Messages in the sand

“death taps us on the shoulder and asks us to encapsulate a life by its loves.  Death is not impressed by what we have done, unless what we have done leaves a legacy of life; death’s tide washes over everything we have taken so long to write in the sand.  What is remembered in all our work is what is still alive in the hearts and minds of others.  ”

David Whyte: Crossing an Unknown Sea

This is a fairly common sentiment, this notion that stuff we do or the things we collect while here are not what is remembered after we are gone.  There was a popular (and wonderful) post floating around a few years ago that beautifully captured this.  But I was struck again by the imagery of David Whyte this morning, this image of death as a wave and our life’s work as writing in the sand.  I immediately thought of my mom and the moment her wave came crashing in.  And this image, this message felt so true to me for the first time.

I don’t remember the things my mom did in her life beyond really how they remind me of her essence, her being.  I do remember with great clarity, emotion, and warmth so many wonderful moments, lessons, and love from her.  I remember her lovingly rubbing my head in a “I’ll always love you, no matter what,” way just days before her death- something only a mother can do.  I remember the excitement and warmth of exploration with her, appreciation for the outdoors and the world’s treasures, and importance of the inner work.  And in remembering all that I experienced with her in her time here, I realized that the the while the wave erased what she wrote, so much of her being and the essence of our time together, shows up in how I write…and in turn helps my being, my presence, my love for my daughter – and thus how she writes.  The work is erased, but the love and spirit provided by our being, is passed forward.

Being Worthy

“We have even a stranger idea: that we will finally fall in love with ourselves only when we have become the totally efficient organized organism we have always wanted to be and left all of our bumbling ineptness behind.  Yet in exactly the way we come to find love and intimacy with others through vulnerability, we come to those same qualities in ourselves through living out the awkwardness of not knowing, of not being in charge.
We try to construct a life in which we will be perfect, in which we will eliminate awkwardness, pass by vulnerability, ignore ineptness, only to pass through the gate of our lives and find, strangely, the gateway is vulnerability in itself.  The very place we are open to the world whether we like it or not. “

This section moved me to tears this morning I must admit.  If I had such wonderful command of the English language as Whyte does, this first sentence could have easily been written by me. This is exactly the lens at which I view myself, or probably more accurately – feel about myself.  My inner critic is very active, and very strong I think for so many reasons but one of them being this notion that when I ultimately get it right and “get there,” I’ll be worthy.  This inner critic, this voice, or my loyal soldier (as some would call them), really just wants to help me “be worthy.” Worthy of what?  I’m not entirely sure.

I’m fascinated and frustrated in this voice, this idea that the only way through is by doing and even more important for me – doing things perfectly.  Perfectly.  And yet as Whyte says, my greatest relationships, the path to love and intimacy and connection with others is through their vulnerability and has nothing to do with their perfection.  It has everything to do with them being fully themselves, strong and the vulnerable, the light and the shadow, the happy and sad.  It is through that openness that we find connection.

When I look at my 9 month old daughter, I feel as if she’s teaching me this in every moment.  She’s simply being, embracing the entirety of herself in the moment, and basking in the presence of unconditional love of those around her – and for herself.  Is she “worthy” because of what she does?  Or simply because of who she is?  That’s such an easy question for me to answer for her, but why not myself?

Why do I care?

My directly next door, as in her door is directly in front of mine, neighbor hates me. No seriously, I’m pretty sure it’s way more than just a strong dislike, I think she legitimately hates me. And it really, really bothers me.

I guess I can’t say for certain it is hate but I have a pretty strong sense. Admittedly, she’s a bit of an odd ball who does seem to be terrified of the world around her. She has added at least 4 deadbolts to her already solid deadbolt and chain. I’ve heard her start to open her deadbolts only to stop when she hears another noise in the hall, and she’s actually very hard to “catch” in broad daylight. I swear, she times her entries and exits when she knows no one will be around. But with me? She’s even stranger.

