Sunday, December 11, 2011

Thoughts on Thanks During the Holidays and Putting a Wrapper on 2011

Photo: Gib Rock Photography
The Holidays and Thankfulness

We’re deep into the holiday season by now, the period of the year in which I feel most fortunate. When I’m easily reminded of how lucky I am to have what I have in my life: health, amazing relationships, and various opportunities to do and learn as I please. The list goes on.

This year, I appreciate more than ever my lovely and supportive wife, Emily. She’s carrying our first child, due next April. And for the fact that she has experienced no complications thus far.

I don’t have to worry about the basic necessities, like running water, that others do. Living hand-to-mouth… I've not come close to it. I’ve got a job that pays me well, with a company I respect and work among people I admire. I work hard, but enjoy a huge amount of freedom unfamiliar to many people in this world. I live in a cozy home, in a city rife with amenities. What more could a man ask for?

The holidays make me especially thankful for my situation in life. I wish the same to be true for you. I believe it’s important to make note of the things for which you’re most thankful every once in a while, the holiday season included.

My 2011 in Retrospect: Work, Travel, Triathlons and Books

In summary, 2011 was a big year for me. Frankly, the fact that Emily and I are expecting a child made my year. Family and faith are the foundation of all that is my little oyster, and I won’t prattle on about either now. What I will do, though, is reflect on four other key areas for good measure.

Work: So much time and energy revolves around it, so I’ll start there. The most important aspect to my work–and something on which I maintain a laser focus–is to continually seek it in ways that are consistent with my own value system and the things I naturally enjoy doing (e.g., relationships, travel and writing).

I strive to be hyper-efficient with my time, a daily quest... perhaps obsessively so. I aim to prioritize things that matter to me. I can say that I got closer to that pursuit this year. My company is flexible in this respect, and I’ve gained more confidence over the year in making my mark given any circumstance. I expect to keep progressing.

Travel: Any year that passes without my leaving the USA at least once is a considerable failure. Not a problem in 2011. By way of Columbia, Costa Rica and the UK (twice), I was able to travel internationally for equal parts business and pleasure, narrowly reaching Elite status with United (the airline formerly known as Continental for us Houstonians).

When I use the word "travel," I usually tag “adventure” onto it. My brand of travel is mission-oriented. I like to see, do, speak, learn, try–it all. Here’s to more of that in upcoming years, child in tow :-).

Triathlons: Before 2011, I had never entered one. But after making my way through the Houston Half Marathon to start the year, I figured, why not keep my hand in the game and dive into the triathlon circuit.

I completed four of them–three Sprint distance races and one Olympic race. The final result? First, variety is good. I prefer the combination of swimming, biking and running to just running. Second, the Sprint distance is better than the Olympic, especially in the Texas heat. Third, triathlons are growing like crazy and to anyone with interest, they’re a blast… give it a go.

Related posts this year: Beginner's Tri and Finisher's Tri

Books: Along with travel, reading is the most important educational tool we have. I shut off the TV and make time for it. My list of genres is not too broad, filled mostly of biographies and modern history. It is through those that I gain the increased perspective on life and am reminded of its most important lessons.

Plus one or two that I neglected to record, I read 12 in 2011. For more on what I read, particularly now that I'm using the Kindle, check my reading list on LinkedIn and my highlights on Amazon. The latter needs to be cleaned up, so probe gently.

The five best books that I read in 2011:

If you have any doubt about the sacrifices made by allied forces during WWII or are curious for detail about POWs, this a truly unbelievable story of an Olympic track athlete who fought in the Pacific theater. Make this the next book you read!

2. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

This is a two-part book, a quick read that will put your life and relationships into perspective like none other. The first part is a humble account of Frankl's time in multiple Nazi-held concentration camps during WWII. The second is an analysis of the meaning of life through the lens of his life experiences. That he was a psychologist by training makes his observations particularly meaningful.

From a professional standpoint, one of the coolest things that happened to me this year was meeting a professional "coach" at a party. We have since met a couple of times, and he has given me excellent advice. He recommended this book, from which I picked up a mountain of useful tips around effective leadership.

I had no idea the Comanches were as ruthless as they were. Wow, were they ever mean and tough. Parker, born to a white mother who had been kidnapped by a small group of Comanches at an early age, eventually became an influential chief in the tribe. When life on the reservation was unavoidable for his people, he accepted their fate and easily assimilated into the white man's world. Later in life, he was successful in business. Detailed descriptions of the Texas landscape fill this book.

Theodore Roosevelt is one of my heroes. How he accomplished as much as he did before dying at the age of 60 is hard to fathom. This story is about the trip he took to Latin America after his presidency. Less known than his more chronicled eleven-month hunting trip to Africa, this one was probably more dangerous.

Afterword/Housekeeping: Donations, Five Year Plan and Remaining Posts from 2011

Donations: If you didn't see my post about my plan to run the 2012 Houston Half Marathon on behalf of the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, please look now (Run for a Reason: Buffalo Bayou Partnership) and consider a donation. Thus far, friends and readers alike have donated $1,210. Thank you! 

Five Year Plan: The other morning I was reviewing a package I pulled together in 1998 that set a path forward for the years following my graduation from college. It was simply called, “Five Year Plan.” On review, it was surprising how closely the plan had actually unfolded. It was comprised of a vision, a couple of high-level goals and risks. Nothing tactical, mainly thoughts on a page for what I wanted over that time horizon.

Inspired, I'm working on something similar for the next five years, which I hope to nail down and share early next year. These plans are made in the face of one of my favorite quotes, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”

Remaining Posts from 2011:

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Run for a Reason: Buffalo Bayou Partnership

If the Good Lord's willing and the creeks don't rise, I will run the Aramco Houston Half Marathon on Sunday, January 15, 2012.

