So You Want to be a Keynote Speaker...

What is it like to be a public speaker? People often ask me what it is like to be a keynote speaker (they often use the words “motivational speaker” which immediately makes me cringe and brings about a deja vu to an old Chris Farley SNL routine, “In a van! Down by the river!” - but I digress). I have a quip at the ready for this question - “It is awesome - basically I get paid to travel the world and go to parties.”

The truth of the matter - part 1. Well, everything above is true - I do get paid to go to parties. There might be better jobs out there (but I doubt it…) and here’s why. After you *get a speaking gig (the hard part) life is amazing. You take an all-expense paid trip to a luxurious resort or hotel - often at the beach or in Mexico, NYC, Miami or LA. After the flight, you are picked up in large black SUV and whisked to the hotel. Usually, there is a reception the evening before and you are introduced to the CEO, CMO, sponsors - all inevitably interesting people who open up to you about their lives. You have some fine wine and a great meal, more conversation and then finally head to bed, where there is often a welcome gift waiting for you. The next morning you head down for A/V check which is usually handled by a team of professionals so that it only takes a few minutes. You have no prep because you know the material cold. Then, when it is your time, you get a grand introduction, take the stage, and (hopefully) pull the audience deep into your stories and frameworks, the noise of applause still ringing in your ears as you exit stage left. Next there is a long line of people eager to talk to you, to shower you with compliments, to buy your book and to tell you a little about themselves. Afterward, time allowing, you go to yet another reception and dinner and people approach you all evening long to share their stories and how what you said affected them. The senior executives, one by one, make time to thank you and converse about high level business strategy or amazing personal stories. After collecting your hotel points, you are whisked to the airport in another SUV, fly home collecting your airline miles, and then return to your daily commute to the couch - because you work for yourself and your time is your own. When not traveling for a talk you balance your time by nesting at home and/or connecting with friends and family, or using your points and miles to travel the world, meeting new people, interviewing the world’s top experts to gather cutting-edge information and the latest research, reading case studies and books, and collecting new stories from your adventures to put in the next book or talk. Oh, and every single thing you do, with the exception of 1/2 your rent, and groceries, is tax deductible. As my accountant / attorney told me, “your profession is the least audited of any category - less than 1/10th of a percent, because your whole life is tax deductible.”

The truth of the matter part 2. *Speaking gigs are not easy to get - it is a very, very tough business. 80% of my speaking gigs come from someone who saw me speak themselves. These are not “referrals,” they were there! So, getting started in a business like this is very, very hard. It is the classic chicken / egg, cart / horse equation. In order to get speaking you have to get speaking… and how the hell do you do that? Well, first of all, you have to be a rock solid subject matter expert with real credentials, and you have to keep your knowledge up-to-date. Then, you have to be able to take your expertise and develop it into a great talk (or talks) on relevant topics with enough storytelling to keep it engaging. You also have to have this elusive thing called “presence” a combination of how you carry yourself, how you project your voice, where and how you move, the use of hand gestures, smiles… the list goes on. Without “presence,” no matter how great the content, you will not get the call for the next talk. But even having all of that most certainly is not enough to get the word out on the street to bring in the next opportunities. Unless you are famous, speaker bureaus are useless - I’m listed with at least 50 and less than 5% of my talks come through them. Instead, it is a networking sport full of potential rejection - usually in the form of the sound of “crickets” - someone sees you talk, tells you how great it was, wants to bring you to their company or event, they then they say when asked, “no I don’t have a card, but I’ll drop you an email” and then you never hear from them… ever… It is socially exhausting - every event I work the room from the moment I arrive until I leave. I never bow out early, I offer to speak privately to any and every sponsor or executive the organizing committee wants me to meet. You are ON the whole time. After back-to-back gigs I sleep like the dead sometimes for 12 hours or more. The follow-up trail is never-ending. I get so many emails a day that require personal responses that it is a full time job just trying to keep up. When someone shares a personal story you can’t not respond though sometimes I’m running months behind. And… I have help - my business partner Monica does a vast majority of the business correspondence - each gig requires dozens and dozens of touchpoints. When someone is paying low-to-mid 5 figures for an hour of your time, they want more than an hour of your time. As I always joke, “the best part of working with me is that you don’t have to work with me - you get to work with Monica.” First there is the original touchpoint or inquiry, then the follow up, then meeting scheduling / rescheduling, getting on the phone for the sales pitch, having a follow up call with the exec sponsor, working thru corporate vendor set-up systems (which require extensive hoop-jumping) and then a few more calls and emails regarding logistics, flights, time, agenda etc. Then you have the wrangling over price (I never get involved if I can avoid it - Monica handles this) and then the contract, invoicing, handouts and worksheets for printouts, A/V requirements, introduction talking points, mailing of books to the location, travel arrangements, and then after the gig, the follow up on payment (50% up front) and tabulation and invoicing for expenses, and then of course the quickbooks, insurance, taxes and all the other things that keep a business solvent. I do very little of that, though I still do my own travel. I also manage the website, while Monica arranges and sends our semi monthly newsletter and other marketing materials, hires freelancers, and manages our CRM system. I write the books, turn my expertise into written or video content… and so on. There are so many bright shiny objects to chase that you always feel a few steps behind.

The balance: Could I coast and work a very light schedule - yes - maybe for a while, but instead I often work very very long hours for weeks or months on end. However, it is my choice and if I want to up-and-go to Jamaica for the weekend (like I am this weekend) then I do. Also there are natural off-peak periods during the main holidays, 4th of July, mid August and other times where there are lulls where you can plan ahead to do things. But during the main season months it is nearly impossible to commit to any sort of travel, event or even family visit more than 2 weeks out because the opportunity cost of missing a gig or two is so very high. I think there is also a hidden danger of getting too full of yourself. I’ve met a few successful speakers (who will go unnamed) that I think fail to realize the people who loved your talk are the ONLY ones to actually come and give you feedback. If that is the only feedback you listen to, your ego and hubris can explode. Also, I think there are a lot of “fake it to make it” players out there - so don’t fall into the trap of thinking that everyone who holds themselves out as a successful high-paid speaker is actually making it. They might be struggling more than you know. The bookings can be erratic and unpredictable. Feast or famine. If you can’t handle occasional uncertainty, this may not be for you. For the last couple of years I’ve had north of 60 paid gigs a year, and I do my share of complimentary keynotes as well for non-profits, schools etc…

Should you be a keynote speaker? Yes, yes you should (unless you don’t like leaving home). I firmly believe it might be one of the best lifestyles out there - traveling the world at someone else’s expense, meeting amazing, interesting, successful people, collecting their stories, and getting paid really well to do it, all on your own time… I get to choose what to do, what not to do, no one says what or where I have to go, and there are no paparazzi to hassle you. It, at its essential core, is a form of freedom that few other jobs provide. And here’s a little secret, I love it so much, I would pay to do it, but somehow new events keep emerging, the pipeline for the year is full (I did 16 gigs in the first 5 weeks of the year!) and international travel to Rio, Santiago, Cancun, Shanghai and Portugal are on the horizon. If you feel the urge to share your story, if you have great presence and are a great storyteller, and you have deep expertise in something useful to a business, find a TEDx near you and pitch it - that’s how I got started. If you want to know more, feel free to drop me an email or sign up for our newsletter.

PS: click here to find out how I prep for my TEDx talks

PPS: If you are serious about becoming a paid speaker, you might want to check out the Speaker School for Women.

Life is Long if You Know How To Use It...

Time, by most conceivable measures is simultaneously finite (we all have a terminal illness called "life") and infinite - in that what takes place "in the dash" of your headstone represents infinite possibilities and a near infinite number of "moments." 

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The universe is approximately 13.4 billion years old - a nearly inconceivable span of time when thinking of the artificial construct of "earth years." That said, the universe is vastly older than that when you consider the division of time into seconds, microsceconds, nanoseconds, femtoseconds, and the base unit of "Planck lengths." In terms of scale magnitudes, the universe's age is 60 orders of magnitude greater than a single Planck length of time. Of course even the Planck length can be infinitely subdivided, so essentially there is an infinite amount of time within any specific duration. 

Consider this amazing graphical representation of the age of the universe and the inconspicuous blip our lifespans represent...

https://helixtime.io/

Yet, on the converse, despite our short span, our decades of life, consciousness, actions and meaning are nearly infinitely longer than the origins of the universe...

Physics models of the origins of the universe suggest that as much may have happened in the first nanosecond of the universe as in the billions of years since. All this to suggest my main ongoing thesis about time, specifically, that "the value of an increment of time is not related to its duration."

