Category Archives: Present

Yahtzee Lessons

I was probably seven when Grandma Anne taught me to play Yahtzee.  I’d spend the night at her house with my cousin, Devin, and invariably, we’d be at her kitchen table, playing Yahtzee all afternoon.

It’s a simple game…on the surface.

Each player gets thirteen turns to complete their score card.

The top section of the score card consists of numbers 1 thru 6.  You need to roll three ones, three twos, three threes, etc. to get your “minimums.”  You could also roll four fives (or four of anything), which comes in handy if you were only able to roll two threes on a previous turn.  The idea on the top section is to score at least 63 total points, so you can get the 35-point bonus.

Yahtzee! scores 50 points.  That’s when you get all five dice to be the same during your turn.  Some players focus solely on getting Yahtzee at the expense of everything else.  The theory being that 50 points is huge, and if you get a second Yahtzee that one’s worth 100.  Of course, the odds of getting a Yahtzee are against you, but the payoff is big when it happens.

Grandma was always clear that while a Yahtzee is nice, the most consistent winning strategy is to get your bonus on the top section.  Rely on those 35 points as your foundation.  A Yahtzee, or a big four-of-a-kind on the bottom section of the score card would be icing on the cake.

Relying on the foundational 35 and less on the Yahtzee probably explains many of the best decisions I’ve made in life.

Each turn, you roll five dice to start.  You get two more rolls in your turn.  Depending on what the dice show after your first roll, you may not need to take those additional rolls.  Life is good when you roll a complete large straight or a Yahtzee on your first roll!

The bottom section of the score card has three-of-a-kind, four-of-a-kind, full house, small straight, large straight, Yahtzee! and Chance.

Chance comes into play when you’re rolling for something that doesn’t happen.  Like, you already have your small straight, and now you’re rolling to complete a large straight.  Unfortunately, that last number doesn’t come up.  You count-up the total of all the dice and enter that number into Chance.

Chance is a lot like a mulligan in golf.  A do-over.  In this case, you get to capture some points even though the rolls failed to produce.  They say there are no do-over’s in life, but I disagree.  There are plenty of second chances, if you’re willing to ask for forgiveness (mostly from yourself), learn from your mistake(s) (hopefully), and try again.

How often do three sixes come up in a roll?  How likely is it that you’ll be able to roll that one specific number you need to complete your straight or full house?  When you’ve used up your Chance spot, and your rolls have led to nothing, which slot are you willing to sacrifice to end this turn?  Odds and decisions.

Yahtzee seems like a game of chance.  It’s much more.  It’s a game of decisions and imperfect trade-offs.

After a while, we graduated to playing Triple Yahtzee, which entails playing three games simultaneously.  You get 39 turns.  One column is worth triple points, one is double points, and the last column is regular points.

The decisions and trade-offs from the “Single Yahtzee” game are in play, but now you want to maximize the point values in your triple column and consider sacrificing some of the slots in the regular column.

Don’t be fooled.  Mastering Triple Yahtzee isn’t just triple the challenge.  As in real life, something that should be only triple the challenge is often exponentially more challenging than it first appears.

What is the answer to all this exponential chaos?  Methodical effort and focused strategy.  The priorities and the strategy are defined.  The decisions that follow from these priorities become clear.  Maybe even simple.

There’s a certain genius in showing a seven-year-old the game of Yahtzee.  They haven’t fully formed their approach to decision making.  Success, failure, decisions, and sacrifices are in play with every turn.  Excellent practice for the real thing.

Yahtzee illustrates how something completely random and driven by chance can be managed within a solid set of priorities and strategies.

I didn’t just get to learn about rolling dice, counting numbers, and making decisions.  Grandma gave me the gift of lasting memories that I cherish to this day, playing Yahtzee at her kitchen table.

Now that I have six (!) grandkids of my own, I can’t wait to teach them the game of Yahtzee…and then, Triple Yahtzee!

Photo by Lea Böhm on Unsplash

 

 

Advice for College Graduates

It’s graduation season.  An exciting time!  For the college graduate, this is an especially challenging time (whether the graduate realizes it or not).  With other graduations that led up to this one (kindergarten, sixth grade, eighth grade, even twelfth grade), there wasn’t much of an expectation placed on the graduate to have things figured out.

Those prior graduations were mostly about celebrating the achievement and passing a milestone on the way to adulthood.

College graduation is different.  The college graduate is supposed to know “what they’ll be doing with their life,” or “where they’re going after graduation.”  The real world is out there waiting for them to take it by the horns and wrestle it to the ground!

