Is This Useful?

“Is this useful?” That was a question posed by Joseph Goldstein in one of the meditations offered on 10% Happier.

While he was referring to the thoughts and feelings that constantly tug at our focus and divert us from being present in our own lives, I would extend that question to the multitude of digital distractions at our fingertips.

Dozens of times a day I pick up my phone and fall headlong into a compulsive search for the tiniest hit of digital dopamine while neglecting everything right on front of me. It’s an addiction. Even now as I write the faint glow of my phone is tantalizing me into grabbing it just in case anything monumental has occurred in the last five minutes.

For several years I often wondered what I had done all day. I couldn’t remember, yet I felt so overwhelmed and busy. What was I so busy doing? I was buried in my phone. My time evaporated with each bit I shaved off for social media, games, apps and email. All those slivers add up into hours, days, weeks…

Click by click I was serving time in a self-imposed digital prison. I could have used that time growing or making or living or building or reading or loving or talking or walking or writing. Instead I was fulfilling my lifelong dream of becoming the Foursquare Mayor of the Ralph Kramden Statue.

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I can’t stop using my phone. Complete abstention is impossible. But I can modify my behavior and change the relationship. I can set limits and curtail the empty minutes and hours wasted.

Below are just a few things I do to limit my time online and on my phone. Rigorous pruning of my daily digital commitment has yielded powerful results. Sometimes it means tough choices, but I guarantee the time and freedom gained make up for the low-calorie enjoyment lost.

  • Unsubscribe from email lists.
  • Delete unnecessary apps.
  • Turn off all sounds and notifications.
  • Don’t take phone to meetings or the bathroom.
  • Close time wasting browser windows.
  • Drop RSS feeds.
  • At home, leave the phone in another room.

So what is useful in my life? You may notice I write frequently about six daily habits or practices that I have instituted over the last few years. All of these require putting down the phone and reclaiming my day.

Meditation. I take ten to fifteen minutes to sit and do nothing. The sense of calm and well being I feel most days is a direct result of meditation. It stops the negative chattering in my head and reinforces the good things.

Exercise. I lose weight, tension and stress. I gain strength, confidence and calm. With regular exercise, I feel sharper, more focused, and better prepared to handle the challenges of the day. It can be as easy as a short walk or as hard as I want to make it.

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Just Start

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Everyday I sit down to write. I rarely begin with an idea burning a hole in my brain. I’ve got nothing and I just start writing. If I am lucky an idea starts to come together. For me the process requires constant, repetitive, disciplined work. If I show up, the good ideas follow. It’s the work that creates the inspiration.

Eventually words become sentences become paragraphs and I don’t stop until I hit at least 750 words. I’ve stuck with it for two years. What began as a broken New Year’s resolution to write more has become a daily habit.

Just start. That mantra has been key for me the last few years in everything I do. Just write. Just run. Just meditate. Just exercise. JUST FUCKING START!

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I’ve got a serious inertia problem. Newton’s First Law of Motion states that a body at rest or in motion will remain at rest or in motion until acted upon by an equal or greater force. When my fat ass is parked on the couch eating Oreos, I blame Newton. At rest I am immovable, but in motion I can be unstoppable.

I pretended for decades that I was a writer, but never wrote a damn thing. I fussed over having the right tools. I set up a WordPress blog. I bought dictation software. I downloaded countless writing and productivity apps. I manicured my social media presence. But I still wasn’t writing.

One of my 2015 resolutions was to write more. I signed up for a series of daily writing prompts. It helped to a point, but it was a half measure. It wasn’t until February 8th of that year when I signed up for 750words that I made a commitment to change a habit. On that day I made the decision to JUST START.

Just starting every day took so much effort at first. I focused on one day at a time for a week, two weeks, a month, three months, six months and then a year. Somewhere along the way it became a habit, an almost instinctual part of what I do every day. Now the momentum of two years of daily writing is behind me, rocketing me forward. I will keep on writing because the pressure to continue is greater than the pressure to stop.

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This month I made the commitment to up the ante and publish every single day. I appreciate everyone who has read, liked, commented and offered feedback and support. I’ve missed one day because I was falling asleep at my desk drooling onto the keyboard. I failed to finish, but I started.

