personal betterment

"Yes, and..." My Journey Into Imrprov - And Why You Should Do It

Moving to Chicago in the middle of a bitter winter makes the process of making new friends very difficult. Everyone is bundled head-to-toe until about March, and it seems no one really does any outdoor activities, such as softball or flag football. So with finding a cycling group or joining a rec sports league out of the question, I decided to start taking Improv classes at Second City. Second City is where a lot of names you may know started their careers, such as Tina Fey, Steve Carell, Amy Poehler, or Stephen Colbert. It is a cool feeling knowing that I was taking classes at the same place so many of these successful actors and comedians had. Second City offers a plethora of classes, but Improv (improvisational comedy) was the one I knew would give me the best chance to really connect with my classmates and make new friends. Plus, I didn’t really have any interest in taking a sketch writing class or a voice-over class, as cool as that would be someday.

So over the past 10 months, I’ve taken levels A-E at Second City. Each level added a new element to the craft, for example in Level A it’s all about learning to “yes, and…” and support your classmates. In Level C, we worked a lot on character development, and in Level E you really work on bringing it all together and learning your style. What hooked me were my first couple classes; for the first time in what felt like forever, I was able to be out of my own head, mindful, and fully present to the environment I was in. When you’re forced to remember a bunch of new names, throw multiple objects in a specified pattern, and remember everyone’s favorite hobby all at the same time, there leaves no room to think about the minutia that take up so much of our brain space.

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A few of us got together in Level C and opened for a late night show at one of Second City’s stages. Once I got the chance to perform and make an audience laugh, I was hooked.

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I had an amazing group that I went through the program with. While we lost a few and gained a few along the way, a core of us went all the way through Levels A – E and I’m now in a group that is going to start performing around the city!

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During Level D, I also auditioned for and got a part in a coached ensemble team. For 4 weeks, a group of 8 or 9 of us had a running performing on the Second City stage. We had a coach who gave us guidance and feedback and we were able to perform a mix of scenes based off a random idea we pulled from the audience.

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The essence of Improv is simple, but so much of it can be applied to everyday life. The main rule of Improv is always say, “Yes, and…” You never disagree or shoot someone’s idea down, instead, you accept their idea and build upon it.

For example, if someone enters a scene as yells “Ow, I broke my leg!”, instead of responding with “no you didn’t”, I would say instead, “Yes, and your crutches match your shirt perfectly!” Every scene requires energy and commitment and you are always looking to heighten in some fashion—How could I make this scene more fun? And remember, “If you’re not having fun, you’re an asshole.”

Here are a list of the benefits and lessons I’ve taken from Improv:

  • To learn to listen; hearing what my are my scene-mates are saying in order to understand and respond appropriately
  • To say “yes”—“Yes, and I will do this __________"
    • Never “yes, but” or “no"
  • To live in the moment
  • Don’t talk about getting ready to jump out of a plane, instead, have already jumped and then start the scene
  • Play with people who have your back
  • Make big choices
    • Make them often
    • Make them early
  • Take risks:
    • If you’re scared, look in your partners eyes and know they will support you
      • "I got your back"
    • Work with others and allow them to be in the spotlight with you
  • There’s nothing more unattractive than a selfish “actor"
    • The compelling actor is one who is going after what they want. But there are roadblocks or other actors trying to prevent the actor from getting what they want
    • They act on their wants and goals
  • Rather than being devil’s advocate, say instead “Yes, that’s an interesting idea and I have another!"
    • Don’t crush the energy that is moving the group forward
    • “Yes, and”, but without being a “Yes-man"
  • Mistakes are gifts—own them, don’t correct them but keep going, keep the flow and acknowledge it without apology
  • Heighten, Explore, Transform
  • Approach the scene with an attitude of “today’s the day!"
    • Be confident! Like a pilot walking through an airport
  • Can enter a scene as if the scene is already occurring
  • Don’t have a planned end
  • "Yes, and”—accept and build upon
  • Listen to understand, not to respond

Improv summed to one statement: “Yes, and…”, love, and have fun!