As part of my commitment to do so, I’ve chosen to raise money for the Buffalo Bayou Partnership (BBP). Joining the "barefoot running" craze, I intend to run the race in a sporty pair of Vibram FiveFingers, which should provide a new and different twist to training for–and finishing–the race.

Vibram "Speed," Buffalo Bayou and Downtown Houston

On the Rosemont Footbridge
Next year’s Half Marathon is capped at 11,000 participants. As an alternative to the annual event’s typical entry method (lottery system), late registrants, like me, often run for a reason. This entails raising money for a charity with reserved spaces in the sold out race. BBP is one of these charities.

BBP is “dedicated to revitalizing and transforming Buffalo Bayou, our city's most significant natural resource.”

Buffalo Bayou Park Shepherd to Sabine Master Plan
More than $5 million in bayou improvements have been completed, including the Rosemont Footbridge and new hike and bike trail segments. The Sandy Reed Trail (Shepherd to Sabine) is being resurfaced this fall, and over $56 million in improvements will begin in June 2012. This is all good news for Houston.

The Kinder Foundation, according to its website, proposed to serve as the catalyst funder with a grant of up to $30 million, an unprecedented gift to Houston's park system, for improvements to the existing 158-acre linear park extending 2.3 miles west of downtown from the Sabine Street Bridge to the Shepherd Drive Bridge.

The Buffalo Bayou Park Shepherd to Sabine Project total is $56 million. Beyond the gift, Harris County Flood Control District has committed $5 million for channel restoration, and BBP is raising an additional $20 million for other improvements.

I plan to raise at least $1,000, as part of an effort by the BBP to come up with that additional $20 million. While my part is nominal in comparison, every bit counts.

I will gladly accept–and appreciate–your donation, no matter how small or large. You can donate by clicking here, a link that will take you to multiple giving options.

On a personal note, this is a cause dear to me and my wife, Emily. We strongly support the ongoing development of Houston’s parks, believing that this work by the BBP will help to secure the city’s place among the country's best in which to live and work. For more, you can read her blog, Bettering Our Bayou Trails, where she covered this very topic.

As for barefoot running, I’ve never tried it, but have owned a pair of Vibram Classics for a couple of years, kicking around in them only casually, and read the book Born to Run, which motivated me to give the method a go, despite the extra training and attention required.

Wish me–and my feet–Godspeed!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Destination Home

Photo: Per Foreby

"There's nothing half so pleasant as coming home again."  Margaret Elizabeth Sangster

I’m in transit today, hopping the pond to Cherryhurst from the UK following seven days outside of my comfort zone.

After consuming all the porridge (oatmeal), fish and chips, other “pub grub” and English ale I can stand, I’m pleased to report that my time was well spent for business as well as personal reasons.

I've moved around a bit in my days, leaning toward the adventurous side of travel when I can. A well traveled fellow – for my age, anyway, and by US standards certainly  I've been to roughly 35 countries for various lengths and circumstances in my 35 years.

While traveling (internationally, in particular) can be wearisome from start to finish, the view is usually worth the climb.

There is the heightened anticipation before leaving, a unique sensation upon arrival, and typically much to learn, culturally, in foreign settings – just a few motives for my continued enjoyment of travel.

The journey home – a traveler’s final destination – is as much agreeable as that which precedes it.

Usually haggard by this stage, I’m buzzing with energy (or is that espresso?), knowing that another peak was reached – and descended.

I’m enriched with what I saw and tasted, what I absorbed while on the road. I’m inspired by those I met, the lives they’re leading. I’m fortunate to know them, that we’re friends now.

As I make my way home, I’m reminded of where my boundaries are and when to be cautious not to cross them. I recognize a keener awareness of the areas in my life that deserve added attention and structure. Such is the life of an explorer, reaching new horizons.

Packed with perspective, I carry home a renewed sense of self-discovery.

Fulfilled, you might say, is how I approach my next destination: home.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Honest Reflection

Photo: Anders N.

"The unexamined life is not worth living." Socrates

This blog frequently serves as my vehicle for self-discovery and reflection.

I often take stock of life, mostly mine. If you’ve ever read the prose I post, you’re aware. I evaluate where I’ve been, where I’m going, how I’ve gotten here, how I’m getting there, and all things between.

Why do I do this, you ask?

Part of it, by blessing or curse, is that I’m wired with a philosophical mind. It’s also because I’m convicted that we get one shot to live life on earth, and there’s no sense in living it in any way but meaningfully.

I’m on a constant quest to improve my time here, and one way I do so is to reflect as often as I can.

Reflection may have many meanings, but I loosely interpret it to mean stopping between activities rather than moving from one to the other without awareness, be it at your desk, in your car or on your feet. Simply stated, it means taking a minute.

On this day, September 11, 2011, a particularly reflective one for my compatriots and me, I consider the importance of honest reflection. It is critically important in terms of linking the past to the future.


1. Allows for appreciation of accomplishment. Pausing to consider what was just done, especially if done well, akin to celebrating after a test or a project, is valuable simply for the sake of giving yourself deserved credit, even if on a small scale. Do it often.

2. Brings greater energy for future activity. Take time to consider what’s up next, rather than jumping right into it. Ask yourself first, how does what I’m about to do matter? It may be that you end up not even doing what you originally set out to do. Here’s the positive spin on that: The appropriate elimination of an activity may, in and of itself, be an accomplishment. Take credit.

Linking the past to the future through reflection increases our ability to focus on the present and offers more purpose to what we do.

Now my hope is that you have a chance to quietly reflect for a few minutes, appreciating your achievements and renewing the energy you need to do whatever you pursue next.

Give yourself the present.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Three Ps of Building Lasting and Meaningful Relationships

Photo: Ben Heine
“No road is long with good company” – Turkish Proverb

To some folks, the importance of connecting with people is readily apparent. They instinctively act to create relationships that will last a lifetime. To others, creating such connections is neither obvious nor interesting. They mind their business, tending to the relationships they already have, rarely initiating new ones.

