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Phone Booth Time Machine

I dropped my daughter off today.

I am in Idaho Falls, Idaho, a 15 hour drive from Seattle. I’ve spent the last two days in a car driving across 3 Western states to get here. Today is the start of a 30-day backpacking and white water rafting trip that my daughter is going on. She will be spending a month in Idaho backpacking and white water rafting. It sounds both fun and incredibly daunting.

On our drive eastward we stopped outside of Ketchum Idaho to visit some cousins. We met at a lodge high up a mountain road that is the launching spot for mountain bike, rafting and hiking adventures. “Lodge” may be over-stating it. It’s a building that holds a small mountain bike rental/retail shop and a dining area where you can get snacks, lunch and a beer. It’s only open during the day.

It’s both gorgeous and remote up. Off the beaten path, and it’s better that way. People are fit, easy-going and friendly. At 7,000 feet elevation, the sun is hotter, the air thinner and nature seems more vibrant.

I wandered the lodge’s grounds, taking in the stunning scenery. I longingly looked at the mountain bike trail map, wondering what it would feel like to ride a $2,000 mountain bike with oversized wheels and whether I could convince my family to pull roots and move up here.

As I passed the open door of the bike repair shop, I ran into an oddity: A phone booth. Not a big superman-got-into-his-tights-here kind of phone booth, but a phone booth in wooden enclosure complete with a mini pitched roof bolted to the side of the building. Only partially sheltered from the rain, sun, wind, cold and mountains of winter snow by an aging small wooden enclosure, this phone looked weathered and weary. It also appeared surprisingly intact. It had a phone book attached to it, and the receiver was still there. Heck it even looked like I could use it.

I noticed as I picked up the receiver that the phone was so old that the number written in the little window above the keypad only had 7 digits, like the area code was unnecessary. Just holding it brought back a flush of memories and emotions from the past.

I remember using a phone like this as a teenager to dial my parents, asking them to pick me up from a party where I’d lost my ride home. I remember sitting in a phone booth on a rainy afternoon in high school as the girl I hung all my hopes and dreams on told me she wasn’t the one for me. I remember the countless times there was a pang of excitement that someone actually picked up when you called. During an era of no portable communication, a lot more hung on whether there was an answer on the other end of the line.

To my surprise, I was met with a dial tone singing to me as I put my ear to the receiver.

This sticks with me this morning because I’m longing for simpler days. Like somehow the “Simpler days” of the past were any simpler than they are now. I think they only seem that way in retrospect. My daughter will be spending 30 days without technology, without cars, without buildings. She’ll work together with a small group of other teens as they hike and camp through Idaho. Fully self-supportive. All the extraneous distractions of news cycles, school, sports, friends, social media, and her family will fall away. Her days will be filled with the simple focus of working through today.

I’m not sure how to feel, now that my daughter has left. I notice I want to say how I “should” feel, like there’s a way for a parent to feel that’s prescribed and expected. Of course it’s not. I find myself trying to “figure it out” because it’s not currently apparent how I feel about her departure. Even this realization makes me feel like I “should know”.

I’m working my way through it right now. And I don’t know what it means, but I think the phone booth had a lesson for me.

I long for the simpler days of the past because it had less distractions. I remember being more action-oriented. I remember not worrying. I remember being a lot more effective. And I think everything I just said is untrue.

There aren’t any “good old days”. Like folks who say the 50’s were good old days, they forgot to mention the poverty and social injustice that spread in an era also associated with racism, sexism, and age discrimination. They were only the good old days if you looked through a particular lens.

The good old days weren’t, there’s only today. It’s a gift and time for action. Today. Right Now.

The Story Gap T-Shirts Tell Us

The Gap makes pretty good t-shirts. I like them. They’re double-seam, shrink to fit and seem to wear well. The Gap charges a premium for their shirts because they believe their product is a quality product that warrants a premium price. And they share with us the story they’ve created about their value. They share this story through advertising and marketing. They use these two powerful tools to share the story and shape our opinion of their brand and their quality. And they’ve been successful.

Every brand has an ideal client. The one person they are aiming their marketing at. They treat their ideal clients like gold. They shower them with attention, accolades and positive reinforcement for their world view. They write a story for that ideal client. A story that demonstrates and supports their perspective, that they have a value and that their products are there to meet their needs. Their ideal clients clamor to pay a premium price for their products.

You are the ideal clients for the brand you’re building. The way we tell the story of who we are, what we do and how we see ourselves is our personal version of “advertising and marketing.” We’re not just telling the outside world this story, but we are reinforcing it at home, by the stories we’re telling ourselves.

