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Proximity to Reality: Somos Cubanos

One of the most remarkable things in life is how wrong we are about our perceptions. That almost everything upon closer examination yields insights and new truths. Especially people, places, cultures, religions, and lifestyles we are not familiar with. The constant process of learning what we don't know empirically. 

One of my newer heroes is Bryan Stevenson. He has devoted his life to justice. Called the American Mandela, Stevenson is ripping back the curtain of mass incarceration and the pernicious legacy of racism. His Tedtalk, his latest book Just Mercy are to be added to your must experience list. His acceptance speech earlier this year for the 2016 Public Counsel awards dinner is among the best speeches I have ever heard. And I have seen and studied my share!

His speech is anchored on four principles to pursue change and greater understanding of difference. A fabulous structure to test our thinking about worlds we think we comprehend, people we think we know, and places we think we understand. This is how I interpret Bryan's advice:

Proximate: We have to get physically close to needs, issues, and people to learn the truth through reality. I know this sounds obvious, but much of our perspective about "homelessness", "refugees", "poverty", "Cuba", "black people" and "socialism" are gleaned through abstract and "distant" information.

Narrative: We have a story running in our head about these issues, ideas and people. These stories are reinforced through selective consumption, our biases, and with the limitations of empirical data.  How do we disrupt this story with facts and experiences? 

Uncomfortable: When we disrupt our cranial narratives with facts then we get shoved out of our comfort zones--we get understandably uncomfortable. Truth is the greatest source of discomfort, especially when it conflicts with our long held belief system. Discomfort wakes us up and we have to use our brains and think and feel again. Being uncomfortable is a necessary step in our journey to learn and grow. 

Hopeful: Gaining new perspectives through experience, opening new parts of our minds to new truths, and seeing new possibilities expands our hopefulness. Because when we learn new things we see how change is possible and that expands the pool of hope.

(Yes I have changed the order of these principles for my own purposes :)

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Me and Congresswoman Karen Bass

I recently was included on a special study tour of Cuba led by Congresswoman Karen Bass (One of the most dedicated public servants I have encountered) It was a mind blowing learning experience that changed me. I reflect on Stevenson's principles that helped me re-think everything "I knew" about Cuba. Except the food, music, art, rum and cigars, which are exquisite and met and exceeded my expectations!

US-Cuban relations have been so tortured and convoluted through hundreds of years of American history. We have viewed and treated Cuba as a possession and territory for generations prior to the revolution which triggered the ongoing embargo. Then Cuba was perceived as a  threat. Not enough space here to provide or review history. Suffice it to say that the US has imposed its will on this island country for the last 50 years.

We rarely think about Cuba, yet the Cuban people are big fans of Americans. We were greeted by colleagues and strangers with open arms and warm friendliness. I know, it is about the historic antagonistic systems and governments. It is about capitalism vs socialism. And Fidel vs JFK. Here's the deal, that was then and Cuba does not resemble those caricatures of the past. Globalization is here and Cuba has been benched and ostracized. This embargo is not just a political war of words it has really hurt the people. 50 years of no access to anything from the US from anywhere. That includes school materials, medicine and food. I know it was meant to punish the country, but that time passed and it is harming people who pose no threat to us today. As an embargoed country, Cuba is in the same company with North Korea, Iran, Ukraine and Syria. It makes no sense now. It hasn't for many years.

Everything I knew about Cuba was transformed by a closer examination.

The President Obama lifted some sanctions, travel and certain goods are no longer prohibited, but we need to open up our relationship to take full advantage of what Cuba has to offer. Cuban medical training is the envy of the world. They have free medical care from pre-natal to hospice. For example, Cuba has a robust bio-tech industry and have developed a drug called Cimavax which attacks lung cancer cells. NY state now has a few trials of Cimavax, the first medical exchange in 50 years! 

IMG_0287Visited the education system as well, which is totally free. By the way, Cuba's literacy rate is about 97%. In fact they have a Museum of Literacy! We visited ELAM (Latin American Medical School) where students from 110 countries receive free medical training. Free room and board and a stipend! We met a number of US students there who are receiving a world class education centered on the patient. Cuba is famous for providing doctors to Haiti, Africa, and other disaster torn countries. 

