Sunday, October 31, 2010

The gift you are

The gift you are
like the very first breath of spring
The gift you are
all the joy that love can bring
The gift you are
all of our dreams come true
The gift you are
the gift of you

John Denver

Have you ever thought about yourself as a gift from the universe? I mean that the universe decided that you are totally perfect,  and that you are here today to share your perfectness with the world. Can you imagine yourself to be the biggest gift to the people around you?

In the last week, I had different opportunities to think about how I am a gift to the people around me. I also had opportunities to find new appreciation for qualities in me that seem to be a gift to the people around me.

During writing class, I shared a piece that I had written the week before and it made some of the talented writers in the room literally shed some tears or loose their voice for a moment. They told me that the way I wrote that story was a gift and that they wanted to see more of the voice I had put on the paper. I was amazed and it took me a bit to realize that this was not just said to please me, but that it was said because they believe in me.

My gift of sharing the piece, gave me the gift of support...

And while we were sharing our pieces with the others during the session, it became clear that we all were such gifts for each other, such an inspiration and such a joy. How often do we forget how unique and wonderful a people we are, and do we try to hide and disappear in the mud of commonalities?

Gifts inspire to create more gifts...

My friend Will invited me to do some harmonies with him in his band called WillPower. Will is the lead singer and guitar player of the band, Jeremy is the drummer, Mark is the bass player and Teflon is the keyboard/ piano and saxophone player. Yesterday evening, not two weeks later, we all ended up participating in a birthday bash, to celebrate the drummer’s 60th year on this planet. Four part harmonies were heard in a wonderful R&B style, and people seemed to appreciate the energy and enthusiasm we brought to the songs.

This all happened after Mark invited Will and Randy this summer to jam a little bit with our band No Room For Jello. The gift of jamming that Mark created, ended months later in the gift of me being invited to sing backup vocals in the band, which leaded to the gift to celebrate this wonderful birthday.

Realize you are a gift...

So, now I want to ask you: what was the last time you saw yourself as a gift? What do you believe your gift strengths are? What gifts do other people appreciate in you? Do they line up? Are they very different? What about embracing one unique quality of yourself today and make up the belief that it is a gift, and find supporting beliefs to help you grow this strength?

Thank you for being here as the receiver of this gift today...

Necessarily Wrong

In computer science, many procedures and processes employ methods known as multipass algorithms. Essentially, multipass algorithms are used when you won't know what to do until after you've done it. So you try it once, learn something, and then try it again. The process repeats until you get the answer for which you're looking.

Our daily lives are filled with opportunities to use multipass algorithms. If you've ever cleaned a house that hasn't been cleaned in a long time, then you've likely employed a multipass algorithm. The cleaning leaves the house cleaner (mostly), but not as clean as you'd like it to be. In the process of cleaning, you shake loose bits of encrusted stuff or uncover spots of grease that had been obscured by the dirt clinging to them. So you clean again, and perhaps again; eventually the house starts to feel clean.

All scientific breakthroughs result from multipass approaches, sometimes taking generations of scientists repeating the cycle of trial, error and refinement. No scientist worth her grant money would ever say something like, "Get it right the first time!" If you could get it right the first time, then it wouldn't considered breakthrough material, or for that matter, significant.

The same goes for mathematical proofs. The first time a mathematical assertion is proved, the proof might occupy rooms of chalk-scrawled blackboards. Only later is it refined and reduced to what finally shows up on half a page of a high school text book in pure, simple elegance.

And therein lies the rub.

Teach Me Backwards
Most of us are taught math and science backwardly. Rather than being presented a problem and deriving an answer, we're presented an answer and taught to apply it. We're presented the cleanly articulated proof of a mathematical theorem or the simple formulaic representation of a complex physical concept (e.g., E=MC2) and we're taught what they mean and how to apply them. Rarely are we allowed to derive an answer from scratch, let alone to understand the painstaking, multipass process of iterative refinement that led to the answer we've been given.

This being the case, it's no wonder we often find ourselves looking to others for answers when confronted by challenges we haven't previously encountered. We google. We read self-help books. We consult with experts or counselors. We hire professionals. We seek outside help for everything from burst pipes to persistent rashes to determining our lives' purposes.

We tend to look to ourselves for answers only when we've exhausted all other possibilities.

Why? First, that's what we've been taught to do. Second, we don't want to get it wrong.

Necessarily Wrong
The motto of my first boss at Bell Labs was Excellence, Not Perfection. He once told me, "If you're not making mistakes, then you're not trying hard enough!"

He actively encouraged our team to stretch our boundaries, to try new things, to make mistakes and to learn from them. He wasn't particularly concerned about what we knew, he wanted to see how quickly we could learn. He wholeheartedly believed that to do anything great, you had to make mistakes; you had to get it wrong.

It was a remarkable place to work.

Think about it. Would you ever go see a movie where the characters knew exactly what to do in every situation and routinely ran their game plans without making any mistakes? Would you ever read a book where all the challenges were contained and understood? It's the unknown aspects of challenge, the mistakes made in response to them, and the resourceful recovery from those mistakes that make books and movies interesting, exciting.

Yet, we tend not to approach our own challenges in the same manner. We try to limit challenges to those we know how to handle. If we can't, then we immediately seek assistance from others.

How boring.

Last night, playing with Will Power, we had some amazing moments where everyone got past the perfection boundary and wandered into the excellence zone, not worrying about getting it right, not trying to avoid mistakes, but instead, playing freely, exploring. I gotta tell ya, excellence is way better than perfection, so much more interesting, so much more fulfilling.

Where are you holding yourself back because you've been taught to seek answers rather than to derive answers? Where are you limiting your challenges to those you already know how to handle or places where you're comfortable that you won't make mistakes? When your kids ask you how to do something, do you respond with instruction or do you ask them questions that allow them to derive the answers? How would your life be different if you decided that nothing worth doing could be done without making mistakes along the way?

Happy Sunday!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Learning to Write

In those days, my life was one big reaction.

Reacting to the alarm clock.

Failing to react to the alarm clock and then reacting to my brother-in-law's car horn screaming profanely at 4:00AM in the parking lot outside our garden apartment.

I reacted to the fumes of the diesel engines warming up in the predawn cold of an Illinois winter, my twenty-two-year-old body feeling aged and incapable of facing another day.

I reacted to the numbness is my fingers, ripping my half frozen, soaked-with-who-knows-what gloves from my hands, leaping from the garbage truck and racing into the 7/11 to get a cup of coffee and some short term replacements.

I reacted to the warmth of the coffee cup stinging my fingers as it defibrillated them back to life.

I reacted to the utility bills and the rent come due, racing to the bank to deposit my paycheck before the ones I'd already sent out cleared.

I reacted to everything everyone told me I "should" be doing and how I "should" be living, wanting to please them, feeling that they were right, hoping against all odds that I could live up to their expectations.

Knowing I couldn't.

I reacted to Rene telling me, "My water broke!", trying desperately to start our ancient car on a frigid December morning and finally needing a jump from the neighbor upstairs.

I reacted to the birth of our first child, Christina Joy, losing track of time and space, momentarily forgetting the job and the bills and the expectations of others, and in utter exhaustion, experiencing an uncanny sense of peace and fulfillment.
Teflon, October 25, 2010

Blissfully Ignorant
I never learned to write, at least not formally or deliberately.

From the time I was five, my mom's love for language and everything proper led her to correct even the slightest gramatical error that passed my lips. My dad, a Finnish-born mathematical Rain Man, overcompensating for not having learned English until he was in college, translated his weekly excursions into new vocabulary into dinner table competitions. I've had lots of exposure to language.

At work, the rule was that you weren't done with a project until you documented it. I've had lots of experience verbalizing complex technical concepts.

Out of necessity, I've written business plans and press releases and marketing materials. However, I never learned how. I've always written out of necessity.

Coming up on two years ago, my little Dutch dynamo decided to establish a blog and she asked if I'd contribute a couple of posts a month. I agreed and started writing, initially because I wanted to support her, and then because I told her I would, and then, slowly, simply because I wanted to: a desire that has grown quietly and steadily, sometimes surprising me like a kid you haven't seen in years leaving you wondering how he got so tall.

