Things will be slow on the blog this week because I'm having surgery. I'll be thinking about my next misadventure as I come to and recover. I hope you'll take time out this week to ponder your next exploration as well.
This is a true story of a misadventure from 35 years ago that has impacted how I think about success today (in good and bad ways). In 2005, I attended an Al Jarreau concert. As I soaked in every word he sang, I remembered the night I was first introduced to his music. I was about 20 years old and in a pickle caused by my drunk roommate.
I was living in Florida at the time. My roommate and I went to a club to dance. We were both broke and nursed our drinks for hours. The drinking age was eighteen at that time. We went our separate ways in the club after a couple of hours. I preferred to be on my own and she was more of an extrovert. I got alarmed, however, when it I couldn’t find my roommate thirty minutes before closing time. I circled through the club several times, checked the lady’s room, and looked for her in the parking lot. She’d left - probably with the cutest-guy-in-the-world-du-jour.
The bad thing about this situation was that she had driven us to the club. And I didn’t have enough money for a cab. Ft. Myers didn’t have public transportation at this time, either. I was stranded well beyond walking distance to my apartment.
After brainstorming options, I knew I’d have to ask someone—a stranger, because I didn’t know anyone left at the club—for a ride home. I didn’t want to make a request that seemed like it was more than I intended (no quid pro quo, if you know what I mean).
I observed a well-dressed middle-aged man at the bar. He seemed poised, pleasant, and not yet drunk. My nerves made my face go flush as I walked up to him. He smiled, but it was a reserved smile like perhaps he was surprised I was approaching him (maybe he thought I was a prostitute?). I explained my situation as humbly as possible—party-animal roommate, no money, apartment across town—and told him I needed a ride. He was gracious, sweet, and agreed to help me out.
I worried that he might not be as nice as he seemed—people are often no what they seem—but didn’t have a Plan B. This happened before people had cell phones, so there was no way to call or text a friend or family member for help.
Unimaginable, I know!
We left the bar and walked through the thinning parking lot. The man pointed toward the passenger side of his car, which was a Mercedes two-seater convertible. He got in, unlocked the doors to let me in, started the car, and put down the top.
Remember, I was twenty. I was thinking what I now know are highly illogical thoughts like how even if this guy was a perv, it might be worth some trouble to get to hang out at the riverfront mansion I imagined he owned. The car was cherry, so it was reasonable to assume he owned an enormous house and boat. And maybe a helicopter.
As we got onto the parkway, he turned on the built-in cassette player (cassettes were hot then, having just replaced the 8-track player in cars). What did the man play?
“Mornin'” and “Boogie Down” filled the air and my head with their complex and upbeat vibes. Fast car, cool breeze, and jazzy tunes. It was unlike anything I’d done or heard, and I was hooked.
The man didn’t say a word during the drive, although he smiled a few times when he noticed I was enjoying the music. I leaned back in the passenger's seat and soaked in the experience.
This was success.
As he reached my apartment parking lot, I thanked him, and we parted ways. I never knew his name, just that he was a gracious man who had impeccable taste.
Fast forward to today. When I need to feel successful or nudge myself out of a mental funk, I play jazzy tunes in my car, windows down, and let the breeze carry my hopes and intentions through my breath and body. And if I’m in a tough spot, I turn up the Al Jarreau. It works every time.
We all have metaphors for success—things, places, or situations emblematic of how we want to live. It’s helpful to reconnect with these experiences and explore why they resonate. I mentioned that this experience affected how I’ve thought about success in good and bad ways.
The good is obvious, I think. That music is evocative and can lift our moods and energy. The right song can make us smile.
The bad is likely obvious, too. That having a Mercedes and lots of money equals success. While this might be true for some, it depends on how we define success (an important topic for another day!).
At twenty, getting stuck at a bar because I didn’t have a car or enough money to call a cab shaped my view of the man’s success. He seemed to have it all, and I wanted a life like I imagined he lived. That’s the kicker, right? My imagination. All I saw was the outfit, the car, and the cassette tape. For all I knew, he might’ve been unhappy or lost. He was drinking alone. Or he might’ve been in town to close a lucrative new deal and was heading back to his blissful life on his private island.
I’ve written a lot about the power of small actions (the Butterfly Effect) and this is an excellent example of how a particular moment can reverberate in ways that change who we are, how we define success, and how we live.
We all play the role of Lisa-at-twenty at some point.
