The Contributors of My Success Vol 1: My Work

I wanted to put together a list of the things that I felt have really contributed to my success as I have really battled trying to get healthy.  I feel like there is no way that I could have come this far without the support of my family and friends and today I am going to stress the importance of a good, healthy work environment on getting and staying healthy.  Please keep in mind that I am not a doctor and am not a work force expert; I am merely reporting my observations and reflections!

In order to really understand the importance that having a positive work environment had on my life you need to understand where I came from and just what a toxic environment can do to your health.  As many of you know, I was the Director of IT at the City of Chicago – Office of Emergency Management and Communications for several years after rising through the ranks from just being a tech guy all the way to the corner office.  If you aren’t aware, the OEMC was (while I was there) the premier 9-1-1 center in the world.  We utilized technology across the business to streamline any process that could affect someone’s 9-1-1 call.  Think about that for a second.  In Chicago, when someone called 9-1-1; they called *MY* system.  The system that I and my staff were responsible for maintaining was the lifeline for millions of people who called when they were having a personal emergency.  Talk about pressure!  Frankly, that was one of the things that I loved about the job.  Many people spend their whole lives looking for a career where they can “make a difference” in the world.  I literally had that every single day for 10 years.  Where my every decision, procurement, hiring/firing could have an impact on a complicated system that was only used by people having the worst days of their lives; during an emergency.  You want to talk about feeling like a superhero when things go well; I had that.  I was the manager of the Yankees.. having a job that only a few other people could claim.

Let’s talk about the price that I had to pay for that satisfaction and responsibility.  It’s funny now, looking back on it; but there were many times when Michelle and I lived in the condo downtown; and I wouldn’t get home until 8pm; and that was just a normal day.  That meant I would be spending 13-15 hours at the office, dealing with the usual mundane problems, dealing with the bureaucrats, dealing with over-stressed micro-managing executives, and eventually dealing with the political pressures that trickled down to my level.  I used to spend 6 hours every Saturday just trying to weed through the 500+ emails that I didn’t have time to deal with during the week.  That meant that I didn’t have any time to exercise at all; and my health became a much lower priority in the grand scheme of things.  I ate like crap; managing to stuff into my piehole whatever snack/treat/garbage I could bother to find in my fridge at work.  My weight ballooned and my self esteem fell to epic lows; all in the name of having a career that “made a difference”.  Yeah, it made a difference all right…. A difference in my life and accelerating my own death.  Never mind that stress that my work habits put on my wife having to take care of small children without me around to help.. all in the name of “making a difference”.  Frankly, I’m shocked she didn’t leave me.  I was an embarrassment to myself and my family.  Yeah, I had a great career… but I almost lost everything that really mattered.

Fast forward to the end of January 2011. I spent the 2010 holidays stressing about work and the constant stress of being the only guy who was there with any knowledge of how things worked and with any historical frame of reference, I found that I was being pulled into lawsuits against the City as an expert and was really the only person who could have answered some of the questions that were being posed and I got fed up.  I left the City and struck out to see what else was out there.  I had a nice long vacation; did some IT consulting work that was fun; but finally settled in at Lextech in September of 2011.

Let me say, it was a shock coming to work here.  I had a closet full of shirts and ties that I wore every day for 10 years.  My first day here, I wore a dress shirt and dress pants with no tie… I felt naked.  I’m surrounded by teams of application developers wearing shorts and appropriate t-shirts (well, except on inappropriate T-Shirt Thursdays).  The people here are relaxed and friendly and every single one of the people at Lextech are amazing at what they do.

When I started at Lextech, I was shown just how a supportive team and good work environment can mean to your outlook.  I felt empowered to make decisions and to not have to constantly be looking over my shoulder for the next dagger in my back.  I was given responsibility to run the operations day to day and was tasked with managing customer experience and interaction for all of the projects that I manage.  Now, keeping in perspective the environment that I had come from, where the pressure was intense and mostly external and impossible to manage; coming here was like a vacation.  The pressure that I feel is pressure that I put on myself to keep the teams going to to alleviate the stress on them.  I can handle my own pressure; because I know what I can do and I know how to do it.   One of the developers told me a while back that my job is to keep the pressure off the developers and to shield them from having to deal with customers and that is exactly what I do every day.  Keep the guys who do the work from having to worry about the politics and (sometimes) unreasonable expectations.  It was nice to be recognized for doing well what I try to do.

With regards specifically to my health and weight loss, Lextech has allowed me the freedom to do the unthinkable:  actually take an hour to eat a healthy lunch.  *GASP* The shock and the horror.  They realize and I am slowly realizing that the next email that I  need to send can often wait an hour for me to get some fuel in my system or to get up from my desk to take a break.  When I decided to accept the offer to come work at Lextech, I was very upfront about why I left the City and why I wanted to work with a small, but rapidly growing company.  I wanted to be able to spend more time with my family, and I would put their needs above work.  The team here has been very accepting of the fact that I try to leave the office around 4 every day; so that I can get to daycare to pick up the boys.  It is one of my favorite things to do and it lights up my day no matter what has happened when they jump for joy in excitement to see dad.  They allow me the freedom to fit in exercise into an already tight family schedule.