Nowadays, I love to write, waking up every morning before daylight, sneaking a peak at the clock to see if it's not too early, and then tip-toeing downstairs to crack open my MacBook.

Still, I never learned how to write. But I am.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice
Over the past few weeks, I've been blessed to be part of a little writing group that I mentioned last Friday in In the Company of Angels, and I've been learning how to write.

As we gather together on Thursday evenings, I feel like the sorcerer's apprentice being granted access to her inner chambers for instruction and guidance. And the rest of the time? Like the sorcerer's apprentice being left alone in her inner chambers, all those books of spells and implements of magic just lying there, calling me. I'm learning how to write and it feels so good!

When I woke up this morning I noticed something different, a little off, like a mole that leaves you wondering, "Is that new?" or "Does that look a little funny?" or "Maybe I should get that checked?" Somewhere between midnight and 4:30, I'd started thinking about writing well. No that's not it; I'd made writing well important.

It's as though now that I'm learning how write, I'd better start writing really good. (That was for my mom.) No excuses. No place to hide. Better not let people know that you're learning how, lest they change their expectations of you. It came on me like a bit of indigestion after a really great meal, the demons finding a little gap in the blessing, marshaling their forces, ready to break through. (Hows that for mixing metaphor?)

So, I decided to preemptively exorcise them by sharing one of my writing exercises from last week and telling the world, "Hey, I'm learning to write and from really, really good teachers. I've got no excuses. If what you see is crap, I did it!"

Ahhh... I feel better already. Thank you for your assistance. Bet you hadn't anticipated participating an exorcism this morning.

Isn't it funny what happens to us when we start to make something important? When we start to make success matter? When we replace wanting to do well, with being concerned about not doing well? When we replace the challenge and thrill of competition with the need to win? When we transform admiration into jealousy?

Happy Friday!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Crystalize your vision, part 2

I hope you enjoyed answering the questions in Part one of this post as much as I did.  As I thought about what I would do with untold millions, I realized that I keep trimming my dreams down to 'realistic' (a euphemism for 'cautious and safe') ones.  It was a great opportunity to again think about the big future picture.  Yet, being fully present and clear today is my best preparation for the future I want. 

This week I watched Changing Education Paradigms, an RSA animate presentation.  The presenter talks about the disconnect between many typical educational systems and the current needs of the student and of society. I really liked his comment about the tendency to 'anesthetize' the children who aren't co-operating with the current system, deadening the senses, instead of waking them up to what they have inside them.  He said that our goal was to help them be fully alive and fully present.  Hopefully, the homework last week helped you take a step in that direction.  

You asked your daughter what she would do with all that money and she told you she would go to medical school to become a pediatrician, at the same time, setting up a center to help children with disabilities get the help they need. (all this in addition to buying you a new house, getting herself a new 6 figure $$ car and taking a trip with her friends to Hawaii)  This is a noble ambition, but still doesn't give you much to work with.  Let's say we ask her what she sees herself doing in the clinic, and she's seeing babies, talking to families about options for treatment and  support and helping her staff really be gentle and supportive with the kids and their family.  There are so many occupations/interests that fall into the scope of what she wants to do that I can't even list them, including everything from therapist, social worker, coach, HR manager, not to mention business owner.  It's too early to narrow the discussion down to occupation, but help her describe 3 different roles she sees herself playing.  From this example we can start with:
  • interacting, assessing kids
  • talking with/supporting families
  • being an information source about disabilities
  • business owner, director, manager
Now we have enough information to create a 1 year adventure, the journey to clarity!

I think one of the best ways to know if you really want to do something is to do it without expecting pay.  Help her identify 10 companies/organizations that have people in any  of the roles she sees for herself.  Encourage her to offer her services to them as a volunteer.  Although it would be ideal to find someone in the role she would want to be in and have her volunteer to do anything for that person, that might not even be necessary,  She needs only to be in the environment so she can see first hand what that person's life is really like.  Confirm 4-6 of these volunteer opportunities/internships.(they can be done sequentially, like volunteer for 2 months here and three months there, or 2-3  part time 6 month internships at a time)  Yes, she will be busy, maybe even tired, but the exposure is worth it.  Here are a few suggestions for your young person that may make the experience really useful:
  • Document her observations and feelings.  How does she feel on the way  to the job?  How does she feel when she's leaving?
  • Observe the people who are doing what she wants to do.  Ask to meet with them for a few minutes to understand a bit more about what they do.  Ask them what they think she should bear in mind to prepare herself for this role.
  • Choose a subject area that would be useful to know more about to handle this role well.  Find an online course or take it as a non-degree student at the local community college or find some good books/online sources and read.  Ask her to note how she feels as she is reading/listening to the material.
  • Choose someone in history (maybe the last 250 years) who has been successful in this role.  Read about them.  Choose someone anywhere within email contact that is currently successful and send them an email asking them about what they do.  Ask them if they could change anything, do it all differently, what would they do.
It doesn't really  matter how she wakes up, as long as she does
I could go on and on.  You get the idea.  There isn't any scripting the experience.  Think of yourself like a facilitator, a cheerleader on the sidelines. If one internship isn't working out, try another one.  If no clarity comes after a year, keep working at it.  Maybe more non-degree learning opportunities, perhaps help her to think about how to create the environment she would want.  Maybe you both do the homework again, changing some of the terms, the amounts of money.  Whatever you do, both you and your young person will have a wide awake experience, and that's what really matters.

This may lead to college/graduate school now, later or never.  What really matters is someone knowing that they are powerful enough to chart his or her own course, tuned in to the internal compass.

I really like Teflon's idea of starting with kids and doing it yearly and keeping the responses.  Sometimes the clarity is in the patterns that present themselves in the answers as the years go by.  By the way, if it's time for you to be courageous and strike out to do something you really want to do, don't let financial constraints stop you from volunteering.  The investment in the universe of you will bring almost infinite returns in clarity, new opportunities and the amazing wide-awake feeling.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Headlong into Today

The wires hanging from the telephone polls rolled by like long, slow deep ocean waves. My whole body throbbed as my head bounced against the floor of the red wagon I'd been pushing in our 100-yard race. I could hear the other kids talking, "Do you think he's gonna die?"

As we turned the corner and headed up the driveway, a few of the kids ran ahead to get my mom shouting loudly, "Mrs. Tuomenoksa, come out! Mark fell down and he's really hurt bad!"

The pace of the wagon pullers quickened as my mom emerged calmly from the house drying her hands with a dish towel. She took one look to see what was happening and then ran.

The doctor set my collar bone with a cast that ran all around my chest and shoulders like a tanktop cut off at the base of my ribcage. I was the first six-year-old in my school to have broken something and suddenly I was cool. For me the cast hidden under my shirt was like a bullet proof vest or armor; I was Superman taunting the crooks to hit me in the chest, knowing that nothing could harm me.

Back in Business
Our neighborhood was full of kids who played outside every day after school, racing wagons, climbing over the remains of large trees fallen in the woods that surrounded our homes, riding bikes, or chasing each other in a game of tag. For six weeks, I couldn't do any of that.

The day my cast came off, I couldn't wait to go find the other kids. My mom pulled into the driveway and I was half-way out the door of our 1961 pontiac before she'd cut the engine.

I ran into the garage and grabbed my bicycle ready to fly away and find my pals. And then I stopped, afraid to get on my bike and ride, certain that I was gonna fall and hurt myself.

Walking into the garage, mom asked me, "What's wrong?"

I told her that I'd forgotten how to ride my bike. My desire to join my friends and my fear of riding played tug-of-war with emotions and I finally pleaded, "Mom, can you pleeease put the training wheels back on?"

Long Term Strategy
For weeks, I rode around with the training wheels extended so low to the ground that there was absolutely no play in the balance. They weren't training wheels, they were rotary crutches. Every time my dad would adjust them so that I would have to balance a bit, I would stop, jump off the bike and beg him to lower the wheels again. I would tell myself how training wheels weren't so bad, that I might just use them forever.

