Monday, December 31, 2012

What will I let go?

At yoga earlier today my drill sargeant-turned-choreographer-yogi said... "To add something new or different in your life, you must first let go of something in order to create space for the new."  He admonished that the time-tested swift kick in the butt may not be the best path.

My first "letting go" thought was "butter"... but that's just not realistic.  Butter is simply the essence of life.  It signifies free will and choice.  Butter is all about youthful abandon and carefree living.  It is sweet and salty and everything good all wrapped up in one. 

And then I thought that perhaps our instructor was calling us to a slightly deeper level.  But as I tried to go deeper I kept coming back to butter.  Or more significantly, what butter means to me. 

On reflection, I see that I have clearly over-empowered butter in my life.  I make it mean something more than what it is.  I create a story around butter that my life would be worth less without it.  But the truth is I have freedom of choice.  I live my life in the ease and flow.  I work hard and play well.  Perhaps, it might be possible to have all that and let go of butter.  Just, perhaps.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Just do what I say!

How often do I just want to tell someone what I think they should do?  And that they should just do it!  And, how often do I do what others tell me what they think I should do?  Rarely, if ever.

So, when someone feels compelled to give me some unsolicited advice, I ask them... "So, what experience have you had in your life that compels you to give me that advice?"  And, that's when the train stops and I get to hear from their story as opposed to hearing their view of mine.

I also know that I am sharing from my own life experience when I am speaking in the first person, past tense... "When that thing happened, I learned..."... and I know that I am slipping into giving advice when I am speaking from the second person, present tense... "Here's what you oughta do... now." 

Not that there's anything wrong with giving advice.  I just haven't found unsolicited advice all that helpful in my life. 

So, the next time someone starts giving you unwanted advice, here's what you oughta do...



Friday, November 30, 2012

Where did you learn that?

Throughout life we have learned things about ourselves… sometimes from experiences, and often from the words of others.  We were told things about ourselves.  We were told some things that were perhaps true.  And, we were told some things that were likely untrue. 

Sometimes then, when I can become an observer of my own life…I can remember those times and places where I learned something about myself that was untrue, when I was given a false belief about myself.  Who did I learn it from?  What was going on?  What did I learn to believe?  And as I observe my life, I can inquire how that belief has played out.  Showed up.  Caused me pain.

And, I can name the belief.  I can recognize how it perhaps served me once and to acknowledge today that it does not serve me now.  I can embrace a new belief. 
What is the belief that you might release, or let go of today?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


I love three letter acronyms.  Every time I meet with a new company in a new industry I get to learn new ones... API, SEO, SMB, OAO... all have incredible meaning to the people using them as shorthand.  To me, they are meaningless.

So, I've decided to come up with some of my own... and to not restrict myself to three letters.  The first... WDYWTHTYDHN?  It's kind of like WYSIWYG, only more attuned to my line of work.  I always ask the question when I'm talking to someone about an event or a retreat or a meeting that they are organizing.

What Do You Want To Have That You Don't Have Now?

It's a pretty simple question, but it almost always stops them in their tracks.  My experience is that the idea of defining a hoped for outcome from a contemplated activity is not a universal skillset.  We tend to just do things, and intuitively hope that we'll get out of it exactly what it is we wanted.  Ha!

Stephen Covey first penned the idea of "Begin with the End in Mind".  It's the same idea here.  What is it you want... skills, knoweldge, abilities, understandings and the like... at the end of this experience that you don't already have?  And, what's interesting about the question is that if you can't find any hoped for positive outcomes... you can save the energy and not do the very thing you were contemplating doing!



Sunday, September 30, 2012

What is your body saying?

It's not just about body language.  It's about being attuned to the way our bodies speak to us.

This last week I overdid it a bit with four across-country flights and time with eleven different groups and individuals.  By the time I flew home, my body was talking to me...

"You've been stressed.  Holding all kinds of emotional and challenging stories from others.  Being "on."  When will you rest?"

The truth is, my body knows that I have a ten-day break before getting back in a plane.  It was prepared to do whatever it took to get me to rest.  And so, what started as a little stuffy nose morphed into three days spent in bed hacking and blowing and feeling lousy.  I'm better today but certainly not 100%.

