#17- Learning to Tend The Garden of Your Mind

Your mind is a garden.

No different from the one you watched your mother tend as a child.

Think back to the beautiful flowers blossoming. 

All different colors, shapes, and types.

And now think back to the constant presence of weeds growing uncontrollably.

Ugly and vicious.

If you look deeply, your mind is the same.

Flowers of compassion, patience, joy, and positivity waiting to be watered and nurtured.

Weeds of hatred, ego, gossip, and negativity also competing for space.

Much like the gardens of your childhood, the weeds of your mind require little water to grow strong.

They take one drop and fill your mind almost immediately.

Taking up space, they prevent flowers from growing abundantly.

Think about it:

You’re having a good day.

You’re getting work done.

It’s nice outside.

Life is good.

Then, your arch-nemesis’s name pops up on your phone.

Their text says something like, “I just wish you wouldn’t have done something so stupid.”

Day ruined.

The weeds of negativity have all they need to fill your garden.

However, a master gardener knows how she can suppress weeds before they grow strong:

Using conscious breath and meditation, she transforms weeds into flowers.

Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Monk known as the “Father of Mindfulness” tell us,

“Our role as gardeners is to choose, plant and tend the best seeds within the garden of our consciousness. Learning to look deeply at our consciousness is our greatest gift and our greatest need, for there lie the seeds of suffering and of love, the very roots of our being, of who we are. Mindfulness…is the guide and the practice by which we learn how to use the seeds of suffering to nourish the seeds of love.”

Seeds of suffering become seeds of love.

Seeds of anger become seeds of patience.

Seeds of gossip become seeds of gratitude.

Careful gardening becomes deeper mindfulness.

Learn to tend the garden of your mind, and you will grow to love weeds and flowers all the same.

Want to become a master gardener?

Here’s the 10 step process I have been using to work my way there:

  1. Wake up.
  2. Set aside 15 minutes.
  3. Lay down on the floor.
  4. Start breathing consciously.
  5. Visualize the garden of your childhood in your mind.
  6. Don’t think of anything else. As soon as you do, bring your mind back to the garden.
  7. Focus on the flowers you want to grow strong (compassion, patience, gratitude, etc.)
  8. Focus on the weeds you want to suppress (anger, ego, gossip, etc.)
  9. Imagine yourself watering the flowers.
  10. Imagine yourself pulling the weeds.

Over time, the flowers will grow stronger and stronger.

And the weeds will be held at bay.

Practice daily, and you will be a better, happier, more fulfilled person.

What do you think?

#leadership #growth #mindfulness #stressmanagement #mentalhealth #meditation

#16- The Story of Mr. Busy

“Ugh, I’m sooo busy,” the man said, as he leaned on his favorite hallway wall.

His prey, a helpless, glassy-eyed coworker, politely kept the conversation going.

“Yeah, these lead times are making everything crazy. I just got quoted 8 weeks.”

Mr. Busy, ever so helpfully, chimed in,

“Psh that’s nothing. On one of my projects, lead times were twice as long! But I took care of it by calling the manufacturer. Did you think to do that?”

“Uh… yes, and I was going to ca-”

Mr. Busy dutifully cut in,

“Yes of course you did. But it sounds like you’re not getting anywhere. I can call my guy since your guy isn’t taking care of it. As a matter of fact,” Mr. busy took out his cell phone, “give me your guy’s number I’ll call him right now.”

“Well I feel like I can handle the situation on my ow-”

Mr. Busy, knowing his next words could not wait, stopped his coworker again,

“Actually! No need. I already have your guy’s number. I’ll let you know how it goes” he said, and headed back to his office.

As Mr. Busy pulled himself from his favorite wall, an indentation the shape of his shoulder remained, from years of repeated leaning, no doubt.

The coworker, mouth agape, was speechless- not that Mr. Busy would have heard him speak anyway.

Mr. Busy dropped everything else he had to do in his overly busy day, and spent the afternoon making phone calls about lead times.

“8 weeks isn’t good enough!” he said, slamming his fist on the desk.

After a few hours of verbal tennis, Mr. Busy made a breakthrough.

“Okay, we will try to make 7 weeks work,” said Mr. Manufacturer.

Feeling sufficiently satisfied, Mr. Busy stood up, rubbed his belly, and said to himself,

“Well, tomorrow is going to be another busy day. If only everyone would stop dropping all their problems on me, I’d be able to get something done.”

He turned off the lights, closed his office door, and headed to his car.

As he did, his computer dinged with an email from Mr. Manufacturer.

“Sorry, Mr. Busy, I just got word from my boss that the lead times are actually going to be 8 weeks, just like we told your coworker…”

But it was too late.

Mr. Busy was already on his way home, thinking about his day.

He couldn’t wait to tell Mrs. Busy, bless her soul, all about how busy this week was going to be.

