Spotify’s Discover Weekly – Music Picked Just For Me

“It’s like having your best friend make you a personalized mixtape every single week.” – Spotify

Discover weekly Spotify

Spotify definitely isn’t taking a wait-and-see attitude with Apple Music. They punched back at Apple’s curated playlists this week with Discover Weekly, a unique two hour playlist of tunes crafted specifically for each user based on listening history and that of similar listeners. Updated every Monday, this “mixtape of fresh music” is a fascinating look at how a machine takes user data and predicts what I will like.

I couldn’t wait to see what my playlist had in store for me for several reasons.

First of all, I am more than a music fan. I long ago sprinted past music music nerd and rocketed beyond straight into music obsessive territory. As a kid the local record store was my favorite hangout. When other kids collected baseball cards, I spent my money on Beatles and Rolling Stones records. I was a DJ for years at various college stations. My library is somewhere around 1500 vinyl albums, 600 singles, 3000 CDs, 400 cassettes and about 8 months worth of digitized music. Yep, I have more music than I can ever really consume.

Second, I’ve made dozens and dozens of mixtapes over the years and the idea of someone (or a machine) I don’t know creating a playlist for me is interesting and a challenge. Rarely listening to the same thing twice, I jump from decade to decade, genre to genre pretty quickly. Rooted in classic rock, soul, funk, punk and new wave, my tastes run from classic country and blues through hip-hop, post-punk into lo-fi, indie, electronic, ambient and beyond. They’ve got two hours and thirty songs to make an impact.

Third, I am still debating between Spotify and Apple Music. Who will win my monthly fee? I am a longtime Spotify user and Apple Music will have to work damn hard to win me over. I’ve all but abandoned most physical formats so my final pick needs to give me everything, make it convenient and surprise me with great music and features.

So let’s get to the music!

This first week’s playlist is actually pretty strong. Heavy on sixties and seventies rock with a few tracks from the eighties thrown in, the list misses about 70% of what I like and listen to on a regular basis. Every song is at least three decades old and most of what I’ve been streaming lately has been relatively new. However, the list is pretty solid and a rewarding listen with a mix of hits, obvious album tracks, wonderful surprises and a few things I’ve never heard. While a real mixtape has some flow and a sense of theme or narrative, this mix is wonderfully random and enjoyable.

Spotify Discover Weekly Playlist

Opening nicely with former Byrd Gene Clark’s “Strength of Strings” from 1974’s underrated and masterful No Other, the playlist rambles and stumbles through obvious choices from Nick Lowe, John Cale and Neil Young before the first surprise. Scott Walker’s (of Walker Brothers fame) baroque pop treasure “30 Century Man” from 1969’s Scott 3.

Spotify Discover Weekly Playlist

As if to apologize for getting somewhat obscure, the list reverts to the hits and “So You Want To Be a Rock ‘N’ Roll Star,” one of the Byrd’s last Top 40 hits. Then it meanders (in a good way) through The Rutles, Talking Heads, Todd Rundgren and Traffic before landing on the always stunning “Hallogallo,” the lead song from Neu!’s 1972 debut.

Spotify Discover Weekly Playlist

Then there is a real surprise. Up until now I’ve been familiar with everything. Twelve tracks in, they knock me out with a delightfully obscure choice. Not only do I not know the song or the group, the track is great. From the late 60s Canterbury scene, psychedelic band Arzachel kills it with the sprawling instrumental “Queen St. Gang.” I dig into their biography and discover it was Steve Hillage of Gong fame and players who went on to become Egg of Canterbury prog-rock notoriety.

Spotify Discover Weekly Playlist

The middle of the playlist gets progressively odder and more interesting. Can’s “Moonshake,” Pink Floyd’s “Fearless” with its appropriation of a Liverpool choir singing Rogers and Hammerstein’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” Roxy Music’s “Both Ends Burning,” “Cowboy Movie” from David Crosby’s mind blowing If Only I Could Remember My Name and Little Feat’s “Trouble” all lead into two “wow, I’ve never heard this” tracks.

Spotify Discover Weekly Playlist

Patto’s “The Man” is a heavy jazz-rock track from their 1970 debut album. My favorite trivia bit about this band is drummer John Halsey portrayed drummer Barrington Womble in The Rutles.

Then, we’ve got Manfred Mann Chapter 3, the little known missing link between Manfred Mann and Manfred Mann’s Earth band. Another heavy jazz-rock number, “One Way Glass” has a deep throbbing beat and kick ass horn section. This one is definitely a keeper.

Spotify Discover Weekly Playlist

After a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Yuung song we get Mick Ronson’s “Only After Dark,” “Lorelei” from the Tom Tom Club, Spirit’s kick ass “Fresh Garbage,” Beach Boy Dennis Wilson’s “River Song,”  and XTC’s alter ego The Dukes of Stratosphear’s rollicking “25 O’Clock.”

Spotify Discover Weekly Playlist

The 4th “never heard it” is Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera’s 801 project “TNK (Tomorrow Never Knows)” from 1976’s 801 Live. This is one of my sacred Beatles songs. I’ve heard several covers (The Chameleons, Danielle Dax, The Mission, and Phil Collins) and this one is particularly special. Brian Eno sings and Manzanera’s guitar playing is spectacular.