I would rather fail to finish than fail to start.

I Fought the Law (And the Law Won)

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Apparently This Means Stop

Cutting hard between two taxis, I accelerated to avoid a collision. As I veered across the blacktop I may have used salty language requesting a panel van driver pick a lane or kindly move aside. I shifted into a higher gear and hammered the pedals, breaking into the bike lane that opens up near Jefferson Market on Sixth Avenue. The signal at 10th Street turned yellow, then red. Ignoring everything I learned in Driver’s Education, I roared through the light. I had places to go and things to do. Move it, people!

The well hidden cop who stepped out from behind an SUV and asked that I kindly stop was not aware of my plans. After I failed his lighthearted quiz as to why I so brazenly broke the rules of the road, he asked for my license and left me there to ponder the error of my ways. While I looked back on my extensive life of bicycle-related crime, countless cyclists blew through the same light and their freedom mocked my predicament. A few minutes later the kind officer came back with my consolation prize, a $190 ticket.

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You’ve Been a Bad Boy!

Here’s the deal. I broke the law. I ran a red light right in front of a cop. I’ve been riding Citibike for almost 4 years. With 1,400 miles and 1,200 rides under my belt I was due for a ticket. I had become a hardcore bike criminal, running red lights at every opportunity, ignoring the flow of traffic when it suited my needs, cutting in front of cars and crossing traffic illegally, even riding on sidewalks.

I rode without regard to most laws in order to get to where I wanted to go as quickly as possible. That’s the beauty of cycling in the city. Get there now! No traffic jams. No sweaty subway platforms. No waiting for cabs. Just jump on and go. Amortized, it costs me 40 or 50 cents per ride. It’s the only way to travel in Manhattan.

But then I got busted. Good for me. I deserved it and I paid my debt to society.

It’s odd that I am such an aggressive cyclist while I am a conservative driver. I rarely go faster than the cars around me. I stop for red lights and follow the signs. Everything I am as a driver is everything I am not as a cyclist.

What is the difference between breaking the rules as a rider or as a driver? There are real consequences as a driver. If I drove like I ride I would have lost my license long ago and priced myself out of affordable auto insurance. That doesn’t even count the possible accidents and risk of severe injury or death. It is as if two different people exist in my regard for the laws on NYC streets. There is Dr. Jekyll the driver, upholder of the law and Mr. Hyde the rider, flaunter of all rules.

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So what does this say about me? Am I an honest person who gets out of control on a bike? Or am I a highly deceitful individual who only conforms to the rules he is afraid to break? Does this behavior extend beyond cars and bikes? Maybe I am just a bad man whose only constraint is fear of consequences. Perhaps I would live a life of crime if I knew I could get away with it. If it weren’t for those meddling rules. But I digress.

After I pocketed the ticket and jumped back on the bike I couldn’t wait to blow through some lights, break some laws and vent some anger on the way uptown. However, I made a decison. Play by the rules. No more tickets. No more two-wheeled crime sprees. Now, I wait for all the lights, stay off the sidewalks and proceed only in the correct direction on one way streets. I’ve become a law abiding rider, noticing two things right away.

One, I am a much more relaxed cyclist. I worried my usual routes would take so much longer when I followed the rules. While adding a negligible amount of time, it gave me the gift of calm. I’ve become less aggressive and enjoy the peaceful pace. No insanity and I get there just the same.

Two, as cyclists we are our own worst enemies. Wonder why cabbies, pedestrians, truck drivers and cars hate us? Perhaps it is because we ride like jerks. We weave in and out, blasting through red lights and stop signs. We go the wrong way on one way streets and ride on the sidewalks if it gets us there faster. Yet, we are the first to bitch if someone cuts us off or doesn’t see us.

Getting a ticket knocked a little sense into me. I don’t own the streets and neither do cars or pedestrians. We share it. If we want the city, the police, other drivers and pedestrians to take us seriously and respect our rights as cyclists we need to change the way we share the road. If not, there’s a $190 ticket out there with your name on it.

