Category Archives: self improvement

TEDxMileHigh: Point of Departure

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It’s a mid-summer weekend in sunny Colorado and thousands of people are standing in line, actually various lines that snake all around the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in downtown Denver. They are all waiting to get into the theater to hear a series of talks. These talks will cover a wide variety of subjects. One will be about a big idea, something that may change the world in the coming years. Another may be a personal narrative, and another may even be a musical or poetic performance. The only thing these talks have in common is the main draw. The main reason anyone chose to spend a Friday evening and Saturday afternoon in the middle of the summer inside a building as opposed to in the mountains where most Coloradans chose to spend their summer weekends, the association with a brand known as TED.

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Most people have some form of exposure to TED talks, even if they did not purposely seek them out. TED talks are shown at all sorts of conferences and workshops, are shared with friends and colleagues regularly, and are commonly found in web searches. This was the first time I chose to attend a TED event, but I have watched quite a few TED talks in my life. When you are really ill, watching TED talks on YouTube can be the most productive thing to do with your time.

What I notice most about TED talks, both at this conference and online, is the fact that I never get bored during them, despite the fact that I find it quite easy to get bored and antsy during presentations, especially of the standard power point variety. It is quite clear that the people who organize TED events (and TEDx events, which means they are independently organized) follow a formula that takes into account how the human mind works and responds to information as presented. Talks are generally 15-20 minutes, consistent with most scientific understanding of the human attention span. Short videos are presented between talks of wildly differing topics to ease the transition from one topic to another.

Speakers undergo a rigorous three-month long process of preparation to ensure all TED talks meet their standards. As a result, speakers always seem to emphasize the right words, stay poised, and avoiding using filler words. Auditions for speakers for this conference took place in February, and auditions for their next conference, in November, take place at the end of July!

When I think of the brand TED, the first thing I think of is people who think like me. By this, I do not mean people who have the same opinions on certain specific issues or policies. It is more of a general sense of what “TED people” are like. If there is one thing that binds all the people who speak at and participate in this brand known as TED, it is the desire to think beyond the day-to-day routine, the next task or the next purchase. People come here because they want to be inspired. They imagine possibilities beyond what is seen directly in front of them day-to-day. They want to engage their intellectual curiosity. They believe their life will be changed, or even that the world will be changed, by something they hear about and talk about here.

The conference provided a few other perks as well…

Each ticket, regardless of whether it was General Admission, VIP, or All Access, provided a free lunch, to be redeemed at one of many food trucks located in sculpture park behind the Denver Performing Arts Center (which houses the Ellie Caulkins Opera House). There were vendors for many other other organizations too, including ones that focus on environmental activism, sell new flavors of tea, or focus on career development. At the end of the conference, I even got a free pair of eclipse glasses, which I intend to use to view next month’s total solar eclipse.

 

After 22 speakers spread over three sessions, meeting countless interesting people, and a really awesome after-party (there was an after party both nights, but I only attended the Saturday night one due to poor meal planning on my part), I felt something absolutely crazy. I came out of this conference with more energy than when I had arrived. I wasn’t expecting this, as most conferences leave me drained. This one covers even more intellectually and emotionally draining topics than most.

The success of the TED brand seems to run contrary to every piece of business advice I have ever received. I am always told to have a specific product in mind, a narrower purpose, and a specific target audience, like all those blogs that focus on one activity.

Yet, this idea seemed to start with a broader purpose; to inspire and change the world. Then, they thought about humanity and found the most effective way in which to present the information. If TEDxMileHigh Point of Departure taught me anything (other than specifics like how fast a supersonic jet can go) it is to stop worrying about how others achieved, or what status anyone has. It is all about having something to offer that people see as worth-wile, and bringing it to them effectively, regardless of titles or perceived status.

The Cherry Creek Farmer’s Market

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What does it mean to have a “healthy community”?  I am encouraged to see more and more people actively consider their life choices, their environment, associations and just put more thought in general to how they spend their time, energy, and money.  This feels like a dramatic shift from, say, ten years ago.  However, embedded in some of the most high profile public improvement related pursuits in the modern era is an unfortunate residual strand of laziness.  After all, we do want something for nothing.

This often manifests itself in buzz phrases that people use to not-so subtly indicate some form of association with a popular present-day initiative.  Perhaps the one that bugs me the most is the term “sustainability”.  In many of its common present-day uses, the definition of this term “sustainability” has been narrowed to only mean sustainability in the environmental sense, short-changing the term of its full definition, and shortchanging discussions of “sustainability” of their full impact.

