Finding Purpose

Why are we here?

It’s one of the most poignant questions – if not THE most – we will all face in our lifetime. When we are young, there is nothing but possibility and because of that, not only do we allow ourselves the freedom to dream but we also encourage young people to believe anything is possible. As we age, opportunities begin to lessen whether by circumstance, choice, or let’s face it, no matter my basketball talents, my height will prohibit me from ever being an NBA star. But we don’t just see those opportunities close, we also start to doubt ourselves and others about those possibilities. I remember seeing a twitter account by a young girl who said she wanted to be president some day. Everyone consistently embraced her ambition but when I ran, the first question I was consistently asked was, “Are you crazy?”

So how do we get around these roadblocks? How do we find our purpose in life once we’ve grown and lived and found our real, as well as imagined, boundaries? And how do we determine what we want, what we were meant to or created to be, and what we believe others want us to be?

Gracious! That’s a lot tugging at us! Well, let’s break it down. I like to start with – What were we created to be? because it gets to the heart of what our personal talents are and how we can best contribute to the world. For me, this involves vision and design. I love, love, love complex problems and excel at finding creative efficient solutions. It sounds vague but the ideas can be applied almost anywhere.

What do we want? This one is far trickier because it requires one to make decisions. I always say, “The burden of opportunity is the requirement to choose.” The additional challenge is the fact that what we want may not be within our reach. “I want to be president of the United States,” for example is not something you can demand. However, you CAN run for president if you like. 🙂 And I think this illustrates my thinking: I like experience. I like cycles. I like routines and clarity. And I like puzzles. So I want a life that allows me to cycle through different experiences with different routines and needs that all have cognitive complexity and challenge embedded in them to keep my mind running. But this does not scratch the one itch I can’t seem to figure out – meaning. It’s not enough for me to have a life scheduled as noted above but it is additionally necessary for me to find meaning in the puzzles that I solve. How do I find those?

And then there is the last one: What do we believe others want us to be? This one pains me the most. As a psychologist, I love to say – “Don’t should all over yourself.” But this flies in the face of authoritarian rulesets and the idea that there is a “right” and “wrong” way to live. And the guilt that comes with choosing a path different from the one that makes everyone else feel like the world is predictable, safe, and makes sense. Remember: these rules were put in place not with the intention of helping you live your best life as your best self but rather, to control the masses and make life predictable across a large society of people. So where is the line? How do you choose your path?

Truth. Be true to yourself and honest within yourself about who you were created to be, who you want to be, and what you want to do. Then honor the people around you by sharing your true self because ultimately, the “right” way to live is not defined by what makes others feel comfortable but rather, it’s defined by bringing your real self into the world.

Where to begin….?

When one hasn’t blogged in a while, it’s like failing to write in one’s diary. It’s a loss of the continuous thinking that acted as a needed outlet and perhaps also as the connective tissue between ideas that span days, weeks, even years. So to restart necessarily requires first a new plan or idea or framework or process – or does it?

I think, given the amount of change not only personally but globally, that has occurred over the past three years means that something new is required – but what? I think the process to follow is the same as the design process I use for my business and which coincides with many books I’m currently reading. That is to say, we first start by thinking through the space. Typically, we are looking to solve a problem but perhaps we could also approach “the space” as less of a problem and more of a changing landscape. In defense, there is a common statement that it’s not that a certain set of strategies and tactics are broken or or poorly designed but rather, the operational environment has shifted, and in order to continue to be effective in that changing space, we have to evolve our ideas, tools, and actions. I think this is the best way to think about personal evolution as well: The world has shifted, literally, how might we want to shift as well to meet our needs in this new space?

For me, two things have happened that have had the biggest impact – and ironically, they are the same “thing”. With the ability to work from home has come enormous free time and autonomy in my day. This has made travel easier, my house cleaner, my time with my kids more robust, and generally speaking, I am less tired, in better shape, and more productive.

I am also bored and lonely.

So how do we capitalize on this new found freedom while managing the double-edged sword that it brings with it?

