Category Archives: culture

3 Reasons I am More Hopeful at the End of 2022

I generally try to lean into the positive on this blog, because the world is just filled with too much negativity. However, as much as people tend to lean towards and dwell on negative things, we can’t all be positive all the time. Negativity does happen. It does not need to be ignored. We just need to balance out our thoughts by expressing gratitude and appreciation more and maybe reducing the amount of unnecessary negative content we consume.

It is in this vein that I must acknowledge that 2022 is the first time in nearly two decades I am ending the year with a more hopeful view of humanity and our future. So far this century, it has honestly felt like things were getting worse. People feel more divided, isolated and in worse physical, financial and mental health than they were at the turn of the century. 2008, with the financial crisis and smart phones and social media gaining momentum, seems like the pivotal year. I’ve even taken to labelling the period of time since then as the “Little Dark Age.”

Thinking back, two events in particular gave me a preview of the darkness that was to come. First, I saw a whole city collectively “lose their shit” over the results of an election.

In 2004 I was living in Madison, Wisconsin, a city that is quite beautiful and culturally rich. However, at that time, it felt like they were just a little ahead of the curve in becoming obsessed with partisan politics and being outright mean to anyone who even shows an indication that they are not in 100% agreement on issues that largely split the country 50/50.

Then, my friends started getting smart phones. Normally, it is not a bad thing when someone obtains a new product. However, I began to see more and more people become so obsessed with this device that they would ignore the people that are actually in front of them, just staring at the thing the entire time. I just knew this could not be good for humanity.

The world got darker. But now, I see a coming better era. Three moments from 2022 captivate this sentiment.

1. When I met up with my friend who is a professor

My friend Kevin is a professor at Valparaiso University, where I went to college.

I met up with him at the start of the month. We went out for deep dish pizza and went to the Christkindlmarket, because, well, Chicago in December.

I had honestly not seen him since before the pandemic and I asked him about student’s cell phone use. What he said indicated a marked improvement. He talked about how back in 2016, students were constantly being distracted by their phones, doing things like scrolling through social media. He indicated to me that now it seems like the majority of students’ phone use in class seems to be class related. Maybe they’re looking up an equation or a historical figure to enhance what the discussion in front of them is. This feels like a new generation of people is finding a far more productive way to use this technology that recently disrupted our lives.

2. Random song lyrics

These particular song lyrics hit me hard, in a good way, in 2022. They both represent people looking inward as opposed to outward. They represent a switch from the finger pointing and accusations that were quite common during the pandemic to self-reflection and trying to be a better person. This represents a trend that has the potential to be both less divisive and also more empowering. Focusing on what we, as individuals and communities, can do offers far more hope than dwelling on external factors and obsessing over how to either change or exact revenge on certain groups of people.

This kind of echoes what I have been seeing elsewhere in culture, including movies and T.V. shows. Without getting into detail, It feels like from roughly 2017 through 2020 most of pop culture had an us vs. them theme. Many songs, movies and shows seemed to be strongly advocating that everyone adapt perspectives that are in line with what people in Hollywood think (or, just taking them as ground truth despite them being up for debate generally). This year, I saw Top Gun Maverick, Elvis and Spirited, the new Christmas movie. These films, along with some other things I watched this year seem more themed around how we can improve while still being true to who we are. Thus, combining wanting to be better to those around us with acceptance of what makes all of us unique.

3. People I encountered throughout the year

As the year went by, it felt like I was encountering more and more people with a different focus. It started when the Commons on Champa, Denver’s entrepreneurial hub, reopened the last day of May.

This lead to meeting entrepreneurs from all over Latin America, associated with the Young Leaders in the Americas Initiative. What a wonderful, appreciative group of people. I’ve been told multiple times that people from poorer countries are often better at appreciating what they have as opposed to focusing on getting the next thing.

Then, on top of Mount Antero in August, I encountered some of the friendliest people I’d ever met.

They were friends from California and Arizona on a road trip together. They offered me a ride when my dog got blisters on her paws. They picked up litter they saw on the trail. Everything they talked about was positive, things like how amazing the music they were listening to is and astonishment at the scenery on the hike.

For much of the second half of the year I heard countless people describe things like their desire to get away from a lot of the stress and negativity of recent years and reconnect with themselves, their families, communities and nature. I had many people tell me about what they are doing to reduce their screen time, such as placing time limits or deleting apps and adapting new habits.

This culminated with my experiences in Cancun and Chicago in late November/ Early December. Between that and the messages I got from strangers at the Awake Festival and StartupWeek, I felt a level of appreciation I had not felt in years. Sometimes it feels like I opened a portal to accept certain influences in life. Or maybe, the world is finally moving on from the fear based responses we had to the events of 2012 through 2020 and we are finally doing the work that needs to be done to create a better future.

