My Favorite Destination

If you sign up for the Air France frequent flier program, you’ll get a list of security questions to answer in case you forget your password.  The first question presented:  My favorite destination is…

What could that be?  Yosemite with its beautiful trails and waterfalls?  Milford Sound in New Zealand, with its other-worldly (Middle Earth) landscape?  How about the Three Sisters in Australia?  England, where you learn quickly the meaning of “mind the gap.”  Islamorada, in the Florida Keys?  The clear tropical waters of Tahiti?  How about the top of Mauna Kea at sunset?  The top of Mount Whitney?  Mike’s Sky Ranch?  Aruba?  The Panama Canal?  The South Rim of the Grand Canyon?  Mammoth Cave in Kentucky?  Napa Valley?

This favorite destination thing can be challenging.  How about the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon?  Jack Daniel’s Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee?  The top of the Empire State Building?  The Acropolis in Greece?  Wrigley Field?  Floating lazily on Lake Mead?  The top of St. Peter’s Basilica?   The Grand Bizarre in Istanbul?  The Lincoln Memorial?  Cape Canaveral?  How about the Taj Mahal?  The Kon Tiki Inn in Pismo Beach definitely makes the list.  Sunrise in just about any desert?  Glacier Bay in Alaska, playing basketball with your kids on the top deck of a cruise ship?

I’ve had the fortune of visiting these and many other destinations, but none rise to the level of favorite.

At the risk of breaching security protocols, here’s my answer:  home

I used to think…

I used to think rain was a bad thing.  It meant my carefree childhood would be interrupted by the realities of rent and the cost of groceries.  I’d have to worry about why my mom and dad were upset…sometimes with each other.  Rain brought a feeling of hopelessness into our house that wouldn’t leave until it stopped.

Rain meant that my dad didn’t work.  Oh, sure, he’d get up early in the morning just like a normal work day.  He would even make the call to his company to ask if they had anything going.  He always sounded so comfortable with what he was hearing from the other end of the phone.  I knew different.  They rarely had anything going on a rainy day.  If they did have something, that work went to someone with higher seniority.  I learned at an early age what it meant to be low in seniority.

I didn’t have the same fun other kids had splashing in puddles.  I remember one kid used to run as fast as he could and slide in the wet grass, just to see how far he could go.  Every slide was a world record in his mind.  Somehow I always had my parents in mind.  I knew they were worried about how long the rain would fall.  When would things dry out enough for dad to go back to work?  Would this be a long winter?  Would we make it to Spring?

Jeff Williams always wore his Mammoth Mountain sweatshirt in the winter.  He used to go snow skiing on the weekends.  Sometimes, his parents let him skip a day to go during the week.  He was one of the kids with the cool owl eyes.  The ones that come from having your sunglasses on while snow skiing.  He knew that rain meant snow, and snow meant good ski conditions.  I never skied as a child.  That wasn’t an option.  Rain meant no money, whatever the ski conditions.

Rain taught me early, too early, about the realities of economics.  As each year passed, with the same cycle of foreboding, I decided I would never let rain threaten my economic life.  When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, the list of choices I’d rattle off were always jobs that didn’t stop because of rain.  It didn’t matter what the job was…only that the weather couldn’t touch it.

For my entire adult life, I’ve lived by the promise I made to myself as a child…always choosing jobs that the rain can’t touch.  Today, I can enjoy rain.  In fact, I’m listening to a passing shower as I write.  I love the sound it makes, cascading off the roof.  Rain has a unique purity.  Nothing compares to the clear, brisk air after the rain has passed.

Yet, even as I appreciate the magnificent beauty of rain, I can’t help but feel a slight twinge of anxiety…an echo from my childhood.

Campfire Moments

I love campfires.  I don’t get to sit around one as often as I’d like, but I treasure each opportunity. Gathering around a fire with family and friends, watching the flames, feeling its warmth, roasting marshmallows, helping kids make the perfect S’more, being blinded by smoke.  Always a good time.

We were recently on a Mediterranean cruise.  The trip was awesome, and for most of our 10-day journey, the seas were calm.  But, toward the end of the cruise, we had a rough sea day.  A combination of 12-foot seas and 45-knot winds meant we were rocking and rolling.  Not good for a guy who can get seasick standing on a dock.

