On Strength Training and a Different Kind of Renewable Energy

A while back, I Tweeted, “To all those people who would rather rip on something than celebrate it – I hope your days get better so optimism finds room to shine,” a friend replied, “my favorite Pollyanna ;->.”

A week or so after this, after I told a different friend about how physically destroyed I was feeling after spending an hour with my son jumping on a trampoline, he said, “Well, you’ll know how fit you are by how quickly you recover.”

And after my most recent post, I received an email from yet another friend congratulating me on “living such a great life” and commenting that my reaction to yoga was nothing short of a miracle.

It’s dawned on me that all of these seemingly disparate instances have something in common. Combined, these interactions are a lesson in energy and optimism and the work it takes to sustain both.

As I’ve written before, I need to work very hard to stay positive. Just as we build muscles by working out, I have to build my optimism (gratitude, etc.) “muscles” by practicing. I have to do things that showcase the good in the world. I have to surround myself (as much as possible) with people who are positive, grateful and passionate. If I don’t – my optimism atrophies and frankly, I go dark.

I’m not superhuman, though. I’m not actually a Pollyanna. I do have those moments and days when I can’t find the gratitude or the silver lining. It sucks. These are the days when I find myself drawn to negative thoughts or worse…I find myself judgmental and dreading the happiness/good fortune of others. These are the days when I might “unsubscribe” to someone on Facebook, simply because their optimism annoys me. Worse yet…These are the days when I doubt myself. When I doubt everything about myself. Even the things that I know to be good and true.

But like my friend said about my physical fitness after I destroyed myself on the trampoline, I have to pay close attention to my spiritual fitness, as well. I take pride in my ability to recognize the dark moments, allow them their space and then bounce back to a place of optimism, gratitude and love. I know it’s hard to sustain this energy – especially in the face of the constant noise created by naysayers.

For the most part, renewable energy refers to the power we generate from the sun, wind and water. But for me, it’s about the power I’m able to draw from feeling grateful, optimistic and non-judgmental. It comes from admitting mistakes. It comes from believing in myself and working hard to appreciate and showcase my true, authentic self.

However, just as I sometimes leave the lights on in the house, I’m not always perfect. I waste energy. I make mistakes. And, while leaving the lights on leads to a higher energy bill, darkness results in lower (personal) energy. And, frankly, I don’t like feeling low. I don’t like myself when I’m low.

So, I work out my spiritual muscles and I try to not only stay positive and grateful, but I do it as publicly as I can. It’s just part of who I am. And every time I do…I feel renewed.

On Yoga, Expectations and A Day Well Lived

In my professional life (Read: The one that pays the bills), there is always extensive talk about “managing expectations,” which is often best explained by the well-worn cliché, “under promise and over deliver.” I used to be a major proponent of this practice. No so much anymore. Like “personal branding,” I find the whole thing disingenuous. (If you need to feel like you have a “brand,” just be yourself. That’s your brand. More on that in another post.)

Instead, I much prefer to think about the best possible outcomes and speak enthusiastically to that (professional and personally). In other words, I don’t do managing expectations so well. Yes, this sometimes means that I’m disappointed, but the high I feel from dreaming of and executing on the BIG VISION usually outweighs any disappointment. (And, in fact, whatever disappointment I may feel usually stems from not starting things earlier, or going for it bigger.)

So, when I started a yoga practice (which is how yoga-folk say, “doing yoga”) a month ago, I had high expectations. I started this yoga practice because, well, it should come as no surprise that I have a tendency to get stuck inside my head and it was high time I found my way out.

As I’ve previously written, however, I despise working out in classes. Exercise is my private, quiet time. It’s time for me to innovate, explore and, probably counter-intuitively, get WAY inside my head. So, how was I going to get outside my head while feeling insecure about doing something totally new AND during my traditional “me-time?” I wasn’t sure, but I had high expectations.

But regardless of these expectations, I was still scared. I was still self-conscious about being the least flexible person on earth. I still remembered the only other time I tried yoga (15 years ago) and pinched a nerve within minutes of the start of class. A pinch that caused such severe pain that, besides a broken leg, remains the most painful experience of my life (and the reason why I hesitated to “do yoga” all these years). So, I started with private one-on-one instruction to better understand what the experience would be like. And…OMFG. That was what the experience was like. Beyond anything I could have possibly expected. Way beyond.

The very first time I was guided through what is called “corpse pose” (Shavasana), I was hooked. It’s a kind of guided meditation and total body/mind/breathing relaxation that has led me to a variety of incredible visions – not visions that caused me to think, but instead made me see. The first such vision was one of a dragonfly. Throughout the practice, this dragonfly was zipping around, frenzied, uneasy, nervous. And during Shavasana, it landed. Not only did it land; it landed on a cairn. I knew I was the dragonfly. Yoga made me land. Maybe for the first time ever. Certainly for the first time in years. I broke down…and cried all the way home.

