So often I find myself in meetings or situations where the argument of something being too hard comes up.
"We can't do this. It's too hard."
"This would be really complicated."
"We don't have the resources."
"I talked to a bunch of people in other companies and they're not doing this."
Good, if something appears to be hard, do it.
Because nowadays it's quite complicated for your company, organization or idea to stand out. Consumers don't flock to "me too" efforts. I am sure other e-commerce companies thought it would be too hard to offer free shipping. Then Amazon did it and look where it got them. I've worked on a bunch of entertainment clients and they all thought that a subscription model couldn't work. It seems to work for Netflix. Zappos lets people ship back the shoes that don't fit. For free. Tom's Shoes figured out a model where they can give away a pair for each pair that was purchased.
Every time you run across a hard problem, know that most of your competitors probably encountered the same problem. And most of them will avoid it.
Embrace hard problems.
Ever since coming back from Europe, I've been rocking a Lufthansa sleep mask at night. It goes well with my anti-grinding retainer and helps fight the light coming in from that street post outside my window.
The other day I came home and was surprised that Otto didn't come and greet me at the door. Of course, I was immediately worried. Then he started coming down the stairs, very gingerly. Why?
Because he had decided to try and put on the sleep cap he saw me wearing and now couldn't figure how to get it off.
Here is picture proof. This is not normal, right?
Lately, I've been recognizing that I am forgetting more and more things - mostly names. Mind you, I've never been good with names but now I am more consciously aware of my worrisome habit of forgetting things - names of people, names of tv shows, heck even words sometimes. It's concerning because my grandmother died at a relatively young age of Alzheimer disease. So it's hard to not freak myself out. Then again, I am really not that old where I should be worried about an early onset of such a disease quite yet.
So I wonder. I think about this.
Do you ever feel like there's so much going on, it's pretty normal to be forgetting things. I mean, just thinking back to my childhood. There were a few tv shows I watched, one newspaper I read every day, never more than one or two girlfriends (usually just zero), one language to speak, one hobby (soccer), two or three radio stations that I listened to and a fairly limited number of people who I interacted with.
Now, there are thousands of TV shows, thousands of podcasts, millions of websites, tweets, emails, text messages movies, banner ads, YouTube clips and Facebook updates about babies and cats. In addition, I have a job, a night and weekend passion project (IdeaMensch), speak two languages (badly), know many hundreds of people all across the world, take a class, teach a class and have enough hobbies to scare off future girlfriends for years to come. I am the absolute worst with names. But then again, I probably meet and shakes hands with a 20 new people every month. Sometimes it takes meeting someones three times before I remember their names. Sometimes, I have remembered their name in the past and then forgot it again. In a way, everything seems to be quite literally going in one ear and out the other. Do you ever feel that way?
I know very little about brains. But I would imagine the human brain has a certain amount of capacity - probably so much that it's near unfathomable to fill. Well, I think I might have filled mine.
I miss the simpler times. I felt more focused. More on top of things. Smarter. Certainly, I had more hair on my head.
So the question is, can I go back to that? Rather than have a million things in my head and remember about 80% of them, can I have a 100,000 things in my head and remember them all.
How do I do that? How does one go back to a simpler life?
Do you ever feel like your brain is full?
I haven't written in a really long time. Life happened, a relationship ended and gardening season quickly came upon me.
Mostly, I just got kind of lost for a little while.
Pretty much intentionally.
Over the years I have learned that sometimes when big life changes occur, it can actually sort of healthy to be lost for a while. In the past, I wouldn't have been. In the past, I would have immediately and drastically shifted direction - pursuing some sort of overly ambitious goal of mine. Drastic stuff - like training for an Ironman, moving across the country or better yet - literally driving across the whole country.
It's shock therapy (I am not a doctor, just playing one on the internet) and my goal has always been to broaden my horizons so drastically, I would have no choice but to gain perspective.
It does work.
But it's usually followed by major moves and career changes, both parts of my life that I absolutely don't want to change right now.
So this time, I tried to get lost a bit - Going on long walks, tying some caddis flies, eating bad food, long nights playing board games, going on long bike rides, reading really odd books, planting tomatoes (duh) and having great conversations over a bottle of wine with good friends.
Rather than a drastic shift in direction, I walked in circles a bit.
Rather than speeding up, I slowed down.
Rather than intentionally going somewhere, I got intentionally lost.