The morals of the story?

  • Don’t invent work for yourself to do
  • Trust your people to take care of their own problems
  • And above all else, no matter what you do, don’t be Mr. Busy


#15: What I Learned By Not Being Invited to a Middle School Sleepover

All my other friends were invited.

I was the only one left out.

Mrs. Di pulled up in her maroon SUV.

I dragged my backpack down the sidewalk, opened the side door, and tossed myself, and my things, inside.

“Where’s everyone else?” Mrs. Di asked.

“They’re all going to Steven’s,” I said, “remember?”

Our normal carpool group was interrupted.

For today’s trip home from school, it was just me, Mrs. Di, and forty minutes of Friday afternoon traffic.

Mrs. Di was like a second mom to me, so all things considered, it could have been worse.

Still, I sat quietly in the backseat, staring out the windshield at the red brake lights.

I felt Mrs. Di’s eyes glance at me in the rearview mirror.

“How do you feel?” she asked.

“I’m sad,” I said, “All my friends hate me.”

“They don’t hate you, Matt.”

“Then why was everyone else invited?”

“It’s hard.” she said.

“I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.”

“Well,” she said, “do you think you’re being yourself?”

“I’m trying, but I don’t think anyone likes myself.” I said.

“That probably means that you’re actually trying to be someone you’re not.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well,” she said, “people can always tell when you’re trying to be someone you’re not. Just worry about being yourself- you’ll be much happier. And that’s when you’ll find out who really cares about you.”

I heard the words, but I didn’t understand them at the time.

She drove the rest of the way home, dropped me off, and said good bye.

I’m not sure we ever talked about it again.

But I’ve thought about it a lot since.

And I can still hear the love in her voice today.

“Just worry about being yourself- you’ll be much happier. And that’s when you’ll find out who really cares about you.”

She was right.

– It’s so much cooler being yourself

– Than it is being someone you’re not

So I learned 2 lessons from Mrs. Di that day:

1/ Always be yourself. 

In some way, shape, or form, we’re all seventh graders, trying to be someone we’re not, because we’re scared we won’t get invited to the sleepover. And it makes us do stupid things.

But at the end of the day, what’s cooler than any sleepover is being yourself.

2/ Tough love always wins.

That conversation with Mrs. Di changed me. It helped shape my remaining teenage years. The more I started being myself, the more I found the right friends. I’m not sure what high school would have been like without it.

All of that is to say- she could have just told me “kids are mean” or “don’t worry about it”.

But instead, she cared about me enough to tell me a tough truth. That’s real love. 

The simple summary:

Be yourself -> Be happy -> Help others do the same

How do you make sure you’re being yourself?

Any stories from your life that still stay with you today?

#growth #leaderships #mentalhealth #stroytelling

#14- Pushing Through The Storm

At this hour, I’m used to feeling uncomfortable:

My brain wants rest.

But my mind wants more action.

I sink into the couch, and ask Hobbes to jump up next to me. He kindly complies.

I look at the clock on the wall above the fireplace, the two fingers pointed in different directions.

It reads 7:33 PM.

My phone clunks as I toss it onto the coffee table, and my head lands softly as I fall back into the abyss of cushions.

It is still early, but then again it is late- the night is young, but the day has long past.

My to-do list is littered with scribbled red lines, representing a task’s final resting place.

Yet upon inspection, one would see the uncountable living tasks that remain untouched- avoided, skipped, and pushed to tomorrow.

I close my eyes, and see a storm passing over an unsettled sea. The water rising and falling at an irregular pace.

I look closely and see a small dingy bouncing on the surf, it’s movement so choppy it is hard to read the blue letters on the side of the otherwise pale, white hull.

I look closer.

There is a man on board!

The captain, no doubt, trying to keep the boat from capsizing and tossing him into the deep ocean, with no certainty what lies beneath.

A deep breath brings a cool, calm breeze over the water.

The captain happily leans his face into the breeze, and smiles in a way that one only does when they see an old friend.

Another calm breeze follows the first. And another. And another.

Soon the storm clouds are receding. The slapping surf slows to an easy, even ebb and flow.

As the boat comes to a rest, the blue letters come into focus, and the boat’s name,  “Life is Good”, is finally legible, revealed by the peaceful water.

I look past the namesake and see the captain, who, much like his boat, looks peaceful, knowing that he made it through another day in an unpredictable world.

I open my eyes and see Hobbes resting at my feet. His chest growing and falling with each breath, much like a calm wave on a clear day..

I check the clock.

7:43 PM

In ten minutes, almost as if by magic, the conflict between my brain and mind has disappeared.

Then I remember that it doesn’t take magic to find peace.

No, instead it takes:

  • Breathing
  • Forgiveness
  • Patience

Before going on with my night, I think for a fleeting moment what it must be like to captain a small ship on rough seas.