As ethno-centric Americans we worried when every corner has a McDonalds, KFC and Starbucks....... It was interesting not to see Coca Cola there. We asked about these changes, which we thought were inevitable. We heard that they don't need Coca Cola, they have "sugar water". Or more burgers, chicken or coffee... They need infrastructure, pharma, hotels, car parts, educational materials---many many things. We want to get the things we need before we add things we don't. "We don't want to add to the war of symbols." Wow!! Television programs are not interrupted by commercials, except public service announcements and education--mostly health oriented. Yes I know, we have more choices. But we have a lot of noise and interruptive messages  too. How would we change our system if we could?

Cuba has many challenges. Poverty is rampant. Inequality is there. Sound familiar? The aforementioned infrastructure is in disrepair or non-existent. But there is a spirit of humanity, of ingenuity, of compassion, and of camaraderie that needs to breathe and grow. US Cuban relations can flourish with great reciprocal benefits to the US and the world. 

As Bryan Stevenson advised: proximity changed my narrative, made me uncomfortable, but even more hopeful. Like all life changing experiences you understand one another, you appreciate our interconnectedness and commonalities. Somos Cubanos!

I encourage you to test your own assumptions, by visiting Cuba,  or anywhere or any population you think you know, but don't. As John Wooden said, "It is what you learn after you know it all that counts."

Thanks for reading. John

 

 

 

 

 


The Key Connection to a More Unrealistic You

Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.  St Augustine

Maybe it is the new year, maybe it is my stage in life, maybe it is the truth that is emerging around me. While I have been saying this for many years, ...."the most important connection, the first connection you must make is to yourself," this idea has  Key-in-door-1024x685more meaning and power than ever before. Let me explain. 

I have always been drawn to thinkers and writers who have expounded on passion, meaning, and purpose. I strongly believe that without these elements driving one's life you will be lost in a series of transactional moments that may not add up to what you wanted. Life is not your resume. It is not a list of achievements sans failures and challenges. It is not a string of happy moments, interrupted by sad moments. Your life is a precious and amazing opportunity, everyday to do good as you define it. To do what you love to do. To make a difference. Intuitively I know you get this. But doing it is rough. 

So I am constantly looking for the clues, the inspirations, the insights of others who can show me the way. The way to more persistently becoming myself. Becoming and understanding myself so I can overcome so many self erected barriers to my own path.

Lot of popular notions out there that I am sure you have noted. The Ms are very popular:

  • Mindfulness
  • Meaning
  • Meditation

The Ps are also competing for your interests:

  • Presence
  • Purpose
  • Passion

So the M's and the P's are powerful words that are all on the endangered species list of words that become diluted through popular usage.

I have been recently  influenced by words and ideas from Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, Sherwin Nuland's The Way We Live (and Die), E. O. Wilson's The Meaning of Human Existence, Brene Brown on Vulnerability, anything from the Dalai Lama, Krista Tippett's show On Being, Bernard Glassman's Instruction to the Cook....

This is not a book list for you to buy. I am resisting giving you snippets and quotes here. You should subscribe to Brain Pickings for extraordinary summaries of important literature, including some of these sources I have listed. There are so many great sources of smart people thinking about these questions out there. Find things that speak to You. 

Engage and enhance your network to talk about these issues. 

Like you, I continue to find my place. Someone said to me the other day, "I wish I was like you. You have a purpose and a plan." Wow did I fool him :)

Tis one thing to speak and write about it, tis another thing to do it.

There is lots of research on life satisfaction. The work of Hannes Schwandt is particularly fascinating. Builds on research that spans 50 countries and many socio-economic groups. This is what I have interpreted. The peak of peak of happiness is 85. 85! There is this U shape to our life satisfaction. Starts high and goes steadily down until 45ish and then builds back up and reaches a high point in the mid 80's. Why?, Because when we are young we have "overly -optimistic" read unrealistic expectations about our lives. We want a lot. We have dreams and ambitions untethered to terra firma. This creates disappointment. College majors and aspirations turn out differently and life happens. In the late 40's and through the 50's we have another moment of reality. Expectations (different from aspirations) are super high. Was this what I was meant to do? Is this all there is? Financial realities take their toll. Each stage you shed more and more of what is unrealistic and our optimism takes a seat at the back of the bus. By the time you are in your 80's you simply do not care any more. This is the brutal phrase from the research, "...unmet expectations are abandoned and less regret is experienced..." Regrets evaporate. Time is very short so let's not waste any more. You are old and very happy. Is this maturity or the ultimate death of our dreams?

