I went to Florida and all I got was a lesson on the duality of life

I recently spent a weekend in St. Augustine, Florida for a celebration of life ceremony for a dear aunt that passed due to Alzheimer.

Alzheimer has a commanding presence in the story of my dad’s family.

In a family of six siblings, two of my aunts have passed on as a result of Alzheimer, two are currently progressing through stages of it (my dad being one of them) and the other two (both 65+) don’t show any indication of having it.

Yet, this weekend was a reminder that it’s not the only narrative, let alone the most important one.

For two days, we gathered as family – aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, friends – to celebrate the life of my aunt. For many of us it had been nearly a decade since we last gathered. Yet, we picked up where we last left off. Time had not diminished our bonds.

One evening, we gathered at the beach to spread the ashes of my aunt into the ocean. We told stories and reflected on the impact she had made. We waded into the ocean, said our goodbyes and spread her ashes into the waves. When we had finished, the remaining siblings (my dad, aunt and uncle) all got together to take a picture.

As they posed, I felt overcome by grief. It was a moment together after many years apart. Yet, it was incomplete.

The absence of both my aunts was felt and seen. It was beautiful to see my dad and his remaining siblings and heartbreaking to know that these moments wouldn’t last forever. I couldn’t help but wonder who would be missing from the picture the next time we all gathered. Would there even be a next time?

In that moment, I was reminded of how life can be a paradox. It is both the beautiful certainty of the present and a hopeful uncertainty for the future.

It’s a hard pill to swallow, but the lesson is an important one all the same; life is not just one thing – it is joy and grief, it is significant and insignificant, it is backward-looking and ever-forward.

Wherever life may find you at this moment, here’s hoping you can find the beauty in it despite the challenges it brings.

The Irrelevant Motivations of a Flower

In a recent meeting with my coach, I began telling him of a challenge I was facing.

I’ve been feeling burnt out at work. I’ve been having difficulty connecting the work I am doing to anything meaningful. I talked about the behaviors I was trying to change to help me approach this problem. I thought perhaps my motivations and intentions just weren’t aligned and I needed to find a way to connect them back to the work.

He sat there listening. I finally asked him to challenge my thinking, to help me see my blind spot.

He told me a story.

When a flower is wilting or looks like it hasn’t been cared for, nobody questions the flowers’ intentions. Nobody says “That flower is unmotivated. It just needs to try harder or find a better way to grow if it wants to succeed at being a flower.”

The flower is just doing what it does. Rather, we examine the environment that let the flower get to its current state. Has it gotten enough water? Is it in a place with adequate sunlight that will allow it to flourish? Does it have enough nourishment?

If we’re trying to change our behavior, it’s important we examine our motivation and intention. Doing so helps us hone our self-awareness.

Yet, our ability to thrive may have nothing to do with our motivation. We’d be wise to expand the lens and assess our environment.

Passion isn’t a liability (Why finding the right tribe is your biggest asset).

As a teen, I remember multiple times where I was ready to abandon who I was completely.

All instances involved teenage love. I would develop a crush. That crush would like someone else and I’d mope about wishing I was that person. I failed to appreciate who I was or lacked the confidence to embrace it. All I told myself was that I was not good enough.

I’m far removed from that period in my life and experience has shown me that things don’t always work out how we hope they do. There are people or situations or careers or organizations that don’t align with who we are. There is nothing particularly profound in this realization.

And yet, we stay at jobs we know are not well-suited for us. We stay with people that don’t bring out the best in us. We adjust our behaviors to belong to certain groups. We have difficulty letting go of a narrative that was never true, hoping it’ll get better.

It isn’t until we find our tribe that we see the folly in our thought and actions. When we find our people, they help us realize that, like a death metal band longing to belong in a room full of classical music fans, we’ve been playing to the wrong audience.

Your people are out there; those that encourage and inspire you to be you to the best of your abilities.

And when you find them, keep them close. These are the people you’ll remember along your journey of life.

Life’s too short not to be inspired.

If you’re feeling stuck or in a place where you keep hoping those around you will change but nothing ever does, try looking elsewhere.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting better.

But if better requires you to abandon yourself and be someone completely different, you’re most likely in the wrong environment.

Stop apologizing for your passion, your vision, and your goals.

The right tribe will help you fully realize them.