I decide I’ll always prepare for a storm, but would rather focus on keeping the seas calm.

The good news, I realize, is that even when chaos prevents you from seeing it,

“Life is Good”.

#growth #mentalhealth #stressmanagement #leadership

#13- Confronting My Past: The Time I Quit The Varsity Lacrosse Team (Part 2)

Click the link here to read Part 1 of this story.

There were just two minutes left in my disappointing junior season.

It wasn’t just disappointing for me either.

It was disappointing for our entire program.

We missed the playoffs for the first time in over ten years. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for us as I stood in my typical position on the sideline.

“Verdy!” my coach yelled.

I jolted upright and ran over to him.

“Yes, coach?” I asked.

“I want you to sub in. Take the last few minutes of playing time for the season,” he said.

We were winning the game, and our playoff hopes were already out of the door, so it made enough sense.

But even with the low stakes, my nerves flooded over me.

I trotted out onto the field at the next opportunity and settled into position.

One of our midfielders brought the ball down the field. He started to gain speed.  Suddenly, he pulled away from the defender behind him.

We had a fast break.

A “fast break” means we would momentarily have one more player on offense than the opposing team would on defense. It’s a great scoring opportunity, but you must move quickly.

As our midfielder scurried across the midfield line, I stepped up, ready to receive the pass, like I have thousands of times before.

He threw the ball to me.

I caught it, drew a defender, and quickly passed it along to another attackman near the orange goal.

He drew away the final defender, leaving the middle of the field unguarded.

He made a perfect pass, just as the backside attackman came streaking across the face of the goal.  

One on one with the goalie.


“Let’s go!” I yelled.

We huddled and celebrated, excited to put a goal on the board, even if it meant relatively nothing at this late juncture.

Personally, I was relieved. I did my job, made the pass, and had already tallied it in my head as a “hockey assist.”

“I’ll take it,” I thought.

Thirty seconds left in the season, and I made some small impact.

Little did I know that the lacrosse gods still had something up their sleeve…

Our team quickly won the ensuing faceoff.

The next sequence was a blur, but all I know is this:

We shot on goal and the goalie made a save. There was hardly any time left, so he quickly made an outlet pass to one of his teammates, who was still well within his own defensive end of the field.

Before I knew it, our team had jarred the ball loose, and I was standing fifteen feet from the goal, with the ball on the ground in front of me, in prime position to take possession.

Loyola Blakefield vs. Archbishop Spalding, 2012
Groundballs Win Games, 2012

So, I did.

I picked up the ground ball, looked up and thought,

“I’ll be damned”

I was one on one with the goalie!

One on One, 2012

I faked high, shot low, and watched in disbelief as the net moved.


I ran to my teammates and celebrated. We were all elated. It meant nothing to the game, but it meant something to me and my friends. It was a hard season, but it somehow had a story book ending.

Celebration, 2012

What I didn’t realize at that moment was that for me personally, it wasn’t just the end of the season, but the end of my lacrosse career.




Standing in Lax World, it was the first time I had seen him since I quit the team.

“Hey Coach…” I said.

“Verderamo? What are you doing here?” he questioned.

“I work here after school now,” I responded.

“Oh that’s great. Well it was good seeing you, tell your dad I said hello.”

“I will, thanks Coach…”

I shouldn’t have been surprised I ran into Loyola’s head lacrosse coach at my after-school job.

I worked at a store called “Lax World” (lax is slang for lacrosse) for goodness sakes. It only made sense to see him there! But I was still surprised and uneasy about the interaction.

I remember wishing that I could have avoided him instead.

But I guess that’s how life goes. You can’t always avoid your fears.




In my early lacrosse years, we won countless championships, culminating with an 8th grade state championship that ended my middle school career on the right note.

In high school, playing for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, we won the U15 National Championship, beating teams from all over the country. I had a great tournament, but the exclamation point was made by my buddy, Kacy, who scored the game-winning goal in the championship, sending our team into a frenzy.

FCA U15 National Champions, 2009

Yes, the same Kacy who recently said to me that I made my own decision to fall off from the sport.

Let’s talk about Kacy for a second…

Kacy and I have played lacrosse together since we were four years old (and we have the blurry picture to prove it).

Matt & Kacy- Gilman Lacrosse Camp, 2000

There is hardly anyone in this world who knows me better, and consequently, there’s hardly anyone better who could have made the comment that made me address my decision to quit the Varsity lacrosse team my senior year.

Just like me, Kacy was always one of the best players on our teams, but Kacy never fell off. He made JV his freshman year, and then Varsity his sophomore year, leaving me in his dust.

And I knew why Kacy left me in his dust, but until recently I never liked admitting it.

What was different about Kacy, and so many of my other high school teammates, was that he always put in the work. He trained in the offseason, he lifted weights, he ran sprints, and practiced at his house almost daily.

