Everybody’s Busy

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I often vent here, but I try NOT to make it overt and directed, more veiled in my own challenges and weaknesses. Today, however, I’ve reached a bit of a frustration point with people who are “too busy” to slow down, or have fun, or be thoughtful about a project, or enjoy their life – even the work part of their life.

Everybody’s busy. I get it. What I don’t get is why that has to get in the way of enjoying life. There are VERY FEW jobs that are truly life and death. ER doctor, surgeon, airline pilot, maybe a firefighter or police officer on occasion. The rest of us are working at jobs that generate value for society or our company or ourselves, but we don’t have actual life and death hanging in the balance of our day to day. I’m not trying to minimize the importance of ANY job. I want my kids’ teachers to take their jobs seriously, and I appreciate the Duke Energy employees that keep the juice flowing to my house. My colleagues and I provide an important service to our clients by helping them advertise their businesses so they can be successful and support themselves and their employees. We’re all a part of a big economic machine and have to do our jobs to keep the machine running.

Yesterday, however, I was on the brink of confronting two different people about chilling out, so I thought it would be a lot more productive to share some thoughts on the topic here that might actually be a reminder to people who care instead of arguing with people who clearly don’t care. The first guy was sitting next to me on the plane on the way home. I saw him first in the terminal in Madison, WI, talking loudly on the phone about work while he also pecked away on his laptop. I have no idea what sort of business he was in – some sort of insurance. Of course, he ended up next to me in first class (I got upgraded, he’s very important so I’m sure he paid). He was on a call as he boarded the plane, leading him to act like a jerk to the gate agents, flight attendants, and all of his fellow passengers as we all boarded. As he talked, he looked at email and texted so I’m fairly certain he wasn’t exactly engaged with the client on the phone. This continued the ENTIRE FLIGHT. He never took his headphones off. When he couldn’t talk on the phone anymore, he switched over to music loud enough that I could hear it and continued to peck away. Even as we landed, having a beautiful view of Uptown Charlotte, he never rested his mind – played Candy Crush on his phone instead and didn’t even look up. I pitied this guy really. I pitied his clients and colleagues. Most importantly for me, it was a reminder to JUST SIT AND BE QUIET a few minutes every hour.

The second near confrontation came on the bus ride to our cars. As we were driving to the parking lot, one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen in awhile was washing over Charlotte. It was every shade of red you can imagine. I just sat there and enjoyed it, then looked around the bus to see if anyone was sharing this with me. None of my 6 fellow passengers had a clue – every one of them had their eyes glued on their phones. I looked over to the woman next to me and she was very engaged with her Facebook feed. I leaned over and said quietly, “quite a sunset” and pointed out the window…she looked up for a second, said “uh huh,” and went right back to her phone. All I could do was smile; and I decided just to enjoy the sunset.

Life’s fast, I get it. But we don’t all have to be running at that same speed. We all have things that seem urgent and important in our lives and work. Nearly all of us are “busy.” Let’s just all remember to stop and enjoy the world going on around us and enjoy one another. Be engaged with whatever you are working on, whether personal or professional. We’ll all be happier and more productive in the process.

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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.

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.

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.

Decisions

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Decisions, decisions, decisions…life is full of fun, interesting, difficult, painful, and exciting decisions.

In his book, All the Places to Go, John Ortberg cites a study that found that the average person makes about 70 conscious decisions per day. These make up the 25,550 mundane, important, and life sustaining decisions we make per year. For a person who lasts seventy years, those 1,788,500 decisions make up who they are as a person. As Albert Camus said, “Life is a sum of all your choices.”

This weekend, on a simple trail like the one above, it was illustrated for me how impactful a seemingly insignificant decision can be. Our family was walking along the Price Lake Trail along the Blue Ridge Parkway, enjoying a beautiful fall day. My 9 year old son was leading the way and we came to a fork in the trail. You couldn’t really see the end to either side, but there didn’t seem to be room for a true ‘fork’ so he said “you go that way and I’ll go this way daddy and we’ll meet up on the other side.” And that is what we did – we both walked maybe 20 yards and then the two trails came back together and we walked on. Maybe a half a mile later, we came to another fork and Jack again said, “let’s go both ways again and meet up.” Only this time the trails didn’t come back together. As soon as it went out of view, my trail veered off sharply, seemingly going somewhere else. As my son blissfully continued on the main path, it was clear to me that my path was not going to loop back around and reconnect. Because I’ve made roughly 792,149 more decisions in my life than my son, my experience told me that I’d better stop and turn around, return to the main trail, and catch up with my family before either I got lost or they got worried.

Our decisions in life are often the same. Some of them we think are going to be so impactful and we worry over them, pray over them, and over think them. Then we get a few steps into the decision and realize it brings us back to the path we were on and we move comfortably along. Other times, in a moment of comfort or on a whim, we make what seems to be an insignificant decision and move down a path that ends up taking us in a completely different direction. Sometimes we have the opportunity to backtrack to the main trail, but other times we end up just going a different direction and by the time we realize it, it has become our new path.

I’ve made a lot of decisions in my life, well over a million I’d surmise. Some of them have been good and beneficial and others have been painful and hard. But every one of them has made me who I am. As I continue forward on my life’s path, I think I’ll keep in mind that each decision, large and small, is impactful to who I am becoming. Being mindful of this won’t avoid hurt, pain, and sorrow, to be sure. Being mindful of my decisions will, however, make me more self-aware of what it is that makes me the person I am and the person I will become.