Everyone assumes that since the college graduate spent most of their life getting an education, now’s the time when they should be ready to leap into the next stage of their life.  Ready to go forth and conquer…following their dream and delivering on all that potential they’ve been gathering.

Listen to almost any commencement speech (there are some excellent ones on YouTube).  The speeches often contain solid advice, encouragement, and usually a bit of a life story of the person giving the speech.

I’ve never delivered a commencement speech.  I’m not sure how I’d approach such a talk, or what personal stories I’d tell.  But, I know that my commencement speech would, at a minimum, cover this short list of items:

Life doesn’t come with an answer key.

The answer key is the Holy Grail of any textbook.  Put simply, it contains all the answers.  It can quickly tell us if we’re right or wrong.  Of course, life doesn’t come with an answer key.  In fact, many of the toughest problems you’ll face don’t have specific right or wrong answers.

To make it even more challenging, something that’s right for one person or situation is wrong for another.

How will you know when you’re right?  You won’t get that luxury very often in life.  But, I’ve found that when I narrow my focus on a problem or question down to its impact solely on me, I usually make the wrong choice.  When I consider how the outcome of a problem or question will impact the people I love, the people I work with, and the people that rely on me, I usually make far better decisions.

Nobody will tell you if this or that will be on the exam.

This is sort of related to number one.  The reality is that there are very few final exams in life, and nobody will tell you what’s on the exam.  It’s up to you to determine what’s most important, not only to yourself but to your audience.  In this case, your audience is anyone that matters to you.  This could be a boss, a loved one, a work associate, or all of the above at the same time.

The project, assignment, or paper that’s due at the end of the semester doesn’t exist in the real world.

Sure, there will be deadlines, but the semester doesn’t end. Even if you’re working on a project at work, the work doesn’t end when you turn in that project.  That project is probably part of an even larger project or set of projects that are all part of some larger strategy.

The project isn’t the goal, even when it’s consuming all your time and attention.  Understanding how this project fits into the overall mission is what matters.  When you learn to think about the bigger-picture goals, while focusing on the specifics of the project at hand, you’ll leap ahead of most people.

But, what if your work doesn’t seem to be part of anything larger.  Maybe it isn’t, but that still doesn’t mean that it ends when you turn it in.  Chances are that the work you’ve completed will take on a life of its own, and you’ll get to see that happen.  You’ll also be called to defend it, especially when things go wrong.  And, if you stay around long enough, you may be the person who works to replace the result of your prior work with a new and improved version.

To be successful, you must be willing to seek out the best solutions to problems and new challenges, even when those new solutions make something you did in the past obsolete.

Get used to the concept of constructive destruction, because it’s with you all the time.  There’s a quote about the caterpillar thinking everything was over just before turning into a butterfly.  For the butterfly to emerge, the caterpillar must cease to exist.  In fact, the caterpillar works its entire life to fulfill the goal of destroying itself so it can become the butterfly.

When you create something or become part of something that’s successful, always be on the lookout for ways to improve upon that success.  Celebrate the success, but never be satisfied.  Always look for ways to tear down what you’ve built to make room for a new way of achieving that success.  Trust me, if you’re not looking for, and embracing new possibilities, your competition will.

Life doesn’t divide itself into perfectly scheduled segments like school does.

This isn’t entirely true.  Life has years, and each year has four quarters.  When each year ends, you’ll be asked to look back (if only briefly) and tell Uncle Sam about how you did, financially.  And, Uncle Sam will want to share in whatever you did in the prior year.

Most companies, whether privately- or publicly-held (or governmental agencies) operate on an annual financial reporting calendar.  They look at their performance monthly, quarterly, and annually.  This cycle will become a constant for you in almost any line of work.  It’s a cycle that will have even greater importance to you as your level of responsibility within an organization grows.

What did you do this year?  How does that compare to last year?  How does this quarter compare to the same quarter last year?  What are you expecting to happen in the next quarter, the next year?

Ironically, one thing most people are missing when they graduate is a working knowledge of how income taxes, property taxes, Social Security taxes, Medicare taxes, and the IRS operate.

Always think of your accounting systems (whether personal or business) as a conversation between you and the IRS.  Be prepared for a conversation with an IRS auditor, always maintain copious records of your financial activities, and take an active role in planning your financial strategies with their tax implications in mind.  The day may never come where you’re asked to defend yourself in an audit, but if you’re purposely and actively preparing for that day, it won’t be a problem.

