Testosterone (and Its Maintenance)

We had a fascinating discussion today during our weekly leadership gathering.  Our topics meandered through such things as “swallowing the sovereignty pill” (dealing with God’s right to do as He pleases with His creatures) to my future plans (return to graduate school to finish my Master’s degree, including a move) and we finally ended at a fascinating point of discussion.


This is not wholly unexpected in a gathering of three or four men.  Testosterone and its maintenance is a subject you—and I’m primarily addressing guys—cannot afford to treat lightly.

Recently, I heard statistics that said, essentially, that males in their twenties today have 60% less testosterone than their twenty-something counterparts from eighty to a hundred years ago.  Remember, males in their twenties are generally at their most active.  Why is this?

Some of it is lifestyle and vocational changes.  We are far more sedentary than our counterparts working in the early twentieth century.  The lack of exertion equals more flab and diminished testosterone.

A lot of it is our diet.  We eat way too many carbohydrates and too much high fructose corn syrup (which is in a lot of processed foods, even some you might not suspect).  Why? Because carbs are cheap and easy.  And it’s killing us.  Dr. Mehmet Oz explains that too much of this locks belly fat in guys (hip/buttocks fat in the gals) because it requires a lot of insulin to be secreted to process it.  I’m not a doctor but Dr. Oz says high insulin secretion precludes a lot of fat burning.

Some other things that emerged during our discussion:

  • Soy apparently is the cause of lots of estrogen.  Estrogen and inactivity produces, among other things, the unsightly moobs (man boobs) in guys.  I’ve yet to meet a male who’s excited about growing male breasts.
  • Ministers—personal caveat for me—have lower than normal testosterone levels.  Some of this may well be due to the sedentary nature of the ministerial enterprise.  But some of it is probably linked to a feminized view of Jesus Christ and Christianity, a la “gentle Jesus meek and mild” which, when wrongly applied, causes Christian men in general to be less aggressive and assertive when meeting the challenges and confrontations of life.  Ideas have consequences.  Some of this is reflected in some worship music where God is treated as a girlfriend or boyfriend.  Can you imagine John Wayne singing certain worship songs that have captured our imaginations? Yeah, me either.
  • Diminished testosterone is linked to depression and erectile dysfunction, the latter not a particularly pleasant topic but relevant in our day.  Why all the ED meds, Viagra and the like?  I seriously doubt Frank Sinatra or Steve McQueen would’ve needed Viagra or Cialis.

What to do? [Disclaimer: I am neither a doctor nor a nutritionist.]

  • Get active.  Regular exercise, especially if your work involves sitting for a long time, is a must.  Your overall health, including testosterone levels, will improve.
  • Eat well.  Keep sweets and cheap carbs to a minimum and eat more proteins and the proper fats.
  • Have a healthy view of maleness.  Jesus Christ, while gentle at times, also cleared the Temple of moneychangers and their livestock with a whip.  There is a time to be gentle and a time to get tough.  The key is knowing the difference and choosing your responses and attitudes carefully.

Guys, this is important.  Take care of yourselves.  Your loved ones, especially your ladies, need this.

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How Larry Bird Became Larry Bird

In 1979, Hall of Fame standout Larry Bird first broke into the NBA, the beginning of a long and spectacular career with the Boston Celtics.  Larry had a practice regimen that he faithfully observed throughout his career.  He would arrive at the venue at least two hours before game time and, with the help of a ball boy, shoot baskets.  Over and over.  Before every single game.  Larry said that through hard work and self-discipline, he was able to go farther in his career than other guys who had better natural gifts but didn’t work hard developing their talents.  Though Bird was tall (6’9”), he couldn’t run or jump well.  But he could outshoot and outthink his opponents.  This he did time and time again.

We all come into life with certain aptitudes, advantages and challenges.  What we do with what we’ve been given determine the kinds of lives we make for ourselves.  Quality and success in life do not come automatically.  You may have superior intelligence, even brilliance.  But if you neglect the hard work of study, learning, practice and productivity, your potential will remain unfulfilled.  That doctor, attorney, theologian, financial analyst, software engineer, or Grammy Award-winning musician inside you does not emerge automatically.

Some years ago a friend of mine was working on his Ph.D in Leadership Studies.  When asked what types of students earn their doctorates (versus those who don’t), he remarked, “The Einsteins wash out.” Why? “Because you can’t outsmart the work.”  That was the secret of Thomas Edison’s genius.  “It’s plain hard work that does it.”  I especially am keeping this in mind as I’m going back to graduate school in January to finish my Master’s degree.

Similarly, you may have come into life with health problems in your family tree.  Those challenges do not have to define or limit your life.  You may have obesity, heart disease or high blood pressure in your family line but their effects are not necessarily inevitable.  Again, it takes work—the hard but fruitful work of exercising, eating carefully, avoiding unhealthy behaviors and stuff.

Life is what we make it.  It’s a canvas to paint on.  Like Larry Bird, with hard work and self-discipline, we can take modest giftings, even disadvantages and turn them into a Hall of Fame life.