We embrace it! I used to say that if I had time for a hot bath once a week, I’d be happy. Now I can take them twice a day if I like. And as a long distance runner, this opportunity is gold for my muscles. But what else, what more can we do for ourselves that we couldn’t before? Perhaps, we can heal from the expectations that our worth is defined by the number of hours we work and instead realize that our ideas, creativity, and the solutions we can provide companies is where we better shine.

And as for the feelings of boredom, perhaps we need to reframe our definition of living, focusing more on experiences and less on achievement. To do that, we’ll need to re-think our priorities. What are your top 5 in this brave new world?

Images by Pitsch and Engin Akyurtfrom Pixabay

Here’s to new beginnings…

It’s been two and a half years since I felt inspired to write. Why?

To be honest, I was exhausted. I returned from the tour and entered straight into Covid. I went from spending every day surrounded by more people than I could manage with my limited social energy daily allowance to nearly no interaction with humans outside of my immediate family. There is a balance in life and instead of feeling that, I transitioned from one extreme to the next. Simply put, it was too much for my body to endure. It was too much change. It was too much shifting. It was just too much.

But here we are, years later. Life has changed. The world has changed. Our jobs have changed. The people around us have changed. Are we better for it? Some, yes. In other ways, no.

Today I sit in a swanky bar in Boise, Idaho,

having just finished my third marathon the day before and

having spent a wonderful weekend with my oldest son, and

for the first time in years, literally, I feel the compulsion to write.

But what to say? Where is my focus? Where is the focus of our nation? Our world?

If I could encapsulate what I’ve seen, and to be fair, what I’ve experienced, I’d say it’s “change”. The world, our worlds, our lives, and ourselves, have changed. Some have evolved. Others have devolved. Which are you?

For me, it’s been both. I’ve dived deep into the design space. I’ve fully remodeled a house that is intended to highlight design in every way: It boasts high ceilings to elevate the mind, many windows and sky lights to let tremendous natural light in to the inspire the mind, it is covered in paintable and writeable white walls to encourage creativity, and it is covered in big, bold paintings, pictures, and original drawings meant to tell a story about me, my family, and my views of the world. In a phrase, I love the space and all that it stands for. I’ve also dedicated myself to physical and mental health, spending time working through former traumas, changing my diet to fit the needs of my body, and becoming a long distance runner. I started out running for my kids but found that I truly love the personal challenge of these races and well, what can I say, I’m hooked.

But there is also the other side – the places I’ve devolved. Most of it stems from the confluence of getting older, seeing the underpinnings of our nation, and Covid – but can be summed up in the realization that much of what we try to do to help the world falls short of making an impact. It’s a sad thing to come to terms with but fairly typical as we age. And ironically, freeing. It frees one from the rules, expectations, requirements we all try so hard to meet as young people.

And so, I am free. As I hope everyone is feeling. Perhaps not because laws are being written as they need to be. Perhaps not because politics has made more sense. Perhaps not because any one of us has more money. But perhaps because we’ve all learned that no one can own our minds. We do not live in the dystopian world described in 1984 and so, we are not obligated to believe what we are told. We are free to have our own opinions, be our own selves, and love as we wish. Everything can be regulated, controlled, even forced, but our minds…our thoughts…remain our own.

Images by Patricio González and  Alfonso Cerezo

What the F*** is Happening to our Election?!

We the People

I don’t actually swear often but when it comes to politics, it just seems to roll off the tongue these days. Whether you follow Facebook, Twitter, Fox, or CNN – or you prefer to keep your eyes covered and all electronics off in your dark room – the collective emotional roller coaster is still affecting us all. Even those hiding, are hiding from something.

I have many times written about and presented on my concept of strategic psychology – the idea that large-scale collective emotional swings can happen by chance or by intention and these emotional waves lead to many confusing, seemingly irrational behaviors and outcomes. When I give talks, I often reference a fictitious story about a friend who comes to you and exuberantly exclaims he has met and fallen in love with a gorgeous woman. But as the description of her continues, you begin to notice that while your friend indeed has reached an emotional high that this woman has triggered, her method for creating such a feeling involves an intense, erratic, yet freeing series of thoughts and actions. In other words, this is a train wreck waiting to happen. Of course, we’ve all seen these play out and when one tries to tell their friend to run screaming the other direction, they insist that we are simply not seeing how wonderful she really is. Time, however, is a wonderous thing. It allows for all those chemicals in the brain to recede and as they do, the brain functions better – allowing the clarity of reality to come into focus. This is the point of the train crash, the return to one’s friend, and the exclamation – what was I thinking?!

