The F* Factor

I come from a long line of worriers.

My grandfather was a worrier.  He would wring his hands for days before he’d travel about what the weather might be on the day he was set to start out.  And when he’d arrived, he would become obsessed about what the weather might be for his return.

My father is a worrier.  He worries about the weather too.  And the stock market and his business and his health and his children and their children and whether he should retire or not retire and what may or may not happen in the next hour or on the next day or the next week or the next year.  And did I mention that he worries about the weather?

I’m a worrier too.  And I can be even more resourceful than my father.

“Worry saps energy, warps thinking and kills ambition,” said Dale Carnege in his classic How To Stop Worrying and Start Living.

Donald Trump says, “Worry is a waste.”  And it is.

Worry is the bastard child of Fear.

FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real.

Fear resides deep in the ancient part of our brain, the amygdala.  It served us once. When we hunted on the plains and needed to avoid the predators: the mastodons and the woolly mammoths.

But as I drove to work this morning, I noticed a curious thing:  the plains appeared devoid of wild beasts.

Today, fear is the predator.

Fear limits. Fear paralyzes. Fear diminishes. Fear robs us of opportunity.

With fear, we fail to life fully.

I’m reading a great book:  Feel The Fear …And Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers. Jeffers says, “We can’t escape fear.  We can only transform it into a companion that accompanies us on all of our exciting adventures; it is not an anchor holding us transfixed in one spot.”

But how do we transform it?  By holding it and moving through it.  By feeling it – deeply – and doing what makes us afraid – anyway.

It sounds overly simplistic.  But it really is supported by the “evidence.”

Mark Twain said, “I’ve seen many troubles in my time, only half of which ever came true.”

Jeffers says: “It is reported that more than 90% of what we worry about never happens.  That means our negative worries have less than a 10% chance of being correct.  If this is so, isn’t being positive more realistic than being negative?  Think about your own life.  I’ll wager that most of what you worry about never happens. So are you being realistic when you worry all the time? No!”

Fear never goes away.  As long as we grow, fear goes with us.  Those of us who journey out on the edge recognize fear as a pretty steady companion. But the paradox is, that in moving through our fear, we do grow.

And here was the big revelation for me: everyone is afraid.  We’re not alone. No matter how successful someone is, no matter how confident someone appears, fear looms in the dark recesses, in the unknown, the untried, the unexplored.  Whenever we risk – whether in business, in relationship, or at play – we invite fear.

But as Jeffers says, “Pushing through the fear is less frightening than living with the underlying fear that comes from a feeling of helplessness.”  If we don’t confront our fear – and move through it –  we stay stuck. And fear full.

“Courage,” Mark Twain said, “is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”  He also said, “Do the thing you fear most and the death of fear is certain.”

Ultimately, the conquest of fear is about trust:  trust in ourselves. “All you have to do to diminish your fear is to develop more trust in your ability to handle whatever comes your way,” says Jeffers.

Trust.  Trust that we can handle it.

The F* Factor. Whatever comes my way.  I’ll handle it.

I wonder what tomorrow’s weather will bring?

“Today is the tomorrow we worried about yesterday.”

More Than Enough Fish

There is an old story about a lawyer and a fisherman.  It goes something like this.

He looked ridiculous standing on the dock in his tasseled loafers and knee high black socks. An incongruity with the plaid Bermudas and lime green polo.  A cigarette hung from his lip as he punched his Blackberry frenetically.

It was ten o’clock in the morning and the sun was already hot. Frustration dripped from his face.

Two days into a seven day “vacation” in this backwater Mexican village was way more than he could stand.  The deal back in his New York office really couldn’t wait.

As the lawyer considered his options, a small fishing boat pulled up to the dock. Its skipper, deeply tanned, quickly tied up his craft and jumped off the boat and onto the dock  carrying a huge black bass.

“That’s a mighty big fish,” the lawyer said.  “Yes, it is, isn’t it? Thank you, Senor,” replied the man.

“Do you fish for a living?” inquired the lawyer.

“I do, Senor,” said the fisherman.

Now this piqued the curiosity of the lawyer.  After all, it was mid-morning and the man had a single fish. So the lawyer, being lawyerly, inquired further.

“Why only a single fish and why are you back so early?”

“Well, Senor,” said the fisherman, “it’s really all I need.”

This really perplexed the lawyer.  “What do you mean that’s all you need? How do you live?”