On the other hand, I avoided those extra hours. I wanted to rely on my talent, putting in the work here and there, but really only when I wanted to. In short, I avoided pushing myself through anything uncomfortable that came my way.

Instead, I just felt bad for myself.

And feeling bad for myself made me feel small. Rather than doing something about it, I just complained under my breath. “Why am I not getting playing time? This is unfair,” I would say.

This avoidance of anything uncomfortable is what I have been neglecting all these years since. I didn’t like that I quit. Hell, I still don’t like that I quit! So instead of confronting that, I just buried it down and viewed it as a bump in the road to never think about again.

That all changed recently on that airplane.

“You made the decision for yourself to fall off.”

Kacy’s words rang in my head.

They weren’t mean words. They were as truthful and honest of words as you could ever hope to get from a friend. And they changed my whole perception of my situation.

I did fall off.

I did make that decision for myself.

I quit.




The recounting of this story isn’t to make you feel bad for me, or to convince you that I’m some hero for finally confronting this part of my life.  

Rather, it’s to share the lesson I learned going through it:

You are going to have failures in life. You are going to choose the easy path from time to time. You are going to disappoint yourself.

But hiding from those failures doesn’t do you any good.

As mad as I was at Kacy when he first said those words, now I couldn’t be more grateful.

I hate that I quit the team, but that’s in the past and I can’t control it anymore.

What I can control, is how I handle adversity in the future.

I am going to use that memory to drive me through my next challenge. When I hit a snag, I am not going to shy away and feel sorry for myself. No, I’m going to lean into that challenge and fight.

You know why?

Because I can’t stand the thought that ten years from now, I’ll be thinking about the opportunities I could have had if I didn’t quit.

I am going to get extremely comfortable being uncomfortable.

That’s the real lesson here.

Getting comfortable being uncomfortable is the only true way to achieve greatness. Push through the stress, push through the doubt, and take failure on the chin and keep going.

Even though I did choose to fall off, I’m happy to say I don’t have any regrets. I have learned so much from that experience, how could I?

I may have quit the Varsity lacrosse team, but that doesn’t define me.

The next challenge is what will define me.

And you won’t see me take the easy way out this time.

Thanks to all of you who have read along, I hope you enjoyed this story.

And shout out to my friend Kacy, who through his competitive drive, was a captain of Loyola’s lacrosse team, a captain of his Ohio State lacrosse team, and recently ran a 100-mile race that took him 26 hours to complete. Talk about getting comfortable being uncomfortable.

Cheers, talk to you all again soon.

#12- Confronting My Past: The Time I Quit The Varsity Lacrosse Team (Part 1)

Standing on the lacrosse field on a beautiful summer day, it wasn’t rare for me to get confident.

“I’m going to score the game-winning goal,” I said to one of my teammates.

The referee, standing in his zebra garb, blew his whistle.

We broke the huddle and hustled back out onto the field.

It was the start of overtime. After 4 quarters, the game was tied, and it was time to get some closure. Sudden death overtime. Nothing more exciting.

I was on the field, in my typical position behind the restraining line, on the offensive end of the field.

Our team won the faceoff and took control of the ball. My teammate scurried down the field and fired a shot at the opposing team’s goalie.


No closure yet.

That’s when I jumped into position.

I had a move that my dad always loved. It involved me screening the goalie as he tried to make an outlet pass. The goalie was safely within his three-yard diameter “crease”, which you may as well think of as his “safe zone”.

That meant I wasn’t allowed to contact the goalie, but I was allowed to make his job more difficult by jumping in his face and preventing him from getting rid of the ball easily.

My plan had worked.

He went to make a pass to one of his teammates, and at that moment, I blocked his throw, intercepted it, and gained possession of the ball right in front of the goal.

I gathered myself, shot, and….


I started sprinting to my teammates, as they ran at me from every direction. We jumped and screamed and celebrated our thrilling victory, excited to move on to the next round of the playoffs.

We gathered ourselves and glided through the post-game handshake line. The smile was still stuck on my face.

The game was over, and I made good on my pre-overtime promise.

“DUDE, you said you were going to have the game-winner! How did you do that?” said that same teammate.

I just kept smiling.

This wasn’t the first game-winning goal in my career, and it wouldn’t be my last.

I was 14 years old, and I knew my lacrosse career was right on track.




In 2012, I was a senior at Loyola Blakefield in Towson, MD. Growing up in Baltimore inherently means you’re a lacrosse junky, but at Loyola, we took that to the next level. Loyola is consistently a top 25-ranked program, playing in the best high school lacrosse conference in the nation, The “MIAA”.

My whole life I had dreamed of being a senior at Loyola, playing for a championship, and then going to Johns Hopkins University to continue my playing career.