Since that time, I’ve seen visions of records on a turntable (searching for my groove), slide shows of incredible experiences, remarkable colors and, maybe most notably…absolutely nothing. Nothing. When asked by the instructors to think of a word that defines my intention for each practice, I always think of the same word: Peace. Nothing defines that intention like, well, nothing. When the dragonfly landed on that cairn, the next image was total stillness. Peace. What an incredible, meaningful and powerful feeling nothing can be.

There’s a documentary called, YOGAIS, that chronicles a woman’s journey to find her own peace after her mother passes away. Russell Simmons is among the celebrities interviewed in the film. He describes his first reaction to yoga as “I’m fucked.” His reasoning is that he believed uneasiness and anxiety to be the core drivers for his success. Yoga, he discovered, removed all of that and he thought his business empire would collapse (of course, it hasn’t).

Turns out Russell Simmons and I have something in common. (Who knew?) In just a month, I feel like yoga has completely changed my life. Maybe that’s a stretch; I’m not sure it is. Initially, all the quiet I felt inside created so much more noise outside. What I mean is that gossip, “huge problems,” silly conflicts, fear and more, simply seemed, well, silly. I instantly had no tolerance for conversations that focused on petty drama. Such dialogue echoed painfully in my head. To be fair, I didn’t expect this.

The opposite side of that coin is beautiful, however. It’s one of patience. It’s about tackling difficult conversations. It’s about transparency. It features far less fear (though, not a complete absence of it). In just a month, it feels like I’ve been more focused and able to handle what previously felt like daunting challenges – both professionally and personally. I’ve tackled more problems head-on and, more importantly, those problems and challenges no longer seem so difficult in the first place. There’s a complete lack of frustration where it used to be found regularly. Maybe it’s not ALL about the yoga practice, but the timing points to it.

The most surprising result of the last month, however, was the discovery of something even more elusive than peace: The Moment. That mystical place where we find ourselves able to actively experience what’s right in front of us and all around us. The place where we are able to accept ourselves (good, bad and ugly) for who we are at any given time. Any given moment. And, in discovering this mystical place, all that noise that I initially heard in the first days of the practice has disappeared. Because it really wasn’t noise. It was judgment. I was judging people for experiencing drama where I didn’t see any. So, I was annoyed. Now, I can listen, and, if asked, comment. Otherwise, I can just listen.

And what else happens when you find the moment? No more need for expectations. There’s nothing to manage. And any day spent in the moment? Well that’s the very best of A Day Well Lived. I’m still the least flexible person on the planet, by the way. At least physically. It’s only been a month after all. What could I expect?

On Searching for a Voice

I have some good friends. The ones who challenge me. The ones who call me on my shit. And, most definitely, the ones who send me texts, emails and Facebook messages asking me why I haven’t written anything for a long, long, long time. I appreciate the fact that maybe they actually want to read this stuff, but more likely, they understand how important writing is to me. They assume that if I’m not writing that something may be wrong. It’s usually a safe assumption. Fortunately, that’s not the case this time. Nothing’s wrong. Not necessarily.

I’ve started a number of posts/thoughts; they went something like this:

This morning as I finished my workout with a short meditation, I had a vision of an old turntable. An LP was spinning and the needle was jumping around until it found a groove and The Beatles “Here Comes the Sun” burst from the speakers. I knew exactly what it meant.

And this:

As my son’s baseball team warmed up in advance of practice, one of his teammates threw a ball into the creek behind the field. The kids gave him a rash of grief and he responded with, “It’s not my fault. You shouldn’t have been in front of the creek.” And followed this with, “It’s Coach’s fault for giving us the ball.”

And this:

When a friend asked, “Are you happy?” and I responded with “Am I ever?” I knew that perhaps it was time to try some new things. So, I went to my first-ever Buddhist service on a couple of Sundays ago.

And this, too:

Yoga, where have you been all my life?

None of these posts were finished, however. They all got to different places. Some nearly finished. Some not even close. But, I couldn’t close the deal. For whatever reason, I couldn’t find the finish line.

All of these experiences – the Buddhist service, the baseball practice, the start of yoga, etc. – have had impact on my recent existence. All of them have played a role in what I can only consider a “change in my voice.” My voice is changing (not in the Brady Bunch, Bar Mitzvah kind of way), but in the tone and what I want and need to say kind of way. In a “what interests me” kind of way. I think, as I got into each of these posts, they just didn’t sound right. The voice wasn’t right. I couldn’t hear myself as I read back the words.

