On Choosing to be Happy

Except for days when my wife spells me of my post-army duties, I drive my daughter to school. Each day, without fail, we encounter a transformation in mood as we approach the first crossing guard at Richview Middle School.


An Africa American gentleman in his late fifties mans the crosswalk in front of the school, and his smile changes the mood of everyone that sees it, even those with the temperament of a cornered rattler. It’s magical.


Despite the weather, he points, waves, laughs, and beams with a toothy smile that draws your attention like Sauron’s eye. One cannot help but smile back at the man. He is quite literally a flashlight in the land of the blind. Subconsciously, facial muscles flex and despite the traffic that flows like molasses, despite the fact that it’s early, despite the fact that most drivers are sipping some caffeinated beverage to try and part the morning fog inside their heads, everyone returns the smile – an exchange of gladness.


His magical aura and mood of genuine happiness is infectious.  I do not know the man. I’ve never spoken to him. I’ve only exchanged smiles and even caught myself waving at him to make sure that he knows that I know and appreciate the fact that he chooses to be happy every day of his earthly existence.  I can sense that he made a decision a long time ago that he would face each day with cheerfulness, and that deserves my recognition, my gratitude.


We’ve all encountered an environment where the climate was foul. Eternal pessimists are sadly also infectious within an organization. They breed ill will and negativity like diseased rats. Subsequently, they should be cured or eradicated – figuratively of course. But, we’re not here to talk about our organizational cavities. We are here to praise those like our Richview crossing guard.


Whether you are the CEO or a line employee, if you want to make a difference in the climate within your organization, begin tomorrow with a smile and a positive attitude. Find something good in all those you encounter. Emulate the behavior you’d like to see within your organization, and soon you will be met with a mirrored smile from all those you meet. It can’t be helped – smiles breed smiles.


From Ranger to the White House

“That boy wasn’t raised right,” my daddy said in a hushed tone, tucking his chin so as not to start trouble, yet making sure that I understood what unacceptable behavior looked like when I saw it. Those were my formative years, and what my father was telling me was that, “if a boy isn’t taught how to act as a child, he will behave like a horse’s rear end when he’s a grown man, or trying to become one.”

I must confess that by the time I reached adulthood myself, I had observed a few men that no kind of childhood rearing could have fixed; nevertheless, Daddy’s theory held true for the vast majority of those I watched grow up. Childhood barriers, consistency, and a clear understanding of exactly what conduct would and would not be tolerated, shaped behavior later in life.

Daddy broke the silence as we drove down the Red Bud Road in his old Chevrolet. “Your word is your honor,” he said. “Don’t ever compromise that.”

I don’t even know if he thought I heard him, because I did not answer. I just listened, and rocked hard in that old bench seat as if trying to help that Chevy climb the hill to Carter’s Dam. I assumed, or at least hoped, that he would reward honesty, so I put the theory to the test one dark night standing in our driveway. “Did you boys shoot those windows out with BB guns?” he sternly asked.

I swallowed hard, bowed my head, and threw a silent prayer to the man upstairs. “Yes, sir. We did it,” I said.

“Get inside the house and wait for me to get back,” he said.

Despite the fact that I deserved it, he didn’t whip me. Instead, he said, “I knew you did it, but I wanted to see if you’d own up to it. The only reason you’re not getting a whippin’ is because you told the truth,” and I never forgot that lesson.

“Quit that foolishness,” he’d say, and that meant to stop at that precise moment. Quit meant quit. A second request would not be issued. Given the fact that you could potentially face a judge for looking overly mean at a child in public today, some folks might consider that harsh parenting. The truth is, he never drew blood or left a lasting mark. He didn’t even have to whip me but about twice in eighteen years – just enough to demonstrate his resolve. There was that time I threw a fit in the shoe store. Momma warned me not to pitch a fit before we got there, but I suppose I thought she was bluffing.

I would not have made a good poker player.

She told the shoe salesman to get my size of a particular shoe. I informed her that I didn’t want those shoes and then pointed to the ones I did want. Decades later I would learn that the price tags on shoes vary substantially. I embarrassed her, and no child ought to do that.

She took me to the car and reminded me that she had warned me beforehand. We swung by Daddy’s work to ensure that I had a complete and thorough understanding of what “Don’t pitch a fit,” meant. We never had a need to relearn that lesson.

