Laughing Only On The Outside

Robin Williams' passing is one of the first celebrity deaths that has really thrown me.  He made me laugh more in the 90s than any other actor.  My siblings I quoted his best lines from Hook, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Good Will Hunting frequently. He was a part of the entertainment of my youth and today I am grateful for the part he unknowingly played in that time in my life. But today, the laughter he gave to so many is replaced by questions. So many questions. How does seemingly one of the more entertaining and funny actors, and by all accounts, a true gentleman off the screen as well, find himself in a place where taking his own life is the answer?  Where a man loved by so many finds himself absolutely alone and ending his own life is the choice he makes?

A friend of mine in high school that I lost touch with committed suicide after college. A good friend went through a really dark time and hinted at suicide a couple years ago but fortunately is in a better place now. Another good friend fights depression daily and openly and has taught me so much about the grip it can have on you.  And those are just the friends and circumstances I know about. Who did I talk to last week that was laughing on the outside but destroyed on the inside? Did I even think to truly ask how they were REALLY doing? Not just the "fine" or "really busy, wow!" answer we all give in the 140 character at a time attention span world we live in. Am I spending time with people because it is on my calendar or am I being present with people and fully engaged in what is really happening in their world?

For over three months earlier this year, I lied to every single person that asked me "How are you doing?" Good friends, family, everyone. I wasn't doing well and had let my world spin my head in such a way that I was convinced if anyone knew how not-well I was doing, the house of cards I'd constructed to conceal the confusion and hurt would come falling down and I'd be exposed for the fraud I believed I was.  It was a really dark place and it took a lot to pull out of that nose dive.

It took hugs from friends who didn't know how much that hug meant.

It took hard questions from folks that were willing to call my bluff when I responded with "fine."

It took some one foot in front of the other honesty in my journal to unpack how I'd allowed my mind to live in that dark place.

And above all, it took time.

Time for me to get back to understanding that every single person I was talking with was fighting their own something.

Time for me to be okay with not having it all together and that other people knew. (Even though they already knew, I just now knew they knew.)

Time for me to get back to learning and growing and asking for help without forcing myself to go through the mental gymnastics I'd become accustomed to in my hide'n'seek phase.

And while there is, and always will be, the possibility of a quick slide back to that dark place, there are things that can be done right now to strengthen the good in the places where we are now. Life is too hard to try and do this by ourself. There are too many ways life can beat us up to go it alone.  Every single one of us is fighting something inside and making it up as we go.  You aren't the only one.

And the sooner we all realize that, the sooner we can work together to fight through this beating known as life, rejoicing with those that rejoice and mourning with those that mourn.

"The powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse."


Slight Adjustment, Huge Results

I'd been riding pretty hard.  100 miles in the past two weeks. And in between rides, I'd been feeling the burn. And then yesterday I blew out my back tire a couple miles from home.  Anytime I go from riding to walking that quickly, I feel like an infant, unsure of their next step and as though I am moving so slowly.  Instead of being home 10 minutes later, it was more like 45. My urge to get out and ride this morning was hundred by the blown out flat tire that awaited me. I walked my bike to Ride Brooklyn (best bike shop in the city IMHO) and asked an enthusiastic bike mechanic named Ricky to help me out.  He not only fixed my flat, but he tightened my breaks, cleaned the chain, and pointed out that I was severely underutilizing my bike because of one simple adjustment that he could make for me. He told me that my seat was way too low and that he wanted to raise it up and see if I could feel the different.

Now, he wasn't the first person this week that had mentioned it. My sister Katie, the bike pro in the family, pointed it out and said I should make the tweak.  So two people I knew knew their stuff both mentioned it, I was game to see what kind of adjustment should be made.

Six whole inches later, my bike seat looked awkwardly tall and almost dwarfed the height of the rest of my bike. I wasn't so sure that Ricky was overestimating how tall I actually am and that we'd need to scale back the adjustment once I hopped on.  And sure enough, it felt as awkward as it looked. I was hunched much further over to reach the handle bars and sitting on the bike in the shop, I felt like a giant riding a trike. But, Ricky told me to take it out on the road and give it a shot, if we needed to change it we could, but to take it for a spin and lean into the adjustment and see if it wasn't a welcome fix after the awkwardness subsided.

So I took it for a spin. I headed up the slope of Park Slope and realized I wasn't struggling near as much as I had been in previous rides. My legs were getting fully extended and I was using the whole rotation of the pedals to power up the hill. My posture was leaned forward and my core was much more engaged.  So I keep riding and before I knew it, I was 10 miles into my afternoon and barely breaking a sweat.

All because of one adjustment that aligned everything else.