The truth is that I’m not entirely sure what my voice is these days. I’m not entirely sure who *I am* these days. I have this yearning for deep, spiritual conversations that tear at the very core of who we are as people, and yet…I want to keep things easy, simple and free flowing. I get so turned on by inspirational projects and yet, I have this side of me that is all gutter (I see you nodding your heads). I strive to have a circle of close friends, but want desperately to crawl under a rock and disappear.

I understand that all of these things make up who I am. I’m as much the animated character in OF COURSE as I am the guy who curates A Day Well Lived, even though the content from these projects is as far apart as one can possibly get. And yet, I’m the voice of both. I get confused, frankly. It makes me wonder if I’m not being authentic by having such different voices.

Where it gets especially hard is when some friends know me more as the “OF COURSE guy” and others know me as “A Day Well Lived.” Those who have known me longest have questioned how I can be the latter, as I’ve been the former for much longer. The evolution and change in voice has been somewhat subtle. And definitely more personal. In a way, it hurts when those who have known me the longest don’t understand this evolution. I think I was always the A Day Well Lived guy. I was just afraid to show it. But I’m certainly not ever going to lose the OF COURSE guy.

I recently read a book that talked about the importance of staying true to yourself and your intentions as you build your professional networks. So my Twitter feed ends up being a mix of inspirational thoughts and off-color remarks. Can they coexist? Again…I get confused. Just be authentic and true to yourself, they always say…I always say…but what is that? I’m kind of struggling to find out.

And the result? Nothing gets written. So many thoughts swirl through my head. The start of something gets “on paper,” but nothing gets finished. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’s part of the process. Maybe this is how I get to figure out what’s really important. If I can’t finish the thought – maybe it’s not meant to be. Maybe these posts aren’t destined to get finished. Maybe the purpose is just to help me find what I feel like I’ve lost.

For now, I think I can live with that. All of me can.

On “Near Pressure” and the Quest for Perfection

When I was a kid, I learned all about peer pressure and how to deal with it. At some point, however, peer pressure morphed into what I’m calling “near pressure” (for no other reason than it rhymes with peer pressure). For the sake of these thoughts, I’m defining near pressure as the pressure I feel internally. It’s the pressure I put on myself. It’s the burden of the expectations for myself that I shoulder exclusively. For me, near pressure is about perfection. And because perfection is basically impossible to achieve, there are times when I find this pressure to be particularly excruciating. Like now.

I was taught at an early age to take care of those around me. At the sake of everything else – and particularly myself – it was best if I dropped anything I wanted and/or needed and took care of someone or something else first. Usually, this meant never making it back to whatever it was that I wanted or needed. I was the fixer. I fixed things. I made things better. I made others feel whole. But, in doing so, with each fix, a piece of me broke. Before long, although primarily out of view, the cracks were deep. They are deep.

I want to be perfect. While I know that such a thing is crazy, impossible and silly, it remains. I want to be the perfect, cool dad, but then find myself overreacting to my son when he asks for help with something about which I know nothing. Why? Because I feel like I’m letting him down. And I take it out on him. I don’t mean to. These reactions often surprise me when I have them. It’s not like I was in a bad mood. I can’t fix it. I snap. Near pressure.

I think I’m a somewhat complicated person. But, I wonder if that’s simply because I don’t let myself be what and who I truly want to be. Most recently, after what felt like (yet another) a professional setback, I told a friend that I felt like I was too nice or too naïve. I explained how I have good intentions and I expect people to have the same. And when it’s obvious that they don’t, I often get bitten in the ass. My friend responded, “I don’t think you are too nice or too naive. I think those are your strengths from a spiritual standpoint. It is your relentless idealism and honest transparency that has created all the good in your life. If anything I think the problem occurs when you doubt that part of yourself. You’re not a shark; you’re an artist. You just need to be even more relentless in your idealism.”

I’ve read those words over and over. And over again. It’s the second time in my life that someone has called me an artist. Because I’m drawn to artists, I consider this to be the nicest thing anyone could ever say to me. I’m inspired by artists’ open, honest pursuits of their selves. I’ve written extensively about the way live music moves me – not for the melodies or lyrics, but because of the rawness that comes from putting yourself on stage. Few things amaze me more than a singer songwriter’s ability to get on a stage in front of a sparsely populated room with nothing more than a microphone and guitar and just…sing. That’s an artist and to be thought of in those terms is incredible.

The problem, however, is my inability to let myself be that. My inability to let myself feel that. My inability to feel that I deserve that. I’m far from perfect. Artists are able to turn that into their art. Imperfection is where the music comes from. The passion and pain transformed into chords and choruses, or paintings and pictures. I can’t find the place to let myself be that raw, exposed and free day-to-day, moment-by-moment. The near pressure won’t allow for that. The need for perfection denies it. And my three companions – fear, doubt and judgment – are never far enough away and seem to be at the ready to deflect any acceptance that I might be able to call myself an artist.

