Thursday, March 30, 2017

Gratitude and Perspective on a trip to Seattle

I have met some of the most inspirational people this week.

The Shooting Victim
On Sunday, I took a Lyft from the airport and was chatting with my driver, Pedro.

A younger man, I noticed that he had 2 "RIP" tattoos on his hand, so I asked him about them.

"When I was in high school, I was playing basketball with some of my friends and one of them had an aneurysm and died.

The other one, well, we were at a night club and my friend walked outside. Two guys jumped him, mugged him, and ended up shooting and killing him."


I let that sink in.  I noticed, unlike almost every other driver, when he got cut off he was exceedingly friendly, understanding, and compassionate to the other drivers, giving them the benefit of the doubt.

I asked about it.

"You know," he said, "I was shot also. 2 bullets at one time. One in my leg and one in my arm.  Once that happens to you, you can't help but thinking about things differently."

Double whoa.

The Two Former Homeless Men
When I landed in Seattle, I was waiting for my bag at the carousel and started chatting with 2 guys.

One of them, from Juneau, Alaska, had been kicked out of his house by his mom at age 14.  He worked at canneries in the summer to make money and lived under a bridge while he was going to school.

For 7 years.

And, yet....he persevered.

He moved to Nevada, got married, and shed an entirely new perspective on what it means to be homeless and how, because you don't have an address, it's near impossible to get a job...on that account alone.

The other guy was arrested a few days after his 18th birthday for selling meth. He was sentenced to 10 years in jail and served 2.

I asked him about the experience.

"It fixed me. I never want to go back.  You fight for everything. It's hell."

Twenty years later (after a period of homelessness for him as well), he is married and works in construction.

"People don't get homeless people," they both said.

And yet, though they felt invisible at times, they both had a Zen-like calm about them and a sense of gratitude that they were there, breathing, and continuing on.

They exuded perspective and appreciation, hardships notwithstanding.

The Asylum Seeker
My driver in Seattle was from Ethiopia.

But not any immigrant story.

This guy, over 25 years ago, was on the Ethiopian national soccer team, during the Communist era.

One night, the team was in Cairo for a match and the Communist party official came down hard on him and a few of his teammates for wearing jeans. "Too western."

That was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.

Late that night, a few of them meet at the elevator, go down to the basement of the hotel and literally, under cover of darkness, make a run for the US Embassy.

They make it to the gate, ask for, and get political asylum.

They hadn't planned it beforehand or told anyone, but they decided that freedom was worth the risk.

They got it.

Sadly, his family back in Ethiopia was harassed for 2 years by the police and government, but they were supportive of his decision.

What it meant to me...
I know I am guilty of losing perspective at time. I am guilty of getting caught up in the small stuff. I am going to try and remember what they guys went through so I can keep my head where it belongs...on what is really important.

Sometimes the universe just tells you something about life. It's up to us to listen.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Blockchain Utopia...My Work Here is Done

So Paco gets a group assignment at school to create a Utopia. I think he was reading "The Giver."

They decide that they are going to create a "benevolent dictatorship."

I ask some questions about how they will protect people's interests, expressing some skepticism.

A few days later, I am on a plane to California. When I land, I get a message from Paco that says "We think it makes more sense to have our Utopia use a blockchain. Can you call me and explain it?"

So, I call him.

"Don't worry," he says. "I didn't hear from you so I looked it up myself."

At which point he proceeds to basically explain what a blockchain is and why and how it would be a better way to run his Utopia.

It was a great parenting moment. :-)

Monday, March 20, 2017

People who love people

There are people out there who just love people. They love connecting and love learning and listening.

Engel Jones is one of them.

To live his beliefs, he set an ambitious goal for himself...Have a 12 minute conversation with 1000 people in a 3 month timeframe.

He recorded them and published them.

I came in #883. There are some really good ones here.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Building the Emotional Muscles

For the past 18 months or so, I've been working out my emotional intelligence muscles. Like any regimen, there are periods of soreness, frustration, and plateaus.

And, like any effort, it's always nice to get positive reinforcement.

I saw a tweet from Naval (someone whom I have come to respect a great deal)
and a blog post from Seth Godin, entitled "emotionally attractive."

People who are open, empathetic, optimistic, flexible, generous, warm, connected, creative and interesting seem to have a much easier time. They're more able to accomplish their goals, influence others and most of all, hang out with the people they'd like to be with.

