Peak Experiences: Words & Moments

I sat in the coffee shop on a Sunday afternoon hacking away on a client’s project. I received a text message that was a little cryptic,

“Can I tell you something?”

Anxiously and with hesitation, I said “sure”. What followed was one of the more kind and uplifting things someone has said to me within the past year.

We sat at the stop light and the tension was heavy. After arguing most the of the car ride, I yelled out something that should not have been said. It was said in frustration, with anger and with the intention to cause pain. That pain was hidden and never dissipated.

These are just two experiences that have lead me to start using a phrase repeatedly,

“words matter”

I say it a lot. I encourage others that I have influence on to consider it. But I primarily want to embed this truth into my own consciousness and behaviors.

I have always understood that words were important. I remember sitting down and writing a lengthy letter to my parents listing all the reasons why I should not move away from Broken Bow, Nebraska during my junior year. It was the first example where I saw that words had power.

My struggle for many years was figuring out how to use my voice to share positive words that mattered.

Words matter and the power of moments can change an individual’s life.

As I ran across the finish line of the 1999 Lincoln Marathon, I was devastrated and proud at the same moment. I was tired yet energized. I had more joy than I had experienced in months, but wanted to cry. Little did I know, that moment would shape my professional and social life for the next twenty years.

I have been reading the book, The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath, learning about the characteristics of a powerful moment. Moments that have the potential of becoming peak experiences have these four characteristics:

1. Some elevation of sensory pleasures or surprise.
2. Provide insight and rewire the idea of ourselves.
3. Create pride through acts of courage and achievement.
4. Provide connection with others and social satisfaction.

As I have been molding all these lessons into knowledge and cross referencing my experience, I have come to the following conclusion:

When you match the right words with the right moment, you can create memories that are unforgettable. This is important as our memories are a string of loosely tied together moments, opposed to a true recording of everything that happened.

The following is just an outline of thoughts I have had on this topic.

The good and bad: this powerful experience can create both good and bad memories, so it is as critical to understand how to avoid the bad as it is to create the positive.

Vulnerability: due to Brene Brown, I have spent a lot of time practicing how to be more vulnerable over the past few years. It has greatly impacted my ability to share with others positive words of affirmation. I often feel exposed and vulnerable when voicing affection or even praise for others. This has been a recurring topic in therapy.

Some words you can not take back, therefore; think before you speak: I remember stupid things I have said out of anxiety, anger and pride. The people I said them to often remember also. Even when there is forgiveness, the scares often remain.

Praise is a better teaching tool than criticism: Do you remember a teacher who provided praise, then suggestions on how to improve. How about a teacher who started with the criticism and expectations? Who inspired you? I am my own worst critic, as are most people their own. I am learning to lead with praise.

Random moments and words: The surprise of a positive message. The adventure of an unplanned experience. Those are the types of words and moments that have the opportunity to create something significant. When it feels manufactured, it doesn’t really work. In The Power of Moments, they share the “Employee of the Month” example. The winner of the award rarely feels special.

Seek adventure: it becomes very difficult to create impactful moments when things become routine. Find ways to challenge yourself. Ideally, find others to join you on those adventures.

Slow down time: the book talked about one reason that time seems to speed up as we age is due to the fact that novelty becomes less commonplace. We have less moments. This aligns with the last note, do not let your age decrease your ability or desire to seek adventure.

Practice giving complements: I find it easy to give complements in those moments that are socially expected. This happens after races, major accomplishments, etc. I have begun to practice giving praise for things that do not often receive it. It honestly feels difficult at this point, but I am working on it.

Keep your candor: there was a period (and I still hear it), where people talked a lot about being candid in their communication. It was often a signal that someone was about to be an asshole. I know of this well! I regularly masked my ego and jerkness in the blanket of ‘being honest’.

How I plan to implement this in 2019?

I have been trying to figure out what 2019 is going to be for me. The last few years have been very random, but in directed ways. For example, I never thought I would have created a software development company. However, I was focused on becoming better at the technical side of product development and working with high quality people. It just so happened Ventre Tech was born.

In that spirit, I plan to set my sails in the following directions:

  1. More travel and novelty.
  2. Creating some goal around a habit associated with gratitude, specifically expressing that gratitude.
  3. I’ve become plenty vulnerable with my feelings and emotions, but I need to continue practicing praise.

Ultimately, I’d like to have at least 10 powerful moments in 2019. As I think back on 2018, I can think of 6 or 7 moments, most are positive with one being negative. When I think about those moments, I image two of them will remain lasting peak experiences and memories. One of the positive moments and the negative moment. The elements they both have in common are words that stick, elevation of sensory, surprise and they lead to new personal insights.

I would love to hear your thoughts.

3 of many variables associated with new relationships.

