7. Circle of Life

“Next to love, balance is the most important thing.”
— Coach John Wooden

Anyone who has known me throughout my professional career would back my claim that balance in life has been modus operandi. It is in my DNA. As I came into Silicon Valley aspiring to achieve success and to support our family, I was constantly battling equilibrium between my work, family, and personal life. I can’t exactly explain the drive; it has been my calling.

This balance mantra appeared to me in a Golden Gate University classroom in Los Angeles one night. It was an epiphany that stuck. I was in a master’s degree program (Telecommunications Management) to further my education in my job at Siemens (who purchased ROLM in 1989). Sipping a hot chocolate to wake up after a long day at work, I was contemplating what this class might entail when the instructor walked in. I’ve forgotten his name, but I remember he started the class by handing out what I thought was a class syllabus. Upon inspection, I noticed that it was titled the Circle of Life.

I put my hot chocolate aside. He had my full attention.

He opened with a statement about life beyond telecommunications. He wanted us to review our direction in life and consider whether that was where we wanted to go:

“If we don’t change the direction we are going, we are likely to end up where we are headed.”

I could see that he was quite serious about this. He made perfect sense in what he was saying:

“If you can keep your life in balance, you will inevitably be a much happier and healthier person.”

His words were simple, yet true! The Circle of Life document included a self-analysis quiz to help us understand how our life was going today. He wanted to help us improve our lives at work, at home (family life), and attend to our personal needs (self). After we completed the quiz, he stressed the importance of setting goals. 

“A man without goals has been compared to a ship without a rudder. Both are subject to the winds of fate.”

At once I realized that I was sailing on that ship! I had a general idea of what I wanted to do, but could see there was no way to balance those desires against the other vital areas of my life. I was excited to put my rudder into the water.

It was brilliant!

I want to say that my life changed that very moment in class as I reviewed the results of my Circle of Life quiz. Not so. While it prompted me about the areas I wanted to achieve better balance, it was a busy time with family, work, night school, and more. His handout went into my class binder along with the rest of my materials. I did not retrieve it for several years.

A marriage, two kids, and two jobs later.

I was working for Sun Microsystems in 1999 when the Circle of Life resurfaced. My telecommunications expertise helped earn me a job with their new and emerging “Netra” division. Sun was riding high on the dot-com bubble caused by internet-related companies’ explosive growth in Silicon Valley. The Sun Netra division was selling servers like In-N-Out sells burgers. We couldn’t build them fast enough!

Sun’s CEO Scott McNealy had extended a $1 billion credit line to Senior VP Neil Knox to build a family of telecommunications-grade servers (the “Netra”) to sell to large telecom providers worldwide. The time was ripe; Scott wanted them now. Working for Neil and his Netra product team in Menlo Park was like being part of the Apollo 13 moon launch team. Between beer bashes, we were pouring cement for the foundation to the internet! A go-to-market plan was quickly developed, and soon, we were pedaling  Sun’s new Netra servers around the globe. 

Amid the chaos, Marla was learning to manage our home with two active toddlers as I was jet-setting around the world to get our Sun sales teams onboard about the opportunity with Netra servers.  All appeared to be going according to plan when a letter arrived with the opening line of, “Congratulations!”

I won the lottery!

Well, kind of. The highly coveted letter from the Ironman Triathlon World Championships in Hawaii had arrived, announcing they had picked my name to compete in the 1999 event.

Holy cow! 

It was a fairy tale come true. Dad lived in Kona right on the course, and we had watched the race several times. I had dreamed about going by him while competing in the race for years. And yet, my first thought was how I could find time to do all the necessary training without losing my job, family, or both! A 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile marathon was not going to happen purely by desire. Pulling this off would require a Ph.D. in balance.

Fast-forward four months later, and things seemed to be falling into place. I was feeling good. I learned how to sneak in my runs and rides on business trips and made up the swimming in my time back home. It did wonders for the jet lag and helped me sleep when my clock was off in another time zone.

Then Marla said something which changed my paradigm. We were discussing making family time a priority on weekends when she blurted out:

“If you put as much time into your family as you do into training for this triathlon, we would have no issues!”

Gulp. It stuck, as I knew it was true.

I was speechless.

My life had been revolving around my job and triathlon training. There was no time for much else besides the necessary sleeping and eating to keep it all going. The family had taken a back seat. I immediately rummaged through my Golden Gate University class binder and pulled out the Circle of Life. As I mapped it out, it was clear as the light of day. I had been in a cloud of denial and had lost perspective in all I had been accomplishing.