These lessons have helped me so much, not only do I think differently about approaching problems at work and with others, but also in every way that I interact with people on a day-to-day basis. I’m more inquisitive and try to find how I can connect with them so that we quickly form a better relationship. Actually listening to what people have to say shows them that you’re actually paying attention and care about them and not just biding time to say what you are thinking. And being able to think quickly and be witty is great… especially when talking to girls...

Now that I’ve finished the program, I’m exploring some options of what to do next. As I mentioned, I’m in a group with a coach who will be performing around the city. I’ve taken a few other classes (like Yes, Yes Y’all: An Improv Rap Workshop) and just finished class on Auditioning For The Screen. I finally got some headshots done (needed them my business life as well, so win-win) and am planning to take an acting class and start auditioning for more shows and creating some of my own stuff.

I’m lucky in that my approach is to try it all and see what sticks and find out what I love doing.

If you’ve never done Improv but it’s something you’ve thought about trying, or just want to have fun and meet some new people, I can’t recommend it enough!

And with that: Yes, and you are all amazing!

What happens between November and March…

I’ve done and accomplished many things since I last wrote a blog update. I guess I’ll blame Chicago’s winter for my lack of writing… Although it hasn’t stopped me from riding my bike to work every day and walking everywhere (both of which I love!) So I’m going to go through a quick highlight of coolest, most fun, and most impactful things that have occurred up until now.

In November, my parents came to visit for the first time here in Chicago, which was a blast. They were able to stay with me at my apartment and then tour the city and do everything they wanted whilst I was at work, and then I was able to meet then for dinner and do some other fun things. They then drove the 3 of us to Pittsburgh where we spent Thanksgiving with the family at my cousin’s new house. She and her husband moved there from Tulsa, so we collectively got to do some exploring.

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In December, I took the most epic trip I’ve ever been on. My cousin Stephen and I took a 10-day trip to Costa Rica. We started in San Jose, the capital, and rented a car and drove to Arenal, the country’s biggest volcano. It also happens to be a rain forest… and it rained for the entire day we were there. Thus, instead of waiting around to see if it would stop, we hopped in the car a day earlier than planned and headed to the beach!

Sloth again


Mt. Arenal

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Tamarindo picture

After 4 hours on the treacherous Costa Rican roads, we arrived in beautiful Tamarindo, a beach town on the Western Coast. Leaving a day early was a great decision and we toured the city and body-surfed in the Pacific all day. From there, we moved to a nearby hotel for a couple more days, then drove south to Samara (spending the majority of our time in Nosara, a surf-town in between Samara and Tamarindo) before spending a fun night in San Jose before flying home.

Resort pictures

I can’t remember which activities we did in which city, but here are the activities we got to do and some pictures!

  • Mountain biking
  • Left cell phone in mountain biking guides truck…
  • Surfing
  • Went to a Costa Rican “Discotecha”
  • ATV riding
  • Hiking and driving through a crazy forest on barely-existent roads
  • Body-surfed some epic waves at different beaches
  • Saw a sloth
  • Saw howler monkeys
  • Got our car stuck in a river… and consequently made friends with locals who help us lift it out…
  • Ate Brahman (grass-fed Costa Rican cattle)
  • Got stung by jellyfish (in the worst possible places)
  • Went zip-lining
  • Worked out at a tiny, sweltering gym in Samara
  • Walked around San Jose central marker


Samara hotel

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Crossing Costa Rican "river road"

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IN the river...

Coming back to Chicago in the middle of winter from Costa Rica is a pretty hard transition.

I don’t know if I have mentioned this before, but I started taking Improv classes at Second City back in April. This has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and I plan to write a lot more about it in the future. In short, I just graduated from their Improv program last week after completing Level A through E! Friends and I have done some shows around the city and I was also part of a Coached Ensemble recently, doing a 4 week run of shows on the Second City stage.

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I also took a hip-hop improv class, called Yes Yes Y’all, late last year which was a blast! YouTube videos to come...

I’m now taking an Auditioning For The Screen workshop and plan to take an acting class beginning in April.  I don’t have an end goal, but I’m excited to see where this all goes.

