Category Archives: Uncategorized

It’s About Time

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If you ever feel like time keeps slipping away from you, avoid Saturday night when Daylight Savings Time snags a full hour without so much as a please or thank you. The big jerk.

I know, I know, it donated a free hour half a year ago, which I celebrated at the time, so this is just time to settle up. Doesn’t mean I have to like it. I try to make good use of all the hours I get in this blessed life, but it is kind of hard to keep up when they just disappear without a trace.

So here is my plan: I’m going to take it back. Ha! Try to mess with me, Mr. Time; you don’t know who you’re messing with. I’ll play along, change my clocks, actually show up to work on time, like everything is cool, but when no one is looking I’m going to take an hour all Harry Potter like, just out of thin air, and do something awesome with it and rub it in Time’s face. The big jerk.

I haven’t decided exactly what I will do with this reclaimed hour, but I have a few ideas. Like a mountain hike. Or people watch. Or count stars. Or play goofy games with children. Or savor an ice cream sundae. Or, just sit and feel the ocean breeze. Whatever it is, it won’t make sense or be productive or check anything off a list. It will be something excellent, and it will drive Time crazy since it seems hell bent on stealing precious hours from me. The big jerk.

If time slips away from me, I think I’ll just take it right back.

#winning

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We live in a world of competition.

This weekend, a mind-boggling number of people will tune in to see who wins and loses when Jimmy Fallon hosts the Golden Globes a few miles down the road at the Beverly Hilton.  Since I watch more football than movies, I will be more interested in the winners and losers of the College Football Championship and the wildcard round of the NFL playoffs.  Whatever your fancy, there is a competition for it—just look at the ridiculous number of reality competition shows on seemingly every network, e.g., Cupcake Wars; America’s Next Top Model; Last Comic Standing; The Bachelor/ette; Whisker Wars (yes, that was a real show).

And why should it surprise us that a former reality show celebrity emphasized “winning” so much in his shockingly successful presidential campaign?

Our entire social order is based on competition.  Our justice system is adversarial with the thought that the fight to win will produce just results.  Our economic system is designed to pit businesses against one another so that prices are lowered and products are improved.  Our political system sets parties against one another to determine the will of the majority and promote compromise.  And sports and entertainment?  Well, again, just turn on your television.

We live in a world of competition.

Even if I thought competition was a bad idea, any attempt to speak against it would be a losing battle (Ha!).  Competition is apparently inherent to human existence, but it sure makes it hard to promote love for and cooperation with others in a world that teaches us to see each other as competitors.  What’s a blogger to do?

In 2011, actor Charlie Sheen had a public meltdown and in a series of bizarre statements famously declared that he was “winning” and created one of the more popular Twitter hashtags to date.  Unwittingly, he also may have solved my dilemma.  You can apparently redefine what it means to win!

So here’s my proposal: Be a winner, sure, but first pick a battle that is worth the struggle and then carefully consider how to calculate true success.

Thoughts From a Side Show

side-show-2I confess that I primarily attended the Conejo Players Theatre production of Side Show on Saturday evening because my friend and colleague, Randi, had a leading role, which is plenty reason to go because she is uber-talented, but my wife was sick and needed to stay home so I probably would have missed the show had it not featured Randi.

And I confess that Side Show did not have a great run on Broadway.  Its initial run in the 1990s did not catch on, nor did its attempt at revival a couple of years ago, so the name of the musical just doesn’t have much of a draw.

But I’m sure glad I went.

Side Show is a musical loosely based on the lives of conjoined twins, Daisy and Violet Hilton (1908-1969).  It is a sad but important story.  Randi and her “twin” were phenomenal in pulling off their demanding roles—imagine singing/acting/dancing/costume changing with someone literally joined at the hip!  More importantly, they effectively led their audiences to consider what it is like to be a “freak” on display.  Spoiler: It is not a life you would choose.

While we can all relate to feeling different, by very definition most of us spend more time staring at anomalies than being one.  From the homeless to the celebrities to all stops in between, all whose very existence creates material for stand-up comics have a unique challenge in this particular life, and it is easier to point, laugh, stare, critique, and/or avoid them than to pause and consider what it must be like—not to mention pause to get to know, care about, and dare I say love—those unique human beings we prefer to remain as caricatures.

