Audio OFF

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It’s been a noisy few weeks. The start of a new job has led to lots of meetings, phone calls, and interruptions. The holidays brought the in-laws for two weeks and our house was buzzing the whole time the kids were out of school. Snow days this week meant more madness in the house and business is off to a crazy start for 2017. So today, after I dropped the kids off, I decided I’d just turn the AUDIO OFF for the drive to work.

Of course, the fates rewarded me by giving me the longest commute yet since I’ve started working uptown again. I was 10 minutes late for a meeting I should have been 20 minutes early for, and traffic was bumper to bumper which led to a general insanity on the roadways. My patience was tested. More than once I wanted to peek at my phone, or flip on NPR to hear the latest news, or simply jam out to some music. But I had decided to turn the audio off for a reason and I stayed strong.

A few weeks ago, my good friend, Dr. Jason Pittser, told me that sometimes on his drive to work, he just turns everything off and spends those moments with his thoughts, clearing his mind, and reflecting. I really felt like I needed that this morning, and I’m so glad I did it.

Not having the noise and distraction of the radio, email, phone calls, texts, etc in the car made me hyper-aware, but also allowed me to explore some thoughts and feelings that I’ve been ignoring. It was a bit disconcerting to have the full attention span to realize how many people around me were paying very little attention to their driving. I watched in the rear view mirror as the guy behind me texted, smoked, talked on the phone, drank coffee, played with his GPS, and jammed out to the radio; praying all the while he wouldn’t rear end me. I saw a guy get so frustrated with our slow moving line of traffic that he drove on the shoulder, through the grass in the median, and around 2 cars to get into a lane he thought was faster; I passed him 5 minutes later. I could hear the rumble of the radio in a Tesla driven by a woman WAY TOO YOUNG to be able to afford a Tesla while she applied her make-up to the booming bass. All the while I had to resist the temptation of thinking how much better of a person I was than all of these morons. Fact of the matter is, I’ve allowed most of these distractions and more. I’ve experienced those same frustrations. I’ve allowed outside forces to dictate my mood. But not this morning.

This morning, as I sat quietly in the hum of life around me I was reminded how fortunate I am. I was reminded that my worries are not the worries of the world, nor should I treat them as such. I was reminded of the value of dreaming and wishing and hoping. I was reminded that I have been ignoring exercise so far in 2017 and need to stop making excuses. I was reminded how thankful I am to have healthy kids and a healthy wife. I was reminded that when I slow down and practice a little mindfulness, my heart rate slows and my blood pressure drops, and I allow room in my brain for thinking about things bigger and more important than a random meeting; things that affect my health, and family, and joy. And I smiled a lot.

If you are reading this, I want to challenge you to do something, right this second. Shut off every thing that can make noise or create distraction around you. Shut the door to the room you’re in. I know you can do this because a few minutes ago you were surfing Facebook or Twitter and ended up here, so you’re not THAT busy. Just turn it all off for 5 minutes. You don’t have to meditate or come up with anything profound, just sit and BE for a few minutes. Focus on your breathing and let your mind wander just a little. Close your eyes, and smile. When the audio is off, there is room for more than you can imagine.

Sun____

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What’s better, a sunset or a sunrise? One thing I love about both sunrise and sunset – they have their own beauty and are often difficult to distinguish from one another. Is the picture above a sunrise or a sunset? Does it matter? For as one sun sets, another prepares to rise. Each with her own grandeur.

In the last week of this year for me, I am reflecting on the setting of 2016 and anticipating the rising of 2017.

2016 has been a beautiful and complicated year. As I watch it’s “sunset,” I am in awe of everything that has happened to me and my family this year. We went through a family medical trauma, didn’t get what I thought was my “dream job,” sold a house, bought some land, learned the value of quitting, bought what we think of as our “dream home,” endured some stressful interpersonal relationships with family members, moved our kids to a new school, quit a job I loved to start one I never imagined would be possible, renovated a kitchen, lost our family dog, got a puppy for the first time in 15 years, and had a very full year of fun and frolic with our friends far and wide. We hiked, camped, fished, kayaked, laughed, cried, danced, and generally lived a full life.

What a beautiful sunset I’m watching on this year!

And the sunrise of 2017 is about to start peeking over the horizon. In a few short days, she’ll pop up her first few rays of light. Who knows what the day will hold once that sun is up in the air of 2017. The sunrise of each new year is like the sunrise of each new day – beautiful and filled with unlimited potential. It is likely that the year will have mountaintop moments and emotional valleys. I’m sure we’ll have some adventures that we’ll never forget and make some decisions we wish we could go back and change. It could be the best year of my life or the worst 12 months ever. Today, it is just starting to become a reality; the sunset of 2016 is much more real and relevant right now.

