“Painting Pictures”

Painting Pictures live at UMmm It’s Music
The desert's cold tonight, the moon hangs high above me
You grip my pillow tight and hum along while I sing
You keep painting pictures, I keep writing songs
About how I won't miss her when I come back home 

They say the writings on the wall 
But you keep painting pictures, painting pictures
All night long

The City in the Pines, Hotel Monte Vista
I count the highway miles to drown out the distance
The blood spilled on your canvas, my words hang from a wire
Flowers left suspended for another life. 

 They say the writings on the wall
But you keep painting pictures, painting pictures
All night long

This westward wind keeps blowing 
Our words into the sky 
Split tongues leave words unspoken 
And I don't ask why

We walk down San Francisco, your hand locked tight in mine
You're quoting Casablanca, I stumble through my lines
"Here's looking at you kid," the gin is running low
I stare into the sunset thinking thoughts you'll never know

They say the writings on the wall
But you keep painting pictures, painting pictures
All night long

“Halo” – American Dream Factory

We set out. 
You can still smell the rain from the edge of town. 
We walk slowly and you turn to say, 
"But they don't even know me." 

They only judge what you have done. 
They will never know the pain you have been through, no. 
They only see a loaded gun, not a victim of a game you weren't playing. 

Now there's tattooed memories, angel wings on her wrist. 
And one little golden halo you can't miss. 
A permanent scar reminder of a night that she can't change 
She said goodbye to a baby with no name. 

Tears fall down your swollen cheeks 
as we push our way through the crowd. 
I turn and smile, 
"It'll all be ok in a little while." 

They only judge what you have done.
They will never know the pain you have been through, no.
They only see a loaded gun, not a victim of a game you weren't playing.

Now there's tattooed memories, angel wings on her wrist.
And one little golden halo you can't miss.
A permanent scar reminder of a night that she can't change
She said goodbye to a baby with no name.

She laid her head in my lap and she cried herself to sleep. 
"I never even saw the face of the man who took my innocence from me." 
And I said, "I will always love you." 

Now there's tattooed memories, angel wings on her wrist
And one little golden halo you can't miss.
A permanent scar reminder of a night that she can't change
She said goodbye to a baby with no name.

When Life Gives You Lululemon(s): Finding Your Leadership Voice

“When one door closes another door opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” Bell

I’ve had the privilege of being a Lululemon Ambassador for the past 2 years and have officially transitioned into a Legacy Ambassador. These past 2 years have flown by and I’ve often felt that I didn’t utilize my time as an Ambassador as well as others. Was it because most of my term as an Ambassador coincided with me going back to the University of Montevallo as a full time graduate student? Was it because my work schedule didn’t always allow me to join in with the Sweat groups during the week? Was it because most of my weekends were spent logging long, lonely miles in the woods? I’m sure I could insert a million reasons why I don’t feel like I took advantage of the ambassadorship like I should, but it’s hard for me to actually dwell on the negative.

So what were the positives of being a Lululemon Ambassador? Well having some rad ass photos on display in the store was pretty sweet…

pics: James Acomb

Getting swagged out (especially the shorty shorts) from head to toe in some of the best clothes imaginable was pretty stellar…

But the things that radiated more than anything else were the culture and the people.

Lululemon’s progressive mindset shines through in every aspect within their culture. Lululemon does an exceptional job at promoting wellness and a positive mindset. They genuinely want to better the community that surrounds them, and they truly invest in peoples lives.

Out of the entire 2 years I spent as an Ambassador for Lululemon, the biggest take away for me was from a Leadership Accelerator and Coaching Program that I had the opportunity to participate. The program focuses on elevating your leadership capacity through the cultivation of self-awareness, development of healthy work/rest rhythms, deepening effective communication, maximizing and multiplying influence and personal vision and value alignment. This amazing pilot program was spearheaded by Alexis Girvan.

In January 2019, I had just made some big life changes when I started back to the University of Montevallo to pursue my master’s degree in counseling. The counseling program in itself has been nothing short of life changing and it paired gracefully with the Leadership Accelerator program that Lululemon piloted in February 2019.

Other than black coffee and maybe a scrumptious blueberry muffin, I didn’t really know what to expect when I rolled into Innova Coffee shop for the first Accelerator program. The setting was intimate and relaxed and I was surrounded by some truly amazing and inspiring individuals. We didn’t waste much time before deep diving into the program. The first of five Leadership Accelerators was probably the most profound and impactful for me.

