Jeff initially followed the career path that was expected of him. “When I was growing up, I wanted to be an English teacher. I really love language. I love reading. I love teaching. That was from a very early age. But that wasn’t good enough for my father. You couldn’t make any money as an English teacher. And to him, money was success. And he expected me to be successful.” So Jeff went to business school and worked on Wall Street for 20 years.
Navigating Wall Street was “soul-sucking work… What I realized is I never really felt at home in that space. It was the land of fear and intimidation management, where you really tried to make people feel smaller than they were in order to get them to do what you wanted them to. And I just didn’t accept that.”
While he was unhappy working on Wall Street, the idea of starting his career over again after 20 years was daunting. “It was a very challenging thing for me to go through because I had spent a career doing this. And the idea of starting over really wasn’t very appealing to me. It made me miserable just considering that. And that’s what really led me towards coaching.”
But, before Jeff went into coaching, he led a startup that “raised money to build affordable housing. I was the COO, which meant that I got to create my own culture. So I created an organization that was very flat.”
A flat organization gets rid of traditional hierarchical structures and middle management. He explains, “you’ve got people that are really client-facing that are doing all the work. And then you’ve got a very thin management layer over them, just making sure…the goals of the organization are being…addressed.”
One of the benefits of adopting a flat organization was, “Everybody had a say in what it was that we did. Everybody was respected for their opinion.”
This experience challenged Jeff to cultivate his skills to co-create with his team. “People are coming to me with questions that I have no experience from which to answer. So I became really good at asking them good questions knowing that they had the answers within themselves. So we co-created this organization between us where I’ve got entry-level folks that are really passionate… And you know, there are challenges all over the place. But we gave each other the benefit of the doubt that this was a growth opportunity… And it ended up being an extraordinary experience.”
One of the challenges Jeff faced in this leadership role was working with a parent company who didn’t share the same leadership philosophy. So he had to convince them the investments they were making in developing a culture remarkably different from their own, were worthwhile. “One of the many things I learned on Wall Street was how to tell a good story…You can paint them this picture of reaching goals and achieving the greatest things and having a very progressive outcome at the end of this. If you give us money now, then this story will happen.”
Not only was this work more rewarding but the experience changed Jeff’s life. He started volunteering in prisons to teach entrepreneurship. “It really changed the way I went out into the world and what I felt I could contribute to the world for this sort of ‘second career.'”
This leadership opportunity was a stepping stone for Jeff to marry his passion for the great outdoors with his love of helping people. He founded the Logos Group in 2014 where he serves as the Backcountry Business Coach.
Jeff brings clients on backpacking trips because being in the great outdoors offers a unique opportunity for transformational growth. When Jeff takes leaders “into the backcountry, I could really get them away from the boxes that are so comfortable in the devices, the relationships, I could get them out of that space where they only have themselves to rely on. And I could guide them through that sort of self-discovery of their own so that when I took them back into civilization, they would really understand who they were as a human. They would understand that we’re all humans, and then…they would start to treat everybody that they interacted with as humans as well.”
One of the benefits of Backcountry Coaching is “when you go back into the real world if you will, and you realize that you can do anything. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
These trips also help clients become more aware of their different modes of thinking. Jeff explains, “One of the things I really try and help leaders understand is the difference between the thinking they do and the thinking that comes to them… We really have these two sources of thought, if you will, our experience of the world in and of itself is based on thoughts. One is our prefrontal cortex our intellect where we sit, we think, we turn. We’ve got this phenomenal analytical and computational tool at our disposal… And then there’s this other space of presence and consciousness where thinking just kind of comes to us… If we can back out of our thinking process, and sort of take a deep breath and avail ourselves to the present moment, these amazing things come to us.”
Jeff doesn’t just teach this work, he’s applied it to his own life and business. Differentiating between the two modes of thought also requires disentangling your ego. “When I first went out on my own as a consultant. It’s not an easy road being an entrepreneur; selling something called coaching. People don’t are used to buying coaching, they are used to buying pants, right?… When I would come across frustrating experiences, my ego would tell me, this isn’t for me, I need to go find another job… I would tell my ego just go sit over there, I’m okay. And I would just be filled with this rush of clarity of peace that I was making the right decision I was being true to myself just by having that little conversation around what my ego thought I should do to protect myself.”
We concluded the interview by exploring what co-creating means in his work now. “We have the choice from the beginning, whether to see ourselves as the victim of our circumstances or as a co-creator of our life…. I really try and help clients create for themselves as opposed to seeing themselves as victims…Most people come to me with a transformation for themselves in mind… It’s really a lot of working with them to help them create what that vision really is for themselves to get all the excess thinking, all the ego speak out of the way, so they can really get attuned to who they are and what’s really driving their internal why and then creating a life for them from that space.”
Jeff’s passion and wisdom in this interview is sure to inspire entrepreneurs and leaders to take action to free themselves of the thinking they do so they may gain insights from the thinking that comes to them!
Nietzsche is quoted as saying, “To live is to suffer. To survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.”
But what if the suffering itself was optional? What if you can shift your mindset to look forward instead of back?
This concept is what today’s guest, Jeff Kinsey, and your host, Stu Swineford, have in store for you.
Jeff is the Founder of The Logos Group, an organization specializing in strategic planning and executive coaching to help anyone live their best lives. He also volunteers with Breakthrough that works with incarcerated individuals to help them prepare for reintegration into society. Jeff went from trying to justify making rich people richer to giving people a home that they had never had before.
This is a fantastic conversation jam-packed with concepts you can apply to bring peace and fulfillment to your life.
My guest is Jeff Kinsey, the Founder and CEO of The Logos Group. They provide strategic planning and executive coaching to people in the nonprofit space as well as purpose-focused organizations and leaders, trying to help people figure out how to change their mindset, how to make sure that they’re working at their best so that they can help the most effective leader possible. He does this through a variety of cool means and techniques, including sometimes going out in the woods with his coachees and spending some time wandering around and talking about their mission. We had a great time talking with one another. We both love the outdoors and love being able to supercharge our impact and ability to help others. He’s a great guy. I hope you enjoy the show. I certainly did. Here we go.