The whole scene is frustratingly familiar.  I write checks my body doesn't want to cash.  I push.  I crash.  And then, I start feeling better, forget about how lousy it was, and off I go.  Wash.  Rinse.  Repeat.

I wonder how it serves me to stay in this cycle? 

As opposed to what?

Great idea!  Let's do it!  I'm In!  The enthusiasm builds as the group lands on a course of action.  And then, I smash it.

"So, you're going to do that as opposed to what?" 

Blank stares.  Angry stares.  "What do you mean, as opposed to what?"

"Well, it seems like any time we pick a course of action, or a strategic path to follow, it's a good idea to recognize that every step we take is a choice.  And so, it might be good to think about your choice in light of some other course of action you have not chosen, or that you are ruling out by the choice you are making."


I love my work. 



Wednesday, September 5, 2012

What Did I Learn?

"As a marketing professional by day, I recall a presentation I led a few years back. I gave a marketing 101 course to colleagues in the non-profit sector—and the day after, a mentor I greatly respect asked me, "So, what did you learn?"

I was a little thrown off.  I asked myself, "What does he mean what did I 'learn?' After all, I gave the presentation! Shouldn't the question be 'What did THEY learn?'"

Vince asked me again, "So, what did YOU learn?"

I get it now. It's about being consistently curious and learning something about ourselves in everything we do. From that day forward, "What did I learn?" has become a question I've asked myself countless times - nearly daily. It's applicable to professional work, family life...and yes, my career as a professional magician. It's especially revealing when you ask this after you TEACH someone something, because even when we are on the teaching side, we are learning too!

Try it. Be curious. Learn on the go. Grow."

Couldn't have said it better myself.  Thanks John.


From good friend and magician John Guastaferro... Click for his website.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Betty White, Queen Elizabeth, and Aunt Pat

My British friends might pop a gasket reading this, but after last night's "olympic performance" by the Queen herself in the James Bond flick, I see an interesting similarity between the emergence of Betty White as America's "cool grandmother" and the emergence of the Queen as the world's.  So, what is it about the cool grandma that captures us?

I think we all want someone in our lives who is constant.  Betty White has been with us through every stage of American life for the last 50 years.  We've watched her change and mature and play a million different characters but she is ALWAYS Betty White.  She gives us a sense that no matter what we've done, or how bad we've messed it up, that she will be there with cookies and milk for us.  She is unflappable.  Have you ever seen Betty White "lose it"?  I can't remember it.  And then, a couple of years ago she's on Saturday Night Live doing a skit on "muffins" and is a riot, and shows she is not just the constant, but the cool constant.  Betty White is cool to every generation.  She defies and crosses all age barriers.

And, now the Queen is playing a bond girl.  Holy Cow!  That was the coolest sketch I have ever seen.  I fully expected to see Meryl Streep turn around and say "Good Evening, Mr. Bond".  But NOOOO!  It was the Queen herself.  HOW COOL!  I said to a friend today that the Queen must have gotten a new PR agent because she has completely re-branded the monarchy.  Between the kids getting married, her jubilee, appearances at unexpected places with unexpected people... the Queen has emerged as cool.  And, she is a constant.  She has been with the world through every up and down for sixty years and more.  She is a cool constant.

Bringing it closer to home, I am thankful for my own cool constant Aunt Pat.  She's turning 81 today and is with a bunch of her kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids in Oregon.  Back in the day, she called herself my "Aunt Chatty Patty" and would admonish us to "brush our pearly whites" every morning.  I've got a million good memories of hanging out with Aunt Pat.

I believe we all need and desire those in our lives who are both cool and constant.  Cool in that they connect with us, as opposed to looking for us to connect with them.  And constant in that they are unflappable.  No matter how bad it is, they are still there for us.

An opportunity to reflect perhaps... "who is cool and constant in your life?"  And then, "Who looks to you as their 'cool and constant' one?"



Friday, July 27, 2012

What might the other side be thinking?

