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"This is just stupid!" I roared from inside my boss' windowless office. Thankfully no windows meant good acoustics for rage-Nate.

Debra, my boisterous, blond boss had been trying to teach me the lost art of cold calling. After surviving the third hardest college program in the world, and eking out a short but high-impact career in the Air Force, then managing a rapidly growing small business, I had tripped headlong into the lowest point in my professional career: calling strangers and asking them for money.

Our cookie-cutter cubicle jungle in Bellevue, Washington had been an easy ride up to that point. Reviewing piles of resumes, interviewing geeks and up-selling them to local companies' tech departments. Some days I even got to play with gnarly advanced Google search strings to scratch my own nerdy itch. But this ... this felt like punishment. An exercise in embarrassment. Miles away from any sort of authenticity. Dialing for dollars.

But my boss' boss has made it clear that everyone on the floor had to sell or risk a jobless existence in 2008. For those that don't remember, '08 marked the second largest depression since the greater one before WWII.

Anyways, back to rage-Nate. My boss - in her 50s - had seen it all, and never stopped smiling throughout my tirade.

"Nate, who's next on your call list?" Debra asked. I mumbled out a name and gave her the contact's phone number.

She wrote it down and picked up her phone and started dialing.

"Whoa, you can't call him. I'm not even sure if it's the right person." Her smile remained steady as the phone rang.

Then I got a master class in phone sales in the span of 4-minutes. It was like watching Jackie Chan in the Drunken Master, a raw unscripted ramble of words, bobbing and weaving around two gatekeepers and eventually onto the calendar of John ... or was it Jake. Debra messed up the guys' name twice with one of the receptionists and again with the actually guy. And she still got the meeting.

Rock bottom me immediately started my own self-deprecating ramble. "I can't do that." "Of course you're better at it - you are my boss." "I don't belong here." "Can I just have my old job back? You know I'm good at that." Blah, blah, blah. Excuse, excuse, excuse.

Debra's advice was simple.

  1. Just pickup the damn phone.
  2. Smile when you talk ... they can tell if you aren't.
  3. Be genuinely curious.

The first two are common to nearly every sales training program in existence. That third nugget has changed my life ... well ... in some curious ways.

Now I eventually got fired from that job. I started my business in the wake of that experience, and it has supported my family and the families of 100+ freelancers over the past 8-years. And those three commandments have fueled much of my survival and success since then. But it wasn't until the past year that the power of curiosity really rocked my world.

When applied to interacting with people, curiosity can elevate your level of connection rapidly. In the now classic film 40 Year Old Virgin, Andy's work buddies coach him to "Just ask questions" - it worked a little too well, and hilarity ensues. Point is, it works. Of course when conversing with socially savvy folks, faux interest in their problems, fears, happy's and sad's can be spotted a mile away. That's where *genuine* curiosity comes into play.

Now here's the rub. People can be bland creatures. Average Joe's and Jill's rarely reveal the interesting bits about themselves. It's kinda hard to blame them. Uncovering the unique aspects of yourself can feel like emotional nudity in the wrong environment. How can you be genuinely curious about someone when they are the human equivalent of a generic brand of white bread?

Here's the deal. There is always something. It may take a well crafted question to tease out enough material to trigger genuine curiosity. And often those well-crafted questions will make you feel uncomfortable yourself. I make an effort to put in reps in this area at grocery stores. Checkers are trained to ask, "How are you today sir/ma'am?" And I'll always answer with uncomfortable honestly. Here are my back-pocket answers to that generic question for cracking open a chance at an unapologetically human, gritty conversation:

Whenever I drop one of these odd little guys, I get one of three responses:

  1. [awkward silence]
  2. Oh, I'm doing good. [an awkward laugh for effect]
  3. Me too. [and if I'm lucky, a mini story about why]

This year, I learned a way to take genuine curiosity a step further, a few inches deeper, a few grains grittier. Meditation practitioners teach the importance of transforming fear of you own thoughts into curiosity. Why am I sad / depressed / scared / lonely / dejected / anxious / etc... ? It's an unsettling exercise, and to be brutally honest, I still have a hard time examining my own internal landscape in this way. However, my initial gains have been large enough to keep me going down that uncomfortable path.

More curiosity brings more clarity. And for me, that clarity creates quiet, a rare sensation in such a noisy world.

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An ex-friend (we'll call him J) called me out of the blue today. I had a hard time remembering why we were 'ex' friends, so I took the call and he told me about the last few chapters of his life story. In the past few years, J's lived what I like to call, the story worthy life.