Now I know one of my struggles is that I really, really want (need?) people to like me. I know this need has gotten me in trouble before in many ways: biting my tongue when I need to speak up, or agreeing to work with someone I shouldn’t, or follow an idea that I knew was wrong. But with her, despite my best efforts to be extremely friendly, and smiley, and courteous – I’m just met with a look. No just a look of of terror, but a look that says she sees me as a legitimate threat to her safety, a look of pure disgust. I’ve never had a look from someone I didn’t know, and probably shouldn’t care to know, make me question my own goodness like hers. But maybe she’s just weird? Maybe she’s just unfriendly? Nope.

Julie and I were at Trader Joe’s a few months ago. At the register behind us, we heard this woman laughing and chatting it up with the cashier. She was asking this person about their day, and joking about the weather, and laughing like they were old friends. My jaw hit the barcode scanner when I turned to see my neighbor as this Chatty Cathy. And even worse…

A few weeks after that I ran into her in the hallway and saw her go piercing me with her terror-hatred eyes to lighting up with smiles and hello’s when another neighbor came into the hall.

I have never done anything to this woman. I’ve never said anything but nice “hello’s” and “how are you,” and held the door or elevator for her. And all I’ve ever gotten back was silence and a piercing look. And it drives me crazy.

Forget the fantasies I’ve had about confronting her and asking why, or sending her a letter pointing out that she fails to live the path she professes to follow (She has a giant sticker of Jesus on the front of her door), why do I care so much?

“What a wonderful opportunity to learn,” a wise teacher and coach once told me. I remember hearing those words with a bit of a frustration, and a desire to plead my case: “They are the problem, not me!” And that is true in this case, but for me the greater lesson in here, the greater gift a hateful neighbor can give, is inspiring the question: Why do I care?

The answer to that question won’t prevent piercing stares, but it will help me grow myself, my relationships, and my capacity as a father. A nice gift, indeed.

Grabbing the Sun

I felt my heart rate jump….

I had just done a quick scan of my inbox on a cold, Saturday in January. Immediately all the things I thought I had failed to deliver, or could be doing, or should be doing, rushed into my head. “Oh shit, I never emailed him that intro!” “Oh man, I said I was going to do that weeks ago.” “Oh, I should really reach out to so and so…” I felt both the impulse to do and run. I paced a bit, I consider ripping open my laptop and then I walked into the other room…and I reset.

There on the floor where she had been happily playing with her toys was my 6 month old daughter, Emmeline.  The toys, however, were not capturing her attention in this moment. Instead she sat with her arms up, attempting the grab the sun. In the early winter afternoon, we have this wonderful, direct stream of sunlight coming through our “living room” (this is a NYC apt after all). Our dog, Izzy, knows this all too well and she perfectly follows its arc throughout our apartment, soaking up the heat and stinking up the room with her pants. As I stood there in the doorway, I felt like I had caught Emmeline discovering the sun for the very first time. She saw the beams and was grabbing for them, perplexed how they seemed to be there and yet untouchable. I felt my heart rate go down, and my heart fill up. It was a simple thing in a simple moment, and yet it felt so big. It not only felt like one of many “firsts,” I get to witness as a father, but also another lesson from her. It’s often discussed, and I often ignore it, but in that moment I noticed the many things I take for granted in my life. The things that fall away like extras on a movie set, or background music in a coffee shop – things you don’t really notice until they are awkwardly removed. For Emmeline they are not extras or background music, they are on a long list of things to be noticed, discovered, explored and appreciated. And in her example, in that moment, I noticed again the beams of sun, I appreciated the warmth, and I felt better.

Edit the script

I was there again…

Sitting by the East River, a warm July breeze on my face, whipping myself up into an anxious frenzy about what I thought someone else was thinking about me. Again. What the hell?

I’ve gotten quite good over the years at this very thing, constantly running through in my mind a conversation someone is either having, with themselves or with someone else, about me.  And it is always negative, and it usually is about what I’m either doing wrong or not doing.

“What’s Dan actually doing?”

“Why did Dan do it this way? What was he thinking?”

“Do I/we really need to keep working with Dan?”

They all really are the same internal Dan voice asking the question: “Am I good enough?”

It’s a script I’ve seen before.  It’s one of my favorites, I think.