My favorite moment in the musical came at the end of the first act when the twins led the “freaks” in a song titled, “Who Will Love Me As I Am?”  I think that is a question endemic to human existence.  Most of us find a safe and comfortable spot in this world to locate an answer, but not everyone does.

My deep thanks to Randi and the cast of Side Show for reminding me that everyone deserves an answer.

Reality Check

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Virtual reality is all the rage, and an interesting phenomenon for sure, but reality itself is weird enough for me.  Last week’s business trip provided plenty of proof.

For instance, while watching baseball in a New York City hotel I saw a commercial hawking Chia Clinton and Chia Trump for twenty bucks a pop (Trump is winning that race 79% to 21% at present).  This was immediately followed by a commercial promoting an online dating service just for overweight people.  I’d say you can’t make this stuff up, but the point is that people do.  A few days earlier, I visited the president of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, which is crazy enough, but also had the chance to hold Brett Favre’s Hall of Fame ring before it was presented to him at Lambeau Field yesterday.  Who needs virtual reality?

But the best part of the crazy business trip was connecting with Jon Wood, an old college roommate, who seems a little unreal in the one-of-a-kind sense but appears to have us all beat on what it actually means to be real.

Jon never meets a stranger.  No, you have no idea, Jon never meets a stranger.  He talks to anyone.  And everyone.  I’m sorry, but I can tell that you don’t get it.  He talks to EV-ER-Y-ONE.  No exceptions.  In the less than twenty-four hours I spent with Jon last week, I met multiple members of a country club, the entire staff at Diamond Deli, work colleagues at Bridgestone Americas, his elderly barber (no haircut, just stopped in to say hello), a friend that staffs a parking lot in downtown Cleveland, the bartender where we stopped for dinner, and every staff member at a Cleveland Cavaliers preseason game (who got a fist bump from Jon whether they wanted it or not).  Half of the people met Jon for the first time, while the other half met him with a massive smile as if he was their very best friend.  I know Jon, so none of this surprised me, but each time I am fascinated by his approach to this precious life we all get a chance to play.

Jon is a successful attorney with a wonderful family and much to admire from any vantage point, but what I admire the most is that to Jon every human being he encounters is someone with boundless dignity and worth getting to know regardless of appearance, age, income, race, education, or any other category that normal folks use to decide whether someone is worthy of interaction.

Who knows, I might end up the biggest fan of virtual reality, but as I sit here today and see pictures of people wearing goofy googles the size of car batteries reaching out for something that isn’t there, I vote for Jon’s approach of experiencing reality by actually seeing everyone he meets with eyes (and heart) wide open.

Future Friends

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hk4I fiercely disagree with Donald Trump’s assertion that the firestorm surrounding his 2005 remarks “is nothing more than a distraction” and strongly believe that the resulting conversations on misogyny and sexual assault (not to mention presidential choices) are significant and important.

Same time, somewhere in the neighborhood of a thousand people are dead in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, and as a survivor/veteran/victim of Hurricane Katrina who was a beneficiary of intense public attention and the resulting flood of love and support, my thoughts are especially with those grieving families and all who have suffered from the storm.

Last week, as Matthew grew in intensity, our good friend, Hung, shared a sweet Facebook post that featured a picture from 2005 of cute kiddos working a lemonade stand at Pepperdine University for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.  It touched my heart since the cute kiddos in that picture eventually became friends, classmates, and youth group buddies of our youngest daughter who lost the only house she had ever known in that storm two thousand miles away.  Who could have imagined that years later those same kids would be fast friends?  I am certain that the money collected that day did not specifically rescue us from our homelessness, but as I looked at that picture, in my mind it was as direct a connection as if they had hand-delivered the cash seen sitting in that Tupperware container.

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the great needs in this world and the inability to address them all.  As a recovered victim with the luxury of looking back, I can say that the sentiment expressed in both the Quran and the Talmud that whoever saves one life saves them all rings true.  And if we ever need extra motivation to take action, imagining that your pocket change will directly benefit someone you will come to know and love just might do the trick—even more so if you can sense how it will touch the heart of your Future Friend.

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I Have Seen the Enemy, and It Is Email

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I occasionally offer a rant on how email may be destroying the universe, which a few hundred of you appropriately receive by email as encouraged by yours truly.  The word sanctimonious describes me if just to give hypocrite a break.