When he was living in Seattle making a living digging graves, his girlfriend had an aneurysm while they were sleeping. He said he, "woke up to her cold and dead." He spoke at her service, and buried her that same day. His family bought him a ticket to Alaska for a strange way to deal with his grief ... in the form of a working Howitzer cannon leftover from WWII. The mountain opposite the borrowed gun is still pockmarked with his sadness projectiles.

After wandering and walking thousands of miles all over the Western US, he picked up work as a ranch hand in Wyoming and learned to be a farrier (puts shoes on horses). Still dealing with volumes of pain, J would take long directionless walks, then turn around and walk home after his head cleared. On one of these walks, a young black bear attacked him. His farrier tools still attached to his belt, J was able to fight back. After a violent tussle, he killed the bear by stabbing it in its face and eyes. After the hospital stitched up multiple gashes on his back, he got back to work and met a cowgirl and fell in love again. He's grown a bit smarter, and now remembers to bring a rifle on his therapeutic walkabouts.

In my own pursuit of the story worthy life (a philosophy I adopted after my 2005 divorce), my perspective on what it actually means has changed in huge ways. A bit of background first.

A story:
1) has a beginning, middle and end
2) includes at least one character
3) shows the character dealing with some sort of conflict

Now, using that framework, anyone's life would be story worthy by definition. But I've always wanted to live a life worth a retelling or three.

A great story:
1) has something in it that rings familiar
2) develops contrast to highlight something novel, something new
3) shows the character starting in one state and ending in another state

Familiarity is most commonly injected into Hollywood stories by sticking to a variant of the old as time mythic structure known as the Hero's Journey (think STAR WARS and THE LORD OF THE RINGS). Also, involving some archetypal characters or tropes (think of the hero, sidekick, femme fatale and wise helper characters in BATMAN) makes strangers into acquaintances increasing the familiarity and evolutionary pattern recognition.

Contrast is created with a standard setup ... the hero does X expecting Y to happen, but instead Z happens.

A character's change in state (called value change in screenwriting) is a binary tactic. If the hero starts sad and hopeless, then he'll end happy and hopeful.

Now how did I apply this to my life?

In the beginning, I obsessed about contrast. Stepping out of my comfort (and moral) zone in a nearly compulsive fashion. Dating undateable women - recovering polyamorists anonymous anyone? Working in jobs I was grossly unqualified for. Moving into neighborhoods I couldn't afford. Driving a rusted out '68 Dodge Dart (complete with broken gas gauge) as a commuter vehicle. Taking one way trips, without the scratch for the return ticket. You get the point.

And you know what? It totally worked. In a few cases, those violent detours from my norm, brought me new friends, stronger community and a business that has been feeding my family for nearly a decade. And in the majority of cases, the skills I had to develop to wriggle out of the jams I consistently got myself into, made me strong as fuck. They were some entertaining stories at worst. However, my lifestyle made me emotionally ragged.

The next few chapters of my life read like a boring journal of my relentless pursuit of a new normal and the seemingly familiar. In a Hollywood blockbuster, it would have been compressed down to a 30 second montage of family life - shuttling the kiddo to Karate class, walking the dog, teaching Anna how to ride a bike, swimming in a nearby creek, cooking at home, cutting down a tiny tree for Christmas.

And it totally worked. I can't say that I was overjoyed / happy / blissful, but I had found peace. It felt uncomfortable for a long while, since I don't think i had ever found any lasting peace before.

The few chapters after that moved back into 'busting outta the comfort zone' mode. And that also totally worked. The stories ran the gamut of fetal position failures, to 80's slow clap public success. Naughty love scenes, to crying fights. Slow dancing, to a boisterous Charleston. Folger's moments, to hellish realizations. Explosive inspiration to explosive bowels. Story worthy. Hard. Entertaining in hindsight.

And now? I'm not sure. I'm faced with a few choices:

  1. Start writing / living a new chapter
  2. Create a spin-off series ... same universe, same faces, better characters, better stories - think American Horror Story.
  3. Rewrite my story ... I recently learned in my studies in psychotherapy that 'story editing' is a useful method for reframing your wins and losses, pains and gains, etc... to make room for more lasting peace and happiness in future chapters.

Getting back to J ... Near the end of our long conversation, he confided in me that he felt lost. "I don't know what I'm supposed to do next. Everything is so confusing." I gave him what little advice I had earned in that department, and said bye. It put in me into a mega-thoughtful space for the rest of the day. In the end, I realized that my credo of the story worthy life was missing one gigantic element.

The supporting characters in my story, are ALL trying to be the heroes of their own stories.

Most of the happy moments and chapters in my life were wholly unintentional. When a page of my story helped someone live a happy scene in their story, I felt whole and perfect. (Sci Fi nerds know this as the crossover episode).