One Saturday afternoon, my dad walked down to the street and told me he wanted to adjust my training wheels. He loosened the bolts that held them to the frame and then asked me to sit on the seat while he held the bike upright and fine tuned the height. As soon as I'd mounted my four-wheel machine, he made a couple of twists with his fingers that let the training wheels fall to the ground. Amidst my loud protests, he ran forward pushing the bike, one hand on the handle bar, the other on the seat.

And then he let go.

It was one of those moments that you hear about where a thousand scenarios flash through your mind: falling down... running over a curb and crash-landing on someone's lawn... jumping... braking... and then... riding. I emerged from my fugue to find myself pedaling as fast as I could, past the Wilcox's house, past the Underwood's house, past the Jacoby's house gaining speed and much to my surprise, gaining balance.

Forgetting all my fears, I turned the corner into the Cagle's driveway and raced across the lawn to the backyard where all the kids were playing Army. I hit the coaster brake that spun my back wheel around in a skid, let my bike fall to the ground, and ran to join them shouting, "Hey, I remembered how to ride my bike!"

Inching Your Way Across a Chasm
I'm a big fan of learning things slowly. When it comes to subjects like math or music or science or language, going slow can be the fastest way to get there. However, there are other areas where you just can't get there slowly. You can't inch your way across a chasm, you have to leap. Yet so often we rush that which is best accomplished slowly, and creep through that which can only be accomplished quickly, with a leap of faith and a belief that it will all work out.

Rather than a clean split, we inch our ways through breakups and divorces. Rather than putting all we have into establishing a new company, we hang on to our current jobs doing a little here and a little there. Rather than supporting our kids in the pursuit of their dreams, we teach them to hedge and play it safe. Rather than walking boldly into the boss's office with a clear statement of what we want and why it will benefit her to give it to us, we drop hints hoping that someone will notice how well we work.

We live our lives with one foot on the log of circumstances and the other on the log of dreams, straining in a losing battle to pull them together, knowing in our hearts of hearts that they will inevitably drift apart, leaving us to choose one or the other, or to simply fall into the unknown.

We all can easily spot it when others do it. We all do it. We even encourage people to do it. But there's no future in it.

There are times when someone will take the choice out of your hands, grab your bicycle and send it flying. There are times when there's no one but you. In the end, there are some things in life that can only be achieved when you leap headlong into the abyss of your dreams and of your fears.

Happy Wednesday,

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


I’m just waking up from what feels like a 24-hour period of feverish sleep, chaotic thoughts and subtle insights into myself. Gosh, I have not been to this place for a while and I am surprised to find myself here. But let’s start at the beginning.

Yesterday morning I participated in a 10K tune-up race in Saratoga Springs. This race, three weeks before my half marathon, was planned to see how my speed would hold up and to get a bit more experience running a race. I was so excited. I knew I could do it and was ready to show the world "Iris the runner".

We woke up around 6AM in the hotel, jumped into our clothes and took off to find some breakfast. Saratoga Springs turned out to be an amazing, wealthy town with beautiful big stone buildings comparable with the ones in Harvard Yard. They even have a downtown shopping area. The Saratoga Springs always attracted people, starting with the Iroquois Indians. It didn’t take log before the first settlements were established and tourists started coming to the springs. Investments in the casino, the horse track, the springs and some very expensive hotels grew Saratoga Springs til what it is today: a very pretty looking and rich tourist town.

At 7AM a diner opened and we found ourselves a spot at the bar. Sitting on comfortable big chairs of fake brown leather, we looked directly into a glass cabinet with at least twelve different huge dessert pies. Chocolate, whip cream, pudding, all colors of the rainbow happily screaming, “Eat me, eat me!” r. They could have saved their voices; early mornings are not the best time for selling sweet sugary desserts. But hey, there're pies; what do they know!

The quiet server with long blond hair brings us menus and drinks. I wonder why she doesn’t seem cold in her black sleeveless t-shirt. The running clothes I am wearing are much warmer then hers, and I still feel shivers on my back and arms. It is only 37-degrees outside and it doesn’t seem to be much warmer inside.

The two eggs over easy, complemented with bacon and rye toast help me to fuel my inner fire and heat my body to a comfortable temperature. I am so ready to run, but there are still two hours to overcome. What to do next?

The next hour and a half, I bounced around the hotel room like a ping-pong ball. I would spend five minutes on the computer, five minutes in the bathroom, go over my clothes and bib to make sure everything was prepared properly. I showed Mark the route so he would know where to find me and tried to sit still on the bed for a couple minutes. It didn’t work out very well. I was so relieved when the clock hit nine and I could start my warm-up run towards the start of the event.

About eight minutes later I arrived at the start. Fourteen hundred people were lining themselves up with me. Such an overwhelming amount of people, sounds, colors, and noises. While I was dressed in long warm pants and sweatshirt, lots of runners were dressed in shorts and sometimes even sleeveless shirts that made their goose bumps show prominently. It seemed people tried to keep warm by chattering like chipmunks who have found a big assortment of nuts, the noise so loud that the count-off and start of the event could be seen but not heard.

But when the twenty eight hundred shoes started to move over the road, the human chattering stopped, replaced by soft drumming voices filled with urgency, as the shoes chanted in unison,  “Forward, forward, forward we go!"

Enticed by the beat, I started off way faster than would have been smart. I was macho-ing between the five K-ers but they would be done in a bit, while I had another 5K to run before the finish. After two miles, my breathing got so tight that I started to sound more like a train running on steam, then one on electricity. And while I was doing my best to show off, everyone seemed to pass me by in easy coyote steps while I was doing my elephant dance. While trying to move my elephant legs faster then normal, I had to take breaks from running here and there to get my breath back under control.

I can tell you it was a tough race. It was not as tough as my run today (one that I filed under worst run ever), but it was quite challenging. In the second half of the race we got into some small hills. Already having spent most my energy during the first part, I felt that I had changed into like a little snail climbing the road with all its strength, telling myself, “where there's an up, there is a down!”

In the last part, it was a lady dressed in carnival clothes yelling enthusiastically that the hardest part was now over and the finish around the corner that made me move my legs into a run for the last time and had me roll over the finish line in one hour, two minutes and twenty-three seconds. It took me at least five minutes and one bottle of water to get back to a place where talking was possible.

Even though I had improved my time for the 10K by seven minutes (one minute per mile), I have been walking around with mixed feelings about my results. It is amazing that I improved my personal time like that, and so I am very proud. But so many people passed me, running way better then I did and I wonder how come I am so slow in comparison.

My “subtle” insights:

  • I understand now that I want to be part of the challenge in a game, and when I put myself in a situation where I’m not even close to a challenge, it tests my character and motivations to the extreme.
  • I understand that what I did is wonderful, but I seem to really want to hold on to the belief that I did poorly. I must believe it will help me improve my speed. In meanwhile it just slows me down though...
  • Sree, it is now time to dialogue, so I can have a clear head when I run my first half marathon in three weeks!
  • I know I will keep going, and now there is extra motivation by figuring out how to keep my head cool!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Vivid Detail

You find an old box of pictures in the attic and you start going through them.  Oh my goodness!  Where are those girls from 7th grade?  Look at those clowns fooling around in the raccoon hat!  Where did you get that hat from, in a catholic high school for girls in the city??  The pictures bring back so many memories.  Some aren't very good pictures, some are just embarrassing, or uneventful.  You decide to scan the ones you want, and toss the rest.

Memories.  We all have them.  Some are warm and fuzzy, sunshine and roses.  Some, we remember in 3D, with vivid color and detail, yet we wish we didn't.  When you think of the past year, which memories come to mind?

My grandmother died almost 1 year ago, and I've been thinking about her quite a bit in recent times.  I remember so many wonderful things, yet there are some memories that are both warm and fuzzy, and visually fuzzy.  There are some others that, in-spite of their vivid clarity, aren't the ones I want to keep close to my heart.

