Daily Short-hOPT: Don’t Oppress Your Son

“To me, the definition of masculinity – and femininity, too – is being able to lay in your own skin comfortably.” – Vincent D’Onofrio

This morning, I retweeted something that I really liked: 10 Things to Teach your Son about True Manhood. What I enjoyed about the article was that it talked about young men learning and maintaining manners, understanding how to be compassionate, and admitting mistakes. I like these virtues. They exude character. At the bottom of the article, I read a couple comments, the first of which praised the article, but disagreed with a previous post about painting toenails. Being the inquisitive fella that I am, I located said toenail article. I wish I hadn’t: Don’t Effeminize Your Son. Sigh.

This article mentions a J.Crew ad depicting the company’s female president painting her son’s toenails pink. The bone of contention is that doing things like this blurs the lines of “God-given distinctive between boys and girls.” Further, “Don’t effeminize your son. Our culture is rotting because real masculinity is on life support…You can show your boy how to clip his toenails, but never paint them. Ever.”

Here’s what this article is really saying: men are men and women are women. At no point should a man do anything that could be construed as female activity. Cooking? Get back in the kitchen, women. Footballin’ and drinkin’? Saddle up, dudes. Pardon me for believing that this is utter, complete, and total horse manure. This is what we want to teach our young men? This is the message we want to them to hear? Do we really want to draw such specific distinctions between male and female activities? To what end? So that we can continue to perpetuate outdated ideals and clearly define what it means to be a “man’s man”?

You know what I find impressive? This: My Son Wears Dresses, and That’s OK With Me. You know why I find it impressive? It’s impressive because being a father of a son is REALLY hard, especially in instances like these. I want my son to be a man of character. I want him to exude the things that were discussed in the “10 Things” article. I want him to be respectful and I want him to treat women (hell, all people) with compassion. But, you know, the other day he was walking around the house in his mom’s high heels. If I’m being honest, it made me feel a certain way. I can’t explain the feeling specifically. It wasn’t a good feeling. I think it was probably a natural thing felt by a lot of men when their sons do stuff like this, though. Maybe the feeling arose because I have been ingrained to think that boys doing something less than manly is wrong. When he told me to look at him in those shoes, I said “Buddy, you’re funny” and left it at that. You know what happened when he wore those shoes? Nothing. After a few minutes, he hopped out of the shoes and went back to being Spider-Man. The end.

What would have happened had I made a big deal out of it? What if I had told him that real men don’t wear those kinds of shoes? I can imagine that a three-year-old brain would have been utterly confused by that sentiment because one of the most important people in his life (his mother) wears them. How can that be bad or wrong?

We have got to let go of this notion that men have to be John Wayne in order to be considered real men. We have to show them love so that they’re able to reciprocate it and repeat it. We have to allow them to feel and express feelings. We need to teach them that it’s okay to express themselves creatively instead of stifling them. We have to remember, dads, nail polish and high heels aren’t going to make our sons less manly. Our job as fathers and mentors of young men is to push them to be the best possible versions of themselves by treating people kindly, possessing a solid work ethic, and allowing them the creative freedom to pursue what makes them happy.

In my opinion, this is the manliest thing we can pass along.

Have an awesome Thursday,
-A.

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Daily Short-hOPT: Anger. Hostility Towards the Opposition.

“For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

This is not a post about tony Dungy or Michael Sam. This is a post about anger.

As the Tony Dungy/Michael Sam drama continued to unfold its ugly self square into our laps, I pondered the implications of what Mr. Dungy said and meant. My thoughts drifted to people. Real people. Actual human beings who could and would be affected by the words of a stranger. These innocuous thoughts started to drift toward anger. As I am prone to doing, I reached out to one of my favorite sounding boards, Mr. Welte. We discussed such things as this topic, religion, love, compassion, etc. The anger started to subside. I began to think more clearly.

Pretty boring, eh? I got upset over something that, big picture, isn’t a big deal. I talked it out. I felt better. The end.

What if my anger had spilled over? What if I had continued to let it cloud my judgment? What if I had written a nasty blog post and attacked people via other forms of social media? And for what? Because I don’t agree with Tony Dungy? Who cares?