Until I get some hot-flash of epiphany-ridden inspiration, my cocktail napkin plan for living my next volume of The Life of Nate Wright, will likely look like this.

  1. Start a writing a new page ... not knowing / caring if it's a page, chapter or volume. But knowing that the previous pages were painful means that I need to plot a path to a value change. Pain to pleasure. Fuck knows how I'll pull that off. Maybe I should take my own advice on the subject.
  2. Rewrite some previous chapters ... If I'm being brutally honest with myself, I've painted myself as the hero when I behaved like the villain, and weakly when I was actually the strongest. My throughline is a bit jagged in places.
  3. Listen / watch hard when interacting with other people's stories ... and whenever possible, help them live a better page to make their next chapter that much better. Some days that will be listening, some days a kind word or helping hand, and some days will require taking massive action.

I'll close out with one of my favorite quotes on writing from the fellow with the parrot:

"Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead."

- Gene Fowler -

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"Move the big rock"

At first glance, it looks suspiciously like a vague Buddhist proverb, or mis-translated Kung Fu movie, or Native American nugget of wisdom shared only while smoking a peace pipe at a crackling fire.

Nope. That brutally simple piece of advice came from a sales coach. Yep, a stoic, suited, ultra-professional sales guy.

So, I've been obsessing lately about this funky idea of unearthing great wisdom from unconventional places. Specifically, people (me included) seem to tell ourselves to seek advice and support in a linear fashion.

Want to lose weight. Seek out a fitness trainer. Study fitness.
Want to write better. Seek out a writing coach. Study good writers.
Want to get comfortable speaking to large groups of people. Seek out a presentation coach. Study TED Talks.
Want to argue less with your kids and spouse. Seek out a Marriage and Family Therapist. Study communication techniques.

You get the idea. And it makes complete sense. Want to solve a problem? Find an expert at solving that particular flavor of problem, and immerse yourself in the topic. Make the changes. Oila!

Here's the flaw in that reasoning - problems are *not* linear in nature. Our happiness-obstacles are cemented together in oddly-shaped lumps, and the uncomfortable habits that make those rocks so heavy are rooted in strange, hard to reach places. They intertangle with other problems that compound if unaddressed. Think of it like your Christmas box. Christmas tree lights in a tangled mess, little ornament hooks stuck in that lump as well, some unwrapped, sticky candy canes meant for decoration that some drunk idiot (Nate circa 2007) licked for a quick sugar rush. Do you need a master untangler? An expert hook remover? A deep cleaner? A dumpster? All of the above? Some of the above? None of the above?

Instead of trying to solve that emotional calculus problem, I've opted for the unapologetically human, non-linear approach.

Here's a recent example: How did I lose - and keep off - 37-pounds over the past year and a half?

First, my autistic daughter needed a radical change in diet (gluten free), so the food I bought simplified greatly. Then, my belly started hating me for eating greasy and spicy foods to the point where I'd (unwillingly) throw up my favorite meals. Then while studying office productivity, I learned the importance of *measurement* of progress, so I bought a scale. Then a photographer showed me the importance of environment, so I moved the scale next to my front door. I became lonely, so I started producing dances and seeing pictures of my pooch on full display. Then I fell in love with a wonderful woman who's a brilliant nutritionist and pilates trainer. And she filled in all the gaps. Water. Sleep. Injury-free exercise.Walking. Oh, and more dancing ;^)

Everytime I tried a direct approach - calling a fitness trainer, who recommends "get a smaller plate", or studied paleo diets and body weight workout routines - the change never stuck. However, the "scenic route" led to permanent change.

Another example: When I was seeking out direct advice on selling to medium-sized organizations, I called up the aforementioned sales mentor. He reminded me that I still need to find my "big rock" and move that first. At the time, my big rock was accepting the fact that my small-biz flavored services just weren't adequately effective in larger organizations.

Did I work on moving that big rock? Nope.

Instead I applied that concept to solve my erratic moods, performance and overall happiness. After moving medium-sized rocks I thought were big (e.g. budgeting), I stubbed my toe on THE big rock: my Netflix addiction. Late night marathon TV binges were destroying my sleep, my mood, my career and also my family. I moved that rock eventually - got rid of my TV, removed the app from my phone, installed and app to keep me from reinstalling the app. Took a few years, but I eventually broke that boulder into small enough pieces to smuggle them out of the prison cell I'd built for myself - Andy Dufresne-style (he's the guy in Shawshank Redemption).

Did I ever move that business rock? Sure did. But I had to talk to that fitness trainer (the one I fell in love with) first. My old man knees were getting worse and I wanted to find out why. She patiently explained the critical nature of core strength, and a crash course in stretching complementary muscle groups.

