What is Excellence?

I’ve been a bit of a gypsy the past couple weeks, traipsing around Phoenix and Tucson, my old stomping grounds. It’s been excellent to meet new people and see old friends, and I’ve been humbled by everyone’s kindness and generosity.

While perusing calendars at one of my favorite independent bookstores this past weekend, I noticed that Earth Goddess imagery doesn’t do it for me anymore. Beautiful drawings of flower goddesses, women morphing into trees or hanging out with their Earth bellies is something I no longer find resonance with. This isn’t to say that I find it less valuable or would begrudge other people their favorite sacred images, but just that it’s something I’m no longer attracted to.

When I interviewed pagan theorist Starhawk back in February 2001, I remember she told me that the political was the sacred. That people putting their lives on the line to create systemic social change were acting in a sacred manner, whether they thought of themselves as spiritual or not.

One of my favorite quotes is by Aristotle. He said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.” This always resonated with me because habits are controllable, unlike genetics. Whether trying to achieve athletic excellence, mastery of a craft or even improve relationships, habits are key.

I’m finding glimmers of excellence in all sorts of places. A mother who I noticed apologizing for her kids’ behavior, but rather than feeling critical I was actually noting how she was masterfully deflecting all impending arguments with compassion and poise. A personal trainer who had such an eye for detail that he could pick up on problematic movement patterns in mere seconds.  A bodyworker who literally refuses to charge unless his clients are 100% by the end of the session. A street musician rockin’ the resonator, making an extremely challenging performance look easy. Fighters who show such heart and skill even in practice, never taking a shortcut, never giving up.

While traveling I found myself noticing that I was attracted to the friends I’ve kept here for a reason. They come from different walks of life and have different professions: massage therapists, acupuncturists, writers, videographers, project managers, personal trainers, EMTs, editors, teachers. But what they have in common is that they don’t cut corners. They give things their all: their work, their families… their passions. I only hope that I can live up to the shining examples all around me and find myself manifesting the bright light of excellence to others on the path.

“Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair but manifestations of strength and resolution,” Kahlil Gibran said. And I see that more and more all around me as well. It is internal strength and resolution that stops us from hardening our hearts and enables us to let the love flow–to our work, to our families and ultimately to one another.

Here’s to excellence.

What Are Your Fitness Questions?

Coming soon! Work It: The Ultimate Fitness Resource Guide.

My most popular post to date has been Eat This: The Ultimate Food Resource Guide. I compiled over 50 different sites and divided them into categories. Recipes, food activism, miscellaneous blogs and resources were all listed, and food lovers nation-wide can check out the guide and find specific information they’re looking for. The guide was a hit because it had something for everybody, and all in one place. Fitness buffs (and aspiring fitness buffs), you’re next!

Since Eat This was posted, I’ve been asked to do the same thing for fitness-related blogs. And so I’ve been working diligently on compiling information for a fitness resource guide, but I want to make sure that it includes everything you’re looking for. So far categories include beginner programming, specific sports (Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, conditioning for BJJ/MMA, etc.), specific gyms (gyms with chalk, etc.) mobility and recovery.

The Fitness Resource Guide will include free information found online, our favorite books and e-books available for purchase, equipment to buy and/or make, standards to work up to, and ways to find all good things local. In addition to helping you find programs to get you strong and fast and local training and resources to get what you need, I’ll also throw in links for finding the best bodywork (etc.) locally, so that you can work on niggling injuries before they become a problem or manage chronic issues with someone knowledgeable.

Like Eat This, Work It will include short descriptions of each resource listed, divided by category. But I need your help. What am I missing? Please tell me what I need to include to make this resource complete–the sooner, the better! I hope to finish the resource list by early October. Please leave your thoughts, ideas and suggestions in the comments. What would you need in this resource guide to make it complete? What could I include that no other fitness resource guide has?

The Three R’s: Relevance, Rigor, Relationships

I spent a couple of years teaching middle school Language Arts. Although my writing career is much more up my alley, I’ve found a lot of crossover from the professional jargon we were inundated with, specifically the three R’s: relevance, rigor, relationships.


In the world of education, this is about being able to respond to the proverbial snotty-nosed kid (and we’ve all been that kid) who wants to know when he’s going to use what you’re teaching him in his life. The trick is to make associations with real-world applications, since trying to explain the importance of abstract reasoning to a 13-year old isn’t going to fly.