I am not saying this is going to happen to you, but it is happening. Apparently it happens like clockwork according to the researchers. I know you are not "average", after all you are reading my blog. :) And we can take the safeties off our blamethrowers and aim them many places. For me, shedding all of the expectations of others and society is a great starting point. If you are honest with yourself you have to sort through what is YOU from what is not. This is the ultimate preventive measure against the gravitational pull of the U curve. Turn this U into YOU.  As I said at the beginning, it starts with you, the key connection you have to make.

I know it can feel like a runaway train that does not respond to herculean tugs on the emergency cord. But you got to stop the train and take a walk with yourself. To listen to YOU. To hear your heartbeat and the voice within. There is a small penitentiary within you of trapped ideas, emotions, and yes dreams that yearn for your company, attention and the light of day.

I wish I could hand you the next three steps to You. I would if I had them. But you are unique. You are also on a human trajectory that has predictable elements and phases. Maybe true happiness is when we get to an age and stage where we have abandoned all unrealistic things, we regret nothing because we don't care any more, and we appreciate life because it is ending. Some research says so. I am not going to allow it to happen for me.

I want to eliminate regrets before they accumulate and take up precious shelf space and then I will have fewer "unmet expectations".

The Chumash native americans have a saying in one of their blessings that always jolts me:

"When you are born you begin to die."

Time is a luxury. Do not take it for granted. You never get it back.

I still believe in change. For me and for the world. I have research that says that it is possible. :)

I believe that you can change. I see it everyday. But no one can make the change but You. And there it goes again, we return to You and to see ourselves anew.

I am wishing You the greatest year of your life. Make it a bit optimistic and unrealistic. :)

 Thanks for reading. John


Like what you got to get what you like

People spend too much time finding other people to blame, too much energy finding excuses for not being what they are capable of being, and not enough energy putting themselves on the line, growing out of the past, and getting on with their lives. J. Michael Straczynski

How do we take full responsibility for where we are? Embrace what we are doing to get where we need to go. See our current opportunity as the best step to advance our lives and the lives of others.

Put the victim, excuses, entitlement and blame game behind us and power ahead by embracing the present.

Not talking about "hanging in there" or "toughing it out" or certainly not "waiting for something good to come along."

You underestimate what you have and how it can help you advance.

How do we love what we do to do what we love?

What you say to yourself and others becomes who you are. Your story is what connects you to your future and to others.

You attract whatever negative and or positive vibes you give off.

"I hate my job." "I can't wait to get out of here." "I don't believe in what I am doing any more."

It's odd but very frequent when people tell me that they are basically unhappy with their jobs and their lives. By the way, 70% of Americans say they are disengaged from their jobs--70%! (Gallup State of the American Workplace)

People say the darndest things. :) They appear to have little pride in themselves. 

As the Mad Hatter advised Alice at the tea party:

Then you should say what you mean. 

I do,' Alice hastily replied; `at least--at least I mean what I say--that's the same thing, you know.

Not the same thing a bit!' said the Hatter.

You might just as well say,' added the March Hare, `that "I like what I get" is the same thing as "I get what I like"!

So say what you mean but mean what you say! And like what you got to get what you like!

You got to embrace your circumstances, your current work, your employer and your life---because it's what you got. And you have to describe what you have by appreciating the positive and making lemonade.

I am not saying to stay at a toxic job. I am not saying to sugar coat your thoughts about your work and to lie about it. I am not talking about blind loyalty. I am speaking of a loyalty and commitment to yourself. This is your job. This is your life. And to the extent you allow your job to define you, you have to own it. 

And your narrative, your storyline, can't be just negative. What you say about your work reflects on you and impacts your buzz and your trajectory.