It almost seemed to simple.

But there it was. As a result of a blowout requiring me to slow down in order to get back up to speed, I was back in action utilizing all of my potential with much more intention and far more impressive results.  I was aligned with natural ability and height and making my bike do the work for me instead of slouching in my seat and only getting 30% of the power that I could.

Sometimes it just takes a little time and some outside help to understand where you are, what you have, and the higher potential that you could be achieving if everything was aligned.


We'll be talking about achieving that potential with all the resources, tools, and natural abilities you already have at this month's Exobase here in New York City. There are still seats available and I'd love to have you be a part of the experience.  (SIGN UP HERE)


Making Room For The Good

If we're being honest, I waited too long. But hard things are hard to do. I'd seen it coming for weeks if not months. But the excuses were plentiful. I was busy. It wasn't that bad. I was probably the only who'd even noticed. Maybe it would stop. This was my first time and maybe there was something that I didn't know. But, this evening, I finally did it.

I pulled all the weeds in my backyard and the flower beds.

And while I put my lower back through a new exercise regime, some thoughts occurred to me about weeds.

- They're there because we let them be.  We see them popping up and could stop them immediately, but we don't. We let them grow because "it's not that bad." Yet.

- They blend in and aren't that different from what is supposed to be there. They're not that bad, we can let them stay a little while longer right? We'll get to them.

- The longer they stay, the deeper they're rooted. If we'd taken care of them right when they first showed up, it wouldn't have been a big deal, they'd barely established their place. Now they've got an entire root system.

- They're choking out the good that is supposed to be in their place. They grow faster and bigger and have an easier time showing growth. But, the longer they stay, the more space and resources they're taking from every else around them.

- When we do get ride of them, they leave a mark. If we go for the whole root system, they're gonna leave a bare spot in the yard. It is going to be obvious to anyone looking that something use to be there.

- We won't get all of them the first time around. No matter how thorough we are, there will be some that come back that we'll have to deal with again and again.

And whether the weeds we're pulling are in the backyard or in our life, everyone has them. But, not everyone is willing to living with them. And not everyone who wants to do something about them will. But, when you do, even through it will leave a mark and you'll get your hands dirty, you're making room for the good that can grow in their place.

And that's worth the pain.

Wonder and Connection

In October, we learned that Annie Pontrelli was diagnosed with brain cancer. Because of what kind it was, she knew before any of us would even consider it that she didn't have long and that she wanted to make it count. She sprung into action as the planner, the uniter, and the encourager that she has been for her entire life. She wrote to Annie incredible emails filled with wisdom and one of the lines that jumped out and stayed with me was this:
"Sharpen your sense of wonder and connection."
She truly lived a life with a full heart and curious mind. And not just that, but she brought people along with her on that journey and invited others to explore with her. Whether it was the latest exhibit at the Met or returning to deep Brooklyn to show others the best Italian Bakery, everyone was invited. She never let her work get in the way of her life. She surrounded her daughter with friends and asked them to be teachers. Adriana, at the age of nine, has had so many voices sharing their story and has a network of people invested in her and caring about her unlike anyone else.
Annie was a part of our NYC story from the very beginning. She was a voice of encouragement when we friend to move here and failed. She was a cheerleader when we finally did arrive and was one of the first to hike up the 66 steps to our Village walk up to survey our precious 300 sq feet that we called home. She never tired of asking about our jobs or our travels. Her curiosity and generosity made for an incredible combination. As she was asking questions, she was ever so subtly sharing advice. It never felt like a lecture or anything other than a loving conversation. She was so smart that it elevated every single interaction and everyone around her to be their very best.
We know Brooklyn, all parts, better because of Annie. We know NYC, all parts, better because of Annie. We know ourselves, all parts, better because of Annie. We know what it looks like to live life, all parts, with a sharpened sense of wonder and connection because of Annie.


Every time I think life can't spin any faster, it does. There are some amazing things happening right now that I can't wait to share, but the culmination of all of them happening so closely together has lead me to need this holiday weekend more than ever to find the bottom of my email inbox and more importantly time to slow down, take a breath, and unplug. After Waze was acquired by Google in June of this year, Annie and I completely unplugged in Kiawah, SC. It was four full days of no email or social media for me and it was incredible. I found some incredibly clarity during that time and will look back on that trip as a turning point for some big things to come.  The luxury of that length of time to slow down wasn't available to me this weekend, but the choice to treat this holiday like one was.  I knew I had meetings this morning, but committed to spending three hours offline and with my phone on a different floor of the apartment.  I made an ask this morning for any reading that had inspired folks over the past couple months and was incredibly grateful for the amazing responses both on Facebook and on Twitter.

