“If you are going through hell, keep going.”
— Winston Churchill
I was at Trader Joe’s when a fellow Mountain View Masters (MVM) swimmer dropped in on my cash register and blurted out,
“Hi Mike, did you know that Jerry passed away on Father’s Day?”
This confused me, as I was having trouble figuring out who she was with all the coverings on (I don’t recognize swimmers with their clothes on!). My dad (Kona Jack) had also died on Father’s Day …
As I began to scan her groceries I shot back,
“Jerry? Jerry who??”
By the time all was paid and bagged I realized it was our dear friend Jerry Rodder. There was no funeral or obituary or much of any swimming going on, so word did not really get out. Jerry’s departure hit me hard. He was an amazing man who had a sense of humor about life I am really going to miss. He reminded me a great deal of my dad. They both loved Trader Joe’s.
Jerry and his wife Jill were part of a 5am swimming group I somehow brushed shoulders with for ten or so years at Eagle Park pool (note, they were waiting at the gate at 4:45am; even on those icy cold dark mornings of winter). Jerry and Jill had been around MVM forever. They even wrote the original bylaws for MVM, when Jerry told me they would jump the fence and swim 10,000 meters before anyone else arrived. The early bird got the worm in their house.
It was always a big motivation for me to get there for the 5am workout knowing Jerry would already be in the pool. Since Jerry was twenty five years my senior, this got my attention. The swim workout at that hour was not my favorite thing. It was hard to get going… But the 6am shower after with Jerry set the tone for a good day.
We took long and leisurely showers after the workout, which Jerry joked that we would drain the city of Mountain View of all their hot water. He would still be showering, as we were shaving and getting dressed for work, walking over to me (dripping wet naked) to tell me that he couldn’t remember the last time he shaved; and that he was going to go home and take a nap.
Each day Jerry would bring a joke to the pool to share among us guys. His jokes were not always clean (most were not) and they definitely were off color at times, but they were always funny. Jerry delivered these jokes as if he were on Broadway, casually pausing to drop the punch line with impeccable timing. He would even bring me a printed copy of “the good ones” so I could send them off to my dad in Hawaii (which I often did – and he loved them!). I had very little in common with Jerry other than our love of swimming, but our morning laughs in the shower were something I cherished.
I never knew much about Jerry’s life until I unexpectedly received an invitation to his home. He had pencil sketched the time and address on a small scrap of paper, handing it to me after our shower. “Come on by” was all he said.
My wife Marla and I had no idea what to expect when we showed up at Jerry and Jill’s house in Los Altos, which was a story in itself. The interior of the house had no walls separating the rooms. What?! It was one big room that was decorated like a museum. The museum pieces were displayed in groups and were quite varied and unique. There was a Swiss army knife that was as tall as me (in the “knives” section); there were out of the ordinary clocks (in the “clocks” section). One wall was adorned with seventeen U.S. Patents with Jerry’s name on them. He never talked about that.
A plaque with a newspaper clipping from the San Jose Mercury News (circa 1964) showed Jerry next to the machine he had invented. I asked him what it was, and he chuckled, telling me that it could measure the weight of a speck of dust to within .0000001% accuracy (or something like that). “Oh”, was the only response I could muster. Needless to say, this was a side of Jerry Rodder I did not know beyond his jokes in the shower.
We wandered outside to Jerry’s expansive vegetable and fruit garden and entered a large greenhouse that was adorned with award-winning Orchids – dozens of them that were stunning in their brilliant colors and ornamental shapes. Jerry explained he competed in local Orchid contests where he often won 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place prizes. He had invented a magic “alcohol-based” fertilizer that caused just about anything to grow to record levels. We had been savoring mouth-watering tomatoes and melons that Jerry brought to the swim club for years, and now I knew why. He joked with me that the Environmental Protection Agency would shut him down if they had any idea what he put in it.
Just as we were getting thirsty for a drink or bite to eat (not a scrap of food or drink was to be found), Jerry told us all to sit down so he could play his piano recital. Huh?
As he sat down at his magnificent Steinway grand piano and played the first set of notes, I instantly knew we were in for a treat. Jerry played variations of Beethoven, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Mozart and more for 45 minutes straight without reading a note. Marla and I sat in stunned silence as we drank in the wondrous melodies watching his fingers float over the keys. Upon completion, Jill promptly brought out fresh-baked cake along with sweet melons from Jerry’s garden. It was an exquisite unforgettable evening!
Jerry was a very unique and colorful individual who covered more ground in a lifetime than a Winston Churchill memoir. He was a husband, father, grandfather, scientist, inventor, chemist, horticulturist, swimmer, concert pianist, and comedian; and I barely knew him, first meeting him in his late seventies. I believe Jerry was a genius.
The last time I saw Jerry was at his house a few months before the pandemic hit after his 90th birthday. He was no longer swimming and had help at home to keep good food on the table since Jill had departed two years earlier. We had a brief conversation about Trader Joe’s and how he loved going there to do his shopping. I bid him farewell, never thinking that was it.
I miss Jerry.
I miss his jokes and his ability to make fun of whatever and whoever was in the news. Jerry kept his wit right up to the end. He loved swimming. He is the only person I know who could get me laughing at 5am. He loved his music and most of all he loved his wife Jill. It was hard for him when she left first.
The world is a little more serious of a place without Jerry Rodder.
God bless you, my friend!
