Living

“The 6 Most Important Learnings From My Summer”,

#1 VALUE, #2 MINIMAL, #3 WILD, #4 PEACE, and …

SKULL _ living

#5 – LIVING

Life is lived in stages.
We all evolve, or potentially devolve, but we are never static. Birth. Childhood. Adolescence. Young adulthood. College. Our 20’s with our first jobs, the paving of our ways for a career. First loves. Getting married. Having kids. Achieving a modicum of success as professionals while developing skills that are actually marketable. Learning to thrive as mature adults. I used to plan out 5, 10 and even 20 year blueprints for myself. Now I find I am hesitant to commit to a path or course of life that might even be three years long. Is it because I am older and see it more clearly now? All of these gray hairs have to symbolize something sage don’t they?!

Your greatest strengths can also be your greatest weaknesses.

Over the years I have developed a knack for being able to wait. (Stop chuckling… I know some of you think that I am always ready to GO! right now, hell-bent on what we can right now accomplish, change or move ahead.) There are many times where I plan ahead and wait patiently for things to develop - I can see their predictable outcomes so there is no reason to rush things along. I prioritize my energy, my actions and even schedule some of my emotions (I know that there is a certain amount of sickness in this, thank you for noticing). Many, many things works themselves out naturally, according to well laid plans when you add in a bit of patience. My ability to wait, along with my other natural tendency to plan ahead for key items, allows me to put my actions and emotions for any given item on a shelf while time passes until I believe it’s the right time to work on or deal with something.

Hoping in the face of reality.

I have spent the last few years getting through the pain in life; waiting, hoping sometimes without out realistic hope, but wanting to really live. And the irony? I was living the whole time… it’s just that some of life really sucked. Often during this time of waiting, I packed up my frustrations and disappointments, my anger and my pain and used it to fuel my training which lead to two Ironman races within a 6 month period. I call it ‘running angry’. (Yes, most Ironman athletes are sadistic individuals like myself. Broken individuals who are probably escaping some other reality in their lives by turning their energies towards a sport that they can actually control which yields hours upon hours of training to push our bodies over finish lines but not for the glory of the accomplishment. Rather we do it unknowingly to swim, bike and run as hard as we can away from those things that we really can’t control. Yes, there are some rare exceptions, but most are just grinding, hardworking, pain-loving, sadistic mofo’s.)

In the absence of living I had existed.

And for a season, I just waited. There is nothing wrong with waiting… just as long as you don’t stop living while you do it. However, I discovered this summer that I hadn’t just been waiting for things to get better in my life, but rather I had put my whole life on PAUSE for a season. I had stopped living to a large degree while I was waiting.  But now peace has arrived and I feel the life that I have been craning for this entire time.

Hope is now, not in the future. 

Through my summer experiences I have begun to dream again. I am learning again to fully experience all of the best things while also doing a much better job of embracing the growth that can be found in the pain of life. I chose to take in every possible great thing that life has to offer and focus on being present. Present with my friends, present in the life giving opportunities to be outside, present in my work and certainly present with my boys — every moment that we get to spend together. This is not to say that I am not still feeling pain in some moments or utterly avoiding it, because neither of those things is possible. But now? Now I am able to embrace painful things, see and experience them for what they are and then also contextualize them to give them their proper places right next to all of the beauty and joy. By doing this, choosing to fully embrace both pain and joy, I have a better sense of the fullness of life.

Living Now

I am living in fullness of life and it is as good as anytime I can recall. Sure, I have had moments like this before. This is not just ‘the one moment of enlightenment’ that some people seek. And it is certainly not a damn mid-life crisis, but thank you for being concerned about my 40th birthday!

A song that mirrors your makeup.

Last summer my son Ethan bought the newest album from OneRepublic, “Native“.
I wasn’t a fan at first, but I caught myself listening to it over and over again while taking long drives in the car on emotionally difficult days. Jumping right off the album was the song “I Lived” (lyrics) . The chorus resonates with my sense of adventure and thirst for life.

I had been stumped to see the future, but everything in me wanted to continue to live, to experience every moment, to do all the things and squeeze the life out of this life. And yet I had been hampered in finding the missing elements in my life to truly live the way I craved to live.

Through my summer experiences I have begun to dream again. Here’s the chorus and my favorite verse from OneRepublic’s “I Lived”. May this never not be my motto. (You are welcome for the double negative in that sentence.)