I was one of the best players on every one of my teams growing up, so it only made sense.

There was just one problem:

When I entered high school, I quickly went from great to average.

In fact, freshman year, I got cut from Junior Varsity (JV) after two days of tryouts. I couldn’t believe it. The best freshmen were supposed to make JV, and I was out after two days. I still remember crying as I walked back to the locker room. I was crushed. However, I didn’t have much time to sulk, because Loyola had a freshman-only team, and I had to start practicing with them the next day. Eventually, I got over my disappointing start to the season, and ended up having a stellar year on the freshmen team.

“Everything is still on track,” I convinced myself.

Sophomore year rolled around, and I got cut from Varsity at the first cuts, but that wasn’t surprising. “No one makes the jump from freshman to Varsity,” I told myself. This time, I made the JV team, and overcame some adversity to get playing time and eventually made an impact on the team that year.

“This dream can still work,” I said.

But my junior year… oh my junior year.. I was in for a real awakening.

I struggled through tryouts, but eventually I made Varsity and it was a dream come true.. or so I thought.

We practiced every day after school for hours. Drills, sprints, scrimmages… the whole gambit. From day one, it felt like the game was moving faster than me in all directions. And it was. I was all the sudden way out of my league.

I got a total of two minutes of playing time my ENTIRE junior season. This was unheard of for me, and I couldn’t help but wonder, “what happened?”.

Looking back, I knew it exactly what happened, but I just wasn’t ready to admit it to myself.




Fast forward to present day.

I recently went on a trip that included old friends from my childhood, as well as newer friends from my college days. It was great to have that convergence of friend groups, and it turned into one of those trips that makes your heart feel full for weeks after. Lots of laughing, good times, and reminiscing.

As it often does while talking about my memories, lacrosse came up.

My childhood friends know all about my prodigious playing career, while my college friends have only heard stories.

Sitting in an airport bar, at one of those high-top stools, I launched into a classic line. “I was one of the best players on every team growing up,” I said to the group. “And then when I got to high school, I just sorta fell off.”

I felt that that was a fine ending place for that story and was happy to let it trail off.

Not so fast.

Kacy, one of my best friends since I was four years old, spoke up, “Yeah you fell off, but you made the decision for yourself to fall off.”

I was stunned.

I just looked at him thinking, “What do you mean by that? And why would you say that in front of all these people? Everyone just got better and I didn’t keep pace.. I didn’t make any decision to fall off. That’s crazy…”

Yet deep down, I knew exactly what he meant. And after all these years, I still wasn’t ready to admit it to myself.

So instead of responding, I just smiled and shrugged it off.

We left the bar, got on the plane, and took our seats.

The hum of the plane was meditative, and my mind kept drifting back to those words.

“You made the decision for yourself to fall off.”

Sometimes when your mind is relaxed, and the conditions are right, it can trick you into going places that you don’t want it to.

And finally, it happened.

I finally had a hard conversation with myself about something that still didn’t sit right with me.

Something that I avoid talking about when telling old stories.

Something that I always felt showed me in a negative light.

Something that was festering under the surface for years.

What was it about, you ask?

Well, that would be why, even though lacrosse was my whole life for as long as I remember, I quit the Varsity lacrosse team my Senior year, ending my career and shattering my long-held dreams.

Yeah, that conversation was way overdue.

And it taught me a huge message.

*This is part one of a two-part story. Please check back next week to read the rest. Thanks for following along.*

#11- It’s All About The Journey

Life is not about the destination; it’s about the journey.

A simple way of saying, “be patient and learn to enjoy the ride.”

At least that’s how I’m learning to see it.

Much of the blog below are my reflections as I was driving into work last week. I originally posted the story on my LinkedIn profile, and now have expanded on those thoughts. I hope you enjoy peering into a moment of my “Journey”.

And before I get into it, I also want to say that it feels good to write all this out and communicate it.  And I really hope there’s someone out there reading this who it helps- you’re not the only leader who isn’t sure what’s right and what’s wrong. There’s a lot of us fighting that. Talking about it helps. So, reach out if this resonates with you.





As I drove into work last Wednesday, I felt the need to pause the podcast I was listening to and just think.  Reflecting on it now, it was hardly a conscious decision; it just kinda happened.

I started thinking about leadership and building a team.

“What’s my leadership style? And what do I hope to pass on to our team?” I pondered.

“Empathy and excellence,” I said to myself.

I believe that it’s exceptionally important to have empathy for your people and understand how your decisions will affect their lives. I also have a very high standard and believe that demanding excellence is paramount in achieving success.

The two traits feel contradictory, don’t they?

How can you constantly demand excellence, but remain empathetic?  

Because make no mistake, excellence takes hard work. It takes sacrifice. Sacrifices in your professional life, but more importantly, sacrifices in your personal life. It means pushing harder and harder, just to get one fraction of one percent better. Hoping to gain an edge on yourself that you didn’t have yesterday. In short, excellence is not easy.