I coined the phrase “Little Dark Age” based on the term “Little Ice Age”, used to describe a cooler period on the planet from roughly 1300 -1850. The “Little Ice Age” reached its apex in 1816, when volcanic eruptions and a relative minima in solar activity lead to what is coined as “The Year Without a Summer.” However, by 1900, we were clearly out of the “Little Ice Age” (and on the path to better food security). My hope is that 2020, the year that everyone was as isolated as ever and yelling at each other over their responses to the pandemic and racial unrest was that moment for this “Little Dark Age”, and that now, we are on our way out, to a better (although not perfect) 2023.

2022 in 15 Lessons

Lesson 1: If someone “ghosts” you, it is likely because they are overwhelmed

Ghosting can be a frustrating experience and it is certainly not the best way to handle things. However, in 2022 I realized that the primary reason this happens is people getting overwhelmed. It’s usually not about you. To account for this, you can cast a wider net to become less reliant on a person who may ghost you. If someone is really of particular interest to you, I would recommend following up something like 4-6 weeks later. This is soon enough for them to not forget about you, but not so soon that you are contributing to how overwhelmed they likely are.

2. Mindset really does create your reality

This is something that has been hard for me to accept. However, there is a logical explanation for this. What you focus on is what you see and what you see will eventually become your reality. My vision board became my reality in 2022.

Therefore, it is important to periodically re-assess what you think about, who you surround yourself with and what content you consume. Because, it will show up in your life.

3. Less is more

We’re trained to think it is better to work more, work harder and always be doing something. However, doing something just for the sake of doing something has a negative effect on our lives. It depletes the energy we have that we may eventually use for valuable pursuits. Sometimes it’s better to do nothing at all.

We need to be okay with doing nothing, stop feeling guilty about not doing enough and trust the people we “work” (using the broad definition of work) with.

4. Most people project

When someone accuses you of something, it’s probably something they are at least insecure about being true of themselves. For example, the person always accusing people or companies of being greedy is likely greedy. It’s a way of deflecting their own insecurities. Do not give in to these people! You can chose to just shake it off, or calmly point out what they are doing, but don’t comply with whatever they demand of you or engage them in the topic too much. It will reduce your confidence. It will also prevent the accuser from actually reflecting on their own insecurities and making positive changes in their life.

5. Most things are a choice

In nearly every situation, we do have a choice. Sometimes, it’s just “least bad option.” Other times, we do not understand our options. It is also common to become blinded by fear of ostracism and fail to see who would actually support the decisions we are afraid of making.

6. Fear is often overblown

After living through countless fearful situations, I have realized that what we actually go through is often way less bad than what we fear. However, there is big money in fear and it is prevalent everywhere. The problem is that often times fear of some kind of negative consequence creates an outcome worse than the event itself.

7. A strong plurality is ready to move on

2020 was us at our most divided and isolated. We also seemed to be reacting, not really thinking. While some people are still in that general line of thinking, and others want to return to some past state, it seems like a strong plurality of people are ready to just move on. We haven’t really decided what is next. Maybe there is no what. Maybe it’s for all of us to determine individually. However, it is time to be intentional about what you want to see next in your life.

8. If someone wants you to cede your power they are not your friend or ally

A true friend or ally is someone who empowers you. We all have our causes, and it’s human nature to want to enlist people in them. However, if someone enlists you in their cause in a manner that requires you to shrink back and give up power, you need to distance yourself from them. You don’t necessarily have to end the friendship in dramatic fashion, but reduce the role they play in your life.

9. What feels good in the moment is usually not what you need

The obvious form of this are bad habits like drugs, alcohol and tasty but unhealthy food. However, it also takes the form of things like instant gratification, some forms of entertainment and the search for validation or vindication. They often feel good in the short term at the expense of something longer term. Sometimes we need embrace what feels uncomfortable in the short run, like hard work and tough conversations.

Scale back on activities that bring you fleeting joy and embrace short-term discomfort for long-term satisfaction.

10. Relationships are more important than tasks

We all have our to-do lists. However, 12 months later our lives are far more likely to be impacted by who is still in it than what specific thing got done on that day. While some deadlines are important and can’t be breached, most aren’t. In more situations than not, you can prioritize taking advantage of an opportunity to build a relationship through genuine connection rather than work on a to-do list.

11. Different preferences are not a personal threat

If someone listens to different music, eats dinner at a different time of day, works different hours or conducts their relationships differently from you, does that prevent you from having your preferences? Probably not. We are conditioned to want others to validate our choices by making the same ones as us, but we should not need that validation. Nor should we feel pressure to validate others choices by conforming. You do not need others to validate your choices and you do not need to validate other’s choices by conforming.

12. More things are about power than you think

We want to believe people live by certain principles that are more important than power. Unfortunately, this is simply not true. Principles are often created as convenient excuses for people to pursue or advocate for things that will bring them more power (or money which really translates to power). Stand up for yourself. Recognize what is really happening.