Thank God Marla brought me to my senses. Here are a couple of questions in the Circle of Life quiz which convicted me:

– Do you spend “quality” time with your family and children each week? 
– Do you make time for regular “date nights” to have quality time with your spouse/partner/children?
– Do you eat dinner as a family at the dinner table 3 times a week?
– How often do you check email after hours and on weekends without taking the corresponding time off work? 

This discussion was much larger than a triathlon for me, but it helps make the point. Like the three events (swim, bike, run), I needed to find equilibrium in my time and energy for each area of my life (work, family, self). It was as if I was planning to have a stellar swim and bike time while ignoring preparation for the run. My overall performance (my life) would suffer as a result. Or worse, I might not finish the race! I have seen that happen more than once in the triathlon circles, especially in the ironman distance race. Just like a job, the training can be all-consuming, discarding family members along the way.

Keeping my family a priority would be vital for the rest of my life, and something I would model for my children going forward. I had to (and did) make changes.

If things go well with the family, life is worth living; when the family falters, life falls apart. This is truer today than ever before and underscored for me the importance of maintaining balance.

Here is the “Circle of Life” quiz (pdf file): https://surfingforbalance.files.wordpress.com/2017/11/circle-of-life-quiz-v5-4.pdf

Give it a try!

A balanced life not only feels good, but my experience is that it helps those around you too. As that instructor reminded us that opening day of class:

“If you can keep your life in balance, you will inevitably be a much happier and healthier person.”

The Circle of Life

“Next to love, balance is the most important thing.”
Coach John Wooden

Circle_of_life_pic
(click image for “Circle of Life” quiz)

Prologue (4.2)

To me that it’s the simple things in life that can make the biggest difference.

This story starts with a bit of an epiphany I had one night while in graduate school at Golden Gate University in Los Angeles.

As I was launching my career in high technology with ROLM, it became apparent that my Sports Management degree was only going to take me so far. After successfully navigating the transition from tennis club into telecommunications, I enrolled into a Masters degree program at Golden Gate University to both learn about the industry and open opportunities for advancement in my career. Over the course of what seemed at the time like an eternity (eight or so years of night school), I completed a Masters Degree in Telecommunications Management.

golden_gate_logo

One of those evenings in class as I was sipping a hot chocolate to wake up after a long day at work, I discovered something that was to stick with me for the remainder of my career in high-tech.

It was the first day of a Telecommunications 101 class, and the instructor walked into the room to begin. He proceeded to pass out something completely unrelated to the class syllabus. He called it the Circle of Life.

Wait, what!?…
This caught my attention.

I sat back trying to understand why he was talking about “life” beyond telecommunications. Yet as he spoke, I realized that he was quite serious about this and in fact it made good sense.

“If you are able to keep your life in balance, you will inevitably be a much happier and healthier person”.

What a novel thought. So simple, yet so true!
Best of all, he backed up his claim with a quiz he proceeded to pass out to test us on just how well we were doing in the area of life balance right now. We had immediate feedback on the life we were living. For me, it stuck.

Then he moved on to the class syllabus for Telecommunications 101 and I went back to my hot chocolate.

I’d like to tell you that my life changed that very moment as I reviewed the results of my Circle of Life quiz and began thinking about the areas where I wanted to focus to achieve better balance in my life. But in truth, that handout went into my class binder and did not come back out for many years later.
In fact, a marriage, two kids, and two jobs later.

When it finally did surface, I was working for Sun Microsystems in Menlo Park in 1999, riding the high-tech Silicon Valley bubble. I leveraged my telecommunications skills to join Sun’s new and emerging “Netra” division, and they were selling servers like In-n-Out sells hamburgers. We couldn’t build them fast enough.

sun_logo2

As the story went, Scott McNealy provided a $1 billion credit line to a senior executive at Sun by the name of Neil Knox to bring a family of telecommunications grade servers (Netra product line) to market for Sun — FAST. These early days working for Neil and his Netra product team in Menlo Park were high-flying and very fun times. Sun had been labeled “the dot in dot-com”. They had invented Java. Scott had even coined the term, The network is the computer, and that was BEFORE we had the internet. It just didn’t get any better than this as far as I was concerned from a professional standpoint.

ironman_logo

Congratulations!
During this very hectic time at work, I received the highly coveted acceptance letter from Ironman Hawaii announcing my lottery number had come up, and I was accepted to compete in the 1999 Ironman Hawaii Triathlon.
Whoa…!  How I would possibly find time to do the necessary training without losing my job or my family!?