"Wow.  It sounds like you've got a lot going on with this issue."
"You're right about that.  What should I do?"
"Good question.  But first, what do you think the folks on the other side of this issue are thinking."
Blank stare.
"Um.  Good question.  Never thought of that.  I'm not really sure."
"Have you asked?"
"Well, no.  Not really."
"Huh.  What would be the risk of asking?"
"No risk. I guess I've just never thought I could!"

It forces us outside of ourselves when we think about what all those on the "other side" of any issue are thinking... our partners, spouses, kids, workers, stakeholders.  And, to look at any issue from another perspective is good!  It opens our mind up to new possibilities.  New strategies seem to appear from nothing.  Anxiety seems to melt away.

So, with whatever difficult or sticky situation you are chewing on right now... "What might the person on the other side of this issue be thinking?"



Friday, June 8, 2012

Lights, Camera!

So, a friend of mine has been approached by the casting director of a new reality TV show.  They are looking for an "over-the-top" personality smack in the middle of his field.  He might be perfect.

"But, I'm not that over-the top," he said.

"Of course not!  Do you really think that any reality TV player is really the way they are?"

"But, then it wouldn't be me out there."

"Okay.  But, perhaps it could be part of you... a persona you play... a character to step into.  It's like Lady Gaga... is she Lady Gaga when she is brushing her teeth, or is she Stefani?"

I went on to poke around with who we really ARE in any moment... because... the moment I begin to become the person you want me to be I am stepping into persona... into character... I'm molding me to the moment.  Is that okay?

I think sometimes it is.  I think it's okay to become friends with the whole cast of characters inside me.  It's okay to embrace my outdoor zen nature boy right alongside my executive c-suite leader.  It's all me!  And, sometimes it's fun to amplify a part of me to serve the moment.  Because, I'm still me.

What do you think?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Taboo Topics

"So, tell me about the thoughtful conversations you have had with your group around sex and  sexuality."

Silence...  "Well, it does come up now and then.  But typically, someone gets uncomfortable and cracks a joke.  And, that's about the end of it."

It seems to me that there are a number of topics that many groups agree to avoid.  They don't come out and speak their agreement, but the agreement exists nonetheless.  Sex.  Specifics of money. Religion and faith.  All areas where there is likely to be diversity of thoughts, values, and judgments and so we avoid.  We don't want to be the odd one out.  We don't want to challenge the dominant cultural view.  So we stick to safer topics.

If it works for you, keep it.  If it's not working though, there may be another way.

Let's talk about talking about it.  Whatever "it" might be, we can follow a series of questions that pave the way for a meaningful discussion and concrete action.
  • "What would be the risk of having a conversation about ____?"
  • "Is it worth the risks in order to gain greater satisfaction, understanding, or connection in this area of our lives?"
  • "What are the longheld beliefs that might be in play as we engage in this conversation?"  "Where did those beliefs come from?"  "Are they still relevant?"  "What beliefs  are we willing to challenge or forego?"
Assessing the risks and making a conscious choice to engage increases the levels of safety for all involved.  It allows us to keep our feet on the ground and our fears in check.  It promotes our ability to show up with candor and authenticity.  And, that's all good.



Monday, May 14, 2012

“It’s going to be perfect!”

The perfect event.  The perfect relationship.  The perfect retreat.  In past chapters of life it might have been the perfect budget, the perfect plan, the perfect staff team.  In the stories I make up ahead of time, EVERYTHING is going to be perfect.  I am world-class at creating an idealized future reality.  I think it’s been that way my whole life...  With zen-like ease I will pose the perfect question and have the perfect response.  My partner will do exactly what I think should be done and the group will respond with just the right perspective and glean just the right learning.  The team will continually optimize performance and achieve stellar success. There will be confetti parades and I will bow gracefully with just the perfect mix of humility and confidence. 

And, God help anyone around me when my scene of idealized perfection begins to crack and become the inarguably imperfect human reality.  Just ask my kids.  Or former co-workers or subordinates.  They’ll let you know that when faced with something less than the idealized perfect outcome, I can be surly, snappy, and even a bit salty.   Ouch.

How’s that working for you, Vince?  Well, it stopped working for me a long time ago.

