Category Archives: Personal Development

The Highest Point in Colorado

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I hiked Mount Elbert last Friday for a few reasons…

I wanted to reach Colorado’s highest point.

Also, it has been a hot summer in the Denver area, with August’s daytime high temperatures running about 4ºF above average.

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At Denver International Airport, the average high temperature for the month of August (through the 23rd) was over 91ºF (33°C). Getting up in elevation, where temperatures would be far cooler sounded refreshing.

Despite the heat, I could feel summer’s end approaching, with sunset getting earlier and earlier.

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I was starting to feel as if I was allowing my Colorado summer to pass by without that many mountain adventures to show for it.

Finally, as recently as a six months ago, the idea of needing a day away from people would have seemed inconceivable to me. Things changed, and last week I was seriously feeling the desire to spend a day alone (well, with my dog). I guess it is true that even the most extreme introverts need human interaction and even the most extreme extroverts need some time alone.

So, I did the only logical thing. I left Denver at 3:45 A.M. so I could arrive at the Mount Elbert Trailhead at sunrise- in time to get the last parking spot in the lot.

It certainly was cooler. At the start of the day, the temperature had dropped into the mid 30s (≈2ºC).

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The Northeast Ridge is the most popular, and most easily navigable route up Mount Elbert. The first mile of this hike follows both the Colorado Trail and the Continental Divide trail.

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This first half of this mile is fairly steep, with switchbacks, followed by a flat section.

One of the greatest things about starting a hike this early is being there the moment the sun first hits the top of the trees.

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I reached the tree line an hour into the hike.

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The Arkansas Valley and the town of Leadville gradually disappeared from behind the trail, as if I was on an airplane taking off.

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Due to the time of day, and sun exposure, it began to feel warmer. The trail also got even more intense.

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One of the reasons people hike 14ers is to get that feeling of being on top of the world! Because the Mount Elbert Trail is pretty steep right near the tree line, that feeling comes sooner on Mount Elbert than it does on other 14ers. I looked back only about 15 minutes after reaching the tree line, and already felt as if I was looking down on all else.

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The other common 14er experience that comes a bit earlier on Mount Elbert (compared to other 14ers) is the “scramble”. This is a really steep and rocky section where there is often not one specific route. On most 14ers, the “scramble” comes right at the top. However, on Mount Elbert it comes a bit earlier.

After a couple more miles of alternating steeper and flatter sections…

An intense “scramble” presents itself.

The top of the scramble, however, is not the summit.

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Exhausted from the scramble, the trail seems to drag on forever (although in reality it is about 30 minutes). It is the kind of hike that forces a lot of hikers to reach, deep inside themselves, and find the energy and stamina they did not think they had.

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I was able to summit right around 10 A.M., a safe time to summit given the thunderstorm threat is primarily in the afternoon.

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Shasta (pictured with me here) was far from the only dog to hike Mount Elbert that day. However, I was surprised to see a mountain bike at the top of the mountain.

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A hiker carried this bike up the mountain on his back, and then rode it down the East Ridge- WOW!

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The man who carried the mountain bike to the top of the mountain was far from the only person I talked to on this hike. I talked to dozens of people, many others with dogs and even one of the trail volunteers who was helping build an erosion preventing wall along the trail just above tree line. It was not nearly as solitary as I had thought.

I really didn’t mind. In fact, I enjoyed talking to all of the people I met on the trail and felt it made it a better experience. Maybe what I really needed was not a break from all people, just the ones I felt were being demanding.

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Downhill was also an adventure. The views are commonly different, as it is much closer to the middle of the day. Some places feel like they took on a somewhat different color.

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It also presented a challenge of its own, as parts of the trail were slippery.

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And, as was the case with the trip up the hill, it also felt like it dragged on longer than anticipated.

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While I had grown tired of all things “demanding”, this hike made me realize that some of the best experiences in life are the demanding ones. The ones that force you to give more than what you were prepared to give. The ones that force you to reach deep inside yourself, both physically and mentally, and find what you did not know you had in you.

There are different kinds of demanding experiences. Some build something in us, such as hikes like these, the basketball coach that wants their players to reach their full potential, or a great boss or mentor that knows going soft on someone with real talent will shortchange them.

