People Over Things

I’m going to link this blog post from Vitaliy Katsenelson. The gist is ‘what would you do if you knew you had 6 months to live’. He shares some great insights – ones I hope to act on even today with my kids.

In the post he cites the story below, which is what I really want to share even if you don’t click over to Mr. Katsenelson’s blog. It’s the first-person story of Randy Pausch, a 46-year-old (same age as me) professor who has only six months to live – he has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Here is an excerpt:

Once, about a dozen years ago, when Chris was seven years old and Laura was nine, I picked them up in my brand-new Volkswagen Cabrio convertible. “Be careful in Uncle Randy’s new car,” my sister told them. “Wipe your feet before you get in it. Don’t mess anything up. Don’t get it dirty.” I listened to her, and thought, as only a bachelor uncle can: “That’s just the sort of admonition that sets kids up for failure. Of course they’d eventually get my car dirty. Kids can’t help it.” So I made things easy. While my sister was outlining the rules, I slowly and deliberately opened a can of soda, turned it over, and poured it on the cloth seats in the back of the convertible. My message: People are more important than things. A car, even a pristine gem like my new convertible, was just a thing.

I’ve been thinking recently how easy it is to be selfish and material, especially in America. I’m watching out for my own well-being, helping my kids through school and hopefully to college and off on the right foot in life, planning for my retirement, outlining travel trips I want. I contrast this with friends who are constantly reaching out to me and others, checking in, asking to make plans, willing to set aside their own needs, actively seeking ways to bring comfort to others. They embody the social support that makes us feel connected and loved.

Then there’s the video made by my daughter’s middle-school teachers, each self-isolating at home, and one of them edited a series of 30-second clips of each teacher recording themselves saying hello to their students. So evident how much these people love their kids! They exemplify prioritizing people over things.

So, too, do the brave health care workers who are out on the front lines taking care of sick patients, like my friend Brian who is a hospital physician in Philadelphia. People are more important even than personal safety.

Today’s daily blog post from Seth Godin challenges us to consider what our principles really are. “What makes it a principle is that we do it now, even though (especially though) it’s hard.” If my principles value people over things, what am I going to do today, even if it’s hard even in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, to live that?

Home Workout

We are all adapting to our new circumstances of being home a lot more. I like exercising, so I’m very grateful neither the state of Colorado nor the city of Boulder have closed the outdoors. Bike rides, trail running, hiking are all still available. Still, there are indoor days when I prefer an old-fashioned workout with weights. I’m no body-builder; I prefer many reps with lighter weights and getting my heart rate up. For this kind of exercise I historically went to a gym. I have limited equipment at home, so I’ve been adapting with a make-shift solution.

First, a pair of home-made dumbbells that my father and his colleague welded over 25 years ago while I was in college. I think it’s 1/4″ scrap metal welded into hollow box shapes connected with 1″ steel dowel. Back in college, I used those hollow weights for a time, then after a while I filled the hollow boxes with concrete. Yep, concrete and steel (happy materials for a structural engineer). The dumbbells got rusty over the years, so last weekend I cleaned them down with steel wool and repainted them. (Mark McIntyre is a friend of mine who ran for Boulder City Council last year – here I’m recycling his yard sign for painting.)

I also have a pair of 10lb steel hand weights that I inherited long ago. I can use one weight, or grip both at the same time for a 20-lb dumbbell. Those steel+concrete dumbbells weigh in at 31.5-lbs so I have options for 10-lbs, 20-lbs, and 30-lbs. (I do wish I had a 40-lb option, so if anyone can think of a safe way to lash the 10-lb and 30-lb weights together, I’m all ears.)

For a bench, I’ve gone super-high-tech with a 2×10 plank and two 4×4 blocks. I have no idea why I had these scraps of wood sitting in the garage – I didn’t even need to use a saw to cut lengths, the perfect lengths and sizes were sitting there. I can use these in two positions, horizontal bench press and inclined press. A pair of my son’s old pajama pants makes a perfect headrest.


I’ve found I can get a complete upper body workout with this set-up. If you’re interested in my regimen, I’ve written that up below. I’m curious about what creative ways are you adapting at home?

Johnny’s at-home work out. This usually takes me about 30 minutes.