Alexis turned on the PowerPoint and I read the title: Discovering Your Leadership Voice. Leadership voice? What the hell is a leadership voice? I thought to myself, “well I definitely don’t have a strong leadership voice.” To a degree, I think we’ve all been conditioned to have a vision of what a leader looks like. Most of the time we picture a strong, respected individual standing in front of a crowd getting others fired up…

But leadership doesn’t always look that way. I’ve learned that sometimes it looks like a scrawny guy on the bed of a truck in pink sequin shorts, a lime green fuzzy vest and a blue wig…

I’ve always been told that I was a leader but have always found it hard to picture myself as one… especially not someone that’s leading the charge into battle. I’ve always found myself to be that quiet lil cheerful dude in the middle of things, just being encouraging, supportive and celebrating other people’s achievements. Well… turns out… that’s a type of leader as well.

Counselors and assessments go hand in hand, so I was thrilled to be going through assessments regarding my leadership voice. The program is insightful in the simple fact that you get to explore not only your leadership voice, but you get the opportunity to deep dive into the other remaining leadership voices. By understanding and learning the values of other leadership voices, you can understand how to better communicate with each type of voice. It allows you to look objectively at each voice and see which ones you pair with best, as well as which voices you may have conflict. The voices that you typically have the most trouble pairing with are called Nemesis Voices. By learning more about each type of leadership voice, you can understand what each voice needs to feel empowered, what types of behavior to observe and how to work effectively with each type. Not only is this beneficial from a leadership standpoint, it can be extremely beneficial in intimate, friendship and casual relationships.

The program suggests that there’s 5 different types of leadership voices: (1) The Pioneer, (2) The Connector, (3) The Guardian, (4) The Creative, and (5) The Nurturer. Wanna take a stab at what I am? If you even remotely know me, I’m guessing you picked #5 – The Nurturer. Bingo.

The next few paragraphs or so are almost directly from the leadership voice Accelerator workbook so don’t paint me as some profound writer just yet.

So what exactly does a Nurturer leadership voice sound like? Well firstly, it’s the quietest of the leadership voices. Nurturers intuitively feel how an organization and people will react to a new idea. They defend values and people will always come before profit. They function as the relational oil inside teams and organizations. They genuinely delight in celebrating the achievements of others, are natural team players and they rarely value the contribution they make. People, relational harmony and values are the things that matter the most to Nurturers. Nurturers can be empowered by letting them speak first, affirming their competence and the genuine value of their contribution.

Understanding the Nemesis Voices is just as, if not more important than understanding your own leadership voice. The Nemesis Voice of a Nurturer is the Creative and the Pioneer. Creatives are the second quietest leadership voices. They are the conceptual architects and love to think outside of the box. They typically function as “early warning rad systems” for teams and often see opportunities and dangers long before anyone else. They’re never satisfied with the status quo and inherently believe things can always be better. They exhibit strong social conscience and easier for personal and organizational integrity. They often struggle with the fact that “people never seem to fully understand my ideas.” Being internal perfectionists, they often fail to celebrate the 90% that’s been achieved and instead remain focused on the 10% that hasn’t. Creatives can struggle to communicate effectively and have idealist perfectionist tendencies. Creatives can be empowered by not judging them on what they say first, but help them communicate their ideas and let them know it’s ok to be wrong sometimes. The other Nemesis Voice of a Nurturer is the Pioneer. Pioneers approach life with an “anything is possible” attitude and visioning/shaping a scalable future is always the highest priority. Winning is a massive driver for them and they hate to give up. Their military type thinking makes them incredibly effective at aligning people, systems and resources. They are powerful communicators, using logic and rationality to provide an attractive and compelling vision of the future. The immature Pioneer can often appear very arrogant with a “me focused” almost narcissistic agenda. They quickly dismiss any contributions of those they don’t believe to be competent or experienced. Pioneers can lack sensitivity, be unwilling to listen and be perceived as arrogant. Pioneers don’t need much empowerment but can be empowered by affirming their competence.

I remember walking out of the first Accelerator with a renewed self confidence and feeling liberated as leader. It helped me realize what I need from other people in order to be successful as a leader. For a Nurturer, there’s a need to feel valued and appreciated. They need people to invest and believe in them even when they don’t feel like they’re good enough. They need people to spend quality time with them, get to know them on a deeper level and join them in caring for others even when it’s not perceived as important.

The Accelerator also gave leadership insights for a Nurturer. One example was that people choose you (Nurturers) to lead because they believe in you and it’s important to act accordingly knowing that you belong. Another is that people see you as a highly skilled professional so it’s about damn time to start believing it yourself. These are 2 things that have often been an internal struggle for me. Because I have never had a set career path, I’ve never really thought of myself as a professional. Now that I have direction and pursuing a career in the counseling world, I’m starting to view my training and education as more of an asset and view myself on a more professional level.

