STOP and Smell The Roses

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”
Jon Kabat-Zinn

Regarding the theme of “A Lotta Shit …”, my thoughts go well beyond just the physical ailments from running. Emotional stress can be equally taxing or more. The stress of living in today’s world is intense. Using surfing terminology, life can be gnarly!

I especially see this in our kids today. How is it that grammar school students could be worrying more about a mass shooting at their school than the peer pressure of fitting in? Or that middle school students can fret about what sex they are, or what sex they should be? A recent study by the Journal of Depression and Anxiety found that  “3 out of 4 college students say they’re stressed and many report suicidal thoughts.” Suicide among all age groups is on the increase. The U.S. suicide rate has risen by 30 percent since 1999. The list goes on. The anxiety associated with living in today’s world is literally killing us. Is this surprising news? It is not when I look at the world we are living in today.


We planted a red rose bush in our front yard when my mom passed away in January of 2007. Mom absolutely LOVED the color red. That rose bush has been in full bloom every June on her birthday since. It has been remarkable. I believe God sent it as a reminder to me to STOP and smell the roses in her memory. Too often I zoom in or out of our driveway too hurried or preoccupied to take notice.

When I was growing up in Corona del Mar in the 1960s I don’t think the word “stress” was in my vocabulary. Today my kids tell me that stress is in their DNA. It is unavoidable. We could list a hundred reasons for it; it’s a byproduct of living in today’s world. According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), “approximately one in five adults in the U.S. (46.6 million) experiences mental illness in a given year”. That’s 20% of us! To quote Daniel Amen M.D.,

“Your mental health is just as important as your physical health.”

Slapping more resin and fiberglass on the surface may simply be disguising the deeper issues below. So much can seem wrong, even the most optimistic person can get down from so much stress. Having Marathon Faith is helpful, but that is the long-term view. We need a way to get through today!

Being Present
Steven Curtis Chapman was on to something when he released the hit song
Next 5 Minutes” in 1999:

“I’m living the next 5 minutes
Like these are my last 5 minutes,
‘Cause I know the next 5 minutes
May be all I have”

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, which Wikipedia defines as,

“Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment, which one can develop through the practice of meditation and through other training.”

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 written on this subject. A couple of my favorites are mentioned below (see “Resources”). However, when stress is overwhelming me, the Bible is one place I turn for comfort. The Book of Psalms in the Old Testament is often referred to as the book of human emotions. Every experience of man’s heart is reflected in this book. In the words of Ray Stedman:

In times of struggle and persecution, in times of deep personal distress, in times of great overflowing joy, there is nothing like the Psalms to match the experience of the heart.

“Be still, and know that I am God.”
Psalm 46:10

Sitting
“Sitting” is a simple form of meditation I often recommend to my coaching clients as a practice for finding rest in their hectic lives. I sit almost every day early in the morning so I can ensure my time is private and quiet. This time in solitude is often a highlight of my day. I make a cup of green tea and then retreat into my sanctuary. Sitting centers me and calms my heart for whatever God has in store. It reminds me of what is important and helps to cool any emotions that might be bubbling over on my stovetop. I come out of these sessions feeling refreshed and encouraged with a sense of purpose around the upcoming day.

Toni Packer describes sitting in The Work of This Moment”,

“Sitting quietly, doing nothing, not knowing what is next and not concerned with what was or what may be next, a new mind is operating that is not connected with the conditioned past and yet perceives and understands the whole mechanism of conditioning. It is the unmasking of the self that is nothing but masks — images, memories of past experiences, fears, hopes, and the ceaseless demand to be something or become somebody.”

I discovered the sitting practice in my New Ventures West (NVW) Integral Coaching class. Our instructor Steve March requested that we spend thirty minutes a day sitting for the entire year of our training to help us learn to be present. Thirty minutes a day seemed far-fetched to me at that point of our training (“30 minutes? ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?”). I am not one to sit idly.

Amazingly, sitting became a personal highlight of my NVW training. I worked up to thirty minutes a day and found that time to be transformative in molding me as an Integral Coach™. Sitting allowed me the freedom to connect with my spiritual center while feeding my soul in my stillness. It is hard for me to hear what my soul desires if I am not still and present. I cannot recommend it enough; even if it is for just five minutes!

“How wonderful it is to have a moment in time where we don’t have to be anyone.” Anonymous

We miss so much in a day about ourselves because of our constant forward motion. As human beings, we are constantly striving to improve and get ahead in life. But in the midst of our forward progress, we tend to miss what we are feeling in our innermost being. A simple example was when I was taking a video of my father (Kona Jack) playing tennis with our two kids before he passed in 2016. I was quite intent on capturing the moment on camera, knowing how special it would be to the kids years later. In doing that, I missed the time of just enjoying it at courtside and letting deep joy sink into my soul. I can go replay the video (if I can find it), but I can’t recreate what I was feeling at the time it happened. I was too preoccupied to capture it on camera. Of course, once dad passed, I can think of many instances. He often yelled at me to “put away the camera” when I pulled it out.

Kona Jack, the resident expert on being present (“Get rid of that camera Michael!”)

Sitting in the Surf
Depending on the consistency of the swell, sitting can be a big part of surfing. It is one of the first skills one must learn to be adept at catching waves. It is something I have always struggled with. Anyone who has surfed with me knows that I am a “type-A” surfer who does not like sitting and waiting for waves. If there is a wave anywhere on the beach, I am likely to paddle after it! After all, isn’t that the point of surfing? Slowly, I am learning to appreciate the time on my surfboard when I can sit and be present. In the past, I would have labeled that time as a “lull” and possibly called it a poor surfing day if there were too many.

Just last weekend I was out surfing and found myself experiencing sitting in a new way. Nobody was in the water with me to disrupt my present state. As I scanned the horizon for an upcoming wave, I was suddenly able to appreciate the beauty of God’s creation all around me. I was sitting in an endless ocean of salt water that covers three-fourths of the Earth. A pod of dolphins playfully came by to greet me as I began to feel the cold water against my body. The air was crisp against my face. My legs were hanging free over the side of my board without a leash. Pelicans were flying in a formation on the distant horizon. A seal suddenly popped his head out 25 yards from where I was sitting to say hi. I was able to settle into my sitting pose and appreciate the unfolding of the experience around me as if it were a movie playing just for me.

This was something new for me. I did not have to be anyone. I only had to be. I began looking forward to the lull and hoping it would last. I wanted to grab on to this moment and keep it forever! I had stopped to smell the roses and their smell was sweet.

Sitting tandem with Mark Magiera; San Onofre, July 18, 1991

** Resources **
Sitting Practice Instructions (pdf handout)
This is a self-explanatory 1-page overview of how to get started with a sitting practice. It also includes links to free audio resources for a guided meditation (sitting) practice. This can be useful if you are unable to control your thoughts when doing it on your own.

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. What I liked about this book is that Daniel and Richard sifted through the morass of clinical research to boil out the truth about what meditation can really 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. Here is a list of books he has written, including the groundbreaking Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.

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 how to make 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 major problem facing us today, which is resulting in many societal ills. The primary takeaway underscored the deep value of quiet time and sitting 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.

“A Lotta Shit …”

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter”
Mark Twain

Like the marathon, life can have its challenges as you enter the second half.

A good comparison is my 1970s vintage Infinity surfboard. It now requires extra resin and fiberglass between surf sessions to keep going. It still rides fine, just takes a bit more nurturing.

It’s naptime for Redwood when the ding repair kit comes out …

With all of my running over the years, I have to confess that my body is starting to show some wear and tear. I’ve had to put my fair share of resin and fiberglass (and DMSO!) on to keep things going. In 2005 I ran a half marathon that was somewhat prophetic in this respect. Here’s the story exactly as it happened.

On a seasonably cool October Monterey morning in 2005 I was approaching mile “11” in the Big Sur Half Marathon when my view on life after 50 was about to be jolted. Big Sur is a relatively fast half marathon for time (it does not have the hills its name might imply), and it is extremely well organized for a race of its size. I had run a relatively fast first 10 miles and was struggling to regain my focus for the final push while simultaneously ignoring the red flares my body was sending to SLOW DOWN. I had turned 50 earlier in the year and was intent on proving that I could still run fast. Ha.

Oblivious to the serene setting of sailboats moored along quiet coves on the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail, I pulled up to a tall and lanky runner who had been in my sight for the past mile or so. He was running well, so I latched on to his side to keep pace with him to try and regain some composure for a strong finish. We had covered a half mile or so side-by-side when he suddenly blurted out to me:

How old are you?”.

Wait, WHAT !!??…
I’m struggling for oxygen, and this guy is asking me my age?
Clearly, this was not a time to be conversing. We were both breathing hard and pretty well spent. If I had the grit to initiate anything (and I didn’t), I might have squeezed out a one-way, “good job”, or “nice work”, or “hang tough”.