13. Presence is more important than exclusivity

We focus on exclusivity when presence is what we are really looking for. It is possible to be exclusive but not present or present but not exclusive. Presence is what truly determines the quality of your interactions with one another and involvement in anything. Therefore, presence should be your focus.

14. Consciously decide whose opinion matters

Most likely, at some point this year, you found yourself overloaded by opinions. But, opinions are easy and anyone can have one. They are not all equal.

There are two ways to handle this. You can create a list of people whose opinions matter to you. Or you can learn to assess all opinions given to you by pondering the source. Who is this person? Why did they share this opinion? Do you want to follow in their footsteps? Do they have something to gain from sharing this opinion with you?

15. Perfectionism may be your biggest barrier

We’ve all been raised to fear being “wrong.” However, avoiding mistakes leads to inaction and paralysis. It’s more costly than being wrong. It can cost you your life, as it will prevent you from ever going for what you truly treasure.

It’s time to adapt a new mindset. Remind yourself, daily if you must, that it is better to get something wrong out than to not get anything out at all.

Ten Days Away From “Reality”

It isn’t too hard to get disillusioned with the modern world. It can be lonely, impersonal, lack meaning, lack purpose. It often feels like people are either running around but never really getting anywhere or are sitting at home consuming unhealthy online content while wishing their lives would change. On a typical day, most people are not looking to chat, connect, find new experiences, try new things or explore new ideas. On a typical day, we all have the things we need to deal with: The work that needs to be done. The developments around us that are causing stress. And, often times other random requests that we rarely think about like the guy on the street asking for money, the unsolicited phone calls and all the junk we all have in our email inboxes.

One of the primary reasons anyone travels, or goes on vacation, is to experience something different than normal, day to day, life.

Even if someone enjoys their typical day to day life, it is common to crave something different. Variety is one of the six basic human needs. Vacations, events, holidays, festivals and other experiences of that sort transport us to a world that operates differently from the one we inhabit on a typical day. The “rules” are different. The “norms” are different. Often what we must do is different and so is what’s expected of us.

For a ten day period in mid to late September 2022 I found myself in a series of places vastly different from one another.

First, the AWAKE festival, an event described as a “weekend-long, wellness gathering to restore, rejuvenate and reconnect.” The event includes a lot of yoga, meditation, dancing and spiritual discussions.

Then, I attended Start Up Week, one of my favorite weeks in Denver. Start Up Week is a celebration of Denver’s entrepreneurial community, but also so much more! It’s about networking, sharing knowledge and spreading ideas.

The following weekend was a friend’s wedding, with all of the typical events associated with a wedding.

While completely different events, these events had a few things in common which made the experiences flow together into one seamless vacation from “reality.”

  1. Lacking negativity. At all of these events there was very little to no negativity. Some of our present day problems were addressed at Start Up Week, but only in the context of showcasing a solution and forging ahead into a better future world. There was no complaining. No divisiveness. Everything had a far more positive vibe.
  2. People wanted to connect. Normally people aren’t looking to connect with strangers they encounter. At all of these events, with a controlled group of people, nearly everyone was willing to connect.
  3. Far less tedious work. None of these events are about things like taking out the trash, cleaning the bathroom, or even performing routine tasks we do for our jobs. Even the job related sessions at Start Up Week were far more about how to run an effective organization than writing code.
  4. Far less screen time. We were living in the real world!

Experiencing three events over a ten day period that were distinct from what most people accept as reality in 2022 in a similar way causes one to look at this reality in a whole new light.

It’s the type of perspective that leads to a rabbit hole of questions, mostly starting with the word “why.” After four days in that rabbit hole, I realized that this is not what this rare confluence of experiences was meant to teach me. It is not about dissecting the problems of today’s world and taking the extremely cynical view of it all I started this post with.

It is about taking what I truly loved about my September, incorporating it into my typical day-to-day life as much as possible and sharing it with my community where I live. With rare exception, we can’t directly control what happens around us. Anyone with the power to tell people what to do will find that power to be fleeting (children grow up, people leave jobs, etc.). What we can control is what we chose to focus on. This is how we actually exert influence over what happens around us.

My “reality” is no longer the one described at the start of this post. Over the course of 2022, I have been reducing my consumption of online content, focusing more on what brings me joy or fulfills my purpose and finding ways to connect with people. Maybe if we all do the same our reality will start to reflect what we truly want. If we stop thinking about the institutions we abhor, maybe they will become less powerful. If we stop thinking about hate, maybe the hate will just fade away, lose significance. If we begin to view the person staring at their phone on the train or in a coffee shop as a person looking for connection, maybe they will be.

Utah- A Place Like Nowhere Else

Downtown Salt Lake City

Most of Utah’s population lives in a region referred to as the “Wasatch Front“, which is essentially the area from Ogden to Provo, including Salt Lake City, boxed out in red in the map below.

