about tennis and tim mcgraw

Things I’m learning about tennis and Tim McGraw:

I played a game of tennis with my new friend Fabio yesterday. I’m a beginner (at best). Fabio is not.

I tried my best to keep up, but felt a little silly making so many mistakes. It was more than once that I swung for the ball and missed it completely! I felt like a baseball player at bat and striking out. The only difference: my tennis racket has a surface area of 98 square inches while a baseball bat.. doesn’t.

Fabio was friendly and patient. Even when he was taking it easy on me, I could see that his technique was excellent. Great form, great execution. I knew I could learn from a great player like him, so on a short break I asked if he had any tips for me. He smiled and quietly said, “Keep your eye on the ball.”

“Keep your eye on the ball?” I thought to myself. I was expecting he might suggest corrections to my form, or teach me some secret way to hit the ball to increase power or make it spin like the pros. Instead, he offered advice that some might interpret as elementary, at best. He used a total of six words, and managed to keep me thinking for the rest of the day.

My favorite Tim McGraw song offers similar advice.

Hold the door, say "please", say "thank you" Don't steal, don't cheat, and don't lie I know you got mountains to climb But always stay humble and kind

Penned by songwriter Lori McKenna, “Humble and Kind” demonstrates the power of a simple lyric.

Go to church 'cause your mamma says to Visit grandpa every chance that you can It won't be wasted time Always stay humble and kind

At different points in my life, I’ve found different words and phrases stand out in particularly meaningful ways. It’s remarkable to me how so many valuable life lessons can be packed in to each line.

When the dreams you're dreamin' come to you When the work you put in is realized Let yourself feel the pride But always stay humble and kind

A particular example: one morning on a drive back to work from a meeting, I got an important piece of advice from one line in the song I hadn’t previously paid much attention to. I wouldn’t consider myself a person who holds grudges. I tend to be quick to forgive others and move on, at times maybe too quick. This particular morning when I heard the line “bitterness keeps you from flyin’” it struck me in a whole new way.

Don't expect a free ride from no one Don't hold a grudge or a chip and here's why: Bitterness keeps you from flyin' Always stay humble and kind

During a period where I ended up on the short end of a couple deals in a row, I had grown increasingly frustrated, not only with the music business, but with myself. I chose not to pursue an aggressive legal strategy I could’ve taken at the time, and I thought that meant I was taking the high road. What I didn’t realize is that the bitterness I was still holding on to was holding me back. I was letting the actions of others prevent me from being the best version of myself.

To borrow a silly analogy from one of the best people I’ve ever met (shout out to Mark @ HOBY Georgia), “it’s hard to soar like an eagle when you’re surrounded by turkeys.”

I felt like I was taking the “high road” by not filling lawsuits. But even the high road is still on the ground. By being bitter, I was only holding myself back from flyin’ - from being an authentic leader; from being remarkable.

“Keep your eye on the ball.”

A small handful of people in my life know that I’m back at school. I’ve just started an extraordinary learning program that span 3 years, and the application criteria was strategically architected in a way that fills these classrooms with global leaders, CEO’s, and entrepreneurs.

Utilizing the case study method, our professors have designed cases with seemingly recurring themes. Focus, refine, test, measure, iterate, remove. We’re being challenged to analyze both the cases and our own businesses and processes, forced to think critically and determine the things that are actually working. The things that we do well, and the things we don’t.

How often do we, as humans, as creatives, as business leaders, tend to overcomplicate things?

I struggle with spreading myself too thin. There’s so much I want to accomplish in life, that I want to achieve and create and experience. I’m constantly looking ahead to what’s next.

I learned yesterday that it’s certainly not a bad thing to be looking ahead, to be constantly planning our next shots. But let us not forget the basics. Remember to identify and keep your eye on the things that are most important. “Keep your eye on the ball.”

Don't take for granted the love this life gives you When you get where you're going don't forget turn back around And help the next one in line Always stay humble and kind

about cold water, regret, and your brain.

Have you ever jumped in cold water? Been forced to take a cold shower when the rest of your family or roommates used up all the hot water?

Growing up in the Seattle area, a favorite family activity was boating. I grew up with a hero (aka: dad) who’d often go for slalom ski runs on the lake before work. I followed suit, during a time when wakeboarding was a brand new and relatively unknown sport.

The lakes in the Pacific Northwest are beautiful. The only problem is the moderate climate means the lake water hardly warms up, even in the peak of the summer. For a period, we were wakeboarding year round, hacking ways to beat the cold temperatures with a combination of dry suit technology, gloves, and coolers full of hot water.

The feeling of jumping in to Seattle lake water is forever etched in my memory. A more extreme shock in January than in June, certainly, but I have to admit that even in the early summer months the water will still take your breath away when you jump in.