  • You can get in great shape, the best you’ve ever been in. But if you don’t address and shift the negative story about being fat and unhealthy, the fitness will neither last nor feel empowering.
  • You can become successful and make lots of money, but if you don’t come to terms with the story of “being a failure” and “never measuring up” your success will forever feel empty.
  • You can date or marry the most amazing partner, but if you do not feel worthy of love and belonging the relationship will forever fall short, and end prematurely.

What Gap doesn’t do is build a product, charge more than competing brands and hope that their customers are going to just figure it out. They are super-diligent about consistently reinforcing the story they’ve created to make sure their customers understand and is reminded of their value.

In this story, we are both Gap and their customer. How we see ourselves all depends on the story we tell ourselves. To see ourselves as valuable, worthy of love and acceptance, we will need to tell ourselves a story that’s in line with that belief.

But it is not a one-time thing. We can create a great story about how we are worthy, loved, valuable and accepted, but if we don’t consistently reinforce it, it will not take hold. It would be like Gap making a great new product, but never bothering to rewrite their marketing plan to promote it and never buying any advertising space to support the story they’ve created.

You are your ideal client. Are you treating yourself like it?

The Snow Fence Solution To Predictable Roadblocks

Recently I was on a drive between Idaho Falls Idaho and Seattle. The roads are gorgeous transitioning from mountain passes to wide open plains. During my 14 hour drive, I got to see a lot of terrains. It reminded me why I love the West so much. I find myself consistently intrigued, curious and excited. I try to limit the amount of distraction while I drive, turning off music and podcasts, and limiting phone calls to the necessary. While this is a good idea from a safety perspective, I do it so I can be more aware of the invariably cool things I’ll see.

One of the things I love about driving in the rocky mountain west is snow fences. If you aren’t familiar with snow fences, allow me to describe them. They are lengths of fencing that run parallel to major highways. They can vary in length, from 100ft to more than a mile.  They’re designed to stop snow from drifting across the highway. They’re installed in the predictable areas where snow would otherwise accumulate on the highways of the West.

I can imagine the conversations that led to the invention of the snow fence:

“Well, you know, that bend at Dead Man’s Gulch has clogged with snow again… I gotta send a backhoe up there so we can open the road up again!”

“Man, I wish we could do something about that part of the road. I mean, it happens ALL THE TIME during the winter!”

“Yeah, the snow just blows over that one bluff in such a way that it collects right in the road!”

“Well, we can’t take the bluff out, so what could we do?”

“I dunno… have you ever seen snow build up in someone’s yard behind a fence? What if we did that?”

“Did what?”

“Built a fence on the side of the road to collect the snow so it wouldn’t pile up on the road?”

And thus, the snow fence was born. Often angled at 45º facing the direction of the wind, they stand like silent sentries against the coming winter storms. They are robust, often made of metal, 6-14’ tall and supported with angle braces to account for the weight of the snow they gather. The angle braces allow them to hold a lot of weight, reflecting the fact that snow is heavy when it accumulates over time. They are designed to collect and deflect snow so it doesn’t accumulate on the roads. A simple and effective fix for a persistent, predictable problem. They don’t need much upkeep, dramatically lower the cost and effort to keep roads clear of snow during the winter and can be used indefinitely.

Robust, simple solutions for persistent and predictable problems. Wow, wouldn’t having more of those in our lives be GREAT!

What had me thinking about this is the challenges I’ve always had around eating. See I’m a horrible late night binge eater. If I am not mindful, I will totally eat an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s without thinking about it. This isn’t a mystery to me. When I am tired, my level of resilience drops dramatically. I can have the best resolve all day long, eating just what I packed for lunch and snacks, when I need to. But, after I get home, things start to awry. We’ll all have a family dinner and unplug from our day. We get a chance to connect, chat about our day and really connect.

From there it’s dishes, and making lunches for the next day. At this point, I’m starting to wear down the last of my energy. As a 5 a.m. riser, by the time 9:00 pm rolls around, my energy is on its way to waning. The problem is that I am IN THE KITCHEN, finishing up the dishes and making lunches for the following day. I have a pantry full of goodies at my disposal, and often no supportive family members around me to remind me that an ENTIRE PINT OF ICE CREAM is probably not the best idea.

So how can the example of snow fences help me? I need my own personal snow fence. Something that will protect my intention from the predictable path of behavior. I do that several ways. I work very hard to make my lunch AS SOON AS I get home. Then there’s less likely “late night binging” because I’m done in the kitchen sooner.