The second time wasn’t really a whipping but rather a clarification – a mutual understanding. I was a teenager and had finally evolved into the creature my father had described to me years earlier. “In a couple of years,” he told me. “You will know everything, and I won’t know anything.”

It seemed odd for my father to say such a thing, but he was prophetic! Just like he described, as I grew in age and intelligence, his and my mother’s knowledge diminished proportionately. One afternoon, my mother was getting onto me about something. As was the case in those days, “She just did not understand.” I thought I was clear of that old recliner he sat in. I thought I was out of earshot. I thought I said it low enough, under my breath, so that no one would hear it.

I was mistaken.

In a display of the worst judgment I may have ever exhibited in my life, I disrespected my mother. “I wish she’d shut up,” I mumbled.

The entire house shook as he slammed that recliner down and both boots hit the floor. They say there are times in life – near death experiences – when one can see his life flash before his eyes. I did not see my life on display, but I did seem to think that my spirit had departed my body, so as not to be present when he ended it.

When he got to me, I was fairly confident that it would be my last day on earth. If I did live to see another Georgia sunrise, I was fairly confident that it would be through bruised eyes. He grabbed me by the neck, and when he pinned me to the wall, my feet were about six inches off the ground. Then he leaned in real close and informed me of his God given right to end me.

I believed him, and that is why he never had to remind me of that little tidbit of information again.

Today, I am a planner – a strategist. My work involves things like trying to determine how to deter other nations from exhibiting what the rest of the world considers inappropriate behavior. My father didn’t have nuclear weapons or an army. He isn’t even a big man. He simply refused to have another man look at his boy, tuck his chin, and whisper to his own son, “That boy wasn’t raised right.”

My father knew how to deter bad behavior. He was consistent. No meant no. Quit meant quit. He didn’t count to three. He didn’t draw lines in the sand only to redraw them when they were crossed. Heck, he didn’t draw lines period. I got one shot at listening, but if he only whipped me once during my childhood, it would be reasonable to ask, “Why didn’t I see if he’d say no or quit a second time.”

I didn’t test those waters because I believed he would punish me. No, I knew he’d do it. He would wear me out if I didn’t listen. That is what we call deterrence. He didn’t have to whip me because I knew that if I showed my rear end and did not listen, I’d wind up on the receiving end of some fatherly aggression.

That I can recall, he never uttered the word leadership, but I sure did learn a lot about leading and human behavior growing up. I think a few of our nation’s leaders could learn a few things from my father. It doesn’t matter what kind of military or weapon systems a nation possesses. If the other fellow doesn’t believe that you will use them, he’ll see if you won’t count to three. He’ll test you to see if you’ll redraw that line in the sand. Whether you are leading a child or a nation, until no means no, you are going to spend a lot of time renegotiating artificial limitations.

A Hymn of Friendship

Jimmy F. Blackmon

Along the cascading headwaters of Big Creek, where mountain laurel shades the journey of rolling spring water bound for lowland rivers. Where the night song of water tumbling over rocks sings a comforting hymn of friendship rekindled. Silvertip, where the lush green backdrop of the Chattahoochee invites the soul to ponder meaning. Where deep dark pools are cut with light as rainbows roll on mayflies ere evening falls. For far too long our paths divided, kindred spirits reunited.IMG_1476

Setting Goals & Maximizing Potential

My friend John Demmer has won four International Bowhunting Organization World Championships in archery. He has won eight National Field Archery Association and USA Archery National Championships. At the 2015, NFAA Mid-Atlantic Sectional Championships John Shot a 299 out of a possible 300. Using a recurve bow with no sights, standing twenty yards from the target, John put fifty-nine out of sixty arrows in the 3.15” five-ring. Thirty-seven arrows, over half, were in the X-ring, which is a mere 1.5.”


What if I told you that I could work with you for a few hours and you could beat John Demmer at archery? You could……if I blindfold John, spun him around a few times and then told him to shoot the target. You see John can’t hit a target that he cannot see. Nor can you reach a goal that you have not set. Setting goals is critical to success in any endeavor.

Below is a picture of my running logs dating back to 1981.


Each of those logs, spanning almost forty years, began with realistic goals for that particular year. My goals, the logs, nor the training itself would guarantee that I would win a championship race. They would not even guarantee that I would win a local fun run, but they would certainly assist me on the road to maximizing my own personal potential, and your goals can do the same for you.