Lastly, I’m stoked to announce that I’ll be racing for the Wattie Ink Elite Triathlon Team again this year! This team is comprised of such an amazing group of people and I’m so proud to be a part of it. Check out my sponsors page as well for more on some of the amazing sponsors our team has. I’m also excited to announce a few new partners in a couple weeks as well!

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I’ve been doing an indoor triathlon series put on by my local gym. I’ll write about the whole series after the championships in April, but it has been a lot of fun doing smaller distance-for-time style races to even a full indoor Olympic distance race this past weekend! Last week I got to again with one of my AWESOME teammates, Cate!

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That’s it. I’ve got some cool stuffed planned over the next month that I am really excited to bring to fruition and highlight here! Here’s a hint—if you are doing something that’s cool (anything!) and want to talk about it, let me know!

Be easy--

The Minimalists

How much stuff do you really need? When it really comes down to it, how many T-shirts, old books, shot glasses, or old shoes do you really use? As you think about it, the question is harder to answer than you would initially imagine. Every piece of clothing has a memory, every shoe ran a mile or a race that was special, and every book you might want to read again someday… A few weeks a go, my friend Conor and I went to an event held at the Apple Store here in Chicago. Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus of The Minimalists were giving a talk about their lifestyle and thought methodology on the concept of “minimalism”. The tenets of minimalism are in its simplest form:

“Minimalism is a lifestyle that helps people question what things add value to their lives. By clearing the clutter from life’s path, we can all make room for the most important aspects of life: health, relationships, passion, growth, and contribution. There are many flavors of minimalism: a 20-year-old single guy’s minimalist lifestyle looks different from a 45-year-old mother’s minimalist life. Even though everyone embraces minimalism differently, each path leads to the same place: a life with more time, more money, and more freedom to live a more meaningful life.

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Getting started is as simple as asking yourself one question: How might your life be better if you owned fewer material possessions?”

Minimalism endures on the doctrine of Deliberate Consumption—Intentional Living. When every choice you make leads to an end as opposed to frivolity, life takes a more purposeful turn. Instead of things happening to you, you make things happen. It’s thinking 5 steps ahead whilst simultaneously being in the moment. If I decided to buy a new material item, what value will it bring me in this moment and, consequently, what value will it bring in a day, month, year from now?

Having less physical objects and mental obligations in your life allows you to pursue what you are passionate about. And that’s the key. Everyone’s minimalism will have it’s own spin.

As I write this, I am looking at my collection of baseball hats organized in a shelf on my room. Do I need twenty hats? No. (Well, possibly, if it completes an ensemble and matches the shoes I have on...) But these hats each mean something to me. I’ve narrowed them down and only kept the ones that are special, but they are a keepsake of places I’ve lived, events I’ve been to, or unique times with people who I care about.

But what if Minimalism keeps me from missing out on a new experience? That is not the point. Minimalism isn’t saying “I’ve never been snowboarding and I don’t know that it will bring me value, so it’s better that I don’t go at all”. In my instance, Minimalism would say “I’ve never been snowboarding and I don’t know if I’ll like it, but adventure is something that makes me incredibly happy, as does spending time with friends, so I think I’ll go!”

There are 5 main areas of minimalism:

  1. Health—Emotional and physical
  2. Relationships—You can’t change another person, but you can change the people around you
  3. Passions—Cultivating a passion and mission
  4. Growth—Doing what scares the shit out of you
  5. Contribution—Adding value to your life and the lives of others and establishing deeper connections with people

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Image Credit: @DavesInk

I’ve just moved (again) to a new apartment in Chicago. Over the past 4 years, my travels have progressed as follows:

  • Moving from Cincinnati to Tampa: Full SUV + Moving Truck full of stuff
  • Moving from Tampa to San Diego: Full SUV + Mailed boxes of stuff
  • Moving from San Diego to Chicago: Full SUV + Full rooftop carrier
  • Moving apartments in Chicago: Half SUV full

Loaded up

So what have I gotten rid of? Not enough. But I have gotten rid of many items that just don’t add any value to my life. All my race shirts and awards are no longer in my closet and on my walls, but instead in boxes at my parent’s house (my Mom has promised to make me a quilt out of the shirts… someday.) The awards I’d like to hang on a wall someday when I have a house, but I don’t need them now. I’ve gotten rid of tons of clothes and need to get rid of even more. And I still have way too many shoes, but that it’s one of those items that I really do find some value in so I can have the perfect shoe to complete a look. That might be something that another person would find ridiculous, but I enjoy it.

