Eric Stevens

Fitness Speaker, Author & Personality

Eric Stevens is a health and fitness coach, trainer and practitioner. Eric has broadened that body focused fitness with writing, presenting and acting in order to reach people, change lives, and create dialogue.

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What Dad taught me about life

My Dad never taught me how to hunt with a bow, rebuild a car engine or fix a broken fence. While my childhood was ideal in many ways, I never learned the ‘manly’ skill sets of being handy or living off the land. Though Pop had been an active boy scout throughout his childhood, he was a city slicker at heart and much more inclined to teach me about creativity, culture, and business than using my hands to create.

During one of my summer jobs in junior high, I worked in an industrial shop and on my first day, the foreman asked me to hand him a 7/16 wrench. I literally had no idea what the heck he was talking about. Thankfully, I married into a good Southern family and my father-in-law taught me how to shoot a shotgun, chop wood, and grill a good cut of meat!

Don’t get me wrong, Dad had some pretty masculine qualities. He was bold, courageous, and as aggressive as they come. When Dad saw something he wanted, he went after it passionately. In his professional life, my father epitomized the definition of a “type A” personality. But in his personal life, he was soft as a kitty cat. Dad had a beautiful mixture of qualities from which I learned a great deal. Here are some of the life lessons that I learned from my father:

Never forget to say ‘I love you.’ Some men think it’s not manly to show emotion, express affection, or be vulnerable. Dad thought that was bullshit. He said “I love you” every time I spoke to him. Every. Single. Time. More than anything, perhaps the most important lesson Dad taught me was that love matters most - More than status, material things, where you work, or how you vote. Pop stressed that even compared to personal happiness, love matters more. Dad felt that love was the most important thing in his life and he expressed that love with the best of them. He lived his life by leading with love, knowing that true joy is found in the expression of loyalty in friendship, devotion to family, and in caring for others around him.

Forgiveness is a necessity. My Grandfather was a very accomplished man. Unfortunately, he was also a very flawed man. As my Grandmother was dying of cancer, Grandpa ran off with a buxom blonde. Classy move huh? Holding a grudge would have been understandable. But Dad didn’t see it that way. You get one father and his dad, though obviously lacking character in some ways, also had qualities worth fighting for. Dad didn’t air Grandpa’s dirty laundry nor did he banish him into exile. Instead, he chose to forgive him without holding a grudge. In fact, I never even knew about Grandpa’s transgressions until long after he was gone. As the old adage goes, “love is stronger than pride.” Dad knew that to love with your whole heart also requires a forgiving heart. 

Say what you mean like you mean it. Dad was a church-going, God-fearing man. He had the utmost integrity in business and in life. He didn’t drink or smoke. But he did swear like a drunken sailor! When Dad barked, people listened. When we were growing up, Dad never used physical or harsh punishment. He didn’t need to. When we kids got out of line, Pop always had a few choice words that usually involved at least a few F Bombs. Believe me, we straightened up quickly and even the kids in the neighborhood learned that my Dad was a force to be reckoned with. 

Swearing for emphasis has become sort of a lost art. As society has become more ‘advanced’ in many ways, collectively we’ve also become more politically correct, passive aggressive, and emotionally repressed. While it’s never right to be hurtful or hateful with words, it just might help us to be a bit more f**king direct every now and then. Dad taught us to always say what you mean whether it’s “I love you so much and I’m so proud of you,” or “Pick up your Damn room!!!” Both ends of the spectrum have their place.

You are not your job, your things, or your money. Dad liked nice things. He and his friend Steve kicked the tires of just about every nice car they could get their shoes on. Dad drove luxury cars and wore custom suits. He sported a fancy gold watch, several gold rings, a gold necklace and even a gold bracelet for good measure. If Dad had worn velour sweat suits, he could have been cast as The Godfather!

But as much as he appreciated nice stuff, Dad also learned the hard way that money comes and goes and things, are just things. And as careful and conscientious as he was with money, he also had some unlucky breaks. While some worked half as hard and seemed to skate by on easy street, Dad had the misfortune of some bad timing.

Dad didn’t have to just grapple with losing things and money at times, but status as well. While my father had a lot of professional success, as he wound down his career, he went from being the boss to the back burner rapidly. For decades, Pop had been a leader in business and the community, but in a flash he was a forgotten entity. It was a big time ego check, but he changed his identity with grace, humility, and gratitude.

Pop knew that even those of us fortunate enough to have success will be faced with a change of identity some day - athletes get injured, bosses retire, and marriages end by death or divorce. Titles and things are nice, but ultimately they matter a lot less than qualities.

The left lane is for passing only. Dad liked fast cars and driving them they way they are meant to be driven. Maybe it was his German heritage and subconsciously he saw the open road as the autobahn. Maybe it was the fast-paced New Yorker in him, but Dad knew where he was going and he didn’t F around with getting there quickly. His driving even earned him the moniker “Fast Phil.” Interestingly enough, I never recall Pops receiving a speeding ticket - He must have had some divine intervention there with him in the passenger seat! There are times in life to stop and smell the roses and there are times to drive fast and feel the wind in you hair. Dad knew how to stay in his lane.

Work Hard, Rest Hard. Though he moved quickly, was aggressive in business and could shop till he dropped, Dad balanced that drive as a world-class napper. He taught that hard work is a virtue, but he definitely emphasized rest as well. Dad could sleep on planes, in cars and especially in his recliner!

As an intern in college, I once fell asleep in a large meeting at Dad’s advertising agency. After the meeting, he didn’t get mad or curse me out. In fact, he didn’t even say a word. I like to think my old man sort of respected my napping prowess and felt that I was simply a chip off the old block! Resting well was part of Dad’s ying and yang. In the same way that he swore aggressively, but said I love you softly, he drove fast, but took the time to take a nap when he needed one.

Dad never taught me to change my own oil or use a power tool. But he did teach me how to be a man in a different way. Pop taught me to live in the moment and be aggressive in pursuing the things I want in life. He taught me to stand up for those I love and say what I mean. He taught me to move swiftly and with intention, but to recover well. My Father taught me that forgiveness matters more than being right. More than anything, Dad taught me to love fiercely and with my whole heart. I am so very grateful to have learned so much from such a loving father. In the end, love is the only thing you can take with you.

Falling into Place

“When we learn to fall, we learn that only by letting go our grip on all that we ordinarily find most precious—our achievements, our plans, our loved ones, our very selves—can we find, ultimately, the most profound freedom. In the act of letting go of our lives, we return more fully to them." — Philip Simmons

When I was a kid I loved the New York Yankees with all of my heart. My Dad, a New Yorker by birth, brought my brother and me to games while visiting family back east, and in seeing the “House that Ruth built,” it was love at first sight for me. The aura, the tradition, the pinstripes, Babe Ruth and Don Mattingly - what’s not to like about the Bronx Bombers?! The Yankees were perfection and I was going to be their future second baseman. At least that was my plan when I was seven.

At that point, I was enrolled in art class at the Portland Art Museum for the summer, but in seeing the kids out on the local baseball field, I was adamant that my mom let me quit art class and allow me to sign up for little league baseball. She reluctantly agreed. I wasn’t a terrible second baseman, but by the time I was 12 it was pretty clear that Yankee pinstripes weren’t in my future.

In high school and college I was determined to become a successful advertising executive like my father. I joined both a business and a social fraternity and even had my own briefcase, just like Dad. And after finishing school, I was a pretty decent ad man and the money was good, but it didn’t feed my soul, so I kept searching.

I left traditional advertising for new media and after a failed ‘Dot-Com’ start up venture in my late twenties, I decided it was high time to figure out what I really wanted to do with my life. After months of soul searching, I landed on acting. I had been an enthusiastic actor in high school and I seemed to have a knack for entertaining others. “Broadway here I come!” I thought to myself. After landing a couple leading roles in local plays, I applied to some of the top Masters programs in the country for acting - Yale, Cal Arts and a few others. But despite my enthusiasm, I didn’t get in to any of them. Still, I persisted with acting, grinding out local theater and independent film productions in Seattle. While I loved the creative process, as the years passed, I also realized that life as a starving artist wasn’t in the long-term cards for me. 

Along the way, I had picked up a job as a personal trainer to feed my acting habit. As someone who was passionate about exercise and a fairly adept communicator, I did well in fitness. I enjoyed coaching and made a decent living, but the income was erratic and offered few benefits outside of the high hourly wage. I felt trapped by the glass ceiling of monetizing hours in the day.

Then the idea occurred to me that instead of chasing passion and purpose, I should settle for stability. I had befriended someone who was a police officer and he made a good living, raked in lots of overtime pay and enjoyed one of the few careers that still provides a guaranteed retirement. Though law enforcement wasn’t really in my creative, free thinking wheelhouse, I liked the idea of helping others and helping myself with a ‘stable’ career. The only problem was, I didn’t get in to the police departments I applied to. Whether the cops didn’t like my critical thought process and ‘question authority’ disposition or I had partied too hard in college, I’ll never know. But at the end of the process, it was clear - I wasn’t going to be a cop.

I stuck with fitness and decided that I would change the world through my natural ability as a personality. I auditioned for and was selected to be on national television as an on camera trainer in a TV series for MTV. Surely this was my big break and I was destined for speaking engagements, on camera work, and life as a celebrity trainer. But it didn’t turn out that way. The show flopped after one season and no one called me to become the next Jack Lalanne or Jillian Michaels.

I decided a change of scenery was necessary. Colorado is a fitness mecca and the vitamin D suited me well. I started blogging and writing and with my creative background, storytelling seemed to flow naturally. I began publishing regularly for fitness magazines and websites. Surely a book deal was right around the corner...But the reality was, writing provided even less income and stability than acting. Back to square one.

As I approached middle age, the prospect of not having a stable and successful career track seemed utterly terrifying. In many ways it still scares the hell out of me. But instead of planning to be the next Derek Jeter, Brad Pitt, or Mickey Spillane, I’ve decided to just be Eric. Instead of trying to figure out my next step, I’ve decided to simply concentrate on trying to live my current step.

I’ve realized, as the quote from Phillip Simmons says, that in order to truly discover my authentic path, I must be willing to let go, stumble and fall…a lot. To that end, I seem to be making progress! Besides, as someone who thought that I had all the answers along the way, not knowing can actually be somewhat liberating. Having a passion and a plan is great, but I’ve also learned through the years that falling and failing is ultimately the only way we truly learn and grow.

Still, the tape in my head continues to play on auto repeat. “What if I’m not that special or talented? What if I never get rich? What if I don’t ever reach that mountaintop? What if I never figure out what I’m supposed to be when I grow up?” These dilemmas have kept me up at many a night. 

But falling and failing has taught me two things: I will get back up and I will keep going. Furthermore, it is life’s failures that forge our character and give us meaning. 

My brother had the world by the balls before a massive medical issue at 30 changed his career, personal life and lifestyle. While he had to let go of his hobbies as an avid rock climber and motorcycle enthusiast and ended up leaving a high-income job, he said hello to a lifelong commitment to his wife and his faith. As my brother learned, cool motorcycles, nice houses and fancy vacations are great, but they aren’t the meaning of life. Nor is a decorative title or a ‘successful’ career.

I’ve realized, just like my brother, that what is really important is loving my wife, family and those close to me. What’s important is contributing to my community and deepening my relationship with the Divine. That is the meaning of life.

I’m now in yet another new career in hospitality. I like helping others and hope to build a brand at some point in wellness fused with hospitality. But by now, I’ve learned enough to know that plans change and in the meantime, life happens. Instead of planning for future success, I’m now trying more so to listen in the present.