“Senor,” the fisherman replied, “my life is really fairly simple. I go out each morning at sunrise to catch a fish.  I’m usually back by late morning.  I have lunch with my beautiful wife Maria, we make love and have our siesta.  Then we usually walk on the beach together and collect sea glass.  We get together in the evening with our friends and cook the fish, enjoy some wine, sing and dance.”

“I think I can help you,” the lawyer said.

Now it was time for the fisherman to be perplexed.  “How so, Senor?”

“Well,” said the lawyer, now standing in full lawyer mode (although still looking quite silly), I’m an attorney from New York.  And I do big corporate deals.  I can tell you how to become massively successful.”

The fisherman was curious.  “Tell me more, Senor.”

“The first thing you need to do,” the lawyer said, “is to spend more time out in the boat to increase your catch.  Fish like that one will fetch a good price in these local restaurants.  Once you build some capital, you can buy a second boat, hire another fisherman, and leverage his work and the catch he brings in.”

The lawyer was getting excited now.  “If you keep building your capital like this, you can buy more and more boats.  Soon you can control a whole fleet.”

“What then?,” the fisherman asked.

“Well you could build a distribution plant here in the village,” said the lawyer. “Cut out the middleman in distribution.  Control a larger and larger share of the market.”

On a roll, the lawyer continued.  “Then you could move to New York, import the fish, distribute them thorough out the United States.  Why, I am sure that you could make millions with this plan.  And I can work with you to make it happen. This is the what we do.

“How long will this take?” inquired the fisherman.

I think about twelve to fifteen years,” replied the lawyer.  “It’ll take a lot of work, make no mistake about that. But it will be worth it. By then, you’ll have amassed a fortune, enough to retire.”

“Then what?” Senor.

“Well that’s the beautiful part,” said the lawyer. “You can move to a little village by the sea, fish for yourself, be home in time for lunch with your wife, walk on the beach, drink wine in the evening, and sing and dance with your friends.”

How easy it is to miss the joy that stands before us.  How often we forget that there are more than enough fish.

Patrick Power

It was minus 5.  The wind gusted to 50 m.p.h.  But the smile never faded.

Patrick stood on top.

On Friday, March 5, 2010 at 11:35 a.m., after months of preparation and training, Patrick Kral summited Mt. Washington.  As far as we know, he is the first ever Special Olympian to make a winter ascent of the peak.

I must admit to having had a fair amount of skepticism when I first heard of Patrick’s desire to do a winter climb of Mt. Washington.   By any standard, it is a difficult and dangerous objective. Mt. Washington has the reputation of having the most ferocious weather on earth. The yellow warning sign at the trailhead says it all: “many have died” attempting the climb.

So when the executive director of the Farmington Valley ARC, the organization that works with Patrick, approached me to discuss Patrick’s goal, I doubted the wisdom of any of it.

Until I met Patrick.

I found myself instantly engaged by his passion. His passion to climb. But more than that, his passion to experience life.

At 29, he retains the fresh enthusiasm of a teenager.  And although somewhat stocky, he is marathon runner with some truly impressive times.  But it is his spirit that is most remarkable.

When I first discussed the project with Patrick, I explained what would be required to train for the trip: the running, the stair stepper, the technical skills he had to master.  He never flinched. With his signature grin, he simply wanted to know when we would start.

So we began the months of planning and preparation.  But in the end, it was the guide who was guided.  I learned far more than I taught.

Here are the lessons I learned from Patrick:

Live without fear.  I’ve introduced plenty of folks to climbing over the years.  Fear and climbing are pretty steady companions.  There are  those precipices and that nasty thing called gravity. There are the pointy tools and sharp objects and falling rock and ice.  There is the snow and numbing cold.  There are lots of things to be afraid of. And by in large,  a healthy fear is, well, a healthy thing to have.  But unmitigated fear gets in the way – of learning – and of living.  It is not possible to experience and enjoy the fullness that life offers if you constantly live in fear.

I don’t know whether Patrick is really fearless.  But he certainly seems to live that way. Everything we did together he entered into with excitement and bold anticipation. And the sheer joy that is experience untainted by fear is a thing marvelous to behold.

Persist. Learning any new skill – especially as an adult – is tough.  We don’t want to look stupid.  We do. We think we should learn things faster.  We don’t.  We think we shouldn’t fail.  We do.  We turn back.  We give up.  We fail to persist.  And in doing so, we miss out.

Patrick never quit.  I don’t think he ever though of quitting.  If he did, he didn’t say so.  He never complained.  He never whined. Up steep slopes where his balance was precarious, over icy rocks with crampons, through unconsolidated snow, Patrick kept on going.  In the marathon of life, Patrick will win.