A few years ago when I was living in Europe, I spend a couple of months locked into my little apartment to write a book.
And now I'll finish it.
Time is a strange beast. Sometimes it seems to last forever while other times it goes by way too fast. Mostly, I try to not think about time too much. Live the moment while you have it. Carpe Diem, whenever possible.
But there are two cases where I really feel that time is a useful tool to provide context.
In one case, it helps in the moment. To keep things in perspective, right now.
In the other, it helps with much bigger decisions. Decisions that impact how I choose to live my life.
Whenever I get mad, upset or frustrated with something (well not immediately, since I need to get mad, upset or frustrated first), I try to ask myself whether or not this will matter a year from now. Most times it absolutely won't matter at all which helps me to stop thinking about it.
Sometimes in life I need to make really big decisions. Decisions on where to move, what to work on, who to love, how to treat others and generally just who to be as a person. Then, I try to think of myself at 80 years old and looking back on my life. Would I regret if I didn't make that decision? Would I want my grandkids to remember me that way? Would I be proud of that person?
Oddly, the more I use these, the less I need them.
Life is really good right now.
If fifteen years ago someone could have told me this is where I would be right now, I would have signed the dotted line without hesitation. Ditto for one year ago, three years ago, five years ago and ten years ago. I am incredibly fortunate in every way imaginable.
Life has been pretty great for me throughout most of those years. Yet, right now things are just a little bit better - in just about every regard.
Partially, it's because I really do believe that I somehow have iterated my way to this. I've worked hard to get here and made some hard choices.
Yet the other part of this has to do with the fact that things have been worse.
Not all at once. But all of them.
Sounds bad. Is good.
A reason why I feel financially secure (and worked towards it) is because I've been really poor.
One reason why I am happy in my relationship is because I can appreciate things about June that I didn't know to look for before.
A reason why I love living in Montana is because, well, how could you not love Montana.
A reason why I like my house is because I once lived in a shed. In Montana. In the winter.
Oh, and maybe because I spent most of last year driving across America while sharing hotel room beds with other dudes. This one could also be part of the relationship bullet.
A reason why I appreciate every moment I get to spend outside this summer is because of my four days in ICU two months ago.
A reason why I feel like I am in good shape is because I've been in worse shape. Well, and because Instagram filters make anyone look better shirtless.
A reason why I love my job is because I used to clean toilets. At 6am. On the weekends.
Sometimes in life it's easy to feel down on certain things. I have.
But one key lesson for me is that whenever you feel down on something, it gives you an opportunity to improve it down the road.
And to start working on it now. Not all at once, but all of them eventually.
There are things that are worse now than they used to be.
I wish Otto was healthy. But I also know that he has been worse.
I wish my dad was still alive. But I appreciate whatever little time I did get to spend with him. And that we were friends before he took his life.
I wouldn't mind seeing my family more. But I can talk to them on Skype. That beats writing letters. Which I never did.
Sometimes in life, you're going to be unhappy with a certain part of it. Or two.
Don't feel bad about that.
It gives you a reason to fix it.
A couple of weeks ago I was running down the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington and came upon this arched bridge. It got me thinking.
If you stand on one side of the bridge and try to look across, you have no idea what might be on the other side. It doesn't matter how much you wonder or think about it, the only way you'll find out what lies across is by starting to walk over it.
Life is kind of like that. You might think you know what would happen if you took a certain action, but really, you don't.
Too many times in life, we just look and wonder. Some people start dreaming. Others think. Then worry. Then doubt. Then we turn around and start telling ourselves we made the right call. Which probably, we did not. I mean, we have no clue really.
If you want to find out what's across the bridge, you need to start walking across it.
Once you're half way across the bridge, you'll have a much better idea of what you'll encounter on the other side.
Now you have two choices.
Turn around or keep going.
That's one more choice than if you never take that first step across.
Who wouldn't want two choices instead of one?
When I was two years old, my mother grew frustrated with my father, kicked him out of the house and that was the end of their marriage. She was now a 22 year old single mum. Everybody was mad at her. It wasn't easy, but it was the right thing for her. And I.
German school sucked, especially someone with average intelligence like myself. So I became an exchange student in England, France (twice) and ultimately the US.
After my freshman year of college, I went back to Germany. I got bored. So the next year I ended up spending all summer in Spain.
After I graduated college, I found a good job in Missoula. But I wasn't learning enough so I moved to Seattle and worked for free.