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Whenever I ride a bicycle to a Farmer’s Market, I feel as if I suddenly become the personification of the term “healthy community”.  It’s the standard image, embedded in every montage that any health or parks department has put together to promote some kind of health/ community initiative in the past six years.  People riding their bikes to buy pesticide-free produce and meat products from local farmers and ranchers.

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And there are a few booths that sell those products, including one with that cow diagram that just always confuses me.  Why are there like 50 types of beef?.  However, most of the booths at this Farmer’s Market are not vendors selling food.  In fact, I saw a somewhat random assortment of products that made me curious as to how one goes about determining what is appropriate for a Farmer’s Market.

And, as is the case with any other Farmer’s Market I have been to, there were plenty of booths where one can get food that is, well, not healthy.

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In Wisconsin, any Farmer’s Market I would attend would have a good number of booths selling cheese curds.  If the country ever breaks up into its 50 states, and Wisconsin becomes its own country, it would probably stock pile cheese as a strategic reserve, much the same way Canada stock piles maple syrup.

I would say a majority of the food vendors at this Farmer’s Market offer food that is not typically considered healthy; including many different varieties of baked goods, food trucks, and a bunch of stands that sell items like tamales and burritos.

Interestingly, several booths at this Farmer’s Market are operated by Local civic organizations advising residents on how to effectively garden and compost.  This gives this Farmer’s Market somewhat of a unique touch, that contributes to the health and sustainability of the community in a different way.

But, the same way being a successful person is about more than simply becoming “goal oriented”, eating well is about more than just buying things that are “organic”, and having a productive work team is about more than just “synergy”, having a healthy community is not just about initiatives like this.  There are a lot of other factors, culturally, near and far, that make this place what it is.

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Regardless of what we are trying to achieve, it takes time, effort and active participation.  We all want something for nothing.  We want to be able to claim some sort of accomplishment, moral validation, status or belonging by claiming association with some positively viewed buzzword, and maybe taking part in a token activity like going to a Farmer’s Market.  But, to really live healthy takes a much bigger commitment.  And there is more to having a “healthy community” than a video montage showing people like me bicycling to Farmer’s Markets.

What we do every day can be healthy, or it can be not.  For most of us, it is both, depending on the situation.  The intellectual rigor we need to truly evaluate our lives, the journey we are on and the communities we live in, involves respecting the complexity that is ourselves, our surroundings, and even places with divergent outcomes like the Cherry Creek Farmer’s Market.  It is at that point, with the understanding of places, activities and concepts beyond buzzwords and vague terms, we complete this transition, elevating our level of intellectual discourse and giving ourselves the tools we need to make the best of our lives and communities.

 

An All-Inclusive Week At Cancun’s El Dorado Royal

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Day 1: Every time I land in another country, something feels different.  I had this feeling when I first landed at the airport in Cancun, despite the fact that much of my surroundings were remarkably similar to what I experience at home.  As is the case at many U.S. airports, the airport signs are written in both English and Spanish, with the English words on top.  Even the mix of people didn’t feel too terribly different from many places around Colorado where I live. It was the little differences I observed; some different looking buildings, speed limits in kilometers per hour, and the driver of the van that took us to the resort from the airport trying to sell us Coronas (or Mexican water, as he said) that made me feel as if I had actually traveled to a place that is different than the place where I live and the places where I spend most of my time.

We arrived at the resort in the middle of the afternoon.  A resort this size takes a little bit of time to become acquainted with, as it has multiple sections, with different types of travelers having different types of experiences, a whole bunch of pools, and a ton of restaurants.  One of the great things about being at an all inclusive resort is the fact that, once guests arrive at the resort, everything, particularly food and drink, is taken care of.  This is good because I arrived hungry.  It would be the last time I would really experience hunger for the duration of the week.

Day 2: Like most Americans, a majority of my travel involves an itinerary of some sorts.  This makes the transition from what is referred to as the “real world” to the world of that particular voyage seamless.  The normal day-to-day concerns, work, schedules, responsibilities, etc. are replaced by the schedule- the itinerary of the trip.  Today I have meetings at 9,10, and 11, and a document that needs to be finalized by the end of the day transitions smoothly to tonight we are staying at this hotel, they have a continental breakfast, than we’re gonna get to this attraction by 10:30-ish.

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On this vacation, there was no itinerary; at least not at first.  There was just enjoying the weather, enjoying the beach, the pool, the activities, and a week off of not just work but many other sources of stress, such as chores, social situations, etc.  This often leads to a gradual process of letting go.  Over the course of roughly 36 hours these concerns gradually slip out of the mind, to be replaced, miraculously, with nothing!  I bet there are some people that do not even know what that feels like anymore.

Day 3: I decided I wanted to go the full day without taking any pictures.  Now that the process of disconnecting from the “real world” was complete, it was a good time to live in the moment, and, not think about anything else, not even what I would write in this blog!  It was on this day that two of the things that typically happen during longer resort trips happened.

