Commit to a Path

I receive an email from Chris Brogan every Sunday. In it he talks about some topic of interest to him. I didn’t get to read it yesterday. This morning I’ve been cleaning up things from my bike ride absence. As I worked my way thru emails, I came across Chris’s. The title: Commit to a Path. Here’s his opening paragraph:

Over the last few years, Damon,  I’ve invested a lot of effort in the area of rework. I’ve changed every aspect of my life in some way, from what I eat, to how much I sleep, to my relationships, to all aspects of my business. In all cases, I’ve pursued improvement and growth, but also clarity and a more integrated approach to my goals and the path required to get me there. I want to help.

Wow! That sounds just like what I’ve been doing over the past few years. I found that clarity on the road from LA to DC. I’m trying to figure out how to integrate it into whatever I do next. I have also noticed, like Chris has, that many people don’t take the time to enjoy themselves. They don’t even enjoy the things they do for enjoyment. They’re too busy flailing around from one thing to the next.

Everybody slow down! Running this stoplight won’t keep you from getting caught at the next one. Movement may look like progress, but sometimes progress comes when you’re being still.

Spend a part of your day going slowly. I bet you find something there.

Snow Days Provide Reflection Time

Today is the first snow day of this winter season. Falling on the day after Christmas leads to an extended time away from the office. However, it’s like I stole the time. I’m torn between enjoying a free day and being guilty for slacking off from work. I know that seems crazy, but it’s the truth. As I sat eating a late breakfast, I considered how I ought to spend the day and two very distinct options came to mind. First, I could fire up my computer and catch up on some of the things that I don’t get done at work because of other distractions; and second, I could hang out with my family and take advantage of this time gift from nature.

As I pondered the choice, I looked at the people around me and realized they were dealing with similar thoughts. So I took a few minutes to reflect on my predicament. I love my job and I work hard at it. Having the day off will not make any of the things I need to get done go away. It will only make them more pressing when I get back to them. On the other hand, I have my son here from DC, and he can’t cut out to hang with his friends. My mother-in-law is here from Terre Haute and she really has nothing to do, especially since we don’t have the Big Ten Network. And of course my wife is at home wondering how much work she can get done from here.

I chose to split the difference. I’ll work until everyone has had time to get dressed and fed, then we’ll spend some time together enjoying one another, and remembering how things like snow storms have a way of dramatically changing our priorities.

Opening and Closing Doors and Windows

Image2012 has been a year of change in my life. Besides the fact that I celebrated my 50th birthday and all of the angst that goes with that, I moved for the first time in more than two decades; I started another company, I merged my twenty-one year old company, and I’m about to close the company I just started. In addition, I nearly killed myself riding around southern Indiana in the middle of one of the hottest summers on record. And I threw out my back so badly that I think I may have ended my career as a recreational runner.

On top of all of that, my mother came closer to dying than I’d ever considered. She’s fine now, but she can no longer drive herself around and we don’t think she’ll ever be able to live alone again. My brother and sister won’t let me tell her that so I keep changing the subject when she brings it up.

These sound mostly like doors and windows closing, but in a strange way, they are also openings. We moved downtown into a condo that was owned by a guy we met by chance at a beach bar in Belize. How can that not be cosmic? The place is fantastic and Susie and I are extremely content with being downtown. We can walk to work, and to just about everything else we need to do. This couldn’t have happened without the move. As a bonus, we became landlords to avoid the crazy housing market and that’s working great so far.

It was from meeting my neighbor in the condo below me that the new business got started. It was a combination of an idea he was dabbling with and a concept that my partner Rob and I had been discussing over the years. Our goal was to build a master database of restaurant menu info to seed other developers who needed the data. Two things worked against us: several other companies started the same concept around the same time and they got BIG venture funding; and, it turns out that my neighbor drives me up the wall so we’re detrimental to one another’s creative genius. I’d rather be a good neighbor than a bad business partner who lives next door, you know?

The merger? That becomes effective on January 1st. Port-to-Port Consulting ceases to exist and a new organization called Spectrum Technology will begin providing outsourced IT support to businesses in central Indiana. For the first time in a very very long time, I will not be the majority owner of the place where I work. So many of the headaches are connected to that ownership fact. Adjusting will take time, but I’ve got time.

I wrote about the bike ride while I was doing it back in July. You can read about it in those posts.

The 50th birthday really wasn’t much for me.

Revolutionary Running

Vibram Five Fingers shoes

A couple of years ago, I decided to quit coaching high school Cross Country. I felt like I was the only person who cared about the program. The students didn’t show up half the time. We finished perpetually last in every meet. I had lost the joy, so I quit.

Later that year, as Winter approached, I found myself with another nagging injury from my running routine. I started doing research online to find a miracle cure for what ailed me. In the process, I came across the POSE method of running. As I studied this new way to run, I discovered this funky shoe called the Vibram Five Fingers. I immediately knew I had to have a pair. I fell in love with them the first time I put them on my feet. Now, two years later, they’re riding the leading edge of a revolution in running. It seems a lot of research lately is showing that high tech running shoes are leading to more injuries than they are preventing. As a result, the running shoe companies are racing to market with a lower tech shoe designed to mimic running barefoot. Nike, the inventor of the high tech shoe, leads the pack with its Free line of shoes.