I like to think that I am a relationship builder. This may be my strongest trait. I’m super passionate about building relationships and keeping my connections tight. Ultimately, the people with whom I have relationships make my world go round.

I have contemporaries who certainly have bigger networks than I do. They effortlessly move around town, working any given crowd on any given evening. I’m not that guy, nor would I be. It’s not my style.

My MO is different, centered on the tried and true: quality over quantity.

What I do is work to nurture my existing relationships, while reaching beyond my comfort zone to form new ones when I can. Not hurried, but methodological.

I don’t waste my time networking without reason. I like to get to know a person well enough to understand how I might be able to help him or her, and vice versa.

This may sound direct, but it’s the truth, and why waste anyone’s time? A shotgun approach to networking is fine if you’re looking for free food and drink, but building lasting relationships with purpose is where the value lies.

I'm proud of my relationships, because they take effort to develop. I protect them, because they are genuine and established with trust.

Over time, I’ve built an active and diverse set of connections. They are arguably my most valuable asset. There is no science behind this build-up. Simply put, it is taking the time to get to know people. There is an art form, however, in knowing how to bring your connections to bear, making them count when the time is right.

How I build lasting and meaningful relationship can be framed into three Ps:

1. Positive. In everything I do, this blog included, I try to be upbeat and maintain a positive view of the world. This is my rule number one, which becomes incredibly important when building and nurturing relationships. Who wants to hang with Negative Nancy? I know I don’t. If people see that you’re happy, you've taken the first step to attract them into your sphere of influence. Now smile.

2. Purposeful. You must want to build relationships. If you have the bug, then the rest is easy. Building relationships is something I love to do. Early in life, I was less targeted in how I did so. There was nothing harmful about this approach, but while my intentions were good my execution was not. I met a lot of people, but the relationships, because there was often no inherent reason to form them, didn’t last. They yielded less value for me and others. These days, as my purpose becomes clearer to me in the context of my career and life pursuits, the meaning behind my relationships does as well. This bodes well for me and my contacts.

3. Personal. Definitely. Although I’m a notoriously late adopter of the latest and greatest technology, I do like and attempt to understand it as much as the next guy. I believe that technology is a net benefit to humankind, and there is no exception when it comes to building and maintaining relationships. However, to build deep relationships, technology is not the only facilitator. It is less personal than face-to-face interaction. Sure, I can catch you and half the working world online via instant message if I really want to. But I’d prefer to have coffee with you in a comfortable setting to understand how your and my missions can get aligned.

Meaningful relationships are built to last, and one CEO says they can take two to three years to develop before bearing fruit. I cherish my relationships. I look forward to nurturing them for years to come, and to forging new ones.

How do you view your relationships? Are you sizing them up wisely, asking, am I perceived as a positive person? Am I networking purposefully? Am I personally interacting with people, or am I doing so via the latest application?

Whatever your answers, consider connecting with others in a more lasting and meaningful way.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Finding Flow

(Photo: Susan Stroup)
Gaining satisfaction in work isn’t easy. Learning to love what you do is less easy. But there are ways to move in a positive direction, playing well the cards you’re dealt, and enjoying what you do every day.

Flow, initially proposed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (What a last name!), is the ultimate form of satisfaction. Defined as the “mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity,” flow is achieved when you make the best of a situation, are ready, and fire on all cylinders when it is your time.

People may witness flow watching professional sports. As a kid, I watched Michael Jordan in his prime, and I remember him regularly finding flow, often in the most critical of circumstances. It was amazing.

Writers and other creative types often experience flow during work sessions. Listening to accomplished writers describe periods of high-gear productivity gets my juices going, no doubt.

Flow is not just for yogis, professional athletes and novelists. You can reach a state of flow in anything you do. It can be found no matter your work–whether you are dedicated to a corporation (like me) or out there swinging for the fences on your own. But getting there requires work and discipline.

When I reach states of flow in my life, it's worth writing home about.

Here’s my recipe for finding flow:

1. Light a fire in the belly. I don’t know who lit a fire in mine, but I’m glad to have one and know that it burns bright. Every morning, I take a few puffs from my pipe of gusto, and get after living.

2. Seek passion. This is ongoing in my life. The thought of doing what I love moves me to no end. In my wallet, I carry a quote from Steve Ballmer, Chief Executive of Microsoft. In his commencement speech to the students of this year’s graduating class at the University of Southern California, Ballmer said: “People think that passion is something you either have or you don’t. People think passion is something that has to manifest itself in some kind of explosive and emotional format. It’s not. It’s the thing in your life that you can care about, that you can cling to, that you can invest yourself in–heart, body and soul. Finding passion is kind of your job now.”

3. Explore other professions. You may have the greatest job in the world (or so you think), but that shouldn’t prevent you from noticing other ways of working. If you’re not looking at what others are doing, you may not fully comprehend your own situation. Interview, set up breakfasts or beers, whatever, just understand what your peers and friends are doing in their work. Observing what others do helps me to grasp how what I do fits into the larger marketplace.

4. Fail and forget. As one of my mentors told me, “There’s no such thing as failure, only feedback.” Failing to get into a certain school or land that “perfect” job can be painful, shameful and even humiliating. I know. But what I’ve found through failing, and have many times over, is that in hindsight, doing so only builds you up for your next set of challenges. In the words of Winston Churchill, “Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” Don’t fear failure.

5. Improve the situation. Like they say about the weather in many places, “If you don’t like it, wait a few minutes.” The atmosphere of work, like anything in life, will ebb and flow. If you’re stuck in a rut, start climbing out of it. If your work situation is truly horrible, then it’s time for change. Tweak as you go.