First, I actually started to settle into a quazi-routine. El Dorado Royale offers a lot of activities, activities I more or less took advantage of.  At 8 A.M., there was yoga on the pier.  9 A.M. Spanish lessons.  11:00 volleyball.  12:00 Aqua-aerobics.

Since guests do not need to cary around money, ID, and such at an all-inclusive resort, these resorts can offer amenities such as swim up bars.  We found ourselves, after the noon Aqua-aerobics, swimming up to the bar to have some drinks in the pool.  And since I was typically eating breakfast a bit later (10 A.M.), an hour or so of drinks would then be followed by lunch, and then the day’s afternoon activities, which varied a bit more day-to-day.

Day 3 was also when I began to make vacation friends; other tourists who had also managed to disconnect from their “real world” concerns, and had been drinking and enjoying themselves in the pool.

The resort has a lot of great restaurants, but their signature restaurant is one called Fuentes. This restaurant is a dinner show, with a famous chef that demonstrates how each course is cooked while serving the food.  The dinner and cooking demonstration lasted two and a half hours.  Each course featured food from a different region of Mexico.  It was not just a meal, but also lessons about both geography and cooking technique.

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Every evening at El Dorado Royale, there is a show.  It typically starts at around 9:45 and lasts about an hour.  This is followed by dancing.  I found the meal/cooking demonstration exhausting!  I ended up electing to skip the dancing, calling it a night earlier than I typically do.

Day 4: A strange thing started happening on the fourth day.  Each day, I got drunker than the last.  On this day, after noon Aqua-aerobics, I took multiple shots at the swim up bar, and then took part in tequila tasting.  Yet, my hangovers were not getting any worse.  In fact, they were getting easier.  It was like I was hitting some sort of groove, which also involved the consumption of alcohol.

Also, having taken advantage of the 9:00 Spanish lessons, and through some conversation with the resort’s staff, whose company I truly enjoyed this week, I was suddenly getting back into the groove speaking Spanish.  Those that do not know Spanish could easily get by at this resort, as nearly all of the staff speaks English.  But, the lessons ended up being a great opportunity to speak Spanish with some native speakers and recover some lost knowledge.  By the end of the 4th day, I was instinctively starting to blurt out phrases such as “querimos jugar al volleyball por la playa ayer, per due demaciado ventido”.

Day 5: This day began to feel like the apex of the trip.  By the middle of the day I had made a good number of vacation friends, I was given two different nicknames by the other guests at the resort; “Denver” after where I am from (as it is hard to remember a lot of names), and “Maya Riviera”, after a rainbow colored drink that the resort offers.  It is a very sweet beverage, but I still managed to drink a ton of them.  In fact, one of my favorite things to do was to bring this drink under this fountain in the center of the pool, and drink it feeling as if I could not be doing anything more tropical at that particular moment.

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I also got accustomed to some of the other specifics about taking this kind of worry free vacation.  One which tragically took too long for me to adjust to is the proper application of sun screen.  Unfortunately, I got quite burnt over the course of this trip.

The other is something I wish I could do more of in normal daily life.  In most situations, when eating at restaurants, it is most cost effective to order one item.  Without such concern, most meals involved multiple items of food.  Additionally, the portion sizes at El Dorado Royale are such that it is typically possible to eat 4 or 5 course meals.  The resort has two Italian restaurants.  Traditional Italian meals involve an antipasto (appetizer), a soup, a primo (first, which usually involves pasta or risotto), and a secondi (second, usually a pice of meat of some kind).  Here, there was absolutely no reason not to order one of each.

At the end of the evening, though, I got slowed down again, this time by heart burn.  Apparently, there is a limit, as well, it had been quite some time since I had drank five days in a row, and I do not plan on becoming a “functioning alcoholic”.

Day 6: The previous early night made it easy to wake up in time to watch the sun rise over the ocean.  As someone who lives in a land locked city, this is something I try to do, if possible (last time it wasn’t), any time I am on the East Coast.

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The early start changed my routine up a little, but this turned out to be another fabulous day of activities, both in the pool and by the beach (beach volleyball).  I even amazed myself with my confidence levels.  Mexico has a warm place in my heart for this reason.  When I was younger, I had a very poor self image, and low confidence levels.  Then I got a part time job working at a restaurant, where most of the staff was (still is) Mexican.  I achieved my first real boost in confidence at the age of 16 when I was welcomed and appreciated by that community.  I thought about that experience, as once again in Mexico, I was feeling welcomed and appreciated, by the other guests as well as the resort’s staff.

