Still Here - A Tribute to Charles Jefferson

"Don't look at me..."

I think towards the man sitting next to me, as we soar some 25-30,000 feet up in the air. Tears overwhelm my eyes.

"It’s not fair."

Those are the only words that cross my mind.

“It’s just not fair,” I whisper to myself as I finally give in to reality.

Charles is never coming back, and I have to accept that.

I look out the window, watch the clouds pass slowly by, and tears fall uncontrollably.

Seattle, one day earlier

I’m on a ferry to Bainbridge Island. It takes about 30 minutes to cross, and the ride is usually relaxing.

When the sun is out, the Sound is breathtaking in a subtle way. If you’re not paying attention, you miss it.

Ferry Ride - the Sound

I’m on my way to see Charles and Cyndy, two people who have been influential in my life and work. Two people that are family to me.

In times past, I’d head over to talk about big ideas and how we could make the world a better place to live.

But not this time. This time is different.

EHAS

I first met Charles and Cyndy at Cleveland High School back in 1998. I just started working in social services with homeless youth, and my boss asked me if I could attend a meeting there.

Cleveland staff were looking for alternative ways to reach “difficult” students. There were five of us in the room. I don’t remember what was discussed, but Charles and Cyndy approached me and told me about EHAS (pronounced ē-häs), their alternative program for students with challenges. I made an appointment to stop by and see their facilities.

EHAS was located down in the basement of the Madrona Church. I walked in and right away I noticed how comforting, really welcoming this place was.

The entire space was divided into sections. There was a classroom, a music studio, musical instruments, books, and various prints adorning the walls. It was a wide open space, and Charles welcomed me with a smile and asked if I was ready for the “dime tour”.

We all sat down, and Charles explained how EHAS worked.

Students would get suspended or expelled and be referred to EHAS. If students “cooperated” with the program, they would be reinstated back into public school.

What does “cooperation” mean?

I witnessed engaging dialogue about life, discussions about the nature of reality, politics, corruption, racism, self-empowerment, finances, building a professional network, and the power of the mind.

Charles talked about how music is the gateway, a universal language for the mind. After classroom discussions, there were some exercises, and eventually, youth would enter the studio and express what they learned through music.

Their teaching style brought the shy student out of her shell. Low self-esteem would dissipate over time and confidence would emerge in some who had given up. Some of the transformations were just flat out amazing.

At the end of every program, there would be a completion ceremony celebrating the students and their journey. Charles and Cyndy would explain the program to onlookers, pass out the music CD they produced in class, accompanied by a professional portfolio of their work.

Parents would marvel and share their perspective of their child’s journey and a Seattle Public School’s representative would speak. Some youth had probation officers who added their testimony, usually perplexed at the positive results themselves.

Through music, Charles and Cyndy reached hardened youth, and saw many of their students re-enter the public school system. But more powerful than that, their students left with a renewed sense of purpose.

Every person has a song

I remember Charles explaining what EHAS means, and it immediately stuck.

Everyone
Has
A
Song

In Native tradition, the elders say that every person has a song. Everyone has a purpose. Everyone has a voice inside, waiting to be expressed in a way only they can do it.

Charles and Cyndy found unique ways to help youth find it within themselves.

I was convinced. I soon joined their board, and not too long after, contributed my time for spontaneous, pop-in workshops for students and curriculum development.

Charles-isms

Charles happily played the game with youth. He had a great sense of humor and an infectious laugh. He also stuttered and would proudly declare it in front of students who suffered the same affliction to make them feel at ease.

Despite all the changes and new faces that came through those doors over the years, Charles always had his script down pat and adapted on the fly. As a jazz musician, Charles was used to improvisation, and it found its way into the classroom effortlessly.

He would start sentences with, "Once again," as if someone had violated a sacred principle and he had to retell the lesson. He also affirmed it when something was proven "once again."

However, there’s one phrase that will always be etched in my mind:

“We’re still here.”

He said it after Seattle Public Schools turned EHAS down for more funding.

He said it after getting low-balled on contracts despite the results they consistently achieved.

He said it while struggling financially after both he and Cyndy poured their heart and soul into EHAS over 18 years.

“We’re still here.”

It was a statement of defiance. You know that cockroach? The one that just can’t be killed, no matter how much you try? That cockroach would use this phrase.

“We’re still here.”

It was always “we” to Charles. He and Cyndy were a formidable team. They were complimentary in almost every way. Charles trumpet, Cyndy french horn. Together, they were a complete symphony.

“We’re still here.”

I always felt a sense of hope after he said it. I don’t know why, but it was the way he said it. It was a rallying cry. It made me want to fight even harder.

“We’re still here.”

No matter what the struggle was, “still here” was a sign of optimism, yet full of rebellion.

Dementia

I guess we all saw the signs. Charles would forget little things here and there. Cyndy talked about how his new prescription glasses never seemed just right.

“Oh, I guess they got the prescription wrong again,” Charles would sigh.

Things would slowly compound. I’d arrive for our discussions and he would greet me with a blank stare. Those stares got longer and longer over time.

