Let It Take The Time It Takes

My daughter is the primary user of the sink in our upstairs bathroom. It became clogged with toothpaste and hair and god knows what else. Drain-O was no longer effective; the drain pipe and trap needed to be cleared.

This project fell into the Totally Annoying category. So many other things to do with my limited time. However, there was nothing for it.

The funny thing is, I actually enjoy fixing things and building things. I like working on my house and making stuff better. But when I feel my time is constrained, these projects become annoying and stressful. Why couldn’t this have become a problem last month when I wasn’t working?

Okay. Take a breath. Relax. This is the thing that is happening now. Forgot the right wrench in the garage? Walk back out to get it. Wow, it’s cold today but see the sky is brilliant blue. Need another tool to clear away the gunk inside the trap? Another walk to the garage, play with the dog for a minute, throw some snow for her to jump around crazily. One of the plastic pipes has cracked and need to get a part from the hardware store? Enjoy a walk with my daughter to the store a few blocks away, have a chat with the store clerk, feel connected to my neighborhood and community.

In the end, the project took about 2 1/2 hours. If I had rushed the project, feeling annoyed and stressed, I might have been able to complete it in 2 hours. That was the mental trap. When I let go of the other things I might have done and chose to invest my attention here, now – it made all the difference for my mental health. Slowing the pace and taking 30 extra minutes, it turned out to be a lovely day. I’m happy and proud of the work completed.

Let it take the time it takes.

Time Unattended

This line from Mary Oliver’s poem has haunted me for years:

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

I used to read that and think, ‘I’ve only got one shot at this, I’d better get it right!’; ‘Am I doing it right?’ (lyric from a John Mayer song); ‘So many things to experience in this world – am I blowing my one opportunity at life?’

Focusing on time, and how I am spending it, is the trap. Worrying about the infinite things I was giving up by choosing the thing I was doing now … that’s what robbed me of enjoying the thing I was doing now.

It’s taken me almost 50 years to realize it doesn’t matter so much what I’m doing. Almost ironically, letting go of everything else – confronting my own finitude and accepting the reality that I will never be able to do everything – was the key. Choosing to be here now turns this moment’s experience, however exotic or mundane, into something worth paying attention to. It makes it possible to simply relax. It’s going just as it should, in the direction it should, at the pace it should.

The only way to waste our time is to let it slip by unattended.

By the way for anyone interested, Oliver Burkeman digs deep into this topic in his book 4,000 Weeks. He’s much more eloquent than me and I recommend taking a look. He also has a series of audio recordings in Sam Harris’s Waking Up app. Book and series have both been helpful on my journey.

Never Done Before

To achieve a goal we’ve never achieved before, we must start doing things we’ve never done before.

A more empowering variation of the famous quote: The definition of ‘insanity’ is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

I have a goal to complete an Ironman 70.3 triathlon in my 50’s. That’s going to require doing some new things, like giving my body plenty of time to recover after any long workout, including active recovery doing things like foam rolling. (Ouch!) Also physical therapy to strengthen my knees and loosen my hips, to avoid injury. And finally a barrage of core workouts, long boring swims in the lap pool during winter, and some dietary changes I still need to research.

Same goes for completing the Colorado Trail. It’s more solo time than I want to spend, so I’ll need to find a hiking buddy. And instead of jumping in the car when a last-minute hiking window opens up, I’ll need to plan ahead and coordinate.

I suppose there’s a choice here to just keep doing what I’ve been doing (which admittedly has been completely awesome … I am so fortunate!) and let go of those new goals. That doesn’t feel right, though. Even if those goals are never attained, the working-toward-them is rewarding all on its own.

Changing Seasons

Today I accepted a job offer. After four months of what some jealously dubbed my ‘life of leisure’, I’m headed back into the working world. I feel many mixed emotions, in part from agreeing to shoulder a new set of responsibilities. Laying down the burden of responsibility for multiple months created a special space – a space I’ve coveted – for other mental activity and rebuilding emotional resilience. I also grieve the loss of freedom now that my schedule won’t be entirely under my control. These past months I embraced the gift of time. I traveled out of state, completed home projects that required more than an hour or two, trained for and completed a triathlon, hiked a piece of the Colorado Trail, played a lot of music, did some volunteering. I’ve had more quality time with my daughter in four months than perhaps the entire previous year. When my son calls home from college I can pick up and chat with him, even if it’s the middle of a workday. I’ve been able to hike and bike in the beautiful Boulder mountains, avoiding the much more crowded weekends. Perhaps most potently, I’ve had time to simply relax, to sit, to journal, to meditate, to daydream, be bored, be alone, breathe. It’s been a period for my mind to disengage – not to stop or to take a vacation, but to soften and reconnect with the activities that are my unique blend of healthy mindfulness.

