Thursday, October 30, 2014

Advisors vs getting advised plus the role of criticism

I have three people in my life right now who recently gave me exactly the right feedback when I needed it. They were people who already had been where I am going, had been through the pitfalls and importantly expressed their faith in my ability to do the same. Powerful powerful powerful.

This kind of advice and feedback can lend the energy and clarity to move forward and get your endevour to the next level. Because of their help I was able to finish up a section of my book that I was struggling with and plan the final leg of my draft.

Lets contrast this with uninvited "advice".

I recall the day after one of my exams in pastry school--the all important wedding cake exam. The test was planning and executing on a wedding cake design. This included baking the actual cake, the filling, the structure, smoothing the fondant, piping decorations and the pains taking work of hand forming dozens of pink orchids from marzipan. Also, because I'm insane, I decided to create panels along the base of the cake all piped with stanzas from "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" (by Christopher Marlow). The whole process--the cake, the construction and all the decorations represented days of work. It all came off adequately and I was certainly over reaching my skill level--the next day I was dead! I was just happy to be done and excited I had made this multi tiered, highly decorated cake.

Because this was more than just another tray of petit fours, I brought in photos of my cake to show my coworkers. Later in the day one coworker came into my office and asked "are you ready to hear about your cake"? At first I didn't get where she was coming from but she picked up the photo I had and started saying "you should have added more elements of pink to the top to tie up the color scheme. We learned about that when I was in art school".

I can't tell you how poorly I received her correct but useless suggestion because the cake was already delivered and also WHO THE FUCK ASKED HER????

Nothing stinks more than uninvited feedback--I want you to feel free to dismiss noise from anyone taking your creation as an opportunity to stink up the room with their ill timed, unwanted opinions. Sharing your project isn't an invitation for arm chair feedback from someone with no stake in your game no matter how wise and insightful they think they are.

People are going to say what they are going to say. Just be clear that you don't have to sit still for it.

I am working with an editor right now on my book. This is a partnership that I invited. We are still building our relationship but our roles are clear--I provide content and direction for the book and she ensures that I'm clear, my prose is tight and consistent, and that what I produce is the highest quality it can be. She is a pro and I'm grateful for her.

I used to have a lot of confusion around being gracious about feedback. Let me say this to you--you might be working hard to put something into the world. You might be having moments of doubt. You also might have the sneaking suspicion that what you are creating isn't all it can be.

Be very careful about who you invite in to help you with feedback.

I had an online chat last night with a friend who suggested I was too hard on myself--its true that I have been known to lean into finding flaws in my own work. Also, its very tempting to personalize flaws--to draw the conclusion that something in your work that needs help is a metaphor for everything that is wrong with you.

Even so, learning and growing is based in actively choosing to work on areas you want to shine. You can only do that if you have awareness of those things--gaining that awareness is facilitated by partnering with people you can trust, who understand what you want to accomplish, and who can offer guidance that makes a difference.

Good feedback will help you distinguish the difference between something that isn't a big deal and something that will make your work sing. Not every flaw is worth hunting down and killing--if you are on a mission to ship something that makes a difference its critical to know what to sweat over and what to let go.

Have a feedback story to share? Leave a comment. I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Chicago! Why am I here? And my latest snippet

Infinite Selfie Ops
This is just a quick hello! I'm taking a break from wandering around one of the most amazing cities in the world--Chicago! One thing I can't get over about this city is that almost everything that we think of as notable coming from here happened in the last 150 years. It was only a military outpost at the beginning of the 19th century and quickly grew into a city of 300,000 only to be wiped out by a full third in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. It killed people, destroyed the old wooden infrastructure and left a open canvas to become The City of the Big Shoulders.

I guess you can come back from anything--even when it seems like the blazing end of times.

My friends and I are here to gawk, visit, learn and conduct some sweet natured mischief. And because we want to do all of these things and FEEL GOOD we've all returned to our rooms for naps (and me to work on another chapter).

Yesterday I was on an overcrowded flight with barely room for my body much less my laptop. I folded up the tray table, folded my body in and got in a good chunk of writing. What I saw was 3 hours of uninterrupted time, a fully charged battery and a word count goal. I can think of 1000 different times when I would have seen conditions that were too cramped, too cold, less than ideal and impossible for concentration. What's different? Just the way I think about it.

Right now I'm wearing a soft bathrobe and my bunny slippers--different conditions, same goal. I could be telling myself I'm wasting my time (The City of Big Shoulders calls) but I'm so content to be here doing the one thing I want to do right now.

Here is my latest snippet:

Your grand plan didn’t work. Again.

I don’t know why you decided to sign over your hopes, dreams, self esteem and identity to yet another overburdened ode to making your life into something other than what it is.
I think it all starts with the allure of an infomercial. Something out there has the perfect solution to the mess of your life. A multi level, multipurpose, multitasking approach to the perfect you.

Only it didn’t work, again.