Cyndy talked about times when they would drive to the store, and when she came back out, Charles would be sitting in the passenger seat -- of someone else’s car.

This was only the beginning of a difficult, trying Job-like ordeal for Cyndy and their family.

There’s no need to go into the details here. If anyone has ever experienced a loved one going through Alzheimer’s or Dementia, then you know how devastating it can be.

It wasn’t an easy takedown. Charles is stubborn and full of pride. He fought and fought, until he couldn’t fight anymore.

Soon, he was trapped behind blank eyes that came to life from time to time. His body soon followed, and now needs to be supported by a wheelchair permanently.

https://youtu.be/QxLVFZmhNsE

Can you imagine not being able to walk again?

Can you imagine your mind disconnected from your body?

Can you imagine not being able to do what you love? A jazz musician without his trumpet?

Deserve’s got nothing to do with it

Charles and Cyndy gave everything they had to others. All I could think on my plane ride home is:

They don’t deserve this.

Stories like theirs don’t end this way.

But that’s a fallacy. And that's tough to swallow.

In reality, the world is full of tragedy. People die in terrible ways everyday. Corrupt politicians and financiers exploit the masses with no consequence. Kids are forced to do things that are incomprehensible. Selfishness is the norm. And people who serve others, but barely scrape by themselves, die poor.

Life is NOT fair, nor is it meant to be. If societies can be set up to benefit certain people (and they are), and not others, there’s nothing fair in that. The truth is, Seattle Public Schools didn’t value the youth who slipped through the cracks as much as other students who had more "promise". The truth is, the "last" in class are the least valued as EHAS and other fledgling programs around the world continue to fight for those students.

“No child left behind” is a societal and political lie. For people who really believe in this concept, for the teachers and educators everywhere that tackle that responsibility, they are often overwhelmed with a tremendous burden with minimal resources and support.

The burden Charles and Cyndy hauled wasn’t fair to them, especially considering their compensation all those years. Especially considering the time and effort they put in. Especially considering the personal cost and sacrifice they made.

They bled for Seattle and its children. All their partners and funders, from the City of Seattle to the Paul G. Allen Foundation, have no idea what they gave of themselves. Sure, they could've dropped EHAS much earlier and fended for themselves, but they chose not to.

In the end, they couldn’t let go of all the troubled youth, even for their own benefit. They fought and fought until everything finally broke down. Until they broke down. And when EHAS closed its doors, it was without fanfare, celebration, or even a little dap of love.

They left quietly. Things fell silent. And all the lives they touched became a distant memory.

Not long after EHAS faded away, Charles’ reality began to unravel.

Still here

I’m visiting with Charles and Cyndy at the nursing home. Charles is present, as Cyndy and I catch up. Sometimes Cyndy interacts with other residents. She’s familiar to everybody.

I take out my phone and cue up my jazz playlist. We start with Miles Davis and John Coltrane. I place my phone on Charles’ wheelchair. “So what” permeates the room and Charles comes alive.

He has intermittent bursts of laughter, smiling, and toe-tapping.

Charles contorts his lips like he’s about to blow. I can hear his music teacher from long ago:

Don’t smile, pull back, pucker in the lips.

Keep your shoulders relaxed; not raised.

Play with confidence.

You must drive all fear out of your system.

Hit it hard and wish it well.

Cyndy reaches for his trumpet and hands it to Charles. Even in this state, Charles is giving his all to blow one last time.

I'm riveted.

Charles trying to blow one last time

We wait for trumpet sounds, but they don't come. Despite that, the mood livens up in the room for a few moments, and Cyndy smiles.

We both feel his presence.

Charles Jefferson is still here.

Cyndy

I saved the best for last. The love Cyndy has for Charles through all of this... there are no words.

The pain, the struggle, the confusion, all the sleepless nights, through thick and jungle thick... there are just no words to explain this kind of love. None.

Through all of it, Cyndy's still here, too.

I'm just in awe.

Cyndy+Charles

Epilogue

I wrote some of this post listening to 500 Drums, a piece Charles did back in the day. Charles had reverence for Native American culture (he had a bit in him, too).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xJDaTPW3VBc

He always had a way to make everyone feel included and welcome. He was quiet and to himself when he wasn't with Cyndy, but still had a presence about him.

I hope to see him again, soon.

Update

It's been awhile since I posted something. In May, I made the switch from the nonprofit world to a tech startup based in Barcelona.

I write for Typeform, and it's been a great ride so far, and I look forward to more.

So I'll be back and forth between Spain and the States.

Until next time.

Paul


The Miracle of Feedback

[cs_content][cs_section parallax="false" separator_top_type="none" separator_top_height="50px" separator_top_angle_point="50" separator_bottom_type="none" separator_bottom_height="50px" separator_bottom_angle_point="50" style="margin: 0px;padding: 45px 0px;"][cs_row inner_container="true" marginless_columns="false" style="margin: 0px auto;padding: 0px;"][cs_column fade="false" fade_animation="in" fade_animation_offset="45px" fade_duration="750" type="1/1" style="padding: 0px;"][cs_text][dropcap]I[/dropcap] wake up smiling this morning because it's a beautiful, sunny day. The window is open and it doesn't feel cold outside. I get out of bed and dodge a few walls on my way to the bathroom. Then I shower, get dressed, and head out the door to work.

