No 12. 21 Things that Distinguish Timeless Hospitality Design

For much of my life, design and style were a response to insecurity, a way to draw attention, to seek approval and acceptance. Over time, my perspective has dramatically shifted. I have embraced the minimalist concept of quality over quantity, evolved to a more understated sensibility, and seriously consider my role in consumerism and the impact of my lifestyle on the environment as a whole. I now appreciate the intersection of design and the joyful emotional experience it evokes, particularly in visual and kinesthetic mediums. 

It is particularly challenging to maintain the integrity of occupant experience in commercial spaces, which are governed by regulatory doctrines and require accouterments unnecessary in a residential context. Editing becomes exceptionally critical to remove distracting elements to create a completely immersive sensory experience.  

One of my favorite artists is Salvador Dali; I am a huge fan of surrealism and the distortion of reality, all of which can be articulated in commercial interiors. For this post, I am forgoing my interest in the more expressive and playful examples of design intended to amaze the viewer. Instead, the focus is on interiors of hotel and food and beverage projects, designed for repeated use, which encourage more meditative states of relaxation and joy. 

  1. Distillation of meaning – The best design begins with a clear, concise design brief that a team can follow.

  2. Flawless Brand Development and Execution – Far beyond name, logo, and the many branded accouterments that adorn most commercial environments, brand is the essence of the idea or concept that must permeate through every aspect of the users experience from furniture, clothing, fragrance, and décor.

  3. Residential – Layered, realistic, meaningful. Laminated TV station guide, no. When possible: lamps before sconces, rugs, plants, drapery, magazines/newspapers, things you would likely find in a home.

  4. Balance of Masculine and Feminine – Beyond being a great teacher, contrast creates a compelling context. Hard and soft, smooth and rough, straight and curved, structured, and free. The river-banks and the flowing river. Finding a balance between the masculine and feminine, the yin and yang, is an essential feature of any calming environment.

  5. Warm, dim lighting – Flattery lives here. If older customers complain, it’s just right.

  6. Texture. Complexity is a critical component of a stable system. Great examples of this can be found in monochromatic environments or spaces with a simplistic color palette, where texture is essential.

  7. Intentional Dissonance – Every space needs at least one and sometimes multiple elements that are on-brand but don’t quite fit. Perfection is unnatural and uptight; our minds can relax once we get the first ding on our new car. Think organic produce. Think lived in.

  8. Mastery of color. Tone, Range, balance, and saturation must be considered carefully. Sometimes a palette of five primary tones feels more settled than three.

  9. Textiles and patterns. Interest begins with surprise. My taste says less is more, although some designers use many layered designs. Whatever the sensibility, pattern stands in perfect contrast against uniformity.

  10. Audio and Fragrance. An evocative, emotional experience is incomplete without auditory and olfactory inputs. Beyond immersion of brand experience, these factors can also serve as moments to reset an occupant’s senses, particularly in common areas and bathrooms.

  11. Deep Curation – One of the most challenging and painstaking aspects of any hospitality project is pre-opening. It is easy to stop at plate ware and silver and go to the restaurant supply catalog to order the last 497 operating supplies you need before guests show up. There are tons of antique, vintage, and alternative sources for these small items with which your guests interact. The best projects curate to the saltshaker, the serving platters, the teapots. These are special moments that truly distinguish the most outstanding projects.

  12. Consideration of occupants – Staff and guests add color and movement into any physical space. Restraint of the interior design must leave room for this energy and form.

  13. Art and Décor – Must speak to the brand and design intent

  14. Authenticity of Materials – Vintage, worn, organic materials, handcrafted, yes. Fake plants, faux wood, cartoon graffiti, no.

  15. Plants – (and fish) breathe life into a room. Happy face emoji here.

  16. Wabi-Sabi – New things that look old are for Modern Farmhouse Instagrammers and corporate types. Spend the time to source authentic, quality vintage furniture, art, décor, and operating supplies.

  17. Proportionality of classic and modern/contemporary. Now we are in super subjective land. While I appreciate period-specific design, I have always felt more settled in a space without a specific representation of era. Environments with a harmonious mix of classic and modern/contemporary elements are timeless.

  18. Conflict within the design team – If everyone agrees on every decision, you are in trouble. Commercial design requires subjective interpretation, even with a well-defined direction. Talented design team members should be sparring to keep the outcome focused and making sure to avoid selections that are out of place.

  19. Editing – This is one of the most tedious and difficult aspects of great commercial design. Code requirements attempt to introduce many items in a space that are tacky and out of place. An obsession must exist to remove, or hide, anything that reminds a guest they are in a commercial space.

  20. Staff – Staff are an extension of your brand and design, what they wear, say, and most importantly, their emotional energy conveys a message to your guests. Nice isn’t enough; people want to interact with others that stimulate them or offer something unique. Your staff will ultimately determine who your customers are.

  21. Glacial Voice - The best brands leave ample room for curious, nerdy guests to discover. Pop music and movies are predictable; great brands are not trendy and they only provide enough information to create intrigue and beg you to ask questions to fill in the story.

Spatial and Interior design is an art form that can be as rewarding and emotionally stimulating to a receptive mind as music, film, or performance art. Done well, it feels accessible and can be appreciated by a discerning crowd without feeling stuffy or exclusive. It also creates a wholly immersive and intentional emotional experience that allows a visual and kinesthetic mind to relax and be submerged without the irritation of things out of place.  

