The More Things Change …

For a little while in high school I totally got the coffee bug. Over winter break in my senior year there was this girl I was dating and we would occasionally meet at a coffee shop.

Most of the time I sat there sipping on my coffee (until it was lukewarm, then drinking it WAY too fast) and making things out of those little stirry-stick things – whatever they’re called. Which may actually just be stir-sticks. Anyway the point is that the reason I was there was to see her (and make things out of sticks) and not really to drink coffee.

But it totally seemed like what I was supposed to be doing. I mean, everyone else was drinking coffee and jumping off bridges, so why not me? OK well the bridge part may have been an exaggeration, but you know how peer pressure is. You start thinking that if you don’t do something everyone else is you’re not being … right. You’re wrong. You’re broken.

So I would drink the coffee after adding a lot of milk and sugar, I would sit there chatting with this girl I was infatuated with, and I would make little houses and forts and crazy contraptions with what I shall henceforth call stirry-sticks.

Occasionally I’d end up feeling butterflies in my stomach or just overall nervous. After a while it was more of a place thing – it was a question of “OK I’ve crossed the threshold into the coffee shop so … I can’t really NOT order coffee.

Sometimes I’d get this thought like I shouldn’t actually be drinking coffee, but then I’d feel kinda awkward and just order it. Baristas can be intimidating.

A few years later when I was in college I started smoking for much the same reason – I was a theater major living in Manhattan in the late 90’s … it might have actually felt ILLEGAL to not smoke. Plus I thought it was the “mysterious and cool yet emotionally complex” thing to do. My lungs thought it was really stupid but I didn’t listen to them for a while.

In the mid 2000’s I went to a great business school and got my MBA. I got a good job at a good company, and I worked in corporate America for 5 years alternating almost every month between “I ❤ my job!” and “SO UNFULFILLED!”

But that’s what I was supposed to be doing, right? Drinking the coffee! Doing big work for a big company and making big money! … well ok maybe replace the latter big with  “moderately proportionate to my experience level”. And yet every now and then I had a moment of clarity just like at the coffee shop, but then the barista would look at me funny and I’d just go back to work and pretend I hadn’t thought anything at all.

And then after a few years something snapped and I decided to act on my gut feeling that I didn’t really want to order that cappuccino. I just wanted a water, thank you. Maybe a beer.

So here I am, living my dream instead of someone else’s, trying to realize a vision I started piecing together almost a decade ago. I have full and complete control of my life and all the ups and downs in it. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think “Holy crap. Really? This is my life? I’m not dreaming?”

But you know what? When I walk into a coffee shop I still order a cappuccino. Small. Regular milk. Even if I really don’t need the caffeine or want a coffee.

Baristas can be intimidating.


Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

Ever since I was a kid I’ve occasionally had a kind of recurring fantasy: leaving everything and everyone I know behind and either surviving in the wilderness or moving somewhere far away and completely different.

Often that fantasy is preceded by recognizing some kind of lack in myself or something I want to improve. I like the idea of being able to go work on myself alone for a while. In fact anyone who’s ever gone on a retreat to figure out a problem or find a spiritual solution probably knows exactly what I’m talking about.

In “Imagine: How Creativity Works” there are a few examples of how changing your scenery or situation can spark a moment of ingenuity that enables you to overcome an obstacle or even just get your creative juices flowing. The idea is that if you remove yourself from your day-to-day situation you (at least temporarily) break free from the preconceptions and assumptions you have made about yourself, or that others have made and you’ve chosen to believe.

The problem is that eventually you have to come back to “the real world” and get back to whatever life you live. Hopefully you can start integrating some of the things you’ve realized or learned, though that’s certainly not always the case. There are a few great teachers out there trying to help people bridge the gap between these amazing realizations and how you apply them in day to day life, but it’s still a difficult journey.

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The Right Time

It can be difficult sometimes to know when you should leave a job or a situation in life.

A friend recently asked me what he should do about his job. It pays well and the hours are great, but he’s not interested or engaged.

This friend (let’s call him Joe) had been running a startup mastermind group and had been working to leverage his passion and skill in teaching to create a sustainable income.

After a few months he just couldn’t make it work to pay the bills. Next thing you know he’s working a sales job and he’s put his dreams on hold.

But after a few months the routine is getting old. The initial interest in his new job (like any honeymoon phase) is waning and he finds himself wondering whether to stay or go.