Spotify Discover Weekly Playlist

The playlist comes toward the end and swings back to the more recognizable. There is Klaatu’s ” Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft” (later covered by The Carpenters), CSN’s “Dark Star,” ELO’s “Boy Blue” and the final stomper, “No Quarter,” from Led Zeppelin.

There it is, two hours of music that Spotify picked just for me. Overall, I was very impressed and enjoyed the playlist from start to finish. It definitely focused on a very narrow sliver of the music I like. However, good choices, fun surprises and enough music I’ve never heard before captured and kept my attention. I can’t wait to see what they serve up this coming Monday.

What do you think of Discover Weekly? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

How To Become a Victim at Work – 10 Easy Steps

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You have the power to decide where you want to go and how you want to do it. We’ve all heard it a million times; you make your own success. You also design your own failure. Yep, your attitude and actions can bring you great rewards or a dismal crash and burn.

If you want to stumble into the lowest depths of depression, wallow in failure and blame everyone else for everything that has happened in your life, you too can become a victim. Here are ten easy steps to giving up your independence and losing it all. Try it, it’s fun for the whole family.

Always ask for permission. Wait for permission, even on the smallest things. Rather than taking charge, let everyone else decide which way you should go. Giving up your free will and ability to act is easy. You will never have to think for yourself or take a risk again. Plus, if you always get permission you never get blamed for screwing up.

Blame everyone else. Perfect. It’s not your fault at all. It is everyone else’s fault. You’re getting screwed and it is just not fair. Wahhhh! You’re getting the hang of it. How could it be your fault? You’re perfect and deserve so much more than everyone else because they all screwed you. Get out there and start pointing fingers.

Make excuses. This is a good one. Why be on time or over deliver when there is a perfectly good excuse for why you failed? An excuse is even better than keeping your word. Everyone will understand and give you another chance to come up with another excuse. A great excuse is always better than just delivering on your projects.

4 Act really busy and overwhelmed. This is a great way to become irrelevant. Make sure you are always on email, your phone, stuck at your desk, rushing from meeting to meeting. If you’re busy you will never have to take action or make decisions. Your busyness has already made all the decisions for you. You just have to show up and let it happen to you.

Wait for a savior. One of the best strategies on the job is to wait for someone to pity you and or save you. Of course this will magically happen. Take no action because the world is waiting to lend you a hand. Just look at all the people who didn’t take any action and were magically plucked from their easy chairs and thrust into great things.

Be on your phone in meetings. People love this and totally understand when you aren’t listening to them. It’s cool. You’re soooo busy so you shouldn’t have to listen to other people’s thoughts or ideas. It’s not rude if you have work to do. Seriously, everyone understands.

7 Never fight back. Think of yourself as the red carpet for every asshole in the world. Just lie down and let them walk all over you. People completely respect this. Just be a wimp and avoid conflict. If you give up people will remember that you helped them and let you win next time, just like in sports.

Take no for an answer. Don’t stick to your convictions. If someone objects just roll over and play dead. Better yet, give up your opinions and agree aggressively with others even if you completely disagree. Not only will everyone respect you, you will gain self-respect.

Stop taking care of yourself. Just get soft and lazy. Relax. Nobody is going to try and take your place because it isn’t a competitive world. There really is no reason to take care of yourself and be on the top of your game. Exercise hurts and takes up precious TV and snack time. You’ve earned that extra quarter pounder, so just dig in.

10 Give Up. Yep, you’re almost there. The last step; give up. Stop trying and let life happen to you. Just sit back and the world will pass you by. You can’t fix it so why bother trying. Just be a baby and sniff about how unfair it all is.

You made it. So get going and become a victim. Remember, inaction is an action and passivity has its benefits. The bottom is coming fast so enjoy it. Wallow. Enjoy. It’s a great place to be and nothing is your fault.

Last Day Of Fourth Grade

I love to make up ridiculous stories for my daughter. She has had a fantastic sense of humor since she was a baby and has been arching her eyebrows and rolling her eyes for almost as long. Her last day of school was earlier this week and I made this story up on our walk that morning. It is silly and over the top, but thought I would post it just for fun. You only get to finish fourth grade once unless you are really lucky!

that crazy kid

Once upon a time there was a girl who didn’t get killed in an earthquake. She avoided being bitten by poisonous snakes. Fire didn’t engulf her whole school. There hadn’t been a major explosion lately. Even the serial killers had stayed far, far away. As a matter of fact she had managed to escape most of fourth grade with only a scraped knee, a bump on her head and a couple of mosquito bites.

But it was almost her last day of school. Something was bound to happen. It had been too perfect a year. She had made so many great new friends, become even better pals with her old ones, loved her teacher and even did pretty well in school, except for the spelling, and the math, and maybe talking in class, but really, it was an amazing year.

Something was bound to jinx it. She looked everywhere for black cats crossing her path, walked around instead of under all the ladders, shuddered whenever she heard the number 13, threw salt over her shoulder and kept her fingers crossed while knocking on wood. No precaution was too much.