What’s funny to think about, as I sit here now and relive many of these anxious moments, is not ONCE has the other person / people even been in the same ballpark with their thoughts.  In the moments I’ve had the courage to share these anxious thoughts with them, they can barely keep their surprise from their face.  It’s like we were living in two different worlds. (It’s worth noting, that there is such great relief in just expressing these fears to the other person, even before they assure you those are just your thoughts and not theirs).

But what popped into my mind on this warm July evening, while soaking up the alternating East River smells of ocean and rot, was very different.  I was thinking of my daughter, Emmeline, who by then was barely 3 weeks old.

“Is this the example you want to set for her?  Is this what you want to teach her?”

It was a new voice within me, one that felt stronger and more secure than I am used to.  It was a voice I had no choice but to listen to.  Maybe it was my first real chance to realize that I had an opportunity to not just be a dad, but to actually BE a Dad.  This meant being an example, a teacher, a person living with a new approach guided by the life lessons and work of 32 years. Not a person who succumbed to their unproductive internal scripts again and again.

Almost like the flip of a switch, I felt the internal dialog of doubt quiet.  It knew it was now falling on deaf ears.  I still spoke to the other person, expressing these anxieties, but not in pursuit of their assurance but in pursuit of growth.  Growth in a friendship and a partnership, but also growth within.

I know I can’t save my beautiful daughter from her own unproductive scripts, her own monsters in her head, that’s just part of the human experience, but I can sure as hell save her from mine. I’m her Dad.


I’m a lucky Dad..


Special Friends Day (and “Power Grandpas”)

My niece Olivia at work


I was nominated for “Special Friends Day,” about 2 weeks ago for my niece’s school and, well, since I’m not crazy, I accepted.  OK, I wasn’t nominated, nor was anyone else, it’s just a day for grandparents or relatives to come in and spend some time with the kids at school.  Nonetheless, I was thrilled and honored for the “nomination,” and grateful I was able to spend some special time, one on one, with my niece, Olivia.

During the snacks and stories, all the kids sat around in a big circle enjoying pizza and drinking some water while one of the teachers read stories.  I couldn’t help but notice one of the other special friends standing right in front of me, likely a Grandfather, who was very well dressed in an expensive suit.  He just seemed irritated, and was constantly checking his phone, like he had an itch he couldn’t stop scratching.  I noticed this and thought it was a little rude, but it didn’t really bother me that much.

But at one point his special friend, his grandson, announced he was out of water.  The teacher, who was reading a story to the other 30 kids, didn’t immediately notice the child’s call for water.  Without skipping a beat, the “power Grandpa” huffed and puffed in disgust when his grandson was not immediately serviced and went to the front of the room to refill the water, his grandson’s water, with a look of extreme irritation on his face.  I immediately felt anger bubble up within me…”Who is this guy?” “Who does he think he is?”  “Does he think this is a 5 star restaurant?” I was amazed at how quickly I went from just enjoying being a part of my niece’s world to feeling angry and somewhat disgusted.  An almost 180 degree change in my mood in the moment all without a word from “Power Grandpa.”  But that was my fault, my own doing, not his.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” 
― Viktor E. FranklMan’s Search for Meaning

I first read Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” in high school and I have to admit it didn’t really stick then. I marveled at his story, and his incredible will to learn, to recognize and hold his great power within truly horrible conditions (For those who don’t know, check out wikipedia link).  But in recent years his words and lessons have resonated more for me.

Along with Viktor Frankl, Stephen Covey discusses this notion quite a bit.  Covey rightfully points out that our minds are constantly receiving outside stimulus and often times we’re simply responding without any awareness. What makes us different from animals, he says, is we have a very real choice in the gap between stimulus and response. We can choose how we respond, how we perceive the stimulus in our own lives and yet we rarely do.  I certainly let PG (Power Grandpa) trigger a grumpy response in an otherwise happy moment.  I forfeited my choice.