It’s a place I have not previously spent much time, as most of my prior Utah experience had centered around recreation destinations like Moab or Park City, or places I stop at on road trips. However, if you want to understand the culture of a place, it is usually good to visit where most people live.

My entire time in the Wasatch Front region of Utah, I felt this strange mix of feeling partially at home but partially kind of elsewhere. This is probably due to my suburban upbringing and current life in Colorado. Utah’s mountains are quite similar to the ones I visit all the time in Colorado.

Like where I live, the culture revolves quite a bit around hiking, with hikes to beautiful destinations like Stewart Falls.

And, because of the mountainous terrain, the weather can be variable, and the rainbows amazing.

Anywhere in this region, mountains can be seen in nearly all directions. It is also quite suburban. My basic assessment of the area is that it all feels as if they took Schamburg (a suburb of Chicago known for giant shopping malls, wide suburban roads, retail and restaurants) and dropped it into the middle of the mountains.

People will often try to approximate the culture of a place by considering some basic characteristics, such as region, demographics, political and religious affiliation. Utah’s political affiliation is pretty clear as it is a solidly Republican state. However, unlike in many other democracies, in the United States we only have two competitive parties. This makes how much you can truly tell about a place based on political affiliation pretty limited, mostly limited to certain “hot button” issues.

Utah is nothing like Alabama, and, as a New Yorker I learned early on that New York is very different from California.

What makes Utah more unique from nearly all other states is its religious affiliation.

Utah is the only state in the country that is majority Mormon. This gives the state a culture and a perspective that is unique from any other place, as some Christian groups don’t view them as Christian and see them as more different than, say, Catholics would view Protestants. This, and the state’s history, likely gives the place an interesting view of its place in the world.

It is customary for Mormons to go on missions when they are young. In Utah, it is common to hear “while I was on my mission” casually dropped into conversations. In these missions, many people travel to foreign lands and get exposed to other cultures.

As a result, there is much more exposure to other cultures here than one would typically associate with a “conservative” place. However, this exposure to other cultures and these types of experiences does not appear to have shifted the population in the direction of the post-modern sentiment that there is no absolute truth nor towards a nihilistic lack of pride in anything.

There may be limitations to my observations about the culture of Utah, given I was only here for a few days and primarily came to engage with my co-workers in a work setting.

However, it does feel like the people here are more confident and happier than most others I observe.

Hearing about some of these mission experiences it feels as if the Mormon population is well aware that, outside of Utah (and parts of Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada and Arizona), most people oppose what they believe in, some quite intensely. They’ve navigated being opposed and being hated in a manner that has strengthened their resolve in a manner that actually seems healthy.

I recall going to see “The Book of Mormon” years ago. The play pokes fun at the church a bit and was written by people who are generally skeptical of organized religion.

In the playbill, the Mormon church placed an advertisement that literally said “You’ve seen the play, the book is better.” This told me that this is a community that can take a joke.

Ultimately, what we are all looking for is to be happy.

Sometimes our approaches to happiness can be misguided. We pursue things that actually make us more unhappy, like drugs and alcohol. Or, we can become too obsessed with things that only facilitate happiness, like money and good looks. The formula for happiness is complicated because there is no one formula. We all need something different in our lives to truly be happy. If someone appears to be happy, and they are not harming anyone, why hate? Hate is so much more exhausting than love.

Four Days Without the Internet

I am starting to grow tired of the internet. Every day feels like the same thing. The same feeling of rejection when I’m reminded of the social experiences people are having that I am not involved in. The same feeling of aggravation and isolation around people’s responses to current events. The same feeling of fear around societal trends and possible future events. And, perhaps most importantly, the same stale feeling around yet another hour in front of a screen, typically sitting down at home, consuming content that is all too similar to the content I had consumed the last hour I spent online.

As you can see, even before this, I spent less time on my phone than most

In the context of most of the world in 2022, going four days without the internet sounds extreme. We do everything online. We’ve spent the last two decades congratulating ourselves for making things more efficient by moving them online. However, I am not so sure this is a good thing. David Byrne famously pointed out five years ago that all of our new technologies have one thing in common. From online shopping to robots and those self-scanners at the grocery store, they all eliminate points where humans would have previously interacted with one another. This is one of the primary factors that lead to a loneliness epidemic being declared even before it the pandemic came and made it far worse.

My theory was that if I spent less time online, and distanced myself particularly from news and social media, I would be a lot happier. After all, I knew that there are people out there that care about me. I know there are people that see things the way I see them. The whole world has not descended into finger pointing and panic, and there are tons of great new experiences to be had if I just look around me. I just had to stop letting the internet tell me what to think about.

The very first thing I noticed was noticing more things.

I spent time observing trees, clouds, storms and all the things that we often forget to look at when our minds are occupied.

Soon, I became lost in thought.

