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Be Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

When I was first asked to be a part of the Dancing with Our Stars event, benefitting the Southern Arizona Diaper Bank, I thought “NO WAY!!!” I mean, I can dance and all, but not ballroom dance!! I’m more of a, at the party while everyone else is too drunk to notice I’m dancing, type of dancer. But the thought that continued to tug at me was the cause!! For those that don’t know, the Diaper Banks that are now seen throughout the country were all originated and duplications of our Southern Arizona Diaper Bank. That’s right! WE started this great mission and movement! To know that type of innovation and dedication came from the community that I love so much was enough to inspire that same type of innovation and dedication in myself. Although, my innovation and dedication would take on a much more “rhythmic” face.

Once I finally agreed to participate, the first question asked of me was which dance I would like to attempt. My reply was very simple. “I have no idea!! Please just pick one for me that you think someone my size can pull off!” And this is how destiny decided to drop the foxtrot into my lap and my life.

After my first correspondence with my instructor, I felt pretty good about what was going to happen, that didn’t last long. It was only a couple days after that initial correspondence that I received another email from that instructor informing me that she would not be able to teach me and she would assign the dance to a substitute. First, I thought this was a sign for me to be very afraid and merely a indication of how things would turn out. Then I stated to reflect on my own life and how many great lessons and opportunities that were given to me because things didn’t work out the way they were planned. With that in mind, I became even more determined to make the best of this situation.

I’ve competed on basketball courts all over the world and never did I feel the type of anxiety that I felt the first time I stepped into the dance studio. The level of discomfort I experienced was enough for me to reconsider going through with the competition. My anxiety was compounded when I learned that my instructor/dance partner, Zhenya Kellar, measured in just under the 5 foot mark…heck, I could fit her in my pocket!! Being that I am 6”10, I am use to towering over people but this seemed a bit extreme. All I could picture was at weddings when the groom dances with the flower girl, it is cute but I did not see it translating into good scores from the judges. Thankfully, Zhenya was a pro and we instantly connected and shared many commonalities, especially our love for competition. So we created a practice schedule that we felt would prevent complete and total embarrassment.

The next few weeks seemed like a blur. I realized that those folks on the television show “Dancing With The Stars” had spent 8 hours a day working on their routines. We had only 1 hour, once or twice a week, depending on our schedules. Work never stops! Even when you’d rather dance the day away!

Just 3 weeks into the rehearsals I was feeling really good. In fact, we sat down and cancelled the bulk of my lessons! I have to admit that I feel like I was at the advantage when it came to this dance thing. You see, a choreographed routine in my mind is just like a basketball play or a workforce project. There is a rhythm to it and if someone is off a beat or out of step, everyone feels it. I took the mentality of it all being a play that I had to learn. I would have not have had the longevity in the sport of basketball I had without being able to adapt to new situations relatively quick. I have learned to take direction well, ask good questions, and put in the work. If I was going to break out of my comfort zone and try taking on a live ballroom dance competition in front of hundreds of people who will be judging me, I wanted to control as many of the variables as I could. What if I trip? What if I step on Zhenya? Or worse, what if I drop her? The only way I could block out those thoughts were through preparation and repetition.
Competition day came quick and the nerves hit me hard. I’m sure I seemed calm and cool on the outside but on the inside of was a mess! The one thing that calmed me down and gave me peace was the video that was shown before the competition portion began. The Southern Arizona Diaper Bank put together a wonderful video describing what they do in the community and the impact that this type of event makes in the lives of the people they serve. Seeing the passion behind those involved and the appreciation of those served became the light that lit my fire. With so many people stepping up to do so much, how could I not make my steps with pride and passion?

I finished the evening winning both the judges’ vote and the crowd’s vote for best foxtrot of the evening! I think that one of the other dancers described it best in the post dance interview. He said, “It’s kind of like military boot camp, you’re proud you did it, but you’re glad it’s over!!” Growth means change, and change involves risk, the circumstances will never be perfect. The road will be tough, so what? Get started now! I leaned that with each step I took, I grew stronger and more skilled and more confident. Find what makes you uncomfortable and take action!

