Simply begin again.
A year ago, I wrote in my v54.0 post that I’d decided not to have any goals for the year ahead. Instead of having goals, I wrote:
I’m embracing the moment. Every moment. Simply being in the moment. Being present with whomever I’m with or whatever I’m doing. But that’s not a goal. I know I’ll drift – regularly – just like my mind does when I meditate.
As I reflect on that last 365 days, I’m glad I had no goals. I could never have anticipated the 365 days that just occurred. Someone changed some of the fundamental code in the simulation we are in, and it sent everything off in an extremely unexpected direction.
Nothing like a small change in initial conditions.
For v55, I’m maintaining my simply begin again matra. However, when I woke up this morning, I allowed a switch to flip on the stage of life I’m in. At 55, I’ve decided I’m in the “every day is a gift from here on out” mode.
I’ve had several friends die this year. Many others have re-evaluated what they are doing, how they are doing it, or why they are doing it. I’ve been involved in several projects that have opened my eyes and mind to a different level around the inequities that exist on our planet. I spent a lot of time on things I didn’t want to spend my time on because I felt a responsibility or an obligation to people, things, or institutions.
Simply begin again.
Amy has continued to be an extraordinarily deep bedrock in my existence. We’ve had coffee together every morning since mid-March when the Covid lockdowns started. Our conversations have shifted from the past to the future, to the current moment. For the last 265 days, we’ve been together. While I could never have predicted that for v54, it was a blessing in an otherwise complex and completely unexpected year.
As I shift into “every day is a gift from here on out” mode, I’m changing how I spend my life, so it’s oriented around maximizing what I want to do rather than minimizing what I don’t want to do. That’s not a goal, but a foundational shift in my own initial condition, as of this moment.
Simply begin again.
And I know a lot of people who aren’t.
I’m trying hard, but I’m aware that there are many moments where I’m nowhere close to being my best.
Every day, I feel confused by behavior from someone I know well which is inconsistent with how I think of them. Sometimes it’s unsettling or upsetting. Often it is perplexing. Occasionally it is disheartening.
Everyone I know is some element of tired, stressed, anxious, frustrated, or just running at maximum speed trying to keep it all together. People are short-tempered, irritable, irrational, and lashing out or thrashing around.
Give yourself a break and acknowledge to yourself and your loved ones that you are not at your best right now. Understand that your loved ones, colleagues, co-workers, friends, and everyone else is probably not at their best right now. While you might not be able to give them a hug, you can try a smile, an apology, or laughter when the moment passes.
Give them, and yourself, a break for not being at your best.
We are starting to exit phase 1 of the Covid Crisis in the United States. If you find the whole thing extremely disorienting, you have my empathy.
In mid-April, I was getting used to the Stay at Home mode. I’d joke about how I was made for this and was never leaving my house again.
Last weekend I took a digital sabbath and woke up feeling energized on Monday. By Wednesday there was talk everywhere about opening things back up in various parts of the country. I struggled with this based on what I knew and was relieved when, at least in Colorado, I realized that it wasn’t really opening things up but rather relaxing some of the constraints that existed.
But the narrative is complicated. It’s made worse by the contrast of getting used to the existing Stay at Home mode with the uncertainty around relaxing some of the constraints. For me, this was made amplified by the intense pressure in some of the discussions I had, as many people were scared, frustrated, confused, anxious, and uncertain.
I was exhausted Thursday at the end of the day and went to bed at 6:30pm. I slept soundly until 7:00am Friday morning. I didn’t really feel any better when I woke up. As I meditated, I realized I was anxious about a cough I had, and even though it was probably springtime allergies, my brain kept going to Covid. My back was hurting again, which was probably a result of sitting in front of my computer or in my Zoom room for 12 hours a day. My brain was tired from the week, but as I meditated, I kept coming back to feelings of fear and discomfort.
I focused on work throughout the day and planned to take a digital sabbath on Saturday. When I woke up Saturday morning, I saw two meetings had appeared on my calendar. It was a beautiful day, but I decided to work. As Amy slept, I did the dishes, started my laundry from the week, and worked through what felt like an infinite pile of email.