Believe that anything is possible. When working on any big project, it is easy to get discouraged. The logistics and the  immensity of putting the myriad pieces together to achieve a goal can easily overwhelm. When you don’t believe, your dreams die. The self-fulfilling prophecy of doubt dooms you.

I don’t think Patrick ever doubted that he would accomplish his dream of summiting Mt. Washington.

Want more. Life is not static.  It holds such promise. Such fullness. There is so much that waits for us if we but seek it out.  The next goal, the next adventure, the next experience of joy.  We can chose to make our lives extraordinary.  And yet, it is easy – especially as time goes by – to limit ourselves in what we hope to experience and attain, resorting again and again to the old refrains of job constraints, lack of time, money, age and fitness.

At our celebration dinner after summiting, I was still basking in the glow of success on a nearly perfect winter day in the White Mountains.  As the beer dulled the soreness in my quads, Patrick looked at me across the table and grinned.  “Do you want to sky dive?” he asked.

Without a doubt, a lot of what enables Patrick to succeed is the community that supports him. Steve Morris, the ARC’s executive director, is a true visionary.  He believes in his heart that, given the opportunity, anyone can accomplish anything, regardless of disability.  But all of us have the choice to surround ourselves with visionaries, people  who support our dreams and goals; and we have the option to avoid the naysayers.

Patrick Power.  Would that we all could have it.

Mid-Course Corrections

Have you ever seen a sextant?

It’s a beautiful instrument, isn’t it?  Conceived of by Sir Isaac Newton and in use since the early 1700s, generations of mariners have used the sextant  for navigation. By measuring the altitude of a celestial object above the horizon, you can figure out where you are.

Which is a pretty good thing to know.

Now, a GPS unit is nowhere near as elegant.

But it’s used for navigation too.  In fact, you can pinpoint a location with a GPS unit within thirty feet. I took one to the Andes recently.  Pretty amazing technology.

But the problem is, even with the best technology, you can still stray off course.

Staying on course can be a challenge.  When I first learned to sail and navigate, I learned a method called dead reckoning.  It’s the process of estimating your current position based upon a previously determined position and advancing the position based upon known or estimated speeds over elapsed time and course.

The problem with dead reckoning is that since new positions are calculated solely from previous ones, the errors of the process are cumulative.  If you misjudge any one element, like wind or cross-current, there will be an error in your estimated position.  And an error with a position fix compounds and grows with time.

Even with new technology, this is true.

Let’s say you are sailing from Marion, Massachusetts to Bermuda in the annual race.  The distance is 645 miles. What would happen if you were just 2 degrees off course for the entire distance?  You might know where you were with your GPS. But unless you corrected course, you’d miss the island entirely.  (Not to mention the party at the finish.)

Two degrees doesn’t sound like much.  But over time, the error compounds.  The outcome can be disasterous.

Kind of like real life.

I’ve been listening to a wonderful program by the legendary motivational counselor and success trainer, the late Jim Rohn. It’s called The Art of Exceptional Living.  In it, Rohn talks about the importance of “mid-course” corrections.

“When they send a rocket to the moon,” he says, “they know the rocket will eventually get a little off course. The first set of guidance systems will not be enough for the whole trip.  There will be a need for a mid-course correction.”

“You and I are no different,” says Rohn.  “From time to time we, too, must execute our own mid-course correction.”

Journeys don’t always go as planned.  It’s easy to get off track.  To lose one’s way.

What may have once been the right career or job or school or partnership may not be any longer.  Goals change. Dreams change. People change. The course once plotted may no longer take you to where you now need and want to go.  Continuing to forge ahead is not the fix. It will compound the error.  A reef in the Lesser Antilles and not Bermuda.

In the stock market, there’s an old adage: don’t try to catch a falling knife.  The phrase is used to describe an investor’s tendency to hold on to a troubled stock, even when it’s in a free fall. Sticking by a miscalculation in judgment can only hurt you.

Exit, regroup, reconsider.

Men are particularly bad at asking directions, I’m told.  But directions are helpful too. From professionals, coaches, counselors and friends.

Take time to assess, to plot, to plan.  Again.

Straying off course is part of the trip.

And it’s ok to decide to change course. To reconsider where you want to go. Or how you want to get there. The Lesser Antilles may be a better destination after all.

When I sail, I’m always tinkering at the helm.  Watching the compass, assessing the current, sensing the wind, correlating it all with the GPS.  And constantly making small adjustments.  To stay on course.

What a useful skill I think this might be.

Stop by and visit us at Hampton Photography when you have the chance.