I have distilled these through my limited experience, meticulous observation, and failure. A book can be written on any one of these bullets which are assuredly incomplete, depending upon the perception and experience of discerning viewers.

I’m curious, what other things do you believe define timeless hospitality design, and what effect do those spaces have on you? 

No 11. Move Like Water

I have been a late bloomer in life in many ways; particularly in areas related to physical and emotional maturity. The day I started high school, I measured five feet tall (no inches) and weighed a startling 100 lbs. A freshman trapped in a fifth-grade body.

I could write a blog exclusively on the suffering I chose in early adulthood based on the story I created around this subject. One of the most troubling parts of that story was that I never believed I was capable of standing up for myself in high school, in a myriad of embarrassing situations. The result was a mountain of frustration and rage, stacked on top of an existing mass of standard-issue, teenage confusion. 

Solution: Learn to kick some ass. 

Income martial arts. Combine a God-given, world-class stubbornness, a double dose of late adolescent aggression, and hand-to-hand combat training. Thankfully, I never really liked being hit or hitting other people, but I was committed to becoming a force to be respected. I was going to become a man and learn to fight.

I studied two Korean disciplines, the stances, and forms of which suited my tall, lean body type. Tang Soo Do was for striking and Hapkido, for self-defense. In essence, Hapkido is a derivative of Aikido with low leg kicks, and the art of leveraging the momentum of an opponent’s energy against them. I studied for three years before I ran out of classes to take at Junior College. Underwater Basket Weaving sounded intriguing, but I knew deep down it was time to move on.

An interesting aspect of Hapkido, which loosely translates to “move like water”, was its opposite approach to what I was seeking. Softening was the last thing I imagined would devastate my aggressors. For the first time in my life, a healthy dose of eastern culture first taught me that conflict and physical altercation were to be avoided unless absolutely necessary and, that one way to navigate through a contentious or dangerous situation is to give into and accept what you are offered, even if it involves a punch or weapon with intent to hurt or kill you.

I guess the metaphor didn’t totally stick. For years, with some exceptions, I have been fighting, resisting, pushing back, pushing forward, responding to the world and acting from the fear of the small, frightened ego, instead of listening, feeling and being mindful of what the environment around me is offering.

The last three years have been full of examples of situations that could have been more fluid and involved far less suffering, had I been willing to soften instead of swimming against the tide. 

Lessons learned (hopefully not repeated): 

  • Instead of the futility of trying to change reality when my children are crying and expressing frustrated/painful emotion, welcome it, embrace them

  • When a relationship is not working or a disagreement arises, get ahead of it immediately, first seek to understand, take responsibility for your part, try to find common ground, and a win-win. If a resolution is not feasible, end the relationship or agree to disagree

  • If a business or strategy is not working, step back, consider all possibilities, even if you can’t imagine how they might work, pivot.

Of course, this is easy to say now. Hindsight is 20/20

There are times in life, particularly in entrepreneurship, that require fighting fire with fire and pure perseverance. In the moment, it is often challenging to distinguish when to pivot, and when to press onward. Most worthy endeavors and certainly creative projects that do not fit the status quo, almost always require climbing over significant hurdles. 

Here are some questions I now ask myself to help distinguish whether to push or “move like water”. 

  • Is this situation or relationship coming to me or, did I create it?

  • Is the situation working easily, is it flowing?

  • If not, is this common in this industry or type of relationship?

  • Am I centered in my meditation and spiritual practices?

  • Am I willing to and have I surrendered the outcome I have imagined?

  • What story am I telling myself about this situation or person?

  • What feedback is the world offering me at this moment?

  • What are the facts? What is the present reality?

Today I consciously choose my past and my present. I am creating possibility from the nothingness and emptiness that is before and beneath all the labels, expectations and shoulds my ego-mind confuses for “self”. I forgive myself and all those with whom I have held resentment. I am moving forward and doing my best to practice softening, listening, and surrendering to what comes. I remain a proponent of human potential and doing the best with the gifts and talents we have been given. I will keep opening my heart. I will continue to pursue challenging projects that exist at the intersection of sustainability and design. Perfection is a myth. Evolution and growth are only possible as a result of irritation and friction; thank you, thank you, thank you. 

I am grateful for the abundant blessings in my life and the learning that comes in so many unexpected forms. From the joy and reflection of being a father to the suffering of loss, it is a precious gift to experience life and connect to the love and creation inside of us.  

 

No 10. 11 Things I've Learned Through Success and Failure

As an entrepreneur and commercial real estate developer over the last thirteen years, I have learned a few lessons along the way.  Some from success and others from failure or, what I choose to call learning.  Failure is simply a temporary setback that shapes our current and future decisions, helps clarify what we want, and guides us toward our long-term goals.  I advocate for mentorship, which can help minimize the most painful mistakes, although some are inevitable to discover through experience.  I am thankful for these ostensibly challenging situations as they offer invaluable wisdom and define the goal posts of success (as we define it for ourselves). 

Comparable culture is essential for strong partnerships - Choosing, or attracting, the right partner/s is one of the most important decisions we make; particularly for those of us with long project cycles.  Qualifying the quality of emotional energy, behavior under pressure, alignment of long-term goals, complementary skills, and shared values are critical to rewarding, long-term relationships. 