At the individual level, this is a treatable struggle and over time, decision making can be improved but across an entire society, it is an epidemic that spreads like an emotional virus. Dis-information can be shared and the metaphorical house of mirrors reflects and re-reflects images, ideas, and thoughts making even the sanest of people feel like they are spinning and can’t find truth – even if it were staring them in the face. And, similar to my story of tumultuous love, these heightened emotions can lead to seemingly irrational behavior and beliefs in otherwise generally reasonable people. But the difference at scale is that while one person can be grounded by those around them, a group of people feed off the emotions of those around them and this collective frenzy leads not to simply an additive effect, it exponentially multiplies everything – emotions, chemical releases, and erratic behavior. It is no surprise, whatsoever, that both sides of the aisle are feeling like the other side lost their collective minds. Rather, we’d predict this to happen.

Very basically, if you raise the emotions of a large group of people, make them feel like they belong to something powerful, take them on an ever-exciting ride, give them something to fight for, and fuel this train with an oscillation of love and anger – very quickly, anyone riding that train will be easily manipulated. It is a formula. It is human nature. It is actually, dare I say, a normal – and predictable – response.

The question is, how do we get out? Well, it is just like the metaphorical story of love – we wait. We have to watch the train take its ride and be there when our friends comes back and say….What were we thinking?!

We can do this, America. We can do this.

Who the F*** Wants to Run the Country?!

We find ourselves – both the right, left, and center – perplexed by how incredibly bizarre the year of 2020 has become…and I fear it isn’t over yet…

In our own ways, each of us is trying to find solid ground and a way to positively impact, or even influence, our nation, our people, and of course, voting.

For my part – I’ve toured our government, represented our country overseas, and through my campaign traveled through every single state meeting and learning about our people – but as of yet, I have not run the country and between COVID-19 and the reality that I’m no politician, it doesn’t seem plausible. Or is it?

I have a personal trait that pretty much prohibits me from giving up when I set a goal. Typically, this means I keep working until I reach it but oftentimes it means I step back and look at it from a different angle, reinterpret it, and/or redesign the pathway. My goal to inspire our people is no different. We may not have won the presidency (though one might argue that having a neutral leader might be worth serious consideration today…where is that wink emoji when I need it?)…but we did publish a book we can be proud of, start a podcast, and now I’m adding a new adventure.

Taking the word “run” literally and then taking advantage of the creativity of our people who have developed unexpected opportunities during this pandemic, I am going to attempt to RUN the country…albeit virtually.

As a high risk individual, I am not able to throw caution to the wind and take chances being in public or at work but I have found respite in running early in the morning before anyone is awake. There is freedom in the darkness and running under the stars is peaceful and beautiful. And I am lucky enough to have seen those stars from the lands of every one of our states.

So now I am combining this unexpected yet welcomed experience with my travels and my goal to inspire our people on the road…literally. A new virtual trip around our country that will allow me to “travel” our nation once again and remember all the great places I visited.

Join me as I highlight a state each week and challenge myself to a virtual 10K, Half, or Full (marathon) in honor of all 50 states. I’ll post pictures from my travels and of my runs and of course, my MEDALS!

Here goes my new goal: #RUNtheCOUNTRY

Healthcare: Money, Politics….then Science

COVID-19 has helped shatter the myth that receiving heath care support remotely is substandard. Certainly, there are some activities that need to be conducted in a physician’s office – we are not able to perform surgeries at home…yet. But there are a tremendous number of services that can be conducted anywhere anytime and I would argue are even better accomplished remotely.