I’m also in the process of my “packing party”. In the move I put everything in boxes. Everything that I haven’t unboxed within a month of moving into the apartment, I plan to donate, trash, or give away. Right now, I have a feeling that I’m not going to be using the 10 or so drawstring-backpacks that every triathlon gives away…

My next goal is to streamline my wardrobe. I want to find a bunch of shirts that fit me really well and buy a bunch in different styles. Can anyone recommend a shirt brand that actually makes a quality, (truly) slim-fitting shirt?

But those are physical objects. What am I doing to cultivate passion and better connect with people? That’s always harder (in fact it scares the shit out of me… and what scares me even more is not being able to cultivate those connections.) I approached my moved to both San Diego and Chicago with a mindset of being more open to experience and getting more involved in things I wasn’t comfortable with. But the more I pursued these different avenues, the more I realize that sticking with what makes me the most happy is more important than checking the most boxes that says “I’m involved with this”.

Rather, instead of attending every “MeetUp” event that I’ve signed up for online, I’ve narrowed my focus to just a few things: Improv/comedy/acting, exercise/triathlon, and personal betterment and my career. This allows me the flexibility to go randomly listen to the founder of Redbox give a talk on a Wednesday night or to go see a comedy show on a Tuesday night with a bunch of friends in addition to my regular class on Thursdays.

Life is meant to be lived with intent. When we spread ourselves too thin and amass too much junk, we let that get in the way of what makes us the most happy and spending time with those who mean the most to us.

I encourage you to try one of these. What is one thing you can get rid of this week that will allow you to bring more joy and value into

Trip to Virginia Beach and The Unbreakable Body

I just got back from a great trip to Virginia Beach where I got to spend an awesome long weekend with my whole family! It was great to get a little break from the big city and get some “real summer”. The weather cooperated most of the time we were there and the Atlantic Ocean gave us waves for at least one of the days… and then acted like a lake for the rest of the weekend… 2014-08-15 20.10.56 2014-08-16 15.53.13We went to some great restaurants and got some fantastic local seafood. My brother has a sweet little house in Norfolk and it was nice to have everyone in one place. It was really weird to be back honestly. If you recall, I used to live there and it wasn’t my favorite of the places I’ve lived. But the trip was great…  Saw a Norfolk Tides game, plus we did the traditional Feerick men trip to see a Super Hero movie! We saw Guardians of the Galaxy and, if you haven’t seen it, it was awesome! I highly recommend it. Also got some great workouts in with my dad in little brother's "garage gym".

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Today I wanted to bring you guys a post from someone else whom I highly recommend! Kate Galliet is a good friend of mine and I’ve know her for a while via Twitter and both being personal trainers. She lives here in the Chicago area and she and I have hung out a few times; including walking across the city to get great coffee in negative 10 degree weather as well as going to awesome EDM concerts.

If you weren’t already aware, I am a huge proponent of strength and mobility work to compliment endurance training and I make all my clients do it. In my last post I mentioned the shoulder pain I was having in my wetsuit during my last race. Kate read that and immediately called me and we got down to the root cause of the issue and how to fix it! I’ve been putting into place everything she said and hopefully I will be pain free this coming weekend at the Chicago Triathlon!

Kate has just launched a brand new product called The Unbreakable Body! It is an all-inclusive solution to fixing yourself, maintaining mobility, and preventing injury to be a stronger athlete. While the program is for everyone, it has a strong bent towards endurance athletes who (myself included!) largely neglect mobility and recovery work. And no guys, using a foam roller doesn’t cut it! I asked Kate if she would be willing to share more about how she diagnosed my shoulder and more about her program! If you have any questions let me know and I’ll do another post later this week to answer more questions about the program.