The irony in all of this, however, is that my early “training” has provided me with a platform and foundation to help others find their inner artists and pursue their passions. I actually think that I’m a reasonably inspiring person. Even as I doubt myself, I’m able to help others overcome their own doubts. The near pressure makes me feel as though I’m being hypocritical. How can I inspire others to accept their own inner artist if I’m not able to do it myself? How can I show people how amazing they are and how loved they should feel, if such thoughts and feelings elude me? Is that Irony? Maybe it’s just silly. More likely, by helping others (as I was trained), I can deflect anything personal and any attention away from me.

I’ve written before about my personal Kryptonite. My Kryptonite comes in the form of achieving something (or finding some solution), but then being unable to fully appreciate the rewards (in whatever form they may come) because I beat myself up for not finding the said solution earlier in my life. It’s a somewhat horrible burden to bear. Crushing at times. As I’ve also written previously, I have to work very hard to find the good, to feel positive, remember gratitude and remain optimistic. This Kryptonite is part of the reason why. Near pressure.

I’m never going to be perfect. And, logically, I’m okay with that. I completely understand that such a goal is unrealistic and, like I said about the hypocrisy, silly. But, what I can’t figure out and where I struggle most, is why I can’t accept that maybe I am actually something of an artist. (I can’t even write, “I am an artist,” I have to minimize the impact by writing “something of an…” before it.) Why can’t I accept that I’m a lot of different things? Artist. Comedian. Creative. Writer. Frat boy. Passionate. I’m all of these things and yet, I often feel like I’m none of them. What is that all about? I don’t do any of them perfectly. So, I must not really be any of them. Near pressure. It’s not logical, but it is.

As I am to artists, I’m incredibly drawn to people who seem to operate outside of society’s norms. The people who accept themselves for who they are and act (out) accordingly. They operate in a Universe filled by coulds and woulds and turn their back on shoulds. Yes, there are basic societal rules that must be followed, but they manage to do so without sacrificing their passions, their souls. Near pressure seems far off. My God, how do they do that?

Unlike most posts, I have no conclusion to this one. I’m in the midst of this struggle. It’s ongoing. In the meantime, I’m going to go write, “I am an artist” 1000 times.  Maybe I’ll start to believe it. And near pressure be damned.

On Birthdays, Piles of Rocks & Love

When I was a kid, I absolutely loved my birthday. Truth be told, I loved my birthday for well beyond the years that I might be described as “a kid.” I wanted to celebrate. I wanted to be surrounded by friends, family and anyone I had ever met. Another year was in the books. Another year was beginning. And it was good.

At some age I don’t really remember the celebration of all things life affirming that a birthday represented changed to a reminder of all things failed. Birthdays suddenly became about lost time, lost opportunities and the brevity of life. They become deeply introspective. Painful. And even as the parties were had, I couldn’t help but feel…lost. What I hadn’t done far outweighed what I had.

And, as my birthday approached this year (yesterday), these feelings weren’t any different. If anything, they were stronger, as the number – 45 – felt incredibly daunting. I told a friend that I was in this space and he replied, “I love birthdays!” with the implication to “get over it.” I explained that while this annual mental and emotional journey was difficult – good things could result (i.e. A Day Well Lived). I was sugarcoating how I really felt, though. I didn’t think anything good was going to come from the deep, dark space into which I had crawled.

I was wrong. Again.

I’ve become somewhat obsessed with cairns – the stacks of rocks left as trail markers. I wear them around my neck. I have little stacks of rocks in my kitchen. I have two on my desk at work. The delicate balance of these rock stacks move me. I am awed by the fact that the slightest bump can bring them crashing down. Or that the strongest will stand in the worst conditions. I feel inspired as I look for the rocks to place in the stacks and challenged by the way the rocks must fit together in order to maintain balance. I sometimes feel as though each rock represents a different part of my life, and each cairn a different path.

As my birthday approached, I became intrigued by the rocks that don’t make it into the stacks. At first I thought these rocks were of little importance. After all, they didn’t make it into the stack. I must not have felt they were important. I must have felt that they would cause the balance to come crashing down. They apparently weren’t worthy. Cast aside.

As I stared at the stack of rocks that sits on a kitchen counter – perhaps my favorite one – I started to think more deeply about the other rocks. The rocks scattered around the stack. For the first time I thought that maybe they represented something tremendously important. I thought that maybe they represent choice.

I had the choice to place these rocks in the cairn. I had the choice to start another stack. I had the choice to keep them scattered about to create some kind of base. I had the choice to remember the past and feel judged (or not judged) by it, or to be inspired by my evolution. I had the choice to feel grateful or sorry for myself. These other rocks represented a kind of…freedom.