Our solar system centered, second/minute/hour/day/week/month/year human view of time carries all kinds of bias. Arbitrary elliptical circuits of the star we call the sun suggest an important tick on the yardstick of time... but what about the mayfly whose tenure on earth never sees a sunset much less a solar circuit? What about a Bristlecone pine with a lifespan of 5,000+ years. Are sunrises and sunsets like a strobelight? To the Bristelcone, is the birth, growth and death of other trees like the surge and collapse of an unwatered bean sprout? What about an entity with a lifespan of a "google" (10^100 years)? Would the universe's expansions and contractions (if it actually contracts) look like the blips of a firefly? 

Time, at least for us humans is not made of seconds or months or years or eons. Time is made of memories and the rest doesn't matter. Much like time follows in the wake of space in the expansion of the universe, so too does time follow in the wake of memories created in our brain. Time is made of moments: more moments equals more memories equals more time.

Perhaps Seneca had it best oh-so-short-ago: 

“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.”  Seneca

There are 86,400 ticks of the clock. Every single day...

Are you "Killing Time?" or "Making Time?"

“The most dangerous aspect of the comfort zone is that it seems to affect our hearing. The more comfortable we are, the more oblivious we become to the sound of the ticking clock. Because there will always seem to be so much time ahead of us, we unwittingly squander the present moment. We use it for entertaining ourselves rather than for preparing ourselves...

Each of us must pause frequently to remind ourselves that the clock is ticking. The same clock that began to tick from the moment we drew our first breath will also someday cease.”

—Jim Rohn, "The Five Major Keys to the Life Puzzle"


You Believe the “The Earth is Flat” and Don’t Even Know It…

The earth is flat…. Right? You say "no," stat, because you know better than that. Because you've been taught that Columbus sailed the ocean blue and Magellan went around it too: mastering the complex blue fractal of earth's winds, clouds and tides about 500 years ago proved this view to be true. 

You also know and can see the obvious evidence available to your senses: the fact that the other visible celestial bodies - like the moon and Venus - transit from full circles to crescent shapes regularly, clear markings of the lighting on their surfaces prescribing a sphere. Or there's the simple and obvious observation that, when you climb up high, you can't see the "end of the world" and instead objects (like ships) disappear over the horizon, indicating, yet again, a curvature to the earth and hence the (now) obvious "truth" that the earth is NOT flat.

Yet…yet, until recently a majority of the world believed that the earth was flat. Until Pythagoras, Plato and Aristotle began describing the earth as a sphere, no one challenged this conventional belief, and as late as the 17th century the notion had not yet penetrated mainland China. These sophisticated cultures built the pyramids and the Hagia Sophia, and invented Algebra, Trigonometry and the keystone. Yet these geniuses ignored obvious evidence, surrounding them day in and day out, and instead followed the simple, logical, yet completely farcical explanation that the earth was flat. 

Right now, around the globe, all of modern culture is subscribing to the same kind of fallacy and one perhaps even more obvious. This error is pervasive at all levels, ages, regions and demographics, and its limitations on society are far more significant than those of the flat earth belief system. Despite ample evidence to the contrary, nearly every human being on the planet believes in the equivalent of "the earth is flat". This belief is limiting exploration, creativity and the possibility of future eventualities in the exact same way - but even more dramatically. Let's compare and contrast:

The earth is not flat
The earth is not flat
The earth is not flat

There is no such thing as linear time
There is no such thing as linear time
There is no such thing as linear time

The way we experience time is anything but linear and chronological. Hourly, daily, monthly, annually we experience seemingly odd yet natural fluctuations of experiential time. But we confabulate reasons to justify our experiences according to a view of chronological time that is the logical equivalent of the "earth is flat."  "Wow, our kids grow up so fast." "The summers keep getting shorter." “Where did the years go?” "That (3 hour meeting) lasted forever." "That (3 hour) dinner with a close friend was over in a second." “This day lasted forever.” “This day was over in a flash.” “The days are long, but the years are short.” “Was that really a decade ago? Seems like yesterday.” “That was last week but it seems like forever ago.”

Here's some quick facts. Our brains, which regulate our perception of time, don't have a central clock. More accurately there are a whole bunch of clocks that regulate our cognitive perception of time. Absent corrective action our brains will start to constrict the flow of time through our brains, and like water through a garden hose, will cause the perception of time to accelerate - just like putting your thumb over the end of the hose. 

But here is the good news. This is all cognitive bias - all cognitive error. Its just not true. It's not "real" any more than the perception that the earth was flat was real. If our brains have a cognitive bias around the process of experiencing time, then we can design a way to circumnavigate this bias and slow, stop and even reverse the acceleration of time. I am proud and happy to say that my life's mission, my passion, and every ounce of my intellectual and physical energy for the last 15 years has been devoted to doing exactly this, to going "counterclockwise" fighting time and that I've discovered ways to slow, stop and reverse the acceleration of time and “really live” almost forever. 

I'm working on the book now - "©ounter©lockWise: Unwinding Cognitive Time" (thank you Tom Stat for the title and logo) but for now I will be posting regularly on what I've discovered over the past 15 years of research, exploring and experimenting with the “physics” of cognitive time. Please go to the Welcome page and subscribe to receive email updates to the blog or weekly summaries. Watch for my upcoming webinars, and join me in person for our upcoming Summit on Resiliency (September 17). 

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Have you experienced time in a way that was not linear, not chronological?  Please share it below.

The Key to Memorable "Really Living" Vacations? Fear and Suffering

The Key to Memorable "Really Living" Vacations? Fear and Suffering Sound counterintuitive? Perhaps. If the goal of a vacation is to eliminate all stress, then cocooning safely by the pool for hours on end with a cocktail and a book might be just the thing. But from an Art of Really Living standpoint, such vacations are like setting a torch to your most valuable commodity: time.

Do you want to go on unforgettable, time-stopping vacations that create an indelible stamp on your memory? There is one guaranteed way: design in some form of fear and suffering.

Sounds crazy? Counterintuitive? Consider this: think back to some of your most memorable vacations as a kid or even as an adult. Almost always the best and most primary memories have incidents of suffering involved that in the moment were a crisis or a struggle, but with the patina of time and under the golden gloss of memory have subsequently become the highlights of those stories you tell. The endless drives across the country with motion sickness. The time you left your sister at a gas station. Getting lost in a foreign city. The time your car overheated driving up the mountain pass. Getting arrested for skiing out of bounds.

This, then, is the key phrase, "the stories you tell." Narratives without trial and suffering essentially have no plot - and without a plot you don't have a story, and without a story, you won't create meaningful memories.

Need more evidence? Consider the "Monomyth" or "Heroes' Journey" first popularized by Joseph Cambell, which many would argue is the basis of any successful narrative. Think Star Wars, the Matrix, Avatar… virtually any blockbuster movie or novel follows this basic 11 step journey, and core to these narratives are trials, fear and crisis.

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Here's a short video analyzing "The Matrix"

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If we accept that the human brain is wired for stories, and that the heroes' journey is the archetype of the most basic narrative pre-wired in our brains, then it follows that any adventure - particularly on vacation - that follows this narrative is bound to be remembered. A lazy-on-a-beachchair-with-a-cocktail vacation might sound like the perfect idyll, but from the perspective that "life is short and actively getting shorter," such a vacation has no narrative. As such, it is time lost. Time wasted. A vacation you will forget.

So… how to design a truly memorable vacation? There is no direct prescription, but in a series of coming posts we will demonstrate through stories examples of "really living" vacations that slowed, expanded, or even created time.

Narrative One: An Adventure in Playa Del Carmen. 

Last year my daughter and I flew into Cancun and were whisked to a resort on the outskirts of Playa del Carmen for a conference where I was giving a keynote speech. We had a couple of days to relax prior to the event. Considering it was March, we were eager to get out to the beach the moment we arrived to the hotel. It was then that I spawned the notion, "Hey Kat - how about we walk the beach to Playa Del Carmen, get dinner in the town, and then take a cab back." (1 - call to adventure)

Her response, "sure - how far is it?"

We asked the man at the front desk. He didn't know, seemed confused by the question, so we just set out with a hand drawn brightly colored not-to-scale map of the coast as our guide. (2 - assistance) It was about 3:30 and the sun was still bright and warmed our skin as we began our journey. (3 - departure)

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We navigated bays and shallows, marched in each other's footprints, investigated tidal pools and peered into ritzy resorts full of pale-skinned sun worshipers.