Then there are other ones, that do nothing but feed someone else’s ego, or squeeze every last hour of work or bit of energy out of you to line pocketbooks. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference, especially when tired. I know there were sections of this hike where I was barely able to hold a thought. Somewhere deep inside, we all understand what is going on. All we need to do is trust our instincts and ask ourselves this simple question…

Am I Being Built or Harvested?

Be thankful for the experiences that build us, no matter how frustrating or exhausting they are. Run as fast as you can from those where we are being harvested.

Summer’s Apex

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It could be argued that the apex of summer 2019 in Colorado occurred on July 19. It was the only day that the official high temperature at Denver International Airport exceeded 100ºF. It was the day residents of Boulder would finally tube to work and lead into a weekend with all kinds of festivals in the mountains.

We often reflect on things at beginnings and endings of different experiences. But what about that time in the middle? Sometimes during the middle period of a season, project, or experience, we need a break, a second wind or a new approach. I think of that 2:30 PM feeling many of us get during the day, the slump the main character gets about 2/3 of the way though every sports movie, or the way the dance floor at a club or wedding seems to have a lull between 10:30 and 11.

While there are many layers to life, seasons, relationships, projects, etc., my life feels like it’s at a midpoint with respect to all of them.

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At first glance it would seem that over the course of the last year I had gotten everything I’d wanted in life.

I was able to return to my original field- meteorology.

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The office I work at is full of fun people and fun events.

Also, as I had desperately wanted, my life had become more socially active and faster paced.

Somehow, I managed to get too much of what I wanted.

The severe storm season was very active. There was a lot of work to do!

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Also, a lot of hours.

The other areas in my life also picked up in pace. It felt like there was never any time to spare. My life, once again, was out of balance, just in a different way.

That is where it helps to get away, even if it is for just one night. Denver’s proximity to the mountains makes amazing one night getaways possible, and the long hot days of July makes getting up into the mountains quite refreshing.

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Despite departing late in the afternoon, we arrived at an amazingly tranquil place with outstanding views of the mountains before the sun went down.

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The weather patterns were so warm that despite the fact that our campsite was above 10,000 feet in elevation, I spent the entire night in shorts (although I did add layers after sundown).

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It was the perfect place for some quiet reflection. Sometimes it is hard for us to actually know what is happening when things get hectic and there is no time to process anything. I did not realize that a busy period, and pressure from others, had caused me to lose sight of my priorities in life. It also lead to me neglecting things that are important to me and people who I care about.

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The next morning was beautiful. The sun warmed the sky quicker than I had ever experienced in the mountains.

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When I find myself in places like this, I often like to spend time just watching trees sway in the wind. I’ve never thought about why. Maybe it is just interesting enough to keep my mind focused on the present, the here and now, as opposed to some grander concept.

July 2019, despite not being the beginning or ending of anything, ended up being a time where I got a lot of context and revelations about some of my life experiences. The prior weekend, I attended two weddings, where unexpected conversations provided me with clarity and closure related to situations that had ended years ago. Through quiet reflection, I figured out the meaning behind my current situation.

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Summer 2019 will continue to rage on. There are many more hot days to come. a few more weeks will pass before stores start advertising back to school sales and we begin to notice the sun setting earlier. However, I return home ready to adjust in a way I would have never anticipated as recently as four months ago. I’m adjusting to a life where I slow down more often, take the time to appreciate what is around me, and make time available for those that need me.

Boulder Start Up Week

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It would be hard for me to think of a group of people that I have more respect and admiration for than the Start Up Community. Entrepreneurs take risks the vast majority of people would never even dream of. They put a lot of energy into creating something new in the world, and, when successful, create something meaningful. Entrepreneurs, along with those that join them in building businesses and others that pursue ideas using a similar mindset, are the ones responsible for most human progress. They are also the ones that create most of the jobs that the majority of the population finds security in.

At the risk of injecting politics into a blog I specifically wanted to keep non-political, it often feels like these job creators go unappreciated in some segments of the American population. Sure, there are some horrible bosses out there, and corporations that don’t care about their employees. However, there are plenty who deserve their high level of wealth and status. There are movements that seem to encourage resentment towards all wealthy people. Beyond encouraging mediocrity and threatening the system that has brought us economic prosperity, they are unfair to those that are wealthy because they did a lot of good for humanity. This includes the entrepreneurial community.