And finally, Lextech has given me the perspective that I was sorely missing.  Family and loved ones are really more important than work; and realizing that has changed my life more than anything else.   There is no way I would have been as successful as I have been in this journey without my Lextech family.

Ps:  I didn’t write this at work; I just delayed publishing for during business hours 🙂  I’m far too busy to write things at work!

Basketball again!

I have a deep love of all things hoop. I watch NBA, college, anything on tv around basketball.  In my younger days, I used to spend 4-5 nights a week hooping it up in one way or another….  then, I blew my knee out and went through several years of rehab.  It was really that time in my life that learned how to over-eat and over-indulge and over-sloth.  Once my spirit was crushed by knee injury; I just never went back to it.  And once you stop and stop for real, its really hard to go back.

With all this weight loss and renewed interest in my own fitness I set a short term goal of playing basketball again.  At Lextech, the guys that I work with have been playing every Tuesday.  I decided that this spring was going to be my grand comeback to the game that I love.  I’m in decent enough shape having started running and lifting weights; I just hadn’t had much opportunity to actually pick up a basketball to actually practice shooting.  I knew that I would be terrible; but the only way to start it to do it.

This past Tuesday, I met up with the guys and we played some 4 on 4 half court.  I was right…. I’ve become terrible.  I suppose with 10 years of sitting on the couch and not actually playing I expected it.  But let me tell you; I was so happy to be out there, taking a pass into the post and taking the worst, most off balance shot you had ever seen made me so happy that I could have cried.  No matter how bad I was and how slow I moved I knew that I was taking a step in the right direction.

Of course, all this joy of being able to play there are some really important lessons that I feel like I have to pass on to you, gentle reader:

  1. Don’t wear new basketball shoes for the first time going to play; your feet will hurt and bleed
  2. When you are old, like I am, make sure to ice your knee after playing
  3. Don’t wear socks that are too thick for the new, uncomfortable shoes you should have never put on in the first place
  4. Stock up on ibuprofen.  You will need it

All in all, I can’t wait until next week; when I’m sure I will be better than I was this week; and I cannot wait for the next game… bloody feet and all!  By the way, I won the MVP trophy for the week.  Apparently, I didn’t embarrass myself and played ok.   As a right of passage, all players on the Lextech Tuesday basketball night are given a nickname… I shall henceforth be known as “Orange Crush”  (thanks to the bright orange t-shirt I was wearing)



So… about running..

If you recall from my goal setting discussion below; I had set my sights on starting running January 1st.

So, as with every type of new activity you should CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR PRIOR TO STARTING ANY EXERCISE REGIME.  I followed the advice of my lovely wife and met with Dr. Pohlman to talk about my fitness goals and to get his feelings about when would be an appropriate time to start running.  At that point in my fitness journey, I had been working out for 2 months on the elliptical, was 60 pounds less than when I started and was feeling pretty good about how far I had come. I  met with Dr. Pohlman and had a long list of questions about his thoughts on next steps and to get an outsider perspective on progress and how I can be successful.  I let him know that I was planning on starting jogging on January 1st.  He did encourage me to listen to my body and to slow down if I felt pain and to not push it too fast too soon.

Now, you all know me by now and I’m not going to let simple pain get in the way of achieving my goals.  I had to be smart about it.  I had never done any type of running at all in my life… short of making sure that I was not dead last while running for football.   I hadn’t been chased by bears in a while; so I was really worried about actually failing to be able to run.  I just didn’t get the joy that every running that I knew would share about how great they felt while running and after running.  But, I knew that if I wanted to maximize my fitness and weight loss that I would have to give it a shot.  I took Michelle’s advice, and started a a couch to 5k program.  I found the one at to be flexible and easy to follow and they had an app that I could use on my iphone to track my progress.

Running started pretty slowly, as you would imagine with no experience. I followed the program and was committed to not stopping.  I would finish each treadmill session no matter what.  Interestingly, C25K program starts out very slowly; with only a job for a minute or so.  The idea is to build very slowly and make lots of small increments.  The first few weeks were pretty easy.  I was able to finish and feel like I wasn’t going to die.  I upped the pace a bit to push myself.  I felt pretty confident that I would be able to actually make this thing work and complete it.

Then, I had an injury.  I was on the treadmill just jogging away.. I think, at the time, I was working on a 5 minute jog or something along those lines and my left calf just completely seized up and I couldn’t even bear weight on it.  It was bad.  It has been the only time since I started exercising that I actually thought about going to see the doctor about one of my minor aches and pains.  Needless to say, I didn’t bother; I just took a week off entirely from cardio exercise; then added back in the elliptical for another week; before I went back to the treadmill.

It was last night, when I was on the treadmill and I was able to run a full 30 minutes at a slow pace; but I was ABLE TO DO IT.  I finished and it didn’t kill me.  I still don’t get the “runners high” or feel awesome when I’m done because of the running.. I feel awesome when I’m done because I’m done and I did something that I didn’t think I could do.  Yeah, thats right; I can run.  HAH.  Take that universe.    I’m thinking that I might actually try running outside once the weather warms up a bit.  I’m slightly terrified of it and the pressure on my knees; but hey… only one way to find out.

Maybe I should register for a 5K?  Could be worth getting a t-shirt…. and an opportunity to run with Michelle.

Wish me luck!