Falling (and failing) has been a mixed blessing in my life. Sometimes it’s tempting to feel sorry for myself for not having reached the pinnacle of what society deems as success. But life doesn’t work that way. There is no mountaintop, only climbing and falling. On the journey, if we’re lucky, we live and learn and fall in love. To that end I am super fortunate to have lived, learned and loved. I’m still not sure what I want to be when I grow up, but I know I’ll keep trying, failing and getting back up along the way.

The Middle Children of History

 “We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war…our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact.”  ― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club 

By now it’s not news to you that we have an opioid epidemic that kills more Americans each year than died during the entire duration of the Vietnam War. It’s not news that obesity has become a pandemic across our nation killing an estimated 300,000 people annually. It’s not news that depression and suicide are at all time highs in our country with some 45,000 people taking their own lives each year. It’s not news to you that despite living in an age of unprecedented technological advances, we actually have declining life expectancy in our nation. We are increasingly addicted to our food, our phones, our booze and our prescription drugs. We even ‘binge’ watch our television. But none of that is news.

Our collective anxiety, addiction, escapism, and desperation is no longer newsworthy, for the vast majority of us are personally battling these afflictions on some level whether individually or through our circle of loved ones. What is newsworthy is that despite fighting the war on drugs, war on fat, and war on terror, none of these societal conflicts are helping us live longer happier lives. The big news story isn’t the what, but the why.

So just why are we depressed, addicted, overweight and unhappy? After all, we live in the richest nation on earth at the most prosperous time in history. Technology makes our lives so efficient that few of us have to actually labor strenuously to find food, shelter or even entertainment. The answer is simple, and yet complex. We feel separate from each other and live in polarizing times because we are separate from ourselves. We are out of alignment.   

If you watch the news and pay attention to those in power politically and economically, the answers to our dilemmas come in convenient packages with straight forward answers - Obesity will be solved by burning calories, jobs and personal safety will be protected by building walls, drug addiction will be solved by locking up drug dealers and seizing the supply of illegal drugs. But deep down, no matter where you lie on the political and philosophical spectrum, we all know this is a lie. None of these short-sided ‘answers’ really address the why’s behind the what.

The proof is in the pudding. Despite our protectionist tendencies and efforts to save our jobs, both machines and other countries continue to take our jobs at an alarming pace. Despite a decades-long war on drugs focusing on locking up drug dealers and seizing drugs, this fight has had zero impact on drug consumption and addiction. Despite more and more joining gyms fueling the fitness industry’s unprecedented double-digit growth for the past 30-years, the burning calories approach has had no impact on the amount of overweight and obese Americans. These are failed approaches because they don’t address the underlying causes of our ailments.

We need to stop addressing the ‘what’ and start tackling the ‘why’ behind these issues. The reason we are overweight, unhappy and depressed is because many of us lack purpose, meaning and a feeling of true fulfillment in our lives. Great meals, engrossing entertainment and fine wine won’t solve our emptiness. Ironically, our escapism only exacerbates our pain. No matter how fast we run on the treadmill of life, the belt keeps going and at some point we have to get off and face the pain, guilt and shame of our own emptiness.

Facing the why means waging a “spiritual war” as Chuck Palahniuk states. Or as Gandhi famously said, “each one of us has to find his peace from within.” But many aren’t willing to wage that war. We’re too distracted and comfortable to be bothered. We’re too busy complaining about the system being broken that we don’t actually organize and mobilize to find real solutions. It’s much easier to blame the left if you’re on the right (or vice versa), to blame the drug dealers if you’re a drug user and to blame the calories if you’re overweight. These simplistic narratives have proven to be failed approaches and continue to do nothing to advance our cause as a society.

More than 150 years ago, Henry David Thoreau prophesized this dynamic. His haunting quote about despair and its correlation to amusement also contains the remedy (wisdom). “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation…A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.”

The time has come to reject the notions of addiction and corruption and break out of our quiet lives of desperation. As “middle children of history,” our fight isn’t a black and white one like the wars and moral battles of our grandparents and great grandparents. Addiction, depression and even political gridlock aren’t solved with walls, diet plans and simply choosing the lesser of two evils. They are solved in the stillness of our hearts, in selfless community-driven efforts and in relationship with the Divine.

We must wage new wars in fighting the powerful and corrupt while at the same time holding ourselves to the same level of accountability. We must stand up to monopolies of thought and monopolies of commerce and political power. We must fight against systemic injustices like fake food and aggressive marketing campaigns that promote massive consumption and in turn, addiction.

The answers in these seemingly hopeless times will only present themselves if we are first willing to address the why’s behind the what. Waging such a spiritual war is not about choosing sides, but about finding a ‘third’ way and through the process of “kenosis” or self-emptying. It is only when we empty our lives that we can be truly receptive to God’s will. It is only through emptiness that we can find wholeness. It’s only by finding ourselves individually that we can band together and truly forge a path for peace collectively.


The Fear of Living

According to the Chapman University Survey on American Fears, a corrupt government is now the number one fear for people in our country. Other top worrisome concerns for Americans include pollution, those close to them dying/getting sick and not having enough money.

In our modern turbulent world, it’s curious but perhaps not surprising that these new fears have replaced the more ‘traditional’ fears of dying and public speaking. We now fear the environment around us (both literally and figuratively) more than our own internal fears. We fear the economic environment, the ecological environment the political environment. In a telling sign of the times, five of the top ten fears are also now related to ecological issues like pollution and global warming.

For many years, the most common fears were “phobias” such as: social phobias (public speaking or going to parties), arachnophobia (spiders) arcophobia (heights), pteromerhanophobia (flying), claustrophobia (small confined spaces), ophidiophobia (snakes), trypanophobia (needles) and so on. And, of course, the grand daddy of all primal fears (death, or those closest to us dying).

While we still fear dying and losing those nearest to us, what we really seem to fear more than ever is living. It seems almost counter-intuitive, but many now fear living even more than dying. Considering the nature of things these days, this actually makes some sense.

Life in the year 2018 seems vastly uncertain, utterly confusing, and most of all, completely vulnerable. Attack of every sort seems imminent - cyber attack, data breaches, terrorism, civil unrest, environmental collapse, financial meltdown, pollution, identity theft, drought, fires, mass shootings, devastating floods and storms.

One could contend that our modern existence boils down to an obsessive state of worry and constant rumination about these disheartening dilemmas: How will we make a living? How will we pay our medical bills, how will we find clean water, how will our corrupt government protect us? Is it safe to go to church or the mall?

Moreover, the nature of our habitually plugged in lives perpetuates this never-ending cycle of doom and gloom. We seem to be in a hopeless and powerless state marked by environmental collapse, the erosion of jobs to machines, futile political polarization and gridlock, the decline of civil discourse and the epidemic of loneliness – Why should we fear flying and snakes, when life is this scary!?!

It’s enough to drive one to drink or look the other direction at something bright, shiny and pleasant. So, that is exactly what many of us do – we numb. We incessantly surf, scroll, browse, and shop. We text, Snapchat, and Tweet. We dull our pain and anxiety with booze and opiates. We watch TV, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime. We travel or participate in ‘experience driven’ vacations to escape the busyness, boredom and fear of our ordinary lives. We brood over sports, scandal, and celebrity gossip. In short, we do anything to flee from reality because it’s just too damn scary and uncertain.

It’s a daunting task in this day and age to ponder the nature of the immense problems of living (let alone come up with possible solutions). It’s no wonder we’re driven to so much distraction. Regardless of whether our fear is living or dying, many react with the same mantra – “run like hell.”

Sometimes when I stop and think about the really good parts of being alive in this era, I can only come up with one thing - food. The food is really good. Craft food, farm to table restaurants, the organic movement, specialty food stores, authentic food trucks, what’s not to like? I can only imagine future conversations in Heaven or the next dimension with former relatives or those from other times:

Q: “So, what was life like back in the 2000’s?”

A: “Well, it was terrifying, but the food was excellent!”

Yeah, and at least the music was good on the Titanic, right? Indeed, it’s hard not to be a flippant skeptic in this day and age, and yet there is a way out of the despair and subsequent numbing. The recipe for curing hopelessness is love. Specifically, the love of one self.

Gandhi famously said: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” 

In the book of Luke, Christ commanded: “The kingdom of God is within you.”

The Dalai Lama said that peace: “Starts within each one of us.”

The foundational element for a true peace of mind is love. Whether your peace means justice, bringing about the end of conflict, environmental harmony, freedom from worry over financial concerns, or the trials of health and happiness - Solving all these dilemmas starts within the confines of our own self-love. Whatever your belief construct is or whomever you pray to, the path to a fulfillment of peace is clear - The only way to calm the tumultuous waters that we are currently navigating collectively is for us to each seek inner peace and grace individually.

Like many these days, I too am worried about the future as I am worried about the now. But I have begun to see that my biggest personal task and contribution is to seek and forge my own path for peace. We must begin to see that the acute dilemmas of our time are exacerbated by the biggest trial of the day – distraction from our internal conflicts.

The real fear of living isn’t about external phobias, societal collapse or the threat of our own demise. Rather, the root of this fear is about the willingness to confront our own shadows of shame, trauma and guilt. The journey starts with the willingness to embrace both the sharpness of pain and dullness of stillness. As overwhelming as our current obstacles may seem, each one of us has a crystal clear path in solving the crisis of communal fear – facing our own.

The Safety Dance

As a toddler in the 70’s, one thing that was noticeably absent whenever I was riding around in the car with my parents was a car seat. In fact, I didn’t even wear a seatbelt. Instead, I used to sit on the center armrest in the front seat. Apparently, I liked the view up there and the closer proximity to Mom and Dad made for more robust conversation. 

Just imagine the uproar these days of seeing a toddler riding in a car down the street just inches from the windshield without so much as a car seat or even a seat belt providing protection. The ordeal would be national news and the parents would surely be sent to prison! But back in my formative years, no one seemed to give a damn. And it wasn’t just the seat belt either. The 70’s and 80’s were like the Wild West for kids growing up in that era. No seat belts, no scrutiny and no supervision.

Not to throw my parents under the bus, mind you. Loose parenting was without a doubt the norm in my day. Like most kids back then, I learned to ride a bike without a bike helmet. I learned to ski without a helmet as well. Every kid I knew ate peanuts (and gluten, lactose and everything else we could inhale). Most kids were a bit hyper and yet, as far as I knew, none were regularly medicated.

As grade-schoolers, my friends and I walked to the bus stop unaccompanied by parents. We rode our bikes around the neighborhood and all over town. As pre driving teenagers, we regularly took the bus downtown to hangout. All activities were unsupervised and there were no cell phones or other means of direct communication with actual adults. We were simply told to be home by dinner.

Not that there weren’t legitimate dangers to be concerned with. The violent crime rate in the 1980’s was significantly higher than it is now. I knew two kids that died from ski accidents. A family friend lost their son to drunk driving. One kid in my high school was hit by a train and killed. Several kids from a local school were killed in a tragic mountaineering accident. 

Indeed there were good reasons to be at least somewhat fearful back then and yet we were seemingly oblivious to danger. It’s a wonder I survived! All joking aside, society back in the day needed to get its act together where it came to safety, supervision and street smarts. Fortunately, we did.

In the past 30 years, seat belts have saved countless lives. Helmets have prevented many deaths and serious life altering injuries. Prominent media campaigns like MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) helped bring about positive changes in attitudes and legislation to combat impaired driving. Social attitudes have vastly improved as well. For instance, gay kids and other marginalized groups didn’t enjoy the freedom and respect back then that they do now. Thanks to an evolution in thought and action, life has become safer and in many ways, better. 