Person, time and place

I sat in Joe the Therapist’s office and began asking questions. They were not directed towards him, but questions I wanted the answers to that I couldn’t answer for myself. It all distilled down to this single query:

“What am I missing?”

As we talked through many versions of what that question could mean, he made an observation.

“All those situations had nothing to do with you.”

It was an easy statement for him to make, but an impossible one to accept.

The focus of the discussion was on starting, building and maintaining intimate relationships. As we talked through various attempts, it became even more evident to me that “had nothing to do with you” was a false understanding.

It did not help that I had just turned 40 and was not feeling proud that I was still trying to discover these secrets.

There is clearly a fair amount of emotion and self acceptance I have to dig through regarding this subject. However, I happened to be in a place where I was rethinking this question. This lead me to sit down and start writing. In that moment I realized that successful relationships almost always have three required components.

These three components seem obvious, but worth sharing as I work to clarify my own thoughts. They are: person, time and place.


It feels lazy to assert that a long term relationship requires two people who mutually believe the other is right for them. I can think of some relationships where the partners know they are with a person that is not right, but maintain the relationship for many different reasons. My observation is that those relationships are rarely healthy.

The challenge is answering the question, “Is he/she the right one?”

This seems even more difficult in a world where online dating is more common then not. This is not because online dating is horrible or even undesirable. It is because as you scroll through pages of profiles and swipe left and right, it gives the illusion that there is an endless pool of options.

This unlimited number of potential partners has meant, at least in my experience, that at the first hint of someone ‘not being the one’ results in a rapid return to scrolling and swiping.

There is also the challenge relationships face when a person was the right person, but as people evolve and change, they no longer seem to satisfy the criteria. This requires the couple to answer a different question: “Is it worth building a new relationship with this evolved individual, or should we start new with someone else?”

The statistics show that 40 to 50 percent of marriages end in divorce (, therefore it’s safe to say that when faced with this question a majority of the couples decide to move on to someone different.

The romantic in me believes in the idea that there’s an opportunity to find someone that is the right person for all the remaining years. I know it happens, but I have no data to know how large or small that percentage is.

When I evaluate the three variables, I strongly believe that understanding if the person is the ‘right one’ is by far the most difficult of them all. I also believe that once you determine that someone is not the right person, it is the easiest of all the reasons to stop moving forward.

When trying to understand if a specific person is who you should be with, there are no guarantees, but there is hope.


The phrase “timing is everything” could not be more true than in developing lasting relationships.

When you combine the time and person variables things get complicated. Let’s assume that a couple has discovered that they have found someone they are compatible with, if the timing is off for one of the two, it can be very difficult.

The timing can be off for many reasons, such as:

– One of them is not ready to enter a relationship.
– One or both of them are in an existing relationship.
– One is ready for a relationship, but wants to enter the relationship on a different timescale than the other.

My belief is that this reality is the most difficult of all the observations. The romantic side of my brain believes that ‘love can conquer all’, that if you have found the right person, you will also find a way to make it work.

When I review my experiences, I can identify times that it was simply not the right time.


What if you have found the right person and the timing is right but the place is wrong? I put place as the third variable because I see this one as the easiest of the three to overcome. I hear stories of people relocating to be with someone.

That being said, it is also a factor that is not negotiable for some. It could be due to aging parents, children in school or they live next to amazing running trails and those are of greater importance (I’m only half kidding).

Final thoughts.

I am clearly not an expert in relationship building. In fact, the evidence would point to the fact that I am not very good at it. However through those failures and as a result of those failures, I spend a fair amount of time in self reflection asking myself “What am I missing?”

Maybe Joe the Therapist is correct in saying that I am not missing anything and that it is just a matter of not aligning these three variables.

I know for a fact that there have been attempts to date those who were the wrong person. It has been the most common missing attribute. I believe that there have been a few people over the last 20 years that were possibly the right one, but at the wrong time. (Does the Garth Brooks song Unanswered Prayers start playing in your head here too?). I also believe that place might be an issue (I do find myself expanding my desirable distance on the dating apps each time I give them a try?), but it is challenging to know when place needs to be overcome.

In closing, the only thing I know for certain is that the next time Joe the Therapist and I meet, I will get my money’s worth as we dig deeper into these seemingly obvious yet challenging observations.

Let’s Divorce – Working to increase happiness amid this emotional process.

I spend a lot of time thinking about my legacy and what that means. It impacts the way that I approach my utilization of time, what projects I want to work on and who I prioritize spending time with. I would like to think that every decision is run through this legacy filter, but it is more correct to say that it’s a guiding light.

Using this approach to decision making the past couple of years has been interesting for many reasons. One of those reasons being a decision to start a company with a couple partners. The baseline for my decision to join was an alignment in how we were going to approach building a company. There was a product that we wanted push forward, but we also shared a desire to help others take their business ideas and launch them into the marketplace. We knew it would take time to figure it out and were interested in taking multiple shots.