Stay inside the core – There are plenty of developers and entrepreneurs who make money on the fringes but, I have found that the velocity of capital and deal flow is much more consistent, over a longer duration (of the economic cycle) in the core of the apple.  In real estate, that means, in the areas closest to the urban center.  In entrepreneurial endeavors, it means creating products that appeal to a scalable market via a wide demographic and/or psychographic range. 

Creativity = Capital – Some investors believe that money is more important and valuable than the creativity of the entrepreneur.  While this might be the case in commodity investing with an oversupply of deal flow, in more creative endeavors, it takes both creativity and capital for a deal to succeed.  Create the right deal structure to attract investment partners who are team players and equally value the investment in sweat. 

Align interest with proper deal structure – Fee structure, preferred return (“pref”), and cash flow splits/waterfall are the general levers available to create a well-aligned deal structure.  I generally develop and hold, which is essential to distinguish from a project built to be sold immediately upon stabilization.  Long-term structures often value these mechanisms differently and can include buy-out clauses, unique pref structures, and waterfalls.  A well-conceived deal structure will not bias a specific exit strategy.  I will expand on this concept in the next post. 

State your intentions up front – Have the hard conversations up front, especially with investors and partners.  If you intend to hold a deal long term or have identified specific risks, state those clearly in the beginning.  Investors are usually big boys, and they can decide whether the risk profile is appropriate for their portfolio. 

Pivot sooner – If something is not working and you are pushing, take a step back and reframe the problem.  Does your deal need more equity or a different plan?  Does your product, brand, or positioning need to be tweaked to achieve optimal market fit?   The line between the decision to persist and pivot is not always clear; do not be afraid to pivot sooner to succeed sooner. 

There is more than enough – Investors and equity often end up dictating terms because entrepreneurs perceive capital as difficult to obtain.  Be of the mindset that not only can you create a deal structure that is truly fair for both parties, but you will attract what you need.  As you meet investors who are not the right fit (i.e. insecurity, bragging about how many deals they have invested in or how much their house or ranch cost), politely say, "no, thank you" and wait for the right partners to show up.  There are plenty of deals and plenty of capital partners.  There is no reason to feel pressure due to a false illusion of scarcity.

Last 3-4% of the budget creates the best return on investment – This is not always true in commodity and mid-market projects.  My business is creating profitable investments at the intersection of sustainability and design.  To rationalize quality architecture and interior design, I develop projects in prime locations, with premium rents, which allows room for quality finishes in "select areas" of the project.  Please do not confuse this with overspending.  You must carefully study the competition and distinguish what expenditures will have the most positive impact on the investment.  In my experience, it is this last 3-4% of the budget that creates an immersive emotional experience to attract upscale tenants and clientele, who are willing to pay for the added value.  Quality and price are synonymous; if you deliver mid-grade in an A location (assuming the market is not over saturated with upscale supply) you will never be able to compete for the price/rent premiums that accompany a certain finish level.  I will expand on this in a subsequent post, although the primary elements to distinguish upscale, commercial design are building skin, glass, doors, floors, hardware, lighting, and select furniture items.  The increase in asset value you can achieve with only marginal rent premiums will generally far exceed the initial investment and create your best return. 

Selling is not about pushing a product or idea – It is about finding the right people who need and want what you have. 

Do not count on uncommitted investors or lenders – Keep building your pipeline of leads and opportunities.  Investors and lenders are picky and are not always forthcoming about competing deals they are considering, or the politics involved in obtaining a commitment for your project.  Many lenders and investors have committees, and your champion within those organizations does not often have control over the final decision.  It is your responsibility to qualify investors and lenders diligently, push for agreements, and continue pursuit of the right partners until your deal is funded.

Add 20% to your initial budget (35% if you are phasing the project) – Inflation is as real as death by 1,000 paper cuts.  It is often not large budget categories that end up costing more than you anticipate.  Rather, a series of smaller items add up to a large number.  Add inflation during design and development, and you will almost always have a more expensive project than anticipated at the time of your initial budget.  It is also challenging to project pricing and rental rate inflation that occurs during the explosive growth period of any economic expansion.  Be realistic, although it is appropriate to assume reasonable inflation on income to balance conservative cost projections.  Of course, the risk increases as the economic cycle matures.  State your assumptions clearly to investors, and they can decide if they agree with your methodology. 

 

No 9. Create a Joyful Co-Parenting Relationship

Yes, I said it.  Not civil, not acceptable, joyful. 

One point of qualification: not all adults have the maturity level or have committed sufficiently to their healing and emotional wellness to be of the mind to create such a situation.  I know some mature adults who have tried diligently and are dealing with an ex-partner who is unwilling to meet them in a loving place, which is a source of incredible frustration.  I believe it is possible for the willing co-parent to live in relative peace with such a partner, but that is a subject for another blog. 

This article is for those who are deeply committed to their personal development and are willing to take the risk to forgive themselves and their partner, commit to and honor a ceaseless trek of compassion, even if not especially, in the face of some rejection and undesirable responses, and, eventually create a loving and peaceful relationship for your children and family. 