[Chorus]
I, I did it all
I, I did it all
I owned every second
That this world could give
I saw so many places
The things that I did
Yeah, with every broken bone
I swear I lived

[Verse 2]
Hope that you spend your days
But they all add up
And when that sun goes down
Hope you raise your cup

I wish that I could witness
All your joy and all your pain
But until my moment comes
I’ll say…

I did it all

PEACE

“The 6 Most Important Learnings From My Summer”,

#1 VALUE, #2 MINIMAL, #3 WILD and now…

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#4 – PEACE

 

I found peace in Alaska

I must tell you about two days (or two events) that have given me a peace that I have been searching for for years. Hang with me, or just skip to the bottom. Choose your own adventure, just like the classic kid books.

I still don’t like the word divorce, but it’s succinct enough for defining what is a pivotal, painful and growth filled event in my life.

So much has been said by others as to why I got divorced (See “Pushing Reset on Instagram” for a small sampling). Some of this journey is utterly personal, so don’t expect that I am going to now give you all of those details here on a blog post. My very closest confidants know why I got divorced; they have cared enough to truly share the painful journey with me. Plus, I have no need or desire to share “my side” of the intimate relationship journey between Jen and I. What I do hope and pray for is nothing less than the best for Jen and my sons as we all live and breath in new realities. We are working our way through this new life with health and hope.

I lost peace in a time that can’t accurately put a date to. 

My personal and spiritual peace eroded when my soul started awakening to the reality of the end of my partnership with my closest friend since I was 18 years old. I was coming unraveled by the fact that we had an unhealthy relationship and that we were only getting further and further away from being the partners to each other that we had dreamed of being since we were just teenagers.

I lost peace and it was replaced with pain. 

My pain and my anxiety was heightened by a community induced stigma of divorce from well intentioned conservative religious folks. I chose to follow Christ’s teachings with my life when I was sixteen. I studied at a Bible college to become a pastor. I was ordained into ministry when I was twenty-three. I served in my home church as a pastor until I was thirty-five. Until someone tells me differently, I am still serving as a pastor through the work of XXXchurch.com to this day. Some of you know very well the culture of American Evangelical Christianity. Here’s a crash course on a central theme: GOD HATES DIVORCE — PERIOD. Ergo, God hates you if you get divorced. And God hates you especially if you are the one who chooses or initiates the divorce. And therefore, it’s only a logical conclusion that you (or me) will be banished in some way, both now and forever, for this eternal sin. (Read “Spiritual Evolution” for more) The community in which I am a member reinforces this stigma through silence, shunning, social media, teachings and so many more things that I care not to waste the digital space.

The Christian community at large does not broadcast, offer or afford a picture of health being found through divorce. 

Through this haze of pain and pressure, I found a initial signaling of hope through a voice on the radio. I have a cultivated small set of podcasts that I listen to regularly on topics such as history, American society, science, business, life hacking and also sports. Among these voices, Colin Cowherd continues to have the courage to range off topic to distill his learnings about life. I listen with enough frequency that from time to time I gleaned small glimpses of a healthy man, who shared fractions of his own past relational dynamics that I identified I was living within. In his thoughts and conclusions I first heard something new that no one else around me, who had actually been through a divorce, was willing to share. I heard someone who is healthy, divorced, happy (not bitter), intellectually communicative and living in a peaceful relationship with his ex-wife.

Inspiration and hope can be found in the strangest of places. 

When I had lost the final thread of hope with my marriage I finally mustered the internal conviction to make the most painful decision of my life. But, even as I moved forward in a new, healthier direction I was still lost month after month in the fog of “no peace”. Before, during and after the 18 month process of divorce I went to traditional counseling. I find counseling liberating and helpful, while I admit that I do not go regularly year after year. Through all of the counseling in this period of time, I continued to experience that an essential component was missing for finding the elusive internal, spiritual peace I craved. But, I couldn’t articulate what it was that I was searching for. My head and direction were not aligned with my spirit. My soul craved absolution. Forgiveness. Reconciliation with all that I have been taught, believe and have come to know. Even as life got better and even as I experienced that my sons’ lives were not going to be forever destroyed, I still had a nagging lack of peace.

My friend Craig randomly invited me to join him and two other acquaintances for a trip to Alaska to check out an off-the-beaten-path counseling / retreat center for work purposes. 

Craig and I have been friends for twenty years. He’s a faithful, brutally honest, quirky, absolutely irreplaceable friend. (I am not kissing his ass just because I happen to work for him.) I read his recap of our time in Alaska. It’s hilarious, accurate and uniquely him. I trust Craig enough to know that when he said ahead of time “this might be crazy” then, well, what I was in for next was certainly bound to be nothing short of crazy. You’ve been patient enough to read this far, so I must skip over many of the zany details of the weekend at the retreat center. But I must tell you about the first of two events that have lead to my peace.

By my own definition of things, traditional counseling methods attempt to address personal healing by engaging your brain. 

