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What Now?

After our recent election, I was drawn to one of my favorite places to hike – Jockey Hollow. Jockey Hollow was the encampment site for our Revolutionary Army for two brutal winters, and the hills and forests of this place are alive with the spirit that gave birth to our country.

 

jockeyhollow4On this particular sunny, fall day I decided to hike a trail I have not hiked before. While hiking, I came to a sign on the trail that indicated the trail turned right, but I saw no trail that way. What I did see, however, was a big hill in front of me, and I LOVE being on the top of hills and mountains. So I abandoned the marked trail and started bushwhacking my way up the hill.

 

The symbolism of this decision was not lost on me since we as a nation are now blazing a new trail and are venturing into uncharted territory.

 

Once on top of the hill, I explored a bit, I enjoyed the view, and I appreciated the accomplishment. From the top of that hill, though, I saw an even bigger hill, and for whatever reason it is in my blood that if there is a higher peak to climb, I MUST climb it. So off I went.

 

Here’s the thing about striving to get to a higher peak. In order to get from one peak to the next we must travel through a valley. As such, we must never fear the low points, for they are simply part of the journey to something greater.

 

When I got to the floor of the valley, I found a beautiful stream trickling over rocks, filling the air with a gurgling meditative rhythm. I sat on a rock, closed my eyes, and just listened, breathed and enjoyed the darkness of the valley shadowed by the rising hill next to me. As I listened, I pondered the fact that I did not hear or see any animals all day, which was odd. Not even a squirrel or bird.

 

After drinking in the moment, I began my ascent up the next hill. The sun was setting, and I hoped that from the next peak I would see a landmark I recognized or perhaps see a trail. I have to admit I was a bit lost and anxious as I did not have any bearing in the forest. When I reached the peak, unfortunately all I saw was more unfamiliar woods. No path. No landmark. No voices. No sound of cars.

 

Doubt crept into the back of my mind and I felt that nervous pit in my stomach that accompanies uncertainty. Now, granted I was hiking in New Jersey, so I knew that if I hiked long enough I would eventually cross a road, but with the sun going down, I also knew I needed to be smart.

 

This is why I love hiking in the woods and venturing down new paths. It tests and challenges my limits. In this moment I could either panic . . . or I could listen and trust.

 

My experience taught me to listen and trust. So I did.

 

After not seeing any animals all day, suddenly a wild turkey appeared. I couldn’t help but think that the turkey was Benjamin Franklin’s favorite bird and that he favored making it the national bird over the bald eagle, at least according to the myth.

 

I followed the turkey over the crest of the hill and as it ran off into the forest I saw a pink ribbon tied to a tree. And then another. And another after that. I followed the trail of ribbons and eventually came to a marked trail, which eventually led me to a road, which eventually led me home.

 

We must not fear new paths. It is in the unknown that we come to know ourselves best. But in order to find our way out of the darkness and uncertainty, we must listen and trust.

 

Hope is like a path in the countryside:
originally there was no path
– yet
as people are walking all the time,
in the same spot,
a path appears.

 

– Lu Xun

 

We all must travel unknown paths at some point in our lives. Whether they are found in a relationship, a career, financial matters, health, or any other domain. At some point we must step onto a new path.

 

We can either take that first step in fear and dread the journey, or we can take it with hope, trusting that it will lead us to new learning, growth, insights and maybe even an amazing adventure. Regardless of where the path may eventually lead, choosing hope and trust, rather than fear, will ensure the journey is more enjoyable.

 

READ HOW THIS APPLIES TO YOUR BUSINESS here.

 

The other day I was hanging out with my 4 year old niece when she showed me the new skills she learned at gymnastics class. Like a fillet of kid containing no bones, she did her best Simon Biles imitation, lying on her stomach, arching her back, and touching her pointed toes to her head.

 

“Come on Uncle Rich, do it.”

 

Having been wrapped around her finger since she was born, I gave it a try. While the distance between my head and toes was roughly equivalent to the distance between the earth and moon, being the wonderful, encouraging little girl that she is, I heard,

 

“Good job Uncle Rich!”