Still, many people, like myself, revere this community. Start Up Weeks occur all over the country. Each Start Up Week is a series of events that help connect communities of people who build businesses, work in start up cultures, or just are of the general start up mindset.

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Boulder ranks in the top 50 US Cities for start ups by dollars invested despite being relatively small in size. Start Up Week in Boulder is, in a way, similar to Start Up Week anywhere else in the country. There are panel discussions, individual presentations, sessions where discussions are facilitated in groups, and even a “start up crawl”, where people can visit various start up business around downtown, network with people and engage their creative sides.

Discussions at Start Up Week cover a fairly wide variety of topics from tips for those who are starting a business, to workplace culture, technical discussions and even discussions on societal trends. At Boulder Start Up Week 2019, there was a panel discussion on psychedelic drugs, their potential health benefits and potential emerging businesses associated with them.

Events take place all over town, at a variety of different settings, from shared workspaces like Galvanize, to businesses, and even museums.

What I have always found, when attending a Start Up Week, is that the best way to get around from event to event is by bicycle. Although, in places where they have scooters, that could be a good option as well.

Events like Start Up Week, and TED conferences, help me re-orient myself. It is easy to get bogged down in day to day life. Things like paying bills, maintaining a home, and meeting deadlines for work can occupy our minds in such as way that the big picture, who we are, who we want to be and how we truly want to live our lives, can get lost. Start Up Week offers a different atmosphere, with people talking about big ideas, passions, trends, and how to make dreams come true.

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One thing that makes every Start Up Week unique is the culture of the place where it is held, in this case, Boulder, Colorado. This was reflected in some of the discussions and topics. The discussion about the future of psychedelics came right after Denver became the first city to decriminalize magic mushrooms.

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The local culture had an imprint on both in the selection of events and the direction some of the discussions went. A lot of events covered topics related to health, fitness, and even specifically training for a major event like a marathon. In the discussions about HR related topics, such as workplace culture, human capital and finding your path, undoubtedly more questions were asked about inclusivity based on gender, age, and race than would be in other places. These both reflect on who the people of Boulder tend to be.

I spent the entire week switching modes, back and forth, between attending events at Start Up Week and tending to daily work requirements. It almost felt like the pull and tug that is ever present in my life. My heart is in pursuing big ideas, and looking towards the future.

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Sometimes it feels as if there are forces around me constantly trying to get me bogged down in day to day affairs. However, one of things I realized, both at events like these, as well as at work, is that it is not about ignoring all the things we get bogged down in. After all, bills need to be paid, homes need to be maintained and deadlines need to be met.

It is really about staying mindful of how even our day to day lives and the kinds of things we get bogged down in fit into the bigger picture. We lose sight of that when we become too focused on the specific action of, say meeting a deadline, to the point where we are not thinking about it in the context of anything bigger and it becomes a means into itself. That is when we need a reminder of where we are oriented and where we are headed. This is something Start Up Week and other similar events help me do, even if I am not currently starting a business.

Four Days After the Blizzard

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Well, technically in most places it wasn’t actually a blizzard. Denver and points East were  under a blizzard warning for the afternoon and evening of April 10, 2019. The wind speeds did not quite reach the technical criteria for a “blizzard”, but snow did fall and the wind did howl.

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April is perhaps the wildest, most unpredictable month. In cities throughout North America, scenes like this play out every year. Just as people are getting set up for Spring, a wild swing in temperatures, in this case from a high of 78F (26C) on Tuesday the 9th to an overnight low of 17F (-8C) after the snowstorm the next day, disorients everyone.

It can get violent too! While May is the month with the most tornadoes, April is the month with the most killer tornadoes.

With weather forecasts for specific place on a specific day generally unreliable more than about a week out, April is a hard month to set expectations for. In the mountains, this time of year is generally referred to as “mud season”, but it is not that uniform. By Sunday, four days after the snowstorm, despite the weather not being too particularly warm, places like the Buffalo Herd Overlook, at an elevation around 7600 ft. (2300m) were pretty dry. For some reason, the bison (they are often called “buffalo”, but technically are bison) roamed closer to I-70 than normal, with many motorists stopping to admire them.

