Read this First

I am a husband, a father, and a start-up business leader. This blog is a collection of my musings on things that I am reading and listening too, reflections on being a new parent and thoughts on how to be a better version of yourself.  My hope is for any of these random ideas and thoughts help spark new perspectives in your own life!

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Home

“Ah, home, let me go home
Home is wherever I’m with you
Ah, home, let me go home
Home is wherever I’m with you”
Home
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes

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This past week, we packed up our home at 627 Page Street in San Francisco to move into a new home in Nashville. Packing is hard – it is a systematic dismantling of the things that make a place feel like home. Every few days, one of our many plants left and found a new home with friends. Then, there was the removal of photos and memories off the walls, leaving them bare and full of holes. If you remove all of the things that made it home, is it still home?

As rugs came off the floor, I remember our first month in the apartment. We didn’t have a dining room table, so we spread a blanket on the floor and had dinner picnics. I remember one night in particular when we made Pad Thai and played the Lumineers and talked about our future.

As our bed was packed, I remember when we first adopted Jack and he was too small to jump onto the bed on his own. He would get out of his crate in the morning and come over to Andi’s side of the bed wanting to come up and snuggle. Every morning, he would also try to jump up himself – sprinting down the hallway, sliding on the wood floors in the living room before launching himself up and missing the jump by a foot. (He did make it once by leveraging a pile of pillows on the floor).

As the pots and pans got stacked into boxes, I remember the 100 times we set off the smoke alarms making dinners for friends. The baked eggs, caesar salads, couscous, salmon, soups, and cheese plates with all the wine and just a little fernet that were made in a too small kitchen. I remember the hundreds of times Andi would try dinner before it was ready – (It’s not done yet!) and all the little burns that were the battle scars of perfect nights in with friends.

As we emptied the cabinets in the bathroom, I remember walking in one night to Andi crying holding a pregnancy test and just holding her and reading a short story Jack wrote (that I made up) to welcome the new little one to the family.

As we emptied our closets, we took off wallpaper that turned a closet into a nursery and took down a bright pink and white mobile that I would spin every night as I put Lucy to sleep. We emptied the closets of a now too small raincoat for Jack and a dried wedding bouquet. And from the corner of the room, we removed a rocking chair where we both spent countless hours rocking and reading Lucy to sleep. The corner where Good Night Moon became goodnight room and we wished goodnight to each plant and puppy in our view.

And on that last day I came home from work to our home, Lucy was in the window with her puppy waiting and watching for me to come home. She was smiling and squealing and hitting her hands against the window as Andi held her and pointed to me biking up the block. Jack was right there next to her, sitting and watching and waiting. As the couch left, I couldn’t help but think of all the times I biked home from work to see Jack waiting for me in the window, then bounding down the steps to come and greet me. As our family grew and Lucy joined him there, so did my love of that moment of my day.

I was home.

Home wasn’t all our plants (although it was hard to say goodbye to all of them!) or our collection of matches from every restaurant we had been together. It also wasn’t our bed, couch, or any one thing we had accumulated in our 650 square foot apartment.

The song Home by Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes played as we walked down the aisle right after we were married. In that moment, I don’t think I understood that our home would be this collection of moments — just like that one — surrounded by people we love. The physical place matters so much less when you are able to take all those moments and memories along.

Home is when we brought Lucy home from the hospital to meet Jack. Home is dancing in the living room with friends to Matt and Kim. Home is being covered in spit-up and knowing you are still loved. Home is sitting on the couch drinking wine and eating popcorn (obviously, Kirkland Signature Brand because it’s Jack’s favorite).

Home is Andi and Jack and Lucy.

And all of them are coming to our new physical home in Nashville (…and maybe a few plants). While I’ll miss our 627 Page Street apartment, I’m looking forward to creating new memories with the people (and puppy) that make home, home.

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New Home in East Nashville!

Attention, Interest, and Values

columbus__article-hero-1130x430.jpgIn Kogonada’s movie Columbus, the main character Casey and a coworker talk early on about perceptions of attention and interest. The example is of a professor whose son loves playing video games, but can’t sit for 10 minutes to read a book. Conversely, the professor can read for hours, but can’t seem to sit with his son and play video games for more than a few minutes.

The son gets labeled as having a short attention span and then probably something more official sounding like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – and prescribed medication, but doesn’t the professor doesn’t? The coworker then states to Casey that the problem is much less one of the ability to pay attention — the son obviously can and does pay attention to video games for hours, but one of interest. The professor is interested in reading, so he reads. The son in video games, so he plays video games.