She woke up on that last day. Something seemed wrong. She kissed all her stuffed animals good morning and looked under the bed. No zombies or creepers. Hmm, no scorpions in her drawers or vampire bats in her closet.

She got dressed and went into the bathroom. No broken glass or stray razor blades on the floor. No blood poured out of the faucet. No crocodiles in the toilet. She looked up, she looked down, she looked left, she looked right. It was too quiet.

At breakfast her brother was a little too nice. He didn’t try to stab her even once. She tasted just a little bit of her corn flakes in case there was poison. It seemed safe. Yes, it SEEMED safe. She quietly finished her cereal and put her dishes in the sink. Her suspicions were growing.

Her dad and brother took her to school. This was unusual. They had a plan. She knew it. Maybe they would leave her on the bus and run. Maybe they would push her in front of a car. Her brother was even nice to her on the bus and let her play on his phone. She listened to see if it was ticking. A bomb? Perhaps covered in cyanide? Maybe it was a distraction and they would bury her in an anthill and laugh while she screamed. She made fists just in case she had to start clobbering some guys.

They dropped her at school with a kiss and a hug. Have a great last day of school! Sure. They would be back. And this time they would finish the job. She warily watched them until they disappeared around the corner. Hiding a little bit behind the front door near where there was a kid buried under the sidewalk (or at least that was the legend) she waited for them to come back. With guns. Or switchblades. Or maybe poisonous frogs. But they didn’t. However, she was on to their plan and she would be ready.

crazy kid 2

The school day started and for a moment she let down her guard and forgot about the plot to kill her. Then she realized the day was half over and she was still alive. Her perfect year was almost over. Wandering over to the window she nonchalantly looked around to see if there were snipers on the roofs of nearby buildings or ninjas climbing the walls with nunchucks or katanas. Nothing.

The hallways was clear of Mongol hordes and the bathrooms were not crowded with werewolves and dead Barbies. Then she saw him. Chucky! She screamed just a little until she realized it was just a fat red-headed kid in first grade. The kid cried and ran off to his classroom.

Back in her homeroom, she looked around at all the other kids. Which one has the poison tipped darts? Which one was planning to push her down the stairs? Which kid had the chainsaw ready to carve her up? They all looked so guilty. She was watching them. All of them.

Then, the teacher said it was time to say goodbye. She felt a sad lump in her throat and almost forgot that her life was in very grave danger. They all held hands and looked at one another. Tears welled up in her eyes, but she kept them peeled for suspicious movements. A few of her friends started crying. It was a trick, she knew it. Then her favorite teacher hugged her and she broke down sobbing. This was it. This was the end of fourth grade. Her teacher smiled and cried at the same time. They held each other so tightly, then let go, then hugged again.

The bell rang and she gathered her things. There were no booby traps that left her with missing fingers or broken teeth. Slowly she made her way down the stairs and nobody tried to shove her. She looked above the front door for a guillotine and walked out. The fat Chucky kid farted and she jumped, thinking it was a cherry bomb.

She stood on the street. School’s out. Freedom. She had survived earthquakes, fires, crocodiles, serial killers, ninjas, snipers, vampire bats, knife attacks, snakes, scorpions, Chucky, farts, poison, creepers, zombies and bombs. She raised her arms in victory.

She wiped the last tear from her eye. Bring it on fifth grade!!

That Time I Wrote 100,000 Words @750words At A Time

750 words history

I hit a major milestone last week. Since February I’ve written more than 100,000 words. Let’s put that into perspective. According to Amazon’s Text Stats, the median length for all books is about 64,000 words. I have written enough to fill one novel and am halfway through a second. While I doubt many of my words are novel-worthy, I know there are a handful of great ideas buried in all the debris. More importantly, I’ve developed as a writer and found a discipline that has eluded me for years.

I’ve always liked to think of myself as a writer. Witty, pithy, insightful, sure, but with NOTHING to show for it. Like many would-be writers I talked about writing, i thought about writing, I bought moleskins, notebooks, dictation programs, apps, but the result was always the same. Nothing! Maybe a half a page here, a blog post there, but mostly an empty page and a mindful of half baked ideas.

So one big goal for 2015 was to write more. For the last few years I set up alerts, systems, and tricks to get me writing more. Some things worked and others not so much. I managed to write once or maybe twice a week at best, but my natural inertia kicked in and I would find reasons not to write. I needed something drastic. Actually I needed two things. First, make the time and second, make it a daily habit.

To accomplish the first I waged war on my own busyness. I reduced my information and social media diets considerably. I found ways to eliminate digital distractions. And I put down my damn phone. I was able to write three or four times a week, but I still wanted more. I wanted to write every single day.

Then I found the solution, 750words.com. I wrote about it here a few months back, but with 100,000 later I need to shout about it a little more. I started In February, committing to write 750 words every day. AND, I wrote every single day. After fighting my own procrastination and laziness it was astonishing. Writing is hard work. Churning out words takes discipline and at first much of what I wrote was terrible. Too personal. Too mundane. Too repetitive. But at a certain point I got a rhythm. Pieces started to flow together. It may not be great, but some of it was worthy of posting on my blog, worthy of sharing and worthy of asking for feedback.

