Where’s your net?

I recently watched a man leave the comfortably safe confines of his airplane at 25,000 feet and sans a parachute or wing suit, fall freakishly fast to the earth below.  (See: YouTube “Heaven Sent”)  Spoiler alert: he survived.  As incredible as it may sound, he manipulated his fall ending safely in a net waiting to catch him.  Not discounting his skill in any imagination of the mind, he knew where his net was.

Is he a risk taker or a daredevil? I suspect he is a bit of both.  He scienced the hell out of his stunt to reduce the risk but his risk level remained so high that he likewise qualifies as a daredevil.  But at he end of the fall, he knew he had that net.

If I asked you if you were a risk taker, you might say yes but many would answer the question with a firm no.  Here’s the catch.  We are all risk takers, its just the degree of risk that differentiates us.  Now I would never perform the stunt previously mentioned but I do take risks.  We all get up every morning, go out into the world  and interface with dozens or maybe even hundreds of people throughout the day, many that we don’t know and may only meet this once.  Is this a risk?  I would say yes.  How do we handle the risk?  By knowing where our nets are.

Our nets may be financial.  We save up for the rainy day and if we have done a good job, we can afford a few treats because we know our financial net is in place.  They may be emotional.  We judge our ability to handle stress and then build in our safety net to release that stress.  A vacation may serve as that emotional safety net.  And then they may be physical in the sense that they are people we trust to be there for us when we need them the most.  There is no risk we cannot handle if we know we have a safety net in place to catch us if we fall.

My safety net is my family and my coworkers.  My coworkers keep me sane when the stress of the job would leave me paralyzed.  They are there to pitch in or just to listen.  My family exists as the success of the risks I have chosen to take.  They are my emotional safety net.  I know that no matter what I try, that if I were to fail, their love and support would get me through.

We all take risks everyday of our lives.  They may not be of the daredevil variety but they are risks none the less. Whether they are physical or emotional we simply need to know where the net is.  Know where your net is and then dare to live every day to its fullest. Because that’s what nets are for.

Why is it so hard to take my own advice?

I have spent a large portion of my career convincing people that they can retire, be happy and have purpose.  I even developed a process to tackle the emotion of retiring.  I call it the three “tions”.  If you will follow these three elements, you will move effortlessly into your retirement.  The first “tion” is “vacation”.  You need to make the first phase in retirement a vacation.  Vacations take us away from work and free our minds, but more importantly, they end.  That they end is important because if they didn’t you could waste away on vacation somewhere and believe me, this will eventually get old if not dangerous.

The second “tion” is “obligation” as in it no longer exists, at least not in the sense it did when you had an employer to satisfy.  You are now free to say yes to what you want to do and no to those things that no longer interest you or warrant your time.  You can say yes to things you enjoy doing and you don’t even need to require payment.  You are on your time now and no one can require you to punch the clock.

The final “tion” is “passion”.  This one is the critical element of retirement.  It is important that you identify your passion.  In retirement you now have all the time you allow yourself to follow and live your passion.  This element is often the hardest one for retirees to grasp.  The problem is that they confuse it with WHAT they did in their career as opposed to WHY they did.  When I address this passion with my clients they often tell me they did what they did for the money.  I will tell you that even if you think that was the why, it isn’t.  If it was, you would have been changing careers continually.  The fact that you didn’t change careers is testament to the passion that defined you in that career.  I ask them to think of a day that was outstanding.  You came home full of purpose, walking on air.  What was it that you did that day?  How did you do that and why did it feel so special?  Your passion lies in the answers.  Let’s say you were a nurse.  On that extraordinary day, what were you doing?  Were you holding someones hand, calming their fears?  Then volunteer to help people face and understand their fears.  Were you successfully getting someone to meet their exit goals?  (read my blog “The Healing Process”)  Then put yourself in a position to help people complete projects or tasks they are struggling with.  Please understand, I didn’t say this was easy, I said it was important.  To identify your passion is one thing, and remember it is a process not an action, but to find an outlet can be daunting.  Just don’t give up.  We all have something that fulfills us.  Finding a way to express it gives us purpose.  Purpose keeps us moving.