Did I work on that big rock? Nope.

Instead of doing more sit ups and hitting the foam roller, I looked at my business problems through that lens and realized my core business strengths was laughably atrophied. I needed to  grow stronger. That meant more reps of selling, writing and training. My service set became strong enough to go after bigger businesses.

Now that the business rock is manageable, I've just started tackling actual core workouts, foam roller rituals, intentional recovery, etc... for my old man knees.

Ok, ok, I suppose we are overdue for the 'big reveal' a.k.a. The Point.

1) Rocks are rocks. They don't care what category they belong to - bad habits, toxic relationships, unhealthy diets, whatever.
2) Rocks are heavy. And the biggest rocks in our lives are likely so heavy that we aren't strong enough to move them ... yet. But if we find the bigger rocks blocking our progress, we will grow increasingly strong enough to move the bigger ones, and so on, so forth.
3) You NEED help to move those rocks. Otherwise, you would have kicked them aside years ago.

Admittedly, I wish the direct route led to stickier change in my own life. It would help me find peace and happiness that much faster. In my case, embracing the detours, examining radically - and seemingly unrelated - perspectives, and patchworking advice and insights, has helped me overcome countless scary large obstacles. I'd like to think that, in time, I'll learn to practice this form of self-improvement cross training with more deliberate, intentional focus.

Photo Credit: South Dakota Apologetics

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I've been off my game for a bit - well, five-months to be specific. And as I fall back into the comfort of the fall school and work routine, my subconscious has been slooowly untangling the messy "why" ... or perhaps, "what the f*** just happened?

When looking back on my life thus far, it hasn't fallen into the typical peaks and valleys of the normals. Instead it's more like a tug-of-war with my enemies ranging from my personal demons to life-scuttling a**holes to radical circumstance.

I'm straining and straining against the rope in the futile hope things will get better, shit will stink less, progress will be made, enemies will lose ground. It's in these moments/chapters of my life that I start to fool myself, "Wow, I'm trying hard. I'm sweating. I'm grunting. I'm hurting. I must be making some progress."

Nope. In fact that's typically when I start losing ground, losing momentum, losing myself.

Tug-of-war pro's - yes, they exist - win in steady, rhythmic surges of power. Give a little to recharge, yank hard with your entire body and progress an inch at a time. It's seems slow and incremental to onlookers. You are still sweating, grunting and hurting, but now you are gaining ground.

Here's the deal. I know this already. I should have learned this lesson fifty-times over by now. Hell, my first (and only) time in my life I won first place in any competition was on the Tug of War team, when La Paloma Elementary School destroyed Team Bonsall. I was in the 4th grade.

When I fast forward through all of the lessons imparted to me since then, a few wisdom bombs pop-up in the highlights reel.

1) Re-gaining lost ground is really hard - accept it. When I first started training to pass the USAF Academy's fitness test, push-ups were my biggest weakness. In my junior year of high school I couldn't even do ONE proper push-up. How in the hell do you make incremental gains when you can't even complete one measly rep? In my case, my sets consisted of 1/4, then 1/2, then 3/4 pushup reps. It was ugly and damn embarrassing, but over time I hit my number.

2) Strength is a requirement - grow stronger. In the universally underappreciated film, The 13th Warrior the main character travels from Persia to Norway where he accidentally ends up on a  mission to rescue a village being attacked by strange creatures. In one scene, a gigantic viking casually tosses one of his large swords to a young Antonio Banderas, "You'll need this," and nearly knocks him over. He grumpily retorts, "I cannot lift this." The viking sagely replies, "Grow stronger."

3) You cannot do this alone - maintain community. Seems like a no-brainer, but it's really, REALLY easy to slip into the me against the world mindset when life slings shit at you from all directions. You all probably have some friends, family, co-workers, vendors, bosses and/or mentors - hell, even a senile old man down at the nursing home - that could spare an ear. Tough times are the wrong time to cave it up. Not saying dump your effed up life in their laps, but keep the communication lines open.

Okay, okay, enough metaphor for now.

Here's some concrete examples of how I'm executing this cocktail napkin "Master Plan for Getting Nate's Life out of the Crapper" ... and before you say it, I know they are out of order. People make consistently stupid decisions when nearing burn-out, and effing up the ideal order of things has been my premium weakness.

Maintain community - I started reaching out to friends and mentors, just to see how they were doing - and secretly hoping they wouldn't ask me any hard questions that might make me ragey or weepy. Most of 'em could smell the pain on me and reminded me of the advice I had given them in the past. Now, I have a few folks cheering me on from the sidelines, and a couple who have jumped in to help me heave-ho in the tug of war against Nate's pesky demon squad.

