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Gaining Perspective – Part One (#122)

Two weeks ago, I completed one of my five-year goals. It wasn’t a race, financial achievement or a book; it was a service trip with my family.

Inspired by a similar trip that The Points Guy and his team took, we headed Puerto Rico over the kids’ spring break and donated our time to help the community recover from the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria.

We split our four days working at two food banks and two children’s hospitals. As part of his Mitzvah project, my son was also able to raise $2,000 to purchase gifts for each of the children we visited as well as diapers and water for the hospitals.

On this incredibly rewarding trip, we each gained far more than we gave, especially in terms of stepping outside of our comfort zones and appreciation for the roles community and relationships play in our lives.

Expanding Our Comfort Zones

On our second day in PR, we volunteered for World Central Kitchen (WCK) a wonderful organization started by chef José Andrés. Since the storm, WCK has served more meals than the U.S. government. We cut, prepped and cooked food for hours alongside volunteer and paid chefs, despite the entire island losing power a short time into our work. No one blinked an eye, we just kept going.

While there, we were offered the opportunity to join a dedicated community organizer named Lola to deliver the food we just cooked.  With the power still out and no GPS, we followed our liaison, Griselle (Ñaña), to Lola’s house. When we arrived, Ñaña explained we were heading into some “rough” neighborhoods and put a sticker on our rental car to identify us as part of WCF. She explained that Lola would take us to the places she knew the food was needed, we’d follow them in our car and serve it out of the back of her hatchback. When we asked if where we were going was “safe,” she replied that most people knew and respected Lola, but there were a few places we should not get out right away and to follow her lead.

At this moment, my wife and I looked at each other with a bit of fear in our eyes. We were going to be following Ñaña’s car in our bright blue Jeep rental car without any way to know where we were if we got lost. On top of that, we were already in areas that made us feel uncomfortable. Honestly, we thought about turning back. Then we realized that this is where the rubber met the road.

That next hour was by far the most impactful of our trip. We weaved through some of the poorest neighborhoods I’d ever seen, even before the devastating effects of the storm. Most of the houses still standing had blue tarps for roofs and were open to the elements; power lines were down everywhere.

At the first stop, we tentatively got out to help and I locked the car for the first and last time. After a few stops, my kids were leading the way. They connected with the men, women and children coming to the car for a hot meal served by Lola. On several occasions, we heard and saw people thank god after they received their food, which was heart-breaking and heart-warming at the same time.

Seeing everyone so thankful and respectful shifted our comfort zones and perspectives. Nowhere was this more evident than during our ride back to the hotel; we now felt comfortable in areas that just a few hours earlier had made us very nervous.

Community & Relationships Matter

Study after study has shown that money doesn’t make us happier or live longer. The one thing that has proven to do both is having quality relationships in our lives.

Community runs deep in Puerto Rico. As my kids delivered toys to the children in the hospital, we noticed how many of them were surrounded by multi-generational families. Most of the successful initiatives in Puerto Rico have been driven by the community or had significant community components, such as WCK.

Additionally, the majority of the community leaders and organizers we encountered were women, something that was not lost on my daughter. These women led not by positions of authority, but through earned respect and deference. Lola was an amazing example.

We did not take many pictures in the communities we visited as it did not feel right, but we were glad to learn that one of the volunteers working with us at WCK was also a reporter and documented our entire day with WCK for Esquire magazine.

There’s more to share from our trip, which I’ll continue next week. In the meantime, I encourage you to read the Esquire article. I think you’ll be as moved by the incredible work that these people, communities and organization are doing as my family and I were.

Quote of the Week

“The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

Mahatma Gandhi

The post Gaining Perspective – Part One (#122) appeared first on Friday Forward.

Travel Rewards (#106)

As I mentioned in last week’s note, I am just returning from an extend trip in Australia with my family. This trip reminded me of the many personal and business benefits of travel. In fact, many founders of well-known companies, including Warby Parker and TOMS shoes, have credited travel as the inspiration behind the launch of their companies.