Don’t stop, just keep going (An antidote for Impostor Syndrome)

Let everyone else call your idea crazy . . . just keep going. Don’t stop. Don’t even think about stopping until you get there, and don’t give much thought to where “there” is. Whatever comes, just don’t stop.

Phil Knight (Founder of Nike), Shoe Dog

Who am I to do this?

Why would anyone listen to me?

What do I know about this compared to others in this space?

Impostor syndrome is something we’ll all face at some point or another, especially when attempting to do or learn something new.

It’s best we acknowledge the voice of fear when it appears. Ignoring it will only make it grow worse.

But acknowledgement is not the same as acceptance.

If we decide to give the fear power over our actions, impostor syndrome becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. An impostor cares only about external validation.

Focus less on what others may think and more on the long-term journey of mastery.

And when you fail (because you inevitably will), the best way to combat becoming an impostor is to just keep going.

Whatever you do, just don’t stop.

The Glovebox

It’s not really for gloves anymore, yet the name remains.

While what it represents may have evolved, this antiquated idea has persisted.

If an idea as simple as this has stood the test of time what else has persisted that we accept as is?

If anything, the glovebox is a reminder to practice unseeing what we’ve seen and accepted for so long.

What’s possible often involves rethinking what is for what could be.

The Purpose-Driven Leader Manifesto

1. Sustainability is the foundation. Because you cannot win an infinite game. Rather, the goal is to be infinite minded and contribute to the game so it can be played indefinitely.

2. Trust is everything. If people don’t trust you, they won’t give a damn about your vision. If you don’t trust people, you’ll never advance your vision.

3. Name your values. Know your why. Advance your vision. You cannot live into what you cannot define. Clarity alone is insufficient without congruent action.

4. Leadership is a practice. It’s not defined by a title or any single act. It’s a disciplined choice you make to show up through daily action even when you don’t control the outcomes.

5. Humility over modesty. Curiosity over arrogance. Generosity over scarcity. Own your strengths, don’t flaunt them; maintain curiosity over what you don’t know; develop a bias towards generosity.

6. Prioritize self-care and development. Never apologize for investing in yourself. Burn-out is not a badge of honor, it’s a failure of leadership. 

7. Embrace the Paradox of AND. Change requires us to hold two opposing ideas as truth (our vision for a future not yet realized AND the reality of challenges in the present); beware the tyranny of all-or-nothing and either/or thinking.

8. Pursue Mastery. Find joy in the doing. Learn the skills of leadership and pass on to others.

9. Listen and reflect. Avoid the ivory tower. Listen with empathy to remain grounded and reflect to hone self-awareness

10. Doubt is often a sign you’re on the right path. The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek. Lean into the tension of hard things and do the work. 

The Knowing of Writing

One of the most curious things I have yet to understand is why I write. What about writing pulls me towards it like it does?

Sometimes I have a perspective or point of view I want to share with the world – such as when I write my thoughts on leadership, purpose or mindfulness.

Other times, I am compelled to share a story or experience that feels insightful with others who may find it useful.

And sometimes, I write to capture special moments that I want to emphasize and give meaning to in the larger narrative of my life. In this instance, I write to remember.

Either way, I write. And I’ve found that when I don’t write, something feels off – jittery almost. It’s as if I fail to write, then I’m not contributing to some larger context. It can spiral into an existential crisis, in the dramatic all-or-nothing thinking I’m susceptible to.

I just finished reading Glennon Doyle’s Untamed and I think I finally understand why.

In it she writes about The Knowing. The Knowing is that feeling we have deep inside ourselves that speaks truth to us. It’s our intuition, our gut feeling, that part that biology has helped us fine tune for millennia.

We all have The Knowing. In her book she shares the following on how to tap into it:

HOW TO KNOW:
Moment of uncertainty arises
Breathe, turn inward, sink.
Feel around for the Knowing.
Do the next thing it nudges you toward.
Let it stand. (Don’t explain.)
Repeat forever.
(For the rest of your life: Continue to shorten the gap between the Knowing and the doing.)

Writing is something I just know I need to do. I do not know why.

Perhaps writing is my opportunity to practice connecting with my knowing. It is the lesson upon which I learn to close a gap between knowing and doing and can then apply it in different contexts.

After all, isn’t the gap between knowing and doing where life is lived – our opportunity to live in the present?

Whatever the reason, the Knowing’s greatest lesson is in teaching us to trust ourselves.

I’m learning to trust myself.