Restless

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It seems that about every two years I find myself really restless. I can’t put my finger on what causes it, but I can usually sense it coming on. And then the restlessness comes to head and I feel like I’m standing in front of the sign above trying to make a decision about what to do, but no matter what I do I can’t settle on a path.

When I’m in this restless state I find it hard to practice any sort of quiet meditation and my mind races in 10 different directions any time I try to focus. I’ll turn my attention to work, but stare at my daily planner and think how benign every single thing I need to do this week looks. I’ll get out of the house and try to change the scenery and just waste time in a fruitless effort to try to get my focus turned to something. I’ll get 3 or 4 different books going at once because none of them can seem to keep my attention. I’ll drag my family around looking at houses or bore my wife with stories about exotic ideas of living somewhere else. I’ll sit down to write and it will come up stream of consciousness (just like this) and feel disconnected. It can be maddening.

So, what to do?

Apparently this is a thing, because if you google restless life syndrome, you get a lot of results.

However, does knowing that I’m not the only one that suffers from this make it better? Nope. In the past when this has happened, it has often lead to a spiral of restlessness in my life that causes me to chase change for change’s sake. If I look back on the most severe cases of this strange phenomenon that I’ve experienced, they led to me moving to Colorado, getting out of coaching, taking a job that just about crushed my marriage because of all of the travel, starting a small business, and uprooting my family without hardly consulting my wife or giving any concern to how she might feel about it. Not all of those turned out bad, but to some degree they all caused pain that was tough to fight through.

I’m thinking that this time I’m going to behave differently. We’ve got a great house (with 2 brand new air conditioners), a great life (with a new used car that’s super cool), two great kids, two great jobs, and not much to complain about. It would be pretty stupid to blow all of that up just because I’m feeling a little restless. Instead, I’m going to soldier through. It will be uncomfortable and unnatural for me. I like change. But I think it is an important discipline for me to learn to stick.

I fully expect that my mind will continue to wander, my focus will be challenged, and my work for a time will be uninspired. I am hopeful that on the other side of this bout with restlessness I am going to find a peace that I’ve not experienced before because I’ve always given in to the urge to make a big change. I’m sort of excited to see what that peace is all about.

That seems like a much healthier thing to be restless about.

Returning to Beginnings

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About a year and a half ago, on a business trip to San Francisco, I decided that I ought to start writing down my thoughts and publishing them on this blog. Originally, it was just a way to formalize something that a few acquaintances and I had been doing on Facebook – documenting the cool places we got to run when we traveled for work. For me, it has progressed quite a bit from that.

This week, I was back in San Francisco for business and went for a morning run again down on Embarcadero Avenue that runs down along the waterfront. This was the place that I ran the first morning before that first blog post, and I saw a lot of the same sights. I thought it was the appropriate time to revisit some of the beginnings of these ramblings and remind myself of the state of mind and areas of focus I was dealing with back then.

The thing that struck me the most about reading those entries I wrote when I first decided that it was important to share my thoughts was how my beliefs haven’t shifted much, but how I have drifted from the focus I seemed to have back then on those beliefs. Specifically, I still feel very strongly about the importance of stillness, being quiet, being present in the moment, and being mindful at all times. However, reading my own writing from the fall of 2013, I can see that at the time, living that out daily and reminding myself daily to be focused on those things was key to my emotional and mental well being and a priority in my life. During the past 18 months I have allowed those things to be less central in my day to day routine.

I could wax on and on about how much more complicated life is since those beginning posts – I’m approaching 40 years old, I’m 2 years into a career instead of 6 months and have a lot more professional responsibilities because of that, my children are getting more and more busy and time consuming all of the time, my relationship with my wife has grown over the past year and a half which leads us to more and deeper conversations and connections, and I’m no longer training for a marathon and having hours on end of solitude while I run. These, however, would all be excuses.

The truth of the matter is that, as is so often true with all of life, our priorities, and the things we focus on, go through cycles. Various factors influence these cycles, but in the end it is natural for us to realize ebbs and flows in our life when it comes to emotional, relational, spiritual, physical, and mental well being. We shouldn’t beat ourselves up about not being where we were a year ago or 5 years ago in any of those areas. We should, however, return to beginnings occasionally and see if there are things of value from those beginnings that we can try to bring back in to our lives that will benefit the here and now.

For me personally, returning once again to San Francisco, running that same route along the Bay, and re-reading what I wrote when I started morningrunguys reminds me that although a lot of circumstances of life have changed in that short period of time, I still need to MAKE TIME to be still and quiet on a regular basis and I need to be more disciplined about not only taking regular morning runs, but also allowing time to reflect on the things that go through my mind on those runs. As I read back through some of my old posts, it is clear to me that when I allowed for this time and reflection, it had a positive impact on my personal and relational life.

I don’t know what the rest of 2015 will hold, or where I’ll be mentally or emotionally when the 2 year anniversary of these musings rolls around. But I am going to commit to returning to the deeper reflection of the beginnings of this blog, because when I return to the beginning I can see that they had an impact on how I expressed myself and I want that depth back to my soul.