me four days to get through the food receipts.  Just the food receipts.  I have sorted them into months, added the information into a spreadsheet, scanned the receipts, and thrown them away (which is allowed by the IRS).  Four days.  I could have probably spent thirty minutes one day a month on all my receipts, sorting, documenting, scanning, etc.  Instead, I waited until now.

I still have gas receipts, office supplies, music supplies, beauty care supplies (for Samantha’s Mary Kay business), utility payments, home mortgage interest, home maintenance expense receipts, health care, and a plethora of other receipts to document.  After that, I will need to document business travel and make decisions about the standard deduction offered by the IRS for travel versus the actual costs.  Then I have . . .  needless to say, the list is expansive.

I will be the first to admit my lack of a plan for the past year’s taxes was first the result of laziness.  I just never got around to it.  Later, though, I didn’t want to battle the monster I had created.  The pile of receipts had just grown too large to handle, so I ignored it.

With solid pre-planning, I could have been wrapping up my yearly taxes over the last four days.  Instead, I am embarking on a journey as long and drawn out as the first Hobbit movie, while not being nearly as exciting.

The tax benefits of owning two businesses are great; nearly everything we do is tax deductible.  Successful planning is key, though.  

As always, I extrapolate my experiences into life lessons.  I think this one is fairly obvious, and I can see where, if employed properly in other areas of my life, it will yield better results.  Planning is important.  Sure, flying by the seat of your pants can be exciting, too, but it definitely isn’t the way to run your entire life.  

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Soldier On

We can not pretend to know the workings of the universe.  Try as we might, our world contains so much complication and controlled disarray, if we attempt to sit down and process it all, we often feel our brains reduced to cinder.  Rarely do we attempt to figure everything out when things are good.  But when our life turns upside down?  We always try to fight it or figure it out.  Often, the best option is to roll with the punches, knowing the universe is leading you in the direction you should go.

Eight months ago, Samantha and I opened our doors to one of her former students - Elise - who needed a place to stay in between her freshman and sophomore year in college.  Elise had stayed with us the summer before when her family situation became complicated, and she knew we still had a room available.  Like the guests on the SS Minnow, we thought her stay would be short, but as circumstances unfolded, that was not to be the case.

We all have experienced times when the universe seems to dump on us.  Movies often characterize this feeling in a scene with the main character standing in a deluge, shaking fists at the dark sky.  This is how we feel.  Abandoned.  Betrayed.  Like we are chained to the bottom of the world’s largest chamber pot, no escape in sight.

About a month into Elise’s three month stay, her fist shaking moment arrived.  Her boyfriend broke up with her through a text message.  She totaled her car and was dropped from her insurance.  She was fired from her job.  And finally, financial aid she had been counting on was rejected, leaving her unable to pay for college the next year.  All within ten days.  The SS Minnow had shipwrecked, leaving a wallowing castaway stranded upon our couch to surf through the various young adult dramas found on Netflix.

The way I see it, there are three ways people react to such a negative situation. 

1. They will wallow in it, spreading their malaise to anyone they can.  These are the Debbie Downers; their only impetus is to bring everyone to their level.  Only then will their situation seem better.
2. They will analyze and attempt to understand it, hoping to wrap their brain around a problem so infinitely large, the only result is inevitable frustration.
3. They will accept the situation and allow the universe to guide them forwards.

I suppose we go through all three of these on our way out of the pit, and it took Elise around three weeks to drag herself out of the muck and into the third step.  I remember the moment clearly.  I was sitting in my office and she popped her head in.  She had met with an Army recruiter and would be enlisting as soon as she could.  I smiled, sure this was a momentary attraction that would soon be gone from her flighty 19 year old head.

Of course, the universe doesn’t just use situations like Elise’s to teach those to whom it happens.  It is a teaching moment for everyone.

Over the next few months, I couldn’t help but be tickled as the universe turned me on my head.  Elise didn’t just climb out of her gloom, she burst forth, a phoenix rising from the ashes.  Her dedication to the idea of the Army pulled her forward.  Whether or not she realized it, she let go of many ideas that had exerted powerful control over her life in a negative way.  She became more independent, crafting her life towards what she wanted it to be.  She worked hard, finding a job she could enjoy until she left for basic.  She bought a car on her own, found insurance, and came to terms with the boy who had abandoned her.  Finally, she developed a fitness and eating routine like nothing she had ever done, losing over sixty pounds in three months to make weight for the Army.  She ran towards her solution instead of away from the problem.

She swears in and leaves for basic training tomorrow.

We have a couple of motivational magnets hanging on our refrigerator that reflect on situations like Elise’s.  Thomas Jefferson implores that when “you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.”  Or, there is this one - “when life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”  But I discovered a quote from Joel Osteen today that seems to fit much better - “Often, out of our greatest rejection comes our greatest direction.”

The universe rejected everything Elise thought was important, but only to direct her to a better place.  A place she was meant to go.  So, no matter how hard your situation might seem, there is always a way out, a way up.  Let the universe guide you; it will never dump you into the crucible of life without a purpose.  Be accepting of what it delivers and soldier on.