It’s really an uncomfortable feeling. It’s not fun. As a teenager, I’d go out with my dad and friends and we’d help psyche each other and ourselves up for the challenge, knowing how much fun we’d have once we got through that initial discomfort. Even then, it took commitment to make that leap.

If you’ve ever had a similar experience, I’m sure you’d agree that initial shock is really not enjoyable. But did you ever notice how awake and alive you feel after?

That’s not a coincidence.

I’ve spent a lot of time this past year studying the brain, primarily to learn new ways to optimize my performance, energy, and overall health. Every living thing is made of cells. Our cells are powered by our mitochondria: organelles responsible for generating our energy. That jolt from jumping in cold water is actually good for mitochondrial function. The more we can optimize our mitochondrial performance, the more energy we’ll have.

Research shows the same is true of other kinds of fear.

As we’re able to identify the things which we’re afraid of (step 1, but often disguised), and then choose to face those things head on, our mitochondria respond with improved function. Can you remember a time you intentionally did something, no matter how small that thing is, that you were afraid of? Do you remember how you felt after? I’d bet you didn’t regret doing that thing you were afraid of.

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
— Eleanor Roosevelt

I went to a family reunion last week. My cousin owns a beautiful home on the Columbia River in Eastern Washington and is kind enough to let our unreasonably large extended family enjoy it for reunions. This was the first reunion I’ve been to since I moved to Nashville in 2012, so I got to see cousins and family I hadn’t seen in 6 years and longer. We had three boats out there with any combination of toys and watersports equipment you could dream of.

Having enjoyed owning a boat in Nashville the last several years, I’ll be the first to admit I’ve gotten used to the bathtub water temperatures we enjoy in lakes in the South. It’s not uncommon for the water temperatures to be between 85-88 degrees all summer. So when I dipped my toe in that River water in Washington and looked at the 65 degree water temperature reading, I decided I’d be too cold to get in and spent 3 days in the comfort of my dry clothes.

I didn’t mind at the time. I didn’t feel left out and had a great time. But now that I’m back in Nashville and have a few minutes to reflect, I really regret NOT jumping in. Not because I particularly wanted to jump on a tube or catch a ride behind the boat. But because I don’t know the next time I’ll be able to go to another reunion. What if it’s another 6 years? I wish I would’ve taken the opportunity to jump in and swim around with my dad and my sisters. That cold water would’ve been a little painful and uncomfortable for a minute, sure. But more painful is the feeling of regret I have now, wondering how long it will be until the next time we’re all together as a family again. I’m reminded of a favorite saying (italics mine),

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you *didn’t* do than by the ones you *did* so. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
— Mark Twain^1

So get out there. Sail away from your safe harbor and jump on in. Find something that makes you feel scared. Then, choose to conquer it. Your brain just might work a little better after.

[1]: Commonly attributed, perhaps incorrectly, to Mark Twain.

about your annoying little brother or sister

about your annoying little brother or sister.

things i’m learning about your annoying little brother and/or sister:

If you grew up with younger siblings, you might remember your little brother or sister doing things that would annoy you. Let me know if this sounds familiar:

“Kelsey, put your toys away.”


“Because you have a zillion polly pockets and you can’t just leave them all over the house.”


“Because if you do mom is gonna yell at you.”


“Because it stresses her out when the house is a disaster and she has a million other things to do.”


… you get the point. Imagine hearing that from this little monster:

We probably all remember that lovely little trick where they’d respond to anything you said with “Why?” And with every answer, they ‘d respond with another “Why?” as an increasingly annoying challenge to dig further and deeper to find an answer that would finally make them shut up… Of course in the most annoying way possible. Asking “why?” is seemingly an annoying talent that most little brothers or sisters tend to have a boundless supply of.

As much as we might hate to admit it, we might be able to learn something from our annoying younger siblings.

As I use the same exercise to dig deep and challenge myself daily, I have interesting results. As I probe deeper into the layers of my internal thoughts, subsequent actions, my habits and routines by constantly asking myself “why” I find that I can learn a lot about myself. Pushing through those layers of “why” can help identify strengths, weaknesses, blind spots, opportunities, and more. It helps me understand the perspectives, decisions, and actions of others too.

As I ask “why” throughout the day, every day, and as I constantly review and iterate, I can find the root causes of certain behaviors that I can then hack or modify for my own benefit.

When you really learn why you are or aren’t doing something by identifying the root cause, then you can figure out how to fix it. You can enlist the help of others. You can modify your own habits and way of thinking to change.

You might want to shoot your little brother or sister a text message today. Tell them thank you for being annoying.

Ask why.