In writing, this has to do with making sure that your work is appropriate for your audience, or that you pick the correct audience for your work. But it really can affect every area of your life, from what you choose to consume or who you spend time talking to, and what you talk about. There is certainly a time and a place for pure entertainment, but there’s also the ongoing work of perfecting your craft.

As a writer, I get access to some of the best minds of this generation. As a born extrovert with a wandering mind, I need to constantly to find the discipline to ask relevant questions, instead of blowing the opportunity with habitual mediocrity. I also have to touch base with people outside of my sphere of influence, at times, and get back in touch with what is really relevant for the very specific group of people I might be writing for.


As a teacher, I was inundated with a workload that was unmanageable, for lack of a better term. Many obstacles presented themselves: lack of material and equipment, large class sizes, too many classes to prep for, getting caught up constantly putting out fires and constantly changing instructions from up high. Add a constant, underlying resistance to education and it becomes far too easy to hand students worksheets or give them art projects, but what students often really need is a challenge.

In writing, this rigor has to do with the quality of our content. Pumping out mediocre articles or blog posts for cash or prizes (SEO) may seem like an effective short-term solution, but it is my opinion that readers deserve much more than that. In education and in journalism, rigor is an uphill battle.


This is probably the most important aspect of teaching and also the one in which I had the most difficulty. Although I cared deeply about my students and went out of my way to help them in individual circumstances, my primary objective was always educational.

The emphasis on being a likable or popular teacher rather than an effective one is always ripe for debate, but nobody can deny the importance of creating a climate in which students at least feel safe and respected. The crossover for this principle in writing is often behind the scenes. It is about treating sources with respect rather than using them as a means to an end.

Luckily, it is possible to both write relevant and thoughtful posts and do so with integrity, honesty and respect. It may take a bit more elbow grease and fact-checking, but the results are well worth it.

Your turn

How do you use relevance, rigor and relationships in your work and life?

Things to Watch

This week’s blog post has been brought to you by YouTube.

Navy Clearance Diver Paul de Gelder 12 months after a Shark Attack

Words can’t describe how awe-inspiring this is. One of the worst injuries I’ve seen, and an amazing comeback from a man who truly never gives up. Not for the faint of heart.

How to Be Alone

As an all-out extrovert, I’ve definitely had to learn how to be alone. It’s something I’ve avoided and now I embrace it. This beautiful video features a poem on the subject written by performed by Tanya Davis and directed, animated, shot and edited by Andrea Dorfman.

And On a Lighter Note: Advice from a Cartoon Princess

I’m hoping that this becomes a regular series. First we got advice from the Little Mermaid, and now Belle. What are we teaching our children?

Internet Soup: Articles, Interviews and Announcements

I got to spend most of last week traipsing through Chicago. Instead of sitting at home and writing articles, for three days I wandered through my long forgotten neighborhoods of Logan Square and Wicker Park, trying to remember what it was I loved so much about them in the months I’d spent there.

I saw old friends from college, which was fabulous. I got my ass kicked at Scrabble after a lovely dinner at Revolution Brewing. (Living in Eau Claire I’d almost forgotten what an evening with good food, good service and good people felt like.) I hopped on the El and spent way too much money at Quimby’s and the T-Shirt Deli. I visited a bakery I used to work at. I stayed out too late watching fights at Bellator 25. I had breakfast with a friend at the Bleeding Heart Bakery. I got stuck in traffic, couldn’t find parking and got threatened with towing.

On the way to Chicago, I took a pit stop in Madison and was treated to a fabulous lunch with someone I’d never previously met. And on the way back I drank chilled tea at Dobra with an old friend from long ago, before stopping by at a cafe to answer emergency e-mails before driving back home.

I love taking trips. The frantic post-trip attempt to catch up on all the work that piled up in my three-day absence, despite attempts at remediation? Not so much. And although I don’t have burning revelations to express in written form this week, I did want to direct you to some of my writing that’s floating around, and a few other goodies.

