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.

Letting Go of the Past

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A few weeks back I accidentally published this post in rough draft form. Mortified, I trashed it immediately. It had a long way to go before I would have been willing to put it out there. However, a friend caught it and asked why I had deleted it. Too personal. Too confessional. However, his comments resonated. He said it was “thoughtful” and he would be “proud to have come up with that.” Writing it did help me sort out a few things and maybe others can find something that works for them. Marsh Gooch, thanks for the push.

What happened to my once impervious exoskeleton of cynicism and sarcasm mixed with a pinch of scorn? Is losing my ironic distance and signature snark a result of age and maturity, greater self-confidence or having life hand my ass to me a few times? The answer is all of the above, but nothing like an ass whooping to effect change. My big takeaway from the last decade is life sucks when you’re going through the worst, but the lessons learned are invaluable.

Moving forward is the only answer. For too long I held onto the past, wading in yesterday’s waters and wallowing in regrets and resentments. That reluctance to let go hindered any advancement. However, letting go of the past is imperative. I’ve got four kids all at different stages of need and development. I’ve got a wonderful fiancée. Plus, I need to figure out how to keep making money for the next 20 years and have that last for 20 more after that. Big challenges require a forward focus, not a dithering and frightened stare at the past.

I had a vision recently of me holding on desperately to a past I couldn’t recapture no matter how hard I tried. Same guy, same suit, same job, hoping to sustain what he had always known and always done, never suspecting that his winning strategy had been failing him for years. I had developed the wrong approach to handling life’s challenges. My only solution was to do the same thing again and again and again, only with more force and more determination. And the results never improved.

For a big chunk of my career I created far too much baggage. I needed an office, a suit, a staff, and a day packed with meetings to do whatever it was that I did. When I was booted from one high level job I didn’t have the self awareness to let go and move on to the next phase of my life. I thought all I needed was a hand on the rungs of the next ladder. Why couldn’t I climb right back up from where I had fallen? Life would pick up and go on as it always had. Wrong!

When I got tossed to the pavement once again I started to hear the lessons life was trying to teach me. Still, I didn’t quite catch everything and attempted to battle my way backwards to what used to be. The next big job never materialized and I found myself still wondering what the hell went wrong.

After years of moving forward in a single direction my road had moved sideways long before I knew I needed to turn. The resulting pain came from offroading through a bumpy, boulder-strewn section of life while expecting the way to be smooth and paved. Funny how decades of a single winning strategy can blind you to the critical lifesaving necessity of a new direction and new tactics.

I need to flail and fail a little longer before I began to get the first simple signs of a new freedom and a way forward. Of course, I was so caught up in the past I nearly missed them. Then one day I bombed a CitiBike down 7th Avenue with my computer, phone and everything I needed in my messenger bag. In that adrenalized moment as I jockeyed between cabs and delivery trucks I knew things had changed. I didn’t need an office. I didn’t need a suit. I didn’t have to waste my time in endless meetings. I could work wherever I found wifi and an outlet. And maybe coffee.

That was the day I realized my old life was dead and gone.

Change and acceptance are hard. It means adjusting to a new way of doing things and reevaluating expectations for my life and my career. Letting go takes practice and perseverance. There is no magic answer. I have worked hard on creating daily habits that expedite the process, looking forward rather than backward. Exercise. Meditation. Gratitude. Reading. Writing. Setting goals. All of these contribute to a renewed sense of purpose and accomplishment.

This sometimes painful process has opened up a host of new possibilities and opportunities. Instead of one straight freeway ahead of me I see a lot of different paths with unseen twists and turns. There is no autopilot, but the view is much more scenic and the ride more interesting. I move forward every day a little nicer, a little kinder and full of gratitude for the road ahead.

 

 

 

Everybody is a Thought Leader, Right?

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Social media has given rise to the age of the self-proclaimed thought leader. Maybe they style themselves ninjas, disruptors, innovators or change agents. Whatever the moniker they are out there and there sure are a lot of them. Should you choose to believe the hype, they are the biggest of the big thinkers, the Star-Bellied Sneetches of thinkers if you will.

For a time I immersed myself in networking hoping to meet the big thinkers, the gurus and the rule breakers. I wanted to learn from the best and brightest. I dashed from meetup to meetup, panel to panel, conference to conference, soaking up all that big thinking. My dance card was full almost every night. I tweeted. I hashtagged. I namechecked. I played the social media game to the hilt. I basked in the glory of all that thought leadership mere steps away.