This reminds me to mention that as smart as you are, you will need some expert advisors in your lifetime.  Examples are CPA’s, financial planners, insurance agents, and attorneys.  Don’t be afraid of these folks.  In fact, seek them out as early in your life as possible.  They will help you understand a complex web of rules and strategies that are best to learn when you’re young.  Don’t wait twenty years to find these people.  By then, you’ve probably caused a bunch of financial damage for yourself without even knowing it.  On all things financial, start early, be consistent, and understand that you aren’t as smart as you think you are when it comes to finance.  None of us are.

Mentors matter more than money. 

Hopefully, by now you’ve had at least one teacher, coach, or professor who you can call a mentor.  They pushed you farther than you thought you could go.  They asked all the tough questions…and then they took the time to listen to you and challenge some of the nonsense you gave as your answers.

I can’t over-emphasize the importance of mentors in your life.  Find them, listen to them, and let them elevate you beyond anything you can imagine.

One thing most of us need is a little more humility, and openness to new ideas.  A good mentor is great for tearing down the barriers we erect around ourselves to shield us from our humility.

Mentors tell you what just happened in that meeting where you thought everything went great, but the opposite is true.

They tell you the “why” when you’re only thinking about the “what” of a situation.

Building lasting relationships is more important than money.

This is a cousin to the one about mentors.  Friends and loved ones bring beauty to our lives.  If you’re presented with a set of career options that force you to sacrifice your friends and loved ones along the way, find new options.  It’s as simple as that.

I’ve heard that if you have a friend for 10 years, they become a family member to you on a subconscious level.  I buy this theory, wholeheartedly.

Lasting relationships are built.  They take time.  They take effort.  They take patience.  They require you to care about someone else at least as much as you care about yourself.

By the way, it’s much easier to get a job when you’re referred or recommended by a friend.  It’s also an awesome feeling to know that you helped one of your friends find a rewarding career.

Okay, we’re running out of time, so here are some rapid-fire things to remember (in no particular order):

  • The popular kids aren’t always the ones with the answers or the ones having the best time. Seek out the quiet ones, the ones who spend their time listening more than speaking.

 

  • Be sure to attend as many weddings as possible. As a college graduate, you’ll get your fill of weddings for the next 5-7 years.  Enjoy them.  Let the positive vibes energize you.

 

  • Listening is the key to your success. Always be ready to listen.  You’ll find a lot more correct answers in your life when you listen.

 

  • Resist the temptation to panic. It’s easy to become overwhelmed or perceive yourself as being overwhelmed, and then to panic. Panic is a fight-or-flight mechanism and usually doesn’t have any use in our daily lives. This may sound easy to you now, but you’ll face more than your share of “panic-worthy” moments in your life.  Don’t panic!

 

  • If you’ve made a bad decision, make another decision and undo the bad one. Don’t just live with your bad decision. This also sounds easy, but this is a tricky one.  Things like pride, sunk costs, and pride (yep, it deserves to be repeated) will get in your way (if you allow them).

 

  • Don’t waste time second-guessing your choices. “Wait!?” you’re saying.  “What about the one above that talks about having the courage to change a bad decision?”  You’ll make lots of decisions that aren’t bad, and still, you’ll be tempted to second-guess them.  The challenge with most decisions is that the other alternative has its attraction.  This means you may be tempted to look back and let your mind imagine how things could be if only you’d chosen that other good alternative.  This is a fool’s errand.  It’s a form of self-torture and most of us are experts at it.

 

  • You are the most powerful enemy you’ll ever face. You know all the right buttons to push.  You know all your weaknesses, all your fears.  You know how to discredit your strengths.  You have the most unfair advantage against yourself of anyone.  That’s what makes you such a powerful enemy.

 

Last but not least.  Your life is a journey, not a destination.  If my daughters are reading this, I bet they’re rolling their eyes because they heard this a lot when they were kids.  It’s so simple that it’s become a cliché.

Understand that with each finish line you cross (and you’ve just crossed a big one by graduating from college), there’s an infinite number of new starting lines waiting for you.  I don’t mention this to overwhelm you, but as a reminder that your journey is continuous and it’s where you’ll find the most happiness.

Find joy in each day…even the hard days when everything seems to be going against you.  Enjoy the mundane chores of life.  Embrace the quiet but don’t be afraid to make lots of noise.  After all, shouldn’t this journey we’re on be filled with fun?

Enjoy the small pleasures that come from being present in the moment, present for the people you love, and aware of just how fortunate you are to be alive each and every day.