What I experienced in the counseling process in Alaska was a methodology of bringing an individual healing through an engagement of your emotions. They call it “processing”. I call it a tad bit weird. Let me try to explain. I know it’s going to sound fairly strange, cause it was a very strange thing for me to watch others do and it was equally strange for me to do it myself. The “processing” required me to lay down on the floor, blind folded, covered in a blanket while a counselor / guide lead me in what could be loosely called transcendental meditation with expression. First, I was lead through a heavy breathing technique that assists in clearing your mind of extraneous random thoughts by focusing entirely on your breath. I found this most easily achieved by visualizing myself running up a very hard hill. Next the counselor verbally lead me to tune into what my moody was feeling. “Notice your breath. Concentrate on your hands.” And a series of other called-out instructions to become fully aware of my physical body. From there, the counselor prompted me through questions about the trials of my past two years of my life. Much of what she asked me about was information that I voluntarily provided on an intake form. Some of the things she lead me to share were intuitive promptings given her background and experience. What she helped me to discover were emotions that I had shoved down and not yet actually released. She guided me to express the true emotions of things that I before had only thought. The result for me was like releasing a backed up geyser of raw and intense feelings. Things I never dared to share fully with anyone. It was powerful. It was freeing. It was truly therapeutic to release and express so, so much of what I had stored up and never truly let out with anyone. It’s weird, cause while I consider myself plenty manly, I also rarely shy away from expressing what I feel, even if that feeling is sorrow leading to tears. Going through this process was like a slow revitalization of my soul. When I was done it felt like waking up from a very long nap becoming completely rejuvenated. And as more time passed that day and the following week the energy and refreshment in my soul continued to grow. And this was just the first experience.

My day with the white sherpa of the far north.

Enter my new friend David Taylor. Dave is the brother of Seth and a new friend of Craig’s and XXXchurch. We are partnering with Seth to release a new book on recovery. Since I had gone to Alaska for work, I had decided to stay a 8 days more to explore a small bit of the wild. I like to hike, run and be just outside. Explore. So I connected with Dave to get a local guided experience into the mountains for a day. He laid out for us an incredible 18 mile route near Anchorage the week after I had been to the counseling center. Originally when making plans with Dave I had no thought of talking through my experience in counseling. But Dave had context for what I had experience and been through since he also has done work at the retreat center himself. Another bonus for our day of conversation together is that Dave also shares my faith heritage and is keenly versed in Biblical scriptures. So for me, he served as an excellent translator of what I had experienced and was still wrapping my mind around. So we hiked, over one modest peak and then onto another. We crossed a river and enjoyed the mountain lakes formed from melting snow. We continued to talk and the rain came down. The wild places of Alaska were the perfect backdrop to a profound nine hour conversation. Dave asked some of the best questions that could’ve only been received after I had been able to release all of my backed up emotions. We talked through scripture, we talked about divorce, we spoke of the nature of God’s love. We even talked about the stigmas and teachings of our shared religious culture. Dave honestly helped me and is continuing to help me re-frame so many passages of scripture that have been like anchors on my feet dragging me to the bottom of the ocean… those things that had been taking me further and further away from peace.

I have found the missing peace.

Certainly my life story is not yours. I know that we all have our unique challenges in life. I also know that peace and wholeness for me is an ongoing process. Frankly this whole blog post is slightly out of character given the nature of most of what I have written on here. But here are my takeaways:
1. May I always be willing try new things to live and experience a healthy life.
2. I hope that I will continue to practice this new “process” / meditation.
3. While I am flawed, the creator of the universe has a never ending capacity to demonstrate his grace.

Wild

Prologue: I promised “The 6 Most Important Learnings From My Summer”. As I read through all of these posts (most all of them were written in one complete sitting) I know full well that they make the most sense when taken all together as a complete, summary explanation of the personal growth that I have experienced in this summer. It’s is difficult for me to post these learnings individually mostly because when I read them one at a time, isolated, none of them jump off the screen as profound. So while it is indulgent to ask, I hope you take the time to read all of them as though they were neatly packaged in a ebook sort of experience. Yesterday I posted the first one in this series, MINIMAL, which in fact was the second one because I had already written the first one about VALUE earlier this summer.

 

#3 – WILD

WILD _ mt rainier

It is midnight.

I am sitting on the shore of the lake that is twenty minutes from my home. I hadn’t planned to finish writing this blog in this setting with the moon peering through the clouds and the waves lapping off the break wall, but geez it sure it fitting. I can smell the rain in the air, really wanting to spit out some actual drops, but realistically I am in the desert and it’s probably not going to happen. (In fact, the skies did finally let loose with record setting torrential rain that made me run for cover around 2:00 AM while I was still writing at the lake.)