After months of aggressively pursuing networking opportunities I started to notice a few things.

The same people spouted the same tired opinions on panel after panel. There would be an occasional blast of truly original or even radical thought, but all too often everyone was reading from the same script. The law of diminishing returns set in. The more I went, the less I learned.

With so many panels, conferences and meetups there just weren’t enough brilliant minds to go around. Somebody had to fill those chairs up on those stages. Every event seemed loaded with a bunch of inexperienced speakers selling boilerplate conventional wisdom or just showing up to pitch their company or product. Everybody gets a trophy!

The audience was often bored. More eyes were focused on smartphones than on what was happening in the room. All the onlookers looked as if they were thinking, “Hurry up and let’s get to the part where we exchange business cards.” It wasn’t that much fun.

The end of the night scrum to hobnob with the speakers was always awkward. Business cards sliced the air like throwing stars and the rules of civility were tossed aside by the rabble. Plus, there was always the added bonus of chatting with someone while they half listened and kept a vigilant lookout over my shoulder for someone more important.

What did I learn? I became an expert in buzzwords. I shook hundreds of hands. I made a lot of small talk. I ate a lot of pizza. I collected bushels of business cards. Yes, I did meet some great people and even made a few friends, but it was usually too much work for little reward. In the end, I mostly got bored and wanted go home.

The real lessons are simple. Choose the right networking opportunities with an emphasis on quality over quantity. Make sure the speakers are really at the top of their game and have something brilliant to impart. Try to make a few genuine connections at an event instead of working the room. If in doubt, go workout or head home instead. There are plenty of better uses for yout time.

Sure, some days I want to dust off my business cards, polish up my hashtags, get out there and shake some hands. Then I look at the choice in front of me. This week’s alleged thought leaders or spending time with family and the things I really love?

Yeah, I am heading home.

Today Won’t Be the Day That Changes Everything

Today could be the day that changes everything.

That was how I felt almost every single day while I was unemployed a few years back. The next big opportunity was only one phone call, one email or one text message away. I was on high alert and had my phone and computer ready to respond. Yet I rarely did anything that could effect that change. I sat and waited, expecting someone else to come along and hire me. Shouldn’t the world stumble upon my LinkedIn page or my prodigious social media output and recognize my genius?

The result of this skewed perception was about what you’d expect. Crickets. A big pile of nothing. Nobody called. Nobody emailed. Nobody texted….

…unless I reached out first and made something happen. Yes, the only results I got stemmed from actions I took. All that waiting, all that well-orchestrated high alert status was only busyness masked as movement creating nothing but stress and anxiety. There are no white knights, no heroes, no saviors. I must be the hero in my own movie. Only I can change the ending.

My magical thinking was a distracting narcotic, a balm to ease the pain of uncertainty and unemployment. Today could be the day. But it never was. It was only a diversion from the massive, looming problem that was going to drag me under unless I got off my procrastinating ass and did something.

It took me months to understand the need to keep moving, keep acting, cut the nonsense, focus and make things happen.

Here is the secret it took me so long to learn. Nobody gives a damn about me. Yes, I have many people who love me, but it is up to me to save myself and create the life I want. I get to choose whether I want to be the villain or the hero.

Inaction is an action. Inaction is the fast lane to victimhood and unhappiness. If you want to wait forever for life to happen give inaction a shot.

Action begets action. Action may result in failure. but inaction guarantees it.  I can create my future, but I must act now. And act again tomorrow. And the next day. And so on.

This is the decision I must make every day.  Move forward, get pushed back and begin again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Today won’t be the day that changes everything…unless I make the changes.

This is Why We Hate Each Other

man-couple-people-womanThe following is based on a true incident. This could be your life. It might be mine, but if you have kids it’s happened to you.

A paralyzing silence permeates the house. It’s silent treatment time for the grownups. The weekend has been looong and tensions are running high. A couple of hours ago the teen and the tween refused to go to bed. The toddler and the baby were howling in solidarity.

Mom and dad had words. Anger can be a drug and perhaps we both overindulged. Our simmering cold war escalated quickly. The kids who could walk sprinted upstairs and the baby knew silence was the winning strategy. Go team!