I intentionally didn't offer parameters around my requests as I was hoping for things further outside my normal strike zone of nonfiction business books. From books of the Bible to cyber thriller fiction, TED Talks and Royal Society for the Arts videos, I found my mind exploring thoughts not directly related to a single thing I am working on right now, and yet applications and take aways that helped me punch through a couple mental road blocks I'd been hung up on.

I wrote about the value of slowing down to stay sharp for Forbes last year HERE and full endorse the wisdom in the story of the lumberjacks. And while most of the time it is much easier said than done, today it was done and I am even more ready for a huge month ahead.

Learning... Up In The Air

The more I travel, the more I realize I don't know. From my first trip involving a Passport stamp to Peru in 1998 to this past week's 4 cities in 3 days jaunt, I learn a lot on the when I'm on the road.  In 2010 and 2011, at the height of the Gowalla adventure, I did over 250,000 miles in the air (unfortunately not all on the same airline - start-up life.) In 2012, I was more grounded in NYC with my work. But already in 2013, I've been on the road for 15 days and hit 12 cities. When on the road, the circumstances lend themselves to learning. The disruption in the normal schedule lead to unexpected downtime and distance from the usual default time fillers.  When I leave for a trip I usually have at least two week's worth of Economist to catch up on and a book that remains only partial consumed because I am really good at falling asleep midparagraph when I try and read in the evenings at home.

I also learn from those that I meet will traveling that I wouldn't otherwise see in my New York bubble of interactions. Between airports and rental car counters and conference tables, life on the road puts you in close proximity to all kinds of people. And let's not even begin to dissect the irrational closeness of sleeping on a red-eye flight from SFO to JFK next to a big burly man in 26B.

As I look forward to the rest of 2013 and beyond, my work with Waze is going to keep my frequent flyer status feed and my carry-on packing skills sharp. But hopefully, it will also continue to lend itself to being the routine busting classroom that I have come to appreciate when I'm up in the air.

I'm after ME

Annie and I went to the Whitney Museum this afternoon and worked our way through some fascinating exhibits and permanent installments. There was one painting that, for reasons not apparent to me in the moment, really jumped out at me in the room dedicated to artist Edward Hopper.

What really caught my eye in the descriptor next to the paining was the phrase "I'm after ME." It was buried in this sentence, "Asked once what he was trying to achieve on a painting, he answered, "I'm after ME." His aim was not to record outward appearances but to use his observations of the external world as vehicles through which to portray his inner life." (Learn more about the artist and this work HERE) As I read that, I wondered if the same wan't true in the "art" that I create. Now, I don't actually think about my writing and blogging as art, but it is the most consistent and public place that I share my thoughts and inspirations.

A friend of mine who is a reporter for a major news station shared this today on her Facebook wall: "I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” This quote by Joan Didion is exactly where I was going with my curiosity about Edward Hopper's pursuit of "ME." My writing, both in my personal notebooks and in public forums like this or Forbes, are as much about understanding what I understand about my world as it is sharing that understanding with anyone else.

So here's to that discovery and the revelations that come along with it.

Andy Dreams Of... What?

Last night I watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a documentary featuring 85 year old Jiro Ono, arguably the world's greatest sushi chef. The movie chronicles his life, his restaurant, and the challenge that lies ahead as he and his 50 year old son work through a succession plan that will keep the legacy of his father's work preserved. The opening scene, Jiro explains his life work:

"Once you decide on your occupation... you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That's the secret of success... and is the key to being regarded honorably."

He was sent out into the world at the age of nine and became an apprentice at 10. He has been making sushi for over 75 years and for 75 years he has been searching for an even better version of his work. He says in the movie that every piece of sushi he serves is better than the one before. That when he does his work, he feels victorious. Every single day, repeating the same steps to create the same excellence, and pushing just a little bit harder to make it just a little bit better. Never settling.

His persistent and consistent work to create excellence and the expectation of his staff (minimum of ten year apprenticeship before they are allowed to be in the front of the restaurant) got me thinking about Malcolm Gladwell's "10,000 Hour Rule." It would certainly seem to apply here. But that rule also always gets me thinking, what have I spent 10,000 intention hours work to become the best at?

My career has been much more dynamic than Jiro's and anyone on Gladwell's list. The skill set that I've been asked to bring to the work I do can and does change with the task at hand. My aspirations of being a renaissance man seem more realistic than an master craftsman like Jiro. And there is nothing wrong with that, but, it does beg the question, of the skills that I use today and know I will use for the rest of my life, am I obsessed with making everyday's efforts better than the day before?