“You can only control what you can control,” my good friend and archery coach, Rod Jenkins often says. It sounds silly. Of course you can only control what you can control, but what Rod is actually saying is that you control everything when it comes to achieving your potential. You define success, and success is a choice.

I began running when I was very young. I ran competitively until I entered the Army, and then I only ran recreationally. In 1995, I was attending an Army school at Fort Knox, Kentucky. One spring afternoon, I turned the television on and saw the Olympic Track and Field Trials. I watched the 5,000m and the 10,000m races with great interest. Bob Kennedy and Todd Williams ran wonderful races that qualified them for the 1996 Olympics. Both Bob and Todd were only a couple of years younger than me. Throughout high school and college, I had watched them achieve their own goals. Seeing them run so well at the trials made me wonder what I could have achieved had I continued running competitively.

I walked to the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. I was twenty-eight years old. Having focused on Rugby and lifting weights more than running, I weighed 200 pounds. Okay, I was fat and out of shape. That afternoon I committed to seeing how well I could run. If Tylenol and Motrin had been banned substances, I would have been hotter than a firecracker within a week.

At first I only ran two to three miles per day. Within a few weeks I got a five mile run in, then an eight miler, and a ten. Soon I was up to thirty miles per week and the weight began to drop. My initial goal was to run sub-33:00 for a 10K and sub-16:00 for a 5K. I did not set a date within which to reach my goal. It was just out there. In December of that same year, I ran a 5K race in 16:33. I weighed 150 pounds. In February of the following year I ran the lead five-mile leg of a marathon relay at the Austin Motorola Marathon and ran 26:02. I was making significant progress. The following summer I ran 32:26 for a 10K, 15:31 for 5K, and in 2000 I placed third at the Richmond Marathon with a time of 2:33, which was an average pace of 5:51 per mile. I weighed 139 pounds that day.


I never qualified for the Olympic Trials, nor did I ever win a major marathon. You see I could not control how fast my competition ran, nor could I control how much fast-twitch muscle was packed into my legs. The only thing I could control was my commitment to work. Focused training would enable me to maximize my own personal potential, whatever that potential might be.

A few years later, I won a 10K road race in Washington, DC. After the race I was sitting on the curb recovering. A fellow walked up to me and said, “You know you amaze me. It’s just no effort at all to run fast. It must be nice to have been born with all that talent, for it to come so easy.”

I smiled and said, “Thank you, sir,” but what I really wanted to say was, “You have no idea what I went through to run this fast. In January, when it was 20 degrees out and drizzling rain, I put in a twenty miler, because I knew that others would peek out the window and decide to sleep in.”

Like Rod said, I controlled the things I could control, and you can too. Maybe you want to get more sales next year in your job. Perhaps, you want to lose ten pounds, improve your tennis game, your recreational league basketball game. Maybe you want to qualify for the Olympic Trials! No matter where you want to find success, you must set goals and you must fully commit. Remember, success is a choice, but that choice will involve sacrifice.

Define your own success and commit to maximizing your potential today!



Jayber Crow: A Novel – Wendell Berry – Google Books

Jayber Crow, born in Goforth, Kentucky, orphaned at age ten, began his search as a “pre-ministerial student” at Pigeonville College. There, freedom met with new burdens and a young man needed more than a mirror to find himself. But the beginning of that finding was a short conversation with “Old Grit,” his profound professor of New Testament Greek. “You have been given questions to which you cannot be given answers. You will have to live them out–perhaps a little at a time.” “And how long is that going to take?” “I don’t know. As long as you live, perhaps.” “That could be a long time.” “I will tell you a further mystery,” he said. “It may take longer.” Eventually, after the flood of 1937, Jayber becomes the barber of the small community of Port William, Kentucky. From behind that barber chair he lives out the questions that drove him from seminary and begins to accept the gifts of community that enclose his answers. The chair gives him a perfect perch from which to listen, to talk, and to see, as life spends itself all around. In this novel full of remarkable characters, he tells his story that becomes the story of his town and its transcendent membership.