Growing up with my grandmother, I quickly figured something out:  when the house was quiet, everything was going well.  On the other hand, when we could hear her talking (well, yelling) while we were still in the backyard, we knew something was wrong.  Vocal expressions were used to rehearse the things that were wrong and we heard about them over, and over, and over...

I'm realizing that I keep my memories clear by rehearsing them over, and over and over... like I would when studying for an examination.  I have pictures in my photo album of myself as a very small child.  I have told the stories of those pictures so much that I'm not sure if I remember the actual event, or if I remember the story because I have heard myself say it so often.

Recently, I heard myself sharing something Isaiah did that I was really irritated about.  I could share it in vivid detail.  I could remember the conversation word for word.  Yet, the stuff that I'm enjoying, that I think is just amazing, I keep as an inside, perhaps private story.  Very few people get to hear these memories.  Maybe I don't hear them enough either.. 

I've noticed that my private, inside memories stop getting much mental attention after a while.  Then, they fade, becoming fuzzy, hazy.  The vivid detail gets reserved for the ones that survive the rehearsals.

I'm starting a new practice.  Well, it's not new, but I'm deciding to make it a part of my regular routine.  I'm going to stop at the end of my day, and bring to mind the memories I enjoyed and/or found significant that day.  I'm going to rehearse those memories, play them out in my mind in bold, living color, in 3D, in HD, with surround sound.  I'm going to make them big.  I'm also going to share them with others.  You may get to hear quite a few of them.  I want to stand at any point in my life and take out my box of photos and see clear vivid pictures of anything I want to see.

What about you?  Are you deliberately cultivating the memories you want to keep?  You can start today.

PS,  we'll talk more about the homework I gave last week on thursday.  I didn't forget!

On my own

I have just spend a great weekend - on my own. No work, no dinners, no people around. And I loved it!!!

Well I did do some laundry, a preparation for a teaching tomorrow, I did spend time on the phone, but I have the feeling that I got to spend a lot of time on me, relaxing, with "nothing to do".

Most people who knows me also know that I often get a feeling of loneliness - a feeling of missing close friends, missing people who wants to check in on me, people who wants to help me because they know that even if I might be capable of taking care of myself, I do love to receive love and help.

And to be honest: friday night I started out feeling lonely. I have had a few pretty intense weeks at work, and I had decided to "take the weekend oft" - and suddenly I felt the tiredness, the need for someone to take care of me. BUT I had promised myself onething:

Answering the questions
I wanted to take time to answer the questions The Clark Five wrote on thursday in Crystalize your vision BEFORE college.

I started with the second question:

Ask them if they found they had inherited $250M (or won the lottery)
but also were bound by a strange clause that insisted
the money be used in 5 years, what would they do?

The first thing comming to mind was: I wanna go traveling. I want to travel the world for a year. I will start going to India. I'll spend a month on retreats, meditation, enjoying the sun. Then I'll travel to the north, enjoy the mountains, the people... and then

As I got into details I realised I did not want to travel for a year. I wanted to go for 1-3 months - whatever it would take to find the calm and quiet place within. I wanted to be in India, because I know that in the mist of the people - I find it easy to be alone - to be me - to be me observing the world, to be me enjoying being me.

I realised that my desire for seeing the world, does not mean that I want to escape work. Instead of travelling for a year, I just wanted to be reloaded. I wanted to get back to work. With a lot of money I might insiste on becoming partner in the company and I started to get some ideas of which kind of people I wanted to bring in, which types of strategic analysis I would want to be carried out.

I put down the book I was using to take notes. I was surprised. Where did this come from? How come I didn't dream of bringing "Relate to Autism" to Denmark? why did I not dream of making my own company teaching and coaching people?

I guess that I'm really happy where I am. I am happy to "be back" in a carreer using my analytical skills, I love the people I work with. I do want changes - but I love the process of trying to make those changes happen.

So why do I want holidays? why did I want to go travelling? My eyes started to tear up. I just wanted peace. I wanted to be with ME.
I cancelled the appointment I had (except for one skype call), I started to look around in my appartment. I had a few boxes with stuff that I didn't find a place for last time I cleaned. I started to unpack some of the boxes.

Step by step, I realised how much time I've spend running towards the future. I've signed up for the gym because I want to be more fit and less stressed. I've spend time meditating to find peace, I've signed up for singles network and dating sides to look for a potential partner. I've been teaching mindfulness and happiness to learn to teach in case i would want to make that into a living one day. I've been working on chosing happiness in order to prevent future depressions.

With all those things - each of them individually: things that I do want, but in total it seems that I have often forgot to keep the space in my time planning "to just be me". Time to clean my appartment, time to put on make up, to do my nail - whatever. Time to sit in my favorite chair, look around and say: "This is my life".

Take my hand
I have a big love for hands - I love holding hands, but no I'm just watching it.

In my teaching for tommorrow I have chosen a simpel exercise in mindfulness. It is an exercise to grow your awareness and it doesn't acquire anything but your own hands and your two eyes.

Take your hand and start looking at it.

Look at the lines, the different colors, the shape. Look at your hand as if it was a precious art-object. Look at it from all angles.

Examine your fingers as if you were a baby, as if you were just experiencing what a hand it.

Pretend you are a stranger - you might be from outerspace - and you have never seen such thing as a hand. Move your fingers and follow each movement with facination - with surprise.

Spend at least 5 min with your hand.

You can do this excercise with anything, and often I choose a cup of coffee or something you can eat, but now I choose my hand because I wanted to be close to me. You can do it with your face in the mirror - some people start having tears running down their chicks when they are asked to look at their own face with no judgements - just observations.

Getting back to the questions
After getting used to the idea that what I most wanted in life was what I'm doing - just with a bit more attention to being me. I went on with the third question.

Ask them what they would do with the next 5 years
if they knew failure was impossible
and that they had ALL the money they wanted.

Had I got that question in high school, had I had anyone to help me work through my fears of failure - or fears of not reaching the goal - then I would have been persued a carreer as physitherapist for some high level atheletics.

Looking back at my wants at the age 18, my fears of not being good enough to reach the goal - I do not feel any regrets of not having tried. It's funny. My life would have been very different. I can hardly imagine what would have happend. Maybe I would never had had a depression, maybe I would have gotten married, maybe....

All these maybe's and yet no regrets...

What if it doesn't really matter which choises we makes? what if it only matters that we can be on our own - with our without anyone else.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Thanks for the Lift

In response to In the Company of Angels regarding Jenny Laird (a.k.a QuinnMama), the inspirational leader of our weekly writing jam, Mr. Will commented:
I woke up this morning thinking about our group and everyone's writing, and wondering exactly what Jenny does to inspire such remarkable stuff from everyone around her. And as I was lying there pondering, watching the dawn light turn the sky behind the mountains pink, my inner DJ pulled a selection from my inner Freudian playlist and I found myself idly singing lines from that great Jackie Wilson song:

"Your love keeps lifting me higher than I've ever been lifted before. So keep it up...."


On behalf of all of us in the group, all of us who read your ZenMaster Quinn blog, all of us blessed to spend time doing just about anything in the presence of your love:

Thanks, Amazing Jenny, for the lift.
(and please please please keep it up!)

As I read Will's comment, I began thinking about what it means to be uplifting, my right brain dragging me into a museum lined with images of peace-corps workers, grand vistas, and anthropomorphicized dolphins, and my left brain pulling me into the lab to consider uplift categories and quotients. Hmmm... which to explore?

OK, let's head into the lab and look at the notions of an uplift-quotient or UQ.

What's Your UQ?
The first thing that occurs to me in trying to determine what exactly a UQ is would be net-positive energy-flow. For example, there are some people who always leave you charged up and ready to take on the world, providing a net-positive energy exchange. There are others who leave you drained and ready for a week away from everyone, providing a net-negative exchange. And there are all sorts of people in between.

Let's define categories of energizers: sappers, terrorists, isolationists, hoarders, catalysts, and generators. Of course, none of us is exclusively any of these; think of them more as roles than personality types.