Even after 3 years of leading hikers for the Alabama Make A Wish Trailblaze Challenge, I still catch myself feeling inadequate in many ways. It’s really taken me until this year to truly believe and realize maybe I’m not as inadequate as I make myself believe at times. The Accelerator has also given me the insight that people trust my judgement and genuinely want to hear my opinion and this can be a springboard for influence in a way that I can speak the truth kindly.

It’s also given me insight on ways that I use my Nurturer ways in negative ways. For example, removing or not giving as much of my love, support and encouragement within an existing relationship is a way that I utilize my leadership voice to distance myself or show disapproval. After becoming aware of this, I’ve had a chance to look objectively at my own existing relationships and I can see where at times, this has taken place. The same goes for new relationships or people that I don’t necessarily like as well as others. Everyone I meet is going to get a baseline of myself in one shape or form. Even when I’ve been wronged, I still find myself showing respect and courtesy. I honestly feel that every single human I cross paths with will be treated fairly and with common courtesy. Regardless, everyone will get a baseline support, encouragement, love and trust from me. Obviously people I care for more will get higher doses and people I care for less will get just the baseline but I think the most important feature of this knowledge is the awareness that comes with it. Now that I know this is how I tend to distance myself, I’ve found myself becoming aware when it’s happening and can take a self-assessment of the “why” I’m doing it. This insight has honestly helped me to love people better and this awareness has given me the opportunity to catch myself red handed in the act, re-asses and show a bit more grace in certain situations.

I’m extremely thankful to have been given the opportunity to be a part of the Lululemon family as an Ambassador and looking forward to continuing to be a part of the family in a different role. The people I’ve met and the growth that has resulted from this opportunity will always stay with me. When I think of closing the door on this chapter of my life, I won’t look at the door with regret. I’ll look at the door as an end of a pathway that enhanced my life and set me up to reach out for the next doorknob.

pic: James Acomb

Pink Duct Tape

We had our first Birmingham group hike for the Alabama Make A Wish Trailblaze Challenge this past Saturday. At the beginning of every Trailblaze season, I always overhear and sense the exciting nervousness of hikers as they begin the 12 week journey. Some are worried they won’t be fit enough or capable of completing the 26.3 mile hike. Some are worried about the inevitable pain and uncomfortableness to push themselves to uncharted territory physically and possibly mentally. As a hike leader, it’s my job to support and encourage these hikers to stay consistent, stay positive and safely push their boundaries. The majority of the hikers have never taken on a challenge like this and their nervousness is understandably justified. Every year we get avid hikers as well as folks who have never hiked a day in their lives and both types of people on the spectrum have successfully completed the journey. I had one conversation with a hiker this past weekend about my own personal failures and shortcomings. It got me thinking of the times where I decided to pull out of certain efforts and times where I made the decision to suck it up and push through the uncomfortableness. One of those times was in 2018 during the Cruel Jewel 100…

“Maaaaaaaan f*ck Hardrock. F*ck Cruel Jewel. F*ck all is this sh*t. I’m done.”

I waddled into Camp Morganton (mile 50) drenched, chaffed and hating everything. Between the Georgia humidity and the overnight storm I had just trudged through, I had spent the first 15hrs30mins of this hellacious race soaking wet. I was over it.

I plopped down, removed my race bib and started to explain how Satan himself had come up from the depths of Hell to spend the entire day/night running demon horned sandpaper along my inner thighs and scrotum.

A girl standing in close proximity bluntly said. “Don’t be a p*ssy!”

I recognized the face but at the time had never actually met this girl. It was Jen, one of Ash’s best friends. I just rolled my eyes and continued bitching about how everything sucks. OJG, Matty Fierce and Jen must have done a good job with their pep talk and spinning my negative talk into positive talk, because before I knew it, I had a a dry pair of socks/shoes on and my race bib pinned back on a pair of dirty yellow shorts. I wasn’t entirely thrilled at the thought of stepping back out into the downpour to penguin waddle my ass back across the north Georgia mountains with a cheerful Lucifer scraping away delicate layers of skin in my shorts… but nevertheless, I begrudgingly stepped into the doorway of Camp Morganton.

“Aight Matty Fierce. If I step my ass out of this doorway and back into this rain… no matter how long it takes, I’m not quitting. Ok? Ok.”

OJG and MF didn’t let me quit. I spent the next 18hrs slowly and painfully moving my body across some of Georgia’s toughest trails.