I have been back to living in my suburban residence now for one whole week.

This time last week I was resting my body after two full weeks of outdoor adventures in the great expanses of Alaska and the surreal beauty of the Wonderland Trail that circumnavigates Mount Rainier in Washington.

I grew up in Northern Idaho.

Approximately 60 miles south of Canada, in what is now a resort town, but at the time was the waining lumber industry’s hub of Sandpoint, Idaho. My mother lived her whole life in Sandpoint until her mid-thirties. Her father lived his whole life in that area until he passed away. My parents nestled us into a small circle of homes that is a few miles beyond this tiny town. Outside of the 20 homes along the dirt road (which was probably a suburban paradise compared with the rest of town) my literal backyard was fields, trees, wooded land, mountains, and creeks that ran strong when the snow melted off the surrounding mountains.

I spent my formative years outside.

Three of my buddies lived nearby. Every afternoon when school let out we were playing ball in yards that had no fences, sledding the hill out back, ranging the woods creating forts, floating the creeks are far as our homemade rafts would take us and often wandering much further than my mother would even dare to let herself imagine even to this day. BB-guns in tow we shot things we weren’t supposed to and played Rambo with knives I’d probably still not let my own 11 year old own to this day.

We picked up and moved to Arizona when I was 14. 

The dramatic shift in our lives from the wild of North Idaho to the concrete blocked yards of metropolitan Phoenix was radically shocking in every way possible. I loved it. I have never once been bitter or sad about the adventure and the incredible opportunities that came my way with that move. To a certain degree, I never lost my sense of adventure for the outdoors. My bike road faster on the paved roads and sidewalks. I still found ways to go places I did not ask my mom for permission. But for the remainder of my teen years and the first half of my twenties, I didn’t go back to the wild places.

And then I found a mistress.

In the midst of struggles and wrestling with personal small little demons, a new friend (now an older brother of sorts) introduced me to mountain biking. He saw that if we were ever going to really connect that it would have to be alongside an activity that harnessed my energy, took an edge off my raw nature and gave us something more tangible to share than a beer or some bullshit chat. I took that first mountain bike (the one he gave me on permanent loan) and I coupled it with my Bible and cycled away.

I melded my love of mountain biking with my desire to know God. 

If mountain biking was the second iteration of my love for the outdoors personified, then triathlon-ing has been the third iteration. I will save you the detailed account, but needless to say it came about because of some punk ass 20-somethings who thought that they could beat an overweight pastor in an Olympic Tri. Ha! They lost. And they have continued to lose year after year although they be 10 years younger.

The Wild is spiritual for me.

I will let you use your own definition for God, but I am convinced that the creator of the world is more easily experienced when I strip away the clutter of buildings, unplug from internet connectivity, and put distance between me and the noise of clambering cities. When the breeze is fresh upon my unshaved face and I am able to cast off modern social considerations, my mind is more alive. I am able to capture succinct truths about leadership, my life, my children. In the simplicities of aloneness on a trail thoughts are distilled, convictions laid bare. And the wonder of this life and world, those most important things, certainly become more self evident.

And now there is something new.

Words can’t capture the amazing times of being free in Alaska and around Mt. Rainier, but those places have ushered in a forth iteration for how I hope to enjoy the life of being in the wild. Backpacking! I spent 7 straight days roaming around Alaska, sleeping in a tent, hiking without a map or a trail. I encountered grizzly bears, bald eagles, caribou and so much more. I stood in the rain and waited for the sun to break through, then I was gifted a rainbow for my patience. Then I traveled south to Mt. Rainier and began the adventures all over again. My cousin and I backpacked the Wonderland trail, covering 93 miles around the mountain in 5 days. It kicked our asses and destroyed our feet in all of the best ways. We made new friends out on the trail. I huddled in more rain to enjoy the sweet awesomeness of top ramen chicken noodles. We craved beer climb after climb and then guzzled it’s goodness as soon as we were done. And these short sentences can’t begin to describe the incredible experiences and life that came from these two weeks in the wild. Next time, you should just come with me.

4 books I highly recommend to entice you to join me outside: 
- Into Thin Air
- A Walk In The Woods (Hilarious!)
- Into the Wild
- Wild (A fantastic personal journey)

Minimal

 

Every once in a while I can feel myself grow and change.

