Beginnings

*** DISCLAIMER: Ramblings ahead. I woke up thinking the first line and wanted to let it come out, dragging a magician’s string of handkerchiefs behind it if it so desired. But I did want to publish it because that adds some reality that I couldn’t afford it if the bits and bytes that recorded these thoughts stayed locked away inside a digital den like so much treasure hoarded by a greedy dragon. ***

I sometimes think that my life didn’t really begin in earnest until I reached college. Specifically when I began attending Bradley University. It was then that I actually began to experience a tremendous amount of growth as a person – a trajectory which I would continue to see (grow and change) ever since.

I remember very clearly a moment when that growth was mentioned to me sometime in my second year. I was told by an acquaintance in Alpha Phi Omega that they thought I’d grown a lot in the last year and they were really impressed.

It was almost the first compliment I remember receiving that I had actually believed and taken pride in. (Sarah compliment) I don’t know if it was that moment that catalyzed the change I would continue to see in myself or if it was just a moment that would stick with me until now and hopefully for many years to come. But I do know that changing and growing has become more and more a part of me that I am proud of and focused on.

While I have many things about myself that I choose not to focus on out of fear or prioritization, there are many others (mostly internal perspectives and thought processes) that are constantly being re-evaluated and modified.

But these aren’t things I’m focusing on and then modifying. It’s more like being at the gym and working with a personal trainer where they are focusing not on the weights you’re lifting or the exercises you’re doing but on the form and movement of your body. (training with Khaled)

You start developing better habits around those movements by having awareness of where your body is out of alignment. It’s the awareness of things I want to do better in my life that helps me change.

The only issue I’ve run into that I have the most difficulty dealing/struggling with is that the more someone ELSE wants me to bring awareness to something and the less it was MY idea, the less likely I seem to want to change it.

A great example is biting my nails. I was never a hugely prodigious nail biter. I didn’t usually bite them down to the quick or have a lot of bleeding fingertip moments, but I did bite them quite a bit. I know I recognized the negative impact of biting my nails, but it continued on until sometime in 2011 or 2012 when I was taking guitar lessons. I wanted to learn how to finger-pick and that required having longer nails, so I stopped biting them.

That was it. No one asked me to stop biting them, or told me that I had to. It was just a question of “yeah, you’d probably be able to pick better if your nails were longer.”

Same thing with biting my fingers – I just decided I wanted to stop and while it’s been a much harder thing to quit, I find myself sticking to it more.

Ditto with smoking. I smoked from 1997 to about 2001 with a few months off around 1999  when I was trying to quit for my girlfriend at the time, (Jen). I recognized the negative aspects of smoking but they didn’t really stick in my head, nor the importance of stopping sooner than later.

I’m tempted to say something about how when you’re young you think you have all the time in the world, but the reality is that we’re always young, so that’s simply not a valid hypothesis. More accurate would be to say that our lives without focus and intention are not lives at all, but a string of experiences washed over us by an ocean of possibilities.

Someone posted on FB recently “vacation is having nothing to do and all day to do it in.” That was my life until college. And it’s not that it changed instantly that year and everything was different, but it was then that things began to shift.

And it took about 10 years from then for the shift to accelerate to where I am now. Somewhere in 2012 is where I started really living with intention. Focusing enough of my energy every day on living with intention that I felt a shift from experiencing life to living life.

It really is a subtle shift, but it’s an important one. And that doesn’t mean I’m in control of my life now any more than I was before – you can’t control the world. But you can impact how you experience it.

I say impact because I don’t believe you can control yourself any more than you can control the world. You can influence both but you can’t control either. It’s really just a question of living with intention at the time and truly believing afterward that you did the best you could.

Because doubt truly is the mind-killer. It shifts our focus implicitly into the past tense and does a really good job of keeping it there.

“I wish I’d been …” is evil. It goes against not only the natural order and the laws of space-time (as far I understand them) but also against who you are. Because you are the sum of the experiences you’ve had and the choices you’ve made. So if you were to change ANYTHING in your past, you wouldn’t be EXACTLY who you are today.

And if you don’t want to be exactly who you are today then how can you begin to become the person that you want to be tomorrow? More importantly, how will you ever be able to believe that you’re doing your best?

In a way it comes down to a simple statement which I think you can either accept or reject: “I am the best version of myself that I can be and I intend to continue as such.”

If you accept that statement completely and permanently, then you will never doubt your choices and you will have a firm foundation upon which to build every day of your future.