However, while the 70’s and 80’s were a bit too reckless and nonchalant, the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. Fear now permeates almost every facet of our culture. Parents don’t let their kids outside unaccompanied because of fearing kidnappers and rapists. We fear immigrants as dangerous criminals and opportunists looking to steal our jobs. We fear terrorism. We fear people using the wrong bathrooms. We even fear peanuts and gluten. Many, if not most of these topical fears have almost no reasonable basis or factual substantiation. We’re obsessed with danger and paralyzed by fear, but the reality is we have never been safer. Consider the following statistics:

We don’t connect the dots of our media-driven, fear-based culture and how it’s making us inept, impotent and frankly, soft. We’re weak where we need to toughen up and we’re distracted or ignorant where it comes to the actual legitimate fears we should be concerned with.

  • Despite a tragic and pronounced epidemic of addiction, no one seems to notice the correlation that many kids (and adults) are more heavily medicated than ever. Furthermore, no one seems to mind the constant bombardment of aggressive advertising touting highly addictive substances from processed sugar to alcohol to prescription drugs.

  • Despite the alarming trend of growing suicide rates, we pay little attention to the compulsive nature of screen time and social media, which are correlated with depression and anxiety.

  • Despite guns killing almost 1300 kids each year and the appalling epidemic of mass shootings and school shootings, we’re too self absorbed and politically polarized to actually get anything done about it.

  • Despite a massive looming threat from the critical state of the environment, many are unwilling to adjust their lifestyle and consumption habits. 

The obvious question we should be asking related to issues of safety is the query “Is It working?” Seat belts undoubtedly work. Without question, bike and ski helmets work. But ‘safe’ zones and ‘helicopter' parenting do nothing but perpetuate a culture of fear and ineptitude. Prescription drug ads do nothing but create a frenzy of drug use and abuse.

False ideologies on both sides of the political spectrum are to blame for our coddled and contemptuous society. Many shamefully fear monger by demonizing those that look, pray and love differently. Others left lack courage in standing up to political correctness run amok. We are now a nation of wimps and whiners thanks in large part to the unintended consequences of overparenting and the ridiculous notion of “safetyism.” 

The fact is we are much safer than we think from the issues that garner the most attention like crime and terrorism. Yet paradoxically, we’re also in much more danger than we’re aware from the issues that lurk beneath the surface of popular thought. While we’re busy fretting over immigrants, terrorists and peanuts, threats of our own psyche (addiction, mental health and suicide) are literally killing us. Because of these threats, for the second year in a row, as a nation we are facing a declining life expectancy.

If we are to succeed personally, culturally and environmentally, we need a balanced approach to fear and safety. I’m not advocating for a return to the careless attitudes of my free-swinging childhood. But it’s time to bring that pendulum back to the center if just a bit. It’s time for us to face the music and stand up to fear instead of promoting and succumbing to it.

Mental Slavery – The American Nightmare

I am proud to call myself an American. I’m honored to live in a country that stands for freedom, not to mention the great human spirits of innovation, opportunity and creativity. From the Declaration of Independence to cultural contributions that have benefitted all of mankind, we Americans have a lot to be proud of.

The “American Dream” serves as an example that many across the globe look to emulate. My ancestors emigrated to the United States from Germany and Scandinavia to establish and demonstrate that dream in all of its glory. In addition to providing opportunity and freedom for its citizenry, America has also upheld these values for much of humanity. Many Americans, including some of my relatives, have fought against the evils of tyranny and fascism, putting their lives on the line in the name of justice and liberty.  

But the greatness of the most successful republic in history is also contrasted and tainted by an ugly ball and chain of oppression. For all of America’s countless moral victories, paradoxically we have also enslaved millions. From the genocide of American Indians, to the enslavement of African Americans to Japanese American internment in WWII, you cannot talk American history without acknowledging the ‘American nightmare’ of slavery.

Thankfully, the concept of literal bondage and ‘physical’ slavery is largely a thing of the past in our country. However, an arguably worse and dubious carnage lurks in the shadows of modern America – ‘mental’ slavery. One cannot observe a news headline these days without running into the concept of subjugation of thought. Addiction, obesity, suicide, mass shootings and even the compulsive nature of social media are all examples of mental enslavement.

Throughout the course of history, popular thought accepted that certain races and cultures were subhuman, genetically different and inferior (and therefore worthy of mistreatment and enslavement). As humanity has evolved, most have come to see the thinking that brought about mass enslavement as a fabricated myth and a devious lie. We can largely agree that all human beings are truly equal and share an unlimited capacity for love and goodness regardless of color or creed.

However, while we as a civilization and society have made tremendous strides in the concept of physical slavery, we’ve yet to fully acknowledge the nefarious underlying suggestions that bring about mental captivity. The crux of mental slavery is less malicious and harder to spot. Instead of overt hatred and judgment, the conditions that bring about the confinement of thought are more subliminal in nature.

Notably, the pervasive and constant dopamine loops that permeate our constantly connected world can promote an obsessive sense of tribalism. That is, labeling one another as genetically unique, different or damaged. While commonplace, this type of thinking also carries the risk of addiction and misery, as many become slaves to their own labels.

Says best selling author and professor of ethical leadership at NYU Jonathan Haidt, “Applying labels to people can create what is called a looping effect. It can change the behavior of the person being labeled and become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is part of why labeling is such a powerful cognitive distortion.” Psychology tells us that repetition can breed familiarity, but redundancy can also breed mesmerism and addiction. It only takes so many times of being told you’re sick, different or depressed before you start to believe it.

‘Something is wrong with everyone’ is the generally and commonly held belief. Beyond the construct of individual responsibility inherent in accepting this belief, the media and many corporations also perpetuate the notion that you are a slave to your body and your genes. Case in point, prescription drug advertisements that target anyone and everyone - surely, there must be at least one affliction that requires you taking a drug for the rest of your life! According to the British Medical Journal, for every dollar spent on research and development, pharmaceutical companies spend $19 on advertising! With our media inspired, drug-infused culture, is there any we wonder we have such a tragic and pronounced opioid epidemic?  

But this isn’t just the case with drugs. Heavy people are told to get their act together and shape up, yet they’re also fed a heavy dose of direct to consumer advertising promoting sugary beverages, fast food and outright junk. Children are told they deserve trophies and can be anything they want to be, all the while being held to models of unattainable physical and intellectual perfection.

We mass market toxins to our populace and wonder why we’re sick. At the same time, we market drugs, pills and potions that supposedly combat these ailments yet never quite heal or cure our afflictions. We accept our mental shackles (labels as addicts, sick or having the wrong genes) like sheep being led to the slaughter. The way out is to refute and stand up to such aggressive and misguided suggestions. You are your genes and your circumstances only up to a point.

Sick people need comprehensive care and fully functional medicine, not just the promise of quick fixes and pills. We should demand our doctors ask us about our lives, rather than demanding medications from them as we’re instructed to do on television. Heavy people need empathy and education, not the burden of shame or misguided allure of temporary ‘solutions.’ The poor and downtrodden need compassion, not contempt. Societal tragedies such as mass shootings and homelessness need to be treated as urgent mental health issues, not just chalked up as the new normalcy and the plight of someone else’s problem.

Being completely absorbed with our own self image, passions and desires leads to bondage. Breaking the chains of mental slavery means standing up for something greater than the self and feeding one’s own ego (there is a reason that the tenets of addiction treatment calls for the recognition of and reliance on a higher power). To heal and find wholeness, we must instead serve others and God first. As it says in Second Corinthians, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”

We all bear some responsibility for standing up to the evils of slavery, be it mental or physical. The answers don’t come in convenient packages or pills. The answers don’t come in labeling and pointing fingers at each other. Real freedom comes when the hypnotic influence of false thinking is unmasked. Freedom is truth.

The Driver’s Seat

Memory lane is perhaps the most traveled street on the planet. Many of us travel down it frequently because nostalgia and familiarity breeds a comforting and calming reassurance. Dwelling and reminiscing on the cozy cul-de-sacs of our childhood, holding on to the gratification of youth and beauty, or replaying the glory of past successes can warm the heart. But reliving and recalling the familiar can also bring about bitter regret from past mistakes, disappointments suffered and even decisions not made.

Looking back is natural, but doing so is also dangerous, for the windshield of life is in front of us. Looking where we’ve been can inform, but at a certain point, the only way to ‘drive’ is to be wholly present and make our decisions based on what we encounter on the ‘road.’ You can’t look at the rearview mirror and the windshield at the same time.

When we look back, we replay the same tape on auto-repeat and in the process we get stuck on the road to nowhere. For every individual sitting at the corner bar telling tales of the high school championship won, there are dozens more ruminating on the game lost, the dropped pass or being cut from the team. The sting of defeat and the devastation of disappointment can occupy the thoughts and actions of many for a lifetime.

Looking through the rearview takes our gaze off the road and focuses on the objects behind us with potentially dangerous consequence. Addiction, unhealthy relationships and unfulfilling careers are just a few examples of the steep cost of looking back. When we look back in anger, are consumed by regret or when we ignore our past traumas and transgressions, tragically, history has a way of repeating itself.

Conversely, many also overshoot the windshield relying solely on the navigation system. In doing so, our gaze is perpetually fixated on the end goal and destination down the road. The cousin of preoccupation with the past is a devious mental obsession with the future. This approach is marked by the mantra “when I get there” (I’ll be happy, complete, or find peace of mind). But looking too far ahead, like looking behind us, is a dangerous driving trap as well.

Granted, it’s a good thing to know where you’ve been and it’s smart to have a mapped out route for the direction you’re headed. We must use the rearview mirror wisely and cautiously to occasionally scan what is behind us to make sure the coast is clear of hazards from our past.  We must also plug our coordinates in the navigation system to make sure we stay on track and correctly identify the obstacles that might impede our progress along the way. After all, your car comes equipped with a rearview mirror and navigation system for a reason! But make no mistake, the real work is directly in front of us. Driving, like life, is about the present, the now, and what is immediate.

Recently, former NBA legend Kobe Bryant spoke about dealing with injury and what it takes to successfully overcome it: “The most important part is not looking at the finish line. It’s so far away, it’s like starting at the base of Everest and you’re looking up at the summit. That’s big.”

Injury is metaphorical of what it means to be stuck in the past or transfixed solely on the future. We all suffer injuries, whether physical, heartbreak, or profound disappointment. In assessing injury, many use the rearview mirror. But this approach is constrained by the self-centered and egoic notions ‘why me?’ or the negatives of guilt, blame and shame. Others take yet an opposite approach in addressing injury by pretending the past doesn’t exist. But as Kobe Bryant points out, a shear focus on reaching the mountaintop is problematic as well. Navigating only in the future can be hampered by the paralysis of fear (what if I fail, what if I never heal, what if I end up in the wrong destination, what comes after I reach my goal?).

Indeed, whether it’s the obstacles behind us, or our goals in front of us, they often seem to be ‘Mt. Everest’s’ - that is, overwhelming and all consuming. Many times in life, it seems we can only see the daunting peak down the road or the valley far behind us. In doing so, the blind spot ends up becoming what is directly in front of us!

Ultimately the only way to operate our vehicles is in the now. To drive the mile we’re on. In the addiction recovery world, they have a saying, “play the tape forward.” They don’t say ‘keep looking behind you’ or ‘make a plan to stay sober forever.’ Instead, the mantra is, ‘the only choice that matters is the choice you make now.’ In order to get there safely, we have no option but to operate our vehicles right here in the moment.