I look both ways before crossing the street, then I jump into my Honda.

I drive to the main intersection and wait for cars to pass. A Chrysler mini-van drives by, and I get behind it. At the light, I sneak a peak at my phone, and see that I have plenty of time to get to work. As I'm waiting, I think about how all my decisions have been affected by one thing — feedback.

And it made me wonder. Life is an absolute marvel, but what would life be without the ability to try new things, experience the unknown, and somehow have the feeling that you're progressing in life?

And yet, how can one progress or gain mastery of something without the miracle of feedback?

Feedback brings life

Peter Senge wrote a book titled The 5th Discipline, including the follow-up The 5th Discipline Field Book. I read the opening chapter of the Field Book in the bookstore over 10 years ago, and it always stuck with me. Here's the excerpt:

Among the tribes of northern Natal in South Africa, the most common greeting, equivalent to “hello” in English, is the expression: Sawu bona.

It literally means, “I see you.”

If you are a member of the tribe, you might reply by saying Sikhoma, “I am here.”

The order of the exchange is important: until you see me, I do not exist. It’s as if when you see me, you bring me into existence.

This meaning, implicit in the language, is part of the spirit of ubuntu, a frame of mind prevalent among native people in Africa below the Sahara. The word ubuntu stems from the folk saying Umuntu ngumuntu nagabantu, which, from Zulu, literally translates as: “A person is a person because other people.”

If you grow up with this perspective, your identity is based upon the fact that you are seen — that people around you respect and acknowledge you as a person.

Not long ago, an internal consultant who had been raised in a rural village became visibly upset after a meeting where nothing much had seemed to happen. When a project where he had played a key part came up for discussion, his role was not mentioned or acknowledged.

Asked later why it bothered him so much, he said, “You don’t understand. When they spoke about the project, they did not say my name. They did not make me a person.”

[x_line]

When we acknowledge each other, we activate a feedback loop. When we don't acknowledge one another, does a part of us disappear?

A simple "hello" and a smile can work miracles in someone's life.

It's our way of saying, "Sawu bona. I see you. You exist."

That's the power of feedback. That's the power of responding to a stimulus, internal or external.

Remember, communication is the response you get.

If someone yells at you, what did YOU say to them?

If someone kisses you, what did YOU do to them?

If someone spews hate and discontent toward you, what role did you play?

Are you listening?

There are two types of feedback that we're all working with.

External and internal feedback.

[x_blockquote cite="Jimmy Dean" type="left"]"I can't change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination."[/x_blockquote]

This quote speaks of external feedback.

You begin with a goal, make a move, sh*t happens, you make adjustments, and persevere towards the goal.

This kind of feedback comes from everywhere. Teachers give out grades in school. I smile at a woman and her look tells me whether she's interested or not. The crowd reaction I get depends on whether I make or miss my shot.

A wall tells me to go around it, objects on the floor ask me to step over them, and heat coming from the stove cautions me to keep a safe distance.

You're constantly receiving information (feedback) through your 5 senses, then you either correct course and keep moving forward or you give up on your goal entirely. Moving forward or quitting depends on two things: how difficult the next action step is AND how bad you want to accomplish that goal.

If you're highly skilled at dealing with feedback, you're likely to accomplish much more than the average person. Very likely.

If you're poorly skilled at receiving feedback, you're likely to settle for a life of mediocrity.

Internal feedback

[x_blockquote cite="Antoine de Saint-Exupéry" type="left"]"And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."[/x_blockquote]

That's INTERNAL feedback. You know when you know something. You know when something is just right for you.

Internal feedback is instinct, intuition, or that gut feeling. It's accumulated experience. It's wisdom.

Sometimes the world seems right, but you know something is wrong. That business deal seems right, but the person behind it is all bad. Conversely, sometimes things look bleak, but something about this person feels right.

You're constantly getting signals and cues from your inner and outer worlds, but are you listening?

[x_blockquote cite="Paulo Coelho" type="left"]“We always know which is the best road to follow, but we follow only the road that we have become accustomed to.”[/x_blockquote]

Your intuition tells you to approach him, but you're afraid of rejection.

Your gut tells you to go for the job, and that it's right for you, but you decide against it, rationalizing your lack of experience will somehow work against you.

Feedback is coming at you from everywhere. Again, are you listening?

Feedback deepens connections

According to George Anders, what's the most valuable skill to have in 2020? Empathy.

How can you empathize without feedback? And how can you get feedback from somebody if you're not in direct contact with them? It's impossible, yet empathy is lacking in every sector. People suffer as a result.

As organizations grow, they lose contact with the very people who can help them grow — employees, customers, and partners.

No contact, no empathy.

No empathy, no feedback.

No feedback, no adjustments will be made.

No adjustments made? See Kodak, Blockbuster, and Border's Books.

When you adjust, you also demonstrate empathy.

Sure, you can adjust based on analytics, data, and sheer manipulation, but it won't get you very far. Empathy seems like the obvious choice, but decision makers still don't get it.