The point is, we often allow our emotions to control how we react. When that occurs with negative emotions, it generally provides negative results. Things seem to happen so quickly anymore, and that has lent itself to us reacting more quickly. We have immediate sources of news and immediate outlets with which to tell everyone within screen-shot that things and people are stupid. We comment angrily on things and regularly fail to listen fully or with any context. Mostly, though, we fail in general to take any amount of time to consider and reflect.

What if we waited a second to hear the other side of the story before we erupted? What if we internalized that other people have varying viewpoints and that it’s okay to disagree? What if we were compassionate enough to read other people’s emotions and use that as a point to back off and take a more compassionate route? What if we were okay with being wrong from time to time? What if we had the intestinal fortitude to not only know we were wrong, but took the time to admit it?

As long as we have the ability and the anonymity of the internet to lose our minds all over people for what we consider to be righteous causes, a part of us will always be willing to react to anything we read with emotion. This is not limited to the internet, of course. We react emotionally to people in interpersonal situations as well. Remember the guy that you flipped off in traffic earlier? What about that last little tiff with your sig-o? (That’s right: sig-o. I stand by it.) Could those situations be handled better with a cooler head prevailing?

In any situation that has potential for high emotion, we should remember to take the time to calm the hell down and find some perspective.

Have an awesome Tuesday,
-A.
P.S. – Bonus points for anyone who catches the music reference in the post title – without Googling!

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Daily Short-hOPT: My Why

“Maturity is the ability to think, speak and act your feelings within the bounds of dignity.” – Samuel Ullman

On Saturday night, the summer baseball season for the Kentucky Bucs came to an end in Indianapolis.  Regrettably, I was unable to make the trip and spend the final games of the season with a group of individuals I hold near and dear to my heart.  By all accounts, the scene after the game was emotional, as season enders usually are.  Several of these individuals played their last ever game as a high schooler.  A few more of them played their last ever game of organized competitive baseball.

Those moments are always difficult.  We spend month teaching these kids to shake off mistakes and to have a short memory in baseball because tomorrow the sun comes up and you get to play again.  So, what do you tell kids who will wake up with the sun tomorrow and not get to play another game as Kentucky Bucs?

Thank you.  I am proud of you, and I love you.

Three years ago, I was asked if I would be willing to join as an assistant coach on this team.  I was hesitant and really only committed to what would be convenient for me.  I showed up on Day 1, coached first base, and soon knew that convenient for me would be a lot more often than I anticipated.

While we on the coaching staff are committed to teaching our players how to play baseball at a high level, the Kentucky Bucs do things differently.  We teach boys how to become men through the platform of baseball.  So, when I tell my players I am proud of them, it is because they have become men.

Nowhere has this become more clear than the handful of players who leave us this year after three years on this team.  Admittedly, I have begun to approach coaching differently over the past few seasons.  One of our coaches has even termed it Old Noah vs. New Noah.  I guess these kids got to be my guinea pigs for the past three years.

I expect (no, I demand) plenty from our players.  I want to win as much as everyone else, yet you will not hear me speak of winning.  I seek out failure and relish those moments as the teachable ones.

That core group has heard from me more than they would care to admit the utmost importance of playing for one another and being a great teammate, the value in competing and fighting on every single pitch, and the commitment to bringing your best every single day regardless of how you feel or what is going on around you.

We received this group high in talent, but even higher in emotion (some good, some really bad).  We coached them, we taught them, we put our arms around them and cared for them as our own (some were our own).  But, we demanded from them, we got frustrated with them, and we held them accountable even when they definitely did not want to be.

Above all, we developed those relationships, and we loved them.  At times, they made it extremely difficult.  We (or, at least, I) did not always like them, but they always knew we loved them.

What I learned is that maturity is a process.  The moment you think it has all been figured out, they let you know your job is never quite complete.  But, day-by-day, week-by-week, year-by-year, you get to watch these kids grow up.  You get to watch them take the reins and make their own decisions, their own actions, their own behaviors.  You get to see them go places you always saw for them, and always hoped they would see for themselves.

