Documenting The Journey Of A Man On A Quest For Mindfulness, Peace, and Joy

Category: Relationships

On Sabbatical – Week 26: Where I’m At After Half a Year of Uncovering Me

This week marks a half year. It has been a half of a year since I quit my job, left the workforce, entered a state of sabbatical, and started a new chapter in my life. Now that I’m six months in, it feels like more than a new chapter; it feels like a new book. Huge swaths of my days are filled with practices and activities I was not doing at all a year ago. My relationship with my partner is at an all-time high; our communication has leveled up, several levels. As I write these words, I’m listening to a 5-layered house music track that I recorded just earlier this morning. Neither writing nor music-making were in my list of weekly to do’s a year ago, save writing emails to clients or crunching out the occasional scrap of advertising copy.

When I initially started sabbatical, I told myself it was going to be roughly a two year period: one year in Minnesota, and one year in Costa Rica. That was and has been the tentative plan. I told myself, “once we move, once we complete this transition and get settled in to our neighborhood, a new school, a new community, a new way of life… that’s when I can start actually letting myself think practically, letting myself worry about the future.”

I am just now, in this moment, checking in with myself to reflect on the time so far. It’s not a question of what I’ve done, what activities I’ve done, what items I’ve checked off my bucket list. The question is – Where am I now? How do I feel now? What brand of Kevin am I now? How do I feel about the fact that I’m 25% of the way through this ‘plan’? And what path am I headed on? What is my trajectory? And what is my relationship to my current state and to my trajectory? 

I feel… comfortable with it. This time has had its challenges, mostly of the existential variety, but for the most part the common thread throughout the last six months has been joy. It has been a gift to untether from my old self, from my previous conditioning, from my past decisions that I have now grown away from. It has been a joy to spend more time with my kids and to act more childlike myself. Digging in to who I really am and who I want to be has its uncomfortable moments, but on the whole it has been a treat to afford the time to fully detach and to put maximum effort into starting anew. 

I like the person I am now compared to Old Kevin. I have asked myself what I value, and I’ve sat with that question until I’ve come up with some answers. I have more clarity about what I value, what I want my life to be about, what I want my time to be spent doing. It’s family, it’s outdoors, it’s the environment, and it’s being generous and giving to others, others now and others in the future. I love that I’ve been able to prioritize myself and doing what I want to do, being how I want to be. If I want to go outside, I go. If I want to listen to music, I listen. If I want to make music, I make. If I want to do nothing, I sit. If I want to let a blog post take four hours to make because I’m trying to perfect it or get it “just so,” then so be it! That’s what I wanted to do. I let myself do it. I’m not letting any external influences or thoughts or preconceived notions or conditionings get in my way. 

I know that I’m a better communicator. I’m more mindful of how I am, of what I say and how I say it. I’m more in tune with others. Friends have told me, observed this about Kristyn and I, that we have an ability to be tuned in to how others are feeling.

I know that this is making me a better father, not always having some place to go or some place to be or some project to work on, when my kids just want to play with me in that special time between end of school and bed. 

Life is not meant to be rushed through. I’ve really enjoyed slowing down and trying to actually live each day, not just move through each day. 

And yeah, there are days that are hard, days where I feel lost, days where I’ve told Kristyn, “I’m lost. I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t like this feeling. I feel like I don’t know what I’m supposed to do today. But I want to know what I’m supposed to do.” There are a lot of “could’s”: I could write, I could exercise, I could cook, I could brainstorm a teen fiction series, I could make a new beat, I could go for a walk, I could meditate. Which one should I start with? Should. Should based on… what, exactly? Should does not exist. Should is a facade. There is no should. So yeah, I have days like this, days where I feel aimless, but that’s a small price to pay for the tradeoff of the joys of slowness and simplicity. In fact, the discomfort of that aimlessness is what I want to be experiencing, because that is where growth comes from. No pain, no gain. 

I’m still working on this, but as I reflect on the last six months, one of the underlying themes has been my effort to let go of yearning, of wishing, of wanting things I don’t have, experiences I haven’t had. I’ve been really trying to mindfully think into what is within my power to make today feel like a “dream day,” a day where I lived as close to being in choice that I could be. What can I do today to make it feel like a “million dollar day”? And I have to say, I’ve been having a lot of days that feel that way. It’s hard to put a price on that. 

I hold my privilege front and center in my mind as often as I can remember to do so. I hope that by unlearning many of the assumptions I had been operating under, by focusing on becoming the truest version of myself, and by generously radiating compassion toward those around me, I am putting my privilege to the best possible use for the betterment of my family and humanity. 

So… what now? What are my goals for the next six months? Knowing what I know now about these last six months, what does that make me think about next semester? What do I want to do differently? How do I want to be different? What do I want to continue? 

I know I want to continue many of my recent practices: morning meditations, exercise routine rotating strength, cardio, and yoga, writing on this blog, building up the Naturally Better idea, and plunking away at the keyboard to make fun little tunes for myself. 

One big difference for the next quartile of sabbatical? The move to Costa Rica. In the past six months, I have done very little to prepare for this transition relative to how much I’m going to need to do in the half year ahead. In this situation I think using some labels will be helpful for me to give some structure to my time.

Labels that feel right for what the first quarter of sabbatical was like are: Unplug, Reset, Rebirth, Childhood, and Unlearn.

The labels I intend to uphold for the next half year are: Practice, Adolescence, Authenticity, Minimize, and Transition. 

Practice: having the discipline and devotion to practices that align with my values, and not allowing disruption of these practices by things I value less than the practice.

Adolescence: when I was a teenager, I went through phases where I practiced stuff relentlessly. There was a semester in high school where I played saxophone five days a week. I would play volleyball every chance I got. I did these things not because someone was making me; I did them because I loved doing them. I want to embody that passionate spirit again, of not worrying about the practicality of an activity or hobby and letting myself get absorbed by something for the sheer joy of it and for the satisfying feeling of improvement. 

Authenticity: as I learn about new concepts (such as meditation or barefoot running), can I actually walk the walk? If I learn that beef is the most harmful food for the environment, can I actually stop eating it? If I discover that spending more time barefoot can unlock huge health benefits, do I have the courage to actually kick my shoes off around the neighborhood? 

Minimize: it’s time to get rid of my crap. I have no choice but to do so; the house we’ll move to in Costa Rica is much smaller than our current house. Less stuff.  More space. 

Transition: while the last half year was a time of detaching and jumping off a moving train, the time ahead will start to feel like movement toward a new direction, a transition in to something new. 

That’s a wrap on reflecting about my sabbatical so far. Onward to reviewing the experiences of the past week! 

 

A WORK MEETING? NOT EXACTLY. 

I kicked off this week with something I haven’t done in half a year – a professional networking Zoom meeting. I should put “professional” in quotes; I had a conversation with one person I knew from my most recent job as a TV advertising sales rep. She had worked on the Marketing team at one of my best clients, had seen my post on LinkedIn where I shared my departure from the workforce and my intention for the time ahead, and had reached out to me to set up a time to chat. 

When we hopped on the Zoom, I learned she had also since left her position and was pursuing self-employment as a freelance marketer. As she explained her situation, what she was working on, what she was feeling stuck with, I noticed myself going into a sort of “counselor mode.” I listened intently. I gently probed for her to expand on her hesitations. I did my best to help her see her own answers were already there. At one point she even joked, “I can’t believe we’re talking about this; this is starting to feel like a therapy session!” Even though our conversation carried on without missing a beat, when she said that, I strangely felt a rush of pride. The idea of someone talking to me feeling like therapy for them… I liked that idea. It was a tiny hint, an iota of a clue that, perhaps, I’m on the right track, that everything I’m doing, every choice I’m making, every book I’m reading, every uncomfortable conversation I’m having with Kristyn, every word I’m typing is what I’m supposed to be doing. Validation feels incredible. 

After this conversation I also learned that I want to practice framing up “what I’ve been up to” more succinctly. Most of the time, when I tell people I’m on sabbatical, they ask, “So what do you do all day?” or “What have you been up to, then?”

I wasn’t adequately prepared for this question in the context of a more professional, career-oriented conversation, of being more mindful of my conduct, of my words, of how I carry myself. I wrote these notes down after the call as I brainstormed how to give a tighter elevator pitch to people of what my sabbatical has been about thus far:

  • Doing less and being more.
  • Reading lots. Writing some. 
  • Focusing on mindful living.
    • Being present with my kids.
    • Being present with my partner.
    • Being present with myself.
  • Cooking (almost) all my food. 
  • Moving my body when it wants to move. Letting it rest when it needs to. 

After that last bullet point, I was struck with an idea. Maybe it would be helpful for a large number of people if I could put together ways to detach from the nine to five and reinvent your life. Creating a roadmap for this. I know I could’ve used one! As soon as I had that idea, I realized there must be thousands of books and courses designed with this exact idea in mind. In fact, I know there is at least one, because I’ve read Tim Ferriss’ 4-hour Workweek and even reference that book on the Resources page of this website. A quick Google search and indeed, this is not a novel concept. Still, what would make my idea unique is that it would be mine. It would be of my thoughts, of my experience, and of my learnings. And it wouldn’t be too hard to create, because in a way, all I’d have to do is document exactly what I’m doing. I’m fling this one away in the “ideas” folder, for now. 

TEN PERCENT HAPPIER

I’ve really gone headfirst into the podcast Ten Percent Happier. I can’t seem to recall how I first came across this gem of a resource, but now that it has made its way to my awareness, there’s no turning back! I started at the beginning and have been downright plowing through the episodes. I’m loving the guests Dan Harris has on this show to talk about their various experiences and expertise within the world of meditation, from well-known veteran teachers like Sharon Salzberg, to Buddhist figures like Thupten Jinpa (the Dalai Lama’s English-language interpreter), to Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo. I love how its exposing me to many people I instantly admire and want to emulate and learn from in various ways. This week I enjoyed the incredible stories and outlook of author and Buddhist meditation teacher Mingyur Rinpoche and the candor and communication prowess of author and mindful communication teacher Oren Jay Sofer

I’m getting a lot of value from this podcast. Listening to it is giving me ideas for my own giveaway, my own creation, my own collection of conversations that will include the topic of meditation and also many natural living topics. The Naturally Better podcast is in development, folks! 

CREATION PROGRESS

Part of my journey is learning, and one of the main ways I learn is by reading. If the book is good and I’m getting value from it, I enjoy the process of reading a book, taking down notes and excerpts that jump out to me, and, when I’m done with the book, compiling these notes into a blog post and add it to my growing collection of blog posts about books. This week I’ve been realizing that oddly I can read an entire book faster than I can write up a summary with my takeaways from it. Hopefully getting caught up with this sabbatical blog will help! 

Right now I’m reading Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin, which is a book about habits and how to harness the power of habit to improve your life. There are a lot of useful nuggets in the book, but one thing I really love is the open of the book, where Rubin takes a moment to talk about the process of writing the book: of an immense amount of reading at the beginning stage of the project, and about capturing those “eureka moments” that happen along the way as she reads, examines her own life, and starts having conversations with others about the world of habits. 

It got me to thinking about my own habits, especially around reading. For most of my adult life after college, I didn’t read much. I’d read the occasional business book or biography if it came highly recommended by someone I trust. Once I quit my job, I’ve upped my reading substantially, but it’s been a bit all over the place. I haven’t had any real “system” to it; I have just been adding books I learn about to a reading list and have been plowing through the list with no real rhyme or reason, other than to say that I read only one book at a time. (I don’t understand how people can read multiple books at once.)

As my thoughts about Naturally Better continue to coalesce, one of the challenges I face is – where do I start? There are so many things one can focus on in the world of self-improvement, and there are too many that I personally want to focus on to do them all at once, but I also don’t like the idea of limiting myself to one avenue or niche like habits or meditation or nutrition. I understand the conventional wisdom with creating a book or a podcast or a brand or a business is to be very specific, hyper-specific, so that you are speaking to a very narrowly defined niche, and in that way, your product will have much higher value to that group of people. The thing is, I’m not on this journey for other people; first and foremost, I’m in this journey for myself. I’ve always identified as a sort of “generalist.” I’ve said many times that “I’m the kind of person who’s pretty good at a lot of things, but I’m not an expert at any one thing.” I enjoy the variety that life has to offer.

In pondering this dilemma, I came up with the idea to treat my reading a little like a batting order in baseball (which is a bit ironic, because, while I having enjoyed playing and watching many sports in my life, I’ve grown to loathe baseball. So slow and boring!). In baseball, the hitting team has a batting order, with the player whose turn it is to hit “at bat,” the next player “on deck,” and the next player “in the hole.” I’m going to try taking this approach to the development of Naturally Better, where I have an “at bat” topic that is my primary focus and taking up, say 70% of my time dedicated to this project, but to avoid the feeling of limitation, I’ll have a second topic “on deck” that I’m starting to dabble with, and a third topic “in the hole” that I’ll allow my brain to casually wander into every once in a while. The rest of the areas I want to explore will just have to wait their turn. 

From this point, I felt compelled to start listing and mapping out the topics I really want to dive into and learn more about. My kids have countless sheets of barely used paper in their playroom (with a touch of marker here or there, which means, in their minds, it’s no longer suitable for them to use in future days), so I picked up the closest piece and eight of their markers. I started jotting down topics about nature and aspects of humanness, grouping them by theme. In the picture below, I started with the word “Food” and what sub-topics might be grouped under it. Then came “Body” and “Mind” and also “Resources,” with their associated sub-concepts. Next was “Community/Social,” because humans are the most social beings on the planet. Once I had written down a few thoughts under “Community/Social,” though, I got stuck. I was uncertain where to go next, but I knew my map didn’t feel quite complete. I had written down “spirit,” “heart,” and “compassion” on the side of the paper… all these words were important and needed a home. And all of a sudden, a Gretchen-Rubin-style eureka moment hit me like a lightning bolt – LOVE! The next marker color I had up in the rotation happened to be pink. It’s the focal point of every song in the history of music (almost). And my kid had already written the words “I LOVE YOU” on this very piece of scratch paper. Eureka! 

I have no idea where this map is headed, but I’m going to follow it and see where it leads me. 

All good business ideas start with gently used scratch paper and children’s markers

A FRIENDSGIVING OF TRIFECTAS, FOUR-FECTAS, AND ALL THE -FECTA’S!

On Saturday of this week we had four friends over to our house; two married couples who are dear friends of ours. There were two standout memories of this gathering that I want to document. Both are related to music. 

Earlier in the day, my partytime preparation included compiling a playlist of songs, custom-made for this group. I really enjoy having music as a part of social settings, and I love how the music can both set the mood and also be a reflection of the mood, depending on the flow of the environment. I made sure to add at least three or four songs that each of the six people in the group would really enjoy, would feel like the song was on the playlist “for them.” Of course, if one of my favorite songs happened to be Got To Give It Up by Marvin Gaye (which it is), it may very well also be a special song for one of my friends, and so we might both feel like this song was on the playlist “for us.” 

As I pulled up this playlist to play over our basement speakers, I announced that I was putting on music, that anyone was free to suggest adding a song to the rotation at any time, and that I had personally curated this specific playlist with my guests in mind.  

As the evening proceeded and new songs came up, we all enjoyed the game of guessing who the song must be for, which combination of us I must’ve had in mind when selecting the song for inclusion. If three of us felt like the song was “for us,” then it was a trifecta of song awesomeness! Four? A four-fecta of head-bobbing, hip-shaking sonic bliss! It was a fun way of stringing moments of connection together throughout the evening, and it’s a practice I’m going to continue for future get togethers. 

The other immensely satisfying memory I have of this evening is when the men retreated to our guest room, which is now doubling as our “home recording studio” (emphasis on the quotation marks). I had one friend in there already, and I was playing him a song, really just the early seedling of a song, that I had created, over the studio speakers at a medium volume (so as to not disturb the vibe in the other room). As the third guy strolled into our room, as my music made its way through his ears to his brain, I grinned as his body hopped into the groove: toes tapping, hips swaying, head approvingly nodding. I asked him, “What do you think of this tune?” To which he replied, as he kept his gentle body groove going, “Yeah, it’s good. I can dig it.” Sensing that he might not know, I then commented, “I made this song.”

As much as it made me feel good that I had made a collection of sounds and rhythms that made a person move, it was an even lovelier experience to behold the fleeting expression on his face as he processed what I had just said. He hadn’t known I made it. The flash of surprise followed by approval on his face… it’s hard to express how gratifying that felt. I created an artistic thing that someone liked! They didn’t like it because I made it, because they know me and want to be supportive of me; they just flat out enjoyed it. And not just anyone, a close friend! This experience acts as fuel for my creative fire. I don’t sit in my basement and tinker around with making music for other people; all I do is make what sounds good to me. But that taste of validation from someone else, that they too can share in the joy of these sounds that I birthed into existence… man that is a juicy feeling for me. As scary as it can be to share stuff that I’ve created, this night makes me more inclined to share in the future. Thanks to you, friend.

FOOD OVER FOOTBALL

The next day I took my kids to the neighbor kid’s birthday party. Afterward, we went over to their house under the guise of “watching the Vikings game.” I haven’t been paying attention to the NFL or any professional sports this year (other than a little bit of AVP, of course); no fantasy teams, no gameday watching, and definitely no following of players, trades, injuries, and current events in the league. It has just seemed so unimportant to me. It’s an entertainment source that has lost its entertainment value. I remember past years where I’d be in three fantasy football leagues, and the hour of 11am-noon on Sunday wasn’t fun, it was stressful – checking all the last minute injury notices and waiver wire pickups. Meanwhile, I had a ton of leftover snack foods that didn’t get gobbled down the night before, so I loaded up our wagon with fixings for a fairly substantial spread to share. In the course of this neighborly Sunday afternoon get together, I realized that while Old Kevin would have been in his element watching football and tracking his fantasy team’s stats, New Kevin can’t really hold a conversation about the NFL anymore, but he can talk about food, recipes, and what cheese would perfectly pair with mango habanero jelly all day long!

(And when you think about it, which is really more important to you: watching large sweaty men give themselves concussions or discussing fun and delicious ways to fuel your body?)

CLOSING THOUGHT ABOUT THIS BLOG AND MY WRITING

I’m so close to being caught up to realtime with the weekly blogging about my sabbatical. It feels exhilarating to know that time is also here. I’ve been feeling buried under the weight of getting caught up. It’s starting to feel like I can actually write these weekly sabbatical posts the way I want to, the way I want to feel like I have the freedom to, not just by cataloging the events and documenting the actions, but also by giving myself the space and the permission to expand, to open up, and to share freely my thoughts, feelings, and reflections of the week’s transpirings. Plus, I’m holding on to this notion that once I’m caught up to realtime, I’ll be unburdened by the “catching up” and will have more time and energy to commit to other writing projects. I don’t know how much of a crutch that thought is right now, but I do know it’s been enough of a motivator to keep me going the last couple of weeks, so… if it ain’t broke…! 

On Sabbatical – Week 24: Improving Communication With My Partner and With Myself

HALLOWEEN & REMEMBERING THE DEAD

Monday of this week was Halloween. Due to my bushy, unkempt sabbatical beard, I slapped together a last-minute costume and attended our neighborhood Halloween driveway get together as the cross-country-running version of Forrest Gump. I still hadn’t done anything with the beard in the days after Halloween, which you can see proof of in this week’s featured image. 

Ever since enrolling our children in Spanish immersion childcare, pre-school, and public school, and being more exposed to aspects of Latin culture, we have grown an admiration of the traditions around Día de Muertos. We have made it a tradition to create our own ofrenda (home altar) in the entryway of our house around this time of year, to remember loved ones who are not with us any more, particularly Kristyn’s dad. She wrote a great piece about this on KristynWithAWhy.com, which I encourage you to check out. 

The Carlow Moravetz Ofrenda, 2022

(I realize I’m a white American man that’s now talking about a tradition that is not exactly of my own lineage, and of the trickiness that brings, but at the end of the day, I know how I feel, I know my intentions, and I know that the way we acknowledge the spirit of it in our house feels right to us and is done in an honorable way, so for me, that’s what counts.)

It was also quite adorable this year to observe how my children, while Trick-or-Treating around the neighborhood, cared much more about petting the animals of the homes we visited than about snatching up their candy. They would’ve stayed and pet the 9-week-old kitten all night if we’d let them. 

STRIKING A BALANCE WITH MY PARTNER

On Tuesday I had a lengthy conversation with my partner about food. In many aspects of our relationship, we find a balance that works for us. With any given task, though, a “balance that works” does not always mean we split the task 50/50. We each have our own strengths and our own chores that annoy us less than other chores. She doesn’t hate folding clothes, I don’t hate cleaning out the fridge. Over the last ten years or so, we’ve been tweaking and refining how we tackle all of the responsibilities of home ownership, adulthood, and life so that, on the whole, things feel balanced to both of us. 

Food is one of those unavoidable aspects of life. We need it to survive. But when it comes to food, there’s more to it than just cooking the food. Someone has to plan what food is going to be acquired. Someone has to get the food. Someone has to organize how the food is stored. Someone has to prepare and cook the food. Someone has to clean the dishes used to prepare and to eat the food. And, if you care about food waste (we do), someone has to monitor the aging of all the ingredients and factor in how and when the leftovers will be eaten and/or incorporated into future meal plans. It’s a job with a bunch of sub-jobs underneath it. 

On the whole, I get less stressed about food than Kristyn does. I like cooking, and I like being intentional with the ingredients used to nourish the bodies of myself and my family. I don’t want to speak too much on Kristyn’s behalf, but the short version is – years ago one of my roommates had said that he wished he could just take a pill and it would satisfy his hunger and his nutritional needs so that he didn’t need to think about food at all, and upon hearing this, my reaction was, “Oh that sounds so bland and boring, and think about all the flavors and connection to your fuel you’d miss out on,” while Kristyn’s reaction was, “YES absolutely me too.” So, the balance that works for us is that I am the primary food person in our house. 

Before I go on and get myself into a heap of trouble, I want to be clear – she does make food and does get groceries and does do many dishes. It’s just that we’ve come to an understanding that I am the primary food person. And, like with any big job that has one person shouldering a larger share of the job, it can get to be a lot. There are times where I feel “kitchened out.” In those times, a break from the kitchen would feel great. The problem is, I feel resistance to ask for help. I’m terrible at asking for help in general. When I worry that the favor I need or the assistance that would really make my day is in direct contrast to my partner’s wiring and preferences? Forget it! I know that meal planning and prep can be more stressful for her, so I tell myself this story that I’m putting an “extra burden” on her by asking her to take over making dinner for a night. 

What I learned through the course of this conversation, though, is that by not asking for help and trudging through another slog in the kitchen, I’m not actually helping the situation. I’m not resourcing myself. I’m operating from an imbalanced place. This has downstream effects, and those effects aren’t positive. 

What is especially great about not only this specific conversation but also the general state of our relationship is that we are having these conversations, we aren’t leaving things unsaid, and we are having them in a calm, constructive way which leaves both people feeling better than when we start. I’m really grateful to have Kristyn in my life to teach me and to practice with me communication and attunement to others. 

IMPROMPTU SONG-MAKING WITH MY CHILD

From 2:30pm-5pm Monday-Friday, we have our eldest child at home with us (before the younger gets picked up from Spanish pre-school). We try to mix up how this time is spent, with some togetherness as well as some independent work and play. 

On Wednesday of this week, she and I headed down to our ramshackle “music studio” in the basement to mess around with the funny sounds we can make on the microphone. She immediately requested the “robot voice” (a sound setting in Garageband). As soon as she started talking in that voice, we got the idea to make a song about a robot. Over the next fifteen minutes we created a super simple track with two verses and a bridge. We didn’t write the verses, though; she improvised them on the spot as a basic musical accompaniment played in the background! It was such a cool experience to watch as my kid’s brain came up with clever things a robot would say and sing them on key and to a beat. 

“I Am A Robot” is not quite ready for release yet, but when it does make its way to the web… you’ll know. 

WHAT IS MY DREAM? ANSWER: THAT’S TOO BIG OF A QUESTION TO ANSWER

On Thursday, I once again fed myself a prompt in my journal. The day’s prompt: What is my dream? When I give myself journal prompts like this, I try to write with a brainstorm mentality, to free the mind and the pen to write without filter or direction. Anything goes. Any thought counts. If the though enters my brain, write it down, no matter how ridiculous or (seemingly) off-topic it might be. This particular day, even with the brainstorm mindset, I was stuck. Like, majorly stuck. I couldn’t quite picture anything concrete. Then I started judging myself for not having a solid dream. “How ridiculous is that?! I don’t know what I want? What I yearn for? Even kids know what they dream of. Why are you having such a hard time with this? You don’t even have a job right now. This is all you’ve been thinking about for months and you can’t even write down one stinking dream?”

It was time for a hike (see featured image). Not only did I have exhilarating encounters with two different sets of deer partners (buck and doe) mere feet off my trail, but I unlocked an insight while thinking on the prompt “What is my dream?” and talking out loud into my Voice Memo app as I walked. This insight came after 20-30 minutes of fruitless pondering. My mind was easily distracted. It was looking for any excuse, any thought to pull me away from the discomfort of sitting answerless to this question. Every time I noticed my mind following another train of thought, I re-centered on the prompt “What is my dream?”. 

Eventually, when I finally was able to just linger in that question, really embody it, I realized that, for me, in this moment, the question was too big. It needed a time constraint. What if I broke the question into small time increments? What if I changed the prompt to “What is my dream for today?” and then expanded from there? This approach was game-changing. 

In breaking this big question down into tiny chunks, I was able to figure out the following (these are the notes as I wrote them on that day):

  • My dream for today is to simply be doing what I was already doing – hiking outside. Eating delicious food for supper with my family. Spending quality time with my family where we are making each other laugh and enjoying each other’s company. Have an easeful time putting my kids to bed where I am in lock step with their desires of what they need to have an easeful bedtime. And then connect with my partner, have some mutually incredible sex, and close the day with an effortless meditation. That is what would make today a “dream day,” and I’m already on the path of living it. 
  • So, then, how is my dream for any other longer stretch of time any different than stringing a bunch of those exact days together in a row? Wouldn’t I just repeat this day again tomorrow? And the next? In a way, yes! But also, life has certain requirements; not all minutes of all days can be play, unless you happen to have access to unlimited resources. Ok, so let’s zoom out a little.
  • I then inquired “What is my dream for the month of November?” … My mind immediately gravitated toward Thanksgiving, a holiday landmark in the month of November. I dreamt of preparing delicious, crowd-pleasing dishes and of delighting in the joy they bring to my family. And I then felt compelled to think of a prayer to offer before the meal. I went on a twenty-minute tangent writing out a Thanksgiving prayer that flowed effortlessly out of me. 
  • And finally when I returned again to my question about my dream for November, and I finally stopped the many distracting thoughts my mind was taking me in, in the split second that I finally cleared my mind and just left space for that question, the feeling rushed in that I want to be making more progress toward our move to Costa Rica next summer. It is starting to feel like time to be tackling that project more enthusiastically and prioritizing it at the tippy top of the list. This is broken into three parts: learning Spanish, completing the project of building out our property, and getting rid of our unneeded possessions. 
  • I quit the exercise here. This seemed like far enough for now. Let’s make November my dream November. And that starts right now. 

If I can live out my dream day, and my dream week, and my dream month, all I have to do is start stringing those together and I will be living my dream life. 


On Sabbatical – Week 22: Camping With The Boys & Voluntary Suffering

Five weeks ago, the idea of an October camping trip to Minnesota’s North Shore was born in a driveway during a kid’s birthday party. This week, the idea became reality. 

Our destination: Cascade River State Park, near Lutsen, MN, a mere hour-long drive from the Canadian border. I reserved a hike-in campsite for myself and three friends at this state park, and after calling the park to inquire about the available sites, I chose “BP2” (Backpack 2), which is situated on top of Moose Mountain. 

Our home for the weekend

There are advantages and disadvantages to any campsite. Some have better access to water, better views, more privacy, proximity to trails and amenities, and so on. We opted for the site that had privacy and a great view, but the trade-offs were… we had to climb and we had to pack in our water. It was just over one mile from the car to the campsite, but that mile was a pretty steady 45 degree incline the entire way. 

Now, for a true backpacking expedition, this wouldn’t be too much of a problem; in fact, for many backpackers along the big American trails like the A.T. or the P.C.T., inclines like this would be the norm. In those cases, however, the backpackers are typically equipped with proper gear like form-fitted rucksacks, trekking poles, and freeze-dried or dehydrated food like rice or oats. Essentialism is key – bring only what you need. In all of my planning and discussions with my crew before our departure, it seemed I either did not properly communicate this tenet of backpacking, or I did and they just ignored the advice, because we packed in a LOT of stuff! Even though our bodies were at their freshest point of the weekend, that first mile hike from the car to the site was the most grueling mile of them all, with the weight of full-size camping chairs, full water jugs, and enough junk food to send an army into diabetic shock weighing us down. With enough trudging and plodding along, we did eventually make it to camp, and the view and the privacy made it all worth it. 

Cascade River State Park Campsite BP2, overlooking Lake Superior

As we unpacked, and I saw just how much food my friends brought for this two-night jaunt in the woods, I felt a sense of disappointment rise within me. I didn’t make a big deal of it at the time, I just went with the flow and embraced the notion that we each packed what we needed to pack. I had put a lot of thought into the planning of what we’d bring (on a shared Google Doc), so we could coordinate items, prevent overpacking, and do things a little more communally and a little less individually. So at first, I thought my shock at all these surprise items was due to a feeling of our plan being undermined or not followed, a disappointment that, despite my best efforts, the idea of communicating and packing our gear communally was too much for my friends, too outside their comfort zone, too far away from their conditioned tendencies to want to be in control and do things as an individual instead of as a group.

It wasn’t until later the next day, though, that I realized the bigger source of my feeling; a big part of what I enjoy about camping, hiking, backpacking, and being out in the woods is the suffering. I like the suffering. I crave it. It’s part of the allure of the outdoors for me, the opportunity to taste how challenging life in the wild really is. Life in the modern world is so incomprehensibly comfortable. I like my time on camping/backpacking trips to be in as direct contrast to that as possible. I like to wake up and get out on the trails early, eat a bit of trail mix through the day whenever my body signals it needs some fuel, and then have one warm meal with some tea in the evening as the sun is going down and I’ve made camp for the night. I like stripping things down to the essentials. I even like being a bit dehydrated. Not so dehydrated that I’m having headaches or muscle cramps, but really conserving my resources and waiting to consume anything until my body is really asking for it. When I take this minimalist approach to my time in the outdoors, I’m able to feel my body and hear my thoughts more acutely. Typical daily patterns and habits are broken; there is only this moment. This approach also makes the re-entry into modern life so much more eye-opening. I experience a deeper gratitude for the simplest of things. I come home and am extremely thankful for my faucet with running water. When was the last time you were thankful for your faucet? That’s the power that a few days away from modern conveniences can have. 

It was actually very useful for me to crystallize this personal insight, and I don’t know if I would’ve arrived at that insight had my one friend decided to leave his can of Easy Cheese at home (or better yet, left it unpurchased on the store shelf). I realized just because it’s there, it doesn’t mean have to eat it; I can make my own choices. So it turns out I’m thankful for the lesson provided by the excess junk food. (Plus, I wasn’t the one that had to carry it.)

We had a truly epic weekend. The weather was unseasonably awesome for mid-October in northern Minnesota, and we made the most of it. We hiked many miles, shared many laughs, and even shed a few tears (mostly from laughing so hard). Thank you to the women in our lives for taking care of our children and homesteads to enable this weekend of joy for us boys! 

Here is a list of the memories I jotted down the day after we got back. Most of them will not make sense to you, the reader, but hey, this blog is for me just as much as it is for any of you, so these are for me! 

Memories:

  • On Saturday we hiked north on the trail up the eastern side of the Cascade River. There is also a trail on the western side of the river, but the state park map gets cut off before it shows where the crossing is from east to west. We assumed it would be obvious. It was not. We found a dirt road and a parking lot, but no obvious spot of where to cross and pick the trail up on the other side. We walked along the road and river for a ways, looking for a spot to cross, and at one point there was some “fencing” made of black fabric attached to some posts, like you might find blocking off a construction site. My friend saw this fence, walked over to it, jumped over it, walked into the wild woods beyond, turned around and yelled back, “I think I found it.” Because, you know, typically hiking trailheads are found on the other side of a fence one has to jump. 
  • As we walked off trail, trying to find the trail, we enjoyed variations of the phrase, “I think this must be the path. This part of the woods looks pretty path-y over here.”
  • Moss feels better when you take your shoes off. 
  • We all know the feeling of déjà vu, but have you ever experienced déjà new? How about déjà now? I can’t explain exactly what these mean, but I know that if you go off into the woods with your friends, you’ll find it. 
  • Despite our meandering about at the river crossing, we ended Saturday with utterly perfect pacing of the day, with the sun setting over the horizon just as we arrived back to camp. 
  • As we returned to camp from our long day hike on Saturday, one friend hauled a massive dead log on his shoulders up to our campsite. Another friend made it his mission to burn this log to bits, no matter how long it took.

THE LOG

  • While we returned home with all of our appendages still connected, one of my friends did manage to slice his thumb with our log splitter. I learned that my backpacking first aid kit could use a little sprucing up. 
  • Bring tortillas on future camping trips to go with hot meals!
  • I do love how the guys that came on this trip surprise me. I’ve always loved surprises, ever since I was a kid. In their own way, each one of my friends did stuff that I did not expect, and it’s fun to surround myself with people that keep me on my toes and make life interesting. 

And finally, when you get right down to it, all we really need in this life are woods, friends, and snacks. 

 

Oh, and I almost forgot, at the beginning of the week I did some warmup hikes with my trusty hiking companion. 

Hiking companion I can’t bring on wooded trails (burrs) and I can’t take farther than 3 miles (he’s 11).

On Sabbatical – Week 20: Free People, Friendships, and Fullness

I was hoping to start my week with a flurry of productivity. I had made my Sunday night list of all the projects I was going to tackle throughout the week. I got a good night’s sleep and was feeling energized to attack the week with a passionate energy for getting stuff done. Then, my kid wakes up with a sore throat and can’t go to school. And Kristyn’s going to spend the night at her mom’s to help her out. Welp, there goes that day! I’m practicing letting go of my own wants, learning to adapt to my conditions and to the needs of those around me. I made the best of it by casting my to-do list aside to be with my kids. In doing so, an incredible moment surfaced.

Learn, Then Practice

With my child sick and at home instead of at school, I sat emitting the energy of calm and contentment, positioned next to the window in our family room and reading Raising Free People by Akilah Richards (thanks to Kristyn With a Why for the recommendation). It’s a book that, among other things, argues for unschooling and rethinking the way our educational systems are designed, and it explains the benefits of self-directed learning. So there I was, reading about ways to rethink how children can get educated, to unlearn what I know about how children learn, how even at young ages they know what interests them and what they’re curious about, and my sick child was sitting eight feet away from me and, with no prompting of any kind from me, was choosing to create and solve math problems in her notebook. Talk about a jolt! The exact thing I was reading about was happening right in front of me.

I set my book down, asked if I could join her in her work, and when she happily agreed and was eager to show me the math she was working on, we took the opportunity to lean into her curiosity of this moment, to follow her impulse, and we leveled up her math skills one notch by introducing the concept of doing addition problems vertically, where you line up numbers with the one’s place, the ten’s place, and so on. She almost immediately grasped the concept and was eager to come up with new vertically-oriented addition problems on her own. The only way she would have been receptive to this nugget of math knowledge was for it to come from a place of self-direction. I was simultaneously very glad I had gained a deeper understanding of the unschooling concept by reading Raising Free People and also very glad that I had the presence of mind to put the book down and practice an idea from the book. 

Friendships Evolve Over Time, Especially If I Let Them

This week was the week my recreational summer volleyball team won our league at Maple Tavern in Maple Grove, MN. Although it was a nice feeling to emerge from the season as champions, what really felt like a win was not the volleyball at all, but the conversation I had afterward.  A dear friend of mine and I hung around “the tav” after our games were done, and I have to say, it was just one of those conversations that left me feeling energized, buzzing with the fizziness of a friendship deepening in its closeness. We took turns not just listening to each other, but really being present with and witnessing each other about some of our deepest passions. For him, it was writing his second novel, and for me, it was sustainability and my wanting to put into action some of the lessons I learned from the book Active Hope. I gassed him up with praise and admiration about his being an involved, caring dad, and that one day I’m going to invite him to talk about it on the podcast that I haven’t created yet. We both teared up at various points.

It’s a new feeling, getting older and realizing that, as I change, the people I gravitate toward change. The friends of my past aren’t necessarily in alignment with my present, with my current direction. My inner circle is evolving. It’s important to me to let go of old relationships if they are no longer serving me and to lean into the ones that breathe life and energy my way. 

Kind of a big deal

Appreciating the Fullness of My Life

Toward the end of the week, we had an unfriendly illness that swept through our family, as can happen in a household with small children. It meant, unfortunately, that Kristyn and I would have to miss going to a concert we were very much looking forward to – Daði Freyr had come all the way from Iceland to perform at First Avenue. Daði Freyr is a talented and hilariously creative musician. I fell in love with his music and style as instantly as Kristyn introduced me to him. I listened to his music, I learned his dance moves from his YouTube videos, and I even played his video game. In 2021 I and my family listened to his songs on Spotify so much that, as seen from this photo I posted on Instagram, I was in his top 0.05% of Spotify listeners that year. This wasn’t going to be just any concert. I’m a Daði Freyr superfan. 

Not only that, but we were planning to make a double date out of it, as my friend and her spouse had also bought tickets to the show. And at the eleventh hour, we had to be honest with ourselves about how crummy we were feeling, and we chose not to go. 

After I’d let my friend know we weren’t going to make it, and after I’d sold my tickets online to recoup most of the cost, I took a moment to sit and assess how I was feeling about it. I realized that we’d had so many awesome experiences this past summer, I wasn’t really too devastated by having one fewer awesome experience. I have been living what feels like a full life. I don’t need this. Plus, going to the show would’ve compromised the health of others. Even if I wouldn’t have been putting anyone else’s health at risk, staying up late and dancing my butt off (which would have been inevitable) would probably have set me back a few days from healing my body and getting back to feeling normal. It was the right decision. So instead, I just watched (and danced along with) this music video a few times from my living room. I enjoyed myself. The drinks were cheaper, too. 

 

Growing up in the Great Lakes region of the United States, I’ve developed an appreciation for the seasons. Early autumn is my absolute favorite time of year, every year, no matter what. The temperatures are comfortable, the mosquitos and flies are mostly gone, the harvest is in full swing, and the leaves start to change. My neighbor has the best tree on the block, the maple tree shown below. I’m thinking it might be the inspiration for my first tattoo, so I wanted to make sure to get a nice picture of it. 

The best tree on the block



On Sabbatical – Week 17: A New Season Begins

Fall is here, and it feels like a big deal for a few reasons, all of which revolve around the school year. Having my children back at school has never felt like a more important landmark for me. After quitting my job, I decided early in summer that summer was going to be the season of play, of being a kid, of abandoning as many responsibilities as possible and doing my best to see life through my children’s eyes. Now, though, that time is over. There is a concrete change to the structure of our week – from 8am-2pm every day, the kids are away. As fun as this summer was, I am ready for this change. I am looking forward to having this block of six hours every day to move into this next season of sabbatical. I’m feeling very clear and comfortable with this change; I’m not sitting here wishing we had just a few more weeks of summer (like I have in many other years). We did a lot. We lived a full season. If summer was the season of “being a 4 and 6 year old kid,” then my intention for fall is that it will be the season of, say, high school. That age where you start to get a sense of what in the world is interesting to you and what things bore you. The time where you pick a sport or an instrument and you practice it, lots, mostly because you just really enjoy it. That’s the energy I want to tap into this season. I want to allow myself to pick a few activities or hobbies that I enjoy, regardless of their practicality and regardless of my skill level, dedicate myself to the practice of them, and see where it leads. That is the energy I hope to carry through the fall. 

FIRSTS ARE POTENT

After I dropped my kids off for the first day of school, I came home, changed my clothes, and immediately went for a run. The night prior, when I wrote down a list of things I wanted to do with my week, “going for a run” was the very first thing I wrote down. I have found in life that firsts are extremely important and telling. Whenever a question is asked, whether I’m asking myself the question, someone is asking me a question, or I am asking a question of someone else, the very first thing that is said is almost always the most potent, the most important takeaway, regardless of whatever comes after that first thought.

For example, I might ask my foodie friend for a recommendation of a new restaurant I could try out. They might reply, “I really love Bar La Grassa, and also Martina. Ooh, and Spoon and Stable is quite nice.” There’s a reason they said Bar La Grassa first. I don’t care exactly what the reason is (although it’s probably because of their Charred Red Onion with Goat Cheese Bruschetta), I just know there is a reason that one was top of mind, and that’s good enough for me to know that recommendation is the most potent, most juicy, and everything else after that was just filler. Of course, there are exceptions to this principle, when deeper thought on a question does reveal a keener insight that may not have been uncovered at first glance, but for the most part, when I notice myself or others mentioning a list of things, I always pay special attention to the first thing on the list. 

GIVE AND RECEIVE

One day this week I helped my neighbor with a project. He is building a treehouse at the back of his property where the yard meets the woods, which is quite clearly a job more easily done by two than by one. I was happy to help him out as a friendly neighborly gesture without any expectation of a return favor. As we started getting set up for the work, he mentioned to me that he had read my latest blog post. Not only had he read it, but there was something specific in it that he could relate to in his own experience as a parent. (It was in this post where I contemplated about what my child is really trying to say at certain moments, but they don’t always have the mastery of the language or the emotional skills to voice what they really mean.) His mentioning this to me cost him nothing, but I received it as a huge gift. Not only did it feel good that some other human actually was interested in enough in the hodgepodge of words I’d put together to take time out of their day to read what I’d written, but also that something I wrote actually resonated with someone else. Dare I say made even the slightest positive difference in his life? What a great feeling that was!

It made me consider two things:

1) How much does this feeling get amplified for professional authors, teachers, podcasters, or talk givers, when their messages and insights improve the lives of thousands or even millions of people?!

2) Noticing how good this made me feel, I want to carry forward the practice of voicing my admiration, my noticing, my appreciation of others’ thoughts, words, and actions. It costs me very little and the reward for the other is great! 

THE HUMBLEST OF BEGINNINGS 

When I was younger, I was really into playing music. First piano, then saxophone. I was pretty good. Jazz improvisation came naturally to me. I chose to spend hours in the practice room with a friend, a guitar player, and we would accompany each other (me on tenor sax and him on guitar) playing through jazz standards, fake books, whatever was around the music room in high school. We’d have jam sessions in our other friend’s basement; he was the drummer, of course. After high school, I chose to pursue a practical degree in business, but even still as a Marketing and Entrepreneurship double major, I played in the jazz band at the University of Minnesota my Freshman year. After that, though, I quit. I quit playing music. I was wrapped up in navigating the puzzle of college, of how I could cruise through four years of university with two business degrees as efficiently as possible. Jazz band was a lot of time and only earned me one credit. So I put it aside in pursuit of business. (And parties.)

As my life continued, the distance from the time I’d last played music widened. I still enjoyed listening to music (this was the age when P2P servers like Napster and LimeWire were in their prime!), and I loved going to see live shows (one of my college roommates was the drummer in the band Quietdrive). But I never played. I watched with admiration as my friend, the drummer who hosted our high school jam sessions, continued his pursuit of music, moved to L.A., formed bands, created his own music studio, engineered incredible tracks, and crafted a sustainable life in the music industry. (Shoutout to Sam Brawner, Raquel Rodriguez, and Blue Dream Studios. Watch and listen to them perform one of my favorite songs live in their studio: Mile High.) I sometimes wondered, fantasized what my life would have been like had I, at the crossroads of deciding what to pursue in college, chosen music over business. But as happens with so many of us that practice some art when we’re young, the ideas of practicality, of finances, of the “real world” creep in and overtake the artistic side.

It has been a long-standing idea of mine to record my own music. Not to become the next Jon Batiste, not to go on world tours, just to have a setup at my house where I could mess around with music. A musical playground, if you will. I never made the time to make this happen while I was in the working world.

This week, the time finally came. I transformed idea into reality; I set up the ability to record audio in my house. The configuration is beyond basic, but I at least now have the ability to record a microphone, a keyboard, and a guitar into a computer and start playing around with music and sound. As I fired up GarageBand and started tinkering with my first sounds, I felt so giddy I was cackling to myself, having uncontrollable belly laughs, by myself, in my basement. The “music” I was making was complete unskilled trash, but that didn’t matter. The product didn’t matter. I had built a playground for myself, and it felt so damn good to play. 

The most basic music studio in the history of music studios

INSPIRATION ON A DRIVEWAY

On the weekend, my family went over to my friend’s house for his daughter’s fifth birthday. While the kids were busy zooming around their backyard and basement, I took a moment to step into their front yard, free from kids, with another friend of mine. While we know each other pretty well, we are both better friends with the host of the party. In other words, we are friends through the host. He and I got to chatting about the state of the world and of our lives, and I quickly realized he and I share a lot of the same values and views. We got to talking about hiking and camping, and boom! I was hit with a wave of inspiration to see if we could squeak in a camping trip before the temperatures got too cold. But rather than let this idea slip by, like so many ideas of fun activities can do (because they take a certain amount of planning, organization, and effort), I did not leave that birthday party until we had picked a tentative date that appeared to work on each of our calendars. I don’t know if this plan will hold, but I’m excited at the prospect, and I’m sure glad I took a minute to sneak away from the bounce-house to have an actual adult conversation at this otherwise sugar-induced crazy-fest! 

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

As I woke up my youngest on the first day of school, a full two hours earlier than her body had grown accustomed to waking up in the summer on its own clock, she started to rise and sleepily, and somewhat grouchily, told me, “Daddy, I didn’t want to have any mornings this year.” 

 

Oh! And my kids made their own bruschetta with basil and tomatoes from our garden, as well as strawberries, balsamic vinegar, mozzarella cheese, and sourdough bread, hence the featured image on this week’s post. I absolutely love giving them very small portions of chopped up ingredients and then just sitting back and watching as they create their own meals. 

On Sabbatical – Week 14: Safe Space Fosters Deeper Connection

It hit us this week that we are now very likely in the territory of, “we won’t be here this time next year.” Because by this point next year, our plan is to be living in Costa Rica. It helps put things into perspective, to appreciate experiences as they are happening. It’s our last “couple weeks of summer before school starts” in the U.S. Once the leaves start changing, it’ll be the last time I use the leaf blower and rake. Knowing where I am headed in the future helps bring into focus my appreciation for the present. 

The highlight of this week was an evening we spent with friends. We had a magical moment as we sat in a circle in our basement. But first, some context.

We are friends with another couple who live in the same town; close enough we can get to each other’s houses with a long walk. Even though we live so close, life as adults in Western capitalism is so frequently over-busy, and we don’t see each other as often as one might think. So, to combat this, we had started a tradition to make sure that at least one day per summer, we make some time to hang. In the past, we would go out for a day date (while the kids were in school); we called it our “Bougie Day.” Bougie Day to us meant driving to a fancier part of the Twin Cities, near a lake, and hanging out at a park or a beach to picnic and watch the boats. Perhaps we’d venture to a brewery or an ice cream shop if we were feeling especially bougie. 

As our scheduled day approached, though, I was still in decompression mode from our road trip to Canada. Going out and about sounded less like fun and more like work. When Kristyn and I asked ourselves what it was we really wanted, we realized that all we wanted was to have good quality time and conversation with our friends. (When we get into deep, heartfelt conversations about things that matter, Kristyn, sometimes, refers to this as “getting woo.”) So we proposed a flipping of the script, to change our upcoming Bougie Day into a “Woo-ugie Day,” where we’d hang at our friends’ house during the day, pick up our kids, and then spend the evening at our house. They accepted the proposal. 

Now what made this day particularly memorable was the evening portion at our house. After the kids were in bed, the four adults descended to our basement. We had no real agenda, just four friends sipping some tasty beverages and chatting away. At one point, our gal friend had mentioned an experience she’d had where someone had done a sort of cued meditation for her, where the purpose was to listen and connect to her Inner Wisdom. I asked her if she remembered what the cues were, the verbal prompts that the guide had used. She answered, “Well, it was a pretty straightforward process. It started like you would a ‘normal’ meditation, by closing your eyes and taking some deep breaths.” In that moment, I immediately closed my eyes. I sat in a relaxed pose with a half-smile. I focused on my breath. I had no idea what the other two in the room (Kristyn and our other friend) were doing or thinking as they saw me doing this, but despite my faint curiosity, I didn’t peek. I wanted to practice and demonstrate getting comfortable in a group meditation setting – something many might feel is awkward or uncomfortable. I thought it would be fun to play along as if she was my meditation guide, to see if she would be able to lead me to a similar experience she’d had. She continued with the verbal cues, and before long she arrived at, “… and now your inner wisdom is there with you. Notice them. Notice if they have a shape. Notice how they make you feel…” 

What happened in the next moment is what was so great and surprising. Instantly, our guy friend, the one I least expected to be playing along with this exercise, said, “I just got a really clear image of my Inner Wisdom. Whoa!” He didn’t elaborate in the moment, and everyone held safe space for the calm mood to continue. The meditation carried on for a few minutes, and eventually she wrapped it up. As I opened my eyes, I saw the other two do the same. As we shared how that experience had gone for each of us, our guy friend explained that he had never done any sort of guided meditation before and definitely had never seen or connected with his Inner Wisdom before. I can’t say for sure what everyone else was feeling right then, but it seemed to me we were all sharing in a deeper togetherness than when we had first walked down into the basement. 

I love those moments in life where something great happens, where I get some burst of joy, and I can look directly back at the choices I made which led to that moment. It’s also cool to notice how other’s choices and actions are linked with your own. Had my gal friend not chosen to share her guided meditation story, had she not felt comfortable or secure enough in our group relationship to open up about it, then this experience wouldn’t have happened. Had I not responded with immediate compliance and deference to her cues, and instead just listened as if she were telling any old story about what she’d done last week, then again, we would not have had that shared experience and my friend would not have made this deep connection to his voice within. 

It’s easy to be afraid of looking weird, of seeming different, of what others might be thinking. If I can muster the courage to follow my intuition and to be vulnerable regardless of the circumstance, great moments are on the other side. 

We close with my favorite quote of the week, when my family was out in the yard, and Kristyn and I watched as the kids wandered into our garage and out of our sight. Kristyn looked over to me, gave a half shrug, and said, “They’ll find a way to need what they find.” 

 

 



My Sabbatical – Week 4 – Prioritizing Pursuits And Accepting The Truth Of My Actions

A sabbatical is glorious in many ways, and it also has its challenges. With the stripping away of a more rigid daily and weekly structure, with a reduction of commitments and obligations, which grants me additional free time to allocate as I choose, comes a challenge. A challenge of variety, of options, of opportunities, of… open-endedness. There are many endeavors I wish to pursue, and all of them require minutes of the day (although some, such as living more mindfully, can be practiced throughout the day). How to prioritize? I have many goals I want to tackle all at once. I want everything to happen now. I want to be fluent in Spanish. I want to have five songs written and produced. I want five boxes to fill themselves of the stuff we don’t need and donate themselves to places and people that will use them. I want this blog to write itself. There are ten different website updates I want to make to this very site, not to mention the three other websites I want to be building, but each little change takes me ages since everything is a first, and firsts have a steep learning curve. And I know this kind of sounds impossible and “woe is me,” but even though I don’t have a day job right now, even with all those extra hours in the week, it’s still hard to make time for all of these things. Or even half of them! What things make the cut and which get left for later? This is the mental battle of my early sabbatical. 

I’ve noticed, though, that I am making time for certain things. I am preparing (and happily eating) home-cooked food daily. I’ve set up an exercise space in the basement and am getting out on the sand volleyball courts regularly. I am saying “yes” to my kids almost whenever they ask to play with me. Perhaps it turns out that the actions I’m making time for are my top priorities. We are what we do. 

Impromptu scooter ride midday on a weekday, because on sabbatical, Dad says, “Yes!”

One of the goals or tasks I keep writing down on my various lists is the project of purging. I’ve been wanting to purge, purge, purge. Strip things down. Declutter our house. Declutter my mind. But with planning for international travel coming up next week and trying to live slowly and not be too “busy,” I haven’t been making room for big purge projects. However, one thing I have been doing is playing with my kids and being present with them. Maybe that’s a fair trade-off? Maybe that’s what this week of sabbatical is supposed to be about. If I had been on a decluttering spree and grinding away at my laundry list of hobbies, I would have missed the following interaction with my kid.

With a delightfully tactful and simply-stating-an-observation tone, I had commented, loud enough for my kid to hear, on how hard it is to see any portion of the actual wood floor in our playroom. Any parent can relate. The kid stopped, eyed the playroom up and down, and turned their head to me and replied, “Daddy, I think we have too many toys.” Oh, I agree, young one. I agree. And so, without any further prodding or encouragement needed, we purged. Now, it was not the poetic, total toyroom overhaul that it could have been, but together, we picked up stuff and agreed whether it should be shelved or binned. 

And so, by letting go of the perceived need to be self-improving and making progress doing my long list of goals, and simply being a present father with my child, I not only got some decluttering done, but I also had a positive, bonding moment with my child. 

Letting go is getting me where I want to go. 

 

TANGENTIAL PARENTING HACK: If your 4-7 year old kid doesn’t enjoy “picking up” the play room or bedroom, suggest “neating” instead. Our kids all out sprint the other way when we mention picking up a room, but if we neat it, carefully replacing items to their homes ever so delicately and neatly like a member of the royal family might, oh, neating is so much fun! 

 

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF SILENCE

Sunday, June 12, 2022

I messed up earlier today. I intervened when I should have done nothing. Or rather, I spoke instead of silence. Silence is tragically underrated. Silence is where magic happens. A silent lake at night divulges a loon’s call from miles away. Silent, tantric stares with your partner can unlock an unknown depth of intimacy. Silence is where you learn. 

My co-parent and our kids were having a calm, strategic bedtime negotiation around the remaining screen time of the night, and since it was a “Mommy Night” (we trade bedtime nights), I was doing my job, which at that point was to stare out the window and do nothing. Be a fly on the wall. Let what happens, happen. And then, all of a sudden, I wasn’t doing my job. During a pause in the mildly tense but perfectly under control negotiation, I commented that, “this conversation is sure taking a long time,” attempting and failing to imply the logic of, “think of all the minutes of screen time we could have gotten by now had we simply agreed on something and started watching.” I just couldn’t help myself from intervening and trying to help the situation. The thing is, the intent of offering assistance doesn’t make all actions right. And the discomfort I felt in that moment is a me problem. 

Upon conversation with my partner and further reflection, many of my missteps in life stem from an underlying tendency toward perfectionism. A sense of editing and revision to live every moment with maximum efficiency, maximum rightness. Why is that instinct there, to always be improving, always be optimizing, maximizing, even if it doesn’t matter? I have a few ideas, and I’m also jotting it down as a future journal prompt for further unpacking. 

Ultimately, I need to trust my partner to live their own parenting journey. And I need to trust my children to have their own journey. From every stumble, at least I can always learn. 

 

REFLECTION FROM A HAMMOCK: BEING OUTDOORS IS BLISS

Sunday, June 12, 2022 continued…

I had been on such a high to come out in the gazebo tonight and write. I got what felt like a huge breakthrough earlier tonight by taking “one teaspoon more” as I embarked on nighttime cleanup duty, which started out with picking up the front yard while it was still light out. 

When it’s a Mommy Night for bedtime, it’s a Daddy Night for cleanup. I ventured out to pick up the day’s toys, chairs, and miscellanea. I left the camping hammock suspended between our two Eastern White Pines for last. It was a gorgeous Minnesota summer night, and the sun was just about to set over the neighbor’s house to the west. But I had cleanup chores to do and a long list of personal hobbies to pursue after that, so I briskly unclipped the hammock from its straps and had it half packed into its stuff-sack when I froze. I looked up and the pink and orange setting sun and thought to myself, “What the heck are you doing right now? You love sunsets and this weather is lush.” And so rather than charge ahead on my task list, I slowed down, reattached the hammock, and sank in to a reflective meditation by sunset. And laying there, ever so gently rocking back and forth, gazing up at the canopy overhead and the drifting clouds above, I had the following epiphany. 

You can sum up one of my truest pleasures in life in two words: being outdoors.

These are phrases transcribed from the 4:22 Voice Memo I captured on my phone while in that hammock meditation: 

  • “I find myself realizing that being outdoors does bring me joy. It’s as simple as those two words. Being outdoors. … Every time. Every time I’m connecting with nature, it brings this overwhelming sense of peace, where I feel like I can actually… touch my soul, feel my soul.”
  • “It feels… indulgent. Like I’m somehow not deserving of just sitting outside and enjoying the sunset, like I should be doing other, more productive, things. For my family. For myself. But… this is nourishing myself. Just, chillin’ horizontally, on a hammock, with my weight suspended, with a gorgeous sunset, underneath a forest canopy, is… one of the best things there is in life! And I just need to remember that in my day to day. When I’m outdoors, my bucket is getting full.”
  •  (Tangential commentary on the benefits of hammocks): “There’s something about the way a hammock works on your body… because you’re horizontal, because your hips are relieved of any pressure, the opposite of when you’re sitting… because you have this anti-gravity posture, it feels like you’re… cheating, like you’ve found the loophole of physics to allow your body to relax. It’s like the same tranquility of floating in water, but without all the work of paddling and holding your breath, not to mention the needing-to-find-a-spot-to-swim bit.”

I can’t get over how cool it is to be experiencing the recurring theme that slowing down and doing less results in more clarity, more joy, and, paradoxically, more progress

 

MUSIC IS MY MUSE

Sunday, June 12, 2022 concluded…

Eventually, the sun did set, and duty called. It was time to put away the dishes away, so I headed inside and popped in my AirPods. I’m washing, listening to this “Wondewall” remix on SoundCloud, and I’m dancing, quite well I might say, and it’s hitting me, that dancing may be a “tier two” passion of mine. If I’m being honest, I’m no Michael Jackson, but I do have rhythm. I started playing piano at 6 and played until middle/high school, where I transitioned to saxophone. I also played drums in the church youth band. I played a few small-town gigs in a jazz combo. I went on to play in Jazz Band at the University of Minnesota. I’m constantly tapping out percussive beats and improvising goofy song lyrics with my kids. And yeah, when it’s dishes time, I drop in the AirPods and get my dance on. Is there any better way to get the dishes done than to dance with them?

It’s good to acknowledge your strengths. I believe there is huge benefit to leaning into one’s strengths. And as vulnerable as I feel writing this, that I will come across as arrogant, I believe that it’s OK to be proud of my skills and that there is power in naming things, and so I will name that I have a skill of shared rhythm with my kids. Shared rhythm is one of the many concepts I’ve learned from Kristyn, and I believe that it’s an area that I often excel in, and I’m connecting just now that it may be in part because I’m a naturally rhythmic person. Shared rhythm is not necessarily percussive, of course; having a back and forth conversation or going for a walk together are also shared rhythm. But in the literal sense, I can feel things click with the young ones. For example, when my kids ask me to do “Run-Unders” with them, they are referring to me dribbling an extra large yoga ball, in our basement, as high as I can without ricocheting back off the ceiling, in a consistent, steady beat, so they can time out a sprint underneath without getting tagged by the ball. It’s wicked fun, and in the game we share the rhythm of the bouncing ball. (Of course, the huge yoga ball does eventually crash into them, but only when they choose the rhythm of silliness and stopping mid-sprint to let it crash into them, at which point I let go of the old game and pivot to align with the rhythm of silliness.) 

Then it was time to do the dishes for real, not just dance to a remix of Oasis’ crowd-pleasing masterpiece from the 90’s, and I switched over to Spotify. Spotify is one of the few apps I happily pay for every month. It’s a rare subscription bill I look at and am 100% at peace with paying. I absolutely love having the world’s music at my fingertips. Of its many delightful features, Spotify’s algorithm customizes a set of six “Daily Mix” playlists tailored to your listening habits and grouped by an overall “feel,” with “Daily Mix 1” typically being more of your frequently played, go-to songs, with Daily Mix 6 being the collection of the 10 random songs of that one obscure genre you secretly like and rarely, but every so often, listen to. I hadn’t used this feature in a while, and today, Spotify curated the most serendipitously customized “Daily Mix 1” to not only my specific, eclectic taste in music, but did so in a series of 8 or 9 songs in a row that perfectly fit the mold of the mood I wanted to be in. First with a couple blood pumping, foot-stomping jams like “LIGHT” by Parcels and Jungle’s “Smile,” then into a more relaxed, but still toe-tappin bass line of Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up – Pt. 1”, and then slower still with a brand new release from Jacob Collier featuring Lizzy McAlpine and John Mayer, “Never Gonna Be Alone”… and as I’m writing this about music, it is really hitting me that music, rhythm, dance… these also are things that make my soul shine through.

Being outdoors, music, good food, family… what more does a man need?

And yet, even as I’m dancing away, synchronizing my dish scrubs and rinses with the beat of some of my favorite tunes by my favorite artists, allowing the rhythms and melodies to take over my body, in my own house… I’m noticing that it’s hard to truly, truly let go, to truly be the wacky, shirtless dish dancer that my soul wants to be. I think up more outrageous dance moves than I actually allow my body to do, even when no one is watching. It’s like there is this deeply rooted fear of judgment of others, fear of doing things someone might judge me for doing, fear of doing something other than what society expects me to do. 

Above all else, I need to allow me to be myself.

 

FINAL THOUGHT 

Writing is hard. I’ve had different pieces of this post written for a while. Procrastination gets the best of me. Steven Pressfield’s “Resistance” is real. It’s easy to find excuses to do anything but simply opening up a blank page and starting to write. Self-judgment. Perfectionism. Resistance takes many forms, and they all get in the way of doing the work. I suppose I am grateful to have made the first step, which is acknowledging their presence and typing this paragraph anyway.

OK, enough yammering, onward to Week 5 – a week in Costa Rica!

 

My Sabbatical – Weeks 2 and 3: Alone in the Woods, Mini Retirement Happy Hour, and Conversations With Partners

It’s astonishing how difficult it is to slow the speed of life down. Just as a train in motion cannot stop at a moment’s notice, a “normal busy American suburban life” has a lot of inertia behind it. Not only are there tangible, logistical things that “need” doing, like taking the kids where they need to go, mowing the lawn, and managing bills, but there is also the internal learned behavior of busyness, that being in a state of doing is good, productive, what one is supposed to do. And it took my venturing deep into the woods along the North Shore of Minnesota to realize just how deep that learned behavior runs within me. 

A FEW NIGHTS ALONE IN THE WOODS: REFLECTIONS ON FUEL, COMFORT, AND THE INERTIA OF LIFE

On Friday, May 27, 2022, I drove four hours north to George H. Crosby Manitou State Park for a three-night solo camping trip. It was my first-ever attempt at using a hike-in campsite, where my vehicle would be parked over a mile away my camp.

Overflowing backpack

I may have overpacked…

George H. Crosby Manitou State Park Entrance

Hiking on the Superior Hiking Trail at the entrance of George Crosby Manitou State Park

It wasn’t until I was a few hundred feet above the forest canopy, at a gorgeous scenic lookout point I did not even know I was hiking to, that I finally allowed myself to stop. I had been go-go-go, wanting to see all the coolest parts of the trails and check off as many boxes as I could, and when I reached this beautiful, peaceful lookout, a little voiced whispered in my head the phrase, “One teaspoon more.”

This is a notion I learned from Kristyn during our couple’s retreat this past winter; it’s the concept of allowing yourself the time and mustering the mindfulness to enjoy one more morsel of whatever you are experiencing that is bringing you joy. Perhaps you’re at the park with your kids and it’s time to go, but your kid is loving being pushed on the swings, or maybe you are giving a loved one a hug and it feels really good but it’s already been a few seconds and you’re approaching the time where it feels like you’re “supposed to” disengage, or perhaps you are quite literally cooking a delicious meal that calls for a tasty ingredient – whatever the case may be, you mindfully acknowledge that what you want is One Teaspoon More, believe that you deserve One Teaspoon More, and so you take the action and enjoy One Teaspoon More.

As I sat above the trees, on a perfect perch with a flat rock as a seat and another perfectly positioned boulder behind as a backrest, overlooking the forest with no one around but the birds circling in front of me, resting in the most beautiful spot I had seen in over three days in the woods, I found myself compelled not to take pictures, not to meditate, not to sit and soak it in, but to leave! I had been sitting for maybe two whole minutes and then stood up to walk away. Why? My brain was telling me, “OK, this was cool, onto the next thing. There’s probably other great stuff out there that you’re missing by just sitting here. Stop wasting time you lazy fool!” I had stood up and taken two steps away from the perch when Kristyn’s voice whispered in my head, “One Teaspoon More,” which was exactly what I needed to hear. I sat back down and breathed in nature’s beauty for another 10-15 minutes. I did nothing. It was glorious. And it served as a smack-in-the-face lesson for me that slowing down and taking One Teaspoon More is not easy. It takes practice. It takes mindfulness. And it is so worth it.  

Enjoying one teaspoon more of this tranquil view above Tettegouche State Park

 

Two other big themes emerged from my time in natural solitude: Fuel and Comfort.

Fuel. We need fuel to survive. Fuel is a critical component of any survival situation, and we ought to be more mindful of the fuel we use to propel and nourish our lives. The notion struck me while I was gathering firewood on night one of my outing; the skies were clear and many downed branches lay in and around my site. I did not bring a saw or hatchet with me, so I was relegated to using whatever fire fuel I could scrounge up with my bare hands. After a period of gathering, I looked at my stick pile and thought, “OK, this is the amount of fuel I have for the fire, and it will have to be enough.” Once I had gathered the firewood, I washed up and started boiling water over a very small backpacking stove. This stove uses a fuel canister to burn. The act of needing to gather my own firewood and noticing that I had to pack a fuel canister with me in order to cook made me more conscious of just how important fuel is to living things. 

One obvious form of fuel is food; as mammals, we need to fuel our bodies with calories, vitamins, and other nutrition to give our bodies energy. How one obtains, prepares, preserves, and consumes fuel has an enormous impact on one’s health and well-being. Am I in right relationship with the sources of my food fuel? How much fuel do I waste on a weekly basis? What steps could I take to plan ahead and prepare batches of fuel in advance, minimizing wasted time and fuel? 

But we also fuel ourselves in other ways. Consider mental fuel. Educating ourselves is fuel for our minds. As children, our brains are hungry to learn, hungry for mental fuel.  We can’t get enough of it. As we get older, do we get complacent? Am I giving my brain the fuel it needs to stay sharp and to learn new things every day? If I watch television or play a video game, what am I fueling my mind with? 

How about emotional and spiritual fuel? What activities, people, conversations, and meditations fill me with the emotions I enjoy and the spiritual sustenance I need? What practices can I put into place to mindfully keep my emotional and spiritual fuel tanks full? 

 

Comfort. When you’re out in the woods with only a backpack, your resources are limited. Resources is another word for comfort. If you have the resource of a couch, you have more comfort. If you are rich with food resources, you have the comfort of not needing to obtain food. Even more comfort if the food is prepared for you. If you have financial resources, then you have the comfort of not needing to put every penny to its absolute most critical use. Climate-controlled houses, grab-and-go food, smart refrigerators that tell you when you’re out of eggs – many of us live with way, way more comfort than we need to live a happy and healthy life. 

“How much comfort do I need?” “How does that compare to how much comfort I have?” Exploring these questions may provide some keen personal insights. But there’s an even more interesting question, which is, “How much comfort do I actually want?” For example, do I actually want to pay someone to maintain my yard, which on the surface provides me the comfort of not needing to do that task, but also puts me out of connection with the land I live on? Do I really want to buy a cheeseburger from the drive-thru, which will satisfy my immediate hunger, but will also unnecessarily contribute to global warming by eating beef (which generates more greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of food produced, by far, than any other type of food) and generate extra trash for a landfill, when I could just drive the extra five minutes to get home and eat some trail mix and a salad made from the planter boxes in my backyard? 

 

AN ANTI-CLIMACTIC CORPORATE SEND-OFF… WITH A SURPRISE TWIST!

On May 19, 2022, I quit my job in advertising sales. In a hybrid work environment with many varied team members working remotely on any given day, a last day at a job can be a little underwhelming. Over two thirds of my coworkers were working from home on my final afternoon on the job. I had worked on this team for the majority of my 30’s, put in hundreds of hard-working weeks, consistently surpassed sales quotas, collaborated on scores of commercial video productions, and closed some of the biggest deals the TV station had ever seen, and the final fanfare on the day of departure amounted to a pair of fist bumps from the managers who were the in-office managers that day. This would not do. 

So I concocted a plan, and on Thursday, June 2, I had a going away happy hour at a restaurant patio near the station, to which I invited over 50 current and former coworkers. People I had worked with closely over the years: fellow sellers, support staff, and managers. I received some enthusiastic affirmatives, as well as some declines, which is to be expected for any event. These people had other obligations, their kid was sick, they had another event they were going to, and so on. No sweat former work compadre, live your life! There were a good number of people, though, that either said they were going to come and, for one reason or another, did not, or they did not reply to the invitation. These are people that I considered some of my closest professional relationships, people whose company I genuinely enjoyed and wanted more of. And we’re talking about more than a handful of people here. This brought to light for me two things.

One is that it made me sad. Sad for our system, our society. People are overworked and are stretching themselves too thin, and it’s not entirely their fault. Yes, we make choices on how full we fill our plates, and many of us could stand to rethink how full of activity our lives are, but we don’t always get to choose everything. With the huge ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in the workforce, as so many people are making career changes, more is being asked of loyal employees. If someone leaves a company, the people remaining have to pick up the slack until a new hire is found, which can take weeks or months. Bandwidth is a real issue affecting organizations everywhere. 

