14. Slow Down

“For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.”
-Lily Tomlin

Slowing down in Baja California at Punta Pequeña.

When I think of slowing down, I am reminded of surfing trips in the 80s to Punta Pequeña in Baja California with good friends John Chick, Eddie Means, John Park, and Peter Vanderburg. As my career was ramping up, those trips taught me to take my foot off the gas pedal and listen within.

Punta Pequeña is a dream of a surfing destination—especially if you catch a solid south swell. It is the kind of surfing spot I imagine in heaven, composed of a near-perfectly sculpted series of right points that corral south swells as good as anywhere on the California coast.

It was as if Michelangelo himself had carved out the shallow volcanic rock shelf for a regular foot surfer riding a yellow Hanifin Bananafin longboard. I could not wipe the smile off my face the entire time we were there. The quality of the wave and the length of the ride was unequaled in my book. It is rumored that you can ride over one kilometer on a really big day. Best of all, we were removed entirely from the SoCal mainstream surfing scene. A crowd of surfers in the water was not something we had concern over.

However, we did have concerns about getting there, which made it all the more appealing. Punta Pequeña was a thousand miles from nowhere, in one of the more remote and inaccessible regions of Baja California. The real McCoy started after a two-day adventure on the rugged-but-paved Baja Mexico Highway 1, which for safety reasons, we never drove at night.

After 900 or so miles of slugging it out on the pot-hole-ridden asphalt segment, a clandestine Baja-dusty dirt road appeared out of nowhere to lead us onto the final exam for our driving odyssey. Sixty miles of ungraded rocky, dusty, and at times, washboard dirt and sand led directly west to the sleepy fishing village of San Juanico on the Pacific Ocean.

Unless you were driving an army tank, this part was never a given, even if you had made it before. It was a full-on assault that included removing parts of your car if they got in the way. To this day, I lay claim to one of the greatest driving achievements in modern surfing history with my 1983 VW Diesel Rabbit. John Park and I almost lost our silver fillings on the washboard and ended up passing out mucho dinero to the local ranchers to tow us through the quicksand section. When we pulled onto the bluff at Punta Pequeña in the Rabbit with a mere twelve inches of ground clearance, the other surfers looked at us like we had just landed Apollo 13. It had been a new car when we left, but it aged 20 years on that trip!

Eddie and John christening the 60 miles ahead to San Juanico (“dónde está la playa?”)

Once camp was established, life at Punta Pequeña settled into a singular focus on surfing. Everything we did was in preparation for that next session in the water. If the surf dropped, we had plenty to keep us busy; but hardly ten minutes went by without a glance at the waves to see if conditions were changing.

If you weren’t out surfing, you were sitting in a beach chair drinking beer, scientifically analyzing the tide and wind conditions as the sun lazed across the powder blue Baja sky. The only responsible duty was rotating the twenty cases of beer into the four ice chests to ensure we had cold brew for the entire trip. It was not as easy as it sounds! Extended games of Bocci ball down the vast, endless beach were the usual diversion in the afternoon if the surf had blown out. But we could only wander a mile or so away for fear the beer would run out, and we suffer dehydration before making it back to base camp. That could impact the next surfing session.

Looking back on those trips today, I realize that my ability to slow down was about the absolute freedom I experienced from being so wholly removed from civilized interruptions in my life. There were zero connections to the outside world. My physical body was at peace. It was similar to what backpackers experience on an extended trip into the wilderness. We were unencumbered and free, which bonded us with our surroundings. The vast nothingness of the environment soothed my soul in a way I can only dream about today. I could sit in my beach chair and gaze down upon the endless spit of land as far as the eye could see. It was beautiful beyond words. Those trips fed my soul in ways only God can explain.

I thirst for that same level of contentedness today.

Going Too Fast
Fast forward to Silicon Valley forty years later: The world is moving too fast. Our vision of the “leisure society” has been reduced to rubble by the explosive growth of computers. The chasm from the slow pace of Punta Pequeña life in the 80s is looking like the grand canyon. We are losing our ability to set aside time to be in peace and rest our souls. Busyness has consumed our lives, and information technology is bombarding us with an incessant need to be distracted by our devices instead of focusing in the present moment. Deep down, we know it is too much for our human psyche to make sense of.