Accept it - I wrote it down all that advice as reminders on every single mirror in my house using a bar of soap. And I write it down every day on my favorite lined yellow legal pads. And on the rougher days, I write it on the most relavant bits of my left hand in .7mm blue gel pen. "Expect turbulence" pops up the most often to remind me that my demons ain't gonna let up just because I'm having a bad day. I wipe off some of the idioms with a rag because the advice isn't suitable, but putting wisdom billboards in your house can do no harm.

Grow stronger - one of the pieces of advice I recently received was to listen to an audiobook about integral theory, Kosmic Consciousness by Ken Wilber. My main takeaway: weakness in seemingly unrelated areas of life can trigger injury in areas that you are typically strong. I re-looked at the physical, mental and emotional components of my life. Physically, I'm now working out (nearly) everyday and just joined a Muay Thai kickboxing gym - not too excited about the glittery blue short shorts, but they'll keep me humble when I start getting all swole ;^) Mentally, I've added and diversified my reading/listening habits. A diesel punk thriller, that book on integral theory, and a sales book on closing philosophy are currently in rotation. Emotionally, I opted for a blend of therapy and aggressively turning down the temperature on ancillary relationships that can just wait. Essentially, creating space and time to heal - and hiring a therapist to patch up the rest of the injuries.

I'll keep you posted on my progress on all fronts, interspersed with some recent lessons sourced from the oddest places (like Norse Mythology). Stay tuned.

Humbled, yet still unapologetically human,

- Nate -

P.S. Hat tip to James Clear - his blog on designing a better environment and his dynamite keynote on incremental gains helped cement my regain routines.

 

Photo Credit: Andrew Jones

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My third fight  happened the summer before my senior year of high school.

Several months earlier, I had received my second denial from the Air Force Academy. So I scammed a copy of a previous year's application to find out what bubbles I needed to fill out to get their attention. On a long list of super-duper exciting leadership activities  - Eastmont High Class Treasurer, anyone? - I found one that didn't sound too horrifically boring - Boys State.

I wrote an awful essay about how attending would change my life so I can change the world. The acceptance came quickly. A little too quickly. My country bumpkin high school had three slots, and a whopping three dudes applied.

Boys State was actually pretty cool, all things considered. Six long days of hands-on workshops, government exercises and mock political shenanigans for hundreds of incoming seniors across the state. They booked us in dorms on a college campus in town. Most of us were typical nerds who read books or knocked out extra credit assignments between activities, with a smattering of academically-inclined athletes, football captains, wrestling champs, etc... During one of our breakout sessions, I referred to karate as a sport within earshot of this burly minority.

Yah, stupendous idea.

We'll call our antagonist Meathead Mike. So MM corners me in the dude's bathroom of all places and asks to wrestle for fun. Weird, but I said sure. To make it clear what I agreed to - imagine a 140lb, 6 foot tall, wiry version of me, and a 200lb, 6 foot tall varsity wrestler, football player athlete extraordinaire. After about a minute of wrestling, MM thinks it would be funny to lift me up - by my hair. Yes, you asshole readers out there - I used to have hair on my actual head. And it effing hurt.

Muscle memory kicks-in from my 'pussy karate kid shit' as MM calls it. I throw a short hook punch to his kidney and rapidly removed all of the oxygen from his body. Within 42 milliseconds of catching his breath, he goes all berserker mode on me and shoves me back into the tiny bathroom. Meathead Mike's meathead friends pulled him back before things got too gnarly. A few bruises, and a shattered ego was gratefully soft consequence of my babbling.

I was badass for a moment, and helpless the next.

Helpless. It sounds so weak. Doomed even.

Hell, the thought of needing help at all makes me cringe. Not I, the great and almighty Nate, conqueror, survivor extraordinaire.

But as fast as my grit has empowered me to make bolder decisions, I just as quickly found myself in a number of situations where I was no kidding stuck with zero real options. When logic, training and circumstance fail you, and all options are stripped away, all that is left is helplessness or hope. Now, hope can manifest in some plain and exotic blends of emotional cocktails. Faith of the religious variety. Belief in rescue from some good Samaritan. Focus on a never-before-seen superhuman surge of strength. You get it.

But, helplessness and hope cannot co-exist in the same moment. They flip flop as the situation and/or your outlook improves or devolves.

Hope is one those airy fairy romantic ideas that I firmly believe in with zero doubt or reservation, like most humans believe up is up and down is down. Why? My rudimentary conclusion: hope seems like the lesser of evils in a dire situation.