Fast-forward four months down this path and things seemed to be working out Ok. Or, so I thought…
Then my wife said something to me, which really captured my attention.
We were discussing making family time a priority on weekends when she suddenly blurted out,

“If you put as much time into your family as you do into training for this triathlon, we would have no issues…!”

Gulp.

Now mind you, I am pretty good about that balancing act between work, family and play. But that one really stuck.

Enter the Circle of Life.

Clearly my life was revolving around my job and my triathlon training, and not much else, other than the necessary sleeping & eating to keep it all going. Family had taken a back seat. Once I pulled out the Circle of Life and mapped it out – it was clear as the light of day to me. And worst of all, I had been in a cloud of denial about seeing it.
Thank God my wife brought me to my senses.

This is a discussion much larger than just triathlon training, but it helps make the point to use this example. Just like the three events of a triathlon (swim, bike, run), I needed to equally balance the time and energy I was spending in each area of my life (Work, Family, Self) in order to come out with the best overall performance.  But I also needed time to rest and have some inner quiet time (in the words of Dr. Richard Swenson, margin), to feed my soul and attain an optimum performance in the triathlon.

And most importantly, this was about not sacrificing my family.  I truly believe that the family is the key to our future.  There is a saying that:
“If things go well with the family, life is worth living; when the family falters, life falls apart.”

Whether it was work, sport, or maybe something else, keeping my family a priority is something that would be important to me for the rest of my life, as well as something I would model for my children.
I had to make some changes – right away.

Here is a 5 page document called the “Circle of Life” quiz (pdf file).
It is best if printed so you can fill it in and keep it with you.

Give it a try!
It has helped me several times get order back into my life. As my instructor stated in that Telecommunications 101 class many years ago,
“If you are able to keep your life in balance, you will inevitably be a much happier and healthier person”.

He was right. I have experienced both sides, and I can tell you that a balanced life not only feels good, but it just plain works!

** Resources **
What Color Is Your Parachute? 2016: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers by Richard N. Bolles
Amazingly, Richard Bolles has been updating this book since 1975, when it was first written.  In spite of the dramatic changes in the job market today – driven largely by the emergence of the Internet and social media tools like Linked-In, his principals pierce time and are life changing if properly applied. Most importantly, he does something that many of these job seeking books miss.  Richard makes a strong case for taking a thorough inventory of who you are, before embarking on your job search.  In other words, what color is your parachute.

What_Color_Parachute

SLOW DOWN

“The road is better than the inn.”
Miguel de Cervantes

Prologue (4.1)

ROLM_logo

ROLM Corporation was a dream company to start a career, and they were led by one of the truly great Silicon Valley pioneers, Ken Oshman, who established “Great Place To Work” (GPW) as a corporate goal at ROLM in the early 1970s. I stayed with ROLM (“The Fittest Company in Silicon Valley”) through two difficult acquisitions (IBM in 1984, and then Siemens AG in 1989), and was managing a global product team with Siemens ROLM when this story takes place. Our product teams were split between the U.S. and Germany, requiring me to fly over to Munich periodically to help coordinate activities between the two. On this particular day I was at San Francisco International Airport waiting to board my Lufthansa flight to Munich, while very intently hammering out urgent last minute emails to my team. I was literally racing to get as much email completed as possible before I had to board for the 11+ hour flight. The idea of WiFi and a power plug on board the plane was not even a consideration at that point in time.

Suddenly, an older businessman with greying hair, nice suit and tie, probably in his 60’s, approached me appearing to want to interrupt me to chat. He was patiently waiting for me to pause long enough from my emails, as he seemed to have something important to say. I can’t remember his exact words. The essence of it was that I reminded him of himself 20 or so years ago, and he was stopping by to tell me to relax, SLOW DOWN, stop and smell the roses; it would still be there waiting when I landed. I do remember one comment, “you’ll learn when you’re my age, it really doesn’t matter.” For some reason, the way he said it really stuck. It made me pause and think about what I was doing.