I’ve written about former research biochemist and current nutritional genius Robb Wolf quite a bit, and now I have an interview with him up on T-Nation. We discussed the basics of the Paleo diet and a little bit about Robb’s book, the Paleo Solution, due out next month. (Robb’s actually having a giveaway on his site; pre-order his book by Friday morning and you can win a free Nevatear heavybag).

And speaking of interviews, I also asked Olympic Weightlifting coach and Performance Menu editor Greg Everett ten questions over at Straight to the Bar. Greg’s articles in the P-Menu and around the net are some of the best I’ve seen, so if you’re at all interested in getting bigger, faster and stronger it may be worth checking out.

On the freelance writing end, I happened across these hysterical Journalism Warning Labels by Tom Scott. Everything else has a label, it seems, so why not bad writing? If you’re upset with the direction in which media is headed, you’ll love these. You can even print them out on label paper and stick them on all appropriate articles. In the same vein, Daily Finance has a very funny piece up on the Dumbest How-To Content from Demand Media.

On a more positive note, I wrote a guest post for Freelance Folder: 15 Ways to Get Inspired. This is useful for writing articles and blog posts, but for those seeking inspiration in their art or design work as well.

If you’re an aspiring magazine writer in Minneapolis, or know someone who is, I’ll be teaching a workshop on December 4th and 11th entitled From Query To Print: Magazine Writing Basics. This Saturday is the Loft Literary Center Education Open House, where I’ll give a 15-minute presentation about the workshop at 12:30, and be available to answer questions at the Literary Commons from 11:45 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. Please help spread the word!

Back next Wednesday with your regularly scheduled blog post.

Power and Corruption: Can We Skip That Step?

In light of Mark Hurd’s resignation from Hewlett-Packard due to ethics violations, author Jonah Lehrer wrote an interesting analysis for the Wall Street Journal on the abuse of power. Although he was quick to point out that psychological research indicates it is people who are most likable that get put in positions of power, that’s only half of the story. “The very traits that helped leaders accumulate control in the first place all but disappear once they rise to power,” Lehrer wrote. [Read more…]

Unplugged (Or: How Not to Turn into a Computer)

I’ve become what I hate. Infested by wires and clicks, whirs and buzzes, chimes and beeps letting me know that (oh my God!) a message has come. What’s that? Did you say something? Sorry, I was just lost in thought staring at my phone. Or computer. Or something else that isn’t exactly human. It’s obviously more important.

Perhaps I’m not being entirely fair in that description. Being available–immediately–makes me more competitive in my job. When the editors come calling [Read more…]

Accessible, Affordable Acupuncture

Tucson Community Acupuncture logo

I love acupuncture.

I was reminded of this fact after visiting Little Needles yesterday afternoon. I don’t know exactly how acupuncture works, only that it does. Somehow getting stuck with little needles and just vegging out for a bit helps shift things energetically. I don’t usually think about acupuncture that much–unless something is wrong. Stress from work? Acupuncture. Nursing a weightlifting or Brazilian jiu jitsu injury? Acupuncture. Cramps? Acupuncture. Insomnia? Acupuncture. I’m sure you get the drift. [Read more…]

Eat This: The Ultimate Food Resource Guide

Local. Sustainable. Ethical. Delicious. Nutritious, Organic Foods. . These adjectives describe the real foods we’re after. And after attending the Real Food Minnesota gathering in St. Paul on July 17th, I was struck with the idea of creating a resource guide that would allow me to share some local blogs I’d just discovered with my non-local foodie friends, and non-local food blogs and resources with my newfound local friends.

I’ve divided this list of 52 food blogs, sites and resources into several categories. [Read more…]

Virtual Living (Let’s Not)

I happened across some old journals while clearing out some boxes. In one, I’d inscribed a beautiful quote by Scott Russell Sanders. Although I’d copied it a decade ago, it rings true more now than ever.

‎”No one who has been thoroughly awake to the real universe would swap it for a ‘virtual’ one. Our deepest urge is to bring our lives into direct contact with elemental life. No matter how clever our works, they will never satisfy our hunger. The likeliest way to achieve contact with life, the likeliest way to recover our senses is by shutting off our machines, climbing out of our cars, our electrified boxes, walking beyond the pavement to actual dirt or rock, and opening ourselves to the world we have not made.”

Ironically, reading the quote did not inspire a jaunt in the forest. Instead, I immediately posted it on Facebook. [Read more…]