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


Alien encounter

Last December, near Travis Air Force Base, my brother Antonio had an experience he would never forget. As he watched the unusual activity of strange white and orange lights in the sky, he realized that he was seeing something really out of the ordinary.

It's not odd to see strange activities in the sky near Travis, it's been going on since we were kids. But as he continued to watch, he became more and more afraid.

Those must be UFO's!

After watching the lights closely, Antonio began to think - what if they're warning us? Wait a minute. What if they strike? What if...

What would you have done? Would you stick around for scientific purposes, in awe of the strange scene in the air?

Or would you think science-fiction movies, and all the alien attacks, abductions, and weird encounters with humans?

Antonio thought science-fiction. As helicopters took to the air near Travis, he didn't want to stick around for an unnecessary provocation. It was time to go. He got in his truck and drove to the next town, what he felt was a safe distance away.

After playing some pool to pass the time and bring some normality to his world, the memory returned. As he drove back home, the lights were gone, and the thought occurred to him that he couldn't be the only one to see IT. Someone else must've seen this, too.

He scoured the internet for any reported sightings in the area, and found nothing. A week would pass before he told me about what happened. After recounting the events, I decided to check UFO websites for potential sightings, and found 3 of them.

One in Willows, one in Napa, and one in Fairfield. All sightings reported around the same time, in the same region.

It just so happened that somebody in Fairfield "caught" the action on his cell phone. I put "caught" in quotes because his camera work is not the best in the world, BUT this guy's emotional reaction to what he saw that night is stunning.

As Antonio watched this person's video on Youtube, he got the chills again, and told me that his reaction was very similar.

Here's the video:

Real understanding

My brother's reaction to run for cover seems justified, but at the time he explained it to me, the only thing I could think was, "why didn't you stick around?"

I damn near heckled him. Don't you realize what this means? How many people get to experience a once-in-a-lifetime event? No matter what he said, I couldn't get it.

Self-preservation trumps history, was his reasoning.

Ridiculous, I thought.

Looking back, it's hard to dispute his decision now, because now I've had time to reflect on the whole scenario.

An alien encounter is entering a brand new realm for just about anybody. I'm sure after getting over the initial shock, I'd be thinking, why are these aliens here? There are only two possible reasons: good or bad, and if you happen to run across ET, are you really gonna think good?

Nope. You're gonna think something like:

They're far more advanced than we are.

They're here to kill us and invade our planet.

I don't wanna get beamed aboard their ship.

I don't want to be some alien's lab rat or sex slave.

We don't stand a chance...

Coulda, woulda, shoulda

Humans love to compare. I was telling him what I would've done if I was in his shoes. The reality is, I couldn't be in his shoes, I'm in mine. And if I were in the same exact situation, what would I actually do? Whatever I imagine I would do is just that - imagination.

I do this kind of imagining all the time, even if I'm only doing it in my head.

Oh, why did you say that? You shoulda did this, did that, and then finished with THIS...

If [insert person's name] does this, then I'll say this, and that, and this and that....

You had the opportunity of a lifetime, why didn't you do this, and that, and this....?

Life just doesn't happen this way. You can't plan for everything, especially when RANDOM walks into your life. When reality hits, when the lights go on and it's time to perform, it's a totally different situation. To know something intellectually is NOT real knowing.

Instead of thinking what I would've done, next time I'm just going to listen deeply and ask questions, and do my best to put myself in that situation.

It's just better to listen, support, and attempt to understand than it is to show-off what I know, or worse, demean or trivialize someone's choices and decisions. I may not criticize someone openly, but I still think it, and I have no basis.

What would you do if you thought aliens were close enough to have direct contact with you? Would you stick around or get the heck out of dodge?

I'd like to think I'd stick around to see what's up. In reality, I'd fear for my life and hit the boondocks.

Paul


How to rewrite the story of your life

My friend Lisa wrote a book titled, "Wired For Story". She wrote it to help aspiring writers, fiction or non-fiction, to write how people already think and interpret the world around them: through story.

wiredforstory

Lisa believes that all people, from all cultures and backgrounds, see the world as a narrative. It could be a boring narrative, an engrossing drama, or an adventure, but a story nonetheless. In her book, she says that writers can produce "better" stories by appealing to how people are naturally wired. Lisa's done her research, and there's a ton of science backing up her ideas.