Part I: Warm-up
I do 4 sets of 5 movements (cardio, lunge, chest, abs, and squat). Each movement is 30 seconds for a total 10 minute warm-up.
Set 1 Cardio: Jumping Jacks
Lunge: Moving Ski Hops
Chest: Moving Push-ups
Abs: Bicycle Sit-ups
Squat: Squat with Jabs

Set 2 Cardio: Mountain Climbers
Lunge: Moving Squats
Chest: Plank Abs Jumps
Abs: Pile Drivers Left
Squat: Squat with Uppercuts

Set 3 Cardio: Mummy Kicks
Lunge: Belt Kicks
Chest: Plank Abs Side Jumps Left and Right
Abs: Pile Drivers Right
Squat: Squat with Attack Jabs

Set 4 Cardio: Jumping Jacks
Chest: Low plank hold
Abs: Russian Twists
Squat: Wall squat hold for 1 minute

Part II: Weights
I do three sets of 6 movements.
Set 1 Flat Bench Convention Press
Bicep Curl
Inclined Press
Overhead Tricep Press
Flat Bench Inner Chest Press
Traps and Deltoid Front and Side Shoulder Extensions

Set 2 Flat Bench Convention Press
Hammer Curl
Inclined Press
Tricep Push-ups
Flat Bench Inner Chest Press
Inclined row

Set 3 Flat Bench Convention Press
Seated bicep curl
Inclined Press
Tricep kick-backs
Flat Bench Inner Chest Press
Shoulder lifts

Part III: Walking Lunges
I picked this up from a P-90X video in their workout for building core strength. 24 reps, 12 left and 12 right. I use the 10-lbs weight and they get very heavy by the end. This one really gets my heart pumping!
It’s an 8-part movement, each movement slow and steady and controlled.
1. Lunge – and at the same time curl both biceps bringing the weights near your chest. The next 7 movements, continue holding that deep lunge in the lower body while moving the weights with the upper body.
2. Kick it back – a tricep kickback with both arms.
3. Sit up tall – as you do, the weights naturally come down by your side.
4. Curl – a straight bicep curl.
5. Press – a shoulder press, push the weights to the sky.
6. Put ’em back – bring the weights back down by your shoulders.
7. Release – bring the weights down by your side.
8. Stand up tall.
Repeat those 8 movements! I usually end up walking all around my house.

It’s a surprisingly good workout, with lots of different things going on so I don’t get bored. It also gets my heart rate up without getting exhausted.

Taking Action

I used to think, if I wanted to start something new, that I need a “big idea” to make it worthwhile and increase the chances that it will be successful. Most of us will not conceive a lottery-winning “big idea”. And even if we did, there’s really no increased chance of success just because of that. The idea still needs to be implemented and that could mean talking to people, getting funding, building skills, i.e. doing stuff.

It seems that taking action is the difference, even with small ideas. Everyone can come up with many small ideas. I may not be clear what the total future potential of the idea is, but I can take action on it now, see where it goes, and then evolve. Success is a process.

Will It Matter

Wintery weather this week and I fired up the wood stove in the family room. I remember when that stove first got installed many years ago, I think there was some issue with the product being back-ordered, and then maybe the installation crew wasn’t available or they were missing some parts, then I think there were delays with the inspection. The waiting was so frustrating, and I walked around feeling surly and snappish. Now I can’t even remember what the fuss was about! What a waste of energy that was.

Now when dealing with a frustrating situation I try to recall that perspective: “Will it matter a year from now if this happens today or tomorrow or next week?” If it won’t matter (and most of the time it doesn’t), then relax. Spend that valuable energy on things that matter.

I find the same is true with when dealing with a decisions: “Will this matter a year from now?” If the answer is no (which tends to be most of the time), make the best decision I can and move on. If the answer is yes, then it makes sense to invest more time and resources and then make my best decision.

Vision Zero

I want to give a shout out to the SUV driver who was making a left turn into a side street this morning. I was coming up the hill on my bike and we would have been in conflict as I entered the intersection, but he held the traffic behind him and waved me through.

#VisionZero is everyone’s responsibility. We clearly have shortcomings and there is a lot of work to do here to keep everyone safe, especially our most vulnerable road users (pedestrians, bikes, wheelchairs, etc). I am heartened to know we do have some people in cars who are watching out for all road users.

Closed Eyes, Open Eyes

I close my eyes. I think about everything that’s most important to me: family, friends, home, career, music, etc. Then I imagine that it’s all taken away. How does that make me feel? I quickly realize that what I already have is so much more important than what I don’t have. I realize how fortunate, successful, and happy I already am. Then I open my eyes. My life might not be what I consider “perfect”, but it’s already pretty great.