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.

Wild Geese

This poem from Mary Oliver caught me in a moment I was feeling deep anxiety – over work, over life, over whether I’m doing it right.

Tim Ferriss called attention to this in one of his 5-bullet Friday messages, but I only saw it weeks after that particular email came out.

I recognized Mary Oliver‘s name from another poem The Summer Day, particularly a line I stumbled across in 2015 and have carried around in my memory ever since, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Wild Geese jolted me out of my anxiety and returned my attention to a larger perspective: that our wide world and the even more gigantic universe is flowing always, and I’m but a tiny speck in all those machinations. (Why is it so easy to lose track of that?) More important, Oliver’s words reminded me even though I’m a small speck I do have a place, and I only need to walk outside and look around to feel that flow of energy, and relax into it.

Communication Requires Context

We live in a world where we are affected by a social media stream where we are unable to effectively ascertain other people’s tone. This is very dangerous. If I’m walking on the sidewalk and you’re standing on the corner in my way, I can say, “Excuse me, can I get by” and from my tone you know there is no danger here, I’m not fighting with you, I’m not threatening you, and we can interact with each other peaceably. But on social media, where tone is absent, this same message is commonly misinterpreted as a rude shout: “EXCUUUUSE ME!! CAN I GET BY!!” perhaps heard with sarcasm or criticism. The receiver completely misunderstands the sender’s message and a dialogue turns toxic. We do this all the time; we misinterpret each other’s intentions because we don’t know each other.

Communication requires context.

The Last Time

I’ve been thinking a lot about the last time you’ll do something.

For instance, the Bolder Boulder Memorial Day 10K Run is something I’ve done for 21 years, and the last 10 of them have been with my son, Cole. Sometimes we run together, sometimes he runs with his mom, but each year after we’re done we have some time together at Folsom Field. Here’s a photo from 2019:

In 2020, the Bolder Boulder didn’t happen due to the pandemic, and instead they offered a Virtual Bolder Boulder. I was into it and had some fun with that.

This year, in 2021, Covid-19 has again impacted the Bolder Boulder but instead of a virtual event, this year’s course has been divvied up to choose from 1 of 6 routes each in a different town, and time slots are spread out over 3 days. I signed up to run one of the courses on Sunday morning and keep up my streak of participating in every Bolder Boulder since I moved to Colorado in 1999.

But I will not be meeting up with Cole at Folsom Field afterward. I’ll run solo this year and he’ll maybe come support, but he’s not planning to run, and there will be no post-run celebration in the stadium. He’s leaving for college this fall, so that photo above was likely the last time we’ll be at Folsom Field together, after having done so for 10 years. There was no way to know, in 2019, that was it.

On one hand it feels sad, like something lost. And it is emotional, to be sure. During my training run this morning, I felt pangs of loss deep in my chest as these thoughts came and went.

On the other hand, tonight Cole and Quinn and I cleaned up after dinner and instead of retreating to their computer games or digital drawings they both wanted to watch a movie. We made popcorn and lounged on the couch as we have dozens and dozens of times over the years.

There was no other place on Earth I would rather have been tonight, than laughing out loud with my kids over a Netflix movie (The Mitchells vs. The Machines, three big thumbs up!) not knowing if this might be the last time we would ever do this together. And savoring every moment of it.

Limited Resources

Here’s a map of the world my kids gave me for my birthday. We are using stickies to mark all the places in the world we’d like to visit. Mine are pink, Cole’s are green, and Quinn’s are blue.

Now here’s what my life looks like plotted out by weeks. Each column is a week. It’s easy to see how finite my life is. If I assume a 90-year life span, I’m just over halfway through. There are a lot of “white” weeks ahead of me, but also a lot of “gray” boxes that are behind me. What will I do with the time ahead (especially knowing 90 weeks is just a guess, no one knows their expiration date).

JdLifeWeeks

Such limited resources (financial and time) for all the places I’d like to see! It makes no sense to keep putting things off. Now is the time to act. It’s also the reason to eat healthy and exercise every day — so I can keep mobile and continue to pursue my dreams.

Story Skills Workshop

I recently completed a 6-week virtual story skills workshop from the Akimbo team. It was an excellent, if demanding, experience. I signed up because I wanted to tell better stories in my work life. Along the way I discovered I also wanted to see if I could learn to write better song lyrics. I had the opportunity to learn and practice proven techniques for creating stories that matter. I received a lot of helpful feedback and gave feedback to others who were working at their own skills. Perhaps the most fun was getting exposure to so many examples of excellent stories that are out in the world. What I learned is this: any of us can become good storytellers. Even me. I don’t think it is a natural state for me, but with practice I can get better.

The most unexpected take-away came near the end of the workshop. We were asked to watch a TED talk from someone named Matthew Dicks; his talk is called Homework for Life. It’s an entertaining talk and worth watching. His “homework” for writing great stories is to take 5 minutes at the end of every day and write down the most memorable or impactful moment of the day. He made a habit of this for years, and before long he had an endless stockpile of ideas for stories, because he realized most great stories are built around small yet poignant moments.

What I loved best about the TED talk is his habit had the unexpected side effect of slowing down life. Taking those 5 minutes to remember some moment each day (usually they were good moments, sometimes they were not) created space to appreciate and relish what was happening in life, rather than just passing through. Another unexpected benefit is the act of recording an event from today tends to trigger memories of other episodes from our life, so we get to reconnect with moments we might otherwise have forgotten or lost track of.

I’ve tried doing this myself – taking five minutes at bedtime to write down a moment from the day. So far my track record isn’t great but I do have about 4-5 ideas captured on paper. I’ll keep going and see what happens.