I don't really know what hope is or how to trigger/create/manifest it when shit hits the fan. But I do know that hope is one of those oddities that makes my fellow mammals human. And given the choice between helpless and hopeful, I choose the latter.

Photo Credit: Pinterest

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Last month, I clocked just shy of two thousand miles driving zig-zagging all across California. House hunting. School hunting. Business hunting. Sanity hunting.

Short version: it stressed me the fuck out. Usually, long drives help mellow me out into an almost zen like state. My zaniest ideas, and gnarliest life-detours were birthed on road trips. So what made this one so heavy?

Up until a few days ago, I hadn't a clue. Then I complained about my sore legs, and my fiance morphed into trainer mode. Next thing I knew she had me flopping around on a foam roller. Admittedly, my legs felt better afterwards, but the bigger impact was her explanation of the muscles and the difference between soreness due to exercise (indicating you're getting stronger), and pain due to injury (which requires rest to heal from).

It got me ruminating. Does emotional stress work the same way?

I'm no psychologist, but the idea does pencil out. Let me take a crack at balancing this equation:

SCENARIO 1
13-hour work day.
+ 2-hours of traffic to get home.
+ Back-talking kids complain about breaking their $623 cellphone.
= EMOTIONAL SORENESS

SCENARIO 2
Boss or client tears a passion project to shreds.
+ You vent to your best friend, and they *helpfully* remind you that it happened to you - again - for the fourth time.
+ Best friend twists the knife by laughing at your bad luck. Something your ex-wife used to love doing.
= EMOTIONAL INJURY

Now we can take it a step further if we take a look at what happens when *regular* stress remains unchecked.

SCENARIO 1  x  17-days straight = EMOTIONAL INJURY

I experienced this in college, running 5-miles a day for a year plus without stretching. It took knee surgery and 4-months of rehab before I could walk straight again. And I experienced it again on an emotional front last month, pushing myself (and my family) at a very much NOT sustainable tempo of house prep, work projects, trips and budgetary olympics. I grabbed breaks here and there (the 9-hour drive back to Chico, for example) but I never quite healed, and slipped back into a hypersensitive state daily - think emotional 14-year old with an adolescent crack in his voice.

So how does one heal emotional injury?

Enter Grandma Lynn. Whenever I call blubbering, pleading for some magical emotional ointment to heal my wounds, she would inevitably say "time is on your side". And as with most of her best advice, it took me nearly a decade to actually understand what the hell she actually meant.

Time to sleep. Time to breathe. Time to heal.

Now don't try to bombard me with excuses, because I've already reserved the very best one for myself. "My biggest stressor is lack of time" - bullllllshit. Find it. Make it. Steal it. The most dangerous side effect of emotional injury, is that left untreated, it will cause no-kidding physical injury.

I don't have any awesome advice for *avoiding* emotional injury. That type of vulnerability is what makes us human. And I'm not about to start apologizing for that.

 

Photo Credit: WW2 Medical Research Centre

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I've learned a lot from my TV addiction. I was a beta customer of Netflix during the red and white envelope days, and am shamefully proud of my early adoption of the Netflix Binge back in the early weeks of their instant viewing days. BURN NOTICE has been on my rotating binge list for ages now, and I gotta give credit to the writers for some sage one-liners. In a typical episode, the team gets all worked up because some simple gig turned into a dramatic, dangerous mess. Then the Fiona and Sam (a.k.a. that guy from Evil Dead) corner Michael - "What are we gonna do Mike?"

Michael nearly always answers the same way:

"One problem at a time"

Whenever I'm facing an impossible pile of work, mishandling a cranky client or getting two bags of doritos past hangry, this has become my homespun mantra. It's stupid simple, yet remarkably hard to execute.

Most of us know that the myth of multitasking has been debunked, and single-tasking is all the rage in advice columns.

But if we've already spit out that Kool-Aid, why is it still so damn hard?

My thoughts:

1) Old habits do indeed die hard - most of us are still suffering in the age of tabbed browsing and hot swapping mobile apps. In pre-Internet terms - if multitasking was binge drinking, then these 'conveniences' are like free booze in your pocket, on your desk, in your backpack and next to your bed. It's tough to kill a bad habit when the triggers are literally strapped to your body.

2) Problems don't come in convenient shapes and sizes - life and business rarely behave like a whimsical assembly line a la Laverne & Shirley. Some problems come screaming down the conveyor belt of reality all at once and are likely too big for one person to carry, too small to pickup with bare hands or too sharp to handle without injury.