The real problem then is not about short attention spans, but about the perception that we are losing interest in things that matter. The conversation dialogue between Casey and his coworker ends with that question, “Are we losing interest in everyday life?”

The question at the crux of this conversation is about what matters and what should we be interested in. Both of these questions feel highly subjective. You could be the professor and value knowledge and reading, or his son and value playing video games. Each person has their own version of what matters most and the answer to that question drives their own interest(s).

Although these questions feel subjective, there is one common answer when you ask people at the end of their lives what they regret most.

Put simply, when I asked one person, “Do you wish you accomplished more?” He responded, “No, I wished I loved more.”

Andi recently sent me this article (quoted above) on the subject and when I read it, the answer now feels less subjective and more clear – what matters most as we look back on our lives is not what we accomplished, the number of books read, or the number of video games played, but the quality and depth of the relationships in our lives.

If we agree that one of the things that matters most is life are our relationships with those around us, the question (“Are we losing interest in everyday life?”) from the movie feels like the wrong one. We aren’t losing interest in everyday life. We are getting distracted. We haven’t lost sight of what we value. We are spending our time on things that we don’t value.

For me, those distractions take the form of binge watching Netflix, scrolling aimlessly on my phone, and feeling the urge to pick my phone up whenever it lets me know that someone, somewhere wants my attention. Apparently I’m not the only one.

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Other studies show that the number of minutes spent on phones has continued to rise approaching 4 hours and 15 mins in 2018 in the US. 4 hours and 15 mins. We are increasingly acting in ways that are counter to what we value most — investing in the quality and depth of relationships of those around us — to….what? To see that I have been friends with someone on Facebook for 7 years? To immediately see the Bed, Bath and Beyond coupon that always makes it past my spam filter because of one purchase 5 years ago? To obsessively check my email?

To change my own behavior, I needed to understand how distracted I really was. I downloaded an app called Space (try Moment for iOS!) that tracks how much you use your phone and what you are spending your time on. The first day, I blew through their suggested goal – I unlocked my phone upwards of 150 times and used it for 2.9 hours. And day after day, I would do this consistently. Doing something 150 times a day is the definition of addiction. I set my goal to cut my usage in half –  to get less than 75 unlocks and 1.5 hours, daily.

To get there, I deleted a bunch of apps off my phone, stopped checking my phone as I woke up and have tried to leave my phone behind when I don’t need to bring it (like on this afternoon’s walk, for example). I don’t know that I’m no longer addicted, nor can I attest to feeling any differently at the quality of my relationships, but it’s a start.

All I know is that when I’m 90-something, I don’t want my big regret to be spending time with my smartphone over my wife and daughter.

What do you value? Is it the same thing as what you’re interested in? Are you paying attention to what you value, or like me, giving your attention to things that don’t matter?

Criticism and Connection

One of the easiest ways to connect with someone is by criticizing someone else. One of my earliest memories of friendship was hearing criticism from a kid in the neighborhood about another weird kid in the neighborhood who came from a Jehovah Witness family. Being a scrawny, short, home-schooled kid myself with not that many friends, I joined in, “YEAH, he IS such a weirdo.” I was desperate to have a friend and if I made fun of someone else, I was no longer the odd man out…right? And maybe I’d finally have a friend (in the person who originally criticized the other weird kid).

I did end up having a friend, and then a few more, and the lesson stuck. If I criticize someone else for being the outsider, then I am no longer the outsider, right?

As I have started dissecting my behaviors on criticism — both as a child and today, the only motivation is that criticism creates the perception of human connection. In every relationship, there is inevitability something that frustrates both individuals. The propensity to then share what those things are, not with the individual but with others is a strange aspect of human nature. We trade the social capital of one relationship for perceived social capital of another.

We justify the behavior in numerous ways — we are trying to help the person in question, and just need advice on how to help them or we are trying to make a new friend.

“Contrary to lay perceptions…most negative gossip is not intended to hurt the target, but to please the gossiper and receiver.” – Elena Martinescu.

Guilty. I didn’t want to hurt Jason – the nice boy who lived three houses down and whose family just happened to be Jehovah Witnesses – I just wanted a friend.

As I think about others doing the same thing, their act of criticism has the opposite impact on me. I remember thinking in that moment…if he thinks Jason is weird, I wonder what he says about me? At least Jason is good at sports and goes to a regular school! When you hear someone else devalue, belittle, or blame others in an attempt to connect, you think – if they are doing this to others, could they be doing it to me too?