It’s important to point out that having this choice doesn’t mean we can’t ever be annoyed with the PG’s of the world.  I mean the guy was being a bit of a jerk, so being annoyed is probably warranted in that situation.  But it is even more important to understand that I was part of that situation, an active and responsible party, and I was choosing to be bothered by him.  I could have gone a different direction.  I didn’t have to allow his behavior to affect me, and could have easily ignored him or dismissed him.  I could have given him a pass…maybe it was a rough day, or a rough week, stressful work situation or a rough moment for an otherwise friendly guy. Who knows?

Ultimately I’m grateful for my little PG interaction as it served as a real life reminder…in each moment, the choice is mine.

(I have said many times before…I’m trying to write more.  I felt more compelled to write this post as I’m working on my own little short list of “Things I’ve learned” for my soon to be born son or daughter, who is due any day now.  I will write weekly, with some baby disruptions, going forward.)

I took Facebook off my phone

Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook
Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook (Photo credit: Wikipedia)..Not all his fault


I took Facebook off of my phone a few weeks ago and not only do I not miss it, I feel so much better it’s gone.  I have to wonder, does constantly checking in on Facebook make us depressed?

First let me say, I’m very grateful for the life I have here in NYC. But I’m definitely guilty of comparing myself, my place in life to others, especially those I know well.  I’m sure we’ve all heard that the easiest way to make yourself feel terrible is to look for ways other people are “better” than you.  There are ALWAYS people who are wealthier than you, more successful than you, in better shape, funnier, etc and at times a quick glance at Facebook can make it seem that everyone is out living a happier, more fulfilling life. In the old days you had to randomly bump into that friend from high school who seems to be doing very well, or hear about the “big successes,” through friends or family. Today it can seem everyone is living “better” than you while you scroll your iPhone in the bathroom, perhaps in the middle of a day where you feel especially unproductive or ineffective.  You feel depressed.  “I’m nowhere near where I should be,” you might say to yourself.  Or “Why is everyone else happier than me?”

We’re far more likely to share our victories and excitements than our struggles, our pains, our down moments.  As a result our Facebook streams tend to be filled with the good moments of others, and the more people we add to our stream the more it seems everyone else is attending a party we weren’t invited to.  Couple that with the fact that we’re constantly checking Facebook on our phones throughout a normal day, and you have the recipe to make yourself feel like crap at lunch on a Wednesday.  Or at least I know that to be true for me at times…and it turns out I’m not alone.

According to this recent post in Psychology Today, it seems others have felt this way:


  • Over 33% of Facebook users report feeling unhappy during their visit (1).
  • Envying Facebook “friends” is the major reason for the unhappiness (1).
  • People who browse but do not actively communicate on Facebook are particularly vulnerable to feeling unhappy (1)(2).
  • The longer the hours spent on Facebook, the higher the likelihood of believing others are happier (2).
  • The more we amass Facebook “friends” we don’t know, the higher the likelihood of believing others are happier (2).
  • The more we interact face to face with friends, the lower the likelihood of believing others are happier (2).
  • Facebook comparison may be especially impactful for women (3)(4)(5)(6).

I don’t blame Facebook for the fact that at times I choose to process my friend feed this way.  And there’s no doubt that I do get a lot of enjoyment out of using Facebook, but I now see that the constant checking is very bad for me. It is best as an active browsing experience on my computer instead of an impulse on my phone.  I took Facebook off my phone a few weeks ago and I feel better.

(to steal from that Psychology Today article ending)

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” – Steve Jobs


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A bookend to my day

English: An anxious person
English: An anxious person (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



As someone who works a lot from home with an awesome (but mostly distributed) team, I have often felt as if the work day really has no end.  I don’t have a set time I stop working, although my wife will often stop me, and my work will often flow right into the night.  Even when I stop, no matter how many todo items crossed off my list, I have great anxiety of not doing enough.  This anxiety has nothing to do with the amount of work I do or did, and everything to do with how I end my days…I  don’t.  But I’m working on it…