I see you despairing at 3AM, googling to find your answer. Who or what has it? Why does everything seem so hard? And why can’t you follow through? It must be that crushing lack of discipline that has destroyed your ability to achieve anything. Or, actually, there is just something very wrong with you. Specifically you.

Why does everything you’ve tried to do feel empty? You crossed the finish line but it didn’t give you what you hoped it would.

I feel you. There is a whole industry out there trying to fix your life through plans, programs, degrees, etc. Surely one of these holds the answer to making your life seem better than it does. Shinier or like you fulfilled some promised potential you suspect you have.

It all seems very hopeful. That some course of disciplined and directed action can fix your life.

I want to introduce you to a radical thought. You had it right when you were about 5 years old. Drawing wheels on a box—all of a sudden you have a car. No, the car doesn’t run but this is a small experiment in taking a thought and creating something you dearly want with what you have in front of you—your infinite and resourceful mind and imagination. Before you run off screaming with the deep suspicion that I’m saying you can imagine things into being, that isn’t where I’m coming from at all. 

My point is that you are a learning/experimenting machine. We are designed to do this. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

why are you doing that thing anyway? another snippet from my book in progress--

Why? because its there.

Today I needed to pull out my ice packs and ice down my legs and shoulders--over did it a little working on my splits and pull up and FINALLY am taking advice to respect my body instead of pushing through pain. There is nothing rad about injuring myself just to meet a goal--even one with a deadline I can see. 

Working on the next section for the editor--here is a taste:

The problem with taking on an epic shit mission is that many times people under take them as surrogates for getting their emotional needs met.

But you ask "what about my Epic Shit Mission? Does that mean I don’t get to learn how to surf?"

Yes you get to learn how to surf. You also get to climb glaciers, hike in Iceland and do motocross. Anything! You have to ask yourself one teeny thing first.

Why are you doing it?

When Edmund Hillary was asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest he didn’t say it was because he wanted to find love and prove to his father once and for all that he would some day amount to something.

No, he said he wanted to climb it BECAUSE ITS THERE. Not for love, not to impress anyone or even himself. He had a passion for the mountain. That was the difference.

It is far better to pursue one silly but truly sincere mission than to do something big and impressive because you really are trying to get some other need met.


I was writing this section and contemplating the many times I took on some crazy goal and either having it blow up in my face or, on completing it, feeling kind of empty. Long ago I remember someone saying that you really only need one good reason to do something and if you have more than that you probably are trying too hard to convince yourself and should re-evaluate.

I wish I kept count on all the times I substituted action or achievement for satisfying unacknowledged emotional needs. I wrote this blog post before I fully digested my real motivations for going on a surf retreat. I believe the choices I made would have been different if I were more aware of my feelings at the time and chose to deal with them instead of run from them.

Just for today, think of one thing going on in your life that you are overloading with unspoken emotional needs. What can you do right now to satisfy one of those needs without putting all your eggs in one basket?  

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Excerpt from the intro to my new book plus update on my splits challenge

Hey folks!

In my last post I told you I was planning to work up to doing the splits while writing my book to illustrate my process. Let me tell you a little more about where that challenge came from.

In September I saw a video that blew my mind. The young woman in the video became a champion gymnast even though she was born with no legs. Not a para-olympics gymnast--one that competes alongside others that have full use of their bodies. She achieved the "impossible". I really had to look at myself and review all the things that I had written off because of limitations I really believed I had that would prevent me from ever achieving those goals.

I decided to test this out with physical challenge--I gave myself a year to knock out 3 challenges that I believed that because of my body type and age would be impossible to accomplish. I set a date and decided to put cold hard cash on the line. I asked a friend to select a charity to give $1000 to if I failed to make my goal. Well, I guess Christine knew me well enough. She picked an anti-charity.

The NRA.

Could not be worse.

There is NO WAY the NRA is getting a red cent from me. By September 8 of 2015 I need to complete all three goals or forfeit that money to an org I literally hate.

But in writing this book (another impossible goal) I realized that the anti charity angle only fired up me half way. So I'm upping the ante. For every feat I crush EARLY I'm going to donate 1/3 of the original $1000 to a REAL charity. In fact folks, I'm going to leave it up to you all to choose. I will publish more on that later but I wanted you to know that I plan for some real good to come of this and you will see that this is a benefit that will go beyond my original donation.

(I'm feeling pretty confident)

Also, as promised here is a snippet from the intro to the book I'm working on. Will most likely be edited and changed around but should give you an idea where I'm going with my project.


If you find you are a person that has the patience and discipline to work any kind of self improvement program to the letter, let me shake your hand. A great deal of personal development books focus on how to develop qualities of grit and stick-to-it-iveness so you can get epic shit done while never actually getting anything done.

I fool people all the time. They think I have discipline. I don’t. I have entire decades in my life where I achieved practically nothing. But there have been times in my life when I got tons of fun, colorful and creative things out in the world.

How did I go from spinning my wheels to getting my own epic shit done?