 

Photo by Vasily Koloda on Unsplash

 

 

 

Fishing and Catching–Bruce Kerner Style

Bruce Kerner loved to fish.  He didn’t get to fish often.  He was a sign painter for various studios and was away working on movies a lot.  He and his family vacationed with us many times when I was a kid.  Back then, vacation time meant Big Bend Resort on the Colorado River and day trips to Lake Havasu.

We’d get a cove on the lake and set up our day camp with a shade, lawn chairs, and coolers.  Bruce always had a bunch of fishing gear that we’d bring ashore.

While the rest of us focused on swimming and water skiing, he focused on fishing.  The pursuit.  The exploration.  Deciding which baits to try.  Changing rigs.  Trying new lures.  Moving down the beach to a new location.  Floating out in a rubber raft to cast near the “proper” pile of rocks.

He always had a look of contentment on his face as he stared at that place where the fishing line meets the water.  Constant vigilance, looking for any sign of a bite.  Maintaining soft hands to feel the slightest movement.

It didn’t matter that the fish usually showed little interest in his bait.  For Bruce, fishing was more important than catching.  When he did catch a fish, he was rarely prepared to keep it.  Somehow, his stringer was always left back at the camp.  He knew that as long as we had daylight, he could cast his bait out there another time.

Come to think of it, we fished at night as well.  Down on the dock along the river, after dinner.  A bunch of us would look across at the lights on the Arizona side and cast out.  Our quarry on the river was catfish, and that meant stink-baits and lots of waiting.

Funny thing is we didn’t catch many catfish either.  When we did, we’d get a flashlight out, or flick a Bic lighter, to see what we’d caught.  The stringer?  Usually up at the trailer.  We weren’t prepared to keep anything we caught.

Sitting there in the dark, fishing pole in hand, staring up at the stars, a kid can learn a lot talking with a fisherman like Bruce.  The meaning of patience.  The dignity of discipline.  How the journey is more important than the destination.  How quiet time is a good time.  The way opportunity meets preparation when that fish hits your bait.  How stories about nothing can mean everything when they’re gone.

Bruce was taken away too early from this world by a heart attack, many years ago.  I find him in my thoughts a lot around July 4th.  That was one of the times each year that our families vacationed at the river.

When I think of Bruce, I remember the fishing and the laughter.  I don’t remember the fish we caught.

They weren’t that important.

 

Photo Credit:  Unsplash.com, Andrey Trusov

Advice to My 25-Year-Old Self

I regularly listen to the Tim Ferriss Podcast.  In fact, it’s the only podcast I listen to.

A question he asks nearly every guest is:

What advice would you give to your 25-year-old self (or whatever age is about half your current age)? 

For me, that was late-1992.  I’d been married for four years.  We had a two-year-old daughter, and our newest daughter had just arrived.  We’d purchased our first home in 1990 (at the high-point in the market before a 5-year down cycle).  I was about two years into my first management job, working in the healthcare industry.

Here are 10 things I’d like my 25-year-old self to know (in no particular order):

  1. Don’t change a thing! You’re about to be blessed with 25 years of awesomeness.  You may not realize it while it’s happening, but trust me, it’s going to be amazing!  You will face triumph and tragedy, hardship and happiness.  Take lots of photos and videos so you can remember just how small your kids were and the things they used to say.  You’ll get a kick out of the photos of yourself when you actually had hair and it wasn’t all gray.
  1. Take time to write about the things you’re experiencing, what you’re thinking about, and what’s motivating you. These things will probably change as you get older and you might appreciate seeing where your thinking started compared to where it is in 25 years.
  1. Be sure that you include the words, “Have Fun” in as many of your mission statements and plans as possible. These words are easy to forget while focusing on the day-to-day dramas that you will inevitably let drive your life.
  1. Seek out mentors, and be a mentor to others. Find ways to serve others while never thinking of how you’ll be “paid back.”  You’ll do a pretty good job at this, but it’ll take you many years to get started, and those are years you’ll never get back.
  1. It’s okay to ask for help or admit that you don’t know everything. “Knowing everything” and getting the highest score in all your classes may have brought you straight A’s, but trust me when I tell you that you don’t know nearly as much as you think you do.  You never will.  Here’s a corollary:  when you think you’ve thought about every angle of a problem, or come up with every contingency in considering a new strategy or idea, you haven’t.  The only way you’ll ever approach a full understanding of a new strategy or idea is to get lots of other people involved.  Have the patience and humility to do this on a regular basis.
  1. You are surrounded by the love of God. You need to take the time I didn’t take at your age to realize it.  The signs of His love are all around you.  Stop and listen.  Stop and look.  Just stop.  What are you running from?  It’s going to take you another 20-plus years to realize this unless you follow my advice today.
  1. When you look at starting that new home automation business (it’s a long story), remember that the most important question in any business, especially small businesses, is who is your customer and how will they find you? The next most important question is why should this elusive customer come to you for your service or product?  Until you can answer these questions, you’re wasting time (and money) on everything else.
  1. Realize that just about everything takes longer than planned. As you make progress in your career, initiatives that you think should take 3-6 months to complete will actually take years to fully bear fruit.  Practice looking at things on a longer horizon.
  1. Read more fiction, especially science fiction. It’s a great way to declutter your mind.  Of course, books come on paper in your time and we have these new devices that make reading so convenient.  Don’t let that deter you.
  1. I recently heard this, and it’s something you should consider…you can always go back to the museum. What do I mean?  Most people go to places like museums, theme parks, other states, or other countries only once.  At least, that’s their plan.  With that in mind, they try to cram everything into their “one and only” visit.  Their visit becomes a long checklist of things to do and things to see.  Instead, approach your visits with a plan to return again someday.  Focus on the few and leave the rest for your next visit.  Be present and let go of the checklist.