One of the guiding lights in my personal life is to work on projects and start businesses that can help lead individuals to happier and healthier lives. I am most fulfilled when this means helping people reach the edges of their personal performance potential.

I am also committed to the idea that helping people find physical health can establish behaviors that supports their emotional, spiritual and mental health.

All of this is context to share the most recent project that I have been working on. About ten months ago, my team was approached with an opportunity to help create technology that would support people getting a divorce.

Internally I asked, “How can divorce be something that creates happiness or health?” Everything I have ever read about divorce is that it is stressful. In fact, it is often cited as one of the most stressful events in a person’s life, right up there with the death of a loved one and having a child.

A little more context for the story.

In a somewhat cruel twist to the plot, it was also during this time that I was finalizing my own divorce. After several years of knowing my marriage was struggling, two and a half years of therapy and then almost a year of slow progress on getting the paperwork completed, I was becoming a divorcee the same month that this business proposal came.

Through my divorce, one of the observations that I consistently had was that I was a lucky man. During the entire process, my ex wife and I got along quite well. We did not fight over possessions and there were no battles about who was wronged the most. We continued to understand that it was a difficult phase for both of us and worked to make it less painful. I knew that this was rare. Our therapist commented many times that he couldn’t believe how well we treated each other.

To completely understand how surreal it was, when we started talking to recently divorced individuals about their experiences, I asked my ex if she would be willing to be interviewed. She was very unselfish and agreed to meet with my business partner. The day they met happened to be the day we got our decree back from the court that our divorce was final.

Back to the story of the product.

When we sat down and talked about the vision for the product, I started to become more intrigued. The story was not about how we could automate divorce, make divorce easier, or make divorce cheap. The discussions were about how we could make divorces less contentious, less litigious and more cooperative. We began planning out how we could begin making progress in this direction and I started talking to recently divorced individuals.

In these discussions, I learned a lot about the experience that others had gone through. There was a lot of fear regarding what had to be done. This included relationship issues and communication with their spouse during the process. There was a large amount of fear about how to go through the process because information was difficult to find. Then there was the realization that financial statuses were going to be impacted, which included the division of assets along with the cost of attorneys.

When you put all of these fears and anxiety on top of the sadness, stress and broken hearts, it becomes a very difficult time for everyone.

I never talked to anyone who said that they got married with the anticipation that one day they would get divorced. Some shared that they got married and looking back probably should not have (which I guess might seem obvious at this stage), but hindsight is 20-20. The point being that no matter what lead to this place in the individual’s life, regardless of the circumstances, divorce is never easy.

This is the observation that allowed me to become more invested in the online divorce platform,

If I could find a solution that was able to eliminate divorce, I would work on that today. But when you look at the divorce rates across demographics and throughout the U.S., it’s pretty clear that as long as marriage is around, divorce will be also.  

I accepted that this was the reality. I had to also admit that the amount of lost joy and unhappiness experienced was significant. If there was a way to make divorces better, than I could significantly improve people’s lives. There might also be an opportunity to help couples start working through the process, with the support and guidance they need, which leads them to reconciliation?

How does a better divorce happen? That is what we’ve committed to work on. Today, it is starting with one piece that many of those we interviewed identified as a high stress component. And I’m happy to share that The Johnson Law Group is the first customer who is going to be utilizing the solution to help make divorce better.

Growing stronger through vulnerability

When I think about strength, I have several images embedded in my mind. The first one is of my grandfather on a horse. The horse is rearing up and if memory serves me well, the horse is on one leg. This image is iconic. It embodies the ruggedness and toughness that a cowboy has to possess to thrive. When you grow up in the Sandhills of Nebraska, there are many men you can look at who possess these character traits.

As a boy in Nebraska, if the cowboy persona is not what you learned it meant to be a man, then it was likely that you understood a man was epitomized by a football player. It was Tom Osbourne. It was Husker Power. Osbourne was characterized by his stoic demeanor. He had the same emotional expression after a tough loss to Oklahoma as he did after destroying Florida for a National Championship. Husker Power was about developing physically dominating players.

The underlying observation I made as a young man was that being a man required being strong. To be strong meant displaying the characteristics of those cowboys I saw or the players and coaches we admired.

There are many nuances within those two personas that could be titrated out. Things such as:

  • never let them see you hurting
  • boys do not cry
  • keep your problems to yourself
  • do not depend on others, be self sufficient
  • have an answer to solve your problems
  • do not allow your opponent to see your weaknesses

Those were the signs of strength.

Life did not lead me to become a cowboy or a professional athlete, it lead me into the arenas of health, fitness and business.

The versions of displayed strength change in these environments, but in some ways they are similar.