 

The 6 Most Important Learnings From My Summer

Even in conversations I can usually tell when some new light bulb has gone off for me. I try to capture these moments of personal growth and refine them down to easy to remember principles that I can hang on to. I have a really bad memory. This summer was an exceptional period of personal growth, so I am sharing the 6 most important learnings from my summer. This started as a quick hitting, bullet pointed blog post that somehow turned it’s way into a mini-novel of sorts with a growing expanse of back story that I didn’t really anticipate. So, I have broken the one blog post into a series of six blog posts. Like other things that I write, I hope you enjoy it. If nothing else, some of you will at least get an inside peak into what kind of crazy is going on inside of my head. Let me start with the easiest things and work my way towards the ones that are hardest to explain. First there was VALUE, and now…

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#2 – Minimalism

For years I have fancied myself a semi-practicing minimalist.

I don’t know where it began or how exactly this strain of my personality has evolved. Maybe it started during my teen years when my family was uber poor. I can’t recall how many eviction notices I saw served to my father while living in a very small rental home in a fairly cruddy neighborhood. There were weeks where it was a classic case of a can or two of food lining the shelves. We received groceries as gifts from friends during holidays. I slept on the couch for three years while I was in high school, my “room” being the hallway coat closet to contain all of my possessions. Yes, I do realize that this is still a very rich existence compared by global standards. My only point being, this was a refining period of life in terms of my relationship with stuff, or lack thereof.

Through college and after, I went through the normal accumulation of things typifying the modern American dream.

In my mid-thirties I sold the only home my boys had ever known and as a family we began a vagabond of sorts, traveling across the US twice in an RV, living in Seattle for a year, living in Maryland for six months, always coming back to Arizona as our home. My friends joked that we were gypsies. I held fast to a principle that I still utilize today: “God owns everything, I just need to find a way to borrow it.” We had a blast and so many amazing memories from this this era. During this time, for practical purposes and because of the experience of freedom, we de-collected with non-essentials. Each time we traveled or moved, we got rid of more and more stuff.

Pushing fast forward, I moved in a big, new direction in January 2013 when I separated from my wife of 18 years.

I will write more about this later, in a blog called PEACE. Through the last year and a half culminating in divorce, stuff has continued to not matter to me at all. In fact, even the financial aspect of divorcing (minimizing my banking account) hasn’t been that big of a blow, although it certainly has been expensive. I moved into my own house in June 2013, taking only what she didn’t want for herself. I was left with a few very personal childhood, familial possessions and of course, my mountain bike.

A friend gave me the book “Everything That Remains” by Joshua Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus.

These yahoos author the site TheMinimalists.com. Inspired by this book and the challenges within, this summer I began purging my home anew. Not out of a hate for things or white American guilt, but out of a desire to rid myself of items that take up space, create clutter, consume my time or attention and which I never, ever use. I find peace in owning less stuff. It’s not for everyone, but it is for me.

A simple and wonderful practice outlined in the book: Get rid of anything that you have not used in more than 30 days.

Initially I took that quaint thought, made my own time parameter of ‘anything I haven’t used in the last year’ and started piling things in my garage to donate. I never sell things, I always donate. I have carted off 3 full car loads of things so far. The hassle of selling possessions (unless it is a really, really big item) is never worth the time. Besides, donating is always a chance to bless someone else who has a need for the things that I am not using.

My minimalist list to my minimal ways:

1. I rent a home instead of owning. It’s cheaper, more flexible and much, much easier.
2. I purge any clothes that I haven’t worn in 3 months. I save winter clothes purging for winter.
3. I donate unused items.
4. I own my car until it dies.
5. I borrow, whenever possible. Vacation homes (I go with friends cause it’s more fun when they are there). Expensive recreational vehicles like boats, atv’s, etc. For the record, I also freely loan out what I do own.
6. When I purchase, I buy items that will last and that I really enjoy.
7. I ruthlessly go through closets and cupboards to donate more.

Boyhood

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I am pretty sure that the exploration of “coming of age” has been around since at least Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. I lack literary and cinematic history knowledge, so who knows?!

I have taken some or all of my boys to four great films over the last year or so.
“The Way Way Back”
“The Kings of Summer”
“Mud”
and last night… “Boyhood”

Yes, I know some of you parents out there are going to question my decision making process by taking boys ages 11, 12 and 14 to an R rated movie. Good for you, you probably should. I don’t live in your box though. You should probably avoid read a forthcoming post about our “2nd Annual Shit Day”. It will only serve to really unravel you.

I lead my sons from boyhood through the coming of age period in their lives. 

My role is to be a guide not a spectator. A coach not a referee. A mentor not a friend. I am to be a strong role model of what it looks like in real life to be balanced in health and in spirit. To help shape them in becoming men. Men of action. Men of substance. Men of values. Men of heart. Men of provision and responsibility. Men of spiritual awareness. To show them love and help them learn how to love. As a father I am a protector, a provider, a disciplinarian, a compass for establishing right from wrong.