There is a dichotomy here. I love doing so much in so little time with the technology we have today; I’d be lying to tell you otherwise. I have an iPhone and I use it constantly. I can check the surf, tide tables, traffic conditions, and view a live camera of Steamer Lane, all with a finger tap on my phone while I’m shopping from my electronic grocery list at Trader Joe’s.

That’s fantastic!

Like the groceries, it comes at a cost; but unlike the groceries, it’s costing us our lives.

Dr. Richard Swenson, the author of best-selling book Margin, puts it this way:

“The world has witnessed almost continuous change, but never before with such levels of speed, suddenness, complexity, intensity, information, communication, media, money, mobility, technology, weaponry, and interconnectedness.“[i]

Let’s add “stress” to that list.

Unfortunately, our children are the innocent victims of this onslaught. We have all heard the stories because it is happening to our kids. Understandably, they are having issues coping with the complexity and speed of life today. The statistics are staggering. They headline the news every day. Stress, anxiety, depression, lack of sleep, ADHD, obesity, learning disabilities, social skills, and even death from suicide have been linked to the overload our children face today.

Here’s a simple example. I received an email last week from a security service I subscribe to called LifeLock. The subject was “Data Breach Notification,” urging me to change my passwords as a preventative measure.  OK.  I went into my password manager program (on my iPhone) to find out that I had entered 263 passwords! That stressed me out (and still does). I don’t think we can begin to understand the toll that stress takes.

My parents both smoked cigarettes as they came into adulthood. It was cool to have a cigarette back then, and they had no good reason not to smoke. Then they got addicted. Nobody had studied the link between smoking tobacco and deaths from things like lung cancer or emphysema. My mom died of emphysema at age 76. Those studies are out now. But for mom, it was too late.

Forty years later, I am sure that similar studies are forthcoming on the deadly effects of the technology overload we are being subjected to today. Our brains are not equipped to handle the barrage of information and radio frequency (FR) exposure coming at them. It’s too much. The negative impact on our health is clear!

This story is just one example from a close friend of mine:

After high school, his son hit a rough patch in life and developed a serious alcohol/drug habit. It was not pretty, but he got himself into a long-term rehab center and is now doing fantastic. While in the rehab center, he told a story about a small group discussion he had with a dozen or so other young adults in the same situation. The leader asked each of them in the group what they thought had led to their addiction. Each one of them agreed that it was their deep internal need to slow down. Life was moving too fast, and they could no longer cope, so they began to take alcohol or drugs to help them deal with it.

If I were to boil down my twelve months of New Ventures West coaching training to the most important thing I learned, it would be the need for us all to slow down. If one genuinely wants to have freedom in their being to discover and pursue who they are in the world, slowing down is a mandatory first step.

I had the opportunity to slow down when I was laid off from my job. It was a bit like Punta Pequeña; suddenly, I had time just “to be”. That experience led me to step off the Silicon Valley express train to make a significant transition in my career. I began to feel the freedom one experiences when listening to your heart. It was like going surfing without a leash. I felt empowered to experience the freedom of whom I was deep inside without being tethered to earthly expectations. Although I was quite scared that I would quickly fall and lose my way, this new awakening brought about a sense of joy not felt in years.

As I began to coach clients, I quickly learned that a key to my success was getting them to slow down. Coaching a client traveling through life at today’s “normal” speed is like trying to diagnose car trouble with no dashboard to display the metrics. You might as well be throwing darts at an invisible target—you have no idea what the underlying issues are. The speed and intensity of life today seem to require that we lose touch with our inner-self. We are too busy to look at our dashboard.