Strength is embodied by:

  • capital raised
  • charts moving up and to the right
  • number of employees the company has on-boarded in the past year
  • trend lines of total revenue
  • monthly recurring revenue

What I have found in the business world is that many signs of strength are faked signals. I am not talking about fraud, although there is definitely cases of that too. I am talking about people putting out press releases, purchasing office spaces, getting media coverage and hiring new team members to give an impression that they are doing better then they really are.

In some ways it is the way the game is played. To recruit good talent, to attract investment capital and to give new customers confidence that you can fulfill your promises, you need to be perceived as bigger, stronger and more stable than you currently are.

One of the great things about starting and working with multiple health, fitness and coaching businesses is that I often get to see behind the customer’s mask. People come to me for running, but they also want friendship. They use our products to improve their health, yet they need a safe place to discuss their fears.

The biggest lesson I have learned over my 18 year career thus far is that everyone has something they are trying to work through. This is true regardless of a client’s social, financial, health or career status.

It took me a long time to observe this reality. It took a lot longer for me to realize that I didn’t have to be a perfect example of health, fitness and well-being to beneficial for my clients. I actually did not learn this until after I had stopped personal training.

Gaining strength by being vulnerable.

Lewis Howes talks about the nine masks that men hide behind in his book, The Masks of Masculinity. These masks include: The stoic mask, the athlete mask, the material mask, the sexual mask, the aggressive mask, the joker mask, the invincible mask, the ‘know-it-all’ mask and the alpha mask.

I have used each of these masks at some point, however I have been most comfortable behind the stoic, athlete and ‘know-it-all’ masks.

These are personal discoveries I started having several years ago. Through these discoveries and within time of self-reflection, I realized that the pressure of living with those masks was overwhelming.

What do you do when you want people to believe something about yourself, but you know inside it is not the way you truly feel?

I made the decision to become more vulnerable. To be more open about how I truly felt. I decided to share my fears and disregard the advice that said ‘keep your feelings to yourself’.

I have learned to say “I have no idea” and “I do not know” to more questions than I have the answer to.

Taking the step to be more vulnerable was not exceptionally easy, however it also was not unique. Individuals like Brene Brown have given power to the concept of being vulnerable. The start-up world has more and more individuals stepping forward and being open about their struggles. I am optimistic that the athletic world will also see more changes.

There have been three outcomes of becoming more vulnerable:

1. I have become stronger and more resilent. When you do not have to keep living out a narrative that is not true, it frees you to be authentic and actually proceed in real strength.

2. Individuals respond to my vulnerability by observing some of the same issues within themselves and feel empowered to speak to me.

3. People are made uncomfortable by the vulnerability and we ignore the discussion.

A tangible outcome of those observations was combining the lessons with my knowledge in coaching, health and behavior change to create the Happier and Healthier You program.

A final thought.

I am a competitive person. The arena of competition continues to change, but when I am focused, I want to win. The cowboy persona, football icons and successful business leaders all instilled in me that you should never show weakness. However, I have learned that I am much stronger when I can share my vulnerabilities and still possess the courage to take my fears head-on.

This strength allows me to be a better person, friend, business partner, lover, athlete and community member.

Lessons about routine and randomness, that I learned this weekend.

Friday night, the start.

We had a plan. Each of us had expectations for the camping trip. It was not a detailed plan. It included a trail that had been utilized on a previous camping trip. The path was less of a concern than the final setup at the destination. Then we turned left off of the highway to drive down Tunnel Ridge Road, when the plan ended. The road was closed. We improvised and went to Koomer Ridge Campground and headed out on the trails from there. We soon found ourselves without daylight. I was missing my headlamp. There were no camping locations to be found.

Saturday night, the start.

There were loose plans. The main goals being time spent hanging out, eating and drinking. The first two spots were pre-determined, but even the best constructed plans can be derailed with rain and lost keys.

How to embrace randomness.

I have spent a lot of time contemplating the value and benefit of embracing randomness over the past eighteen months. The main catalyst for this rumination is that I randomly met Thomas Cothran at Awesome Inc in August of 2016. At the time, he was a fellow student who became the exemplar of what being a student really meant. Since that time we have been working hard to accomplish fun and interesting things together. The short list of challenges we are taking on include:

  • Building a software consultancy business, focused on healthcare and law (Not simple markets to penetrate with innovation.)
  • Build a sports technology consultancy.
  • Partner with other like minded individuals to spin out products focused on the law, healthcare and sports industries.
  • Mentor startup founders who need product and technical advising.

All of these efforts are very focused. The time, money and energy we put into each of these four areas are done with efficiency, productivity and impact on the top of our mind. We have spent a fair amount of cognitive power over these eighteen months establishing, refining and iterating on the processes we use to do our work.