It's an awesome book for writers, and I highly recommend it, but I believe a wider audience could also benefit from the book's thesis.

Think about it. If humans really view the world through a story lens, and if we're interpreting every interaction and experience as some form of narrative, then what does that mean?

A meaningless universe

I need to make a point before we continue.

The events in our lives are just events. The stuff that happens to us is just stuff, and none of it has meaning. None of it.

It takes a human, animal, or alien to create meaning from events that take place in the world. Conscious entities from all worlds make their world mean something, because inherently, the universe is meaningless.

Information enters the 5 senses, and almost immediately the mind is asking, what does this mean to me?

The creation of meaning is the formation of story. We spend our entire lives making up things about the world we live in, or we spend our lives consuming the creations of somebody else.

Are you even aware that this is what you're doing? Are you aware of this process as it's happening? Just becoming aware of your meaning making ability can influence how 'entertaining' your story ultimately becomes. Let me explain.

We are story

You ARE story. I am story, and life is the unfolding story of us all.

In life, there are many chapters with twists, turns, and challenges to overcome. Everybody gets their share of awesome climactic moments, and an abundance of fall-flat-on-your-face experiences.

The potential for an epic life, or a forgettable one, lies with every decision we make, but make no mistake - long after you're dead and buried, you will be remembered in story form by the people who are still around. If you're remembered at all.

This is profound. It's profound because we can observe what makes an awesome story from a writer's perspective, and anybody can apply the same principles in their lives.

The story's setting, plot, themes, conflict, and oh sh*t moments provide a character with opportunities to demonstrate their best self, or show their ugly side - just like LIFE.

The only difference is that a book, movie or theater piece has consolidated all the highlights (and lowlights), then presents it in a very entertaining way. You get to skip the day to day mundane aspects of a person's life.

Stephen Covey wrote in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (a personal development bestseller), begin with the end in mind. His point is that everyone needs a destination or vision first, then they can begin to work towards that vision. This is similar to advice I've seen authors give other writers: figure out a memorable ending FIRST, because that will help guide the writer's hand.

Profound entertainment

Entertainment is:

entertainment |ˌentərˈtānmənt|

noun

the action of providing or being provided with amusement or enjoyment: everyone just sits in front of the TV for entertainment.


You can provide entertainment or have it provided for you, simple enough, right? But I'd like to coin a new term and a different style of entertainment: profound entertainment.

Profound Entertainment is simply you're ability to become aware of your own life story as it unfolds, and then to shape and advance it in the direction you choose. Self-awareness is essential.

PE makes your life story more dimensional, and gives you a chance to live your life in HD.

PE takes you out of consumer mode, where entertainment is merely provided for you, and into producer mode, where you're creating value for yourself & others, and really living life.

In order to live Profound Entertainment, you must do what all stories require you to do: face and embrace conflict.

That's the cost of living AWESOMELY. The cost is facing your fear, overcoming inertia and stagnation, and overcoming doubt, despair and depression. It takes heroic effort, the determination of that guy from the English Patient, and the courage of Rocky.

It's easy to read about (or watch) fictional characters transform their lives by dealing with their inner and outer challenges.

It's quite another to overcome your own inner demons and external barriers to become your best self ever. Yes, it's difficult, but profoundly entertaining.

malcolm x quote

PE Ratio

Your PE ratio is your Profound Entertainment ratio. PE is how much you create/produce versus how much you consume on a daily basis? Essentially, are you a creator/producer or a consumer?

You may be an avid reader, but what have you written?

You may love to watch sports, but how much do you play?

You may love travel stories, but how much have you traveled?

You may love music, but how much do you play?

You may love to learn, but what have you taught others?

If you're on the consuming side of the ratio, perhaps your pie looks like this:

pe ratio12% creator, 88% consumer. How would this ratio affect your body, mind, and spirit over time?

How do you feel after a productive day? After you've built something that you WANTED to build? How do you feel when you're with people you want to be with? How do you feel after having new experiences, seeing an idea of yours take off, playing a game that you excel at, or performing in front of others?