Energy Sappers live off the energy of others, flying from source to source, digging their beaks deep below the bark, and drinking until they pass-out sated or the source dies. We often train our kids to be energy sappers simply by doing things for them that they could do themselves. Before you know it, you've got a teenager slopped on the couch watching TV yelling to his mother who's scrubbing a toilet upstairs, "Hey mom, could you bring me a glass of milk!"

As adults, energy sappers often live by the motto: Why do something that you can get someone else to do for you? The most impressive sapping is performed by those who don't particularly care about the task at hand. Although they may feign urgency, they're nourished simply by the act of being served.

Energy Terrorists blow up growing energy caches before they reach critical mass. They're expert at finding the fatal flaw in a nacent plan or pointing out previous failed attempts or the unexpected, problematic side-effects of success. A good energy terrorist can easily render even the most confident and competent person uncertain about her capacity to reach her goals.

Energy Isolationists are often recovering enablers of energy sappers and terrorists. Suffering the effects of overexposure to energy consumers and not knowing the nature of their ills, they simply avoid any exchanges of energy, period. The lingering fear that anyone is a potential energy sapper or terrorist leads them to avoid even positive energy sources. Every word of encouragement or praise is suspect.

Energy Hoarders don't actively sap or terrorize, but they're happy to receive... and receive... and receive... The inflow valve is always open and the outflow rusted shut.

Energy Catalysts are neither sources nor consumers of energy, so it's often difficult to spot them or correctly classify them. However, for some reason, whenever they show up, the situation becomes more positively energized. They don't provide the energy, they simply catalyze the latent energy in others transforming it from potential to kinetic.

Energy Generators needn't hoard nor sap as they seem capable of spinning positive energy from pretty much any raw material or situation. Even when they seem to have reached the point of exhaustion, when the need arises, they can renew themselves and those around them as if by magic.

Computing UQ
OK, that's a much more elaborate list than I anticipated writing, but let's forge ahead. In the end, everyone of us has played any one of the above roles. Now, let's translate this into a UQ.

I never tried this in Blogger before, but I just whipped up a little UQ Calculator that lets you rate yourself (or anyone you like) in terms of time spent in various energy roles. Assuming Blogger doesn't mess with this too much, clicking the button at the bottom will tally your results and provide you a score. Otherwise it might transfer you to some site in Croatia offering you ten million dollars just for submitting copies of your passport, social security card and credit cards.

Before you answer, consider that there are many forms of positive energy exchange and source. There hands-on helpers who jump in picking up slack and performing tasks. There are encouragers who find the positive aspect in anything you do. There are problem solvers who delight in the intractable. There are challengers who provoke you to dig more deeply and think more thoroughly. There are lovers who buoy you up when you can't tread any longer. There are humorist who find the lighter, funnier side things. There are givers who supply you when your stores are empty.

So, here we go...

The maximum score of this highly-scientific survey is 180. How'd you do? Think of the most positive source of energy in your life and complete the form for him or her. What's her score? How about for the biggest energy drain?

Don't Mean a Thing
Before any of y'all get to serious abou this, I need to confess that the survey isn't purely scientific. However, what I'm realizing is that all it takes to become a source of positive energy to the people around you is first, to want to, and second, to pay attention.

First come to undertand the forms through which your positive energy manifests. Are you an encourager? A clown? A lover? A provocateur? A doer? A problem solver? Next, actively look for opportunities to be an energy catalyst or generator or whatever other role you can think of that is uplifting.

Happy Uplifting Sunday,

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Million Dollar Question

The window of our room at the Best Western, Saratoga Springs looks like an ancient black & white television as an uninspired, monochrome dawn slowly gains luminosity filling the space around me with the kind of pure, clean light that reveals everything just as it is, the kind of light you'd never see in the movies. Preparing for her 10K and wondering why they decided to start it so late, Iris is bouncing about the room like a kid waiting for the UPS guy to knock on the door with a long awaited prize.

Last night, we had an amazing dinner with my daughter Eila and her boyfriend. Eila is now twenty-eight, well established in her career. Nonetheless, I thought it would be fun to play with some of the questions that Faith outlined in her post, Crystalize Your Vision Before College. So I asked Eila, "Let's say that you were going to appear on Oprah tomorrow because you'd just won a contest to receive a million dollars that you could invest anyway you wanted. You could start a business, you could go to school, you could purchase property. The only catch is that you'd be required to use all the money within five years. What would you do?"

Since they arrived on Thursday, Eila and her boyfriend had been talking about opening their own restaurant. Eila is the general manager of a large, successful restaurant in Harvard Square. She's saturated herself with hands-on experience in all aspects of running a restaurant from working barehanded along side the macho cooks in the high-pressure, high-volume kitchen to recruiting and training wait-staff to book-keeping and accounting to serving on local civic commissions. Her boyfriend is a cook who's learned not only how to prepare food well, but also how to maximize the revenue per item served. He's become a walking encyclopedia for the production cost of all foods Italian, considering not only the cost of materials, but also, labor, rent, machines and maintenance.

Together, they make a great team and since they'd been talking for a couple of years about the day they open their restaurant, I figured that Eila's plan for Oprah would have been laid out in that zone. I waited for Eila's crisp, clear and well considered response. And waited... And waited...

Finally, she mustered, "Uhhh... Uhmm... I don't know."

And the conversation was afoot. We talked about determining "what" before worrying about "how" and the pitfalls of confusing or commingling the two. We talked about sunk-cost decisions and avoiding the trap of making next-step choices based on previous-step choices. We talked about aspirations from childhood. Finally, I asked Eila, "Let's say it's time to turn over the game board and start all over, you might not even choose the same game. What would you do?"

Eila finally said, "Well dad, I know this may sound ridiculous, but I'd become a veterinarian. I love animals and I'd love to be able to work with them and help them."

Eila went on to describe how, since she was a child, she'd wanted to be a veterinarian. It had been her dream. Since then, Eila's path has taken her from academic achievement to music and acting to fashion design, living in Florence, Italy and on Union Square West, to waiting tables and now running a restaurant. She's done well and invested a lot in getting to where she is. To walk away from all that would be... irresponsible... stupid... wrong... right?

As our conversation progressed, Eila's boyfriend remained undeterred in his restaurant plans. He chimed in mentioning Eila's squeamishness regarding blood and trauma, suggesting that she may aspire to being a vet, but that she doesn't have the stomach for it. So, I asked him the same question that Eila had started with and he was quick to answer, "I'd open five restaurants instead of one and then I'd grow them to make a lot of money."

So I asked him, "OK, what if it were ten million dollars, instead of one million dollars?"

He stopped asking, "So, I could spend it any way I wanted? Could I spend it in ten years instead of five?"

I said, "Yeah, sure."

He said, "Oh, well then I'd go back to school and become a doctor specializing in internal medicine."

Eila, Iris and I all looked at him and then at each other, smiles forming on each face. I said, "So wait a minute. You guys are both working hard to open a restaurant when, if you had all the resources, one of you would become a vet and the other an MD?"

From there we spun through notions of practical versus impractical, the causality of beliefs, and not looking to statistics when trying to determine your personal likelihood of success. It was a lot fun.

I don't know where they'll end up, but I'm sure that Eila and her boyfriend had an interesting conversation driving back to Cambridge last night.

Faith, thank you for your inspired, playful questions. Even if nothing changes for Eila and her boyfriend, everything changed. I can see that your questions have no expiration date; they can be useful to anyone at any age.

As I talked with Eila last night, I also realized the importance of one additional qualifier: being able to turn the board over, to reset the game. Even with unlimited resources, it's easy for our past decisions to limit our current decisions, like someone who's spent months using a hand shovel to dig a foundation for a house refusing help from a friend who just bought a backhoe because he'd already got halfway there.

Saving the how for later, what would you do with a million, no, make that ten-million dollars and a reset button?