So this brings me back to the question I posed in my title.  If I can explain this so well, and with pretty good success, why is it so hard for me to heed my own advice.  I am good with the vacation and I am excited about the no obligation.  I even understand my passion.  I know that I am most purposed when I am in discussion with others helping them to resolve issues.  I am a problem solver.  I need simply to step over that line in the sand I drew so many years ago.  But my feet seem frozen.

I need to confront my fears.  Can I follow through on my passion, to be disciplined enough to take the steps.  Can I separate myself from my clients, especially when I enjoy their conversations.  Will I miss my coworkers and the sense of being useful, maybe even needed.  Will my wife be able to deal with me under her feet 24-7.  I have come to the realization that advice is easy to give but quite difficult to follow.

If you were hoping for a conclusion, I must apologize.  You will need to stay tuned as I get nearer to that line in the sand.  In the meantime, I will review my “tions” and in time I believe I will come to own them.  And then the line in the sand will fade behind me.

Angels Among Us

It had started out like any other trip.  The plethora of planning items to check off, airfare, hotel, rental car and the never ending list of things to pack.  We were ready for our trip to the Seattle area.  And for the most part, things went as planned.  We arrived safe and sound, picked up our rental car and found our way successfully to the hotel suite.  One minor detail, and at the time it seemed like such a good thing.  The rental agency had offered us a free upgrade from the midsize car we had paid for to a brand spanking new full size.  Who wouldn’t take that deal and we did.  But more later on that.

We spent the first two days and evening exploring the downtown area of Seattle and took in some nice west coast seafood.  Day three found us on the road to Astoria, Oregon, a beautiful old fur trading center at the mouth of the Columbia River where it meets the Pacific Ocean.  On the way there is where my story begins.  Traveling down the interstate we suddenly hear a loud crack as a stone seemingly thrown at us out of the sky cracks the windshield of our brand new car.  Now had I taken the insurance coverage offered, that would be the rental agency’s issue, but then you see I didn’t take that offer.  When quizzed by my loving wife, I explained that the windshield, thanks to our $500 comprehensive deductible, now belonged to us.  “But fear not, said I, I am sure that lightening does not strike twice.”

We spent a really nice evening in a quaint hotel on the riverbank of the Columbia.  After a nice dinner and exploratory hike around town and up to the “heights”, we had almost put the windshield issue in our rear mirror.  Oh yes there was the suggested scrimping on our choice of restaurants due to the looming $500 bill, but all in all, the issue was fading.  Then came the morning of the next day and the realization that lightening does strike twice.  Sometime in the wee hours someone had pulled out of the stall behind us and managed with the precision of a demolition derby driver to scrape off most of the paint and some of the plastic of our rear bumper.  Of course they would be too ashamed to just drive off you think.  Well apparently the thought never crossed their mind.  My wife, god love her, shrugs and says, “Well at least we already used up our deductible, so it can’t cost us anymore.”  This is when I get to explain the difference in an insurance policy between comprehensive coverage and collision.  After a call to our insurance agent to verify what I thought was obvious and my wife thought was collusion, not to be confused with collision, which my agent explained was a $1000 deductible, we now owned the bumper of this car as well.  With our luck, we just might buy the car one piece at a time before we had to turn it back in.  The better part of this day would be spent getting my family to back away from the emotional cliff we were now poised on the edge of.  But thanks to resilience, humility on my part and a beautiful Oregon Coast beach, we were soldiering on.

We have by this time reached the city of Port Angeles.  Port Angeles is the exit point for the ferry to Victoria Island in Vancouver, Canada.  I wish to insert here several key facts.  You need a passport to get into Canada, Victoria is an island, coffee can cost a lot more than you think and the ferry is not cheap and even more expensive when one takes their car.  These facts will play a key role in a series of decision I will soon make.

