Living Well Traveled

harley

Someone told me recently that they thought I was ‘interesting’ because I am so well traveled. I thought that was a huge compliment! Ever since then, I’ve been dwelling on what is it about traveling that makes someone more interesting and thinking about the value of travel to one’s life.

I have been traveling, and loving it, for most of my life. When I was a kid, my mother was a teacher and my father was a pastor, so summer break was for VACATION. Our family wasn’t inclined to Disney World or to “lay on the beach” type of trips. Instead we were road-tripping fools. Before I graduated from high school we had done a trip West that included Yellowstone National Park, the Badlands, Mt. Rushmore, and Northern California. We’d done a trip East that included Cooperstown, NY the upper Northeastern states, and a couple of weeks on an island off the coast of Maine (twice). We’d done Washington D.C., New York City, and Gettysburg and surrounding battlefields. On the years we didn’t do big trips, we were heading to our grandparents for weeks at a time in rural towns in Illinois. Every trip was non-stop and every trip was an adventure.

As an adult, I’ve had the opportunity to do even more amazing travel. I’ve been to 49 of the 50 states (I’ll get you someday Alaska) and Puerto Rico. Fun-loving roommates and college friends got me off campus exploring not only our Eastern Tennessee mountains, but extended trips to Moab, UT, Canyonlands NP, and other Southwestern wonders. College basketball, both as a player and a coach, afforded me trips to Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Prague, Ukraine, Dominican Republic, Idaho, and some of college basketball’s most iconic arenas. An adventurous wife and 5 years of marriage without kids allowed for a dozen 14ers in Colorado, a trip to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and numerous backpacking trips all over the country. Finally, a couple of jobs that put me on the road have provided even more travel opportunities all over North America and beyond.

Through it all, I’ve seen some awesome places – some fantastic, some quietly amazing. I believe that the secret to travel making you more interesting boils down to 2 things: 1) going places on your travels that most visitors skip over and 2) slowing down and paying attention to the people and places you are visiting.

These two things became very evident to me this week on a ‘work-play’ week of travel. Our family drove to Wisconsin to visit my in-laws for a week, and while the kids and Jessi were enjoying Grandma and Grandpa’s, I took off to visit with some clients. The night before I flew out, Jessi and I took a ‘date night’ down in Dubuque, IA, where we enjoyed a cocktail and watched the sunset from Timmerman’s Supper Club overlooking the Mississippi River.

Timmermans

This throwback to the 1960’s was an amazing place with an incredible view and an interesting history. Definitely not the type of place that most visitor’s make it to. I then took off to Tulsa, OK for some meetings, where I had the chance to see the statue below called “East Meets West” at the 11th Street Bridge on old Route 66. While I was there, I met the grandson of the man in this car who gave me the behind the scenes history lesson about the creation of Route 66.

Route66statue

When I got back from my business trip (where I also had the chance to explore Oklahoma City with some locals), I grabbed a car and head North out of Dubuque to the in-laws. On the way home, I made a side trip to a place I’d seen the sign for many times, but never visited: The Potosi Brewery and National Brewery Museum in Potosi, WI. This village of 800 is several miles off the main highway, which is hundreds of miles from the nearest interstate. What I found was an amazing little museum (pic below) that told the story of brewing in Wisconsin and around the country, some good food, and great beer.

Potosi

What happened this week made me a more interesting person, I believe. I experienced some places that not only added information to my brain, but color to my life. I talked with people who were REAL, not tourist attraction attendants trying to put on a good face. I ate food that was prepared with care, not a microwave. And I spent time with people who love what they do and want to share it with others.

I could have just as easily stayed in the hotel, eaten at the Olive Garden next door, and driven straight to and from all of my meetings. Maybe I should have spent a little more time on email in my room or made a few more phone calls, but I didn’t. Instead, I chose to live well traveled and I am more interesting for doing it. Travel is what opens our minds to the possibilities the world has for us, but only if we travel well. So next time you’re on the road, find a way to get off the beaten path and talk to the people who’ll make your life more interesting.

Curveballs

AC1 AC2

I am not a baseball guy, per se, but I’ve watched enough on ESPN to know that if you’re going to hit a curveball, it is best if you are looking for it based on the count and the pitcher. I sure wish it were that way in life.

In life, it seems, you don’t ever see the curveballs coming. You’re bouncing through life and everything seems to be going well. You’re getting fastball after fastball and hitting most of them. While we rarely hit the big, towering home runs in life, we at least know what life is throwing at us most of the time and we can scratch out some ‘runs’ with singles, doubles, and an occasional triple.

And then life throws you a curve.

The two pics above were taken a few minutes ago at my house this morning (a Saturday). If you’ve had this particular curveball thrown at you, you know exactly what you are looking at…if not, you should pray that you don’t ever face this pitcher – replacement of your air conditioning unit! When we headed upstairs Thursday night to tuck the kids in we were greeted with temperatures in the high-80’s and no way to get the AC back on. One night on air mattresses downstairs prompted a call to the AC company on Friday morning and by mid-afternoon we were staring down one of the nastiest curves life can throw a homeowner; both our upstairs and downstairs AC units were completely corroded in the coils, leaking freon, and freezing up (which shuts them down). I will spare you the gory details, the painful facts and figures, and the heart-wrenching looks Jessi and I gave each other and just say that it is NOT an inexpensive repair. If there is a bright spot in the story, it is that Morris-Jenkins Heating and Air of Charlotte, NC treated us with kid gloves, were as generous with the pricing as possible, and had a crew here at 8:30a this morning to make the replacements.