Empathy is a culture. See Apple, Zappos, and Netflix.

Feedback is neutral

Most times, the feedback we get sucks and feels like a kick in the mouth.

To correct mistakes quickly, to address situations before they get out of hand, and to acknowledge the elephant in the room is not just critical to progress, it gives you an opportunity to find and express your humanity.

What good does it do anyone if get the message, only to ignore it?

What good does it do for you to see yourself in the mirror, notice those unwanted results, but return to the same routine?

What good does it do to look at your bank account, then continue with the same spending behaviors that keep you living from paycheck to paycheck?

What good does it do to look at your organization's subpar results, and continue the same behaviors that got you there?

See that dirt? Go ahead, sweep it under the rug. Soon a mound of dirt will pile up, waiting for someone to step on it, and *poof* everybody gets to taste it.

Feedback is neutral, it's not a personal attack on you.

Given what you're trying to accomplish in work or life, feedback asks you to change course, to adjust. Is that too difficult? Does the truth really hurt that bad? Indeed.

What if your quality of life was as simple as telling the truth about what you experience and then doing something about it?

Can you handle the truth?

Feedback increases engagement

I remember conducting a "feedback experiment" at the nonprofit I used to work for.

What would happen if we increased feedback for participants?

Could we accomplish more in one two-week workshop than we have in the previous ten workshops combined?

How will this affect long-term retention and engagement?

By gamifying the workshops — essentially increasing feedback using logged data — we outperformed the previous results by a factor of 10x. Sure, we measured outcomes better, but the quality of outcomes blew away past cohorts.

The lesson? Feedback is a powerful tool for individuals and organizations, and it's always right there, in your face.

Will you listen? Will you adjust and adapt?[/cs_text][/cs_column][/cs_row][/cs_section][/cs_content]


Superhuman

The following post is written by me (obviously), for me (not so obvious), but you know the old saying: if the shoe fits....

[dropcap]I[/dropcap] wonder what it's like to be superhuman. Does that mean I can do incredible things with my body? Strength and flexibility, along with deft skill applied to any physical challenge?

Is it supreme mental ability, the power to compute large algorithms in minutes? The ability to simplify the most complex problems into their most essential parts, so any moron can digest them in seconds?

Is it the ability to understand and empathize with people so well that it causes them to think you're a mind reader? Is it the ability give a speech or talk to a group and somehow, some way, everybody in the room thinks that you MUST be talking to them?

Or is it using the power of imagination to create new worlds, generate solutions to long standing problems, and to create great works of art?

A few blog posts back, I wrote that everything's made up, and guess who's making it up?

Who knows? But one thing's for sure - If you're NOT, somebody IS.

As Steve Jobs once said:

Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact:

Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you - and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. 

Once you learn that, you'll never be the same again.

The choice

Sometimes we have to be reminded of our greatness.

Sometimes the reminder has to be stated very bluntly, but once it sinks in, we have to make a decision.

Do we go back to sleep, live in the cloud of mediocrity, and consistently settle for short-term gratification?

OR

Do we challenge ourselves to be better humans each day? Do we aspire to greatness beyond what our own imagination is telling us? Do we go for being superhuman, which is far beyond what we intend to be as we walk out  into the world each day?

You have to want such things as progress and evolution. You have to want to sacrifice short-term gratification (short-term, NOT instant, because a pay check comes steadily every two weeks). You have to want something so bad that you take moon-shots (risks) instead of the standard and conventional.

Desire is key to this entire equation. Your "why?" will drive you to great heights or settle for the short mound that's right in front of you.

Whatever you do each day is driven by a reason, some overarching (or perhaps subtle) purpose.

1.) What do you consistently do each and every day?

2.) Why do you do THAT?

If you are satisfied with your reasons, then you're on course. If NOT, then you know what to do.

The best YOU does NOT exist...yet

Superhuman, the best YOU that could possibly exist, is NOT a myth, but it doesn't exist right now. Your best you is in the realm of the unknown, and asks you to leave the known behind and risk insecurity, doubt, and confusion. Your best self is undiscovered, and requires courage and perseverance to reach him or her.

It doesn't mean death-defying feats of strength or ability. It's not pushing the limits of your mind by making objects move through telekinesis. It's not going out and making 30 million dollars in two years, either.

It means you must be the best you in every moment of your existence. It means accepting pain (physical or psychological) as a growing tool. It means sacrificing comfort for productivity. It means doing one more set, one more rep, taking one more call, writing one more blog post, and making one more offer to somebody that can benefit from your products and services.

It ultimately means living the kind of life and lifestyle that makes you say, "I'm so fortunate to be alive today."

The question is, how long will it take you to get on YOUR path, and leave the conditioned, tried-and-true one behind?

It's not like you have 20, 10, 5, or even 1 more year of life guaranteed to you.

Time to make it happen NOW.

Let's push ourselves in 2015. We can do better than this.

Paul

Martin-Luther-King-Quote


One Step Closer

I was thinking the other day...

Life is hard.

I thought about this. Nothing seems easy. If I want to live, work is required. The expenditure of energy is necessary to get results. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. No action, no results.