“If I leave”, Joe starts, “I can go back to doing what I love. What brings me alive. I’m not sure on the details of what it would be but I know it would feel better than this.”

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Climbing Mountains

One of the challenges I find myself faced with a lot is an inability to recognize and appreciate my successes. I mean, I know they happened, but I find myself already focusing on the next challenge without taking a moment to appreciate overcoming the last one.

Sometimes it seems like before I’ve even reached the summit of one mountain I’m planning the ascent of another.

Problem is, always focusing on the next thing may keep you occupied but it doesn’t necessarily keep you happy.

It’s kind of like Ferris Bueller says: “Life happens fast. If you don’t slow down and look around once in a while you might just miss it.”

Taking the time to appreciate our successes is one of those things that can easily seem useless but is VITAL to our happiness. Like a parent taking some time for themselves or a couple taking the time to go on an actual date after they’ve been together for a while.

It feels unnecessary and frivolous, but in reality it gives us a chance to recharge and refocus.

Think of an athlete or anyone at the gym. You can’t just keep working out all day every day because your muscles need a chance to recover – to get ready for the next round.

In “Startup Life” Brad Feld and his wife Amy talk about the importance of taking an unplugged vacation together on a regular basis.

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On 3/1 I had the great pleasure of hearing Ingrid Vanderveldt (@ontheroadwithiv) speak about making the Impossible possible.

It’s almost all about your perception of yourself and your life.

She told a great story about how when she was growing up she was forced to go to a “special” school because her teachers believed she was developmentally challenged.

To get to that school she rode in a “special” bus all by herself. Since one child on one bus was gumming up the works, she ended up being given a “special” parking spot.

So she here she was going to a “special” school on her “special” bus that parked in a “special” spot and young Ingrid thought to herself: “Wow. Look at all this ‘special’ stuff I get. I really must be  Special!”

She could have taken it to mean she was capable of less, but instead she took it to mean she was capable of more.

And boy howdy was she right. After starting a few companies and hosting a prime time TV show, she’s leveraging her position as Dell’s Entrepreneur in Residence to empower 1 BILLION women by 2020.

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Speaking at Ignite Boulder

The Alchemy of Following your Bliss

I was fine until about the 2nd talk before mine. That’s when my heart started speeding up.

Let’s say my heart normally walks along at 90 beats per minute. When that 2nd talk before mine started up my heart rate jumped to what felt like 120 bpm – what you’d normally experience jogging very slowly.

By the time the talk right before mine started I had gotten up to around 140 bpm – about what you feel when you’re sprinting.

When I got up on stage and started talking, I had hit the point where your heart is beating so hard and so fast that you could swear everyone can heAR yoU talkING fuNNY as your heart shoves every other syllable out of your mouth.

But I kept talking. I just kept going because I knew well enough to trust all the rehearsing I’d done and just let it all come out. And it worked – my heart was still beating a million miles an hour, but I was half way through without any major hiccups.

Then I messed up.

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Passion and Purpose

There’s a tremendous amount of pressure in Boulder to be an entrepreneur. It seems like every “what do you do” conversation I’ve heard involves a startup or wishes it did.

And there’s something magical in that, isn’t there? A culture where everyone wants to do something they’re passionate about and few if any want to work for “the man” and climb the corporate ladder?

During this last Ignite Boulder you could count on one hand the number of speeches that didn’t at least mention following your instinct, taking the path less traveled, or flat out quitting your job to follow your dreams.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with all this talk of passion and entrepreneurship, but one thing that worries me is the conversations I’ve had with people who seem to want to be an entrepreneur because that’s what they think they’re supposed to do.

And I believe that’s just as wrong as people going to school and climbing the corporate ladder because that’s what they think they’re supposed to do.

I had a great conversation with a young gentleman who started a business consulting firm. He pointed out something very important: passion alone can’t accomplish much – it requires the context of purpose to be of any real value. His argument was simple and revolved around a story.

Once there was a woman (let’s call her Jan) who worked as a mortgage broker. She was good at it and was paid well enough, but she had no desire to keep going. She thought she needed to leave her job, find her passion, and start a business.

She went to a seminar on finding your passion and by the end of the weekend was feeling flustered and irritated because she couldn’t figure out what to do, what kind of company to start. She spoke with the instructor and relayed her frustration, to which he replied: continue reading…