I am first and foremost a leader to my children.

I am a leader who can not possibly love and care for them anymore than I do. And at the end of it all, I am not responsible for how they turn out. These boys are my responsibility, however, to ready for the lives that they have ahead of them. As a father it is my primary role to effectively equip my boys for the world in which we live, not for the world in which we want to live.

Films depicting adolescent boys shown through a realistic lens.

In each film the boy is found to be living through challenging life dynamics, and we are presented the mental and emotional wanderings of the teen years compounded with the angst of the real life challenges that they are facing. There are plenty of minefields in these films involving sexuality, harsh language, drug or alcohol use, divorce, social acceptance, abuse, love and life purpose. You know… real life stuff.

More than the films, I love the conversations that follow these films. 

Sure, my kids really enjoy the latest action packed thriller as much as the next kid does. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I enjoyed them too. However, since my kids are drawn to the movies, I revel in the opportunity to take them to see well written and produced movies that they enjoy AND that create ongoing conversations about the lives they are living now plus the lives that they have in front of them. Be honest. We know that every single one of our kids face a litany of hard decisions coming their way at a faster pace and with greater opportunities (ie. Drugs & Sex) than most of us ever had at their same ages. (Aren’t you often astonished by what your kids know at younger ages as compared to when you were a kid of their same age?)

With these movies that I soak up the conversations that follow.

Every time, in the immediate car ride after, or the next day or even sometimes later in the week. We turn off the radio. Cell phones and iPads are pushed away. We just free-form a discussion about what made them laugh, what scared them, what was startling, the main characters, the challenges. I don’t need to have a specific learning agenda. What they learn flows naturally out of what they already know given the values and the direction that I continual insert into their daily decision making opportunities. My kids as questions.

How do you start awesome parenting and leadership conversations with your kids?

For as crazy as some of my parenting allowances may be (see example “2nd Annual Shit Day” or “I trust you to go 3 miles alone”) each allowance makes room for growth, conversation and a deepening, ongoing relationship with their old man as they journey through coming of age with me.

Pushing Reset on Instagram

I have been home one week from one of the best adventures of my life, exploring the wilds of Alaska alone and then onto backpacking 93 miles around Mt. Rainier in Washington. This trip, in some fashion, had been forming in my life over the last year. I had set the time and experience aside to recalibrate internally and refresh my soul. The time away and the experiences exceeded my hopes and expectations. I had days upon days to think through my life, most specifically the last couple of years. Transformative. Pivotal. Renewing. These words describe only faintly what I have gone through. And yet, the leading word I couldn’t shake loose while I was gone was the word RESET. And then, like magic, the very first blog post I read when I got back to reality was this incredible and profound piece by James Altucher (@jaltucher). James is currently one of my favorite reads & podcast listens. (Be sure to subscribe to the extra email subscription readings for free.)

Soon, maybe today, maybe this week, I will share with you The 6 Most Important Learnings From My Summer.  (Peace, The Wild, Spiritual Evolution, Living, Minimalism, Adding Daily Value)

But this post isn’t about those things. Nope. Rather this post is about social media.

More than a year ago I deleted my Facebook account. 

Going through a big change in my life over the last two years (Yes, I got divorced – Oh will God ever forgive me?!) I was tired of the drama that came my way on that social media platform. I couldn’t easily figure out how to reset the number of people that were my “friends” on there, and so many people supposedly get hurt when you unfriend them digitally… apparently it’s a big freaking deal.

I haven’t missed Facebook one tiny bit.

I could write an extensive blog on all the hilarious reactions others have had to my leaving Facebook, or that I don’t have a social Facebook account or that I don’t get sucked up in waisting time on there any more. Yes mom, I am still ok. (Today, I do have a Facebook account. It has 3 friends, all of them work related. I log on about 1x a week for work only purposes related specifically to my job. I don’t care that you might be pissed that you aren’t one of those friends.) And along the way, I have discovered that my real, essential friends still call me, text me or drop by my house to say hello. Yes! It is true. Real friends care to stay connected and put in effort. And even crazier? They share photos with me about what is meaningful to them. Weird I know.

At that same time, I kept my twitter account, mostly because I didn’t want to lose my account name @ryan_russell. It’s pretty hard to get a decent twitter URL with such a common name. But like Facebook, I deleted the app off of my phone, I un-followed some people, I blocked a few certain people from following my tweets, and over the last year I rarely logged in. I haven’t miss that noise either.

