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What’s In There? Only What You Take With You.

By | Life

Master Yoda

During the Dagobah scenes in “The Empire Strikes Back,” Master Yoda shares a lot of wisdom with Luke Skywalker. We all know the most famous, “Do or do not. There is no try.” It’s so deeply ingrained in our culture—especially startup culture—that it brings on ennui for me. It’s such a well-worn path that it hardly bears repeating.

There’s another interaction between Luke and Yoda that I prefer for its depth and multiple layers of meaning.

Scene: Luke stops deep in the jungle, and sensing darkness emanating from a nearby cave, he turns to Yoda.  

Luke: What’s in there?

Yoda: Only what you take with you.

Take a moment to reflect on that:

What’s in there?
Only what you take with you.

In literature and in Star Wars, the cave is a metaphor for a journey inward.

The Dark Side Cave

What’s In There?

Luke didn’t know what was in there, but he went in regardless. He brought in his fear and anger, and that is what he faced.

We go into every day not knowing what lays ahead. Sure, we have our calendars organized, and know where our lunch meeting is, and who to expect at the client meeting. And we know what we can reasonably expect when we go home. But we don’t really know what’s in there, be it on the road, in a meeting, or at home.

We don’t know, because “knowing”  implies certainty. We know precisely when the sun will rise for any particular point on the earth on any particular day. But we don’t know if our lunch meeting is going to happen, if the client meeting will go smoothly, nor if we will close that deal.

What’s in there? We don’t really know. But we go regardless.

Only What You Take With You

Luke was arguably not ready to face his dark side, but that cave—that challenge—was on the path of his training. What he found was what he took with him: his anger and his fear.

As we move through life, facing challenges, enjoying moments, getting excited, or being calm, how we are in that moment depends on what we take with us. Did you get blindsided by a difficult conversation? You faced it with only what you took with you. Did you prepare for the meeting? You faced it with only what you took with you. Each day we have new caves to enter with unknown challenges to face, and we do so with only what we take with us.

That is the unspoken layer of this dialog that I love so much: if the only thing in each cave—each challenge—is what we bring with us, then we should strive to bring the best with us at all times. This requires both self-awareness and training.

What You Have

In Star Wars, the ability to tap into the Force is innate; you either have it or you don’t. Luke brought his emotions and his abilities into the cave, just as we bring our emotions and abilities into each encounter. What do you bring to each challenge?

  • What’s in [today]?
    • Are you prepared for the day, coming in refreshed with a good mindset, or are you tired, frazzled and scattered?
    • Only what you take with you.
  • What’s in [your role at work]?
    • Are you adding value, moving things ahead, and keeping your mind & skills sharp?
    • Only what you take with you.
  • What’s in [your relationships]?
    • Are you bringing empathy and compassion into your relationship, or conflict and unresolved emotions?
    • Only what you take with you.

This ties into my Rule #6, “YOU are responsible for creating the world you want to live in.” Do you bring a lousy attitude, distrust, and anger into your world? Wondering why there’s only bad attitudes, distrust and anger facing you every day? It’s what you bring with you. What do you want the world to be? Bring that with you.

What You Can Train

Sometimes what we bring with us isn’t enough. Luke was in the Dagobah swamps to receive Jedi training from the only living master. We are fortunate we have many masters to learn from in our world. We need to train ourselves, or “sharpen the saw” as Stephen Covey says in his classic, “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People.”

For example, in a professional environment when there are difficult conversations I need to lead, I spend hours preparing, rehearsing, and getting comfortable with what I need to say and how I want to say it. When I go into that encounter, what I bring with me is a prepared and ready mind. I’ve trained to lead difficult conversations.

To take more with you into each challenge, you must train.

At SpringTime I have much to learn; a lot of training ahead of me. We’re fortunate to have a team with diverse and complimentary skill sets, and we can all learn from each other. In addition, I read blog posts, listen to podcasts, read books (on Audible), and reflect on the lessons.

As a new father, I have many, many years of training ahead of me. There are many challenges to face, some I’ll be prepared for, and most I probably won’t! I read, learn, and reflect to continue my training. With each challenge, what I take with me enables me to be the best possible father to my son and soon-to-be-born daughter.

If we didn’t learn, grow, and evolve as individuals, we would live in a world of screaming infants—whether you want to take that literally or metaphorically is up to you.

Your weapons…

Your Weapons, You Will Not Need Them

Like Luke, I put on my weapon belt. But Master Yoda’s point is that it’s not about the tools on our belt, it’s about our mind and our preparedness. Regardless if I live by my Google calendar, keep all my to do’s in Trello, and take great notes in Evernote, none of it matters compared to what’s in my head.

I know that with each challenge, what I face it with is only what I take with me.

Ride the Wave to Shore

By | Life

I should have been a surfer. In another life, I was born on the beach and grew up surfing, with a surfer’s philosophy ingrained into my being.

One of my rules is, “Ride the wave to shore.” I can remember when I first put this in writing, I was sending an email to someone on AOL—probably around 1999. I don’t remember the specific situation, but the context was about seeing something through and enjoying the journey along the way. I’ve ascribed to this philosophy for a long time.

Riding to Shore

On Thursday, my team and I were laid off, as well as nearly the entire organization that supported IBM’s Global Entrepreneur program. I got the news on Thursday morning, and then had calls to inform my team throughout the day. It may sound awful, but frankly, we knew it was coming; it was only a matter of when. One person even responded by saying, “oh that’s happening today? I thought it would be Monday.”