Enter Kate!

500 Hours - Are You Ready To Handle That?

For most triathletes, the focus in training is on volume; run more miles, swim more laps, ride further routes. Did you know the average Ironman training plan adds up to around 500 hours?

This places an immense amount of pressure on your body, from your joints to your muscles. And as that pressure increases, your body begins to compensate in strange and damaging ways.

And when your injury happens, it likely won't be a freak coincidence. It will be because up until the moment of your injury, your body's durability was being worn away one day at a time.

Then, finally, it reached breaking point.

The saddest part about this isn't the pain and emotional grief of suffering an injury while you're training your heart out.

It's that it could've been prevented in the first place.

Sexy Comes Second, Foundation Comes First.

Yes, you want to hit the pool straight away, or hop on the bike. But that's the sexy stuff. And it’s also the stuff that, if sub-optimal movement patterns exist, will be the demise of your body. Before beginning any workout, it's important to ensure your foundational movements  are correct. If you don't, you not only run the risk of encouraging weak movements, but setting yourself up for injury. Whenever I work with an athlete, they are not allowed to start their workout until after we've done muscle activation work. We do this at every single workout, so that when we reach race day, doing pre-race movement activators are second nature (and protect them from mid-race injuries, too).

99% Of The Time, Your Injury Was Preventable

People hate me for saying this. But it's the cold hard truth. If you get injured, 99% of the time it could have been avoided.

Yes, there was an unexpected bump in the road and your ankle rolled, and it caused a sprain... But would your ankle have rolled if you did ankle strengthening drills every day for 60 seconds?

And yes, your arm was pulled awkwardly by the current as you reached the 1/3 mile mark and impaired your pull...But if you'd been doing daily mobility work on your shoulder, would you not have had greater margin to absorb the awkward movement in the swim?

The reality is that nearly all injuries are simply the punctuation mark at the end of a long string of poor decisions. But it’s ok. You’re ok. We’re gonna be ok. We learn. We get better. We get stronger and more durable.

You Aren't Alone: Preventable Injury Happens At Every Level Of Performance

I’m gonna put Chuck on the hot-seat now. ;-) When I first met Chuck, it was over a coffee at La Colombe in Chicago. He hit me up over Twitter, I obliged, and the friendship began.Then, not long ago, I read Chuck’s blog about his race and saw that he was noticing something strange.

Every time he swam in his wetsuit, his shoulder would go numb and start to ache. This was to the point where if he didn't stop every few strokes to shake it out, it would get worse. But it was more than an uncomfortable feeling. It cut into his performance. Imagine doing a swim and every few strokes you gotta stop to address your arm — annoying and time-consuming!

Chuck’s an Elite Team Member of Wattie Ink, he couldn’t be getting held up by something stupid like a numb shoulder!

After a quick assessment of how he felt, and his current training regimen, I had a solid idea of what was causing his issue but was straight up with him - if this didn’t help him, or anything got worse, I wanted him to seek out a medical professional.

Chuck had tissue that wasn’t moving as it should, and it was compressing the nerves around his shoulder that led to his hand. Without a wet suit, this wasn't noticeable. But when he put on the skintight suit for the swim, the added compression of the suit seemed to magnify what was going on already in his shoulder. My hope was that with proper, consistent, mobility work that we’d unglue the area and get everything that supports the shoulder girdle moving well again and working in a harmonious way that allowed him to swim, and do so without that numb aching feeling in his shoulder.

So with a lacrosse ball, some basic mobility drills and specific area targeting, Chuck was able to begin unlocking the tissue that seemed to be compressing the nerve. And happiness ensued in Chuck’s and my worlds.

Prevention Is Better Than Cure: Prehabbing The Pain Points

With the compressed nerve now unlocked, Chuck's got a new mission. To ensure that he never has to stop mid race and shake out his fingers again. To do this, he's continuing to perform regular drills with a lacrosse ball. These drills don't just prevent the nerves from being clenched tightly beneath his skin, though. They put his tissue into a more optimal state for every movement he is going to ask his body to do.