I will miss this time, but two truths are buoying my spirits.

First: I’ve observed there are seasons to our lives. As summer flows into autumn and autumn into winter, so do we flow from one chapter to the next. We live in a great river of change, and every day we’re given a choice: we can relax and float in the direction that the water flows, or we can swim hard against it. If we resist the river, we feel rankled and tired as we tread water, stuck in the same place. But if we relax and float with the river, the energy of a thousand mountain streams is with us, filling our hearts with courage and enthusiasm, even when we turn headfirst into the rapids.

Second: with seasons come cycles. I believe this is not the last time I will live a ‘life of leisure’. In fact, I negotiated and built in those expectations with my new employer – that they will get the best of me and I will help them accomplish a very big vision over the next 12-18 months, and once that mission is complete I will likely leave the company.

The world is filled with opportunity, and this particular job is not an opportunity I thought I wanted. I was (and in fact I still am) leaning heavily toward a future in which I serve clients as an independent. Call it consulting or contracting or fractional, but the work of an independent can touch many lives because it isn’t confined to a single company. And it offers the flexibility of lifestyle that I most desire. I am heading that direction.

So why take a full-time job if I want to be independent? Here is where the mystery and magic of the Universe humbles me. To be successful I’ll need a pipeline of potential clients. I don’t have that today and I’m starting from scratch. Building and maintaining pipeline requires investment and time. If I start today, it will take many month to build a client list, and during that time I need to resume an income, so I will inevitably take clients out of desperation that may not be a good fit for me.

Taking a new job, especially one that has a fixed time horizon, is an unbelievable benefit. This season of my professional life will sustain me financially, challenge me intellectually, and perhaps allow me to fill out some skill sets, all while I build a consulting network and pipeline that I can lean into in the future. This next chapter isn’t just about the job, it’s about the collection of activities across my life – within the job and outside the job.

One last thought before I close this post. As I mentioned I wasn’t looking for a job. This one landed in my lap very unexpectedly. The universe presented it, and each step of the process has been surprisingly frictionless. Everything has just flowed, from the interviews to the proposal I presented, to the salary and negotiation process. Where other opportunities in the past four months met resistance or unresponsiveness or other difficulties, this opportunity was like following a route where the lights are all green. I want to trust that. I choose to trust that. I trust that moving in this direction where life just seems to flow, where the green lights lead, is in fact the right direction. Perhaps for reasons I cannot see right now.

Inside my mind, I confess feelings of fear, uncertainty and doubt because my personal preferences don’t want to give up the freedom I’ve enjoyed for the past four months, yet I choose to trust this forward motion will continue to lead me on the path toward rapture.

Being a Winner Is…

They say that winners have mastered good habits like waking up early, reading, exercising, meditating, creating multiple revenue streams, staying disciplined, and blah blah blah. You’ve read these types of lists hundreds of times. However, the real way to be a winner is to decide what you want out of life, how your business or career can contribute towards your overall purpose and goal, and to then march forward. Some of the cliché habits above may end up being part of your keys to success, but just going through the motions doesn’t do anything if you don’t know what you’re going after. Winners know what they want and are living accordingly.

Past 7 Days

I recently re-read an old post The Rapture of Being Alive and decided to capture moments of rapture from the past week. For me, experiences of rapture are more than just feel-good moments – they are experiences that open us up, they invite vulnerability, and they make us more freely available to others.

From the past 7 days…

I felt it with Michelle yesterday, as we got deep into conversation about kids and sports and cell phones and growing up.

I felt it Thursday on the Boulder Skyline Traverse hiking with Bart Foster and 40 other amazing business leaders / outdoor adventurists.

I felt it when I texted Dad about the Chaos Walking movie.

I felt it last weekend when Joe and Jack and I were climbing in Boulder Canyon.

I felt it with Quinn at the coffee shop this week, talking about the photography on the walls.

I felt it with Luca this morning, hiking up to the Royal Arch in Boulder, discussing career and friendship and spooky tales of haunted houses.