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As we progressed south, the beach became more rugged and the hotels disappeared. We had been walking for about an hour and a half when Kat started asking, "are we almost there?" I looked at the map. "I think so - maybe a couple more bays." This pattern was to repeat itself several times over the coming hours.

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We were now away from any development but oddly the bays and estuaries were full of people - Mayan families with naked babies splashing in the shallows laughing, dozens of grills and campfires with blue smoke of delicious smelling grilled meats. The sun was dropping, and in the chiaroscuro light it felt like we had entered another world - one hidden from the lights of the resorts - of real people experiencing the simple joys of the sun and the sand and the waves, droplets in the air like diamonds from the splashing of the kids. At several turns we were offered food and greeted warmly, we these tall other-worldly strangers traversing their alter-world.

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Kat's feet began to hurt about 3 hours in. (4 - trials) "Almost there" I told her as we traversed yet another bay and then rocky shoulder, lights finally appearing in the distance beckoning, but not growing any closer. (5 - approach)

It became dark, but still there were lots of people and fires and we had a flashlight we used to traverse the tricky estuaries and rock outcroppings. We were now both tired and had stopped talking, just endless tramping on the sand. We were both starving and also dehydrated having run out of water hours before. Kat was on the verge of tears I was getting very anxious -I began thinking about trying to move inland to find a cab but the dirt lanes leading to these unidentified beaches didn't seem to lend themselves to public transport, and groups of rowdy and aggressive younger males drinking beer in pickup trucks were starting to become more prevalent. (6 - crisis)

One more bay and rocky outcrop and then, there it was, the long stretch and brilliant lights of the Playa Del Carmen main beach. We were ecstatic. We took the first side street up and entered the pedestrian zone of cobbled streets, upscale restaurants with outdoor seating, and a diverse mix of incredible people watching.

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We lost our tiredness and began fantasizing about shrimp ceviche, lobster pasta, seafood pizza, and steak tacos. (7 - treasure) Finally we settled into comfortable chairs of a gorgeous restaurant overlooking a plaza surrounded by palms and proceeded to eat and eat and eat. We were giddy.  It was 9pm - we had walked 5 hours straight, but now the reward was here, food had never tasted better. (8 - result)

When we returned to the hotel, (9 - return) we ran into our main sponsor. "How was your evening" he asked. "Great," we said simultaneously - "we walked to Playa for dinner."

"Walked??" He exclaimed, "Playa is 12 miles away - that must have taken…"

"5 hours - yes yes it was quite the adventure." The concierge, overhearing said, "Wait wait, you walked to Playa - in the dark?! It is very rocky near the north side…."

Kat said, "oh it was fine - we had a flashlight." It became a story repeated all over the complex not only by our conference group, but by the hotel employees. I could tell Kat was secretly proud, and in subsequent trips, her resilience and willingness to try new things significantly increased. (10 - new life)

Now, a year later, we remember that trip not for the fancy resort, not for the amazing meals, not for the gorgeous pools. What we remember most was the suffering / joy of the long excursion to Playa and the otherworld we entered in the gloaming of the evening where few other tourists had traversed before. Not even para-sailing (a first) was more memorable. (11 - resolution)

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A Really Living Moment: Guest Post By Ira Friedman

Sometimes those moments of really living are grand expansive scenes and sometimes they are private moments when a series of mental tumblers fall in place. Regardless, the common thread of all "Really Living" moments is that they create a dent in your chronometer - a notch in the thread of time running through your brain and hence expand the sense of time spent here on earth. Here's a short but elegant summary from friend Ira Friedman of a "Really Moment" from his memories:

------------ In the 1980’s I was in charge of the paper pickers in a state park in NY. It was my job to scan the beach on a Monday morning to see where trash had to be picked up. It was a hot summer day where the temperature was supposed to reach 100º.  At 7AM I was walking the beach.  It was 78º with a wonderful breeze blowing in my face. I was wearing one of the original Walkmans and listening to Bob Seger singing "Against The Wind." I soaked in that moment and that sensation and vowed to remember that moment so that on any given day when the weather was crappy I would call to mind that experience.  In a small way that is what i believe you are saying about "Really Living" - where memorable moments emerge in a spontaneous way that your mind latches onto.

-Ira Friedman

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A Really Living / Event Horizon Moment: Four Movements in Time

Core to the philosophy of the Art of Really Living is creating those intense, memorable moments that slow time. Designing the "Four Movements in Time" performance did exactly that and became a fractal of itself. By performing a show about about really living and creating event horizon moments we simultaneously created a really living event horizon moment in the form of the show. Time slowed dramatically in preparation for the show. The intensity was probably the highest for me as I had two roles and the lion's share of the content. The event featured all 5 components associated with an event horizon moment:

  1. EMOTIONAL INTENSITY: Talk about terrifying. I've never written poetry before, much less performed it as a rant in front of an audience. 81 lines to memorize while flipping slides, changing the lighting with a remote, holding up props, and then changing roles and personas to the TED talk 5 times during the show. That said, hearing Ani play and watching Tess interpret the message flooded me with joy to be associated with such talent and see it come to life.
  2. PHYSICAL INTENSITY: not for me, but certainly Tess (and Ani) were putting it out there physically as you can see in the photos below. The volume of Ani's playing and dramatic dynamics literally gave me goosebumps. Tess's movements are startlingly athletic and flexible.
  3. UNIQUENESS: This was not like anything I or we had done before and really stretched all of us I think. The mix of piano concerto designed in flow with a TED talk about time, syncopated with a poetry rant interpreted through modern dance was unforgettable.
  4. FLOW: I had moments of flow in preparation - especially when I memorized the rant / manifesto and then once on stage I experienced it most of the time I was up there - I assume the same was true for Ani and Tess. It was 80 minutes long but was over in a second.
  5. BEAUTY: The endless sustain of the final chords of the prologue, Ani's elegant black dress and cheekbones, the lights and colors of the slides and lights with the gorgeous face and movements of Tess and a message I believe is beautiful as well: all this fractalized into a micro of the macro message.

Below are some photos from the event. We also captured it in video - not sure when or how we might share it. Regardless we will do it again.

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Really Living on a River: Guest Post by Al Izykowski

Great story of joy and suffering, beauty and physical and emotional intensity from my great friend Al Izykowski: enjoy. It was a Thursday night, March 5th, 5 degrees at 10pm. The full moon hung huge in the crystal clear skies amidst the silence of the windless air as I gazed out the patio door contemplating my life. Choice…plop on the lazy boy and listen to more low grade TV entertainment and commercialized propaganda perpetuating conformity, or get off my ass and listen to the voice in my head and the wonderful sounds outside the door that cannot be imitated, duplicated or replicated.

I could hear the TV in the other room as I began pulling on my bike shorts, tights, layers of clothing and organizing the bike and gear. My wife looks a what I am doing and looks at me with a glance that says, “you are crazy”. I am not deterred. I finish the prep for the conditions and saddle my horse into the van and head off to my launch point. Before I roll I send a text to you my friend, as there is no one else who would better appreciate and would get it. Your text back was: “fuck yeah!” Inspiration! As I rolled out, the air bit crisply and reminded me that I was not a spectator on the lazy boy, but a participant in the real show. Whatever doubts or concerns I may have had about what somebody may think or whether this was a prudent thing to do quickly vanished as I rolled down the bank of the river in the same place I have several times before in the light of day amidst the sights and sounds of whizzing snowmobiles. This was different, way different. No people, no machines, no sounds, no distractions. For a brief moment my brain went on pause, I wondered maybe I am crazy, nobody else is here. As I charged down the river bank onto the frozen ice tracks my ears were greeted with the overwhelming sound of the snow and ice crunching under my tires, reminding me of special memories as a child, and as a father, playing in the snow.