Acceleration Partners recently created a new travel-focused benefit for our employees which requires staying unplugged from work for at least five days. That means no responding to Slack messages, work emails, phone calls, etc. The goal is for them to be truly immersed in their experience. We also recently helped make a few employee’s travel dreams a reality.

I decided to keep track of the benefits I was experiencing from this trip and three major themes emerged from doing so.

  1. Challenges Comfort Zones

Although most of us know that getting out of our comfort zone is important, many of us struggle to do it regularly. When you travel, you’re pushed out of your comfort zone by default because you’re removed from your regular routine. As such, it becomes easier to try new things which, ultimately, leads to gaining new perspectives.

For example, despite her fears, my daughter scuba dived for the first time at the Great Barrier Reef as she did not want to miss out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. She loved it and now, we’re talking about getting certified together.

Similarly, I always said I would never drive on the other side of the road as I thought I would get too overwhelmed and make a critical mistake. Then, at the last minute, we decided to rent a car while in Australia. I was very nervous and cautious at first, but then really enjoyed the experience.

  1. Turns Off Our Autopilot

Ever drive home and have no idea how you got there? Related to the one above, when your routine is altered by travelling, it takes you off autopilot; the use of your conscious mind is called upon so much more.

On this trip, even walking on the right side of the sidewalk wasn’t taken for granted. I couldn’t get from point A to point B without keeping my head up. The same was true for crosswalks and driving. This awareness led to more observation of what was around me and more presence in each activity, something I realized I need to get better at in my daily life.

  1. Questions Our Assumptions

When you have a routine of doing something in a certain way, it’s easy to not question whether there is a better or different way to do it. Many deep-rooted assumptions are tested when travelling.

For example, when I tried to tip several people on this trip, they seemed offended or even refused. My friend from Australia explained to me that service employees are generally compensated fairly; many feel that they should simply do their jobs well without the need to be tipped.  Also, many casual restaurants were set up so that after you ordered your food and beverage at the bar and found a table, it was brought to you. Not only was this efficient, the bill was already paid when you wanted to leave, which was ideal for a family with tired kids.

That model of prepayment has led me to think about some new business ideas and how it could be applied to our existing business. When you see things being done successfully in ways that differ from what you’re accustomed to, it can make you question the status quo and think about both new problems to be solved and new solution to existing problems.

As you kick of 2018, I’d encourage you to make a plan to change your scene or your routine, whether that is through travel, taking a Bucket List trip, or simply changing what you do each day so you can see the world in a different light. Pick a different stop for breakfast/lunch or change how you walk or drive to work. When you do this, you will get off autopilot. At the very least, you’ll experience something new.

Quote of the Week

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”

Mark Twain

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No Right Time (#105)

There is simply no perfect time in life to do the things you want to do. Whether that’s starting a new career, launching a new product, getting married, having a kid or taking that trip you always wanted to go on.

My wife and I made 2017 the time to do the latter and our family just returned from an amazing 3-week mini sabbatical in Australia. It was a trip I had wanted to take for years but the timing was never “right.” So, we just decided to do it anyway. In the end, the timing was perfect as I needed the break to recharge for 2018 after a brutal travel schedule this fall and to finish my next book.

In many ways, I decided to live 2017 as if it was the last year of my life. That choice led to an incredibly fulfilling year that included publishing my first book , taking an epic trip to the Super Bowl  with my son and father-in-law and going on two Bucket List family vacations.

I plan to continue this mindset in 2018 without apology or explanation.

Performance guru, Tim Ferriss, popularized the concept of the “deferred life plan,” in his book, The Four-Hour Work Week. As he explains it, the deferred life plan is when people put off what they really want to do for what is expected of them. They tend to think that “later” or “when they retire” is when they will really start enjoying life.

In reality, none of us know how much time we have left on this earth. As we heard all too often in tragic stories from last year, the problem with deferring life plans is that there’s a chance our time will be up well before we think it will be.

This week, a lot of people are making new year’s “resolutions,” many of which are unlikely to last through the month or quarter. Personally, I don’t believe in resolutions. That said, I do think the beginning of the year is a great time to recalibrate and recommit.