 

Carrots, Apples and Pears, Oh My! Weight Watchers, Part 1

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It’s What’s For Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Grapefruit, kale, strawberries, lemons, limes, chia seeds, protein bars, tofu, almond milk, coffee with skim, sugar free jello. Mmm, that’s pretty much my diet these days. You might notice the distinct lack of anything fun or indulgent or even that satisfying.

Welcome to Weight Watchers.

On the last Saturday of August I made a commitment to lose weight. My muffin top (and muffin bottom) had been troubling me for a few years. I spent 2009 through 2012 wearing pants that were too tight and vanity prevented me from jumping to a 38 inch waist. At one point I weighed in at career high 248.

The tipping point was running races. I was putting in 20-25 miles a week and racing once or twice a month. With all my training I assumed I had lost more than just a few pounds, but my race times were slowing down. My advancing years could account for some of the sluggishness I felt on hills, but there was more to it. I decided to weigh myself for the first time in over a year and was shocked to see I was still carting 238 pounds around. Damn.

I can’t just sort of lose weight in the same way that I can just sort of do anything. I need to go all in or it won’t happen. Half-assed isn’t the path to success for me. I was primed for action. Enter Weight Watchers. They had a decent deal going so I signed up. Downloading the app, I realized there was no turning back. This was the push I needed. I was on the edge and now my momentum was heading in the right direction.

Entering my details online, I received 41 SmartPoints per day plus 42 weekly points to use as I saw fit. I also could earn extra FitPoints through exercise. In case you are wondering, a single fast food meal can devour all those SmartPoints and not even fill you up.

I did Weight Watchers about a dozen years ago and it was a little different. Back then just about everything counted against me. Today I can eat all the fruit and vegetables I want, plus protein is a good bet. Sugar, oil and carbs are pretty much no-nos. I can eat them, but they aren’t worth the points. Goodbye bread, butter and breakfast cereal!

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Teeth Not Required

The NutriBullet I received for my birthday has played a big role in my program. Every morning I toss a bunch of fruit, almond milk, greens and protein powder into a cup and blend it up for a perfect low calorie breakfast smoothie. Some nights I return for a dinner bullet with greens, tomatoes, hot sauce, lemon and whatever else sounds good. They aren’t always as delicious, but they fill me up. Some days it seems I hardly use my teeth at all as my meals now come in liquid form. Yum!

My strategy is to preserve FitPoints by eating a low point breakfast and a medium point lunch so I can eat a decent dinner. Three nights a week we’ve been cooking Blue Apron and those are pretty satisfying after a long day of apple slices and crudité. Occasionally I indulge with a slice of pizza or a bagel, but most days are pretty simple and kind of boring.

At first I was starving. Then I was always a little bit hungry. Now it’s just what I do. It sounds torturous, but you get used to it. I make sure I have a lot of point-free snacks so I don’t want to splurge on a box of cookies or a half dozen doughnuts. Dessert has all but disappeared from my life as has most processed sugar.

That’s what is key about Weight Watchers. It forces me to track and think about everything I eat. At some point soon I will hit my goal and have to figure out a sensible compromise between complete deprivation and eating everything in sight. The real trick will be learning how to keep it off.

So far it’s been six months. How much have I lost? The answer in Part 2 coming soon.

 

 

No Use Crying Over Spilled Goldfish

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My three year old experienced a significant personal setback earlier today. His special treat after a swimming lesson was a baggie of rainbow goldfish, perhaps his favorite food of all time. As we braved the frozen hellscape the weather forecasters referred to as a wintry mix, he was engaged in what amounts to gleeful multitasking for young boys. While munching his brightly hued salty snacks he was pelting dad with ice rocks and splashing through each and every puddle in his path.

As he became fully engrossed in demolishing a rather deep pop-up pond on the sidewalk, he neglected to notice the precarious position of his goldfish and they escaped the confines of the baggie and returned to the sea. A great horrified howl arose behind me and I saw the smiling little piscine shapes bloating in the cold dirty water. He cried bitter tears of great suffering and loss as if there were no consolation for his disintegrating snacks.

It was a bittersweet moment and it is easy to laugh a little at his plight. We’ve all lost an ice cream cone in the dirt or seen our freshly jellied toast land delicious side down on the floor. Yet, his pain was intense and very real. For a few moments he grieved with such profound sadness. There was no future. Everything was gone.