There’s one big difference, though…sunsets are for reflection, sunrises are for anticipation. And while I enjoy reflecting on 2016, I am energized with the  potential of the coming sunrise. It looks like it could be beautiful.

You’ve Got NO MAIL

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I woke up this morning to this. What?!?!

It’s been a long time since I had a clear inbox, so why the sudden purge? There’s a logical answer…today’s my last day at Downstream.

After 3 1/2 years of satisfying and fantastic work for the Portland, OR based experiential design firm that hired me to take over their sports group and gave me the opportunity lead a fantastic team of designers, developers, and project managers through some of the most fun projects of my career, I’m moving on. It was a blast and I have had fantastic clients and wonderful colleagues. So why leave?

I’m leaving to pursue an entrepreneurial project with what I believe is huge upside with another group of people that I have worked with before, enjoy, and respect. My new career will put me at the lead of Campus Initiatives for Adams Outdoor here in Charlotte, NC. I’ll be working with college and university campuses around the country to design, develop, implement, and sell out of home advertising networks and assets to help generate new revenue to support their university projects and missions. I am very excited about this venture and proud to be working for a company that is willing to innovate when they see opportunity.

So, that’s an announcement. But it isn’t really what was on my mind this morning when I saw that I had NO MAIL. The first thing that occurred to me is how have we as a business culture become so addicted to email? I work REALLY hard to be mindful of having meaningful personal interactions and engaging with real people, so why do I feel anxious when I see an empty inbox? For that matter, why am I looking at my email within 2 minutes of opening my eyes? And what is going to happen to me over the next week while I have NO EMAIL until I start at Adams on November 28?

I’m not sure I have answer to all of these questions. I feel like this new position gives me the opportunity to reset my own personal behaviors and expectations, so I want to spend some of this next week being THANKFUL for the respite and thinking about how to move forward in a healthy manner.

It isn’t realistic to say I’m just going to quit email in the new job. Email has become a vital form of communication in all manners of business today. Ignoring it would lead to missed opportunities and a failure to communicate with the very people I want to do business with in my new role. However, I do think it is realistic to reset my own standards and therefore create a set of new standards for my new clients and colleagues.

On this, my final day at Downstream, I am reflecting about my time in this role. As I do this, I look back on this blog, which began in my early days in this job as a way to reflect on my travels and express the ideas and emotions that flowed out of me. As I look through them with the lens of learning from the past, one jumps out – SMALL THINGS – which I wrote after I’d been on the job a little over a year and had been pushing hard to make my mark. You should go read it. As I re-read it, what stood out to me was that I had consciously decided to put things like exercise, reflection, meditation, and focus at the forefront of my mornings and emphasize staying in the moment with people and eliminating distractions. So what happened? That post was in September of 2014 and when I look at my business in Q4 of 2014 it is astonishing how much work got done! During that season when I was intentionally preventing email from controlling my life, we closed 3 of the 4 biggest deals I completed during my time at Downstream. Reducing the importance of email in my life, led to getting things done.

At this point, you’re probably thinking what I’m thinking…”then do it again.” Ok, time to re-commit. As I walk away from the addiction of work email for a week, I commit to start the new job with a renewed focus on the things that centered me in a way that made me a great leader and salesman – start the day in quiet meditation, make health and exercise a priority for each day, stay in the moment in each conversation and eliminate distractions (a buzzing phone) that might reduce that, and choose to talk on the phone over email and face to face over on the phone when possible. As I start this new adventure with old friends, it seems like a good time to return to habits that led to success! I hope you’ll choose to start fresh today too.

What you see from Mountain Tops

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A week ago, our family hiked to the Highest Point East of the Mississippi – Mt. Mitchell – just a couple of hours from our home in North Carolina. It is amazing what you can and can’t see from a mountaintop.

Obviously, on a clear day from the top of a mountain you can see grand vistas and miles and miles of land laying out before you. When we were at Mt. Mitchell, we could see for probably a hundred miles to the West. On the other hand, you can literally have your view “clouded” at that height. Despite the fact that it was a beautiful fall day, our view to the East was only a mile or two as that side of the mountain was foggy and cloudy.

The other thing that struck me that day was that your perspective changes on the mountaintop. You sort of feel in a power position until you start to try to focus on specific things in the valley below you and recognize that the details are hard to make out from up there. You can gain a broader understanding of the terrain around you, but the exact twists and turns, rivers and rocks that you might encounter are difficult to discern.