“Criticizing others is a dangerous thing, not so much because you may make mistakes about them, but because you may be revealing the truth about yourself.” — Harold Medina

We find two incongruous behaviors in play. First, we perceive that we connect more quickly with others when we criticize someone else and second, we don’t trust critics because it reveals that you are not immune to their criticism–you just aren’t hearing it about you right now.

How do we break the cycle of criticism and work to create real connection? I’ll admit that I am not particularly good at these, but I’m working on it. And, I’m constantly looking to improve, so please give me feedback if you hear me responding in a way that is misaligned with any of the below:

  1. Start with self
    1. I have noticed that I am far less critical when I’m on vacation or after a run. When I am emotionally balanced and free of stress, I am less negative about myself and others. Increase my levels of stress, prevent me from exercising for a week and suddenly, everything and everyone around me is a problem. Investing in self by mediating, practicing the attitude of thankfulness, and being conscious to remove myself from overtly negative situations helps to create a criticism free environment.
    2. Criticism (most of the time) starts with you statements. “You did this” or “you made me feel that”. It is an attack on who the other person is and assigns feelings/behaviors/identify to that individual rather than looking inward to assess your role in your own feelings. Start by asking yourself “what do I really want?” By creating focus on the end game – for example, I want a new friend or I want to connect with this person more deeply – once you do, you realize how you get there is never by being negative or critical.
  2. Adapt your communication strategies – start by listening. Most of us are so eager to share how we feel and think that we miss opportunities to understand the people around us. Venture outside of the superficial – I recently met someone who asked me what I was most proud of instead of where I worked. We had an amazing conversation and connection just because we skipped all the superficial BS that governs how we talk today.
  3. Create an environment of safety – people are less likely to display negativity and more likely to be open to connecting when they are in environments in which they experience psychological safety. We can create these environments by being honest, eliminating criticism of others and displaying consistently in our actions, words and behaviors.

“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection. Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves. Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare.” ― Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

Discipline and Ownership

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Jocko Willink who is truly the scariest Navy Seal

I recently listened to Jocko Willink’s podcast on the Tim Ferriss Show titled The Scariest Navy Seal Imaginable..and What He Taught Me. His interview was intense, and I got inspired to grab both of his books Extreme Ownership and Discipline Equals Freedom from the library.

Disciple Equals Freedom. First, get it on audiobook if they have it – reading the book doesn’t give half inspiration that hearing Jocko in your ear talking about discipline might. The book is rambling but inspirational as it jumps from topics like stress to waking up early to working out. My favorite chapter was on stress:

Stress is generally caused by what you can’t control…It is happening and you just have to accept it. Don’t stress about things you can’t control. If the stress is something that you can control and you are not, that is a lack of discipline and a lack of ownership. Get control of it. Impose your will to make it happen. Solve the problem. Relieve the stress. If the stress is something you can’t control: Embrace it.

Extreme Ownership – a lot of Jocko’s themes from his first book carried over to his second. This book lost the rambling intensity of the first substituting a digestible format starting with (1) war story, (2) principle, and (3) application to business. Although a lot of the chapters and key principles feel duplicative after the first few, the format and amazing stories help to keep the book moving and driving home Jocko’s themes around ownership.

On any team, in any organization, all responsibility for success and failure rests with the leader. The leader must own everything in his or her world. There is no one else to blame. The leader must acknowledge mistakes and admit failures, take ownership of them, and develop a plan to win….When leaders who epitomize Extreme Ownership drive their teams to achieve a higher standard of performance, they must recognize that when it comes to standards, as a leader, it’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate.

Jocko’s energy and intensity are definitely worth investigating in SOME format (podcast, blog, or book). I would skip Discipline Equals Freedom – great themes but extremely rambling, and pick up the second on Extreme Ownership especially if you or someone on your team is struggling with the concept of ownership in their work.

My three reflections on the principles of discipline and ownership:

  1. Being present to a goal requires discipline. From Steve Jobs, “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.” It isn’t enough to say yes to something, you have to say no to all the noise that prevents you from achieving your goal.
  2. Disciple feels painful. Saying no and being present to what you should be doing feels incredibly painful. Discipline is waking up early when you feel like 30 more minutes of sleep are needed or stopping drinking after the first glass of wine (do you really need the whole bottle? Maybe that is just me) As a leader at work, it is being there for your team and not being distracted by the million emails while you meet with someone. It’s also canceling recurring meetings when they are no longer adding value and holding people accountable when you would rather just be friendly with them.
  3. Discipline equals freedom. By being present to your goals at home and at work and having the disciple to prioritize what matters-no matter how painful-you will start to see results. The best thing about leaning in through discipline is that it starts to feel less painful, and frees your time to drive innovation, engage with others and do things that are fun! But it all starts with being disciplined to do the things that matter.