I am not sure how other programs or organizations do their thing, but I can tell you this.  I don’t care.  We are not trying to be them, we are not trying to be better than them, and we do not want to be.  We are the Kentucky Bucs, and we want to be as good as we can be.  We are concerned with making your boys the best version of men with dignity, honor, and character that we can, while teaching them some baseball along the way.  We strive to teach them to make the right decisions, not to win, but because they are right.

I am proud, honored, and humbled to say that I have seen it happen in ways I only dreamt were possible.  It was not easy, and for all the process is still ongoing.  But being able to see a group of boys mature into outstanding men of character is why we ask them to be Bucs in the first place and why we keep coming back to coach every summer.

Fellas, thank you for another great season.  Thank you for allowing me to speak into your lives.  Thank you for competing and fighting every day.  Thank you for accepting our lessons and learning from all our mistakes.  Thank you for making me proud to be your coach and friend.  Thank you for being Bucs!

Bring your best today!

Love, Noah

Daily Short-hOPT: Delivering Strength

“Strength does not come from winning.  Your struggles develop your strengths.  When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.” – Mahatma Gandhi

It was October 9, 2005.  The Atlanta Braves were facing the Houston Astros in an elimination game of the National League Division Series.  A victory in Houston meant Atlanta would stave off its fourth straight first round exit from the playoffs.  They would return to Turner Field with the series knotted at two games apiece with its ace on the hill.  But, after an epic 18-inning battle, it was not meant to be.

In the bottom of the 10th inning, Lance Berkman doubled, and Chris Burke, a Louisville, Kentucky native and University of Tennessee All-American, entered the game for him as a pinch runner.  In the top of the 11th, Burke remained in the game in center field.  In the top of the 13th, he moved from center field to left field.  Two at-bats (a flyout and a walk) later, Burke stood in against Joey Devine with one out in the bottom of the 18th inning(!!!!).  On a 2-0 offering…

Chris Burke delivered.

It was January 4, 2014.  I was in Dallas, Texas, for the 2014 American Baseball Coaches’ Association (ABCA) National Convention.  Every Saturday morning of the convention, Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) holds its annual FCA Breakfast.  Not only do the coaches get to enjoy a great meal, but we also get to celebrate some of the great men in baseball who have been successful through faith, service, honor, humility, and integrity.  These men are genuine leaders who walk their faith journey daily and encourage others to do the same.

The highlight of the breakfast is the keynote address.  The keynote address becomes an on-stage interview where the individual shares his faith walk and offers advice for living his faith through the game of baseball.  As the 2014 keynote speaker was being introduced, we learned that his mere presence in Dallas that morning was an exercise in faith, perseverance, commitment, strength, and overcoming adversity.

Just a few days prior to his arrival in Dallas, he underwent an emergency appendectomy.  People told him he should cancel.  People told him not to overdo it.  Still, he believed God wanted him in Dallas to share his story at his first ABCA convention.  Once he made his decision to attend, he was greeted by a flight cancellation.  It was a sign.  He should stay.  He should cancel.  Except, he did not see it that way.  He saw it as an obstacle and a temptation, but never as a defeat.

It was 7:30AM.  Standing before a room full of coaches, colleagues, and peers, he was handed a mic, and…

Chris Burke delivered.

Oftentimes, we have it all worked out in our head.  We plan, script, rehearse, and know exactly how it is going to play out.  Except, it never goes according to our plan.  Obstacles pop up.  Distractions creep in.  Temptations try to lure us away.  When these things occur, it is easy to walk away, to cancel, to give up, to accept defeat.

What we fail to realize is that God’s plan (not ours) is in control.  By trusting in His love for us, we can push through the hard times–the obstacles, the distractions, the temptations–because we know God’s vision for our life is so much greater than we could ever imagine.  Life will get difficult.  Times will get tough.  We do not have dreams of sitting the bench for 10 innings in a crucial playoff game or suffering emergency surgery just days before we are to present a keynote address.  We want to be playing.  We want to be healthy.  But if we remain faithful through the hard times and steadfast to God’s ultimate plan for our lives, we will be right there waiting to embrace the wonderful opportunities placed before us.