I found this short clip on the web about Jerry and Jill:
Fri Mar 23, 2018, 8:38 am:
- More sad news, Jill Rodder, wife of Jerry Rodder (Jerry’s Grow) passed away last evening. They were a great couple, Jerry grew them and Jill prepped them for display. Jerry’s magic fertilizer was the best on the market and he grew the finest orchid plants I have ever seen anywhere. Jill shone the leaves and cleaned the husks so that every orchid displayed was a glistening specimen. Jerry still has plants but at a more manageable level now. The Cymbidium hybrid named in Jill’s honor is a beauty and was her joy when it bloomed each Spring. Those of us who know and love Jerry, one of the smartest and most technically accomplished people I have ever known, will surely be there to offer him love and support at this difficult time. Hopefully any orchid wannabes will not seek to exploit Jill’s death for self-aggrandizement at any forthcoming orchid shows………
** Resources **
Bonnie Tsui is an accomplished author, writer, and swimmer who immerses you into a wonderful analysis and tribute to the sport of swimming with a sort of memoir of her life blended in. If you like to swim (or just be in the water) you will drink this up! If you don’t swim, this book very well may get you in the water. It is very well written and Bonnie covers all aspects of the sport, including some fascinating historical insights.
“For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.”
― Lily Tomlin
Life moves quickly today. We can do so much in little time. It is exciting for a Type-A person like myself who loves to be efficient and blast through the to-do list. I can check the surf, tide tables, traffic on Highway 17, and view a live camera of Steamers Lane — all with a finger tap or two on my iPhone; while I am shopping for my grocery list at Trader Joe’s!
It’s fantastic. But like the groceries, it comes at a cost.
Dr. Richard Swenson 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.“
(Let’s add “stress” to that list …)
The most important thing I have learned in my coaching profession is the need to slow down.
It is difficult to coach a client who is traveling through life at today’s pace. It’s similar to diagnosing car trouble with no dashboard to tell you what is happening under the hood. The speed and intensity of life seem to require that we lose touch with our inner being (we are too busy for that). I often prescribe meditation to help my clients Stop and Smell The Roses. It is amazing what our mind, body, and heart can tell us if we take the time to listen.
A close friend told me a story underscoring how the speed of life today is impacting our youth. His son hit a rough patch in life after high school 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 great. With a dozen or so other young adults, the leader asked what they thought led to their addiction. It was their deep internal need to slow down. Each one of them agreed, life was moving too fast and they could no longer cope, so they began to deal with it by taking alcohol or drugs. I can sure relate to that. My coping mechanism just happens to be exercise.
For me, slowing down was what put me on the path to become a New Ventures West certified coach. After twenty-five years in Silicon Valley riding the Express train, I had been laid off from my job at the age of sixty-two. The train had stopped, so I got off and explored my options. It was like Surfing Without a Leash. Suddenly I was empowered to experience the freedom of who I was deep inside without being tied down to a career. Although painful at first, this new awakening brought about a sense of joy not felt in years. It is now my passion to coach others who struggle to slow down, and discover what is going on “under their hood”.
Surfing for Balance
Growing up at the beach in Corona del Mar in the 1960s was an ideal environment for a young grom like me. We had a tight-knit community of friends who gathered daily at the beach, constantly anticipating the next big south swell. Best of all, my dad was a surfer from Malibu in the 1940s, and it was my time surfing with him on the weekends at San Onofre that most influenced my views on keeping work and life balance. As I grew into adulthood I began to realize that I felt at my very best when I was in the water on my surfboard. It became my identity.
When I first transferred to Silicon Valley in 1990 I wondered what everyone did when they weren’t working. It soon became apparent that when you were working for a computer company in the innovation capital of the world there was not a lot of time to hang out at the beach. The opportunities were endless, but so was the work! I found myself continuously fighting a battle to stay healthy and balanced.
Although it took a couple years to get used to the cold water (thank you, O’Neill wetsuits!), surfing soon became my relief valve from the hectic pace. I launched “Surfing for Balance in Silicon Valley” in 2014 to begin blogging about my struggle to stay afloat as a way to apply my voice to the work-life integration challenge in Silicon Valley.
Writing about the nonstop juggling act between work, family and self began to parallel my training for a triathlon. I was constantly balancing my time to make sure each event got its allotted time. I soon created the Circle of Life as a tool to provide my own emergency warning system when one area got out of whack (work, family, or self). A story from my early career with ROLM is an example when my work was taking over.
I Have Become That Man!
ROLM was a dream company to start a career, and they were led by one of Silicon Valley’s great pioneers, Ken Oshman, who established “Great Place To Work” (GPW) as a corporate goal at ROLM in the early 1970s. I was later managing a global product development team with Siemens ROLM in 1990 when this story takes place.
Our product teams were split between the U.S. and Germany, requiring me to fly to Munich quarterly to help coordinate development activities. Waiting at San Francisco International Airport to board my flight to Munich, I was strategically positioned next to the only power outlet in sight for my laptop. Typing out urgent last-minute emails to my team, I likely had veins popping out of my forehead as I raced against to call to begin boarding.
An older businessman suddenly approached me, clearly wanting to chat. Probably in his 60s with grey hair, he wore a smart suit and tie and patiently waited for me to pause from my furious pace. When I finally looked up he blurted out that I reminded him of whom he had been twenty years before. Then he paused, as if that needed to sink in.
He said he was stopping by to tell me to relax, to slow down; “Stop and smell the roses,” he said. He then assured me it all would be waiting for me when I landed in Munich. He said all this in a very relaxed and purposeful manner, looking me straight in the eye. He finished with,
“You’ll see when you’re my age, that it really doesn’t matter.”
I was aghast he had the audacity to tell me this when he had no idea who I was, who I worked for, or where I was going and why. Yet I had an immediate sense that he was absolutely right. I remember his words playing back to me over that long flight. I never saw him again. I believe he was an angel sent to help me slow down. Many years after that incident, I have become that man!
Thirty-five years into my life and launching my career in high technology, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Since then I have been on a walk of continual growth in understanding the plan God has for my life, realizing I am not actually the one in control.
Maybe I am losing some who do not believe the Bible, and I fully understand. Many in the surfing community are not followers of Jesus. Stick with me, as we all wonder at times about the truth of scripture.