The best part is that this is a skill, something we can work on if we care enough.

I didn't really care enough about this skill until 18 months ago. I didn't think it was really necessary and, even if it was, I didn't think I had the capability to build it.

I was wrong.

I'm not a Jedi master black belt yet by any stretch, but I'm seeing both the inherent and practical value of the effort.

Then, since good things come in 3's, I suppose, I was reading the good ol' Costco Connection and found some great advice about how to put it all into practice when it comes to being supportive.

"Yes, and..." is a classic but I really loved #4, "bring a brick, not a cathedral."

I tend to bring cathedrals too often.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Trump coping mechanism: Take what the scene gives you

Like many people, Michelle isn't thrilled about the results of the US Presidential election.

Of course, that's an understatement.

But what separates Michelle from many is how she chooses to respond to Trump's election.

As a specialist in creativity and improv, Ilene says that the first rule of improv is
"Take what the scene gives you."
Don't resist it.

Don't fight it.

Don't wish it was something else.

Recognize that it is what you have to deal with right now and go with it, in a natural, flowy type of way.

I found this approach so refreshing. It's not that she's complacent about Trump, it's where she chooses to focus her energy and the way she accepts the context around her as a starting point.

Take what the scene gives you.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Korean: One of the best birthday gifts I ever received

Serendipity is a beautiful thing.

A few weeks ago I asked the network for the most high-tech way to buy a suit.

Rasul Sha'ir (here's his TEDx talk) pointed me to

I figured...what the heck. Go for it. So with the help of Nadia (age 9), we took the measurements and went a bit crazy in the customizations.

I was nervous that it wouldn't work, but the suit showed up 3 weeks later and it's pretty solid.

As it turns out, we messed up on a few of the measurements (not so surprising), so I took it to the dry cleaner/tailor near my house.

It's owned by Koreans where the English isn't so great, which is fine, but when I dropped it off, they saw the issue, made the marks and I thought I was set.

But, I wasn't.

They called me about 90 minutes later and began telling me something. The thing is...despite all of my efforts, I couldn't figure out what they were saying.

So, even though I didn't want to go back, I had to.

As today is my birthday, I've been lucky to get a bunch of phone calls from people all over the world.

As luck would have it, at the EXACT moment when I walked in through the door of the dry cleaners, I got a call from a JHU classmate, Nelson Lee.

After we said a quick hello, I had a brainflashs.

"Hey wait, Nelson, you're Korean, right?"


"Do you speak Korean?"


"Can I ask for a birthday gift?"

At which point, I put Nelson on speaker and he did real-time translation of what the tailor (an elderly Korean gentlemen) was saying and what I responded.

Now, thanks to Nelson's birthday call and his on the fly Korean real-time translation, my bespoke suit should look sharp.

The more I think about it, the more I can't get over the fact that, at the precise moment that I needed Korean language skills, someone with Korean language skills called me.

Total proof of God's existence. ;-)

Or, as my brother said, it's "Korean-as-a-service."

Kamsa Hamneeda!!

Compounded Interest of Relationships

He's a venture capitalist, but his analysis of relationships is spot on. Feels very appropriate for today.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Thoughts on Love, Marriage, and Relationships

Over the course of 25 years and approximately 1800 calls per year, you get to learn a lot about people, lives, and relationships.

Sadly, you see a lot of marriages form and then dissolve.

It's part of life, I know, and not every marriage is meant to be.  Sometimes, no matter what, it can't be saved.

I think one thing (there are many) that seems to separate the happier marriages from (some of) the more troubled marriages is the perspective that people take about what "love" is.

In my mind, one of the better definitions is that love isn't really a noun. 

It's a verb.

It's a series of actions based on compassion and understanding of the needs of others.

It's actions that speak louder than words. 

This African proverb sums it up about as well as I've ever seen.

Western civilization has idealized, in my opinion, Love as a feeling that is either present or not. I just wonder if that's a disservice, in some respects.

The feeling of Love is internal to you/each of us, the action of Love is towards another person/external.

Perhaps another explanation comes from the classic Fiddler on the Roof song, "Do you Love me?"

The whole point's the day-in, day-out actions of caring for another person, putting their needs first, and supporting them in what they want to accomplish that makes up Love.

Dedicated to the memory of my grandparents, as today is their wedding anniversary. They were the picture of both kinds of Love.