Every time I build a cairn, there’s a certain satisfaction. I feel artistic. Creative. I feel original, as, even using the exact same rocks, nobody would build the same cairn I just did. Another reason to like them so. On those occasions when they do come crashing down, I feel a tinge of sadness, as that original creation will never be repeated exactly the same. Sadness replaced by excitement over the opportunity to build again.

As I sat on the couch last night, watching some friends eat, drink, talk and laugh, I realized that I’m mesmerized by cairns because I am one. Perhaps we all are. We’re all a delicate balance of different experiences, emotions, actions, successes, failures, hopes, dreams, beliefs, evolution, passions, people and more. These are our rocks. And we stack them in differently as our needs change. Some rocks are replaced by others. Some never make the stacks, but remain in the pile of choices around the stacks. Sometimes we have multiple stacks – perhaps one for a professional life, another for family life and still another for something more personal.

But like the actual cairns that are stacked in my kitchen or my office, balance can fail and we can/I can come crashing down. And as I watched these people in my house, it dawned on me that I like it that way. I need it that way. I need to lose balance and crash. I need to rebuild. I need to be challenged by the choices of which rocks make the stack. I don’t want my cairns to last forever. I want the pain. I need the sadness. I want to feel. I need to do a better job of accepting and celebrating the successes, but that’s just part of my journey. And that’s okay.

Mostly, though, as I watched the smiles and laughter is that I need to surround myself with love. It seems obvious. For some reason, though, it’s not. I need to surround myself with love. My own. For myself. I’m good at giving it. I suck at receiving it. I’m skeptical of it. I don’t think I’m worthy of it. I hide from it. I fight it. It wasn’t always that way, but over the years, that’s how I’ve become. I deflect it. I can’t afford to do that anymore. I have to trust my friends to love me for me. My family to love me for me. The Universe.

It’s natural for people to ask, “What do you want for your birthday?” I never have an answer, but I do now. Love. Love each other. Love yourself. Allow yourself to feel it. Live it. Surround yourself with it. I dreamt all about love last night. It wasn’t about a person or an action, but the feeling. I want to live in and around love. I want my work and my life to be driven by love. This dream felt…euphoric.

I know that age is just a number, but the honest truth is that 45 feels big to me. It feels old(er) to me. And that was the fear I was facing as the hours ticked down to the “big day.” The next big one is 50. 50! When did that happen? But, right now, I don’t feel that fear. Only love. Everything else will take care of itself.

Rock on.


On Gratitude, A Guy Named Jerry and a Dog Named Sandy

Earlier this week I let a slight jab in the gut become a huge kick in the b*lls. What definitely should have hurt a little, disabled me for a day. Maybe more. I hated that I lost two days because I couldn’t handle what amounts to a hiccup. A hurdle. I lost my sense of gratitude. I want to be more evolved than that. I expect to be more evolved than that. I NEED to be more evolved than that.

Fortunately, as the week moved beyond Monday’s jab in the ribs, I found my way through the anxiety and lack of gratitude. Wednesday and Thursday were filled with incredible events and experiences. They were days full of music, adventure, sweat, creativity and inspiration. Whatever darkness I was feeling was replaced by the excited potential of, “You know what we could do…” And then a list of crazy, outlandish, wonderfully impossible ideas flowed.

By yesterday, my gratitude had returned in full force. And what I realized I’m most grateful for is the ability to find gratitude in things that used to set me off into some kind of dark, dark space. Sometimes this makes me feel as though I’m being a bit of a Pollyanna (or make those around me think that). Fake. But I’m not. I’m not simply finding silver linings. The truth is I need to be positive. I have to be able say, “Bummer,” take a moment and move on with the positive, more optimistic feeling.

Because, the deeper truth is that I’m often in a constant battle with this darkness. A friend of mine was shocked when I told him about this. As he finished telling me about a time long ago when he felt suicidal, I took a deep breath, and unable to even look him in the eye, said, “Everyday, dude.” He was surprised to learn that I don’t naturally see the world through rose-colored glasses. From a happy place. I have to work hard at it. Just as it’s easy and feels way more natural for me to eat crappy food (and get fat!), my natural state is one filled with fear, doubt, blame and a maybe even lack of gratitude. But, despite how easy and natural it feels, I don’t like being fat. And I don’t like feeling scared. I don’t like blaming others. I REALLY hate feeling ungrateful. The fact is that optimism and gratitude, like eating healthy, are good for my health. They’re about survival. (This is why it’s especially important for me to spend time around positive, inspirational influences.)