So many people sound like fugitives to me. They are fleeing something to find something better. They have a foot out the door and are seeking the next thing. They are not in the present but stuck in the past and scheming about the future. They are not in the now. Just finished the New New Thing by Michael Lewis. Your life can't always be about the new new thing but about the now now thing. 

Opportunities seek those that adapt and succeed and make the most out of what they have. 

First of all the pursuit of life driven by passion and meaning can only be partially satisfied by one's professional career. For some fortunate people, work life can generate the bulk of one's life satisfaction. But for many of us we have to adopt a portfolio approach to life. Like your investments you need an allocation strategy to create returns from multiple sources which can "hedge" the others. We need a constellation of interests to feed our great hunger and curiosity for stimulation and meaning. If we place all of our eggs in one basket, place all of our chips on one bet, invest all of our energy into our job, the result is predictably an insufficient life.

Life choicesPeople who are engaged in their lives. Who exude energy, confidence and positivity. These are people who by and large manage a broad and diverse portfolio of interests and activities. Their day job is but one source of their life force.

These are people who are busy, really busy. They make the most of what they have and they always seem in demand.

Get your story straight. What are you doing now that is interesting and engaging? Own where you are regardless of the challenges. Love it. Build on what you have to get to the next step in your plan.

What are you optimizing for?, asks Brian David Johnson, Intel's futurist.  How are you using the present to plan your evolving future? How are you spending your work time and non-work time to provide more stimulation and growth? What is energizing your progress and your momentum now? What skills, knowledge and abilities are you honing?

It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters. Epictetus

One of the reasons why so few of us ever act, instead of react, is because we are continually stifling our deepest impulses. Henry Miller

Don't dismiss your life as "Not what I want to do" or "It's just a job" Talk about what's emerging for you. Talk about what you are optimizing for. That will help you and others see your path.

You are going somewhere, right? And this place where you are is the best place to get there--because that's where you are!

Be what you say and say what you are. Appreciate what you have and who you are. And do it with pride and energy. 

Success is going from one failure to the next with enthusiasm. Winston Churchill

Thanks for reading. John


Headline: Your World Begins!

We are so obsessed with negativity, with the horrific, with the tragic, and especially with the potential for horrible and threatening endings. The end of the world? The fiscal cliff? Remember Y2K? Or Nostradamus? Yes, it is sensational and fun to discuss. But we tend to see the bad that could happen and that prevents us from the good that could occur. If you are truly realistic about the risks you take, then you would not be afraid. 

I love talking to newish grads who are unemployed or even better, dissatisfied employed people searching for more "meaning in their lives". Both of these groups need to fully assess the risks of their indecision and the risks of their choices. If you do not assert your needs, engage others, and take baby steps or giant strides toward things that you want in your life, please stop complaining.

The risks of inaction are always greater than the risks of action. 

I recently looked at a resume of a person who underestimates his qualities and therefore his dreams. I listened to his story and it was a dry regurgitation of "facts". Clearly uncomfortable telling his less than compelling story that was muddled by his mouth full of humble pie. So I said to him, "Oh so you are a creative person, a person with great interest in aesthetics, and you have adapted to many very different circumstances. You need to use these themes to punctuate your story, your resume and your networking." 

He looked at me and said, "How did you get that?" I just listened and tried to listen for the good not try and pick apart what he delivered. It can be difficult to see the threads of your life to weave your story. You need a confidante or mentor to give you the unfiltered feedback and help you identify the threads.  

Your storyline past, present and future needs to incorporate who you are not what you have done!

Disaster, failure, and the risk of looking stupid are on your mind. It would be really stupid if you do not move your carcass toward your goals and articulate your story this year! Headline

Waiting for New Years? Really? You need an official start date and time when everybody else is doing the same thing? Sorry, I thought I was talking to an individual with ideas, and courage. Mistook you for someone who was going to live with fewer regrets. I hoped you were the person who was going to change things this year.

There is no other time but NOW. 

Tired from all your shopping and eating..........You just need a little down time........ C'mon!

Get Ready: Your World Begins Today! Won't make the headlines but it is certainly a storyline that  should capture your attention. 