Don’t worry, the girls and I turned out alright :)

about shawn kemp and gary payton

about shawn kemp

Things I’m learning about Shawn Kemp: that he’s awesome, obviously. I’ve clearly known that since the early 90's.

believe it or not, i still have that seattle supersonics jersey.

But beyond that, I’m learning that his teammate, Gary Payton, made him better.

If you’re not a Sonics fan, how about John Stockton and Karl Malone? Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny?

I loved basketball when I was a kid. We had a CD-Rom with stats and facts of all the key players in the league that I studied and memorized until I knew most of them by heart. I had the shoes, the jersey, the swagger (reference 1st picture in this post for proof). I was certain that I was going to grow up to become an NBA basketball player.

Study that photo of my friends and I at my 7th birthday party one more time and you might notice that most of them are a full head taller than me. As fate would have it, that trend continued with time, until I was cut from the team and told I was too short to be an asset.

So, what’s the lesson to learn here? Never give up, refuse to take no for an answer, don’t stop until you achieve your dreams? As much as I loved the movie Rudy as a kid, that’s not how my story ended. I did give up. Because sometimes our dreams just aren’t realistic. Sometimes they’re the wrong dreams, sometimes we change, and sometimes they’re just plain silly. It’s ok to change our dreams as we grow and change ourselves. Heck, before I wanted to play in the NBA, I thought I wanted to be a Ninja Turtle, and that one didn’t exactly work out either.

The lesson here is a case study in teamwork and in partnerships. We’ll look at one of the most remarkable duos of all time. They filled headlines and highlight reels throughout the 90’s, and they gave kids like me a reason to wear their jerseys with pride.

Shawn Kemp was one of the most exciting basketball players to set foot on the hardwood. He was a star in high school, breaking both single game and season-long scoring records. He was a High School All-American, playing for the class of ’88 (arguably one of the best All-American classes of all time), and then became a first-round draft pick in the ’89 draft without playing in college, which was very uncommon at the time. Nicknamed the “Reign Man,” he played with a level of intensity, power, and excitement that made his presence known in every game.

Enter: “The Glove.” Gary Payton was the 2nd overall draft pick in 1990. Many consider him one of the greatest point guards of all time. His quick hands earned him the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award, the only point guard in history to do so. His abilities and playing style (+ his indisputable gift for trash talking) were the perfect complement to the aggressive, powerful Shawn Kemp. Together, they were dubbed the Sonic Boom.

A quick youtube search illustrates this well.

As individuals, Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton were great players. Together, they were extraordinary.

Their complimentary talents made the other better. It turns out that sometimes 1+1=3. The sum is greater than the individual parts.

I’m learning that these same principles apply off the court as well.

I’ve experienced the magic that happens when you get this right, and I’ve experienced the absolutely disasterous consequences that come as a result of getting this wrong. I’ve felt the natural chemistry of a great team, where the projects and the people are in alignment and elevate one another, to grow in ways they never could alone. I’ve also felt the friction and frustration that can cause things to fall apart.

Through analysis and reflection of my experiences, I’ve learned how powerful it is to first know yourself, very very well. Your strengths, and your weaknesses. Your desired outcomes. Your shoulds and your musts. Your own mission, your own values, your own principles, by which you will conduct your own behavior, make decisions and treat people. Your definition of success. Your good, better, and best, as well as your not-acceptable.

Then, be that person. With a renewed vision and understanding of the kind of team you want to be a part of, you can lead and act and communicate and treat people and make decisions the way you expect of yourself and your team. In my experience, this can naturally attract the kind of people/clients/friends/partners/bosses/employees/etc that you will be in alignment with.

As I’ve worked to figure that out, my result has been clarity. As I’ve identified and defined these things about myself, I’ve seen how much easier it becomes to know where I’m going, how I’m going to get there, and who I want along for the ride.

I’ve learned the importance of having the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.

about being good at everything.

Things I’m learning about being good at everything:

It can mean that you’re not great at anything.

Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily.

I’m sure we all grew up knowing someone who was good. at. everything.

Here’s one example: The kid in high school who played every sport, made straight A’s, and was loved by teachers and students alike.

Here’s another: There’s not been a single person I’ve seen my grandpa struggle to engage in conversation with. He is an incredibly smart man, and he knows at least enough about seemingly every topic in the world to carry on a conversation. It’s a quality I’ve always really admired about him.

The alternative example may be those who focus and specialize in one thing, and who commit with such discipline and excellence that they become extraordinary. A world class athlete, musician, listener, friend, nurse, dentist, humanitarian, researcher, educator, martial artist.. you get the picture.