Breakfast is served near the top deck, which, thanks to the laws of physics, rolls much more than the lower decks.  As I finished up my custom omelet (one of the best things about a cruise), and looked out at the churning seas wondering if that omelet was such a good idea, I was surprised when my father-in-law said, “Looks just like a campfire to me…I could watch these seas all day.”  Where I saw whitecaps, swells in every direction, hopelessness and nausea, he saw a campfire.

The beauty of life is in the eye of the beholder.  Cherish your campfire moments.  They don’t always require a fire.

Entitlement versus Gratitude

In the grand scheme of things, what are you entitled to receive from life?  From your loved ones?  From the people around you?  From your career?

I submit that dwelling on what you are entitled to receive diminishes happiness.  Time spent being grateful for life, your loved ones, the people around you, your career…increases happiness.

Gratitude is the foundation of true happiness.  Entitlement is at the other end of the spectrum where things like disappointment, envy, and sadness reside.

My twist on Bobby McFerrin’s famous song:  “Be Grateful, Be Happy!”

In an Eagle’s Shadow

I ran in the shadow of an eagle today.  Sounds cliché, doesn’t it?  But this was an actual eagle.  I was lucky enough to be running on a trail where the eagle wanted to fly.  That eagle may have been thinking about its next meal, making sure there were no other eagles in its territory, or any number of other things that eagles think about while soaring effortlessly through the sky.  As I ran, all the eagle and its shadow brought me were peace and tranquility.  I ran with the eagle for quite a ways before our paths went in separate directions.

Each of us share paths with those around us…family, friends, co-workers, customers, our boss, and even people we’ve never met.  Here’s hoping that as we share our path, we can bring the same peace that my soaring friend brought to me today.

Chasing Mice

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Which one do you spend more time chasing…mice, or elephants?

Of course, I’m speaking metaphorically. Mice represent the small details, interesting diversions from the real questions, symptoms instead of root causes, etc. Elephants are the big strategic decisions, the tough questions, the root causes.

When budgeting for expenses (whether at home, or at work), do you spend a lot of time comparing the cost of paper clips between two vendors? Do you worry about the cost of an additional travel day associated with attending a trade show, or the strategic benefit of attending the show in the first place?

Do you worry about the cost differences for toner and paper, or consider ways to modify your processes and eliminate the use of paper-based documents?

How often have you been in a disagreement with a friend, relative, colleague, or spouse over a “mouse” issue, and let that disagreement mask one or more “elephant” issues? The mouse issue may seem worthy of all the effort, but rarely is.

Chasing mice while the elephants run free is almost always a bad idea. It wastes energy, and our most important commodity, time.

Better to chase more elephants.

Simulated Progress

I read the term “simulated progress” in a blog post by Seth Godin.  He wasn’t talking specifically about this term, but it is what I remembered from his post.  I’ve been sort of obsessing on it ever since, thinking about all the ways I have participated in activities that simulate progress.  Status meetings, strategic planning updates, budget reviews, process improvement meetings where ideas get discussed and never implemented, exercising to burn the extra calories I choose to consume, etc.

Sometimes simulated progress can lead to real progress.  But, more often than not, simulated progress only serves to make us feel good, create some fleeting sense of accountability, and generally limits actual changes to the status quo.  The intangible feeling of progress merely masks the fact that no real progress has occurred.  We are no closer to actually achieving something meaningful.

I’ve participated in, and even led, activities that (in retrospect) were only creating simulated progress.  I wasn’t doing it purposely, and I’m sure I had the best of intentions.  The others who were participating along with me were motivated to create some type of positive result…progress toward goals we had identified.  These activities weren’t 100% simulated progress, but I know some that had a high percentage.

I could go on.  Suffice it to say that the road to status quo and competitive disadvantage is surely littered with examples of simulated progress.

Riding Your Fender?

This is a term I learned from motorcycling.  It refers to a rider who always sees his fender.   In order to see his fender the fender rider isn’t looking out very far ahead.  Obstacles seem to come out of nowhere.  The fender rider often gets lost, or ignores the easiest path, since so much effort is given to looking at the trail in front of the fender.  When asked to describe the ride, the fender rider usually can’t tell you much, except that it was a harrowing challenge and he is worn out.