At dinner time, Amy looked at me and told me I needed to take a break. She was unyielding and correct. We talked some and I started to realize that I was scared about the shift away from Stay at Home. All of my underlying frustration was really fear. The more we talked, the more I realized how disoriented I was feeling. While I was relieved that Denver County and Boulder County had extended the Stay at Home order until May 8th, I was agitated that Weld County had not, and I was complaining about Californian’s on the beach ignoring the social distancing requirements.
Amy told me I was taking Sunday off.
I took my digital sabbath on Sunday. I meditated in the hot tub and listened to the birds. I read. I called my mom and caught up. I took a long afternoon nap. I did my weekly Zoom social call with Will, Warren, and Dave. I watched the Series Finale of Homeland. I went to bed early.
I woke up this morning realizing that the anxiety I felt building up last week was simply disorientation related to fatigue, fear, and uncertainty around change. While I try to deny and power through this, I recognize that I’m in a much better, or more privileged, or safer, or pick whatever phrase you want that signifies “easier” position to deal with this situation than many. But the weight of it still, well, weighs on me.
As the birds start waking up this morning, and the sky starts to lighten, I choose to embrace a new day. And simply begin again.
Simply begin again.
I turned 54 today. I’ve always marked the start of a new year on my birthday rather than January 1st. As part of my birthday tradition, I write myself a letter about my upcoming year. I started posting these publicly when I was 51 and they serve as a nice reminder of where I was at v52 (focusing on what I want to do ) and v53 (exploring what I want to be).
I established a daily meditation practice during v53 after many years of fake meditation and several years of reactional meditation. I used to believe that my running was equivalent to meditation, which I’ve since discovered was completely incorrect. During v48, I learned how to meditate, but ended up only doing it when I was stressed, anxious, or depressed. After 192 days in a row in v53, meditation is now a real daily practice, first thing in the morning, every morning.
For v54, I’ve decided to have no goals. Sure, I’ll do a lot of things. I expect that I’ll accomplish plenty and fail at some while declaring victory on others. However, I’m not going to focus on outcomes.
Instead, I’m embracing the moment. Every moment. Simply being in the moment. Being present with whomever I’m with or whatever I’m doing. But that’s not a goal. I know I’ll drift – regularly – just like my mind does when I meditate.
And that’s fine because I’ve learned that when my mind drifts during meditation, I acknowledge it and simply begin again by bringing my focus back to the breath.
As I embark on my mid-50s, my mantra is Simply Begin Again.
I turned 53 today. Each year on my birthday I write a letter to myself reflecting on the previous year and pondering the coming year. I also go for a run – this year for 53 minutes. The past few years, I’ve started publishing them on this blog – if you are interested in what I’ve written in the past, take a look at @bfeld v52.0 and @bfeld v51.0.
When I review my goals for v52.0, they are all statements of what I want to do. Vegetarian, Introvert, Runner, Writer and Coach / Mentor. The phrase Discriminating Wisdom was tossed in as a bonus. When I reflect on v52, I wasn’t that successful at some of these. I started eating fish again in the spring. I didn’t run a marathon, was injured or sick for big parts of the year, and weigh in near my normal high of 220 today. I didn’t finish writing any of the books I’m working on.
On the other hand, I did get more time by myself last year and I feel that more of my work is in coach or mentor mode. I was very selective about adding new things to the mix. I traveled selectively rather than continuously. Overall, other than having some real struggles with physical health, v52 worked out well. I felt mentally healthy all year, feel surrounded and loved by good friends, and got to spend another year with Amy-my-soulmate.
I’m going to try a different approach for v53. Instead of statements about what I want to do, I’m going to focus on what I want to be. My long-time friend Dov Seidman wrote a book in 2011 titled How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything that I think is even more important today than it was eight years ago. When I chew on it, I feel like all of the statements of what I want to be can be subsumed by how I want to be, which are Curious, Healthy, Calm, Present, Supportive, and Boundless.
