This site was starting to look dated. So, between 1:00am and 2:00am last night, I quickly banged out a redesign. It’s likely to continue evolving over the next few days, but I like the change; to my eye, it looks more modern, and is much easier to read. If you have suggestions for improvement, certainly let me know.
One year in high school, I worked as a little league umpire. The kids were great; the parents, terrible. At least every other game, we had to throw a parent out of the park. Swear at me all you want, but swear at a ten year old and you’re gone.
At CFNYC, I get to see grown-up versions of those kids. Some had great experiences, come in the door as competent athletes. But many more show up convinced that they’re just not good at sports at all. Which, invariably, isn’t really the case. After a few weeks of coaching, they start to realize they’re capable of things they never imagined, begin thinking about themselves in totally different ways.
One of our coaches told me that when she went home for Christmas not long after we hired her, she spent most of her week trying to help her confused family make sense of her new job. “I don’t understand,” they’d say. “You coach at a gym? Where people work out? Doing exercise? You?” But, indeed, she does coach at a gym. Very well. And despite growing up believing she was hopeless at anything physical, she’s on her way to becoming a formidable CrossFitter and a competitive Olympic lifter.
The thing I hear most from those athletes, the ones who surprise themselves and everyone else, is that they wish they had figured it out sooner. That they missed out on all kind of experiences, tormented themselves needlessly along the way with that wrong sense of who they were and what they could do. And if you press them a bit further, you can usually trace things back to a handful of bad early experiences. A couple of missed soccer goals with embarrassed parents shaking their heads from the stands.
I thought about that, and about my high school umping experience, when I saw this great article from the Fuller Youth Institute.
As they put it:
Based on psychological research, the three healthiest statements moms and dads can make as [kids] perform are:
Before the Competition:
I love you.
After the competition:
Did you have fun?
I’m proud of you.
I love you.
Along with this gem:
researchers Bruce Brown and Rob Miller asked college athletes what their parents said that made them feel great and brought them joy when they played sports. Want to know the six words they most want to hear their parents say?
“I love to watch you play.”
Great advice for parents and coaches at any age. But an especially good reminder for anyone working with kids in sports, or anyone with kids of their own. It’s all too to easy to forget that what you say and do really can have a lifetime of impact.
Late in his life, the writer and social critic Edmund Wilson admitted in an interview that he no longer read history books. Asked why not, he explained, “I already know more or less the kind of things that happen.”
I feel similarly about business books. Having read too many in the early days of my startup career, I now very rarely find one that actually says something new, or that warrants reading past the first chapter.
There is, however, one big exception: The Rockeller Habits, by Verne Harnish. I recommend the book to all of our portfolio company CEOs, and would recommend it equally to anyone building a company. While none of the content is revolutionary, it’s both comprehensive and specific; unlike most business books, which are too hand-wavy to put into real-world action, The Rockefeller Habits is an approach you can immediately put to work as the core of running your business. For CEOs and entrepreneurs, definitely worth the read.
When I was two years old, on my first day of preschool, the teacher asked if I’d like some apple juice and crackers.
“Actually”, I replied, “I’d prefer a croissant.”
by Ellen Bass
Bad things are going to happen.
Your tomatoes will grow a fungus
and your cat will get run over.
Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream
melting in the car and throw
your blue cashmere sweater in the drier.
Your husband will sleep
with a girl your daughter’s age, her breasts spilling
out of her blouse. Or your wife
will remember she’s a lesbian
and leave you for the woman next door. The other cat–
the one you never really liked–will contract a disease
that requires you to pry open its feverish mouth
every four hours. Your parents will die.
No matter how many vitamins you take,
how much Pilates, you’ll lose your keys,
your hair and your memory. If your daughter
doesn’t plug her heart
into every live socket she passes,
you’ll come home to find your son has emptied
the refrigerator, dragged it to the curb,
and called the used appliance store for a pick up–drug money.
There’s a Buddhist story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs half way down. But there’s also a tiger below.
And two mice–one white, one black–scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.
So here’s the view, the breeze, the pulse
in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you’ll get fat,
slip on the bathroom tiles of a foreign hotel
and crack your hip. You’ll be lonely.
Oh taste how sweet and tart
the red juice is, how the tiny seeds
crunch between your teeth.
While we were shooting the Israeli documentary, we spent a bunch of time in the village of Sakhnin. Almost every day we shot there, we ate lunch at the same restaurant. The place served lunch Arab style: a first shared course with plate after plate of salads, breads, dips, pickles and olives. followed by a second course of grilled meat or fish.
Each lunch, we’d eat the all pickles and olives they’d brought out. But we’d leave behind the single pickled pepper that always sat on the same plate. After a week or so, the owner of the restaurant started ribbing us about the pepper.
“Too hot for you?” he’d ask, and laugh.