No YouTube. No Powerpoint. No Visual Threats. Just the amazing things in your heart and mind that need to be done. 

Focus on the positive and the opportunity and the risks will fade.

Here's what Bassam Tarazi says:

To understand the worst means to write out our real-world worst-case scenario. Not the death, fire, and brimstone stuff we like to make up but that actual worst-case scenario: money lost, opportunities passed up, family we may disappoint. Write it down. Bathe yourself in it. Understand it. Acknowledge it.

Now, write down how you would bounce back from that worst-case scenario. Who would you contact? What skills could you put on display? Where would you have to live? How long could you live off savings? How could you earn money?

Got it? Good. You’ve understood the worst-case scenario, and now you can use the rest of your energies (and there should be a lot of it left) to fight for the best.

Start a conversation with yourself. A real conversation about what is important. Write it down. Document what you are thinking. Look at your resume and at your network and examine the gaps. Start talking about this path of passion or curiosity. Use this new storyline to engage others and seek advice and counsel.

It is your choice: you can see the cliff and the potential fall or take advantage of the glorious view. You can see the clock as winding down or starting up. You can avoid the risks or avoid the regrets.

Yes, the End of the Year nears, but the beginning of your next chapter starts any time you want.

Thanks for reading. John


Your Unlearning Curve

The flow and pace of change around us is mind boggling and some would say turbulent. It's like sipping out of the firehose--one of my favorite metaphors. We can only drink so much and so fast, otherwise we drown.  Sipping from a firehose

Here's how I have decided to deal with the relentless spray of information and new stuff. First I accepted that "change" and chaos were the natural state of things. And my greater awareness of "change" makes it easier for me to adapt. If you can't beat em join em!

Chaos is a friend of mine.  Bob Dylan

Any resistance to change is like fighting gravity. Useless, painful, frustrating, and ultimately distracting from the work we want to do and where our lives could go.

Surrendering to change provides you with so much more information, options, and ideas. I am telling you we are sipping from a firehose and yet what is flying by our senses is amazing, scary, and fantastic.

The curious thing is that with these exponential changes, so much of what we currently know is just wrong. So many of our assumptions are wrong. As we move forward, not only is it going to be a question of learning it is also going to be a question of unlearning.  John Seely Brown

Almost everywhere I go, every meeting I am in, this subject of change is discussed. Change that is forcing people to learn new ways of thinking and doing things. Part of adapting to change is the ability to "unlearn" things. I believe unlearning is as critical a survival and success skill as learning. Unlearning is literally and figuratively deleting "files", forgetting the past, abandoning assumptions, then learning again, by starting over.

I first heard this verb more than three decades ago when Marc Nathanson, one of the pioneers of the modern cable tv business, said he wanted to hire me because I had less to unlearn. He told me he was worried about that experienced cable tv professionals, people who knew cable tv, would bring their frames of reference--in other words a load of Samsonite that was not relevant. He said, "We don't have time for people to unlearn things." He predicted nearly all of the changes in that industry and knew that the future was not going to be like the past. So knowing nothing about cable tv made me eminently qualified! :) 

In a forest of change we add bits of knowledge, like decorating a Christmas tree. You collect and show off bright and shiny ornaments. Each year you add more and you feel better about your tree. Unlearning is understanding that the tree is obsolete and the ornaments are irrelvant. 

Unlearning is breaking off your rear view mirror and focusing on the new landscape in front of you and seeing it for the first time.

When any real progress is made, we unlearn and learn anew what we thought we knew before.  Henry David Thoreau

There have been some jokes about an etch-a-sketch brain. But this is where it is useful!  Etch a sketch

Unlearning changed my perspective on my own prospects in life. There is so much I do not have to unlearn! :) Seriously, this view of change gives me the energy, permission and confidence to cross sectors, platforms and worlds more fluidly. If I spent less time and energy trying to fight the flow of the firehose and more time riding it, then life is so much more productive and fun!

Past used to be prologue.

