August 6, 2019

Reverse Engineering: A Reprise

My wife shared a recent post by Goalcast, an educational/life coaching organization.  In it, they listed "8 Traits of High Performers who have a Winning Mindset."  They are:

1. Create the right mindset
2. Craft the right self image
3. Don’t settle for talent 

4. Commit to the process
5. Reverse-engineer the goal
6. Take control of their future
7. Get over losses quickly
8. Surround themselves with winners

All were extremely thought-provoking and make sense to anyone looking to improve their situation.  Of the eight, however, I found #5 the most intriguing.  The article included the following explanation:

5. Reverse-engineer the goal
"Elite champions understand that big goals need to be broken down into small, attainable steps. If the big goal is to win a championship they need to break into mini goals to stay encouraged and motivated. They understand the importance of intermediate goals. These goals give them short-term satisfaction while working toward their biggest goal."

I've always been a proponent of this approach. As a planner by profession and a geographer by training, it's second-nature for me (though often difficult in practice) to look at a distant goal and then plot a course to get there.  Nearly ten years ago, I outlined such an approach in five successive posts here:

"Great Circle Routes: Random Thoughts on Getting Where You Want To Go"

Part 1: The Plan
Part 2: The Direction
Part 3: Drawing Your Own Map
Part 4: Finding Joy in the Journey
Part 5: Mid-Course Corrections

I invite you to read these again.

July 17, 2019

Where Are the Sunsets?

The University of Utah Campus at Sunset (Source Utah Football)
The University of Utah sits hundreds of feet high on mountain foothills, at the east end of a wide valley once filled with ancient Lake Bonneville.  Legend has it that presidents of the university have traditionally invited prime candidates for top positions to be interviewed in the Park (Administration) Building at dusk.  The views from the building looking down and west over the Great Salt Lake can be breathtaking at sunset. The reason for their timing is obvious. Who wouldn't want to work in a place of such obvious beauty?

Sunset over the Great Salt Lake from the University of Utah (Source UGS)
Recently, during a discussion about a search for a top university position, the question was posed, "What can we say about this job that will attract the best candidates and prompt their interest in pursuing it?"  My mind went immediately to the things I'd heard about Park Building interviews and sunsets over the lake.  And my thought was, "Where are the sunsets?"  What positive draws can I point to that would make a potential candidate want to take this job, to live here?

A few things came to mind. The purpose of this brief entry isn't to list them. Rather, I wanted to remind the reader that it's always good to be thinking of the sunsets you can point out to others when you're trying to reach common ground.

May 2, 2019

Love One Another

No matter who you are. No matter what you believe. We're all in this together and it's time we took at least one day to put our differences aside and think about each other.  This seems like a good day to try it.  And then hope it becomes a trend.  Love can help us all... reach common ground.

April 29, 2019


Last night on television, American Idol alumnus and current lead singer for the legendary band "Queen," Adam Lambert, gave advice to some of this season's hopeful contestants on the same show.  Youthful prospect Laci Kaye Booth said that she envied Lambert's seeming comfort on the stage, admitting that she often has difficulty feeling comfortable while performing.  The mentor told her:

"I guess you just learn how to hide it when you're nervous... But also there's a point where you can harness (adrenaline and nerves) and make them work for you. Something about that phrenetic energy, it can create magic. If you were telling someone something really sensitive and personal, like in this song (you'll be singing), you may get a little butterfly in your stomach. So use it. It's the same emotion." 

Booth said she listened and tried to incorporate Lambert's advice and then went on to do a moving musical performance. 

This notion of harnessing seemingly negative feelings for good is a truly unique way of approaching anxiety and likely has applications in a variety of life settings.  Too many today try to ignore the negative and think positively.  But, according to Master Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh, the solution is far simpler.  He calls it mindfulness.  He teaches:

"The function of mindfulness is, first, to recognize the suffering and then to take care of the suffering. The work of mindfulness is first to recognize the suffering and second to embrace it. A mother taking care of a crying baby naturally will take the child into her arms without suppressing, judging it, or ignoring the crying. Mindfulness is like that mother, recognizing and embracing suffering without judgement.

"So the practice is not to fight or suppress the feeling, but rather to cradle it with a lot of tenderness. When a mother embraces her child, that energy of tenderness begins to penetrate into the body of the child. Even if the mother doesn’t understand at first why the child is suffering and she needs some time to find out what the difficulty is, just her act of taking the child into her arms with tenderness can already bring relief. If we can recognize and cradle the suffering while we breathe mindfully, there is relief already.”

Consider those times you have a difference of opinion or some conflict that erupts with a coworker, friend or your spouse.  Ignoring or trying to eliminate the negative often means it "festers in the background," only to erupt at some point in the future.  Instead, Thich suggests perspective:

“When we are angry, what do we usually do? We shout, scream, and try to blame someone else for our problems. But looking at anger with the eyes of impermanence, we can stop and breathe. Angry at each other in the ultimate dimension, we close our eyes and look deeply. We try to see three hundred years into the future. What will you be like? What will I be like? Where will you be? Where will I be? We need only to breathe in and out, look at our future and at the other person’s future.