Four or five days later, just to shut the guy up, I ate one of the peppers.
“See,” I said. “Not so bad.”
“Oh,” he replied, “those peppers are only hot to Jewish people. I’ll get you the real peppers.”
He headed to the kitchen, reemerging a few minutes later with two small, green peppers on a plate. They weren’t more than an inch long, but they were the brightest colored food I’d ever seen.
“I’ll do it,” I said, “if Denny will eat one, too.”
Denny was our sound guy, about forty-five years old. He raced motocross, and he had done sound for TV news front-line war reporting. He was the guy sitting in the midst of gunshots and mortar fire, holding a boom mic overhead. If anybody else was stupid enough to eat one of these with me, it was Denny.
“Okay,” he shrugged.
So we toasted each other with the peppers, and then each took a big bite.
I chewed. I swallowed. It was hot, but not so terrible.
And then, about five seconds later, somebody set off an atomic bomb in my mouth.
I looked over at Denny, who was turning redder and redder. My eyes started running. As did my nose.
“Drink milk!” somebody yelled. “Eat some bread!”
But nothing helped. At some point, Denny and I started laughing hysterically about the whole thing. What else could you do?
We laughed and snotted and laughed for about fifteen minutes of searing pain, after which things started to cool down. About ten minutes later, I tried a bite of the original, less spicy pepper. It tasted like vinegar, a sign, apparently, that I’d temporarily blown out my ability to perceive spicy.
Over the following few weeks, the owner of the restaurant treated Denny and me better than the rest of the group. For at least a day, I think my core body temperature was up a degree or two. And, spicy as that pepper was on the way in, it was just as bad on the way back out.
About a decade ago, I was producing a documentary in Israel, shooting in little Arab villages up in the north of the Galilee.
The hospitality in the villages was intense, and if we were shooting within a hundred feet or so of someone’s home, the woman of the house would come out with a tray of cut fruit, homemade dessert and Turkish coffee.
On our first day of shooting, we had fruit and coffee in front of one house. We had fruit and coffee in front of a second. But when a woman came out from the third house we had moved in front of, the director and I – both Americans – politely declined.
After she headed back inside, however, our Arab Israeli producer pulled the two of us aside. We had, apparently, badly offended the woman by not accepting her fruit and coffee, he explained. For the good of the group, he made clear, we should certainly accept all such offers going forward.
So, later that day, we had fruit and coffee in front of the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh house. After seven or eight straight shooting days, we were probably averaging 15–20 stops, sliced fruit and exceedingly strong shots of coffee at each.
At that point, we broke for a weekend, and the director and I headed back to Tel Aviv. Given our early call times while shooting, we took advantage and slept in. Until, at 11:00am or so, we both awoke, feeling absolutely terrible. By noon, we were curled on the floor in fetal positions. It took us until 1:00pm or so to realize that the terrible, terrible migraines were simply symptoms of severe caffeine withdrawal.
Post fix – a few shots of espresso later – we were totally fine. Once we tapered down our daily dose over the next week, all was well. But, to this day, when people tell me they ‘drink a lot of coffee’, I think, you have absolutely no idea what that really means.
For the first year and a half of Gemelli’s life, when it snowed, we were stuck inside. I’d take him downstairs, and he’d gamely head off towards the corner. But after a few steps, the combination of ice and salt would leave him pinned in place, holding up a frozen, burning paw while looking at me accusatorially.
A few weeks ago, we discovered Pawz. Unlike the more structured boots we’d tried before – which Gem removed as quickly as we’d put them on – he at least tolerated the Pawz. And with his feet covered, he didn’t mind the weather. Neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night stayed us from completion of our appointed rounds.
This morning, as after the last few big storms, we headed to Riverside Park. On the surface streets, the combination of shoveling, snowplowing, subterranean pipes and foot and road traffic prevented snow from really accumulating. But down in Riverside, eight inches of snowfall yielded eight inches of snow piled on the ground. Which, if you’re a foot tall, is basically shoulder height.
So, today, Gem took about an hour to slog through a half-mile loop of park we can normally clear in a matter of minutes. Undeterred by the difficulty, he trudged happily along, marking trees and garbage cans, and trying to put the moves on the female dogs also out for a stroll.
Unfortunately, most of those hot ladies were much taller than he was today, and it appears “neck deep” is a relative measure. So while he’d run furiously to reach them, just a few of their steps would leave them out of butt-sniffable reach. Apparently, even across species lines, short guys have to work that much harder to kill in on the dating scene.
Earlier this week, cleaning through a pile of cards in a box in our back closet, I found this:
Like most college students, I had a fake ID. Except mine was fake Australian.
