Progress Report: Daily Meditation

After taking Columbia Business School’s Personal Leadership & Success, I started regular practicing meditation to improve my ability to focus, become more mindful, and operate more efficiently under stress.  Around the same time, I incorporated a daily exercise routine and began making healthier decision around food and alcohol.    I’d give myself a passing grade on the fitness changes, but I’ve been having trouble this last week making time to meditate. 

We had friends staying with us last week, and to be honest, I felt slightly embarrassed and selfish about taking the personal time to break-away and from our friends and my son to focus on myself.   Additionally, my apartment was full and there wasn’t an ideal place to unplug  and collect my thoughts.  In hindsight, I should have a back-up location to use, and I recognize that my  insecurities aren’t doing me any favors.

There haven’t been many immediate results or from the meditation as of yet, which could have contributed to my recent inconsistency. In fact I’ve actively noticed that I’m just as forgetful and clumsy as I’ve always been.  It’s slightly discouraging, but looking on the bright side, perhaps meditation has helped me become more aware of these behaviors as the first steps toward personal growth.  Regardless, I know better than to rely on short-term results for validation in this long-term pursuit.

Lastly, I thought I’d share some advice about mediation that I received from a classmate, who struggled as I did.   It’s a given that novices will be  distracted by thoughts, ideas, images etc.  in their early attempts to clear their minds.   When this happens to me, it feels like I am failing.  However, my classmate suggested that  meditation is actually all about the process of pulling your mind back to center after each ‘distraction.’  He compared it to doing curls in weightlifting: you don’t get stronger by just holding the dumbbell up by your shoulder.  You build muscle over time moving through the natural resistance.

This perspective shift has been encouraging to me, so I hope it’s relevant to someone else who’s having a difficult time keeping-up a steady routine.


Business School!



Actually this was a simulation we ran in “Organizational Culture Demystified” designed to help us understand the challenges, pitfalls, and best practices of bringing two distinct and national cultures together.

I was on the team on the floor of the balloon blowing factory in “Randomia.”   The other team were trainers from headquarters in another made up country.  Us Randomians were given a set of rules and behaviors to follow that made direct communication with our trainers difficult.  In order to get any useful information from us,  the other team had to learn and adapt to our preferred method of communication.  They didn’t, however, know that this was the underlying purpose/lesson of the exercise

As you can see from the photo, it didn’t go very well for the trainers.

The key insight–as always–is communication.  Lots of communication.  The trainers visited the factory for ~10 minutes at a time, and  had set breaks to convene privately in a different classroom and share their observations.    I think they would have been more successful if they found opportunities to discuss what was working and what wasn’t while they had the chance to experiment and try new ideas in real time.

In some ways, designated time for communication (ie. weekly team meetings, daily reports, etc.) can actually discourage employees from communicating openly and sharing insights at all other times of the day.

The exercise also that reaffirmed something I’ve noticed and applied on my sales calls, which is that it’s always ideal to have someone riding shotgun your meeting whose responsibility it is to observe the conversation as carefully as possible.  As a presenter or primary communicator, it’s hard to ‘perform’ and be totally in tune with ALL the nuances of the listener’s demeanor and how your message is being received.  Of course a strong presenter should be able to “read the room” and adjust their style accordingly.  Nevertheless, with an additional person in the room, he or she can focus 100% on the audience, and add a key points here and there when the audiences appears in need of a little bit more info for clarification.  The wingman can also give you candid feedback afterward, and help you brainstorm next steps.   It’s a win-win.

In the Randomia Balloon Factory simulation, the trainers may have been able to uncover the detail of how to communicate with us had they established dedicated observers, responsible for recognizing and sharing these details.

There were a lot of other interesting insights from the exercise, but these are what resonated with me the most.  Sure, blowing up balloons in business school is a little bit different, but I’ve always found that simulation is the most effective way to drive home an important lesson.


How To Draw Out Your Worst Fears (via

Just saw an interesting piece on the new about an illustrator, Julie Eliman, who interviewed people about their deepest fears and ran with it:

The article has a much better description of the project and a nice gallery of the work. Here’s the link:

How To Draw Out Your Worst Fears : The Picture Show : NPR.

For the last few days I’ve been trying to think of a good word for “honesty with one’s self.”  The level of reflection and analysis demonstrated in these pieces comes really close to this idea.  

I’m still not sure what that word is. ‘Authenticity’ perhaps?  I don’t think that’s quite it.   Leave a comment if you have any suggestions.  Thanks!


Personal Leadership In Action… or is it Inaction?

The Personal Leadership & Success block week at Columbia was everything I wanted it to be: Fun, inspirational, thought-provoking, motivational…  This week has been a different story.

The class provided an array of frameworks and exercises to identify and re-script default behaviors and emotions, which will help you uncover an optimal version of YOU.   We practiced these in class; they sunk in and they made perfect sense.