Some days I start with a rough idea. Others I already have a full post sketched out in my mind. Sometimes I just start writing and it begins to take shape. The ideas coalesce and 750 words later I am done. What is really critical is the discipline that has come with the act of writing. Initially it took sacrifice just to get my ass in the chair. Then it took work to write. Now it takes effort not to write. Whether I have anything to say or not isn’t important, it’s the ritual of sitting down, writing the first words and pushing through to the end. That’s the real moral to the story. Action. Writing. Results. Repeat.

750 words badges

It has been a total of 137 almost consecutive days of writing. I had a 118 day streak and then I spent a Saturday carpooling kids, cleaning the basement, mowing the lawn, running 6 miles and falling asleep at 9:30. When I woke up the next morning I knew something was horribly wrong. What was different about the night before? Then, it hit me. I didn’t write. I had fallen off the wagon, but I jumped right back on. It’s been another nineteen days and counting.

In the end, it’s not about success or failure, There are no awards or benchmarks apart from an occasional milepost that reminds me I have stuck to my resolution. My goal is not to make a living as a writer. It’s about a daily act, a simple ritual. Laptop in hand. Butt in chair. Four fingers and an occasional thumb typing away. The thoughts are mine. The words are mine. The discipline is a gift that I hope keeps on giving 750 words at a time.

Killing Busyness – Doing Less To Accomplish More

information overload

Focus has been a key goal and resolution for me in 2015. For years I danced on the deadly edge of complete digital distraction. It became increasingly clear I needed to take a few steps back. My meme driven life was destroying my concentration and preventing me from getting things done.

A couple of years back i wrote about the absolute joy I took in information overload. I dove into the internet every day and would barely come up for air. Likening the experience to “swallowing the ocean” I extolled the virtues of infinite choice and endless possibility. There was just too much great stuff to ignore. My insatiable curiosity combined with some serious FOMO had me staring at screens from the moment I woke up until just before I closed my eyes at night.

But then something happened.

With 30 tabs open, music playing on my laptop while I watched video on my phone, simultaneously looking through notes on my iPad, I realized maybe I had a problem. No focus. No focus whatsoever. Distraction was king and my waking life was ruled by beeps, buzzes and alerts leading me from one app to another, from website to video, from game to text to Twitter to Instagram to Facebook. My focus was fractured, my productivity likely suffering and my enjoyment of the real things in life had diminished.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with newsletters, blogs, apps, social, games and never ending clickbait. My goal wasn’t to go cold turkey, but to spend more time doing and less time consuming. Multitasking to one task at a time. I simply wanted (and needed) to draw the line somewhere. I needed to go on a information diet. But how?

First of all, I hit unsubscribe on dozens of daily and weekly email newsletters. I expunged as many apps from my phone as I could bear. I cut my RSS feeds in half. I stopped saving countless articles to read later. I’ve limited myself to only five tabs open at a time. Delete. Delete. Delete.

Then, I made a point of putting down my phone, often leaving it in another room at home. I stopped taking it with me to meetings at work. If I have it I will always look at it. It beckons and teases me and I am no stronger than the kids in the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment. Better for me to leave it in my bag or out of reach than tempt fate.

So what happened next?

Suddenly I had time, not oceans of time, but time. That all-consuming busyness I had used as a shield for years began to dissipate. I paid attention. I listened. Where I once filled every second of available time with checking emails, opening Facebook or ripping through my Instagram feed, I began to have wonderful moments of silence and clarity. How nice to think about nothing for a change.

And here is just a short list of other things that started happening.
– Rich, undistracted conversations
– Deeper focus at work and home
– My daily to-do list gets crushed early
– More time to read real books
– Written over 100,000 words in four and a half months
– Exercising four to five days a week

The funny thing is I don’t think I’ve missed much of anything important online. While I thought I would regret letting go of those email newsletters, apps and all the other distractions, I’ve never looked back. I’ve still got plenty of great stuff to sift through every day, plus I have much better focus and the gift of time. By doing less I actually accomplish mush more. And I keep three things in mind whenever I’m online. Unfollow, unsubscribe, delete.

A Few Thoughts On Spotify Running

Spotify Running image

Let’s talk about Spotify Running. About a month ago Spotify announced a new musical experience specifically designed for runners (all part of a larger fitness initiative). They created non-stop soundtracks that use your smartphone’s accelerometer to determine your tempo and provide the perfect beat to match your stride. The desired effect is a motivated runner pumped by the magic of music.

First of all, I don’t generally run with music when running outside. Running is all about simplicity for me. All I need is shorts, shoes, shirt and socks. It is my legs against the distance. II don’t want distractions and crap to carry. I want to hear the cars, the birds, the breeze and the sounds around me. It isn’t about creating a “portable interior” so wonderfully described here by Maria Popova, it is getting out of the car, bus and office and being outside.

However, when it is treadmill at the gym time, bring on the music. I want to while away the tedium with loud, motivating music. I’ve already created a ton of my own mixes on Spotify that can carry me through a four or five mile stationary jaunt so Spotify Running needs to be as good or better. Time to put it to the test.