Behavior analysts will often point out that if someone wants to move away from an undesirable behavior, like smoking or excessive hand washing, it is far easier to do so if the behavior is replaced with a new behavior. I sincerely believe this to be true, but I removed the internet from my life rather abruptly without selecting alternate activities. There was not always a suitable alternate activity, no matter how much I enjoyed this book!

So, in order to stick to my pledge, I ended up spending time just in my own thought. While at first my thought processes went to all of the things that had been frustrating me, soon I ran out of things to think about on that topic. This is where we all have the potential to tap into our creative sides.

It feels like we were more creative before we became constantly distracted by smart phones. Just the idea of people tapping back into this side of themselves and coming up with all sort of ideas gave me chills.

By the time I returned home, I was happier. But, as is the case any time people go on vacation, I did not know whether I was happier because of my hiatus from the internet, from not reading the news or being on social media, or if I was happier because I had just spent the weekend out of town with friends. This is something it would take all week for me to figure out.

After returning to Denver, I felt like I was still observing more than before.

And I had some pleasant conversations with the people I encountered.

Maybe it’s time for all of us to reconsider what our relationship with the internet should be. From increasingly using LinkedIn to network and find jobs to the use of QR code scanners for menus at restaurants, societal trends seem to pulling us closer to the internet, having it become more and more a central part of our lives. But, is this what we want? Is it what we need right now?

After a week of reflection on this experience I started to ask myself why I’m happier. What am I trying to escape? Am I trying to escape people? Or am I trying to escape a certain behavior pattern that the internet and particularly social media seems to encourage? Am I fed up with the way people interact over social media? Or am I fed up with the way people interact in general? And, is the way we interact in general a reflection of how social media has changed us over the past two decades?

Sometimes an experiment like this one, meant to answer a question, only leads to more questions. But, sometimes, despite what we all learn when we study science, if we experiment with something and it leads to a positive result, like being happier, maybe we need to stop obsessing over the reasons why and just be happy with the result.

Frisco, One of My Favorite Mountain Towns, from a New Perspective

Downtown Frisco, CO May 23, 2022

There are many ways we travel and many reasons we travel. In retrospect, it seems rather silly that when I was a child, people used to lump all travel into two categories; business and leisure. Leisure travel, previously defined as anything other than travel for work, can take on many forms. We travel to visit friends and family. We travel to see specific destinations. We travel for specific activities. Having lived in the Midwest for a lot of year, I am more than familiar with travel to escape the winter and other bad weather.

The great thing about all these modes of travel is that it is possible to visit the same place many times and have completely different experiences.

Frisco is unique in that it is situated near many of Colorado’s best ski resorts.

Yet, unlike Breckenridge or Vail, the town is not the site of a ski resort. Therefore, winter in Frisco is active but not in the same way these ski resort towns are. Still, there are a lot of people out and about. It is easily the most active time of the year in Frisco (except, maybe when a major snowstorm closes the highways).

Summer also tends to be active. The area is a great place to escape the summer heat and take part in activities like enjoying the mountains from the seat of a bicycle.

The morning of May 23, 2022, for perhaps the first time ever, I saw Frisco extremely quiet.

There was nobody walking around. The experience reminded me of the few times I would wake up before 8 A.M. on a Sunday while living in Chicago. It was the only time I saw a city that was always crowded and noisy quiet and calm. This place was quiet and calm because the activities that drew visitors all weekend had come to an end while the weather had yet to improve enough for many of the outdoor activities that draw summer visitors. There were low clouds.

Fog, and even a little bit of snow.

It was enough to make Frisco quiet, even when the sun would peak out for a little bit.

It was even enough to make the typically even busier Breckenridge feel rather calm.

The conversations were different too. People I would encounter around town were not reflexively asking questions like “where are you in town from” and “how long are you here.” Instead, I was asked to identify a bird and about trail conditions. In a way, I was seeing the place the way the “locals” see it. Still, it made me wonder….

  • Do locals only get to act like locals, in the open like this, a few months out of the year, in between seasons?
  • Or is there a secret set of places they go during the more active seasons, particularly from December through early April?
  • What’s it like growing up in a place like this, not knowing that most people don’t live places constantly crawling with tourists?

On this trip, I also got to see more of Frisco. Most of my previous trips to Frisco primarily involve being on Main Street.

It is the face of the town. But, on this trip I spent a little bit of time in some of the other, more residential areas of town.

I saw where the creek flows between houses.

I even saw where they were in the process of building a new recreational trail.

Frisco is one of those towns with hiking trails right on the edge of town. Residents and visitors alike can just walk up to a hiking trail and climb a mountain. I did this twice during my off-season visit to Frisco. On the other side of I-70, there is the North Tenmile Trail, a hike that follows the Tenmile Creek into the Eagles Nest Wilderness.

There is the far steeper hike up Mount Royal on the south side of town.