I give credit to two of my dear friends, Jared and Denver, for sharing how they created a healthy, loving relationship with their ex-partners.  I have expounded on that wisdom to create a method that has served my own family.  I will forever be grateful to both of these powerful men for their support during the challenging transition into what is now a wonderful, nurturing partnership with Elisabeth, the mother of my sweet twins.  I also owe a debt of gratitude to Elisabeth’s new life partner for his support in co-creating our loving family dynamic.

Step 1:  Understand your part in the relationship and healing yourself

-    How did you create hurt in the partnership?

-    What fears or past patterns from your childhood and prior relationships did you project?

-    Did you arouse jealousy, bitterness, or suspicion? 

-    How did your ego show up in the relationship?

-    What are you not considering or willing to admit about your part in the relationship? 

-    Where are you at fault?

If you are struggling to sort out and understand the answers to these questions, I suggest seeking out a counselor.  If you think you had no fault or are still in the state of blame, consider that you might be the adult who is unwilling to see their part.  Blaming/shaming others and negative gossiping are the most clear signals of an unhealthy or unhealed relationship (often with self). 

There is no blame from me.  If you can spot it, you got it.  I have done it all with past partners and have learned everything I have through experience followed by honest, inward reflection (with support from brutally honest friends and teachers).  I have shut down emotionally with past partners and the twins' mom, stonewalled, criticized, showed up with mommy issues, been ambivalent, and projected various forms of past fear and stories.  The good news is, these actions are all forgivable, the moment we become serious about changing our behavior.

Step 2:  Forgive yourself and your partner

We are all human.  Get over it.  If we want peace, we must first become peaceful in our own hearts.  I used to hold onto resentment for long periods, weeks, years.  Over time I have closed that gap as I have consistently experienced a deep sense of relief, gratitude, and joy when I let someone off the hook for being human.  It is much easier once I have identified with my part in a relationship or any situation.  Empathy flows when we get to the truth. 

Step 3:  Repair Trust

When you end a sexual relationship, trust is broken. With kids, you are forever “married” to your partner; rebuilding trust is the hardest thing to do.  I chose to write a letter to my ex, that articulated my commitment to the co-parenting relationship and included a list of duties I was creating for myself to assure the health of my children and our family.  By stating these to my ex, I created the possibility of having a loving, compassionate, and supportive family dynamic, regardless of our living situation.  My words and behavior were initially received with reservation, but after some time honoring these commitments, the trust began to rebuild, and our relationship slowly started to flourish. 

Some things I committed to the twins' mother in that letter:

-    I will do everything I can to support the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of our children

-    I will be loving and compassionate in my communication with you

-    I will support the health and happiness of you and the twins 

-    I will uphold a lifestyle to maintain my own personal, emotional, physical and spiritual needs

-    I will only say loving things about you and your family in the presence of the kids and my own family

-    I will never seek more than 50% custody unless I sincerely fear the safety of the children

-    I will help with finances related to the children in any way to assure security and education

-    I am excited about and fully committed to be the best father and co-parent

-    I will quickly take responsibility when I am at fault, and immediately make amends

Step 4:  Make a phone call or set up a meeting

This is a sensitive and critical turning point in any relationship.  I do not have a playbook but, humility, sensitivity, empathetic listening and restraint are critical.  Be mindful that both parties will feel vulnerable, therefore, it is essential not to be defensive, hurtful, or rejecting.  Bring the change you want to create into this conversation.  Here are some guidelines: 

-    Humbly admit your fault

-    Do not blame and focus on what the other person did.  You can say “when this happened, it hurt me” but avoid “you did this…” at all costs 

-    Forgive your ex-partner in the most sincere way possible

-    Ask for forgiveness for your part and do not depend on acceptance of your proposal (this may hurt, but it might take some time for your co-parent to arrive at a place of forgiveness)

-    Listen empathetically and acknowledge any concerns and feelings expressed by your partner

Step 5:  Only sweat the big stuff

This does not require much explanation.  I do not care for the cliché, “pick your battles” because battles are the farthest thing from creating a nurturing relationship.  I once heard a gentlemen referring to the mother of his child as “the enemy”.  What possibilities does that create?  What does that instill in the child?     

Step 6:  Do whatever it takes

This is where the rubber meets the road.  There is no separation between momma bear and the cubs.  If you say ugly, derogatory things about your ex in general and especially in front of your kids, you are hurting and arguably abusing your children.  If you have truly forgiven your ex, outside of situations of abuse, you should be able to accept mistakes and character flaws of your partner as part of being human. 

-    If your ex-partner asks if you can change the schedule and it is possible, do it

-    If there is an emotional need expressed and you can offer support, make time for it

-    If you see something positive happening in their life, compliment them for it.  Celebrate them

-    Say loving things about your partner, especially in front of your children

-    Create regular, set times to discuss finances and schedules 3-4 months out.  This allows the focus of your conversations to be about the fun, joyful experiences you are sharing with your kids, not the stress of logistics and planning. 

-    Be gentle, respectful and listen when you bring up a concern or frustration.  This is bound to happen; handling these sensitive conversations with kid gloves and restraint is critical to building a relationship with a healthy culture. 

Healthy, loving co-parenting relationships are no different from a marriage.  We must take care of our own physical, emotional and spiritual needs to assure we are healthy.  After that, our primary focus should be to assure that our co-parent is appreciated, emotionally supported and loved.  Of course, you are not responsible for someone else’s emotions but, at times, your support will define the success of the relationship when your partner needs a boost or is not receiving it fully from other relationships.  You get out what you put in and your service to your co-parent will radiate to your children. 