Nothing like a little drama on Sunday night to cap off two days of juggling playdates, swim practice, spills, errands, dirty diapers and finding the goddamn TV remote for the 17th time. The adults can’t wait to get back to the comparatively relaxing pace of the 9-5. We’ve both retreated to our corners, but the bitterness remains.

Relationships are hard. Kids make them harder and long weekends can be brutal. All either of us want is a little quiet without whining, squabbling, crying or any other soul sucking time consuming interruptions. You’re never off the clock. It’s the little things that kill marriages and relationships. Everyone needs to be themselves and stop being parents. Life becomes a pitched battle over minutes of free time and nobody gets what they want. Compromise is the only way to avoid a neverending argument.

It is easy so see the other person as the enemy in this situation. Their very existence which once was the whole reason you fell in love and wanted to live with them has now become an assault. Their face, their voice, their habits are all an attack. It is friendly fire masking malice and evil intent.

A few extra minutes at the gym or spent watching tv or getting home late while the other is struggling with the kids is grounds for rage and hostility. Everything seems a capital crime committed brazenly with a giant middle finger in added defiance.

And the truth is, it’s not. We want our time. We want our lives. We want a few seconds to read, maybe shower, maybe just go to the bathroom in silence. And we don’t get it. Someone wants something or another one demands something else. Every opportunity for a moment of peace is shattered and stolen by tiny grasping hands and demanding young voices.

So we turn on one another. It must be their fault because they got extra time sleeping or snuck off for the entire morning or dared to be themselves for one goddamn minute.

But that’s why we like them, why we love them, because they like to sleep in or go to the gym or read a lot or listen to music or eat like a king. We love them because they are funny, wonderful, creative, sexy, adults who have goddamn children and just need a fucking minute alone.

Don’t Look Where You Don’t Want to Go

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That’s Gonna Hurt

By Anthony DeLorenzo (http://www.flickr.com/photos/delorenzo/2675869443/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

There’s a smart mountain biking adage, “Don’t look where you don’t want to go.” Mountain biking requires intense concentration, quick thinking and immediate reactions. Bombing down a hill strewn with rocks, roots, trees and dropoffs can mean instant stitches, broken bones or worse.

The trick is to pick a clean line, focusing solely on that. The rider must look ahead to see what’s next while simultaneously threading the trail right in front of the bike. Do not stare at the tree you hope to avoid. Do not glance at the cliff. Keep your eyes off the giant mud puddle. Target only the trail where you want your bike to go.

I’ve had enough stitches, bruises, scrapes, cuts, broken bones and near misses (not counting thousands of dollars of bike repairs) to know that looking where I don’t want to go often results in going exactly there. Ooof! Looked at the tree, hate some bark. Gazed at the mud bog, chioked down a pound of dirt soup.

Sure, you can wreck even when things are perfect, but I have found that focusing on the trail and charting my direction without distraction results in fewer mishaps and even the occasional state of flow. To sound trite, you become one with the bike. Obstacles melt away, the trail passes beneath the bike and every twist and turn comes with grace and ease. It’s what makes mountain biking magical. The thrill of conquering a brutal trail with minimal bodily and equipment damage is exhilarating.

So what does this have to do with day to day living? I don’t get on a mountain bike much anymore, but the lessons learned on the trail pay dividends. The key concept to success on a nasty trail or on a tyoical day is Don’t Look Where You Don’t Want To Go. This is all about focus, concentration and targeting my goals.

If I get caught up in distractions, spending my time regretting the past or caught up in pregaming the future, I lose the immediacy of this moment. Once I disconnect I will hit a tree, skid on a root or slide right off the trail. There are enough challenges heading my way at any moment, why look the wrong way?

If I think I will lose my job, my mind obsesses about the horrors of unemployment. If I feel a relationship is souring, I will focus on how it’s souring rather than how I can repair it. The list goes on. The results of obsessing on a past I can’t change and a future I can’t predict are never positive. So many things become a self-fulfilling prophecy when I look where I don’t want to go. Get your eyes back on the trail.

I reached a point a few years back where I was mired in busyness, distracted by anything and everything. My productivity and overall state of mind suffered. All I did was look where I didn’t want to go and wound up going there.

