Tag Archives: inspiration

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.

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.

The Courage to be Radical

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A modest sized cabin in the woods, surrounded by nature- trees, and wildlife. These cabins, often surrounded by a lake, rolling hills, or some other form of natural beauty, represent a lifestyle, a fantasy. Many people dream of this kind of life, but few act on it. Most of the time, like the Staunton Family, who owned this ranch before they willed it to the State of Colorado, these places are used as second homes, for summer and weekends.

Last weekend, the sequel to MAMMA MIA, presented the story of a person who actually acted upon a kind of fantasy life.

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Together, this movie and its predecessor present the story of a young woman who, on a whim, decides to travel to a remote island in Greece. She decides to stay there rather do what is expected of her, meaning returning to the city, to what one would assume to mean a more “normal” life. The plot of these films indicates that making a radical decision like this has the potential to be quite fantastic, fulfilling, and impactful. But, it requires both courage, as well as some form of hard work and sacrifice. The main character’s life is not presented as easy.

Nor are the lives of the people in real life who make similar radical choices. Those that actually move to a small cabin in the mountains, a tropical island or a bustling beach, as well as those who start their own businesses, pursue careers in acting, or do whatever their version of being radical is, all toil away for some period of time.

There tends to be a similar general story. First, they have to have the courage to actually pursue their preferred path. This means ignoring the fear inside, as well as advice, and even pressure from others. This advice could even come from people who are genuinely caring and well-meaning, which makes it harder to ignore.

They also had to endure, at least a period of time, where life is harder than it would have been at that standard 40-hour a week job, receiving a steady paycheck. Businesses take time to become successful, artists take time to get noticed, and many ideas are rejected dozens to hundreds of times before they are finally embraced.

This blog should have actually been titled The Courage and Determination to be Radical

Those with the courage (and determination) get to be surrounded, every day, by what inspires them.

The landscape that inspired a successful family of doctors to build a summer home 50 miles outside of Denver can now be visited by the general public, as part of Staunton State Park.

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Hiking around the park is relatively easy. Most of the trails are not too steep. They are, however, fairly long. They are also astonishingly well marked.

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Not only does every trail have a two letter identifier, but each trail has regular markers, including one marking the halfway point on each trail.

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Hiking from one end of the park to the other is a good amount of anticipation. From the trailhead, rock features, some of which are actually climbed on, appear in the distance, periodically peaking out from behind the trees. This can actually go on for miles, so hiking at Staunton State Park teaches hikers to learn to enjoy the journey.

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In addition to the Staunton Ranch, which resembles the cabin in the woods so many dream of, Elk Falls Pond is one of the top destinations at Staunton State Park. The journey there is about 4.2 miles.

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Monday’s hike turned out to be a chance encounter with a thunderstorm, one that required taking refuge in a relatively safe and relatively dry spot for about 25 minutes.

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Hiking in the rain actually turned out to be refreshing. This summer in Colorado has been HOT. Of the first 22 days of July, Denver’s official high temperature has reached or exceeded 95°F (35°C) 13 times. Much of the state has been in a drought all summer, and, with the exception of the Northeast, there are fire restrictions in place through much of the State.

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So, the rain turned out to be a welcome change of pace.

Hiking through the storm, in a small way, felt radical, as it is generally not advised to pursue outdoor activities on days, particularly afternoons, with thunderstorm chances. Storms find everyone in life, regardless of how courageous, resilient, and true a person is being. As the movie indicates, those that have chose to courageously live a radical life may encounter a few more storms. These storm will eventually dissipate. The clouds will gradually disperse, and the sun will emerge, revealing, once again, something beautiful and inspiring, whether that mean a spectacular landscape or a spectacular human being!

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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.