It’s clear that no matter what past sins we’ve committed or what direction we hope to head in the future, the work is ultimately about today and the road directly in front of us. While sometimes you have to put it in reverse and sometimes you have to pull over to check the map, when it comes to what to do next, there’s only one path - forward. 



“Midlife is not about the fear of death. Midlife is death. Tearing down the walls that we spent our entire life building is death. Like it or not, at some point during midlife, you’re going down, and after that, there are only two choices: staying down or enduring rebirth.”  -  Brené Brown


We’ve all heard the term “midlife crisis.” Some might associate the phrase with the man who buys the fancy red sports car or leaves his wife for a younger woman. Midlife might also be thought of as the woman, who after decades of raising kids, decides it’s finally time to get her body (and life) back - She joins the gym, hires the trainer and gets plastic surgery to feel the vitality and freedom of youth once again. Though there are countless connotations and instances, these examples point to the stereotypical reaction for many to the midlife crisis – a change of personal or material circumstance.

In some ways, society sees such changes as positives. It’s considered noble to improve your body at any age. It’s thought of as admirable to find new love even if it’s at the expense of your previous love. And in our culture, red sports cars, while maybe a bit douchey, are highly coveted.

But regardless of the changes we make to alter our present material state, deep down we know what eventually awaits us. The truth is, there isn’t a sports car fast enough, a partner young and attractive enough, or a body strong and defined enough to protect you from life’s setbacks and the travails of aging. In the long run, you cannot trade your current ‘model’ in for a better, sexier, or younger one. Facing your aging self, failures, and mortality is something everyone must eventually grapple with. You can’t outrun your shadow no matter how fast you run on the treadmill of life.

Still, many of us desperately flee from the inevitability of midlife and the traumas associated with aging and loss. But midlife isn’t just about physical decline or only reserved for those in their 40’s and 50’s. Anyone who suffers a crisis of identity can feel the burdens of midlife. John Mayer even used the term “quarter life crisis” in his song “Why Georgia.”

How we define ourselves in things like our relationships and professional identities will morph over time. Our physicality will also change like the seasons. Such profound change can spark a sense of crisis in many. Personally speaking (though I am literally facing midlife as I write this) the ‘midlife’ crisis is not a new concept for me. Whether it was traumatic physical setbacks like reconstructive ear and rotator cuff surgeries in my 20’s, a significant career transition in my 30’s or divorce in my 40’s, I’ve learned that the daunting prospect of massive life change is a part of any stage of life, not just midlife.

One of the paradoxes of getting older is that we seek to reverse or slow aging and uncertainty through avenues and material things that we feel we can directly control - our body, money, relationships or professional status. But at the end of the day, the notion of control in any of these arenas is a fallacy. Money can’t protect you from disease, injury or heartbreak. Even the best, most fulfilling job in the world at some point will run its course. Relationships evolve, change and eventually end. And, as the laws of physics and gravity dictate, the race against your aging body is not a winnable one. Try as we might, as Brené Brown suggests, “you’re going down.”

You ultimately have the choice to go down kicking and screaming or you can accept your next chapter with grace and surrender to the notion of rebirth.

As athletes know all too well, defining life by your physical capabilities is a young person’s game. I’ve often wondered what the aging star athlete sitting at the end of the bench thinks as the clock keeps ticking. What questions does she ask – ‘Who am I?’ ‘What’s next?’ ‘How do I start the next chapter?’ These are questions all of us must ask at some point. Each life crisis we face whether quarterlife, midlife or old age all bring forth opportunities for rejuvenation, renewal and reawakening.

In the Bible it’s clear that ‘rebirth’ is a necessary step in spiritual evolution. Yet starting anew isn’t confined by the physical constraints of aging. It isn’t physical strength or abundant material resources that are requirements for a fresh start, but the vitality of a youthful and humble disposition. And when it comes to spiritual rebirth it isn’t by planning, controlling, or seeking new answers that we grow, but by the willingness to ask new questions. Midlife isn’t a crisis we must endure, but an opportunity to evolve our state of mind.

At a recent crossroads in my life a few years ago, a friend suggested reading the book Falling Upward by Richard Rohr commenting that the questions I was asking were ‘second half’ questions. Rohr’s book asserts that there are essentially two ‘halves’ of life - The first half is characterized by worldly pillars of power, comfort and recognition. We spend this first half of life constructing and filling up our “containers.” That is, pursuing status and professional success, establishing defined roles (as friend, spouse, relative or parent) and compiling worldly possessions. Rohr describes such first half actions as “rising, achieving accomplishing, and performing.”

Conversely, the second half is about self-emptying and the willingness to let go of our earthly definitions. The second half is characterized by the actions of contemplation and surrender and by the willingness to wrestle with purpose-driven, existential queries. Though Jung first popularized the term “two halves,” instead of relating the notion to aging, Rohr likens the second half as having the courage to let go of ego. Meister Eckhart captured the essence of the second half eloquently, stating,“To be full of things is to be empty of God. To be empty of things is to be full of God.”

While the search for meaning and moving beyond our ego can be seen as a terrifying downward spiral for some, Rohr actually calls this process “falling upward.” But even if you don’t buy the spiritual notion of the ‘second half,’ anyone can buy into the concept of staying young at heart. While we will all likely encounter physical challenges, loss, fractured relationships and career setbacks, we needn’t suffer lasting mental anguish and an ‘elderly’ state of mind. As Robert F. Kennedy once said, “This world demands the qualities of youth; not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the life of ease.”

Not to completely dismiss the first half mind you. I’ve spent the better part of my life in pursuit of my professional identity, health and a fit body. Certainly, I enjoy the fruits of my labors and cherish my close relationships and my roles as a son, friend, brother, and husband. Filling up our ‘containers’ is natural and responsible. But jobs, possessions, relationships and even experiences don’t define the real essence of us - qualities do.

Facing midlife is about having the courage to let go of material desires and the resolution to replace that drive with a different type of tenacity. As Rohr suggests, the mark of rebirth is to be “grounded, not guarded” in giving our authentic gifts.

Falling or getting knocked down is a part of life and for many, an acute crisis in midlife. Getting back up with humility, an open heart and the desire for rebirth is our true task at any stage of life.

"Owner of a lonely heart"

Six years ago I moved from Oregon to Colorado to start a new chapter. I packed up the Volkswagen with my belongings and took to the open road stepping in to the void of uncertainty. As I looked out the windshield through the plains of Idaho and the canyons of Utah, I pondered the future in front of me. On my journey I laughed, I cried, but mostly, I sang along to the music as I always do. Somewhere after crossing the border of Colorado, the classic Yes song, “Owner of a lonely heart” came on the radio.

As I got to thinking about the song, I started laughing, crying and signing at the same time! On a hot summer day with the windows down, I belted out the famous chorus:

Owner of a lonely heart

(much better than a)

Owner of a broken heart

My heart burned as I let the lyrics sink in. Having been divorced some months earlier, my heart was still very fragile, but slowly beginning to mend. I considered the words again and again as the Rocky Mountains loomed in the distance. Is it really better to have a lonely heart than a broken heart? Having just suffered one, I concluded that Yes definitely had it right - It’s better to be bruised than broken.

Anyone who has ever suffered a tragic loss, the death of a loved one or a severed relationship can attest to the utter devastation of a broken heart. That said, as acute and traumatic as broken hearts can be, lonely hearts can silently remain with unbearable pain. The reality is, while they may have different sensations, both broken hearts and lonely hearts can be equally tragic.

The difference is, broken hearts tend to mend with time and perspective, but the subtle, dull pain of a lonely heart can linger for decades if not reconciled. Friends, family, and loved ones tend to rally around a broken heart to help you through the toughest patches…but what about a lonely heart? Who’s there to pick up the pieces when you are suffering through the blues of loneliness for months on end?

While broken hearts are certainly tragic, lonely hearts are pretty devastating in their own right. Earlier this month Cigna released the U.S. Loneliness Survey, which reported that loneliness among Americans has reached "epidemic levels." Of the more than 20,000 Americans polled in the survey, nearly half reported feeling alone or left out much of the time. Nowhere is this modern day problem more pronounced than the societal tragedy of suicide. Suicide levels have risen more than 25% in the past two decades for a myriad of reasons, but none more so than the desperation of loneliness.

Like many Americans, I also struggle with loneliness at times. While I am happily remarried, I’ve spent the majority of my adult life alone (That is, living alone and/or not in a committed long-term partnership). I’m intimately familiar with the anguish of boredom and no stranger to the sharp burning pain of loss. Shortly after moving to Denver in the wake of my divorce, I also lost one of my lifelong best friends who had battled bipolar disease and depression.

Losing a friend, partner, family member or even a job can be particularly daunting because it presents the duality of both a broken and a lonely heart simultaneously. In response to such suffering, I’ve tried every trick in the book - From exercise ‘addiction’ to wasting countless hours on the Internet. In an effort to run as fast as possible from my shadow and escape the pit of lonely despair, my M.O. has been to keep moving and stay distracted.

The great irony of our time is that seemingly we are all continuously ‘connected,’ yet statistically speaking, we’re also bored or lonely. As many ‘friends’ as we may have on social media, many have no real friends. The majority of us live in areas where we are constantly surrounded by thousands of people, yet often we feel alone at the same time. We long for true connection and meaning and yet by seeking false connection, we feel more isolated and anxious than ever.

The vastness of a life without purpose can be a scary place to be. To be alone with our own thoughts can be downright terrifying. For some, it’s much easier to escape loneliness by holding steadfast to the most overrated and overused word of our day – busy. Ask anyone how they are doing these days and next to the obligatory ‘good’ is the standard ‘busy.’ Who isn’t nowadays?

But the modern concept of being overwhelmingly busy is largely a myth. As Steven Pinker points out in his latest book Enlightenment Now, from the perspective of long-term or even recent history, humans are working less and enjoying more leisure time than at any point in history. The global decline of annual work hours is one variable as is the advance in technology (like dishwashers and other appliances). Such advancements have also led to far less ‘work’ in household chores such as washing dishes and laundry. Generally speaking, the fact is many of us actually have an abundance of free time, yet we choose to be ‘busy’ with hobbies, distraction, online entertainment, and trivial amusement.

Ultimately though, none of us can keep running faster and faster and juggling more and more. At some point you’ll run out of time, money or health. There is no escaping the inevitability of being alone or feeling lonely. The key is to stop running and face the boredom, loneliness and emptiness.

The Upside of Loneliness

Read any good books lately? How is that new art project coming along? When is the last time you enrolled in a new class, volunteered, picked up a new hobby or made a new friend? These things take time and time is something many of us claim to not have.

Each of us makes choices of what to do with our own allocation of time. In an effort to fill up every slice of our schedules, many of us are driven to distraction or worse, addiction. Much of our ‘busyness’ is a result of being scared to death of what we might find in the desert of isolation. For some, when we aren’t working or resting, we seek solace in the comfort of company. After all, as the “Lonely Hearts Club Band” once sang, we all can use “a little help from our friends.”

But even time spent with loved ones carries with it the complication of distracting ourselves from our inner work. While very few successes are truly achieved alone, the question of “Who am I?” is a query that can only be wrestled with in the wilderness of solitude. For many, this means facing the prospect of a lonely heart.

The song “Owner of a lonely heart” is known by its catchy chorus, which concludes that a lonely heart is better than a broken one. But behind those famous lyrics are lesser-known, equally poignant words:

Prove yourself
You are the move you make
Take your chances win or loser

Be yourself, give your free will a chance
You've got to work to succeed

Whether you’re battling a broken heart or a lonely one, finding the resolve to “prove yourself,” “make the move” and “give your free will a chance” are perhaps our most important tasks.