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So here the little journey begins…on the river….and in my mind. Once I settled into the moment the magic began. The huge full moon hung low casting long shadows as the familiar surroundings took on a new look. Within minutes moving down the river the ambient light of the city and the troubles of the day dimmed and I was moved to a unique place. Everything looked different, felt different, and all the while the only sound was that crunching beneath my wheels. I was in auditory overload flooded by that magical sound as my mind raced to sort out the troubles of my day and life.  Thoughts quickly changed to “now” and I entered the zone of really living. As I rolled down the river passing familiar sights and under familiar bridges, the sound beneath my wheels took me to a place of less familiar sights and sounds, in particular the sounds of the ocean. So, I began to experiment with moving in and out of hard pack, into fluff, into ice, and back and forth and until I found a rhythm. I let my mind wander and remember the sounds of lying on a beach in Grand Cayman and what the ocean sounded like. I sashayed in and out of the different surfaces and created the sounds of waves crashing on the shore, and that subtle sound of the backwash as the wave retreating back to sea, and another crashing on the shore, and retreating, crashing and retreating. I wiggled my toes and I could feel the warmth of the sandy beach between them. For a few seconds at a time I would close my eyes, and despite the icicles hanging from my chin, I was on that beach that I re-created in my mind enjoying the sounds of the ocean that I commanded, as the waves crashed and retreated…I basked in its magnificence listening to the sea on frozen river.

And so it went, as I pedaled my ship totally lost in what felt like a moment.

Well all ships must return to port, and even the longest days at the beach lead back home. As I wiggled my toes again I came to the realization that the grit I was feeling was not sand, but the beginning of loss of feeling, I wanted to keep going nonetheless. The further I got from the city and the safety of my car the more I got into the moment. As I write this I still do not remember making a conscience choice to turn and go back, I just did.

And the journey begins anew. I stopped to take a drink and send a photo to you. The insulated water bottle was a solid frozen chunk of ice, the phone displayed a message I never saw before….do not use device, temperature too low. I packed a bottle of Gatorade in my jacket thinking my body heat would keep it viable as a back-up…also frozen solid. Uh oh, no hydration, no communication, and frozen toes in a pair of leather work boots and cotton socks, a long way out and the temp dropped to zero!

Time to switch gears. Though I experienced all the same sights and sounds as I had on the way out, it was a whole different mind set. The ride back brought a whole different perspective, I couldn’t believe I had gone so far in what seemed like just a moment (right?) Now I realized I may be in some trouble. Ironically, the survival ride back was as rewarding as the pleasurable ride out. Fortunately, I turned back just in time. I was gassed, soaked with sweat, dehydrated and toes on the verge of frostbite. I peered around every bend haunted by those comforting waves hoping the next corner would land me be back to start…seriously wondering if I would make it.

The journey back is always a personal one and the self talk within one’s mind is often the difference that defines the experience.  I thought of your journey back. Needless to say I made it and was never in any real danger. The mystery is, that the initial motivation to get as far away was surpassed only by the motivation to get back.

So, what could have, should have, would have been just another mundane Thursday night in the teeth of an angry winter, had I not seized the moment, was instead a short adventure I will always remember and be indebted to the notion of "really living" for.

As I peeled off the sweat soaked layers while the car warmed up, I looked at the clock and was amazed at what I saw. All of this happened in just 2 hours!

Through my shivers I smiled and thought of the Art of Really Living, the messenger, the message. I realized that I had briefly expanded time, compacted time, and if only for a little while, I really lived! Thank you, thank you!

The best things in life often really are free…..if we are willing to pay for them.

Tickets Still Available: Four Movements in Time - Tonight, 7pm, Chicago: 1335 S. Michigan Avenue

Please join us if you are in chicagoland: http://www.pianofortefoundation.org/concert/four-movements-in-time

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Four Movements in Time: An Experience in Synaesthesia, 7pm - March 28th, Chicago

A week from Saturday we are aiming to confuse the senses and hijack your perception of time through an experimental fusion of art, music, poetry, talk and dance. I hope you will consider joining us. Tickets are available here: Four Movements in Time

Here is the the Program, Music, and Performers:

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Four Movements in Time: Syncopated sharing of Poetry, Dance, Music, and Talk centered around the non-linear nature of experiential time

Why is time accelerating? Why did summers as children seem so much longer than they do as adults? Is there any way to design our lives to reverse these trends and instead slow and expand time?

Through a syncopated intersection of art, music, poetry, dance, and a TED talk on the cognitive biases that result in the non-linear processing of time, Ani Gogova (concert pianist), Tess Collins (modern dancer), and John K. Coyle (TED speaker, lyricist) will touch the audience’s senses to demonstrate the three rules that govern "experiential time" and share ways to slow the ticking of the clock to bring back summers as expansive as those when we were children so we can "really live" longer. Art in the room by Karolina Kowalczyk reflects this nostalgia and loss of childhood.

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John K. Coyle (talk/poetry) is an horologist, Stanford d.school grad, SVP and Professor of Innovation, Olympic Silver Medalist, NBC commentator/analyst, writer and speaker. As a TEDx presenter and founder of The Art of Really Living movement, John has received rave reviews for his presentations.  His passions lie in the areas of innovation, strengths development, and an obsession with the cognitive bias on how we as humans experience time.

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 10.40.50 PMAni Gogova (piano) is an award-winning Bulgarian-American pianist who appears in over 40 performances each season throughout Europe and North America, including broadcasts on NPR, WBEZ, TEDx Talks, and WFMT Chicago. Her work has gathered critical acclaim around the globe and been selected as a top recommendation by Time Out Chicago Magazine and the Chicago Tribune. Gogova holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and she served as a Professor at the world-renowned Music Conservatory of the Chicago College of Performing Arts, Roosevelt University.

Tess ColliScreen Shot 2015-03-17 at 10.32.04 PMns (dance) graduated from Columbia with a degree in dance, then traveled overseas to further study and receive her yoga teacher training. She's continually creating and performing movement-based work in collaboration with other artists, and as an instructor of various styles. Her curiosity and playfulness on the mind/body/spirit continuum form the base of her movement exploration in choreographic choices and teaching.

karolina2.jptKarolina Kowalczyk (art) was born in Raba Wyzna, Poland and has lived in Chicago for the past 20 years. She received a BFA in Illustration from the American Academy of Art and currently works at The Art Institute of Chicago. Her meticulous way of working with paper cut-outs is inspired by her childhood love of stickers and wycinanki (Polish paper art).  The pieces are created from many independently drawn elements on paper that are carefully arranged and built up in layers.

Her work is inspired by nostalgia, trauma, loss and childhood and has been featured in shows in Chicago, Michigan and Minnesota. Sample art:

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Growing Down

Nostalgia One

Shame Revisited

A Story of Really Living: Guest Post by Gary Goebel

Today: guest blog from Gary Goebel, master (mostly unaware) of the Art of Really Living. Gary is a great friend and unassumingly inspiring. Here’s a guy who tends to talk about his risk aversion, his periods spent as a lawyer and teacher, and “domesticated life” as a stay at home dad. What comes out around the edges, is that this is the same guy who left the rock star house-on-the-hill (literally in this case - formerly owned by the lead guitarist for the Scorpions) and along with his star-powered attorney wife Monica, abandoned the money-chasing rat race and moved to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin to enjoy the fruits of their labors while still young enough to experience them fully. A 2-year sabbatical followed by a job here and there, and then most recently two other massive adventures - first an 8 month sojourn into the jungles, beaches and teeming cities of Central and South America - with 8 and 10 year old boys in tow going to “the school of life.” And now, unhappy with the local school system dynamics with his elder son, Gary has taken on home-schooling an 11 year old boy with traditional curriculum, unique experiences, and lots of TED talks.

Seriously, when other people only dream of taking the big chances and changing their lives forever, Gary and Monica have proven willing to take the risks to do so repeatedly. Every day as I consider what the Art of Really Living is really about, I think of Gary and Monica, and the strengths, resiliency, and time-expanding adventures they have been on over the last decade. With that, I turn it over to Gary and his adventures in time down in Latin America with the only edit being the addition of Really Living elements:

ELEMENTS AND CONTRASTS OF REALLY LIVING MOMENTS:

  1. Unique/Mundane
  2. Beautiful/Ugly
  3. Physically invigorating/exhausting
  4. Emotionally deep (Love/Courage, Hate/Fear)
  5. Flow State

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I have known John Coyle for years, not as long as some, but have seen him in a number of personal and professional settings.  I have always admired his gusto, his pursuit of adventure, and, basically, his commitment to “really live.” I assumed he was just the type of person who "lived large." It was who he was, and of course, this was natural for him. But what about the rest of us?  If we didn’t share his DNA, were these adventures just something to dream about?

It was only recently that I learned that his actions are part of a conscientious philosophy, and that others can follow suit. In fact, he pointed out that my wife Monica and I have a history of the kind of risk-taking and creating incredible experiential moments for ourselves and our two young sons, that represents the heart of The Art of Really Living.