And that’s the blissful part of life for me. The thing that really keeps me going and moving forward at what can sometimes seem like they would be break-neck speeds. (skateboard)

I don’t doubt or waver or question myself – just do the best I can. That doesn’t mean I always know what to do or what will yield the “optimal result”. But it does mean that regardless of the result it will be optimal.

I had a great conversation with David S and a few others a while ago that was around the duality of the reality of life. Specifically that you have no control over what happens but you have complete accountability for it. I can’t control the things that happen to and around me, nor can I control the results of my actions. But at the same time, I create the world I experience and therefore the things that happen to and around me, and every result of my actions.

In most conversations I have with folks there’s an implicit assumption that either they have NO control over life, the universe, and everything, or they have FULL control over the same. The latter tend to be fewer in number, but the “manifestation” crowd is definitely growing.

I’ve also met a very small number of folks who speak about the third option – BOTH and NEITHER. Jack Butler was I think the first person to introduce me to this concept in a workshop that he did on being a conscious change agent.

I still remember seeing a chart on the board (enneagram?) that had four quadrants which I believe were segmented based on varying degrees of your influence over reality and reality’s influence over you.

One quadrant was the victim – no influence over reality or its influence over you, just stuck experiencing the world as it’s handed out. There was also the author, who on the opposite end of the spectrum influenced everything around them including (albeit passively) the color of the sky and the firmness of reality.

Then there was the shaman. This quadrant assumed a fluid ability to navigate and adjust their reality. Accepting the influence of the world on the self and the self’s influence on the world as equal in measure and importance. This is the quadrant that I was discussing with David et al and referring to above.

There was another quadrant but I don’t believe we ended up talking about it and I’m not sure what it would be. Reality has no influence over you and you have no influence over reality … hmm … I imagine a leaf. A phantasmal leaf forever blowing in an unsteady wind – unable to change, only to observe. It feels like a lonely existence.

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.

continue reading…

Perception

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.

continue reading…

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.

continue reading…

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…

Fear

There’s a great quote out there that goes something like “remember that fear is just an emotion. Danger is real and fear can alert you to it, but after that fear just gets in the way.”

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being afraid. It means your brain is working. The challenge is acknowledging fear, discovering its source and purpose, and letting it go.

One of the things that allows you to move past fear is faith, and this is where many religions do a lot of good – they give you something to put your faith into that you know will do the right thing.

With that said there is another kind of faith that isn’t mutually exclusive of the first and that I would argue is even more powerful: faith in yourself. The belief that you will do your best and things will turn out in the end.

The fear of following your intuition about living a different life can be a hidden fear that acts from the shadows – whispering to you in the dark from behind thick curtains.

It can manifest in a lot of fear loops that keep you stuck where you are. “I’m not ready yet” – the desire to make this perfect or to be fully prepared; “What if I wait it out” – the belief that things will get better if you just wait a little longer; “I’ll start slow and then do it” – the (usually faulty) desire to start living your ideal life while clinging to your old one.

There are many other ways that fear manifests itself but make no mistake that it is fear. continue reading…

The Bridge

It’s hard to accept that you will never achieve the perfect realization of your dream or vision.

A topic I’ve found myself discussing frequently this last week is how it’s difficult to get yourself going towards a goal or action when you want to achieve that goal or execute that action perfectly.

You can end up spending years plotting your startup and never do anything about it because “you aren’t quite ready yet.”

One of the conversations I had with a friend recently revolved around that issue and the question of when enough would be enough. The outcome of the conversation was a fairly simple metaphor: “You’ve been waiting for this boat to get closer so you can jump to it from the one you’re on, but it’s gotten so close that now it’s just incremental. You had two big barriers to entry and they’re both gone. Now the boat is within a few feet, easy jumping distance, and every day it’s only getting a few centimeters closer. It will never get right up next to you… Just jump already.”

Of course not everyone wants to jump from one boat in life to another, but that’s different. If you don’t want to jump, don’t! But accept that you don’t. No sense in looking longingly at the other boat wishing you “could” – you always can, but you have to decide to pursue it or let it go.

Another great conversation recently revolved around artists and led to this quote: “an artist is a person who can accept the difference between what they see in their head and what they create. Most people who say they’re not an artist can’t accept that difference.”

I’d say the same rule applies to a lot of things. If you want something you have to be able to accept that it will never be as you imagined… Not exactly anyway. continue reading…