Happy Saturday,

Friday, October 22, 2010

In the Company of Angels

Last night, I sat in the company of angels, their human forms barely concealing the power hidden within. To the casual observer, the angelic presence might have gone unnoticed, but for me, the power was... not overwhelming... it was... uhm... pervasive... no, permeating... no, drenching. It felt like I was standing outside on a crisp, cool morning in late autumn just having emerged fully clothed from pool of hot water, the contrasts of warm and cold, wet and dry triggering neural paths long asleep, every sense running at full capacity. Yeah, it was exactly like that, just different.

All week long, I'd listened to Caroline's impromptu prose from our previous session playing through my mind, touched by the sweet and vivid imagery that she'd brought to life in a scant ten minutes. I was impressed and at times daunted by how moving and powerful something so delicate could be. When last night she read another of her ten minute excursions, I was again compelled by the sense of motion and touch that bring her writing to life.

Susan's frenetic romp through emotion, thought and action was a roller coaster ride into the unknown, a ride that wouldn't return you to the starting point, but to somewhere new, unexpected. It was wild, untamed, exhilarating, without direction and yet full of purpose. As she ended her recitation, my mind raced to catch up with my body, processing and trying to absorb even a tenth of what she'd laid before me.

My quiet and soft-spoken wife's alter ego emerged with a vengeance as her exposition incorporated an amalgam of her life's experiences as the sole responsible party among an eclectic array of alcoholics and drug abusers, someone who'd absorbed the consequences, over-compensated and covered, but was now done with all that. The no-holds-barred hurricane of a woman that she'd written into existence was compelling, brash and endearing. I wanted to meet her and get to know her.

In just ten minutes, Will developed the opening of page-turner, a mystery, a thriller, like a hollywood preview that left you thinking, who was that? What'd he do? What's gonna happen next? Who's lying? Who's not? I gotta see that when it comes out. His craft was like one of the old A-Team episodes where they transform a bunch spare washing machine parts and kitchen appliances into a fighter jet all while the bad guys are out for lunch.

And last of all, Jenny, the most brilliant of the angels reached out bridging space and time by demonstrating not her strength, but her weakness. With grace and tenderness, this master of prose chose to write a poem, an exercise that exposed her vulnerabilities and weaknesses. But you know what they say, one man's floor is another's ceiling. I aspire for my strength to reach the level of her weakness.

Last night, I sat with angels. I felt humbled and blessed. There were times where I simply couldn't find words. It was as though the universe had just decided to open a new branch office inside my chest, in one moment expanding infinitely, and then in the next, collapsing, leaving an immeasurable void, a vacuum, a black hole that sucked in all forms of expression leaving my thoughts spinning around the event horizon.

Thank you, Caroline.
Thank you, Susan.
Thank you, Iris.
Thank you, Will.
Thank you, Jenny.

You bless me more than I can say.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The crystalize your vision BEFORE college (or grad school, or anything) adventure

I was sitting in a session at a conference on the various techniques for storing, manipulating and retrieving data from multiple data sources.  I had chosen sessions that would help me focus my thoughts on a possible thesis topic.  I also wanted to rub shoulders with the movers and shakers in the computer science/engineering academic world.  I tried to focus on what the presenter was saying, but honestly, it sounded like 'Wah, wah, wah, wah'.   Sometime later, as I was speaking to one of my grad. school professors about the possibility of being his student, I had that same strange feeling, like I didn't really care what he said,... what did he say?  I nodded and answered appropriately and made my way back home.  A question nagged at me for several weeks, maybe even months after.  Truth be told, the question had probably been trying to get my attention way before that: What was I doing here?  Why was I doing this?

Some soul searching led to uncomfortable answers.  I was pursuing a Ph.D. in Computer Science because it was the next logical step in my career path.  If I did not pursue the Ph.D, I would not be able to keep my job.  I wasn't interested in anything Computer Science related enough to endure what I had been enduring.  I was now interested in human behavior, psychology, learning and motivation, adult education, none of which I had ever formally studied.   I decided that I wanted to stay home with my son.

Teflon commented recently that  college was wasted on the young. "Would I rather invest $200K in an eighteen-year-old who's going to college because that's the next step, or a twenty-four-year-old who's knocked around for a bit and finally come to clarity regarding what he really wants from life?"  I vote for the latter.

I'm not sure that any educational program beyond 9th grade that is done simply because it's the 'next step' will help the participant to know what he or she really wants.  Even if it does, it's an expensive way to do it.  There are so many creative and enriching ways to learn new things, acquire new skills and try them out in the real world.  Let's not mention that these enriching, wonderful ways are also cheaper than college tuition. So many people have student loans for degrees that they don't even use.  We can help our young people have a clear vision for their lives, encourage them to see it in amazing detail, and facilitate their thinking around how to get where they want to go. 

So I propose a 1-4 year self-created, self-directed program after high school that could transform that vague 18 year old into a 19 - 22 year old that has a wonderfully clear vision for his or her life.  I'm plagiarizing Teflon's idea of helping them align their desire with the real world experiences when those desires are implemented.  I'm going to propose a game plan to creating this program.  Here's the pre-game step:

  • Ask the almost high school graduate (this can start at any age, as early as age 10 or 11) to pretend that you are Oprah (or Trump, or someone very monied) and that you are giving them $250M to create something or do something that they really want to do and that they think could benefit their community.  They have to have this project completed in 5 years.  Write down all the thoughts as they come.  Encourage them to describe in detail what they would do with their time and their money.  Note the roles they assign to themselves, the things they seem to want to do more.  How do they spend their days?  Are they gravitating towards people, or are they working alone?  This could be a great discussion on who they would be if they thought there wasn't much of a money limit.

  • Ask them if they found they had inherited $250M (or won the lottery) but also were bound by a strange clause that insisted the money be used in 5 years, what would they do?  Do the scribe's job as above.  It can help with their own creativity if someone else is writing.

  • Ask them what they would do with the next 5 years if they knew failure was impossible and that they had ALL the money they wanted.
As I think about these questions, I realize that it may be easier to help someone think through those answers if you have already started to answer them for yourself.  So I think I'll pause here and give some homework!  I know, I really don't agree with homework... but if you are saying, "Homework??!" then you aren't yet ready to answer these questions, the homework isn't for you.  Your homework is to interview yourself.  Choose one or more of the questions and answer it in as much detail as you can.  You know you are getting there when your answers paint a picture, create a movie with sound effects, in living color that you can see in your mind, and others see when they hear you.  Record your answer somehow.  Write it down or record your voice as you speak out loud.  When you are done, share your story with someone who you think is a kindred spirit.

I'd love to hear what you come up with.  By the way, are you currently doing the things you wrote/spoke about?  If not, why not?  What one thing could you change to take you closer to that picture?

Next time, we'll finish the pre-game and come up with a game plan for this 1 to 4 year adventure!  Have a wonderful day of crystal clear vision.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

And Then, The World Ended

After years of ceaseless struggle, thousands of sleepless nights drenched in cold sweat, countless days of life-force sapping Herculean effort... it happened. Floodgates gave way... Roofs collapsed... Resistance failed... the world ended.

So now what?

Well, at least it didn't just kind of end. If it only half ended, then I suppose we'd be trying to figure out how to get it back. Nope, this time it really ended. No kidding.

There's no going back. There's no recapturing what was. It's done... finito... caput... asta la vista!

So now what?

I guess we could start with: Hallelujah, the world ended! Thank God she ended it completely. At least we can set out with clarity, without looking back, without regret, without second thoughts, without if-only's. If she'd only kinda ended it, I might have got myself stuck in the moment of world's end, forever looking back at what was or might have been. Thank God!

You've got to get yourself together
You've got stuck in a moment and now you can't get out of it
Don't say that later will be better now you're stuck in a moment
And you can't get out of it

U2 from All That You Can't Leave Behind

World's End?
What are your world-enders? The death of a loved one? The loss of your job? Being dumped? The rejection of your best submission yet? The bank taking your home? Your mother-in-law moving in? Your mother-in-law kicking you out? Missing your most important meeting? Your kid not getting into Harvard?