I appreciate you meeting me down here in beautiful Colorado. We were both doing that mountain thing. We’re trying to figure out bandwidth, internet and all that fun stuff. It’s always a challenge. Thanks for meeting me here.
It works out perfectly. We get to sit across from each other and talk.
It’s great. I’m excited to have you share your story, how you help nonprofits navigate the space and make leaders of all types better leaders. That’s what your jam is.
That’s what I try to make it at least. There’s a bit of arrogance in there that I try to avoid but I had this experience of my first career, where I worked for Wall Street banks for twenty years. I tell the story about how banks don’t produce anything but they persuade people. They end up being a laboratory for how to engage effectively with people. I learned in my twenty years how people work effectively together and then how we work intrinsically as well.
Being able to take that experience and apply it to the nonprofit ecosystem here in Denver. We have a lot of folks that are very passionate about what they do. They don’t necessarily have a high level of business acumen. At the end of the day, you are faced with doing a lot of things themselves, a lot of stress and burnout. What I try and do is take these people’s skills that I developed working for banks and apply them to the nonprofit space to make sure that the people that are passionate about changing lives in the community continue to do that, don’t burn out and go back to the private sector.
There are so many great nonprofits in the area. Boulder is big with nonprofits. Denver has a huge nonprofit community and many purpose-driven leaders as well. It feels like there are so many businesses, mine included that started with an idea, didn’t do the stuff upfront and then you’re 2 or 3 years in it’s like, “What am I supposed to be doing here?” Having someone on your team at an early phase of that growth can be such an important thing to engage. When did you move away from banking?
That was years ago. I’d taken about twenty years moved around various banks, trying to find a culture that resonated with me. It was a challenge. What I found instead was that there were a lot of folks doing the same thing that I was. Trying to find someplace where they felt like they could make a difference where they were valued and where the suggestions they had would be taken seriously. In the banking world when you’ve got 40 layers of management, any idea is a risk.
Find a work culture that resonates with you, a place where you could make a difference.
It’s something that’s for the most part be avoided. I never found a home in that space. We would always try and talk ourselves into some level of satisfaction with helping rich people get richer. That didn’t do it for me. When I got out of banking and got into raising money to build affordable housing, that changed my life completely. I went from trying to justify making rich people richer to giving people a home that never had a home before. That was extraordinary to see that impact.
That led me to look into how I could apply the skillset that I have and the things I know to help other nonprofit leaders like that. I started volunteering in prison, teaching children entrepreneurship in prison, helping an organization that does that to do it more effectively and transition through a leadership change that they were going through. I found that there’s this fantastic space here in Denver that’s very intimate in the nonprofit world. Everybody knows everybody. Everybody’s there to help each other out. We’re all trying to make the community a better place for all its members.
I spent a little bit of time looking into the prison non-profit area that you’re working in. Tell us a little bit more about that. It’s interesting the work that you’re doing.
I appreciate that. I can’t take credit for it other than it was something that spoke to me. I try to live my life to not succumb to fear. If I get afraid of something, I like to go at it. Maximum security prison was one of those things that I had some fear around. When the opportunity presented itself to get involved, I jumped on it.
My background in business and entrepreneurship, being able to help folks that are being released, not go back again. If I could help them with a skillset where they could at least have the confidence to go out and get a job, let alone start a business, I was all over that opportunity. What I found when I went into prison was it’s this incredible well of the human spirit. I’ve become a human spirit junkie. I love to go in and meet these incredible men and women that have a lot to add to the community. For whatever reason some institutional racism, they don’t have that opportunity to add the value that they want to the community.
It’s interesting how as a society, we look at prison as punishment as well as serving his time as opposed to cleaning the slate. That’s not how it works for most of the people who go into that system. They come out, still ostracized and aren’t able to get jobs. They are constantly having to say, “Yes, I’ve had a felony.” That keeps them from getting hired. You’ve done your time. We should be getting people to give that next chance or hopefully 2nd, maybe 3rd or even 4th chances in our society. That’s how it’s supposed to work but it’s frustrating that it doesn’t work that way. It’s cool to hear how you’re helping with skill-building while they are incarcerated after the fact. How’s the program set up?
It’s a combination of both. The idea is 90% of these folks are going to get out. Who do you want to come out to? Is it the most rehabilitated person that understands themselves and doesn’t want to be part of that old life they put them in or do you want somebody that’s been forgotten and treated like an animal to come out and does something else that ends up going back in again? We would be better off if every member of our community is as strong as possible. We start on the inside. Try and focus on folks that have a chance of release in the next eight months because it’s an eight-month cohort type of program.
We’ll go inside and help them to develop business ideas, with interview skills, resume building and self-confidence at the end of the day. When they come out, they know they have some options. When they do get out, we have a post-release program as well to support them along the way. They get very little support on the way out. It’s a very daunting place on the outside. If you’ve been in a maximum-security prison for twenty years, you don’t know what the internet is. You come out and everything is internet-based. It’s like, “What do you do? How do you find a job? How do you interact with anybody on the outside?”
We try to provide a lot of support on the tactics of getting IDs, phones, computers and things like that and how to go about finding a job. Also, a lot of mental health support. It’s a terrifying place on the inside and outside. Trying to help these folks be as supported as possible so they know they have people that care about them and continue to provide skills to them to reintroduce them to the society where they want to be productive members.
Is your role mostly in the same capacity in terms of coaching, life skills, confidence and all of those things? Is that where you’re landing?
There’s this business-related piece. If somebody wants to start a business or even if somebody wants to get a job, there are the fundamental nuts and bolts of business plans, resumes and things like that. At the end of the day, the experience that we have is how we make meaning out of our circumstances through thought. That’s the coaching that I do, to help you or them understand what their options are within the way they experience life.
They don’t have to get all wrapped up in negative thinking about stuff that went wrong or what they did. They have a choice and options to let those thoughts go by and wait for the next one because we know there’s always the next thought. It might be better than the last one so why don’t we be curious about it and see what happens?