Bonus advice:  You’ll have trouble with that patience and humility thing, but embracing these will be your key to happiness.  There is no checklist.  Life isn’t a race.  Life isn’t a destination.  It’s a journey and an infinite opportunity for experience.

Realize that you aren’t the one holding the compass and you’ll find more joy than you ever thought possible.

 

Photo Credit:  Unsplash.com, Justin Tietsworth

Later…

Later creates room for compromises.

Later lives for tomorrow.

Later keeps lists.

Later allows us to avoid.

Later tells us why we’re preparing.

Later delays forgiveness.

Later is born from hope.

Later connects without really connecting.

Later captures what we imagine.

We often try to create what happens later by our actions today.

Later provides direction.

Later reduces today’s expectations.

Later can hijack the present.

Later is the carrier of our dreams.

Later gains power when it remains vague.

Later simplifies execution.

Later is where many careers will find their stride.

Later is where the craziest ideas go to die.

Later tells us it’s okay to delay.

Later is where big ideas find their future.

Later makes it okay to add complexity.

Later drags us reluctantly forward.

Later makes today easier.

Later makes today harder.

Later isn’t guaranteed.  It can easily turn into never if we allow it.

Later only matters in the present. By the time we get to later, there’s a new later that will once again seem more important than our new present.

There’s more to say on this subject.  I’ll probably get to it later…

Closing Your Eyes to See More Clearly

Have you ever tried brushing your teeth with your eyes closed, or in total darkness?  I’m sure you’re asking, “How hard can that be?”

Give it a shot and you’ll find out.

Would you be able to find the toothpaste?  How about your toothbrush?  The sink?  Now for the tough part.  Can you put the right amount of toothpaste on the toothbrush?

Maybe you mastered all of that, and even brushed the proper amount of time.  Are you sure you’re spitting in the sink?  Did you put the toothbrush back where it belongs?  How about the toothpaste?

You (should) brush at least twice a day.  Multiply that by your lifetime of days, and that’s a lot of practice.  Your brain should do it automatically…and it does until you eliminate one sense (sight in this case).  Then it gets a lot harder.

So hard that you may find all your attention focused on that one simple task.  For that moment, you will be fully present.  No distractions.  Only a laser focus on trying to figure out how to get the right amount of toothpaste on the toothbrush without making a mess.

Our brains are amazing.  The biggest consumer of calories within our bodies.  So, over millions of years of development, our brains have found ways to disengage (in the interest of energy conservation).  Once our brain establishes a pattern for an activity, it flips the “auto-pilot” switch and rests.

Think about all things you do in a day without thinking.  Or, maybe all the things you do while thinking too much.  What if you approached each one a little differently?

Commute to work a completely different way.  Shop in the opposite direction (admit it, when you go to “your” grocery store, you usually go in the same direction).  Put your shoes on starting with the other foot.

Put a penny next to your smart phone.  Pick it up instead of your phone when you get that urge to check your messages.  A penny for your thought.  Maybe you can give those pennies to a charity.  Since this is for your favorite charity, what if you put a $20 bill there instead?  That habit of yours may actually help someone else.