Strategic planning has to become zero based processes. Meaning starting from scratch--with a blank slate. Can't take the last 5 years results and tweak them. The market, the consumer, the competition, the global context, the needs and wants have evolved and are evolving.  Again more than you know. Engaging new sources of knowledge, information, and feedback that shape a clearer view of reality. It is crazy what we don't know that others know. 

This Tedtalk is a head rush. Obeng contends that "all of the rules" were changed without our knowledge and that's why nothing works any more. He makes a compelling case.

His brief discussion about laminar vs turbulent flow is fantastic. 

Laminar is when the water moves in parallel sheets through the tube, but once it reaches a certain speed the water goes crazy and the flow is chaotic, swirling, and unpredictable. Obeng asserts that we have not noticed the change from laminar to turbulent flow. How could we? We are in denial. We are stuck in our ways of trying to make the world conform to our needs and tolerances. We like certainty. It is a warm and fuzzy place, but boy is it naive. Laminar vs turbulent

The people I meet who are succeeding in all fields have adopted unlearning as a way of life. How will you make money in the financial markets? How will diseases be cured? How will we transform education? How will we level the playing fields of poverty? There is no way it will resemble the past or even be a distant cousin.

Lean into the change. Saddle the turbulence. Embrace the chaos.  Continue to sip, but enjoy the flow. Unlearn to learn.

Thanks for reading. John


Let Your Inner Child Fly

The holidays bring back a flood of memories for me. I love being around kids who open up their Hanukah and Christmas gifts with reckless abandon and express real joy out loud.

Adults are obsolete children.  ~Dr. Seuss

Some people think I have never grown up. Okay a lot of people! But who is counting anyway?!!

More than anything I wish you more childishness, more foolishness, more fun and joy. We are so serious. We take ourselves way too seriously.

The grand metaphor of the metamorphosis. How the baby caterpillar develops into a cocoon and goes through the pain and suffering of the metamorphosis of pubescence and emerges as a beautiful high flying adult butterfly. This seemed correct until I heard a scientist describe the caterpillar as the one that was the adult--slow and wingless. A plodder limited by physical and mental capacities, afraid of then consequences. And the butterfly is the child who can fly, flit and explore, fearless and free. Caterpillar

Kids are always flying and adults are more often stuck out on a limb. Children are free of the self consciousness and adults suffer from looking good and being right. If we succumb to the inexorable decline of our freedom to create and be, then we become old and sedentary without regard to our chronological age. When risk aversity beats us into a locked step conformity with what is expected of us and we comply.

Neoteny is the retention of juvenile characteristics.  I like Joi Ito's take on it. Not talking about our obsession to LOOK young, I am talking about keeping the spirit of the child alive within us. The ability to play and to see the possibilities. To say and think things that speak to our possibilities and dreams. Relentless curiosity and free of what you fear others may think.

Remember the movie Big?

Play is important and necessary. All work and no play makes you a dull person!

I have a friend who won't play board games with his son because HE doesn't like board games. He is so hung up on getting him to grow up.

My childhood may be over, but that doesn't mean playtime is.  ~Ron Olson

We become progressively blind as we age. We see the world from our selfish and narrow perspective. A child sees so much that we can no longer see. They see the real things that exist between and amongst the things we create and impose on the world. They see the colors, and hear the sounds.Big

Ask kids what they want, besides a material thing. The answer will stun you. They have not been burdened with all of the reasons they can not or should not do things. Their imaginations are fertile and unfettered.

Every child is an artist.  The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.  ~Pablo Picasso

Our kids grow up too fast and they lose their sense of play and fun. We need to enjoy and let go of all of the ridiculous expectations we impose on ourselves and others. We need to have fun by experimenting and exploring. Kids take chances by doing foolish things where they express themselves freely and naturally. They are vulnerable and open to what happens.

We need to laugh more--at ourselves--and less at others.

Not going to ignore my responsibilities as a parent, a citizen, or an adult, but I want to fly more like a butterfly and crawl less like a caterpillar. How about you?

How do we do this?

Take a chill pill.  Relax. Everything is not a federal issue that requires a no prisoners approach. Remain urgent about your goals but enjoy what is happening to you and what you are doing.

Value fun and play around us. Schedule time to play that you look forward to--a hobby, games with others, and just discovering an unscheduled time for fun.