The reason I am highlighting the efforts we put forth is to help explain the value that pure randomness has upon the outcomes we have observed. I would argue that even with the rigorous approach we have to our work, a good portion of our success can be attributed to luck. If the word “luck” is hard for people to accept, then I’d suggest, “random chance”.

Are we all fooled by randomness.

I will circle back to the intersection of random chance and effort in a moment. First, let me acknowledge Nassim Taleb’s book “Fooled by Randomness”. I started listening to this book, for the third time, as I drove up I75 this afternoon. This book has always impressed on me the value of consistently evaluating your outcomes and being critical of your assessments. This is especially true if you start to attribute successes with specific actions.

It is easy to look back and find something to attribute your success to. The hours you spent doing sales calls. The years you spent in college developing an expertise. The networks you have made throughout your career. The decisions you made in your product specifications. If you are like me and tend to overly analyze the details, you are likely to also (like me) tie all the outcomes to those efforts.

This is when we become fooled by randomness. Or, I will simply say, this is where I am fooled by randomness.

As I have become more comfortable knowing that my actions are not as powerful as I thought they were and luck is just as responsible for my successes, I have become more accepting that I can not control the outcome of everything. This is a lesson that I wished I learned twenty years ago.

Armed with this mindset, I have the ability to embrace random events with a sense of excitement and adventure. These same events would have caused me great anxiety and frustration in the past.

Why routine is critical for me to happily accept randomness.

The words routine and randomness seem paradoxical. However, I find having well defined routines is essential for my ability to accept random chance with an open mind. Here’s a simple explanation why:

I need the basic structures of my life to be maintained with the least amount of congnitive load. This mental efficiency provides the space necessary for creativity, along with the extra mental and emotional costs associated with following random paths.

When I fail to cover the basics via routines, I spend too much brain power just getting through the day. The basics become exhausting, which means that randomness generates:

  • increased stress
  • tendency towards anger
  • decreased happiness
  • lack of empathy
  • prevalence of depressive moods
  • high anxiety
  •  …

What are the basics I have offloaded to routine

To provide a clear explanation of what I mean by this, here is a list. These have all been an evolving practice since around 2009. Some of these are a philosphical approach to life, others are environmental choices I have worked to establish.

  • The place I leave my running shoes.
  • Having a room dedicated to yoga, stretching and meditation.
  • What I eat for breakfast, every single day.
  • Where I place my keys, wallet and sun glasses when I walk in the door.
  • What day of the week I do laundry.
  • When I answer email during the week.
  • My choice for type and location of housing.
  • Decision to not use debt as a financial instrument for anything. (clears up decisions around monetary routines )
  • What phone numbers I answer (short answer: none as a general rule)
  • What routes I run for daily runs.
  • The brand of toothpaste I purchase.

This is a short list of items, as there are many routines that I have established that are subconscious operations today. I believe the list helps clarify the concept.

Why work hard, if randomness is so important.

The best answer I have for this is the Stoic philospher Seneca’s quote:

“Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity”

While it’s not a great analogy, I equate being efficient and productive to buying a lottery ticket. The effort you put out is your currency to enter the Powerball. With that effort, you still are subject to the randomness of the balls, but without it, you are simply watching the world pass you by.

Friday Night, the end.

It was dark and we were both somewhat concerned about finding a place to camp for the night. (Even if we were not vocal about those concerns.) We had hit the trail we were looking for, hoping it was a better option. At the moment, it was not producing anything of use. Then we heard some small voices coming from behind. I turned to see a couple headlamps and a dog with a light coming towards us.

Those hikers were able to lead the way to a new trail, a new camping location and one of the best views in the Red River Gorge I had yet to see. Was it luck? I would say it was more than luck that night.

Saturday Night, then end.

When randomness strikes and it leads to a positive outcome, it can be simple to be easy-going. What happens when situations arise that are not fun? Like losing your car keys?

I know with a mindset that didn’t accept randomness. The one that had to control everything. The one that needed plans to work out. That person would have folded under the stress and become a negative and angry person.

In moments such as this, the number of starts and stops are so frequent that it doesn’t feel like randomness alone. It felt like a tilt-a-whirl at the county fair. There is hope, then you are jerked back from where you came. There is excitement, that is stolen. In the end, I was able to evaluate how I carried myself throughout it all. I hope it was with grace and kindness? I was also able to spend more time with someone, who I wanted to get to know better. This random event allowed me to see how she responded to a much more difficult reality than I faced. While not an idealistic situation, it provided better insight than had the night went exactly as planned.

The lesson in a couple sentences

Life can be difficult if you need complete control and for everything to go according to plan. Therefore, develop routines to put the basics on autopilot and remain open to the random blessings you will find along the way.