And we’re also the-man and have the privilege to transform how another person perceives their world.
I’m glad I experienced this mini-misadventure. Al Jarreau died in 2017, but he remains one of my favorite singers. “Mornin'” and “Boogie Down” are magical songs.
Last week, I asked my LinkedIn and Facebook connections to answer the following question:
When do you know (what are the signs) that a long-held life or career goal is obsolete (no longer relevant or possible or desired) and may, in-fact be what's holding you back?
Confession: While my intent was to get a variety of perspectives so that I could share them with you, I was also on a mission to understand this for myself because I'm at a crossroad in my career and life.
The responses were thought-provoking! Here are a few key themes:
- Does the goal/project/desired outcome energize or drain you? If drain and if you find yourself resisting doing the work that supports the goal, it might be time to question its relevance.
- The energy shifts – what people pull into or push away from changes (think working from home post-covid).
- When your purpose shifts and a higher calling reveals itself to you.
- When I get an even bigger idea!
- Life is trial and error. We try a lot of approaches before we find what works best. When something is working, we might need to let other, less aligned goals go.
- Sometimes after doing something for a while, you may feel like you’re done and ready to move on.
- Sometimes stuff happens to force us to move on and create new goals – work changes, health changes, family changes.
- We realize the reason we set a goal was hollow – based on what we thought we should do versus what we really wanted to do.
- When we realize that the time or opportunity window has closed, or that we’ve not demonstrated real/true/visible/tangible commitment for completing the goal
That's a meaty list of considerations and I'm thankful for the input I received. Which of these resonate for you?
I’ve decided to put everything I’m currently working toward through the energy question:
Does thinking about it or working on it drain or energize me?
It’s a tough one because, if I’m honest, over half of my current goals will fail this test. I shouldn't say fail, because that's not accurate. Most would end up in the column headed, DRAINS ME.
And then if use some of these other considerations, I should get a pretty good idea of the goals I should sunset and which I should expand.
Such a useful tool! And important work if we want to live a more misadventurous life, don’t you agree?
I've been thinking about the act of creation and the dilemma we face because we need to unplug to create.
Some of you might argue with this point and say that you can create while your email pings, cellphone vibrates with a new text, or you overhear eavesdrop on (we're all secretly voyeurs, don't you agree) several conversations.
Maybe...but not likely...and we could be creating at a much deeper level if we focused.
My email just pinged. I went to look, deleted the new message and now I am back. It is taking me a few moments to get back into what I was writing for this post. Sip of coffee might help.
… We need to unplug to create. I know this to be true for my writing. My best stuff flows when I shut down all outside influences for at least four hours. This is tough a challenge impossible with all the plugged-in things we have managing our lives (it's like they're in charge, isn't it?). Add to this the warm-blooded people and pets who seek our attention.
And then there are bodily functions, thirst, temperature, and other physical interruptions that pop up.
My writing was just halted by thoughts of being cold. I couldn't decide whether to turn the heat (no, because it will be hot later) or put on a fleece pullover. Or perhaps I should get on the WaterRower and generate heat. That seems like a lot of work.
Creation demands our undivided attention. And yet, so many of us find this a hard gift to give ourselves. Even the little red squiggly line that pops under misspelled words can disrupt our thinking.
Another ping. Should I look? Heck, I've already diverted my attention, might as well look. Two messages, deleted them both.
Where was I? Still cold and, oh yes, creativity.
Perhaps instead of a sensory deprivation tank, we need a disruption-free module somewhere in our home or office. We could remodel an Airstream Bambi and make it a safe zone. Or get one of those new office sheds. But the key would be to NOT bring cellphones, email, phones, or other potential distracters into the module. Or if a tighter space would be more practical, we could repurpose an abandoned phone booth (aren't they all?), paint it black and use a barstool sit on and the little shelve for your pad for laptop. Like a tiny house craze for offices!
Another ping. It’s OK, I'm still distracted because I'm shivering and haven't put on another layer. Why? My fleece pullover is in the other room and I don't want to get distracted. Wait, this email is GOOD – the REI summer sale starts today.
When I think about great writers – Hemingway, Steinbeck, other dead guys – I imagine they went to secluded places where they could write undisturbed. I've been to Hemingway’s home in Key West and, other than the genetically mutated extra-toed cats, it seems like a place that would have allowed him to focus while writing.