The spectator always gets the short end of the stick. The consumer vicariously feels through the characters/players he watches, but the power of those emotions are muted compared to the real thing.

It's why spectators turn into haters so fast. It's hard to appreciate something if you don't understand it, and how can you understand something if you haven't personally experienced it or have completely forgotten what the experience was like?

Vicarious feelings or the real deal? Which do you prefer? And which of those would benefit you the most?

Rebalance your PE ratio

Life is ultimately about PE. Somehow, this disparity between consuming and producing must shift. Feeling alive comes from playing, not so much in spectating.

Don't get me wrong. Passively consuming entertainment plays an important role in the evolution of our culture. We get exposed to new ideas, new perspectives, new language, and new methods of being and doing. It serves a vital function in community development. Stories must be told, shared, and passed on so that we can be better human beings.

But the time has come for new stories, new lessons, from new players. There's an old saying: there's nothing new under the sun. Perhaps that's the cosmic perspective, but it's just not true for humanity. We get a chance to experience new things in our lives every day. We have the opportunity to grow and be something we've never been. A choice is available to us in every moment.

What will you do with your moment?

Will you create something fresh? Or repeat or consume the known again?

Personal Stories

You'll survive

I moved to Seattle with $160 in my pocket, a car full of clothes, a mind full of ignorance, and a heart full of courage. I had no plan, no clue, and nowhere to go. The question that arises when all-or-nothing risks like this are taken is, will I survive? I survived.

And this would have never happened if I didn't make the trek:

Article PC - August 17, 2003This happened because I took some risks, challenged assumptions, and stuck to my guns when I was really shaking inside. There are many stories that led up to this, but the lesson remains the same:

Follow your heart.


Zjump!

I was in France, and my friend Mark asked me if I wanted to go canyoning. Say what? What's canyoning??

I was sick as a dog, but I would be leaving back home in the next couple of days. I chose to go, even though I had no idea what I'd be doing.

Next thing you know, I'm in the canyons in the mountains of France, not too far from Switzerland, listening to our french guide give me options: "Zjump? Or rappel?"

I chose to zjump. See my feet??

zhump!

zjump!

I leapt into pools of water I couldn't see, rappelled down steep cliffs, slid down natural rock slides, and froze my behind off. I was sick before going, and was revitalized after.

Sometimes you have to leap before you look, open a book despite its ugly cover, and say yes to the french guy because he thinks it's ok to jump. You think a better story would've had me say 'no' to canyoning so I could fly home safe and sound? No way.


I'm not going back

3 weeks into my trip to Peru, and we're finally on the Incan Trail for a four day hike up to Machu Piccu. It felt like an exciting adventure, until I hurt my knee on day 1. I'm clearly hobbling now, and our guide Wilbur is obviously concerned. After some discussions with another guide, he came over to me and said:

"You're going to have to go back."

Wilbur was an experienced guide, and he knew this was a problem and could possibly turn into something serious.

"I'm not going back."

He saw the determination on my face. I've been wanting to do this for over 5 years now, and here I was, injured heading into day 2 which would test my will, endurance, and patience. The highest peak on day 2 would be around 14,000 feet.

After some more discussion, everyone knew what my final decision was. A fellow traveler offered her walking stick after I made my decision, my friend Edgar said he would stick with me, and I hiked up that beast one step at a time. Here I am with two bamboo poles on day 2:

day 2 of incan trail

I had a choice. Turn back around, and say I gave it my best effort, OR walk through the pain, and have a better story to tell. I chose the better ending. I took this picture when I finally reached the lost city:

Machu Picchu


Startup Weekend

The first time I went to Startup Weekend in Seattle, our team came in 5th place. If you're unfamiliar with the event, the goal is to recruit a team of people whom you never met before, work on a business idea, develop it as much as humanly possible in 54 hours, demo the product to some judges, and walk away with a potential business, maybe even some funding for it.

It's an intimidating experience. I was surrounded by awesome talent: a ruby developer, Microsoft product guy, Amazon PR dude, and the founder of one of the most popular blogs in the country with an average of 10,000 readers a day. I'm glad I chose to play with them. I'm better for it. This was 2011.