In turn, this will help Chuck to move faster, take greater advantage of his strength training, and see better performance across the board.


Thanks again Kate! If you guys want to learn more about the Unbreakable Body, click here! Let me know if you have any other strength training or mobility questions for myself or Kate and we will be sure to get them answered!

Resistance--And how to beat it

“The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying” --Steven Pressfield

I want to do a lot of things. A lot of different things that seem to have no connection with one another, but there seems to be something that keeps getting in the way.  I’d love to write more… but I “don’t have time.” I want to start taking improv classes… but it might “get in the way of my workouts”. I’d like to start taking gymnastics classes and combining it with my current training to get my walking handstands perfected… but it’s “too far away and too expensive.”


What’s really getting in the way? Resistance

Enter Coffee with Kate

A few weeks ago I met up with another trainer and incredibly awesome friend of mine, Kate Galliet of Fit For Real Life. Kate isn’t only an awesome trainer who owns her own gym where she trains endurance and everyday athletes, but she is wickedly smart and has awesome insight and a positive and practical outlook on life. And she bought me an awesome cup of coffee.

She and I talked about a lot of things but namely about plans we had and things we were working on. There was a big difference I noticed though—Kate was doing these things while I was till thinking about them. Sure, I’ve started a new job which I’m loving and is keeping me crazy busy, but I can make time to explore new ventures. Kate told me exactly what that problem was: Resistance. She recommended that I read Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art.

The book was fantastic. In it, Pressfield defines everything that Resistance is: Invisible, Internal, Insidious, Implacable, and Impersonal. Resistance is what keeps us from reaching our full potential and accomplishing the things that we are in fact capable of achieving. To overcome Resistance, you’ve got to choose whatever it is you are striving to achieve and become a professional at it. It must become like a job—something you do because you are excellent at it and something you can separate yourself from.

How to beat resistance:

Just start: Just write. Just run. Just do handstands against a wall. Want to read more? Start with magazines or websites, but just start and create a habit of it. Your results don’t matter, but you are doing it and with practice comes getting better.

The next step is to create a routine. I’ve finally started mediating every day. I’ve put this off for ever and ever, even though it’s been something I’ve wanted to do. Now, every night, I finish getting ready for the next day, then I read for a few minutes, then I turn off all the lights, sit quietly, and go through a programmed meditation practice from an app on my phone. Then I watch a few minutes of Breaking Bad, if time allows, and go to bed. By keeping this pattern, when I get ready to meditate, I know that is all I’m setting out to do.

The same can work if you want to write more—Create a routine. For me, it would be to go to a nearby Starbucks (have to be out of my house), catch up on Twitter so I won’t have it on my mind, end all text conversations and put my phone on silent, and then finally, my mind is free of obligations and I can begin to write.

The next step is committing. You’ve got a routine, you’ve made the pledge to just start, but now you can’t give up. Just keep doing it. Over and over and over.

So far, I’ve been able to use the lessons I learned from Kate and this book to start meditating, do more personal journaling, and commit to a lifting program I’ve been on for the last month. My next steps are to apply these to finding a cause to volunteer at and to begin improv classes or a sport league—Chicago just needs to get warm enough so I can ride my bike to these commitments.

What about accountability? Can I do recruit someone else to do this with me? I would say yes and no. Sure, it nice to have someone to keep you accountable, but you’ve still got to do the work.  You have to be a professional. J.K. Rowling didn’t say to another author, “I’ll write a book if you write one too”. No, she was broke and took on the commitment to become a professional and commit herself to writing. You just need to look at what you’re doing and ask “is this something that is short term with a defined outcome, or is this something I want to become a part of me and continue long-term.

Now you tell me, what things does Resistance get in the way of in your life that prevent you from achieving something you want?

Good luck and when you encounter that Resistance, call it out and make note of it! Once you start looking you’ll start seeing it a lot more… and finding more ways to overcome it!