At mile 69, Luci had stopped with the demon horned sandpaper and moved onto extinguishing lit cigarettes on the bottom half of my manhood. WHAT SINS AM I PAYING FOR?!?! There had to be SOMETHING I could do to ease the torture. WWMD? What would Macgyver do? I’ll tell ya what he’d do… he’d do duct tape.

I took the bright pink duct tape out of my plastic supply bin and wrapped it around my inner thighs. It wasn’t comfortable, but it allowed me to get back moving. The next 36 miles were much of the same… just slow, painful, wounded duck type movement along the Dragon’s Dong (aka: the Dragon’s Spine – aka: the Duncan Ridge Trail).

But after 35hrs, the end would eventually come and the mission objective moved from finishing CJ100 to a desperate search for Goldbond within the walls of a 24hr Walmart.

I’ve had a few unpleasant experiences in my day. Getting 18 teeth ripped from my skull was a bit unpleasant… breaking my clavicle and having to hide it so that I could pitch in the World Series was a bit unpleasant… self-forcing my douche shoulder back into place and ripping my labrum 360° was a bit unpleasant… and now sitting in a hotel bathroom at 1am painfully removing pink duct tape from raw, bloody skin was a bit unpleasant.

So where is that fine line of pink duct tape? At what point do you pull the plug and say… “nah fam, I’m good.” At what point do you rip a gritty piece of pink duct tape off in your teeth, strap it across your bare skin and keep going? I believe it’s situational and on a person by person basis. For example, my buddy Ryan just completed the H9 100 miler in some of the worst conditions imaginable. For me, that race (especially in those conditions) sounds absolutely awful and something that I wouldn’t enjoy. However, for him, he made the decision to suck it up and push through to be the first person to ever finish. He metaphorically had his own reasons to strap on some pink duct tape and push through the uncomfortableness.

Ryan @ H9 100 Miler

Especially when its something like trail running, I’m a big advocate of the fun factor. Trail running is a big passion of mine because it’s FUN for me. I think one of the reasons I’m not super competitive in my practice is because I’m afraid of losing the feeling trail running instills within me. I understand that mountain ultra trail running isn’t always snow cones and kittens. Hell, most of the fun in endurance sports IS that uncomfortableness and that desire to push boundaries.

So when do you quit? I don’t quit often and it usually takes a lot to get me to bow out. I can only think of a few instances where I decided to throw in the hat. One instance was a long 60 mile route I had planned along the Art Loeb. I knew from mile 13 something was off, but since Ash had driven 3hrs to join me at mile 18 for the last 40 or so miles… I didn’t want to bail immediately. I would end up calling it quits at mile 42. To this day… it is still the worst I have EVER felt while on the trail. I made the decision to drop mainly because it would’ve pushed us going overnight through a storm and the thought of a warm meal at the Waffle House sounded all too appealing.

Another instance I dropped from an event was at Rebecca Mtn 50 miler (2018). From the starting line something felt off and by mile 14 I started having weird full body cramps. I tried my best to overcome my body’s revolt, but my inner voice kept prompting safety concerns so I bailed at mile 37.

pic cred: Gordan Harvey – smiling as I’m walking to drop at mile 37
pic cred: Gordan Harvey – official DNF face

Another time we bailed on an outing was this past summer. We had planned to do the 55 mile NAR loop as a training run for OJG, Hump, and Kyle’s upcoming 100 miler (IMTUF). After a slight, accidental bushwhack adventure off route, the allure of colbeer and warm food was enough to hop in the car with Katie Gregg after 41 miles

A third time I bailed was AGAIN at Rebecca Mtn 50 miler (2019). I felt fine and dandy for the first 18 miles and was moving along at my goal pace. Things went south after leaving Bulls Gap. I threw up for the next 12 miles and it got to the point I couldn’t even hold down water. Around mile 32 I came walking down a dirt road laughing and yelled ahead to my buddy Matt who was crewing me, “I’m done bro!” Despite appearing perfectly fine and having a great attitude… I just wasn’t fun anymore and didn’t have anything to prove by death marching 20 more miles in the Ransack.

DNFs happen. Bad days happen. It’s kinda absurd to think things will always go smoothly. Failures are growing pains and shouldn’t always be viewed as bad. Sure, failures can be disheartening, but if you can observe the positive side of failure and utilize it as a learning point, growth happens and you become a better athlete and overall better human.

Now that the year of January has ended and another year begins on this beautiful orb, God willing, I’ll get the opportunity to rip off a few more pieces of pink duct tape, push through some uncomfortableness and continue to learn from my successes AND failures.