Source: Jayber Crow: A Novel – Wendell Berry – Google Books

Fall 2015 – A Time to Pause

A damp and soggy weekend followed close on the heels of Joaquin – a blessing in disguise for the Blackmon clan. Most all of our activities were cancelled in anticipation of bad weather. We ended up spending the entire weekend together, as a family should. With each peek out the window to check the weather I stared at another house, which caused me to pine for the South. I was reminded of the late Charles Kuralt who wrote:
“In the South, the breeze blows softer than elsewhere through the pine trees, and accents fall softer on the ear. Neighbors are friendlier, and noiser, and more talkative. (By contrast with the Yankee, the Southerner never uses one word when ten or twenty will do.) The spring is prettier, the summer hotter and happier, the fall longer and sadder, the winter shorter than elsewhere on the continent. This is a different place. Our way of thinking is different, as are our ways of seeing, laughing, singing, eating, meeting and parting. Our walk is different, as the old song goes, our talk and our names. Nothing about us is quite the same as in the country to the north and west. What we carry in our memories is different too, and that may explain everything else.”
The colorful crescendo of fall is nigh at hand. Certainly, the Old Dominion State will be draped in beautiful color soon, but I find myself longing for the smell of Tennessee tobacco barns. I’ve been so busy I almost failed to recognize that my favorite season is upon us.
We can get busy in this rat race if were not careful – neglect that which is most precious. In 1990, Barbara Bush gave us some sage advice. She told the ladies of Wellesley College, “At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend, or a parent.”
In the coming weeks I hope we all carve out a little time, steal a few hours, to strole along a scenic byway with someone we love. It’s medicinal, I assure you.

A bike

There is something incredibly special about learning to ride a bike. That first sense of freedom comes when a child rounds the curve, out of sight from their parents, and ventures out on their own for the first time . I vividly recall my father running along beside my wobbling bike as I struggled to maintain my balance. “Keep pedaling. Don’t stop pedaling,” he huffed through winded lungs, yet he never stopped pushing. Not until I could ride.

It wasn’t long before my friends and I built a feeble ramp and pretended we were Evil Knievel. Skinned knees and elbows came next, even a few tears were shed, but oh the joy of riding a bike.


I-66 Commuter Bus Blues

Track #1

Today I reported to work. It was my first day at the Pentagon, and I was quickly overwhelmed by the Joint Staff/Pentagon acronym centric vernacular known only to “The Building.” It was one of those first day, drinking from the fire hydrant, kind of experiences. At the end of the day, I boarded a bus bound for Egypt (Manassas/Bristow and beyond) exhausted, and it occurred to me – John Cougar Mellencamp is the greatest artist in the universe.

I’m serious. I sat staring out of the window of the bus, as we crawled along I-66 West, and I was reminded of a time when I wore a Levi jacket and soaked my permed hair with Aqua Net. Yes, I literally sported a perm at one time. I was reminded of an era long since faded with time when Harris Jones and I sat in his basement bedroom in complete silence, staring at each other through thin lipped grins, as Cougar wailed out poetry to our young ears. We listened to the seemingly endless intro to, “I Need A Lover” through Bose speakers that I was convinced would blow themselves or our ear drums at any moment.
John Cougar captured lightening in a bottle.

He sang, “Well there’s a young man in a T-shirt
Listenin’ to a rock ‘n’ roll station
He’s got a greasy hair, greasy smile
He says: “Lord, this must be my destination”
‘Cause they told me, when I was younger
Sayin’ “Boy, you’re gonna be president”
But just like everything else, those old crazy dreams
Just kinda came and went
Oh but ain’t that America, for you and me
Ain’t that America, we’re something to see baby
Ain’t that America, home of the free, yeah
Little pink houses, for you and me, oh baby for you and me”

And of all people, an icon himself, John Fogerty, said, “It was perhaps the greatest song ever written.” I think he got it right. Now to bed. And back to work on the bus.

Mr. David Wisnia

Well, the evening was wonderful. What an honor to stand among 101st Airborne Division Veterans spanning 75 years and sing the national anthem. The gentleman in the picture is Mr. David Wisnia. He was born in Poland. During WWII his entire family was killed and he, an able-bodied 18-year-old boy, was put into the concentration camp, Auschwitz. Some time later, the Germans werIMG_0141e moving the prisoners to Dachau. During the trip Mr. Wisnia miraculously escaped. He had not gone far when he ran into a column of men from the 101st Airborne Division. Mr. Wisnia spoke six languages. He joined the 101st that day and never left them throughout the rest of the war. “I had no family,” he told me tonight. “They became my family.”