But “How old are you?” just hit me wrong …

I took time to respond as we bumped shoulders while moving onto the street at Cannery Row for a long straight stretch on the open pavement. He appeared to be sizing me up; maybe thinking that I was a threat in his age division? Finally, I found it in myself to respond, mostly out of the angst of having to say anything at this point of the race:

50!”
“How old are YOU!?”.

59”, came his immediate reply.
And nothing else, as we both continued to push hard to keep the pace.

I was glimpsing the finish line banner less than a mile ahead, so I decided to put on a final kick to get in. As he faded 25 yards or so behind me, I was suddenly hit with what seemed like a cannon shot from the back:

A Lotta Shit Between 50 and 59!!!”.

Say what?
As my mom would say, “How rude!!” He said it with such purpose and conviction that it really hit me. I found myself pondering it as I crossed the finish line, suddenly unaware of the time that I had worked so hard for. Why the heck did he have to say that? What did he mean? Was he mad at me? Who is this guy!? …

I wandered through the finishing chute with the masses looking like a lost zombie without any sign of him as I looked around. I mentioned it to my friends at the finish line party and we all had a good laugh as we slurped down our hard earned post-race rewards while listening to the rock band that is powered by people riding exercise bicycles. Big Sur throws a fantastic finish line party!
But we really didn’t think much about the true meaning of “A Lotta Shit …”.

Post-race rewards at the 2007 Big Sur Half Marathon (with fellow criminals Doug Atler & Mike Benkert)

Fast-forward nine years to age 59, and I knew exactly!

LOL. “A lotta shit…” pretty well sums it up.

That story has become legendary among my running community as we kid each other about the various ailments we experience as we continue to push our bodies to untold extremes in various sporting escapades. The joke on the track when someone is injured is simply to say:

Well, you know, “A Lotta Shit! …”

Marathon Faith

“Be faithful, and leave the results to God.”
Amish Proverb

In between surf sessions, I love to run.

Low tide recreation at Punta Pequena (Baja) circa 1981

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.

Meeting Bill Rodgers after the 1995 Boston Marathon was a personal highlight!

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.

Speed Kills
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.
LOL.
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.

War hero’s at the 2016 St. George Marathon (“Finished!”)

“Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.”
C.S. Lewis

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.

Authors Note:
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!). 

Joan Benoit picking up water at mile 13 of the Women’s Olympic Marathon in Marina del Ray

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.

Grete Waitz leading the chase pack at mile 13; betting that Benoit will blow up

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):

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.

**Resources**

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.

 

 

.

We don’t do email …

“Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then sacrifices his money to recuperate his health”      Dalai Lama

I’ll be the first to admit, I need more rest!

In this 24/7 “always-on” world, the concept of joyfully being (not doing) has largely been lost. The technology revolution promising to integrate our life and work is doing the opposite. So I am going to take a shot at email here; it is killing me! Don’t get me wrong; I love email and what it enables.  But I hate it more than love it.

Enough already.

Unfortunately, I can’t live without email but am finished being enslaved to it. Working at Trader Joe’s (TJs) is just the place to do that. In my interview, I was told,

“We don’t do email at Trader Joe’s.”

Wait, are you kidding me!? How can a company survive in today’s information-driven economy without email?  If you listen to the Freakonomics podcast, “Should America Be Run by … Trader Joe’s?”, you will get some insight they are doing quite well without it. They also don’t do branded products, sales, social media advertising, rewards programs, loyalty cards, self-checkouts, wide aisles, big parking lots, and more. They’re on to something.

Most people agree today that society would be better off slowing down and incorporating more rest. Much of the chaos and societal ills seen in the world today are a result of our being overloaded. Best-selling author Richard A. Swenson termed it a lack of “margin”, which he defined as the space that once existed between ourselves and our limits.  Try reading a book without margins, you won’t get very far.

Time spent in email has devoured our margins and created a continuous 24/7 flow of information, an overload that spews data like a fire hose on full force with nobody holding the nozzle.  A small amount may hit the target, but most is wasted water causing a great deal of grief and exhaustion. God forbid I take a vacation, as the backlog of emails waiting when I return is enough to make me wish I never left.  This might partly explain why 52 percent of American employees reported having unused vacation days at the end of the year in 2017 (Project: Time Off).

I acknowledge email is a way of life both at work and home. There is no getting around it if you want to accomplish something that involves more than just yourself. Almost 3.7 billion email users send a whopping 269 billion emails each day (The Radicati Group, Inc.). Email is the preferred method of communications (and marketing) in almost all situations.  An interesting (and funny!) read about how email has entered the mainstream business world is Dan Lyons’, “Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble”. In it, Dan describes how HubSpot, a Boston start-up selling email spam, was positioning their product:

“Our spam is not spam. In fact it is the opposite of spam. It’s anti-spam. It’s a shield against spam – a spam condom.” 

Just under 30 years ago, none of us were doing email at work or home because it did not exist.  Email found its way into the work environment in the mid-1980s as I was launching my high technology career with ROLM Corporation. We worked hard at ROLM, but without email, I left my work at the office when I came home, truly done. When IBM purchased ROLM in 1984 we were introduced to IBM PROFS (Professional Office System), the first corporate email system to my knowledge at that time.

PROFS was designed to replace the typewriter

Most of us viewed PROFS as a joke. It served to simply relay information from IBM corporate which had no impact on my day-to-day duties. It was like reading Morse code intended for the navy when you were in the army.  I could go weeks at a time without checking my inbox and often made fun of those (mostly management) who seemed to spend an inordinate amount of their day doing it.

By the time I left Oracle 25 years later, I would estimate that over 2/3 of my day was spent navigating my email. Even in meetings, I was only half listening as I browsed my “urgent” emails.  And like the Israelites crossing the desert in the Bible, email seemed to be a cloud that followed me home and came with me on my vacations. Improvements to the cell phone and cellular networks made email exchanges easy, regardless of where you were.  Now I could do email when I was in line at the grocery store!

Contrast this with the picture below, which reminds me of my summers growing up in Corona del Mar in the 1960s at the beach. Entire days hanging out with friends, lying in the warm sand to heat you up after a long swim in the ocean, are vivid memories. As soon as we got too hot in the sand we would go back into the water to cool off. Repeat. Over and over until it was time to go home.

Photo credit to Matt Warsaw – “The History of Surfing”

There was no need to know about everything or be in touch with everyone.  It was easier to be present and enjoy life for what it was at that very moment. Insert a cell phone into the hands of either of these two guys and it destroys the image. How could you be enjoying the hot sand after a cool swim while watching the waves if you were sending or reading an email? You could of course, but you will agree it would not be the same.    

Enter Trader Joe’s. As my wife and I anticipated our COBRA health insurance plan ending, we began to look at options. Trader Joe’s offers a full benefits package for 30 hours a week on the clock. I filled out a simple job application and walked it down to our local TJs for an interview.  No appointment necessary.

In the interview, Amelia [Captain of the store] asked me a question about when I was available to work.  Our discussion went something like this:

  • Amelia:
    “I think you’re a good fit for Trader Joe’s. When would you be available to work?”
  • Mike:
    “That is complicated for me. Could I send you an email on the days and times?”
  • Amelia:
    “We don’t do email at Trader Joe’s.”
  • Mike:
    “Excuse me?”
  • Amelia:
    “We don’t do email at Trader Joe’s.“
  • Mike [extending my hand to shake]:
    “When can I start?”

What the !?!?

Deciding to give it a try and see if that is really the case, I am now five months in and am loving it. At the end of the day I feel completely content to know that I worked hard to get the job done and can go home satisfied. I’m working harder and resting more than I have in a long time. No email.

Here’s 10 things I like about working at Trader Joe’s:

1. “We don’t do email.”
We rest more.

2. We’re on a ship.
We’re all at sea on a ship in the South Pacific at TJs.  Our jobs are crystal clear. One Captain (aloha shirt), a couple Mates (different aloha shirt), and Crew Members (hibiscus T-shirts) communicate by ringing bells that allow us to be “armed to the teeth” to react to our customer needs on a moments notice.

3. Variety is the spice of life.
Every eight-hour shift is divided into eight blocks – each one designating a different job on the ship for that hour.  In one eight-hour shift, I can perform every job in the store, from cashier to stocking to carts to loading bananas to cleaning the floor, and more.  It sounds simple (and it is), but it makes my day fly by and has helped me learn the entire operation of the store.  Brilliant.

4. Huddles.
Meetings (called “huddles”) are very short stand-up gatherings in the back galley to communicate important news and to keep things “ship shape”.  No muss, no fuss.  Quick and simple instructions with some good food and grog to sample, and then all-hands back on deck to help customers.

5. Fist bumps, handshakes, and hugs.
Every day I get fist bumps, handshakes, and hugs from my fellow sailors. This really surprised me at first.  If I were to go hugging people at Oracle I might end up at the HR office!  Even better, every two weeks my paycheck is personally handed to me, with a handshake, and a look-you-in-the-eyes “job well done” comment. Pretty simple. Now I’m fist bumping, handshaking, and hugging back. 