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Ambitious to Produce

Ambition has become suspect in the minds of a lot of people.  The classic stereotype is the self-centered man or woman who claw their way to the top of the corporate ladder stepping upon anybody perched on the other rungs.  Ego, indifference to time-honored virtues, and bullying are all.

This is unfortunate.  Frankly, ambition has gotten a bad rap.  In fact, without it you will not hit any of your goals, whether personal and professional.

Some months back, we discussed healthy ambition and its importance in one of our weekly leadership gatherings. We focused on moving up in one’s career and becoming the best in our chosen fields.  There is cost, effort and sacrifice to do this.  There’s no such thing as a free lunch.  The pursuit of a highly valued station of influence and achievement takes patience, focus and a lot of hard work.  Those who take shortcuts are cheating themselves and are usually found out.

In his fascinating book Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers From Everybody Else, Geoff Colvin shatters a number of myths about “natural” talent, genius and how pros become such.  These are usually echoed in statements like this: “Well, Tiger Woods was born to play golf.  He’s a natural.”

Here’s something you may not know. Tiger Woods and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart both had fathers who started them on the paths of golf and music from infancy.  Earl Woods had a putter in Tiger’s hands before he was a year old.  Leopold Mozart was an established musician and composer before his son was born.  He set Wolfgang on a very focused and intense vocation in musical performance and composition from childhood.  Neither Tiger Woods nor W.A. Mozart were geniuses in common parlance and legend.  They spent many years mastering their crafts.

Peak performers in any discipline acquire that position through untold hours of deliberate practice.  Not just practice, but focused periods of review and goal setting with specific objectives in mind.  When Tiger Woods goes to the driving range, he doesn’t simply pull out a driver and see how far he can hit the ball.  Instead he might take a five iron out and practice hitting the ball not more than sixty-five yards.  There is much more intense energy and concentration that attends deliberate practice.

Here are some steps that are crucial for you to rise to the top of your calling:

  • You must be a lifelong learner.  This means college, vocational school, online seminars, or training at the feet of a master whether a cabinet-maker or a jazz pianist.  It will cost time, discipline, sacrifice, and money.  Make the investment.
  • Saying yes also means saying no.  Getting to the top of the classical guitar world meant that a teenage Christopher Parkening was unable to play baseball with his pals as much as he’d like to have done.  His father, Duke, had him executing deliberate practice from the age of eleven.  Up at 5:00 AM to practice before school.  More practice when school was over.  Choosing mastery in an enterprise means you will not be able to say yes to lots of other pursuits simply because of the time and focus it takes to excel in your chosen field.
  • You must move past the drudgery curve.  A woman once told the great pianist Ignace Jan Paderewski, “You are a genius.”  His reply: “Madame, before I was a genius, I was a drudge.”  The driving range, the woodshop, the music room are not glamorous environments but it is in such places, over long hours, that one becomes a master.

The world is looking for individuals who are outstanding at what they do.  Mediocrity, for such as these, grates against every instinct inside them.  You are called to such excellence. The sky is the limit.  Focus and move forward.

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Love: The Less Traveled Road

“Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth… Love is as love does. Love is an act of will — namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.”

–M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

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Buck-Passing or Buck-Stop?

President Harry S Truman was famous for many things.  A plain-spoken man.  He made the terribly  weighty decision to drop two nuclear bombs on the Empire of Japan, no doubt hastening the end of World War II.

But he is perhaps best known by a little sign he kept on his desk (see image above).  He was the chief executive officer of the United States and Commander-In-Chief of our armed forces.  He made choices that affected history and lives.

“The buck stops here.”

Buck-passing is currently in vogue now.  Has been for some time.  But it has never served anyone who has participated in it.  President Truman used this maxim to communicate one thing: I am ultimately responsible. See the picture.

Some months back, I heard someone say, “The moment in which you grow up is when you take complete responsibility for your life.”

Complete responsibility.

I’ve been chewing on this lately and having to eat crow as a side dish.  I’ve done my share of buck-passing, blame-shifting and the like.  What I have found, however, is that as I have embraced full responsibility for my life—where things went bad, where I fell short of some objective, where life ended up being the pits—I feel strangely liberated.  Like a young man who moves out on his own for the first time and assumes the responsibility that had been his parents’.

As a leader, you will grow rapidly as you wrestle with this challenge and not permit yourself to be seduced by the siren song of the culture.  No more will you say “I can’t” about a thing when you know inside that you can.  It will just cost more.  Longer work.  More exercise.  Loss of a friendship because you tell the truth in love.

  • I am responsible for being out of shape.  I chose to eat poorly and not exercise.  Now I’m trying to eat better and am exercising and weight training regularly.
  • I am responsible for my career advancement or lack of.  I chose to stay in an unfulfilling job when the time came to go.  I chose not to pound the pavement and send out resumés.  I chose not to further my education in one way or another.  Now, I’m getting my mojo back, furthering my learning, polishing my skills and gifts.  On my own time.  Without monetary pay.  There’s more than one form of remuneration, after all.
  • I am responsible for inferior relationships.  I chose not to cultivate friendships or to repair those that have taken a beating in the rough and tumble of life.  Now, I’m spending more time with people—meeting new friends, mentoring others and staying in touch with old friends.