The mountaintops of our lives can be the same – it feels great to be soaring high and seemingly in control of things. But when you look out on the horizon of your life from those high moments of life, it is sometimes a clear view and other times a bit cloudy. I’ve been experiencing this feeling a lot lately. Things are going great – a healthy, loving family, fantastic new house, professional successes, financial stability. But when I look out across the landscape, it is difficult to see the details of what might be ahead. Things are a little hazy and cloudy. So here’s what we did when we were on the physical mountaintop…

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We found the trail and started to walk down. And you know what we found out? There were things on that trail that were WAY cooler than what we could see from the mountaintop. There were interesting plants, rocks to climb on, side trails to explore, warm sunshine, and cool shady areas. It was rocky and steep in places and smooth and easy to walk in other places. But the journey along that trail was may more fun than just standing on the mountaintop.

I think that’s the plan for me in life today too – time to head down the trail and see what else is down there. I’m sure there will be some surprises, the trail may get tough again. But the walk is the adventure and life can only really be experienced if you get off your mountaintops and keep on going. Here’s to a good walk down life’s next trail.

I LOVE my job. I HATE my job.

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Is there anyone in the world who doesn’t at some time HATE their job? I’m not talking about perpetually disliking what you are doing, wanting to quit, gotta get out of here feeling, I’m talking about the days or stretches of days that pop up where you just feel like you’re being ground up. Where you can’t get in the groove and gain traction. I’m having one of those stretches of days. My response has been to just put my head down and keep grinding. Now I’m not so sure that is the right thing to do.

I love my job. And I realize that the opportunity to work in sports on some of the coolest stadium and arena projects in the world (see below) is a responsibility that MANY people would trade with me. So why the rut that I can’t seem to grind myself out of?

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When I sat down to get started at work this morning, I had this thought run through my head: Does my career bring me satisfaction and add value to my life? Like many big questions that hit me like that, the best way for me to process it is to write. I guess I’ve not had too many big questions in my head recently since I haven’t written a blog post in over 3 months. Hmmm, maybe there is a correlation here.

Since mid-May I’ve been pretty bogged down in the weeds. We had another awesome year of the Jay Bilas Skills Camp in June, but there were a lot of little details we had to work through the last few weeks of May leading up to it. It was time consuming and mind numbing. At that same time, we have been working through the final phases of three huge projects at work. The end of projects for us is always when we’re looking at the details closely, figuring out what we’ve missed, trying to fix little bugs, and going over software incessantly trying to find those bugs. It is exhausting detail work that can only be done onsite and requires regular uncomfortable conversations with clients who want everything to be perfect the first time.

On top of all of those mind-numbing, detail driven work, we bought a new house, which we love, but it was painfully slow to get it closed and it is a lot of work.

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So I’ve been in the weeds. I’ve been moving information around. Sitting on conference calls to discuss details. Working in the minutiae. It’s been a long time since I sat 30-40 minutes aside at the beginning of the day to be mindful, ponder some big question, and write down my thoughts. It seems like a long time since I climbed up to the second floor of life and looked out at the horizon.

On the horizon you can see that there are great things coming – you can see the sun rising to a new day, you can see the beautiful mountains in the distance, you can see the vast lake reaching out before you. And in life you can see all of the opportunity that is out there. You can see the new challenges and new projects that are coming your way. You can start to think about how you are going to win the next great project or be a part of something innovative.  The horizon is what energizes me – it’s what makes me excited to get to work each morning.

If like me, you’ve been sitting in the weeds dealing with details a lot lately, do what I’m going to do the rest of the week – fill your open moments with time looking at the professional horizon because there is so much great opportunity out there and you can’t see it if you’ve always got your head down. And when you allow yourself to look out at the horizon, you might realize, like I have, that you actually LOVE your job.

Instruction v. Exposure

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For anyone who works with youth sports, particularly high school aged youth sports, you’ve probably heard a player or parent ask: “How can I get more exposure to college coaches?” I believe that we should refocus this question to “Where can I get the best instruction?”

I understand and appreciate the desire to “be seen” by college coaches in your sport. I had the opportunity to play college basketball and it was one of the most impactful and important experiences of my life. I have seen, however, too many families who are only focused on the exposure they are getting once they have made it to high school and have started to dream about the possibility of playing their sport in college. Instead of enjoying the game and improving their skills, they focus on who is watching and how their individual play is being evaluated. Why is this a problem? In order to understand it, it is important to look at the roots of the words “instruction” and “exposure.”

The word instruct is simply defined as “to teach someone a subject or skill.” When you are receiving instruction in your sport a coach or other teacher is spending time teaching you skills important to the game. The environments that this teaching takes place usually are safe places where it is ok to make mistakes, it is ok to stop and discuss things with the teacher, and it is ok to ask questions of others. By nature, a teaching environment does not contain the pressure of a performance environment, thus allowing the student to learn at his or her own pace and focus on improving weaknesses. All too often, when athletes get to the high school level they believe that they don’t really have anything else to learn; they usually know the basics and their physical abilities have made them better than most of their peers. This false sense of security leads players to de-emphasize or completely ignore their need for skill instruction from qualified coaches and teachers of their game. The reality is that as your game advances, it becomes even MORE important to get quality coaching and instruction to get better. One of the coaches that I’ve had the pleasure of working with at the Jay Bilas Skills Camp is Alan Stein and he shared his experience in working with Steph Curry, arguably the most skilled player in the NBA today. Continuing to learn and receive instruction will ensure that you continue to improve your game.