Mostly, I was just shocked that he was telling me this out of the blue when he had no idea who I was, who I worked for, or where I was going and why. However, I had an immediate sense that he was absolutely right! I remember thinking about him that entire flight.   Of course, I never saw him again. Maybe he was an angel sent to help me. I don’t rule that out, because suddenly, 25 years after that incident, I have become that man. I want to say the exact same thing to those I am working with, or see at airports or coffee shops. That is why I am writing this blog. I want to help others see this early in their career make the adjustments toward more balance. Sometimes all it takes is a brief pause and some reflection on the situation. I have learned over many years you are going to be better off if you can keep your life in balance.

** Resources **

The Rhythm of Life: Living Everyday With Passion and Purpose by Matthew Kelly

Matthew Kelly is a New York Times bestselling author who has written a book that truly has a calming effect to those who are living a chaotic lifestyle. His suggestions are simple, but make a great deal of sense. Things like “spend less time doing and more time being” and “focus on being the best version of yourself.”  This book made a lot of sense to me.

Rythym-of-Life

 

 

25 years of Riding the Wave in Silicon Valley

“Material possessions, winning scores, and great reputations are meaningless in the eyes of the Lord, because He knows what we really are and that is all that matters.”
Coach John Wooden

Prologue (Part 4 of 4)

The intent of this final prologue is to briefly review my 25+ years in Silicon Valley to provide a glimpse into the viewpoints I carry into this blog. This starts with a quick summary of how I ended up here from my roots in Southern California.

Somehow, I decided to leave the surfer’s paradise of Corona del Mar for what turned out to be a wonderful four years of college for me at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. I majored in Sports Management in the “Recreation & Leisure Studies” department, which was predicted to be the “boom” industry of the future, as the emergence of the computer in the late 1970’s would soon provide the baby boomer generation with an over abundance of free time. Ha! Well, not quite.

My dream job coming out of college was to find a tennis club in Southern California where I could spend my workday lounging in tennis clothes, while socializing and hitting tennis balls with club members on my breaks. And as fate would have it, I landed that very job as General Manager of the Covina Hills Racquet Club in West Covina. However, it wasn’t quite as good as it had sounded, as my days were some of the longest I have ever worked (we were open 6am – 10pm), and I seemed to always be at the club when everyone else was off (weekends, holidays and evenings). Balance went right out the window, even if I was wearing tennis clothes all day!

CHRC_OpenHouse

Marketing for new members at the tennis club

After 2-years at the Covina Hills Racquet Club, I switched careers and made my debut at an emerging Silicon Valley telecommunications firm by the name of ROLM. As the government mandated breakup of AT&T’s monopoly of telephone service in the U.S. was taking shape, companies like ROLM were hiring and investing heavily in technical training of their work force to get a jump on the new opportunity. This was perfect for me, as my skills did not go much beyond washing tennis courts and counting tennis balls in the Pro Shop; I did not know the slightest thing about computers! Best of all, I met the love of my life at ROLM, and we soon moved up to ROLM’s headquarters in Santa Clara following our marriage in Newport Beach. There we put our roots into the ground, raised our two children, and began to call Mountain View home.

My first impressions of Silicon Valley in 1991 are best summarized with three questions, which seemed to slap me in the face when we first arrived:
– How COLD is the water at the beach?
– What does everyone do in their free time if they aren’t going to the beach?
– Why is everyone at work so much!?

IBM_Tennis

From Tennis Clubs to Silicon Valley

It took me 5 years to brave the cold water in Santa Cruz and realize that Silicon Valley had access to some of the best surfing on the California coast, less than an hour from our doorstep in Mountain View.  As soon as I surfed Steamers Lane in Santa Cruz at low tide on a winter pacific swell, I realized home base had officially moved up north. With the right conditions, Steamers Lane is a world-class wave, which can provide a longer and more exhilarating ride than any wave I’ve experienced in California. It was a dream of a discovery for me, and has been pivotal to keep me in balance while struggling to maintain my career in the fast lane of Silicon Valley high technology companies.

Following are four short stories to help explain a few experiences that have shaped my beliefs over these past 25 years in Silicon Valley.

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

**Resources**
“Starting Up Silicon Valley: How ROLM Became a Cultural Icon and Fortune 500 Company” by Katherine Maxfield

For those of us who were lucky enough to be a part of the ROLM story, this book is a must have.  And for those just curious to understand how ROLM set the stage in Silicon Valley as a center of innovation years before Apple, Google, Facebook and others came along, it is a good lesson in computer history.  But most of all for me, the stories of the personalities who worked at ROLM are wonderfully captured.  It truly was an amazing company.

ROLM_Book