Yes, life is hard, but withholding my energy from some person or project not only makes my life harder, it makes it less fulfilling.

What are you giving to life? What are you getting back?

Accomplishing anything worthwhile requires so much hard work.

If I want to accomplish anything noteworthy or worthwhile, then hard work is mandatory. There is no short cut, no easy hack, no magic pill to swallow. Busting my ass is the only answer to achieving anything worthwhile.

I think about the things I want to see in the world...

  • write a few books
  • create a magazine
  • develop a few apps
  • Tibet, India and the Himalayas
  • Siberia
  • perform on stage, either as speaker or actor
  • a stronger, healthier body

None of it is easy. There are no short-cuts. I have to put in the time and practice, the energy and effort to make it all happen.

All of these things require devotion. It's not a word I use very often, but if there's no devotion, then I'll never put in the time.

devotion |diˈvōSHən|

noun

love, loyalty, or enthusiasm for a person, activity, or cause

What are you devoted to?

Most of the time, I don't WANT to do the hard work.

I don't want to do the hard work most of the time. I'd rather relax, watch a Youtube video or sports, read a book, or surf the internet. Who wants to work out and exercise? Who wants to write everyday especially when you don't feel like it?

I'm learning that when I face the hurdle of not wanting to do something, then I should find someone that does. In the connected world and economy that we live in, it's not that hard to find someone who compliments your skill set.

Stop whining about hard work and figure out what you're willing to work hard on.

Then find other people to do the hard work you want no part of.

Collaboration is a lesson I'm learning (the hard way).

Who do you know that can do the things you don't want to do?

It's easy to do nothing and be lazy.

Initiating a new project is exciting and invigorating, but after the excitement ends, real work needs to get done. It becomes easy to do nothing and get a little lazy.

But I've noticed something about my laziness. I'm lazy when I'm not clear on what to do next, and I'm not clear on what to do next because I don't have enough reasons to BE CLEAR. Kinda circular, I know.

Knowing your "why?" is crucial to doing anything in life.

I'm also lazy if I'm doing something I've never done before and I know my process is going to be very inefficient.

What if all laziness was a by-product of my inability to see clearly? What if laziness was simply a result of my own uncertainty?

If the next steps aren't clear to me, then I can be sure of one thing: I will definitely procrastinate.

Define the next steps with clarity. Be concrete. Write it down. 12 different people should be able to take what you've written down, perform the next steps, and produce similar results.

If you're being lazy or procrastinating then spend more time being clear. If a problem repeats itself or still confuses you, then spend more time defining the actual problem.

Clarity (easy to perceive, understand, or interpret) = Power (the ability to do something or act in a particular way)

The more CLEAR you are, the more POWER you will exhibit.

Remember that.

It's easy to quit when things get tough.

And it will get tough. I start a project and pretty soon I find that there's something or someone I don't know, something I don't know how to do, or a task that is beyond my current skill level.

Starting Everybody's Famous quickly taught me what I didn't know, and what I'd have to learn quickly.

  • Will this venture succeed? How can I validate a magazine, actually get people to fork over their cash for something that doesn't exist yet?
  • How will this magazine earn money? What's the business model? What will people pay for? What's the value being delivered?
  • What kind of corporation is it? LLC, C, S, or B?
  • Since the magazine requires content, stories from local communities, where will that content come from? How will we find those people? How do we tell compelling stories that engages just about anybody?
  • What other legal considerations, ethical questions need to be answered?
  • I'm not a journalist. I'm not a photographer or videographer. I'm not an audiophile. EFM is a multi-media magazine, so I'm going to have to learn fast. Each one of those statements comes with a bunch of questions, research, and activities.

I could be here all day listing everything I don't know about how to run a magazine or a business, but the point is, each one of these challenges are learning opportunities. And learning requires lots of mistakes. Lots of them.

In the beginning of learning anything, there will be a disproportionate amount of mistakes to what you do right. Know this and suck it up.

It's easy to quit when you suck at something, but anything worth doing is worth doing POORLY.

Do it wrong, learn, and grow. Just don't quit when things get tough.

But I don't know "how?"

I learned a few years back NEVER to ask how to do something until I've tried it first. I never realized that question could be used as a cop out from true action. I'd say 90% of the people who ask "how?" before any research or taking some kind of action are not truly serious.

I used to be like that, maybe not verbally but definitely in my head. I found over time that if someone has enough desire, has enough reasons to do something, they'll find a way to make it happen.

I also found that if I dug down deep enough into a problem or project that the next step to take was always within my line of sight. Even if I couldn't see beyond that next step, I always knew what the very next step was, and once I took it, then next one would reveal itself.

Stop playing around. You know what the next step is. The next step you need to take for your relationships. Your business. Your community. Be responsible and take it. Stop asking "how?" and just do it. At least Nike got that right.

Oh, and from now on, replace "how?" with "why?" to get to the heart of things. If your purpose isn't strong enough, it won't get done anyway, regardless of all the how-to books in the world.

WHY always beats HOW.

I can do so much better...

Really? You can have a better relationship, a better job, a better home, and a better life?

Then do something about it.