The joys of getting older

The other night I was having a conversation where the topic of getting older was being discussed. This is something that I think about fairly often at the moment, maybe it is because I’m turning a year older soon and I see that forty is within spitting distance. As those milestones get closer, I often do more reflection and evaluation than is necessary. I do not live with a lot of regret, but I do spend time evaluating choices and the outcomes that resulted. Those periods of reflection are very valuable exercises for my continued growth. The lessons I have learned from this activity, over the years, have allowed me to make many positive changes in my life.

The potentially negative side to this process is when I start to compare what the outcomes were to what my expectations had been. This does not have to be negative, because there are many times that I have far exceeded my own expectations. However, I tend to focus on areas where I have yet to meet those expectations. As someone who has high expectations for himself in every aspect of life, I can be my own worst critic. I do not think that I am alone in this, as I have many discussions with friends and family who use their birth date as a time of reflection.

An aspect to aging, is that it’s a forever progressive and forward moving process. The biological implications of this are something I help people deal with daily. Helping others understand how to age well through exercise, nutrition and behavior change is all underpinned by this human struggle we all face to some degree. The physical process of aging is often discussed and highlighted by the negative consequences: achy joints, decreased mobility, less strength, lower energy levels, increased sensitivities and less adaptability.

Even after we discover how to bring biological aging to a near standstill, we won’t be capable of stopping time. With that time comes mental, emotional, spiritual and social experiences that we have to be capable of fitting into our psychological model of the world in which we live.

The best and healthiest approach for this that I have been able to adopt, is to remain mindful. To understand that this instant is truly the only moment we have. The past is the past and tomorrow will come tomorrow. The mindful mindset is not my natural state, more of an aspiration.

The reason that the discussion of aging the other night stands out to me, was because it quickly took a turn in the positive direction. Instead of falling into the normal piling on of reasons why getting older sucks, the person I was talking to immediately shared that she loved getting older. She recently had a birthday, so she could have fallen into the common traps also. However, she said she could not wait until next year when she was a year older. It definitely challenged me to think about the joys of aging, so here’s a list of reasons why getting older can be joyful:

1. I have more experiences to draw upon when making decisions.

2. I have more data points to use, allowing me to understand my strengths and weaknesses as it relates to my career.

3. I possess more understanding of myself as an emotional and spiritual person.

4. I know my body better, what it can do and what it’s limitations are.

5. I have more wisdom that I can offer to others.

5 things to add and subtract to be healthier and happier

On my walk to get coffee this morning, I was listening to the James Altucher Show as he interviewed Noah Kagan. James was sharing how he completely eliminated every material thing in his life other than three sets of clothes, his laptop and a kindle. It sounds like he’s living a pretty excellent life moving from Airbnb to new Airbnb each month, but then Noah asked “How does this related to the person in Ohio?” It’s a fair question, as most of us don’t have the desire to get rid of everything, however we might benefit from evaluating the excesses in our life.

The minimalist movement is not new. There are Netflix documentaries, a book section on amazon and the entire tiny house movement. One of the books that continuously comes up is, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.” When I moved several months ago, I spent the time thinking through the value that items had or didn’t have. I felt like I got rid of many things, however on moving day I realized there was still a lot of stuff.

The conversation between James and Noah got me thinking, what are five things a person could remove from their life today that would make them happier and healthier (a guidepost for my decision making). It also sparked the question, what five things could they add to be happier and healthier?

I did not limit myself to material items, here’s what I came up with:


1. Daily news from television or radio. This is something I did years ago now and it has paid me back exponentially in terms of happiness. The reality is that it’s impossible to hide from all news stories, but that was not my goal. I simply wanted to avoid the heightened state of anxiety the 24 hour news cycle tries to keep us in.

2. Alarm clock. This may not be possible for everyone, but sleep is a major factor in one’s journey to health. The alarm clock was not created to help us sleep better.

3. Push notifications on your phone. I will admit that I have not done this yet. As a product manager and creator, I know the value that push notifications can provide to positively influence behavior. However, I’d argue that the majority of push notifications you get are interruptions and not helpful, nor supporting your health.

4. Daily Commute. The research is pretty clear that the longer your daily commute, the less likely you are to be happy and the more likely you are to have depression. There are multiple strategies to limit or eliminate your required commuting, so before you say it’s not possible, at least spend some time thinking creatively.

5. Storage units and junk closets.  It’s easy to allow our things to grow into the spaces we give them. If we have storage units and junk closets, it’s likely we have a lot of junk. I still have a storage unit that is hopefully going to be cleaned out in the next week. Sadly, I couldn’t tell you what is in it. I clearly don’t need anything that’s in there.


1. Walking without the requirement of exercise. I believe that movement for the sake of moving, along with the ability to take the opportunity to enjoy the interesting things you discover is one of the most beneficial things we can do. I love to exercise and also think it’s critical for your health, but this is different. Exercise invokes purpose and expectation, I’m simply talking about going for a walk.