Like staying sober, climbing a mountain, or developing a new friendship, you have to “work to succeed.” Facing the tribulation of loneliness is one of life’s most daunting challenges – the work starts with the resolve to confront our inner demons and the willingness to love ourselves unconditionally.



Response Ability

I had my first summer job in junior high. My Dad knew someone who needed sort of a ‘gopher’ for a heavy equipment company. The job was located in the industrial area of Portland, which was full of warehouses, truck stops, and machine shops. Though it was a mere 20 minutes from where I lived, for an upper middle class kid from the suburbs, it might as well have been Greece.

My parents were emphatic that I get a summer job and felt the experience of working in the shop would be good for me, so every day my Mom drove me to and from work in the family sedan. To say the shop guys raised their eyebrows at this Mercedes chauffeured, smart-ass kid from the west side was an understatement. On my first day, I was asked to fetch a 7/16 wrench from the toolbox, and I just looked at the guy as if he were speaking a foreign language. “A what???”

Still, despite my initial apprehension and my lack of technical skills notwithstanding, I gradually warmed up to the experience. I felt like a big boy drinking bad coffee and taking grief from the guys. Plus, I had a little spending money in my pocket and as a pre-driving teenager, I had fun driving golf carts and turf equipment to my heart’s content.

One day I was driving a little too fast out in the shop yard and while cutting a corner sharply, I badly scraped a golf cart on a piece of scrap metal. My first instinct was to look around the yard. I couldn’t see anyone for miles. “Thank God. These carts are beat to hell anyway and no one will ever know,” I thought to myself. Then, amidst my planning and scheming ways not to get caught, a voice of reason took over…”Do the right thing Eric.”

I walked into the shop and found Frank, the foreman, to tell him what had happened. “I was goofing off driving too fast in the yard and I messed up the side of one of the carts pretty badly.” Frank looked me dead in the eye and said, “Eric, I appreciate your honesty and you taking responsibility. If it happens again, you’re fired.”

Though they had tolerated me, I don’t think those guys in the shop thought I was worth much of a damn with my polo shirts and designer jeans. They were a rough and tough bunch; blue-collar guys who measured your value by your work ethic and what you could do with your hands. I was about as far from tough and handy as you could get. But at least on that one occasion, they respected that my parents had taught me to do the right thing. One of the guys even took me aside and told me it took real guts to go in and tell Frank the truth. It’s a memory that has stuck with me for over 30 years.

I wish I could tell you that since then I’ve been able to live up to the example of my 15-year old self throughout my life. But truthfully, I haven’t always been truthful. I’ve had more than my fair share of failing to speak up, step up and admit my wrong doings. Honestly, over the years I’ve cared a lot more about my image and appearance than uprightness.

In our social-media inspired ‘look at me’ culture, a genuine heart-felt apology is a rarity. Frankly, it pays to portray a carefully crafted and constructed image of awesomeness and assuredness, versus the vulnerability of humility, remorse and forgiveness. As Andre Agassi once said, “image is everything.”

In the era of seeking validation and popularity, the ability to respond is a lost art. When the notion of responsibility does actually rear its head, it’s seems to be only as a last resort. But admitting guilt once the cat is out of the bag isn’t the same thing as truly taking responsibility. Saying you’re sorry when you’re out of options and under pressure doesn’t really count. In the modern news cycle, stories of scandal dominate the headlines and the obligatory half-assed response occurs only after the jig is up, if at all. This trend has been going on for so long now that we pretty much accept a lack of responsibility as normal.

After years of accusation and speculation, Lance Armstrong only admits guilt after his ongoing brash, arrogant defiance. Back in the steroid era of baseball, while under Congressional oath, Rafael Palmeiro blatantly lied while Mark McGwire took the 5th.  Kevin Spacey remains silent despite dozens of credible accusations. Bill Cosby expresses no remorse whatsoever for his actions and when the Harvey Weinsteins of the world actually do get caught red handed, they play the ‘I have a sickness and am getting help card’ as if the sickness (and not their own actions) were to blame.

What ever happened to ‘I hurt people and I messed up bad. I did it and it was really, really wrong.’ That’s a good place to start. Mistakes and royal screw-ups are a guaranteed part of the human condition. Unfortunately, humility and self-reproach are not. ‘I made a mistake and I am going to try and fix it’ requires a moral compass while ‘I’m never wrong’ or ‘I have all of the answers’ simply requires narcissistic arrogance.

We need to stop judging others by the mistakes they’ve made or what news network they watch. Instead, we need to judge others by their response to their mistakes. Our dialogue needs to change from black and white, red and blue, right and left to the more refined qualities of meekness and responsibility. Those who display the ability to respond deserve our patience and understanding and those who don’t, do not. The complexity of our times demands the simplicity of humility.

I like baseball regardless of steroids and PEDs. I rooted for Lance when he was hoisting yellow jerseys. I watched The Cosby Show religiously as a kid and I still think it was groundbreaking TV. I think Kevin Spacey is a great actor. I still appreciate Tiger’s greatness and he will likely go down as one of the best golfers that ever lived. That said, our ultimate reputation isn’t marked by our accomplishments or transgressions, but by our responses to life’s inevitable stormy waters.

The ability to respond is to be “morally accountable for one’s actions.” Every athlete, movie star and politician makes mistakes. We all do. But as my parents tried to teach me, the right thing to do is to get out in front of our missteps and face the music. To heal requires forgiveness of self and others. Healing also requires the ability to step up. It isn’t talent, success or mistakes that defines us; it’s the ability to respond that makes a lasting impression and defines character.

The Oregon Trail

As a child my family would frequently visit relatives in New York. The "Empire City" captivated me with its towering skyscrapers, hot dogs and pretzels, Broadway, and of course, the Yankees. Coming from the quaint town of Portland, Oregon, the Big Apple felt like the center of the universe. On my return trips home I always wondered why my parents left such a mecca for the sleepy confines of the Pacific Northwest.

For the life of me, I couldn’t see the appeal of a tiny hamlet like Portland compared with the glitz and glamour of New York. The “Rose City” was a place for hippies and lumberjacks, and I didn’t plan on becoming either. When you’d mention Portland to a New Yorker their response was always the same - a shoulder shrug of indifference.

Still, I eventually grew to love my hometown with its majestic beauty and art-inspired culture. While Portland will never be confused with New York, it certainly holds its own these days. But it isn’t the food trucks, Powell’s Books, or the hipsters that make 'Portlandia' great, it’s the spirit of the place - The rugged sense of adventure and the willingness to explore what moves us on the inside by changing our circumstances on the outside. That spirit is woven in to the fabric of the Pacific NW dating back to the most famous thing to ever occur there – the Oregon Trail.  

The Oregon Trail isn’t just an old dirt road talked about in history books or a cheesy 80s computer game, it’s a quest and an energy that lives on to this day. Many risked their lives and livelihoods exploring our nation’s final frontier. While some sought to stake a claim on cheap land and others simply wanted a rush of adventure, those that braved the trail all shared a common theme – leaving the old to discover the new.

This sense of uncovering and unearthing our destiny is our ultimate task spiritually, emotionally and professionally. Nike founder Phil Knight referenced this spirit in his compelling biography Shoe Dog. Knight’s famous college running coach and mentor Bill Bowerman frequently used the Oregon Trail lore in an effort to inspire his runners like Knight and the legendary Steve Prefontaine. “The cowards never started, and the weak died along the way. That leaves us,” Bowerman would say.

Says Knight, “Some rare strain of pioneer spirit was discovered along that trail, my teacher believed, some outsized sense of possibility mixed with a diminished capacity for pessimism – and it was our job as Oregonians to keep that strain alive.” The sentiment struck a chord with Knight inspiring him not only to run faster, but also to pursue a new way to express how we play. In doing so, Knight and Bowerman changed the world of running, sport, fashion, and culture.

In describing his own quest Knight explained, “Deep down I was searching for something else, something more. I had an aching sense that our time is short, shorter than we ever know, short as a morning run, and I wanted mine to be meaningful. And purposeful. And creative. And important. Above all…different. I wanted to leave a mark on the world. I wanted to win. No, that’s not right. I simply didn’t want to lose.” It wasn’t dumb luck, playing the game, or even hard work that propelled Nike to one of the biggest brands in history but belief, optimism, and the resolve to chart a new course.

Though a New Yorker by birth, My Dad (also named Phil) is an Oregonian in spirit. Like millions before them, my parents blazed their own trail back in the day, renting a small U-Haul and making the trek across the country to start a family and new life among the Doug fir trees and the peaceniks. They missed the food and the energy of Manhattan, but they never looked back. The trail was out there in front of them.

While New York personifies the traditional pinnacle of success and the height of commerce and culture, the Oregon Trail represents a different narrative - Bigger, better, and louder isn’t the metric of success, purpose and authenticity are. Success on ‘the trail’ isn’t about climbing the ladder, but about displaying courage and risking it all to discover your true destiny.

Like the two Phil’s, my aspiration has long been to have enough fortitude to trade the known world for purpose and meaning. My dream is to live a life that manifests the qualities of serenity, peace, and creativity. I imagine an open sky and pray for an open mind. On my quest, I’ve tried my hand at being a salesperson, dot-comer, and actor, a trainer, manager, and a writer. I’ve lived downtown, uptown and in the suburbs. I’ve tried the mountains, the city, and the ocean.

What I’ve learned is that it isn’t the vocation or the location that matters, but grit and the willingness to wrestle with the important questions of the day. Thankfully, I’m not alone on the journey as faith, family and friends are constant companions. I not only possess the support of those close to me, but when the trail seems particularly daunting, lonely and treacherous, I have the courageous examples of others right beside me -

·      My best friend faced the biggest trauma of his life by reinventing himself and finding the courage to pursue his true calling as an actor. He’s now the artistic director of a theater company.

·      A former colleague of mine left her long and successful career in fitness to go back to school and pursue her life long dream of living in Paris where she now resides.

·      One of my childhood friends recently moved to the Mojave desert to live off the grid, open a music studio, ironically leaving Oregon to do so.

The Oregon Trail isn’t about Oregon being an answer any more than it’s about New York symbolizing a status quo to leave behind. The grass isn’t any greener in Oregon (actually it is, but you know what I mean!) than in New York. The meaning of life isn’t found in a new place and you can’t simply leave your problems behind by changing addresses. What matters is facing adversity, the ability to adapt, and the resolve to change courses when you’ve lost your way. For that matter, true satisfaction and bliss can be found without ever leaving home...But I’ll take my chances out here on the trail.

The Oregon Trail is a metaphor for life and we all have the capacity to be frontiersmen and women and explore the boundaries of possibility and wonder. Brené Brown calls this quest Daring Greatly. Another author described the trail metaphor in this way: “Life is full of distractions. It's full of people telling you can't cross mountains and can't achieve your dreams. It's full of disease. It's full of people you love getting sick...It's full of mistakes, miscalculations, and missed opportunities. It's confusing and too short and too long.”

Life is worth living and truly doing so means risking disappointment and heartbreak. Choosing the trail is about confronting the nagging questions, pursuing callings and passions, and most of all, the willingness to fail. I’m still in the covered wagon crossing the rugged mountains and barren plains, but my heart is open and my spirit is full of hope and wonder.


The problem with perfection

Most of us have a pretty good idea what perfection looks like. Maybe we can see it, taste it, or even clearly define it. Perhaps we can even make a list citing various examples like:

  • Sitting on a throne of $100 bills and never having to worry about money again.
  • A flawless body complete with a chiseled mid-section and toned arms.
  • A new sports car.
  • A decadent meal at a three-star Michelin restaurant.
  • A first-class trip to Europe.
  • Michelangelo’s David, da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, or Pearl Jam’s Ten record.