Being Present
Meditation is an excellent first step for starting to slow down. It is amazing what our mind, body, and heart can tell us if we can slow down enough to listen. We tend to see the world in a physical sense. If I look OK, I must be OK. Coaching brought me to realize that there is an equally-important spiritual side to our being. The soul requires every bit as much attention and care as our physical bodies do. Meditation tends to our needs in our spiritual bodies. Even the Bible contains over sixty references that tell us to meditate. [iiii]

A valuable tool for dealing with stress is learning to pay attention to this very moment. “Being present” is a phrase for nonjudgmentally allowing yourself to experience the here and now. Another common term is mindfulness, or bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment. The awareness that can emerge from paying attention to the present moment can be life-altering. Even if it’s just for 5 minutes a day, it can make a world of difference. There is plenty to read from a wealth of books on this subject. Two of my favorites are mentioned below.[ii]

Looking to Heaven
Steven Curtis Chapman was on to something when he released the hit song “Next 5 Minutes” in 1999. The song talks about living the next five minutes as if they were your last five minutes; truly living in the moment.

What if the next five minutes are all you have?

I did a great deal of contemplation about my life following the layoff from Oracle and subsequent one-year sabbatical to become a life coach. There was no question about the 2×4 hitting me square on the head; I could feel God at work. Yet, I found my mind often drifting to my mortality. Mom and dad were now gone, so I was next, right? It was kind of difficult to avoid that one. In one sense, that motivated me to get my act together for that “second mountain” I had to climb (in the words of David Brooks’ from his book, The Second Mountain). But in another sense, it made me wonder about what was next. I was closer to that part of my life than I wanted to admit.

Since I am a Christian, did I really believe that paradise awaited me?[iii] What did the Bible have to say about heaven? And what about all those near-death experience (NDE) trips to heaven that people have written so many books about—Are those valid? I even wondered if I would be able to go surfing in heaven!?

It struck in me an insatiable desire to learn more.

Punta Pequeña Nothingness

[i] https://www.amazon.com/Margin-Restoring-Emotional-Financial-Overloaded/dp/1576836827

[ii] Books on meditation:
Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body
by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson
There are more books than I can count, extolling the many wonders of meditation. I liked this book because Daniel and Richard sifted through the morass of clinical research to boil out the truth about what meditation can do for us and how to get the most out of it. I had the opportunity to meet Daniel Goleman at a promotion event for this book and can assure you he is legit.

Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore
This is a beautifully written account of how to care for our innermost being. Having a firm belief that our soul is what we take with us to heaven in the life hereafter, I found this to be a refreshing view on making the most of my life here on earth in preparation for our eternal home in heaven. I completely agree with Mr. Moore’s assertion that our “loss of soul” is a significant problem facing us today, resulting in many societal ills. The primary takeaway underscored the profound value of quiet time and meditating on a daily basis. According to Mr. Moore, we care for the soul by living life in a way that our inner sense of who we are flourishes.

[iii] “Jesus answered him [on the cross], “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Luke 23:43

[iii] https://biblereasons.com/meditation/

6. Riding the Wave in Silicon Valley

“If we are enjoying so much progress, why is everyone so worn out? “
-Dr. Richard A. Swenson, M.D.

Age with wisdom can be a wonderful thing. I look back now on some of the hardest experiences in my life and realize how they helped me grow. My leap into tennis club management embodies this dynamic.

I left Utah with degree in hand and landed at the Rusty Pelican Restaurant in Newport Beach to ease my transition into responsible living. Ha! Waiting tables almost became my career. I was stuffing my safe deposit box with gold Krugerrands to manage all the cash from tips, surfing (or playing tennis) all day, and arriving at work just in time to eat. It could easily have become a lifestyle …

Somehow, I got back on plan when I was hired as general manager of the Covina Hills Racquet Club (CH) in southern California. CH was the full package club, with thirteen tennis courts, two racquetball courts, weights/aerobics room, pro shop, snack bar, jacuzzi/sauna, and an outdoor pool. I would be directing the “leisure society” with members who were spending their free time (and disposable income) at our club. Dr. Rockwood would have been proud; it was textbook.

Or so I thought.

I was immediately overwhelmed. Work/life balance went out the window, even though I was wearing tennis clothes and working on my suntan. I had a staff of twenty employees and two tenants (pro shop and snack bar) who needed constant attention. The owners (Granada Royale Hometels) expected a tennis club to be as clean and orderly as a newly arrived hotel room; inspections from the hotel staff were constant.