But, I knew the “real world” would find a way to make a comeback.  At the start of this trip, I made a conscious decision to take a true holiday and stay away from reading about, taking about, or thinking about two things; work and current events.  Those were the two things that had been most likely to cause me angst over the past few months, and my mind needed a holiday from that way more than my body needed any kind of rest.  However, I did start to become curious when I saw a newspaper that reported that the president-elect had selected a treasury secretary.  I couldn’t help but wonder what it meant, even though I was wanting to not think at all about that stuff.

It’s also all but inevitable that something will happen over the course of a trip like this that will trigger a concern from “normal life”.  After all, these concerns do not go away, they are just temporarily out of one’s thoughts, and if something triggers it, the mind will come to the realization that there’s concerns will have to be addressed upon return.  This is more likely to happen to closer one gets to the end of their vacation.  Luckily for me, this was just a brief moment in a week that otherwise felt amazing!

Day 7: Sometimes it can be a real challenge to enjoy the last day of a trip.  Everything I am doing, I have been enjoying all week, and know it is the last time.  We all know it’s best not to think about this, but, it is inevitable. It ended up being the perfect day for a side excursion.

El Dorado Royale offers a lot of side excursions, for an extra charge. These include activities as simple as jet skiing to the more involved (and more expensive) voyage to the Mayan Ruins.  This is what is not part of the all-inclusive aspect of the resort.  It doesn’t cost any extra money to play volleyball, go to the batting cages, or take part in one of the many other activities, but it does cost for excursions like deep sea fishing, or swimming with the dolphins.

It’s possible to have a great week without doing any of these extra cash, but we finally decided to go parasailing, on the last day, which is one of the quickest excursions available.  With this excursion, we kind of got a two-for-one, as it both started and ended with a short ride on a jet ski to get to the boat.

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The activity ended up being one of my favorite parts of the whole trip.  It is surprisingly easy.  Some would see how high in the air para sailors gets done be intimidated by the activity.  I honestly expected to have to use a bit more energy holding on to the rope that attaches me to the sail.  But, it is actually quite safe, and is possible to let go of the ropes and just enjoy the ride.  It was a particularly spectacular view of the coast from several hundred feet in the air.

Due to the sunburn and travel, my body is exhausted.  My mind is neither exhausted nor refreshed.  But, my spirit is refreshed in a way it has not felt in quite some time.  The question now is, how to bring that spirit with me back home and keep it as long as I can.

My 2016 Thanksgiving List

Thanksgiving is a holiday we need more than ever. Like many holidays in the U.S., Thanksgiving has an “official” meaning that is often overlooked by many. While celebrating they holiday, some are prompted to share what they are thankful for. This serves a very important purpose, as it is often common, and part of human nature, to focus on our needs, desires, what is wrong, what we do not have (and wish we did), or what we wish were so (but isn’t).

At this holiday, we reorient our minds, onto what is right, what we do have, and what we should be grateful for. This is important because this celebration (Thanksgiving) will be followed by a period of generosity (Christmas), and a period of reflection (New Years).

Over the last several weeks particularly, it’s been hard not to, unfortunately, end up with our minds focused on what is wrong. Over the past three months, Americans just endured a very divisive election, had levels of daily sunlight decline by several hours, and many have not had a day off of work for a while. This re-focus on gratitude, thankfulness, and enjoying what we already have will provide for alliances end of the year reflection.

In that spirit, I provide a list of the 15 things I am Thankful for this year (in no particular order).

1. The Chicago Cubs World Series Championship team

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I’ve been following this team for 23 years, and it’s good to finally see them win one!

2. Being a part of the Boulder Co-Ed rec league summer championship team

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I find being part of a team like this to be one of the most rewarding experiences around.  I get exercise, get to spend some time outside, and do so in a social way.  I also believe we need to celebrate our accomplishments, both large and small.

3. Personal Growth

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For me, 2016 was a year of fantastic personal growth. I came to a lot of realizations about life, and worked on things such as being confident in who I am, not trying to please/ prove myself to others, enjoying the journey and not being too obsessed with the destination, trying to be a more giving person, and putting that which makes me anxious into its proper context. I’m hopeful this is setting me up for even better things to come.

4. Seeing people around me do the things they love

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I see people around me taking part in artistic pursuits, theater, performing music and other things that make them happy. I’ve seen some even start their own businesses; restaurants, non-profit charities, real estate, and side-hustles. I even know people who have done things like hike the Appalachian Trail, travel the world, and take part in overseas projects.

5. The adventures I had in 2016 and the people that joined me for them

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2016 included a couple of bike trips, a lot of skiing, some great hikes, a backpacking trip, a rafting trip, and trips to places like Iceland, Vegas, New Mexico, and Cancun (upcoming). None of these experiences were alone, and all were enhanced by each and every person who joined me for them!