I am now distracted by my own mental interruption. I can’t help but wonder why there are BOTH too many wild chickens and too many street cats in Key West. It seems as though one would take care of the other and they would just have too many freaking fat cats. Having an extra toe means having an extra claw, too. Doesn't it? Not sure, but if so, they'd have one more weapon against the chickens. Will google.
But this has nothing to do with creativity.
The heater just kicked on, which tells me that I was not being a sissy, it was cold in here (we have the thermostat set at 67, so it must be colder than this).
I'm trying to think back to the last time I was able to create in a –
Another ping. It’s my daily Publisher’s Lunch email. I love seeing all the deals agents get for their clients...who write and FINISH books. How is it that some are so prolific? Do they not have a life or any friends? Or Twitter?
I am trying to think back to the last time I was able to shut out disruptions. It's been a while. I've read about famous writers who said that they took years to write a book. This seems like a long time, but maybe this is because it takes that long to string together bits of uninterrupted writing time.
an hour here
25 minutes there
two hours last week
I am distracted by the fact that this is likely the first time I've ever typed out the word etcetera in a sentence. It looks strange. We get so used to abbreviations.
The heater is still going, which tells me that it was VERY cold in my office. No wonder I was having a hard time thinking. Jeezze.
What is the solution to this conundrum fight never-ending bloody battle? How can we create works of beauty within the ugly mess that is our everyday lives?
There is no magic pill. Not legal, anyway, and drugs are never rarely the answer. We need to embody personal accountability (there's a sexy phrase, said no one ever). We need to do the best we can to reduce distractions. Turn all pings off, wear a diaper (kidding), dress comfortably, go for a pre-thinking walks, pet the cats and then lock them in another room, and then fill up a large mug of coffee and create.
We should avoid driving off a cliff.
We should avoid ingesting poisonous plants.
We should avoid jumping into a pit full of hungry tigers.
Some of the more common words used to describe misadventures include mishap and misfortune. Even tragedy. And misadventures can be these things and often are. But let's talk perspective and scale.
Common mindset based on what we often learn about misadventures: Misadventure = something to avoid.
Consider another, bolder mindset about misadventures: Misadventure = opportunity to live full out and have a more vivid experience.
But how do we avoid driving off a cliff but welcome trying driving with no destination in mind or map? How do we avoid eating a deadly berry but welcome experimenting with new foods?
Misadventure as opportunity is a mindset that nudges our every day habits closer to the edge of our comfort zone. Eventually, misadventure as opportunity is a mindset that routinely takes us out of our comfort zones, but not irresponsibly (like jumping in a pit of tigers).
This week: Reflect on what misadventure as opportunity might mean for you. It's different for each of us, because our comfort zones are at different places.
For me, nudging or blasting through my comfort zone could mean:
- Being really open and nurturing, spending time in this way.
- Transcending what I think I'm capable of physically.
- Engaging in a new enterprise that requires strong teamwork and co-leadership to succeed.
- Cooking something new from scratch.
- Taking a trip with no agenda or plan.
Yes, I'm a recovering control freak. I'm currently cooking up potential misadventures for all of these types of experiences. What might your list look like? And if you embraced your list, how might this impact your work or life? I think the more we nudge or blast past our comfort zones, the more interesting and fulfilling our live will feel.
I attended a Startup Advantage zoom session yesterday that offered a few interesting tips.
The talk was called, Get Uncomfortable: A Mindset for Innovation and Disruption. It was lead by Randall Stevens, CEO of AVAIL and co-owner of two large coworking spaces.
He related his ideas to a large disruption we're all living through right now: covid-19 and its reverberating impacts. Here are the key points:
Stop, slow down, or change what you can and should. This means that, even if decisions are difficult, we need to adjust some things. And as leaders, entrepreneurs, and community members, it's our responsibility to have eyes wide open and act accordingly.
Tell a new story. You might have a product, service, or skills that could help people and organizations right now - especially right now. Think Zoom. Think NTI technologies. Think grocery delivery services. But to add value and operationalize this capability, we need to tell a new story so that potential users or customers, who might not be thinking this is something they need or could trust, see the potential for how it might add value to their work or life.
Create features FOR the moment. Any disruption - whether broad like covid or specific to one location or industry - calls for some things to stop and new things to begin. What are the services, messages, tools, or features that would best serve the moment? I decided to start this blog at this time partly with this in mind. That people might need suggestions and encouragement for how to best enjoy their lives and careers during this major disruption. How to have fun in a fog kind of thing.