I pitched an idea of my own in November of 2013 at Startup Weekend Davis. It was difficult watching my team crumble and walk away in the middle of the project because the vision was unclear and they just weren't feeling it anymore. We went from 9 people to 4, and none of us were developers.

On the day of judging, the facilitator asked me when we wanted to present, and I said, "We're not presenting."

She said, "Oh yes you are. Let me ask you this. How often are you going to get the opportunity to present to high caliber entrepreneurs and investors? This doesn't happen everyday, and at the worst, you will have gotten some good feedback and learned from it. So, what order do you want to do your presentation in?"

"I want to go last, if we can", I said in resignation. How else could I respond?

I prepared the slides, pitched the idea and our team came in 3rd place. It was the only time when coming in 3rd place felt like coming in 1st. I thought we had no business being up there, and almost walked away from the project myself.

But the lesson is clear: embrace conflict and learn, OR shun it and stunt your own growth.

All that experience would pay off in June of this year. We entered Startup Weekend East Bay, recruited a massive team, the largest I've ever seen at one of these events, and impressed Google staff who acted as the event's mentors.

We would come in 1st place for our category:

startup weekend east bay number app

The story doesn't end there. The next challenge is to actually build something, not just a demo or prototype, and build a REAL business from it.

Yup, PE is tough, challenging, and difficult. Ready or not, the show (story) must go on.

Takeaways

How can I say this without being redundant? Never mind. Redundancy is necessary.

  • Wake up the creator in you. The culture we have collectively built, and what's been passed down to this generation is not the best we can do. Let's improve. We can craft a more memorable story.
  • We've slumbered along consuming what other creators have made for us, and it's not healthy anymore. It's not healthy for your mind, body, or spirit. We can do better.
  • It's perfectly healthy to consume story, games, food, and other people's creations, just check your PE ratio from time to time. Watch for a disproportionate bias towards consumption.
  • In order for story to advance, conflict must be confronted and dealt with. Conflict is fear, doubt, hurt, pain, trauma, oppression, limitation, etc. Confront your fears, demonstrate courage, have faith, and transcend your pain and limitation. Nothing is stopping you, but you (unless you're physically restrained or caged).
  • An epic life = someone overcame epic problems. Are you facing the RIGHT problems in your life that will forge the best version of you possible? If not, then it's time to initiate a more appropriate form of conflict so you can FEEL ALIVE again.
  • If you want your life story to look and feel different, get out of the role of protagonist and back into the role of author again:
    • what's the setting of your story? (where do you want this phase of your life to take place?)
    • what's the plot? (what events would you like to take place in your life?)
    • who's the supporting cast? (what relationships are important to develop? who do you want in your life? mentors, romantic, friends, partners, etc.)
    • What themes or lessons are recurring for your protagonist? (what themes keep recurring in your life? what themes keep returning around relationships? themes around work? what feelings or emotional states seem to have a cyclical nature? what continues to happen in your life that you wish would change? what's the meaning behind them and how will you go beyond them?)
    • What types of 'conflict' will your character encounter? (what big goals do you want to accomplish? what activities make you feel alive? what challenges must you overcome to be your best self ever?)
    • What's the end of the story look like? How does each chapter end? (What's the ultimate accomplishment you want for your life? How does each year end, for the next 10 years? In each year, what have you accomplished for each and every month? What must you accomplish at the end of each day to move towards those outcomes?)
  • Finally, in key decision moments of your life, ask yourself, which choice leads to a better life? What decision will give me a better story to tell? Many times, it will be the more challenging choice. Take the road least traveled, and there will be reward in that alone.

Here's to your next chapter.

Paul

the-next-chapter


Do you tale-spin?

I'm currently attending a conference called the California Nonprofit Technology Festival in Richmond, California. Like many conferences, there are break-out sessions, ice breakers, food, and most importantly, networking.

Whether you realize it or not, networking and the relationships you develop are SUPER CRITICAL to the success of your ideas, projects, and the general trajectory of your career. Who you know matters, and the higher the caliber of people and professionals you establish relationships with, the more likely your goals will be reached. Pretty simple, huh?