6. Commit to something with total focus. This is where the magic happens and mojo finds its way into the workplace. If you can find something that interests you, whether a corporate project, a non-profit service or an entrepreneurial endeavor, take on the challenge. If you’re committed, you will find victory and satisfaction. As written in one of my favorite reads, The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

7. Work with good people. Build networks, work with people who have values similar to yours, hang around those you respect and who can teach you. Period.

8. Meditate. Try it, if you haven’t. No need to dress like Gandhi, or or even sit cross-legged. Find your breath above all else. I recently read that Gary Player, one of the world’s greatest golfers, now 75, meditates for 20 to 30 minutes every day. "I think it’s important to work on strength of mind, patience and gratitude," he says. All goodness.

9. Change. We all get burnt out. Realize when your flame is low, and address it. Recharge your batteries. You will benefit in the long run. Life is a series of experiences, and the more experiences you have, the better your chances of being satisfied when you reflect at the end of the line.

10. Let go. “Let it flow; Let yourself go,” is the opening line of Slow and Low by The Beastie Boys. Look it, we all want to control our situations. But we can’t. By letting go, we can begin to enjoy what’s given to us on a daily basis. It’s a gift, and by realizing that simple fact, we don’t have to be Michael Jordan to find flow. We can create our own situations to experience it.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Another Way to Look at Unfamiliarity: An Adventure

Photo: Butch Osborne
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost

With summer now fully in flight, many of us are taking time off to travel, and in some cases, escape the heat. Just returned from a trip myself, I’m contemplating the virtues of both travel and adventure, and how following the unfamiliar path will often lead to a positive outcome.

Let me first define what I mean by travel, and how my perspective of it relates to adventure: My family didn’t vacation regularly when I was growing up. It just wasn’t part of our program. So over the years, my concept of travel has evolved into more of an exercise in exploration and adventure than a relax-on-the-beach, Corona-style vacation. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I could literally spend half the year traveling. I thoroughly enjoy diving into a new cultural setting, sampling new food and drink, learning new customs and spending time with the locals of any given place. To that end, travel has always been a unique form of adventure for me, and it’s by traveling that I’ve learned to reach beyond my comfort zone and experience true adventure.

My curious and independent nature has led me to take an on-the-ground interest in life outside of the United States. My first such international foray came in 1995, at age nineteen, when a friend from high school, who was drafted to play semi-pro basketball in Puerto Rico, asked me to join him for the summer (after our freshman year in college), and I opted to go.

It was an unusual choice to make at the time, but I wanted the change in scenery. In retrospect, I'm glad I went, because the experience provided a chance for me to build inner fortitude.

Within a week, I found a job as a bartender in Ponce, a quaint city on the south side of the island. Let me tell you, there are not many better experiences than finding a job – and facing some healthy rejection before actually landing it – in a city outside of your own.

The experience I gained that summer was useful, providing lessons by which I still benefit today, not the least of which is a sense of satisfaction gained in facing and working through uncertainty.

I underwent a similar experience in 1999, after graduating from college. Upon the recommendation of a friend who knew I had an interest in sharpening my skills around the Spanish language, I left for Santiago, Chile, again not yet employed. I knew one person who was willing to show me the ropes, and that was all I needed.

Within two weeks, I had a position with a then-fledgling company, which served as my employer for the next eighteen months. This was another instance where, by making an unconventional decision, the outcome was unforeseen, yet desirable.

In neither case did I make a ton of money, but both experiences came during periods of life when my financial obligations were few. The time I spent stretching beyond my comfort zone would be difficult to measure monetarily, but worth every minute in terms of personal growth and development. Each contributed to who I am today. With a small amount of perseverance and a little risk, I became comfortable with operating in an unfamiliar environment.

By using these previous experiences as well as taking examples from others who have been influential in my life, I constantly remind myself to equally consider the uncertain over the comfortable when making choices. I view the unfamiliar situation as an opportunity to grow, and it is when such unfamiliarity is introduced that life becomes interesting and adventurous.

Adventure doesn’t always mean jumping from an airplane or climbing a 14,000-foot mountain. Whether journeying abroad or simply staying home, we can find adventure in everyday life. We’re all routinely faced with decisions that have no certain answer. Life is not smooth sailing. It's how we respond that matters.

I like to subscribe to a description of adventure provided by self-proclaimed adventurer Lane Wallace.

Adventure, in short, is what happens anytime I step out of routine and comfort into a place where my footing is a little uncertain, the outcome is a little unpredictable, but the possibilities are suddenly wide open.

There’s nothing wrong with taking the well-worn path, there’s a time and place for that, but I’ve realized that pursuing the unfamiliar route has its rewards. Trust your instincts, and the situation will almost always work to your favor.

Consider the unconventional choice when making your next decision. It’s not always the easiest route, but often the most fulfilling.

Safe travels, and enjoy the adventure!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Finisher's Tri

Four months ago to the day, I published Beginner’s Tri, my intention to make a go at an Olympic triathlon. Today’s post is a follow-up to the former.

I won’t get into too many details of the event itself, as Emily surprised me with a fantastic photo-video capturing the experience of that morning. You can give it a look-listen here. Enjoy.

I want to share a half-dozen lessons learned in my preparing forand finishingthe CapTexTri.*

Lesson 1 – Don’t buy your bike, if you can get around it. If your race is local and there is no need to travel and pay for accommodations, your bike will probably be the biggest expense you incur. Did I pay for mine? Not exactly. A buddy called one morning early this year to let me know that he owed me. Yep, I introduced him to another buddy some time ago, and these two guys had since done a deal together. The bike ended up being an unexpected token of appreciation. Time to click into those pedals and ride!

Lesson 2 – Find a training regimen and take shortcuts. There are many parallels between a busy life and a triathlon. I won’t lie, I live a busy life. I’m not alone, many of us do. If you find yourself darting from one place to the next accomplishing this, that and the other and striking tasks from your to-do list, you more or less know the feeling of full-on triathlon training. It takes organization, focus and execution.