We have spent a day and a night in Port Angeles in a motel booked weeks in advance.  On the morning of the second day, we are to drive our car onto the ferry and head to Victoria Island.  After doing a little math on the cost of the ferry, with car, and parking for same car on the island let alone getting a hotel room on the island, it has become obvious that coupled with the multiple car parts we will be paying for soon, that a more fiscally responsible plan might be the order of the day.  And thus the decision that will set me on my course to hell has begun.  I have decided, against the better judgement of my wife, to stay one more night in Port Angeles and leave the car there for the day.  Simple, go speak with the hotel manager to book our room for one more night.  Not so simple he explains.  There are no rooms available and we cannot leave our car in the lot.  But then what seems like our first good fortune.  There is a room available at a motel right next to the ferry and not only is it less than the cost of taking the car over to the island, we can leave our car in the parking lot all day, no cost.  And the die is cast, or as the French say, and I like the feel of this, “the carrots are cooked.”  We park our car and merrily board the ferry for the next leg of our vacation.  After a nice day touring the island and its quaint history, we are disembarking from the ferry and walking up to our motel.  As my wife actually mentions that this turned out to be a good decision, I am struck by the emptiness of my pocket.  Not just any pocket, but the pocket where there should be a heavy set of keys.  After a mad dash back down the hill to the ferry and a desperate request to search the boat.  Remember the passport, I left it with my wife on her way up the hill to our motel, you know, the one with our brand new car in its lot with all of our luggage securely locked in its trunk.  It turns out that the ferry is actually considered Canadian soil.  No passport, no getting back on the ferry.  After relaying my tale of woe they agree to have a crewmate search the boat for me, did I mention that this was the last ferry trip of the day to or from the island?  No keys!  Did I really think my luck would change?  I am thinking now that when we stopped into buy a cup of coffee at that inviting java bar on the island, my keys were left on the counter.  This may turn out to be a very expensive cup of coffee.

I am back up the hill now and explaining to the hotel night manager that our vacation has gone off the rails, our luggage is locked in the car and I have no keys.  Time to give you another fact.  Port Angeles interpreted means “City of Angels”.  Enter angel number one.  The hotel manager gets AAA on the move and offers us a free upgrade for a room, one my family can at least enjoy while I suffer quietly in the parking lot waiting for AAA.  By the way, misery DOES love company.  But the manager doesn’t stop here.  He next offers us his car to drive downtown to get something to eat and even offers us money to buy some clothes for the night.   Meanwhile, AAA has informed me of my next problem.  Any other car and they would come out, pick the lock and we would be on our way.  Any other car, but not the brand new car we rented and equipped with an electronic smart key.  Never fear, the driver would come out and tow it to the nearest Chevy garage, where I could go work the problem with them tomorrow.

Did I mention that when I parked the car early that morning the lot was empty and the last thing I was concerned about at that time was needing to have my car towed?  The lot is now full, and my car is neatly tucked in between three rows of tightly parked cars.  Enter the tow truck driver.  As I point out the location of my car, he groans and says “This is going to cost someone a lot of money….” but I stop him mid-sentence and painfully fill him in on our vacation story to this point.  The windshield, the bumper and now the lost keys.  He sucks in his breath and finishes his sentence “but not you.”  Angel number two has arrived.  He is going to call a friend with another truck and through a miracle, sounds better than what actually took place, they will drag this car out of there.  Once the extraction begins, he reminds me not to watch and when I ask if this is hard on the car, he reminds me in a calm and soothing voice “just remember, it’s not your car.”  After what seems like an eternity, I watch as my car, dangling from the hook of a tow truck, heads away on its journey to the garage.