A pristine sandy beach in Mexico with a cold drink in my hand probably tops the list for me. But whatever word, phrase, or picture you use to define perfection, it’s undoubtedly a person, place, or thing. And by definition, moments in time and material objects are ultimately temporary. Even if momentarily possible, the concept of a flawless state is fleeting. Perfection is a myth.

The origin of the word perfect is the Latin perficere “accomplish, finish, or complete” and we often use the word as a verb, meaning “to bring to full development.” However, the connotation of being complete for us as human beings is a faulty one, because there is really no such thing…just birth, death, and the in between. And while some celebrate birth as an example of perfection and others look to death for the possibility of salvation, the in between is what matters.

My grandfather used to sometimes talk about the most “successful” people he knew growing up in New York City. One was the loyal beat cop who walked his neighborhood in Yorkville and the other was a cheerful train conductor who always made it a point to learn the names of everyone on his route. Neither of these men had money, worldly possessions, or had achieved the pinnacle of professional achievement. But according to my Grandpa, each man had found true success because they displayed a genuine sense of contentment and happiness – what you might call peace of mind.

Sadly, though my Grandpa could tell a great story, he couldn’t bring into being what he knew in his heart to be truthful. Instead, his own version of success looked like the typical American interpretation - amassing money, rubbing elbows with the rich and famous, and finding your name in print somewhere. Driven by a deep sense of perfectionism, my Grandfather won prestigious awards, made a lot of money during his life, and knew a lot of distinguished people. But those perfect ideals didn’t last - He died brokenhearted, alone, and ironically, broke.

In the movie The Jerk, the character Navin (Steve Martin), thought he had made it because he finally found his own name printed somewhere the phone book! Similarly, many of us also incessantly ‘look for our own names’ – the validation of likes on social media, the accolades that come with climbing the corporate ladder, or the ego stroke of the perfectly crafted selfie.

The quest for perfection is an exhausting, non-stop pursuit of trying to get ‘there,’ presenting the ideal picture, and playing the game. Even many of those who are spiritually-minded view the concept of perfection as achieved in a far-off destination called heaven.

The problem is that we live in the here and now and the only way to get there is to be here. While the teachings of the great faiths in humanity clearly relate to the present, some mistake these teachings as a private club that promises a magic kingdom of transcendence that's accessible only in the future.

To seek perfection is ultimately a road to nowhere. Planning for a future paradise gets us bogged down in a checklist of ideals and pursuits - a crusade for a perfection and bliss that seems both within our grasp and yet unattainable. This expanding expectation and desire for euphoria down the road puts the possibility of present perfection out of reach – heaven can wait.

While there is such a perfect locality, it’s not a place, destination, or object, but a state of consciousness – an awareness and openness that’s actualized by a much more important word than perfection or even salvation. That word is love.

In the Bible, it says that there are only three things that truly last: “faith, hope, and charity (love).” The Bible is also clear that the greatest of these virtues is love (1 Corinthians 13:13). Whether you believe in God, read the Bible, or think all that exists is this material world, deep down we all know that we’re here to love one another, and by one another, that means everyone – those of different faiths, beliefs, colors, and creeds. Instead of perfection, we should be seeking inclusion and compassion. Especially at this point in human history, what matters right now is love.

To be perfect is an illusion driven by a primal desire to feel necessary and validated. But satisfying the need to be needed can only be fulfilled through humility by surrendering to the present. The Beatles famously sang the lyrics, “All you need is love.” They were right. It’s abundantly clear that we need a lot less perfectionism and a lot more grace and charity. We’re all imperfect beings, but we are also all blessed with the unlimited capacity for displaying the perfect human characteristic, love.




You must be present to win

To be completely honest, winning doesn't come easy for me.

If memory serves me correct, in grade school I won the MS read-a-thon fundraiser by reading the most books. In junior high, by sheer dumb luck, I won a free throw competition at the Ralph Miller basketball camp…Although it was a bittersweet victory because my friend Andrew took credit for having made more free throws and ended up getting the accolades for the win. Years later, over a few beers and a lot of laughter, Drew fessed up and presented me with the winner’s certificate. I once won a NCAA “March Madness” pool by picking the Arizona Wildcats when they weren’t favored. I’ve hit a couple of numbers on the roulette wheel in Vegas and left town with a few hundred bucks in my pocket. But that’s really about it.

I’ve never won a big sporting event, hit the game winning home run, or been on a championship team. I’ve never hit it big on the lottery. I’ve never won a raffle or a car or a membership to a gym. I’ve never been given a lifelong achievement award. In the martial arts, I've probably lost more sparring matches than I have won. As an actor, though I have landed some parts here and there, I’ve never secured a role in a Spielberg film. I’m not a loser, but you certainly wouldn’t see my picture under the word winner either!

Not being born a bona-fide winner isn’t easy in our country for winning is as big a part of American culture as apple pie and baseball (I guess it’s now football). We’ve lost only one war (and had one tie). Between 1896 and 2016, the US has won more Olympic medals (2520) in the summer Olympics than any other nation (Russia holds the all-time tally for the Winter games). We have more millionaires and billionaires than any country on earth (by far). The US has had the most Nobel laureates and prize winners.

Whether it's science, commerce, or sport, we are a nation of winners. Culturally, we laud the Lombardi-esque mantra, “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Even our president brags, “My whole life is about winning…I almost never lose.” But everybody loses sometimes and as of late, especially us. While we are a nation of winners historically, the tide has turned...

·      When it comes to health care, America ranks as the worst among the top 11 industrialized nations and according to the WHO, the US isn’t in the top 35 globally.

·      Just over a decade ago, the US ranked third among rich developed nations for happiness. Now we rank 19th.

·      Despite boasting many of the world’s most prestigious universities, the US ranks 14th in  overall educational performance. Frankly, it’s surprising it’s that high – The World Economic Forum ranked the U.S. at 52nd among 139 nations in the quality of its university math and science instruction.

·      According to the WHO, the US ranks just 31st in the world for life expectancy.

But surely, our illustrious nation still takes the cake in something, right?? Breathe easy, we’re still tops when it comes to the following:

·      Prisoners - the US ranks first in the world with the highest prison population on the planet with an estimated 2,217,000 incarcerated people.

·      According to an annual questionnaire and conducted by Ipsos/MORI in 2016 we were number five in the world when it comes to ignorance (we were #2 in 2014, so I suppose we’re getting better!).

·      We’re ‘the best’ when it comes to gun violence! According to a study published in the American Journal of medicine, Americans are 10 times more likely to be killed by guns than people in other developed countries.

·      We’re the heaviest country in the world. Look no further than the global pandemic of obesity (started right here in the US of A) as a glaring example of corporate greed and personal excess.

·      America has the highest drug overdose rate on a wide margin. While our population comprises 4% of the world's, we account for 27% of the overdose deaths on the planet.

This for the most successful and ‘winning’ civilization in the history of the planet. Heck, we can’t even qualify for the World Cup! It’s a sad state of affairs indeed. But my purpose is not to be a naysayer or doom and gloom prognosticator. I believe in the inherent goodness of mankind and especially the ability of Americans to rise to the occasion when our backs are against the wall.

Now is such a point in history. While the tipping point may not have yet occurred, we can probably all agree that a necessary moment of drastic change is near. It’s time for us to roll up our sleeves and find our winning ways again.

As noted, I’m no expert at winning. But as far as I can tell, more than anything, winning takes the ability to be present. As the old adage states, ‘you have to be present to win.’

Many take this to mean showing up literally through the elements of discipline, desire, and determination. It’s hard to argue the importance of such qualities. But there is something even more imperative than mere tenacity when it comes to being at hand and ready. Being present essentially means the ability to see truthfully. To accept and deal with circumstances as uncomfortable as they may be. Through introspection comes humility, through humility comes perspective and perseverance, and through perspective and perseverance, character.

Being a winner isn’t just about showing up, but about expressing meekness, fortitude, and acceptance. Olympic Icon Wilma Rudolph captured the essence of what it means to win stating, “winning is great, sure, but if you’re really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all of the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.” The crux of winning is about modesty, self-awareness, and the ability to sit with the pain of our losses. With true presence we ultimately acquire qualities that champions possess - character, conviction, and courage.

Health is y(our) most valuable possession

In my early twenties, I worked out frequently at a prestigious health club in Portland, Oregon. Working at the club was a man who had been an exercise instructor there for 60 years! In his eighties at that time, Joe was full of vigor, enthusiasm, and a zest for fitness. Like his friend and contemporary Jack Lalanne, Joe was considered a health and exercise guru and somewhat of a pioneer in the fitness movement.

Still fit, lean, and energetic, Joe would always make it a point to check in on me during my workout and provide a health tip or two. He lived by what he called the four D's: desire, determination, dedication and discipline. But of all the interactions and memories I had with Joe, the thing that has stuck with me is a sign that hung in his office. It read simply, “health is your most valuable possession.”

It’s hard to argue the point. Yet in many ways, it seems our collective focus is on anything but health – For weeks on end we debate football players kneeling during the national anthem. We spend months expressing shock and anger over the sexual inappropriateness of Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore, and Kevin Spacey. We focus on whether we should allow certain people in certain bathrooms or whether the ‘news’ is ‘fake’ or not. When we do actually have legitimate societal and environmental health news stories such as hurricanes and mass shootings, they capture our attention only for a brief moment in time. We come together in unified thought for a day or two until the more important ‘news’ of celebrity gossip, dysfunctional politics, and reality competition shows come back to the front burner.

Instead of focusing on our own health, the health of our environment, and the wellness of our populace, we focus instead on the health of our money, our economy, and mostly our own egos. We are driven by distraction. Honestly, with things as screwed up and backwards as they appear to be, our insatiable appetite for escapism is understandable.

Sure enough, distraction seems to be a top priority for all of us these days. That is, until life hits you across the face and the compromised health of your body, your family, or even your environment becomes bigger than the needs of your ego. If you’ve ever been faced with the prospect of significant loss, you’ll know what I‘m talking about - a health crisis is enough to scare any of us straight.

This past year my wife was faced with some alarming physical symptoms. For months, she went through extensive medical testing, living with the constant fear of the unknown and the severe discomfort of her illness. Fortunately, she received excellent care and her team of physicians were able to determine that her issues were environmental, epigenetic, and ultimately treatable. After changing her environment, hear health issues subsided.

I’m happy to report that she is much better and continuing to improve in gaining back her strength and vitality. Perhaps more importantly, the episode changed both of us immensely and also refocused our priorities. After years of living comfortably and enjoying the fruits of our labor by traveling frequently, socializing, and playing hard on the weekends, we reprioritized our focus to God, each other, and actualizing the authentic lifestyle we wanted.

Both my wife and I have dedicated our professional lives to health and wellness. We exercise, eat right, and Patience has even convinced me in recent years that I should floss my teeth regularly! But it still took the proverbial wake up call for us to realize that Joe was right - health is indeed your most valuable possession.

The perspective gained when health is jeopardized is the great equalizer that brings your priorities immediately front and center. You can have all the money in the world, but frequently money can’t solve the problem of health. As a case in point, look no further than the wellness of our country - as a nation, we do have all the money in the world, and frankly, we do a piss poor job where it comes to the care and well-being of our populace. Consider the following:

·      Health related issues and subsequent medical debt is the number one cause of personal bankruptcy in our country.