Ideally, you lay out a plan, and you work the plan day by day. Things happen, though, and the plan gets compromised. This happened to me. Well, what really happened is that I found a workout groove that worked for my schedule and felt good enough, so I shifted into cruise control. Good enough barely cuts it in the world of triathlons.

"No victor believes in chance." – Friedrich Nietzsche

I stated from the outset that I never intended to win the race, just finish it. In truth, I expected to do better than I did. Improvement can be made in leading up to my next Olympic, whenever that may be. For starters, I can sharpen my approach to preparation. Shortcuts are okay, if designed for efficiency. Mine were not and came from apathy. This shows in my time of 3:10.

Lesson 3 – Don’t underestimate the Texas heat; it will only make the race longer. I felt the presence of breathtaking heat (and warm wind with it) in Austin on Memorial Day.

Football coaches, when their teams are practicing for an away game in a stadium where a rambunctious crowd is expected to cheer, will play loud noises so players can get used to calling plays in those conditions. I could’ve employed a similar tactic, only for the opponent of temperature in this case, but I didn’t. In my training, I typically waited for the coolest time in the evening to hit it, and this, too, affected my time.

Lesson 4 – Just finish. This was the goal after all. Like so many things, easier said than done. During the race, I hit a wall in mile four of the run. Bam… It slowed me in a way I had never experienced, and I began to walk, in spite of the chocolate-flavored energy gel I downed. The race got longer, and I was served humble pie for the last two miles, running some but walking mostly. I stripped my drenched shirt, and felt somewhat better.

“Experience the journey,” I kept telling myself.

An equivalent in time to one showing of Dances with Wolves after the starter’s gun fired, I hobbled across the finish line in my own personal glory and with a newfound addiction.

Given the weather conditions, I wasn’t displeased with my time, but I can do better, and that strive is what will eventually draw me back into an Olympic to tweak where I can. I now know what I didn’t know before the race; that is, I can complete a triathlon of this length from end-to-end.

(Photo: Emily Covey)
Lesson 5 – Celebrate, after the race. This part comes naturally to most of us. Regardless of outcome, it’s impossible to change what we’ve done after the fact. We do what we do as well as we can, lay it out there, and then move onward. My kind of celebration: a tasty hamburger, a Pecan Porter made by local brewing company 512, and a vanilla milkshake, at a table with a built-in fan base of my wife, my mom, and my aunt/godmother.

(Photo: Emily Covey)
Lesson 6 – Take a rest, but not for too long. After the race and victory meal, I was subjected to a deep slumber. Ah, recovery is bliss – but it didn’t last long. We returned to Houston that evening. By Wednesday, I had signed up for another Sprint, scheduled for later this summer.

All levity aside, a final note from the Future Mayor: This “triathlonic adventure,” as one friend termed it, was a blast. I loved it from start to finish. The heat and wind were a bitch, but not an extreme one. To any goal-oriented type with triathlons on his mind, go for it! Check out; there are several to “tri.”

See you in the water and on the road!

*Disclaimer: There is no guarantee these lessons will lead to completion of triathlons of any distance.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Question of Why: A Blog with Purpose

Why do I do what I do? I have been asking this of myself before approaching any meaningful labor over the last few weeks.

My initial motivation for asking “why” stems from watching Simon Sinek’s TedTalk, How great leaders inspire action. I was further motivated in reading a timely post by Scott Dinsmore, who apparently met Sinek and came away inspired to reinforce his revolutionary path to personal freedom. On with the chain reaction….

If you watch Sinek’s talk, you will grasp his basic message: By understanding and conveying why (we do what we do), we inspire action. Action on the part of our audience, our customers, whoever it is we intend to pull into our cause. In short, this is what great leaders do. Inspiring leaders start with why.

This post is dedicated to the question of why, specifically as it pertains to my blog. I could obviously choose to explore other current areas of my life (e.g., work or triathlon training), but will save those for another day. I’ve been curious to understand the value of blogging anyhow; hence, the focus for this exercise.

(Photo: Mike Licht)

Now that I have identified my activity, let’s get on with it. Why do I publish this blog?

1. To improve my writing—It’s not easy for me to write; it never has been. It takes time to post content of quality. It takes thoughtfulness and consideration of a readership, both regular and potential. But I enjoy it. There is a strong sense of continual improvement in writing that is gratifying to me.

I believe that effective written communication is as essential as ever before. Although diluted perhaps in the digital era, the importance of writing is not gone. Nor is it just for non-business types: one read-through of Jaime Dimon’s latest letter to J.P. Morgan's shareholders (of which I am not) provides proof to that end.

Anne Lamott, author of the superb book on writing, Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, writes, "If you are a writer, or want to be a writer, this is how you spend your days – listening, observing, storing things away, making your isolation pay off. You take home all you've taken in, all that you've overheard, and you turn it into gold. (Or at least you try.)" Readers, this is true.

2. To chronicle life events—Weblogs, like so many things in life, are me-focused by nature, and mine is no exception. If I don't watch myself, my posts can quickly become “dear diary” sessions.

Although I'm fortunate to have had many unique experiences in my life, through travel and curious living and whatnot, I’ve never been one to snap a lot of photos, usually relying on memory to carry worthy moments into perpetuity.  This blog, however, is the place to not only capture experiences, but also enhance them—a definite improvement upon my memory! Since kicking off FMOC in 2009, I've shared roughly 40 entries.

3. To discover and create—I’m always willing to try new things, and this blog is an example of that willingness. Blogging has become my creative outlet, just as yours might be playing the banjo or painting a picture. The process of observation and regurgitation, although rigorous at times, is rewarding to me.

4. To add color to my corner—FMOC covers a miscellany of topics. I'd like to think that I’m performing  an act of greater goodness with it, but come on, that's a mighty bite to chew. This blog is for me. It is about making my little corner of the universe more fun and interesting. If I can provide content which is relevant to others now and again, that's time well spent. Inspirational... well, that's a bonus.