Which brings us back to the original premise.  Brushing your teeth in the dark.  Try it.  You just might see things a bit more clearly.

 

Here’s the kicker.  If you brush in the dark for about a week, it will become second nature to you, and (you guessed it) your brain will once again go on auto-pilot.  Time to switch it up again!

 

Real People. Not Actors.

There I was at the gym, climbing the StairMaster (it’s what competitive stair climbers do for fun), and I noticed a commercial on one of the TV’s.  I don’t know what the commercial was trying to sell.  I only know that the people who looked so excited were Real People. Not Actors. That’s what it said on the screen.

I wonder if actors like being thought of as not real people.

Are real people supposed to be more honest than actors?

Don’t we all act just a little bit everyday?  If that’s true, who’s the real person, and who’s the actor?

Real people choose to act in a certain way, everyday.  They may choose to act unhappy, irritated, belligerent, impatient, frustrated.  Or, they may choose to act happy, supportive, patient, welcoming.

We’re all actors…and real people.  We choose how we act.

When we choose, it’s real for everyone, including ourselves.

The Most Powerful Feature on Your Phone

Smart phones have unbelievable power.  I recently read that the Apollo 11 spacecraft that landed on the moon had 1,300 times less computing power than an iPhone.  And, I bet the iPhone takes better pictures than most of Apollo 11’s cameras.

Continuous connectivity, access to all the information the internet has to offer, games, and the ability to talk to family and friends from almost anywhere (it is a phone after all).  All great features.  But there’s an even more powerful feature.

Airplane mode.

It’s not just for flying.

Next time you’re asked to silence your cell phone, try airplane mode instead.

Going for a run, bike ride, or a workout at the gym?  Airplane mode.  Your music will play just fine.  Better yet, how about listening to the rhythm of your own thoughts?

Having dinner?  Airplane mode.  Enjoy the sanctity of good food and good company (that would be the people at the dinner table with you).

Watching your kid’s game?  Airplane mode.  Try out the video capture capabilities of your phone without being interrupted by some alert.

Playing Risk with your kids?  Airplane mode.  Worldwide domination demands your undivided attention.

Walking on the beach with someone you love.  Airplane mode.  Hold their hand instead of your phone.

Continuous connectivity is amazing.

Airplane mode controls the very definition of “continuous.”  That’s real power.

Use it wisely and enjoy being present.

The Presence of a Toddler

I read an article today about the “busyness bubble” that exists in society today. The author described a world where everyone is over-worked, over-stimulated, over-committed, rushing from one place to another, distracted every two minutes by emails, texts, and Twitter and Instagram feeds on their smartphones.

This continuous busyness and distracted lifestyle hampers creativity, and prevents real human connection. There isn’t time to think beyond the next two minutes, the next errand, the next meeting.

Take a walk with a toddler. Trust me, it won’t be a long walk. Watch where they focus. Notice they aren’t worried about their smartphone (since they don’t have one). They have no destination in mind when they start their walk. They’re too busy looking at the pebbles, snail shells, and cracks in the cement to think about anything else. They have no errands to run, no meetings to attend. They aren’t worried about what they said yesterday, or what they’ll be doing tomorrow.

Toddlers are the ultimate expression of being present. Nothing interrupts their train of thought except the next shiny object in front of them. Their walk is a time of new discovery and new experiences.

Busyness is self-inflicted. It’s the result of a series of decisions that we control. Each decision makes sense at the time…or, seems like the only choice we have. We decide to pile commitments on to our schedule. We decide to worry today about next week’s deadline. We decide to dwell on injustices of the past. We decide to look at our phone every two minutes.

Don’t know any toddlers? Take that walk anyway. Leave your phone behind. Count the number of snails you see. Look for the most colorful pebbles. Take some time to smell the roses in your neighbor’s yard. Appreciate the sun’s warmth on your back.

Enjoy the clarity of being present, and enjoy the fulfillment that comes from deciding to be less busy.

The choice is yours.

Ideas from TEDx ChapmanU–June, 2014

TED started in 1984 as a conference to bring together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, and Design. TED talks are limited to no more than eighteen minutes in length, and cover a wide array of topics, all focused on “ideas worth spreading.” More than 1,400 talks are available for viewing on-line.