As a life-long surfer who grew up without a church background, I became a student of Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) to better understand God’s word. BSF soon led me on a path to knowing God through my eternal destiny: heaven. Belief in the glorious wonder of what God has waiting for us has been a lightning bolt of change for me in my faith. In anticipation of heaven, I have found the perseverance to handle today’s challenges, and hope for what tomorrow brings. As crazy as it sounds, I believe we could be Surfing in Heaven when we get there!
“Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven”…
Matthew 5:12 (NIV)
** Resources **
What a story!
Julius Achon is my hero.
This book is an inspirational true story of how Julius went from being a 14-year old Ugandan boy soldier during the terrible Idi Amin era to an Olympic runner and then found his calling with an African children’s charity. I could not put it down!
The author of this book (John Brant) wrote my other favorite running book, Duel in the Sun. Brant is a longtime writer-at-large for Runner’s World and knows how to write about running.
A unique recommend on my part, but this book ties into my piece on Steve Jobs (Heaven Can’t Wait). It is the coming-of-age memoir of Lisa Brennan-Jobs, who was Steve Jobs’ first child, although he was not always willing to admit that. This was a well written and candid insight into the anxieties of a child who comes into the world as an inconvenience to her success-focused father.
“Be faithful, and leave the results to God.”
In between surf sessions, I love to run.
The physical joy and mental relief running has provided me over the years is immeasurable. Going out on a run provides the perfect sanctuary. My Silicon Valley career was built around those early morning runs in Rancho San Antonio and noontime runs on the Baylands Trails around San Francisco Bay. It is during those runs that I am able to be alone to let my mind go from immediate concerns to discover the deep inner joy of pushing my physical limits while soaking in the fresh air and nature around me. Running has deeply enriched my life!
I caught the marathon bug in the late 1970s when the running boom was hitting full stride. I started running a couple of marathons a year while slowly shaving down my times to qualify for the renowned Boston Marathon, where my running idol Bill Rodgers was racking up the victories. Running Boston is the ultimate prize for the “average Joe” marathoner. You feel like a rock star for all 26.2 miles.
Most runners would probably agree that the marathon is the ultimate challenge in running. Imagine hitting each of your legs with a hammer for every one of the 55,000 footsteps it takes to cover 26.2 miles. By the time you reach the 20-mile point (in my view, “halfway”), a bear jumps onto your back to add to the experience. The triumphant joy and subsequent relief you feel upon finally crossing that finish line is indescribable. It can cause me to ball like a baby. Nothing compares to it.
Our life is a marathon.
I see two important similarities between life here on earth and the marathon. First is speed. If you go out too fast, eventually you will blow up. I will bet on it. One must maintain a steady pace that matches an intended (and realistic) finishing time, or else… The goal is to keep that pace for the entire 26.2 miles, which is harder than it sounds. My worst example of this was the 1994 California International Marathon (CIM) in Sacramento where I ran the first 20 miles nearly 30 seconds per mile faster than my targeted pace. I decided I was having a good day.
I stopped for a cup of water at mile 20 and that was it. I was done … until about mile 25, when a friend (Paul Fick) encouraged me to shuffle it in for the home stretch. I think I had two bears on my back! At one point a guy called out to me from the balcony of his home:
“Dude, You’re going to need a new pair of shoes before you finish if you keep that up!”
I did not think that was funny. I was a physical wreck for several days after. The experience completely humbled me.
This pacing principle also applies to life. Life is not a sprint; but more of a marathon. However, most today will admit to going too fast. Even kids realize this. Technology is stealing any margins we have had and enabling us to do more than our bodies (and brains) were designed for. Like the marathon, if we don’t Slow Down, eventually we crash. I’ve seen it many times over my career, and often it is not a pretty sight.
One well-documented version of this was a story told by former Google CIO Douglas C. Merrill in his book, “Getting Organized in the Google Era”. Douglas was in charge of taking Google public with their IPO in 2004, where he admitted to overworking and not taking care of his physical needs; he was too busy for that. In spite of all the warning signs his body was giving him (intense headaches, vertigo, not sleeping well, and losing 35 pounds), it was not until the day Google rang the bell on Wall Street after their IPO that Douglas realized he had crashed. As he told the story in his book, he was getting into a cab on Wall Street with two female colleagues when they looked at him in horror, “as if his eyes were bleeding”. One of them immediately handed him her compact mirror, and the blood vessels in his eyes actually had burst and his eyes were in fact bleeding! In his words, “it was a miracle my brain did not burst.” Needless to say, he took an extended leave from Google after that.
As a professional life coach, my passion is to improve the capacity of my client to integrate work and life, while adjusting to a pace they can maintain for the long-term view. It is mostly about slowing down. I found out myself just how difficult that can be when I was riding my own express-train-to-success. I see now that there is no slowing that train down; I had to get off! Getting “downsized” was not exactly how I would have planned it, but I now look back and view that as a gift from God. (see “Taking off the leash in life” for that story).
The Finish Line
Second is our focus on the all-important finish line. The marathon requires a singular focus on the finish line banner. Nothing else can matter. All the rewards of your efforts are waiting for you there. The euphoria of crossing that line is worth all the blood, sweat, and tears you put into it. You need to run as if you are a racehorse with blinders on. To look at or think about anything beyond is simply a distraction that can cause you to lose concentration and potentially crash. Gabriela Andersen-Schiess’ (Switzerland) staggering finish in the inaugural Women’s Marathon at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles exemplifies this extraordinary effort: click “Watch on YouTube”
I have never felt more joy and love at the end of the marathon than I did when my son Matthew and I embraced at the finish of the 2016 St. George Marathon (his first!). The tears were flowing. It was a wondrous moment as we bear hugged each other drenched in the sweat of our efforts. We savored the victory together. Marathon’s don’t get any better than that.
“Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.”
What awaits me at the finish line of life will be way beyond anything I can experience here on earth. My heart’s desire is to cross that finish line in this life and hear, “Well done good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:23 NIV). I wrote about it in Opening Day in Paradise. That triumph of crossing the finish line into heaven is something I can only wonder about. In the words of Randy Alcorn, author of the book titled “Heaven”:
“The day I die will be the best day I ever lived.”