·      For many of our citizens, the rights to healthcare access and quality of care is appalling.

·      By almost any measure, the collective mental health of our populace is getting worse and increasingly dependent on drugs.

·      According to the governments of every nation on earth (except ours) the health of our ecology and environment is failing miserably at least in part by factors related to human consumption.

·      The health of our relationships, communities, and civic organizations are in peril. Loneliness and depression are at epidemic proportions, churches and community organizations are at low points in their membership bases, and philosophically and politically, we are in a sheer state of gridlock.

By any standard, societal wellness is in a state of crisis. In the face of such a fact, every effort and focus must be put on communal health. It is only in looking beyond ourselves that we will find true health and wholeness and the manifestation of our true most valuable possession. The origin of the word health comes from the Old English word haelen which means “to heal.” Indeed, we are in desperate need of healing. To be made whole, well, and sound we must realize that human kind and our planet shares the same innate qualities – we are all one.

Whatever you are doing, watching, reading or working on – if it’s not in some way related to health (yours, someone else’s, of our society, or of our planet) put it with your other possessions where it belongs – on the back burner.

As mentioned, my fitness mentor Joe used to talk about the four D’s relating to health. While I am no Joe, I would like to suggest that there are also four F’s where it comes to fixing our ailing society. Faith, forgiveness, fortitude, and fairness.

We must find a way to look after the needs of others in addition to our own. We must stop pointing fingers,find the resilience to fix a broken and lopsided system, and start finding creative solutions. More than anything, in a crisis of health, the glue that brings us all together is faith - faith in humanity, faith in goodness, and faith in God.


The Hills Are Alive

I’m not ashamed to admit that my favorite movie is The Sound of Music. While Goodfellas is a close runner up, Julie Andrews and the Von Trapp family takes the cake for me. In college, I studied in Austria and on a trip to Salzburg I even dragged my friends Bob and Mike on a Sound of Music tour. I sang all of the songs, danced around the gazebo, and hopped up and down the famous steps from the scene in the movie. Bob and Mike just shrugged their shoulders and rolled their eyes - when in Austria.

Life has always been a bit of a musical for me as I am known to break out in random song from time to time (ok, every day). While life has a way of imitating art it’s no accident that I have found a home in the Rocky Mountain state of Colorado. But even at a mile high, Denver is a far cry from the day to day reality of jagged peaks and mountain trails. Not to knock the 5280 mind you - Hip restaurants and city culture have been great, but the mountains have been calling.

I recently tied the knot in Steamboat Springs and like a scene from a movie, those hills felt alive. There’s a peace, serenity, and aesthetic beauty that’s hard to quantify when talking about the Rockies. There’s also a spirituality that the mountains symbolize. As I “lift my eyes to the mountains” I do so with an open heart and a spirit of humility and wonder.

But there is also a harsh reality and ruggedness to the mountains that juxtaposes their awe-inspiring beauty. If the ocean brings with it the possibility of rough waters, the mountains have an equally daunting prospect of harsh winters and foreboding storms. The ocean and the mountains are metaphors for life and yet it’s the mountains that are more difficult to inhabit. The air is thin, the winters long and the summers short. And yet there is something beyond compelling about the vantage point from up high. Some even risk their lives for a momentary glimpse from the top of a mountain.

In the Sound of Music Maria couldn’t wait for her chance to escape the abbey walls for the freedom and mystique of the Austrian Alps. Her religion was the natural charisma of the hills and her mantra was to “climb every mountain.” Perhaps the reason why that movie made such an impression on me is that spirit of adventure and wonder that Maria encompassed.

Since moving to Colorado over five years ago, I’ve been trying to figure out a way to live in the mountains versus making the occasional day and weekend trips to take in their beauty. That moment has finally arrived making the dream a reality. I’m sure there will be plenty of ups and downs as is the case both literally and figuratively with being on a mountainside. But it’s time for the next chapter and my wife Patience and I are thrilled to call the mountains our new home.

Next time you’re in the Vail Valley and you hear someone belting out a rousing rendition of “Do re me” make sure you come over and say hello. 

Learning to Fail

One of the more poignant moments I can remember in recent years is getting the crap beat out of me shortly after one of my biggest life failures. Just weeks after signing my divorce papers in 2012, I had to endure a few rounds of hard sparring at a martial arts testing and I got pummeled. Already bloodied and bruised, in the third round I was kicked so hard in the ribs that I doubled over and took a knee. In order to pass my test, I had to make it through all three rounds - I was literally saved by the bell.

In a twisted way, it was actually sort of cathartic to have my body feel the way my heart did – battered and broken. While getting beaten up isn’t something I’d necessarily recommend, I can also tell you that failure is almost a certainty in life and learning to cope with pain is a critical part of progression in anything.

Yet culturally, everything and everyone seems to be telling you the opposite – that success happens by finding your bliss and seeking pleasure. The quick fix is everywhere you look. Get rich quick seminars, crash diets, and fad exercise programs tell you the news your brain loves to hear – that there’s a convenient solution and a comfortable change - it just takes hard work and the right program.

But what if it wasn’t about the program, the right timing, or even how hard you worked? What if advancement was simply about the willingness to face the pain and the certainty of failure.

If I’ve learned anything, I’ve learned that I may or may not reach my goals, dreams, and aspirations, but I will most definitely fail while trying. The silver lining is that failure brings with it the opportunity to find authenticity and wholeness through introspective work and forgiveness. While more life lessons are surely on their way through my next mess up, here’s what I have learned so far:

o   Ego can take you to the depths of hell. In every major failure I’ve had, ego was in the driver’s seat. You are not your body, your job, or even your relationships, but you become the thoughts you give power to. Ego says you are defined by quantities, while your true self is defined by qualities.

You may lose your job, but you haven’t lost the qualities that got you that job. You may lose your relationship, but you haven’t lost the opportunity to love with your whole heart. Next time your ego tells you that you are defined by what you have, remind yourself that in the end, you will be remembered by your qualities.

o   Honesty isn’t your best policy, humility is. Your failure is an opportunity to perfect your virtue which is simply the opposite of your vice. My vice is pride. When others wrong me, I cast them aside and never, ever turn back. Puffing my chest up may be my default, but when I am at my best, humility governs my thoughts and actions. The problem is that when we fail, we often look for something or someone to blame, even if it’s us. In doing so we can lash out to those who have wronged us, and frequently, that lashing out is self-directed. Here’s the thing though – playing the blame game ultimately proves nothing. What matters is the humility to face the wreckage and move on.

o   Quitting is sometimes your best option. Anyone who’s ever been divorced can attest to the utter devastation associated with such a separation. You don’t get married before friends, family, and God to see it fail miserably. Compounding the effects of a trauma like a divorce are the prospects of acute pain, loneliness, and the loss of companionship. But if love, justice, and truth are worth fighting for, abuse and hatred are worth leaving behind. Leaving a relationship, job, or bad habit is sometimes our best option as something built on a false foundation isn’t worth salvaging, it’s worth tearing down and starting over on the right footing. 

o   Victims don’t heal. One thing I have seen over and over again in my in life both personally and professionally is that no one ever makes a lasting change that they don’t genuinely want to make. People make changes when they’ve had enough and their back is against the wall.

It sucks to get downsized. It sucks to get hurt or heartbroken. It sucks to get sick. It sucks when your genetics aren’t perfect. A lot of life’s setbacks aren’t our fault. It wasn’t your fault that your parents were lousy role models or your boss is an asshole. But it is your fault that you hold on to your pain, anger, and self-justification. True freedom can only come about by releasing negativity and allowing wounds to heal though the natural order of time and forgiveness. The statute of limitations is now – you aren’t a victim, you have the power of choice.

o   You must face the pain. Sometimes you’re going to get your ass kicked and it’s going to hurt - maybe even worse than you think. It’s tempting to run the other way. But the great irony of the things that mask our pain (booze, sex, food, etc.) is that these temporary reprieves only prolong and compound the inevitable pain. One of the best ways to cope with pain is to find support. If your body hurts, treat it gently and get a massage. If your heart hurts, join a support group and seek those who can understand your plight. If your mind hurts, force yourself to sit with your thoughts until they pass.

More than anything though, we have to face the hurt and the trauma. Peace is only found on the other side of it. There’s no way around the storms of life – our job is to face the pain and release its grip by swimming with the current.

Learning to fail isn’t something covered in school. There are no participation trophies in the game of life. We’ll have many wins if we’re fortunate and few failures if we’re lucky. But failure is going to happen and regardless of circumstance, the work is clear – peace of mind and character are forged with finding the resolve to face the mess and the courage to clean it up.




Where is my mind?

“The best way to get somewhere is to let go of trying to get anywhere at all” - John Kabat-Zinn

One of my acting teachers used to begin each class with the simple instruction of telling us to “feel our feet on the ground.” The request sounds somewhat ridiculous at face value. After all, if you’re standing, where else could your feet be but on the ground?

My teacher wasn’t just making an obvious request though, he was asking us to be present and to genuinely feel our feet connecting to the earth - to breathe and be in the moment. As a physical artist, the only way an actor finds truth is to be wholly present and the only way to be wholly present is to breathe and feel your feet on the ground. That’s where the work begins.

Feeling my feet on the ground has sometimes been an elusive goal. Like many Americans, for most of my life, I’ve continuously drank the Kool-Aid that doing is succeeding. It’s almost as if ‘dream it and do it’ should be inscribed on our nation’s flag.

We are a nation of doers and our culture is predicated on the self-made individual. Making a life worth living in our society means building, climbing, and most of all, doing. In order to sharpen our saws for doing, many of us incorporate the habit of a “practice.” That is, a process of cultivating a skill, craft, or discipline.

Practice helps prepare us for doing more and in turn, succeeding. Or at least, that’s the idea. In fitness, I have been exercising regularly since I was a teenager. As an actor, rehearsal has helped me learn my lines and try new approaches. As a marital artist, sparring kept me sharp and helped me learn to defend myself. I’ve been practicing and doing constantly for much of my life.

Part of why I love fitness are the “laws” associated with the practice, starting with rule number one, effort = success. While you can’t will yourself to be talented or artistic, you can will yourself to be in great shape. Practice doesn’t make perfect with exercise, but it certainly pays off.

But even with well-intentioned effort, exercise isn’t immune from the laws of failure either. The human body often has other ideas than a linear progression of advancement. There is aging and injury to contend with, and life sometimes gets in the way of expressing our physicality.

Fitness is just like any other endeavor from jobs to relationships to daily activities – there are peaks and valleys, waves and calm waters. Our job is simply to be present, learn, and let go.  

The reality is however, that during a setback we tend to stick with our default - staying busy and doing more. When our body breaks down, we seek distractions and new activities. When we lose our professional identity or relationship, we stay occupied by seeking a new one. But what happens when all of our doing, practicing, and trying doesn’t materialize? What happens when doing becomes a distraction from the essential work of observation?

While it’s tempting to double down during failure and keep ourselves occupied, doing so doesn’t necessarily serve us as well. As a wise teacher once reminded me “Eric, you can’t run faster than your shadow.”

At such a crossroads, it’s time to go back to step one – to feel your feet on the ground and know that true ‘success’ isn’t your job, your body, or even your relationships, but qualities and character. A season of change calls for a new form of practice, but not the sort where you count the sets and reps.

We tend to think of the word practice in terms of repetition with the intention of getting better at something. But the practice of mindfulness is simply about paying attention and capturing the present. Becoming more mindful isn’t about doing more or rehearsing more diligently. There’s merely the art of releasing your expectations and allowing the universe to flow through you. As meditation guru and best-selling author John Kabat-Zinn states, “Meditation is not about feeling a certain way. It’s about feeling the way you feel.”