The University of Southern California (USC) recently hosted a Body Computing Conference that highlighted the impact COVID-19 has had on the perception of health care and the obvious discrepancies in access, particularly for low resourced individuals and families. It has also brought attention to numerous emergency approval acts that the government can take to rapidly study, create, test, and deploy medical interventions as needed. A key point made throughout the conference was that the ability to monitor a person at home can have dramatic impacts on their everyday health but it can also significantly reduce the need to visit hospitals. With home health monitoring, issues can be addressed more quickly, with minor interventions, and typically at a lower cost. At one point they stated that with home monitoring and feedback, heart patients dropped hospital visits from 40% to 2%!

However, and this “but” is a big one – home monitoring costs less, requires you to see and spend time with a physician less, results in fewer medicines taken, and reduces the likelihood you’ll have to go to the hospital and when you do, the length of stay will be shortened. While every one of these outcomes is positive for Americans and their families, especially given the lowered cost and barrier to access which allows more people to get the care they need, these results also reflect an enormous reduction in the multi-trillion dollar health care system that we now have the United States. Stated another way, given that health care is a for-profit business in our nation, it means the goal is to make money. Period. Full stop. All the efficiencies described above reduce the profit bottom line and that, essentially, means that the true goal of the health care industry is missed.

Many Americans on my travels around the country stated that if we have a for-profit-based health industry that competition will be higher. My rebuttal is that the people who go into this business are already, by personality, driven to compete. What the for-profit structure does in actuality is define mission goal by money instead of health. Do you want the best health care….or the most expensive one?

Five Pieces of a Five-Thousand Piece Puzzle

World Puzzle Colors

It is unavoidable in the United States today to not see the severe divide growing between and among our people. With change always comes friction but the challenge today is that the ability to determine what is real, what is ground truth, and who is trustworthy is nearly impossible to determine. The rapidity of information sharing now possible through social media has overloaded not only data systems but also our minds.

And yet, how different is today from history? Sadly, there is little difference in the activities being undertaken and the goals that people hold; however there is an exponentially higher rate of spread of information and disinformation that categorically changes and elevates its impact. One the biggest findings of my tour was that people are hungry for information and by and large, Americans want to know the truth. The challenge every citizen faces is trying to figure out where truth lies and who to trust.

And yet, I’d challenge the question and rebut with the notion that while we are all searching for as much accurate information as we can gather, the reality is that the information we seek is not publicly available – whether for security reasons or by design. National security demands that information be withheld from the public. There is no surprise in that notion – surely, no coach would show the opposing football team their plays before the game began. Similarly, our military and security sector agencies must keep the majority of information, goals, and innovations close hold. But it is the other, the lack of information or release of misinformation by design that has contributed to the dividing beliefs of our country.

I had no trouble, ever, throughout my travels explaining to citizens that the real truth lies in a space to which few, if any, have full access. We are all holding, at best, five pieces of a five-thousand piece puzzle and then trying to draw conclusions and make decisions based on this limited intel. And the truth is, we can’t – at least not with any trust in accuracy.

And yet, what choice do we have? It is important to acknowledge that each of us is forced to make the best decisions we can with the limited information we can access because the one thing we can control is our respect for our fellow citizens who are trying to make sense of the same messy and absent information we are. Our differences, therefore, our born out of the different pieces we hold, which provide us access to different parts of the larger picture. Our differences are not true differences but rather perspectives that have led us to defend, as different realities, separate sections of the real picture. And if we, the people, can see that, acknowledge that, we can share our pieces and gain knowledge.

Strategic Design: Why do you care?

It often feels like selling broccoli to a three-year old. It’s not that the youngster is unintelligent, it’s just that they haven’t lived long enough to understand the long-term effects of choices and they lack the knowledge to understand concepts like “health” and “nutrition.” In three-year old terms, broccoli looks weird, smells bad, and tastes strange so what’s the upside? Compared to cotton candy or spaghetti which fill their bellies and taste delicious, broccoli seems like an unreasonable leap with only the benefit of a concept that one can’t appreciate for many years if not decades.

Strategic design and subsequent planning feel similarly to many people. It’s not a lack of intelligence that keeps decision makers from buying in, it’s a lack of understanding of what is gained, avoided, or more efficient that is unclear. Add to it the cost and most companies and especially public agencies will avoid the metaphorical broccoli for the immediate outcomes gained by short-term, clearer solutions. Yet, like with all good metaphors, just as too much sugar and carbohydrates will eventually negatively affect a body, so too will a lack of insight, understanding of the enterprise, and planning eventually result in metaphorical “health” problems across the ecosystem.