How can I know this?
It just boils down to faith. Marathon Faith.
I view it as a sure thing. The Bible is very clear on Heaven, it is mentioned over 500 times. The book of Revelation paints a particularly stunning description at the end of the Bible when heaven and earth come together as one. Heaven is as clear a finish line at the end of life as the 26.2-mile banner is to the marathoner. I refuse to think about any other option. I have my horse blinders on. Heaven is the finish line that really matters. Life here on earth is simply a dress rehearsal for the production that will go on forever in heaven.
If you are a bit skeptical, I have compiled a short list of books (Books on Heaven-v4), which might help. They are written by people who claim to have visited heaven and received a glimpse of what God has in store for us. They are fascinating reads, regardless of your views on the Bible. I recommend reading them as fictional novels (versus non-fiction), and think you will find that they offer hope and intrigue of what lies beyond our conscious life here on earth. It is a mystery that these experiences happen to people. The Bible is our only source of truth. For me, these stories are fun to read and allow my imagination to run on what will it be like to cross that finish line.
Prior to the 1984 summer Olympics in L.A., there was no women’s marathon in the Olympics. Long distance endurance events were determined to be too strenuous for women (see: The Fight To Establish The Women’s Race). I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the inaugural Women’s Olympic Marathon in Los Angeles and witnessed Joan Benoit’s (U.S.A.) shocking victory as she literally blew by us at mile 13, demonstrating that racehorse-with-blinders focus and determination (pictures I took below). Benoit and Grete Waitz were the top two women marathoner’s in the world coming into the Olympic marathon in L.A. They had even traded world record times in the London and Boston marathons in 1983 (one day apart!).
Benoit surprised everyone by making her move at the 3-mile mark near the first of five designated water stations (as I remember it, she bypassed that water stop to gain ground on the pack). Grete Waitz (Norway; silver metal; 1:26 behind) felt certain she would catch Benoit before re-entering the Coliseum as the temperatures in L.A. were approaching 80 degrees. Waitz was a five-time New York City Marathon champion at the time and had won every marathon she had entered up to that day.
A timeline leading up to the inaugural Women’s Olympic Marathon demonstrates how remarkable Benoit’s achievement was, including her shocking win at the Olympic Trials Marathon, just 17 days after arthroscopic surgery on her knee:
- April 17, 1983: Grete Waitz sets the world record at the London Marathon in 2:25:28
- April 18, 1983: Joan Benoit sets a new world record at the Boston Marathon in 2:22:43 (+1 day)
- April 25, 1984: Joan Benoit underwent arthroscopic surgery on her right knee (“unable to run”)
- May 12, 1984: Joan Benoit wins the women’s Olympic Trials marathon in 2:31:04 (+17 days)
- August 5, 1984: Joan Benoit wins the inaugural women’s Olympic Marathon in 2:24:52
Gabriela Andersen-Schiess ran for her home country Switzerland, even though she was living in Sun Valley, Idaho (as a ski instructor) where she continues to lead an active lifestyle today. She finished the inaugural Women’s Olympic Marathon in 37th place out of 44 finishers (2:48:42) and admitted to missing the 5th (final) water station. She suffered from heat exhaustion and dehydration but was not hospitalized. Gabriela won her two previous marathons coming into the Olympic Marathon (just two months apart):
- Twin Cities Marathon (October 2, 1983 – 2nd running)
- California International Marathon (December 4, 1983 – inaugural)
Joan Benoit held the fastest time for an American woman in the marathon for 32 years after winning the 1985 Chicago Marathon in 2:21:21. Her world record in the 1983 Boston Marathon was the fastest time by an American woman at that race for 28 years. On the 40th anniversary of her first Boston Marathon win, Joan ran the 2019 Boston Marathon (with her daughter Anna) in 3:04:00, finishing first in the female 60-64 age group by nearly nine minutes.
Grete Waitz won 13 out of 20 Marathons she entered, including nine NYC Marathons, two London Marathons, and five World Cross Country Championships. She completed her last marathon (New York City Marathon) in 1992 with her friend Fred Lebow, in celebration of his 60th birthday, after he was diagnosed with brain cancer. Waitz also died of cancer on April 19, 2011, at the age of 57.
Duel in the Sun: Alberto Salazar, Dick Beardsley, and America’s Greatest Marathon by John Brant
This book covers the agony and ecstasy of the marathon race in excruciating detail. John Brant chronicles the 1982 Boston Marathon from start to finish where American’s Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley fought it out side-by-side in one of the most epic marathon battles of all time. The first half of the book covers their struggles of getting to the starting line, and the second half reviews how each of their lives was permanently impacted by their extreme efforts on that hot and muggy Patriots Day in 1982.
Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of NIKE by Phil Knight
Plain and simple, this book is a fantastic read about how Phil Knight founded and launched Nike into one of the world’s most recognized brands. But inside that story are a lot of wonderful details about how the Eugene became TrackTown USA in the 1960s, soon after Phil ran for the University of Oregon under the tutelage of Bob Bowerman, who became Phil’s business partner. Bowerman in my mind is the hero of the story and gets my vote as the single person most responsible for inspiring the 1970s running boom.
A Life God Rewards, Why Everything You Do Today Matters Forever by Bruce Wilkinson
The Bible teaches that everything I do in my life here on this earth is impacting my life in Heaven for eternity. Bruce Wilkinson wrote a wonderful book on this topic. He connects the dots between what you are doing today and what you will experience after you die. It is a quick read and guaranteed to get you thinking more about how what you do today really matters. Forever!
I wrote more on this topic in Heaven Can’t Wait.
“I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down upon the earth and be an atheist, but I cannot conceive how a man could look up into the heavens and say there is no God.”
There’s a topic that is so important to me, and to the writing of this blog, so now is the time to address it. Something I cherish and marvel at:
By speaking of Heaven, I am assuming a belief in God, as documented in the Holy Bible. Without God, we have no Heaven. The Bible is God’s true word about the meaning of life and the responsibility of human beings to their Creator.
In the book of Matthew (7:13-14 NIV), Jesus calls out our need to take the narrow road to life, versus the broad road that leads to destruction:
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
We’re talking serious business here.
The narrow road is having a belief in Jesus Christ as your savior. This requires us to prepare now (today!) in order to enter Heaven, as we really don’t know when our road comes to an end (see “Begin with the End in Mind”).
Avoiding the fire and brimstone discussion, I do want to be clear that Heaven is not the default destination for us. If we don’t make a decision to follow the Bible (the narrow road), it is very specific that Heaven is not where we end up. Heaven is the narrow road, and “only a few find it.” That catches my attention!
I was 35 years into my life before I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and began to study the Bible. My Christian walk has been one of growth and wonder and great joy around the plan God has been unveiling for my life since then. He has not changed who I am as much as He has changed who I want to become. That does not mean life has been without its storms, they have definitely come, in spite of my faith (see “New Beginnings”). But having God to turn to and prayer to guide me during those times has made all the difference in the world.
It all makes perfect sense to me now, but that was not the case in my younger days. And through the years of raising our family here in Silicon Valley while struggling to maintain a career and working hard to stay healthy and balanced, I found rest through my faith in God. Jesus sums it up in Matthew 11:28:30:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yolk is easy and my burden is light.”
Tides of Evidence
As a surfer, I look no further than the miracle of the tides to back up my claim that the Bible speaks God’s true word. For most of my life, I have watched and studied the tidal flow at my favorite surfing spots. Aside from the size of the swell, nothing impacts the quality of the waves as much as the tide. It varies by location what is best (high tide, low tide, incoming, outgoing), but the tides have an amazing impact on what the surf will be like and how long it will stay that way. For example, Steamer Lane on a northwest swell in January is always best when you have an incoming tide, especially if you are coming off a “minus” low tide. On the other hand, at San Onofre, low tide involves a serious rock dance getting in and out of the water. But the waves are consistently worth it!
71% of our planet Earth is covered in water across 5 oceans (the Arctic, Atlantic, Indian, Pacific, and Southern). Earth just happens to be the only known planet (or moon) to have bodies of liquid water on its surface. Earth is also the only planet that has a single moon that just happens to be by far the largest moon (relative to Earth’s size) of any other moon in our solar system. If the moon were just slightly larger/smaller, or a little closer/further in distance from Earth; none of this works, and surfing on Earth is not an option. Nor is life, if you want to broaden this discussion to the moon’s impact on the Earth’s orbital axis. Our moon is the perfect size and the perfect distance away to enable all this to work perfectly.
When I am able to spend an entire day on the beach, one of my favorite pastimes is to simply watch the ebb and flow of the tide in and out. It is truly remarkable. For me to believe this all happened by chance is more concerning than believing it was scripted to happen by a magnificent creator. I can’t reconcile in my mind how something so outrageously precise could take place any other way?
Eric Metaxes sums it up well in his book “Miracles”:
“Is there any escaping the conclusion that the existence of life on planet Earth, or life of any kind anywhere, is an astonishing, incomprehensible miracle?”
Steps to Faith
If you need help in understanding how to receive Jesus Christ as your savior, there are two simple steps you can take.
First, one should have a basic understanding of the Bible. The Old Testament is part one of the Bible, which is about God and his relationship with man, including many prophesies of the coming of Jesus Christ as the chosen messiah. The New Testament of the Bible is about the grace of Jesus:
God the Son, Jesus Christ, came to earth from heaven, lived a perfect human life, died on the cross in our place for our sins, was buried, resurrected three days later, returned to His glorified body to God His Father in heaven, and will come again.
A second step is to find a quiet place with a Bible where you can say a prayer to admit to God (and yourself) that you have ignored Him and have tried to control your life, and to tell Him that you believe that Jesus, the Son of God, died on the cross for your sins.
You don’t have a lot to lose if you bet on the narrow path. Life with Jesus is good, no matter how bad your circumstances are. I don’t know how people get through the difficult times without Him.
I’m betting on having my Opening Day in Paradise!
“God created the heavens and the earth, the oceans and the waves for our enjoyment. Surfing is just my way of worshipping Him.“
Eric Metaxas is a New York Times #1 bestselling author and is one of my favorite Christian writers. He has written seven books that I recommend: Martin Luther, If You Can Keep It, Bonhoeffer, Miracles, Seven Women, Seven Men, and Amazing Grace. Miracles is a collection of short stories which will definitely catch your attention as well as inspire you about what is possible.
Soul Surfer by Bethany Hamilton
If you don’t know about Bethany Hamilton you are in for a treat! This book is her story, which is about her life as a 13-year old competitive surfer when she lost her arm in a shark attack. It was made into a movie which I also highly recommend (Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt were excellent as her parents). Her story and faith as she rose back to the top of the world surfing tour is one not to miss. A great read for your young adult kids also, as her bravery and grit were truly inspiring.
(This is a repeat, but really a good start if you are questioning the authenticity of the Bible)
This book was made into a movie in 2017, and I recommend both if you have any questions about the historical reliability of the New Testament, and/or claims made by Jesus Christ. Lee Strobel was a self-proclaimed atheist when he began investigating the Biblical claims about Christ after his wife’s conversion. As an investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune, Lee pulled together all the facts about Jesus as if he were going to trial. Prompted by the results of his investigation, he became a Christian on November 8, 1981.
Lives Transformed. Period.
When I hear people question the truth of scripture, my first thought is to point them to someone who reflects the joy and confidence and presence of having Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. To me, nothing speaks stronger to the truth of our Holy Bible than a life that has been transformed by what God offers. One of those people who exemplified this in his life in beautiful fashion was Roger Williams, the former President and CEO of Mount Hermon. Roger walked through life here on earth with the exhilaration of his salvation as if he were walking on the precipice of heaven. He truly glowed and was a living example of how the truth of scripture can transform you.
Roger went home to be with our Lord in September of 2014 after succumbing to a long battle with cancer. While I was very sad to lose Roger as a friend and mentor here on earth, I feel closer to him than ever, and rejoice in the thought of joining him in heaven one day. Roger was one of the first people to get me really excited about heaven. He spoke of it as if he had been there, and that he just knew it would be more wonderful than anything we could possibly imagine here on earth.
Our family would usually just see Roger once a year at the Mount Hermon family camp at Lake Tahoe, but the love he showed us throughout the week exemplified the true Christian Spirit. It was a huge inspiration for me personally in my walk with the Lord.
Those summer evenings we spent singing worship music and taking communion on the south shore of Lake Tahoe, as the sun set on the mountains to the west, were truly magical for our entire family. In fact, I can still hear Roger’s voice telling us that in spite of the remarkable beauty we were surrounded by on Lake Tahoe, we could count on God’s promise that heaven would far surpass it:
“If you think the colors are good now – wait till you see them in heaven.
If you think the sunsets are good now – wait till you see them in heaven.
IF YOU THINK this is a beautiful place to live now – wait until you see it REDEEMED [in heaven].”
As the Mount Hermon tagline, which Roger helped to create, would say,
“it’s all about Lives Transformed. Period. “
Is That God Calling?
Fast-forward to October of 2013, over a year after Roger had begun an arduous struggle with cancer, during which he continued to teach, preach and provide visionary leadership at Mount Hermon. In spite of all that he was going through at that time, he agreed to meet with me in his office to address specific questions I had regarding my future. I had been sensing that God was calling me to a ministry around work/life balance and figured Roger could help guide me in knowing if that was actually the case. In spite of it being a very difficult time for him with his declining health, he spent over two and a half hours with me that evening in his office with intensity and delight that I can’t quite do justice with words. My direct question to him was,
“Roger, how had you known that it was God calling when you gave up your successful career and beautiful home to go into ministry?”
Roger’s response was crystal clear. He told me hat God had quite simply hit him over the head with a 2×4 when his calling arrived. It was obvious. There was no mistaking it. I would know for sure when it happened to me.
And after hearing the specifics of his story, I had to agree!
As for my yearning to think that God was calling me to leave my high tech marketing job in Silicon Valley to help others in the way of work/life balance, it seemed pretty clear that I had not been hit by that 2X4 [yet]. I left that evening with a great sense of relief and drove over back over the hill on Highway 17 thanking God for such clear advice from such a dear friend.
Roger went to his heavenly home on September 14, 2014, succumbing to cancer that he called “his insidious dance partner”. His death came just a few days after his 21st anniversary at Mount Hermon. Praise God for the gift I was given that day to be with Roger and to drink from the deep well of wisdom he offered.
Well, Roger was right. There was no mistaking the 2×4 when it hits you.
Through a series of very personal incidents over these past two years, God has made it crystal clear to me that it is time to get started. I will talk to a couple of those incidents in future blogs, but my layoff from Oracle in January of 2017 (see: New Beginnings) was one of those that turned into just the opening I needed to re-set my sights on how I was moving forward in life.
As soon as I realized I would be losing my job, I enrolled in an extensive 1-year certification program to become a New Ventures West Integral Coach®, or in more common terms, a Professional Life Coach. Life Coaching has turned out to be an ideal way for me to make a long-term transition in my career from high-tech marketing to a full-time role of helping others navigate work/life balance challenges in Silicon Valley.
From my research, it was clear that New Ventures West had the most comprehensive training program around, and I knew that to effectively lead people in a discussion about balancing priorities about their work in this area, I needed top-notch credentials and comprehensive training. I am already through almost half of the program and definitely see that this is where God wants me to be. It is a wonderful thing to feel that you are following His plan for your life.
Just ten years ago I had never heard of a “Life Coach” and no idea what they did. Now many of the more innovative corporations in Silicon Valley offer Life Coaching services as a human resources benefit to help their employees better manage the many complexities of life. The thinking behind that is that by becoming a healthier individual you are going to end up being a more productive employee.
Living Without Margins
We all agree life has become quite complex and very challenging on a daily basis, regardless of what you do for a living. People are getting stuck on even the seemingly easy things in life. Life coaches can enter a person’s world not only to free them but also help them develop into more complete individuals, better equipped to handle the many curveballs life is throwing at them. There are many books on this subject, but my favorite is Richard Swenson’s “Margin”. We are simply living life today without margins. Try reading a book without margins – you won’t get very far. It’s stressful!
A quote from the opening paragraph of the book: “The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working” also speaks to this dilemma the average worker is facing today:
“The defining ethic in the modern workplace is more, bigger, faster. More information than ever is available to us, and the speed of every transaction has increased exponentially, prompting a sense of permanent urgency and endless distraction. We have more customers and clients to please, more e-mails to answer, more phone calls to return, more tasks to juggle, more meetings to attend, more places to go, and more hours we feel we must work to avoid falling further behind.”
The simple things in life are not so simple anymore. Expectations exceed our human capabilities.
So, I am learning to become a life coach to help people develop into more complete human beings, as well as to help them through the many “speed bumps” (as Kona Jack would call them) that come their way. The many classes, books, videos, and other resources I am now consuming to gain my coaching certification (in December 2017) are helping me learn the fundamentals of integral coaching.
There is another important side to this story. In addition to my course work, I am getting coached myself. That is a big part of my training. I can’t learn how to help people develop themselves if I can’t do it myself, is the prevailing thought, which I tend to agree with. So I am now learning [from my coach] how I can personally develop to become more complete while developing to be a better coach!
Through this training, I am learning a great deal about myself.
My current narrative (as we call it in class), is that I have been riding a Silicon Valley EXPRESS train for the past 25 years, and you might just say that in order for me to become an effective life coach, I need to
S – L – O – W D – O – W – N.
In fact, my coach is even telling me to stop the EXPRESS train and get off.
He wants me to commence on a trek of self-exploration to better understand my true self. In the past, I have definitely not been one to demonstrate much patience, especially at the DMV.
This is life-changing stuff!
To put it in surfing terms (as one of my classmates describes it), I am learning to “HANG 11”. Things like speaking more thoughtfully and slowly, listening with my heart (not just with my ears), and sitting for 30 minutes every morning while doing (and thinking) absolutely nothing. Are you kidding me!
It is quite exciting and feels really good. But it is also quite uncomfortable for someone who has been flying along at warp speed for 25 years solving an endless flow of high-technology challenges.
Why a Christian perspective?
While my passion for helping people in the work/life balance struggle in Silicon Valley has led me to the coaching profession, I do look at the world through the eyes of a Christian who believes the Holy Bible is the true word of God. I want to be very upfront about that. However, I do not believe my clients need to hold Christian beliefs to receive value from my coaching. It is simply the lens through which I view the world.
Next post: Begin with the end in mind
The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance by Tony Schwartz and Jean Gomes
I happened to run across this book as part of my required reading for the New Ventures West training program, and I loved it! It aligns beautifully with promoting work/life balance.
Schwartz offers a plethora of very practical information for those who are too busy working to attend to their core human needs. One example was his discussion about the value exchange between employers and employees being the one-dimensional concept of “time for money”. He suggests having employers invest more in the multidimensional needs of their employees in order to gain more sustainable high performance. Schwartz talks about focusing on the value we produce during the hours we work, and provides some very good examples of how this can pay off for both sides (employers AND employees). His analogy is that human beings are not meant to operate like machines (high speeds for long times), but that we produce the most value when we are able to pulse between the expenditure and the intermittent renewal of our energy.
Amen to that!
Measuring Up by Charles P. Lloyd
Charles P. Lloyd is my mom’s twin brother. Uncle Charles was an incredible man who impacted my life in so many wonderful ways. He played the role of a second father to me, and I definitely believe my mom passed on some of Charles’ genes to me. This book is an excellent demonstration of that. Somehow, Uncle Charles was writing on work/life balance before I had even entered the work force. We crossed paths on this topic over 15 years ago when he pulled out this book to show me what he had written. I was quite shocked when I saw it, as I had been writing on the same topic for several years by then without ever knowing he even had an interest in it. If you take a look at the Circle of Life quiz (in this blog under Circle of Life), you will see an amazing resemblance between the two separate writings.
In Measuring Up Charles asks a simple question:
“What are some of the essential attributes that must be learned and developed in men and in women to be well-rounded, happy and self-actuated?”
Take 30 minutes and read this book if you would like to learn more about “the real you” and “where you are going” in this life.
Uncle Charles went home to be with our Lord on May 18, 2017. Here is a link to his obituary if you would like to learn more about him.
Email sent to my co-workers at Oracle:
Date: January 19th at 3:51pm
Subject: new beginnings
I will be leaving Sun/Oracle effective today — time for new beginnings!
It has been my very great pleasure to work with you all.
THANK YOU —
especially to Vijay Tatkar, who has been my inspirational & loyal leader these past few years.
I look forward to staying in touch with you going forward.
After 17+ years of employment at Sun / Oracle, the layoff bullet which I have been dodging for so many years finally caught me.
Official explanation: Corporate downsizing.
Above was the farewell email that went out on the day of my departure.
New beginnings for sure!
However, I need to mention that I am looking for a new job…
Please contact me if you know of anyone looking for a Marketing Leader who can make big things happen in a hurry.
Along with so many of us in Silicon Valley, I had been through the corporate downsizing exercise more times than I want to count. But finally, it was my turn to hear the official news from my boss, send out the “farewell” email to friends, and carry the cardboard box of belongings out to the car, feeling as if I had a bold “L” imprinted across my forehead (“Loser” or “Laid off”, take your pick!).
I had finally woken up in the wrong job on the wrong product at the wrong time, and it was now time for: “EXIT stage left — Audios amigo — C U Later — Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!”
Since I had recently celebrated my 62nd birthday, I felt prompted to come clean and write about my experience as a means of coping with the whole ordeal. According to Right Management, the outplacement firm Oracle provided to help ease my transition into the next phase of my career (and life), this is good therapy for me.
I’ve also been a bit inspired by William Finnegan, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning Barbarian Days, at about the same age. Barbarian Days was his story of a life-long obsession with surfing, after a long career as a staff writer at The New Yorker and well-known author of international journalism. In his words, ‘I was reluctant to come out of the closet as a surfer’, because of how he would be perceived as a writer. Of course, he’s now my hero.
There’s definitely something to be said for having a little perspective when you take the plunge into a new phase of life. And although I am still in the job hunt in Silicon Valley (the mortgage payment did not disappear with the job), it feels pretty good to write about it. For what seems to me like an eternity of fighting the good battle here in the valley of good fortune, I have learned a thing or two in the midst of all those bumps and bruises I took over the years. And work/life balance is the one God has placed on my heart as the most important.
My final day at Oracle was quite memorable actually. When I scan over the many, many hundreds of days I have spent in the office over my career, this one might actually make the top 10 list!
The day started with breakfast in the cafeteria (my usual spinach, onion & pepper scramble with house hash browns) where I could say goodbye to Mary, Julia and several others who had become close friends of mine in the Oracle cafeteria. Not that Oracle is buying me breakfast (there really is no such thing as a free lunch at Oracle), but seeing these folks every day had become an important part of my work routine that I now appreciated more than ever.
Then it was over to see Ricarda, whose cheery “Buenos Dias!” greeted me every day [to empty my office trash] when I always seemed to be just a little too focused on an email I was composing. I had several plants I’d been nursing, and asked her to take her favorite. My Spanish does not go much beyond “Donde esta la playa”, so I gave her the cut throat sign when she asked what I interpreted to be “why”? She got it right away and showed great compassion for me.
Then it was up to see one of my favorite team members, Meera, to give her another plant (a violet flowered BabyCenter), which she had been admiring every time it flowered. She gave me a big hug with tears. Oh my… I knew her pain. Not a good feeling to be one of the chosen few to hold the fort down while the others carted their belongings out.
Then my good friend Steve and I snuck out to our “private court” for a final game of tennis on the Oracle clock. He lost his entire team in the layoff (including his manager), but somehow survived himself.
Next was a goodbye to Max and Rick and the Club Oracle recreation center staff. As I would often tell them when I walked out the door, “Thanks guys, that was the highlight of my day!” People used to tell me they could not understand how I could find time to go to the gym every day. And I would reply that I could not understand how they could not! It made a amazing difference in my productivity and attitude and overall energy at work.
There were several others I could mention, but suffice to say, it was an emotionally draining day. And being 62 just accentuated that feeling. I’ve been told more than a few times that my next Silicon Valley job is not so easy to land when you are my age, and unemployed – no matter how good you are! I’ve also been told I should try a little Grecian Formula on my hair and maybe a pair of cool looking glasses.
When it was finally done and I was walking out to the parking lot with my box, the looks I got from those who kept their jobs brought back many fresh memories of the times I had been in their shoes. I know for a fact that the workload always increased exponentially to fill the many gaps left by all those leaving. The sense of guilt over why you got to stay when someone equal to you was walking out, was confusing.
As it turned out, the door didn’t hit me in the butt on the way out and nobody yelled out “Hasta la vista baby!”. The drive home was actually a bit more upbeat than I expected. Windows rolled down with the sunroof open, there was a feeling of freedom creeping in on me. No question that the breakup with Larry Ellison was not something I would lose any sleep over – but I was sensing that this could be good. Maybe even great!
The family and I had decided to head straight to Shoreline Theater for an early showing of Moana, which turned out to be the perfect anecdote. Included with Moana was a Disney short film (called “Inner Workings”) that set the tone for my day perfectly. It followed the internal organs (brain, heart, lungs, stomach, etc..) of Paul, a man living in 1980s California, as he awakened on a typical day of work. Paul and dozens of other employees sat at desks and entered data into their computers, moving in monotonous unison while his brain takes notice of the dreary routine of his life, and comes to realize that this cycle will eventually lead to his death as a sad, miserable, lonely man. I won’t give away the story, but of course, Paul looked to be about 62, and I felt God was sending me a personal message.
I felt like a new man to be out from under my job for the first time in almost 30 years. It really was refreshing! This 1-minute video provides a glimpse of that:
On a more serious note, I could write about how life changes when you are unemployed. But in so many ways, nothing really changes. For everyone around me, life continues on just as it did when I was working. The world keeps turning and of course, the bills keep coming in…
I’d be lying to say there weren’t some challenging adjustments. One of those was figuring out where to go in the morning. After all those years of “going to work”, I suddenly felt very lost. With both kids and my wife at home, I knew I had to get out of the house, but where to go…?
Another big one has been planning my days of the workweek so that my calendar is not completely vacant. I quickly found out having a day wide open was not necessarily a good thing. In truth, I have had days go by where I could not even remember what I did at the end of the day!? It did not really matter what those commitments on my calendar were (tennis works great!), but I quickly realized the importance of keeping myself busy to stay in a healthy state of mind as I search for my next step.
Now I leave home to hangout at public libraries, coffee shops, city parks, and restaurants; anywhere with free, high-performance Wi-Fi. Each day is a bit of an adventure. My favorite coffee spot is Philz in downtown Sunnyvale. I am actually on a first-name basis there with the manager Travis, who has given me a Philz mug, and calls out my order before I get to the front of the line. He has no idea how much that means to me right now!
Of course, I do lots of 1:1 networking meetings over coffee and tea and lunch. I’ve even joined some networking groups who meet regularly to exchange ideas on how to attack this unemployment thing. The good news is that my Linked-In connections are now at an all-time high. The bad news is that I am becoming a Peets/Starbucks/Philz Junkie.
I’ve also learned to carry a lunch box with me in the car for wherever I end up that day. You can burn up a lot of dough eating outside the corporate subsidized cafeterias of Silicon Valley. And even if your networking group charges $5 and says, “lunch provided”, I’ve discovered that unlike the many lavish lunch meetings I had at Oracle, it will likely not be enough food to feed a bird! Often I end up eating my lunch in city parks with the homeless folks. It has truly been humbling to see that side of life going on outside the walls of corporate America.
And, there are some days where I just plain get depressed.
It really has taught me a lot about the importance I place on my job in determining my value to society. But like all things, those cycles come and go.
There have been adjustments, also many upsides too.
I have had sufficient daily margin to enjoy a rich time of prayer and meditation and contemplation in this new phase of life. I believe God has great plans for my focus on work/life balance and I am excited to experience it. This time away from the daily routine of work is surely a blessing from God as part of that plan. It is a direct answer to prayer.
Next post: Hit over the head by a 2×4
** Resources **
Barbarian Days by William Finnegan
As mentioned above, William Finnegan truly inspired me with this story of his life-long obsession with surfing, after a long career as a staff writer at The New Yorker and well-known author. It is a remarkable collection of surf stories from his escapades of traveling around the world from the 1960’s up to present day. But what makes this book so remarkable is that it is so very well written. Pick up any surfing magazine and you will quickly agree that [in general] surfer’s are terrible writers. But Finnegan debunks that myth with a detailed analysis of every surf spot he sees (including San Onofre, which I thought he nailed) in a way that makes it interesting to even a non-surfing audience (hence, the Pulitzer Prize!)