6. Feeling appreciated by people

It’s easy to dwell on those difficult exchanges with people, and the times that people frustrate me, but there are plenty of times in life when people show appreciation for one another and give each other the gift of acceptance.  I recognize how lucky I am to have people that do accept me as I am.

7. People from past chapters of my life that have not forgotten about me

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Once someone moves to another city, it gets harder to stay in touch and stay involved in one another’s lives.  I am very much appreciative to still hear from people who live hundreds to thousands of miles away.  These enduring friendships have produced some great experiences, and there are more still being planned.

8. Where I live

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When I see what is going on in various places around the world, I must be thankful to live in a place where I feel safe, and don’t worry about an attack, military coup or anything like that. Denver also has a lot of fun stuff to do around me. I’m particularly blessed to live 3 miles from the REI flagship store, and around a lot of people who also wish to #optoutside.

9. It’s in the air

I guess I just have this feeling of optimism. That both me individually, and we as a society, are finally prepared to free ourselves from the limitations that have been holding us back and the outdated assumptions that are no longer serving us well, and advance to something greater. I hear it in dialogue of people around me-everywhere. I see it on shows, in books. The age of defferance is over.

10. The war on uprightness


That we’re fighting back, against all the “You should…”, “You can’t just….”, and “How could you….” stuff.

11. Emotions


I can be a turbulent person. But I am grateful for the emotions I experiences, including the negative ones. I reassures me that I still feel, I still care, and have not turned into a robot as I feel the working world wants us to do sometimes.

12. Basic comforts

Food. Water. Shelter. There are still a lot of people that suffer without them.

13. My health

I can still wake up every morning, even though there are some days I do not want to. I can run, bike, hike, etc. and still feel pretty good doing it. Many have health problems that are not of their own doing. I am blessed to have a body that permits me to take part in the activities that bring me joy!

14. Everything that makes the world interesting and magical


Waterfalls, buildings, rainbows, storms, rivers, tress, dogs, horses, the way people smile, children, lakes, compassion, enthusiasm, the smell of campfire in the woods, games, the taste of food, and, yeah, the list goes on and on- infinitely!

15. Music

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The fact that it exists, in a variety of different forms, and has the power to inspire, energize, and provide many with an outlet for creativity.

 

 

 

Pure Instinct

Day-to-day life over the past month or so had left me kind of burnt out.  I was inexplicably feeling exhausted.  I was not at my best- which I truly hate.  I’d realized weeks ago I would eventually need a day to disconnect.  We all need that every once in a while.  I figured out that I would not want to hear everybody’s recap of the election (regardless of the result), and Wednesday’s weather was forecasted to be unseasonably warm.

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So, I took Wednesday off, got in my car and just started to drive.  I had no plan, no idea as to where I would be headed when I left.  I purposely refrained from making a plan.  I didn’t look into options, or pre-meditate in any sort of way.  I wanted to try something different than what we all typically do when we travel.  I wanted to lean simply on my instinct, and just let it determine where I should go as I go.  Everywhere I went, every decision I made regarding when and where to turn, I made on the fly, just based on what felt right.

I went west out of Denver, following highway 6 through Golden, than 93 north, and 72 west towards Nederland.  I continuously resisted the urge to pull out my map book, or my phone, or turn to any other source of information to achieve a welcome break from one of the things that may be exhausting all of us in the mid-2010s.  This is the process of gathering information.  In this era, often gather way too much of it, agonizing over it, to the point where we delay actually making the decision, sometimes far too long!

Along the way, I experienced this strange hyper-emotional calm.  I began to tear up.  I was breathing heavy.  But, it felt really good.  It felt as if for the past couple of months, emotions were one by one filling up inside my head, bouncing around like molecules until they gradually started to reach a critical mass, where there was no longer room for them to move around.  They had just become jammed .  And, now, with whatever barrier that was keeping them inside removed, I was suddenly free to just let them out, and let them all out at once.

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As I continued along this windy path, this strange hyper-emotional calm became accompanied by a feeling of optimism.  I felt like I knew I was in the right place, doing the right things, and making progress toward where I wanted to be.  I’d freed myself from all the data, all the second guessing that gradually erodes away at our confidence.  I knew that, both that day, and in life, I was moving in the right direction even when I didn’t see the destination.

For a while, I had no idea as to why I was experiencing burnout.  The term typically conjures up images of someone working long hours into the night, neglecting their friends, their families, and other areas of their lives.  Burnout is people working 70+ hour  weeks, which I most certainly had not been for the duration of 2016.  So, why was I burned out?  Why did I feel drained so often?

