Sailing Through Christmas: What Will You Learn?

When I was a kid my dad came home one day with a beat up sailboat strapped down in the back of his work van. I think it was in lieu of payment for some carpentry work but given its condition it’s just as likely he pulled it out of a dumpster. Regardless, we patched it together and occasionally took it out on a small nearby lake. I loved it! Something about harnessing Mother Nature’s wind power and gliding across the water made our little journeys feel like big adventures.

In those same years, my uncle in Annapolis, MD became a yacht broker and would share tales of the mammoth boats he sold and the grand exploits upon which their owners would embark. For a kid growing up in rural Pennsylvania, the lifestyle seemed as unworldly to me as flying to Mars but I dreamed of one day getting a taste of it.

Fast forward through college, marriage, career, and kids and a few decades later the itch to experience high level sailing remained unscratched. Last week, however, my generous and supporting wife and kids gave me a pass to indulge in a sailing adventure I still cannot believe was real. For eight days a few other students and I traveled to Florida and lived aboard a forty five foot sailing yacht where we were drilled on nautical principles, vocabulary, laws, and techniques. Our captain and instructor, Rick, is a retired sailing professional who’s been captaining boats longer than I’ve been alive. Short of a parrot on his shoulder and a patch on his eye, he possesses all the vigor and veracity you’d expect from a lifelong seaman.

The certification program is no joke. Every day you’re challenged to learn new concepts and apply them with hand-on exercises. It’s humbling to be a forty four year old guy as unfamiliar and out of his element as a sixteen year old learning to drive a stick shift. Sure, I’d read a few how-to books in advance of the excursion but having a theoretical understanding of how to reef a sail is a heck of a lot different from actually doing it under twenty five knot winds and four foot seas. Did we make mistakes? Tons of them. Did we learn from them? You betcha.

Eight days later our motley crew returned to the harbor with sore backs, sunburned faces, calloused hands, and – miraculously – a boat in one piece. And you know what else we brought back from this adventure? A brand new skill set, a sense of accomplishment, and a certification to charter a sailing yacht up to fifty feet long.

Am I now a sailing expert prepared to cross the Atlantic? Not even close. But I am confident that my wife, kids, and I can charter a boat in the beautiful British Virgin Islands and enjoy an experience that just might bring the same euphoria that dad’s dumpster boat brought me all those years ago.

To Offshore Sailing School, my fellow students Charlie, Richard, and Crystal, and to Captain Rick I offer a Thank You for a terrific learning experience. To you, my kind reader, I offer a challenge. What’s a skillset that intrigues you? What’s a bucket list item that you’ve long dreamed of experiencing but haven’t explored? This holiday season, forego the gifts under the tree and replace them with a learning experience that expands your comfort zone and instills fresh confidence. And if there are any guinea pigs out there – preferably strong swimmers – who are willing to “practice” with Captain Ben, I’m delighted to deputize you as a first mate 🙂

Wishing you a Happy Holidays!

Nittany Lion Pride and Your 107,000 Fans

None of us had any personal connection with the group who made it happen. No neighbors, no friends, no family on the team. Nor were any of us poised to benefit in any tangible way from this incredible victory. Yet the moment Penn State pulled off the year’s greatest upset in college football, all 107,000 of us lost our minds.

The woman next to me, a complete stranger who could have passed for my high school math teacher, embraced me like a long lost son while she wept (not cried, WEPT) tears of joy. Her husband, meanwhile, bear hugged us both while screaming like a Braveheart warrior. The dad behind me fell to his knees, grabbed his ten year old son, and sobbed uncontrollably. The crowd’s roar was so powerful I literally felt the sound waves reverberating through my boy.

In case you don’t follow sports, this past weekend Penn State’s football team, an unranked squad, defeated the mighty Ohio State Buckeyes who were ranked #2 nationally. Most agree it was the biggest Penn State victory in decades.

Crowds Gone Wild is nothing new, right? Watch any sporting event and you’ll see mild mannered, otherwise even keeled people freaking out when their team comes out on top. But I must say that Saturday’s spectacle seemed more powerful, more significant than any other victory celebration I’ve experienced.

Reflecting upon it and hearing other Happy Valley residents share their thoughts, there are three reasons this win is forever burned in the memories of those who witnessed it. Two of these reasons are factors you and I can immediately apply in our own lives – and I hope we do. The third reason, however, is one I hope none of us ever need to address.

Reason #1: 100% Effort

In the normal course of your day, how often do you witness 100% effort? I’ll guess almost never. Your office is full of sleepwalking people sitting quietly in their cubicles doing who-knows-what. Your grocery store clerk meekly mumbles “Have a nice day” as you check out. Let’s face it, the majority of the world is half-assing it.

Sports, on the other hand, give us an opportunity to watch talented people give everything they have to the task at hand. How refreshing!

For those who watched last Saturday’s game, do you have any doubt the Nittany Lions gave less than 100%? Of course not. The team showed what’s possible when an outranked squad delivers excellence.