5. To inspire and teach—This is my reach: if I can give people ways to solve problems, to think creatively, or in the case of this post, to get inspired into action, I've gotten all I want and more from FMOC.

Here's the deal: I want to improve my ability to convey my experiences and perspectives so that they can be useful to others. I admire people who clearly communicate subjects, no matter the audience. It's a gift that few have.

I have grown (if I may be the judge) in my ability to write. FMOC is living proof. I'm not a writer, but in a sense, I'm becoming one. My hope is that eventually, in a way not yet visualized, this blog can become a vehicle for effective teaching (not professing!). I have a vision that life lessons can spring and flow from FMOC, and that these lessons will serve as a source of material from which others can draw and apply productively.

This is why I blog.

My immediate hope is that this post will be of use to you, and that you may incorporate a similar process of discovery by asking yourself the same question: why do you do what you do?

Here’s the process for uncovering the answer to your why, simply put:

1. Get started by picking an activity to which you devote time and energy. This could be your job, own company, or a hobby about which you feel passionate.

2. Ask yourself the question, why do I do what I do? And so it all begins, your inspiring others into action. To my knowledge, there’s no formal format for how to answer the question (at least not in this case). I chose to keep a list, because that’s how I tend to do things.

3. Feel free to share why you do what you do in the comments section of this post.

What is your purpose, cause or belief? Have I prompted you to consider the why of what you do?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

35 of My Favorite Things

With flipped burgers among family and a few friends, my 35th birthday came and went in March. As this milestone year passes, I catch myself reflecting now and again on certain aspects of life.

At the risk of exposing myself, I’m sharing 35 of my favorite things. Most of these I take for granted.

Simply put, these make life worth living. As with anything finite, this list is not all-inclusive—but it is thematic, and I like that. Plus, I had to set a limit somehow.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Here goes, in random order:

1. Texas—I’m a proud (not loud) Texan. The Lone Star State, all 268,820 square miles of it, provides the best of nature, people and tradition. It is a state of mind.

2. Books—My preference is the traditional sort over an e-reader, although I’m boycotting the library indefinitely, after being forced to pay for a recent checkout on account of water damage. I prefer reading a book over watching TV any day.

3. US Craft Beer—Have you been to your beer store lately? There are more unique and independent beers available now than ever. They come in several varieties—Wild Ale, Double IPA and Imperial Stout, to name a few. If you drink beer, drink better beer.

4. Habanos Montecristos—A close friend once introduced me to Montecristo No. 4, a fine smoke indeed. If a No. 2 is offered, I’m not afraid to notch it up a couple of gauges.

5. Coffee—I enjoy a strong cup of java nearly every morning. I like a medium blend, from a French press if time permits (usually on Saturdays). If an espresso fits into my afternoon schedule, I might take advantage.

6. Cooking—When I have time to prep accordingly, I love to cook—especially for my wife. I don’t mind doing it on a whim, either, but I enjoy the process as much as the result.

7. Cultures—I embrace new cultures. My first immersive “cultural experience” came from behind the bar during the summer of ’95 in Puerto Rico. Payment for my efforts came largely in the form of the island’s finest rum, Don Q. It was the experience that mattered.

8. Language—I speak Spanish and Portuguese. There’s no better way to get to know people than by speaking their native tongue. It’s an instant “conversation starter.”

9. Entrepreneurship—To some extent, we are all entrepreneurs. In my view, we ought to focus on bringing value to the table, no matter where we’re seated.

10. Intense Exercise—I like a mix of exercise and squeeze in a workout whenever I can. Let’s call it stress relief. Since I’m currently training for a triathlon, it’s critical right now.

11. Adventurous Travel—The more unplanned, the better. It’s amazing what we can experience without plans, which is not easy for a planner like me.

12. Faith—I have it and am grateful for the gift of a being spiritually centered. Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)

13. Farmers Markets—It’s been positive to witness this scene develop in Houston. I’ve been a patron-advocate of farmers markets for years. Fresh and local food beats all other.

14. Getting Inspired, Inspiring—I’m always seeking inspiration, and when I find it, I pass it along to others. Case in point, watch this inspirational video of a dude on his orange bike.

15. Homemade Brownies—I’m happy to cook them, preferably without nuts.

16. Independent Radio—Radio remains an important medium. One way to get a feel for a city is to listen to its community radio station(s). Here are a few online standouts: KXT, KUT and WXPN.

17. Interesting People—I love to meet people, and feed off of those taking their lives in interesting directions. I don’t know who said it, but I like it: “Strangers are friends you have yet to meet.”

18. Lifelong Learning—I have three degrees, and while it’s unlikely that I’ll earn another, my personal learning curve is progressively steepening. Knowledge is a powerful asset.

19. Live Music—I have been to many a memorable show. The Grateful Dead in Memphis. Buena Vista Social Club in Santiago. Doing nothing with live music in the background is preferable to doing anything else without it.

20. Yerba Mate—Okay, so you can tell I like caffeine. This stimulant from the land of Latin America is oh so refreshing—and better for you than coffee, I’m sure.

21. Road Trips—Modern day roaming. The most out of the ordinary road trip I ever took was in Morocco. Emily and I took a scenic one to West Texas and back to Houston last fall. Have a look for yourself.

22. Swimming—Morning swims are the best, right out of bed. I like Barton Springs Pool. I love the Pacific Ocean.

23. Smoothies—Every morning, if not traveling, I make a smoothie for Emily and me. She calls me the Smoothie Operator, and I’m fine with that. There’s not much more nutritious than beginning a day with almond milk, banana, açaí and seasonal fruits. I recommend it.

24. Playing Catch—Give me a ball to throw and go deep.

25. Time Well Spent—Whether it’s being productive in work or looking back on a vacation day with satisfaction, time is your nonrenewable resource. Don’t waste it.