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Joseph Blair is the founder of Blair Charity Group, philanthropist, retired professional athlete, professional speaker, and consultant. His charismatic personality coupled with his giving heart allows him to inspire acts of kindness in others. Most people know him because of his athletic prowess, but they love him because of his passion for improving his community.

The Legacy of a Teacher

Who in the hell would want to be a teacher these days?  They get blamed for everything that is wrong in the world.  You know what I am talking about; we all have that friend who over shares about their miserable life and how that ninja-like dream killer of an educator ruined their only shot at happiness.  I figured a great way to celebrate National Teacher Appreciation Week would be to make myself vulnerable (something I don’t do easily) and share with you how one educator has shaped my life.  To this point, I have only shared how my high school baseball coach/social studies teacher changed the course of my life with my beautiful wife of 14 years (shout out to Cristina Thompson).  I realized that I was being selfish, and these experiences could very well add value to people’s lives and allow me to honor the world’s oldest profession…wait, I mean honor the world’s most underappreciated profession.
 

Let me first start by saying that I had a lot of great teachers throughout the years, and many invested their heart and souls into my development that led me to evolve into this incredible being that I am today, but I’m sure most would appreciate remaining nameless for obvious reasons.  However, I will out Mr. David Landrith and allow him to bask in the glory of contributing to my brilliance.

I was a fairly typical latchkey kid, a product of a divorce, which forced me to grow up quick.  I approached my education as a means to keeping me on the baseball field.  There were not many people yielding more influence in my life than the head varsity baseball coach because if you took baseball out of my life, I would have been lost.  This was my element; the baseball field was the only place that my talent and passion met, it gave me purpose.

As I reflect back on my memories of Coach L., I experience deep gratitude for him being in my life.  He had a commanding presence but was full of humility.  Rarely did you ever hear about how he was a part of a College World Series Championship team or how he played professional baseball.  You always got the sense that what happened yesterday did not matter; it was all about being consistent and putting in the work.  His pedigree was very impressive: his father enjoyed a colorful career as a major league baseball player.  His dad played along side of one of the greatest ever to play the game, Mr. Willie Mays.  Coach never bragged about how his dad hit a game-winning walk-off homerun off hall of fame pitcher Warren Spahn or how his dad jumped on Roger Maris’s back to protect the pitcher.  Nope, Coach kept all of these great nuggets to himself and let his actions do all of his talking.  I only know this information thanks to Google.  Of the many lessons this man has taught me, two had such a profound impact on me that they are now a part of my character.

Coach's Dad

 

Lesson #1

Celebrate Your Victories with Dignity and Appreciation.

 

Coach demonstrated this lesson unequivocally during a game my junior year when we were playing a very talented team from the south side of town. This team had some highly touted recruits who garnered national attention.  In the top of the fifth inning while the game was tied, I crushed a high fastball over the fence to put us up a run.  As I rounded the bases I was celebrating like my next stop was Disneyland.  Seriously, Kirk Gibson had nothing on me.  Coach Landrith signaled for me to come over to the third base box; I trotted over there with my chest sticking out expecting him to praise my wondrous athletic ability, and he calmly expressed his displeasure for my antics and reminded me that we have yet to win the game.  That pissed me off.  I was like, “Who in the hell does he think he is? I just delivered the very best outcome for our team, and he is criticizing my excitement???”