Reason #2: Exceeded Expectations

C’mon, be honest. How many of us truly believed Ohio State was going to lose?

Unfortunately for a sports team underdog, the odds of outplaying a heavily favored opponent are slim. On the rare occasion when it happens, though, a fan base is pleased beyond words and doubles down on its loyalty.

The good news for you and me? Exceeding expectations in the real, half-ass world is much easier. Back to your grim workplace: What if you came into work tomorrow with a smile on your face and a box of donuts for your co-workers? What if that grocery store clerk offered you a genuine smile and complimented your beautiful wardrobe? Tiny gestures are all it takes to light up your fan base. You may not get bear hugged by a screaming stranger but believe me, your small efforts will not go unnoticed.

Reason #3 – The reason Penn State fans responded so emotionally to victory, and the factor I hope you never have to chase to salvage your own personal brand: Redemption

Five years ago Penn State’s reputation cratered in a heap of shame and embarrassment. Joe Paterno’s glorious program deservedly became the laughing stock of the sports and academic worlds. As often happens, however, the baby got thrown out with the bathwater. Not everything Penn State football was evil. The long history of extraordinary athletes, high academic achievement, alumni support, fun tailgates, and exciting football was overshadowed by a tragic abuse scandal that to this day sickens me.

But to thousands of fans, Penn State still represents something good. It’s still a university that produces outstanding graduates (I work with Penn State engineers who blow me away every day with their brilliance). It’s still a place that gainfully employs thousands of fellow Pennsylvanians, many of whom are developing groundbreaking technologies and medicine. It’s still a place that gives back to its community. It’s still a place my family and I are grateful to call home. And last Saturday night, it was a place where Nittany Lion fans could celebrate a clean victory bursting with pure effort, storybook endings, and pride.

No, you may never have 107,000 screaming fans cheering for you all at once. But bring a little more effort and kindness every day and you’ll experience one fan’s cheers on 107,000 different – and delightful – occasions.

Danny’s Goal: What’s your takeaway?

A single goal. If you had to sacrifice nearly everything in life that fills your days – your career, your paycheck, your marriage, even your Target shopping excursions – what goal would you pursue and with how much dedication would you keep after it? Short of locking yourself in a monastery, the modern world is so full of options that living a life consumed with a single purpose seems impossible. Heck, most of us cannot focus on a single task for ten minutes before distracting ourselves with email or social media.

That’s part of what makes Danny Chew so special. Danny decided long ago to commit himself to a single goal. By my calculations, he’s already invested more than 50,000 hours in pursuit of it. (In comparison, the average American works 2,000 hours a year, so Danny’s more than 25 “work” years into this.) When he committed himself to this goal he was still a child; today he’s 55 years old.

In lieu of a family, a spouse, a career, a home of his own, or a steady paycheck Danny remains at home with his mother and scrapes together a few dollars to cover the bare essentials. To minivan driving, suburb living, Target shopping adults like you and me, Danny’s life may seem preposterous. Upon reflection, though, Danny’s life is an incredible example of what’s possible when one chooses a road less traveled.

Ah, but a road less traveled is exactly what Danny has not chosen! You see, Danny’s life mission is to travel one million miles. A million miles by car? No, though it would take the average American 72 years to rack up that many miles on the road. Danny is choosing to travel a million miles by bicycle.

It’s not cycling a million miles that I’m asking you to consider as your inspiration, but rather the commitment and discipline you and I know it takes to narrow one’s focus, day after day after day, into a single mission.

As a fellow Pennsylvanian I’ve never come across Danny on any of my rides but some of my cycling friends have. The story usually goes that while meandering down some back road in Central PA, a guy with monster quads riding an old, tired road bike comes upon you and humbly mentions that he’s about halfway through his day’s two hundred mile ride. Good Lord! Two hundred miles in one day? Never in my twenty years of cycling have I reached that but Danny knocks down that kind of mileage without a second thought. Danny’s a legend in the endurance cycling world. He’s twice won the Race Across America and routinely logs more miles in a week than a professional cyclist is likely to log in a month.

A few days ago, Danny’s single goal collided with a serious obstacle: He suffered a crash that left him paralyzed from the waist down. As of this writing he’s lying in a hospital bed, heavily sedated so that his body can rest. Danny’s life is about to take a serious turn but does his goal remain or will he have to abandon his dream? Please, this is Danny Chew, the guy who’s spent his entire life fighting headwinds, suffering up climbs, and pushing through pain! As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported, one of Danny’s first comments from the hospital was, “Worst case scenario, I’ll just have to finish my million miles on a hand cycle. So be it.”

Danny, the entire cycling community is cheering for you and praying for your recovery. You will reach your goal, now with more purpose and inspiration than anyone could have imagined.

Note to readers: Danny has health insurance but it carries a large deductible and he faces many expenses following his release form the hospital. If you’re able, please consider a donation of any amount to Danny’s recovery fund: https://www.youcaring.com/danny-chew-640082