 

gymnastics2Although my attempt failed miserably, I felt the yogic position open up my hips, which have always been tight, so I decided to add this position to my morning yoga and stretching routine.


 
Bad move.

 

The next 4 days after attempting to stretch into this position more deeply, my lower back was in intense pain. My muscles screamed at me, reminding me that I was not 4 years old.

 

This got me thinking about my age, my inabilities – or more appropriately – the abilities I am losing, and how to grow old gracefully. I realized there were two critical elements to growing old gracefully – acceptance and knowing your limits.

 

Apparently, I suck at both!

 

Physically, we must accept that what our bodies could do when we were 20 years old, they no longer can do well, if at all, at 50 years old. Interestingly, there is one area of our being where these limits do not apply . . . our thinking.

 

It has been scientifically proven that our brains have a quality known as plasticity. That means that we have the ability to continually, and forever, form new neural pathways, which essentially means we can ALWAYS learn new things! Always.

 

The cliche stating “You can’t teach and old dog new tricks” is horribly wrong. And there is plenty of evidence against it.

 

  • George Washington was 44 years old when he made his epic crossing of the Delaware River and turned the fortunes of the Revolutionary War.
  • Ray Kroc was 52 years old when he bought McDonald’s and transformed it into the world’s biggest fast food franchise.
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder was 65 years old when she published the first of her Little House series.
  • John Glenn was 77 years old when he became the oldest human to go into space.
  • Mary Baker Eddy was 87 years old when she founded the Christian Science Monitor.
  • Nola Ochs was 95 when she became the oldest person to receive a college diploma.

 

And this is just the tip of the iceberg! There are an untold number of people who achieved great things as they grew older.

 

If you ask me, that is the true definition of aging gracefully. Someone who does not define themselves by their age or their body’s ability, but rather rather by the unlimited possibility held within their minds and their hearts.

 

You can judge your age by the amount of pain you feel when you come in contact with a new idea.

Anonymous

 

If the above quote referenced “new technology” rather than “new ideas”, sadly, I would have to admit that I am starting to show my age. However, in the domain of new ideas I am very, very young! In fact, I would be so bold as to say that when it comes to new ideas, I have the mind of a child . . . one where all possibilities exist.

 

In fact, when it comes to new ideas, modelling children is the way to go. Their curiosity, inquisitiveness, desire to understand and freedom from limitations allows them to create an infinite amount of possibilities. Their “land of make believe” is a perfect place to exist when trying to solve a problem. Not all the ideas will be viable, of course, but the quantity of new ideas will be astounding!

 

READ HOW THIS APPLIES TO YOUR BUSINESS here.

 

I was recently asked a question by one of my clients and I noticed that I paused for what seemed like an eternity before I responded to them.

 

I imagine some might say I paused or am slower in my thinking because I am getting old(er). Some might say it is because I am insightful and want to consider what I am saying. And others might say I am simply doing it for effect.

 

But none of those is true.

 

This is why I pause —

 

The other day when I was biking I saw what appeared to be a thick tree limb split wide open on the side of the road, perhaps from one of the many storms that passed through the area this summer.

 

However, as I got closer to the limb I saw that it was not one branch, but in fact two separate branches with a yellowing leaf between them. And neither of the limbs were split open. It was the arrangement of the three objects that gave the appearance of one large limb that had been split open.

 

thought1You see, I pause in my thinking and observation not because I am old(er) or more insightful or trying to give effect.

 

I pause . . . I must pause . . . because I think I know.

 

I have seen and witnessed enough in my life to think I know. When I see or hear something, I am quick to categorize and label it, perhaps as something similar to what I have seen or heard in the past.

 

But conclusion based on assumption is dangerous and can lead to many mistakes in thinking and action.

 

If we can’t see things with new eyes, truly see and hear things as they actually are rather than what we THINK they are, then we must be aware enough to pause and consider all possibilities before speaking or acting.

 

This is why I pause, and why it is so important for me to do so. I want to consider the truth of what is before me rather than what I think I already know.

 

It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.
 