My rationale was actually pretty straightforward: any bouncer or liquor store clerk worth his salt had seen literally thousands of IDs from any of the 50 states. But most could probably count on one burly hand the number of Australian IDs that they’d seen. So even a fake that badly botched key details seemed likely to pass muster; after all, who’d be crazy enough to get a fake Australian ID?
At liquor store registers, the clerk would eye me up and down with rightful suspicion. Freshman year, I weighted 120 pounds soaking wet, and barely looked old enough to drive.
So they’d whip out the book of IDs, searching through for the matching sample, to see how well mine matched. They’d thumb through Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkasanas, then hit California. They’d page back, then forwards, then backwards a few times.
“It’s not a state,” I would say, derisively, in thick Australian accent. “It’s a country. A foreign country.”
The accent helped, obviously. I can’t do it now sober, but a couple of drinks in and the muscle memory returns.
My fake Australian accent was good enough that, most of time, it even faked out real Australians. Though I was aided by the fact that they were drunk, and I was drunk, and perhaps they simply assumed that my wonky accent was due to having lived too long in the US.
Only once, with an Australian bartender, did it not work at all. “Sorry mate,” he said with a laugh, handing the ID back to me.
I did, on occasion, have to bullshit spectacularly to pull it off. I’d meet Americans who had visited Australia, and who had memories they wanted to share. I hadn’t – and still haven’t – ever actually been to Australia. So, mostly, I’d smile and nod, trying to keep my responses positive but vague.
At one point, I met a woman who was neck-deep in writing her PhD thesis on Australian public transportation. She had a slew of questions for me, wanted to know my experience as a presumed regular user of Melbourne’s buses, trains and trams. So, of course, I pulled answers out of my ass. Hopefully, none of it actually made it into her thesis.
The real test of the ID was Quality Wine Shop, a liquor store in New Haven not far from my dorm at Yale.
The store was great – excellent selection of wines and liquors, knoweledgable and helpful staff. But they had no patience for under-age drinkers; the wall behind the register was lined by literally hundreds of confiscated fake IDs, pinned up in row after row after row.
Miraculously, my ID even worked there. And, over time, as that became my go-to liquor store, I gradually became friends with the staff. They would give me discounts, throw in extra bottles if we were stocking up for a party. Exceedingly nice.
The summer between junior and senior year, I turned 21. Which left me with a serious conundrum: what to do about Quality Wine?
Should I continue feigning Australian-ness while shopping there? Switch back to my normal non-accent and hope nobody noticed? Or did I need to come clean? And, if so, how? I had trouble picturing a conversation where I explained that I wasn’t actually the person they thought they’d befriended at all, that I’d secretly been fucking with them the entire time they’d been so nice to me.
Perhaps not a big issue in the scheme of the world. But it seemed big to me. I genuinely lost sleep about it that summer. Which is why, when I returned to New Haven that fall, I was both saddened and somewhat relieved to discover that, priced out by Yale’s increasing retail rents, Quality Wine Shop had quietly closed over the summer, replaced by a gourmet deli.
At an intuitive level, most people assume that if doing something is good, doing even more of it must be better. But when it comes to human bodies, at least, that often doesn’t hold. Taking two Tylenol will cure a headache; taking the whole bottle will kill you. Similarly, doing more and more exercise doesn’t make you more and more fit; at some point, it overtrains you, and instead progressively drives you into the ground.
That’s often difficult for new CrossFitters to grasp, because the total amount of workout time in even a heavy CrossFit training week probably pales in comparison to the amount of hours of working out the same person did pre-CrossFit. Certainly, if you can get on the elliptical for an hour, six days a week, you should be able to do six short WODs, right?
Turns out, you can’t. The very high intensity level of CrossFit WODs necessitates much more recovery time than from more traditional workouts, and there really is a hard limit to how much most people can do each week while still making positive progress.
How much is right for you? Here’s the back-of-the-napkin calculation I use:
Start with 8 WODs a week, which appears to be the upper limit of training for Games-level CrossFit athletes. Then subtract HALF a WOD for each item if you:
- Don’t sleep 8-9 hours a night in perfect darkness.
- Don’t eat a 100% clean diet.
- Have had a drink in the last two weeks.
- Have taken off time in the last two years due to injury.
- Have any job stress.
- Have any personal stress.
- Have been training CrossFit (without a break) for less than three years.
- Don’t have a powerlifting and Olympic lifting background of at least five years pre-CrossFit.
- Are not on steroids.
- Are over 25.
By these calculations, I should be doing 4 WODs weekly. Which, in fact, is about the number I can sustain for months at a time while still making gains. Try the calculation yourself, and be guided accordingly.
And, as ever, let common sense be your guide. A few years back, a now member of our competition team had been pushing herself very hard for several months straight. One day, she took a bar off the rack, and put plates on the bar. And then she sat down next to it and started crying hysterically. You don’t want to reach that point. If you think you need to take a day – or a week – off, you’re almost certainly right.