And, as Chris Burke did…DELIVER.

Bring your best today!

Love, Noah

“Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”

“I think you have to have an enthusiasm for life. You have to have a dream, a goal. You have to be willing to work for it.” – Jim Valvano

21 years ago, Coach Jim Valvano gave the speech below at the first ESPY Awards. At the time, he was battling cancer. He passed two months later. Every year I get to listen to this speech on my drive in to work, and every time I hear it, it nearly moves me to tears. The amazing spirit and will that Coach Valvano showed in the face of great adversity was and is amazing. While we all fight our own daily battles I hope that we can all strive to be as brave and as selfless as he was during his.

Check out the transcript of the speech below. Here’s a link to the video.

Jimmy Valvano’s ESPY Awards Speech

Thank you, Thank you very much. Thank you. That’s the lowest I’ve ever seen Dick Vitale since the owner of the Detroit Pistons called him in and told him he should go into broadcasting.

The I can’t tell you what an honor it is, to even be mentioned in the same breath with Arthur Ashe. This is something I certainly will treasure forever. But, as it was said on the tape, and I also don’t have one of those things going with the cue cards, so I’m going to speak longer than anybody else has spoken tonight. That’s the way it goes. Time is very precious to me. I don’t know how much I have left and I have some things that I would like to say. Hopefully, at the end, I will have said something that will be important to other people too.

But, I can’t help it. Now I’m fighting cancer, everybody knows that. People ask me all the time about how you go through your life and how’s your day, and nothing is changed for me. As Dick said, I’m a very emotional and passionate man. I can’t help it. That’s being the son of Rocco and Angelina Valvano. It comes with the territory. We hug, we kiss, we love. When people say to me how do you get through life or each day, it’s the same thing. To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. Number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.

I rode on the plane up today with Mike Krzyzewski, my good friend and wonderful coach. People don’t realize he’s ten times a better person than he is a coach, and we know he’s a great coach. He’s meant a lot to me in these last five or six months with my battle. But when I look at Mike, I think, we competed against each other as players. I coached against him for fifteen years, and I always have to think about what’s important in life to me are these three things. Where you started, where you are and where you’re going to be. Those are the three things that I try to do every day. When I think about getting up and giving a speech, I can’t help it. I have to remember the first speech I ever gave.

I was coaching at Rutgers University, that was my first job, oh that’s wonderful (reaction to applause), and I was the freshman coach. That’s when freshmen played on freshman teams, and I was so fired up about my first job. I see Lou Holtz here. Coach Holtz, who doesn’t like the very first job you had? The very first time you stood in the locker room to give a pep talk. That’s a special place, the locker room, for a coach to give a talk. So my idol as a coach was Vince Lombardi, and I read this book called “Commitment To Excellence” by Vince Lombardi. And in the book, Lombardi talked about the fist time he spoke before his Green Bay Packers team in the locker room, and they were perennial losers. I’m reading this and Lombardi said he was thinking should it be a long talk, or a short talk? But he wanted it to be emotional, so it would be brief. So here’s what I did. Normally you get in the locker room, I don’t know, twenty-five minutes, a half hour before the team takes the field, you do your little x and o’s, and then you give the great Knute Rockne talk. We all do. Speech number eight-four. You pull them right out, you get ready. You get your squad ready. Well, this is the first one I ever gave and I read this thing. Lombardi, what he said was he didn’t go in, he waited. His team wondering, where is he? Where is this great coach? He’s not there. Ten minutes he’s still not there. Three minutes before they could take the field Lombardi comes in, bangs the door open, and I think you all remember what great presence he had, great presence. He walked in and he walked back and forth, like this, just walked, staring at the players. He said, “All eyes on me.” I’m reading this in this book. I’m getting this picture of Lombardi before his first game and he said “Gentlemen, we will be successful this year, if you can focus on three things, and three things only. Your family, your religion and the Green Bay Packers.” They knocked the walls down and the rest was history. I said, that’s beautiful. I’m going to do that. Your family, your religion and Rutgers basketball. That’s it. I had it. Listen, I’m twenty-one years old. The kids I’m coaching are nineteen, and I’m going to be the greatest coach in the world, the next Lombardi. I’m practicing outside of the locker room and the managers tell me you got to go in. Not yet, not yet, family, religion, Rutgers Basketball. All eyes on me. I got it, I got it. Then finally he said, three minutes, I said fine. True story. I go to knock the doors open just like Lombardi. Boom! They don’t open. I almost broke my arm. Now I was down, the players were looking. Help the coach out, help him out. Now I did like Lombardi, I walked back and forth, and I was going like that with my arm getting the feeling back in it. Finally I said, “Gentlemen, all eyes on me.” These kids wanted to play, they’re nineteen. “Let’s go,” I said. “Gentlemen, we’ll be successful this year if you can focus on three things, and three things only. Your family, your religion and the Green Bay Packers,” I told them. I did that. I remember that. I remember where I came from.