Once you tap on running it brings up Running Originals and Running Playlists. Running Originals consists of six instrumental compositions in a variety of styles. Each consists of several “chapters” that are roughly three to six minutes long. The overall mixes are about 30 minutes. Once you start running it finds your pace and the music begins.

spotify running burn epic

BURN is the first original, composed and recorded by Dutch DJ Tiësto. Spotify describes the track as “massive running beats.” It is definitely the best of the originals with a propulsive club beat that immediately jolted my pace. Like any faceless dance music that kicks ass in spinning class or on the dance floor BURN was magic for seven or eight minutes and I got bored. Like really bored. Soon it feels like and endless loop trapping everyone in the club for an eternity.

Next up is EPIC, listed as “powerful cinematic music.” The dip in quality from our friend Tiësto’s track is significant. This track is the music playing in a generic action film as the squad silently moves in and prepares for the explosive third act. It is dark, propulsive and has all the charm of needle-drop music which is my main issue with all the Running Originals. They have the beat to keep you moving, but they don’t have the personality to keep you interested. Once again, I switched to a new track after about a mile.

spotify_running_seasons_lock_the_flow

SEASONS is “orchestral music at your pace” which begins with a plaintive, but insistent piano supported by strings, woodwinds and percussion. The sweeping minor keys rise to big crescendos and fall to quiet moments of sad contemplation. This track raises another issue for me. You’re stuck in the mix you chose unless you awkwardly open the app on the run and switch to another original. SEASONS is a bit of a downer and there’s no way I could run with this as a backdrop for more than about five minutes. It would be a great to mix and match the originals to give some dynamic to the run rather than one mood fits all.

Then we dip into LOCK THE FLOW a slightly beefier take on The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights.” The “shimmering electronic beats” offer up the second best original mix and I could actually see myself giving this one another shot. It’s got a great beat and you can dance to it, but also has some nice subtleties and range that make for interesting listening.

spotify_running_blissed_out_the_chase

“Happy, blissed out pop and indie” reads the description for BLISSED OUT. Again this is largely anonymous light EDM that pumps along at a nice click, but doesn’t go anywhere. The guitars and drums on Chapters 4 and 5 are a nice change up, but the mix lost me long before.

The final original beckons you to “step into an action movie.” THE CHASE is the weakest of the whole bunch. Dark, foreboding and just really boring, this one is the most generic of the bunch. It feels familiar in mediocre action film way. Once again it has all the right features, but none of the heart and soul of real music.

The Running Playlists are fascinatingly random, but also pretty adventurous. There are plenty of familiar bands mixed and matched with a lot of lesser known undergound and indie artists. Right now it offers thirteen mixes to choose from and the range of styles is broad and deep. Hip hop, rock, country, metal, electronic, indie and oldies are just a sample of the variety. The tracks rip along at running tempo and provide a great musical score for a quick run or long haul.

Overall, I am impressed by the effort. Spotify clearly had runners in mind when they commissioned the originals. As mentioned above I want to mix and match the Running Originals to give my running soundtrack a deeper, broader and less monotonous dynamic. The interface is clean and easy to use with the exception of changing the music on the go. If this is just the beginning I am excited to see where they take it.

Has anyone else tried Spotify Running? I would love to hear your thoughts.

What I Learned From Failure

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Failure has become mythologized over the last few years. Tech founders and business titans have spun failure into a dramatic twist in their stories of ultimate success. It makes for great copy, but failure generally isn’t glamorous. It is painful, destructive and takes a lot of resilience and perseverance to recover from. However, it is a necessary and unavoidable part of any career.

So I’ve failed pretty hard a few times along the way. Sometimes it was circumstances or overreaching, but most of the time it was tactical or strategic errors on my part. For every great upward step or killer project I’ve delivered there have been plenty of mistakes. Some are easy to set right, others have posed big challenges to overcome.

So what did I learn? Here are ten things that might keep you one step ahead of failure.

1 Show and tell. You need to speak for your work because in any company and particularly a bigger company it often won’t speak for itself. This isn’t about bragging, but about showcasing what you and your team do in smart effective ways. PowerPoints, Keynotes, handouts. Explain it in a clearly so you make sure people see and hear your process and results. Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself. Keep it short and simple, but make sure everyone knows you are doing great things.

2 Make alliances quickly and constantly. You can’t just sit in your office and hope that people are thinking and saying great things about you. Get out there and talk to people. Create relationships. Go to lunch. Go to drinks. Go to events. This is high school all over again and you need to make as many friends and alliances as you can. You don’t have to like everyone, but you need to keep your enemy count low. You will be busy with your job, but you need to spend almost as much time building and nurturing relationships.

3 LIsten and be present. You can’t sit in meetings and look at your phone. This is deadly. People want to be heard and you want to be seen listening to them. Seeming aloof, disinterested and apathetic are poison for your career. Leave your phone in your office. Smile when you enter a meeting. Listen with bright eyes. Nod. Acknowledge great ideas and offer positive feedback. Don’t feel like you always need to chime in. People want to hear themselves, not necessarily hear others. Share when you need to, not when you want to.

4 Avoid busyness. We all have a lot to do and not enough time to do it. However, don’t fall into the trap of being too busy to listen, too busy to work on a project, too rushed. Nobody cares that you are too busy. “I am so busy” sounds like a lame excuse and it is. Get rid of the busy work that makes you busy. Unsubscribe from email lists. Avoid personal emails and the lure of the internet at work. Do your job and do the busy stuff later. At home. Or on a break.