But, still, I believe that email may be destroying the universe!  And although it would surprise us all, I may be an actual prophet.  A hypocritical, sanctimonious prophet for sure, but a prophet nonetheless.

I shared a Harvard Business Review article in March that proposed the elimination of email.  The latest issue of TIME magazine offered a mini-article titled, “Why we’re addicted to email—and how to fix it.”  The Atlantic shared a video last week that explained “How an Editor Stays at Inbox Zero.”

Though I’m sensing a growing recognition of the problem, I have yet to hear much of a solution.  The TIME article’s conclusion as to how to fix an addiction to email is that “we must learn to say no to some opportunities, in order to say yes to our priorities.”  There you go addicts, problem solved!  And The Atlantic‘s video was all about how to email efficiently (i.e., three sentence emails or fewer; dispense with a salutation, etc.).  Sorry, but increased efficiency simply tells me that I can (must?) handle more volume.

So what to do?

  • Step #1: Recognize the problem. It is growing and powerful.
  • Step #2: Rant about it in appropriate places. I have found that email works well.  (Ha!)
  • Step #3: Adopt all preliminary suggestions you find in magazines. In other words, do your best not to drown while waiting for help to arrive.
  • Step #4: Come up with a miraculous solution. I’m still fleshing out how this step works but feel good about its substance.

Hate to post and run, but I need to go work on a miraculous solution.  First, I should check my email.

For Leaders and Followers

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“I really knew I wanted to be Adam, because Adam was the first man. Ant I chose because, if there’s a nuclear explosion, the ants will survive.” – Adam Ant

It is my great honor to hang out with Pepperdine’s men’s and women’s cross country teams once a week and share a short spiritual message at one of their early morning practices.  Go Waves!  The team boasts impressive athletes, students, and people, and as college students listening to me at half past six in the a.m., they are also generous in not telling me to take a hike.

This year I am generally sharing some message from the Book of Proverbs, which is straight out cheating since I am teaching Proverbs to a class of graduate students in our condo each Sunday morning.  I think even Proverbs would applaud my resourcefulness.  Proverbs often uses observations from the natural world to encourage wisdom, and this week I used its lessons learned from watching ants.  Not the DreamWorks movie.  Actual ants.

Brief interlude for an ant joke: What do you call an ant from overseas?  (Pause for effect…)

Important.

Ha!  That’s okay, college students don’t think I am funny either.

So Proverbs chapter six uses the ant to teach initiative, i.e., it looks like no one is telling an ant to get to work, but it gets to work anyway.  (Translation to athletes: Do what is right without waiting for your coach to tell you what to do.)  And Proverbs chapter six uses the ant to teach against procrastination, i.e., an ant collects food in the summer so that it has something to eat in the winter.  (Translation to athletes: Don’t wait until race day to train!)

But in the spirit of Proverbs, I kept observing the ant to see what other lessons might be hiding there.  Well, actually I googled “lessons from ants” and let someone else do the heavy lifting for me.  Again, resourcefulness!

Researchers at the University of Bristol observed that when an ant discovered a new food source it went back to the colony to show everyone the way.  As it led the others back, there was a predictable gap between leader and follower, but when the leader was too far in front of the pack, the leader ant would slow down to make sure the follower stayed engaged.  And when the gap closed completely, the follower ant would metaphorically give the leader a kick in the butt to widen the gap again.

I think this is important for everyone.  For those times in your life when you are the leader, don’t get so far in front that you lose touch with those coming along behind.  Your job is to bring others along with you, not set a land speed record.  And for those times in your life when you are the follower, encourage your leader to stay out in front.  Your job is not just to follow—your responsibility also includes spurring the leader on toward the destination.

Either way, leading or following, you have good work to do.

An Opinion That Matters

68th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards - Show

LOS ANGELES, CA – SEPTEMBER 18: Actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus accepts Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for ‘Veep’ onstage during the 68th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 18, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

We watched the Emmy Awards last Sunday evening only later to learn that it experienced the worst ratings ever for the show.  This demonstrates my personal sense of timing.  Watching the star-studded event also confirmed my complete ignorance of popular television shows.  For instance, I didn’t know that O.J. Simpson had a new reality show that pits everyone against him, and apparently there is a popular game show all about thrones.  I have a lot of catching up to do.