I had a great job and a pretty girlfriend the first time I lived in LA. But LA just wasn't right for me. So I moved to Portland.
When I lived in Portland, I had a great job, a beautiful girlfriend and a really nice loft. But I felt like I could do more professionally, so I moved back to LA to start my own agency.
In LA, I wanted a bigger challenge next to work, so I trained and did an Ironman. But when I came back, I was super burned out from everything. So I asked my boss if I could work part time. He agreed.
After my grandmother died, I felt the strong urge to spend more time in Germany to (amongst other things) be with my grandfather who I didn't feel should be alone. I continued to work for the same ad agency as a part-time employee - in Europe.
When my last relationship failed, I went on a 48-state road trip across America as a full-time entrepreneur.
When I recognized that due to a complete lack of a common sense life/work balance, being an entrepreneur was particularly unhealthy for me - I decided to take a job and move to Montana. Oh, and I still didn't like LA.
Right now, I have a more fulfilling job than before.
Right now, I am spending more time doing things I love than before.
Right now, the girl I am dating is a better fit than the girl before.
My life now is better than a year ago.
My life two years ago is better than my life 5 years ago.
And 5 years ago was better than 9 years ago.
Don't get me wrong. I am an optimist and feel as if I've largely found great joy in the majority of my years. At times, I've also struggled immensely - no doubt about that.
But I do believe that life just keeps getting better. Sometimes that betterment happens due to incremental changes while other times it happens because of major iterations.
Last year, I spent just about every waking moment with entrepreneurs. There were two- or three factors they mentioned as their keys to success. One of them is the ability to constantly re-invent their business - the buzzword being iteration.
Us humans, we actually iterate better than any other species. That's why we run this world. Actually I see it all the time. Something really bad happens, like an illness, or a death in the family and then people use it as an opportunity to re-invent themselves. They usually end up much better for it.
But, otherwise, I don't see many people re-inventing themselves. Why do most people only do it when something really bad happens?
Are people just really happy? Is everything perfect? Or are they too scared? Do they feel bad? Obligated? Guilt?
Anyhow, I think the idea of continuous self-iteration is really interesting and incredibly beneficial.
It seems to me that people aren't doing enough of it.
There are good days and there are bad days.
There are days when you go to bed feeling good about that day, and there are days when you don't. There are days when you accomplish what you wanted, and there are days when you don't. There are days when you eat healthy and exercise and there are days when you don't. There are days when you ask out that girl, and days when you don't. There are days when you talk to the people you love, and there are days you don't. There are days when you're an awesome dad, and days when you're not. And most importantly, there are days when you go fishing and there are days when you don't.
Most happiness stems not from the impact of others, but from your daily actions.
Figure out what your good is, and then do more of it. Every day. Whenever you can.
About three months ago, Otto was diagnosed with cancer. He has been sick for over a year, but it took a while for him to be properly diagnosed. If you know me, you know how hard this hits me. I don't want to say that Otto is my best friend, but he certainly is the only friend I've shared a bed with for the last 7 years. Wherever I've been for the past 7 years, Otto has been. The cat has a passport. Of course I think that Otto is the coolest cat in the world, but I am ok if others feel that way about their dogs, girlfriends or kids too.
When I found out Otto had cancer, I was devastated. It seems like he's too young to die and when he does, well, I'll miss him like crazy. I tried to write about it, but couldn't. I didn't share it with anyone except a few friends. Why not?
I recognized if people had dumped a bunch of sympathy on me, that would have done very little to help fight Otto's cancer. So I didn't, and I am glad I didn't.
Because Otto is fighting this.
He is on a mix of chemo and steroids. Pills every day, which he is letting me give him without any fight whatsoever. I assumed that every cat can bed fed pills like Otto, but that's not the case. A few weeks back I tried to impress a female friend of mine by giving her cat her medicine. Five minutes into it, my arms were completely scratched up, the cat was completely freaked out and in hiding and I was still holding that darn pill.
Let's just say that Otto is being a really good sport about fighting cancer.
And so far, somehow, Otto seems to be winning.
His symptoms have subsided for now, his appetite has returned and the puking has stopped.
I am not sure how much longer I'll have with Otto, but every day with him is now a day more than I could have hoped for.
Here's to Otto.
And cancer, fuck you.