This mountain is impossible to miss. It is quite likely that for most, the idea of hiking up this mountain feels quite intimidating. The hike is steep right from the start and is steep the whole way.

However, it leads to amazing overlooks of I-70, the Tenmile Canyon (just west of Frisco) and a whole new perspective on the town of Frisco.

On previous visits to Frisco, I experienced Frisco how tourists experience it. I saw the bus to the ski resorts. I heard conversations about vacations, time shares, flights and favorite slopes, shops and restaurants. This May, nearly a decade after discovering this town, I finally experienced it more like a local, slowing down a bit and adjusting for things that almost never happen during the busy season, like restaurants being closed on Mondays and Tuesdays and full days without any activities.

Recreating the Past

Most people who live in Chicago’s Northwest Suburbs, where I spent part of my childhood, are excited by the prospect of the Chicago Bears moving into Arlington Park. For me, the move is bittersweet. Arlington Park is one of those places of personal significance. It is the first place I ever gambled. Gambling would become a significant component of my life’s experience, with more betting on horse racing, and then, when I turned 21, games like black jack and craps.

I still remember all of those summer afternoons watching horses race on that track. I remember sitting in the stands cheering on whatever horse I had bet $5 on as they came around the curve headed towards the finish line. I remember seeing the official results post on the scoreboard at the end of every race, indicating what I had won, or what money I would have won had I made a better bet. I even remember hearing the occasional train pass by and the energy of the crowd when there was a particularly exciting race, or when someone had to make a bigger bit on something like a trifecta and won.

My April 2022 trip to Chicago brought me back to three past periods of my life.

My parents still live in the suburban home I lived in from age 11 to 17, where I learned how to work for a living, pack my schedule with activities and, of course, gamble. Experiencing the Easter holiday with my niece and nephew, ages 5 and 7, reminded me of my earlier childhood, and what holidays mean to children. Finally, the trip included two trips into Chicago, where I spent my late 20s.

In any experience like this, it is tempting to expect the same experience we had in the past. It’s tempting to get nostalgic. It’s easy to envision watching the same Easter movies I had watched when I was a child, frequenting the places I loved in my teenage years, like the Arlington Park Racetrack, and frequenting the same bars and restaurants I loved when I worked downtown as a young adult.

However, like the racetrack, which will soon appear quite differently and likely be packed with football fans, the experiences are not likely to be the same. The kids have new things the love to watch, different activities and different preferences (I’m a Cubs fan).

Establishments close and new ones open up.

Punch Bowl Social actually opened its first location in Denver in 2014

And the overall situation we find ourselves in will inevitably change.

This is the only place I saw gas over $5

However, specifics like places, activities, prices and colors do not need to change for the experience to be different. Life’s experiences and the way we progress as human beings are inherently going to change our perspectives. Even if everything I did on this trip was exactly what I had remembered, a decade, or two, or three worth of life experience would have caused me to see them differently. I noticed this for the entire duration of the trip.

One of the most beautiful things about the experiences we have early in life, as children, is the fact that we often have no prior experience to compare them with. This is why children tend to watch movies, listen to music and take part in activities with an open mind. In adulthood, especially as we get older, it is tempting to compare any new experience with one from the past. We compare today’s music to the music of our adolescence. We compare the movies our kids watch with the kids movies of our childhood. And, we compare trends in things like fashion and lifestyles with the trends that defined our formative years.

However, to give ourselves the full opportunity to really enjoy the experiences we have in adulthood, we should temper the urge to make these comparisons. The experiences we have today do not owe it to us to live up to something that happened in the past. They are going to be what they are and only when we minimize the attachment to having the same experience we had years ago can we full be in the moment and enjoy what is in front of us for what it is.

Homesteading in Southern Colorado

Location undisclosed

I did my best to keep up, as Homesteaders discussed things like tools, setting up electrical systems, building wells, cultivating crops and guns and ammo. Much of it is just to build many of the conveniences we in the city take for granted, like plumbing, food, running water and heat. All of our homes have complicated systems of electricity, water, piping and plumbing, which enable all of the conveniences of modern life. I know nothing of this world. It is all a part of this nebulous category of things that are somehow taken care of with the money we shell out when we buy our homes and pay our monthly bills.

When I entered this place, one of the first things to cross my mind was the fact that the nearest sushi restaurant is over an hour away. This, as well as many other conveniences and sources of excitement that define urban and suburban living are not easily accessible.

The concept of “homesteading” makes me think of the 19th century, when pioneers were settling vast unsettled parts of the country and President Lincoln signed The Homestead Act. What would make people decide to do this in the 2010s and 2020s? Could it be the sky high housing costs in many of our cities? Could it be something else? The homesteaders in Colorado point to a couple of other factors.