So again, I asked myself, “How can you constantly demand excellence, but remain empathetic?”

“You start with the individual, not the employee,” I decided.

What do I mean by that?

Well, the excellence I want to see is the excellence of the individual. Let’s put company results aside. Are you an excellent person? Do you care about those around you? Do you listen and try to understand? Do you take care of yourself mentally and physically? Do you sleep well? Eat right?

Excellence in these areas leads to a more well-rounded lifestyle. I care deeply about our people living fulfilled lives. That’s where the empathy comes in. And I believe if someone is an excellent person, then I can pretty much guarantee they will also be an excellent employee.

I’ll say it again: you start by focusing on the individual, not the employee.

If you only focus on having excellent employees, then eventually they’ll come to resent you. They’ll know that you just want excellent results, and don’t care what it takes to get there. That leads to burnout and stress. Your people will reach a boiling point and not be able to handle it.

Conversely, consider the concept of demanding perfection while being empathetic. Perfection takes the equation too far. Perfection means stressing about every mistake. In fact, it probably means never making a mistake! To demand perfection is to demand dissatisfaction among your people.

“Excellence and empathy are the right mix,” I finished.

As I mentally closed that loop, I came back to the present moment, thinking about the quick journey that my subconscious just led.

Upon reflection, I think deep down what took me to that place is the fact that I have no idea if what I’m saying and doing is right. Which is scary.

Am I preaching the right values? Am I being fair? Am I respecting my team in the way they respect me? Will focusing on the individual truly lead to company success?

In the moment, it’s unbelievably difficult to know the answer. 

Days are long. But years are short. 

And over the years I’m seeing us gain traction. 

We’re all speaking the same language; I see people all around me who not only care about each other, but care about their work and their clients and their goals. You have no idea how proud that makes you as a leader!

And I still see stress too. Although I’m not sure it’s ever possible to get away from that. Because stress is often the emotion that pushes you towards excellence. It’s a reminder that “I can be better”. But in order to manage that emotion and harness it into productivity and achievement, you need to be an excellent, well-rounded, healthy person first.

The results will fall into place from there.

As a leader, your people are depending on you. They look to you for strength. That is a responsibility that you must embrace and take seriously.

With great power comes great responsibility, right? (shout out to spider-man)

If you’re a leader and building a team, I’d love to hear from you. What mindsets do you and your teams have that benefit wellness and results alike? What are hard lessons you learned along the way?

Thanks for reading.

Until next time..

Matt Verderamo

2 February 2022

email me! mverderamo@allianceexterior.com

#10- Fastener Failure: A Collaboration with John Wheaton

The below is a collaboration from myself and John Wheaton of Wheaton & Sprague Engineering, Inc. We hope you enjoy as we are #Elevating and #Creating Structure.

🔷 [MV]:

I remember learning about fastener strength in my statics classes, but I wasn’t exactly enthralled with the topic at the time. It’s such a prominent aspect of façade engineering that I felt I needed to better understand the importance myself. As a result, I hopped on google, did a little research on different types of fastener failure, and sent it all over to John so he could review and educate me.

Below are my initial thoughts, with John’s expertise thrown in, making this a thorough but quick review on the important topic.

So without further ado..

When a metal roof or wall panel is screwed to a structural framing member (like galvanized steel hat channel), that screw is subjected to tensile loads associated with both positive and negative wind pressures. These negative pressures essentially cause suction that pull the exterior cladding away from the wall, thereby putting stress on the screw holding it to the structure (Image #1 below).

That stress can cause the assembly to fail in a few ways (Image #2 below).

🔶 [JW]:

One failure mode in thin gaged panels such as gaged roofing or gaged siding is called “pullover.”

🔷 [MV]:

In pullover failure, the idea is that the fastener is stronger than the material you’re screwing into the wall, which can cause the cladding material to pullover the fastener head without the screw failing.

🔶 [JW]:

Pullover is really what I describe as a “punchout shear” failure through the area of resistance which is the circumference of the screw head x the thickness of the material.

🔷 [MV]:

To combat it, many wall panel systems are attached using extruded clips that are thicker than the wall panel itself (Image #3 below).

🔶 [JW]:

True, or larger than typical screw heads to increase bearing surface because what’s most important is to get more bearing and broader holding (more circumferential dimension) under the screw and on the panel.

🔷 [MV]:

Which thereby increases the negative pressures required to pull the material over the fastener head. Combined with the proper on center fastener spacing, the likelihood of failure occurring is decreased.

🔶 [JW]:

Proper engineering analysis uses a design methodology to keep the allowable pullover strength greater than the design strength pullover value.