The “driving-to-be-perfect” part has in fact produced some remarkable results throughout my life… revenue growth and capital expansion, early promotion to the executive ranks, recognition and affirmation by professional associations and peer groups.  There is a very positive side to this part of me and I owe it much of my current sense of security and freedom.  And, given the state of things in the formative years of my life, I can see how this “driving-to-be-perfect” part of me helped create a life that was far outside of the family norm.  I appreciate this part of me.

And, it’s gotten me into a fair amount of trouble… distancing and loss of intimacy in personal relationships, unfair dumping on unsuspecting kids, colleagues, and subordinates, internal angst and fear that has spilled out on myself and others…  Yuck.

What to do you want to have happen?

It seems that the challenge of mid-life has been about accepting both the perfect and imperfect parts of me.  It’s been about recognizing that there is both good and bad in all of us, and in just about every situation, and that’s the way life is.  It’s what we do with the good and bad that defines our character.  And, the action I might choose today is different than what I may have chosen on another day when “driving-to-be-perfect” was in the driver’s seat of my life.  Because, today, there is little need to drive to be perfect… because I have arrived… and it is perfect.  Perfect in its imperfection.


Monday, April 9, 2012

Have I Mis-Read the Map?

There have been a few times in my life where I've had to stop and admit that I have mis-read the map and that I'm not where I meant to be. It happened a few years ago while hiking on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. I was out on a daytrip on my own and learned later that I had completely missed a critical trail intersection.

Oblivious to my error, I ventured on the wrong trail and did my very best to get the features of the mountains unfolding before me to match what the map told me to expect. "Well, that rock outcropping could be a ravine, I suppose..." and "perhaps the trail has been re-worked and the map doesn't know it, and that's why I'm climbing up where the map says it should be flat..." I successfully convinced myself that I was indeed where I thought I should be.

At some point though, the seeds of doubt did enter my mind. My ability to rationalize the obvious differences between the "map and the mountain" became strained. I became frustrated. And finally, I stopped. And admitted I had made a mistake. And eventually turned around.

And, as I re-traced my steps and began to see where I had gone wrong, and discovered that the map did indeed match the mountain... I laughed.

I laughed at how easily I can see the world according to how I believe it should be. And, I laughed at how often my perceptions are based on a cultural norm or longheld belief that may or may not be applicable. I laughed at how the idea of "you spot it, you got it" can so easily become "I only can spot what I got."

So, the good question might be... "How might I have mis-read the map?" Or better, "How are my longheld beliefs and perceptions informing the way I am seeing this issue?"

And then, I can choose my next steps wisely.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What will they say?

In Steven Covey's very first "Seven Habits" book the idea of "begin with the end in mind" stuck with me. He included an exercise in the book where you wrote your eulogy... and then took steps to begin to live it! Last Friday, I shared an evening by the fire with the good friends of a former colleague and friend in Boulder, Colorado, to celebrate a life well lived. I was living the final step of Covey's exercise.

"When I first met Gary, I wanted to fire him. I was new to Boulder and what I saw in Gary was a somewhat whacked out, middle-aged, "been-everywhere-done-everything" kind of long-haired, ponytailed guy who cruised around town in an old white dodge panel van. God only knew what went on in that van. I was fresh off the boat from nice, conservative Orange County, and Gary well, scared me. His supervisor at the time stood by him though.. I was outgunned in my efforts to send him packing. So, I followed the sage advice to "keep your friends close and everyone else a little closer.:" I kept an eye on Gary.

I visited the school where he worked with young people and saw everyone doing cool stuff, clearly either buffaloed by Gary's schtick or connecting to his whackiness. I visited Camp Ora-Penn up near Nederland, and saw what he was doing there and was impressed he could make lemonade from the few lemons that little patch of dirt provided. I listened to his stories and learned he had worked for a former boss of mine in San Diego, and thought it might be good to do a little more checking, but I never did... because... what I kept seeing, and learning, was that Gary was the real deal. He was spontaneous, creative, fun-loving, unique... and he was loved and respected by those around him. I grew to admire and appreciate him as well.