I soon realized CH was in a negative cash flow position with memberships declining. Then we had a pink eye outbreak in the pool. Upon inspecting the pump room, I found my maintenance man smoking pot (“Are those two connected?”).

This part was not in the textbook!

My workdays were some of the longest I have ever worked; I quickly realized that peak hours at the club were when all my friends were off work (weeknights, weekends, and holidays). I dropped off social calendars and watched my tennis game disappear. It was as if I had been thrown onto the court against Bjorn Borg and wished “good luck,” even though everyone knew it was going to be a massacre. 

Marketing for new members at Covina Hills Racquet Club (1983)

The tide began to turn when I hired our head tennis pro, Barry Friedman. CH immediately took to his style and personality as he rallied (pun intended) members into activities that raised morale and got everyone out to play. A community was awakened.

Looking back, I see two big lessons from CH:

  1. Members (people) are generally happy if they have a tennis pro (leader) who they like and who can improve their game. Barry taught me a lot in that area.
  2. Relationships matter; never overlook any one of them. It took just one letter from a disgruntled member at CH to nearly cost me my job. I survived, but vowed not to ever allow that to happen again.

When Granada Royale Hometels announced their shocking decision to close CH two years later, I took a leap of faith to join a new telecommunications company called ROLM in 1984 (where my sister Terry was working). I was hired as a customer support advisor and was responsible for driving maintenance contract revenue for ROLM’s telecommunications systems. I was like a deer in headlights. Overnight I transitioned from counting tennis balls in the pro shop to counting ports on a printed circuit board (and having to learn what a port was!).

AT&T had a monopoly of analog telephone service in the U.S., over what would soon become the digital transmission network of the internet. As the U.S. government mandated the breakup of this monopoly in 1982, companies like ROLM emerged to computerize the telephone and long-distance service for businesses. ROLM was investing heavily in technical training of their workforce to get a jump on this new opportunity. It was as if I was going back to college, but getting paid to do it!

Best of all, I met the love of my life Marla. She was also in a customer support role when we first met at ROLM’s Irvine, California office. An office friendship immediately developed. Marla was smart as a whip (USC graduate), beautiful, fun, easy to talk to, and liked to laugh. When I first announced my interest in her, my co-worker Al Walker snapped back,
“Mulkey, she’s got legs as long as you are!”

I won the jackpot when Marla agreed to marry me in Newport Beach in 1991. We moved north to ROLM’s headquarters in Santa Clara where we planted our roots, raised two children (Marisa and Matthew), and began to call Mountain View home, leaving behind the warm beaches of southern California.

Selling a ROLM Computerized Branch Exchange (CBX) required technical sales support. I was in the right place at the right time, and after twelve months of training classes, I was a fully seasoned ROLM systems engineer. It was an exciting time to be on the leading edge of a Silicon Valley company like ROLM.

I immediately took to ROLM’s CEO, Ken Oshman, and his philosophy of “GPW” (Great Place To Work). In-between training classes and field sales calls, I was back on the tennis courts or taking time out for a jacuzzi or steam bath at work. The ROLM campus included recreation facilities that rivaled CH; they were even featured on CBS 60 Minutes. It really was a great place to work!

Marla and I were both enjoying the excitement of our jobs at ROLM, but realized there was not much free time to go hang out at the beach. Silicon Valley was emerging as the global center of innovation for computer technology, so it seemed reasonable that work became the priority. The computer was entering our lives in ways we never could have anticipated in the 1970s. Dr. Rockwood’s leisure society was in jeopardy.

The information revolution explosion which soon followed happened so quickly that nobody had time to study the potential dangers that came with it. Alvin Toffler wrote about this in his book Future Shock (1970), arguing that that the information overload to come would overwhelm society and result in a “future shock” because of our inability to handle it all. The more I saw of Silicon Valley, the more I believed he was on to something. There was a wave coming and it was big.

The Wave
In the midst of all this, it took me five years to brave the cold water in Santa Cruz and go surfing. It was a long dry spell! Some blame was due to the work culture in Silicon Valley, but mostly it was my fear of the frigid northern California currents. New wetsuit technology from O’Neill finally got me to break the ice at Steamer Lane (“the lane”) in 1996. I quickly realized I had found an escape valve from the Silicon Valley pace, less than an hour from my doorstep in Mountain View.