Hang out with kids. Kids, young people, or just people younger than you, will give you energy and perspective. They will also teach you things if you are present! If you pay attention they will mentor YOU!

For what it's worth: it's never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There's no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you're proud of. If you find that you're not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again. ----Benjamin Button

Thanks for reading. John


What triggers change?--My week long journey to the center of meaning

Last Sunday, I got the chance to catch up with Glenn, my best friend from high school. We met out in Palm Springs to golf and to, as they say in Hawaii, talk story. Our friendship has spanned 45 years and endured many challenges and been punctuated by many adventures. Anyway, as we age, Glenn I end up talking about serious things. The meaning of our lives. Our kids futures. The future of the world. As we looked out onto the Palm Desert landscape, Glenn asserted that the "next generation is not as motivated" to put in the effort and sweat equity to obtain the lifestyles and more important the type of country we all want. This is partly the classic and inevitable discussion of all older generations complaining about the next generations. But it was also a conversation about what will it take for young people and all of us to return to the basics, set aside our cushy expectations and entitlements, and actually invest time and energy in work. Glenn and I believe that you learn about yourself, you establish values, you appreciate what you have, by working and literally and figuratively making a living. I can hear the, Typical Boomers! chant. It is true, we are creatures of our upbringing and OUR parents lives.

We came to many conclusions on how the world could be a better place--of course if Glenn and I ran it! :) However, one of them was really disturbing to me. Only hardship, tragedy, and the threat of either will get people to change. Change, meaning people engaging in the fundamental process of taking responsibility for their own destinies. For people to work at their lives instead of hoping something good will happen. For people to commit to new goals, values, habits, new skills, strengthen relationships and to become who they were meant to be. To take responsibility for their own lives and fully understand that they can drive their own destines.Carrot

So the stick is more powerful than the carrot?!! Really. We can not be motivated to take action with inspiration alone? It takes an "enemy" and fear for us to change? It is well known that money will never sustain our motivation or ever truly inspire us. The research on that is conclusive. Daniel Pink's new book Drive reviews 5 decades of research on this subject if you have doubts. But I was unsettled by the fact that I could not refute this conclusion: That fear may be the greatest and most effective motivator.

"Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."  Samuel Johnson

Losing our job, getting cancer, death of a loved one, and bankruptcy force us to take inventory of our lives and potentially change. Learning about somebody else's misfortune is not the same. It gives us pause, but we always think WE are different. So we only redefine our lives when tragedy befalls us?

I attended a community meeting where the subject was the future of at risk youth. It was a robust and emotional discussion of the causes and consequences of "the system" vs the individuals. One mother asserted that her kids had no chance with the "institutional discrimination" and "economic racism" that is embedded in our society. A man stood up and said, "My track coach taught me to focus on the finish line. And if there are hurdles in the way, just get over them. The more we feel like victims, the higher the hurdles will appear." We know there is truth in both perspectives. The challenges for the poor and vulnerable are daunting. And without a mindset of self determination and self-reliance no one can succeed. The finish line can provide focus, but the hurdles can add motivation or they can deter.Hurdles  

On Wednesday I led a workshop in Plano Texas for a group of FritoLay managers and leaders who were tracked for accelerated paths. My job was to help them think about their opportunities and what they wanted. I used the carrot of the chance their employer was providing them. We discussed career and life strategies. We reflected on where they were going and why. One of the participants came up to me after our 4 hours together and said, "How will I know who I am? And what I want? I want to change, but there are so many expectations of me." I marveled at his candor and his moment of wonder about himself. I simply said, "Keep listening to yourself. Keep listening to your heart."

My week ended up at a celebration of the life of a dear friend who is dying. While we all are dying, few of us really live. A group of us did not want to wait until her memorial to express our gratitude and appreciation. For me, it is too late. I hate learning things about people at their funerals. We spent a wonderful afternoon learning and celebrating her diverse life. It was inspirational. It was uplifting. It gave all 120 of us a view of what is possible if we live to our fullest. It reminded us of how precious life is and how brief our time together can be. So were people inspired to change their lives by a great role model or by the fear of their own deaths?