1. Energy and Lifestyle

I heard talk of not liking the energy of big city life. The city is full of pressure. It is fast paced. This appointment at 10, this meeting at 2, pick up the kids at 4, etc. Here, the day of the week and even the time of the day are far less significant. Alarms are not set. People don’t set aside a specific time to meet up, they just come by and see if their neighbors are home. It can be relaxing but certainly requires a different frame of mind. It requires abandoning concepts ingrained in modern life such as maximizing the number of tasks performed in a day.

2. The Necessary Skills for Life

For decades, the skills needed to build and upkeep our homes and other structures, often referred to as “the trades”, have been held in lower regard than most corporate jobs. These skills have become somewhat of a lost art. Recent shortages in “skilled trade labor” serve as a reminder of how important these skills really are. Homesteaders here mention preserving these lost skills in an era of desk jobs and specialization.

3. Society is Fragile

There was also talk about how fragile our society is, and what happens if we experience a collapse or state of emergency. Culture does periodically collapse. In Western Culture, there are two prominent examples of times when some combination of mis-trust, mis-management and mindless destruction lead to a fairly advanced era being followed up by a darker age. The first one was when the Bronze Age collapsed around 1177 B.C. The next is the fall of Rome, just over 1500 years later.

1500 years later, could another collapse be possible? There are plenty of legitimate reasons to be pessimistic about the future [1][2]. There are also plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Regardless of what is to come, it is probably a good thing that a significant portion of the population is interested in learning these skills.

Life here feels like life as it was two hundred years ago with the aid of some new technology. The focus is on more basic needs like food (agriculture) and shelter (building). New advanced technologies, like efficient solar power conductors and extremely accurate scopes on rifle guns, still make it feel clearly easier than 200 years ago.

As is the case whenever there are options, there are trade-offs. In the city we have pressure, pressure to perform for our organizations, pressure to earn enough money to pay our mortgages or rent as well as buy food and all the things we want. There is the need to maintain a certain status in our chosen communities and a need to plan around things like traffic patterns, our schedules and anticipated crowds. However, there isn’t the need to worry oneself with how we get our food, water and shelter. There is also the opportunity to have a more significant impact on people, our society and our culture. It is this burning desire that will likely keep me in cities for the foreseeable future.

However, if there is one thing our current era of division and isolation can teach us, it is to stop looking at all people who make different choices based on different preferences as enemies, or threats.

Our differences make life more interesting. It is a big part of what makes travel worthwhile. If everywhere began to look and feel the same, something would certainly be lost. I do not expect a new dark age to descend upon us. However, regardless of what happens, I think it is a good idea not to piss off the group of people who know how to make our systems of food, water and electricity work.

A Social Contract for 2022 and Beyond

To live in a community, a culture, a society or a nation….

What do we owe one another?

What is our obligation to one another?

How much must we do for the common good rather than pure self-interest?

To what level is it necessary to defer our best judgement to “the group” for a functional society and community to prosper?

The debate about this is likely as old as civilization, it is at least as old as Ancient Greece. The result of these discussions is often referred to as a “social contract.” A Social Contract includes both written and unwritten rules to live by. For example, nearly all places in the world have laws against theft. However, all cultures have unwritten rules around things like acceptable attire, punctuality and relationships. Where I live it is almost rude to show up at a party that starts at 7:00 right at 7. Showing up at 8:30 is normal. But, the same is not true of meetings.

In this time of isolation, it becomes necessary to revisit the social contract.

Recently, those who share my concern about how lonely people have become have taken aim at our culture of rugged individualism. Unfortunately, some manifestations of this criticism have missed the point. Outside of immature insecurities, a person being true to themselves does not prevent them from interacting with others. Our constantly-connected world has increased conformist pressure. This has not lead to better human connections.

Most debates regarding the social contract involve people advocating for less or more of it on two dimensions.

  1. Shared Resources

This is your standard debate between laissez-faire capitalism and those who argue for the redistribution of resources, at one level or another, from the wealthy to the poor. However, it can also take on a non government related form, such as the expected shared resources among certain faith-based groups (ex. tithing) or the way people tend to think more positively about people who give back.

2. Behavioral Expectations

Behavioral expectations can be coded into law but are often enforced through other means. An example of this nearly all people have experienced or observed is a high school group not inviting a person to parties or other social functions based on their preferences and behaviors. Adults do this as well, as it is currently common for people to pressure one another to conform to behaviors deemed consistent with their race, age, gender, political affiliation and line of business.

Many who have become concerned with the negative impacts associated with loneliness have advocated for a stronger social contract. However, the focus has continued to fall narrowly along the lines of the two axes which have been the focus of debate for at least 100 years. Thus far this young century, there has been no shortage of ideas and actions taken to enlarge our social contract on these two axes. Yet, loneliness is even more prevalent than it was in 2000. Sharing resources can only make someone less lonely if they do it through means like sharing a meal together. One person having less and the other having more makes neither of them less lonely if they are still apart. Forcing people to use the same verbiage, wear the same clothes, listen to the same music and frequent the same stores just makes more people boring!