This morning I had coffee with my buddies Joshua (The Minimalists) and Colin (Exile Lifestyle). They're both amazing writers and I am pretty much in awe with their daily writing routines. Both are very different, yet similar in that both are completely unachievable for someone like me. Joshua will get up at 4am every morning and write for however long he can, at least a few hours. Colin sets himself a deadline once he's ready to start writing, and then does whatever it takes to finish his project on time. Which he does. A couple of years ago, I went through a period of daily writing. Then my relationship went bad, and I stopped. I came back to the US a little over a year ago and quite blew up life as I knew it. I started a business, drove across America and eventually ended up in Montana.
Along the way, I eliminated every single habit I might have had - both good and bad. Literally no day has been the same and while there are benefits to such - in a way I've been yearning for a more habit-driven lifestyle. Some days I wake up at six, others at nine. Some days I play soccer (aka splitting my spleen), others I fish, others I climb, others I life, others I run, others I swim, others I play racquetball and others I ride my bike. Some days I live super healthy, others I don't. There has been zero order, no routine and no habits. And in a way, that's exactly what I was looking for. Why?
I think my last set of habits didn't necessarily lead to successful outcomes. Or maybe they did, and I just let a bad relationship overshadow everything else. Probably the latter.
That being said, being back in Montana - I very much sense that this is the right place for me. A place where I can settle down for a (long) while. Considering that I do nothing just a little bit, I took a giant first step by buying a house. Done.
Yet, the more challenging part has been to adapt a habit-driven daily lifestyle once again. It's really hard for me to just change one habit at a time. I am more of an all-or-nothing kind of guy. And while that might work well for some things, it does not work when it come to habits. Changing habits is hard, and it's really best to do it one at time.
If you want a visual analogy, imagine a guy trying to juggle ten red balls at once (juggling balls, people). He wakes up one morning and wants to change all the red to blue juggling balls. That's really hard to do while juggling all those balls, the more balls you juggle the harder it gets actually. Even to just change one.
Well, thanks to my recent injury I've been forced to drastically decrease the number of balls I am juggling. (Note to self, you really need to find a different analogy moving forward). Most of my hobbies tend to be athletically driven, and they're now all out of the equation for the six weeks. So I am using this as an opportunity (last balls analogy coming up) to change the limited number of red balls I am juggling to switch them over to blue ones.
Here is what that means.
- Walk 15,000 steps every day (at least until I can bike again)
- No electronics past 10pm, except my Kindle
- Write an hour every day, first thing in the morning
- No grains after 6pm, that incudes beer
- Five servings of fruit and vegetables ever day
- A weekly cheat day where I can do whatever the heck I want to do
I am also going to track my food intake, weight, body fat, sleep and activity levels. Not because I want to lose weight, but as a way to feel better about my investments in various body tracking devices starting with the word Fitbit. Come to think of it, my fruit and vegetables habit is mostly driven by my not insignificant investment in a blender starting with the word Vitamix. At this I have decided against a new habit based on my purchase of a camp fire stove starting with the word Biolite.
Last Thursday was just your average Thursday. I got done with work and drove over to Fort of Missoula for a summer league soccer game. Near the end of the game, I was somewhat brutally fouled. It wasn't actually whistled as a foul, but someone collided into me with such force, it's hard to not suspect any intention on their part. I've been on the giving end and the receiving end of hundreds of hard tackles throughout my career, and let's just say that I would have apologized for that one. The person didn't.
Anyhow, I was immediately flat on the ground, unable to breath and with a knife-stabbing pain in my kidney. It took me a minute to start breathing again and a few more minutes to finally walk off the pitch. I still had a very hard time breathing, which led me to the fortunate decision to not keep playing. I drove home, walked up the stairs and by the time I made it to my front door, I did not have the strength to turn the key. It took me a couple of minutes to get into my apartment, at which point I decided it might be wise to go the ER room. I figured that maybe one of my lungs had temporarily collapsed and I wasn't going to be surprised if I had a bruised rib or two.
So, I decided to walk to my neighborhood hospital. My buddy Colin was sitting in the lobby in a wheelchair, having broken his foot in a hockey game. Of course we started joking around right away, until I recognized that every time I laughed, that knife stabbing pain in my kidneys returned. I must have not looked too healthy, because the ER nurses immediately pulled me to the front of the line and into the ER room. Apparently you don't have to wait in line at the ER room when you can't breath.