I believe in riding a wave to shore. Sometimes it’s the wave I meant to catch, sometimes it’s a different one. Sometimes it’s everything I thought it would be (and more), and sometimes it’s a let down. Sometimes, I get thrown from the wave before I can take it all the way in. But no matter what, it’s the wave I’m on, and taking it all the way to shore is the best way to get the most out of the experience.

In 2012, I was a part of a startup that was in the SoftLayer Catalyst program, receiving credits for servers, plus mentorship and connections from Josh Krammes and his team. Later, I joined the  SoftLayer Catalyst team as a Community Manager in 2014, covering the Rockies region, and soon began covering everything from Portland to Pittsburgh. In 2015 I took over managing the US & Canada team. I hired a number of people, lost some good ones to attrition, and built out a well-rounded group. In 2016 we fully integrated into IBM and became the Global Entrepreneur program. And in 2017, the whole team was laid off.

I can truly say, I rode my wave right down to the shoreline. Now it’s time to paddle out and catch the next one.

Paddling Out

If you’ve never surfed, then you don’t know the least sexy, rarely shown, and most frustrating part of the sport: paddling out. Waves crash over you, you duck-dive under them, then frantically paddle with your arms and pathetically kick your feet, duck-dive another wave, paddle harder, and paddle and dive, and paddle and dive, and then look back, and it feels like you’ve barely moved at all. The hardest part is the very end where the waves start to break, the undertow is the strongest, and if feels like you’ll never get past it. You’re choking down seawater, barely holding on to your board, and then with one last dive… you’re through! Past the breaks, you can take a breath and float peacefully on the rolling waves of the sea.

Despite my longing to be a surfer, I have actually tried it a few times: in Bali, Indonesia and Ditch Plains, NY. In my brief experiences, I can tell you this: paddling out is hard work. There’s a reason you don’t see overweight surfers.

I rode this wave to shore, and now I get to decide if I want to paddle out in IBM’s waters again, or in someone else’s.

There is an opportunity to paddle out inside of IBM again, and it’s one that would enable me to continue to fulfill my personal mission: to transform the world through innovation and entrepreneurship. To make a move internally is not impossible, but it is work. It’s the unsexy sort of work that requires determination and a some convincing. Waves of doubt crash over you, as you paddle out through familiar, but different waters. Waves of fear crash over you as you put yourself on the line, opening yourself up to rejection.

Through it all, you have to keep your eyes on the prize (another one of my rules) and do the hard work that’s required to catch the next wave.

Everyone Needs a GSD Day

By | Life

Time is Precious. Free stock photo from Harry Sandhu found on Negativespce.co

It’s Thursday night. My son is fast asleep. My wife and I are full from a delicious dinner. I feel totally relaxed, satisfied with a good day of work behind me, and ready for a strong close to the week tomorrow. I feel this way because Thursdays are my Get $#!t Done Days. And I did just that.

I have a recurring appointment in my calendar that blocks out every Thursday from 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM. I will take one in-person appointment, usually lunch—though today it was coffee—and that’s it. Otherwise, I don’t take any meetings, phone calls, or other appointments. I don’t schedule anything except time to stand at my desk and get. shit. done.

It takes more than just blocking off the time, though. Believe me, it is all too easy to simply accept calendar invites, or schedule meetings over top of the blocked time. I’ll admit to breaking my rule on occasion. Soon one call leads to two, two to three, and before I know it, my morning is gone in a blur of phone & video calls. By then it’s just another day, and I’m scrambling to stay ahead of the ever-mounting tide of work.

Respecting the blocked-off time is just as, if not more, important than blocking it.

With a full day of uninterrupted work ahead of me, it’s the perfect opportunity to tackle the things that require more than 20 minutes of attention. For example, today I spent one and a half hours working on a document for a big project. I was able to get into a flow state with my writing and analysis. If I was trying to hack at this throughout any other day, in between meetings, and in 20 to 40 minute chunks, it would have taken three times as long. Instead, I knew I had my GSD Day, so I kept a scratch pad of notes throughout the week and dove in deep today.

It felt great to knock out something important but not urgent.

Time-blocking is not revolutionary. You’ve probably heard it mentioned in one productivity course or another. I first learned it when I was starting out in sales at Robert Half Technology in 2004, and continue to practice it today. When things get crazy in the startup community, and my team is feeling overwhelmed, we talk about time blocking to ensure the work is getting done, and we’re staying sane.

I have other time blocks, too. Monday’s are my phone call days. I try to pack every single call into Monday; I’ve had many Monday’s with double-digit calls scheduled. Wednesday afternoons I block off to work from home so my wife can go to a yoga class she loves. I sit on the floor with our five-month-old son with my laptop open ready to hand him teething toys. But Thursday are the most important for my work and my sanity.

If you are in a job that pulls you in a lot of directions, schedule a GSD Day. Start time blocking to help yourself get ahead of the tide, and feel better about the quality of your work.

The Power of Family & Friends at a Wedding

By | Life

Juli and Rich Wedding cheers

On June 22 Juliana Joy Glader and I got married in front of our family and loved ones. To say it was amazing, incredible, awesome, and absolutely magnificent just doesn’t cut it. In fact, there aren’t enough adjectives in the world to describe the power of the emotions  I felt that day. Read More

Bliss?

By | Life

I was asked to do a talk for Christian Macy’s birthday celebration, “The Alchemy of Finding Your Bliss.” I agreed, because I’m generally an agreeable guy, and then wondered what the heck I was going to talk about. What follows is a slightly NSFW talk (dropping f-bombs) about why I shouldn’t be giving you advice and why you shouldn’t listen to it anyway. Enjoy! Read More