Despite his disbelief, there was another serving of goldfish waiting at home. Once we ditched our boots and warmed our hands he had a small bowlful to feast upon. With renewed joy he shoveled them into his gullet moments after we returned.

His predicament provokes comparison to my own horror when faced with setbacks and challenges. There are times when my suffering is very real and I shed tears and see no light in the darkness. This is the end. This failure is the ultimate failure. All possibility has been crushed. This loss ends everything.

But wait.

I’ve learned the only answer is to stand up, dust myself off and move on. There is an ample supply of goldfish waiting in the cupboard. I can’t save those who drowned in the puddle, but I can accept their loss, grieve for the snack that could have been and make my way back home.

 

Is Cooking a Secret Key to Productivity?

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For an hour I was in my kitchen engaged in a frenzy of synchronized motion, focused solely on cooking dinner. Just a man, his knives and a frying pan. Everything else faded into the background. It was a Blue Apron night and I tackled fresh linguine pasta with roasted fennel and garlic breadcrumbs.

First, I prepped the ingredients. Slicing an aromatic fennel bulb into thin slivers, I readied it for roasting. I zested and deseeded a lemon, then minced and mashed fresh garlic. The last step was chopping castelvetrano olives. I am in perfect harmony with my knife and cutting board intoxicated by the sounds and smells.

No fingers were lost in the preparation of this meal.

Then, the cooking began in earnest. The fennel roasted while I browned butter to make garlic breadcrumbs. Once the breadcrumbs were toasted to a nice golden brown I prepared the sauce, combining the lemon juice and zest with olive oil. My fresh linguine finished boiling on the back burner. Coating my al dente pasta with the sauce, it was ready to plate.

While I cook I never fail to disparage the dish until it all comes together. At the last moment I realized how good it would be. When I nestled a hearty dollop of lemon ricotta atop the pasta and garnished it with chopped green olives and homemade breadcrumbs, I knew it was a home run.

Minutes later it was gone. We destroyed it.

I love cooking, but life and kids and work and chores and more kids pretty much get in the way. My go-to approaches for meal preparation are either something frozen from Trader Joe’s in the microwave or something else from a menu delivered to my front door. Sure, I might get fancy and make real food on the weekend, but burritos take just minutes from freezer to plate to my gaping maw, so the stove doesn’t get much action.

Then, my beautiful fiancée scored me three nights of Blue Apron per week. They do the hard work of getting the ingredients to my kitchen along with a recipe. It’s up to me to slice, dice, roast, stir, sauté and beat those fixings into something resembling dinner. In just four months I have rediscovered the sheer delight and serenity of cooking.

The process of creating something delicious while under pressure to pull it all together is an adrenaline rush. Hammering through the prep work while whisking a sauce and caramelizing onions demands perfect timing. One mistake and my hard work could end up in the compost. I love making it happen and seeing the results.

After a few months of stretching my culinary abilities (as well as my gustatory limits) I realize several things I demand as a cook also ring true in how I maximize my productivity in life and at work.

No Distractions. I am at my best when I can concentrate fully and put all my focus into the task at hand. I don’t mind quick conversations or interruptions, but I’m working. Cooking demands full attention or food burns, sauces curdle and dinner suffers. I want to be fully engaged and immersed in preparing the best meal I can.

Clear Space, Clear Head. Some thrive in a cluttered space. Not me. The kitchen island must be empty, the dishes washed and the counters clear. When I can chop all my ingredients, arrange them in bowls while I am preparing everything with ample workspace and plenty of clean dishes, that is a little bit of heaven.

The Right Tools Matter. I want the right tools for the job. Sharp knives, good pans, utensils within reach, all sizes of measuring spoons and a full set of measuring cups. Plus, I want my tools organized and always in the same place. That’s all.

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The Best Christmas Gifts Ever

Preparation, Practice & Repetition. Prepping ingredients is key to a successful meal. The sight of several colorful bowls of vegetables, herbs and other ingredients all perfectly chopped is so satisfying. A few months ago I worked slowly and meticulously. The details matter and I wanted to do it right. Through sheer repetition my skills have improved and now I speed through the process. I have a long way to go to master the kitchen, but I’ve begun to deploy my growing proficiency on non-Blue Apron nights.