Challenge:  Take a long and honest look at your life and see if there’s a time you ducked responsibility.  Evaluate it.  And own it.  Then craft a plan to do things differently the next time you are thus challenged. You will feel empowered immediately.

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The Laser-Like Power of Focus

One of the very early goals President John F. Kennedy set before the eyes of our nation in 1961 was to put a man on the Moon before the end of the decade.

Our nation, led by a brilliant team at NASA, rose to meet this challenge.  On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 mission commander Neil Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface and uttered these famous words, “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

The secret to NASA’s success? Unity and focus.

Diffused light will light a room and help you see things.  It might even make you feel warm.

A laser—which is focused light—can cut through steel.

I am stunned by the accomplishments of human beings of every stripe who unify, focus and stick to a task, gathering all of their energies toward one important end.  Moveable type.  Flight.  Space exploration.  Atomic fission.  Civil rights.  The list is endless.

In Genesis 11, the Bible tells the story of a group of people who gathered in Mesopotamia and began building an ancient stairway to heaven—the Tower of Babel.  It was quite a focused effort.

And it got the attention of God.  God.

God said, “”Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.”

Did you notice the last sentence?

“And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.”

God interrupted the building of the Tower.  But that is not the point of this post.  God Himself took note of a people, unified in purpose and what they could accomplish together.  There’s really no evidence that these people were in covenant relationship with God.  Indeed it seems to be this lack of a relationship with Him that prompted Him to break up the party.  Because “nothing…will now be impossible for them.”

If ordinary human beings, who did not appear to be seeking the God of Adam, Enoch and Noah could accomplish such things, what about people who love Him and want to accomplish His purposes?  Dreams and visions He’s put in their hearts?  “Impossible” tasks? (That’s what they said about flight before the Wright brothers lifted off.)

You have incredible potential as you concentrate, focus and rise up to meet challenges.  What’s your target?  End cancer?  Defeat world hunger by developing new food strains?  Increase world literacy?  Make every published work known to man available in any language in e-book form (the vision of Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos)? Fulfil the Great Commission one life at a time?  Go.  Focus.

You will be amazed.

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We had a thought-provoking discussion in our weekly leadership/mentoring time today.  A good deal of our interaction concerned the concept of respect.  Respect is something that is often misunderstood, confused with deference.  Let me explain.

Deference is the perfunctory and appropriate behavior we manifest towards position, authority and station in life.  We may not, for example, agree with Attorney General Eric Holder’s behavior this past week as he was called to Congressional account over what he and the Department of Justice knew regarding the Fast and Furious debacle.  But we address him as “Mr. Attorney General” or simply “General.”  That is deference.  It is inappropriate to use a Congressional hearing to grandstand and needlessly demean the AG.  Same goes for White House press conferences.  You may not like President Obama—or any of his predecessors—but heckling him in public is inappropriate and unprofessional.  So is flipping off the portrait of the late President Ronald Reagan.  You defer to the office he occupies and give it due weight.  That is deference.

Respect, on the other hand, is rather an instinctual behavior, like sweating in hot, humid weather.  The gain or loss of respect is predicated on the presence or absence of integrity.  Put another way, deference is given; respect is earned.   It is an automatic response to the practice of integrity.

This is the way of life.  I’ve watched men in high office—political, corporate and ecclesiastical—demand respect without manifesting the kind of behavior that entitles them to respect.  It is unedifying to say the least and breeds cynicism in their constituents.  If you want respect, you’ve got to pay your dues.  They are substantial.  Respect is always earned.

I’ve both gained and lost the respect of people, especially those closest to me, over forty-eight years of life.  This has always been in just proportion to my integrity or lack of it.  It’s no use for me to whine about “not getting respect” if I’ve not dug deep and won it.  There are no shortcuts.

How then does one win this prize, something essential to all human beings and particularly important to males?

  • Walk in integrity.  If you profess a creed, certain values and expectations, you must back these up with the currency of consistency.  You cannot keep two sets of books.  Be one person.  Not two or four or a dozen.  What you are in public must equate what you are when you are outside of public view, in the crucible of the secret place.
  • When you blow it, admit it. No equivocation.  No excuses.  No blame-shifting.  If you screw up, own it.  All of it.  And say you’re sorry and rebuild.  Apologizing and amending one’s ways with earnestness begins building respect immediately.
  • Realize that you cannot mandate an instinctive behavior.  You can say, “I am your father and you will not speak to me that way” to a mouthy child.  That is fair and right.  But when someone calls you out for your failures, you are not authorized to pull rank to avoid dealing with your transgressions.  If you do, you are a fool.  A fool cubed.

This prize is worth fighting for.  Be true, humble, and serve.  You’ll earn more respect than you know what to do with.

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