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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

Last night, I was scared

By | Life

I'm a Survivor

Have you ever ignored something that needed to be done, but that stood a chance–however infinitesimal–of showing results that would be really, really bad. And so, because of your fear, you avoided it? Yeah. I’ve been doing that.

Finally, I committed to follow through with some medical tests I’d been putting off. I scheduled them for today, and, in anticipation of them, I was scared.

Logically, I have few reasons to be scared: I’m in excellent health, and I don’t have any unusual symptoms. However, I did go through all of these tests once before. The results then were not good.

In 1997 I was in my last semester as senior in college, and occasionally  experienced tremendous chest pain. It was so bad at times that I taught myself pain management meditation techniques to deal with it. I was convinced it was just stress. Finally, three days after commencement (I was still up at school getting the last nine credits I needed to earn my diploma)  I took myself to the hospital. I went through a few tests and was told to come back the next day.

Like the good, responsible, upstanding young man I was, I went back. I spent the entire day in the hospital, and at the end of the day, exhausted from non-stop tests, prodding, and lack of food, someone finally broke the news to me:  cancer.

Cancer

I had cancer. I was 22 years old, in great shape, and fearless. I was convinced I could do anything. The way I looked at it, I’d go back to Pittsburgh on the weekends for chemo–only a 3.5 hour drive–then back up to St. Bonaventure to finish my classes, get my diploma, and get on with my life. Fearless maybe, but definitely stupid, or at least ignorant to what lay ahead. Little did I know what I was in for with surgeries, transfusions, and chemo.

I’ll never forget the advice my oncologist gave me. It went something like this: “we’re going to kick the crap out of you with drugs, you just have to take it. That’s it. Just get through it.”

Certainly he was more sensitive than that, but in my mind, that’s what his advice amounted to that day. I did take it. I never, ever, not for a single day, hour, minute, or second did I ever take my eyes off the prize. I was going to beat cancer, and use the time to network to get my dream job on Wall Street in New York.

Spoiler Alert: I did.

Being with my fear

Through it all, the one thing I did not allow myself to feel was fear. Sure, there were moments of self-pity, extreme illness, and anger. But I never allowed in fear. It was contrary to my mission: eyes on the prize, at any cost. (Some days I wish–I beg–for that determination again. But I digress.)

Fast forward nearly 16 years when a new primary care physician suggests a some basic blood work, just to see where things are for me, and my tumor markers come back really high. We talk about it, it’s probably “normal” for me, but why take chances, so he lines up a battery of tests. I know these tests all too well: more blood work, examinations, ultrasound, and CT scan (with contrast). It’s what I went through before.

And here I am the night before thinking what if, what if, WHAT IF. And I’m scaring the crap out of myself. I’m 37 years old. I’m single. No kids. No legacy. And with a list of “things to do before I die” that’s even longer now than it was when I started it at 20.

What have I done with my life? Is this why I’m scared? Am I scared to die, or am I scared to die not having accomplished the greatness I set out to achieve?

Unlike the 22-year-old me, I allowed myself to sit with the fear. Unlike Muad’Dib, I did not let it pass through me, but I didn’t let it obliterate me either. I sat with it. I felt it. I owned it.

Sitting in the CT scanner brought back a flood of memories, too. I’ll be honest, that was the most scared I’d been in years. I allowed myself to feel afraid in that moment–not fear of the machine like some lousy Luddite, but of what would happen if these tests came back like the same ones of 16 years ago. In that moment, as the unnatural warmth of the contrast dye coursed through my veins, it was my fear manifest. I felt it boil in me. I owned it. I mastered it. And then I became it.

And for the first time in a long time. I felt alive. Very, very alive.

Pending

The tests are pending. The blood work came back as expected: tumor markers are high, but according to my doctors circa 1997, that’s to be expected. I’ll get the results of the scan next week, and if logic has anything to do with, they’ll come back just fine.

While my test results are pending, so is the rest of my life. The results will have a definite outcome. And now, so will my life.