5 Fight back. Go with the flow and respect the politics when you can. However, if someone throws you under the bus, get up and don’t let them do it. Push back and push back hard. This is tough, but if you let someone make you look bad or incompetent long enough others will start to believe it. Find out how to control the message. Use your power. Sometimes you have to be an asshole,

6 Focus. Really focus on your primary goals. Make sure your boss is aligned with your goals and has had input. Then work like hell to get them done. Hire with speed. Fire with speed. Accomplish quickly and effectively. Don’t worry about anything else. Laser-like focus on your key objectives is absolutely critical. In a smaller business or startup this is even more crucial.

7 Get buy in. Make certain you get buy in from all key stakeholders. If you don’t it will hurt you later. You may not want to decide everything by committee, but it is better than getting shot or stabbed in the back later. A little compromise now could save you from getting your biggest projects tanked. Unless you have a lot of political power you need to get everyone on board. It sucks, but it’s politics.

8 Be the master of your time. Be on time for meetings and look like you are in charge of your time because you are. Don’t let the calendar control you. You are in control of your calendar. Don’t act too busy. Don’t act overwhelmed. Don’t act rushed. Make it look easy and make sure people know you are in control. Block off time for you to get work done. Every day. You need it and it will pay off when you are in back to back meetings, knowing that you’ve got time to get everything done.

9 Go to the gym. Find a way to get some exercise every day. The less stress you carry into work means a lot less you will carry out. You need to make time to take care of yourself whether it’s a walk, a run, meditation, yoga or hitting the gym. The time you put in will pay off in increased confidence, better focus and a healthier you. Schedule it. Don’t hope that it will happen or it won’t.

10 Go home. Leave work at work. There will be times you have to work late and times you will bring work home, but let that be the exception, not the rule. That means putting down the phone and staying off work email. Avoid burnout. You’re in this for the long haul and you need to relax, sleep and enjoy your friends and family. If you don’t control your job it will control you. And that can be the first step on the perilous road to failure.

Something I Did Thirty One Years Ago Changed My Life Forever

Thirty one years ago I got in the passenger seat of my mom’s car. We got on I-5 and headed south. It was an end and it was a beginning.

It was the end of my half decade rollercoaster ride of drugs and alcohol. I had guzzled, snorted and inhaled my way through too many car wrecks, fights and near-death experiences. I was overdrawn, undereducated and out of options. I wanted out and the drugs weren’t working any longer. The only way out was a massive u-turn.

We were heading to SWARF in Vancouver, Washington. It was an alcohol and drug treatment center two and a half hours away. It was a long, depressing ride. My life as I knew it was over. My mom and I listened to Elton John’s Greatest Hits and I cried sporadically. Rain spattered the windshield and the clouds kept the sun at bay.

I had actually given up a few days before. Hoping to get into treatment through public assistance, I turned to my parents when I found out the wait was at least three months. It was a terrifying phone call to make, but both my mom and stepdad had immediately said yes. We will help you get into treatment.

It had been years since I had traveled much further south than Chehalis and the second half of the trip was new territory. The farms and timberlands eventually gave way to the strip malls and overpasses of Vancouver’s northern suburbs. As the clouds broke and a feeble sun poked through the midday clouds, we pulled into the VA hospital campus where the center was located. A couple dozen one story barracks-style buildings cluttered a large plot of land just east of the interstate.

A peach pie had been the real catalyst. Yes, pastry as an impetus for change. I had smoked the last resins I scraped from my pipe and walked with a headachy high to the Safeway. I had just a few dollars for food and it was early June. There would be no money until July.

No food. No drugs. No job.

As a consolation to my shitty mood I wanted something sweet. I saw some store brand fruit pies on the reduced price rack. These were imitation peach-flavored Hostess Fruit Pies and I bought 3 for 19 cents each. I dragged my tiny haul of food back to my apartment. I threw the bag down on the couch and reached for a pie. WIthout benefit of light in my dark living room I ripped open the package and stuffed the pastry into my mouth.

Mold. Covered in mold. Not just traces, but a forest of heavy, grotesque mold.

I gagged, leaped up and spit the nasty half-chewed dessert into the sink. I gargled with water and retched. I brushed my teeth and gargled again. Then I cried. Not a sentimental, woe is me cry, but a deep guttural I am done cry. That’s when I knew I wanted to go to treatment.

My mom dropped me off in front and I asked her to wait a minute to make sure everything was ok. After stepping inside they said just grab your bag and you are good to go. I hugged my mom goodbye and saw her drive off into the early afternoon.

I had been trying to stop since I started. From the first time I got really drunk as a tween I knew I couldn’t handle it. So I was torn for years. Drink. Drug. Stop. Drink. Drug. Drink. Drug. Stop. Drink. Drug. Drink. Drug. Can’t stop.

Admission was straightforward. They gave me the rules and told me what my daily schedule would be. They were used to people being forced there by the court. I was an exception. I wanted to be there. I put my things away and came back to meet with my counselor. Pouring out my heart I watched her listen attentively and knew she understood just how special I really was.