26. Vanilla Ice Cream—This speaks to my personality to a certain degree. While I like color, and lots of it, I myself am rather plain. No high fructose corn syrup, please.

27. Emily—I’m luckier than she is, I’ll put it that way.

28. Working Remotely—I’m fortunate to work for a leading-edge company that manages its oceanic workforce as masterfully as any. There are times when it’s considered efficient and productive to work from the virtual office. On rare occasions, I work in shorts.

29. Writing—To borrow a line from a fellow Texan, Willie Nelson: “I like myself better when I'm writing regularly.” It’s healthy for me, too, Willie.

30. Yoga—Once per week, if I can get there. I could tell where it is I go, but then I'd have to kill you, and that wouldn't be yogi-like. Once on the mat, my priorities promptly fall into order. Breathe.

31. Deep Friendships—I think my personality comes across as introverted at first. But more often than not, when I get to know someone, we become good friends.

32. Steak—Ribeye, New York Strip, you name it, particularly when I’m manning the fire. Try this way to grill a ribeye.

33. Granola—Maybe my last meal request. Don’t ask me why. It tastes great to me, and always has. A large bowl of granola makes a delightful snack.

34. The City by the Bay—As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m a city guy, and my favorite among them all might be San Francisco. On a pretty day, there’s no place prettier.

35. Peanut Butter—Another fulfilling snack. I like to have a spoonful, sometimes before I go to bed.

However far along you are in life, I suggest performing the exercise I did above. It won’t take as long as you think (particularly without descriptions). Another Willie quote may best summarize why you should consider it: “When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.”

I’m not suggesting that my life needs a turnaround. It’s not perfect. Nobody’s is. But it’s on a straight enough track for me.

I believe that knowing who you are, what makes you tick and why, will lead to a pleasant life – not only for yourself but for those closest to you, too. If nothing else, creating a modicum of consistency between who we think we are and who others think we are can eliminate a certain amount of stress we place on ourselves by trying to be someone we’re not.

Buena suerte. Boa Sorte. Good luck.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Talk To Me, TED.

If you haven’t heard of TED by now, you need to get with it.

TEDx, a localized version in cities across the world, is taking place in Houston for the second time this June.

Just before bedtime tonight I went online for details and saw that, in order to attend the event, one must complete a full-on application. Great, just what I need, more reason to stay up late when I shouldn't. I was all over it.

As the clock struck midnight, I submitted my completed form to the website. Soon after, I'm posting its contents below. I welcome your thoughts.

Event Questionnaire

The following questions will help us understand the TEDxHouston audience, and your perspective on the 2011 theme. Where do we go from here?

Where are your roots and where are you planting your seeds? *
Tell us a bit about where you grew up, and something about your heritage.

I am a fourth generation Houstonian (prouder by the day!) and was raised in the west part of the city (Memorial). I attended University of Texas at Austin, earning an advertising degree. I spent every college summer outside of Texas (in order, Puerto Rico, Colorado, Spain/Europe and California).

After college, I lived in Chile and Brazil, working for a start-up, internet-based news agency and fiddling with an e-commerce endeavor for a total of two years. I then earned a dual degree MBA/Masters in International Management from the University of Houston and Thunderbird. I speak Spanish and Portuguese.

Today, I work for Accenture full-time and am otherwise constantly looking for projects consistent with my passions--like this blog, which gets touched up every so often.

My wife of three years (also a native, also a blogger!) and I live in a 1920-built bungalow-style home in Montrose. I ran my first Houston Half Marathon in January and am doing the CapTexTri in Austin on May 30.

Tell us about your hidden gem in Houston, a place that you find inspiring *
Describe the location and the reasons you picked it.

The neighborhood where I grew up (Sandalwood) and the neighborhood where we live now (Cherryhurst) are inspiring places which I would consider hidden. Each is different in its own way. Sandalwood has three lakes, and Cherryhurst has its own city park with a tennis court. Both have beautiful trees, friendly neighbors and make for safe walking at night.

How would you like to see your city change in the next 10 years? *
Name some of the ideal changes you imagine.

Houston should take its strength of attracting new people to the next level. The city's diverse population is an indescribable asset and can continue to grow as it has in the past or shrink as is the case in other cities, especially those in the northern US.

It should be the endless strive of city leaders to make the city as livable as possible for those who come here to earn a living. People come because they have to and they will stay here because they want to.

We must maintain our economic strength to attract talent. To put the city on par with the great cities of the world and continually retain talent, we must make the urban areas of the city more attractive places to be and generally enjoy. We are not there yet, but we are taking long strides. For a current example of how this is happening, look to the Buffalo Bayou Partnership and its beautification initiatives to improve the looks and usability along our city's bayous.

Name an international city you would love to visit in the future *
Describe your favorite place in the world, and the reasons why.

Is this a trick? An international city I would love to visit and my favorite place may not be the same, so I will take the middle path. A city where I have lived and that I like a lot is Sao Paulo. Day to day, I’m a city guy, and I like Sao Paulo because it is a city among cities. It is monstrous and diverse. (To my knowledge, there are more Japanese people outside of Japan in Sao Paulo than any other place. Fact check, please!)

It is not pretty (even on its best day) and always frenetic, but if you know where you are going and dig the culture, you can find remarkable gems everywhere. Its restaurants are truly outstanding, especially if you’re hungry for beef or pizza (or both). There is no better nightlife than that of "Sampa."

Describe your solution to a pressing issue in your community *
Pick any problem you can imagine and describe how you would solve it in an ideal situation.

An argument that I hear a few times a week these days revolves around public schools. This isn’t an issue isolated to Houston, but it seems to be more problematic here than in other cities.

Our inner city school system seems to be lacking to no end. People often either move out to suburbs for improved public education or stay closer to downtown but send their kids to private school.