I felt it last week at lunch with the CFO/COO of the Colorado Mountain Club. Jacob shared some inspiring mountaineering stories, interspersed with business challenges they’re tackling at CMC.

I even felt it playing fetch with the dog, and tug-of-war with a rag.

These are older than 7 days…

I feel it on every exec hike with Geoff.

I feel it every time the Zen Mustache crew takes the stage for a performance. And any time we get together to play music, even if it’s just in the garage.

I felt it riding my bike on paths through the nature preserves south of Chicago.

I felt it camping by myself in the back of the truck, listening to insects chirping and the wind in the forest.

I felt it visiting the Field of Dreams in Iowa.

I felt it laying flooring at my parent’s house, crawling around on my knees, moving appliances, and listening to country music.

Looking at the list above, trying to extract what’s in common. It’s not about the specific activity. Seems that rapture comes from two places:

  • It’s about who I’m with and the openness of that relationship, or:
  • It’s about being open to the moment at hand and immersing completely in the experience – not worried about other things – so the focus is completely present.

Those are moments of rapture, and it turns out they are everywhere.

Burnout

My son, a college sophomore who is deeply entrenched in STEM classes this semester, called last week feeling overwhelmed. He had just finished the first part of a two-part physics exam, and felt crappy because he’d left 2 out of 4 questions completely blank, and wasn’t confident on the two he did answer. The second half was coming tomorrow, and he had so much studying to do; he just wasn’t getting the concepts. But he also had calculus homework due the next day (mostly completed over the weekend, but needed to be finished off), a computer science assignment due the following day, and some drawings for his technical drawing class. That was all just in the next two days. Plus his hourly work at the events center, practicing his music for weekly lessons, and his climbing team commitments. Somehow this was only week 4 of the semester. He was asking me, rhetorically, how he would ever be able to keep up?

Here was a perfect moment to lay on the wisdom, to bring my years of life experience into focus. Surely I could craft some insightful advice that would help my son in his moment of despair.

“That’s so hard. I’m so sorry you have to deal with this.”

That was basically the gist of my message. Yep, the editors of Parenting Magazine will be calling me any day now.

My son mentioned during our conversation that he wanted to find the right work life balance. That he had seen me working so hard and being terribly unhappy (prior to me finally making a peaceful transition out of my start-up company), and he knew he didn’t want that for himself. But he did want to work hard enough to feel good about his work, and he did want to build a responsible life for himself.

At one point during the conversation I told him something along the lines, “College is a different season of life than anything else you’ll have when you’re in the work force. College isn’t about work-life balance, it’s about work-work balance.” He laughed and said, Yeah it’s not about whether or not to get it done, it’s only about when and how to squeeze it all in, and with what level of effort.

This HBR article reinforces something many of us have already instilled in our lives: making time to recharge. It’s more than unplugging, or breaking the routine. Both the body and the brain need recovery time. Not just rest, but recovery. I’ve been out of the workforce for a little over two months, and I’m just beginning to feel recovered.

Reading this article makes me think it’s not about work-life balance, it’s about engaging in work that is meaningful to ourselves, and then doing things that truly recharge. In that model, we don’t really have an opportunity to burn out.

https://hbr.org/2016/06/resilience-is-about-how-you-recharge-not-how-you-endure?utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=hbr&utm_source=LinkedIn&tpcc=orgsocial_edit

Peach Pie for Breakfast

I am learning I’m much happier when I stop trying to optimize; stop trying make each moment the best it can be, and instead pay attention to what is already here. This morning I’m in a parking lot east of Des Moines after refueling the truck. Eating half of a peach pie as my breakfast (people eat danishes, I can eat a peach pie) with the early morning sun warming my cheek and the buzzing noises of the interstate as the soundscape. Nothing too special, yet it’s a privilege to experience each of these. Being alive and aware and appreciating it. That’s all there is to it.

Following the Flow

After meeting with Geoff on Friday I started to realize what I’m doing, or attempting to do, may feel foreign to a lot of people. And Geoff talks regularly with Phil about spiritual / mindfulness stuff. But clearly they had never spoken of the Surrender Experiment. Nonetheless my own life is moving to the beat of a drum and while I hear the beat I don’t quite know the song; but I know I should dance along. So I am choosing to let go, at least for now, and maybe (hopefully?) for a good long time. Let go of my own personal preferences of what’s right or wrong for my life, and instead lean into the unknown mystery. Call it God, Spirit, Universe, or whatever, there are forces at work that are bigger than me. When I slow down, and quiet my mind, and listen, and pay attention, I can feel a tug. There is a flow, like a river, and I can move along with the current or resist. When I resist, things seems hard. When I let go and turn in the direction of the current, even big obstacles feel easy to navigate. It’s as if the Universe is helping me get to where it needs me to be, if only I will let it.