One recent time-expanding experience came in the Summer of 2013.  I had just gotten out of a life-draining business (mundane), and Monica was working from home as a one-on-one business development coach for lawyers. Our two sons were ages 8 and 10.  Monica was hit with an epiphany! We had no jobs that forced us to be anywhere in the foreseeable future. It was time for World Travel!  (unique)

It is too trite to say we packed our bags and hit the open road. That sounds so romantic and whimsical. To plan and tackle a trip like this requires a decent amount of suffering: there was a lot of discussion, disagreement, research, preparation, arrangements, etc. to be made before our new dream could become a reality.

Eventually we settled on a Central America as a starting point. Why? We wanted to learn Spanish and enjoy beaches. Panama fit the bill because unlike the Central American countries a bit further north, there is no hurricane season. Also, flights were cheap, health care good, and they accept the US dollar.

Our adventure started almost a month before going abroad. We rented out our house, much earlier than anticipated, because we found an ideal tenant who was interested in a four month lease of our fully furnished house. Suddenly, we became “homeless.”  That was an experience, but a story for another time. Let me just say that in times like that you know who your friends truly are.  It was like a month long going away party!

Leaving all our worldly possessions behind (except backpacks), and giving our two boys the benefit of “the school of life,” we hit the road for a minimum of four months. We purchased one-way tickets to Ciudad Panama as our launch pad, enrolled in a Spanish Language Immersion School, and arranged to live with host families (unique). We started by spending two weeks in the mountain town of Boquete and two weeks more on the Caribbean island Bocas del Toro, with some exploration time between the two destinations.  (beauty)

Beyond that, we did not formulate a plan. Who knew what we would do or where we would go?  We decided to see what felt right after we arrived. I jokingly told people we would be back when A) We ran out of money; B) We got tired of dysentery; or C) We were kicked out of a country with no where else to turn. Honestly, most family and friends could not get their heads wrapped around a non-itinerary such as that. But that was the plan, or non-plan, if you will. “So really, when ARE you coming back?” Part of “really living” as we have learned is not trying to force amazing moments to happen, but instead trying to create the right kind of environments where possibility for serendipity is ripe.

So how long did we stay? As it turns out, 8 months. We traversed the cities, beaches, jungles and cloud forests of Panama for 7 weeks (physically challenging). Then, we traveled by bus over the border to Costa Rica and lived in a cabana in the jungle near the Pacific Ocean for a month. (beauty, uniqueness)

Next, we took a bus from San Jose, Costa Rica to Panama City to meet John Coyle and his family for Thanksgiving in the San Blas Islands.  There, we sailed for days on a catamaran with Captain Jean Charles and a Guna Yala guide named Ronnie.

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Sadly we all managed to get sick during this period (physically challenging) but bonded in close quarters along the way (emotionally deep). Next, we were dropped off on a tiny palm fringed island smaller than a city block, with gorgeous white sand beaches and a laid back vibe.  We lived in straw huts and ate meals provided by Franklins -- family who owned the island. (beauty, uniqueness)

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After the Caribbean Island time, we flew to Quito Ecuador, and  rented a condo for six weeks. While in Ecuador, we explored the Andes mountain towns, the villages in Amazonia, and the Galapagos Islands.  We traveled by planes, trains, canoes, boats, horses, taxis, vans, flat-bed trucks with benches bolted to the bed, buses, bicycles and foot. (physically arduous, emotionally scary)

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When our three month tourist visa expired, we again traveled over an international border into Peru, but this time on foot, not by luxurious plane. There, we discovered yet another form of travel- we called them loco-motos, but they were really just jerry-rigged motorcycles modified to transport more people and things.  The Peruano ingenuity with these transports was nothing short of miraculous! They could move mountains! But if you have visited Machu Picchu, you know that Peruanos have historically moved mountains.

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Each time  we left a “safe and secure” spot (OK, at least one where we had developed some level of comfort or that felt somewhat familiar), was incredibly stressful.  At least for me.  Were we going to the proper bus terminal?  Did we buy the right ticket?  Would we be crossing a border at the best or safest time?  How would we change our currency?  Was our gear secure? What forms of transportation, if any, awaited us?  Could this taxi driver be trusted?  Would we be over-charged?  Robbed?  (emotional depth - fear, anxiety) Travel here is not the same as there.  I often railed when people asked about our “vacation.”  There may be many words to describe what we did, but I do not see vacation as one of them.  I tend to reserve that word for going to Disneyland or sitting at a resort by the pool with a Mai Tai.

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During our travels, time passed fast and slow, we had periods of quiet contentment, boredom, painfully long journeys, beauty and of course those certain memories that just implant themselves, seemingly of their own accord, and serve to become the “stories of the road” - the experiences that “made a dent” that we will always remember, like:

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  • The dramatic passing of an ancient grandfather in the bedroom next door to the boys on our first night with our first host family; (unique, emotionally deep, beauty too)
  • Taking 36 hours to go from door to door from our tiny cabana in Costa Rica to Park Ridge, Illinois, without cell phone, GPS, my more fluent wife, or any other niceties; (emotionally, physically stressful)
  • Having our cabana burgled while we lounged comfortably on the beach; (fear, anxiety)
  • The intimate connection with the ocean, land and animals in the Galapagos; (beauty, emotional depth)
  • Befriending other traveling American families in one country and meeting up again in another;  (emotional depth, love)
  • Traversing the Sacred Valley of Peru and all that it offered; (beauty, uniqueness)
  • Floating down an Amazonia River on inner tubes; (beauty)
  • White river rafting on the border of Costa Rica and Panama;
  • Working to create a new girls’ home for young mothers in Cuzco, Peru
  • Dancing in the streets at Carnival in Chachapoya, Peru (beauty)
  • The camaraderie of fellow backpackers singing around a fire, kicking back beers in hostels, riding bikes on volcanos, and soaking in natural hot springs in the mountains.  (uniqueness, emotional depth)
  • 24 hour bus trips; (physical challenge)
  • Eating exotic “street meats” and quail eggs from vendors, buying artisan cheeses  from colorfully attired indigenous women… almost any of our culinary experiences; (beauty, uniqueness)
  • Chicken Buses (fear, love, beauty, ugliness, uniqueness)
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We could write a small book on the trip (my musings can be found on our blog at http://ottoowenmonicagary.blogspot.com/ ).  Not a day goes by that I do not think back to one thing another about our 8 month odyssey. Did we really live? Unequivocally! We were not just tourists. We absorbed and experienced an entirely different world than the one we had left.  Did we expand time? Absolutely - those 8 months fill our mental data banks with the equivalent of years of memories had we stayed home, and we continue to relive special moments, reach out to new friends found abroad, and explore future roads we might have otherwise closed if not for the experience. Whatever money, convenience, peace-of-mind, etc we sacrificed, has been recouped ten-fold.

“Wait,” you say, “that all sounds fun, but I  couldn’t do that…” Let me challenge you here. . You couldn’t do that because… of your house, your car, your belongings? What are those things “worth?” vs. experiences?     935611_10202178672043468_1905013855_n

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Let me share the story of a certain famous rock star, as related in the book, “What Happy People Know” by Dr. Dan Baker.  In the book, the author relates the story of a famous rock star who had turned to drugs and alcohol because he felt so “trapped” by the establishment - recording deals he HAD to complete, concert tours he HAD to fulfill. Here he was worth a hundred million or more and he was miserable feeling like he had no choices. Easy for us to look in from a afar and say, “wait - you can just walk away, travel the world, live on an island, do whatever you want with all that money… and you still have your talent.”

But how different is that from you and I? Many of us have savings, or could scrape some together if we lived more frugally. We’ve invested in education and careers that make us easily hireable.  Yet .. we can’t take 3 or 6 or 12 months off because... ? Why?  Our THINGS? our JOBS? MONEY?

I challenge you - what are we working for anyway? to die on a stack of money or to “really live?”

Everyone dies, not everyone really lives…  I want to really live!

Yes, I'm Terrified: Join Us for a Study of Four Movements in Time, March 28th

On Saturday, March 28th, I'll be teaming up with concert pianist Ani Gogova,  http://anigogova.com and modern dancer Tess Collins for a unique fusion experience of Art, Poetry, Movement, Talk and Music. In full disclosure, I'm completely terrified. Ani is an amazing concert pianist full of drama and emotion and skill. Tess is an elegant archetype of the modern dancer, flowing like water. Me? I talk good (supposedly). But.. poetry???