Actually I had quit drinking about 15 months earlier. A few weeks later I temporarily quit drugs, too. However, the lure of getting high was too strong and I smoked pot right after school got out for the summer. For the next year I spent most of my time trapped in my head. Pot, speed, cocaine, acid, mushrooms, even freebase. I wasn’t crashing cars and getting my ass kicked but I was imprisoned in a depressing spiral of drug use. I lost a ton of weight, flunked out of school and wound up financially broke and spiritually broken.

After I told my story she sat quietly and wrote some notes. A few moments later she told me I really needed to focus on patience and tolerance. Wow, just like that she had given me such pithy advice based on just how different and special I was. Patience and tolerance. I wore that like an invisible crown and went out to meet the other people there for treatment.

It was fun at first. I loved the first few times I got high. Beer made me feel so damn good. I could talk. I could laugh. I wasn’t afraid. I was somebody. I was special. But then it was harder to get back to the beginning. My solution was more drinks and harder drugs. Pretty soon I wanted the momentary oblivion that only large amounts of drugs and alcohol could bring. I could annihilate the person I was and be the person I wanted to be. But it never worked that way.

We sat at a table. Four or five young guys all in treatment. Most had been pushed. I had jumped. We talked about drugs, music, drinking, college, girls. Then we talked about our meeting with the counselor. I proudly dropped that my special goals were patience and tolerance. One guy snorted, me too. Another laugh, me too. Yep, all of us. Patience and tolerance. We were all really special.

That was thirty one years ago today. I know three of the others that day didn’t make it much past treatment. Somehow I got lucky. I didn’t drink. I didn’t get high. I am not really special, but I am a little more patient and a little more tolerant.

750 Words About 750 Words

I made a 2015 resolution to write more. “Write more” has been a vague goal for the past few years. I wrote more in 2014 than I had in years past, but it still wasn’t enough. I wanted to write every day. I needed to make a commitment and take action.

I started the year by signing up for One Month’s 30 Day Writing Challenge. Every day for the month of January they sent me a writing prompt. The prompts were great and I started writing, every other day. And sometimes every third day. By the end of January I had written about 13 times. Still not enough.

I kept at it and whittled the list of remaining prompts down, but I needed more motivation. I wasn’t reaching my goal. One of the resources listed on One Month was 750 Words. I clicked and found myself challenged to write 750 words a day, every single day. Ok, I can do this. Sign me up now.

I started mid-February and my first order of business was to crush the remaining One Month prompts. I could write about anything I want. There were no rules. Just 750 words.

It’s been 57 days since I started and I haven’t missed a day yet. I’ve written poems, fiction, non-fiction, jokes, scripts, mantras and more. I don’t plan it. I just sit and write. It has been cathartic to spew three pages of my random ruminations every single day. It clears out my head to allow me to process my thoughts and focus on what is important.

Another goal for this year was increased focus. To get there I needed to simplify. I reduced my insatiable need for media input, unsubscribed from countless newsletters, slashed my RSS feeds and took a few steps back from several social media platforms. I couldn’t write if I was always reading. Over the last several weeks I have barely watched TV. My time has been focused on writing and reading real books.

Initially I hoped to use my 750 words to blog more, but I found that most of my writing was often about making sense of my day. Most days it is just a work in progress and not worth publication. It is my workshop. I can hammer out ideas and get to the essence of what’s happening. Somewhere in each of those 750 word entries, however, there is a solid future blog post.

For March I committed to writing every single day. I made it. Thirty one days. 24,000 words.

What did I learn?

Writing is hard. Good writing can be painstaking. There are a lot of ideas that sound amazing until you try to write them down. What seems so groundbreaking in your head seems pretty trite on paper. It requires focus, planning and a bit of inspiration.

Writing is work. The words don’t always flow, but you must keep going. Sit down. Pen in hand. Ass in chair. Words on paper. The point is to write. Don’t stop. Don’t check email. Don’t check Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or text messages. Keep writing. It will take shape. Words will come.

Writing is liberating. I have written out dark memories, deep fears and painful thoughts. Once on paper they just aren’t very scary. As a matter of fact they seem minor and insignificant. I put them down on paper and the process allowed me to let them go.

Writing is scary. It seems so simple, but once you start pouring your heart into it the work gets tough. I wrote about some personal things and changed to third person just so I could be more honest about what happened. I could write it about someone as if it were else but not myself.

I have published three pieces of fiction on my blog. This is a first for me. The pieces were fun to write and vaguely fun to read so I published them. Big risk, but I got some good feedback. Or maybe kind feedback. It doesn’t matter. I did it and I am proud of it.

I will never be a gifted writer. I am a solid, persuasive writer. Occasionally I get lucky and write something above my weight class. Real writing is a gift. You don’t see it often. But when you do it is breathtaking. That is not my ability.

I will keep writing. 750 words a day, every day. And I will focus on publishing more. One day I may prove myself wrong. Maybe I do have a gift. I just need to keep writing until I get there.

 

Knock Knock

This is another piece from One Month’s 30 Day Writing Challenge. The assignment was to write a story about an eight-year-old and an eighty-year-old. Again, it’s a bit of a risk to share my writing, but I want to ship it and see what people think. Thank you for reading.