Well we went on with the game and, sure enough, lost the lead again.  In the last inning of regulation, I came up to bat again, and same as earlier, the game was tied.  I was still furious about what had transpired earlier but was ready to take some hacks.  Well, Déjà vu… same pitch, same result, I hit my second homerun of the game.  This time, though, I sprinted around the bases with a scowl on my face, refusing to show any emotion in protest.  Coach summoned me over to the third base box again. This time he told me in his booming voice said, “Son, it is okay to smile.”  Unfortunately, we went on to lose that game in extra innings, but coach made sure he taught me the power of humility.  I know that he was not trying to make me feel small but to expand my capacity for appreciation.  This lesson has always stuck with me and has changed my paradigm from looking up at the stars and feeling insignificant to appreciating the fact that I am included in such a universe.

 

Lesson #2

Show Up Everyday.

 

My senior year of high school was crazy and fun, but I was near the ledge a couple of times and needed to be pulled back.  My parents did not really have a great sense as to what was going on, but thankfully Coach Landrith said what needed to be said.  I had been missing some classes, and it finally caught up to me.  My parents were informed, and my dad reacted in a way that he thought he should: he went down to the school to get some answers.  The problem was that no one knew who he was, not even my baseball coach.  Before a game that I was planning on playing in, Coach Landrith sat me in the dugout and unleashed his full fury on me.  This was not a fun-loving intervention; this was a barrel-chested Grizzly Adams-looking man yelling at a decibel level high enough to ensure that not only my team heard, but the visiting team heard too.  Later I found out that the track team practicing on the football field 500 yards away were in the loop as well.

This is how I remember it...

He said a lot that day, but all I remember hearing was when he said, “And who is this guy who came into my classroom today claiming to be your dad?  You have been in this program for four years, and I am just meeting him now?”  It was like getting smacked in the face with the truth, and I was finally capable of comprehending it.  This was such a humiliating experience that I knew then that I would never let my children experience anything like that.  Coach was not trying to be hurtful; he was frustrated and genuinely concerned for my well being.  This man was not related to me yet still had a vested interest in my progression; he was rooting for me.  I have approached parenting from the perspective of just needing to show up everyday.  My kids do not expect me to have all the answers, but they know they can count on me to be rooting for them.

My contention is that we need to honor our teachers through meaningful and deliberate expressions of our gratitude for showing up everyday and making the continuous, laborious investment of shaping our students.  They work within constraints of a broken system yet are responsible for solving all that is wrong in our world.  These effective educators focus on serving their students’ unique needs as Coach did for me.  They may not bat a 1000, but when they connect, their influence has a compounding effect on the world.

I am a committed father who understands the importance of gratitude and being present.  That will never show up on some ridiculous standardized test designed to measure the effectiveness of a teacher.  However, it shows up in every interaction I have in my business, parenting, and coaching practices.  Coach Landrith continues to teach and coach at my high school, and I know our community is better off because of the virtues he willingly shares.

Now, I challenge you to invest some time into expressing your appreciation for an educator who has shaped your life.  If they are no longer living, how can you honor them?  Plant a tree?  Create a scholarship fund?  Send a letter to their loved ones?  Get creative; take action and build up some gratitude equity.  In the comments below I would love to hear ways that you have or will honor an influential teacher in your life.  It may not be convenient, but isn’t that the point?  Now show up and be gracious…it will change your life. Thanks Coach!

Eric Thompson is the owner of Global Ascension Productions and founder of The Brilliance Project.  Eric has developed a plan that helps people to synergize their inner virtues, allowing them to discover and fully utilize the hidden strengths that so many people never use – their Brilliance.

For more information about Eric visit him at

http://www.globalascensionproductions.com/eric-bio/

Inclusive Leadership – Where do you stand?

I work closely with some of the most incredible speakers/authors within the human potential industry.  One of the content provides that I have worked the longest with has had an incredible influence on me.  Jamie Utt ( Director of Education and Diversity here at GAP) has raised my awareness on all things social justice.  This awareness has made me a more inclusive leader, which has translated nicely for my business.  If you are committed to serving your audience or the people you lead, raising your awareness to issues surrounding diversity can enhance your ability to connect with people, which is always good for business but more importantly is great for the global community.

If you do not have a friend that does social justice work, find one, because they take the fun out of everything…we all need a friend like that.  They remind us how inconvenient growth can be.   Paper or plastic?  We all know that plastic is more harmful to our wellbeing, but it is the convenient (and more popular) choice.  Creating a life of significance is never convenient, that is why so few achieve it.

One of the first things that Jamie taught me was about the concept of white privilege (white privilege is a way of conceptualizing racial inequalities that focuses as much on the advantages that white people accrue from society as on the disadvantages that people of color experience.).  People with political agendas have hijacked this term; it has been labeled as a left activist’s initiative, which I think diminishes its relevance.

For the past couple of years I have been trying to observe how people who do not benefit from race and gender privilege (anyone other than a white male) are treated in this country.  This awareness has taught me a lot about people, it really is amazing what you notice when you open your mind.  When I try and imagine my life as a person of color, my mind goes to my baseball career.  I think, “Well maybe if I was black, I would have made it further because I would have been faster, or if I was of Latin decent, I would have been able to play infield…hmmm.”

Then I realize how ignorant that thought is, which is quickly followed by wondering how I allow these stereotypical thoughts to influence my behavior towards others.  Along the way I have also learned about microaggressions – The term was first coined by American psychiatrist Chester M. Pierce and described as, “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of other races.”  My thoughts about my baseball career would not necessarily qualify as a microaggression, but saying something like “being a 5’9 white baseball player really limited my career” in response to a question about how far I made it just might.  Now, I do not believe that my race limited my baseball career, but conversations like this are taking place everyday in every community.  By taking the time to invest in this perspective you will be better equipped to lead a diverse team, which in a global economy, elevates your value.



Michael Scott, champion of the microaggression

On a recent trip to Southern California with my family, we experienced two overt expressions of microaggressions.  The first occurred while my wife (of Hispanic decent) was returning her rental car to a high end resort in Dana Point; the male agent was dismissing her because she did not have her contract in hand and he was unable to read the serial number on the back of the key chain.  He told her she would have to go get her contract and come back when she had it.  When I engaged in the conversation (he thought she was alone), I asked him if he could look it up in the system using the VIN to save us the inconvenience of driving our four young children around any longer.  He quickly resolved the issue and we were on our way.

Two days later on Easter Sunday we were eating at a local pancake house and had a party of eight.  It was a first come, first serve restaurant, and the service and food was great up until we were finishing our meal.  I took two of my children to the restroom, which left 3 Hispanic adults and two Hispanic children.  Long story short, while I was away, a server very rudely asked our group to move so white customers could have our spot.  When I returned from the restroom, my seat and the coffee I ordered were gone.  Would the same have happened if a white man were sitting at the table?  I’m not so sure, particularly since when polled, most servers say they give people of color poorer service!

Now, I do not think the rental car agent is a sexist or the server a racist.  However, I do believe that each of us is raised in a system that teaches us to devalue the voices and presence of women and people of color.  I know it is not a stretch for anyone to believe that women are dismissed everyday in similar situations across the country and that white people receive better service and are treated with more dignity than people of color in some restaurants.

One thing that I have learned working with as many leaders as I have worked with is that the most influential leaders lead when it is inconvenient.  They do not turn it off and on, it is a badge they proudly wear 24/7/365.  The same must be true for building inclusive communities.

Empathy is a great quality to have as a leader; it will increase your awareness and allow you to better serve your diverse community.  My ability to look at things from somebody else’s perspective has proven to deepen my connection with my team, clients, and audience.  It is easy to make these types of issues more complicated than necessary, I would love to gain your insights, in the comments below, please share some of your best practices when it comes to leading a diverse community.

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Eric Thompson is the owner of Global Ascension Productions and founder of The Brilliance Project.  Eric has developed a plan that helps people to synergize their inner virtues, allowing them to discover and fully utilize the hidden strengths that so many people never use – their Brilliance.

For more information about Eric visit him at

http://www.globalascensionproductions.com/eric-bio/