The ER doctor arrived and was rather surprised that I had turned down pain meds by the ER nurse. While he rightfully suggested that I looked like I was in a lot of pain, my answer that I was fine as long I didn't move did suffice for a moment. Deep down, I was thinking that if I didn't need pain meds, then it could be such a bad injury. The upcoming series of xrays and ct scans proved me wrong.
The doc came back and told me that if I wasn't still wearing my shin guards, he wouldn't believe that this could have happened in a soccer game. Good news, my lungs didn't collapse. Bad news, I had four broken rips, a punctured kidney and my spleen was largely torn in half - hanging together by a thread.
There was a good chance they'd have to remove my spleen, so they were checking me into the intensive care unit until their emergency trauma surgeon could get to the hospital to make the final evaluation.
Now I felt pretty shitty. I also decided to accept pain meds at this point, because, well, I wasn't fooling anyone at this point. Still, in my mind I had a hard time computing how this could have happened.
Within hours I was hooked up to an IV and oxygen, with pain meds being dripped into my body. I had a nurse solely assigned to me, which was troublesome for two reasons. One, why did I need around the clock care? Two, a male nurse, really?
At some point the trauma surgeon arrived and said she wanted to wait a little bit longer and see if my body could heal a bit more on its own terms. Fine by me, because I didn't really know what my spleen did so it probably wasn't a good idea to lose it quite yet.
They told me to get some rest, which was easier said than done because my blood was drawn literally every hour and they also did three or four x-rays throughout the night. Apparently, I was much more injured than expected.
At some point, people started crying in front of my room. It took me a while to realize I wasn't dreaming, at which point I checked with my nurse Jim what was going on. Apparently that was the family of the guy next door, who had just passed away. WTF? Why am I around people dying? Oh that's right, I am laying in the ICU because of a soccer injury.
That was probably my lowest moment. I was bummed that these people just lost their father. I also didn't understand why I was there in a somewhat life threatening situation? Was I going to lose my spleen? Do I need it? What about my kidney? And why did the guy not even apologize. I felt really alone that moment. I probably was. I felt a tear running down my cheek. And I felt my shinguards. Why am I still wearing my shinguards? Jim...
I woke up a just a little bit later, with someone sticking a needle into my hand. At this point, I had IVs in both arms at this point - just in case I needed to go into emergency surgery (one for fluids, the other for a potential blood transfusion). Jim told me that my internal bleeding seemed under control and that with every hour, my odds of keeping my spleen increased. For the first time in the last twelve hours, I had heard good news. I think it was probably around 7am on Friday morning at this point.
Things only looked up from there on.
My professor and friend Jakki Mohr had snuck into ICU and all the sudden was looking over Jim's shoulder. I am not sure how she got in there, but it meant the world to me. Seeing Jakki was a turning moment for me, the moment my perspective changed. For the better. She immediately took charge of the situation, walked to feed Otto and brought me my iPad, Kindle and a charger for my iPhone. I didn't feel alone anymore.
Throughout that day, I probably had 30 different visitors, hundreds of emails, cards, letters, no singing telegrams, text and Facebook messages. I couldn't believe people cared so much. Friends, students, my host parents, my boss, the President of the University - heck, even my ex girlfriend's parents showed up to support. I might have been losing my spleen, but I was rich in friends, plants and fruit baskets. Honestly, I still can't believe the support I received. Even though, I spent most of that day in ICU, it was one of the greatest days ever. If I can figure out a way to spread all the home cooked meals offered to me throughout the year, then this will be one of the greatest years ever.
The next day my parents arrived and I was transferred on a normal hospital floor. One more day there, and then I was released.
Now I am at home, trying to take it easy. I have lots of pain meds for my broken ribs, which I am not very good at taking regularly yet. I am having to exercise my deep breathing, as apparently I am at risk for pneumonia. Regardless, I am getting better every day.
Thank you all for your support, plants, licorice, home cooked meals and fruit baskets. This should have been a pretty horrible stretch for me, but it really wasn't. You took what should have been one of my worst days, and made it one of my best.
Remember, we can make an incredible impact on each other. An impact so powerful, everything bad can take a backseat.
With all my heart and spleen.
I’m in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love.
- John Steinbeck.
We met an incredible number of fascinating people on our #IM48 road trip. But I have to say that few are quite as unique and memorable as my friend Carl Blake - the pig farmer who's place we stayed at for the better part of a week. He recently was featured on Andrew Zimmern's bizarre foods and now the New York Times wrote a fascinating profile on him.
Go Carl. I am really proud of you.