You certainly have the opportunity to create your reality in terms of the voice in your head. The voice in your head doesn’t have to be you. You have actual control over saying, “There’s that voice again. I’m going to choose to ignore it. I’m going to listen to it for a little while, laugh and have fun of it.” Maybe it’ll go away. It’s fascinating when you start to do that work and be able to experience how you can change the situation by how you approach and create it.
I can imagine that a lot of people are in these situations to say that they made a big mistake. There is some institutional racism, other classes and other things like that that put people in these positions where either they’re making big dumb decisions or being overly punished for some of these things. I’m sure a lot of these guys and gals sit with a lot of guilt and feelings of that stuff. Getting over that is a rewarding experience.
It’s tremendous to help somebody understand that the pain and suffering that they’ve been putting themselves through is optional. If they think about it from a little different perspective, put a little different light on it and look forward instead of back. It changes the way they could walk through life. They’re able to walk through life with a level of grace that they didn’t know was possible because they had been living in this world of turmoil without understanding that they were one thought away from being outside of that space.
For most people coming out of prison, are they looking for employment opportunities? Do a lot of them want to become entrepreneurs? Is it very similar on the outside?
That’s a fair way to look at it. When you’re released, you have nothing and you’re required through parole to have a job. You need to have some form of income or employment. There’s an initial push to find employment. Some organizations are very good at combining or batching up employers that are willing to hire folks with felonies with those folks. There’s a lot of training that goes on both sides of the coin there to help employers understand what it’s like to employ somebody that’s maybe have been incarcerated for some time and to help the employees understand what it’s like to work for somebody.
What we find is that people that have been released from prison are extremely good employees. They’re very loyal. The last thing they want to do is go back to prison. They also want to prove something. They want to prove that they’re not that representative of the biggest mistake they made in their life, that that’s not all they should be known for. They’re motivated to get out, get into the world and start making some money that comes from employment as opposed to starting a business.
It’s amazing the skillset that these guys have. We joke a bit about how they were running these large illicit organizations, oftentimes. There are entrepreneurs, managers, salesmen who have all these skillsets. Let’s take those things. Have some confidence that you were good at that and apply it to something legitimate. Maybe that’s starting a business. There’s a lot of support structure that’s out there for folks like that. If it’s that hard to find a job with a felony, imagine how hard it is to raise money with a felony. There are supports out there to help with that as well.
When you come out of this program, the business that you have decided to do a business plan on has to have certain requirements like a minimum cash investment requirement. It has to be something that turns cash over very quickly. These parameters are to set these folks up so when they get out, they have the best chance for success in the shortest period because the 10:00 is ticking as soon as they want.
The worst thing you can face as a human is the feeling of being trapped.
I had Tamra Ryan on. She’s from Women’s Bean Project. They did a ton of work in that similar space where they’re at least giving employment to women coming out of prison. It’s a buffer to get them trained up in terms of how to hold a job. All of the things that go into that are so foreign if you’ve been incarcerated for some time. It’s cool to hear another approach that’s also aligned with that idea of getting these people back into the workforce.
It all comes down to knowing that you have options. The worst thing you can face as a human is the feeling of being trapped. You get released, figured nobody wants to talk to you, employ you or deal with you. You have no options. It makes it easy to fall back into some of the things you might’ve done before, even though that’s what gave you twenty years of incarceration.
To be able to give them options could even be an understanding that, “I can do more than that,” is an option enough to keep people moving on a legitimate path. Women’s Bean is a great example of a support system. You learn a lot of skills but you also have supportive peers, people that have gone through the same thing. You don’t feel alone and feel like you’re trapped. You feel like you’ve got options and a team to support you to get there.
Are there opportunities for nonprofits to take leverage of this program in terms of bringing people on to help them fulfill their mission? One of the things that I’m curious about is there’s a certain level of fear from business owners and entrepreneurs who have businesses on bringing a formerly incarcerated person on to join their team. What are some of the tools or things that you can do to get past that or bring these people into their organizations?
A lot of the work that I’m doing at the organizational level is around the cultural derivation, understanding what the innate culture of your organization is. Part of that is understanding who your stakeholders are. “Who all is involved in this organization?” You’ve got board, EDs, staff, volunteers and then the people that you serve. What we’re learning is that the more the organization can represent the stakeholders that you serve, the better you are at serving that population.
There’s a push especially on the nonprofit side to try and make everything they do mirror the populations that they’re serving. They’re finding that diversity and inclusion work. You get a much more informed input into how to run the organization. The opportunities are out there. In the non-profit space in Denver, people are starting to look to where they can find other resources that can help build out the diversity and inclusion that they’re starting to understand that’s valuable.
There are a lot of experts that are in the space that understand how homeless employees and formerly incarcerated employees are treated differently. There are resources out there to help employers understand. These people are probably safer. They might show up a couple of minutes late here and there because their lives are so different than a normal 9:00 to 5:00.
You get up in your house and go off to work. That’s not the way these folks’ lives work. Having an understanding and then an empathy towards that helps. You have the experience. You hire somebody. It works better than you thought it would because your expectations were so low and then you’re like, “I want to hire some more of these folks because they are fantastic employees.”
There are opportunities for people in all sectors in tech, service and nonprofit. Are there people who match those positions in terms of skillsets?
There are. One of the primary firms that are out running around is a company called Honest Jobs. It is a high-tech, electronic billboard version of an employee database that is geared towards finding employment for the formerly incarcerated. It’s a broad database of folks looking for jobs and employers that understand the benefits of employing people that are formerly incarcerated or homeless.
It’s a wide range of industries. Tech is a big one. It is something where anybody can learn to code. There’s a lot of coding training that goes on in prisons so that folks can do that when they get released. There are a lot of traditional labor jobs too but it runs the gamut and some decent-paying jobs as well. There’s a wide variety of things for folks to do.
A lot of times we talk about mission alignment, whether that’s you bringing in a corporate sponsor to your nonprofit or even bringing in employees if there’s a way to align what you’re doing with that mission so there’s not a huge disconnect. That’s when the magic happens. If you are an organization that helps kids get into the outdoors, finding a corporate sponsor that would be aligned with that mission is a win-win for everybody versus bringing North Face to that equation rather than a bank. One of those makes a lot more sense than the other. If your mission is around homelessness, incarceration or things of that nature, tapping into this group of people who have had that experience would be a wonderful way to further that mission and demonstrate that you’re living at.