And so, I write.

We’d be wise not to ignore that part of us that moves us towards the truest version of ourselves.

When all-or-nothing thinking becomes nothing at all

I sit reflecting on the first week of my digital detox and I have a curious thought. I’m not sure I could have made it this long a couple years ago.

I pause to consider this and find that I agree with this thought. I laugh to myself as if enough time has finally passed that such a pathetic truth is finally funny.

You see, while this is the first time I’ve done a digital detox, it isn’t the first time I‘ve set a goal with the desired outcome resulting in a specific behavior change.

The scar tissue on my ego was formed by the long trail of failed self-experiments.

In hindsight, I can see that past failed experiments had very common shape to them. I’d obsess over the goal and carefully plan it out. I would build it into a grandiose thing in my mind and pump myself up. I’d sprint out of the gate filled with zealous determination. Yet, something would inevitably go wrong. I’d stumble a bit and get back on the path but with my determination shaken. The wind in my sails would eventually die down and I’d give up.

Months would pass. My ego would mend and I’d think up the next goal, making it bigger than the last one (as if the reason I failed was because my goal hadn’t been big enough)

This happened for years every time I tried to improve my diet or build an early morning exercise routine or develop a writing practice or make a habit of mediation or try to read more often.

I could never do it how I envisioned. Dejected, I’d eventually give up. I became blinded by my own mental distortion.

So what makes this experiment different?

I finally understand the truth of discipline.

It’s not rigid, like I once thought. It doesn’t live in perfectionism’s shadow. It isn’t all or nothing.

Rather, it’s about having the humility to show up each day (especially after I’ve failed). It is the ability to get back on the horse. Nothing more, nothing less.

This means that even after an epic failure – like realizing I spent the last 15 minutes lost in my phone (like a techno-zombie) within hours of waking up on day one of my detox – I don’t beat myself over it. Just because I failed, doesn’t make me a failure.

Rather, I reflect on how it happened. I adjust accordingly and start over without the emotional heft of self-criticism. After all, if I fail to learn from it, can I rightfully call it an experiment?

This is discipline.

You just have to show up.

Once you do, you’ll find it’s nearly impossible to not continue moving forward.

The future looks bright

We are seated for dinner when my oldest daughter starts telling us about her day.

She shares that her first grade class didn’t get to take part in certain PE activities because several students were being rowdy and weren’t listening to the teacher.

We ask her to elaborate.

“Jamison (name changed) had been chanting ‘Boys rule and girls drool’” she says.

My wife responds with empathy, “yeah, that wasn’t a very nice thing to say, was it?”

Isla looks at my wife and with a slight look of confusion replies, “I don’t even understand why he said that.”

I jokingly jump in, “You know what you should have said back to him?” And I break out singing Queen Bey’s infamous girl anthem ‘Run the World (Girls)’ thinking this is an opportunity to light-heartedly teach her to be confident with who she is.

After a few seconds of humoring me, Isla looks back at me and responds, “No, Papi,” clearly annoyed and in a tone that indicates I should be taking this more seriously. “He should have actually said ‘Girls rule. Boys rule. And no one drools’”

I look at her, slightly stunned by the wisdom and kindness of her comment – how naturally it came to her. I’m able to see the world through the eyes of a six year old and it’s one of equality.

It seems, she’s the one with something to teach me.

And for a fleeting moment, I feel hopeful about the future before we carry on with our dinner conversation.

What it takes to be the best

It is not large and grandiose. It is not showy. It does not draw attention to itself. It is not the result of any individual action or decision.

Rather, it is like a river whittling away at rocks along the waters edge. It is steady. It is patient. It is mostly unnoticeable from day to day. It is the sum of consistent effort.

It a choice available to each of us. It is a commitment to care for the little things because we can all do small things greatly.

It is not a culture that praises the unending Herculean effort and results in burn out and exhaustion.

It is the choice to sustain, to undertake an effort with an eye on the long-term. However, such choice carries uncertainty when compared to the one-and-done effort. When convenience is the status quo, the long road appears risky. Yet, it’s because of the commitment required, excellence inherently weeds out those unwilling to stick with it.

There is no hack to be the best. It is not something you are born with, yet it’s available to anyone. But, you must be curious and willing to engage for the long haul.

Slow down, find your practice and commit to the journey. The world may not reward you but the true payoff is in the opportunity to test yourself within a disciplined practice.