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Four days after the “blizzard”, I found myself taking my new dog, Shasta, on her first hike since being adopted.

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Our group actually included a dog and a baby (9 months old), as they had previously taking a liking towards one another.

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I had previously hiked at Elk Meadows Park, almost five years ago, hiking to the top of Bergen Peak on a hazy day in July.

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That hike involved a climb of just over 2,000 feet  and a distance just over ten miles. For several reasons, today’s hike would be much shorter. Most obviously, babies are exhausting to cary and often do not have the attention span to tolerate hikes that would span around 5 hours.

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There is also the variable trail conditions.

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Sections that are both muddy and still partially covered with melting snow were quite common at elevations between 7500 and 8500 ft (2250-2600m). Heading to elevations closer to 9700 ft. (2950m), areas with deep snow would have made the hike far more challenging. Colorado had a snowy winter, particularly in late February and early March. Mid-April snowpacks exceed long-term averages throughout the state.

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The cold, snowy winter was great for Shasta to get acquainted with the new neighbors.

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But, it ended up being an abnormally sedentary period for me.

My favorite thing about Elk Meadows Park is definitely the signage. There is no getting lost here, as every trail junction is clearly labelled.

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The lower part of the park is a wide open valley. It can feel like a miniature version of areas like South Park and the San Luis Valley, relatively flat, treeless areas surrounded by mountains in all directions.

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Despite these panoramic views, the hike itself cannot really be thought of as earth shattering. When people romanticize about the Colorado outdoors, it is often about things like climbing to the top of 14ers, cycling over mountain passes, skiing, or whitewater rafting.

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However, it ended up being what I needed. There is something about being outdoors, in the presence of nature, in good company that feels human in a way that our world of cubicles, screens, stress and performance metrics doesn’t. It is so easy for all of us to get so carried away in our pursuits; trying to get a promotion, saving up or something, asserting our status, making deals and planning the future that we forget to enjoy what is right in front of us.

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Planet Earth is full of wonder, whether they be mountains, gentle streams, wildlife, waterfalls, or something simple like a group of friends having fun and dancing- showing their true humanity. The more we can stop to appreciate this, or be a part of it, the better off we all will be. After a not so great week related to my pursuits in life, I genuinely needed to just be in nature, regardless of the setting.

Like the April weather, our situations, fortunes and struggles can change at any time, and often can’t be predicted too far in advance. It has been shown that luck can be related to one’s attitude, more than just chance. However, regardless of what happens to us, our responses often matter more than the actual situation at hand. Sometimes, like the weather in April, as opposed to a detailed long-term plan, all we can do is do the best with what is right in front of us.

A Phone Free Day Every Month

The last time you picked up your phone…

Did you intend to look at your phone at that specific time?

What prompted you to look at your phone?

How long did you end up looking at your phone?

Did you stick to the original purpose, or open up another app?

Did you get value out of the time you spent on your phone?

Did your decision to look at your phone cost you other opportunities?

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Having observed what many others have observed, regarding excessive smart phone use, and its potential link to poor mental health outcomes, I recently decided I needed to build a periodic mini digital detox into my life. One year ago, I decided to go without my phone the first Sunday of every month.

I figured that periodically going a day without my phone would help me become more mindful of how I use my phone, and reconnect me with how I would go about doing certain things in the pre-smart phone era. Maybe it would even give me some clues as to how smart phone use is actually impacting our society as a whole.

Since then, awareness of the impact smart phones are having on our lives has only increased. Apple added a feature to the iPhone that tracks and gives users the ability to limit their smart phone use.

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By the way, here is proof that I actually did shut my phone off for the day on Sunday.

Others have even resorted to creative ways to encourage less phone use. One hotel in Sweden began charging guests by how much time they spend on social media. Rooms at Hotel Bellora are being offered to guests for free if they can refrain from using their phones!

After experiencing twelve of these phone free First Sundays, I have concluded that…

1. It is not realistic, nor does it seem beneficial, for us to completely ditch smart phones.

There are some conveniences, such as using Google Maps to look at traffic, that are a significant benefit.

2. All smart phone use can’t be painted in one light.

Picking up a phone has different utility when used for different purposes. I am actually not too ashamed that I spend a significant amount of time on YouTube. Much of the content is either informational or provides entertainment value, which is value.