Prioritize. This is the balancing act, the make or break part of the cooking process. The more I sauté, stir and roast, the more I learn to juggle several tasks simultaneously. The rote functions have become instinctual and I have it down to a science (with occasional laboratory explosions). Some days it all flows and I can push all parts of the dish forward without missing a beat.

Presentation Is Everything. It might taste great, but if it looks terrible I’ve failed. This is why focus on every step to get to this point matters. All my work is wasted unless that dish pops off the plate and says “Eat Me!”

Clean Up Your Mess And Do It All Again Tomorrow.
Sink, soap, sponge, drainer. Leave no trace. Need I say more?

Lessons Learned Running a 100 Mile Relay Race

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Seven years ago I took part in GE Training at their Crotonville, NY campus. Much of our time was dedicated to navigating corporate politics and developing large-scale, effective teams. According to the curriculum, building a functioning group could take months or even years. There are four levels in a team’s life cycle according to Bruce Tuckman’s model of group development: storming, storming, norming and performing. That is some unwieldy baggage if you need to get something done right now.

On the flipside you’ve got Minimum Viable Product (MVP),  a concept popularized by Eric Ries. The basic idea is to build a product quickly and inexpensively with just enough features to attract early adopters. As you add users you iterate and add to your product based on the feedback from customers. It’s all about immediacy, speed and agility.

In the years since I took that training it’s been fascinating to watch large corporations dump traditional business strategies, adopting MVP and Lean Startup principles. They’ve had to reinvent once-sacred processes in an effort to bring better products to market faster.

Last summer I took part in the 100 On 100 Relay, an epic day-long race. We had to come together as a team, run like hell for fourteen hours and survive a grueling endurance event. This meant embracing concepts from both Tuckman and Ries to get from one end of Vermont to the other.

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We had a clear goal. Our team of six people had to run 100 miles along Vermont Highway 100 from Stowe to Okemo. The race organizers provided us with a map and first aid at transition points. Apart from that we were on our own. It was up to us to organize, delegate, hydrate and operate our minimally staffed running startup for one long day.

We organized. I only knew one teamate well. I had run a few times with another, but hadn’t seen him in eight years. Another I raced with once in 2006. Two members I had never met before that morning. I was going to spend the next fourteen hours packed into a car with them. We had to make it work.

We made decisions. We hadn’t chosen which legs to run prior to the race. Fifteen minutes before the start we picked our assignments consisting of three legs per person. Each runner was responsible for roughly seventeen or eighteen miles. One leg in the morning, one leg in the afternoon, one leg at night. Our first runner was off at 8:15am. The rest of us tumbled into the car. We formed immediately. You get pretty friendly pretty fast while sweating and farting in a crowded SUV packed with runners.

We acted immediately. There was no dithering or hesitation or non-performance. We each got a number. #1 was responsible for legs 1, 7 and 13. #2 was on the spot for 2, 8 and 14. And so on. When your number was up you took the fluorescent snap bracelet and started running. It was your job to get your ass and the snap bracelet five, six or seven miles down the road.

We found our roles. At first there was a bit of politeness and hesitation about who would drive or who would sit where. Pretty soon someone would grab the keys and go. Someone else would carry water to the runner. It was no longer about courtesy. Now, it was about doing our job and iterating as we went. Feedback was constant and fixes were put into place immediately.

We cooperated. We normed quickly. One of us would buy ice while another would check the map for our next transition spot. One would get water ready for the incoming runner while another would make sure our outgoing runner was ready. We acted on instinct and nobody slacked. Our organization was flat and everybody gave it everything they had.

We suffered and endured setbacks. The only storming came from external forces. We ran through soupy lung-sopping humidity. We endured a massive thunderstorm and got soaked. There were hills that crushed souls and hot open spaces that burned skin. We ran in the dark on a lonely highway with only reflective vests and headlamps to protect us from oncoming cars. Our only job was to get further down the road. I ran my first leg like I was racing a 10k and after three miles I crumbled in the heat like a house of cards. My pace dropped by two minutes per mile. I crawled up a final massive insult of a hill with my stomach gurgling, my spirit destroyed and my energy reserves gone. I still had another tow legs and twelve miles to cover. I would never make it. They would find me out.