Early in my life I was infected with the thought virus of “doing things the right way”. As a kid I was a natural artist. I couldn’t stop drawing and painting and really thought I was going to spend my life in art. I decided that I would dual major in college in art and literature (I’m very practical). When I showed up for my first freshman painting class the teacher opined on our color palates and really favored the work that looked the most like hers. I was confused and because I had no perspective I struggled to “paint the right way”. I lost connection with my flow and painting became very hard for me. One of the models from our class stopped by my apartment and looked at a figure painting I had done that I had in the living room. She smiled and said “wow, you really can see how you improved from the class”. I nearly lost it. It was something I painted free hand two years before I even set foot in that damn classroom.

But I still was stuck on this idea that the way I got things done was somehow flawed and incomplete. I had several other experiences over the years of trying to do things “the right way” and found I lost my juice for them in record time. When I think of those experiences the word tyranny comes to mind—the tyrant lived between my ears and set down rules and expectations daily. It was a drag to be sure and I honestly believed there was something wrong with me because I just wouldn't get in line.

See, what I was most afraid of was criticism. If people knew about my half assed approach they would see how genuinely crappy all my achievements really were. Any time you create or produce something there is someone out there who isn’t going to like it and almost as likely they will be willing to tell you they don’t like it. For me, doing it the right way was a ward against criticism—if I did it by the book, how could anyone find fault? What I found was that I did less and less creative work and found a bunch of excuses why I wasn’t writing, creating art, taking adventures or engaging in other interesting projects. My two chief excuses were “I’m too tired” and “I don’t have time”.

Well, those things were spot on accurate. I was too tired to do things that didn’t inspire me and I didn’t have time for anyone else’s rules. So I made up my own.

At the end of the day you CAN do things half assed. Just so long as you choose the right ass half to do.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Taking it to the next level, a big challenge and I'M WRITING A BOOK!!!

Hey everyone. Yes, I missed you too--its been a while since my last post but I wanted to share some epiphanies I've been percolating on and that are starting to take form. My heart is still healing (and probably will always be) from my brother's death. One thing that came out of it was a realization of HOW MUCH I WANT FROM THIS LIFE. And part of that longing is bringing all my good stuff to you, my peeps.

Despite all the advice I've received to take it easy and to take my time, I feel a major shove from my muse to take this energy and embrace a project that I've been noodleing for a long time but haven't found the courage to take on until now.

I'm writing a book for you.

Think of it as a love letter and road map to get you to do all the epic shit you've been back-burnering. The thing about epic shit is that it never happens all at once. Even if you are climbing El Capitan you take it one hand-hold at a time judging the course as you go. The way one person climbs the cliff might not be the route you should take on the day you go out to climb. Stubbornly sticking to someone else's well worn path might get you there but there is probably a better way--one meant only for you.

From my years in the technology world as a road map warrior and innovation facilitator I've learned a few things about grand plans--you make the plan and then reality happens.

If you want to get to your goal you need to get agile and to always work with the most effective and critical actions at any given time. It also means integrating those actions in a way that is directly relevant to your life--changes you can live with (not just gritting your teeth through the pain but change that is sane and that makes sense in your life today).

Me, not doing a split September 2014.
As part of my crazy book project I'm taking on a physical challenge to illustrate my process. By the time this book goes to publication (end of 2014) I will be able to do a full split. I can't do this today but I want to put my money where my mouth is and prove my process out as I write. I want to show that this stuff can work for you.

My point is this--there is information on how to do just about anything you want to do BUT only sometimes do we take that good information and use it to create the things we want. Why is that? It has to do with choosing methods and motivations that actually work for and are genuinely meaningful in our lives. We can white knuckle it through most things and get short term results but change that brings a life time result and real behavior change requires a more savvy approach.

Working in the tech sector gave me an interesting view into how many companies get trapped into playing catch up with their competitors. Instead of focusing on what value they can bring their customers, executives stand in the shower and imagine "brilliant" ideas that will make the new "iPhone killer" or whatever.

Interestingly this is a very similar process to when we compare ourselves to others or try to use other people's paths to our own top of the mountain.

Here is a clue--anytime you focus on how your product (or your life goal) is going to kill another product (or put you in a comparison game with someone else) you've already lost--might as well go home.

How is this relevant in your life? And what does doing the splits have to do with that anyway?

It has to do with what your goal means to you--not what someone else came up with.

Using the tools I learned to meet my customer's deepest needs, I will teach you how to find your inner fire for change. I guarantee you its not what you think it is.

And the splits? Looking at this photo getting to the floor looks pretty impossible. Also, I'm 47 so my ligaments are fairly fixed in length. Yet I feel driven to do something that feels impossible. IT LOOKS RAD to do the splits! I can use something rad right about now.

I'll be publishing snippets from my book up til publication--there is no reason why you should wait to get the benefit of what I'm putting into book form. I hope to hear from you and what crazy impossible goals you want to embrace. We'll get there one hand-hold at a time.