It’s so important to know where you are. I know where I am right now. How do you go from where you are to where you want to be? I think you have to have an enthusiasm for life. You have to have a dream, a goal. You have to be willing to work for it.

I talked about my family, my family’s so important. People think I have courage. The courage in my family are my wife Pam, my three daughters, here, Nicole, Jamie, LeeAnn, my mom, who’s right here too. That screen is flashing up there thirty seconds like I care about that screen right now, huh? I got tumors all over my body. I’m worried about some guy in the back going thirty seconds? You got a lot, hey va fa napoli, buddy. You got a lot.

I just got one last thing, I urge all of you, all of you, to enjoy your life, the precious moments you have. To spend each day with some laughter and some thought, to get your emotions going. To be enthusiastic every day and as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Nothing great could be accomplished without enthusiasm,” to keep your dreams alive in spite of problems whatever you have. The ability to be able to work hard for your dreams to come true, to become a reality.

Now I look at where I am now and I know what I want to do. What I would like to be able to do is spend whatever time I have left and to give, and maybe, some hope to others. Arthur Ashe Foundation is a wonderful thing, and AIDS, the amount of money pouring in for AIDS is not enough, but is significant. But if I told you it’s ten times the amount that goes in for cancer research. I also told you that five hundred thousand people will die this year of cancer. I also tell you that one in every four will be afflicted with this disease, and yet somehow, we seem to have put it in a little bit of the background. I want to bring it back on the front table. We need your help. I need your help. We need money for research. It may not save my life. It may save my children’s lives. It may save someone you love. And ESPN has been so kind to support me in this endeavor and allow me to announce tonight, that with ESPN’s support, which means what? Their money and their dollars and they’re helping me-we are starting the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research. And its motto is “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.” That’s what I’m going to try to do every minute that I have left. I will thank God for the day and the moment I have. If you see me, smile and give me a hug. That’s important to me too. But try if you can to support, whether it’s AIDS or the cancer foundation, so that someone else might survive, might prosper and might actually be cured of this dreaded disease. I can’t thank ESPN enough for allowing this to happen. I’m going to work as hard as I can for cancer research and hopefully, maybe, we’ll have some cures and some breakthroughs. I’d like to think, I’m going to fight my brains out to be back here again next year for the Arthur Ashe recipient. I want to give it next year!

I know, I gotta go, I gotta go, and I got one last thing and I said it before, and I want to say it again. Cancer can take away all my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart and it cannot touch my soul. And those three things are going to carry on forever.

I thank you and God bless you all.

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Photo credit: jimmyv.org.

Daily Short-hOPT: Slow Down

“Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast – you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.” – Eddie Cantor

This past weekend we took our son to Jellystone Park in Cave City, KY. While chasing an energetic three year old around a giant campground for three days was tiring, there was one point where things seemed to slow down and one could actually enjoy the trip for what it was.

If you know my son, or have read anything I’ve written about him, the word ‘energetic’ may be an understatement. He’s generally nonstop, so sitting quietly and reflecting is not really something he’s into. Thankfully, our family is extremely helpful and is willing to help keep our child’s high motor running. This is especially true of his cousins who are always willing to take him for a walk or engage him in something that he enjoys. On our last night at the park, Amber and I stayed at our cabin while Judson went out to eat with his grandparents. During this time, I sat out on the deck of our cabin with an adult beverage and just looked around. The down time allowed me to appreciate things so much more.