'Better' requires a little bit of faith. Faith requires a clear vision.

If you don't have a vision for your life and all your ideals - your ideal average day, your ideal relationship, your ideal job, etc. - then you won't act. You'll talk and talk and talk, but nothing will get done.

Faith and risk require a solid vision or plain ignorance. You'll go on with your sh*tty job and your mediocre lifestyle, but nothing will get 'better' unless you see things clearly and ACT.

So basic, but it's easy to get caught up in our own heads.

Besides, if you have a clear vision and are taking the necessary actions to see it through, you'll be able to put up with that sh*tty job a little while longer. Your time there is coming to an end, and you KNOW it. It's just a matter of time.

Can you imagine? Working that job and having no light at the end of the tunnel?

Having no vision sucks. Not acting at all is worse.

C'mon, let's do this. Life can be better for all of us, and you know it.

What's your next step?

For work?

In your relationships?

For your health?

For recreation and travel?

For learning?

For your money?

Clarity is one step closer. Take a step towards your vision today.

Even if it's tiny and miniscule.

Just one.

Paul


Practice

I was swimming at the local pool, and was envious of all the people diving off the high dive. I knew I was afraid of heights, but I couldn't take it anymore. I had to try it.

I climb the ladder, get to the top, and look down.

I can't jump. I'm coming down.

I must've been 7 or 8 years old. I haven't been on another high dive since.


I'm 20 years old and I'm working as a security guard in on of the tallest buildings in downtown Seattle. This one happens to be 63 stories high, and during training, my supervisor takes me to the rooftop.

I step outside and I'm frozen with fear. I see the top of buildings and am clearly above the entire city, except for the building across the street from me, which is around 75 stories high. I immediately get down on my knees and my supervisor is laughing at me, but I don't care.

I'm crawling close to the ground, and every once in awhile I sneak a peek at the entire city. The height has unleashed my fear, and I'm desperate to leave.

We head towards the stairs, and lock the door behind us. I feel like I just landed on blessed Earth, and for a moment I'm grateful, but I know I have to come back. Not because it's my job, but because I have to conquer my fear. I just have to do it.


The next time I go up, my fear returns, but I do less crawling this time. I go to the far edge and peek over. It's tough but I hold it for a few moments longer. I head back towards the door, low to the ground, but at least I'm not crawling.

I'm making progress.

This continues. I go up, walk low to the ground, peek over the edge, stay a few minutes longer than the last time, and head back.

Eventually, I'm fearless walking on the rooftop, looking at this beautiful city from every angle I can, taking pictures, and finally enjoying the scenery. I'm became comfortable with my uncomfortableness until it finally left.

I feel alive.

Practice

It's funny what a consistent practice can do. It can transform fear into love, take someone with low skills to mastery, deepen learning, and develop stronger relationships.

Practice.

Einstein once said, "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

Who knows what context he was speaking in, but I'd like to amend his quote:

Practice: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

I'm reminded of the story of an old preacher. He told a riveting sermon to his congregation, and people spoke about it all week. The next week, he told the same sermon and people were equally inspired. But he wasn't done. He decided to tell it again, and again, and again.

For 3 months he told the same sermon to his congregation, until finally one of his deacons approached him and asked, "Excuse me Pastor, you do realize that you've been repeating the same sermon every week for the past 3 months?? People are concerned."

"Yes, I do realize that and I'll stop telling the same sermon, over and over again, when people actually GET IT."

Practice eliminates hypocrisy, too.

I was playing basketball at a local rec center. I had a decent shot, and was snatched up by one of the teams. The guy I was guarding was quick, a little faster than me, but had one additional skill I didn't have. He could make a shot from just about anywhere, in just about any situation. To put it another way, he was schooling me.

We played a few games, and when it was over, I had to ask him, "Where did you learn to shoot like that?"

"I shoot a thousand jumpers a day," he said, "I usually have someone with me when I practice. They throw me the ball, and then run toward me trying to stop me from making the shot. I do this a thousand times, then I'm done."

Damn.

Practice makes you awesome, too.

People come to see me all the time looking to get their lives back in order. The first thing I ask them is what they do with their time. I pull out a blank schedule, and ask them to fill in what they did for the last week.

One time, a woman was shocked to see how much TV was occupying her time. I then asked her a question she'll never forget.

"What do you practice each and every day?"

She thought for a good 20 seconds and said, "I don't practice anything, really."

"Oh, that's not true. Looks like you're pretty good at watching TV."

She laughed, cause she thought I was joking. I just looked into her eyes, and then she got it.

"I need to change that," she finally said.

"Unless you're satisfied with what you have," I said making sure she was aware of her options.

"No. I need to change."

Practice leads to crappy results, too.

What's your practice?

I know I've talked about this before, but I'm like that cranky old preacher.

What are you doing with your life everyday? Because you're practicing something, and whatever it is, you're getting better at it.

It's all good if you're getting better at the right things, but what if you're getting better at the wrong things? Who determines right and wrong? You do. Just be honest with yourself.

For now, I'm practicing my writing. In a few, I'll be practicing some eating and maybe relax my mind with a movie.