2018 is as good a time as any to make the things happen in your life that you have been putting off. Here are some ideas to make it your best year yet:

  • Skip the resolutions. After you’ve gained clarity on your core values, establish long-term and short-term goals. The Whole Life Dashboard is a great tool to help you in this process.
  • Stop making the excuse of “it’s not a good time” to yourself and others. The perfect time will never come.
  • Say yes to great opportunities that come your way. And if it’s not a “hell yes,” then say no to it.
  • If it’s important to you, make it happen. If it’s not, give it up.
  • Pick something that’s been on your long-term goal list and commit to getting it done in 2018 – even if you don’t know the “how.”
  • Create accountability for your goals through a buddy, a journal (self-accountability) or by making your goals public. For the first time ever, I’m doing this with my team.

Despite what people might tell you or what you might believe, 2018 is a great time to get a new job/new career that you will love, take a risk outside your comfort zone, visit that Bucket List place, have a kid, face a fear, take a risk, or whatever else you might have been deferring for the “right time.”

Quote of The Week

“Do not wait: the time will never be ‘just right’. Start where you stand, and work whatever tools you may have at your command and better tools will be found as you go along.”

George Herbert

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Playing it Safe (#96)

Last week, I wrote about how having the freedom to fail is an integral part of growth and how many parents are failing this test. In response to last week’s post, a friend sent me an article titled, “The Fragile Generation.” The author opens with an anecdote of a teen boy who was chopping some wood to make a fort with his friends. An onlooker notified the police who arrived at the scene and “took the tools for safekeeping to be returned to the boy’s parents.”

The author writes, “We told a generation of kids that they can never be too safe—and they believed us.”

This need to be “safe” has evolved part and parcel with the explosion of the internet and social media.  Many of the things that have a very low probability of bringing us harm are sensationalized online and in the news; because we see it happening on the internet and how horrible it is, we start to question our safety. For example, the leading cause of death in the US is an unhealthy diet, not any of the things we read about in the news. Yet … we aren’t blocking the doors to McDonalds.

Our inclination to seek “safety” removes a degree of risk-taking in our lives that is necessary for getting us out of our comfort zone, such as travelling to new places, trying new foods and interacting with people of different background and beliefs.

Our physical need for safety has also evolved into an emotional need. This comes at a very high price.

One emotional cost is that more and more people today are delaying – or altogether missing – adult milestones; landmarks that come with a certain degree of risk, such as buying a home/living on their own, getting married or having kids.

If we try to ensure that we, or those we love, will never get physically or emotionally hurt, it’s unlikely that we’ll lead fulfilling, prosperous lives.

This is a big problem; one that is not easily solved. That being said, I believe one area where we can all start to be more growth-minded and a little less safe is in our communication and feedback. Often, we don’t say what we really mean. It’s either safer not to or it helps us (or the recipient) maintain the status quo.

One of the best frameworks I’ve come across around feedback is from Kim Scott’s new book, Radical CandorBe a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity. Radical Candor, she argues, should be the default form of both personal and professional feedback.

One of the quadrants in the Radical Candor graph that gets less attention, but is often our automatic form of commutation, is “Ruinous Empathy.” This is when you care about the other person and their perspective, but you don’t tell them what they really need to hear, which is likely to be a tough message and/or the truth as you will see in this sample video.

According to Scott, Ruinous Empathy comes from our desire to try and control other people’s feelings, something we should not and cannot do. While it may come from a good place, it is also a misplaced, misguided effort. It’s about being safe.

This week, let’s encourage open and vulnerable communication. We may get our knees skinned – we maybe even get rejected outright — but at least we’re living authentically, growing and working toward empowering ourselves and others.

Quote of the Week

“A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.”

John A. Shedd

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Conventional Wisdom (#85)

Here is the thing about conventional wisdom and thinking: it’s usually conventional. This may sound obvious, but in so many situations, we fail to make choices that would move an opportunity forward or make a big impact. Instead we choose the safer option; the one that feels more familiar or has the popular vote.