Well, I want to share a networking strategy I've used over and over again that's incredibly powerful. It's called Tale-spinning.

Tale-spinning

Tale = story, not the tail of an airplane.

1. Everybody IS a story

First, start with the idea that everybody is a story in progress. Go a little deeper and see that each and every project that they are working on is a mini-story within the main story of their lives. It's important that you understand the narrative of the person you're dealing with at the conference is much deeper, much more dimensional than the 5 minutes of interaction you have with them.

2. Discover challenges

Second, once you understand that there's a story operating in the background, take some time to discover the obstacles & challenges they're currently facing by listening and asking questions. Remember, they're there for a reason, even if they can't full articulate what that reason is. Help them get clear.

3. Collaborate and connect

Third, once you discover their real barriers, your job is to either:

  1. Collaborate with them on their problem by offering some specialized knowledge or a specific skill (if feasible), or....
  2. Connect them to somebody you know that can help them solve their problem. The people you connect them with can either be at the conference or within your personal network.

Simple, right? By doing all three steps you have the opportunity to alter the course of somebody's life story, or tale-spin them in a new direction.

Make impact

With Tale-spinning, you may only reach a few people, and that's fine. This strategy stresses quality over quantity, because in the end, the name of the game is impact. It's about how their stories progress and how people transform in the process.

Do you want to be followed or liked by the whole conference or do you want to impact someone's life? Impact and quality are memorable, 'follows' and 'likes' are shallow.

"We're here to put a dent in the universe."

- Steve Jobs

Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook

Gary Vaynerchuk's latest book release is called: Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook - in the book, he gives case studies on successful social media campaigns. The primary strategy he employs to achieve his success (using his boxing metaphor)  is to give, give, give, then ask.

Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook

You don't begin a social media campaign by telling people to 'like' your freakin Facebook page, but people still ask.  Why should I like your page?? Give me a reason, or better yet, make a dent in my life first.

And that's the point. Don't attend another networking event starting from the place of your needs and wants. Go to give, and give often. Gary says give 3:1, but even I know he gives way more than that for every ask he receives.

7:1 is a more powerful ratio that changes lives, and make you far more memorable than passing out business cards that no one will ever look at again.

I think 7:1 is reasonable, doable, and most of all, has long-term impact.

Does that mean you give seven to just one person? Is that seven spread out to three different people? You decide, but if you give it all to one person, you go much deeper.

Here's an example. I was at a networking event in Seattle, and one guy I met was doing some cool work abroad. I genuinely listened, asked questions that were relevant and took the conversation deeper to help me better understand the challenges he was facing. Someone walked up and before they could introduce themselves, I said, "Have you met Daniel? He does 'this and that' and what's cool about this is 'this and that' is...."

I realized I couldn't help him, so I began talking to everyone there about him. I soon walked away and met another person in a similar space, so I began recounting the first guy's story to him. Then I saw Daniel in mid-conversation and said, "Hey Daniel, I'm telling this guy about your business. You two should talk."

Then I walked away. I found a woman who I thought could also contribute to his unique problem, and yelled over two people, "Hey Daniel, I think she can help you, too."

By now, Daniel kinda felt obligated to me. He came up to me, and said sincerely, "I know you told me about your book, but I want to know more. I can help you promote it."

Be careful

Please listen. I don't do this to manipulate other people. I genuinely want to help them. Tale-spinning and the tactics that support it could easily be used to exploit a situation.

You know your intentions. Don't be evil.

Also, if you give, give, give and somebody takes, takes, and takes, then stop feeding them. Don't give to people who will take everything you have and not even think of giving back. What's the saying? Give someone an inch, and they'll take a mile? Yeah, no mile types, they're sharks and not good for the tale-spin ecosystem.

How can you tell a shark from a genuine contributor? Through practice and experience. I'm sure you've had some experience with selfish people. Learn from them, apply that wisdom, but don't let that stop you from being vulnerable. Take risks, put yourself out there, and learn from your mistakes.

One more thing. If you decide to give seven to just one person, make sure you feel out the situation and don't come across as overdoing it. There's nothing more suspicious than somebody giving everything they've got to assist you, and they're not asking for anything in return. So pay attention to context and feelings. Yes, there is such a thing as over-giving, especially with strangers, and I've definitely been guilty of that before. It makes you feel creepy.