I appreciate that you brought that up. One of the things that we’re trying to do in the nonprofit space is changing the funding model. Traditionally, nonprofits primarily seek funding from foundations through grants. They become like a for-profit and become dependent on that revenue stream. If that stream happens to change for any reason, in COVID, we’ve seen the foundation demographic of our place would have you change quite a bit.
These nonprofits need to have a variety of revenue streams like a for-profit. When you flip that model upside down and bring corporations in with their giving mandates, many of these corporations understand that they want to make an impact but they don’t know exactly what that means. They’ll have a pretty significant impact mandate but they don’t know how to execute on it.
One of the things I try and do is connect those corporate sponsors with these nonprofits in a way that is aligned with the mission of both of those organizations. You’ll get somebody like Google that’ll send a team of volunteers. The volunteers show up. They do a lot of work for the nonprofit. Google will write a check to the nonprofit based on the salary that each one of those volunteers used in that volunteer effort.
That ends up combining these two different pieces of the community interestingly. I talk about how awareness comes from exposure. I like to take other folks into prison so they can see that these men and women are phenomenal human beings that they may be changed the way they vote and the way they advocate for certain things on the outside. When you have volunteers that go out into the space and work in the community, not necessarily just in a soup kitchen but maybe out in a park, talking to homeless folks about what their experience has been. That creates a level of understanding that builds community in and of itself.
It’s remarkable how much more you can advance an entire program if there’s that alignment. If you take something like a volunteer opportunity where there’s a salary match component to it, you’re getting not only workers but also some money. That’s a cool way for a nonprofit to double down on some things. People look at these revenue sources and revenue streams.
It’s interesting to me when a nonprofit can diversify that and look at how do we bring in a retail component to our nonprofits so there’s that as a revenue stream. We’re not just relying on small individual donations, corporate donations and grants to fuel all the work that we’re doing. Thinking about it from a volunteer standpoint as well, that’s a cool way to double down on that.
The two things that nonprofits are always short on are resources of human and financial nature. If you can solve both of those issues and build community at the same time, it is that triple-bottom-line win-win across the board.
Walk me through what it looks like for a nonprofit or for-profit leader to work with you. What’s the program look like outside of prison?
The more your organization can represent the stakeholders that you serve, the better you are at serving your population.
It depends a bit on how I come into the organization. I look at an organization as an organism like I look at the leader as an organism. It’s a cultural thing. The organization has a culture that’s made up of a combination of the personalities of the leadership team. In a small nonprofit that’s the founding executive director. The culture of the organization is the personality of that individual.
Let’s figure out what that is. What is that personality? How are they running this organization? Let’s set up the infrastructure of that organization to mirror the culture of the person at the top. That ends up resulting in a pretty good flowing organization. The individuals are people that he or she resonates with. Those people are staying. The turnover is a lot lower because they are all mission-aligned on the same page. That tends to be a nice way to go through it.
At the same time, we have some mindset issues, always issues around the way we make meaning out of our experiences. Maybe I’ll come in from the leadership side where I’ve been referred into an executive director that’s having a hard time with this or that. We start this coaching program where we’re getting together once a week for an hour. We’re talking about what their experiences have been. What did they face in the last week? How did that affect them personally? What kind of stress do they have around that? How can we pull those thoughts apart and see whether there are options? It’s all about options.
If I understand that I’m stressed out about this particular thing but if I let it go by and I let my mind calm down a little bit and in that clarity, there’s some fresh thinking that comes in about, “I can solve this problem that way,” that’s a huge win. You’re not wrapped around the axle in your head about, “This is not going to work out. Why am I doing this?” You’re like, “I have options. I’m curious about what those can be.” In that curious space is where life is lived. It’s enjoyable. It’s no longer this huge roadblock. It’s this challenge and I can’t wait to get over it.
I was talking to someone. He called me up and asked me for some consultation or advice because his number two had asked for a leave of absence for some mental health challenges that he was having, a lot of anxiety and not functioning as well as he wanted to. He was feeling like he needed to have a break. My friend was understandably concerned about how this was going to affect his business. He has a small business. Losing the number two guy for a couple of months was going to have a significant impact on things.
One of the first things that we talked about was mindset shift in terms of what kind of opportunities potentially could arise from this whether they’re learning opportunities or reinforcing your culture opportunities. What message can you turn this into for the rest of your team and stakeholders? Frankly, we have our team, vendors, clients, potentially board members, investors and all of those people.
Instead of having this thing that causes a bunch of panics and creates chaos within the company, there’s an opportunity to say, “This aligns well with these values that we’ve put forth as part of our mission.” It’s cool when you can take that break and that step back and see how to come at things from a different perspective to turn what seems a negative into a positive.
It’s easy to look out into the unknown and create this narrative within your head that’s a worst-case scenario. It’s this funny thing that that’s how we think about it. We’re always doing the best we can at the moment. We need to give ourselves the benefit of doubt that we’re doing the best we can at the moment. When we look out into the unknown, oftentimes, our ego will try and protect us by creating this horrible story so we’ll go hide in the corner and wait for it all to go away. You’re right. There’s always an opportunity out there.
If you understand that your ego is creating the story to try and protect you then it doesn’t have any bearing in reality. It’s just a story between your ears. You can put that aside and say, “What can I learn from this? How can I reinforce my mission?” These are questions of curiosity. From that space is all this wonderful opportunity. It’s like, “How can we even be better?” You’re not even thinking about those horrible stories that you were telling yourself before. It’s like, “Here’s this fantastic opportunity. It even strengthens our company more.”
Our initial response to change is always like, “How is this going to negatively affect what I do and how I do it? How is this going to make my life worse?” There’s always that opportunity. It’s like, “It’s either you’re going to do that or not going to do that. We don’t know because that’s in the future. Let’s tackle that when it happens.”