3.  The setting needs to also be considered.

What had originally prompted me to become concerned about smart phones is observing them having a negative impact on people’s experiences. Watching someone pull out their phone when I am trying to have a conversation with them frustrates me. I also see people miss out on what is going on around them because of their phones. However, what if someone is just sitting at home alone, or on the same bus they take to work every day, exhausted and just needing some entertainment?

4. Smart phone use needs to serve a purpose.

If we intended to look someone up on Wikipedia, reference traffic on Google Maps, or even entertain ourselves with videos or games, that is fine. This is why, even after this experience, I still don’t believe in blanket statements such as “less than two hours per day”. It is more appropriate to say we should pick up our phones for an intended purpose, and put them down when that intended purpose is done, whatever length of time that is.

5. It is hard to stop using our phones as a crutch.

I’m talking about those times when we are waiting in line, or when we arrive at a restaurant ten minutes before our friends. We can either face the fear of boredom and/or awkwardness or bury ourselves in our phones. After each First Sunday, I resolve to stop picking up my phone in these instances. I’m typically able to do so for about five days.

Every time we engage with our phones, we disengage with the world around us.

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We may be missing out o some important things; That person that would have started a conversation with us had we not looked needlessly occupied. Observing what is happening around us, in the natural world. Even the ability for us to engage our own thought processes. These are real costs that make it worthwhile for us to be more intentional with the use of our smart phones. Taking a day off from phone use once a month reminds me of the times I typically pull out my phone, and what I could be missing out on when I do.

 

That Event You Always Find Yourself At

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We all have that one event in our lives. Typically it is somewhere in the general vicinity of where we live, but not in the same town. Year after year, we find ourselves there, despite never actually making plans around that event. For me, that event is the International Snow Sculpture Championships in Breckenridge Colorado.

I’ve been there while on weeklong ski trips with friends from the East Coast, staying at condos within walking distance of both the Riverwalk Center where the event is held and the ski lift.

I have been there on weekend trips, as was the case this year.

I have been there after day trips.

There have even been years where I was able to see the snow sculptures on multiple days, and while passing through town on the way home from destinations further away.

Of course, it helps that the event lasts ten days, right in the middle of the winter, in Breckenridge, one of the country’s most iconic skiing towns.

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It also helps that walking through the snow sculptures is not a huge time commitment. Even if one were to read every piece of information about each individual piece, the total time commitment would be well under an hour.

2019 was quite iconic. The event happened on an excellent weekend. Significant snow fell Thursday night, making for a fantastic weekend of skiing. Each portion of the day seemed to exude some form of picturesque natural scene, distinct from one another!

The sculptures themselves were amazing as well. Here are some of my favorites from 2019.

2017 was also a great year, with a lot of animal related designs.

2016 was also a great year.

2015 was the year that abnormally warm weather (several days with highs close to 50 in town) caused some of the sculptures to become deformed.

This year, the trip that found me in front of the snow sculptures was a weekend trip to Frisco, ten miles north of Breckenridge, and along I-70.

I love to stay in Frisco from time to time. There are a lot of amenities, but it is less crowded than many other places in winter, as there is no ski resort there. However, it is within about ten miles of Breckenridge, as well as several other mountain resorts, including Copper Mountain and Keystone.

The places we go, the people we see, and the activities we take part in have two origins. One are those in which we actively seek; the trips and activities we plan and the people we plan them with. The others are the ones we somehow get drawn into. The places our friends, family and co-workers chose for group activities. The people that show up at the events we go to. Events like this one, that always end up being where we are at the time we are there.

Some would advocate that we do all things with purpose, actively choosing every single action in our lives. That is quite exhausting, and nearly impossible. Instead, we must accept that some of the places we find ourselves and people we find ourselves around will be based on circumstance, and sometimes that circumstance will occur in repetition.

However, the nature of these circumstantial encounters is a good indicator of how well we have aligned our lives with our values and desires. If these circumstances habitually find us in places we do not want to be and around people we do not care to be around, it is an indicator that something about our overall situation is not well aligned with our true selves and true desires.