However, I still have the dishes to do. Dishes are a part of my daily rhythm and I love doing them. I find washing, and loading the dishwasher therapeutic. So I make an effort to have someone in the kitchen with me to chat. Just having someone in the room with me makes me less likely to stuff my head in the ‘fridge and thrash about like a T-Rex with an eating disorder.

But like the snow fence, I need angle braces, because my night eating habits need robust structures to make sure I’m not tearing the door off the pantry like a gorilla with anger issues and a penchant for granola bars.

There are a ton of things I can do in the evenings. I love to read, plan the following day, play games with the kids, watch a favorite TV show, or frankly just go to bed. I’ve set an alarm on my phone that reminds me not to eat after 8:00 pm and I work hard to be in bed by 10:00 pm.

So how can you leverage the “snow fence” concept to your advantage? Where are places where you’re MORE predictable to fall off track where building some snow fences would serve you? And what would you do?

When Life’s Got You At Minus-45

The accountability group I’m leading right now is amazing. It includes entrepreneurs, remote workers, business owners, and parents. We’re about halfway through the 10-week program, and our last call was a huge breakthrough. In my experience, sometime during the program, some part of someone’s life will seem to blow up. Maybe it’s a relationship that goes sideways, a business decision that seems like a mistake, or a twist of fate. It’s pretty predictable.When we get outside the box of what we “normally do” and take action outside our comfort zone, something’s bound to come up. This becomes the catalyst for people to share what’s really going on, where they really get stopped, and what they’re really struggling with.

This week when I asked each of the members to rate their week on a 1 to 10 scale, one of the members rated their week at a “minus-45.”

Now as you might guess, that raised a few eyebrows. The call got very quiet. It seemed we all took a deep breath (or maybe it was just me). A pregnant pause, where the future seemed to hang in the balance. See we’ve all been there. And in an instant, we were all there with him. We each remembered that time when we felt like the world was on the verge of collapsing around us from the sheer weight it laid on our shoulders. It was a visceral feeling.

As he shared his story, I could see all the rest of the team lean into the call, and settle themselves. They were all suddenly completely present on the call for him to share his story.

It takes extraordinary courage to show up and share what’s really true RIGHT NOW for you. You’ve laid yourself bare on the altar of judgment. It’s so much easier to say “everything’s great!” when our eyes are saying “nothing-to-see-over-here-please-move-along.” And the subtext for me is “If you ask me one vulnerable question, I will break down in tears.”

There’s no greater courage and no better time to say what’s so for you than when you’re at a minus-45. And it couldn’t be more difficult.

Each of these participants voiced support, understanding and shared that they too had felt like they’d had minus-45 weeks before. They leaned in fully with their support and “I’ve been there” shares and to remind him that he had us to lean on.

The ensuing days have been a stream of posts in the private Facebook group of support, offering up resources, expertise, and just a whole a lot of positive thoughts. And there’s something new. There’s sense of connection now between us that we didn’t know was missing before. And it came from hearing about how bad a week can go.

There are gifts for us all in this situation. It’s a gift to offer to contribute your experience, expertise and insight to someone who is struggling. We all know how good it feels when we’re able to help a friend who is struggling through something that we recognize and have been through before. And there is relief at being able to share your struggle, to unload it in a safe place so you don’t have to carry it all alone.

You don’t have to shoulder your burden all alone. There are many of us who have been there and are happy to lend an ear, shoulder a load with you and remind you how amazing you are.

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Finding Your Pace In An Uncertain World

I often work to focus my efforts and energies on intended results, intentional actions which are en route to declared goals. And it can be easy to get pulled aside by the current controversy scandal or threat we told to be afraid of. Finding our own pace when everything else seems to be in turmoil is the leader’s gift and the father’s mantra.

We go all day. We work hard and as a dad, we often work too hard. We do our best to stay focused, have a life and make a difference for ourselves and our kids. And there are days where we are like rock stars. And there are days where we want to crawl into a corner with a warm blanket and be left alone. I don’t know any parent who hasn’t felt that way at least some time in their life.

And it’s an “all or nothing” life. We live like somehow we can be just like the perfect parent we see in social media, always positive, always making a difference, always doing the 10 things we read about in advice articles we read online. It’s not true. It’s the rare exception to the rule. Lining our expectations to be “everything all the time” makes us want to head for that corner with that blanket (mine has a heater, one of my daughter’s stuffed animals and a fleece blanket, how about yours?). Life is lived in the gray area. Some days we have a great morning, and the afternoon falls to all hell. Some days the morning is shot and the afternoon picks up. Sometimes news that comes in at 4:55 pm and turns the ENTIRE day around with whoops of joy. And a day’s worth of effort can fall apart with bad news at the 11th hour.