Having searched for answers regarding this, through reading, conversation, and observing people, I came to a series of important realizations about burnout, which run contrary to the image of long nights with pots of coffee.

It’s not the amount of work that burns us out.

Workload can contribute, but more important is how we feel while we are doing our work.

The primary source of burnout is feeling as if we are being phony, or fake.

Pretending to be someone else, for whatever reason we do it, is exhausting.  It is not sustainable.  The only way to be is our true selves.  That is what our instincts tell us to do.

Negative energy in all forms leads to burnout.

One of the nastiest forms is fear, trying to prevent some sort of bad outcome such as loss of job or status.  When we act out of fear, or anger, hate, etc., everything we do is significantly more draining.

One of the most exhausting things we do is try to prove ourselves.

I’ve seen plenty of instances where someone is working long hours, but is not burned out because they are doing what they love and they feel confident while doing it.

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My instinct even took me down a random dirt road, something I otherwise never would have done if it were not my previously specified destination.

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I ended up at a place called Rainbow Lakes, part of the Indian Peak Wilderness.

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I hiked roughly 2.5 miles, getting to the treeline, which was surprisingly nearly snow free!  This is definitely not encouraging for fans of winter sports.

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As, well, as can often be the case in our lives as a whole, the change of season that winter sports fans are waiting for is simply not happening yet.  This hike, on Wednesday Nov. 9th, felt shockingly similar to the way it would have felt in the middle of the summer.

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Just over the ridge, I got myself to a place that was extremely inspiring.  Unfortunately, I did not get a photo, as, well, my phone died.  It was a sign that what I needed to do was disconnect, and, once again, connect to my own thoughts.  Just for good measure, though, here’s a pic I found of the exact place where I sat.

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I actually stared at that one little gap in the rock straight ahead.

Our subconscious thoughts do take into account recent information, even as our conscious minds look for more info and don’t know what to make of it.  My subconscious mind, my instinct, though, processed all of this; the election, interactions with people, my own feelings, and summed it up neatly in one sentence, a sentence that simply popped into my head…

The age of deference is over

Make what you want of that.

I also came to another revelation regarding a matter that is more specific to my life.  I had been thinking a lot about the concept of acceptance.  It is why we are always trying to prove ourselves, and often exhausting ourselves.  Afternoon exhaustion, dissatisfaction, lack of inspiration, all of these concepts are inter-related.

We want to be accepted, and can only be accepted as who we are.

But, for each person individually, myself included…

If we want to be accepted as who we genuinely are, we must do so for others as well.

We’re all looking for acceptance, but if we make it easier on each other, as well as ourselves, we might all have a bit more energy leftover for other things.

The previous night’s election, regardless of how any of us feel about it, is yet another example where sometimes more information, more data, is not better.  The best models, based on every piece of data available, made predictions that were quite flawed.  My instinct, many months back, came to a more accurate conclusion about what was to occur.

In an era where we have access to unlimited information, and are often bombarded by it, sometimes we need to realize that less is more.  I, for sure, will, going forth, make a better effort to rely less on data and more on instinct.  After all, it brought me to Rainbow Lakes, without even so much as looking at my atlas, or my Google Maps App.

 

Experiencing a Different Way of Life

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Most of the time, when we travel, we are touring.  We are visiting places.  We are going to specific destinations.  We are seeing landmarks, or specific points of interest.  Or we are going somewhere to take part in a certain event or activity.

Sometimes, we will speculate as to what it is like to live in a specific area.  Maybe we will even interact with some locals, and ask some questions.  But, even then, in a way, we are still touring.  We are getting some amount of information regarding what day-to-day life is like, but we are really only getting a snapshot of a specific point in time, and some verbal information about what may make that point different from typical day-to-day experience.

Sometimes, when we travel specifically to visit people, people we know, we get a little more of a window into what life is like in a different place.  For me, a metropolitan person, who has always lived in a city or suburban area, most of these kinds of trips involve traveling to a different city, or a suburb of a different city.  While each city, metropolitan area, and region are unique from one another, there are still some basic similarities.  I have a clear understanding of the differences between life in New York, Houston, Denver etc.  But, I also understand that there are many similarities that make life in all those places distinct from life in a more sparsely populated area.

Nederland, Colorado is not too far from home for me.  Nor is it your typical small town U.S.A.  Positioned along the scenic Peak to Peak Highway, at 8200 feet elevation, and only about 40 minutes West of Boulder, it falls into the category of one of those quirky types of small towns.

This weekend turned out to be a unique experience for me.  Sometimes when we visit people, we don’t really experience their typical life.  There’s a specific event, or destination, and, in a way we all become tourists.  This weekend, that did not happen.  I ended up genuinely feeling as if I had spent some time in the day-to-day life those that live here!