2. Pomodoro Timer. It’s one of the best additions to my day in the past year. It’s helped productivity and breaks me from getting stuck in long durations of sitting.

3. Social engagement. There are many studies that show a healthy and connected social life is predictive of longevity. While it’s hard to create this in a day, it’s possible to commit to an activity where you will engage with others. I get myself out and work in a co-working space, but you could also try to find a place to start. This does not include social media engagement, which I know would feel much easier and be less scary.

4. Food you could grow. Eat something today that you know you could grow yourself, if you had the time and desire to grow it.

5. Therapy. I used to have a stigma associated with therapy. The saying, “you need to see a shrink”, was never a phrase shared with empathy or kindness. However, seeing a therapist is one of the best things I’ve ever made the decision to do. I have friends and family that are there for me, always willing to listen if I want to share. But, the value of having a completely non biased person listen to me verbalize my thoughts without judgement or agenda, is invaluable. As long as I can afford the service, I will keep it in my schedule.

Expect Rejection: Learning from every ‘No’ in sales and online dating

There is a new podcast by Reid Hoffman (founder of LinkedIn) called ‘Masters of Scale’. It is a master class in startups with many of the top founders and CEO’s. The guests include successful individuals such as Brian Chesky, Sheryl Sandburg, Mark Zuckerberg and Eric Schmidt. If you only have time to listen to one episode, having listened to all of the episodes to date, my suggestion is listen to the Reid Hastings episode. It is the story about how he created culture at Netflix after learning hard lessons at Pure Software. I’d also recommend that you go view the ‘culture deck’ that they talk about within the episode.

As a bonus learning tool, they published an episode with Tim Ferriss. In that episode, Ferriss takes all the lessons and provides commentary and insight. He pulls together a “10 Commandments of Startup Success”. It was listening to the discussion around the first commandment that I realized that I’ve been getting an entire PhD in startups over the past eight months. I say it’s my PhD because I am now on my fifth attempt at creating a viable and sustainable company. Three of those companies are still in operation and at very different stages, so I would like to focus on Upper 90 and what I am learning through it today.

For context, Upper 90 is a development and sport science company at its core. We have a product that we are trying to bootstrap called PyCoach. PyCoach is an athlete monitoring platform that provides a window into an athletes readiness to perform, for coaches and performance staffs. In addition to the saas product, we provide data management consulting services for colleges and universities that are trying to better utilize data on their athletes.

Back to Tim’s first commandment of startup success,

“Expect rejection. But learn from every ‘No’”

This is something that I have heard successful startup founders and mentors talk about in the past, however I do not think that I have been in a mindset that allowed me to learn from rejection. Rejection was something that hurt a little too much and dug a little too deep for me to ever have a clear and positive reaction.

If you would have asked me about this in the past, I would have likely said that I was able to understand and learn from rejection. However, I had confused the difference between “rejection” and “failure”. There is another common saying in startup culture: “fail fast”. While I absolutely hate failing, I have been able to mature to a point where I understood that failing in the right ways can often be positive in the long term. I drew upon my knowledge and experiences in athletics to help me get to this understanding. In athletics, I have always been able to use poor performances to be the foundation for better performances in the future. The striving and self-competitive mindset becomes addictive. For example, I recently started to rock climb. I am absolutely horrible at it, however I know with each attempt I can learn and grow.

The “fail fast” paradigm isn’t what is meant when the commandment “Expect rejection” is shared. It has taken me awhile to work through this, plus a decent amount of therapy, but I now understand that a rejection isn’t (or doesn’t have to be) a failure. As I look at the two, I see failure as an outcome. In many cases it’s a binary outcome (the easiest to learn from), but it doesn’t have to be. Rejection is more of an interpretation by someone else regarding what you are offering and their desire and need for that offering.

This seems very nuanced, I understand the confusion, so let me share a couple ways that I am currently learning from rejection, but in ways that I don’t believe is failing.

Online dating as a window into rejection:

I’ve been talking to others for awhile about what it’s like to date. I was never good at it the first time around, so it’s pretty anxiety inducing to think about trying to do it again 15 years later. It’s even more challenging when I realize that I don’t have too many settings where it makes “discovery” possible. This is when I started talking to my friends about their successes. I learned that several friends met their partners on Match, two meet theirs on OkCupid and another friend has been using the Bumble app. Inspired by their stories, I first joined Bumble, a week later I signed up for OkCupid and after brief periods of time on those platforms, I’ve moved on to Match and Tinder.

What I’ve come to learn through experience and reading of others, is that volume of interactions is essential for men to be successful. It seems very counter intuitive to my long term romantic notion that you just meet someone as they walk into the room and you know they are the one. The idea of sending out dozens of messages to get no responses, then feel empowered to carry on, is difficult. Whether I want to admit it or not, there’s at least a small feeling of rejection every time I send a message and hear silence.

