I am the father of a 13-year-old son and lately it’s been a little rough. He is in the early stages of a developmental period that is referred to in psychological circles as the “second individuation.” The first “individuation” commonly happens at about 5 years old when boys work hard to separate from “mommy” and look to dad as the model of all things masculine. This is when dad becomes “Superhero” as in: “my dad is faster/stronger/smarter than your dad.”

As we all know, this idealization comes to a screeching halt not longer after puberty hits. It’s a bummer, too, because I really like being idealized. Well, at least compared to “deidealization”, another psych term for, you guessed it, the deconstruction of dad as Superhero and the reconstruction of dad as moron.

For the record, my son is a beautiful young man; handsome, kind, smart and funny. He’s a great athlete, he has many friends and he seems to be navigating the hormonal rollercoaster of puberty with a lot of grace and poise. At least he’s doing better than me.

Lately I find myself biting at everything he casts, responding automatically and emotionally rather than from the higher ground of understanding and with an empathy for the reality of the circumstances. I’m not suggesting I should be an automaton or a pushover but it serves me well to remember that I am his primary target right now because, though he loves me greatly, he has to normalize me if he’s going to normalize his own experience; if he’s going to separate from his parents well as he formulates and establishes his own identity.

And this brings me to yesterday at the beach. As my son was surfing my wife and I decided to throw the frisbee. A few minutes later he joined our game and asked me to throw to him as he dove into the waves. Following a few successful connections – well-timed throws and leaps resulting in thrilling last-minute catches before being pummelled by the waves – it hit me with a blinding flash of the obvious that I have forgotten to emphasize the single greatest opportunity I have to stay “close enough” to my son during this transition: I have forgotten about the power of simple connections.

For many dads and sons, the language of connection is spoken through many literal and repetitive acts of connection. Throwing, catching, hitting and shooting – me to you, you to me, from here to there and so on – are the shared actions through which we have established masculine intimacy and meaningful relationship. As we tossed the frisbee yesterday, celebrating our hits and laughing off our misses, I remembered that reality and welcomed the simple respite from the biological and psychological forces that are hard at work in reshaping our relationship for the shared joys and struggles yet to come.

A leadership corollary: I have yet to read the results of an employee engagement survey that doesn’t include strong statistical and anecdotal data describing the desire for more access to and interaction with senior management and more recognition for contributions to organizational goals. In short, people are repeatedly and consistently asking for more connection; simple, intimate and sincere connection – the corporate equivalent of a game of catch – that demonstrates that leaders see employees as human beings hungry to make a meaningful contribution to something worthy of their best efforts.

It seems to me that simple and consistent connection, grounded in empathy and humility, is as crucial for fathers and sons as it is for leaders and followers. Guess who has to go first?

Telephone Poles, Fence Posts and Railroad Ties


I routinely make the mistake of downloading hundreds of podcasts to my iPhone because I have no clue how to successfully navigate the new iTunes interface. The old one was fine and I am slow to change. So be it. (Yes, I am a curmudgeon in training.)

One of my favorite podcasts is This American Life by Ira Glass. Since it usually airs on Sunday afternoons I rarely hear it live so the podcast is a God-send. Scrolling through my hundreds of unlistened-to recordings in the car the other day I came across this one: Episode 494 – Hit the Road. The first story is of a young man, Andrew Forsthoefel, who decides upon losing his job to walk from Philadelphia to the Pacific Ocean wearing a sign that says “Walking to Listen.” It’s an incredible, beautifully told adventure and one you deserve to hear for plenty of reasons and especially for his interview with a man named Otho Rogers of Melrose, NM.

At age 73, Mr. Rogers reflects ruefully and honestly on the passage of time and his personal loss of physical ability. You ache with him when he describes the shame of having to climb a fence rail to mount his horse when all he wants is to be able to get his foot in the stirrup and haul himself up the way he used to do without a thought or a care.

Mr. Rogers thoughtfully describes our shifting perspective on time as the difference between viewing telephone poles, fence posts and railroad ties as you drive along the road. The longer we live the less space there is between each marker and that the accelerating vehicle that is our life in the span of time gets moving so quickly that the railroad ties of everyday existence become a blur of activity speeding to the certainty of our final moments.

We come to know in a real and often painful way that time is both unstoppable and completely unsympathetic to our plight: that we have what we have and how we spend it is completely up to us.

And to that end, Mr. Forsthoefel shares his own response to a question he asked of many people he met during his journey: what advice would you give to your younger self?

His answer is a guide for all of us, whether we are counting by poles, posts or ties.

You know exactly what to do.

There’s no need to be afraid.

Keep walking.