I have read about private programs, like KIPP Academy, founded by entrepreneurs in Houston no less, which are delivering positive change and worth our support.

(Note: Minor revisions were made between the online application and this post.)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Beginner's Tri

“If the mind can believe it, the body can achieve it.” – Unknown

I won’t even try to fool you. I’ve never done a triathlon. But I’m gearing up for a “tri” that takes place on May 30, and barring injury or anything unforeseen, I expect to cross the finish line on that day.

A victory for me, simply stated: finish.

So, why a tri? Why now? I'll give you three reasons:

1. I turn 35 in March – a milestone age for me, and I want it to be a monumental year;

2. I finished the Houston Half Marathon last Sunday, so the juices are flowing and I’m feeling it; and,

3. There’s no time like the present to check a box on your bucket list.

(Me, Smiling briefly at Mile 8 of the Houston Half Marathon; courtesy of Emily Covey)
Over the last week, I’ve done a number of things to get myself focused for the next four months:

Built a basic level of knowledge about triathlons – I read a post at Zen Habits, which kept me in the active spirit and contains useful tri-related information, as well as a few links to online resources. There are essentially four types of tris:

• 500-800 yards of swimming (pool or lake)
• 12-15 miles of biking
• 5K, or 3.1 miles of running

International (Olympic)
• 1650 yards of swimming (lake, ocean)
• 25-30 miles of biking
• 10K, or 6.2 miles of running

Half Ironman
• 1.2 miles (2,200 yards) of swimming (lake, ocean)
• 56 miles of biking
• 13.1 miles of running

• 2.4 miles (4,400 yards) of swimming
• 112 miles of biking
• 26.2 miles of running

Registered (early) for the big event – My money is out the door, and I’m signed up for the International (Olympic) distance CapTexTri. Total cost: $153. Included is a $10 fee for USA Triathlon (USAT), required for all non-members participating. (Note: entering triathlons is not a cheap endeavor, especially when you add in the accessories involved.)

Joined a gym – In October of last year, the new Tellepsen YMCA opened in downtown Houston. That is where I plan to get my swim training done. I read somewhere that appropriately training for a triathlon could eat up as much as one hour per day. While this may be true, it sounds like a lot to me. I figure I’m in decent enough shape now to cut that down, making refinements where necessary. I’ll have an online exercise log up at some point soon. Until then, I plan to track my routine with pen and paper. A la Peter Drucker, "What gets measured gets managed." I’ve looked at a few training plans posted on Tri-Newbies Online and will identify and tweak one for my own use by the end of this weekend.

Found a training partner – I got word yesterday that one of my friends of forever committed to do the race with me. He did the same triathlon last year and knows the drill. The best part: he's an orthopedic surgeon. (Hey, you never know!) In the process of searching for someone, I discovered quite a subculture of people who regularly participate in triathlons. I can think of worse habits.

Bought a bike and swimming gear – After just running 13.1 miles, I have what I need to run six. The real equipment comes in the way of a bicycle, and not just any. If you want to reach speeds of better than 20 miles per hour, you need one that is aerodynamic and will move for you without too much effort expended. Looking around, I promptly stoked the debate among riders of whether to buy a tri-specifc bike or a typical road bike. Tri bikes are designed to reserve your legs (quads, especially) for the run that follows the ride. I chose to keep it typical. My selection: a Specialized Allez. It is a beauty. I made the purchase at West End Bikes, an exceptional shop with a knowledgeable and helpful staff, if you’re in Houston and in the market for one. A tight, butt-padded pair of riding shorts is not required, but I plan to sport some for increased comfort.  A protective helmet and a pair of toe-clip shoes are also on my road to the finish line. As for swimming stuff, there is more to it than you might imagine: goggles and a suit for training, both of which I picked up at Tri On The Run. The goggles I bought came highly recommended and are made by AquaSphere. The key is to avoid, at all costs, water seeping into your eyes. A wetsuit is evidently useful for the CapTexTri (for speed and warmth). I don't have one, so I’ll need to somehow sort that out before the starting gun fires. According USAT, there is a unique rule (4.4) around wetsuits in triathlons, which I find interesting:

Wet suits. Each age group participant shall be permitted to wear a wet suit without penalty in any event sanctioned by USA Triathlon up to and including a water temperature of 78 degrees Fahrenheit. When the water temperature is greater than 78 degrees, but less than 84 degrees Fahrenheit, age group participants may wear a wet suit at their own discretion, provided however that participants who wear a wet suit within this temperature range shall not be eligible for prizes or awards. Age group participants shall not wear wet suits in water temperatures equal to or greater than 84 degrees Fahrenheit. The wetsuit policy for elite athletes shall be determined by the USAT Athletes Advisory Council. The AAC has set the wetsuit maximum temperature for elite/pros at 68 degrees for swim distances less than 3000 meters and 71.6 degrees for distances of 3000 meters or greater. Effective January 1, 2013, any swimmer wearing a wetsuit with a thickness measured in any part greater than 5 millimeters shall be disqualified.

Pledged to eat and drink right – Nutrition is the final aspect of training that I'll keep in mind. To the extent that I can, I'll stay away from useless sugar and employ, as much as possible, a diet rich in energy to burn efficiently.

If you know anything about triathlons and care to share, drop a line in the comments section below. I’ll provide an update now and again on how the training is going and definitely one after I finish. 

With that, on this clear Saturday, it is time to start training – it is all about the bike today.

Fun facts about triathlons:

• The first modern swim/bike/run event to be called a 'triathlon' was held at Mission Bay, San Diego, California, on September 25, 1974. (Source: Wikipedia).

• On average, triathletes are from high socio-economic backgrounds with median incomes of $126,000. (Source: August, 2010 USAT Demographic Study)

• Brick training refers to training on two disciplines during the same workout, one after the other with minimal or no interruption in between, just as you would do in a race. (Source: