Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Getting in the Boat

I'll never forget the first time I had to fire someone.

Let's call her Sally.

Sally was a good person.

She had the right HEART for the job.

She had the right ATTITUDE for the job.

But unfortunately......

She had the WRONG SKILLS for the job.

We both new it.

For a very long time.

Too long of a time.

We both clung to the false hope that.things would change and she would just one day.......

Get it.

But we both new the truth.

For a very long time.

Too long of a time.

Sally was NEVER going to get it.


No matter how many people helped show her the way.

Or how many training videos she watched.

It was NEVER going to happen


It wasn't time to QUIT and GIVE UP.

It was time to STOP and MOVE ON.

But it hurt too much to do the right thing.

I wanted to fire Sally without going through the ACT of firing Sally.

I didn't want to hurt her.

I have opined in previous posts that the RIGHT decision is seldom a COMFORTABLE decision.

Moving an aging parent into a nursing home despite that parent's plea to stay in the family home.

Giving that newborn baby up for adoption knowing that child will wonder who you were and why you gave her up.

These are daunting decisions preceded by frightening conversations.

These are also COURAGEOUS decisions preceded by NECESSARY conversations.

Decisions that affect lives.


Decisions where opting for the status quo offers a temporary but false hope.....

And short-term comfort in exchange for long-term pain.

Sir Earnest Shackleton
When it comes to making courageous decisions, I think of Sir Ernest Shackleton and his 1914 voyage to the Antarctic.

It's a story that has been dissected by top graduate business schools as the model for survival, leadership and crisis management.

After leaving the continent, Shackleton's ship, the Endurance, became trapped in sea ice. Unable to break free, the men, helplessly watched the ice slowly crush the ship over a period of ten months.

The crew was forced to abandon ship and camp on the ice flows for five months.

After five terrifying days in three lifeboats, Shackleton and crew landed on Elephant Island.

This was the men's first time on land in 497 days.

But Shackleton knew they could not remain on Elephant Island.

It was inhospitable to human beings.

And far from any shipping routes.

They would NEVER be found.

And they would eventually die.

Shackleton knew what had to be done.

They had to risk an open-boat attempt in one of the lifeboats to the nearest whaling station--South Georgia Island.

Over 720 nautical miles away.

In rough seas.

And hurricane-force winds.

A daunting decision.

Stay on "safe" land and surely but slowly die.


Get in the boat, set sail for the terrifying unknown to arrive at a better place.....

.......while recognizing death was the more likely outcome.

I suspect this was a daunting decision preceded by frightening conversations.

But also a COURAGEOUS decision preceded by NECESSARY conversations.

A decision that would affect lives.


A decision where opting for the status quo would offer a temporary but false hope.....

And short-term comfort in exchange for long-term pain.

And death.

Shackleton's decision to leave the island was a tough decision.

But it was the RIGHT decision.

For he and is men made it to help at South Georgia Island.

All of his men survived.

I fired Sally on a Friday afternoon.

There were tears.

But Sally's tears weren't tears of sadness.

They were tears of relief.

She didn't have to worry about telling her husband she had QUIT and GAVE UP.

She could tell him she had STOPPED and MOVED ON.

With dignity.

Because the false hope and temporary safety of the island was no longer an option.

She didn't have to be scared of sailing into the unknown anymore.

The winds were now blowing her way.

She was free to get in the boat.

And set sail for a better place.


Monday, April 13, 2015

Happiness and Hamburger Helper

"Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms--to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."
--Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning

We ran Lookout Mountain this past weekend.

Start time: 5am.

I bet we've run this road in the dark over 200 times since we first started training on it back in 2009.

Over 1600 feet of heart-pumping elevation gain in just under 4.75 miles.

The relentless grade in the dark will make your lungs burn and calves scream.

Sunrise on Lookout Mountain
But the reward at the top is worth the pain.

An inspiring sunrise.

I guarantee it.

I'm still awe-struck at the golden sun rising under a purple sky on this mountain even after 6 years and hundreds of ascents.

A piece of joy to start the day.

No matter what that day holds.

In 2009 I read Viktor Frankl's book "Man's Search for Meaning."

The year I found myself age 40, laid off, broke and contemplating how I was going to tell my kids we were going to lose our home.

I still have the notice of the auction date from the bank.

The premise of Frankl's book is that happiness is a CHOICE independent of circumstances and that if a man does not choose his attitude towards his circumstances......

.....he will become a SLAVE to his circumstances.

I would have considered this advice polyannish nonsense  but for Mr. Frankl being a holocaust survivor who endured unimaginable brutality at Auschwitz during World War II.

"Man's Search for Meaning" was my "survival guide" during 2009-2010.

I found Mr. Frankl's daily habit of looking for something beautiful around him---no matter how small (like a flower)--- to ease the pain of the horrors around him, particularly instructive.

This is when I discovered trail running.

Just before being laid off in 2009, a former colleague dared me to sign up for a race called the Mt. Evans Ascent.  A 14.5-mile race that starts at 10,000 feet and finishes at the 14,000 foot summit of Mt. Evans.

Little did I know that training for this race would be a godsend---the perfect prescription for sanity to get me through the worst personal and professional smack-down of my life.

I began each morning of my job search with a training run.

My long runs were often at altitude near Mt. Evans before sunrise to acclimate for the race.

I discovered the training provided me with many of the things I lost when I lost my job.

A goal.

A place to be.

A sense of accomplishment.

A purpose.

The long training runs at sunrise at 10,000 feet were particularly helpful as they often served as a REMINDER.

A reminder that life can suck--and I mean REALLY suck.

But in the big scheme of the universe, our problems are pretty damned small and that life goes on and is still pretty amazing and beautiful......

....despite the problems we are battling.

But here's the funny thing.

By finding beauty in the chaos....

I developed more than ripped calves and powerful lungs.

I developed STRENGTH.

The strength to not only press on and survive...... but find meaning in the misery and even derive lessons from it.

Lessons like the importance of gratitude and the power of friendship.

Lessons to share with others.

Lessons that would later become the hallmark of a business class at a community college.

Lessons that never would have been learned, and a class that never would have been taught but for the humiliating ass-kicking of 2009-2010.

I have to laugh, if someone had told me back in 2009 while 40, broke and buying Hamburger Helper at Walmart, that losing my job was going to lead to a great teaching gig and a TEDTalk on overcoming challenge, I would have burst out laughing.

Hardee, harr, harr!

But that how the universe sometimes works.

I guess even the universe has a sense of humor sometimes.

Six years later, I marvel and mean really MARVEL how we were able to pay down the $68,000 in debt, replenish the 401(k)s AND manage to keep the house.

It almost sounds like a perfect comeback story.


Unfortunately, most comebacks aren't as neat and tidy as stories on the Hallmark channel.

In real life, at least in my experience, the victory celebration cake is eaten while other battles rage on.

Unfortunately.....some battles are still raging on.

I'm running North Table Mesa tomorrow with some friends tomorrow.

I'll be sure to bring my headlamp as we're running early.

It's pretty rocky the first few miles.

And the grade going up is relentless.

But that's okay.

I hear the sunrise is amazing.