In recent years I’ve had to learn how to stop doing and start being. Being mindful isn’t about trying harder or doing more, but mindfulness does require the same qualities that promote successful doing - intention and discipline. With the art of being mindful, life itself becomes the practice of commitment to the present moment. For now, that’s enough.

Question Authority

"Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen."   Winston Churchill

Back in the day when John Cougar Mellencamp fought the authority, the authority always won. And so it seems for many of us – authority appears to hold infinite power. Our mega companies and bosses, our churches, pastors and priests, and certainly the literal authorities seemingly hold all of the cards. Even in the construct of our communities and families, there is a powerful underlying influence of conformity that keeps many of us in check.

America hates a loser and the cultural norm is to hold contempt for failure. Because of such immense societal pressure, many would rather sit down and stay quiet than face the prospect of a lost battle. After all, when you pick a fight, you don’t fight to lose. And if Mellencamp was right - the authority always wins - then what’s the point of fighting ‘the man’ in the first place? With such logic, many of us choose to avoid conflict and stay on the sidelines of apathy, comfort, and complacency.

The predominance of passivity and apathy may seem like trends that are here to stay, but it hasn’t always been that way. America was founded on the ideals of resistance to authority and standing up for the rights of the oppressed and marginalized. That said, the great irony of the American ideal (success at all costs) is that it also carries with it a dark underbelly of oppression, abuse, and violence. ‘Me first’ can also mean ‘you last.’

This ebb and flow cycle of resistance and avoidance has played itself out throughout the history of our nation. In modern history, the resistance movements of civil rights, women’s rights and LBGT rights have also been paralleled by the movements of corporate consolidation and greed, bigger and increasingly gridlocked government, and inequality through the disparity of wealth.

In the hangover of the tumultuous 1960’s, the notion of conflict avoidance gained continuous momentum. Rocking the boat lost its luster and in its place, comfort and complacency became en vogue. If the 80’s was the “Greed is Good” decade, the presiding themes that seem to hold sway in modern times are that of ego, image, and self-preservation.

Pop culture promotes such a zero-sum equation played out salaciously on reality television and in our constant mind-numbing newsfeeds. The end goal is the top of the pyramid (famous, rich, and beautiful) and the way is paved with playing the game, a carefully manicured self-image, and how many ‘followers’ one can amass. I have a dream has been replaced by what’s in it for me.

Greed and selfishness seem to be top American values, but that isn’t what we’re built on. We’re build on resistance. We’re built on fighting for the rights of the little guy. We’re built on the rising tide that lifts all boats, not just the yachts.

As cookie cutter monopolies have come to define our way of business and inept government has become the norm, more and more folks are stepping out to challenge the status quo. And yet it’s evident that in many ways, in the haze of our comfortable slumber, we’ve forgotten how to stand up and resist. It’s time for a crash course:

Resistance isn’t insulating yourself with those that agree with you.

Resistance isn’t simply putting up a hashtag and feeling like you’ve done your part.

Resistance isn’t shouting and screaming louder…it’s letting others do the shouting and screaming and holding a mirror up to hatred and insanity.

Resistance starts with the most important battle you can wage - challenging your own ego and limiting self-serving beliefs.

Resistance is humility, the willingness to listen, and an unwavering commitment to justice and truth.

Resistance is putting your money where your mouth is and putting your ass on the line.

I tend to agree with John Cougar Mellancamp - it does indeed seem like the authority wins a lot of the time. But the pages of history tell a different story. All important and significant political, scientific, and cultural movements start with ideas counter to the establishment. The authority may win a lot of battles, but truth always wins the war.

Corporate America, our news/social media, and the polarizing political landscape can seem like lonely and terrifying places to reside these days. But as the truly great advancements in history corroborate - there are a lot more of us than there are of them. If enough of us resist the forces of ego, selfishness, and greed, then justice will prevail.




Moral Courage

"Our lives no longer belong to us alone; they belong to all those who need us desperately."  - Elie Wiesel

My mom used to read to me at night…until I was in high school! She read children’s books to me when I was little, sports books when I was in grade school, and as I matured, she read biographies and history. One theme was consistent in the books she chose – moral courage. Moral courage is defined as the courage to take action for moral reasons despite the risk of adverse consequences.

I’m not sure if it was Mom’s intention to instill the virtues of being some sort of moral crusader, but those books made a big impression on me. My main take away from those readings on the likenesses of individuals like Anne Frank, Malcolm X, or Jackie Robinson is that the true mark of success isn’t defined by what assets you have, your resume, or even how long you live, but by your willingness to stand for what you believe in.

How many of us are willing to take such stands? How many of us are willing to truly stand up - to our employer, our church, our government and risk persecution, our job, and even our freedom? To many, the comforts of modern life, validation on social media, and the distractions of technology hold sway over urgent and pressing systemic problems. We are too busy being distracted and seeking comfort to be burdened by life’s inconvenient truths.

Moral courage is seemingly in short supply these days although there are glimmers of hope if you look closely enough. Ishrad Manji is the founder of the ‘Moral Courage Project’’ at the University of Southern California where she teaches students to “do the right thing in the face of four years.” Manji is a Muslim who has openly stood up for the rights of women and minorities calling for reform in her faith in her bestselling book, The Trouble with Islam Today.

A recent example of moral courage is also former NFL player Ed Cunningham quitting his lucrative job as a television football analyst because he believes that football has negative long-term health ramifications. He felt could “no longer be in that cheerleader’s spot” in promoting a game he believes in hazardous to your health. In announcing his decision Cunningham added “I just don’t think the game is safe for the brain. To me, it’s unacceptable.”

The point isn’t whether people like Manji and Cunningham are right. Personally, I like football and though the studies on football appear to be fairly damning, I have no idea if the science is absolute or conclusive with regard to long-term brain damage and its correlation to football. The point is that Ed Cunningham quit one of the top jobs in sports broadcasting because of his convictions. The point is that Manji stood up to her faith at the risk of being ostracized or worse and has dedicated her life’s work to furthering the movement of moral courage.

The point is also that such stands of courage are notable because they are a rarity in our times. Moral courage tends to be the exception to the rule of the day – ‘me first.’ The mantra of me first is at the root of almost every major problem we face today – disparity of income & wealth inequality, dysfunctional government run by lifelong politicians, the epidemics of addiction, crumbling infrastructure and the failing environment. And it’s not just ego and selfishness that drives these problems, but they are compounded by a modern culture of apathy, indifference, and contempt.

Said Noel Prize winner and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel: “The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.” Wiesel goes on to say that “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

Elie Wiesel wrote about perhaps the most glaring example of such neglect which occurred in the 1930’s & 40’s in Nazi Germany. Many protected their own self-interest - Their families, their jobs, their possessions. In doing so they contributed to one of the biggest crimes against humanity, not to mention their own countries demise and destruction. Indeed, when we put only our needs first, we neglect the moral necessities of our time.

These days there are also many who want to put their family, country or company first. While in some ways it’s natural and understandable to put you and yours first, frankly the sentiment is misguided and ultimately wrong. 'Me first' presents a self-absorbed narrative that puts blinders on the many extremely important issues of the day – poverty, failing societal health, the environment, education – things that affect us all in one way shape or form.

To right this ship, the single most important question we can ask ourselves is ‘what do you love in life more than you love yourself?’ Said another way, ‘what are you willing to die for?’ It’s a strong question, but one we all need to ask in our daily lives if we have a shot at correcting the sentiments of indifference, selfishness, and greed. Rather than responding to the issues of today with apathy, we have an ethical responsibility to stand up and ask, ‘what is going on here?’

We live in important and tumultuous times where a desperate need exists for leadership and the willingness to take stands. Even at the cost of a job, relationship, or personal gain we must put our conscious and community first. In a world of limited resources, interconnected economies, and common problems, the notion of me or even America first is archaic. As Thomas Paine said, “My country is the world. My religion is to do good.” Our ultimate task is to put the collective needs of the community first and as Paine rightly stated, “to do good.”




Riders on the Storm

So apparently, there's a chance I am (or was) Jim Morrison! I came across this realization after experiencing one of the most vivid dreams I’ve ever had. In my dream, I actually became the figure of Jim, performing “Break on Through” as well as his last ever written song, “Riders on the Storm.” In typical Doors-like fashion, the dream was mysterious, hazy, and very strange. I even forgot some of the lyrics to ‘my’ own song while performing in front of a sea of people in a dark auditorium.

Feeling moved by the experience, I had the dream interpreted with the help of a ‘spiritual director.’ After some research, I realized Morrison died just a few days before I was born. This fact pretty much sealed my assertion and my dream advisor’s hypothesis and half-joking suggestion that I once lived as Morrison in a previous life.

As I took the dream analysis a step further though, the focus became less about the figure of Jim Morrison and more about the two songs featured in my dream. Why these two songs and what do they mean? At the time, “Break on Through” (to the other side) seemed a more prominent theme in my life and somewhat obvious in meaning and application – to break through the noise, clutter, and my shadow self and live authentically. To break through the preconceived notions of how things should be and act truthfully instead of acting in accordance with trying to please others.

Breaking through has been a continual battle in my life, but the song that has ultimately struck a lasting chord with me is “Riders.” At the time of my dream, I had just come out of a storm and a major life change (divorce, move, and professional transition). The timing and metaphor of riding on the storm seemed highly appropriate. After a short time though, my storm passed as did the memory of the dream. It was back to smooth sailing.

The other day, I happened to be quietly sitting at work when “Riders on the Storm” came on the radio. I was immediately struck again by the song and its underlying meaning. Literal storm waters have again been brewing in recent months. As I embark on yet another life shift (marriage, move, and professional transition), the prospect of a stormy uncertainty lurks.

With change again on my mind, I decided to dig a little deeper into some of ‘my’ lyrics and meaning. My initial analysis on "Riders" had much to do with marinating on the storms of life and the importance of riding or surfing on the wave, versus getting swallowed up in the tumultuous waters. But taking a harder look at Morrison’s lyrics have brought additional insight to the meaning. Some phrases seem obvious such as “Into this world we’re thrown” and “like a dog without a bone.” However, one phrase has jumped out at me in particular – “An actor out on loan.”

I took a look at some of the comments online and found the following analysis:

“’An Actor out on loan’ is a metaphor for powerlessness. It’s an old theater and movie term, dating back to the days of the studio system, when many contract actors had no control over their own careers…studio officials could hire them out on a whim to other studios for parts that could be destructive of their own careers. The first thing an actor did when he was in sufficient demand to dictate his own terms was to eliminate that clause in their contracts with the studios."

"An actor goes out there and if he is to be marvelous or even worth his salt he must be naked to the soul, exposed to the core. Vulnerable beyond belief. He must be his most private self in the most public of places. In front of the whole world."

Indeed, we are all ‘actors’ on our own journeys and life’s storms present our biggest stages. This week I spoke with an acquaintance who was recently in Las Vegas and at the tragic concert shooting. In a stormy moment of gunfire and panic, his immediate instinct was to help those who were wounded and to assist others in dragging them to safety. His genuine nature to act with compassion and dignity were apparent even in the very darkest imaginable human circumstances.

Hopefully, most of us can live full and meaningful lives without having to encounter such a horrific tragedy. But it is a certainty that all of us will encounter storms. Some of those storms will be powerful and even beyond our control. But as ‘actors out on loan,’ it is up to us to find the naked vulnerability to rise to the occasion and find our own truth and humility. It is only through such authenticity that we can ride the wave safely to reach the calm waters once again.