On the contrary, the word expose is defined as “to reveal something hidden.” If you think about this, how often do you really WANT exposure? Players and parents alike think that anything that is providing them exposure to college coaches and scouts is a good thing; the reality is that every one of those “exposure camps” or “exposure events” is designed to reveal something hidden. Every time you play in front of a college coach, they are looking for you to expose your weaknesses. If you can’t guard one on one, that will be exposed. If you aren’t a good teammate or aren’t coachable, that will be exposed. If you are one dimensional in your offensive skills, that will be exposed. The whole purpose of exposure events and the evaluation periods for college coaches is for them to determine which players they are going to spend time pursuing in a more personal manner. The easiest way to shorten that list is for your skills to be exposed in relation to others of your same age group. Once you step between the lines in games at these exposure events, your game is what it is and it will be exposed.

I get it, players and parents still want a chance to play their sport at the college level and our current system relies on exposure events to give college coaches a chance to see players who may be able to play at their level. I’m not suggesting that there is no value to exposure events and that everyone should stop attending them. What I am suggesting is that skill instruction SHOULD NOT BE OVERLOOKED for high school athletes. It isn’t good enough to just get your teaching during your high school season and then go play on a club team or travel team to get exposure. Players who are serious about continuing to improve so that they can COMPETE at the next level, should seek out opportunities for instruction in the off season as well. This might mean choosing a club team or AAU team that is focused on teaching and improving your game. This might mean going to camps where the focus is on improving your skills, not showing off for college coaches. This might mean skipping a few ‘exposure events’ so that you can get some one on one instruction from a qualified teacher of your game. And it definitely means a lot more individual work on your own and small group work with your friends to improve your skills. If you focus more on INSTRUCTION, I can almost guarantee that there will be less to EXPOSE when you’re in front of those college coaches.

Airport Tips for the Amateur Traveler

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Every now and then, when I’ve got a busy week of travel, I start the week by reminding myself of the best practices I’ve learned over years of business travel and then I take a deep breath before I head to the airport because I know that there will be a lot of folks acting completely insane and irrational. I’ve learned there’s nothing I can do about them or any of the other myriad of frustrations at the airport. However, I can help inform my friends and family who read this that don’t travel as much about some often overlooked tips.

For your traveling pleasure, might I remind you…

  • If you don’t travel a lot and know your way around your home airport, don’t push it time-wise. It will take you longer than you think, so get there at least 1.5-2 hours before your scheduled departure.
  • Pack light: If you can avoid checking a bag by getting everything in a roller board or bag that will fit overhead, you’ll save yourself a ton of time on both the front end and back end of your flight.
  • Check in ahead of time. A few years back, Al Gore invented the internet. Despite their tardiness, all airlines have completely adopted online check in. I would encourage you to use it and either print your boarding pass at home or use their handy apps to get your boarding pass. If you heed the above mentioned light packing, you’ll avoid the ticket counters altogether.
  • In America, we walk as we drive, on the right side. If you can remember this, we’ll all move more smoothly in the airport and not have traffic jams. On a related note, if you see someone running, kindly move out of the way. They are in a hurry and are about to miss a flight!
  • Be kind and patient with one another. It has been my experience that gate agents don’t try to screw people over on purpose. They have a job to do and strict guidelines to that job. It probably isn’t personal and you attract a lot more flies with honey than vinegar.
  • Don’t line up until your group is called. Some of us travel a lot and we’ve earned the status that gives us the right to get on the plane first. Creating a big crowd of Zone 4 people right by the gate is actually slowing things down because I’m getting on before you one way or another and I’m not getting up and adding to that crowd until I hear “Now boarding Executive Platinum for Milwaukee.”
  • If the gate agent tells you to gate check your bag, gate check your bag. Some planes aren’t big enough for the giant Wal-Mart roll on you brought. And if you are in Zone 4 and have been standing there blocking things for everyone else, there probably isn’t any overhead room anyway. Just check it.
  • If you choose to dress like a slob, ignore everyone around you while you loudly talk on the phone, make a mess of the terminal, and act like an ass then expect to be treated like the unprofessional person you appear to be. If you want to be treated like a professional, dress like you’re not getting ready for a sleep over and treat other people the way you want to be treated.

I hope that helps all of my amateur travel friends. Happy flying!