My work in the corporate world may not be finished (but it might be), but whatever is coming next will certainly have a different face than before. I’m excited to discover it, and I believe it will reveal itself at the right time. Oddly, I have deep faith in that truth: that my purpose and work will reveal itself in its own time, and exactly the right time. My part to play right now, is to prepare. That means talking to people, hearing their stories of change and transition. Becoming clear about my strengths and the learnings from my own life experiences.

There’s a great line from Glenn Close in The Natural. Toward the end of the film Close’s character says something to the effect, “I believe we have two lives. The life we learn with, and the life we live with after that.”

I believe I’m transitioning from one to the other.

This may take weeks or months. At the moment, I’m expecting to not have full time work for at least 6-12 months. I may find part time work to fill in the gaps and keep things together financially. I’ve applied to a volunteer program building trails in Patagonia. That program would be from late Feb through early April. Between now and then I’ll be working on my program for myself. Is that building a network? Building a business? Working as a consultant part time? All to be determined.

For now, my job is to not lose my pulse on the flow.

Geoff is an amazing friend. He is completely supportive and he’s as curious as me to see where this will go. But it was not what he was expecting me to say — that I was surrendering my life for a while, letting go to see where the river current is going. I’ll do this one day at a time. Through journaling. Through mediation and prayer. Through conversations with as many people as I can. I’ll keep tuning in to that gentle tug, beckoning me in a direction and a destination that I can’t quite see yet.

Anxiety Popsicle

Feels as though there is a core of bound up stress running from my abdomen to the bottom of my throat. Like a frozen popsicle of anxiety that I’ve carried around for years, and was never aware.

This past week my sleep has been good – above average for sure in terms of quantity and quality of sleep – yet every morning I wake up feeling listless and unrested.

I have noticed, however, that each day is slightly better. Today I woke at about 5:30 and while I didn’t feel rested, I did feel relaxed. My mind wasn’t immediately spinning off into everything that needed to get done today.

Hopefully, it’s a sign the popsicle is beginning to thaw.

On the Off Ramp

Hey future Johnny. Today is the first day after being dismissed (amicably and with great references) from my job as COO of the startup company Nextbite. I don’t know what the world looks like from your perspective there in the future, but today feels pretty uncomfortable, because I don’t really have a clue what’s next for me.

My mind today is full of advice and support from lots of people: Take some time off. Don’t jump into a new gig right away. You can’t figure out the next thing while you’re still doing the current thing. In my case, it’s not just this latest job that I’m leaving. I feel I need to step away from the whole executive/leadership/management job profile – at least for a while – and look at a whole new way of living life.

That sounds great and a lot of people are excited for me, but honestly right now I find myself making lists of things to do, things to keep myself busy. Because that’s easier than figuring things out. For all the pros and cons of having a job, one thing it does is provide structure to the day. And without that structure a piece of me wants to keep super busy just to avoid feeling panicky.

Maybe that’s natural. Maybe there needs to be some time for the off ramp, time to actually slow down. After all, I’m not going to shift into another mindset and operating framework in one day.

Sunday Morning

Scott Adams, who invented the Dilbert comic, mentions this in his book ‘How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big’ the difference between wishing and deciding.

It’s a key difference, because once we decide, we begin to take action. Wishing tends to start in the mind and stay there.

Deciding involves looking at the cost of pursuing that wish – financial cost, opportunity cost of not doing something else, etc. And then internally agreeing to the cost and moving ahead.

I’ve discovered that 10 minutes early Sunday morning, while the house is asleep and all is still quiet, I can pull out a pen and paper and write down my wishes. Just writing them down makes them feel different. It catalyzes a process that puts thoughts into action and leads to a decision to do – or not do – something that otherwise would float around in my mind.

I find I’m more energized (and happier!) because I’m less frustrated. Despite a demanding career and a busy life I’ve dropped the feeling of dread that life is passing me by. I’m able to put my most important wishes into action because I took time to prioritize and decide.

I don’t think everyone struggles with this. I envy those who do it naturally without much effort. They seem to just know what they want and it’s already prioritized and they’re able to just go. I’m very curious how others manage.