Here’s what I’ve learned about life’s curveballs…you can’t ever really be ready for them, but you can still make contact and stay alive.

The interesting thing about curveballs in life is that the most important thing about being able to survive them is being present in the moment. You can’t get caught up in the last bad thing or tough time you just went through because if you’re emotionally whining and complaining about the past, today’s curveball will make your knees buckle and feel devastating. You also can’t be thinking too far ahead about how great you feel about your financial stability or upcoming opportunities. If you do that, today’s curveball will take all of the wind out of your sails because it can wipe away all of those opportunities. If you stay present in life, however, you can at least view the ‘pitch’ with clear eyes and no distractions, which is the only way you’ll have any chance of making contact with life’s curveballs – and making contact is probably the best you can hope for most of the time.

My initial instinct when we found out about having to replace the air conditioners yesterday was disappointment. I think anyone would react that way. We were looking forward to having our credit cards paid off completely for the first time in a long time in a few weeks; we were excited about our savings being in a place we finally felt comfortable with; we were looking forward to an upcoming commission check that would allow us to do some things we’d been looking forward to; and I was looking forward to a relaxing Saturday at home with no agenda and some family time. When I woke up this morning, however, I realized that it is just one of life’s curveballs and because I am getting better at being present in life, I was able to foul it off. We’re still enjoying a no agenda day at home as a family (albeit it with workers walking through the house all day). We’ll get those debts paid off sooner or later. And we’re sure to have some great experiences together in the coming months despite the financial setback because experiences are a priority for our family. We just have to get back in life’s batter’s box and take a few more pitches, that’s all.

Selling Widgets

Tim

by Dr. Jason Pittser, Fellow Traveler on the Path of Simplicity and Awareness

This past Saturday afternoon a great friend and I, along with our wives, were at a downtown Nashville honky-tonk. It was the typical downtown Nashville atmosphere – people from all over, great live music, drinks flowing. Interacting with the crowd between songs, the lead guitar player (above) asked if anyone was in Nashville on business, “trying to learn how to sell more widgets.” My friend and I laughed and agreed that to a man who plays guitar for a living, most of the business world must look like a chaotic mess of people rushing around trying to sell more widgets.

When you take a mindful look at it, selling widgets is exactly what many of us do in our professional lives. Some widgets are more important than others and some widget-selling is more meaningful. But when you boil it down, it is still selling widgets. My friend is a contractor and I’m an optometrist. Having shelter and being able to see are important, but custom homes and high-end eyewear are nothing more than widgets. Gregg Popovich, head coach of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, holds the NBA record for most consecutive winning seasons and is one of only five coaches in NBA history to win five or more championships. In an era when professional sports franchises change head coaches on a whim, he just finished his 19th season as the Spurs head coach. P. J. Carlesimo, one of Popovich’s former longtime assistant coaches, was asked what has made Popovich so successful for so long. His first response? “He has a lot of interests outside the game of basketball.” Before his team played an Elite Eight game in the 2015 NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament, Gonzaga coach Mark Few was asked if a win and a trip to the Final Four would validate him and cement his legacy. He responded, “As long as I can look into the eyes of my wife and children and see that I’m okay, that’s all the validation I need.” Two of the most successful coaches in the game seem to have an awareness that coaching basketball for millions of dollars, on some level, is nothing more than selling widgets.

What occupies much of our attention in our personal lives amounts to selling widgets as well. Ask the parent of a terminally ill child how important it is to get your child onto the best youth sports team or into the best private school, and I bet you’ll hear something similar to selling widgets. Arguing about what religious denomination has the right formula to get you into Heaven? Selling widgets. Wearing the right clothes or driving the right vehicle? Selling widgets. Getting into a back and forth about politics? I’m not sure that even reaches the level of selling widgets.

Widgets matter and selling them matters. Both may improve our life situation, and as in all things, we should always sell widgets to the best of our ability. Widgets aren’t good or bad, and neither is selling them. What is bad is losing awareness that we are merely selling widgets. And contrary to what our unobserved thinking tells us, maintaining an awareness that we are simply selling widgets makes us better at many things – including selling widgets.

Live, On Location

What an amazing, and somewhat sad, difference between Old Downtown Los Angeles and one of the world’s greatest entertainment zones, L.A. Live. Only a few blocks away from one another, they provide a stark contrast and present an interesting thought to ponder…

What in my life am I allowing to decay right now that some day I will look at and try to replace with something ‘better and newer?’ I doubt anyone in L.A. intentionally turned their backs on the beautiful theaters and terrazzo sidewalks of old downtown, they just didn’t keep them sharp and fresh and eventually they looked at it and decided the only thing to do was start over 5 blocks away. I don’t want anything in my life to see that fate – if it is worth having, it is worth my attention.Image

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