It seems that when utterly complete, world-enders are world-enders only until they actually happen. Once they arrive, they lose their apocalyptic force like a hurricane making its way inland. The hale-force rain of fire and brimstone etch away all that obscures your window on the world leaving nothing but crystal clarity. Sure you've got your wreckage, flotsam and jetsam, the remains of all that was etched away, but it's just that. When the world ends completely, the attachments wash away, the wreckage has no hold on you.

When worlds end completely, you're free to try something new, something better, or to try the same thing again, but differently, from a completely different place. There's amazing freedom in utter failure. Utter failure can be way better than near success. Near-success can hold you firmly in its grasp for years, for decades, sinking in the quicksand of variations on a theme, trying pretty much the same thing over and over hoping for a different result. Utter failure frees you from the chains or moderate success, opening the door to radical departure, to breakthrough thinking, to rebirth.

Hallelujah, the world ended, utterly, completely!

Accelerating World's End
Each of us has our own private collection of world-enders that we ardently avoid or at least try not to think about. However, while working to avoid them may keep them at bay, it can also empowers them. Not thinking about them is... well, let's say that it's not a strategy. So what do you do? You accelerate them! Not physically, but by playing them out in your mind, by talking about them, in vivid and exhaustive detail. By becoming friends with your world-enders, embracing them and then shouting, "Hallelujah!"

At that point, you can return to avoiding them or ignoring them, but they'll no longer have any power. They won't be world-enders.

Celebrating World's End
My friend Mark Kaufman recently found out he has diabetes. He'd avoided telling all the people who "care" about him because he didn't want to carry them through their hand-wringing, clothe-renting displays of support. So instead he called me counting on my seemingly unquenchable capacity for pitilessness.

At 53 years of age and nearly 400 pounds, in classic Kaufmanian manner, Mark was still a bit surprised by his condition. I mean, he'd got away with it so far. But nonetheless, Mark was determined to finally change his life, to lose weight, to eat better, to become healthy. He'd also determined to keep the whole thing quiet to avoid the types of "support" that were more draining than empowering.

As we talked it occurred to me that the last thing Mark wanted to do was to take this on by himself. One night while driving Iris and me to Grand Central, Mark declared his steadfast commitment to losing weight. We missed our train and went searching for him to share some time until the next train. We found Mark hunched over a bucket of deep-fried chicken matter in the basement of the KFC. The last thing Mark needs is would-be supporters feeding him in the dark.

So, as is oft the case with Mark and me, my response was pretty much the opposite of his. After responding to Mark's plan with, "You're kidding, right?", I went on to suggest, "Hey man, why not have a huge party with a band and entertainment, and rather than announcing your diagnosis, announce your plan to become healthy, not a wake, but a kick-off party. We could even come up with roles and responsibilities for everyone and present your support team! It would be awesome!"

We'll see.

Hallelujah! The world ended... utterly.

Happy Wednesday,

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Hearing the faint patter of rain on the second floor skylight, between the title and typing this text, I pick up my laptop, walk over to the chair by the sliding glass door and open it, just to hear the rain and to feel the cool ocean air.

I am blessed.

Yesterday was hard. Harder than any I can recall. Not so much due to the activity, but instead to all the surround, all the external crap that fights to crowd out what's right in front of me. The injustices and wrongs committed by sociopathic bullies whom I'd sometimes like to squash like bugs, to reach into my little armory of data and intellect and hit the button, but have determined to love instead.

Yesterday, I wasn't too good at the love part. So rather than love, I used restraint. Love is easy. Restraint is hard.

Yesterday was hard.

And yet, some really cool things happened. Things that I hadn't really noticed until I sat down and started typing.

I am blessed.

Sitting here in Jonathan's place, Iris asleep upstairs, the cool softness of rain falling outside and the warmth of the blanket over my shoulders is... umm... wonderful is the wrong word... it's serene, and as I type, it's becoming blissful.

I am blessed.

I used to look for and anticipate finding that one person who would "get it". I imagine all of us do that in some way at some time. For me, the "It" came in the form of rapid repartee, economy of words, and joint exploration of new ideas and concepts. Jamming.

The problem I had was wanting someone who could jam on everything, on mountain biking and running, on software and technology, on music, on writing, on art, on cooking, on photography... Well not everything, just my everything. Because I was looking for the "One", I missed all the "ones".

Since I stopped looking for the individual One, I've been finding the collective One, the One that far exceeds my expectations. The One that meets me on all fronts, jams with me, challenges me, and teaches me.

I am blessed.

Ten years ago, I was someone else. I'd bought in. I'd decided to play the game and go for the win. I traveled the US, Europe and Asia espousing the virtues of one company's Internet technology. Talking to Wall Street analysts. Working on mergers and acquisitions. Leaving the acquiring company to found my own technology startup. Raising venture capital. Recruiting talent. Pitching it. Talking it up. Selling it. My whole life was spin, spinning and being spun. And I was good at it.

Seven years ago, I walked away from it to live a spin-free life. Spin-free is free.

I am blessed.

I am blessed with three kids who've managed miraculously to become exceptional adults that I admire and respect.

I am blessed with a wife who is the best individual "one" I could ever hope to find.

I am blessed with an eclectic array of friends who are diverse in interests, passionate in their pursuits, challenging, loving, kind and fun. My collective "One" is infinitely better than the "One" I might have designed.

I am blessed with No Room for Jello and Will Power and Jenny's Writing Jam (JWJ), outlets for creativity that I'd only dreamed of.

I am blessed with work, more blessed than I can manage right now, but I'll figure it out.

Today may be hard, but it will be a good hard.

Happy Tuesday,

Monday, October 18, 2010

Four-Sigma Expectations

"You don't know what you're talking about", I said to my to good friend Fern whose husband Clay and daughter Lindsay came to visit on Friday. "If you were listening to you right now, you'd completely dismiss everything you just said as unfounded and hypothetical!"

Fern and I have known each other as friends and colleagues for years. She's one of those super-smart, analytical people who can look at huge volumes of seemingly disjointed and disparate data and transform them into a simple statement of what they mean.

We met when one of my "big ideas" at Bell Labs received several million dollars of funding from one of the business units and the business stake-holders thought it a good idea not to simply send a check to the crazy, long-haired researcher, but also to provide a bit of oversight. Fern walked into my office one sunny afternoon and introduced herself as the person designated to provide "governance" on the project. My first response was simply, "Umm... that sounds like you think you're in charge of me and my project."

And we were off and running. From that contentious first meeting our relationship evolved to that of strong business allies and great friends.

Fern and I are complete opposites who connect in ways that transform opposition into strength. There are the differences: I'm a leap-and-figure-it-out type, she's a never-make-a-move-before-you've-figured-it-out type. Fern transforms vast quantities of hard facts into general, theoretical conclusions; I transform ephemeral intuition to concrete action.

There are the commonalities. We both see contention as "good" thing, a necessary thing if you want to actually do something new. We each hold strong opinions that we argue passionately until we hear better arguments for something else in which case we drop our positions immediately without any if's, and's or but's. We analyze differently, but we both analyze all the time.

Guitar Week
Last summer, Fern's teenage daughter Lindsay participated in Guitar Week at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Guitar week is this amazing, transformative program attended by expert guitar players from all over the world. In the company of hundreds of talented musicians led by some of the best teachers in the world, you plunge deeply into all aspects of guitar: music, musicians, instruments, theory, technique and method.

For many, Guitar Week is a make-or-break experience. The study is intense; the competition is as good as it gets. Some leave inspired and others overwhelmed.

The summer after eighth grade, my son Luke participated in Guitar Week. He'd been the playing in bands with high school seniors and knew that he was "the shit". I drove him and one of his buddy's into Boston on the first day to sign in. The room was full of people of all ages from all over the world. Luke and his friend looked around and knew that they were gonna kick ass. That evening at dinner, Luke looked a bit lost in thought. I asked him how his first day was. He responded, "Dad, these guys are really good.

With that fresh perspective, Luke managed to soak up so much new information and insight throughout the rest of the week that he spent the next year practicing and processing it all.