Then this morning, on the heels of this conversation with my friend, came another reminder about the very best that life has to offer. As I took Harley on our usual walk, we encountered Jerry. We often encounter Jerry. For the first couple of years, we’d run into Jerry and his Aussie-mix named Bear. Bear and Harley were pretty much exactly the same age and because of their Aussie heritage were distant cousins. About six months ago, we started to only run into Jerry, as Bear had become sick and had to be put down. I was heartbroken. Harley was heartbroken. But obviously, Jerry was especially heartbroken. He still smiled, but it was a broken version of his old smile.

I only know Jerry from these walks. He’s probably in his late 50’s or early 60’s. He’s thin, average height and has the look of an old hippie with a white beard and longer than average hair – especially for an older dude. He’s a fun looking guy. Sometimes he wears a hat that’s somewhere between cowboy and fedora. And he always wears one of those puffy vests that have come back in style (though I suspect he wore his even when they were out of style). He loves his music, and while Bear and Harley used to play, we had discussions about the Grateful Dead, southern rock and Stevie Ray Vaughan. I even invited him to a show once.

After Bear died, Jerry continued to take his walks. Harley would see him and start “talking,” as he pulled me up the sidewalk. On most occasions, I just dropped the leash and let Harley have his moment with Jerry. Or maybe it was to let Jerry have that moment. Yes, Jerry still carried treats with him, but Harley genuinely loved him – with or without food. And Jerry always thanked me for letting him spend that minute or two with Harley. A good guy.

This morning, we encountered Jerry. Today, his smile was again brighter. Jerry has a new dog, a golden retriever named Sandy. He said that he got her about a week ago. Jerry was so proud to show her off and Harley gave her his official greeting (and requisite “background check”).

As I walked away from Jerry and Sandy, I found myself talking to Harley. “I’m so happy for Jerry,” I told him. Harley looked up at me with the human-like understanding and look that often makes me believe he was a kind soul in a past life. If I had kept talking to Harley, I would have said, “We must be grateful for experiences like that, Harley. We must remember the look in Jerry’s eyes and the smile on his face. It’s that smile that and those experiences that we need to remember when we get the punch in the gut.” Then to myself, I thought, “Darkness, be damned.” I felt light. I felt bright. I took off my sunglasses and let the sun burst through my eyelids.

We need to whine. We need to vent. We need to have the bitch sessions. There are things that just go wrong. There are things we need to get off our chests. Things that make us want to scream, F*CK! as loudly as we can. Repeatedly. We’re going to get jabbed in the ribs. We’re going to get kicked in the b*lls. It happens. It’s always going to happen. Just own it. Don’t lose the gratitude. I need to get so much better at that. Gratitude for me is a big, bright light that keeps me out of the shadows. I can’t always stay out of them, but gratitude certainly helps me to keep chasing the light.

Thank you, Jerry. Rock on. Hope to see you and Sandy tomorrow.

On 2013: The Year of “One Thing”

There’s a scene in movie “City Slickers” when Curly tells Billy Crystal’s character that the secret to life is “one thing.” What’s the one thing? Well, it’s different for everyone. But if we can find our “one thing,” the world falls into place. Of course, it’s not so easy.

For the last couple of years, I’ve written posts about my theme for the upcoming year. It’s always come easily to me. I knew exactly what I wanted from the next 365 days. I was so sure of these themes, in fact, that I often wrote the posts in December or even November. I’ve written about the year of letting go, or the year of the experience. 2013 is different. This year feels bigger. And it is. Because, after nearly 45 years, I’ve found my own “one thing.”

I recently read a book called The Happiness Advantage. Despite the “self-help” sounding title, it’s really a business book. I’ve read quite a few business books over the years and this is the first one that I’ve ever quoted. I was so moved by this book that I bought copies for some of my closest friends. I’m convinced that if we all practice what this book preaches that the world could change. And, although I think that Being Happy would be an ideal theme for 2013, it’s not my One Thing.

Sometime late last year I realized that, for me, it’s all about people. In other words, if I surround myself with people I love and who love me, the rest takes care of itself. If I work with people I like, the rest takes care of itself. Don’t worry about the people who make you work to fit in. Spend your effort finding those who make you feel as though you belong. Don’t spend time trying to track down business based on the “cool factor” of the project or even the size of the retainer, focus on projects where the client will make you feel energized, at your creative best and grateful. That’s it. That’s my One Thing – People: First. The fact is, when you feel loved and supported, you’re at your best. And, when you’re at your best…anything is possible.

It sounds obvious. It sounds really easy. But it’s not. What it requires is a really hard look at the people around you. It requires you to let go of people who aren’t interested in your best interests. These are the people that drain you, some of whom you may consider to be friends. At the very least, it requires you to focus on the people who do lift you up, which leaves less time for the others. And, when you give less time to people who tear you down…they react by trying to tear you even further. Oftentimes, these people know how to push your buttons. You need to find a way to move the buttons out of harms way.