– Epictetus

 

Interacting with people and the world around us with an attitude of “I already know” is an epidemic these days. We all have retreated to “our sides” and we only wish to hear what we agree with or already believe to be true. Whether it is the media we listen to and read, our friends on Facebook, or our community groups, we surround ourselves mostly with information that supports our already established point of view.

 

Unfortunately, interacting with the world in this way will only limit our learning, our ability to think differently, and our ability to see the world as it truly is. And if that is how we truly wish to go through life, than we might as well lock ourselves in a room and spend the rest of our days in the dark.

 

The world can only truly be experienced by venturing out. We must consider other ideas, other people, and other beliefs if we are to be fully alive. We must venture out from the confining cage of thought we have built for ourselves and seek new truths.

 

READ HOW THIS APPLIES TO YOUR BUSINESS here.

My friend Brian and I take a photo journey each year to one of our country’s spectacular national parks. Our journeys have allowed us to drink in the amazing beauty our country offers – Acadia in Maine, Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, Big Bend in Texas, Canyonlands in Utah, Lassen in California and so many more.

 

This July our destination was Olympic National Park in Washington state. Choosing Olympic in July meant one thing – this trip, like most of our trips, was not a vacation.

 

Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park

You see, Brian is an excellent photographer (view more of his fantastic photography here), which means our trips revolve around chasing the light of dawn and dusk. The first light of day on this trip was at 5:00 AM, and the last light of day was around 9:45 PM. That meant we were up at 4:00 AM to capture a sunrise and not back to our hotel room until 10:30 PM after the sun’s candle went dim.

 

Given that we didn’t get to bed until midnight, we essentially got 4 hours of sleep each night. Let’s face it, that’s not sleep . . . that’s a nap.

 

Yet, even though many of those never-ending days were filled with long 10-mile hikes, aching muscles, and carrying heavy backpacks filled with camera equipment, food and water, every minute of the day was exhilarating! We were never tired. In fact, it was the opposite. We were alert, alive and excited!

 

This experience powerfully demonstrated the importance of doing what you love and doing something that stimulates your mind and body. Whether that is exploring nature, working with children, mastering a sport, building a business, being a parent, practicing and art form, or anything else that fills your heart, the power of that passion is immeasurable. And to do anything less with your precious time – the short 24,528 days we are here on earth – is the true definition of dying.

 

What is it I want to do with the one precious, wild thing called my life? Where am I in my great dream called my life? Where have I allowed my fire to go dim?

Anais Nin

 

Howard Thurman once wrote, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” The message here is abundantly clear and I probably don’t need to say much more. Rather, I will simply encourage you to ensure that somehow in your precious life you take time to do something that stimulates your passions and makes you come alive.

 

READ HOW THIS APPLIES TO YOUR BUSINESS here.

 

I was honored to write the following for my colleague Susan Mazza’s website, Random Acts of Leadership, one of the top leadership blogs on the Internet.

 
 

There is one mindset that is absolutely paralyzing to individuals and organizations alike.

 

It is one that creates a victim mentality of helplessness among individuals and steals leadership power from organizations.

 

It is the “they/their/them” mindset.

  • “They” better do something.
  • It is “their” fault.
  • It is up to “them.”

 

Thankfully I discovered the panacea to this horrendous malady impacting our organizations today.

 

flamenco-594272_1280Simply put, it takes one to tango.

 

I know that goes against conventional wisdom and that well known cliché, but I have seen its powerful truth demonstrated in my own life.

 

Many years ago I decided I wanted a closer, more demonstrative relationship with my brother and Dad. I know we loved each other, but we didn’t say or show it often. Let’s face it, we were typical guys.

 

No longer satisfied with this kind of relationship with the men I love and cherish deeply, I decided that every time I saw my Dad or brother I would greet them with a hug. And every time I said good-bye, I would give them a hug and tell them I love them. I was not attached to the outcome. And I was not attached to whether or not they reciprocated. This was something that I wanted to do that was important to me.

 

As you can imagine, in the beginning of this little game things were a bit awkward. When I hugged my brother he would make funny faces, resist a bit, and wonder what the hell I was doing. My Dad didn’t resist, but he also didn’t reciprocate. Hugging both of them was a bit like hugging a fish. In these initial stages, it felt more like I was doing something to them. But that was OK. I was committed to my action and the communication of my love for them.