This Woody Woodworth poster hung in my office for many years.

The lane on a big winter swell is not for the faint of heart. Both the leash and wetsuit were spawned there for good reason. The rock cliffs are gnarly, and the water is numbing. It is a world-class reef/point break that is thick and powerful and can rip for several hundred yards into Cowell’s beach (on a low tide). It rivals any break I have surfed in California.

Paddling out can challenge even the best surfers, as the currents are strong, the waves often too humongous to duck under, and there are four different breaks to navigate (indicators, middle-peak, the slot, the point). I like to sit at middle-peak on big days when it can top triple overhead further outside at the point; however, waiting for a wave can get spooky. Middle-peak can jack up to double overhead out of nowhere and get you diving for abalone faster than a boat anchor if you can’t get over it. The longer your board, the more difficult that can be. Middle-peak waves often move sideways as fast (or faster) than they are moving in, so positioning for the take-off can be quite tricky and involve a bit of luck.

I caught the biggest wave of my life on a winter storm-swell day at middle-peak. The sensation was completely alien. The wave unexpectedly appeared and came at me like a freight train out of a dark tunnel, whistle howling. As I paddled for it the ocean picked me up like a tsunami and began moving with me. It was as if all of Monterey Bay was caught up in this wave. I was instantly moving with the wave and rapidly dropping in, whether I wanted to or not! The wave had caught me.

I quickly got to my feet in a crouched position as I raced down the face, noticing a couple of surfers diving for the bottom off to my side. The drop was sensational, akin to jumping off a cliff. As I started a sweeping right turn, the enormity of the wave and the amount of water moving with me was exhilarating! I felt like Franz Klammer at the 1976 Olympics, racing with abandon to stay ahead of the crashing lip, ignoring all sense of form. I had never gone so fast.

Over my shoulder, I could see the wave breaking behind me in apparent slow motion. Surfers sneaking over the lip looked back down at me as I excitedly banked off the face with water spraying high into the crisp Santa Cruz air like a snowboarder coming off a half-pipe lip. My Doug Haut surfboard tracked onto the face of the wave as if it were the Santa Cruz boardwalk roller coaster, dropping and climbing as the face continued to build in front of me without any sign of letting up. The force of it allowed me to sweep further out of the section without any danger of losing momentum back into the wave. I was flying!

This went on continuously until I finally kicked out at Cowell’s beach on the inside as the wave broke in front of me. Cresting over the lip I fell off the back of my board and floated on my back to soak in the memory of what had just happened. I released a light laugh and then slowly climbed on my board and paddled back out, reliving every part of that wave. Like one good shot on a round of golf, it carried me for many, many waves after. It had been a gift from God.

5. Leisure Society

“A single rose can be my garden; a single friend, my world.”
― Leo Buscaglia

The only time in my life I lived away from the ocean was my four years in college at the University of Utah (the U) in Salt Lake City. Despite not getting wet, those years proved to be pivotal to my future. It all happened quite unexpectedly when I received a Basic Educational Opportunity Grant from the U.S. government for four years of tuition and expenses at the U. It was a gift from God.

I will admit to having a bit of sand between my ears when I arrived at the U to tackle my freshman classes in 1973. I boldly decided to live alone in an apartment off-campus. It was as if I went scuba diving without a mask. The entire year was a disaster of loneliness and confusion. It was another “Mexican miracle” that I survived and came back.

I learned from that unexpected but necessary time of growth and moved on campus my sophomore year. I was starting to right the ship when a revelation struck me in class that would lead me to my first career as a tennis club manager. Dr. Linn Rockwood of the Recreation and Leisure Studies Department had put up a chart that got my full attention. The projected growth of the computer (which had not yet fully arrived) was shown in parallel with the projected growth of leisure time among the baby boomer generation. They were both pointing sky high!

“Hey, I’m one of those baby boomers,” I voiced to myself.

The computer was going replace hours on the job with an abundance of free time. Dr. Rockwood’s instruction was clear: “Plan a career in the recreation and leisure industry and your future will be bright.”

