Lessons from the Lab: The Magic of Consistency

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It’s been five months since we welcomed Schooner and Katy into our lives.  Since then, we’ve drastically altered the rhythm of our days in order to nurture them and keep our belongings from ending up as chew toys.  We’ve cleaned up every kind of canine body waste, cajoled them through crate training, and unintentionally conditioned a salivary response to the iPhone camera. Through this process, I’m reminded of a Keith Cunningham quote,  “Ordinary things consistently done produce extraordinary results.”

Everyday, twice a day, we walk them.  During, we work on three simple commands: “Sit”, “Stay”, and “Leave it”.  There’s no trick to it, no professional dog trainer – just consistency.  The results have been fantastic. While they are technically still puppies, they can be trusted to follow our commands on and off the leash.  People we meet along our walks can hardly believe how young and well-behaved they are.

And so I’m left wondering…how much more I could accomplish in life if I just consistently practiced three simple skills twice daily?

Schooner: The First 6 Months

Katy: The First 6 Months

Mom Knows Best: 4 Tips for Living Well

My Mom

Forgive me for re-posting old content but in doing so I hope to show my appreciation and love not only for my mother, but for all the mothers out there who sacrifice so much for their kids. Thank you for all you do and Happy Mother’s Day!

Originally posted 5/8/2011

Dear Mom,

You’ve given me so much love, patience, and support over the past forty years. You’ve also given me something invaluable: a role model. In watching you, I’ve learned there are at least three things I can do to thrive in my life:

1. Find meaningful work: Many years ago you told me the civil rights battle of my generation was going to be fought in the classroom. I didn’t know what you meant back then, but I do now. I’ve watched you dedicate your career to improving educational opportunities for kids. You’ve inspired me to try and make a difference, too.

Thanksgiving in Mexico

2. Be willing to grow & change: As kids, you were always there for us. After we left home, you went back to school for your Masters and then a PhD. Now, you’re a successful business owner. Seeing you constantly set a higher bar for yourself has taught me to do the same.

¡Pocos Locos!

3. Marry your best friend: You and Daddy make such a great team. You taught me the importance of working hard at marriage…and I don’t mean the laundry!

The love, respect, and laughter you share extends outward to those around you. We’ve all been warmed by your light!

4.  Lastly, make sure there are plenty of dogs around!

Mabel & Mom

Happiness vs. the 5 P’s of Thriving

So why don't I give a frack?

Since the gist of Oliver Segovia’s Harvard Business Journal article “To Find Happiness, Forget About Passion” conflicts with my beliefs on thriving, I was interested in this brainiac’s (HBS ’10) ideas.  He argues we have to be solutionists – find a problem and solve it in order to be happy.

Putting problems at the center of our decision-making changes everything. It’s not about the self anymore. It’s about what you can do and how you can be a valuable contributor. People working on the biggest problems are compensated in the biggest ways. I don’t mean this in a strict financial sense, but in a deeply human sense.

What he fails to mention is that we aren’t going to be effective or even enjoy solving problems that we aren’t passionate about.  I’ll use myself as an example.  Fracking is a big deal right now in El Paso County.  It’s has been linked to water pollution and earthquakes.  But it offers opportunity to reduce unemployment and increase school budgets.   According to Segovia, I should be eager to get educated on the local issue of fracking since it deals with two areas I care about:  the environment and economic opportunity. So why doesn’t fracking push my happiness button? 

Grant Crowell answers my question in his comment, “Segovia is short-sighted when he says for happiness, we should not rely on passion and instead focus on solving problems.” Crowell instead offers 5 P’s to focus our efforts in thriving:

1) Passion: the emotional drive and sense of self
2) Purpose: our need to be connected to something bigger than ourselves
3) Profit: because we need reward for motivation
4) People: because our network and relationship skills make us truly powerful
5) Push: giving as much as we have even when no one but us is paying attention

How Do You Thrive?

Fracking issues don’t fulfill the Ps for me: I’m ambivalent because I don’t see tangible or intangible reward to finding solutions – I have neither the network nor skill set to effect positive change. Thus, I can’t push myself to get going on the solutions.  To thrive, I must focus in areas where I have the 5P’s.

What about you? Does your work fulfill the 5P’s?