I am so grateful that the twins' mom has been willing to meet me in this space and co-create a beautiful relationship.  I am told this is rare; I will tell you, it is not by accident.  It is by design.  I set an intention, enrolled my partner, and we both diligently invest in the success of our family. 

This is a touchy subject and every relationship is different.  I welcome your feedback and would be honored to support you if you are serious about creating this in your life. 

No 8. A Hobby Can Improve Your Productivity

I recently read an article in the New York Times that claimed procrastination is not a time management issue.  It is an emotional regulation issue. (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/25/smarter-living/why-you-procrastinate-it-has-nothing-to-do-with-self-control.html)

When we put something off, we are likely experiencing a negative emotion or mood; boredom, fear, anxiety, insecurity, self-doubt, etc..  We also delay because the task we are avoiding requires acute concentration and focus, a long, uninterrupted block of time, or creates an unwanted situational or emotional consequence. 

When I get stuck in this frustrating state, my first thought is often to distract myself with a simple task that might be important but is not time sensitive, which usually leads to dissatisfaction. 

All that we fear does not exist.

Doing things now often takes less time and less emotional energy than putting them off until later. Interestingly, I often find that the task I was stressing over was considerably easier than the mental image I created (this is certainly not always the case).  Sometimes we are overwhelmed, and instead of adding another item to our task list, we need to take a break and recover. 

The mind that created the problem…

It is in taking the opposite approach that has proven most helpful.  I have found that creating space to do things I enjoy, reduces my likelihood of procrastinating to begin with.  In essence, if my physical and emotional states are balanced, I am ready to tackle any tasks. 

What is balance?

In my experience, mental and emotional balance comes from activities that stimulate both hemispheres of the brain.  I have no shortage of left brain stimulation, between business, abundant personal obligations, and being a single parent of twins.  Creating time for right brain activities is critical for my well-being. 

Activities that activate my right brain and bring me into the present moment:

-    Meditation

-    Playing guitar or drums

-    Stretching, yoga or going for a walk

-    Any form of cardiovascular exercise

-    Being in nature

-    Doing something fun with my twins

-    Driving in a circle – i.e. racing my Mazda Miata or on an open road with no traffic or cell phone

-    Listening to music or going to live shows

I recently committed to spending three hours every week in nature.  I do this during the work week as a reminder that this time is an investment in my overall productivity.  This quiet time is for self-reflection, getting clear about what I want and allowing new ideas to surface.  Since starting this practice, I have noticed a turbo boost in motivation, especially to do the things I’ve been putting off and the essential items that move me toward my long term goals.   

We live in a world bombarded by distractions and external stimuli; our minds and nervous systems are often overwhelmed.  Hobbies and self-care are essential for our health and wellness.  Creating space for these activities grounds us, re-centers our minds, and bring us back into the present moment.  After all, what is life for?  What is most important?  Instead of projecting our happiness into the future, we can commit to taking time to care for ourselves and allow our productivity to flourish and the abundance of possibilities to flow. 

No 7. A Perfect Reflection

I have always wanted to be a father.  I am fortunate; my dad is a genuine, loving man, my mentor, my soccer coach, and biggest fan.  He has always been supportive and passed on many essential values:  honesty, integrity, charity, service to community, commitment to family, respect for others, humor; the list goes on.

Amidst all the excitement and joy of being a new father, I was shocked to realize the depth of self-awareness and the crystal clear reflection, mirrored by my twins.  Wow!  After fifteen years of deep, inward work, the dense mass and burning in my solo plexus was often charged as if I saw an ex-lover with a new beau.  Ouch! 

The first and most salient emotional response I experienced was when either (or both) of the twins would cry for longer than a couple of minutes.  After extensive writing and conversations with several conscious fathers, I realized that this anger was common.  In truth, I was experiencing fear that my own needs would go unmet.  My mind wanted to blame them when the projection of my own emotion was the cause, preventing an empathetic response. 

Additionally and contrary to the suggestions of some “professionals” (with which I vehemently disagree), I lay down with the twins every night until they fall asleep.  I found myself getting very upset during the squirmy, frustrating twenty minutes it took them to finally fall asleep.  I wanted so bad for them to instantly be quiet, close their eyes, and turn off their engines.  After dinner, bathing, drying, brushing teeth, several bouts of intense negotiation, and dressing two babies, I was exhausted.  I wanted to clean up the house and kitchen so I could relax or tackle a couple of critical work tasks, i.e., my selfish agenda. 

One of the most powerful practices I developed was meditating during this time, focusing on the feeling that was rising in my stomach, allowing and acknowledging the emotion, not the bullshit meaning my mind created to distract me from the discomfort.  After eight months of practice, the upsetting response dissipated.

We now enjoy some of the most intimate and sweet moments together during this time.  Fear has transcended into love and connection.   

Situations that incite the most poignant emotional responses:

-    Incessant crying and/or whining

-    When I have an agenda, need to get something done, and the twins demand my attention

-    The twenty minutes of squirming and delay tactics before bedtime

-    When I am agitated or experiencing F.E.A.R. (false events appearing real)

-    At night or in AM when I am tired (and fussy!)

Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly) I have come to realize I often act in similar ways.  After all, our kids are simply an expression of our own nervous systems and the physiological and emotional lineage of our ancestry.  It is humbling to imagine what they carry into the world and what a beautiful gift it is for them to teach us. 

To develop empathy and compassion during these frustrating situations, and to better understand myself, I have found the following questions to be helpful. 

 -   What situations incite the most frustration or irritation in me?

-    In what ways does this situation remind me of my behavior?

-    How would I want to be treated in this situation?

-    How can I guide and share my experience while allowing them the freedom to be themselves?

I still find myself fussy when I am tired and occasionally when the kids cry for long periods.  Writing and talking about my emotions has transformed my experience as a father.  Through consistent, personal reflection, I have been able to name my part, take responsibility for my reactions and develop a deep sense of empathy and compassion in situations that used to frustrate and overwhelm me.  I anticipate so much growth ahead, so many more layers to peel away as we pass through stages of maturity in ourselves. 

Before the twins were born, a spiritual teacher told me that they would be the perfect medicine.  I had no idea, the extent to which her prophecy would become true.  As is always the case in my limited experience, the best opportunities for personal and spiritual growth arrive when our emotions are aroused fully.  It is in this place that we are undoubtedly human, can witness our imperfect nature and grow toward God if we choose. 

My children are the most important reason for living today. They teach me how to love, unconditionally. They offer a perfect reflection to round off the edges of my character, like stones in a raging river. Being a father is not always pretty, but it is always love, and always about about self-acceptance. My children are my best teachers.

No 6. The Root of Happiness

Gratitude…... 

Gratitude gives us the power to reclaim our joy and puts everything into perspective, like looking at the stars in a dark sky.  It melts away want and self-centeredness and plants our feet firmly back on the ground. 

It's easy to remember on a beautiful, sunny day like today, as I write, sitting on the banks of Barton Creek.  The times I am most in need of this sacred practice are when I find myself, intolerant of others, afraid of a future (and unlikely) event, or lost in the past.  Gratitude brings us back to the holy now, this moment.  The moment that nourishes, engages all of our senses and, reminds us of oneness. Often, I need to be reminded.  When I'm struggling, when bombarded by negative, subconscious thoughts or when I've eaten poorly, the day (or two) before, and feeling depressed or unmotivated.  Establishing regular practices of gratitude keeps wind in our sails and allows us to tap into our most humble, authentic self. 

Practices for Gratitude:

-    Meditation and Prayer

-    Surrender – When stuck or overwhelmed, a simple acknowledgment that our control is limited and often an illusion.  We can instead, turn over the outcome to the God of our understanding. 

-    Gratitude List – at times I have done this daily, it is a powerful way to re-center

-    Be of service - a simple act of kindness

-    Embrace or engage with a child

-    Say thanks before every meal

Gratitude has the power to reset our priorities, allow healing tears, and deeply connect us to the state of joy, the root of happiness.  I feel a deep sense of gratitude for my life, this moment, the nature that surrounds me, my family, my beautiful, sweet twins, my health and the health of my family, my teachers (i.e. everyone I attract into my life), my self-awareness, my commitment to personal and spiritual development, my assets and all potential areas for growth. 

In the Lakota tradition, the word Aho implies agreement and is loosely translated, "Amen." The simple practice of gratitude offers so much.  Aho.

No 5. 5am Start and Monk Morning

In high school, I vividly remember dad coming into my room four-five times, at increasing volume, to wake me and essentially drag me out of bed for school.  Needless to say, I historically have not been much of a morning person.  I’ve always enjoyed staying up late engaging with hobbies, working or studying. 

For years in my professional life, I started my day at 8 am and worked late into the evening.

I would often start with email and other tasks that led to instant gratification and frequently found myself at 5 pm, without having made sufficient progress toward my long-term goals.  As a result, I would stay up and work until 11:30 or 12 am.  While I found productivity with this workflow, my mind was not as flexible and sharp late in the evening and, I experienced regular bouts of burn out.  Inversely, I always felt great on the days I would rise early, meditate, and get a head start, focusing on critical, creative work first. 

Enter twins.

Either my routine is changing, or I am going to need a clone (and a psychiatrist).  My twins wake up between 6:30-6:45 am and I love to spend 30-45 minutes with them at this sweet hour.  Chalk up an hour to get everyone dressed, fed, and ready for school.  By the time I drop them off, it’s 8:30 or 9 am.  A 4:30 pm pickup leaves a very compressed workday.  After an exhausting few months of working late nights and desperately trying to catch up on sleep, I decided to make a major change.

Income the 5 am Start and Monk Morning.

I’ve reclaimed my productivity and morning self-care routine by waking up at 5 am.  I co-parent the twins on a 50/50 schedule, alternating between three and five days a week.  On the days they are with me, I meditate, do 15-45 minutes of physical movement (yoga, stretching, Qi gong, or resistance training) and work for one 45-60 minute interval, before they wake.  As soon as I drop them off, I head to the office to continue my day with no emails, meetings, or distractions until lunch.  On days I don’t have the twins, I wake at 5:30 am.  This routine allows ample, uninterrupted time for critical, creative work and leaves the afternoons for meetings, responding to messages and other essential tasks. 