Professionally, it may require you to walk away from money. Talk about no easy task! In pure economics (and maybe the only thing I remember from economics in college), the opportunity cost of working with people you don’t like is way too high. You may be making a decent fee from a client, but if it comes with anxiety, heartache, depression, lost sleep and pain caused by stress – it’s not worth it. Let go of that client, focus on the projects that allow you work with people you like…and just watch what happens.

It’s taken me nearly 45 years of life and nearly 25 years in the workforce to understand that I should have been looking at People: First. I’m incredibly grateful for the “cool projects” that I’ve had the opportunity to work on, but some of this work came at an incredibly personal price. The feelings of inadequacy, the judgment, the anxiety and stress were crushing. But now I’m surrounded by the best people I know, personally and professionally.

I suppose I should make the point that People: First doesn’t mean that I’m looking for other people to make me happy. It may read that way, but it’s the opposite. I’m finding my own way and then sustaining it successfully with the right people around me. I’m finally doing it forwards. Not backwards.

The Happiness Advantage talks about that backwards way we often look at things. You know the story that usually goes something like, If I could just get X, then I’ll be happy. I’m really good at getting X. I’m really good at making things happen for myself. But, I wasn’t very good at being happy. I’ve hidden it well over the years, but more often than not, being happy has eluded me. And, while the book talks about a variety of reasons for this, I found it was all about the people. If I focused on People: First…The rest would take care of itself.

So, I’ve lived this mantra for the first few weeks of the year. It’s been my religion. And, it’s paying off in spades. I’m having deeper conversations with friends. I’ve started new projects. I’m doing work I love. Really love. Some of this work is the exact same stuff I’ve done for years, but there’s a difference. I’m doing it with people I like. It’s the secret sauce.

Beyond deeper relationships and more satisfying work experiences, People: First is making me a better person. It’s making me want to do more for other people. It’s making me want to inspire others and makes me want to be worthy of entry into their People: First posse.

I’ve taken on a special project the last several days – the details of which I’ll leave out, as they aren’t really important. But, this project (for lack of a better word) has been an ongoing act of kindness. I’m not sure I would have even considered it a month ago. Now it seems like a no brainer.

As written about in The Happiness Advantage, good feelings are contagious. When you’re around happy – you can feel happier. You can catch it if you want to. The opposite is true, however. Being around unhappy is like standing in a cloud of second hand smoke. Even if you aren’t smoking, the damage is done. Again, I know this isn’t easy. When we are in those clouds, those funks (many of which I’ve written about), the last thing we often want is to surround ourselves with happy people. The last thing we want to read is another Facebook post about how perfect someone’s life is. But, the really happy people aren’t doing that. The truth is, we know who those people are. Make the effort to spend time with them.

I don’t know what the best One Thing is for everyone. But, I do know that People: First is mine. And I know that it’s the theme that will drive me through this year and beyond. I’m a few days late, but I wish you all a very, very Happy New Year.

On 2012 and Finishing Strong


My seven year-old son woke me up at 2:45 yesterday morning. He said he heard a scary sound. Apparently, the rain and wind knocked over a plant outside his window and, well, I can imagine what it sounded like to his little ears. As we walked back down the stairs to his room, I wasn’t too happy with the thought that I’d be spending the rest of the night on his bottom bunk. Although I like sleeping in his room from time to time (“sleepovers”), I had plans to get up early and workout. As I walked down the stairs, I felt the workout slipping away with each step.

I slept through my allotted wake up time (as I knew I would), but because I didn’t have any meetings scheduled until 10:00am yesterday, I did manage to workout. It wasn’t great. I was tired. Exhuasted. I’ve been battling a cold (or something worse) and the last several weeks have been emotionally draining. Suffice to say, the 60 minutes on the rowing machine wasn’t my finest hour.

However, when I got to my last 1000-meter interval, I decided that I wanted to finish strong. I needed to finish strong. Yes, I was tired, but I figured that I could find the effort and give the final four minutes everything I had. Instead of coasting to the end, I was going to push it. I did just that and I felt better for it. As I got dressed, I felt like I had momentum going into the day.

Now a day later, I realize that’s how I need to approach the remaining days of this year. Like many of us I imagine, I’ve been telling anyone who will listen that I’m looking forward to next year. I have big plans for 2013, I’ll tell them. The last few weeks have been overly trying, I explain. And I say it all with a kind of feeling that this year is toast. No time to get anything done.

I have friends who have had difficult years. They suffered tragic loss. Heartbreak. They “just want this year to be over.” As I’ve stood with many of them during their year, I understand this. If I were in their shoes, I’d feel the same way. December 31st gives us that end, and the New Year a natural start. We get to “put 2012 behind us.” Looking forward is often such a prettier view.