Lessons from My Lab: More Room in a Broken Heart

Puppy Love

Last month our thirteen year old black lab, Hobie, died; a huge loss made even more difficult since it followed the death of Splash, his mom, two years earlier at the age of fourteen. Dazed, Jack and I rambled around a suddenly empty house listening to the silence or imagining the jingle of a collar. I completely identified with the words of Paul Ferson on grieving a pet:

“Without dogs, our houses are cold receptacles for things. Dogs make a fire warmer with their curled presence. They wake us, greet us, protect us and ultimately carve a place in our hearts and our history. On reflection, our lives are often referenced in parts defined by the all-to-short lives of our dogs.”

Yesterday, we returned home from Columbia Cross Roads, PA with two adorable Endless Mountain Labrador puppies. At nine weeks old, litter mates Schooner (chocolate male) and Katy (black female) are goofy little bundles of energy. It’s been over a decade since we’ve had puppies so their antics enthrall me with joy alternated by intense worry. What if I’m not stern and consistent enough? What if they eat a plant/shoe/dish towel and choke to death? What if someone steals them? How long before I get a good night’s sleep?

Jack and Schooner

Caring for them is offering me the chance to live in the moment: Several (okay, many) times daily I pick them up just to breathe in the smell of sweet puppy breath and stare into their gentle, trusting eyes. Soon they’ll be too big for this so I cherish these daily miracles, even as their razor sharp teeth threaten to pierce my nose.

Splash’s and Hobie’s passing left a huge hole my life. As I piece it back together I’m reminded of a line from a Carly Simon song, “There’s more room in a broken heart.” Even as I mourn, chubby labby legs and fat, furry tummies begin to fill the empty spaces with an unconditional love only our can animals give.

Crate training Katy

Lessons from My Lab: Letting Go of the Leash

Hobie Roach (1999-2012)

Years ago, Jack and I lived in Port Aransas, TX, a small town on the northern tip of Mustang Island. One afternoon, we set off on our bikes with our two black labs, Splash and Hobie. I was flying down the road with Hobie gallumphing joyfully beside me. Jack and Splash followed slightly behind until Jack made a slight left into the University of Texas Marine Science Institute marina to take a closer look at a boat.

Since Jack’s the leader of our pack, both dogs also made a quick left.  Meanwhile, I’m unaware that Hobie has suddenly changed directions and is flying perpendicularly away from me.  Since he was on a retractable leash, he was also picking up speed.  If you’ve seen a water skier propelled outside the wake by a sudden turn of the boat, you know the trajectory I took.  Though I’d learned (mostly the hard way) to let go of a tow rope,  I was conditioned to hold tight to his leash.  He was still a puppy, albeit a 100lb one, and hadn’t yet learned the dangers of running toward other people, dogs, or into a road.  It was my job to teach and protect him.  There was no way I was letting go of that leash – no matter how hard he pulled.

Once the leash’s slack ran out, so did my luck.  I launched off my bike into the air thinking, this is really gonna hurt. Then…impact with the curb and a sound like a branch breaking.  An intense bomb of pain exploded on my left side as the bike fell on top of me.  Ouch, that was worse than I thought.

A broken hip landed me in the hospital for a couple of weeks and it was months before I could walk again, take a shower, or use a toilet instead of a bed pan.  A year earlier I’d run the New York City marathon; now, I wasn’t sure I’d ever walk without a limp again.

Hobie taught me a life lesson that day – sometimes it is better to let go.  Letting go of what I think I must protect, control, or manage is extremely difficult for me. So as I try to master this lesson, life keeps offering me the opportunity to learn it.

Once again, Hobie is my teacher:  He passed away unexpectedly last month at the age of 13.  One day we’re taking a brisk 3-mile walk, the next thing we know -  he’s gone. What did I/didn’t I do?  Could I have protected him more? Cared for him better? I’ll never know.  And the questions have been driving me crazy.

We got his ashes back from the vet a few weeks ago.  With his collar they’ve been placed gently in a special compartment of an urn he shares with Splash’s ashes.  And so again, I’m learning…failing…trying again…to let go of his leash.

Hobie Roach (July 3, 1999 – December 12, 2011)

Hobie at the Reservoir

It’s a terrible thing to lose a trusted companion, running buddy, constant giver of unconditional love.  But the memories Jack and I have of Hobie and his mom, Splash, will bring us joy and laughter…and tears…for the rest of our lives.

Splash & Hobie napping together, 2009

Splash of Shadowlawn (1994 - 2009)

Port A Christmas 2002

Here are some wonderful words I came across recently that rang so true for me.