Meet your "customers" where they're at NOW. Things have changed. Needs have changed. Bank accounts have changed. The structure of family life has changed. Recreation has changed. Goals and aspirations may have changed. Don't expect people or organizations to restart right where they were in January. Start thinking about how to best help and serve them based on their current reality.
This is not rocket science, but it is helpful to think about at this time. I'm going to use these suggestions to assess how best to ensure the success of my writing, the Lexington Writer's Room, and my other endeavors. I hope you will, too!
Twenty-two year old Lisa was a loner, just like the fifty-six year old version is today. Even so, this young lady loved disco music and dancing. Even more, she loved participating in disco-dance competitions. She and her partner (just a partner, not someone she was dating) won a few at the ABC Liquors lounges in the Tampa Bay area where they both attended college. A hundred bucks split two ways was a decent haul for two near broke young adults. ABC Liquors was what we might refer to as a Tier B or C place - low hanging fruit with less competition from good dancers because the good dancers went to nicer places.
There were a few Tier A discotheques in town, too. They had dance contests, too. Young Lisa entered several but never won at a Tier A place. Why? Were they not good enough? There was no THEY at Tier A spots. Lisa chose to enter these contests by herself. No dance partner. Just Lisa, in the middle of the small carved out area on the dance floor all by herself. Everyone's eyes on her.
Lisa was a good dancer. Not to a level worthy of being featured on a reality TV show, but good. She had a touch for the underlying rhythms of each song and loved the hard thumping songs by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Depeche Mode, and Adam Ant.
She never won when she danced alone. Even so, she kept entering.
I don't quite understand what motivated Lisa to do this, and I don't specifically remember how she felt before during or after her solo dance performances. I remember high highs and low lows. I do remember one specific low low. After not winning, Lisa went out to the parking lot where she'd parked her piece of shit Honda 120 motorcycle. She'd left her helmet hanging upside down on the bike and it had rained. She poured out the water that had pooled in the helmet and then put it on. Water squished out from the soaked foam that lined the inside. A metaphor for the evening?
It takes a lot of...something... courage, ego, determination... something... to enter a dance contest in a crowded Tier A lounge. And double of that to enter it alone. Maybe zest, or zeal, or challenge. Remember, she was a loner, so the motivation was not to be seen or noticed. Like the older version, disco Lisa preferred to fade into the background unless something or someone in particular intrigued her. Then her movements and communication were clear, direct and focused. Dancing in front of a few hundred people was far too shotgun an approach for socialization to be the motivator.
I'm pretty sure that the key to understanding why Lisa danced alone lies in the high highs and low lows. Being humiliated, embarrassed, and a loser is not so bad as failing to play full out. Full out. Complete self-expression.
I'd like to tap back into my twenty-two year old self every now and then. Be so inspired by the potential to play full out that I risk complete failure.
My exploration of misadventures began well before my twenties, but my confidences and courage peaked during this time.
What did your younger self do that amazes you today?
I'm digging this new hack. Life is big and heavy - especially NOW - but we can find the time and energy for micro-misadventures. Even me (drugged up on hormones and oral chemo).
What's a micro-misadventure?
Five to thirty minutes of delicious mischievousness that has the following qualities:
- You're quite interested and engaged to do this (hardest part for me).
- High potential that things will go way wrong. In other words, this is not something you already know how to do and do every day.
- It's a new or slightly new. Some aspect of this action is unknown to you.
Here's a brainstorm of potential MMs - these are my ideas, your results will vary. The point is to be deliberate and to seek at least one MM each day. Start with right now.
- Play You Tube Yoga Class Russian Roulette - search for 30-minute ______ (chair, standing, dancing, crazy) yoga class and select the fifth one you find.
- Paint something in the house a bright color.
- Try something (legal) that is known to have psychoactive properties.
- Sit outside, select a bird that's making some noise, and practice mimicking it's call.
- Go live on Facebook right now and talk about something that is fascinating you at the moment. Invite input or support.
- Offer to do something new for someone that you've never done before. Like cutting their hair, sewing a shirt, making a happy hour cocktail with different ingredients than you've used before.
- Bake something for you've never baked before (basically anything).
- Die your hair a weird color.
- Re-plant a plant so that it is happier.
- Take a ten minute walk and photograph everything _______(round, blue, spiky, gorgeous). Post on Instagram; explain your selections.
What do you think? Make your list and use it to have micro-misadventures throughout the week. Report back!