How to Be Invisible

There’s a lot to learn when you’re in transition. If you’re like me you don’t want to spend too much time actually learning it though, because well, you know, you’re in transition. And that alone is plenty awkward on plenty of days. I find that taking the stance of a dispassionate, objective observer of my own experience during this particular experience is particularly difficult. There are moments of insight, however, and this is one of them:

I’m learning what it feels like to become invisible. And, not in a superhero kinda way. It feels a little naive to say that I didn’t expect to disappear, at least a little bit, after making this change but I guess I wasn’t aware of just how much the sloughing off of an old skin can leave you unrecognizable to yourself.

I know this feeling of disappearance isn’t a permanent condition but if I wanted it to be, here’s how I would go about it:

1. Be someone else’s brand. I was walking through the airport the other day when I realized with some embarrassment  that nearly everything I was wearing and holding – luggage, briefcase, shoes and attire – was branded by my former employer. It took me a lot of years to acquire all of that stuff and there’s really no good reason, in my situation, to get rid of it. What once felt like loyalty and commitment now just feels awkward and obsessive. Here were the vestiges of an old life coming together to remind me how penetrating that life was and how much it is no longer. I suppose our identities are a bigger product of our affiliations than I care to admit.

2. Spend more time listening to other voices than you do to your own. Through the generosity of friendship – caring, supportive and thoughtful – many, many people have offered the help of insight, ideas and perspective. It’s humbling. And, it’s useful. It’s also a place to get lost. To lose your own voice. It reminds me a bit of the title of Truman Capote’s book, “Other Voices, Other Rooms.” There’s always another voice in another room available to “talk it over” and “hash it out” and “think it through.” And, there’s a point at which that becomes a seductive exercise that feels productive and creative but ultimately can become a holding pattern; a clever form of procrastination. “Maybe this next conversation will be the one that breaks the logjam of ideas and possibilities?” Probably not. Because at some point you just have to sit down and do the work. (See “The War of Art“)

3. Give in to your vices. Let’s face it, transition brings up all kinds of vulnerability and uncertainty. It’s exactly the time to comfort ourselves with, well, comfort. Another drink, a little more dessert, another movie, another show, sleeping late. None of this is bad stuff. It’s just bad stuff when it becomes the rule, instead of the exception. Transition is incredibly useful as a time to form new disciplines of physical and emotional renewal. It’s just a hell of a time to get them in place and make them stick. It’s so easy to think that “with all this free time I be able to do all this great stuff I’ve been wanting to do.” Like reading, meditating, exercise, etc. In my experience it’s much, much easier to do that when bound by the parameters of a working day which forces the creative use of time and energy.

4. Be hard on yourself. Beat yourself up for your need to maintain a connection to your old company, that old brand., because it reminds you of your contribution and your value. Criticize yourself for your need to talk to everyone you know to seek input, understanding and ideas about what’s next because doing so deepens your own thinking and opens you to new insights. Allow the voices of guilt to be the loudest when you indulge your desire for a little more of the good stuff, relaxing into the truth that you do have this day in which to be however you want and need to be.

If you want to become and stay invisible this is exactly what you should do.

Every Good Boy Does Fine

“There’s a labyrinth of voices inside your head, a counterpoint of self-awareness and the remembered sayings of your guides and mentors, who don’t always agree. Sometimes you wish you could go back and ask your teachers again to guide you; but up there onstage, exactly where they always wanted you to be, you must simply find your way. They have given all the help they can; the only person who can solve the labyrinth of yourself is you.”  

(From the New Yorker article, Every Good Boy Does Fine, by pianist Jeremy Denk)

Precisely seven weeks ago today was the first day of the next chapter of my professional life. I declared, both in word and deed, to myself, my family and all who would listen that I was stepping into new territory; pulled forward by the energy and possibility of the unknown…accelerated by my own evolving awareness of the limited window of opportunity to make the impact I want to make in the way I want to make it.

Sitting here in my newly fashioned home office looking out on a perfectly brilliant spring afternoon, I reflect with gratitude on my guides and mentors and how diligently, patiently and considerately they have influenced me to get to this place. I am on my own path to mastery because of them and the most important lesson they taught me: that until I learned to look within, to go below the surface of myself and wrestle with and reconcile myself to what I found there, I would continue to grant authority over my life to others rather than claiming it for myself.

I freely admit that there are days when I don’t want the freedom I have earned; that there is great temptation to bask in the guidance of those I have looked up to for so long. And, that if I hold those relationships where they are for just a little longer, I’ll eke out just a little more wisdom and just a little more confidence for the path ahead.

But that’s an old voice tempting me back to the safety of the known. And it’s much softer now. And getting softer every day.

This boy will be fine.

Making it up as you go…

Inspired by a friend who occasionally decides that she’s a “real” artist and treats herself to the “good” paint.


The problem with life is that there is no playbook. You arrive on the field and, if you’re lucky, some nice people take care of you for a while and then, when you’re old enough you venture off to another part of the field and see what you can make of yourself. Still no playbook but thoughts of possibilities abound. And, after a while longer you figure out that in many ways it’s easy; that most people “get it” and, because they do they drive on the right side of the road, pay their bills and even hold the door open for you once in a while.