At the Emmys, Jimmy Kimmel was funny what with his peanut butter and jelly sandwich distribution shtick, and Henry Winkler did a fine job hosting the touching annual tradition of the in memoriam video.  But to me, the most poignant moment of the evening came when Julia Louis-Dreyfus accepted the award for outstanding lead actress in a comedy series (for Veep—it turns out that is a television show, too).

The legendary actress’s speech was funny and to be honest pretty typical until the very end when she broke down in tears and said, “I’d like to dedicate this to my father, William Louis-Dreyfus, who passed away on Friday.  I’m so glad he liked Veep because his opinion was the one that really mattered.”

Louis-Dreyfus’s speech apparently struck a chord with an awful lot of people despite the record-low number of viewers.  Her speech led many to tweet expressions of sadness to famed actor, Richard Dreyfuss, wrongly assuming that he was Julia’s father, which is actually sort of funny.  Almost as funny as tweeting someone you think died two days earlier.

But her sweet statement begs a sincere question: Whose opinion really matters to you?  I suspect that the true answer to that question involves a really small number of folks, but I also suspect that we live as if that number is massive.  We are more than a little screwy.

If I can be so bold, I suggest taking some time to consider the real answer to that question—and live accordingly.

Spinning Plates

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“Have patience.  All things are difficult before they become easy.” – Saadi

Some days when life is particularly challenging I search Monster.com for openings with the circus, but since scooping elephant poop is less attractive than pretty much anything, I rarely finish the cover letter.  There is one circus art directly in my wheelhouse—plate spinning.  However, it is the constant challenge of keeping plates spinning that makes me consider the circus in the first place.

Life has been particularly full recently, which is one way to describe a plate count.  This isn’t the first time, nor do I anticipate it being (or even want it to be) the last, but it does feel different, and that difference eventually came clear: Not only are there many plates spinning, but various life developments have created plate spinning performances in multiple rooms for multiple audiences.  It isn’t the plate spinning act that is challenging: It is the running back and forth between acts that is difficult.

You may not believe me when I say that this is neither complaint nor cry for help.  But this is neither a complaint nor a cry for help.  It really is okay, more than okay, and I find the challenge exhilarating despite some periodic exhaustion.  I’m just adjusting to a new understanding that I am a plate spinning artist who is working on a new act and that people will pay good money for a ticket and some cotton candy to enjoy the show.  I’m just honored to be on stage.

New circumstances often come with a bonus gift of questioning whether it is worth the effort.  As a general rule, it is at least worth the effort to practice patience to see where the new circumstances lead.

I am certain there is no need to join the circus.  My life is already a bizarre, traveling show!

On This Date: 09/16/16

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First, and importantly, Happy National Guacamole Day!

On this date in 1620 the Mayflower set sail from England with Captain Christopher Jones and crew and their 102 passengers.  About half lived long enough to step foot on land again.

On this date in 1810 a Roman Catholic priest rang the church bells in Dolores, Mexico, and urged the people to revolt and launched the war that led to Mexico’s independence from Spain.

On this date in 1908, at age forty-six, William C. Durant invested $500,000 to create General Motors.  Durant went bankrupt during the Great Depression and reportedly ended up managing a bowling alley in Flint, Michigan, in his eighties.

On this date in 1959 Xerox introduced the first copy machine to the world on live television.  The 914 model featured “scorch eliminators” since they periodically burst into flames and marketers thought that the word “fire” in fire extinguisher was a bad idea.¹

On this date in 1970 yours truly was born in Arkansas, completing the little Sturgeon family.  Little me snagged the same birthday as legends like Lauren Bacall, B.B. King, Elgin Baylor, David Copperfield, and exactly one year later, Amy Poehler.

I find all of this interesting, particularly the part involving my birth.  But to be honest, I’m more interested in what will happen on this date.  Today.  September 16, 2016.

What will you do with this gift of a day?  Maybe you’ll do something to make the history books, but my hope is that you do something world-changing that won’t.  The greatest moments in life are those quiet treasures like investing time in the life of a child, getting to know someone different from you, sharing with someone who is living without, and lending your friendship to someone who is lonely.

We will all do something on this date, but once this day is in the books, will anyone care to remember?

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¹ Hemmungs Wirtén, Eva (2004). No Trespassing: Authorship, Intellectual Property Rights, and the Boundaries of Globalization. University of Toronto Press. p. 61.