I fall more in the first category and that’s where I’m naturally wired to be. I know that it sometimes get me in to trouble, when I want to learn or know or do too many things at once because they’re all so interesting to me. I’m learning what the balance looks like for me, and that is probably necessary for all of us, no matter if you fall somewhere between these categories or somewhere else completely.

I’m of the opinion that, like most things in life, we need to find our own balance. Equilibrium and alignment are an ongoing process and journey.

about asking lots of questions

Things I’m learning about asking lots of questions:

I’ve found it’s a pretty good way to live life.

Becoming excellent at asking the right questions can be a powerful tool, used to learn, communicate ideas, connect with others, and build relationships.

Asking questions provides an opportunity to understand your: peers, customers, bosses, employees, parents, children, friends, enemies, competition, partners, and more.

I’ve learned that asking questions with an authentic and intentional purpose of understanding and clarity is important enough to me to merit practicing regularly.

With flawless execution, asking questions can even be an opportunity to help others understand themselves.

about a michael jordan rookie card.

things i’m learning about a michael jordan rookie card: don’t forget to flip it over.

Let me explain.

As a kid, I collected trading cards. I loved looking at the pictures of my favorite players, with their names printed on the front and all their stats printed on the back. I’d study and memorize the player’s details, from their birthday and hometown to where they played in college, along with key stats about their performance in the league.

My friends displayed their most valuable cards in protective cases, showcasing the pictures on the front but I was always more excited about what was on the back.

Arguably the single most important basketball card among the collector community is the 1986–1987 Fleer Michael Jordan Rookie Card.

The photograph captures the essence of MJ in his signature pose. The timeless Fleer logo overlay is complemented by the player’s name, his position, and the team he plays for. Here’s what you’ll see when you flip it over:

On the front is a familiar picture, but when we flip it over, we find more information: specific statistics that can help us learn what kind of player they are. In basketball, a great team needs a mix of players with different strengths: the top scorers need a teammate with vision to orchestrate the perfect pass, taking in to account timing and placement of the ball (that stat is called an “assist”); also essential are those players who play great defense (“steals”), rebound aggressively, and block shots.

In life, we have different kinds of teams to consider. At home, our families. At work, internal teams of co-workers and external teams of partners, clients, and other stakeholders. In our communities, teams come together in neighborhoods, church congregations, sports teams, and around other activities we participate in.

When working with our team members, how often do we flip the card over?

How much do we really know about each other? How often are we looking holistically at our team’s combined mix of strengths? Can we expect to play and win together when we don’t know who’s playing on our team?

As a solution to this problem in my own life, I dreamed up a way to dig deeper to really understand my teammates. I started with myself. As I found ways to identify and communicate my own strengths and style, I was able to create a framework to implement this with other teams I’m a part of.

I call it, appropriately, The Fleer Framework. I like using a kanban tool such as Trello, but you can use other tools/apps to implement this concept as well. Analog (ie: post-it notes) works well too.

Depending on the kind of team you’re trying to manage, you can choose to include different stats for each player.

A photo with name, title, general contact info is standard. I like including the results from the Gallup StrengthsFinder test (top 5 strengths), as well as the Kolbe A Index, which is used to identify an individual’s natural talents and the instinctive method of operation (M.O.) that enable a person to be productive (ie: HOW we work and solve problems).

Including a personal mission statement and core values helps promote alignment, and including a “currently working on” can be great to keep track of priorities and initiatives. A fun fact keeps it playful and reminds us that we’re humans :)

I intentionally designed a place for each person to list the areas/projects/roles they’re an expert in, starting with the phrase: “I can help you with.”

For larger or more hectic teams, you can utilize Trello’s “labels” feature to code your card with a color: green for available to help, yellow when you’re available for quick questions or feedback, and red when you’re fully committed to a project or initiative.

about knowing what you want.

Things I’m learning about knowing what you want:

There’s a lot of people in life who don’t.

That can be dangerous.

Beyond ourselves, consider: clients, partners, friends, stakeholders, team members. Have you ever met or worked with someone who seemed impossible to please? An unhappy customer, boss, or significant other?

Were expectations communicated clearly, or were there assumptions made, details ambiguous? If the former, we may be in the wrong. If the latter, well, we may also be wrong.

How can you hope to please someone who doesn’t know what they’re after?

I’ve learned that it’s far easier to lean in to that problem, to anticipate it. I’d much prefer to expect and plan for it than the alternative.

As I’ve done so, it’s been a rewarding experience to work on clarifying my processes and to think strategically regarding this optimization problem.

Know what you want (and what you don’t). Communicate this clearly and frequently. Anticipate that other’s won’t. I believe this is an essential skill; a prerequisite to becoming a truly extraordinary leader. As such, that means it can be learned and can be practiced. Like many things, practice makes perfect.