Memory and Ego

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One of my favorite podcasts right now is Revisionist History with Malcolm Gladwell. Although I have loved his takes on Wilt Chamberlain’s free throw style (Season 1) or why McDonalds fries just don’t taste as good as they used to (Season 2), two episodes of Season 3 (episodes #3 and #4) on memory have been the most substantially life altering.

Any summary will not do them justice (so go listen!), but the gist is that our memories are extremely unreliable. In his Free Brian Williams episode, Malcolm talks through the memory of his own experiences on 9/11 and how his story differed substantially from his neighbor who told him about the attack! After 9/11 took place, a number of researchers interviewed people on what they were doing at the time of the attack, and then followed up at 1, 3, and 10 year intervals. They picked 9/11 because it was a “flashbulb” event; where you were and what you were doing at that precise moment is seared in your brain (or is it?).

What they found was that the majority significantly changed their story after the first year and were extremely confident that their new story was actually what happened. Through a process of memory consolidation – moving from short to long term memory, we rehearse these memories and the memories become extremely vulnerable to change. What is crazy about this process is that we accept the new memories as truth even when confronted with evidence to the contrary (in the case of the 9/11 study, written evidence for what they said had happened at that time)!

These two episodes on memory share the incredible stories of the “world’s greatest harmonica player” and the Brian Williams story. Both stories feel like famous individuals grasping for further fame as they re-write their own history. Brian Williams’ story goes from riding in a helicopter in Iraq to taking fire and being shot down in a helicopter in Iraq. He eventually recants the embellishment (he only heard about another helicopter going down the same day), but even the helicopter pilot who did take him couldn’t remember if they took fire. The story feels wrong and self-promoting. But is it? Or is it just a fault of his mind consolidating multiple memories – the story of riding in a helicopter in Iraq, the story of taking fire and the story that he heard about a helicopter going down?

I consider myself to have a fairly good memory. Not infallible, but definitely better than most. I can recall events/dates, precise locations of objects in a room or on a page, and memorize things very easily. This over time has built up an Ego (yes, intentional capitalization) where I will pick my memory, my story over that of anyone else and immediately issue judgement if the other party disagrees with what I remember.

Because my memory is that good right?

Or what if it really isn’t?

What if all these memories – or at least the majority – are just stories that I have been telling myself? Maybe there are pieces of truth, but the events…in precisely the way that they have been laid out in my head…are just how my memory has consolidated over time?

Based on all of this, this is how I think I should show up differently. How will you?

  • Shut up my Ego. No, I am not perfect, so don’t act that way.
  • Listen first, speak second. If I jump immediately into my story, how do I give space to hear and understand others?)
  • Give others the benefit of the doubt What actually “happened” matters less than how I engage with my friends/family/coworkers in their own story

 

The Goal – Review

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Business parables like The Goal are one of my favorite types of management books. Effective authors take a complex business concept/problem, create an imaginary business with relatable problems, and identify a protagonist to wrestle with the problem and eventually used the author’s management tactics to solve.

The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement does not disappoint. Although I disagree with the reviews stating that it is a “fast-paced thriller” and “gripping”, The Goal is an incredibly easy read and great way for a new manager to dip their toes into the concepts of process improvement which can take years to master through methodologies like Lean and Six Sigma.

The protagonist, Alex Rogo, is a newly promoted plant manager trying to turn his failing plant around. Throughout the story, he continues to optimize the metrics that he are told matter– and failing in the process. The protagonist’s has epiphanies along the way. On productivity – “Every action that brings a company closer to its goal is productive. Every action that does not bring a company closer to its goal is not productive.”

The big “ah-ha” is around the ultimate goal of business is to make money, and if you are measuring things that don’t get you closer to that goal, they don’t matter. Overall, recommend the book, but not all the ideas in it. Personally, I lean more towards the Simon Sinek way of thinking – why you are in business is much more important that the pure pursuit of profits, but there is still a lot of value to the ideas and simplicity of The Goal!

This is a mind expanding book that helps new managers question what they are doing and how it ties back to ultimate business results as well as lays out a clear framework for continuous improvement. Another great resource on the subject is Measure What Matters.