I'm not a poet and I know it. Nonetheless in the spirit of The Art of Really Living and in an homage to my lost friend Kevin Bennett, Stanford poet laureate, I'm going to lyricize some poetry in syncopation with Tess's movement, Ani's music and my recent TED talk. I hope you'll join us. Heckling, well, sure...

More information to come, but here's a draft of the flyer:

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Design for Resiliency: Why Almost Dying is Also “Really Living”

Why almost dying is also often “Really Living” As mentioned in the last post, time expanding “really living” moments tend to have a set of consistent characteristics – either they are truly unique, or feature a sense of extreme beauty. They may be physically intense, or emotionally deep, or feature moments of “flow” where you utilize natural strengths to their limits. Occasionally all five of these aspects converge into the same place at the same time and in the magic of that moment create they create an “event horizon moment” where the gravity of the event is so powerful that time stands still and you remember it forever (often “as if it was yesterday.” Often moments such as these feature contrasting emotions of courage out of fear, joy out of pain, beauty out of ugliness, happiness from sadness.

ELEMENTS AND CONTRASTS OF REALLY LIVING MOMENTS:

  1. Unique/Mundane
  2. Beautiful/Ugly
  3. Physically invigorating/exhausting
  4. Emotionally deep (Love/Courage, Hate/Fear)
  5. Flow State

Below is the story of event horizon moment from my life where I suffered and nearly died, but instead thrived and survived, laughed and loved, all wearing only a silver and pink spandex suit….

An “Event Horizon” moment of “Really Living.”

I arrived in Amsterdam in the early gray of morning after the usual overnight flight, exiting the white modern white terminal filled with the acrid smoke of European cigarettes to a typically gray, moist and damp Dutch day. Gray streets, gray skies, gray buses, gray people. Mundane. After some navigation between the train station and the closest tram, I managed to find public transport to the Viking skate factory on the outskirts of town.

After a quick tour of the massive warehouse, I spent about 2 hours in the factory trying on skates barefoot in order to find a pair that fit perfectly. Sure they all “look the same” but the reality is that minute differences in the shape, stretch, and contours of the leather and blade made for significant differences. I’m a size 43 but I bought two pairs of size 41 skates for a tight fit, and added to that a custom distinction – switching the standard set of 16 ½ inch 1mm wide blades blades for 17 ½ blades and carrying a spare pair in a cardboard poster tube. I was set for the season.

I left the huge factory (the interior of which looked much like the end of the first Indiana Jones movie) where there were aisles and aisles of speed skates – primarily for the domestic public (there are over 1.2 million registered Dutch speed skaters – vs. about 2000 in the United States ) and walked back to where the main highway cut through town and followed an entrance ramp down to the viaduct.

First stop, Munich , and then onto Inzell, about 800km away. I had no money so... ready, set, …. THUMB. I had never hitchhiked, but the concept was easy to understand. Unique.

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Standing by the roadside next to the roaring traffic I was carrying a number of objects that, as it turns out, would become important later. I had my large black backpack with an internal frame full of about 50 lbs of clothing, shoes, and gear. I also had 2 boxes of skates, and one small poster tube with a spare set of blades. And then I had my 40lb duffel bag with all my skating stuff: sharpening jig and stones, oil, tools, skinsuits and warmups. All told I had about 100lbs of stuff – both hands were full and I had a back full of a backpack.

Other than the recent massive failures with regards to my training I generally considered myself as serendipitous – having a ‘green thumb for life’ – and on that day I got four aces. Not 20 minutes after I first stuck out my thumb, a rusty old jalopy pulled up and 4 doors popped open full of friendly, smiling young faces with Australian accents who asked pleasantly, “Where you headed mate?”

I told them.

“ Munich ? No shit! That’s where we are going! We just bought this old beater and are heading to Munich for Octoberfest! Climb on in!” Joy.

I had to tie my backpack to the roof and then held my skatebag and boxes on my lap in the middle seat of the rear of the old jalopy, but the warm dutch beers they passed around quickly had me laughing and jabbering away with the rest of them and we headed on our way all the way to the German border (OK, that’s like 30 miles – Holland is tiny). Love, comaraderie.

Serendipity then lost her grip and a god-awful shaking took over the car and then shiny metal disks began to shoot from underneath the car in all directions to an incredible cacophony. At first I though the engine had exploded – except it was still running – but our forward progress began to slow as we coasted: we had dropped the transmission. Fear, despair.

My newfound pals immediately began the mourning process but I had no vested interest in the bum auto deal they had made that morning and instead untied my backpack and resumed what would come to be a very typical posture over the coming months – standing with a slight lean at the edge of the road, arm curved with thumb out, trying to look ‘safe.’

A tow truck came and I said goodbye to the Aussies but an hour went without anyone stopping for me. Then two hours. I began to despair… and then it began to rain… hard.

I began to panic and ran for the next overpass and stopped in the shadow underneath. Now dueling needs began their wrestling: stay in the dark and not get picked up? Or be wet and miserable but visible? Exhaustion.

I opted for a compromise and would choose cars that looked “kindhearted” and would dodge out into the light and rain with my thumb out.

This went on for quite some time and finally after another 2 hours (which is an incredibly long time by the way) suddenly my luck turned again. Behind a “kind looking” Euro station wagon was a large Euro truck/trailer combo that put on its air brakes and roared to a stop about 100m beyond the overpass.

I was overjoyed and sprinted up to the bright red cab. Joy.

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I’ll never forget the face of the man who swung open the door – not because he was so memorable or unique by his-self – instead because his visage was so much like another – that of “Timmons” – the unfortunate wagon train driver in the movie “Dances with Wolves”. The same greasy hair, pudgy face, and the same cigar clenched firmly in his brown molars.

The difference in this case was that when he spoke, instead of a patois of redneck English, my driver spoke only in French and I had not the slightest idea of what he was saying. He didn’t seem to care, and jabbered away for quite a while until I was able to squeeze in, what seemed to me, an important verbal salvo: “ Munich – Munchen” – my destination. Unique.

“Deutschland!” I added, and he nodded and smiled and then began talking again and then began working the gears judiciously.

I was wet and tired (I was up all night on the overnight flight) and it was warm and dry and despite the smoke and the ambiguity of where I was going I just decided to trust in fate, and close my eyes.

Still talking my driver put the pedal to the metal and off we roared, crossing the German border shortly thereafter.

Sometime after a laborious dispute with the border guards and the repeated exit and return of my cigar smoking driver to review the contents of his load I fell asleep. It was just twilight, but the 36 hours I’d been awake, combined with the Dutch beers and contrast of the damp cold and the sudden warmth found me susceptible and I slept for hours without a care for where my wagon-train driver was taking me.

I was dreaming. Somone was fighting with me – buffeting me around my head and shoulders, intent on delivering a message. Finally I opened my eyes to find that I was being shaken.

4 inches from my face was the stub end of a dead cigar and my driver was shouting in French, roughly shaking me, stopping only when I finally moved an arm to indicate I was alive. I lifted up groggily looking through the windshield – seeing nothing but black.

The impassioned dialog and gesticulating continued but my head swam in a fog and it wasn’t until Timmons reached across me and unlatched the door and waved his finger that I finally understood.

Translation. “Get out.”

That’s what all that meant…

So I got out.

What else could I do? Fear.

I grabbed my backpack, my two boxes and tube and the heavy duffel bag and climbed down the steps of the big red cab, black in the darkness.

I first noticed the cold when the winds of the departing trailer swirled around me – it must have been only 35 degrees – and damp…

Then, location: where was I?  Ahead there was a lit sign over the highway and seemingly the only illumination for miles. Like a moth I staggered with my load to the flame.

I drew close enough to read the sign even as in the brightening gloom I could see the sudden division of the highway. The sign read, “Franzosich Rechts, Deutschland Links” – “ France left, Germany right.” My driver and his big red truck has gone right, the streaks of his disappearing taillights still remaining imprinted on my retinas – to France.

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Thank you Timmons.

Now what?

As if on cue, it began to rain. At first it was a smattering of drops, but it then quickly settled into one of those steady downpours that last for hours.

The drops were initially stopped by hair and clothing, but within minutes they began to find channels through the already damp materials of my clothes and course down my back and into my shoes.

I began to shiver – violently. I immediately began walking as a defense mechanism – my 100lbs of ‘stuff’ burning more calories than a brisk walk would. But.. I hadn’t actually eaten.. and only a feeble warmth was generated from the effort. My teeth began to chatter uncontrollably. I still remember it. I kept thinking of George Washington for some reason. Wooden teeth. Mine sounded wooden – and it was so clichéd to have them bouncing up and down like as if they were in the hand of a spastic mannequin.