Back then, I kept my Instagram account. Why? Simple. It is the only social media platform that my three boys utilize. They are awesome, fun, adventurous, hilarious guys. I have enjoyed watching what they are up to, especially when I am out of town. So while I kept IG, I still turned the permissions to private, BLOCKED certain Followers, and un-followed quite a host of people. Over the last year I have declined way more wannabe followers than I have allowed through. But I watched a funny thing happen in me over this period of time, and I don’t find it quite so funny… The very things I have not missed about others or in myself while not using Facebook and Twitter have cropped up on IG. Drama. Meaningless posts about sandwiches and coffee (I am guilty as well). Wasting of time. Pushing the app icon on my phone way too many times during days I am bored or in want of some form of social connectivity. I have felt this growing problem and felt the urge to delete IG too on more than one occasion.

Yesterday I noticed that worst of things in myself about IG that too much reminded me of those other social media platforms.

I was enjoying an epic time of trail running by myself, but my mind was being interrupted by an “IG need” to grab a picture, compose a quirky or scintillating caption, and was fueled by an instinct to run (literally) back to cell service so I could post it and get ‘likes’ and comments. I was pissed. Not at you, but at me. What a freaking waste of time and energy! What a distraction to the beauty of the morning. What a sad commentary about my mind being elsewhere when beauty is staring me in the face and the challenge of the moments of running are so exhilarating. I was not as present as I want to be.

It’s time for a recalibration with Instagram.

This next evolution in my social media un-interactions is different. It’s far more about growth, goals and new directions than it is about tuning out the noise or being too consumed with what “friends” are up to or even being elsewhere mentally when I am right in the middle of doing something freaking fantastic. This next phase for me is about continuing to push RESET in my life.

I am not closing my Instagram account, but I plan to use it differently, when I end up using it again. 

Akin to twitter, I like my URL on Instagram, albeit it’s a sarcastic one – Instagram.com/SirRyanRussell – that I originally created in response to a friend who encouraged me to try out the app. So I am keeping it. Immediately I plan to delete the app off of my phone and take a break for an undetermined period of time. Simultaneously, I have turned the settings back to public / open so that anyone can choose to follow if they care (I am note sure why they will want to anytime soon since there won’t be much new material). I am putting my focus back on writing because I feel renewed with new things to say and share, even if they are just for the sake of my own joy and the discipline of cultivating some small measure of writing skills. As I write, I will use IG, Twitter (and maybe even Facebook again) for the purposes of sharing links to the things that I am writing. I don’t anticipate in the near future using IG to share silly posts about me, my kids or my adventures because I much prefer posting series of pictures on Flickr.com/redbikeleader about our adventures over one-off quick photos.

So this is my mini-manifesto about the evolution of pushing RESET on social media. I can’t wait to share the other ways I have or plan to push reset in other areas of my life!

Have a kickass day!
I hope to see you friends in real life.

Forgo World Domination

Twitter succeeded (albiet maybe not financially) with the simple concept of public social messaging limited to 144 characters. Google gained dominance on “search” long before adwords, gmail, GoogleDocs and the litany of applications. Amazon revolutionized the online shopping mall but now delivers server farms, phones, video content. Godaddy? Much the same, they made it easy to by a domain, now they up-sell hosting, websites, privacy features and I think they just offered to come clean my house next month. We’ve all seen clearly how Microsoft evolved (or maybe devolved depending on your perspective) from the titans who revolutionized computing with graphical interface into the global titan who does…? Xbox, Office, phones, yada yada yada…

All of these business cases typify “More is Better” and then strive to make the business case that “Much More Must Be Much Better”.

This quest for ‘more’ is the beast inside each leader howling to take charge. ‘More’ wages war against Best, Humanity, and the quality of life. This isn’t a blog rant about working less or killing all of your corporate dreams. This is a blog post about effectiveness, purpose, priorities and the allure of the next shiny thing. Dollars, pride, competition, and even boredom derail leaders and organizations from excellence.

Aren’t we all tempted by this in our personal lives too? We have the jitters to ‘do something’, read something, play something, conquer something. We quickly and easily lose site of more intimate personal goals to deliver high quality, meaningful relationships, experiences and legacies.

Consider what would happen if we were to forgo world domination and concentrate on excellence in our work, in our relationships and in our personal health.

Add Daily Value

Add Daily Value

It’s a simple thought, but let it sit on you for a moment as you reflect on your leadership.

Don’t think of it as a directive given to you by your boss who is looking for higher ROI (return on investment). No one is going to force you to add daily value and happily (for both you and for me) I am not your boss.

Avoid framing it as a question, “Am I adding daily value?” That will only lead you down one of two paths: A confident and indignant, “Of course I add daily value in my leadership or workplace!” Or two, a head clouded, frustrated, spiral of self doubt and loathing, “Gosh, I don’t think I add daily value — shit, they might fire me if they notice!”