I love asking people, “How good have you been at predicting the future and the past?” We’re horrible fortune tellers. If something’s going to happen, chances are that’s the last thing that’s going to happen because I know that there are one million different things that could happen and I picked one. Chances are not in my favor that that’s the way it’s going to shake out. I get curious about, “What is going to shake out?” It’s fun trying to find out and see what’s ahead. “What can I do to make it even better to form a better outcome?”
Nobody ever shares with us that that’s what’s happening. It’s either something we’re lucky enough to figure out on our own, if we’re paying attention or somebody like you where I need to have a conversation with this individual and be like, “This is how it’s all working.” These are in a way what your controls are within the space of your own life.
I was talking with someone about marketing, marketing my own business and how I’m pretty good at marketing and coming up with ideas about other people’s businesses. When it comes to mine, there are these blinders on, I get way in the weeds and all of those things. The role that you feel as a coach is having someone there to be able to bounce an idea off of or say, “Talk to me down from this ledge a little bit here because I’m freaking out about X, Y or Z.”
The benefits of having that peer group that’s open, honest and able to be transparent or a coach is invaluable. I’ve been fortunate enough to be in quite a few different peer groups. I have to put on this façade. I have to say, “Everything’s always amazing.” It seems like that’s changing a little bit. Maybe it’s the people I run with. I can remember many years ago, the attitude was that the CEO never showed any weakness and everything was always great. You never showed that anything could harm you, even if things were terrible. It feels at least the people that I’ve run into it, that’s changed quite a bit.
Vulnerability is the new buzzword. It’s like, “How can we be vulnerable?” We don’t necessarily know what that means until somebody starts crying in front of us. We’re like, “There it is.” It’s a beautiful thing. If we’re in connection with that human, empathy comes very easily. From that place, we can talk about some cool things. It’s a matter of, not necessarily, the old CEO version of, “There’s no crying in baseball. I’ve got to have a step up.” It’s not only humane. It’s also a social construct of the modern era. This hasn’t been the way humans have operated. It’s this very odd world that we live in and we’re seeing the results of that.
The suicide rate for White men, 50 to 54 is through the roof. This is the time when we are realizing that we need to be as humane with each other as possible. When we give in to that humanity, beautiful things come from it. The CEO can sit down with their team and say, “How are you doing? How are you feeling?” That’s the CEO that has a team that will do anything for them. They do it together, which is fantastic.
It’s not following a leader that’s running ahead with a flag in their hand. That was the leadership model that I was raised in, that it was our team against their team some combat. That’s simply not true. Us sitting down as a group and coming up with the best thing that we can do together is what produces a competitive product or service.
There’s this island syndrome that happens when you’re out there and you’re an entrepreneur or organization leader. You think that this is the first time anyone has experienced this particular challenge. It’s not. There are not that many unique business challenges that haven’t been overcome by somebody at some point in time.
Being able to share that experience that you’re having and have other people there who are willing to say, “I went through that years ago. Here’s how I managed to get up or get out of it. It’s hard but it’s getting out of the hole,” that’s such a valuable thing. I would encourage everyone out there to be willing to share some of those challenges that they’re going through because there are solutions to pretty much everything.
We all benefit from not struggling through those and trying to come up with them again. We still have to do the work. It’s not like we get out of anything by having somebody help us understand what we’re facing. I used to want to be a CEO and then I had the opportunity to work with a lot of CEOs. I realized it’s one of the worst jobs you could have because everybody’s lying to you.
Being a CEO is one of the worst jobs you could have because everybody’s lying to you.
They’re either trying to build themselves up or they’re trying to hide something from you they don’t want you to know. You have such limited information. You only have to work on what’s in your head. We know from Einstein that we can’t solve the problem in the same place it was created. We need somebody to talk to. We drive ourselves nuts talking to ourselves. The solution to the problem isn’t within our heads. We have to talk to people. It’s got to be a safe space.
The number one most important thing I do is create a safe space for a conversation where you can be vulnerable. You can say whatever you want and in a way, you can get away with it. That’s how we get to the deepness, the meaning of what’s going on behind it. That’s how we resolve problems. When you start to understand how you’re making meaning of these things then you can see where your options are. The light comes on. The world opens up. You breathe easier. You walk with the lightness in your step. All that stuff is real. It happens when we see what’s going on around us from this more of an observer perspective.
Getting that set of eyes from the outside perspective is super important. We’re in this cage of our thought, challenges, all of those things and having someone outside being like, “There’s a door right here.” It’s amazing how much benefit that can bring to everyone’s life. I was thinking about it. I’m sure that you would like to work with everyone but at some point, there’s a good fit for a coach. What are some of the things that you would encourage people to do if they’re looking for a business coach such as yourself? What are the questions they should be asking themselves to find the right person?
That’s something that comes up pretty regularly, especially when coaching is a thing. It used to be that coaching was something that maybe your company provided if you weren’t behaving properly to try and help you out. It was some behavioral adjustment process. It’s not anymore. We recognize that it’s very helpful to talk to somebody about what’s going on in your head.
The answer to your question in a way is to go out and talk to a couple of different coaches. Figure out who it is that you identify with because that’s who’s going to be able to get in and figure out what’s going on. Be open and vulnerable. You’re not doing anybody any favors by putting on a front. If the coach is any good, they’re going to get right behind that anyways. You might find out that it’s not a good match.
I wouldn’t focus on things like certifications or certain types of coaching certification. You want to find a good personal connection. You also want to know that somebody who’s been doing this for a while, maybe have some experience in it. Look around and talk to a couple of different folks, at least three, to get a good sample of what resonates with you. Talk to some people that they’ve coached before. Get a better sense of what the process is and whether or not that fits with what you’re trying to do.
I’m sure that people reading are thinking, “That sounds great but what is this going to require for me both from a time and money investment? I don’t need just your services necessarily.” What should people expect to invest in this type of work?
It reminds me of a conversation I had with a marketer that mentioned that this isn’t something that people are used to buying. People that are used to buying something already decided they liked pants. It’s easy to buy pants. You go out and find the size and color that you’re interested in. Coaching is a little bit different. We don’t have a lot of experience buying coaching services. It’s a bit of an unknown. It takes a little bit more time and intimacy maybe to get to that point.