Worse still – with my forward progress, all light disappeared and I found myself sloshing through inky blackness, just the twinkling of the drops and the occasional glint of road markers flashing wetly against the black giving any indication of time or space.

As my clothes became more thoroughly sodden it suddenly occurred to me – not one vehicle had passed in the last half hour… So I checked the time: 2am.

As I walked, I began to dissect what I knew about hypothermia – how your energy fails and instead of fighting you start to give in and then a calm begins to permeate your limbs. With a start I realized I had stopped walking. Terror. My jaw was still chattering though.

I began again – but back towards the light.

I crossed beyond it and then turned around, and then headed back again. One foot in front of the other, arms aching with the load.

So I began what became an incredibly long military drill of marching and discipline. Suffering.

Enduring.

My hands turned to ice, and my feet too. My legs and arms grew numb and I stopped wiping the water from my eyes and stopped hunching my shoulders to protect my neck. I just walked and when I grew tired of walking I began an ugly sloppy jog, lead footed and sloppy, but I jogged.

Sometimes I carried my stuff, other times I set it by the side of the road. I kept moving. I have never, ever been more tired… leaden, deadened, numb, cold.

At some point I began to realize that I could die.

Right there on a lonely stretch of highway I could just stop walking and die – and that in fact it could probably happen in less than an hour. I was so cold that it didn’t really phase me… and the lack of emotional response did scare my rational mind… Despair.

It was then that a sudden light grew behind me. Headlights.

Unbelievable! Hope! Joy.

Life resumed and hope grew and I marched back toward those lights waving my arms. The headlights remained dim pricks in the inky blackness for a while an then suddenly became bright with that weird sound familiar from TV – “wreee-oooowwwww” and the car erupted from the distance to directly in front of me to long gone in a matter of seconds.

My despair reached new levels.

3 am and I’m wearing dark clothes and I’m sopping wet in freezing temperatures while in the middle of f!#ing nowhere and I’m trying hitchhike on the goddamn autobahn! People are driving 120 mph! Who in their right mind is going to stop for the wet madman hitching on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere?

No one.

I might die. Maybe I’m ready to die. So tired, so cold, so hungry, so weak. No fire stoked below as I walked, no warmth stole through my limbs, but I knew if I stopped walking I would die and I didn’t want to die – I was too young to die, I had too much to do to die.

So I walked – away from the light, toward the light, away from the light, toward the light..

After about an hour and a half more of marching I decided to do some more exploring. There was an embankment to the right and I re-climbed it and saw… nothing. Not a light, not a house, not even a telephone pole – just the grass underneath my feet, and blackness…

Still, I resolved to pick a direction and assume that this, this hay, or grass or whatever that had been neatly mowed into rows, that someone – somewhere had done this work.

I resolved to follow a row.

I followed that row.

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It didn’t take long before two things occurred: one, it began to get extremely dark – and hard to find my footing, and two, I began to think about all this grass, this neatly manicured row of grass… maybe…. maybe  I could…

I stopped. I turned around.

I saved my own life. Hope.

I walked back as close to the light as I could while still up the embankment and then I implemented the plan that had been slowly gestating in my head for the last 10 minutes.

First, I set down my bags and boxes, and then I began to gather the grass. Shoving, combing, lifting, gathering, I quickly developed a coffee table sized mound, and then it grew to the size of a doghouse, then two doghouses. For once the exertion warmed me and in about 15 minutes I had gathered a mound of grass about 5 feet high, ten feet in length (including taper) and 6 feet wide. Think about it – that’s a HUGE mound of grass – and fifteen minutes in the dark can feel like forever…

What came next took the most courage of all: after shoving my bags and boxes under protective cover of the grass, I then stripped down, exposing my body to the 35 degree downpour, and I removed every single bit of sodden clothing I had on including my soaking wet shoes until I stood naked in the field under the pouring 35 degree rain, shivering violently, hardly able to control my hands which were becoming more numb by the second.

Next, I pulled my one dry warmup jacket out of my backpack, and 3 dry racing skinsuits out of my duffel bag. Draping the jacket over my head like a floppy umbrella, I proceeded to put on all 3 spandex suits – one over the other, while staying mostly dry under the jacket.

Finally, I grabbed the heavy cardboard tube with the spare set of blades and shook the spare blades out onto the grass and then pushed them underneath the pile. I then pulled the tube under the protective cover of the jacket and then shoved it through one of its arms.

Finally, I got on my hands and knees and, with my head draped in a shoulder of the jacket, used it as protective cover against the wet outer layers of grass and burrowed carefully into the interior of the grass mound.

I had been careful to layer the dry bottom layers of grass from the mown rows into the bottom of my mound and quickly my problem became breathing amongst the dust and tendrils of dry grass versus the expected battle against drowning in the wet drops.

I wriggled carefully into what I conceived of as the middle of the mound and felt a million pricks of grass around me itching and catching the fabric of my skinsuit. But what I also felt was unique again that night – the sudden return of warmth reflected to my limbs from these same pricks. Invigorating.

Finally I reached out an arm and pushed it through the grass until I could feel the damp of the rain and then jammed the cardboard tube, along with the arm of the jacket through that tunnel in the hay and then adjusted the drape of the jacket – which still remained over my head – such that the arm and the corresponding tunnel of outside air created by the tube was right in front of my mouth and nose.

I blew out hard through the tube like a snorkel to clear the passage and then took a deep breath.  I was pleased to receive not the dusty air of the interior of my new straw home, but the cool damp oxygen of the outside world.

It may sound odd, but in about 90 seconds I was 100% out-cold asleep: warm, dry, a little itchy, but safe.

I was dreamless in my little cocoon – the long flight, the endless walking and worrying, the rain and shivering all passed into the warm depths of sleeps’ embrace.

Finally, the noise and rumble of passing traffic woke me up. It was still dark – yet I woke feeling refreshed as though I’d slept a decent long time. I figured I better wait until it was light before I began hitching, but I went through the exercise of pulling my arm up into my cocoon under the jacket and pushed the button to glow the light to see what time it was…. 2pm!  I had managed to sleep nearly 10 hours under a pile of grass – but wait – it was still dark – how could that be?

When I finally lifted an arm and parted the grass, a few faint streaks of light began to penetrate and I realized that it was, indeed, midday. I was in the middle of a gorgeous golden field glistening w/ the crystalline residue of the rain. Beauty.

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I stretched a little and then decided to burrow out through the top of my lair. Sure enough when I finally began to extricate myself, the brilliant afternoon sun of a clear day began to shine through. Joy.

It was then that my senses tingled… with the sudden quiet – the traffic noise and rumble of the autobahn and suddenly, inexplicably been, well, ‘turned off.’

The traffic noise and vibrations I had felt from the nearby autobahn had entered a deathly erie silence that seemed, oddly, to correspond with my recent exit from my cocoon. Fear.

Shaking off the straw, I opened my eyes fully and looked ahead and saw nothing at first but the brilliance of the midday sun and the shining piles of straw and grass littering the field in front of me. Beyond that I could see a corner of the autobahn with no cars navigating its long stretch.

Another run of cold blood… with that sensation I began to turn.

Behind me – not 15 feet away was one of the world’s largest pieces of machinery – a 20 foot high behemoth of modern industrial capacity – a combine collecting the fruits of the summer harvest – stopped dead in its tracks due to the odd formation of grass – the nest of which I had suddenly hatched…

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I’ll never, for as long as I live, forget the next few seconds – both what actually happened, as well as the processes in my brain that finally switched on at this opportune time.

The door of the bright red cab swung open and out popped the head of a German farmer – at exactly the same time that I registered his expression – a face I’ll never forget in its open-mouthed astonishment – I realized exactly what it was that I was wearing.

I had changed in the pitch black of a downpour without a thought to style or color. I had only 3 skinsuits in my possession at that time – two blue USA skinsuits, and one rather odd trade – a pink and silver suit from the Belgian national team. Most notable was that this was the last one I put on, and furthermore I was wearing the silver hood – overtop the other 2 suits.

So… to conclude this interesting convergence of events, let me play it out from the farmer’s perspective: A long, stormy night… a huge field finally drying up in order to gather up the grass for market – let’s fire up the big machine – but Achtung! What’s this weird mound of grass… better slow down…

And then it happens – the mound moves and an appendage appears – it looks like a hand… but it is shiny and silver…

Out of it next comes the rest of this.. thing. Pink and silver and shiny, no hair to be seen, this alien creature stretches as though it owns the place and then turns – and…

And it LOOKED RIGHT AT ME!