Do what you can with what you have right now. And allow that to be OK.

So I’ve started running again. I used to run a lot. But I find myself in this weird transition. I start running, familiar pounding, pace, equipment, and roads. But I’ll get 2 miles into the run and just stop. Just stop right there. Nothing wrong, I just stop for no reason. I don’t know why other than something’s going on for me that hasn’t revealed itself. Yes, it’s in my head. For a while, I stopped running completely after this started happening, or when I did run I’d quit when this occurred. And every time I made myself wrong for stopping (“What’s up with you?! Nothing’s broken, you USED to be a runner, are you mentally weak?”). Great stuff, I know.

But I’ve shifted the way I think about it. I’m in transition and it’s OK for me to take the time to find my pace again.  I’m going to run until I stop. And then I’m going to walk. I’ll choose an object in the distance and walk to the target (a tree, signpost, parked car). When I reach the target I start running again. And I keep running until I stop. And then I run again. Wash, rinse, repeat. I keep doing this for as long as I can. Saturday I ran 8 miles this way, and only stopped once in the last 2 miles.

I know I’ll make it through this transition, and it’s OK that I don’t know what’s going on right now. But I do know I warrant the personal compassion to allow this moment to be ok.

Allow yourself the time to find your pace. Maybe it’s time to walk for a bit before you run again. Get a beer with a buddy (can we make #BeerWithABuddy a thing?) Call your mom. Buy your wife flowers for no reason. Wherever you deny yourself the permission to pace yourself, walk a bit before you run again. I know you will run again, and for today it’s just fine to walk.

Loud Clothes and Being Unapologetically You

I’ve been thinking about my friend Stan. Stan was one the most outlandish people I’ve ever known. Fiercely independent, and an artist who worked with chrome. He built sculptures and furniture, his paintbrush was an arc welder. He created the most amazing sculptures from bumpers that have been salvaged. The smallest was a side table and weighed 15 pounds, the largest was 40 feet long and weighed several tons. I met him when I lived in Santa Fe. We worked together at a ski area just after I got out of college.

Stan was an icon. He would say what no one else was brave enough to. He was uninterested in just getting along and didn’t care if he was liked. Most people didn’t know what to make of Stan. I learned many lessons from Stan in his short life. He was unapologetically STAN. Take him or leave him, he was who he was. He was irksome, flamboyant and an amazing human. That’s probably the biggest lesson I took away from my friendship with Stan. His willingness to be unfiltered and live out loud everywhere. If Stan could stick out, he would. He was outlandish, loud and unafraid to make waves. Even in his choice of clothing.

There was a local outdoor store that made custom jackets and ski-wear at incredibly affordable prices. You could choose your colors, and for a few dollars more than buying clothes off the rack, you could have your jacket made to order. Stan would have his gear made here and always ordered his stuff in the brightest colors. A ski jacket so neon has to be unmistakable from a quarter-mile. Fleece pants so blindingly colorful in primary colors that a circus clown would have second thoughts. And he loved it.

The day he came to our house with his new gear, I  just laughed. I said, “That has got to be the ugliest outfit I’ve ever seen”. After a pregnant pause Stan said, “Well, I’d rather love my choices and have my clothes be considered ugly than spending my time worrying about fitting with and looking like everyone else.” That was a show-stopper for me.

Stan is no longer with us, but my memories of him are strong. Most of his legacy is because of his beautiful art (which still stands in my yard), and his indomitable spirit. 

Some of my favorite experiences of myself are where I’m being uniquely me, somewhat outlandish and not fitting into the expectations of others. This includes to my wife and kids. We all have our unique interests, quirks, and things that make us “us”.

Where does the magic live? In the fringes, outside of what everybody else does and thinks. The magic isn’t fitting in or avoiding making waves. Some of my most memorable times with my kids are when we’ve chased down some whim I have. We are all geeks about our unique things.

You probably have interests, are energized by, or are super-curious about things that nobody else in your family is. When I jump out of the car and scamper off to a State Capitol building because I’m such a public-buildings-geek, I can actually hear the eye roll from my family, but that’s OK.

In that moment I’m like a kid in a candy store, and there’s nothing more fun than climbing up the marble staircases and knocking on Senator’s doors to ask them about the history of the building and state politics. While my kids may not end up loving State Capitols like I do, they won’t forget the times we spent together exploring the history and then taking them to a huge ice cream cone. They’ll remember the laughter and energy, and if I’m lucky, will be reminded that it’s ok to nerd-out on something they love and express it.