The time and expense have a lot to do with what you need to get out of it. “Are we going to be meeting once a week or once a month? Is this helping you get through a couple of things here and there, some fine-tuning or is this a full-scale transformation from a founder to a CEO?” It comes down to a package or an hourly thing.
From my perspective, “I want us to commit to each other. I want that to be at least three months because both of us were going to have our good days and our bad days. If we have a bad day session too, I don’t want you to pull the plug and run away. There’s a reason that we’re working together. Let’s commit to seeing that through.”
I talk a lot with clients about the illusion of money. Pricing to me has to fall along that mission alignment as well. I price my services based to a large extent on what you can afford. I don’t want you to make a decision not to work with me because of money. I have a sliding scale that slides far. If I like you and you like me, I can help you and you’ve got something going on then we’ll figure out a way you don’t have to pay for it.
I know of coaches that earn $200,000 a year and then there are coaches like you who are donating at least a portion of their time to help people who truly can’t afford the monetary commitment at this moment and everywhere in between it.
It all comes around. It’s a big thing with equity in our society. Some people can go out and afford a 200,000 a year coach and they probably get phenomenal service for that but that is a privilege that very few people can afford. If I can take the same coaching that I provide to executive directors, CEOs and give it to people that were released from prison, there’s a level of equity in there that is important to me. I want to help as many people as I can, understand how they’re making meaning and how they can avoid stress in those situations. It doesn’t matter to me who they are. I’m trying to help as many people as I can.
I tend to perform at a higher level when I do have coaching attached, whether in a physical type of scenarios like running a marathon, finishing Leadville, in a business capacity or even a life capacity. I would have people on my team who are helping me look out for my best me, encouraging and keep holding me accountable. In my experience, that has been powerful for me. For anyone out there reading who hasn’t tried coaching, it’s something to look into because it can be an incredible experience to have someone on your team looking out for you and pushing you to be the best you.
It’s an exponential thing. It is the 1 plus 1 equals 3. You can do the best you can but it’s amazing how a little input from the outside can help. I always tell my clients, “When we’re done here, you’ll be in a position to make a lot more money than whatever you paid me.” That’s because of that exponential component of it.
This is not unique to me but entrepreneurs tend to not only move the goalposts but we also tend to never celebrate, even when we have crossed whatever finish line it is. “That was what I was supposed to do. That was the goal I set for myself so it’s not like, ‘Let’s go and have a party.’” The other tendency is to get to the 90-yard mark and be like, “I was going to do X but I’m so close. I’m going to up that to X plus 30%.”
Once we get to the close to the X plus 30%, we kick that goalpost down the field. Having a coach there helps you see how far you’ve come and not necessarily always be looking at how much farther you have to go or you have something left on the table there. Take a peek back at how far you’ve come. That’s one of those other things that coaches can help with a lot because we tend to not celebrate and never gets to that end.
Nobody’s better at giving ourselves a hard time than ourselves. A huge part of being a coach is being a cheerleader. That cheerleading is reminding you, “Remember where we started and see where we are,” and then encourage you. Give yourself a good pat on the back, go out and have some ice cream, take a day off, go climbing, whatever that might be. It’s super important. That’s where you get the energy and recharge, reminding yourself that, “I’m doing a great job here. This is cool stuff.” There’s nothing wrong with that. We were taught in this military-industrial age that we never give ourselves credit because there’s always some enemy down the road that we’ve got a battle next.
We could have always done better. It’s like, “I did my best. I could’ve done better.”
That’s an easy thing to say in hindsight but I do believe we do the best we can in every moment.
Why bother beating yourself up when you can just enjoy whatever’s next?
Not only that this is the way that I create myself daily. It’s one of the things that I say about the way that I want to be and show up that I know everything’s going to be okay. I’m old. Whatever I did to get where we are, worked so it’s going to keep working. Not to get too caught up in all the what-ifs and those types of things that we can create our experience. One of the ways that I do that for myself is to know that everything’s going to be okay. That was a powerful lesson that he helped me come to.
If you get there and it’s not okay, it’s the way you’re thinking about it. “What expectations did you set that you didn’t meet for yourself?” I love that. An expectation is this line you draw on the sand in your head and then you judge yourself on whether or not you met that imaginary line. If you feel like you didn’t then you give yourself a hard time about it.
This entire conversation is happening between your ears. You’re the one that’s suffering as a result of it. It’s like, “Why are you doing that?” It’s like, “Why bother?” You did the best you could. These are the results of it. That’s how life showed up for you. Make whatever meaning out of it that you want. See what you can learn from it and then let’s move on. There’s something else super cool right around the corner.
He also talks a lot about being committed to things. If you say that you’re committed to something but it’s not happening then it’s that you’re committed to something else. Figuring out what that other thing is that you’re committed to whether that’s making a bunch of money, having a great relationship or finishing a race at a certain time, even committing to preparing yourself for those activities. If it’s not getting done, there’s something else there that’s taking precedent. It’s not even necessarily that you’re not committed to this thing. It’s that you’re committed to something different. We all have our commitments.
We think we’re a failure if we back out on a commitment that we made at a time. We didn’t know what was going to happen. We’re there. It turns out that what we thought was going to happen is different than what’s happening. I go, “Why stick with that commitment?” There’s something else going on to your point. Enjoy that. It’s funny because it’s easy to be like, “I’m not doing that. Let’s go do this.” You’re excited to go do whatever that is. You’re not beating yourself up about not being committed to that anymore. It’s like, “Why bother beating yourself up when you can enjoy whatever’s next?”
It’s fascinating how much we beat ourselves up over little things and how many different options there are for what is out there. You do a ton of stuff in the outdoors. You’re always backpacking, climbing and doing some cool things. I’m sure that’s part of your practice and also part of the life that you’ve chosen to create for yourself. What do you recommend for people creating that work-life blend? How do you help people figure that piece out?