I completely changed my running form and have been running injury free for nearly two years — something I have not done for more than a decade prior. Along the way, I discovered that more people cared about the Cross Country program than just me. My runners stopped me in the hallway to tell me they missed me. I’ll be back on the sidelines this Fall, and I’ll be teaching a different running form, but my runners will still wear shoes.

Sanity is a Fragile Thing

My wife and I were awakened in the middle of the night on Sunday by a loud noise coming from downstairs. We didn’t hear any further sounds so we just went back to sleep. At least we tried to go back to sleep while we lay there listening for additional noises for about an hour. In the morning, we discovered that someone had thrown a large clay pot thru our garage window, shattering the double pane glass and scattering shards all over the garage.

We cleaned it up and considered it to be a random act of vandalism. On Monday night, we were awakened again by noises from downstairs. This time we jumped out of bed and rushed downstairs to see that someone had shot out the windows next to our front door. Two nights in a row means we’re targets to us. We called the police and reported the whole thing. Who knows what will come of that.

Last night, after two nights of restless sleep, I woke at 2:00 AM in anticipation of another nightly visit. We were spared last night. Hopefully, our tormenter has moved on to terrorize someone else. As I sit here now, three days without restful sleep, I feel like I’m on the verge of insanity. I can’t hold a thought. My attention wanders. I need some rest.

I find it amazing that in only three days I went from a normal, rationally functioning individual to a mental wreck. I have enough awareness to know that I’m not functioning properly but not enough to get it together.

Tonight will be a restful night.

The Things I Take for Granted

The air conditioner in my office died yesterday. We spent today sitting in the dark as the temperature outside climbed past 90 and inside I to the 80s. We all made the best of it but it struck me how accustomed to A/C I have become. I grew up in a house without A/C, attended a school without it, and drove a car without it.

The thought that A/C had become so expected everywhere I go made me think about the other things I take for granted, like running water and electricity and even the Internet. I’ve become incredibly soft without knowing it.

Then the real thought hit me. I take my loved ones for granted far too often. My mother is 84 years old. I act as if she’ll always be there. I need to cherish my te with her. I love my wife dearly, and I don’t even know when I stopped doing the little things for her like opening doors and rubbing her feet at night. My fat lazy dog is that way because I don’t take time to walk her any more.

I’ve got to go say thanks to some people (and pet Gracie).

Slowing Down

This is the time of year when many of us are thinking about the future. Lots of us have recently made resolutions to be different. Some of us have already abandoned those resolutions. I am no fan of New Year’s resolutions. I’m not generally a fan of resolutions at all. They are just “I intend to” statements. Rather than make the statement, just do it.

I spend my days going full speed. Sometimes I’m not happy if I don’t have conflicting appointments from which to choose. But my psyche has a way of letting me know when I need to slow down. It happens when I suddenly realize that I’ve spent the last hour on a single mindless task. I used to panic when that realization sank in. Now I just smile.

Slowing down is good for us sometimes. You ought to try it for a while today. Take a break from everything and do…NOTHING. Start out easy. Do nothing for a minute or two. When you finish doing nothing, smile. Make that the first thing you do before you get started again. Take a couple of minutes tomorrow too. Work your way up to a good 10 or 15 minutes of doing nothing each day. With a span of time that big, you can do something with your nothing if you must, but make it a mindless something.

These little slow downs will carry you thru the rest of your crazy day. And the rest of your crazy day is important. The pauses give your brain time to catch up with you. I find myself to be a lot more efffective since inserting a few nothings into each day.

Finding Old Friends

The sudden death of an old friend made me start thinking about other friends who have drifted away for one reason or another. I sent a note to one of those friends last week. I hope he responds. It’s strange how things seem to always happen for a reason, and you attract the kinds of things you spend your time thinking about. I’m not talking about “The Secret” kind of wishful thinking. Maybe more “Celestine Prophecy” kind of stuff.

Either way, while I was contemplating lost friends, I got a call from one of my best friends from high school. Joe Berry and I were always getting into trouble together. We had some incredibly good times without causing any great harm. I hope we can do it again real soon.

Who is Reading?

I read an article in Fortune Small Business the other day in which the author cites a statistic that 60 percent of Americans are putting content on the web. If that’s true, then who’s reading it? Anybody?  Sometimes I wonder. I’ve lately been writing a lot of material to post online or publish in my company newsletter. I look at the statistics and see that there are a few people checking in on me, but I don’t know  if anyone is actually reading what I write.

Then again, I’m not sure that it matters to many of us. Maybe that’s why 60% of us are putting our thoughts online. It’s out there and it will either live or die on its own. It’s an interesting thought. Does it matter to you if anyone reads what you post online? I started out just seeing what it would be like to purge the junk that is bouncing around in my head by placing it in one place. This isn’t the material of my personal journal. It’s just the kind of stuff that might make for an interesting conversation if you got the right people at the right time.