For three straight days our son was in perpetual motion. While our intentions were to allow him to enjoy himself and not be all over him about everything, these intentions often went out the window. He’s a strong-willed little dude, so when he gets his mind set to something, he is out to get it at whatever cost. Usually, that cost is his parents’ sanity. But, sitting on that deck, what I realized was that he was having an awesome time. This particular campground is set up for kids; all of their activities revolve around kids having fun, and he was having plenty of it. We were away from our daily routine. We were with family. All good things.

You’ve heard the idiom about not seeing the forest for the trees, right? I am as guilty of that as anyone. It’s extremely easy to get caught up in the trappings of our daily lives which makes it more difficult to see the things that are good. We remain focused on things that probably don’t matter and let the good things go unnoticed or unappreciated. We rarely take the time to stop and appreciate anything. I know that waking up early this morning and heading to work wasn’t something I was pumped about at all. However, when I took a couple minutes to reflect on the weekend, it certainly put a smile on my face.

Here’s my suggestion for this Monday morning: slow down. Make time to appreciate the good. Stop and reflect on things as they occur. Shift the focus away from things that, big picture, don’t really matter. As we speed through life we often fail to see how great our experiences really are.

I think we can all be at least a little better about that.

Have an awesome Monday,
-A.

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Daily Short-hOPT: What’s Your Investment?

“Invest in yourself.  You can afford it.  Trust me.” – Rashon Carraway

As I listened to Cincinnati sports talk radio this week, I heard many conversations surrounding the Joey Votto injury.  Inevitably, the discussion turned toward the 10-year, $225 million contract he signed prior to last season.  (Don’t worry.  This is not a post discussing the merits of the deal or even the Reds for that matter.)  Experts were brought in to speak about the investment Cincinnati made in Votto and speculated as to the return on investment (ROI) the team was likely to see over the contract’s life.

Those topics got me thinking about coaching, leadership, success, and more importantly, personal/player development.  As I reflected on this, I began to remember all of those players I coach who tell me about their dreams of playing in the collegiate ranks and even beyond.  I thought about all of those people with aspirations of earning high salaries or climbing the food chain at their company.  Those people who continually state they want to lead a healthier lifestyle jumped into my mind.

If you are one of these or another thousand similar scenarios looking for that big ROI, I have one simple question for you…

WHAT’S YOUR INVESTMENT?

In order to get something out of this world, we have to put something into it.  We cannot expect those lofty dreams to arrive on our doorstep.  They take time.  They take hard work.  They take investment.

Athletes, my coaching colleagues and I continually hear you say things like “I want to get better,” “I want more playing time,” “I want to play at the next level.”  What are you investing now to earn those things?  Those three to four ground balls in a pre-game infield are not going to cut it.  That thirty minute hitting lesson one day a week is not enough.  Those two rounds of 10 during BP will not get it done.  When was the last time you asked your coach to stay after practice and hit you ground balls or fly balls?  Have you checked to see if someone could meet you at the cage to throw you some BP?  When was the last time you pulled out the batting tee except when forced to at practice?  Your coaches are ready, willing, and able to do these things for you.  Your coaches are waiting for you to pursue your dreams as passionately as you say you want them.  Your coaches are waiting on you to ask.

In my experience, the great players and the great workers are the ones who go beyond the call of duty.  They work harder and are willing to stay later.  They take on more responsibilities and projects.  They volunteer and ask to help out in any way possible.  They make themselves available.  They do it with no agendas other than a passion to be their best every single day.  They know that by making themselves the best it will better serve their team or their company.

Take a look internally.  What are your dreams?  What is your vision?

Do your investments line up with the pursuit of those dreams?

It is time to get to work.  It is time to start dreaming bigger.  It is time to start investing more.

It is easy to say you want it.  How much are you willing to invest in yourself to get there?

Bring your best today!

Love, Noah