The thing I love most about the outdoors is how human it makes me feel when I’m there. We spend so much of our time in this construct of a box and making a living so we can pay our bills, that we completely lose touch with who we are as an animal, this human being that we are. When you get out into the woods, that’s all you have. You’re left with yourself and the natural surroundings. It’s an extraordinary place to be because you get reattached to what it means to be part of the energy and the world. You bring that back to you into the workplace. I love taking folks out into the woods.
I did a four-day backpacking trip with a client where we circumnavigated Wetterhorn Peak of 14 around San Juan. It was all about helping these individuals understand how they made meaning of their experiences in a place that had no normalcy to them. They had never seen or been anywhere where I took them before. They got to operate in this whole new space, learn how they think from the beginning, then take that back.
Through the process, they learned that they were able to accomplish anything that they set their mind to. We tell ourselves that all the time but rarely are we faced with these situations where it could be life or death, where we do have to push ourselves to accomplish something that we didn’t know that we could do. We never had done it before and you see that happen in real-time. You see the accomplishment in real-time from that.
It’s extraordinary to be able to take folks into the woods, separate from everything that they know to be true and help them to explore how they think about things, how they feel about themselves and how they feel about what’s going on around them. They get to see, especially here in Colorado, a beauty that they’d never known existed. To be able to sit in it and breathe it in is an experience that very few of us get to take advantage of. We live up here in the mountains and get a lot more of it than most. You find people in the city that have no idea what it means to stand on dirt or touch a tree.
We tend to stuff our heads with noise. It’s amazing when you get out into nature and spend a significant amount of time either on your own or fairly isolated. At the start, maybe your brain is going crazy and you’re filled with that chaos of everything you have to do at work or you have going on at home, whatever all of those things are. At least for me, how quickly that can reduce to nothing. It’s like, “What did you think about it?” It’s like, “I didn’t think about anything.” How peaceful that can be?
A lot of times I used to run ultras and people would say, “You’re out there all by yourself for many hours. What are you thinking about?” I’m like, “Running.” A lot of times you’re thinking of that one thing that you’re doing. That can be refreshing because so much of the time in the chaos of business, family life and everything else, it’s cool to be able to be focused on one thing for a little while.
One of the challenges I have with clients initially is getting them to understand what it means to have a calm mind. To your point, we’re rolling through daily life in modern society. We rarely have the opportunity for a calm mind. There are so many things to think about. If we don’t know that that’s sitting there waiting for us to use anytime we need a calm mind, we don’t take ourselves there.
It happens accidentally. In the shower, driving to work or walking the dogs. We have this amazing inspiration. We’re like, “Where did that come from? ” It came from your calm mind. If you get out of the woods, you don’t have much of a choice because if you don’t have a calm mind, you might be thinking about, “Is there a bear around the corner?” You’re losing your mind around that.
One of my favorite things is solo backpacking. Being out, two days away from my car, all by myself in some terrain I’ve never been in before is my favorite place to be because my mind is calm. I get to react to whatever is going around me any way I want to. To me, it’s what it means to be human. We have few opportunities to experience what it means to be human. For thousands of years, we walked around this world with a group of family members and experienced this situation every single day.
We were born into a very different world and never knew that that existed unless we got out into it and found it for ourselves. That’s why I love taking people out there so they can see that this calm mind is a default setting. If you stop thinking, your mind settles like a glass lake. Every ripple in it is a thought. When the seas are churning that’s because your thoughts are turning. If you want it to be calm again, relax and it will.
I did an exercise that I learned from Dean Jackson. He has a podcast called More Cheese Less Whiskers, which was the inspiration for this show. I was on his show and he encouraged me to start this show as part of some of the stuff that we teased out during our discussion. My first show recording was on September 29th, 2020. We’re on the 22nd of September, 2021. I’m closing in here pretty quickly on a year of doing this.
One of the exercises that he talks about is this 50-20 exercise. The first step to that is to set aside 50 minutes, write down everything that comes to your mind, focus 100% on whatever comes to your mind and get it all on paper. You can take that list, chunk it up and find commonalities. The idea here is that you then set aside these blocks of 50 minutes with 20-minute breaks. You do 50 minutes of intensely focused work on whatever it is. That could be broad bucket marketing work or writing a blog post or HR, whatever it is that you need to do.
Focus on that one thing for 50 minutes, give yourself a 20-minute break and then focus on either that thing again, if you’re not done or the next thing for the next 50 minutes. What tends to happen is when people aren’t trained in this, they sit down and are like, “I’m going to focus on this thing.” They get going and then like, “I got to check my email.” Then they’re like, “I’m supposed to be focusing on this thing.” It gets easier the more you do it to stay focused on that one task. It’s amazing the amount of quality work that you can accomplish when you can turn everything else off and get hyper-focused for some time.
It’s meditation. That’s the thing. You set an intention to stay focused on something that’s a meditative process. Thoughts come in because they always will. Thought is fluid by nature. When a thought comes in, you ignore it and let it go. You find the time that you entertain that errand thought gets shorter through experience to where these things come into your head. You let them go and stay on task the whole time.
People worry too much about paying their bills that they lose touch with who they are as an animal.
A lot of people believe meditation is thinking about nothing. It’s like, “It’s noticing and then allowing that to pass.” I have been doing meditative practice for a while and it’s beneficial.
I talked to a lot of people about how to get off the cushion. I have this phenomenal time meditating for twenty minutes every morning and then I go get in the car to go to work. By the time I get to the office, I’m a screaming man again. “What happened?” We talk about how it’s not the cushion or the twenty minutes. It’s the experience of that mindfulness. You can do that anytime you want.
I heard Ray Dalio, this big hedge fund manager, talk about how he does transcendental meditation on an airplane. You can do it anywhere. All it is is a matter of knowing where that calmness is and tapping into that whenever you want to.
It was Dalai Lama that I was listening to either his podcast or one of his books. One of the things that he was talking about was how meditation could be a breath. Take one moment to feel that inner peace in that and recenter. You don’t have to set aside hours, days or however long some people do meditate, which is a great thing for some people to try if that’s what you’re into. Knowing how to take even a single calm breath can be a meditative experience.