Check.

Community
Looking back at my time outside of class, those four years at the U can be summarized with one word: community.

Without it, my freshman year was one of the hardest years of my life. I then experienced three years with community as a Resident Advisor (RA) in the dorms on campus (landing the job soon after moving on campus). The fraternity of residence hall life combined with the RA leadership development training I received had an enormous impact on me. Developing community among 50 new freshman students each school year during one of the most tumultuous times in their life was an invaluable learning experience. It shaped me as a person.

With room and board covered as an RA, I had spare funds for my annual ski pass to Snowbird ($5 per day for U students). I could not have written a better script. I would get out of class at noon and be on the GAD 1 chairlift at Snowbird by 1:00 p.m. Without owning a car! My search for the perfect wave was replaced by a search for powder snow. Little Cottonwood Canyon became my San Onofre.

Resident Advisor’s at the University of Utah in 1974 (Reid Miller with the dark hat)
 

My one rose in the community garden at the U was Reid Miller. I met Reid in my first RA staff meeting in Bailiff Hall. We were reviewing new resident policies when a shaggy-bearded short guy (like me!) with Sonny Bono glasses boisterously interrupted to complain about the toilet paper.

Huh?

He proceeded to compare the toilet paper we had in Bailiff Hall to a piece of wax paper.

“It does nothing but smear things around!”

Are you kidding me!?  Who was this guy, bringing up a subject like that in front of the entire RA staff (male and female)?

We were soon fast friends and backcountry ski partners. Reid was a University of Utah “mining engineering student of the year” who instantly won me over with his complete honesty and warm affability. I was soon drinking deeply from his vast wisdom of the great outdoors as we adventured into the Wasatch Mountains together. Whether it was tying a hook onto a fishing line or cranking (and banking) a turn in cross country skis on a deep powder descent, Reid opened new doors that took me far beyond the tides and jetties of Corona del Mar.

The Mormons
I believe in angels. I had Mormon relatives from my Mom’s side living in Salt Lake City who played the part of angels with brilliance over my four years at the U. We were not involved in the Latter-Day Saints (L.D.S.) church growing up. However, I was very much influenced by my time with them during our annual trips to Salt Lake. We always stayed with grandma Oa and grandpa Paul (Mom’s side) on Skyline Drive where our cousins all seemed to magically appear while Mom and Dad skied the powder at Alta and came home to one of Grandma’s glorious dinners.

My sister Terry and I preparing to drive home from another Salt Lake City ski trip (1958).

Going to the U was not exactly the popular pick among my surfing crowd in those days. “The beer tastes like water (3.2% alcohol) and the Mormons are everywhere,” I was told. I would agree on both counts. We used to joke at our kegger parties that you’d get just as drunk if you drank that much water!

While I kidded along with my friends about “the Mormons,” I quickly found them to be my saving grace while at the U, especially that first year. The many invitations I received meant everything to me living alone. The care packages of homemade bread, soup, cookies, and more that Grandma Oa left on my doorstep on Friday nights could bring me to tears. Anyone experiencing an Oa Cannon meal quickly discovered that she could cook like Michelangelo could carve marble. Her meals sent you to heaven and back.

Grandma Oa also prayed incessantly for me; I know that because she told me. She would even send me letters of her prayers. I believe I will see in heaven that it was her prayers that led me to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ later in my life. What a joyous reunion that will be.

Leisure Society
Moving back to the classroom, Dr. Rockwood continued his explanation about the transition to computers creating a leisure society with reduced working hours, extended holidays, and more disposable income to be spent on non-essentials. Dr. Rockwood predicted a four-day workweek would soon result. As leisure time exceeded working time, leisure would become a source of values that infiltrate our lives. A leisure ethic would eventually supersede the work ethic of industrialism.

It was sounding a bit like the Roman Empire, but that was OK with me. I was in the right place at the right time!

My next move was to declare myself a “Commercial Recreation” major as I dreamed of running a tennis club in southern California where I could wear tennis clothes to work, play with the tennis pro on lunch breaks, and hang out at the pool to keep my suntan going.