Curious: The essence of my existence has been an endless curiosity. When I was young, it was far-ranging. In the last 20 years, my curiosity has been more constrained by the work I do, where I’ve gone extremely deep in several areas, mostly bounded by entrepreneurship and technology. While I feel like one of my strengths (and a joy of mine) is the ability to synthesize things across multiple domains, I’ve recently felt the constraints of my exploration tighten. Some of this is based on age (e.g. I don’t feel like investing the energy in getting up to speed on something new) and some are based on responsibility (e.g. I’m too busy to invest the time needed.) While I’ll still be selective about what I go deep in, I’m going to let myself range more broadly again in v53.
Healthy: v52 was a bust on this front. I ended the year 16 pounds heavier than I started the year. In August, I got a serious bacterial infection (E. coli) and was borderline sepsis. I fell down the stairs and am – five months later – still healing from a bone bruise. My back hurts. And no, I didn’t run a marathon. I am running again, have seen my resting heart rate get back down into the high 50s, and hired a nutritionist so I’m eating smarter. Rather than endlessly measure and track my weight and food intake, I’m just going to focus on the behavior and habits that I know result in me being healthy. We’ll see where that leads me.
Calm: I don’t have much of a temper. I do carry around and absorb a huge amount of stress and anxiety, especially that of other people. I’m come up with a metaphor in therapy that I refer to as “metabolizing stress and anxiety.” As long as my metabolizer is working, I can handle an immense amount. When it’s not, I tip into depression. The notion of being calm incorporates a lot of activity for me (meditation, sleep, running, single-tasking, time alone, and time with Amy) that keeps my metabolizer working well.
Present: In v52 I deleted my Facebook account. I stopped consuming daily news, Twitter, and the endless random noise in our society. While I still get sucked into it occasionally, I am aware when I do, and it’s usually because my metabolizer isn’t working well enough. Going forward, when I’m on a video conference (which is multiple times a day between Monday and Friday), I’m 100% focused on the video conference. When I’m doing email, I’m doing email. When I’m writing, I’m writing. When I’m reading, I’m reading. When I’m with someone, I’ll be with them. My professional world prides itself on its ability to multitask. While I can do this with the best of them, v53 will be about being present.
Supportive: While an element of my work life is to be a leader, I have enjoyed moving into a coach and mentor role. When I think of the leadership I provide, it’s thought leadership, not functional leadership. Around v35, I decided not to be a CEO (or chairman) anymore. Today, I have no desire to be the boss of anything or anyone, but instead, want to have a supportive posture in the majority of my work activity. Every year I appreciate my friendships more, both old and new, and I’m going to continue to put supportive energy into those relationships.
Boundless: I finished Stephen Hawking’s book Brief Answers to the Big Questions last night. He’s one of my heroic figures and I’m sad that he’s no longer instantiated in human form. Even with his immense physical constraints, his mind – and where it went – was as unconstrained as any. It’s a beautiful thing to reflect on, and something to aspire to.
v53.0 booting up now.
I turned 52 on Friday. Last year, when I turned 51, I wrote a post titled @bfeld v51.0 where I talked about several things that I wanted to change in v51 of me. This year, I enhanced my annual tradition of birthday reflection by reviewing my previous year’s blog post, writing a letter to my 52-year-old self, going for a 52-minute run, and then condensing the letter to myself into a public blog post (the letter was much longer.) I planned to do this on Friday and the day was set up nicely for it, but work got in the way. So I did this on Saturday instead.
Let’s begin by reviewing my v51 plans.
No Booze: I had a no alcohol goal for v51. Late in 2016 and early in 2017 I had several nights where I drank alcohol, but I think all but one was a special event. By the end of springtime, I wasn’t drinking at all and I’m now in a very comfortable no drinking mode. I feel like it’s one that I can continue for the rest of my life and, while it feels like a good aspiration, I’m going to only set it for v52, rather than saying “I’ll never drink again.”
Mission Sub-200: Weight loss was a big topic for v51 of me. I wanted to be under 200 pounds after weighing in at 218 on my birthday. I weighed 201.9 yesterday and 202.3 today so I’m close enough to that goal to call it completed. While my ideal weight is 190, Amy negatively reacted to me setting my goal to be 190 and suggested 195 instead, which feels much more achievable to get to and maintain.