Inner Strength
If you can start the day without caffeine,
If you can get going without pep pills,
If you can always be cheerful, ignoring aches and pains,
If you can resist complaining and boring people with your troubles,
If you can eat the same food every day and be grateful for it,
If you can understand when your loved ones are too busy to give you any time,
If you can take criticism and blame without resentment
If you can ignore a friend’s limited education and never correct him,
If you can resist treating a rich friend better than a poor friend,
If you can conquer tension without medical help,
If you can relax without liquor,
If you can sleep without the aid of drugs,

 …Then You Are Probably The Family Dog!

Workforce Diversity Does Not Equal Affirmative Action

The United States Olympic Committee has introduced measures to address the fact that its workforce is not reflective of the demographics of the Colorado Springs community where it is located.  This diversity effort, commonly seen as an organizational best practice, is apparently not popular with Colorado Springs Gazette editorial page editor, Wayne Laugesen.  Accompanying his critical article was the following online poll asking readers if the “USOC should give preference to minorities” as part of their hiring process.

Regardless of implementation, affirmative action along with Equal Employment Opportunity laws are designed to support diversity. They are not synonymous with it, as Laugeson’s polling language would suggest.  Workforce diversity is a strategy for increasing an organization’s competitiveness in a global marketplace.  Moreover, it is much harder to implement than the hiring quotas Wayne is suggesting: Attracting and retaining racial and ethnic minorities, females and people with different abilities requires committed effort and innovation.  And, in the case of Wayne’s world, overcoming ignorance of the issue.

Re-framing the Immigration Debate

"Promised Land" by Christoph Niemann

I was pleased to hear at least one of the GOP contenders speak sanely on immigration during the CNN debate last week.  Specifically, Newt Gingrich re-framed the rhetoric in a more accurate context by noting that many immigrants are long-standing members of our community who contribute by working and paying taxes.  “I don’t see how the party that says it’s the party of the family is going to adopt an immigration policy which destroys families that have been here a quarter century. And I’m prepared to take the heat for saying, let’s be humane in enforcing the law without giving them citizenship but by finding a way to create legality so that they are not separated from their families,” said Gingrich.

An on-going poll at msnbc.com currently shows that a majority of you, whether you’re for Newt or not, agree.

Should illegal immigrants who have lived in the United States for many years be allowed a pathway to live in the United States legally?

While this shift in the conversation is helpful, I’d love for at least someone to recognize corporate America’s culpability in our immigration issues.  Or has everyone forgotten how large US companies such as Tyson were indicted for bringing immigrants here to work illegally?

Think You’re Too _____ to Change the World?

On Becoming an Anonymous Extraordinary

I was COMPLETELY inspired by Natalie Warne’s TEDxTeen talk! Rather than worrying about what limited her, she looked beyond the confusion and conformity of high school and realized her potential to combat social injustice.

The video is a great teaching tool for parents and educators who want to give kids an opportunity to engage positively in their community and in public policy.  It’s compelling proof that you don’t need to be Bill Gates, Oprah, or Leymah Gbowee to save the world.  Rather, Warne demonstrates it’s up to the anonymous extraordinaries, “people who work selflessly and vigorously for what they believe in,” “people who are motivated by conviction and not recognition.”

Clearly, all of us can strive to make a positive impact, no matter how fill in the blank we are!

Got Patience? There’s an App for That!

Rin Tin Zen

I’ve been meditating off and on since 2008 but recently committed to making it a daily habit.  A month into this new behavior I can already feel the benefits of meditating 15 minutes twice daily: more patience. The good news is that neuroscientific studies show meditation also lowers blood pressure and helps combat illness, depression, and insomnia.

In experimenting with various forms of meditation, variety keeps me motivated. Meditation is simple and easy to learn, but it takes time, patience and practice.  Here are some ways to kickstart your meditation using your iPhone, iPad, or iTouch:

1.    Mindfulness Meditation: Well worth the $1.99,  these meditations are written and narrated by Stephan Bodian, a respected teacher and author of Meditation for Dummies.  Using mindfulness-based techniques for stress-reduction, this app provides 5, 10, 15, 20, 30, and 40-minute guided meditations.  There’s an audio guide on the basics of meditation, a checklist for optimal practice, and 10-minute deep relaxation exercise to prepare for meditation or to unwind at the end of a stressful day.

2.    Yoga Nidhra Lite:  According to Yoga Journal, nidhra or “yogic sleep” is an ancient practice for creating full-body relaxation and deep meditative states of consciousness. This free app offers nidhra meditation by Madhav, a yoga teacher trained in the Satyananda/Bihar tradition.  It’s another way to vary your practice because you can do it right before falling asleep.

I’ll be posting more as my practice strengthens.  Whether you’re just starting to meditate or have been doing it for years, I’d love to hear from you!