On the recommendation of Jay, I read the quick (and surprisingly easy read) book: “18 Minutes,” by Peter Bregman.  There are lots of useful productivity thoughts and tips in here, but one thing in particular stuck for me.  I can’t say it was anything new, but for some reason it made more sense to me.  In the book he talks about his approach to an end of day review.  It’s basically something you schedule (so it happens), where you take 15 minutes to review the day and plan for tomorrow. This is a routine that I’ve tried before with limited success.  But this time it made much more sense to me.  Why?  Because of the questions he suggested you ask yourself during this review process.  Here are a few:
  • How was my day?  What successes did I experience?  What challenges did I endure?
  • What did I learn today?  About me?  About others?
  • What do I plan to do differently tomorrow?
  • Who did I interact with?  Anyone to update? To thank?
You might be thinking, “whoa, that seems like a lot to do in 15 minutes.”  It’s not really, and the answers to the questions are very helpful in both reviewing your day, and setting you up for the next day.  So what does my process look like?
  • I set a daily calendar reminder for 5pm – 515pm for my daily review period.  This is not the end of my day, but it’s often a good time to do this process.  I have enough time after to tie up some loose ends, but I’m deep enough into my day to truly do a review.
  • I have an Evernote notebook for “daily todos,” where I keep a separate note for each day.  At the top of the note I have the following questions:
  • How was your day?  This is just a quick review, a place where I can write about things that impact me in a particular way.
  • What did I learn today?
  • Anyone to update or thank?
  • What can I do differently tomorrow to be more effective and productive?
I then copy that note to a new note with the day’s date.  I update and edit my todos for the next day.  The following morning, I’ll do a quick glance at the todos and pay particular attention to my answer to the question: “What can I do tomorrow to be more effective and productive?” when planning my day.

I’ll be honest and say I still have many days where the only time I check the todo notebook is in the morning and in the evening, but I’ve found that just the process really does help my days in a number of ways.  The most important is that my anxiety about still having more to do has lessened significantly.  It seems that by going through this process, I have a clear ending to the day.  It’s almost as if I’m telling my brain “OK, you’ve concluded the day in an organized way with the loose ends at least accounted for.  Relax.”   It really is a great bookend to my work day.


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Regret minimization framework

Jeff Bezos – Regret Minimization Framework

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, and thankfully Bezos clarified my thoughts in a very nerdy, but helpful way: The Regret Minimization Framework.  Simply put: Imagine yourself sitting in a chair at 80 looking back on your life, how can you ensure you have as few regrets as possible?  This long-term view is remarkably effective at washing away some of the short-term concerns (as he described in video, it made it easy for him to walk away from Wall St bonuses to start Amazon) which often hold us back.


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Focus on what you can control

(from Behavior Gap)

I’m currently reading (and enjoying) The Extra 2% by Jonah Keri, which combines a lot of my favorite things (baseball, business, innovation, etc) into one package (although it frustrates me as a Reds fan to have a guy like Dusty Baker running our team instead of Joe Maddon, but I digress).  In the book, particularly from Maddon, there’s quite a bit of discussion about focusing on what you can control, not on outcomes.  From a baseball perspective this means as a pitcher you focus on throwing the ball to the glove, not throwing the ball to prevent home runs.  Or it can mean as a hitter, working on your swing instead of trying to hit home runs.  These are simplistic examples, but I’m sure you get the idea.

I realize in my own life there’s quite a bit of head space taken up by anxieties, fears, and even excitement around outcomes that I have very little control over.  There’s no easier way to get yourself worked up than to become focused on and attached to outcomes that you simply do not have control over.  I think as difficult as not becoming attached to outcomes is figuring out what exactly you should be focused on, and what is really inside of your control.  I’ve been defining things in my control as things I can do everyday (and utilizing a habit development tool like to track this).

In Charlie Munger‘s amazing book, Poor Charlie’s Almanack (I  intend to blog about this book), he mentions multiple times throughout the book about his own obsession with the power of compounding, not only as it relates to finances but also to personal learning and development.  His practice and his focus is very simple:  How can I become a little bit smarter about the world today than I was yesterday?  I don’t know the outcome, I don’t know if it makes me rich or broke, but I know I can control this, do it everyday (by reading, writing, speaking with and learning from others), and I know it will help me take a step forward in the world.  It’s working on my swing instead of just trying to hit home runs.

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