Finally

Provide solutions. Give. Create value. Care. Help someone get past their obstacles and advance their stories, even if it's just a little bit.

In networking situations, take the attention off of you for once. Be a Tale-spinner and make impact.

And don't just save this strategy for conferences. Do this at work, at home, and try it in social settings. Everybody has goals, and goals have obstacles - these challenges must be overcome for them to advance their own life story.

Transformation is just around the corner for them - and for you.

Paul

7:1

 


The Blatantly Obvious Purpose Of Life

[dropcap type="2"]I[/dropcap]f you've ever wondered what the purpose of life is or ever thought about why you're here then this post will shed some light on the topic and give you something to think about. Ready?

Great movies are great because...

According to IMBD, these are the top 15 movies of all time.  The list was determined by combining a high IMBD rating (some criteria they use) and an audience vote:

Top 15 Movies of all time

Whether or not you agree with this list, these movies are some of the best of the best. They have stood the test of time and represent what audiences want to see, sometimes over and over again. There are a few movies on this list I've seen more than one time.

What draws people to movies, TV shows, the theater, or a sporting event?

Why do people spend their hard earned money on entertainment, over and over and over again?

We watch, and continue to watch for one primary reason.

We watch for story.

What's so special about story?

When I first started studying "story", I was surprised to learn that story is essentially about transformation.

We watch story to vicariously experience transformation through its characters.

It doesn't matter if it's a movie, play, or some sporting event. This is why you root for certain teams, get attached to TV characters, or love going to the theater.

The common denominator is story, and we get sucked into watching where our beloved, and sometimes our despised players end up.

This phenomenon occurs because people are meaning makers and natural storytellers. People can't help but make up stories.

You make up stories about who you are, where you live, what God's like, and the world around you. You make up stories about what you can or can't do. You tell yourself stories about what kinds of people are safe, who to do business with, and who's successful or not.

We all do.

"My brother showed me how to fish." or "I remember when (name some event) and we all died laughing."- these are very short narratives, but still story.

And beliefs are just story disguised as personal truths...

"I'm not a morning person."

"White (insert any race) people are..."

"The government is..."

"Life is..."

Not only do you view the world as an ongoing narrative, but you are in fact THE primary author, shaping your own life story with every decision of your existence.

Your history (or her-story) is being written by you moment to moment whether you're aware of it or not.

Blame it on thousands of years of evolution or a miracle from God, but every human being is wired to see and interpret the world through story. Every single one.

The key that unlocks a killer story

As I began studying "story", I started noticing a pattern that runs parallel with our own lives. Story needs a main character, and that character must face some type of "conflict" or difficulty.

No conflict, no story. Period.

Fear.

Depression and anger.

People, circumstances, or environment.

Limited resources, ignorance, or low skills.

These are all forms of conflict, and they must be dealt with in order to progress or advance your own story.

This is an important point. Without problems to solve, you cannot evolve into the person you want to be. No obstacles or resistance to overcome? No growth. It cannot happen. You cannot aspire to greatness without challenges.

Without conflict to resolve there can be NO TRANSFORMATION. None. Zero. Nada.

You cannot experience that feeling of AWESOMENESS without going through some type of conflict. That wonderful feeling of being alive? That million dollars you think about getting or the body you want so badly? They're all waiting for you on the other side of conflict.

Can you imagine Sam & Frodo prancing through Mordor with no obstacles or difficulties? Can you imagine Rocky knocking everyone out in the first round without even breaking a sweat? How about Andy Dufresne NOT having to escape a prison through 500 yards of nastiness for a crime he didn't commit?

Would you still watch? Would you still care?

Deep down you understand that the main character(s) must struggle to overcome obstacles. They must experience a defeat or setback of some kind, and many times multiple defeats. You want them to have the courage to face their fears, to take on the villain and WIN, but they can't always win.

Conflict leads a character to either feeling more alive or to an experience of loss, maybe even death. Transformation works both ways.

As you go through conflict AND overcome it (or not), then a change takes place within you. As more and more changes take place then eventually a complete transformation can happen.