What if, we changed our collective thinking, however, and instead of throwing in the towel on the next two weeks, opted to finish strong? What if we sprinted (with whatever we have left) to the 2012 finish line instead of limping across it? What if we decided to start now what we look forward to starting in 2013? Maybe we’d all have a bit of momentum when the New Year actually started. Maybe we’d be able to shake off a few of the aches and pains that come with starting anew. If we do our best to finish strong and generate some momentum now, maybe we can really hit the ground running in 2013.

I understand that there may be plenty of obstacles in the way of such a plan. It’s the holidays! People shut it down, are on vacation and aren’t around to returns calls and emails, which can slow down such efforts. But, really, these are just excuses (some of my favorites!). Besides, “finishing strong” can have all kinds of different applications and executions. I tend to think of it in a business and fitness sense, but it’s easily applicable to our personal lives too. Are there conversations to be had that have been put off? Are there letters meant to be sent? Books meant to be read? In truth and maybe in its simplest form, “finishing strong” might just mean tackling things that we’ve been putting off.

In the next couple of weeks (days?), we’re all going to start reading about New Year’s resolutions and the things people promise themselves that they will do in 2013. We will promise to work out more. Eat better. Manage our finances. Find more time for family. Have more perspective. And all the other usual suspects that become ever more popular simply because the calendar clicks from one year to the next. Don’t wait. Start now.

The 2012 finish line is in sight. Let’s sprint to the end of the year and do our best to finish strong. Doing so may just lead to an even better start in 2013. Happy Holidays.

On 31:56:12 and Enjoying the Journey

Last week, while on a run, my watch stopped. I finished the eight miles and the time was stopped at 31:56:12. I had just finished a relaxing, free run on one of my favorite trails and I was pissed. How fast had I run? How long did it really take me? How could I possibly measure my progress? I was in the midst of an incredibly stressful few weeks and I was left feeling terribly sorry for myself. What else could go wrong, I wondered? And why was I feeling that way? Because somehow on the run, I stopped the running time on the watch. You’re right…it’s pathetic.

Sometimes, I have a tough time remembering that the journey is the destination. Worse than that, I get myself in an (arguably) obsessive battle to measure the journey. Am I running fast enough? Am I losing enough weight? Am I making enough money? If the answer to any of these questions is “no”, not only is the journey itself wrecked, but oftentimes, the destination gets so far out of sight that the entire quest implodes. The stopped watch made me lose sight of a great run. I felt fast. Why did I need the verification?

Even things like writing a blog fall victim to the need for “measurable results.” If I don’t feel as though it’s “good enough” (by some impossible standard that doesn’t even exist – after all, how many views means something is “good enough?”), I just stop writing. The irony, of course, is that when I stop writing (or stop exercising or stop eating well), I feel worse about myself and when I feel badly about myself, I write less (or eat worse or) and the spiral can have crushing effects.

Laird Hamilton, on whom I have an incredible man crush, once said that every time he gets close to achieving a goal, he moves it. For him, reaching and trying to get somewhere is far better than ever actually arriving. This way, he never feels like “he’s done.” I love the theory of this idea. The potential pitfall, however, is practicing this philosophy and then beating yourself up for never achieving anything. Double-edged sword. (Especially for someone like me.)

So, this past weekend, I decided to embark on a test, of sorts. The stopped watch thing, or more specifically, my reaction to the stopped watch thing had bothered me for days. Frankly, it was really just a continuation of my experience on my last hiking trek (apparently, I didn’t learn as much as I thought I did). As I sat on my plane flying to Las Vegas to run a half marathon, I kept wondering, why can’t I shake this need to measure everything? It was then that I decided I wouldn’t bring my watch on the run. I wouldn’t time myself. I was just going to try to enjoy the experience for what it was. After all, how often do you get to run down the Las Vegas strip at night (while, you know, not being chased by the police)?

Admittedly, this is a baby step. There are clocks along the race route. They are, however, timed to the start of the race – not for when I crossed the starting line. With thousands of people starting ahead of me, I didn’t start my race until nearly 15 minutes after the starting gun. I just ran as fast as I could – especially given the lack of sleep and early morning flight. And not once did I look at a watch. Turns out, I ran the second fastest ½ marathon I’ve ever finished. But, really? I didn’t care.

Instead, I took time to care about where I was. I took a great deal of time to check out all the neon that burned bright during the night race. I took every opportunity to give or get a high five from the people lining the streets. I slowed a bit at every band playing along the race route to sing along. I remembered some of the great work experiences I had in Vegas – like the opening of the Treasure Island. I talked to people running alongside me. I had fun. A lot of fun. For the first time in a long time, I enjoyed the experience of the journey.

And, ironically enough, I also enjoyed (yes, I admit it!) the cover band that was playing prior to the race start: The Journey Experience.

If that’s not a sign…