We brought the best out of one another. While one runner put in mileage the rest would follow by car. The team was there every couple of miles with water, Gatorade, or whatever the runner needed. The cheering and encouragement from the support vehicle made all the difference. We even had cowbell! Plenty of cowbell.

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Our greatness combined transcended all our individual weaknesses and shortcomings. We were performing. I found the strength to head into my second leg. I had seven miles to race with nothing left. Left foot, right foot. The sandwich hollering in my gut was declaring its independence, yet I was determined to keep going. I gave everything I had to the team. Somehow, leg two was a vast improvement over leg one. By leg three I was done, but the spirit and unity of our group carried me forward. Without them I couldn’t have covered that final five miles in the dark on a meandering dirt road. I couldn’t let these people down. They were my team.

We succeeded. Together we ran 100 miles. One step at a time. One mile after another. Somewhere around 9:58pm our sixth runner climbed the last pummeling hill in the dark and crossed the finish line. We gathered around and hugged like we had known one another for years.

We celebrated. At the end there was beer for the drinkers and food for the eaters. After eighteen miles of running and fourteen hours of riding shotgun just about anything is gourmet fare. We destroyed piles of baked beans, pulled pork, hot dogs and fruit as if they were the greatest delicacies ever prepared.

What we had done in that day takes organizations forever to accomplish. We came together, bonded over a quest, faced countless challenges and made it across the finish line. We will never unite as a group again, but in one day we formed, stormed, normed and performed. We produced, iterated and pivoted like a well-tuned startup. In the end we slayed the goddamn dragon and went home happy.

Float, Float On

Suspended in a warm pool of water, I float in the pitch black. There is no sound, just a loud, overpowering silence. I am falling, slowly, but steadily. I spin around in a whirlpool and wonder when I will be sucked down the drain. When my toe touches something solid. I remember for a moment where I am and what is happening. Then I drift off into the darkness and begin to fall once again.

I first became interested in flotation tanks years ago watching William Hurt lose his mind in Altered States. He played a doctor who would ingest huge amounts of drugs, seeking transcendence in a sensory deprivation tank. It was a fantastic movie and the thought of floating in suspended animation had great appeal to my teenage mind.

Decades later I began to meditate and explore the idea of altered consciousness, but without drugs. Once again the isolation tank called my name. I researched places and prices, but never took the leap. I may have slipped a few hints and my wonderful fiancée scored me a newbie two float package for my birthday at the Aspire Center for Health + Wellness.

Their site claims the following benefits from flotation.

1 Magnesium promotes muscle relaxation and improves overall sleep quality.

2 Researcbh shows that floating improves Theta wave activation, key for better relaxation and deep meditation.

3 It is scientifically proven to improve short term and chronic pain conditions.

4 The brain becomes more right side dominant without senses, which promotes creativity.

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Lady In Bikini Not Included

Without hesitation I booked my first appointment. They offer two different flotation tanks, Oasis or Tranquility. Opting for Tranqulity, I inspected the massive white and blue pod dominating the room. The technician gave me the lowdown, showing me the light switch in the tub as well as the button to open and close the hatch. She gave me earplugs that I would need when  I got in the pod. She set the timer for 66 minutes and left the room. I ditched my clothes, rinsed off and entered the murky warm water.

So here I am bare ass naked settling into a body temperature pool of water loaded with 1000 pounds of epsom salt. This allows the body to float on the surface. I laid back, popped in the earplugs, shut off the lights and closed the lid.

My first impression was of the complete blackness and absolute silence. It was very peaceful and I waited for the magic to happen. For the first trick my neck and shoulders ached. The air was stuffy and the salt water leaked past the earplugs. For a few interminable minutes I had buyer’s remorse. The discomfort was acute and made more so by the isolation. Once I settled in I began to lose track of time. 10 minutes? 20 minutes? At a point time became irrelevant. My body felt heavy beyond belief as if gravity had doubled or tripled. I pushed my hands down slowly and could feel the water rise. Moving just a finger seemed to create a tiny tidal wave in my secret pod world.