3) Prioritization is fucking hard, it's a choose your poison game - seriously though, choosing what goes first isn't as simple as numbering your problems from 1 to 10 and working your way down the list. In the real world, you are more likely to be forced to choose between a slap in the face or punch in the gut when that problem isn't resolved.


So how in the hell do we navigate this? Here's how I do it when my head isn't firmly shoved up my own ass:

1) Take a breath. I'm not talking useless billionaire advice to meditate on the job or unplug for one-week a year. Think more about taking a few breaths away from your triggers (devices, people, the actual problem). Even 1-2 minutes will do it. If you are having a hard time with this, go analog - I prefer a yellow legal pad and .7mm blue gel pen. An 'in case of emergency break glass' option would be a bathroom stall. No one can fault you for having to take a shit, regardless of the urgency of the situation.

2) Move the big rock. Choose the biggest problem on your plate and move that out of the way. I've been prepping for a move to So Cal for the past few months and have quickly discovered that I can't do jack shit in the garage until I move the big stuff outta the way. NOTE: the big rock needs to be something you can move on your own. Team / joint tasks can wait. Hat tip to Anthony Iannarino for teaching me this.

3) Decide who you are willing to piss off.  I learned this little gem while grinding away at the USAF Academy, where the entire system was designed to give you more than any human could handle. The only way to survive was to make the hard choice of who you would piss off. Girlfriend, Boss, Mom, Best Friend, CapitalOne, Kids, Neighbor, Dog ... while in a state of overwhelm, the sooner you accept that it's gonna hurt a bit, the sooner you can get back to work and ready yourself for the inevitable (and perhaps public) backlash.


And if all that fails, retreat to your bedroom, grab your tablet, Doritos & Mountain Dew and binge on BURN NOTICE until this lesson cements. It only took me 5-seasons ;^) Yogurt might work too.

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I got him. I finally landed a solid shot on Fred the Dentist, a soft-spoken black belt and occasional sparring partner. During our other fights we always gently slip by all of my attacks and I'd feel soft taps on my noggin and gut where he'd let me know where he would have dropped me.

The first time I ever fought Fred the Dentist, he asked me, "Are you breathing?" and my cocky 15-year old self huffed out, "Yah! <gasp> of <gasp> course <gasp>." And every fight after that, he'd say the same thing. Not once did I ever see him break a sweat even when he was fighting equal or better martial artist.

Fast forward three years, and I'd gotten really good and was already testing for my brown belt. My instructor asked all of the black belts into class that day after I had finished up my forms. And I fought them one-by-one medium- to full-contact with no breaks between.

Two of the four matches I had landed (in retrospect) some lucky shots, mostly due to adrenaline fueled speed. Soaked with sweat. my last opponent bowed towards me - Fred the Dentist. After exchanging shots for about a minute (which feels like an hour for anyone that's ever spent time in the ring), neither of us hadn't connected anything real - that slippery, easy breathing bastard remained annoyingly calm. So I went on the defense for a bit to re-group, then and I finally got him, trapping his leg between my knee and pointy as all hell elbow.

Fred winced. I smiled victoriously.
Less than a second later, I was the floor, on my back with the ball of his foot pressing into my forehead. Fuck!

He pulled me up, still not sweating with a perfect dentists' smile, and said, "You forgot to breathe."

It took me a few decades of life with lots more fights - from boxing at the Air Force Academy to custody battles to combating addictions - to truly understand why that painfully simple advice was so damned important. Fighting of any type is complex with infinite variants and outcomes. You've heard the saying, "learn to walk before you run"? Well, maybe we should learn to to breathe before stepping into the many battles we'll encounter.

How are we supposed to survive (let alone win) any of them if we can't even remember to breathe? Last I checked oxygen is kinda important to this living thing.

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I wrote the below ramble a few months after moving to Chico, California. It took me 3-years to do something about it. That "side project" has pulled thousands of local anti-social Facebook junkies onto the dance-floor and landed me some new friends. I can't tell you why I waited so long to reboot something that indisputably made me so very happy. The ungrounded ego in my writing below is a bit embarrassing - but even in my blurry hindsight, I think that making my bravado public was necessary to push me out of of my wallow and into action.


Nostalgic Revolution

Nostalgia -  a sentimental longing for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.

Nostalgic Revolution - re-creating parts of the social environment of “the good ‘ole days” to organically manufacture more experiences worthy of nostalgic longing.

In college, I produced, DJ'ed and taught swing dancing.  Some of the happiest times of my life were on the dancefloor, dressed up in vintage clothing I scoured from thrift shops and family.  The whole dancing community reeked of unbridled happiness.  We rarely drank anything but water, and all made damn well sure everyone in that room got on the floor.  If everyone wasn’t loving it, it felt - well - wrong.