“Waking up is not hard to do”...although, it does require commitment and, regular recommitment.

Tips on how to establish an early routine:

 -    Set the alarm for 5am

-    Go to bed at your usual time

-    No snooze, when the alarm goes off, wake up and start your day 

-    Anticipate being a little tired for a few days as your body adjusts

-    Eat something light (berries, nuts or fruit) to wake up your body

-    Allow a flexible day to sleep in for occasional late nights or when recovering from a hard workout

-    It’s not about perfection, if you miss a day, simply recommit to your routine

Few things compare to the quiet, solitude of an early morning.  A peaceful meditation and a cycle of creative work that moves us closer to our long-term goals is a great way to begin each day.   In my experience, this practice has led to increased productivity and a more nourishing and rewarding workflow, resulting in greater joy and satisfaction. 

No 4. The Most Simple Time Management System

Years ago, I attended a Franklin Covey, time management course, which has been one of the best investments I ever made in myself.  It forever changed the way I approached my daily, weekly and monthly planning and was the beginning of my quest for ultimate productivity.  The course inspired me to read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, which became a bible to me; a book I read, outlined and studied for over two years. 

One of the core concepts is the Four Quadrants (see diagram below).  The top row represents important tasks, the bottom row, unimportant tasks; the left column urgent tasks and the right, not-urgent.  The goal is to shift our focus away from unimportant and urgent tasks and create increasingly more space for Quadrant 2 activities, which are important and not urgent.  In essence, we do “first things first,” essential tasks before they become critical. 

Quadrant 2 tasks are all the things that drive our business and often require large blocks of time: planning, revenue-generating activities, business and relationship development, identifying new opportunities, underwriting projects, design time, etc. 

The Four Quadrants - Franklin Covey

The Four Quadrants - Franklin Covey

While making a daily to-do list is helpful, doing the most important things first assures we create consistent space for daily action toward the attainment of our long-term goals.  We can easily become bombarded responding to email, messages, and interruptions.  Most emails and messages are not urgent, and many are unimportant or imply an urgency that is not consistent with our priorities.  In my next blog post, I will expand on this concept of working in shifts and “the Monk Morning.”

I worked at Cisco Systems for six years and, during that time, I learned that our CEO, John Chambers, who remains one of my heroes, set a daily goal to do just three things.  Building on this process, I refined my daily schedule to a simple, four-item task list.  To help narrow my selections, I ask myself the question, “what four things can I do today that will leave me feeling effective and joyful.”

Simple Daily Time Management System:

 •    Meditation and Movement (non-negotiable)

1)    Quadrant 2 task (1) - ex: Write blog and Social Media for online retail business – 1 hour

2)    Quadrant 2 task (2) – ex: 4 calls to new suppliers or equity partners – 1.5 hours

3)    Quadrant 1 task or an investment in myself – ex: research, reading, etc. – 30 min

4)    Personal item or an additional Quadrant 1 or 2 task

 Tactics that have helped elevate my focus and productivity:

-    Break things down into bites – staring at a list that is too long leads to disappointment and stress (as a over-achiever, this is my most challenging parameter to remember)

-    Restrict email to specific intervals – I check three times/day

-    Minimize distractions - only use notifications for meeting reminders, turn all others off

-    Be flexible – Work ebbs and flows, at times you have five, six or maybe only three items

-    This is real life - include necessary personal items in your daily lists

-    Embrace imperfection - some days are overwhelming and some days we have to respond to incoming distractions and emergencies.  Be gentle with yourself; tomorrow is a new day. 

Another of my favorite business philosophers is the late Jim Rohn who said, “failure is not a cataclysmic event that happens overnight, it is a few errors in judgment, repeated every day.” Inversely, success is a series of daily disciplines that ultimately bring greater happiness and the fulfillment of our long-term desires.

No 3. Meditation Changed my Life

After 15 years of serious commitment to personal and spiritual growth, I credit meditation as one of the single most transformative practices that changed my life.  Twelve years ago I was struggling with anxiety and panic disorder and following the advice of a doctor, elected to take prescription medication.  The doctor said I would likely never be able to manage life without drugs.  I got serious about meditation.  Twenty minutes a day and two years later, I stopped taking the meds and never looked back.  Fast forward to today, I maintain a daily practice and have rarely experienced similar symptoms.  What was at first a step to take responsibility for my mind and mental health has now become the source of infinite consciousness, awareness, and joy. 

Meditation has many well-documented benefits including increasing brain mass of the medial prefrontal cortex, which leads to higher concentration and attention.  Research also points to a reduction in the mass of the amygdala, part of our primal base brain responsible for fight or flight.  In essence, over time, our lower, primal stress responses are supplanted with more conscious ones, which originate from the higher functions of our brain.  In addition to stress reduction, meditation is used to treat a variety of conditions ranging from anxiety and depression, chronic pain, addiction, and tinnitus.  Some evidence suggests it can expedite recovery from cancer. 

People often tell me they want to begin meditating but don’t have the time or don’t know how to start.  View your practice as an investment, not a sacrifice.  Meditation slows down time and provides a baseline of calm and self-awareness that lasts throughout the day; the time you dedicate will pay dividends. 