For those who have never ridden a motorcycle, consider driving down the freeway at 75 mph (or 65 mph, if you prefer to stay within the speed limit).  If you’re looking down at the road as it whizzes by, or looking just in front of your bumper, the world is moving extremely fast.  Everything in front of you is a blur, and you are a danger to yourself and everyone who shares the road with you.

By looking up, extending your horizon, driving at freeway speeds is much easier.  You can see what’s coming and plan your route more effectively.  Small course corrections make it easier to avoid big obstacles ahead.

Consider your personal and professional life.  Are you riding your fender?  If so, it’s time to look up.

Enjoy Your Journey

JulnJen-Blue

I can’t wait until recess starts.
When summer vacation starts, I will…
When I get the right score on my SAT, I will be able to get into the college of my choice.
When I graduate from high school, I will…
When I get accepted to college, I will…
What major best fits my skills and interests?
When I graduate from college, I will get my real job.
Once I get promoted, I will be able to afford…
I can’t wait until I get married. I will be able to…
If I can get that new job, we will be able to afford a new car.
We really should buy a house before we do anything else.
Now that we have our first baby, we need to put off some of the things we wanted to do.
Once the baby starts preschool, I will have more time to…
With both kids in soccer, dance, and baseball, we are pretty much the parental chauffer service.
Once soccer season ends, we can…
The new position at work will require a lot of travel. Once I get things set up, I won’t have to travel as much and I won’t miss as many of our kids’ practices or games. What about their homework?
Once summer vacation starts, we will have time to…
I sure can’t wait until the kids are in high school and can drive. I will have a lot more time to…
I hope they get good grades and score well on their SAT’s so they can…
Once the kids graduate, we can…
Now that our kids are in college, we are…
It sure will be great when they graduate from college and can do…
When we pay off our house, we can…
Once I retire, I will have a lot more time to…

Someone once said, “Life is that thing that happens while you are busy making other plans.”
Life is a journey…you only get one. Most of the really good stuff happens between the milestones.

*By the way, those are my daughters in the picture. My oldest (on the right) got married this past June. She and her husband are expecting their first child in May. Time flies! Enjoy your journey!

Let’s Get Started!

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As we reflect on 2012, and think about our personal and professional goals for 2013, here is a question to ponder:

What if next year is your last?

I know that sounds a bit morbid, but, hear me out.

I just heard about someone (a friend of a friend) who found out that he has a brain tumor. It is aggressively metastasizing, and even with surgery, chemo, radiation, etc., he probably only has one year to live. And, with all of the treatment regimens, and their various side effects, he really won’t have very many days in the coming year to do what he wants.

Sooner or later, each of us will face our final year. It could be next year, 10 years from now, 50 years from now, or even longer. It is only a matter of time. And, chances are, we won’t be told that this is our final year.

So, what if next year is your last year on Earth? What would you plan to do with your year? What is the first image that popped into your head when you read that question? 365 precious days…

As far as we know, human beings are the only inhabitants of the planet that understand and can contemplate their own mortality. We are the only ones that can conceive of, or visualize, a world without us. Nearly every living thing has an instinctive drive to prolong its life. But, human’s drive for life goes way beyond mere instinct. We go through each day knowing there is an eventual end, as much as we may ignore it.

Thought about what you would do in your final year yet?

There is no right or wrong answer to this question. The answers vary for each person, and depend on what they’ve done in their life, how connected they are with their family and friends and their sense of whether or not they have lived a fulfilling life (by whatever definition they want to use). Notice I didn’t mention that it depended upon the person’s age? Whether a person is 30, 50, or 90, facing the final year question leads ultimately to their definition of a fulfilling life.

By my own definition (the only one that counts), I’ve had an extremely fulfilling life to this point. The first image that pops into my head is that of my wife and kids, and how my departure would impact them. I really don’t have a list of things that I’d have to accomplish if this were my final year to add that last bit of fulfillment.

This doesn’t mean I don’t have big goals and ideas of what my future should hold (a future that would be cut short if this were my final year). One of my goals is to write more, and post what I’m writing to my own blog site.

I think a post asking the reader to ponder his or her own mortality and their personal definition of a fulfilled life is a fitting place to start. I hope you will agree, and that you will continue to stop by and check out my latest posts.

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