As I’ve continued to write, I have started to long for input from others who might wander onto this blog when they are supposed to be doing something else. I don’t get many comments. Yet I still keep writing, as do that 60% of us who are doing it.

Data is Good

Xobni ButtonBack in February, I asked people to click on a link to xobni so I could get into their beta program. I got the requisite number of links and downloaded the software. Four months later, I got around to installing it. This software is incredible. If you’re drowning in emails (and using Microsoft Outlook), you should rush over to the xobni site and download the software.

Xobni (that’s inbox spelled backwards) analyzes your emails and produces interesting reports about the people with whom you communicate. Right off the bat it will tell you the people you most often exchange messages with. In fact, it ranks them all the way from first to last. It also tells you to which people you respond fastest. I was surprised that my wife wasn’t number one.

The data goes on and on. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make suggestions about how to be more effective at managing your email, but the data should lead you in that direction. It has for me already, and I’ve only been running it for a few days.

X Prizes

I spend most Sundays doing as much of nothing as I can stand. Admittedly, that isn’t as much nothing as the average person, but it’s a start. A big part of each Sunday is spent reading — stuff that I don’t have to read but enjoy reading. Usually there are a few magazines included: Wired, Fast Company, Fortune, Bicycling, Scientific American Mind, and many others if I’ve recently flown somewhere. Whenever I fly, I purchase magazines at the airport to read during flight. I always get more magazines than I can read because I’m an extremely slow reader. The overflow fills my Sundays for the next couple of weeks.

Today, I was reading the May issue of Fast Company. Anya Kamenetz has an article called The Power of the Prize in which she describes the success of using contests like the X-Prize to spur innovation. The concept goes back to the 1500s, and has picked up speed since the X-Prize Foundation handed Burt Rutan $10 million for taking SpaceShipOne to the edge of outer space and back twice. In the article, Kamenetz relates that economist James Love believes we can use contests to solve major problems if we can define them well. Kamenetz also explains that research has shown that the odds of solving a particular problem go up as the challenge gets farther from the solver’s field of expertise.

Being one who loves a good challenge, I think this is a wonderful idea. And since I hardly have anything that could really be considered a field of expertise, I’m hereby offering my services, such as they are, to anyone who is putting together a team to chase after a multi-million dollar prize. Just let me know.

The Mind is an Amazing Thing

I was in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago attending a conference. I was on the go from 6:30 in the morning until 11:00 or later at night. I met many interesting people who all work in my industry. We shared ideas and thoughts about the history and future of computer support, or technology solution providers, or managed service providers, or whatever the phrase-of-the-day happens to be. My brain hurt by the end of the three and a half day event. I’m still processing some of the thoughts that were shared with me out there.

I also got to spend my first time in warm weather this year. I ran outside each day, and it was oh so much better than the treadmill in the basement of my office at Port-to-Port. In fact, it was so much better that I couldn’t go back to the basement. Instead, I started bundling up in all the high-tech running gear that I’ve collected over the years and going outside. It’s really not that cold here in Indiana these days. I just needed something to motivate me to get out of the basement (until next Winter). Running thru Hollywood was just the trigger for that.

On my way home, my plane was delayed out of LA so I bought a bunch of magazines. Usually I buy titles that I wouldn’t normally consider reading as a way to expand my horizons. This time I bought topics that were related to science: Discover, Scientific American Mind, Psychology Today. I’ve always been fascinated by the brain and the mind and our inability to accurately describe how they work. A lot of progress has been made in recent years, and the rate of knowledge growth is increasing. If you were taught that we only use ten percent of our brains when you were in school, you should spend a little time researching the latest in brain research, or neuroscience, or psychology. It’s amazing.

Getting Better

We have a limitless number of aphorisms about improving or getting better. They all have the common element that you can’t just stay where you are. You have to be getting better or, by definition, you’re getting worse. Is that really true? Can we not just continue to be right where we are?

I’m struggling with this concept right now. It seems I’ve been striving to get ahead all my life. I’m a goal driven individual. I like having big accomplishments to seek. I’m not finding that same motivation in a lot of the people with whom I come into contact. In fact, I’m finding just the opposite. Most people just let life happen to them and then wonder why things didn’t work out the way they wanted them to.

I wonder how people can be upset with things wheb they didn’t do anything to influence outcome. Lately I realize that they don’t do anything to influence the outcome because they don’t believe it matters what they do. They believe their lot is cast right from the start and they might as well get used to it or start complaining because there are no other choices.

I don’t buy it. I’ve seen the difference one can make by committing to try. I’m not talking about Rosa Parks kind of stuff. I’m talking about the everyday grind: I will do my job better today. I will learn to speak Spanish this year. I’m going to be a nicer person. It takes more than just saying it. You have to believe that you can make a difference. When you start believing, it starts happening. Before you know it, you’re a different person.