This is what is happening in our country today. For too long, we’ve refused the discussion of politics in “polite” conversation – it’s seemingly reserved for argumentative sport. In doing so, we’ve failed to model healthy behavior in debate and allowed those with the loudest voices, but not necessarily the most informed or even the most interested, to direct platforms. Further, with the monetary incentives and the cyclical nature of the political game, short-term wins create sound bites for campaigns and the goal of winning has an unintended consequence of skipping the vision, strategy, and long-term planning needed for the country to do the maintenance work required to endure. We’ve allowed erosion within the governmental systems to go unchecked and unaddressed. We’ve eaten too much sugar and not enough broccoli. It was not only predictable, but it is now also inevitable, that there will be substantial prices to pay for these choices – and avoidances.

The irony though is that it won’t be those who made the decisions in the first place that will be affected, it will be those with the least knowledge, awareness, and resources who will be the carnage.

It begs the real question: Will we recognize the error of our ways and choose to lead a healthier lifestyle of broccoli and exercise or will we ignore the warnings, blame others for these predictable but indirect issues, and allow rot to set in? There’s no avoiding the price anymore, there’s only an option to lessen the consequences.

Creating an Intellectual Force

To date, we have necessitated a military defense force that can operate with physical strength, stamina, agility, and demonstrate all these abilities consistently under extreme stress. At the highest level, a strategic mind has always been necessary. In many positions within the military branches, the same holds true. There have traditionally also been positions where physical prowess was the primary capability needed.

As we move further into the 21st century, we will see increasing demand for intellectual-only positions. We will see the need for drone operators, cyber security analysts, and psychological specialists. In many ways, the intelligence community has been the driving operator in this more purely intellectual space but the future battlefields are increasingly requiring not only the intellectual capability and knowledge but also a warrior mindset. It begins to move out of the deep analysis space and into the intellectual warfare space where battles are fought through non-co-located reality or virtual reality. As we progress as a world into this nebulous battlespace where there are no boundaries, visual information is limited or absent, and where the human body is not required to be at the highest level of readiness, we begin to see the need to consider with a wider swath of eligibility requirements for military service.

Do you need to be fully able-bodied to fight war from a desk? Do you need additional skills, capabilities, and training to be cognitively agile? Intellectually stealth? Have high attentional stamina?

Much research within the U.S. Department of Defense as well as in other militaries across the world are asking these questions, developing proposals for improved talent management systems and requirements, and taking action to curate the latest research in cognitive science to inform the creation of an intellectual soldier – one that optimizes mind capabilities but perhaps not physical skills.

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash

Expanding the definition of Service

It is widely stated that while our active duty and reserve personnel are the key individuals within the military ecosystem, without the other supporting entities, they would be unable to do their jobs at the high-level Americans expect. Additionally, it is often recognized that military training is some of the best life training for discipline, self-reliance, and decision making under pressure. But with only 29% of Americans ages 17-24 eligible for military service, not only do we lose access to these individuals’ other talents but they lose access to the life training opportunities available. Expanding the definition of service can create the opportunity for all Americans, regardless of skill set, interest area, or physical capability, to serve our nation and to benefit from the lessons this service experience brings.

There is a need to a) create a culture that shares this message and b) create structures to support it. How do we accomplish both?

First, we would need to develop a centralizing structure that recognizes local, state, national, and international service. Structures already exist within government that can collect, organize, and label this data. Second, we would need to create a number of service positions with differing commitment timing. Specifically, this includes analogous programs to reserve units, developing a second responders program, and intermittent volunteer opportunities through private or public programs.

By tangibly recognizing service to the nation, socializing the need for it and the benefit of it, as well as making it easy to participate, a national service program office could be established and supported within the DoD to ensure that all Americans have an opportunity to share their expertise with the nation and ultimately improve national readiness.

Photo by Daniel Tausis  John Middelkoop  Holly Mindrup