Back on Track

Where I grew up, the subway was the only logical way to get around. It was frequent, on time, clean, cheap, and got you there faster than a car. I learned to drive, like everyone did, but I never had to.

Then fate landed me in Los Angeles, and now I can say I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere else.

For a long time, there were no trains to speak of here, and the buses where I lived weren’t great (I didn’t live on the Westside, so, sadly, no Big Blue Bus).   The only viable way to work or play or school was a car.  Driving alone went from luxury to habit to entitlement.

Years passed, and I moved to Santa Monica.  More years passed, and L.A. Metro built a network of light rail lines, including the Expo line which was extended to Santa Monica last year.  A year later, Expo carries 60,000 people a day to Santa Monica.

I ride Expo very occasionally. I tell myself it’s because I live a long way from the nearest station and it’s not convenient.  That long way is about six blocks.

Today, I boarded at one end of the line and rode to the other, then did it again the other way two hours later.  It was great, a million times better than sitting in traffic on the freeway, or hunting for that elusive parking spot and then being late for my meeting.

Sharing a rail car with a hundred or more other souls is enlightening: we’re people from all walks of life, all ages, each unique.  Most of us were engrossed in our cellphones, checking email, texting, or lost in music in headphones.

Outside the train, contrasts of culture, architecture, and humanity hammered our senses, not all of it pleasantly, but all of it real.  The woman screaming at another  on the platform, accusing her of stealing her son’s things.  The shantytowns under overpasses and clinging to hillsides; the billion-dollar high rises just built or under construction a few blocks away. The blazing hot blast of an autumn heatwave invading the car when the doors opened at each stop – and blessed relief each time the doors closed.

Union Station, Los Angeles

I know that most cities are more like the one where I was born than the one in which I now live – where public transportation is the default and not the exception.

Here in L.A., this is changing – slowly, but inevitably – with the imperative for each of us to treat our planet more responsibly.   It has not been easy for me to commit to the shared transportation experience; I enjoy my solitude and my comfortable car commute too much.

But I really, really need to change.

Join me on the train or bus and let’s make a difference in our world.

 

Take your Time

Around the next bend, over the next hill, on the other side of that ridge, or in the bottom of the valley, nature changes a landscape, but not very fast.

It’ll be centuries or millennia before any significant difference is visible, and that’s okay.  It’s fine right now and it’ll be different in its own time.

I say this as someone for whom getting tasks done on time is gospel if not the whole religion.

It’s true that many tasks have to be done right now or they have to be done very soon.  That’s true when later outcomes depend on earlier events and when they’re outcomes that you own.

But other times, even if it’s yours, the run is not  meant to be a sprint; the end game is not the goal.

Or it’s someone else’s path and someone else’s pace.

Change can be glacial, incremental, optional, or undesired. You can’t know and should not judge what lies further down their road.

Take your time. Try not to take theirs.

Fault Lines

On any team, open lines of communication between its members hold the team together.  A team of 3 has 3 connections; a team of 6 has 15; a team of 12, 66.

What this means is that the larger the team, the more opportunity for communication breakdowns and the bigger the impact on group productivity and individual contribution.

A team really can’t function when communication between even two of its members are fractured, let alone when several team members aren’t really talking to each other or don’t trust each other.

It’s not that different from a complex building whose strength and longevity depends on a framework of beams – each connected to multiple others.  Each, on its own and as part of a network, is crucial to structural integrity.

Or that small crack in a windshield that – left there too long – can shatter with just a small amount of stress.

Or the fault line on which houses will crumble when the pressure becomes too much and The Big One hits.

So if we think that as team members a rift with another is just between him and me or her and me, it isn’t.   The group’s success depends on each of us to get off the fault line and find common ground.

No Words Left Behind

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every day, at every opportunity, we try to do the right thing; and when we don’t, we  drag ourselves through hot coals.

Oddly, the cause of even more angst or obsessive thinking than shady deeds, is not what we did, but what we said.   Or didn’t say.  That is what keeps many of us up nights – replaying conversations, big and small.