"Looking at the future, we see that the other person is very precious to us. When we know we can lose them at any moment, we are no longer angry. We want to embrace her or him and say: “How wonderful, you are still alive. I am so happy. How could I be angry with you? Both of us have to die someday, and while we are still alive and together it is foolish to be angry at each other.”

"The reason we are foolish enough to make ourselves suffer and make the other person suffer is that we forget that we and the other person are impermanent. Someday when we die we will lose all our possessions, our power, our family, everything. Our freedom, peace, and joy in the present moment is the most important thing we have.”

Practicing mindfulness, then, is a useful tool for reaching common ground.

April 24, 2019


My wife and I just returned from a vacation. It was beaches and palm trees for a week. First time we'd been away together in over a decade, so it was a very nice break.  The first day after a long flight, we arrived at the resort late at night, tired and hungry. There weren't really any reasonable options nearby and we were both too tired to get back in the car to go find something to eat.

Took this photo just moments before I met Jack

I opted, therefore, to Google some of the local restaurants that offered delivery and found an Italian place nearby that would bring pizza or pasta right to the front lobby of the hotel.  I quickly called-in an order.  Mercifully, it was a short wait and I ran down to the lobby entrance to meet the delivery person, stopping just once to view the sunset over the beach (photo above).

As I stood on the curb near the valet desk, a golf cart appeared decked out with the name of the restaurant I had called.  I waved it over.  A twenty-something young man jumped out, introduced himself as "Jack" (not his real name) and immediately began handing me boxes of food. I laughed and commented at what a welcome sight he was after a long trip to the resort. He asked where I was from, and then immediately launched into a friendly conversation about himself.  His broad smile and positive personality were infectious and the conversation really helped lighten my post-flight fatigue.

"I'm from Ohio," he said. "I came down here about two years ago and loved it. When I returned home, I couldn't get it out of my mind.  Then last year I had a heart attack and nearly died."  He pulled the neck of his tee shirt aside to reveal the top of a scar on his chest.  "They put in a pacemaker and I've been OK since." Without thinking, I immediately tapped my chest twice and said, "Hey, Jack, what a coincidence.  I had a heart attack two years ago and now have two stents in my heart."  He laughed, nodded, raised his fist toward me and said, "Put 'er there, brother."  We fist bumped.

Jack continued, "Being told I could die at my age was life changing for me. I decided I didn't want to wait to enjoy life. So, as strange as this sounds, I literally sold everything I had back home and came down here just two months ago.  I've been doing odd jobs and spending as much time as I can surfing and fishing. If my life doesn't last as long as I thought it might, at least I'll know that I've spent much of the time I have left doing something I enjoy."

I wished him a long, healthy life, paid him (and tipped him) for the delivery, and thanked him for sharing his story with me.  With his smile never fading, he jumped back into the golf cart and waved as he pulled away.  I stood there for a moment and thought about Jack's comments.  Hearing him say he wanted to spend as much time as he can doing something he enjoys resonated with me.

I had a cancer scare at his age. As he said, it was life-altering. I was already married with a young family at the time so surfing and spear fishing wasn't an option for me, but it did put the problems of life in perspective.  I was blessed with a full recovery, and it was a long process to get there. So the lessons I learned about taking the time to find happiness in the small moments (time spent with my wife, children and grandchildren, taking-in the views of the ocean, etc.) and living in the moment are still with me.  Every hurdle or health scare since has reinforced that attitude.

Shortly before we left our vacation, I saw surfers from the beach. I thought about Jack. I'm sure someday he'll find he wants more than the surfing life. He may choose college or a new job.  He may get married and have children.  He may opt to stay or go back home. But no matter what he does, I'll bet he'll still be smiling.  It's obvious that Jack has learned that happiness is not something given to you, but it's something you make for yourself.

April 23, 2019

Remember Why You Started

In an interview given to F1 Racing Magazine (UK) for its March 2019 issue, Formula 1 racing driver and four-time F1 World Champion Sebastian Vettel relayed the following.  In conversations with his race engineer, Guillaume "Rocky" Rocquelin at Red Bull Racing, he'd been asked what racing meant to him in one word.  Sebastian told him  that word was "Monza" because he took his first grand prix victory at the Italian circuit in 2008.  The win was very powerful for him and, in his words, "it broke it down to the essence of what I was doing."

Years later, in the final race of the 2010 season at Abu Dhabi, Sebastian was poised to cement his first World Championship if he could simply overcome his nerves and stay focused on the task ahead.  Sebastian says that, as he situated himself in his car that day on the grid, he reached for his balaclava (the fire-proof liner that covers the head under the helmet) and there, written on the fabric, Rocky had penned the word "Monza."

The wise race engineer was reminding the young driver to remember why he started racing in the first place. "It's because I love driving," Sebastian said, "and he told me to enjoy my driving and not to worry about anything else."  It worked.

Rocky's reminder is a good one.  When the stresses of work or family or just about anything else we find ourselves doing every day become overwhelming, it's worth taking a step back to remember why we're there in the first place.