The path to transformation

What happens when a problem gets solved? Or an "a-ha" moment comes out of the blue? Or a mysterious stranger serendipitously comes into your life to give you a clue about your next step? Or a crisis is averted? Or a key relationship changes (for better or worse)?

When conflict is resolved, a shift takes place. How big a shift depends on how big the conflict or crisis was to you.

change ➢ change ➢ shift ➢ shift ➢ big change ➢ change ➢ small shift ➢ change ➢ small change ➢ shift ➢ shift ➢ BOOM!

TRANSFORMATION.

ButterflyLifeCycle

The caterpillar to butterfly is a series of small changes that lead to the complete transformation of the caterpillar.

Think about this. All those changes and shifts can't happen without CONFLICT or some type of challenge. Conflict must be met head on until its resolved. It can take many tries to get to resolution.

For the butterfly conflict is breaking free of the cocoon. For a tree, conflict is dealing with the weather and other elements that could potentially destroy it. For animals, it's other predators and the elements of nature.

For humans, conflict shows up through other people, the environment, nature and animals. But the toughest conflict to overcome is internal (inertia, fear, bad attitude, lack of confidence, low self-esteem), and that's where big transformations takes place.

What does transformation look like for you? You decide.

You could want a transformation in the amount of money you make, a new career, a change in look in body or style, a profound shift in perspective, the ability to do something with ease that once struck terror in your heart, or a new level of confidence.

Small conflicts can mean small cumulative changes. Eventually big changes are the result of all those small changes.

Big things are made up of little things.

What does that mean? It means you don't have to do it all at once. You don't have to do it all in one day. You can make a series of small changes that culminate in your own transformation.

Change the atom and you alter the universe.

Conflict is coming

Conflict is coming whether you want it to or not. Any goal worth going for inherently has resistance. You'd have to want absolutely nothing or be dead to avoid conflict altogether.

Life contains a series of conflict moments that you must face. If you cannot grow from them you cannot experience transformation and without transformation, you don't have a story worth telling.

Conflict is neither bad or good. It's merely a plot twist, a turning point, or a critical juncture in your story. Will you take the bait?

The origin of conflict

WHY does conflict exist in the first place?

Because of duality. Duality creates a relationship between two opposing points.

There's a here and a there. An up and a down, a black and a white, and a beginning and an end.

Conflict potentially exists in between any two points.

Life is basically a long journey between here and there. You start as a baby immediately facing incredible challenges. Going from crawling to walking, from not communicating clearly to language fluency, etc. From life to death, conflict is all those moments that give you the opportunity to either grow or wither away.

Conflict may seem non-existent, but it's always there, lurking in the background asking you to grow and become more. Conflict is how you learn, expand, get better, and hopefully become great. Conflict is also what causes you to retreat, regress, escape, run, and bring you a life of mediocrity and boredom.

Everyday you're making decisions on how to deal with conflict. The decision to be courageous or cower. The decision to get things done or succumb to laziness. The decision to try something new (knowing you may look silly) or NOT having that new experience.

Conflict seeks resolution

If the protagonist is bombarded with conflict and he/she decides to run from it instead of facing it, then the story is over. There's no reason to stick around when someone quits. Quitting is the end of the story unless more conflict is generated by quitting.

There's something to be said about persistence, in story or in real life. If someone fails, then tries again, then fails, then tries again, and keeps this process going until success is experienced, THEN WE HAVE A STORY WORTH TELLING.

Keep Trying

Conflict also persists. Notice that if you don't take care of something, it will find you at a later date. It's just a matter of time.

You can look at conflict in two ways. One is that conflict is to be avoided because it does nothing but cause problems for you OR that conflict is asking you to become more, to be everything you were meant to be.

This is the human story. This is nature's story. This is the story of the universe.

Good and evil. Love and friendship. Man vs. himself. Suffering and redemption. Man vs. nature. The underdog.

There are so many themes, so many stories occurring simultaneously that it's staggering to consider. We all play a part in its creation. We are all co-conspirators and players on this great big stage.