🔷 [MV]:

The type of structural framing is also critical as it must be designed so that fastener pullout failure doesn’t occur either. This is when the fastener (as the name suggests) pulls out from the structural framing all together. This is determined by the tensile strength of the structural framing, and can make all the difference in keeping fasteners attached and panels on the wall.

🔶 [JW]:

It is really based on a couple things. It is based on the allowable tensile strength of the fastener, which controls in thicker material. In typical thin gage girts and purlins, the controlling factor is the withdrawal or tear out between the threaded grip and the material.

This is typically the controlling item in panel systems attached to girts or clips and clips attached to 16 or 18 ga studs. There’s quantitative ways to calculate it and also empirical data from manufacturers to provide tabulated values based on testing.

🔷 [MV]:

In summary…

Engineering calculations will specify a fastener, spacing, and structural framing type that dictate the rules for façade panel attachment. Installers must follow those rules to ensure panels stay on the wall.

If you don’t understand, then ASK. Public safety depends on it.

Thanks for reading along- what’d we miss?

#9- The Gift of Writing

Writing is not what I always thought it was.

In elementary school, writing was a job to do. It meant learning how to spell or properly punctuate and then getting graded on such.

Then in middle school came paragraph writing, and more specifically, writing assignments on BOOKS we were supposed to read (“supposed to” being the operative term- thanks SparkNotes!).

By high school, I had firmly supplanted myself in the “I prefer math” camp and avoided any elective classes that even seemed like they may involve creative thinking or longform writing.

Between my distaste for reading and writing and my aptitude for math and science, it only made sense to explore colleges with solid engineering programs. Eventually, I ended up as a civil engineering major at the University of Maryland, College Park, where, you guessed it, I took the minimum required writing courses and otherwise focused on math and physics.

It wasn’t that I was bad at writing; I was actually pretty good at it. I understood the form it was supposed to take, knew how to compile relevant research, and learned over the years how to effectively respond to a specific prompt. Yet, I still never felt as accomplished when I wrote as I did when I solved a complicated calculus or differential equations problem. In other words, it bothered me that there wasn’t a “right” answer.

Fast forward five and a half years to present day.

My younger self wouldn’t believe it, but writing is one of my growing passions and helps me achieve fulfillment on an almost daily basis.

The fact that there is no “right” answer is actually what makes it so enjoyable. It’s a form of expression.

Further, writing is ultimately communication; and not just communication with others, but also communication with yourself. There’s something powerful about taking the thoughts in your head and converting them into words on paper. It makes those thoughts much more tangible. You have to toil away to clarify them and turn them into a coherent whole. They’re no longer just an idea. Now they’re fleshed out and expressed. Once you do that, they mean more and it’s easier to act on them.

Traditionally, I think most people think of writing in the official sense, i.e. taking the form of an essay or technical paper, but that definition is too narrow. Writing is many things.

I write every day for LinkedIn, which leads to reading the work of others, and then meeting so many great people as a result. I also write in a journal whenever I am feeling strong shifts of emotion in order to track how and why those shifts happen. And maybe most importantly, I have started writing down my goals, because again, that makes them real, and now I can hold myself accountable to them. Even this blog is me using writing as a form of therapy to express my ideas and opinions.

So, if I could give you any advice, it would be to change your definition of writing. Don’t view it as a rigid thing that you have to do for work while writing emails. View it as an opportunity to collaborate with people; view it as a means of expression; view it as a way of communicating with yourself that leads to much better results; view it as a gift.

Start small and see what it does for you. That’s all I’m doing.

Maybe I’ll even write a book someday.

Matt Verderamo

4 January 2022

email me! mverderamo@allianceexterior.com

#8- Q4 Economic Recap and 2022 Outlook

The past twenty-one months have been erratic to say the least.

Back in October, I wrote about the building industry’s Q3 economic performance and future outlook and how it was intertwined with COVID-19, supply chain issues, and labor shortages. At the time, there was uncertainty surrounding the delta variant and how it was influencing Q3 numbers.

Well, here we are in December, and there’s a new variant, omicron, plunging regions back into lockdown. That, combined with continued material and pricing woes are causing experts to speculate on how our currently fragile economic ecosystem will fare in the coming months and years.

The picture is cloudy, but I’ll look into my crystal ball and offer some potential outcomes and solutions. Before we get into that, let’s look at Q4 economic performance and some of the key indicators to keep an eye on.

Q4 Performance

Let’s start with the Architectural Billings Index (ABI).

The ABI is a measurement of architectural billings from month to month. A value greater than 50 means that architectural firms are reporting that they billed more this month than they did last month; a score of 50 means they billed the same; a score less than 50 signals a reduction in billings.

Generally, a score greater than 50 indicates that there is more design work occurring, which means more work for building firms down the pipeline.