But what if we think of Add Daily Value in terms of a personalized mission statement for your leadership. Your leadership day doesn’t have to begin when you wake, but perhaps you slipped this value on with your work clothes every day? How would you lead differently? Can you imagine an environment where you and everyone else around you went beyond the tasks, the goals, the bottom-line and aimed for something greater? Adding daily value to your co-workers lives, your employees, your customers, the other tenants in your building. What kind of leader could you become if this value filtered through your decision making processes.

I must confess, for all of the values that I hold dear, this one, framed this way, is refocusing how I see my leadership world.

Kudos to Josh & Ryan on their book “Everything Remains”. This read along with the thoughts shared through their blog are definitely on my must read list now… go check them out.

10 reasons why organizations fail to develop great volunteers

Why organizations fail to develop great volunteers? Here’s the top 10 reasons why organizations fail to develop a great team of volunteer leaders.

1. A lack of vision
If you think volunteers can’t do anything important then you have no vision for the power of internally motivated, passionate people changing the world. Your vision of what the future can look like with a team of “free” leaders must change.

2. No plan
Developing great volunteers requires advanced planning. I will beat this drum until I die, as I will that you need to read the E-myth to help you figure out the bigger picture.

3. No Structure
One man or woman can not effectively lead an army by themselves. Think terms of teams with a ratio of 1 to 6. For every 6 volunteers you have you will need a leader in their midst, guiding the efforts, helping the whole to go in the same direction.

4. They take anyone
Don’t be mistaken. Just because people are volunteering doesn’t mean that you can’t be selective. Joining a team must come with a minimum standard of excellence, skills, character, chemistry and all the other things that you would look for as you build an awesome team.

5. They give out crap jobs
If interns get photocopy jobs, then volunteers are the ones asked to clean the bathrooms. This is such a piss poor approach and you will never attract top talent with this mentality. Do NOT be afraid to create genuine, meaningful leadership posts for volunteers. Your best volunteers will be top flight professionals who will actually be more talented than you so let them lead meaningful endeavors!

6. Eyes shut
Most organizations don’t keep their eyes open for leaders, and instead, they rely on recruiting volunteers with forms, webpages and please for “help”. This will not work. The very best leaders need to be recruited through relationships. You can’t retract into your organizational bubble and expect talent will find you.

7. No investment
People are people and should be valued as such. You are not a leader because of position but because of influence. Volunteers need encouragement, inspiration, and connection. These things come from you when you invest back into them. Don’t get caught up in the work, but rather get caught up in serving your best volunteers.

8. Lack of training
Showing a volunteer what to do on the day they show up doesn’t constitute training. Sure, hands on training is great, but simple questions like “how, why, best practices, and goals” all need to be addressed up front as much as possible. Training alleviates fear and builds confidence.

9. Burnout
Volunteers are a consumable resource. The highest impact volunteers have very busy lives. Most of them will have 40-60 hours of their week already spent before they participate with you… You must keep this in mind. Plan ahead. Be ready. Make each hour that a volunteer is serving with you count.

10. High rates of staff turnover
Every time the key leader in the organization leaves and a new person comes in, you might as well expect that about 50% of your volunteers will leave within the next 12 months. Volunteers are motivated by missional impact and relationship with the leadership of your organization.

Don’t let reasons be why your organizations fail to develop a great team of volunteer leaders.

You Must Learn To Write

I had no idea how when I was 16, 21 or even 26 years old just how much learning to write effectively would alter the course of my leadership world and also my earning potential. I truly believe that you must learn to write. This isn’t a new concept. Leaders throughout history have been avid writers; detailing military strategies, communicating with key people, recording events & significant history, capturing laws, executing vital orders, and even passionately conveying their love to another over long distances. Without writing we have no reliable transference of leadership from one generation to the next. Without the power of words in text (and now video) you are limited to being in only one place at time and also limited to your moment by moment leadership. Without writing you can only lead the people right in front of you.

You must learn to write. Start now. Practice. Perfect. Struggle through it. See Seth Godin’s post today, “The 5000th post*“, each one coming one day right after another. How did he turn his career from a mid-level corporate marketer to developing the most influential leadership resources on the web today? By writing.

Need help being an more effective writer?

Google search “How To Write Effectively” and I am positive that each and every article will be extremely helpful at giving you practical tips with how to improves your writing skills.

Also, not enough words can be devoted to how instrumental a world class editor is. See @ThatAdamPalmer and his tweets to me about some basic writing pointers for a new project I am working on.

basic writing tips

basic writing tips from Adam Palmer