When I was in Indian Princesses with my daughter, Gary would show up at our campouts to help with the skits and songs and such... he wasn't the best I've ever seen, but he was lovable, and laughable, enjoyable, and a great cook. My guess is that the folks in the back office had to chase him for all the rosters and reports, but they did so with a shrug and a smile, because he was Gary. You just had to love him.

Years later, my girls and I had a chance to spend a weekend at his place in Baja. The only way to describe his place is to say that it is "All Gary." Everything is a piece of art crafted from old stuff from God knows where. Even the white van was a part of the tableau. My daughters and I did the only thing you could do there... we created art... we sat on the back deck with our watercolors and whiled away the hours trying to capture the colored nuance of rocks, water, and sky.

What's interesting though is that Gary wasn't there that weekend. But, he was.

And he's not here tonight. But, he is. He's here in our hearts, in our memories of his art. Gary's art was his life. He created joy. Even in his sickness the last couple of years, he had that twinkle in his eye, that smile, that almost child-like outlook. And that remains with us today.

There are very few people it seems who embrace life as art the way Gary did, or does. That lives on in me when I can turn and see something from a different perspective, when I can see something of beauty in an old white van.

Gary wasn't perfect... he had annoyances just like all of us... but with him it is easy to overlook those as insignificant because he's so darned cool.

So, thank you Gary for showing us a life well-lived, for bringing beauty, and laughter to the world.

Travel well. Godspeed, my friend."

Monday, February 27, 2012

Who has Permission to Challenge Me?

The idea of "holding someone else accountable" for something they've said they will do or not do has never resonated for me. Maybe because of my own character flaws the idea that someone could actually outfox my ability to manage the story is simply laughable. So, go ahead... hold me accountable. Kind of brings out my inner teenager.

The bigger idea here perhaps is "who will I hold myself accountable to?" That's a question that begs taking 100% responsibility for my part in the relationship, or my part in the agreement. And, I like that. It opens the door for me to own my choice and to own my actions in a self-responsible way.

At dinner with a friend not too long ago, I asked "who has permission to challenge you?" He's a pretty high-level guy and there aren't too many people who would willingly step out to call him on his stuff. The question brought silence. "Hmm. No one, really."

To me, both questions are related. One speaks to who I choose to account for my actions, my thoughts, my beliefs. Who gets the un-filtered version of me? The other then asks, who has permission to take the gloves off with me when they sense I am being evasive or not fully transparent or I've lost the plot?

What then is the risk to the high-achieving and high-level leader who builds a fortress where no one has access and no one gets the unfiltered view? Good question.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

When is the Right Time?

A younger cousin posted a comment the other day about the Boston Bruin hockey player declining an invitation to the White House amidst his protest of "the times". I agreed with her sentiment... that it was bad form for the guy to stay behind... on the basis that "there is a time to speak one's mind, and a time to pull up your big boy pants and do the uncomfortable thing you don't want to do..." But it begs the question... "When is the right time?" Or, "Is now the right time to speak my mind?"

This is not a pefect calculus. There have been many times... perhaps the odd CLM ("Career Limiting Moment")... that I have regretted speaking up. Not that my point was not valid, but that the time and place were not appropriate. My sense is that it is always a good thing to understand my "truth"... that is, my opinion, belief, assessment, understanding, or "what I make it mean." But it's not necessarily always good to speak it out. Sometimes restraint is in order.

Years ago, I heard a quote that might fit here... "they will care what you know when they know that you care." I've taken that to mean, "focus first on relationship and then the sharing of knowledge or opinion will follow naturally." My experience is that when I focus first on the relationship, the desire for authenticity and ability to remain curious over becoming defensive increases. And, perhaps that's what it takes for people that are in disagreement to come together... a mutual desire to be in relationship and a desire for authenticity.

We live in a polarized world. My desire is to come together with people of differences and to seek relationship first, trusting that as growth occurs what appeared to be hard at first will become easy.



Am I Listening?

A while back, someone said to me, “Wow, Vince, you’re such a good listener!”  It made me wonder what it’s like to be a bad listener!  So, I ...