 

 

I Fixed What Wasn’t Broke, and Broke Everything as a Result

By | Life

Seriously people, it's not difficult to properly rack weights

Back in December a friend put a challenge to the Boulder startup community: exercise every day for at least an hour a day for the first 100 days of the new year. It was more of a “let’s motivate each other to be healthy and exercise” than a “I can do more burpees than you” type of challenge. Me, being a part of the startup community, and being the kind of guy who loves joining group activities, immediately signed up.

The event garnered a lot of interest from the community, and we even did a measurement/weigh-in day on December 31st. The next day, the challenge began in earnest.

We’re 10 days into the New Year, and I’m failing myself out of the program. But for good reason.

Pre-Challenge

Before signing up for the 100 days challenge, I was at the gym 3 days per week for 16 straight weeks (thank you Foursquare check-ins for keeping track), hiking usually once a weekend, occasionally biking to work, and about once a month getting out for a longer ride. In short: I was getting a healthy dose of exercise, and feeling great about it.

The best part about my workout routine was that it suited me and my schedule: it was flexible and effective. I could do two back-to-back days if I knew I wasn’t going to have time over the weekend, or attend an event on Monday, then gym on Tuesday, or vice versa. If I was tired and my energy was low, I could put the gym off for a day, and would actually go to the gym the next day. I had decided that I was the type of person who went to the gym 3 days per week. And I did.

I found freedom in the flexibility, and commitment in the accountability to myself. It worked for me.

100-Day Challenge

With the 100-day Challenge, I figured I could split my lifting routine from three days to four, then throw in some other fun stuff to make the full seven days per week. One of the core ideas behind the challenge was that the community would motivate each other to work out every day; we could lean on each other for support, but it didn’t quite turn out like that for me. In fact, it had the opposite effect on me. Here’s as far as I got:

  • Jan 1: Dancing for at least an hour (after midnight on NYE)
  • Jan 2: Some good cardio in the afternoon
  • Jan 3: oops, nada
  • Jan 4: Hit the gym
  • Jan 5: nothing
  • Jan 6: zero
  • Jan 7: zip
  • Jan 8: zilch

It was on Wednesday the 9th that I had to step back and look at what was going on with me. How could I go from being someone who always got in his three weekly workouts, to someone who hit the gym only once in eight days?

I came to an important realization: failing on the 100-day commitment changed my perspective on myself. Instead of seeing myself as someone who always went to the gym, I saw myself as someone who broke a commitment, someone who failed. This happened on day 3, and then every day thereafter just compounded things.

These decisions don’t happen on a conscious level–at least the negative ones don’t! And very quickly it was affecting more than just my workouts. I used to get back from the gym, usually late, open up my laptop and plug away at some more work, some side projects, or something productive. Or occasionally reward myself with an hour or two worth of gaming time. Now I was getting home, skipping the gym, playing video games, watching DVDs, or just generally being lazy. By day 5 I was two days behind, and all I could think about was how I’d failed. Each day added another day of failure, and another day of feeling like I was so far behind that I’d never catch up, or the fact that I could never catch up because I missed one single day. One day missed and it was all over.

Seriously people, it's not hard to properly rack weights.

Seriously people, it’s not hard to properly rack weights.

Don’t Fix What Ain’t Broke

Thankfully, I took stock of what was happening, and made a change: I dropped out of the challenge.

I struggled with this decision; no one likes to fail, no one wants to be a dropout. Least of all me. I thought about starting over with a new 100 days challenge to begin on the auspicious (but never attainable) “tomorrow.”

But why?

The fact is, there was nothing wrong with what I was doing before. I didn’t need to be better, I didn’t need to do more. I was in a routine–a great routine–and it was working for me. I tried to fix what ain’t broke, and ended up breaking everything.

This was an important lesson for me. My motivation and accountability systems were working, but in this challenge I changed up both of them. I went from from internal (identity-based) motivation to external (group-based) motivation, and it sapped my drive. Then, in going from internal to external accountability, when I didn’t workout, the guilt of an entire group weighed on my shoulders, though for certain they were entirely unaware of it.

Simply put, what I was doing worked, and I’m going back to doing it.

In the future, I’ll be more cognizant of whether or not something is working for m, before I jump head-first into changing everything.