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The first, and most obvious difference living here is how we get around.  To me, getting anywhere, whether it be between neighborhoods or to the center of town, involved what resembled a short hike to me.  There was no driving, Ubers, light rail, or busses, just walking along a series of trails that felt, and also typically smelled as if I were on a camping trip.

I also began to notice, and even feel, a difference in energy.  Things feel calmer, less urgent, less competitive.  This, of course, is both good and bad.  The good is the ability to relax, not feel like you are competing with everyone you see, and take time to enjoy some of the things around you.  The flip side is that lines move slower, people move slower, and most things take a little longer.  Even while enjoying the reprieve from the stress of everyday life, I recognized that, given that I wish Denver were faster moving than it is, I could never permanently move to a place like this.  I did however, fully immerse myself in the experience while I was here.

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The strangest thing that happened was finally getting a good understanding of a different perspective on a common conflict.  The center of town was packed with what many people refer to as “leafers”.  These are people who drive from the city to some nearby forested area to see fall colors.  Living in Denver, I am technically one of them, as I had been nearly every year.

Immersed in the Nederland experience, I experienced this from the other side.  Feeling the frustration of people dealing with things they don’t normally have to deal with, like waiting for a table at their favorite restaurant, traffic jammed up on all of the main roads, and a significant number of people in the lake, I began to understand why people who live in places like this don’t immediately calculate the benefits of tourism on their local economy on days like this.

This month, and for the remainder of 2016, one of my goals is to try harder to see things from the perspective of others.  I just feel like a lot of things in my life, whether it be putting together a presentation with specific audience in mind, or interactions with people, will go a lot more smoothly if I genuinely make an effort to understand them from the perspective of others.

Travel has, once again, taught me a valuable lesson.  To fully immerse myself in this experience, I had to, in a way, let go, of what I know, what I expect, and even what I want.  If more of us, both in our travels, and in our day-to-day lives were to approach people, experiences, and issues, with much of this pre-concpetion taken out of our minds, we would likely have a more positive impact on the lives of one another.  This doesn’t necessarily mean giving up on what we believe in, especially strongly held conviction.  It means taking them out of our mind, for at the very least a few minutes, to hear what others have to say, and feel what others feel.

Day 6: The Finale

The last day of a long bike ride is always a strange day.  Not that any of the previous five days were similar to the others, but this day was especially different.  As is the case with many journeys, on the last day two things happen.

First, the specifics, the details such as route decisions, stop locations, timing, daily milage and the like all sort of gradually drift out of my mind.  In its place come grander thoughts about the trip as a whole, the accomplishments, the disappointments, the lessons learned, and everything else that has been going through my mind.

The second thing that happens is reality starts to set in.  For six days, July 5th, the day I would go back to work, and return to my “normal life”, may as well not have existed.  It did not cross my mind once.  It’s like my mind suddenly re-realized that this day was coming and that, in less than 24 hours I’d be on a plane heading home, and within 48 hours I’d be back to regular old work.

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Another thing that made this day different than the first five days is that we had two additional riders join us.  Riding with a group, and riding significantly less miles (67 today as opposed to over 100 most other days) made the ride take on a significantly different feel.

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We entered Maine only about seven miles into the ride.  I guess the previous day I pretty much rode across the entire state of New Hampshire.  And, I got my sign!  The one I had been hoping for the last two times (last two days) I crossed a state line.

The first part of the ride was nice, with a wide shoulder along state highway 113, following the Saco River.  After riding on a few back roads, and a little bit of time on a trail that was half paved and half rocky, we found ourselves headed into the Portland area.  The roads got significantly busier.  In fact, these were the busiest roads I had ridden on for the entire trip.  In some parts of the route, the shoulders all but disappeared, making these the kinds of roads I would not normally chose to ride on.

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We rode through the surprisingly hilly downtown area of Portland, and after the final seven miles along state highway 77, arrived, in the early afternoon, at our final destination for the trip, Cape Elizabeth.

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When we arrived at the Atlantic Coast, at Two Lights State Park, the day started to get emotional.

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This was, by far, the biggest bike trip I had ever been on, and may still prove to be my life’s longest bicycle journey.  But, for Clay, it was the culmination of a three year long effort to bike across the country.  In 2014, he biked from Denver to Chicago.  Last summer, from the Oregon Coast to Denver.  This year, from Chicago to Maine.  In three segments, he biked across the country.  Many members of his family made the journey to Maine to see him triumphantly enter the Atlantic Ocean, having biked across the continent, and, as a side note, also basically proven that you do not have to be some incredibly rich or extremely lucky person to do so.  He did it all while holding the same steady job!