I do believe that there are a group of my former coworkers that truly did want to come join in the gathering, but their lives are just so busy that they prioritized or were obligated to something else above saying farewell to me. Now, I freely acknowledge I’ve said no to or avoided many social activities when I was working, with an excuse about having little kids and this or that other obligation or that I’m just so busy I don’t have time for this. But I realize now, when you are the person that is hosting the get together, when you are going to be a center of attention, when you are the one hoping to see someone, and those someones don’t show, it doesn’t feel great. It means a lot to someone to show up to their thing. And so in the future, if I care about someone and I’m invited to their thing, I’m showing up. 

The second thing it makes me realize is just how fickle a professional relationship can be. Perhaps other people are better at transforming a professional relationship into a true, real life friendship friendship than I. I thought I considered many of my former coworkers my friends. And I expected them to show up like a group of my friends from college would show up to a backyard barbecue, but that’s not what happened. Perhaps I could have done more when we worked together, giving more emotionally to those relationships while I was working to make those bonds more concrete after leaving work. That’s a lesson I’m going to take with me in whatever future work I do, in whatever future organizations I am a part of – that if there are coworkers I really enjoy as people, beyond the bounds of the work, I will put extra energy into making sure those relationships are strong enough to survive either one of our organizational exits.

As with many things in life, though, there was a silver lining. One of my former coworkers who did show up, Andrew, was heading straight from our restaurant to downtown Minneapolis for the Purple Block Party – a Prince tribute event celebrating the completion of a 100-foot Prince mural near the iconic music venue First Avenue. I seized the opportunity and joined him for an impromptu night of music and fun. Live music always brings joy to my soul. So while it wasn’t the night I was expecting, I think I actually enjoyed myself more than had things gone according to plan. Plans are overrated! 

Prince Mural Block Party

Coworker Holly gifted me the hat for future travels!

 

CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS WITH YOUR PARTNER

Before the happy hour get together, I took the kids to school and then went for a walk to the lake with Kristyn, which turned into an impromptu conversation about our relationship, last two entire impromptu hours!

We were going to make breakfast, we had just made a pot of coffee, and we were starting to sip our coffee when Kristyn asked me if I wanted to watch some more of an online lesson video about this philosophy called Quantum Energetics. I had watched the first 20 minutes of this hour-long video with her the day before, and it was interesting but also not life-changing to me, so I replied by telling her I didn’t want to watch any more of it and that she could just watch it herself. This spurred a long conversation about how our dynamic will work in this new normal, the new normal of our mutual unemployment/self-employment. A mode where both of us are exploring new territories, learning new things and wanting to share those learnings and insights with the other person, but that other person has their own interests and learnings to be absorbing, and even without a day job, there’s only so much mental bandwidth one has and only so many hours in the day. How do we make space for it all?

It was one of the many conversations we’ve had over the last few months that I don’t think we would’ve had even just a year or two ago, at least not in as healthy a way that we did. It was an uncomfortable conversation. We both had opinions and feelings and, for me, those kinds of conversations can be hard to navigate. You know, ones with feelings involved. That’s scary stuff for many of us men! It can be hard to do the balancing act of expressing your own thoughts and feelings accurately, truly hearing what the other person is saying, letting what they say sink in, and work toward some mutual resolution/conclusion/next steps.

I explained how I love it when Kristyn teaches me things, but I only have so much bandwidth to learn about her favorite topics in addition to pursuing my own areas of interest, so we ended up coming up with the idea of having a weekly “Kristyn Class,” where over the course of the week I will have one assigned reading or lesson to watch and then we’ll make some time to discuss and debrief. It should be a great way to help Kristyn prioritize the things she wants to share with me most, which will also be a motivator for me to dive right in and know that it’s a manageable amount of content. 

I’m very grateful that we are at a point in our relationship where we can have these conversations and grow together from it. Looking forward to studying up in future sessions of Kristyn Class! 

Next up is preparing for a family trek to Costa Rica. More on that in the next sabbatical post! 

 

Getting “Radio Silence” From a Prospect? You Might Be Barking Up the Wrong Tree

“Persistence” may be the most frequently used word across all sales training videos, books, blogs, and seminars. And it’s for good reason; most B2B sales require relentless, tactful persistence in order to get on a prospect’s radar and close a deal. 

But what do you when persistence isn’t paying off? You’ve done your research, identified a high quality prospective client, found the ideal contact within the business, communicated your Valid Business Reason for reaching out, and diligently called, emailed, and messaged over social media (probably LinkedIn)… and all you’re getting is the dreaded proverbial “radio silence.” (Aside: when we will come up with a 2.0 version of this term? Does anyone even know where the phrase “radio silence” comes from anymore? Maybe we should replace “radio silence” with the “loading screen?”) So, what now? 

Do you just wait until you’ve hit that point where you’re ready to cut bait and move on to the next prospect? Or is there another way? 

It may be worth revisiting your assumptions in your initial research and prep work. You thought that person was the ideal contact because of something you read or because their job title matches that of your typical client. But you never know… if you found that person’s information on LinkedIn, maybe they are actually no longer with the company and just haven’t updated their LinkedIn profile in a while. Maybe they are out on an extended vacation or on parental leave. Maybe they’ve switched roles. You never know why someone isn’t returning your messages. Don’t assume. 

A wise sales manager once gave me this advice, and it’s a great sales strategy to live by: 

Always develop at least two relationships with any client. 

You’ll likely have a primary contact and a secondary contact, but investing time in developing a relationship with that secondary contact is crucial to long term success. Say your primary contact takes a new job. Typically you’d be starting over from square one with this client, but since you know Greg the Service Manager or Susie the Receptionist or Michael the Executive Assistant or Lisa the Coordinator… you can maintain the conversation with your client and have a smoother inroad to the new decision-maker. 

This same strategy applies while you’re prospecting, too. 

I once tried, hard, to get a meeting with a Marketing Director of a local credit union. Over the span of two months I sent her nine emails and left her eight voicemails. These were high quality, value-adding touchpoints where I showed detailed research to explain why I was calling and offered up three idea-starters to get a conversation going. Never got a single response. I was about to give up. And then I remembered…

Always develop at least two relationships with any client. 

I went back to the drawing board to search for another contact at the credit union. Maybe it wouldn’t be the ideal decision maker, but I could try to connect with someone that knows my main contact and come at it sideways. 

I sent the very first email I’d send to the primary to my new secondary contact. Forty minutes later I got a reply. Meeting set for the following day. And it turns out he was actually the “primary” contact’s boss

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut in Sales. Don’t give up if one person is giving you the silent treatment. Go impress someone else at the company and success will follow. 


I’d love to know of a time where you used this out in the business world, or if you have another sales hack you use to shake things up when you’re getting radio silence. Tell me about it in the comments!

The Secret to Better Relationships: Tell Your Brain “No.”

There are conversations, and there are meaningful conversations. How do we have more of the latter? 

In Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss, Jon Call (aka Jujimufu) was asked “what one of his new behaviors or habits has helped him most in the last five years?” His answer (paraphrased): 

Tell your brain “no” when it wants to relate a conversation you’re having with someone to a “bigger” story. Let the desire go to “one-up” someone’s story with your own. The loss of the opportunity to possibly impress someone is far outweighed by what you learn when you ask more questions. 

We’ve all had the impulse. A story one of your colleagues is telling about their Spring Break trip to Jamaica transports your mind back three years ago when your family spent a week in Ocho Rios over the holidays. And you’ve got that hilarious story about how, with the rest of the tour group watching, you and your brother just could not get your dune buggy up that hill! Is interjecting that story at your colleague’s first breath really adding the most value to the conversation? When instead you could ask your colleague to elaborate on any number of things from their experience: how was it traveling with their new spouse? What did they find most intriguing about the local culture? Did they have any noteworthy interactions with the locals?  

Think about it from a selfish standpoint. If you believe every person has value, every human has something to offer, then why wouldn’t you take every opportunity you get to learn, to expand your perspective, and to deepen your relationship with and understanding of that person? 

Let’s take a business example. You sit down to meet with someone in person for the first time. Maybe you’re in Sales and you are sitting down with a prospective client. Maybe you’re in a job interview. Maybe you’re at a networking event. In any of these business situations, you have the inevitable “ice breaker” introduction moment. Some number of seconds or minutes spent on connecting with that other person on a topic outside the real purpose behind your meeting. Current events and the weather tend to get the lion’s share of these conversational exchanges. It doesn’t always happen, but it’s delightful when, in this “ice breaker period,” you actually do make a meaningful connection of some kind. You find a few square feet of common ground; perhaps you have a mutual acquaintance, Linda. Your new contact used to work with Linda at their previous employer. You know Linda from university. So, as you stumble upon this fun fact and your new contact says, “I worked with Linda at Company Q,” you have a choice. You can either launch into explaining everything you know about Linda from three years at university, or you could ask a follow up question about their work experience at Company Q. Which of these paths is going to better serve you in developing your relationship with this new contact? Should you ask some questions like, “What was it like working with Linda? How closely did you work together? Oh, you worked on a project together, what was that dynamic like? What did other colleagues say about working with her? If I were to ask her what it was like to work with you, what would she say?” just imagine how much of a deeper understanding you’ll have about your new contact. Isn’t that worth more than getting that story about you and Linda partying hard in the tailgating lot on Homecoming Weekend off your chest?

I’m not saying storytelling is bad. It’s not; it’s essential. It’s not that you should never openly share about your own life. How is anyone supposed to learn about you otherwise? The point is to adopt a mindset of curiosity. Good conversation isn’t about having the “gift of gab” or “being able to keep the conversation going,” it’s about telling your brain “no” when it has impulses to one-up the other’s story or to jump into sharing mode when it should be seizing an opportunity to learn, grow, and connect. 

The next time you’re in a conversation with someone and a self-centered idea pops into your brain, try telling your brain “no” and instead ask a question. You might be surprised what you find out. 


 

I’d love to hear about a time you tried this; what the situation was and what you learned by telling your brain “No.” Let me know in the comments! 

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