What thing is it that you keep hidden because nobody else is interested in it because it’s awkward for others because no one else around you does it? Stan is no longer with us, taken at a very young age. But of all the people who have left us in my life, he’s the one that most frequently comes to mind. His indomitable self-expression, unwavering commitment to authentically be himself and sharing his work with the world will always stay with me.

Achilles, Greek Warrior had a Twin Brother: The story of Fred

I attended a conference this past week where I delivered a talk. Actually, I delivered a talk on one topic and led a workshop on a different topic. While they both went well, they reminded me of Achilles’ twin brother, Fred.

Now, you might remember that Achilles from Greek mythology. Arguably one of the bravest of warriors, and a favorite of the Gods. You may remember this mythology nugget from 6th Grade, or from Brad Pitt’s (awful) rendition of Achilles from the movie “Troy” that had ladies’ hearts a-flutter. Son of Thetis, who was herself admired by both Zeus and Poseidon, he was prophesied to be greater than his father, Peleus.

To protect her son from her jealous husband, Thetis dipped Achilles in the river Styx to make him immortal. Only his heel, by which she held at the river’s edge was left untouched by the waters of the Styx. Achilles went on to be a great warrior, leading legions into battle before being struck down by an arrow to the heel, his one vulnerable spot.

Achilles’ twin brother Fred was a little different. Fred had the same origin story except for the last bit. He didn’t do the “leading legions” part. When he learned that his heel was vulnerable, that he wasn’t perfectly protected and was vulnerable, Fred decided that he had to wait. He decided that to properly lead, he should wait until he figured out how to protect himself 100%. Until he was completely prepared, he needed to wait to step forward.

I felt a little like Fred this week. I love leading from the front of the room, but I don’t often lead workshops. I am energized by the participants, love their questions and am grateful for their heartfelt shares. I know I can create value and I’m good in front of the room. I’m an extrovert’s-extrovert. The feedback I receive is consistently positive, and people are always generous with their comments. I know I deliver real value. But again, I don’t lead from the front of the room that often.

Fred knows he is a leader as well, capable of greatness.

So what’s the deal? Why am I not doing that kind of work more often? Leading would grow my brand, deliver more value and maybe open doors to possibilities that I can’t see right now. The truth is, for the longest time I thought my offerings weren’t good enough. I lived under the impression that I didn’t deliver enough content, and the work wasn’t impactful enough.

Fred understands my perspective, he thinks I should work on getting it “better”.

I was always trying to add more to the content, more quantity, and more value. But it never seemed enough. I spent so much time worrying about delivering “valuable content” and “making a profound difference” that I hesitated to share my work. I was effectively choosing the safety a “perfection” I could never achieve over “solid and deliverable” which I already had.

Fred waits as well. He doesn’t feel he can lead until he has it “all figured out.” Being a leader wasn’t enough unless you are perfect.

By waiting for perfection I deny myself the gift of making a difference for others and deny others the value that I bring to the table. I’m kinda angry about it, truthfully. And you should be too.

Fred’s legions wait for him to lead as well. They wait leaderless, neither being lead nor helping Fred become the leader he could be.

Also missing for me is connecting with others, laughter, ideas, spontaneity, power. All of these things are missing because of my willingness to choose the safety of “not good enough” over showing up and delivering the thing I ALREADY KNOW how to do.

Fred suggests it’s much safer over here. It may not be what he wants, but the safety of a predictable future is better than an unpredictable future with the possibility of amazing results.

We all have value to bring to the table. We can make a difference in so many places when we put our energy and time forward in service of others. When we get brave and share ourselves, extraordinary things happen. Unpredictable magic happens. Things we had no idea are possible to emerge. You can contribute in SO MANY WAYS. And you don’t need to learn anything new, be better at anything or perform. You can just lean in where it would make the biggest difference for you in your life or the biggest difference for others.

It’s time to lead your legions.

You can contribute as a leader at work, share your passion for travel through a blog, make a video series about lego-building, host talks about gardening at your local library, or entertain friends to discuss local hikes at home over coffee. You can call your friend who’s having a problem with his plumbing because you know something about it. You can pick up a friend or acquaintance at the airport. When you lean forward and contribute, you can make someone’s day. And if you’re lucky, you might just change their lives.

When you wait for perfection you deny yourself the gift of contributing. When we contribute, so many things can happen. You can ease someone’s load, remind them they’re not all on their own in this world, make them smile, or partner with them to share a burden that feels too heavy. No amount of “safely holding yourself back” is worth the cost of missing that experience.

It’s time to tell Achilles to get off the couch and get back into the work.

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