This point was brought home for me recently as I listened to Brian Halligan speak at a leadership event. Brian is CEO of HubSpot, a title he’s held through the company’s inception, its IPO and $2.5B market cap.

In his discussion, Brian shared his perspectives on decision-making and following the conventional path, which include:

  1. Conventional wisdom is the conservative path and usually means doing what everyone else is doing.
  2. Leading companies and people aren’t satisfied with doing what everyone else is doing so they need to think about things in new and different ways.
  3. For many of his big decisions, Brian sought input from his team, but rarely went with the majority opinion.
  4. If the choices are black and white, never choose grey. Not only is picking the middle the easy way out, it’ll likely ensure a suboptimal outcome for all.

Great leaders buck conventional wisdom. They take risks, listen for the best ideas from the quietest voice and try to find where they can make that tenfold impact. This is the reason why companies such as Google have formed groups to work on new ideas—even ones that may have a high degree of failure. These are “moonshot” ideas that challenge conventional thinking.

One of the best ways to escape conventional wisdom is to gain perspective from those who think differently from you and to encourage debate. If you surround yourself with everyone who thinks the same way and has the same views, the decisions are likely to be similar. This groupthink is how Volkswagen ended up in a giant emission scandal a few years’ back.

If you want to expand your thinking, travel. Travelling is a wonderful way to gain perspective as are mastermind groups. Both have been invaluable to me and many others that I know, especially in terms of bringing new ideas to the fore and looking at problems and challenges in different ways. Some of my best new ideas have come from travelling outside of my physical and mental comfort zone.

The next time you ask someone for input on a key decision, think about whether they are giving you the answer that they know you want or a new perspective you might really need.

Quote of the Week

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

Henry Ford

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18 Summers (#84)

Shortly, I will be headed out on an RV trip with my family that has been years in the making. I am excited to unplug, get outdoors and spend quality time with my kids.

Last week, I had two reminders of how special and fleeting this time really is. It started with getting this “out of office” reply from the PR consultant of my friend Alex Yastrebenetsky:

“Alex Yastrebenetsky encouraged me to make a sign that says “18 Summers” and put it on my refrigerator so you can see it every day. A year feels like a long time while a summer comes and goes and 18 summers is all you get with your kids, so you need to make all of them count. As you are reading this, I am spending time with my family in an RV headed across the country and will be back on Monday, August 21st.”

Just a few days later, another good friend sent me a compelling post written by Tim Urban on his blog “Wait Buy Why” that lays out a 90-year-olds lifespan visually in years, weeks and days.

Tim calculated that, by the time he graduated high school, he had already used up 93 percent of his lifetime’s in-person parent time. He also shows other visual examples of how much time remains – if he lives to 90 – to enjoy some of his favorite activities.

A powerful, impactful exercise that is sure to create a sense of urgency is to print out Tim’s chart and fill in the circles. As Tim notes, you might realize that, despite not being at the end of your life, you may very well be nearing the end of your time with some of the most important people in your life.

Here are three key takeaways that Tim shares upon reflection of his own experience with the exercise.

  1. Living in the same place as the people you love matters.
  2. Priorities matter.
  3. Quality time matters.

They are great tips to keep in mind as summer winds down and we head back into the fall routine.

There are many things in life that require deferred gratification, but in many cases, it’s not a matter of our means; it’s a matter of making the time and changing our priorities. Sometimes it also means disregarding societal norms, stepping outside of our comfort zone and saying “yes,” even when opportunities require us to find ways to creatively make them happen.

One of my best memories of 2017 is how my son and I ended up at Super Bowl LI together. As I wrote about in a much commented on Friday Forward post, it was a moment that I almost passed up multiple times because I thought there would be another opportunity down the road – an opportunity that, in reality, might never come.

“Tomorrow.” “Next week.” “Next year.” These are often the answers we give when presented with both personal and professional opportunities. It’s easy to think that there will always be a better time to live our life and enjoy time with others. Let’s not take for granted that that time will come.

Quote of the Week

“Lost time is never found again.”

Benjamin Franklin

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