We’d lose ourselves in an impossible nostalgia, longing for a time only our grandparents had truly experienced.

Now I find myself longing for that time again.  Nostalgia for a time of sloppily manufactured nostalgia.  The 'sloppy’ formula was/is simple.  Fill an empty room with a bunch of people that either 1) are willing to suspend their selfish bullshit for a few hours, or 2) whose selfish actions are mutually beneficial (that was me).  Then add music, and some subtle moderation by well-camouflaged alphas and oila, a happiness factory.

Beautiful and simple.  The experience by itself had a tiny shelf life, but some of the memories … wow … they lasted.  Nostalgic Spam.

After the lights went down, we stepped back into the real world, with its real problems and its real limitations.  I want that back.  That suspension of my own reality for a few hours minus the weed or booze

I didn’t sleep at all last night.  Not a fucking wink.  I searched for hours to find any sort of dances in Chico that at least had the skeleton of those wonderful times.  Nothing.

Simple solution: I need to start producing vintage dances again. Oh, it’s an easy enough on paper:

Step One: Find People.
Step Two: Find Venue.
Step Three: Get People to the Venue.
Step Four: Add Music.
Step Five: Dance. Rinse & Repeat.

The pinch point is Step Two.  Finding people willing to get well outside of their comfort zones when other, safer, more comfortable options are available … and to convince them to leave their agendas and their booze and their bull shit at the door … and to stir that resistant pot.  Well, it’s gonna be tough.

But hell, when was sparking a nostalgic revolution *ever* easy?  Once I get enough of these loops flowing, it will create eddies, and those eddies will become undertows, that undertow will become a riptide … ripping people out of their version of steady, drowning them in memories and spitting them back out into their world.

- Nate Wright, October 23rd, 2012 -

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Confession time. I'm a resolutions addict.

It all started in Murrieta, California. My mom had just achieved three gigantic milestones. After birthing me at 17, not finishing high school and surviving life in SoCal solo and welfare-free for many years, she hustled her way into a real estate job, got her license and started selling. She hit her stride in the early 90's, bought a small house butting up against the I-15, got married, then got pregnant with my little brother, and went to back to school to be a work from home medical transcriptionist.

My 12-year old mind didn't / couldn't fathom the impact of those achievements.

Buying a house as a working single mother. HARD.
Finding a husband in the Temecula Valley in her 30's. HARD.
Working from home in the early 90's. HARD.
Surviving the road there. MIRACULOUS.

So I was spending my first summer with my very pregnant mom. I was sketching out my first business idea: a 'walking distance' car wash service. She watched for hours as I sketched out a ridiculous looking cart that I was sure I'd need to carry the hose, buckets, brushes, sprays, paper towels and a lockbox for all the money I would make.

After showing it to her, she said nothing. Instead she walked over to her desk with a gigantic orange toned monitor sporting an early version of Word Perfect, and pulled out a steno pad. Over the next few minutes she gave me a crash course in what is now a daily sacrament - making a to-do list.

"Use just one side of the paper ... double space to allow for notes .... cross things off only after they're totally done ... copy the undone tasks to a new piece of paper at the end of the day ... and crumple up that old list. Feels good, doesn't it?"

My to-do lists no longer live on paper, since my home office boasts some serious automation required to maintain my sanity running Small Biz Triage. But my resolutions still live on yellow legal pads graffitied with .7mm gel pen notes and diagrams.

The future-wife, known to the world as Valerie, always gives me a funny little glance whenever I'm crossing, clustering and cleaning up the list of goals. When I hit flow state, the space next to the bed is littered with crumpled up pieces of paper.

Does this mean, I've become a pro at achieving these resolutions? Hell no. It's the process itself that I've become obsessed with. During some depressed chapters of my life, I even made shitty lists of favorite movies, or a Ninja Warrior workout I know I would never do, just so I could cross out the movies I'd seen (all of them of course) and scribble out stuff I deemed an awful idea (salmon ladder pull-ups - seriously?). I would then crumple them up, take the elevator down to the recycling bin, and toss 'em.

Now here's the lesson buried in my rambling: a digital checkbox or strikethrough option on my screen will never scratch that oh-so-human of itches ... physically destroying that item/task/goal/idea/map. There are very necessary chores in life standing between you and that next big win. And hat tip to mom for teaching me that it's easier to power through those if we can give the process some tangible reinforcement.

Not only do I get the warm fuzzy from knocking out a task, but I get to cross that shit off my big ass list AND crumple up that piece of paper and put it behind me. Gives me the chills just thinking about it.

PHOTO CREDIT: FreeImages.com/aaron beall

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