Today, I was waiting for my car at a car wash on a hot sunny day, when business was brisk and waits were long.  Casual conversation with another car owner waiting for his car revealed that he’d grown up locally but moved away, served in the military, and then lived here and there.  We talked about the rising costs, congestions, and frustrations of urban living.  We chatted for about 15 minutes, then collected our cars and went our separate ways.

At various times in the conversation, I could have, and should have, thanked him for serving.   I didn’t, and the moment passed once, twice, three times.

I kicked myself all the way home.

I’ll never see him again; I don’t even know his name. The best I can do is say here and now, to all who have served for our freedom and laid their lives on the line:

Thank You. 

And maybe next time, instead of obsessing for hours, ruminating for days, or lying awake nights, about what I didn’t do, what I didn’t say, I’ll seize the moment when it comes and say whatever needs to be said to the person who needs to hear it, then and there. Stranger, colleague, friend, or family.

Great job.

I get it.

I appreciate you.

I support you.

I see you.

You matter.

I’m sorry.

Feel better.

I care.

Let me help.

I love you.

Thank you.

Now that Extraordinary is the New Ordinary…

‘Your time is limited. Don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” — Steve Jobs

 

It’s been a year.  Today, a year is just 1/55th of my life, which probably explains why living it felt like a minute.  Remember when you were five, and one year felt like 20?  Because, relative to your time on this earth, it was.

Today, for better or worse,  I’ve started a new chain.  Every day, I’ll publish at least a hundred words and an image.   If the words are crap, or the image is too raw, I’ll keep them to myself.  If the words or image might help someone think or act in a better way, I’ll publish them for all.  The  goal is to add a small link to the chain of written thoughts – every day – and never break the chain.

In the past year, a few life lessons knocked at my door, stood on the stoop, and waited.  Some, I answered; when others came calling,  I hid in the dark and pretended no one was home.

I gained a few pounds eating too many treats and feelings; my soul got heavy eating too many commitments.  I became sluggish, slow, and sad.

So I stopped eating my feelings and lost pounds.  I stopped stealing obligations from others’ plates, and lost tons.  I reprioritized and reorganized: health and family had to come first, to nourish and strengthen me for the good of everyone who counts on me today, and the larger world in which I can make a difference tomorrow.

My next few years now look very different but that is good.

Life is too fleeting  to live it for another’s joy or benefit.

Life is more than accomplishments or ambitions.  A life well lived is the difference you make this moment, then the next one, and the next one and the next.

Change is in the wind.  Becoming Extraordinary was important to me three years ago when this blog was born,  when the word extraordinary was itself extraordinary – before we had Extraordinary, the movie and before we formed Offices of Extraordinary Innovation. I still aspire to greatness and relevance; I dream of becoming … who? what?

One of these days I expect to have a head-on collision with my next purpose – the life I’m meant to live, the difference I’m meant to make.  As soon as I figure out what that is, you’ll be the first to know.

Fifteen Minutes

I’m taking 15 minutes to practice a skill – completing something in 15 minutes.

clockOne quarter of an hour, one 48th of a day, one 336th of a week. It’s not a long time but it is enough for many tasks.

The currency of our lives is units of time.  Units of time can be divided along many different lines including whether or not we are earning a living during that time unit (work/play, weekdays/weekend, billable/nonbillable hours).

We’ve all noticed that time spent in a purely pleasurable pursuit is a mad sprint, over before it’s begun, where time spent doing a chore can drag endlessly.

I find it helpful to think of tasks that must be done now or they never will be as a game, a race to the finish line.

I’m not saying a task that takes an hour to do well should be rushed into a quarter hour.  I’m saying that actual 15-minute tasks should be attacked from the perspective of let’s play.  Let’s enjoy the challenge.  Then let’s celebrate when it’s done.

The next time you have that little task that’s been sitting on your to-do list for days (that obligatory call to return, that appointment to make, that little errand to run), set the timer to 15 minutes (or 10, or 5, whatever it’s worth), focus on it (no distractions), do it, and when the timer goes off and it’s done, cross it off the list.  Every one of those 15-minute tasks undone is a sandbag on your shoulder; every one that gets done is that sandbag gone.  The more sandbags you toss, the straighter you stand, and the better you see what’s in front of you.

Start now.