I know it is both. And it really does not matter. Whatever helps us re-define our lives to push us to improve is great. We need examples of what life can be and we need the whack in the head from fear. We need to let people hit some hurdles so they can get back up and re-focus on the finish line. I am so optimistic about the future and the next generation. However we must guide, not coddle, our young people to let them find themselves so their dynamic DNA can flourish. We need to actively seek ways we can motivate ourselves and each other through the amazing blend of fear and inspiration that life gives us everyday.

Thanks for reading. John


When you see the end you begin again

Stephen Covey in his great book, 7 Habits of of Highly Effective People, counseled us to Begin with the end in mind. This weekend we buried my brother-in-law, Andrew Kim Weaver, he was 53. He was taken from us too soon and his life was far from done. Death is the most sobering experience. It brings a  whirlwind of emotions punctuated by moments of inspiration, depression and self awareness. Listening to people who knew Andrew gave our family incredible insights into his lives. Yes, lives plural. We all have them. Our worlds of friends and activities that define us. A view into his generosity and his spirit. Some of the stories were truly surprising, most reinforced our view of him. But what emerges is a much more complex and accurate story of the man and his legacy. While we will never forget him and our pain will endure for a long time, we try and gravitate to the lessons in life we learn, especially when life ends prematurely.  Don't have the space here nor is this the forum to tell Andrew's life story. His life like all of our lives was unique and packed full of people, successes, failures, intentions and regrets.

When you see the end, you begin again.

In many ways Andrew lived a simple life but his life taught me some powerful lessons. I learned them from Andrew and the people who remembered him. I hope these three inspire you.

  1. Be who you are: Andrew lived his life the way he wanted. He cared little about how others viewed him and more about showing up everyday. He enjoyed life seeking joy and discovering new things.
  2. Never stop giving even when you have nothing to give: Andrew was very generous with his time and his resources when he was laid off. He helped other people financially even though he was broke. He helped people when he desperately needed assistance. He was unconditional with his love, support and friendship.
  3. Never give up: Andrew had many hardships, some of his own making. Yet he always battled back. He dropped out of college, but completed his degree 19 years after he started it. He was an alcoholic who was sober for more than 12 years until he died. He was forced to take a demotion to an administrative assistant position because of an injury and three years later became a manager and named employee of the year in 2009.

AKW Death is a mystical and elusive concept. It is inevitable, but we all think it will be further out there and we have time to "do what I want". We say things to ourselves and to others like, "life is short", "smell the roses", "have quality time" but we rarely do things differently. We live as if we will never die and die as if we have never lived. We see life like the mirage on the desert highway. We just keep driving at high speeds with no appreciation for the length of the trip or the scenery that rushes past. Not going to bore you with all of the trite exercises that ask you to write your obit, epitaph, or eulogy. However, defining what we want is paramount.

One of my favorite books, Einsteins Dreams, author Alan Lightman poses a number of questions and concepts about relativity and time. One chapter basically begins with the query, What if you knew you would die on September 29? It was such a specific date! It gave me pause when I first read it. No discussion of how I would die, (how I could prevent it was also irrelevant) but next September 29th I am gone! Your conception of life and what's important is transformed.

We need to connect with what we want and the people we love now.  I don't want to learn about people I care about at their funerals.

I met this incredible woman Consuelo Castillo Kickbusch (that's her real name!) She grew up in abject poverty and became Lt Colonel in the Army! Her life story is a classic immigrant American dream where a woman overcomes great odds. She implores people to"Live a legacy instead of planning to leave one."

Or as coach Wooden said,"Make everyday your masterpiece." Time and opportunity are finite and fleeting things. We have to go for it and minimize those brutal regrets.Thanks to Andrew, I realize how much more I could give and how much more I can do to be a better person. The time today is a gift. What am I possibly waiting for?

A post it note on Andrew's desk read, "If you are angry, fight. If you want to die, then wait until tomorrow. Today you may do some good for someone else."

I have seen the end and I begin again. And I am gonna fight and do some good. How about you? 

Andrew, thank you for living a legacy. Thank you for the lessons and inspirations then and now.

Thanks for reading. John