Sunday, February 11, 2018

You are not the you that you were five years ago.

Within five years every hair on your head, every cell in your body and even every atom within every one of your brain neurons has turned over. So, every five years – anatomically – you are a completely different person. And believe it or not, over a lifetime, even your DNA will evolve.

Okay. But what about personality? An individual’s personality is a constant through this crazy physical-anatomy turnover. Right?


Personalities are influenced by situations. And people’s responses will change as situations act upon them over time. Our own beliefs and our own shared situational experience cloud how we judge personalities. But we so desperately want to categorize others that we only pay attention to the consistencies and we ignore the inconsistencies.

Well, this is all fairly terrifying. But what about memories? Memories stay consistent throughout a lifetime. Right?


Emotionally significant or traumatic flashbulb-type memories are essentially inerasable, but even they drift as much as your daily memories do. In fact, every time we think about memories, we corrupt them. It’s like making a copy of a copy. Or, playing the game of telephone. We drop details and fictionalize facts over time.

So, what does this mean for the basic human need to seek stability and consistency?

That likely won’t change, but we can decide to embrace the chaos and use it to our advantage.

Our brains seek patterns and once we’ve learned a connection we tend to overlook things that vary from that. Brains are lazy, and they skip forward to conclusions. The challenge is to teach ourselves to unlearn patterns and accept inconsistent information. In every facet of life, there is an illusion of continuity. We want to think that we, and others, have a consistent identity. But, clearly, we don’t. We’re changing all the time.

Once we accept that our own perception is untrustworthy and that the only real consistency in the world is change, we can use our perception to affect positive change. Here are some ways:

  • Assume positive intent. If someone brings you a problem, assume they mean well and are looking to you for help. But, don’t make it about you. Be cognizant that everyone has their own personal hurdles and did not intend to frustrate you. 
  • Reframe reality. There’s a very famous marshmallow study that pop culture misconstrued as a study in the consistency of delayed gratification leading to a more successful life. Kids that could wait 15 minutes without eating the marshmallow would get another one if they waited. In reality, it was an exercise in reframing reality. The kids that were encouraged to imagine that the marshmallow was a picture (and not a real marshmallow) could wait longer without eating it.
  • Change what you can affect. Reimagine what you can’t. The ability to stay calm through chaos is a leadership trait, but it’s something that needs to be cultivated. Let’s say you get cut off in traffic. Our first response is to make it about us. We think the other driver did it on purpose. Well, how do your emotions change if you reimagine that the driver is a parent with a child that needs to get to the hospital. Is that true? Probably not. But, it allows you to stay calm about something you can’t affect and head into work with a clear mind.
  • Each day is a new day. Literally. You are a new evolution of you every time you wake up. Seriously, the cells in your body are constantly turning over. You do not have to be tied to your biography from last year or even the day before. Take life one second at a time.

Check out the transcript from the NPR segment that inspired this post. I had seen pieces of this information before, but never in one place with so many layers.

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Sunday, April 10, 2016

Life Lessons from a Life Well Lived.

Even as walking became difficult, my grandmother was determined to get on this boat with my grandfather.

I’m one of eight grandchildren that was lucky enough to be inspired by my grandmother. 

She was a nurse on the nation's first heart surgery team—chosen to be on standby when important heart-issue-having people like Khrushchev were in the U.S. She happened upon hanging out with strangers like Neil Armstrong's nephew while traveling the world because she struck up conversations with anyone and everyone—often leading to lifelong friendships. She took on crazy projects like painting a grand piano simply because she wanted the color changed—not once, but twice. She was a voracious reader who would pack five large books in her suitcase whenever she was going somewhere, even if it was just for a week. She was a climber of mountains, a connector of cultures and a leader of situations—even through times when ladies often didn't lead.

There are a lot of life lessons that we can learn from her.

We Are All Connected.

Three years ago I was having dinner with my grandparents. My grandmother made a statement that really stuck with me. She said, "Everyone is like you, if you just let them in."

I believe this is at the heart of why empathy is so important. If we all took the time to understand what drives each other, the world would be a peaceful place.

Make Travel a Priority.

My grandparents never had a second car. And any money they would have spent on a second car became their travel fund. For fifty years, they never missed a yearly trip.

Sometimes the things that we think are necessities hold us back from the things that could meaningfully shape us.

Choose life experiences over second cars, you’ll have a lot more stories. And less mechanic bills.

Learn to Lead and Be Brave.

My grandmother always had a clear point of view and was confident in who she was. She was a leader who wasn’t afraid to take a stand for something she believed in.

And she was very brave, from caring for patients to taking on the world. In fact, I once witnessed her bravery in full action. When my grandparents took my cousin and I to the rainforest, I woke up from a hammock nap to find a tarantula staring right at me (eye to eye… well actually my two eyes to his too-many eyes). She immediately chased him off with a rolled up magazine. No hesitation.