Lindsay plays guitar and wants to be a musician. One of the conclusions that Fern and I would agree on is: what better way to see how deeply Lindsay's desire runs than to send her to guitar week. Lindsay applied for the program submitting a recorded audition. She wasn't just accepted; she received a merit scholarship based on the strength of her recorded audition.

Lindsay left guitar week even more conviction that she wanted to be a musician.

You Don't Know What You're Talking About!
On Friday night, Lindsay pulled out her guitar and sang some of her songs. She is really good. Scott (our bass player in No Room for Jello) and his girlfriend Catherine had joined us for dinner. He pulled out his bass, I plugged in my keyboard and we played a few songs together. Lindsay took to it like dust to a ceiling fan. She is really good.

However, for Fern, Lindsay's success at Guitar Week has been a good news/bad news story. She's thrilled that Lindsay did so well and is so focused and passionate about her music. Yet her finely-tuned, constantly-churning analytical engine has been thwarted in its attempts to chart a path from you-are-here to you-are-a-successful-and-happy-musician. At least in finding one that has a reasonable likelihood of success.

As we sat talking after dinner, it had become clear that, in the absence of a clear path with a high likelihood of success, Fern had begun hedging her bets with Lindsay placing significant effort into accommodating all the negative what-if scenarios. Not only that, but her super-rational analytical self had gone all anecdotal which led to my saying, "You don't know what you're talking about!"

Fern looked at me as if to ask, "What do you mean?"

I responded with, "You've gone all anecdotal. Where's your data?"

Fern, knowing how ridiculous it is to make plans and decisions based on the odd story here or there, dropped her line of reasoning and we found our groove of strength through opposition.

My basic tennet was: all things being equal, the person with the greatest focus and passion will win.

Fern's basic tennet was: from all the data, the likelihood of succeeding in music is minuscule, therefore, you better prepare for less-than-success.

We talked on into the evening, my first principle taking me to suppositions like: "Why would Lindsay bother finishing high school? Why not just put all she has into her music?", and Fern's taking her to: "Perhaps she could do a combined major in music and the music business?"

Four Sigma
The next morning as Clay was out for his run and Lindsay slept in, Fern and I sat talking over tea and coffee. I thought aloud, "You're looking for 4-sigma results with a 1-sigma plan."

Fern paused, looked at me, and after a few moments said, "Yeah, you're right!"

In probability and statistics, there's this phenomenon called Gaussian Distribution, the Bell Curve.

In Bell Curve distribution, data that falls within 34% of the mean (average) is referred to as 1-Sigma, data from 34% to 48% as 2-Sigma, data from 48% to 49.8% as 3-Sigma, and data outside that as 4-Sigma.

In other words, 68% of whatever you're analyzing is 1-Sigma, 27% is 2-Sigma, 4% is 3-Sigma and only 0.2% is 4-Sigma.

In music, the really successful people are in the 4-Sigma crowd. They're beyond exceptional. Although luck plays a factor, it's just one of many. In the end, the people who end up in the 4-Sigma group do so because they're activities are also 4-Sigma. The paths they pursue are more than exceptional, let alone normal.

The discomfort we often feel when undertaking a project with 4-Sigma aspirations is due not to the poor likelihood of success, but instead, to the dissonance and friction between our 1-Sigma activities and our 4-Sigma goals. Deep inside, each of us knows that playing it "safe", checking in to see what people "normally" do, and "balancing" our lives won't get us 4-Sigma results. Misaligned, our activities and goals chafe against one another until one or the other gives way.

As Fern and I contemplated our 4-Sigma insight, the door opened to all sorts of ideas. We had a really great discussion of the things that Fern might do to help Lindsay achieve her goals and we came up with a cool plan rich with activities.

Do you have any 4-Sigma or 3-Sigma or 2-Sigma aspirations? In business? At home? With your kids? Is your action plan in the same category?

Happy Monday!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

11 Miles! Yay!

Saturday morning, October 16 at 7:30am, I finally decided to leave my nine-mile plateau I told you about a few weeks back. I would have tried earlier if wearing high-heeled shoes at a conference two-weeks ago hadn’t screwed with my ankle and calf muscles leaving me in pain whenever I made a running movement.

The night before my plateau-breaking run, I made sure to drink enough fluids and I felt very prepared for the following morning. In good spirits I woke up, jumped into my running outfit, and drove to my starting point. During the drive I noticed I was nervous. This run was going to be a big deal for me!

I parked my car in a local parking lot and texted my hubby an OK-it’s-going-to-happen message. Then I took off.

I told myself to start slowly (my muscles still in need of extra warm-up time after my high-heel incident) and to really enjoy the run. It didn’t take long for me to notice that my breathing was very tight from nervous anticipation. I decided this was one of those do-it-instead-of-dialoguing moments. I told myself to continue on at an easy pace and not to stop for any mental reasons. At the same time, I decided to grab my fear by the horns and use some shortcuts to get me to a place of comfort and peace comfort as I ran.

I asked myself the following questions while running along...

Why do I run?
In my mind, I went to an earlier moment this week, where I wrote a personal piece about promises made, and how that is not a motivator for me. I am not running because I have promised to run a half-marathon in November. I am not running because I would look a certain way if I were not keep my promise. I run because I want too. It’s as simple as that. This insight led to the next question.

Why do I want to run?
I don’t run any longer because I want to prove to myself (or anyone else) that I can transform something I hated all my life into something fun. I believe I proved that over the summer. All my running comes now from a place of enjoyment; this has changed me in profound ways. I started biking for my enjoyment, pumping some weights, and being more deliberate with my diet. I didn’t start these activities to prove anything; I started them because they make me feel better. Running makes me feel strong and translates into more energy and enthusiasm for anything on my path. Running also makes me feel connected with nature in ways I do not experience often during my resting days.

As I ran along thinking, the view to the right of me broke open and I saw wonderful mountains standing tall behind the yellow grain fields. What a gift!

I was about two miles into my run and still not feeling totally at ease. The shortcut questions had helped me relax, but there was still some tension in my body about breaking plateaus. Eleven miles ain't nothin to sneeze at you know! Someone who runs eleven miles has broken his or her plateaus many times. So why do I want to do that?

Why do I want to break plateaus and get better and better at running? Why is three miles, or five miles, or eight miles not enough?
Because I believe there is growth potential. I am not done. I am enjoying this too much to be done! The time will come that I will settle for something more solid and clear that works for me, but I am in the experimenting stage and I have no idea what will work for me long term. It could be half marathons, it could be full marathons, or maybe I would even get to the place of doing an Iron Man Triathlons (inspired by a young passenger on my plane home who had trained for 2.5 years and finished an Iron Man the week before).

So seeing that I really want to expand beyond my boundaries, how do I get there?
If you had seen me running when I got to this part in my personal conversation you would have noticed a little of smile on my face, because when I think about expanding beyond my comfort zone, I always think about my two littlest friends. I have been working with them in their playrooms for a couple of years and we've built relationships based on love and trust. Their growth comes from constantly expanding their comfort zones. They work so hard for anything they do; running eleven miles is an easy task in comparison.

I ask the boys to spend two intense hours with me while I challenge the hell out of them, and they go and go and go... And then, when I go home, other people come and have them do another intense workout. If they can do that, I clearly should be able to conquer this plateau...!

Three miles into my run I feet strong and motivated. All the stress has disappeared from my body and I run the next eight miles as easy as could be.

Yay, I did it!
I finished the run in two hours which is perfectly aligned with my estimated time of two-and-a-half hours for a half marathon. My legs felt extra tired and I was physically slow all day, but my spirits were higher then ever (all day). I even fantasized about longer distances to run after my half marathon, something that I had put on a back burner for a while.

I feel really good!

Happy Sunday,

PS: Sree, I hope this example explains better my ideas of the difference between a “doing thing” and a “dialoguing thing”. If I would have stopped at the beginning of the run because I was so uptight, I might never have run the complete distance and instead built up my fears of running longer distances. By deciding to do it anyway, I gave myself the space to explore using shortcuts and without going into judgments or fears. I easily found my way through the activity as part of the activity.