Early, very early the next day, the night manager comes to my rescue again.  He has returned to the motel to give me a ride to the garage to retrieve my car.  This guy is amazing in his determination to rescue us.  Arriving at the garage, I am given more bad news.  They do not have the key codes to cut the key as the car is so new.  But they are not giving up either.  They are Port Angelinos and they are duty bent to save me.  After two failed attempts by local locksmiths, we have no luck with an ignition key but they have cracked the trunk and I now have luggage.  Enter angel number three and four.  The service manager knows a guy in town with a rental car business on the side.  It turns out he has an arrangement with our rental agency and that he is going to give us, yes give us, a car to continue on our way.  Ten minutes later he rolls in, throws our luggage in his car and beckons me to get in.  I tell him I need to settle with the service manager, who tells me “no cost, I didn’t fix anything.  Just enjoy the rest of your vacation.”  Meanwhile, as I enter the agent’s car, I ask “what about that car and the damage?”  His reply reminds me for the fourth time, “not your car, not your problem.”  He explains that he will deal with the rental agency and I should no longer think about it.  He then drives over to our motel, picks up the rest of the family and then at his place of business, provides us with a car and a full tank of gas.  As we drive out of town, we pass the garage and the “cursed car” as my family now refers to it.  Port Angeles has lived up to its name.  Facing a ruined vacation, they have not only come to our rescue, they have bolstered our spirits and reminded us of the power of generosity.

Upon returning to Seattle to turn in a car that certainly does not resemble the car we rented, we are actually greeted with an apology for all that has happened to us on our trip, a personal cab ride to our motel and a “no charge” bill of receipt.  To not put in a shameless plug for the agency would not be in the spirit of this story.  The company, I will now always attempt to get my rental from, is Enterprise.

I will end this story with this antidote.  There are angels among us and to recognize them is to acknowledge that we need to be no less when our opportunity arises.  Don’t miss your opportunity.  It just might be your only chance to be someone’s angel.


“You don’t control the wind but you can adjust your sails”

Sometime in life I feel like there is nothing I can control.  The news delivers nothing but hopeless scenarios and I stand ineffective against the wind.  I was feeling this way recently when I heard this phrase, “you don’t control the wind but you can adjust your sails.”  Maybe there is hope if I can apply this concept.

It is fairly obvious that a sail is designed to catch the wind and to then utilize the force of that captured wind to propel the boat forward.  When the wind is at my back and my aim is downwind, there isn’t a problem to overcome.  That would be clear sailing at its best.  When a sailor needs to cross against the wind, this presents a problem.  To the non-sailor, this problem is insurmountable.  But the seasoned sailor tackles the situation with a maneuver known as “tacking into the wind.”  By angling the sails and moving diagonally across the wind, the wind glancing off the sails pulls the boat forward.  Goal accomplished.

So how do I apply this concept to my seeming uncontrollable situation?  I must not face the wind head on if I am to move forward.  Since I do not control the situation, the wind, I must tack against it.  How do I change the direction without changing my course?  The answer, I adjust my sails.  The sails may be my perspective.  What I felt needed to be done first may need to wait its turn in the sequence.  If limits on my time was the issue, perhaps I find a way to give the process more time.  Or perhaps it is my expectation.  The perfectionist will balk at even trying if they believe the outcome will be less than perfect.  If we understand that perfection comes with repeated effort and only over time and refinement, then we could change our expectation.  Now I am not saying that we accept anything less than our best effort, but I am saying that an adjustment of our vision may suffice to accomplish our goal.  What may not be perfect may be an important step toward it.

There will always be times in life when it feels like the winds of change blow against us.  It is in these moments that we must adjust our sails.  If we can change our perspective, adjust our time or even modify our expectation, we can find a way to tack into the winds of change to accomplish our goals.  It seems that now more than ever, our society is at a crossroads.  If we view this problem as insurmountable, we could let a crisis become our downfall.  If we only view our world as black or white, gay or straight, Christian or Muslim, we are doomed to continue the mistakes of our past.  Unless we can gain perspective, we will never move forward against the winds of hate that divide us.  But if we can collectively work to adjust our sails, then there still remains hope.  Hope that we can rise above the biases that divide us and find ways to bridge the chasm that seems to be developing.

If we can do this, if we can adjust our sails, then I believe that we are a worthy generation and that all things are still possible.  If you took the time to read this, then take the time to sail with me.  Even the best sailboat needs an able crew.