6. Happy people. 
Employees at TJs are happy.  Which makes the customers happy.  It’s “hunky-dory”. I am happy to work there.

7. Personal goodbyes.
I used to sneak out of the office at the end of a day hoping nobody noticed. When you leave TJs you go around the store and say a personal goodbye to those you are leaving behind. Add in a fist bump, handshake, or hug. Kid you not, the first couple nights I saw this I thought these folks were leaving the company!

8. Millennials.
Many of my co-workers are my children’s age. They are fun, energetic, and full of interesting insights on life. Most of them have other jobs or school or both and are all “gung ho” to make a future. They talk to me like I am one of them. At TJs I am. LOL. It’s a kick.

9. Fantastic food with a family discount.
My entire family gets the employee discount when shopping at any TJs. The prices are already crazy low, so this really helps. And there’s always time on the ship for a cup of joe or a snack from the Demo bar to keep things on an even keel during your shift.

10. Just be you. 
TJ tells you they hired you because of who you are, not who they want you to be. So the word on deck is to “be yourself”.  For those who know me, that is dangerous! I’m even wearing my shorts and Hoka’s to work every day.

Halloween at Trader Joe’s

**Resources**

Margin the Overload Syndrome: Learning to Live Within Your Limits by Richard A. Swenson

Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble by Dan Lyons

Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

Surfing Without a Leash

“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
Bronnie Ware

Like the microprocessor in Silicon Valley, the sport of surfing was forever changed by the invention of the surf leash. The simple idea of tying your foot to your surfboard with a rubber cord eliminated any repercussions of wiping out on a wave and losing your board. The ripple effect of this was a fundamental reshaping of the sport over the next decade.

Before the leash, surfing not only mandated good swimming and paddling skills, but it required a more conservative approach to the wave you were riding. If you fell and lost your board into the beach, the consequences included a swim in to the beach, a more difficult paddle back out (against incoming waves), and maybe a couple hours in your garage doing ding repair if rocks or another person’s board got involved. Surfing in the 60’s included a lot of swimming, paddling, and ding repair.

According to Corky Carroll in his article “Humble beginnings of surf leash”, Pat O’Neill, son of famous wetsuit inventor Jack O’Neill, is generally acknowledged for inventing the modern surf leash in 1971. A lost board at Steamer’s Lane meant almost certain death on the rocks, so it is easy to see how that came about. Interestingly, the surf leash is how Jack O’Neill lost his left eye, as the early versions were made from a surgical cord that would shoot the board back faster than you wanted after a wipeout. Ouch!

Jack O’Neill lost his left eye when an early version of the surf leash returned his board like a bullet

With the invention of the leash, short boards quickly evolved (from long boards) as a new slash-and-tear style of surfing emerged that required minimal foot movement on the surfboard. Suddenly there was no penalty for trying something beyond your abilities on a wave as the surf leash began a revolution of what was possible while riding a wave. It was analogous to the safety net of the flying trapeze artists.

For those of us who had grown up surfing without a leash, this new invention was not all good news. My friends and I called it the “kook cord”. Most troublesome was the increase in crowds, as nobody had to swim in for their board when they fell. It was as if the entire skateboarding community suddenly was able to surf and never lost their board when they wiped out. It also brought people out at breaks they had no right to be surfing, giving them a false sense of security on waves they would normally not even try and catch. Paddling out even became a challenge if you were navigating through the kelp.

Jack Schott after doing some trolling with his leash through the seaweed at San Onofre

Today, when conditions allow, I love to leave the leash behind. I immediately feel a sense of freedom and relief from the safety belt effect of having this plastic cord tied to my leg. This is how I learned, how it seems surfing should be. There is an exciting sense of risk and danger in trying a difficult move (like “hanging five”), knowing you could lose your board to the beach if you fall. It gives me the freedom to move up and down the board without hindrance or danger of getting tangled on the cord. My surfboard becomes a part of me that I will hang on to at all costs if I do fall or go through a big wave. The exhilaration (“stoke”) of a good long ride without a leash takes on greater joy, often kicking out with a brief howl to awaken my soul. It takes me back to my roots of who I am as a surfer and reminds me how the ocean has been a part of my growth as a human being. Through that process I have become a stronger and better surfer, it’s a wonderful thing. It’s about life; learning and developing as we take our spills each day.

Taking off the leash in life

After 25 years in the high tech industry in Silicon Valley, I took a one-year sabbatical to become a certified New Ventures West Integral Coach®, or in more common terms, a Professional Life Coach. Those 12 months were all about taking off my leash and learning to live daringly without the Oracle security blanket. If you read Hit over the head by a 2×4, you know that I had been riding the Silicon Valley Express train that had me so wound up on a daily basis, that I lost track of who I was. I didn’t have time for that!

This change in lifestyle was dramatic for me and my family. In my New Ventures West coaching class, it became clear that I had to grow and develop myself before I could become proficient at coaching others. We were taught about “island hopping”, which is the natural progression of humans to constantly strive to get ahead in life by building a bigger and faster boat to get you to the next island of your dreams. A Tony Robbins term for this is “CANI” (constant and never-ending improvement). It’s what Silicon Valley is all about. I’ll always remember the picture drawn on the whiteboard in our class of a stick figure man on the left ==> a body of water in the middle ==> and an island on the right, with the comment: “Constantly trying to get life to turn out in the future.”  There’s no time to be present. God forbid we stop and smell the roses. We just look ahead to the next island and start designing the next boat to get there. Faster. And life is passing us by.

That 12-month break from the Silicon Valley Express train allowed me to remove my leash to experience the freedom and joy of who I really am. I’d be lying if I told you it was easy. I fall a lot these days, but am learning to enjoy the swim and gaining strength from the experience, knowing that I am growing along the way. I feel a sense of freedom I have not felt in years. I am learning to listen deeply and let life teach me where I want to go. It is a marvelous thing. My coaching is all about helping you to take your leash off and give it a try. It can be a life-changing experience. Here are a few testimonials from my clients who have been brave enough to take the plunge.

**Resources**

“The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing” by Bronnie Ware

Bronnie Ware took off her leash and learned to live a life around who she found herself to truly be. This book is a memoir about her journey, which led her to care for the needs of the dying. What was most interesting to me was how her life was transformed by that experience of tending to those who were in their final days on this earth. The top five regrets were interesting, but what I admired in Bronnie’s story was her honesty about too many years doing unfulfilling work and how she was able to break that mold to live the life she felt she was called to. This is not a Christian pilgrimage, but a simple retelling of how one can learn to listen carefully to our internal compass in life.

Here is a quick recap of the “Top Five Regrets” verbatim off her website (in case you were curious):

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.

  1. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.

We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.

  1. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.

It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.

  1. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.

When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.

Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.

Heaven Can’t Wait

”You don’t even know what will happen tomorrow.
What is your life? It is a mist that appears for a little while.
Then it disappears.”    
James 4:14

When I first heard about Steve Jobs death I was working Oracle OpenWorld in San Francisco (October 5, 2011).   I had walked up to the Apple Store near Union Square to buy a couple of iPod’s for our booth giveaways and found the store shrouded in candles with employees walking around like zombies, unwilling to accept the news.  It was as if the store needed to stop operations and pause to reflect.  But the iPhone 4s had just been announced a day earlier and they were selling like hot cakes, with swarms of people showing up like bees to honey. Jobs was clearly one of the most instrumental leaders in the history of Silicon Valley.

Walter Isaacson’s biography “Steve Jobs” was released just a few weeks after, and I immediately picked up a copy and dove into the account of his life.  Jobs and I were born within a month of each other, so I was more than curious to hear his story and especially to better understand his genius.  In the words of Isaacson,

“Steve Jobs stands as the ultimate icon of inventiveness and applied imagination.  He knew that the best way to create value in the twenty-first century was to connect creativity with technology.“

I devoured the book and was fascinated with how his career paralleled the growth of Silicon Valley as the personal computer (PC) was invented and the Internet economy was born.  But there was an element of Steve Jobs personality that made me quite sad and deeply stirred my passion around the work/life balance theme.  At times, Jobs could be described as a sociopathic monster in his handling of people.  His unruly antics were well documented in Isaacson’s biography, along with several movies, which followed.  I think most would agree, he reached the top of the mountain, but that it came at a serious price to many who were with him.

Just looking at a short list of products Steve Jobs produced in his career at Apple is quite extraordinary.  What he was able to accomplish in 56 short years on this planet was nothing short of astonishing.

Apple I, 1976—Macintosh, 1984—iMac, 1998—iPod, 2001—iTunes, 2003—iPhone, 2007— iPad, 2010 …

But I have to ask, was as it worth it?  At what price success?  Did he build a life of eternal significance?

I really don’t know.   Only God can answer those questions.

What I have discovered is that everything we do here in this life on earth matters.
Forever.
Heaven really can’t wait, and this post is about helping us to understand why.

As good as we know Heaven will be (see: Begin with the End in Mind & Opening Day in Paradise), there is one significant point that is missing in this discussion: Heaven does not begin when you die, it begins right now, today.  To put it in Silicon Valley vernacular, it is happening in real-time as you read this.

Every day we live on this earth is impacting our life in Heaven for eternity

Folks, this is BIG.
I lived most of my Christian life without truly grasping it.
If your aim is to build a life of eternal significance, this is a momentous point.

According to research, we can spend up to 90,000 hours at work in our lifetime.  In Silicon Valley, that is a conservative estimate (based on a 40-hour work week – ha!).  Does it matter how we spend that time?  After all, we do need to earn a living and provide for the family.  What does it matter how we go about doing that and why should we really care?

Jesus made it clear in Matthew 16:27 that there is a direct connection between what you do in this life and the life you spend in Heaven:

 “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.”

Just to be blatant, lets review that again:
“… and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.”

As it turns out, this promise is not an isolated incident; there are other examples in the Bible of Jesus telling us what we are doing here on earth really matters once we get to Heaven:

  • Luke 6:23: “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.”
  • Matthew 19:21: “You will have a treasure in heaven.”
  • Luke 14:14: “You will be blessed… for you shall be repaid at the resurrection.”
  • Matthew 5:12: “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven…”

God is keeping track of us as we live out our life here on earth.
And eventually (when we get to Heaven), He will reward us for how well we’ve lived our life on earth.

To avoid confusion, I need to mention that this “rewards” thing is not about doing good works on earth, in order to get to Heaven.  The Bible is very explicit that getting to Heaven is strictly an act of faith, not an act of works.  Paul makes this point quite powerfully throughout the book of Romans (see Romans 3:21-26), and one of the more renowned verses in all of the Bible, which even shows up on the bottom of my In-N-Out vanilla shake cup, states this quite clearly:

Jesus tells us about these rewards waiting in Heaven multiple times, in various contexts.  In my years of studying the Bible, I have learned to pay very close attention to anything Jesus tells us repeatedly.  This is undoubtedly one of them.  And yet it seems to be one of the most overlooked aspects of Christian life. In my experience, this is not something that gets much attention or discussion in church either.   But it carries eternal value for us, beyond the mist that disappears.

There are numerous books written on this subject.  One of my favorites is Bruce Wilkinson’s “A Life God Rewards, Why Everything You Do Today Matters Forever”, which really hits this topic head on.  It’s a small book and a very quick read.

Wilkinson opens the book to explain the positioning between our beliefs (faith) versus our works (behavior):

“The teachings of Jesus show us that there are two keys to determine everything about your eternity. The first key is your belief.  This key unlocks the door to eternal life and determines where you will spend eternity. The second key is your behavior.  It unlocks the door to reward and determines how you will spend eternity.”

It’s this second key (your behavior on earth) that I am referring to here.  Jesus is telling us that our behavior on earth will result in “rewards” or “treasures” in Heaven.  For eternity.

The Greek root of “rewards” is “misthos”, which translates to “wages”.   

In essence, Jesus is telling us we are going to get paid for our time here on earth and that it will have eternal value.  It’s almost as if we have a savings account for our good behavior on earth that will pay out when we get to Heaven.  And Jesus is the one who will sign the check.   

Wilkinson explains further the impact this should have on us now:

“…by the time you’re done reading [“A Life God Rewards”], you’ll approach daily life in a dramatically different way.  Simple decisions, such as how you spend your time and money, will become opportunities of great promise.  And you will begin to live with an unshakable certainty that everything you do today matters forever the harvest you produce will directly impact your experience in eternity.”

We could have a lengthy discussion on what those rewards (wages) might look like in Heaven. What I do know about Jesus, I feel pretty confident the rewards will be worth the effort, so I’ll leave that discussion for a future post.

But regarding our desired behavior here on earth, Jesus addressed that quite often throughout the Bible.  Probably the most famous talk he gave on this subject is the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).  The first ten verses (called the Beatitudes) tell us a lot about the behavior Jesus values (Matthew 5:1-10):

Sermon on the Mount by Carl Bloch (1876)

 1Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2and he began to teach them.

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
8Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

I find it intriguing that “the kingdom of Heaven” frames this section of Jesus’ speech. I think Jesus was making a point.
And no surprise, which topic Jesus mentions next in verse 12?

“Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven”…

These words rock the life we are living today here in Silicon Valley.  Jesus is telling us we need a transformation of our character to right the ship here on earth.  Radical change is required to live this.  To put it in surfing terms, conducting your life that way today requires paddling against the incoming tide.  Everything around us is telling us to go the other way.  In the words of Matthew 16:26:

 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”

In the final few paragraphs of Isaacson’s book on Steve Jobs (Chapter 42; “Legacy: The Brightest Heaven of Invention”), Jobs reflected on death,

“I’m about fifty-fifty on believing in God.  For most of my life, I’ve felt that there must be more to our existence than meets the eye.  But on the other hand, perhaps it’s like an on-off switch.  Click!  And you’re gone.   Maybe that’s why I never liked to put on-off switches on Apple devices.”

For me, I’ll take the on-off switch.

Our life truly is a mist that appears for a little while, and then quickly fades (James 14:4).  I want Heaven to be proud of my life here on earth when I get there. I believe the work each of us is doing in our life here on earth is helping to construct the kingdom of Heaven. Nothing is ever lost (or wasted) with God.  Everything we do on earth will build on our eternal life we spend in Heaven with God.  Every second really does matter.

In his book “The Real Heaven, What the Bible Actually Says”, Chip Ingram frames it this way, with a picture of a dot connected to a line:

“When you get a clear picture of your future, it will change your perspective of your trials and struggles today.  Its like the analogy used by C.S. Lewis.  All of eternity can be compared to a continuous line that has no beginning and no end, and all of human history is like a tiny dot on that line.  And inside the dot of human history there is a microscopic dot that represents all of your life here on this earth.  So, the question I want to ask you is, are you living for the dot or for the line?”

Playing Maximus in the movie “Gladiator”, Russell Crowe summed it up well by saying:

“What you do in this life echo’s through eternity” 

*RESOURCES*

Christian Leaders on Eternal Rewards:

  • Charles R. Swindoll:
    “…He promises a reward.  And we can be sure He will keep His promise.”
  • Jonathan Edwards:
    “There are many mansions in God’s house because heave is intended for various degrees of honor and blessedness.”
  • Charles H. Spurgeon:
    “Seek secrecy for your good deeds.”
  • Theodore H. Epp:
    “God is eager to reward us and does everything possible to help us lay up rewards.”
  • John MacArthur Jr.:
    “There will be varying degrees of reward in heaven.  That shouldn’t surprise us:  There are varying degrees of giftedness even here on earth.”
  • John Wesley:
    “God will reward everyone according to his works.”
  • R.C. Sproul:
    “If a person has been faithful in many things through many years, then he will be acknowledged by His Master, who will say to him, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant… there are at least twenty-five occasions where the New Testament clearly teaches that we will be granted rewards according to our works.”
  • Billy Graham:
    “… and the work we have done must stand the ultimate test; final exams come at the Judgment Seat of Christ when we receive our rewards.”
  • Martin Luther:
    “Therefore, he who does good works and guards himself against sin, God will reward.”

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

If you want to understand the man behind the Apple I & II, Mac, iMac, iPod, iTunes, iPhone, iPad, Apple stores and a lot more, this book is a page burner for you.  And it provides a nice backdrop on the history of Silicon Valley during the internet boom years, which continue to this day.

A Life God Rewards, Why Everything You Do Today Matters Forever” by Bruce Wilkinson

Wilkinson 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!

The Real Heaven, What the Bible Actually Says” by Chip Ingram

Chip Ingram is a pastor of over 25 years in Los Gatos, California, and has written twelve books at last count. He is an easy to understand communicator about truth of the Bible.  His premise with this book is to outline what God actually wants us to know and understand about Heaven, and to show how Heaven actually should be impacting our lives today.

 

Opening Day in Paradise

 “The serious business of Heaven is joy.”      CS Lewis

I have a dear friend who for several years invited my son and I to join him and his son to Opening Day of the San Francisco 49ers season at the now defunct Candlestick Park.  It was always a memorable day, which my son and I looked forward to with special appreciation of the experience we knew to come.  On opening day there is a special feeling of electricity in the air, full of optimism and excitement for the season ahead for the 49ers.  The pre-game tailgate BBQ’s seemed to start a little earlier than usual and were more elaborate than ever, with everyone dressed in 49er garb head to toe.  Once you got into the stadium it seemed as though scarlet and gold were everywhere and the entire pre-game ceremony signaled that this was not just another football game.  It climaxed in an unveiling of the American flag (covering the entire field), with fireworks and rockets going off (“and the rockets red glare”) and the Blue Angels hitting their afterburners over the stadium as we finished singing our national anthem (“the home of the free and the land of the brave”).

Bring on the Root Beer, its GAME ON!

As amazing as the day was, I truly believe our “opening day” in paradise (Heaven) will make that 49er game seem like a day at the library in comparison.

Seriously.

I’ve often wondered what my own “opening day” in Heaven will be like, and maybe some of you do too. If we plan to spend an eternity in Heaven, perhaps it is important we have a good idea of what we’re getting in to.  Having an accurate picture of what it is going to be like in Heaven could (and should!) dramatically reshape our view of our life here on earth.  In other words, “begin with the end in mind.

Let’s take a walk down that path and see if you agree.

Randy Alcorn speaks to the power of what awaits us in Heaven:

“The day I die will be the best day I ever lived.”

The very second we enter Heaven our world will be transformed into indescribable beauty and peace from what we know here on Earth. What we see will exceed our wildest imagination following our life on earth.  To quote from my Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) notes on Heaven:

“God’s new creation will provide a sense of familiarity, yet we will experience something altogether new and awesome as the blinders of our sin nature are removed...  To an infinite measure, the tangible experience Heaven is and will be beyond human articulation.”

Chapters 21 and 22 of Revelation have the most striking descriptions of Heaven in the Bible.  Heaven will be illuminated with the brilliant and constant light of God, removing all darkness of evil and suffering.  We will experience new colors we could hardly dream of, streams of water as clear as crystal, flowers and trees and mountains more beautiful than anything we have seen here on Earth.  Best of all, there will be a joyous reunion with friends and family who preceded us in our death on earth.  We will feel a sense of infinite love and peace and comfort that will tell us we have finally found our true home.  Our thoughts of life back on earth will quickly fade away as we rejoice to the wonder of it all.

To quote my BSF notes on Revelation 21:3-5:

This life with God will satisfy every sense of loneliness and alienation ever experienced by a human heart.  It will exponentially intensify every joy.  All of us were made for this!

Tasting Heaven

The Bible is the sole authority on Heaven.  Aside from Jesus, who speaks of Heaven more than anyone else in the Bible, there are a few other important mentions of people entering or seeing Heaven and telling us what they saw.  Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:1) and Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-5) had visions of Heaven that overwhelmed them.  John says he saw the “throne of Heaven” in Revelation 4, and described in great detail the “Holy City, New Jerusalem” in Revelation 21.  In 2 Corinthians (12:4) the Apostle Paul tells about a friend who was “caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.”  And in Acts 7, Stephen was stoned to death after his speech to the Sanhedrin, in which he claimed to “see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56).

Clearly Heaven is not a topic in the Bible to be taken lightly.

There are an abundance of books available today about people’s journey to Heaven and back after a near death experience, possibly offering a glimpse of what God has in store for us.  A few of these stories have recently been released as movies: “90 minutes in Heaven; “Heaven is for Real and “Miracles from Heaven.   Most of these books are very interesting reads, but how does one validate their authenticity?  Here is a list: Books on Heaven-v3-8, to provide a sampling of how many have made the effort to document their story by publishing a book (those I have read I marked with an asterisk).  It is God’s mystery that these experiences happen to people, and I want to qualify them by reiterating that the Bible is our only source of truth on the subject.  These stories are fun to read, and provide me a taste of heaven, allowing my imagination to run on what will it be like for me?

90 Minutes in Heaven” was the first book I read.  It is the story of Don Piper, a Texas pastor who died in a horrific car crash.  Piper wrote a powerful account of what was to be his 90 minutes in Heaven.  It impacted me so deeply I made my wife and kids read it as soon as I was finished.  It was the first time I had read anything with such detail about the experiences.  It gave me goose bumps.  Piper admitted that words truly could not do the experience justice, and in fact it took him years before publically speaking about the experience.  In his words, “I considered it a sacred secret.”

Several books immediately followed. I found it fascinating and encouraging to read stories of people who had come back from Heaven to tell how incredibly wonderful it had been and how the experience had changed their life forever.  All of them spoke about experiencing a love that far exceeded anything they had ever known on earth, and none of them said they wanted to come back to Earth after getting a taste of it.

Not all of these books are written by Christian authors, which I find even more interesting to hear people tell their experiences without bringing the Scriptures into the discussion.

One of these is “Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife”, written by Eben Alexander, a Jewish faculty member at Harvard Medical School.  Alexander writes about his near death experience while in a meningitis-induced coma in 2008.  He used his vast experience as a neurosurgeon (he performed thousands of brain surgeries) to scientifically prove that he could not have dreamed the experience he had going to Heaven while in the coma.

Life after Life was another, published in 1975 by Raymond Moody, who was credited with coining the term “Near Death Experience” (NDE).  In this book, Moody started a revolution in attitudes about the life after physical death. He accounted for more than 100 case studies of people who experienced “clinical death” and were subsequently revived.  In an interview, Moody shared his personal conclusions about his research into NDEs:

“I don’t mind saying that after talking with over a thousand people who have had these experiences, and having experienced many times some of the really baffling and unusual features of these experiences, it has given me great confidence that there is a life after death. As a matter of fact, I must confess to you in all honesty, I have absolutely no doubt, on the basis of what my patients have told me, that they did get a glimpse of the beyond.

One book in particular really caught me.

I came across it when our family was on vacation in Portland, Oregon at Powell’s bookstore, which claims to be the largest independent bookstore in the world.  Powell’s is the kind of place where you can just pick your favorite subject, go find that section of books, and spend an entire day going through the selection, including many books you will not find on Amazon.  So after doing my due diligence on “surfing”, I wandered over to a section on “Heaven” and was overwhelmed by the number of books.

Here I found one book that I just could not put down, “When Will The Heaven Begin” by Ally Breedlove.  Ally wrote this book about her brother, Ben Breedlove, who had lived his entire life on the precipice of death/Heaven due to a heart condition he was born with.  Ben died at the age of 18 on Christmas evening after experiencing a remarkable day with his entire family.

In this book, Ally referenced a video “This is my story, which Ben had posted on Youtube to tell his story prior to his passing on Christmas day.  I immediately called my family over and we watched in amazement on the cold cement floor in Powell’s.  Ben tells his story with flip cards, of how he had been waiting for Heaven to begin.  His sister Ally discovered the video while rummaging through his stuff on Christmas night.  Go watch that video now, and you will see what I mean (~7 minutes).  No matter what your beliefs are on Heaven, Ben’s story is one to behold.  As a vibrant 19-year old boy with a full life, including a girlfriend and loving family, Ben realized what was awaiting him in Heaven was much better than the life he had here on earth. He decided to leave his family a video to comfort them in case he did go there.

These stories paint a striking and consistent picture of Heaven as a physical place of indescribable beauty where our bodies are transformed into our perfect selves. Any suffering we experience here, no matter how intense, is completely cancelled out by the love that awaits us in Heaven. Those who have tasted it say they no longer fear death, as Ben Breedlove showed, they would rather be there than anywhere else.

Interestingly, each person’s experience of Heaven seems to be different, as if God had individually prepared a place for each one of them (see John 14:1-3).  They all pondered why God had chosen them to have the experience, and what to do with it after returning to earth.  Most who have written books believe that God gave them these experiences to spread the joy and hope for what awaits us in Heaven.

Randy Alcorn summarizes it well in his book “Heaven”:

“The most ordinary moment on the New Earth [Heaven] will be greater than the most perfect moments in this life – those experiences you wanted to bottle or hang on to but couldn’t.  It can get better, far better, than this – and it will.”  Life on the New Earth will be like sitting in front of the fire with family and friends, basking in the warmth, laughing uproariously, dreaming of the adventures to come – and then going out and living those adventures together.   With no fear that it will ever end or that tragedy will descend like a dark cloud.  With no fear that dreams will be shattered or relationships broken.”

For those who have placed their trust in God, an amazing new place awaits us.

As I continue along my path in Silicon Valley, Roger Williams’ words of wisdom have echoed in my heart about changing the way I live today – for Heaven.

Here’s a video of Roger speaking those very words to a Mount Hermon family camp (01:14):

“It’s not the end – it’s … the beginning.”

We need to think about Heaven now, and it will dramatically impact the life we are living here today on Earth.

We’ll talk more about that in my next post: “Heaven Can’t Wait”.

**RESOURCES**

Books on “Heaven” – compiled by Mike Mulkey:

I want to qualify this list by noting that I have not read all these books (I marked those I have read with an asterisk).  The Bible is the ultimate authority on Heaven, and we should never second-guess it in that respect.  But these books provide some enjoyable reading on the joy and love and promise of what awaits us in Heaven.

Hearing From Heaven: A Memoir of God At Work At Mount Hermon

by Roger Williams

If you know of and/or visit Mount Hermon in the Santa Cruz mountains, this book is a must read. One of my “2X4” incidents was when Roger Williams’ book “Hearing from Heaven” (published posthumously), showed up on our kitchen counter unannounced late one evening following Roger’s early departure from life here on earth.  The short story is that I had been teaching a class to the young adults from our church that night, and came home feeling incapable of teaching the next session, which was to be on the topic of “Heaven”.  I was just thinking over how truly inadequate I felt for this assignment when I walked into the kitchen late that night and suddenly saw this book on the counter staring me in the face (Hearing from Heaven!).  I knew nothing of Roger writing this book; not to speak for the fact that he was now living there! I almost fell to my knees.  I had no idea what to make of it, or where it even came from?!

Needless to say I did teach the class and of course it went very well. Thank you Roger!

Begin with the End in Mind

“Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”
Genesis 2:3

God was setting an important example for us when he rested after six days of work in the opening book of the Bible.  Work is a critical element to life here on Earth, as well the life we will live in Heaven (Matthew 25:23).  Even after creating man, God immediately put him to work in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15).

I would like to propose a new perspective on how to approach the challenge of balancing work with the rest of our life, by contemplating our death.

While I am passionate about the need for balance in work and life, I’ll be the first to admit that there is no quick fix to the many challenges we all face today in this area.  There are plenty of books, articles and videos telling us how to solve it.  Here’s a “top 15” list I compiled just in case you want the quick fix:

  1. Set boundaries with email
  2. Ask for support
  3. Get organized
  4. Concentrate on one thing at a time (get present)
  5. Make time for loved ones
  6. Schedule everything
  7. Let go of perfectionism
  8. Work smarter, not longer
  9. Don’t compromise on your sleep
  10. Set life goals
  11. Learn how to say “no”
  12. Make relaxation and breaks a priority
  13. Exercise and meditate
  14. My 2nd favorite: Hire a personal coach
  15. And my favorite (it really works): Unplug!

Check out my Circle of Life quiz, which provides a quick view of the current state in balancing your life:

This work/life balance thing is a very tough nut to crack in our non-stop 24/7 economy that is being driven by a mobile device that seems to travel everywhere with us.  Rebecca Zucker writes in a recent Harvard Business Review article titled: “How to Achieve Work/Life Balance”:

“… I now work as an executive coach, and work-life balance is an issue that my clients frequently grapple with, as they face the new work demands that come with technological advances. For example, one client in San Francisco who works for a fast-growing tech company shared that she gets up at 4am to work. She has anxiety about the possibility of missing an e-mail at midnight. “Is this normal?” she asked.“

I don’t think it’s “normal”, but I do know it is happening more and more as an increasing number of us are now sleeping with these little mobile “devils”, beyond just getting us up at 4am to keep up.  Fortune magazine recently reported that 71% of us sleep with their own smartphones either on a nightstand or in their bed!

At times I wish I could beam my family back to the 1960’s when I was growing up in Corona del Mar spending summers on the beach without a thought in the world, other than what was going on right then in front of me.  It did create some challenges with surfing however, as we actually had to go to the beach to look at the waves to see if it was worth going out.  Today you simply push a button on your iPhone – and magically the tides, wind, swell and even a video appear for that day; that moment…  What!?

This cover shot from Matt Warsaw’s “History of Surfing” captures my memories of growing up at the beach in CdM – except the waves were not that good!

When my wife and I started our high tech careers at ROLM there was no Internet, no cell phones, no voice mail, and no way of carrying your “days work” around in your pocket.  When we left work, we were done for the day.  The only thing waiting the next day when one arrived to work [possibly] was a pink slip or two.  Not the pink slip that dismissed you from your job, but a pink form someone filled in when a phone call came in for you while you were out of the office. The workday started when you arrived at the facility.   

I worked hard and had days when I worked late, or when I would come in on a Saturday to get caught up.  But when I was not at work I was focused on my life outside of work, whether that was family, friends, fitness, or just relaxing and watching the surf to see if I could anticipate a swell on the rise.

Since we’re not beaming back to the 60’s anytime soon, lets agree there seems to be no stopping this lightening bolt of progress.  Dr. Richard A. Swenson, M.D. summed it up well in his book Margin when he asked:

“If we are enjoying so much progress, why is everyone so worn out?“

So let’s pause on all that progress for a moment and talk about what happens at “the end”You know, when we die.

Then what?

Steven Covey, in his best selling book: “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, was the first to gain widespread attention with “Begin with the end in mind” (Habit #2)”.  Covey asks us to question whether we are approaching life in a manner that reflects our values and beliefs.  To make his point, he included a very insightful exercise that impacted me immensely.  He asks you to find a place where you can be alone and uninterrupted to visualize attending your own funeral – three years from now.  Covey then asks you to write the speech of four people who were important in your life and who will speak at your funeral: a family member, a close friend, a co-worker, and a member of your church or community.   What do you want them to say about your life?

Here is a reprint of it (Covey_End-In-Mind_Exercise) to try it out.  I have used this as a self-reflection exercise in my coaching.  It powerfully demonstrates how you are prioritizing your time, and helps to seriously re-examine your priorities.  As the old adage goes, you never do hear anyone say from their deathbed that they wished they had worked more.   In her book “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying”, Bronnie Ware cites the number two regret (of five) as:  “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard”.

Suddenly, another thought creeps into my head.  Suppose I die.  The odds are about 100% that eventually that will happen. And people then [hopefully] say nice things about me at my funeral.
Then what?

Being a Christian, Heaven is a given after life on EarthBut, what does that really mean?  What will it be like?  What will my body be like?  Will I know anyone?  Will I still be able to surf?  There are a thousand other questions I could ask.  If I am going to be in Heaven for an eternity, I’d like to know a little more.

Imagine

As mentioned earlier (About surfing and my Christian faith), I did not become a Christian until I my mid-thirties.  Prior to that, I had a real fear of death.  It was something I called “permanent lights-out”.   This thought of complete nothingness would envelop me.  It was my biggest fear.  By far.

John Lennon’s “Imagine” (1971) has a few verses that speak to this way of thinking.  It is a beautiful song.  But pay attention to what it really is saying.

“Imagine there’s no Heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people — living for today

He’s talking about permanent LIGHTS OUT!

Most research tells us roughly seven-in-ten Americans say they actually do believe in Heaven — defined as a place “where people who have led good lives are eternally rewarded.”  Most of us really do want to go to Heaven, and I believe God desires for us to use our imagination to anticipate the beauty and wonder and joy of what awaits us there.   In Matthew 6:19-21, God commands us to set our hearts and minds on heaven above.  Jesus was consistently very clear about that in the Bible:

 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on Earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

When Jesus met with his disciples for their last meal together before his death, he did not use the time to review the strategic plan on how to move his ministry forward after He’s gone.  That’s what I probably would have done.  But instead, Jesus speaks about Heaven, and gives them a picture of hope around the place he is preparing for each of them:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”   John 14:1-3

Chip Ingram makes the following comment about this in his book “The Real Heaven”:

“Jesus knew that a crystal clear view of eternity and of their future home in Heaven would sustain them through the most difficult of times.  When life would get hard and when persecution would come, the hope of Heaven would motivate them to persevere.”

When I became a Christian no one handed me a brochure on Heaven.  It remained a mystery not discussed much in church or Bible studies. I wanted to know more and thus began a wonderful study for me.  It all started with the Bible.

I will see you in paradise

A disclaimer here:
I am not a professional theologian, pastor or trained biblical scholar.  These writings are based on my research solely and do involve some conjecture on my part.  I am not the expert, but I do reference a few books (including the Bible) for those who want to learn more.

While I have studied the Bible and attended church fairly consistently over the past 30 years, I did not have a very clear picture of Heaven.  It had always been present in discussions about life after death, but I never felt I had much of a grasp on what it was.

The Bible has a lot to say on the subject of Heaven (622 times according to Google), and hands-down, Jesus speaks of Heaven more than any other.

Another useful resource on Heaven is Randy Alcorn’s book appropriately called Heaven”.   Alcorn has spent over 25 years researching what the Bible says about it, and he attempts to answer some challenging questions, such as understanding the difference between the present Heaven (where Christians go when they die) and the ultimate, eternal Heaven (where God will dwell with his people on the New Earth).  I don’t want to get to that level, but highly recommend it.

I also have referenced my notes and materials from Bible Study Fellowship (BSF).  BSF is an international Christian interdenominational structured Bible study (begun in 1959) I have been participating in for the past 12 years.  BSF is a wonderful program for anyone wanting to learn more about the Bible.

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

One of my favorite verses on Heaven in the Bible is this one, where Jesus refers to Heaven as “paradise”, in almost the last words he spoke on Earth before his death.   He said this to a dying thief who was being crucified next to him on the cross.  As the thief accepted Christ as his Lord and Master he was assured of his place in Heaven.

So just exactly what is this “paradise” that awaits us that Jesus is referring to?  According to Jesus, they were going to be there “today”!  As I have studied Heaven, it has given me great purpose for my life here on Earth.  The Bible is crystal clear about what awaits us by accepting Jesus as our Lord and savior.  Heaven is a real, physical place Christians know to be the final destination, where we will enjoy life with God for eternity.

Chapter 21 of the book of Revelation in the Bible represents heaven as a place where there is no more sin, death or sorrow.  Heaven will have indescribable beauty beyond our wildest imagination from what we know here on Earth.  We will rejoice with those we knew in life on Earth when we are in Heaven.  We will be home with God with a sense of peace and joy that everything is as it should be.  In Heaven we will have real physical bodies, will eat and drink and wear clothes like we do here on Earth.  In Heaven we will be able to do physical things just like we do here on Earth today.  Like having a tasty barbecue with your good friends on the beach.

As Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection he made a point to eat with them and asked them to touch him and see that he was a physical being (Luke 24:36-43).  He even prepared a breakfast fish barbecue on the beach for his disciples to demonstrate to them that he was himself (John 21:1-15).  I know this is hard to imagine for us here on Earth.  Nobody of course understands the mystery of how God works all his miracles, but the Bible is very clear on all of it.

The resurrected Jesus barbecued a fish breakfast on the beach for his disciples (Luke 24:36-43)

From all the reading I have done, a life way better than we can imagine awaits us in Heaven.  The very best we may have experienced here on Earth will surely pale in comparison to what God has planned.

Here is a quote from Randy Alcorn’s Heaven to frame this picture:

“All of our lives we’ve been dreaming of the New Earth.  Whenever we see beauty in water, wind, flower, deer, man, woman, or child, we catch a glimpse of Heaven.  Just like the Garden of Eden, the New Earth will be a place of sensory delight, breathtaking beauty, satisfying relationships, and personal joy.”

While Heaven and Earth appear to be separated today, according to the Bible, in end times when Jesus returns to Earth, Heaven will come here onto a new Earth for eternity.  The New Jerusalem comes down to the renewed Earth and there the redeemed will spend eternity with God on the renewed Earth.  Revelation 21 contains a surprisingly detailed description of what this “New Jerusalem” will look like.

I purposely am avoiding further detail, and recommend Randy Alcorn’s Heaven if you want to learn more.  But it is fun to use one’s imagination to provide an image of this wonderful world yet to come.

While all this is interesting, I found myself still wanting to know more about Heaven.  I wanted to debunk this belief about Heaven being boring or anything we might get tired of.  I even have one friend who half jokingly described it as a non-stop church service singing “Holy-Holy-Holy” … for eternity?

Gary Larson spoke to that well in his many comics on Heaven.

Stay tuned for my next post: “Opening day in paradise”.

**RESOURCES**

The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus by Lee Strobel

This book was made into a movie in 2017, and I highly recommend both if you have any questions around 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.

Heaven by Randy Alcorn

I’ve made my case for this book in the above post.  Simply wonderful.
In the words of Stu Weber (stated on the front cover):

“Other than the Bible itself, this may well be the single most life-changing book you’ll ever read.”

New Beginnings

First, a quick review on this blog:
“a Christian perspective on achieving work/life balance”

About this blog
Part 1: Malibu and The Greatest Generation
Part 2: Corona del Mar and Growing Up
Part 3: San Onofre Surfing Club
Part 4: 25 years of riding the wave in Silicon Valley

As I wrote “Part 4” of the Prologue, four short stories  [below] emerged to provide a glimpse my viewpoints on work/life balance:

4.1 — SLOW DOWN
4.2 – The Circle of Life
4.3 – Peace of mind
4.4 – Hit over the head by a 2×4 (coming next…)

Part 4.4 will be my last post of the Prologue.
Next:  the specifics of my calling with this ministry going forward. 
So stay tuned.

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.

Mike Mulkey


Hired at Sun: April 1, 1999
Laid off at Oracle: Jan. 19, 2017

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!).

“You’re FIRED!”

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!

Oracle painted the Sun Santa Clara campus red in a hurry following their acquisition in January of 2010

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.

Tennis buddies at lunch

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.

I will miss my “room with a view” …

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.

Ok.

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:

What to do when you get laid off at 62…

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…

Yikes!

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!)

Lessons for the Grandchildren from Kona Jack

Well, I’ll just start by saying that I can’t put into words how much I miss dad. There are so many emotions around the void I feel without him. It’s been quite a change in life for me.

Dad was a man’s man, that’s for sure. And I guess I lucked out by being his boy. We didn’t have to talk things out. In fact, never really did as far as I can remember. Life with dad just happened.   Hanging out doing things guys do together, largely around sports. He taught me most of what I know about surfing, tennis, skiing, football, baseball, basketball and more. But I don’t mean that he instructed me – that definitely wasn’t dad. It was just about being together and doing whatever it was we were doing, and then I learned through that experience. It’s been a good lesson for me in life. I wouldn’t trade that time with dad for anything.

I know this won’t surprise those who know me well, but I look very forward to going to heaven, which is a nice way of saying that I look forward to dying. I have a firm belief in the truth of a glorious life in heaven awaiting us. For eternity. I’ve read so many books on it, and of course, the Bible is so crystal clear on the joy and peace that awaits us. There in heaven, I believe I will be reunited with dad again in the prime of his life. It will be a joyous reunion that I look very forward to. I am imagining of course that he is going to say,

Michael, let’s go surfing!”.

Until then, my hope is that I can have as much of an influence on people as dad did on his friends and family and neighbors in Kona. Somehow, he seemed to rub off on everyone, even on people he would seemingly completely ignore. A good example of that was a neighbor of his at the Keahou Kona Surf & Racquet Club who gave him a case of Coors Light for Christmas one year. He simply returned it to them and said he didn’t drink Coors Light.

That was dad.

I think we all would agree that dad left quite a legacy that won’t soon be forgotten.

I thank God for this opportunity to summarize a few of the areas from dad’s legacy that I think his grandchildren should take note of. I like to think of it as the passing of the baton to Marisa, Matthew, Brennan and Hayley. They are all quite simple, not anything that would surprise those who knew dad. But I think the combination of them together is what really set dad apart.   He lived each one of them to the fullest.

So here they are — 6 lessons for the grandchildren from Kona Jack.

#1 – Keep your sense of humor (even into your 80’s and beyond!)

"You should have seen the OTHER guy!"

“You should have seen the OTHER guy!”

In my opinion, this had to be the top lesson from dad for all of us!

Plain and simple, he was hysterical with his many dry comments that seemed to always come out when you least expected it. He had an amazing wit, and used it all of the time, on anyone! It didn’t seem to wane at all as he launched into some challenging times in his 80’s. There are so many examples to cite. Dad was a walking comedy act in my book, and I appreciate that now more than ever…

On my last trip over to Kona to see dad, I had come to rescue him after he took a pretty serious spill walking down the hill from KTA with a bag of groceries.  He was quite bandaged up, head to toe, not moving too well, when he asked me to take him to town for a haircut. As we entered the barbershop, dad was shuffling slowly through the door as a customer was holding the door open waiting for dad to get by. Suddenly out of nowhere, dad looked at this guy and blurted out,

“You should have seen the OTHER guy!”

I had to really think for a minute or two what the heck he was even talking about. Then suddenly as I took my seat in the barbershop, it hit me.  I almost started crying I was laughing so hard.

His many sticky notes in the mail to Terry and I were also famous for these dry comments. Here’s one he wrote on an article he was sending me:

“Hey, its not all wine and roses over here! This can be a very tough life, especially if you’re in your late, late eighty’s. I messed up cutting these articles out of the paper but I’m sure you’ll get the drift.
Dad”

Another sticky on a rather lengthy New Yorker article he sent me about Apple and the upcoming iWatch:

“ Mike – I don’t want to over burden you with too much shop talk, but thought this might be of interest. It’s a little long and drawn, but does have its highlights, and it’s a good inside look into Apple’s modus operandi. In any event, you’re stuck with it!
P.S. For your appreciation of my sending it, you can give me an apple watch for father’s day.”

Ok, final one!
Another note on a copy of the Santa Monica High School alumni newsletter which included some photographs of his classmates:

“Mike: I have enclosed 2 xerox’s from the recent Viking news, which is a quarterly published for SMHS alumni. One is a recent picture of Charlie French, which I thought you would like to see. The other caught my eye because I knew everyone involved from my Malibu days. Dave Rochlen is the founder of Jams, and Peter Cole and Buzzy Trent were famous big wave riders (Buzzy looks like he had a couple of 20 footers break on him).”

And looking at the picture of Buzzy, I had to agree!

#2 — Sleep trumps diet

Dad sneaking in a nap just hours before the wedding bells ring!

Sneaking in a nap just hours before the wedding bells ring!

I believe a big key to the long and healthy life dad lived was his ability to sleep, anywhere at any time. He often took 2 naps a day, and never (that I can remember) had a hard time getting a full nights sleep. I even remember our wedding day, when I walked into the bedroom in Jack Schott’s house to get the Tuxedo on, and there was dad on the floor lying down for a nap. Of course, I think that is one area where he would agree that his lack of hearing was a real advantage!

I believe his sleep had a LOT to do with countering his daily nutritional habits, if you can call it that. Dad was a walking miracle based upon the food he was eating on a daily basis. He could have written the book on “how to live a long and healthy life while eating and drinking anything you want.”

I will always remember the trip we took back from Honolulu after being air Evac’d there for surgery to implant a stint in his main heart artery (early 90’s). After rescuing him from 2 days at Queens Medical Center (which believe me, was a story in itself!), we flew to Kona and were on our way home in the car when he requested that I pull into the Harbor House in Kealakehe Harbor (one of his favorite spots) for a giant schooner of draft beer and a large plate of french fries (which he proceeded to salt heavily and cover with catsup). I remember trying to tell him the doctor said not to lift anything over 10 pounds, and that the beer schooner was surely well over that! He looked at me like I was crazy, holding the giant glass mug with both hands shaking as he lifted it to his lips.

And of course, there was the infamous grocery list he gave Marisa for her trip to KTA one day:
Haagen-Dazs coffee ice cream, Ranch-style Doritos, Eye of the Hawk beer, Laughing Cow cheese, Frosted Flakes, Half n Half, and a Snickers bar.

On a thank you note he sent Terry, he outlined what would happen if money were no object in Kona:

“Terry, I want you to know that I had a big time blowing away your gift certificate at Drysdale’s:  1 beer, 3 Rob Roy’s, 1 Stinger on the rocks, and the Shrimp basket.
So thanks a lot. I hope I can repay you if you make it over in December.”

I’ll bet he slept good that night!

In fact, it really seems quite appropriate that he passed in his sleep after a Father’s Day meal of fish & chips and a Rob Roy (at the old Drysdale’s of course!).

#3 — Keep life simple

Dad's wardrobe for the week, hanging on his bathroom towel rack.

Dad’s wardrobe for the week, hanging on his bathroom towel rack

I think we ALL were extremely envious of the fact that dad lived about as simple a life as one could imagine. And for the past 27 or so years after moving to Kona, he probably should have won an environmental achievement award for having the lowest carbon footprint in the state of Hawaii.   I clearly remember the day I took him to the airport in L.A. for his move to Kona from Newport Beach at Park Newport. He had sold everything for the move, including his car. But when he put a single suitcase into the car I seriously thought he was kidding.

“Dad, where’s your stuff?! Did you ship it?”

And of course his response: “This is it Michael. I got rid of everything.”

And he stayed that way – never succumbing to a life of possessions and complexity. His place was a perfect example of that. A couple of $3.99 Wal-Mart Chairs around a $4.99 Wal-Mart table was about the only furniture he needed.   He didn’t seem to mind that when we came to visit we all had to stand around to talk with him. In fact, I think he liked the fact that you were never going to stay long if you didn’t have somewhere to sit. I tried to buy him a Lazy Boy chair more than once, just to get his feet up.
“If I want to lay down I’ll just go out to the pool”, he quickly shot back in response.

Good point.

Dad’s amazing ability to keep life simple and avoid the stress that often is attached to the things we accumulate truly was something to be admired.

Here’s a note he wrote us on the back of his race number for the Keahou 5K – effectively re-using the race number as a note card:

“Hi Gang: I picked up my race booty, which consisted of two T-shirts in addition to the race shirt (I may not leave much money, but I’ll leave a lot of T-shirts) a twelve dollar gift certificate at Drysdales (that’s 3 Rob Roy’s) and a medallion on a blue ribbon…. The weather has been great. Highs in lo 80’s; lo’s in high 60’s with afternoon clouds and no vog. The snow bunnies are real happy!”

And yes – he did leave us lots of T-shirts.

#4 – Exercise for life!

Still playing good tennis at 85 and beyond.

Still playing solid tennis well into his 80’s!

If there is one quality that most influenced me, it was dad’s example with consistent exercise throughout his entire life. This was probably one of the few areas where he did offer advice to Terry and I as we were growing up. Whether it was his tennis, surfing, skiing, or even jumping rope in the living room when we were growing up, dad believed exercise was a true fountain of youth. And he was pretty good living proof that it worked!

This hand-written note of his on the back of a re-used Christmas card pretty much says it all:

“Dear Marla and Mike: Thought I’d take just a second to wish you the best of everything for 1993 and to thank you again for the running shorts and socks. Trust me, you could not have done better. Wish I could send you a sample of this year’s eggnog. It is arguably one of my best blends yet.
Life here goes on! Following is my current schedule:

  • Monday: work 9-12:30. Tennis 3-5.
  • Tuesday: Bike to the village. Coffee at the Pub. Work out at the club and a run. Bike back to the pool.
  • Wednesday: Tennis 2-4.
  • Thursday: same as Tuesday
  • Friday: same as Monday
  • Saturday: same as Tuesday and Thursday
  • Sunday: rest it up at pool. Tennis 3-5.

Of course there are variations, but not many. I’m sure you get the idea!
Love, Jack”

#5 — Enjoy life

Never one to miss an ice cold beer after a round of tennis.

Never one to miss an ice cold beer after a round of tennis.

Following on that theme, I think everyone would agree that dad set the stage on how to enjoy life. It did not matter whether it was a classic Kona sunset, a cold mug of draft beer, or a well played football game on TV — he enjoyed it to the fullest, and let everyone around him know it. It was a very nice & healthy quality of his, and something that I already miss a great deal. There is definitely a part of it that has propelled me into the work/life balance coaching arena. Dad simply never let work distract him from enjoying life and kept a keen eye on those who did the same.

Here’s an insightful comment he made on Bob Simmons, a fellow Malibu surfing pioneer, in a note to me about a recent surf auction of a Simmons surfboard for $40,000:

“This is the same board I’m riding in the Malibu photo. I’m not sure how many of these Simmons made, but don’t think it could be more than 5 or so. I can only remember seeing one other that was owned by Jim Arness. Bob was anything but a grinder when it came to making boards and never let work interfere with his surfing. There seems to be a lot of money out there for old surf collectibles. I may be sitting on a fortune!”

Another quality I especially noticed later in dad’s life was that he was not a complainer and seemed to find pleasure and humor during the difficult times. Don’t get me wrong, he let you know if he didn’t like something or if something had not gone well, but he never dwelled on it – and seemed to just let the hard times pass, soon making light of it after. That was especially evident to me when we made those two trips back to Queens Medical Center in Honolulu for his bladder cancer surgery, while carrying a catheter bag with him along the way. He truly was amazing on those trips with how he kept his spirits up and maintained a sense of humor about it all. I could cite so many examples, but one that sticks out was a vivid memory I have of him enjoying a beer in the Kona airport after security had given him the complete shake-down in the TSA line.
He is taking a long draw of the beer, and saying:

“Ahhhhh, that’s a good one Michael.”

Of course, I was looking at him holding the catheter bag as he drank the beer in amazement, thinking, how could he possibly be enjoying a beer right now?!

#6 — It’s ok to be sentimental

West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery in Kona, Hawaii

West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery in Kona, Hawaii

We all know about dad’s goodbyes. Plain and simple, they were painful for those of us who were trying to leave! I dreaded it every trip over as he always fell apart and started to cry when I left. Interestingly, my last trip over was the worst of all. He really did act as if he knew he would not see me again, finally almost yelling at me to leave…

Its hard to say much more on this one – but I think the point for the grandkids is to not hold your emotions in – but to let it go. I wish I could be more like that.
Here are a couple notes he wrote me which show different aspects of his sentimentality:

Written on the “Corona del Mar and growing up” section which he edited for me on this blog:

“ Mike, this is pretty good. I must confess your re-capitulation of a trip to SanO brought tears to my eyes. I’ve out-grown my motion sickness, but it doesn’t look like I’ll ever [out] grow my sentimentality, which I for sure inherited from my father.”

A short note on a bank statement he sent me (and I know he felt exactly the same about Brennan and Hayley):

“Mike: this is not very legible, but if there is any questions I’m sure we can straighten them out on the phone. Also, I wanted to give you and Marla my sincere congratulations on the way you have raised your two kids. Believe me, they are the absolute tops.”

Here’s one Terry and I discovered after dad’s passing. He had taken a 3-week solo trip to Australia after his retirement from General Telephone in the mid 80’s, and the airlines lost his luggage on the flight over. We were surprised to find a fairly detailed daily journal he kept from that trip where he periodically lamented over the loss and its impact on his trip and on his emotions, until seemingly getting over it on his final week or so on the trip. The final entry in the journal was as follows:

“Checked with Quantis about my suitcase and no luck. Someone else is wearing my snappy clothes and it pisses me off to no end!

And finally, a birthday card he sent me shortly after college (early 1980’s) – but I don’t think this one was re-used:

“Hi Mike – They do roll around awfully fast don’t they. I hope you have or had a real good one! This is one birthday that always sneaks up on me. I am watching the U of U – San Jose St. basketball game from Utah and couldn’t help but have a flash-back to your graduation. You can be real proud of what you accomplished then, and what you have accomplished since. To put it mildly, you have done quite well; and I’m a very proud father.

[now, mind you — next sentence in this same note]

Utah seems to have one of their better teams and I cant look at Tarkanian without thinking of Woody [our tax accountant – who did in fact look like him!].

“Fresno State has a 26 to 11 lead and the Utah coach is having kittens!
Love, Grandpa Jack”

Good-bye dad.