Returning to work this week, I’ve already had numerous opportunities to put these tools in action.  I’ve come to realize that re-wiring a brain is clumsy work.  No surprise, it’s a lot harder to apply these frameworks in the wild than it is in a safe and focused classroom environment .

For example, a “bad news” email hits my inbox.   I react with a sharp spike of disappointment, and start down a negative path.  I can catch myself, and start to unpack the Automatic Negative Thoughts and Self-Defeating beliefs that hijacked my focus.  I feel better for a while as I calm my emotional reaction.  Once I’m back to ‘center’ it’s only a matter of time before the “bad news” catches my attention again and hijacks me once more.   This time I’m dealing with the added frustration from my awareness that I’m losing the fight.

If the class made one thing clear, its that personal growth isn’t a overnight thing.  It take time, work, and care.  I’m not discouraged by these early failures.   The ‘added frustration’ from self-awareness is a actually a positive signal that I’m doing something right.    Sort of like waking up sore after your first day back in the gym .

Hans & Franz

Take this.

This is my new desktop background at work.

Take This

I’m sure a lot of people would look at this and think “Man-Child.” They might even be right.

When I see this on my screen every day, I think of something completely different.

If you don’t recognize it already, this screen is from the very beginning of the original Legend of Zelda.  The first thing you do is wander into a cave and HEYYyy, there’s this old guy and he’s giving me a sword. Awesome.

When I look at this screen I see beginnings — the first clumsy steps of a long adventure — and I’m filled with the spirit of ‘anything is possible.’ You have no money, no stuff, and there’s a blank map in the top left corner that’s yours to fill in. Ready, Set, Go.

I look at this and see bravery a cautionary tale about the importance of planning ahead. Your character is a kid on a mission to kill a giant pig monster AND HE DIDN’T EVEN BRING HIS OWN FUCKING SWORD. That’s a little bit like a musician arriving at a gig and realizing he forgot his guitar.

I see the kindness of strangers. Thankfully this old guy has an extra sword laying around and is cool enough to give it to you. This act of generosity makes the entire adventure possible. It reminds me to take stock in all of the help, advice, and tools I’ve been given to succeed.

While we’re talking about Old Man, he reminds me to respect my elders.  They’ve been through all of this before, and they have the perspective to help the next generation make better decisions with regard to weaponry and who knows what else.

Most importantly, my new work background reminds me to have fun and helps me tap into how enjoyable it was to pour myself into the immersive experience of such a well-designed game.  It’s OK to be a little bit of Man-Child if you focus on the productive elements (enthusiasm, joy, curiosity, fun) and reject/confront the negative stereotypes

When I sit down to work, I look at the screen and try to channel the emotions I’ve assigned to this simple image: opportunity, bravery, preparedness, generosity, respect, and joy. I’m glad to have found an image that so efficiently captures so many of the motivational values I aspire to.  On the surface, the background reads as nostalgic nod to my gaming roots, but as you now know,  it serves a higher purpose.

What’s your desktop background these days?  Why did you pick it?  Does it inspire you in any way?

Worry About Yourself.

This video has been around for a few months now, but I keep coming back to it.


The clip is a now recurring joke between between me and Amanda. Whenever one of us needs to remind the other to “worry about yourself” we put on the voice and have a funny and loving way to do so.  It’s great.

Part of me wishes that everyone could watch and love this video, so the world would have a shortcut to delivering this relatively  harsh sentiment while simultaneously managing the recipient’s feelings with a little bit of humor.

Or is it better to have  better to have a real conversation about it?

Managing “Automatic Negative Thoughts” with a little perspective.

Last week, I attended Professor Hitendra Wadhwa’s course at Columbia Business School, Personal Leadership & Success.  Throughout the course we used great leaders in history and business as touchstones for the concepts discussed — Lincoln, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Mandela, and many others.  While it’s always inspiring to study these leaders, I feel as if the temporal, geographical, and circumstantial distance make it more challenging for me to apply their principles.    I typically draw inspiration from the people around me.

In another class, I had the pleasure to meet Dr. Tomoaki Kato a humble and reserved Surgeon from New York Presbyterian hospital pursing his MBA.  In this class we had an exercise in which we had to motivate a fictional team of our peers/employees by sharing a personal story.  It was then that I learned of Dr. Kato’s historic achievement…


Here’s a short commercial from New York Presbyterian featuring Heather’s perspective.


Dr. Kato approached Heather’s case with optimism, hope, creativity, and logic where his peers from other hospitals responded with fear, self-doubt, and other “Automatic Negative Thoughts.”   Conventional wisdom offered no option for Heather, but Dr. Kato had the strength to see beyond the obvious reasons why he shouldn’t perform the operation,  and create medical history .

When I confront my personal ANTs, such as anxiety before reaching out to a very senior contact,  I’m going to think about Dr. Kato, the stakes of his decision, and courage it must have taken to forge on.   I’ll continue to draw from the great leaders we discussed in class. Through these lenses, I hope to bring some perspective to my doubts, discomforts, and anxieties, and more easily manage these emotions down to a productive level.