And then you decide to pursue one of those possibilities you dreamt up and you learn that it’s not so easy as you thought. Because now you’re operating outside of the accepted behaviors of the many. You’re hanging out on a part of the field that few if any have visited before. And this is where it gets interesting because now you have a decision to make: will you stay long enough to sort it out, to make it up as you go and normalize this place? Will you keep discovering new parts of the field or will you retreat towards what you know because, after all, it’s what you know? And, like most of those who have come this way before you decide to go back. And you feel pretty good about it because it’s predictable and understandable and it allows you to fit in with the rest of the gang who are operating from the same set of rules.

Until they’re not.

Because of course what you weren’t banking on is that the rules you accepted as a “given” can change with more impact and velocity than you can possibly imagine. And they will. And they do. And now you’re wondering which was the better deal: blindly expecting the known to remain the known so you can feel the false sense of safety you have learned to crave or risking the responsibility of defining a new set of rules in an unknown territory, scaring yourself to death by the possibility of utter loss but wondering if that’s not the point of the whole experience anyway.

The joy of life is that there is no playbook. You arrive on the field and, if you’re lucky, some nice people take care of you for a while and then, when you’re old enough you venture off to another part of the field and see what you can make of yourself. And you learn that you can create and so you keep venturing out, determining new rules as you go, experiencing new things, engaging new people, discovering new abilities and passions. And you begin to feel a powerful discomfort with the seduction of the known and you find yourself straddling two worlds; one beckoning you back, the other calling you forward.

And you get to decide. And it’s the most important decision of your life.

Meditation: Week One

It is said that meditation rewires the brain. I assume they mean for the better but one can never be sure about these things. What I do know is that Deepak Chopra has the greatest guided meditation voice ever. I am one-week into his 21-day “Meditation Challenge” called “Creating Abundance” and his voice alone is worth the effort. This guy is one smooth talker.

The arrangement is quite appealing for the beginner; the meditator-in-training. Each day is a brief, 15-minute guided meditation which begins with at least 5 minutes of introduction by Deepak, maybe 8 minutes of ACTUAL meditation (I can’t be sure because I’m so entranced…well, sort of) and a couple of minutes of wrap-up which includes a centering thought for the day.

It should be noted that I have been a meditation skeptic for some time now. I’m also the leading candidate for a consistent meditative practice: high-strung, high blood pressure, intense, competitive, impatient and a very active “voice in the head.” Like I said: a LEADING candidate and thus completely resistant. And, it’s probably a huge statement about where I am in life right now (MAJOR transition combined with a rapid approach toward a slightly mid-40’s birthday) but the time finally seemed right to give it shot and I found a great resource with which to do it.

And lets not forget that Deepak calls it the 21-day Meditation “CHALLENGE.” That word has a magical, overwhelmingly powerful effect on me. Believe me when I tell you that I will complete the challenge. I’d finish first if that were possible…which is, of course, exactly why I need (at least) a little meditative experience in my day. The bigger question is, will I make it to day 22? Will I build a sustainable practice that goes beyond the “challenge” and becomes a central and centering part of my daily life?

Besides rewiring the brain (really, it’s for the better) there’s a whole bunch of research that suggests quite strongly that I’d be silly not to.  Meditation is really good for you. And, while I can’t report any obvious health impact after one week I can say that I absolutely relish the 15 minutes of sitting still, being quiet, breathing deeply and at least attempting to minimize the voice in my head.

Maybe, like with so many things, it’s the striving that yields the reward.


Stranger in a Strange Land

“Traveller, the path is your tracks
And nothing more.
Traveller, there is no path
The path is made by walking.
By walking you make a path
And turning, you look back
At a way you will never tread again
Traveller, there is no road
Only wakes in the sea.”

Antonio Machado

Being in transition feels weird. It feels incredibly odd to be in a completely new situation professionally and yet have all of my surroundings remain familiar. This is still my house; these are still my children; these are still my clothes; that is still my dog. And, yet it all looks and feels so different. Different because that is NOT still my job. That place I made tracks to and from every day for nearly eight years is no longer my place. Those responsibilities are no longer my responsibilities. Those politics are no longer my politics. Those victories, those losses; those aspirations and those complexities; no longer mine.

I am out of my body just a little bit. Just enough to feel the disequilibrium of the change. I walked away willingly and with purpose, but that doesn’t mean I am clear, confident or confirmed in my new venture. I am in progress. I am discovering that everything that is the same no longer looks the same because I am seeing it with new eyes. The eyes of someone who must see the world anew if I am to be in it in a new way.

I am in the world in a new way. I am a stranger to it and it to me. It is stunning to me how much possibility there is in a new beginning. That must be why I feel stunned.

I am a traveller on a new path. This is my path. These are my tracks.

Here I go.

Here I come.