I am thankful to find myself around these snow sculptures year after year. They are a result of the activity that I did actively chose, skiing, as well as being around people who are up for wandering around to events like these.

What I learned in 2018

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As I outlined in my previous post, 2018 ended up being a pretty significant year for me, I started a new job in August which ended a nearly seven year long series of career disappointments. Through this experience, as well as observing people in organizations like TED and Start-Up week, and reading books, I have learned quite a bit.

1. The first wave is Internal

This is something I first read about in 2016, when I read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. We often get this wrong. People who are stuck are often waiting on someone else, or some kind of external event to bring their lives in a new direction. I feel like I was there for quite some time. Change must come first from within.

After changing my attitude, actions and expectations, I then needed to reflect those changes out to the world. This concept is best described in Belong, by Rhada Agrawal. When we show our true selves to the world, we eventually find ourselves in the right places and surrounded by the right people.

2. Maturity = Confidence + Resilience + Delayed Gratification

People are often told they need to “grow up”. For a long time, it was a pet peeve of mine. It felt as if anyone who had told me this was expecting me to give up on dreams, give up on what makes me unique, and accept limitations and the ability for others to determine my path.

As a result, for many years, I resisted the very concept of adulthood. I would rather stay in my fresh out of college partying days longer than become a generic middle-aged guy. However, I would later get exposure to mature adults who were living lives that I admire quite a bit.

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In addition to the authors mentioned above, I got exposed to authors and TED speakers such as Simon Sinek, Chris Gillebeau, and Jen Sincero, as well as many others in the local community who are doing great, interesting, and unique things with their lives.

I also saw the result of continued immaturity, primarily the political hysteria of our time.

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This was not what I wanted. I realized that I do want maturity, just defined differently, by what I would say is its true definition. The factors that distinguish the two groups of people I observed are not the mundane everyday things that most associate with “growing up”. They are confidence, resilience, and some form of long-term thinking.

3. There’s a time to be chill and a time to be ill

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Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life is perhaps one of the most challenging books I have ever read. It forced me to confront the fact that status and power struggles do exist in humanity. This is something that, for a long time, I had hoped to just ignore. Unfortunately, a lot of people do care about status, and there are people who want nothing more than to have power over others.

This is where we all need to assert ourselves when necessary. In my previous entry, I outline a bit about who I am and what I care about. There are a lot of people that want to define, or redefine that for me. We all face that same struggle. Nobody else should get to chose things like that for us, and when they try to, we need to calmly assert ourselves.

4. Not all escapism is a waste of time

This is something I feel truly bad about. For a long time, I was quite judgmental towards activities I deemed to have no value. This was primarily certain television shows, but sometimes even certain kinds of conversations and activities. As Pitbull put it years back “Everybody’s Going Through Something”. While it is irresponsible to completely avoid our problems, people do need a break from them from time to time. It was unfair of me to judge people based on how this break manifests. There is a big difference between becoming a drug addict and watching something like Say Yes to the Dress for half an hour.

5. Don’t avoid uncomfortable conversations

When uncomfortable conversations are avoided, the problems that prompted them only become worse. Towards the end of 2018, I had to have a few conversations that I found uncomfortable. They certainly did not make anything worse!

6. Sometimes our adversaries are people we need

I am someone that likes to push boundaries, try new things, and pursue ideas. There are people that are more cautious, preferring to stick to routine and only embracing change when it is absolutely necessary or when the benefits are clear. It is easy for me to view these people as my adversaries and visa-versa.

However, without people to vet ideas before a lot of resources are poured into them, a lot of time and money could be wasted, with little to show for it. Without people on my end of the spectrum, to pursue new ideas and push people, stagnation is inevitable. We need each other.

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Life is full of balances just like this one; idealism vs. realism, optimism vs. pessimism, big picture vs. details, etc. With respect to all of those balances, those that prefer one end of the spectrum need those on the other end to maintain that balance.

7. Laying around is not always the best way to rest

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It is certainly the most obvious way to rest. However, it is often not what we need when we feel we need rest. When exhausted from stress, what we need is to get away from whatever is causing that stress. This is often not achieved by laying around at home, which can mean continued exposure to news and other sources of stress through television and social media. The best form of rest can often mean something like camping in the wilderness, going or a bike ride, or the right social event with the right group of people.