Interestingly, I’ve consistently heard friends say they “aren’t good at it.”  The initial objective of meditation is not to remain in a constant state of attunement or bliss, but to train our minds by practicing returning to attunement once we realize our attachment to thought.  If we are distracted 100 times in a 10-minute meditation, that is 100 opportunities to practice returning to our center. 

There are many forms of meditation including, guided, silent and chanting.  All have many benefits although, for this post, I will concentrate on silent, mindful meditation, which includes forms such as Transcendental Meditation and Centering Prayer.  Guided meditation is an excellent way for a beginner to establish a practice, although a primary goal of meditation is to learn to let go and disengage with the mind and its incessant thoughts, which is difficult when focused on a speaking guide.  I have found the most simple form to share with beginners is Centering Prayer, which is identical to Transcendental Meditation, except it suggests a self-chosen word to return to attunement, versus a mantra provided by a guru. 

Simple Meditation Steps:

-    Sit in a comfortable position with a straight spine

-    Pick a word, two-syllables or less with a peaceful or loving meaning

-    Sit in silence with eyes closed, breath into your low belly, your attention focused between your eye-brows

-    Observe thoughts that arise, let them pass like a log floating down a river

-    When you realize you are attached to a thought, lovingly and calmly say (eventually think) the word and return to attunement

 

A few suggestions that may help your practice:

-    Move and stretch for a few minutes before you sit

-    Meditate in the AM so you may return to the peaceful state throughout the day

-    Consistency is key:  5-10 min/daily can be more rewarding than 20 min 2-3 times/week

-    If you miss a day or two, be gentle with yourself, simply recommit to your practice

-    20 min a day is recommended, a second 20 min sit can be transformative

One of the most helpful bits of advice I garnered from a meditation course taught by the late Father Thomas Keating was, “when you realize you are attached to a thought, speak the chosen word as if a feather were landing on a pillow”.  The practice of being gentle with ourselves is contrary to the response of frustration we may initially feel as we learn to accept that thoughts have limited meaning and are often based on fear, from deep in the subconscious mind.  Over time, attunement will shift from focus between eyebrows to a state of observing your thoughts and feeling connected to your whole being and nervous system, often without awareness of the body; this is the state of bliss and the beginning of a relationship with our self.  

Meditation is not a religion although I consider it a form of deep prayer.  At the very least if you are more emotionally balanced and in tune with yourself, you will be more peaceful in your relationships and community.  Regardless what your faith is, meditation puts us consistently in a state of communion with ourselves and to the part of us that recognizes our connection to the whole.  Rumi so eloquently said “Everything in the universe is inside you.  Ask all of yourself.”  

No 2. The World is my Mirror

Blessings come in many forms.  Some are obvious: new relationships, financial gains, a healthy newborn child, a moment of clarity in our personal or spiritual growth.  These are easy to accept.  In my experience, the most valuable blessings come by way of difficult challenges, temporary setbacks, friction in relationships and the awareness of my own impatient and fear-based reactions.

We attract what we are (or have been); with few exceptions. In the vast majority of cases where I have found myself upset, blaming and pointing the finger at others, I have played a part in creating and/or attracting the person or situation, directly or indirectly.  I find this especially true with my sweet twins, who are a perfect mirror of myself and my emotional state. It's not always easy to see and can be quite unsettling to admit, but I am constantly faced with situations that provide me with opportunities to deepen my self-awareness and grow, for which I am truly grateful. Sometimes our agitation is a result of a differing opinion but in my experience, the vast majority of cases are a pure reflection of self.

If we allow our reaction to steal our joy for the next hour or days, it's worth an honest look to identify the origin of those emotions. A deeper dive often reveals a degree of our own insecurity and fear.

It is so easy to focus attention on others when we are angry and afraid.  We all have an ego and for those of us committed to dissolving the false self, confronting is necessary along with acknowledgment and surrender.  The quicker I’m willing to get real and honest about my part, the more quickly I return to a state of peace.  

One of my teachers offered the following questions which I regularly ask myself when experiencing resentment, frustration, anger and other forms of fear.  

-    What is the cause?

-    What do I want?

-    How is my ego attempting to appear?

-    What am I afraid of?

-    What am I unwilling to admit?

-    Where am I at fault?  or  Where did I put myself in a position to be hurt? 

-    What can I do instead (of creating suffering)? 

Becoming genuinely honest with ourselves takes time.  It takes practice to peel enough of the ego away to see the depths of ourselves.  When we think we have it licked, situations arise that make apparent how cunning the ego can be and the layers yet removed before our authentic self reveals.  This process is frightening at first, like walking into the darkness with a flashlight.  The exploration of these questions is best practiced through writing and sharing them in communion with a companion who is both willing and capable of brutal honesty.  A good friend will often take our side in an effort not to hurt us.  We need the truth, not someone to co-sign our bullshit. 

The freedom we seek in these uncomfortable moments will only come from the clarity of our role in any given situation.  We are creating the world with every thought and action; we are responsible for the outcomes.  My children, my friends, my adversaries and all situations, especially those that incite agitation and discomfort, are my best teachers and often lead to blessings in many forms.   

Our egos have developed as our conscious minds have evolved.  They attempt to protect us or as I have found, distract us from acknowledging the depth of our emotions and knowing ourselves.  Rewards abound from breathing into discomfort and creating space to ask the difficult questions which lead to the peace and joy that we are.