Last year’s event was great, and this year’s was even better. Here’s a quick synopsis of what we learned this week from the sixteen speakers (fourteen “live,” and two on video):

Lee Cheng, Chief Legal Officer at NewEgg, Incorporated, told us a little bit about his work fighting patent trolls. He referred to himself as Chief Patent Troll Hunter, taking on those who would stifle innovation and business growth by claiming obscure patent ownership of such common functions as drop-down boxes, search boxes, and shopping cart functions on websites. This wasn’t the main focus of his talk. He focused on Fred Cheng, the founder and CEO of NewEgg (a $2.6 billion, privately held ecommerce site, and number two in the ecommerce space behind Amazon). Fred Cheng works in near anonymity, shunning personal attention, adulation, or PR. Fred focuses on NewEgg’s success, which he believes is the result of the team, and not his own personal work. It reminded me of a seminal quote, “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.”

Stephanie Decker is the quintessential survivor. In March, 2012, a tornado ripped through her home in Henryville, Indiana. She shielded her two young children with her body. The house collapsed and disintegrated around them, crushing Stephanie’s legs. Her kids survived without a scratch. She told us that mental toughness is the key differentiator in life. Each of us will face storms or struggles in our lives. We choose how we handle the storms. Staying positive is a choice. Although she lost her legs in the storm, she found her purpose. Her purpose wasn’t just learning how to walk again. That was just a first step (no pun intended). She and her husband formed the Stephanie Decker Foundation to help children with prosthetics get the best technology available to live the fullest lives possible.

Brian Kessler, founder and president of Maui Toys, talked about curiosity and the spirit of innovation. His father, Milton Kessler, invented the hula hoop. Brian has designed and developed more than 2,600 toys, sporting goods, and consumer products. He defined innovation as a process that has three main parts: creation, application, and execution. Creation is seeing what someone needs or wants, application is defining who will actually want this innovation, and execution is setting about to make it happen. Easy? Hardly. He described the series of small steps and adjustments he made to toy ideas before having the product that people would actually want to buy. He also showed some examples of “new” toys that are merely extensions of other toys. Innovation can be evolutionary, as well as revolutionary.

Laura Glynn, associate professor of Psychology at Chapman University, talked about the maternal brain. Professor Glynn said that 90% of all women worldwide will give birth to at least one child in their lifetime (amazing statistic). She told us about the fundamental physiological changes a woman’s brain goes through during pregnancy. Mother’s brains grow and change during pregnancy, and the effects are cumulative as they have additional children. Mother’s brains have an enhanced ability to identify threats and deal with stressful situations (ideal for new parents!). The old saying about not coming between a mother bear and her cubs seems to be the result of physiological changes in the maternal brain. Scientific research in this area is relatively new. People like Professor Glynn are uncovering new and amazing insights into the miracle of life, and how mom’s brains uniquely adapt to take on the challenges of parenting.                      

Trent Schlom, a twenty-one year old sports reporter and broadcaster for ESPN talked about how he turned his love of sports into a career. He always dreamed of talking about sports, and starting at fifteen, he took steps to make that dream a reality. His secrets? He creates his own opportunities, is always prepared, and keeps showing up. He focuses on learning and views himself as the eternal student. His concluding advice: Don’t just dream. Take the next step to actually get closer to your dream, and keep taking those steps. Trent’s energy and positive attitude are infectious, and may be the biggest secret of all.

Sarah Kaye’s 2011 TED presentation (if I should have a daughter…) streamed into the auditorium. Sarah is a spoken word poet, who started presenting her work when she was fourteen. She describes spoken word poetry as poetry that doesn’t want to sit on paper. It must be performed. She said there are three steps to writing poetry (or just about anything else in life):

  • I can…do this
  • I will…continue to do this
  • I will infuse this with myself and my “backpack full of everywhere else I’ve been in life.”

As a way to get started, she asks her students to write lists:

  • Ten Things I Know to Be True
  • Ten Things I Should Have Learned by Now.

She writes poetry to work things out, and in the process, challenges each of us to do the same thing as we listen.

Iryna Krechkovsky, a prize-winning violinist, played a selection written by Bach on her Stradivarius. In her introduction to the song, she talked about how technology has given us so many ways to communicate with each other, and yet, we are emotionally removed from each other. Classical music is relevant in today’s society, because music is human. It expresses human emotion in ways we can’t explain, and in ways our technology can’t replicate.

Michael Laskin, a professional actor for over 35 years, described his view of the acting profession. While I didn’t learn much about acting, I did take a couple of key points from his talk:

Your talent is a given. Your resume and skills are what get you to the audition (or interview, meeting, or speech). What happens next is all about YOU. Your authenticity will trump your skill set and have more to do with your success than anything else.