A reality of using the platforms is that it’s unclear why no response is given. My first interpretation is that she read my message, reviewed my profile and gave the hard pass. However, it’s a story I’ve made up. At least on Match, I realize now that there are profiles that are active yet the person never uses. So another possibility is that she never saw the message. The uncertainty of the situation makes managing the process that much more emotionally challenging.

The value, for me, of using an online platform at this stage of understanding how to date in a modern world, is that the individuals on the opposite end of the conversation are mostly unknown. I do see people I know on the platforms and for the most part I do not engage in conversations with them, as rejection from someone I already know might be too difficult.

The main lesson that I’ve learned, that applies to this discussion, is that there are many stages along the dating path. At each stage, the opportunity for rejection exists. While I have not experienced anything beyond the initial stages of communication to this point, I anticipate that the pain that comes along with rejection also increases with each step forward. As commandment number one suggests, “Expect rejection, but learn from every ‘No’”. If rejection is not a failure nor a binary outcome but an interpretation of your offering by someone else, what can I learn from rejections in the dating world? Here are some thoughts:

1. Did the person communicate values they desired, that I did’t offer? For example: family, political or religious values.

2. Did she want someone that has the personality that I possess? If not where there early signs?

3. Did I communicate my values and desires clearly upfront? Is it possible to improve the way I represent myself better?

Startup sales as a window into rejection:

I am not a great salesman, but in the initial stages of most startups , founders find themselves taking on roles by default. That is where I have found myself many times over the past eight months. Whether it be selling PyCoach to colleges and universities, or selling our consulting services, I have come to realize that you can take all the lessons I just shared about online dating and transpose them into sales. In fact, it’s not uncommon that I find myself sending sales emails to a college coach one minute and then responding to a message on a dating app the next. The majority of messages I send out, even to a coach I have a direct connection with, receive no returned response.

In the sales process, I have had several situations where the communication back and forth start to create feelings of shared vision and alignment. In at least two of those situations, what felt promising and potentially life-changing (for a small bootstrapped startup like us anyway) resulted in eventual rejection. It hurt. What are a few things that I learned from those hard “No’s”?

1. I got a little caught up in the potential sale, even when the customer didn’t exactly fit our targets.

2. I struggled to communicate our value prop in a clear manner.

3. I lost track of the stage of ‘courtship’ we were on, partly due the timing and impending decisions being made.

Some final thoughts on rejection:

Everyone goes through rejection. Going through the process of getting rejected doesn’t mean it’s a failure, however that also does not mean it won’t be a little painful. When I listened to the Master of Scale summary episode with Tim Ferriss, I initially was not sure I believed that a lesson about rejection should be commandment number one. I do now. If not number one, than at least in the top three, because without being able to manage rejection well a founder will never possess several characteristics I believe to be critical:

1. Resilience

2. Self-awareness

3. Humility

If all of this is true, how does someone practice getting better at handling rejection? There are workshops targeted to founders that need to learn about product development, financial processes and fund raising, however I’ve never seen a weekend seminar focused on rejection. My guess is that handling rejection is something we are expected to know, or that we were taught how to handle it at a young age (which doesn’t seem likely, especially in today’s environment).

I believe that we should practice and prepare for important things in our life, to which I’d encourage a founder to not wait until their first big deal to find out how they’ll react to getting turned down. If you are not ready or in a position to face consistent rejection that comes along with online dating, my current training ground, I’d recommend you start small and with something that is very low stakes.

Noah Kagan created the coffee challenge several years ago as a way to get startup founders exposed to the feeling of being rejected. If you haven’t completed the challenge, I’d encourage you to start there. If asking for 10% off your Starbucks is difficult, how will you ever face the risk of rejection associated with your business contracts worth thousands or millions of dollars?

By doing the challenge you’ll learn a lot about yourself, including whether you are an ‘asker’ or a ‘guesser’. I’m 100% a guesser, which is why learning about rejection is so fundamental to my growth as a person, startup founder and romantic partner.


1. Master of Scale Podcast

2. Netflix Culture Deck

3. Tim Ferriss summary episode of Masters of Scale

4. Noah Kagan’s Coffee Challenge

5. Brene Brown’s talk on vulnerability (which is a requirement, imo, to face rejection)

Noah Kagan’s coffee challenge:

Here is a primer for a longer post I’ve been working on and want to share tomorrow. I’ve been working on the post for about a month and as I was finishing up today, I remembered Noah Kagan’s coffee challenge from a few years ago. It touches on my learnings in a very real and informative way. I encourage you to watch the video, then take his challenge. If you do, you’ll be in the right mindset to read my longer post tomorrow.