I began to laugh.  Joy. The ludicrousness of the situation suddenly permeated my core and I began to laugh and laugh and laugh. I bent over, rustling in the pile and pulled out my pack, bag and boxes and then carried those, along with my scarecrow stubbled jacket with the tube still in the arm down the embankment to the autobahn still laughing.

I didn’t bother to dress – just stood by the road in the pink and silver spandex and in less than two minutes a couple in a Ford Probe pulled over and picked me up and drove me not only to Munich, but the 30 miles beyond to Inzell, where they dropped me off at the rink in time for the Dutch national team training session. I told them the story in my broken German and we laughed the whole trip. I couldn’t have been happier…

Beauty, Fear, Despair, Joy, Exhaustion, Invigoration, Flow.

An Event Horizon of Really Living.

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Everyone Dies, Not Everyone Really Lives

Everyone Dies, Not Everyone Really Lives. What is a Really Living Moment?

At the heart of The Art of Really Living is the notion of a “really living moment” and its extreme, the “event horizon moment.” This blog post is an attempt to explain, “what does that mean and why does it matter?”

A “really living moment,” is simply this: any event, activity, moment in time, or memory that leaves a lasting impression – creates a “dent” in your perceptive memory that expands your sense of time in the temporal past. Perhaps it is easier to describe the opposite: the inverse of really living moments are the mundane hours, days and weeks of the routine – of life on “autopilot,” where these same days and weeks disappear in memory and leave swaths of time unaccounted for. In these cases it is as though you never really lived at all. From my experience, and from the research on cognitive perceptions on time, here are a few descriptions of time expanding “really living” moments.

    1. Uniqueness: Eye opening unique experiences that take you well beyond your current experiences: Examples: entering a convent in Greece during vespers, walking the markets in Beijing the first time, trying Pace (sheeps brain stew) in Albania, viewing the birth of your first child.
    2. Beauty: experiences (be they aural, visual, tactile, gustatory or olifactory). Examples: standing atop a karst in Thailand as the sun sets, the smell of jasmine in the evening, the last bite of a plate of Vietnamise lemon grass chicken, the first glimpse of the emerald waters and white sand of perfect Caribbean beach, hearing a line of poetry that resonates with you.
    3. Physical Intensity (adrenaline) intense physical activities – often with some risk associated. Examples: the last lap of a criterium bike race fraught with possibility (and crashes), skiing the steepest chutes in Colorado or Utah, completing a 500 lb. one-legged squat from lower than 90 degrees while leaning over at 72 degrees balanced on a 1mm wide 18 inch blade, traveling 31mph directly at a wall on ice (short track speedskating), eating a trinidad moruga scorpion pepper, splashing into the 34 degree Black Sea with friends.
    4. Emotional Intensity (love, desire, fear) intense emotional connections – often with some fear or risk associated. Examples: watching your daughter put her heart into a close basketball game, the first kiss, falling in love, the first “I love you,” exposing your true feelings about something important to someone close to you, the perfect father's day of "really living" adventures with your daughter.
    5. Flow State: strengths-centered activity relying on the myelinated circuits in your brain. These activities are recorded with a high speed camera – time disappears in the present but our brains record more data, more memories. More memories = more time. Examples: any activity (sport, hobby, relationship, music, etc.) that transports you into the hyperfocused state of flow. For me it is bicycle racing, skiing, exploring, writing, music, traveling, deep conversations with people smarter than me, creative dialog and wordplay.

These elements are all “stackable” meaning that they can all take place simultaneously. Occasionally when this happens, time itself can feel like it stands still and “event horizon moments” are born. Rather than a dent in your memory, it is an expansive experience that actually creates a sense of time from nothing. Often these moments have aspects of both positive and negative emotions associated with them. Eugene O’Kelley described it best in his great book Chasing Daylight where he described these wonderful / terrible moments when he had to say goodbye to loved ones – forever – due to brain cancer, but in so doing, created “perfect moments where time stopped.” Event Horizon moments are rare, they are intense, but they are made of life itself: of love, fear and the act of creation.

What are your “really living” moments made out of?Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 9.39.26 AM

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Arrival in Vlore - the emerald sea

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the one picture I waited the whole trip for: the Black Sea Plunge

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A day of "really living"

Strengths and Natural Talent?… Or 10,000 Hours of Deliberate Practice?

Thought leaders hold conflicting views on strengths. On the one hand, research from Gallup (Now, Discover Your Strengths, Strengthsfinder 2.0) suggests that our innate strengths create the best route for growth and success. On the other hand, studies and stories from authors like Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers) Daniel Coyle (The Talent Code), and Geoff Colvin (Talent is Overrated) suggest a different approach: that “diligent practice” and the 10,000 hour rule form the path to success. Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 5.17.10 PM

So which is it? Natural strengths or practice?

The answer lies in the interaction between the two. The reality is that we all DO have natural strengths and talents that we were either born with or developed at an early age, that we tend to have corresponding mirror-like weaknesses, and that these traits are unique and specific. Deliberate practice overlaid on a natural strength leads to breakthrough performance. 10,000 hours of deliberate practice at a weakness leaves to "lives of quiet desperation."

Want to learn more about finding your strengths and designing a life for them? I would be so pleased if you would join us for our Strengths 2.0 Summit February 13th in Chicago - details below:

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Join John K. Coyle and Dr. David Rendall Feburary 13th in Chicago for our Strengths 2.0 Summit, a half day workshop to use design thinking to find your strengths and design through your weaknesses. Click the link below to learn more and register.

Strengths 2.0 Summit

Stop Playing Whack-a-Mole With Your Weaknesses

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What happens when you let go of your weaknesses and focus on your strengths?
Naturally, with any change in direction in life that involves "letting go," there is an associated feeling of failure, of "giving up," of being a "quitter," words trained into us since we were young children as BAD.
An entire future post will be focused on how to know when to quit, but today's post is about what happens when you finally make the decision to let go of a weakness and move on. Maybe that weakness was in the form of a sport, a career path, a job, a relationship, a hobby: whatever it was, odds are there will be a lot of hand-wringing and anxiety before you finally decide to let it go. But then what happens?
For most people, the first feeling is one of relief. Indecision is a major hidden stress and just the act of deciding is a major release. The second feeling that emerges is a sense of additional willpower, bandwidth and energy emerging. It is a well published fact that human willpower is in limited supply: we use it up. Relentless focus on weakness eats up willpower like Pac-Man eats glowing dots. Letting go of a weaknesses and designing around them can feel like getting half your brain back. Third, refocusing on strengths creates greater resiliency. When less and less of your day is spent playing whack-a-mole with weaknesses and instead is spent building momentum on areas of passion and capability then when the inevitable obstacles emerge, a strengths focused individual will be better able to clamber up and over them.
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Examples: David Rendall was a high strung kid who found himself regularly in trouble with school teachers and officials because he couldn't sit still, talked too much, was the class clown and didn't like to be told what to do. Years of remedial discipline and training to "fix" these weaknesses had little to no effect. Later, however, David decided to let them go... as weaknesses, and instead embraced these same traits for what they are in the right environment: strengths. Now Dave's career is spent talking incessantly, telling jokes along the way, while never sitting down or sitting still, and working for himself as a highly regarded public speaker.
When I (John K. Coyle) was an aspiring olympic athlete, the coaches had me focus incessantly on my weaknesses.  In so doing I went from 12th in the world to not even making the team in two short years. After I let go of my weaknesses, and instead began "racing my strengths," a year later I not only beat my own personal record by more than 5 seconds in a sport where improvements are measured in 1/100ths of a second, but skated faster than the world record and earned an Olympic silver medal.
Gillian Lynne was labeled as having a learning disorder - as artfully told in his excellent TED talk by Sir. Ken Robinson.
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She couldn't concentrate, was fidgety and a poor student. Fortunately someone intervened and recognized a hidden strength, "Gillian isn't sick; she's a dancer. Take her to dance school." And they did. Gillian went on to become a dancer for the Royal Ballet and a choreographer for shows including Cats and Phantom of the Opera, becoming a multimillionaire in the process.
Letting go is never easy, finding your strengths is no small task, and finding the right environment for your strengths to have natural resonance may be the hardest part of all. But... when the rule of (Strengths X Environment(squared)) plays out, world changing performances result.
Have you ever let go of a weakness? Is it time to "quit" something and place your energy elsewhere? Please share your story.