Religious Digital Sabbath: Digital Sabbath has been hit or miss for me. While I have almost no organized work activities on the weekend, and when I do I put them on Sunday afternoon, I’m still on my computer on Saturdays. I’ve tried to isolate “on my computer” from “checking email”, but even that constraint is awkward. But, there is a difference between “spending a bunch of time catching up on email” and “just checking/responding to the stuff that came in overnight or throughout the day.” I’m going to drop the goal of Religious Digital Sabbath from my v52 completely, but be very conscious of trying to minimize work and email on Saturday while using my computer for writing and the normal life tasks that the computer pops up for (like logging my runs, or scheduling dinner.)
Focus On My 2%: Overall I feel like I did a good job focusing on my 2%. It took a while to completely shrug off the 2016 election, but by mid-year, I was engaging where I could make a difference, rather than wallowing in the daily noise and nonsense. I made some mistakes in terms of thinking about what my 2% was, such as wading into Boulder politics around the November 2017 city council election. While I thought I could have an impact on the election, I didn’t, but more importantly, I hated almost every moment of what I was doing around this. I realized I wasn’t defining my 2% precisely enough. So, I’m going to re-evaluate my 2% some with a combination of asking myself “should I be doing this?” and “do I want to be doing this?” before including something in the 2%. My default posture is going to be “no” instead of “yes” so I need to convince myself, rather than default into doing things.
Reset Social Media: I completely and successfully reset my social media interactions. While I still broadcast, I don’t consume anything. While I’ll periodically open up Twitter or Facebook, I always feel unhappy (or even “dirty”) after I do this, so there is almost no desire on my part to do it. I took both apps off my phone early in the year and, while I put them back on and deleted them a few more times, they are currently deleted and I don’t have an urge to put them back on. I’m still broadcasting regularly through my blog, Medium, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, but I’m not responding to the comments and responses I get, except for occasional ones on my blog or more personal interactions via email. I like my position as a content generator and am relaxed in my lack of interest in engaging in discussions through these mediums.
More Maker Mode Expansion: Maker mode expansion and my writing in v51 on books was a failure. I had a few stretches where I wrote, but they weren’t sustained, and I didn’t really make any progress on either GiveFirst or Startup Communities 2. Instead of calling this maker mode expansion in v52, I’m simply going to write these two books this year. It feels comfortable to type that, as I want to write each of these books and can project that my emotional satisfaction around both the process and the completed product will be high.
Travel Mode Expansion: My travel changes in v51 were mixed. 2017 started off disastrously, with five consecutive weeks of travel. At the end of the fifth week, I acknowledged to myself that I was on the edge of falling into a depressive episode, so I abruptly stopped traveling, canceled a bunch of stuff, and shifted back into self-care mode. I experimented with a few other travel approaches and settled on shorter and more focused travel. I’ll travel in v52 for work, but I’ll always ask myself “why” before each trip commitment.
Reflecting on v51 as a setup to v52, I had several big functional goals that required a shift in behavior. However, I don’t feel like I had an overarching theme. I’m not sure a theme helps me, so for v52, I’m going to use nouns to describe what I’m focused on.
Vegetarian: Food has become increasingly challenging for me. While my diet has changed as I’ve lost weight, I’m struggling with more food sensitivities. I’ve been a pescatarian since I was 19, but these days I’m not enjoying fish at all, including sushi. Overall, I’m struggling a lot with food and would like to be free of what feels like regular allergic reactions to things. A vegan diet might get me there, but it feels too extreme, especially in the context of me and Amy eating together. So, v52 will be vegetarian, trending toward vegan.
Introvert: My default social posture will be more time to myself, with Amy, or with small groups (up to six people, but a preference of four people). When I do something with a bigger group, I’ll consciously engage, but know that I want to limit the length of time and the frequency of larger events.
Runner: Food, weight, and fitness are all part of my identity as a runner. I leveled up a lot in v51 and will level up more in v52, both on the physical and emotional dimension. My goal of 195 pounds continues in the right direction, which a vegetarian diet and no alcohol (which was successfully implemented in v51) will help with. I’m committing to a daily meditation of at least 20 minutes for v52, along with a nightly goal of at least eight hours of sleep. My running rhythm of at least one marathon this year will continue, but I’ll incorporate swimming and strength training into the mix.