How could I get back on track? How could I regain focus and concentrate on what mattered? After slogging through a few years of going nowhere fast I decided to show up for my own life.

Step by step, I instituted a set of daily practices to reconnect with myself and chart a smarter way forward. Each of these added to my mental, physical and emotional well-being.

EXERCISE was the first step. For years I had been a distance runner and cyclist, but had almost stopped working out. I made a decision to make fitness a key goal again. As I ran and eode my bike more I began to feel energized and and more confident.

MEDITATION was the second. Forget everything you assume about meditation. Think about taking two steps back, sitting still and focusing on your breath. Instead of filling my every moment with the incessant distractions of modern life I gave myself 15 minutes a day to do nothing but be present. A sense of calm and serenity

WRITING every day came next. Thinking about writing is not writing. The only to  way to write is pen in hand, ass in chair, words on page. The benefits of writing are numerous and I detailed them here.

Daily GRATITUDE offered me the chance to be thankful for everything and everyone in my life. Instead of obsessing on what’s wrong and how it must be everyone else’s fault, I write down what is great and magical in the people, places and rhings right around me.

These daily practices shifted my focus from all the obstacles and distractions in my life back to the trail right in front of me. Of course, what works for me won’t work for everyone, but I’ve seen the powerful impact of positive actions. Today, I choose to look where I want to go and I find myself getting there most of the time.

Failing Every Day

failure

I have been reading a lot of James Altucher lately. One of the things I admire is his incredible ability to ship. He has written 17 books, blogs constantly and is a prodigious podcaster. I started with Choose Yourself which was packed with remarkable insights and resonates with me both as a writer and consultant. This led me to follow his blog and look into his other books. Not everything he writes is brilliant, but he will unearth a smart idea in almost every post. His most recent book, Reinvent Yourself, is a wide ranging assortment of blog posts, learnings from podcast interviews and his takes on insights from big thinkers, all stitched together under the theme of reinvention. While not as powerful as Choose Yourself it is loaded with nuggets of wisdom.

What’s remarkable about James is his perpetual curiosity and his desire to ship constantly. Like Seth Godin he publishes something every single day. He does a new podcast every week and ships a new book as soon as the ink on the previous one dries. That’s how he succeeds. He is indefatigable and constantly reiterates his formula for success. He never stops throwing something new at the wall.

I succeeded in creating a daily writing habit. Over the past two years I have written at least 750 words per day totaling nearly 600,000 words, missing only one day out of the last 724. What I fail to do is ship. I write, but I don’t publish. The missing step is the step that will take me forward. I need to share my writing, but I don’t. I am the tree falling in the woods with nobody there to hear it, thus I don’t make a sound.

Fear, lack of confidence and inertia play a role in my reluctance. I am sitting on at least 130 posts that are almost ready to go. What will be the tipping point?

It may have been a message from an old friend.

By chance I inadvertently published a very raw post in draft form a few weeks back. Mortified, I scrambled to reverse the mistake. I deleted it on WordPress, but also trashed the automatic notifications on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr. The one thing I neglected was the email sent to those who follow my blog. My good buddy Marsh Gooch (who writes a terrific music blog) received the email and liked what he read. He asked me what happened because wanted to like the post, but it had disappeared. He said the post was “thoughtful.”

“I thought your goal for this year is publish. Then publish!” were his other blunt sentiments.

Seth Godin says not shipping is failure. James Altucher posts every single day and brags of writing 1000 words daily. Then there is me. WIth 130 drafts waiting to be set free I am holding onto 130 failures. Failure to communicate. Failure to share. Failure to ship. Failure.

So here is my revised resolution. I worry that good intentions will amount to nothing if I don’t tell anyone, so I will declare it here. I will ship one post every day in February. This will be 28 successes. The real success will be a new habit of shipping, not just in February, but March, April and beyond

The power of habit is an amazing thing. Three years ago I only thought about writing. I rarely exercised. Somehow I reached a tipping point with both of these and created strong habits. It was a combination of willpower, momentum and desire. I found time every day to write. I made time to exercise. Now I can;t imagine not exercising or writing.

So I’ve got 28 days where I must ship a new blog post daily. Let’s see where the next four weeks take me. I look forward to any feedback or advice you may have. See you at the end of the month and thank you for reading.

And thank you to Marsh for the gentle but powerful nudge!