Expecting the ultimate meditation opportunity, I tried to relax and focus on my breath. Instead of the usual calm my brain exploded with an overload of disconnected, insane thoughts. A wild cacophony of random sounds, colors and images rocketed through my head. I tried a few times to hush the tornado between my ears, but meditation wasn’t going to happen. I couldn’t stop the raging flow of my mind. I teetered between awareness and a vague dreamlike state. None of it made sense.

At one point I imagined that the world was ending and here I was floating butt naked in a pool of dirty salt water. Disaster was all around me, but I was tucked away in my hidden bunker. I would emerge to the smoking ruins of civilization covered in a rime of epsom salts and flecks of other people’s skin and hair.

Then the lights came back on. My 66 minutes were up. Was it already over? The pod automatically opened. Had I done that by accident?  I felt groggy and heavy. Could I even use my muscles? I staggered up and grabbed a towel, stumbling over to the shower with pod water pouring all over the floor. It wasn’t until I was dressed and had some fresh water to drink that I began to feel normal. The rest of my day was very mellow and my energy level hovered somewhere between sluggish and slow.

Float 2 took place one week later. This time I chose Oasis, a rectangular tank that’s bigger and a bit more old school. Since I’d had time to process the previous float, week 2 was less a revelation. I was already a pro and I slipped off my clothes, took a quick shower and slid into the body temperature water, closing the lid and waited for the lights to go down. Once inside I laid back and bounced like a buoy from side to side until the water settled.

Let’s talk about that water. First of all it has a slightly pungent odor, not offensive, but with a certain staleness, perhaps a hint of dirty gym socks. It is slick and slightly slimy. This time I thought a lot more about all the naked bodies that have floated in that same briny tub. While the idea of so many nether parts soaking in the ooze is gross, the 1000 pounds of epsom salt does kill everything in its path.

To avoid the stiffness and discomfort in my neck and shoulders the float technician suggested I use the inflatable neck pillow this time around. While the pillow relieved the muscle tension it created a bit of a disconnect from the water. I wasn’t completely immersed. My ears were above water and I could hear the sounds of the building.

However I was much more relaxed, my mind considerably calmer and more focused. Meditation almost happened, but I couldn’t quite get there. My brain wasn’t ricocheting in a dozen different directions, but sensory deprivation only served to amplify the white noise in my skull to fill the void. I was much more aware of time passing. The hour slowly drifted by on a river of random thoughts, never entering the sleepy, dreamy state I achieved the week before. When the lights came on I calmly stepped out, refreshed and alert.

I’ve checked this off my bucket list, but wonder if I will do it again. With two floats under my belt I realize it wasn’t what I expected. I had envisioned a William Hurt Altered States style mind altering transformation. Instead I had a synapse exploding confused first float followed by a calm and relaxing second float. Both hours in the pod offered a chance to competely disconnect from time and the world for an hour, leaving me relaxed and kind of dopey for the rest of the day. I am curious how the experience would evolve if I floated regularly.

Hmm, it’s not cheap and I have a birthday coming up. Hint, hint.

Help Wanted: People Who Make Stuff

A recent Business Insider article claims 47% of all jobs will go away in the next few decades and be replaced by robots. They claim the safest of the remaining 53% will be careers requiring creative thinking. Looks like the people who come up with amazing and wonderful things will always be in demand.

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Over the past few years I’ve realized how much I love a job making stuff as opposed to talking about stuff. For more than a decade my day consisted of being trapped in meetings where we pretended to come up with great ideas only to ouija board our way toward a consensus that would support what the boss wanted. It was rare that any of these meetings resulted in making something new or breathtaking. The culture demanded rote products that made the corner office happy and allowed us to keep our jobs for another day.

Throughout the aughts I saw more and more people position themselves as marketers as opposed to creatives. The thinking seemed to be job protection by couching what you did under the umbrella of innovation and adding to the bottom line. Creatives were often viewed as a cost center where marketers positioned themselves as revenue generators.