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I tiptoed across the carpet of crisp pine needles. Each step filled the dark cathedral of trees with a terrifyingly loud crunch. Once there had been grass and flowers, but the undergrowth had scaled the trees blocking all possible sunlight. It was only fifteen feet from the sidewalk to the front door, but once I entered the canopy of shrubs and trees I was alone with the house. The street noise disappeared. I crept forward. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.

I had never seen Mrs Blackholler before. I had only heard the rumors about her haunted house on the corner in the middle of an otherwise unhaunted neighborhood. She was 80, 90, maybe even 100 years old and nobody had seen her in years. We knew she was in there because her children (who looked to be in their 70s) visited occasionally. Neighborhood dads loved to pile it on about her eating children and burying them in the yard. Kids shared those stories and embellished them further. Some heard screams in the night. Others told tales of disappearing kids. Bad juju. Most people under 14 or 15 would walk to the other side of the street or dash by quickly, particularly if they were alone.

My mom asked me to take her a plate of cookies.

What? I shrieked. Are you crazy? Her house is haunted, she eats kids, nobody get outs alive, I will never come back, you hate me, why, why, why, the horror, the horror!

Nodding slightly as if she understood my reservation, but standing firm in her demand that I take her the cookies, she repeated the request.

After delaying with every possible ruse, trick and deferral technique in my 8 year old playbook, I grabbed the tin of cookies and slowly walked the long hard slog to the sidewalk kitty corner from her house.

In the hot late morning summer sun her lot was a dark blot on a bright, cheery block. The blue sky and blooming flowers seemed to stop at the edge of her property. I surveyed the entrance to her yard from every angle. I walked up the sidewalk on the opposite side listening carefully for creaks, screams or howls. It was quiet. I counted to 30. Not quite ready. I counted to 45. Nope, still not ready. I started to count to 60. 1…2…3…4…5…6…7…

My mom stepped out the front door and yelled for me to get a move on.

I looked both ways in hopes of many cars to impede my progress. Nothing. One tentative step into the street. And another. My breath was short. My heart beat a fast rhythm in my chest. Even a drip of sweat rolled slowly down my forehead.

I put one foot on the sidewalk in front of her house. A car whisked by and honked. I started and stumbled up onto the walk. I was so close I could smell the bodies buried in the yard. Was that a scream?

The 15 feet to the door seemed impossibly distant. That was 180 inches of potential mayhem and even death. Her front door was a blurry gaping mouth in the still darkness of the yard.

Inching closer I could hear the blood pounding in my veins. I tried to hold my breath. The snapping pine needles were oh-so-many tiny breaking bones. Minutes…hours…days seemed to pass and the door was still miles away. Left. Right. Left. Right.

Three small steps led to a tiny porch of peeled paint and splinters. Creak. Croak. Crack.

I help out my hand.

tap. tap. tap.

Nothing.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Still nothing.

Knock. Knock. Knock.

Absolutely nothing.

KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!

A shadow passed behind the curtain. I swallowed hard holding the railing with white knuckles. I could feel myself starting to weaken. My stomach churning. My knees buckling.

The door opened with a long, sustained cry.

A tiny little voice whispered hello?

The tiny little voice came from a tiny little woman.

I’m I’m I’m I’m B B B B B B illy from m m m m m ac c c c c rosss the street, I ha ha ha have c c c c c c ooookies for you.

Come in dear.

Mothballs and grandma perfume filled my nostrils. She grabbed my free hand with a tiny little scale of a hand and tugged me gently inside.

So nice to have a visitor. I love visitors. She whispered. And I love cookies.

I sat in a very ornate fancy chair covered in afghans. Two or three cats lurked in the gloom. I searched the room for weapons, anything to defend myself.

She shuffled off into another room and reappeared with the cookies on a plate and a glass of milk.

Do you like milk?

Poison. I assumed.

It’s so nice to share cookies with you. She dipped hers in a cup of tea.

I watched her closely for fast movements and nibbled warily on a chocolate chip cookie, assuming it was safe since my mom had made it. My dry throat was getting drier and I could feel it closing up. In desperation I sipped the milk knowing that I would either choke to death or die of poisoned milk in that dusty, dim parlor.

She talked about summer and flowers and her children and growing up in that house, laughing and becoming more animated as the minutes passed.

I sipped the milk again and told her about baseball and the Beatles and Batman and my brothers.

She offered another cookie and I gladly accepted. Her cats sauntered out slowly and rubbed against my legs. Tin Man was silver and Freckles was a tabby. I scratched their heads and both jumped in and out of my lap at times.

Another cookie. Another glass of milk. More conversation.

A clock struck. I realized I needed to leave for baseball practice. I excused myself and the look of disappointment was clear. I told her I would be back with more cookies soon and she said she would make sure there was plenty of milk.

I held her hand as she walked me to the door. Goodbye. Thank you. And a big smile from her tiny face.

My brothers were shocked that I had lived. I told tales of cobwebs and bats and rats and bones and buried bodies. I trembled and shivered in mock terror, making sure they would never step foot near her property. Ever.

Why ruin a great friendship and a new cookie supply?