Not only did she inspire me to take action and be a leader, but I also learned not to nap on rainforest hammocks.

Don’t Spectate, Participate.

My grandmother was never one to stand on the sidelines. If she wanted something done, she did it. When she and my grandfather traveled, they didn’t just observe new cultures, they immersed themselves in them. On their trip to India, my grandfather designed a wing of a hospital and my grandmother jumped in as a nurse while they were there.

Life is meant to be lived, not waited for or watched. She had an amazing life and her spirit lives on in everyone she influenced. So in her spirit, I want you all to realize that you are lucky enough to have right now. And right now is a world full of possibilities. What will you do with them?

We lost my grandmother on Valentine's Day, 2016. She will be greatly missed, but her legend will live on.

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Sunday, December 20, 2015

99U: The Power of Empathy Over Ego

My talk from the first-ever 99U Local Worldwide Event event last September.

Jen Hohn, Executive Creative Director at Vladimir Jones, explores the power of empathy — in both creativity and leadership. 
Unless you happen to be a fine artist getting paid to make your latest crazy whim, your creative job is probably not about you. If you’re a creator, you work for your client’s audience. And if you’re a leader, you work for your team (not the other way around). Now, more than ever, creatives must get into the minds of their targets and give them the reigns to interact with brands. And leaders must listen to a new workforce that demands a two-way relationship. It’s no longer about ruling followers; it’s about mentoring more leaders. In her 99U talk, Jen explores the neuroscience of how getting over yourself and into another’s shoes will not only help you climb the creative ranks, but will also bring more meaning to what you create.

Check out the other amazing speakers from that night here » 

Thanks to my new Co-ECD Matt (Vladimir Jones), Jeff (Grenadier) and Max (School) for taking the stage with me. And, thanks to Studio C3 for filming/producing these videos and to Chip Kalback for the head shots. Also, thanks to the amazing Colorado community that came out that night and cheered us on.

I hope all of you are inspired to go forth and make ideas happen.

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Friday, September 4, 2015

Chase Your Someday.

Someday is a myth.

Someday hangs out with Bigfoot and The Loch Ness Monster; carefully staying out of the camera’s reality clutches. Someday prefers the shadowy distance; putting off things like completing that leggy to-do list, achieving work-life balance or even (gasp) reaching an inbox zero. Someday is a hazy time gap somewhere between a wish and a follow-through. Most will tell you to forget someday, because it simply doesn’t exist. They’ll say things like “keep your head down, don’t buck the system and stop dreaming.” Because, let’s be honest—with yesterday already gone—we really only have today. And today is often all too real.

There’s hope in someday.

It’s reassuring when we pause our daily routine, gaze out the window and imagine what our someday could be. Everyone’s is different. However, universally, someday is the satisfaction you’ll have when you feel like you’ve finally made it—whatever your it may be. Achieving a lifelong goal, overcoming adversity, basking in fame, or even simply (exhale and unfurl your brow) finding peace of mind with those you love. There’s something about someday’s promise that’s very motivating—that is, if we take action toward actually achieving it. If we roll up our sleeves and set our sights beyond today’s perceived limitations. Someday gives us a star to reach for. An idea to actualize. A reason to keep going.

My dad believed in my someday.

Growing up, my dad instilled a level of expectation in me that left me constantly grasping for something just out of reach. He showed me that optimism, commitment and hustle can flatten obstacles. What I didn’t realize at the time was that he was teaching me to be self-driven—to accept challenges and quietly, yet fearlessly, overcome them. And looking back now, I know that main skill was meant to give me a better chance at my own someday. During my last visit with him, he told me I could accomplish anything as long as someone was telling me I could. And at the core, that someone had to be myself.

My dad enabled somedays for others.

As a teacher, he took pride in helping those who didn’t have a good chance at their somedays—the kids who were underdogs or troublemakers. He believed these kids could do well if they worked hard, and they sensed he meant it. Starting from a place of expected success rather than anticipated failure was often all it took to change their life paths. And with their first 'A', they’d run down the hall to show my dad this hard-fought evidence of their newly found potential.

Someday never waits.

Opportunities are everywhere, but easy to miss. So ask yourself, what can you be doing now to make your or someone else’s someday happen sooner than later? Because your honest belief in yourself or in someone else can fuel the self-drive necessary for reaching a meaningful goal. That is, if you’re willing to believe in a crazy, imaginary thing like someday. And then, even crazier, bravely chase it.

This piece was written in memory of and with gratitude for my dad. As a coach and teacher, he pushed me and many others to be more than we thought we could be. I hope this way of thinking will inspire many more to think beyond the boundaries of today.

Crossposted on The Huffington Post Blog.

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