New job titles emerged with each successive trend in marketing. Executive Digital Marketing Architects. Social Talent Optimizers. Brand Strategy Evangelists. Data Scientists. Growth Officers. Not to mention all the Rock Stars, Wizards, Ninjas and Gurus roaming the hallways. While I admired their efforts to protect and prolong their careers, I was often stumped as to what many of them did all day. So often the proffered new solutions were tried and true tactics wrapped up in pretty packaging and powerpointed as a brave new strategy. Soon buzzwords like robust, disruption, incentivize, actionable, transformative and countless others were raging alarms that the emperor had no clothes.

I cringe when I think of all the meetings I sat in with a poorly feigned rictus of benign interest while I was dying a little inside. I glad-handed and ass kissed and nodded in over-enthusiastic agreement like a chirping little productivity automaton. It was a massive soul suck and there was no escape. I wasn’t making anything but more work.

Fast foward to me sitting bewildered in an edit room for the first time in over a decade. I wondered why I wasn’t wearing a suit and acting excited in a conference room somewhere. At first I thought I was just doing this until I got a real job. This was merely a layover at a small airport on the way to somewhere much bigger and more important.

But then I got to make stuff.

There is such satisfaction in completing a project. I get to build things, working with music, video, graphics and words. I solve tricky little problems and get paid to do it. Instead of rushing from conference room to conference room, firing off a flurry of emails while rushing blindly down the hall, I stay in one room working with great people on movies and shows I love. Before I would stagger back to my office while others left the building for the evening and settle in to do my actual work. By then the thrill was gone and I would stumble through the important stuff, too tired to give a damn if it was was done or not. I had dozens of projects happening simultaneously and I could only afford to offer them minimal attention. Now I focus my efforts on one or two projects, making sure they are perfect. All my efforts happen during normal work hours so my time in the evening can be directed toward family, writing, exercise and reading.

I wonder if all those strategists can keep the marketing buzzword machine rolling while the robots come for our jobs. I wonder if I can keep a few steps ahead as well. The one thing I have going for me is I make stuff.

To put it in Gaping Void’s words, “Creativity…that economy will never die.”

Fingers crossed.

When Bad Advice is the Best Advice

Sometimes bad advice is the best advice. Wait, what? Yes, terrible advice can be the key to discovering what you really want.

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A few months back I approached someone whose thinking I trust. They’ve been very helpful and supportive in the past, offering sharp, critical advice on several occasions. This time I had some questions regarding a possible opportunity. I made my inquiry and the response I got left me nonplussed and a little indignant. I replied with a polite thank you, but then I started to stew.

The answer was not what I was expecting and it really rubbed me the wrong way. I will be fair and say it was honest and directas well as supportive and offered in kindness, but it didn’t sit right. This friction spurred me to dig deep and take a long look at what I really wanted. My anger and visceral response reaffirmed for me what my core strengths and key accomplishments really are. This burst of confidence game me some clarity and focus.

We all turn to friends, family, colleagues and mentors for advice and insight. It is crucial to the decision making process to have a sounding board. This front line is your personal group of beta testers. A broad variety of opinions will often put things into perspective, giving you some much-needed objectivity. However, you must gut check this feedback before acting on it. If it doesn’t feel right, it could be the wrong direction, even if it comes from a trusted source.

The internal mantra that popped into my head after this experience was a classic line from Season 6 of The Walking Dead (S6E1 First Time Again). Rick Grimes questions the soon to be dead Tucker, “Do you have any idea who you’re talking to?” Rick hasn’t always made the best decisions, but he has fought every step of the way and survived while others doubted and died.

Mentors and friends have a limited perspective on what you’ve done and who you are. Get lots of feedback when making a big decision, but in the end, only you know the right answer for you.

I didn’t get the response I wanted, but I got the answer I needed.

Thank you for the advice, friend. It was terrible and you definitely had no idea who you were talking to. I respect you and regard you as a great supporter and occasional mentor, but for this one I will take it from here. I may not succeed at what I asked you about, but you gave me a big jolt of confidence. It was exactly the backhanded kick in the ass I needed in that moment. It was the best advice I’ve received in months.