 

This went on for many, many months. I honestly don’t recall how long, but it was quite a while.

 

Then magic happened. I will never forget either of these unbelievable days for the rest of my life.

 

One day as I was leaving my Dad’s house I was preoccupied with where I needed to be next. I said good-bye to my Dad and turned to walk to my car without practicing my usual ritual of hugging. From behind me as I walked away I heard my Dad say, “Aren’t you forgetting something?” I turned around to see my Dad’s arms spread as wide as an eagle’s, waiting to envelop me in a huge hug.

 

Best. Hug. Ever!!!

 

Some time after that, I was driving my brother to the airport as he was leaving to go on a trip for the US Fencing team. As usual, I drove him to the door where his airline was located, wished him a good trip and waited for him to grab his bags out of the back seat of the car. I nearly fainted when he said, “Hold on, I want to give you a hug.” I still tear up thinking about that moment. It was a huge breakthrough in our relationship as brothers and made us ever closer.

 

The lesson I learned from this little experiment was that when it comes to leadership, changing behaviors and transforming our relationships, contrary to the familiar saying . . . it actually takes just one to tango.

 

Let him that would move the world, first move himself.

– Socrates

 

All too often when we desire change in our lives we wait for others to initiate it and lead. Or maybe we pray for a miracle and hope that the change will magically happen. While I am all for miracles, this approach steals from us one of the most amazing superpowers we humans possess — the ability to manifest our desires.

 

In the 20 years that I have been involved with coaching and business acceleration, I have witnessed countless examples of people proving that we can indeed create just about any change we desire. And it isn’t really that difficult. It starts as a desire in our heart, moves to a thought and plan, transforms into action, and then almost without fail turns into results.

 

There is no need to make it more difficult than that. Adding anything else just complicates the process and clouds the results.

 

READ HOW THIS APPLIES TO YOUR BUSINESS here.

 

Twenty-five years ago I made a powerful choice. I decided to step away from the conventional J.O.B. path most people follow out of college and I left the security of being an employee.

 

I realize that in today’s self-employment economy that is not a big deal, but 25 years ago not many people were making that choice.

 

I don’t regret my decision for a second, but I think I am just now beginning to understand the impact of my choice. There were a few years along this path where I made $0. There were many nights where all I ate for dinner was rice or pasta. And there were many, many years where I spent little, if anything, on extravagances – vacations, movies, eating out, dating, gifts for friends, etc.

 

It created a life where today I live from my needs, rather than my wants. It is a wonderful life that I am ever grateful for.

 

Recently, however, I have been blessed with more financial abundance. Of course, given my past, abundance is relative. Nonetheless, for someone who lives from his needs, the abundance is blissful. Many of the things I sacrificed over the past 25 years have returned, the greatest of which is my ability to once again share my heart through gifts to friends and family.

 

Surprisingly though, something else showed up with this abundance that is quite unwanted . . .

 

pile of food 6Waste, carelessness and gluttony.

 

I noticed it most in my buying habits around food, which has always been a treasured ritual for me. More junk food and sweets started to show up in my shopping cart. Items on which I would never “waste” money – let alone the calories – made their way into my home. Chips, cookies, and candy now became a weekly indulgence.

 

I also noticed that I wasted more food. Whereas before I would NEVER throw away food, now I was throwing out food that I unthinkingly overbought and didn’t get around to eating, or perhaps it just didn’t quite taste as good as I hoped.

 

Finally, I also found that my attitude around spending went from one of absolute vigilance to one where if I wasted $5 or $10 dollars here or there, “Eh, no big deal.”

 

While I LOVE this new abundance and welcome it with an open heart, this all bothers me deeply.

 

Waste is waste. It’s just a lot more important and painful when there isn’t as much to spare.

 

While I am still deciding what changes I will make, I thought it was important to share this as we think about and celebrate spring, renewal and Earth Day.

 

As one of the richest nations on the planet, I wonder what this attitude of waste must look like when it is extrapolated out to 320 million people.

 

“Be simple to fill life with abundance.”