See Figure 1 below. Billings scored over 50 in October and November, but the rate of billings has been decreasing throughout Q4. There was a tremendous growth in billings earlier this year, but that is leveling off, and the project pipeline is slowing down as a result.

Figure 1: ABI by Month
Source: AIA.org

Aside from the ABI, The Associated Builders and Contractors’ (ABC) backlog indicator is another valuable source for monitoring building industry economic health. Backlog is a key performance indicator for every construction company; it measures the dollar amount of work that is under contract but is yet to be performed. ABC gathers this information by polling commercial construction contractors and converting their dollar value of backlog into number of months of expected work.

Figure 2 shows that backlog has moved in the opposite direction of the ABI over the last few months, i.e. while the ABI has been decreasing, backlog has increased. At first this may seem counterintuitive, but I believe this could be explained by the spike in ABI in August and September.

Think of it this way- new projects typically take a few months to move from design to construction, so naturally it will also take time for economic data to make its way from the ABI to contractor backlog.

Therefore, increased backlog is a positive indicator for contractors, but be vigilant considering that backlog could decrease in the next two months in the same way as the ABI.

Figure 2: Backlog Indicator by Month
Source: ABC.org

And one final thought on backlog:

It is often said that economic downturns hit the construction industry about nine months after they hit most other economic sectors; backlog is the reason for that. There is work still in the coffers when crisis strikes, but the problem is then securing work beyond that point. So any time we are looking at future outlook, sustaining backlog is one of the critical actions a construction firm needs to take to remain in good financial health.

To round out the Q4 performance, let’s take a look at inflation and the supply-chain.

Figure 3 shows the consumer price index (CPI) over the past six months. The CPI measures the changes in price on goods from month to month. While Q3 saw rate increases slowing, Q4 has ramped back up. Compared to November 2020, the November 2021 CPI is up 6.8%, which is significant and one of the highest year over year increases since the 1970s. This means inflation has continued to run rampant.

Figure 3: Consumer Price Index
Source: BLS.gov

This should not come as a surprise to building industry professionals. Material prices have continued to escalate and lead-times are still growing for common building materials. In short, supply and demand are in disequilibrium; there is more demand than the supply chain can handle. This must and will change.

Outlook: 2022 and Beyond

So where does that leave us for 2022? Well, the elephant in the room is COVID-19 and the omicron variant.

The omicron variant is relatively new to the COVID-19 landscape, with the World Health Organization (WHO) classifying it as a Variant of Concern on November 26, 2021. Figure 4 below illustrates the uptick in cases due to the delta variant (Aug./Sept.) and how that compares with the current rise in cases due to omicron in December alone.

Figure 4: New COVID-19 Cases
Source: New York Times

Omicron is breaking through to many vaccinated people, so the upward trend in cases is going to continue and very well could look similar to early in the pandemic. The hope is that we are much more prepared to handle an outbreak this time around and that our businesses will fare better as a result.

While this will have to be true, the continued cyclical nature of variants emerging and de-railing economic progress should be concerning. The Fed cannot continue to give stimulus in the same way that it has over the past twenty-one months due to the threat of raising inflation further. As a result, Fed leadership has already made plans to slow bond purchases and raise interest rates in 2022. Bond purchases will begin to reduce as early as March 2022, and interest rates are speculated to increase to 0.9% at the end of 2022 and 1.6% at the end of 2023. Meanwhile, inflation is going to continue to be a problem in 2022.

In summary, there is a cause and effect to every action.

In this case, inflation is causing interest rates to increase with the eventual effect that capital (money) will not be as cheap for builders and developers to borrow in 2022 as it has been since the start of the pandemic. This increase in cost of capital will slow the rise of new projects, which leads to less backlog, which leads to tighter margins and more competition.

Therefore, securing backlog needs to be of top priority for the typical construction company in the current economic landscape. Backlog can get you through challenging times and may be the best solution for surviving any economic fallout associated with the pandemic.

At this point, you should be asking yourself: “What am I doing to secure more backlog?”

Owners and leaders should be looking to projects taking place in 2022, 2023, and beyond for that answer. Don’t just settle for the jobs that start next month. Sell your clients on the concept of securing long-term work where you can team up as partners (potentially in a design-assist capacity) early and guarantee long-term stability. In return, your clients receive a dedicated teammate who will be better suited to execute the project by having a deeper understanding of the stakeholders and their needs.

Even with that said, not everything is bleak about the future.

There will be new projects as a result of the Infrastructure Bill as well as plenty of developers who recognize that even if capital is more expensive in 2022, it is still cheaper than it has been during many economic downturns of the past.

The fact that backlog is up means that contractor confidence is up. View that confidence with a cautious optimism because we can speculate all we want about the future, but nothing is certain. So control what you can control, and go out and secure work for 2022 and 2023 right now.

Authored by:

Matt Verderamo

19 December 2021

email me! mverderamo@allianceexterior.com