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Of course, it is easier to be emotional when exhausted, and this picture sums up exactly how I felt the first fifteen minutes after completing the ride.  It was an odd combination of emotions that came over me.  Most of them were good, and most importantly, I felt gratitude for being able to play a small part in this whole mission by joining Clay, for three days last year in Montana and Wyoming, and for six this year.

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In the afternoon I got the meal I knew I had wanted upon completion of my ride; Lobster.  I love lobster, but I live in Denver.  When in Maine, well, really there was no other logical choice.  In fact, when biking over the last hill of the day, despite being tired, I actually increased my speed and simply yelled, “this is the last hill in the way between me and lobster”!

We ate at a place called the Lobster Shack Restaurant, which, on that day, had a 40 minute wait for service, as it is a popular destination where patrons can eat while overlooking the Ocean!

It got even more emotional after that.  That evening my main goal was to hang out with my friends, Clay and Liz, as much as possible.  They are in fact, leaving for a year long adventure, to go out and see many other parts of the world!  These adventures will be catalogued on their WordPress site.  I knew I would likely not see them for a while.

I also could not help but think about all of the things this bike journey taught me, whether it be specifically from the experience, or things that ran through my mind over the course of the long hours I spent on my bike.

Over the course of the week, I saw kindness everywhere I went.  Clay was raising money for charity.  His family volunteered to help with the ride.  Many of the people we met along the way were friendly.  I realized that, despite the amount of physical pain I put myself through, I felt happy the entire time, significantly happier than under normal circumstances.  Maybe the whole world would be happier if we all acted this way towards one another.  The most I can do, going forward, is strive to be the kind of person that gives more than I take, and do my part.

Having experienced being on mile 27 of a 100+ mile day multiple times reminded me not to become too obsessed with the destination.  This ride was about more than me laying on a beach in Maine and then eating lobster.  It was all of the places I saw while traveling from Niagara Falls across Upstate New York, through the Adirondacks and then Northern New England.  The rest of my life is not exactly where I hope it will end up at this point in time, but I can be much better off if I learn to obsess less over the destination and enjoy the journey, as I did this week.

The social media era has turned us all into avatars.  By that I mean we all have some kind of image of ourselves that we present to others, based on who we think they want us to be.  This week, I simply couldn’t continue to be my avatar.  On trips like this, our concerns shift, from the concerns of urban 21st century American life, such as getting a promotion or getting likes on social media, to more basic concerns, for food, water, and shelter.  I couldn’t put on a show for others, but I got by, and even thrived.  The others on the trip seemed to enjoy having me around.  So, I need to stop trying to be the person I think others want me to be.

Also, on the flight to Buffalo-Niagara, I was reading a book called The Happiness Project, about a woman who undertakes various initiatives aimed at improving life satisfaction and reports on the results.  She introduced me to the concept of “fog happiness”.  This is when the happiness related to an activity is not necessarily concentrated at the time of the activity itself, but spread out over a longer time period, both before and after the actual activitiy.  Once I determined I was going to make this bike trip, for the first time in my life, I thought of myself as a legitimate bike tourist.  For the first time, I felt the right to interject in a conversation about bike touring, and have legitimate opinions.  Essentially, I had added something to my list of activities and enriched my life.  We all should be more thoughtful when choosing activities, and, specifically avoid missing out on opportunities to create more of this “fog happiness”.

Obviously, anytime anyone completes an activity that requires a great amount of physical exertion, it is a reminder of how rewarding it can be to overcome fatigue.  This lesson applies to other areas of life too, but a journey like this can often be the best reminder that some of the most challenging tasks are the ones with the greatest reward.

Personally speaking, the most important lesson I have taken from this ride relates to something I have struggled with for nearly my entire life.  I seek significance in life.  I want to do things that matter and feel like I matter to others.  While with most of it my intensions are good, there is a dark side.  At times, when I feel insignificant and powerless, I succumb to anger, depression and other negative emotions.

This week, while a significant ride, and a series of significant experiences and accomplishments for myself, I was not the center of it all.  As previously mentioned, it was Clay’s ride.  He rode longer, harder, and raised money for charity.  Yet, I did not feel insignificant, as I have a tendency to feel in many day-to-day activities.  I realized, and this is important, that: You Don’t Have to be the Center of Attention to Matter.  I cannot stress this, to others but most importantly to myself, enough!

As I flew home, I drifted off to sleep, as Bon Jovi’s inspirational 2000 song Save The World played on my headphones.  Flying through moderate turbulence, I felt the plane gently shift, both upwards and downwards.  Running through my head, was an image of myself, from above, pedaling over hills, through the woods.  Nothing else was happening, I was just pedaling.