Debasish Mridha

 

Perhaps the most beautiful and valuable gift I was given as I walked my path the past 25 years was how to live a simple life. How to live a fulfilling and loving life based on my needs rather than my wants. At the end of the day, we really do not have that many needs. If I have a roof over my head, a bed to sleep in, and a refrigerator full of food, I consider my life quite abundant and blessed.

 

It is amazing how much peace that perspective has given me in life.

 

READ HOW THIS APPLIES TO YOUR BUSINESS here.

 

Thirty years ago I was speeding north on a New Jersey interstate in my new Nissan 200SX. I don’t recall where I was coming from, or where I was going, but I do remember what happened that particular day.

 

As I zipped along in 5th gear, I passed a scene we only see on reality TV these days. A young woman, completely decked out in her beautiful, billowing white wedding dress, and a tall man in a tuxedo, were standing beside their car on the shoulder of the road. As I raced past I smiled, put my car into neutral, pulled over to the side of the road and then backed up to their car.

 

I got out and greeted them with a friendly “hello” and asked if they needed help, thinking that perhaps I could drop them off at the next exit or go to a gas station and get them a tow truck. It was a nice thought, but that wasn’t exactly in the cards.

 

I could understand what they were saying for the most part, but English was their second language. What I gathered was that it was their wedding day, the wedding was in 2 hours, the church was 45 minutes away, and their car was no longer working.

 

That changed my plans.

 

I told them that if they could fit into my little Nissan, I would happily take them to the church. While my car technically had 4 seats, it really only seated 2 comfortably. Nonetheless, we folded the big guy in the tux into the backseat, his knees practically touching his chin, and the fair princess in white climbed into the front seat. I swear the fluffiness of her dress filled the whole cabin of the car.

 

It was a fun drive to the church as I learned about their lives and their hopes for the future. It was a great day and I was happy to help out.

 

Fast forward to this past Wednesday.

 

It was dark. Probably 7:30 in the evening and I was just getting home from one of my clients. I turned left to go up a wooded, poorly lit, windy road when I saw some flares on the right side of the road near a broken down car. I shifted into 3rd gear, paused a moment as I wondered if they needed help, then pressed down on my gas pedal, and zipped past them. “Why bother?” I thought. “These days everyone has a cell phone and can call for help.”

 

Man did that suck and feel bad.

 

While smartphone technology is fantastic, and has certainly done amazing things for the way we live our lives, I do think it’s tearing at the fabric of community.

 

As if to accentuate that point, the next day I saw young mother walking with her newborn baby. They were both taking advantage of the amazing spring weather we’ve had recently. The baby was in a cute, little, navy blue stroller. The Mom was dressed in bright yellow and had both her hands on the handle as she pushed her baby. And in her hands, between the baby’s face and hers, was a black, big-screen smartphone. Nice bonding.

 

And we wonder why our children just want to get their hands on our electronics.

 

human connection 7Don’t get me wrong. Even though I don’t use much of it, I think technology is AMAZING. I love seeing all the fantastic things we can do with our new inventions. But what worries me most is that we aren’t engaging with it consciously. We are letting the technology rule our lives and it is leading to a distance between parents and children, between couples, between friends, between us humans. The divide is becoming more pronounced, and in its wake I fear is the death of community.

 

I believe you will have far more satisfaction in life by connecting with another human rather than connecting with your electronics. I encourage you to put them down and remember what it is like to make eye contact with someone you care about and be fully present to them.

 

Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end.

– Henry David Thoreau

 

A lot has been written about the problems and distractions created by our smartphones.

 

I’ve heard from teachers about how students find it harder to talk to each other or make eye contact. I’ve heard the horrible news stories about how someone was texting just before a car accident. I’ve been on numerous calls with friends and clients while they are driving when I hear them say, “Shoot, I just missed my exit.” We all have been with a friend or business colleague who was more focused on their smartphone than on us.

 

I’m wise enough to know we will never stop the advance of technology. But that same wisdom tells me that the 10 minutes of undivided attention and listening that I gift to someone may actually change their life.

 

In my opinion, that makes for a a very easy choice.

 

READ HOW THIS APPLIES TO YOUR BUSINESS here.