Jillian Lauren, a New York Times bestselling author, talked about the experience she and her husband are living after adopting their son from Ethiopia. She, too, was adopted. What lessons does she take from her own adoption, and her son’s? Love is a decision, and a gift. When her son first arrived, he was suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. He had uncontrollable temper tantrums, night terrors, and a number of other symptoms that took years to work through. Jillian told her son stories as they walked around the city when he first arrived. As he grew, he came to embrace his journey here as a great adventure. He is subconsciously creating an identity for himself that is part Ethiopian, part Jewish, part Scottish, part American. We all form ourselves, based on our imagination, and the stories we tell about ourselves, regardless of where we came from.

Frank Smith, COO of Anschutz Film Group and Walden Media, discussed change. Change is continuous, no matter what industry (his happens to be film production). He related the history of the studio system in Hollywood, and how the near-monopoly of the five large studios began to break apart after World War II with the advent of television, and other changes. Companies that reacted quickly to the new reality thrived, while those who refused to embrace the changes went in the opposite direction. Change is hard, and sometimes difficult to see at first. Change should be seen as a constant, and can’t be ignored. The ash heap of history is littered with organizations that failed to respond to disruptions and changes in their industry (ironically, some of these got their start by disrupting someone else’s business): Border’s Books, Blockbuster Video, Tower Records, Circuit City, A&P, Washington Mutual Bank, MySpace, and Sears (well, not quite).

Stacey Schuerman, a yoga instructor, took the entire audience through a five-minute exercise to slow down, and focus on our breathing. She called it a chance to reset, renew, and rejuvenate our energy levels. An opportunity to feel the peace and calmness of the present. She recommended that we take at least five minutes every day to recharge. I plan to replay her presentation video at least once a day for my own on-demand recharge session.

Adam Spencer, mathematician and Australian radio host, discussed his passion for finding massive prime numbers. Numbers and math are the musical notes of the universe. His excitement for the pursuit of these elusive numbers is overwhelming. He marvels at how lucky we are to live in an age when mind and machines can work together to expand the frontiers of our knowledge. How amazing is it that a scientist can theorize about something as fundamental and “unprovable” as the Higgs boson in 1964, and then have a machine demonstrate its existence only fifty years later?

Robin Follman is an internationally acclaimed opera singer. She is also the head of strategic planning at her family’s manufacturing company. Even though she didn’t get the lead in her high school play, she did get the lead in a professional opera company while she was still in high school. She credits her success to preparation, perseverance, resiliency, and some luck. Also, rejecting her choir teacher’s advice to “blend.” She wanted her voice to be heard, and she was always ready when a new opportunity presented itself.

Eyal Aronoff is a co-founder of Quest Software, which was sold to Dell for $2.4 billion in 2012. Eyal’s passion now is breaking our addiction to oil as an energy source. He says that while wind and solar are nice, they aren’t a workable large-scale alternative to liquid gasoline for the cars we drive. Public transportation is only viable in certain urban centers. He showed that taxation and other financial incentives or punishments aren’t effective in changing our energy habits. He wants to show how alcohol-based liquid fuels are the best replacement fuel for liquid gasoline. Alcohol-based fuels can be derived from corn, sugar, biomass, and natural gas, to name just a few. Will it work? Are we capable of making this type of switch? Only time will tell. Clearly this idea of breaking our addiction to oil is one worth spreading.

Alison Noel is a New York Times bestselling author of 21 novels, with over seven-million copies in print. She talked about labels…those that others place on us and those we place on ourselves. We all have a yearning to be seen, heard, and understood. The question is how will we be seen, how will we be heard, and will we be understood for what we really are? Our labels often get in the way of understanding. She told us how her childhood was impacted by labels, some accurate, but most inaccurate. Labels don’t always fit, but they usually stick…if we allow them.

Dileep Rao is an actor who asked the question, “Do Movies Matter Anymore?” Some could easily argue that in a world of multitasking, and fragmented attention spans, movies are becoming a relic of the past. Rao argues the exact opposite. He sees the movie theater as the metaphoric dark cave where images and shadows from the campfire mesmerize us. Movie theaters are an almost sacred place where we are immersed in a story (if we allow it), with a bunch of strangers. For that short period of time, we are single-tasking, singularly-focused, and in the present (sounds a little bit like yoga).

Why spend five hours at a TEDx event? It’s all about ideas, and stories. Ideas worth spreading, and the way these ideas impact the stories we tell ourselves.