So, what do we owe one another?

Is there a new way to look at the social contract?

Yes, there is. No man is an island, no matter how desperately we want to be one. There is a common prosperity. It is improved whenever people are encouraged, listened to, empathized with and appreciated. It is improved when people are able to be their more authentic self and therefore more productive. It is improved when people share meals, experiences, laughter, dancing and even sadness with one another. It is improved when people have someone to confide in during tough times.

A new social contract requires rethinking power and priorities.

There are a few things we can all agree, universally are harmful and need to be punished, such as murder, theft and blocking traffic. However, we have also often felt the need to “punish” people for things that are not really harmful, like dressing differently or choosing different manners in which to orient their lives. Our predominant work culture has lead to depression among people who are naturally “night owls”. The most recent iteration of this is what we have begun to refer to as “cancel culture”, which has “punished” numerous people for actions that are not actually harmful.

Meanwhile, there are actual harmful behaviors that have historically been ignored that need to be considered when discussing our future social contract. Many people have mistreated their employees, manipulated people or completely disrespected people’s time without suffering any consequences.

So, what do we “owe” each other?

We DO NOT OWE each other…

  • A repression of our authentic selves to avoid making someone uncomfortable
  • Restrictions on behaviors that don’t actually harm anyone
  • Significant amounts of our resources transferred to a central authority

We DO OWE each other…

  • A service each and every one of us can provide for the good of our communities and nations
  • Building communities, being present, listening and understanding, being respectful and encouraging one another
  • A focus on our common humanity and giving all people a fair chance
  • Striving, always, to be better human beings

If we focus on the right axes of our social contract, we can revive our communities and reduce the harmful impacts of isolation WITHOUT sacrificing our freedom. In fact, we will be more free and seeing someone radically different from us will no longer threaten us.

When the Next Season is Late to Arrive

The Middle Fork of the Platte River 10,000 ft. (3km): Sunrise December 4th 2021

Life is full of patterns, rhythms and cycles. We anticipate them. We prepare for them. Depending on the cycle sometimes we dread certain phases. At other times, we eagerly await them, desperate for their arrival.

Sometimes, as is the case with events like the sunrise and sunset, we know exactly when something is going to happen.

Seasons, like many of life’s more puzzling cycles, can be unpredictable. This year, in Colorado, winter is late.

Temperatures over the past months have been about 7°F (4°C) above average. Basin-wide snowpacks are about half their average amount. On a weekend I expected to be at the ski slopes, instead, I was hiking.

Temperatures warmed into the 50s (≈+13°C), which felt warm with no clouds or wind at a high elevation. The vibe, reminiscent of a totally different time and place then early December in the central Rocky Mountains, was impossible to ignore.

The sun kissed the entire river valley in a manner that made it hard to believe that this is really December.

Meanwhile, rather than airlifting skiers to hospitals after injuries, emergency management personnel were evacuating homes and trying to contain a wildfire.

Some welcome the continued warmth, and love the fact that they do not yet have to shovel snow and put on winter boots. Others are frustrated, losing patience, or even fearful. The weather is something that can be predicted fairly accurately about a week out and prepared for. However, like nearly all of nature, it cannot be controlled.

The weather may be one of the clearest and most present examples out there of that which we cannot control. As is the case with a lot of what life will hand us, we can only control our reaction to it. I was bummed that I was not skiing, as I had previously anticipated. However, when that door closed another one opened.

We hiked

We saw some places appear in a totally different light

And, I got to awkwardly combine holidays while wearing this strange Krampus t-shirt.

When seasonal shifts in weather arrive early or late it can be frustrating. However, this frustration can sometimes pale in comparison to unexpectedly early onsets or frustrating delays in other areas of life. Almost everyone can relate to having to wait longer than expected for a new career opportunity, to find a good relationship, or for a loved one to correct problematic behavior. Likewise, it’s hard to imagine too many people who haven’t been blindsided by an unexpected and unwelcome change.

The same way snow sport enthusiasts in Colorado are eagerly awaiting an overdue change in seasons, millions, possibly even billions, of people are eagerly awaiting what feels like an overdue change in our overall situation. The virus and the fear that goes along with it is still causing some restrictions. Most people seem tired of our partisan divisions, lack of human connections, excessive screen time and work culture that doesn’t make sense. Yet, like the onset of winter and our emergence from the pandemic, progress feels quite slow. Sometimes things go into reverse.

The timing of cultural shifts is harder to predict than weather patterns. There is no snow now, on December 5th, but, there will certainly be snow by February 5th. Shifts in the circumstance in our lives can arrive tomorrow morning, or never arrive at all. At this point, all we can do is hope and try to find the right balance between optimism and realism, between focusing on what we can control while trying to affect our surroundings, and accepting our current reality while trying to create a better future.