Tomorrow, I'll be practicing writing some more, doing some business practice for the magazine, some exercise practice, maybe some yoga practice.

What about you?

If you're satisfied with what you have or your current results, maintain the practice. But if you want to get better at something, if you want different results, you'd better practice that.

How else are you gonna get there?

Paul

Practice: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.


Forgive me?

What do you do when your intention gets misinterpreted?

What happens when you hurt another's feelings without realizing it?

What's the next course of action when both parties think they're right?

Miscommunication is a chance to tell the truth. It's an opportunity to go deeper with someone. Don't squander your opportunity to get to the heart of things. Yes, it may be easier to run from the problem, or the person in the moment, but do your best to stick it out. There's growth on the other side of conflict.

Forgive.

Learn.

Grow.

Heal while you can, there's no reason to prolong the inevitable.

To all the people who I have hurt, knowingly or unknowingly, intentionally or unintentionally...

Please, forgive me.

Thank you.

Paul


Dream or Reality

I wake up to a strange light. It actually nudged me.

What do you want?

"Your life."

My life?

I'm half asleep, I don't who I'm talking to, but whoever this is, is familiar to me.

"Yes, your life. Why don't you give it to me?"

How? You want me to die?

"Let me show you."

I black out.


I'm starting to regain consciousness, stars are flying past me. I feel like I'm traveling at the speed of light, but something feels off.

"You're correct," as if my mind is being read, "you're not really moving. It's all in your mind. Relax."

Where are you taking me?

"Back to the beginning. Back to where we started."


I wake up. It's a dream and they are increasingly becoming more real, more vivid. I'm able to feel inside of them, touch things, and even sweat. It's not like before.

It seems that someone is communicating with me, not just in my dreams, but in waking life.

Deja vu happens more frequently. Strangers look familiar. It's probably just a phase.

I think about my dream, and Zhuangzi's words come to mind:

“Once upon a time, I dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was myself. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.”

― Zhuangzi

I begin to wonder. Why does anything exist? Anything at all? If there is an almighty god or creator, then what came before THAT? And what came before that? The infinity of the question makes my mind tweak for a minute. I can't grasp it.

Fine. I accept it. I'm prepared for anything to happen. I understand many things in life are out of my control, and lately I feel like I'm being driven rather than the one doing the driving.

Sure, I can resist. I can stop the flow, but where will that get me? I have to listen more, follow that instinct, and trust. Yeah, trust, that's the hard part. If I don't learn to trust my Self, then I'm headed for normality and normal is just another word for mediocre.

If you're trying to do something meaningful, the biggest mistake you can make is to accept the norms of your time.

-Neil Strauss


A thought comes to me. I have a question. It's the question. It makes me think some more, then I get excited. I realize how important this particular question is.

Biased? I'm sure of it, but still an important question to ask. I believe it can bridge the divide between science and religion. The journey will be long and arduous, but I'll get there. Step by step, I'll get there.

Bet you're wondering what the question is, huh?

I hope I find an effective way to deliver it. I'll be fine as long as I trust. It's not as easy at it sounds.

Maybe in my dreams - or is it reality? Sometimes I can't tell the difference.

Paul

 

 


30 days to a new life

You may have noticed that I've been writing a lot more. Like, every day.

Well, I was challenged by a very good friend to write a blog post for 30 days straight. She challenged me to produce more work and get more ideas out there, because there's no good reason for me NOT to. She also believed that blogging more often would improve my writing, and teach me a few things in the process.

How could I say no?

So here I am, 16 days into this challenge and so far, she's right. I'm just over half way to 30 days, and I can feel the creative channels opening up.

30 days

Many times, we know what's best for us, but we don't challenge ourselves enough. I knew that writing every day would benefit me in so many ways, but I still didn't act.

A friend of mine just recently started a "no-grains" challenge. 30 days, no grains, no bread, period. He's aware of the benefits, but 2 days in and he's experiencing withdrawals. It's called a 'challenge' for a reason.

And that leads me to YOU. I'm sure you know of some behavior or activity that would improve your life over the course of 30 days. Is it around health, money, relationships, work, or planning and organization?

Take a look at the 8 Life Pillars:

8 Life Pillars

Which pillar would you like to strengthen? Use this framework to brainstorm some ideas and do a quick assessment of yourself. Then ask yourself....

What ONE activity or behavior that, if you were to do it for 30 days consistently, would have a powerful and immediate impact on your life?

Maybe it's eating less. Maybe it's exercising more frequently, or for longer periods of time. Like, instead of exercising for 30 minutes, you exercise for 60. Maybe you want to exercise for 10 minutes a day, every day, just to start.

Maybe you work too much, and need more recreation time each day. What ONE activity could you do every day to unwind or relax? What ONE activity will reenergize you?

Maybe you want to make to-do lists everyday? Maybe it's meditation? Maybe it's saying "thank you" in a unique way to someone new, each and every day.

I once was challenged by Joel Runyon to do cold showers for 30 days straight. Can you imagine how shocking that was to me the first time I did it? Doesn't matter, I did it, and was invigorated every day.

What can you do consistently for 30 days straight? What strengths do you already possess that you can bolster?