Writer: I’m going to write GiveFirst and Startup Communities 2 in v52. To be a good writer, I believe you have to read a lot. I’ve read 72 books so far in 2017 (a goal of 100). I’m going to keep the goal of 100 books for 2018.
Coach / Mentor: My work role has shifted over the years from “doer” to coach/mentor. While there is inevitable doer activity in my work, I’m identifying more as coach/mentor. I’m going to explore this more in v52 as I think forward to future versions of me. I don’t plan any abrupt shift or specific different sets of behavior, but rather a broad and continual reflection on my role in my work.
Discriminating Wisdom: This is a great Buddhist notion that Amy pointed me at. I want to be selective about anything new that I take on and I want the overall number of things I’m working on to decrease. If I view this as an input/output model, where inputs are new things I take on and outputs are things that I finish/get closure on, I want there to be more outputs than inputs in v52 so that I end v52 with fewer overall commitments.
I learned a lot about myself in v51. Time for another trip around the sun.
There’s a magnificent exercise that I like to do for myself on a periodic basis. I’m sure it has a more formal name but I call it “Good Bad Like Dislike.”
I create a two by two matrix that looks like this:
I then go through my calendar for the next few months as a starting point to stimulate things to put in each box. I’m careful not to put specific items in the box, but concepts. For example, “Managing Other People” often ends up in “Bad – Dislike” box when I realize, through my forward calendar review, that I have a set of activities where I’m managing others. Or, instead of Good-Dislike: Company X Board Dinner, I end up writing “Board Dinners” in the Good-Dislike Category.
To be more specific, I deeply dislike managing others. While I might have been good at it a long time ago, and I could also likely be good at it if I worked at it, since it’s in the Dislike category, I don’t want to work on it. In contrast, I like “Leading Other People” and am good at it.
Part two is a personal reflection. Instead of being prompted by my calendar, I sit quietly and think about the things I’m doing that I dislike. I’ll often talk to Amy about this as she knows my Good Bad Like Dislike better than anyone on the planet. This is a particularly hard exercise for me because I often rationalize that I should be doing things in the Dislike category. I often overrate my ability on certain things that I feel that I should be good at, so they land in the Good category instead of the Bad category. Having a Fair Witness in one’s life helps with this.
Part three of the exercise is to take specific action around the high-level categorizations. Since I used my calendar to stimulate the review, I have my next three months in the front of my mind. I can then take specific actions. For example, I systematically decide not to do any board dinners in the future. Or, I change the management structure around the project that I’ve ended up managing so that I’m a participant in the project instead of the manager.
I just did this over the weekend as I was considering what 2018 was going to look like for me. I’m also sneaking up on v52 of myself, so it’s a good time for me to think about these kinds of things.
Happy Anniversary Amy.
We’ve been together for 27 years and we’ve been married for 24 of them.
It amazes me that you put up with me.
I look forward to spending as many years together as we get on this planet. And, if we are lucky, some technology will get created before we vanish that allows us to spend infinity together, although I’m not sure I’d wish me on you for infinity.
It’s 1:34am in Boulder. I’m normally asleep by 10pm. However, since I returned from Australia, I’m up until – well – now.
For most of last week, I still felt shitty from the salmonella poisoning I got two weeks ago. I rationalized that it was ok to take an ambien every night since I was still sick. But, I’m not a fan of ambien or how it makes me feel, so I stopped on Friday. Since then, I’ve crawled into bed around 10pm with my beloved, tossed and turned for about an hour, and then gotten up and either read or typed on my computer.
I have several close friends who are insomniacs. Over the years I’ve heard their stories about being up in the middle of the night, completely awake. I see them yawn at 11am and know that regardless of what they are doing, they’d probably rather be in bed sleeping. I’ve always had sympathy for them, but I’ve never really understood it.
I have trouble sleeping maybe one night a year. On that special night, I get up and read on the couch until I fall asleep.
I’ve four nights into this no-sleep craziness on the heals of ten days of what is called gastroenteritis in polite society. It is exactly zero fun.
With that, my whining is over. I’m giving my insomniac friends virtual hugs wherever they are in the world. I’m going to crawl into bed and try again to go to sleep. Maybe I’ll feel like writing something actually useful to the universe tomorrow.