"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players" ~ Shakespeare

The only purpose of life

So what's the blatantly obvious purpose of life? Well, maybe it's not so obvious, but story holds many clues about the purpose of life. Story is universal, and story is ultimately about a character's transformation.

Can a person only experience transformation ONCE? Are you only allowed ONE experience of change?

No. We can have as many transformational experiences as we can muster. Sure, huge transformations may be rare but our ability to experience more of them is only limited by our time on this planet and our willingness to initiate lots of conflict moments.

How many unique stories can you live through and tell? How many epic stories can you write for yourself?

I'm talking about potential.

We all have potential. It doesn't matter if you're living next to a landfill in pure poverty, or a billionaire.

We're all even in potential.

Potential lies within all living things: an apple seed, animals, people, and every alien species in the universe. And within that potential is a possibility. A possibility for someone or something to become all it was meant to be. It may or may not get there, but the potential is there.

What is the potential of a single apple seed? One tree that produces fruit generation after generation? Or many trees producing apples for millions?

Whatever the potential of an apple seed, it seeks to actualize it.

Every year, an apple tree faces conflict in the process of realizing its potential.

[line]

It was a difficult winter. It was my first. I didn't think I'd survive.

My branches are bare. The wind chill sends shivers down my trunk. There are no animals nearby to console me.

I'm all alone, but I refuse to give up.

It's getting warmer and I will survive this dreadful cold.

The sun has broken through the clouds. I'm invigorated. I see movement in the distance.

I become stronger. My branches feel alive again and the leaves are blossoming.

Soon I'll be full of apples again, surrounded by all who benefit from my existence.

I never gave up.

Here comes my first apple, and I'm happy to share it...

[line]

Actualization. That's the purpose of life. To actualize your potential.

Life everywhere is seeking to be all it can be.

Aliens. Earthlings. Plants and animals. Each contains the seed and instinct to realize its potential.

What can you do? Who can you be? What does the best version of you look like?

Human potential

What about human potential? People can do all kinds of things. Erect impressive structures, build flying machines that take people into space, create great works of art, compose beautiful music, inspire one another to be their best, and put together large organizations that generate value for millions of people over and over again.

But ALL humans don't necessarily want to actualize their potential, right? When I was working with youth a few years back, inevitably I'd hear the phrase, "(Insert name of any youth) has so much potential!"

When did adults stop having "so much potential?"

Almond trees and fish are different than us, they can't make meaning, but people CAN. Generally nature can't choose to be less than they were meant to be. Have you ever seen a lazy flower? A tree that procrastinates?

Humans can make that decision.

And what happens when we don't seek to actualize our potential? What happens when we are less than average humans? What happens when we eat, drink, or smoke all of our problems away instead of facing them? Or watching lots of movies and TV to avoid doing something we know will make us better? How does conflict avoidance affect you in those moments? How does it affect your life? How will it affect your story?

If the purpose of life is to realize its potential, AND humans can prevent that from happening by choice, then what does a world look like where people thwart their highest potential every single day?

But for every person NOT choosing to unleash their potential there is always someone looking to get the most out of their moments. Every moment that someone chooses to be less than what they can be there is someone choosing to be more. And this is what makes human beings "must see TV".

Would you pay to watch a movie about your life? Do you think an audience would stick around after the first ten minutes? Would you? Are you actualizing your potential or impeding it? Are you taking risks, being vulnerable, and really putting yourself out there?

Are you initiating and embracing conflict or anxiously waiting for it to come to you?

Final thoughts

This is not a call for everyone to become a "Da Vinci" or "Booker T. Washington".

I'm also not telling you to be grinding out your vision every waking moment of your life.

This is what I'm saying:

We all have potential.

We are meant to actualize it the best we can. This is the purpose of life EVERYWHERE.

HOW we realize our potential is different for EVERYBODY. (This is your mission in life)

Your potential is essentially unlimited, since you can never stop learning and growing unless you choose not to (or you die).

Potential can only be actualized by facing conflict and resolving it, over and over and over again.

And every time you "level up" through every solution, you add more depth and awesomeness to your life story.

Is this too much to ask of humanity? Is this too much to ask of you?

Too bad. Now go initiate some damn conflict.

Paul "I come in conflict" Campillo