I challenge you

Let's face it. You're not challenged enough in life. You can BE and DO so much more. Potential is practically impossible to realize, so we all have room to grow.

So, I'm challenging you to do something for 30 days straight. You decide what it is. You decide when you start, BUT start this week. Find a behavior or build a habit that will have a ripple effect on all areas of your life.

Cold showers? Writing? Exercise? Meditation? Applying for new jobs? Validating a new business?

If you need more ideas, check this out.

Just pick something and stick with it. Daily practice and performing consistently are foundations for greatness.

If you need a way to track your progress, then use Jerry Seinfeld's secret to being a great comedian, and don't break the chain.

Let me know in the comments or use the contact form on this site if you want to be held accountable. There's nothing like making a public declaration to keep your feet to the fire (where does that saying come from anyway?).

Good luck.

Paul


Why I write

I received that text from a good friend earlier today.

I'll have more lessons to share after this 30 day blogging challenge is complete. Listen to Seth Godin and Tom Peters talk about blogging (or writing):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4rq6Md3eHw

I believe everyone would benefit from writing, journaling, scribbling, having a diary, or whatever you wanna call it. There's some nuggets of wisdom inside everyone (some chicken nuggets, as well).

Tools

I use a writing journal when I'm feeling really pensive. It feels good to physically write things down, and I love the feel of the paper. I use a Sharpie felt tip pen because it just glides over the page, and gives me the precision I need. Here's the journal I use:

the journal I use

You can find a similar one at Barnes & Noble. They carry a good variety of journal styles, Moleskins, and other writing tools.

Here's a sample of what I write:

what I writeI use my journal to list projects, an outline for a post, some reflections from the day, brainstorm sessions, have by-myself meetings, or a desperate attempt to get some order back into my world.

On my Mac, I use Omnioutliner for outlines, Pages, Scrivener, but mostly I enjoy writing in Wordpress.

If you're not writing, I hope this post inspires you to write. You learn so much about the world, and most of all, yourself.

Paul


Go hard

Al came in, sat down, and told me that from now on, life would be different. Life had dealt him a bad hand, and he struggled with it. He was still young and inexperienced in many ways, but not in hardships.

After a great conversation, I offered my services and he said he would be interested some other time, but not right now. For now, he loved his role as a parent and enjoyed the time he was spending with his children. He missed out on their formative years, and felt a sting of regret recounting his early years as a parent, but the past is the past. He was ready to move on.

I explained that he could come back when he was ready, and I would help him prepare and look for work. He agreed.

Al came back from time to time to update me on how things were going. I could tell he was getting a little antsy, but he still wasn't ready to commit to work.

"I'm close", he confided in me. I knew it was a matter of time.

"50."

One day, Al came in with a serious look on his face.

"I'm ready."

"Ok", I said, "let's build out your resume and make it as tight as we can make it. We'll go from there."

He agreed. It didn't take too long to put together something good enough for the job market. Al always found a way to stay busy, finding odd jobs in his neighborhood, and picking up some temp work here and there. I know hustle when I see it and it translated well onto paper.

Once we finished the resume, I asked him how many he wanted me to print out.

"50."

Al caught me off guard, "50?? Uh, how about we start with 10 and go from there?"

"Naw, 50."

"Ok, how about 30?"

"Nope. 50."

"You're really going to do something with 50 resumes?"

"Yup. I go hard."

Hard to argue with that. "Ok, 50 it is."

I hit the print button, retrieved 50 copies of his resume and handed them over.

"Thanks man, I appreciate this", as he stuffed them into his folder.

"No problem. Let me know how it goes, and if you run out, come back and I'll print out some more."

One week later

Al comes to see me, sits down, and asks, "Can I get some more resumes?"

"How many do you want this time?", I asked knowing what he might say.

"50."

"Ok, so you're saying you put all your resumes into the hands of potential employers??", I asked incredulously.

"Yup. I go hard."

Hard to argue with that. "Ok."

I hit 'print', and 50 more resumes came out.

A week and a half later, Al was employed, earning good money with a reputable company with room for growth. He was happy with his situation, and I was grateful for the lesson.

Takeaways

Al taught me:

  • That somebody, somewhere is going harder than me. You can worship or idolize successful people, but how do you think they got to where they are? What will I do to match that energy and effort?
  • That sometimes deficiencies (like lack of work history) crumble to the ground under the sheer force of numbers. What if I did just one more? What if I multiplied my efforts and simply increased my output? Could I do ONE MORE push-up or blog post, help ONE MORE person, do ONE MORE presentation, and read ONE MORE page of that awesome book?
  • That persistence pays. How many "no's" did Al hear? At least 50, huh? And every "no" you hear brings you one step closer to a "yes". I have to remember that.
  • That I'm not challenging myself enough. Next time I'm thinking "10", perhaps I'll double or triple that number. Break through self-imposed limits.
  • To stay open to learning, and lessons will come from all angles. Even if someone is in a more vulnerable position than me, they can still teach me a lot. It happens all the time.

If you go hard it may or may not work out for you, but the odds will be in your favor.

So, go hard, and be like Mike was early in his career.

Paul