I encouraged my clients to meditate because I want them to feel that feeling of what it means to be in that space where they get to punt on thoughts that they don’t want to engage with. The key to their stress in life, dealing with their email and difficult conversations is understanding how to deal with those thoughts that flow through your head that you’re not that interested in engaging with.
This has been so much fun. I’ve gotten a ton out of our conversation. I hope everyone feels the same. How can people find out more about you, your services and what you can bring to the table for entrepreneurs, organization leaders and everybody out there looking to be their best self?
I appreciate that very much. My organization is called The Logos Group. I’m at TheLogosGroup.net. Jeff Kinsey on LinkedIn. It’s the two best ways to get ahold of me. Every first conversation is on me. I’d love to have a conversation and figure out whether or not there’s something I can help you with.
I encourage everyone to give Jeff a call at The Logos Group. He’s a super cool guy. I’m so thrilled that we were able to meet up given that we do live maybe 7 miles apart, which is fantastic. I love having these conversations. Talking is one of my favorite things to do and exploring new things but I want people to take action at the end of the day. All talk and no action don’t change anything. If you were to encourage somebody to do anything after reading this, what would you have them do?
If anything that we’ve talked about seems interesting, curious and maybe different than you might’ve thought about it before, spend some time poking around on that. See what that is. Knowing that if you’re stressed out, all you have to do is take a breath to get out of that is super helpful. Experiment with that. Experiment with letting thoughts go by. See what comes behind it.
At the end of the day, you have everything you need already within you to be that the happiest and most content person on the planet. You already have that in you. You don’t need anything other than maybe somebody to talk it out with. Continue to poke around. Try to find that place where you are perfectly calm and then think about how you got there because you can get there anytime you want.
I love the mindset shifts that we can all do to improve the way that we approach everything else in the world. Thank you much for being on the show.
I can’t thank you enough for having me.
It was a super blast talking with you. Talk to you soon.
I recently had the honor of speaking to an association of financial executives at their monthly keynote event at a beautiful wedding venue in Denver. I was excited to share a different perspective on leadership for this modern, post-pandemic era and figured that, being a financial executive myself for 20 years, they’d consider me one of them and be open to exploring something different. You see, the traditional leadership model throughout most of Corporate America for at least the last 50 years – and especially in financial services – has been based on Fear and Intimidation: you did what you were told and what you thought about it was your problem. The Human stayed home while the Cog made the Company machine their priority.
We had a lively first 20 minutes, trading stories of horrific leadership mishaps from our careers, commiserating about poor management and woeful misbehavior. It seemed obvious to me that we were on the same page, that we had all been mistreated or witnessed first-hand the mistreatment of others … until I got into the crux of my presentation. If we, instead, respect and treat each other as the humans we are, the results will be exponentially better than under the old carrot-stick and whip environments we ‘grew up’ in. The room went silent.
Honestly, I’m still a bit shocked at the push-back I received once we got to the Q&A. I see the Great Resignation as an obvious rebellion against inhumane treatment at the hands of corporate overlords. They simply couldn’t understand how 4 million Americans would forgo traditional employment in the hopes of finding something more fulfilling. Are Humans simply the Labor input in a Cost of Goods Sold computation? I find that offensive.
I explained that we are witnessing a global power shift from employer to employee, and if they didn’t come around, all those vacant cubicles would stay empty. They didn’t see it that way. To them, it was a battle of wills. Eventually the hold outs would need to eat, and come crawling back.
I described how the Millennials and Gen Z – who grew up witnessing us as their burned out, abused, depressed parents – wanted more out of their brief time on Earth and weren’t willing to settle for being treated like merely a means to production. Not only did they not buy it, they mocked their own children for being lazy whiners … like, who’s fault would that be, anyway? Is it really a bad thing to put your joie de vivre ahead of corporate profits? Is that really why we’re on this planet, to keep the wheels of Capitalism rolling? That’s horse shit. Don’t believe the stories.
I used my 23-year old daughter as an example of how the ‘kids’ these days are not willing to undergo mental abuse because ‘that’s the way it’s always been.’ They couldn’t understand why she didn’t just do her job… heck, they did!
And that’s the problem. I think sometimes when people are victimized – especially when they don’t realize that’s what’s happening – it’s an easy Ego play to feel others deserve the same (“This made me stronger, just wait until they see what it does for them”). They forget how marginalized they felt the first dozen or so times it happened to them. They’ve been numbed over the course of their career to expect this abusive behavior; to accept that they deserve it. They’ve even learned to believe it was good for them, made them stronger, or better, or successful. It’s a lie we have to force ourselves to believe in order to trudge along… and it can be used to justify treating others the same.
But using Fear and Intimidation to coerce expected behavior is never acceptable. You’re not even supposed to train your dog that way.
It reminds me of the old fraternity days: I was hazed and survived, therefore, I will haze the next suckers. We used to think if we forced a group of new recruits to hate us sufficiently, they would bond into a cohesive unit. And if we did it just right, they’d have enough respect for the perpetrators to feel part of the larger group once they made it through the gauntlet. Sometimes it worked, oftentimes it didn’t. Turns out it’s not that easy to get a bunch of negatives to come around to something positive. And the group-think seemed to make it all ok.
The corporate world that I experienced wasn’t a whole lot different … probably helps explain why I was relatively successful there – I had had the fraternal pre-training.
And then I learned of a more Human way to lead, one where leadership means facilitation, not direction. Where humans are allowed to be human and respected for their lived experiences and individual contributions. Where we’re not ‘bent to the wheel’ but encouraged to think outside the veritable box.
This is why I take leaders into the wilderness. When none of the social constructs we’ve (perhaps unknowingly) grown to rely on are absent, we’re forced out of the box to learn what’s waiting for us in that space: wisdom, inspiration, creativity, love. What it means to be human, really. It’s amazing that in a place where there is scant trace of other humans, you can find empathy for humanity. It’s hard NOT to be kind when you’ve felt that.
When I spoke of this the other night, it was incorrectly assumed that I suggested we need to coddle employees and stand at the ready with a big hug. That if the (typically) white- (typically) man-in-charge wasn’t cracking the whip, then the office would degenerate into a Daycare Center by lunch. In essence, that humans didn’t have enough self-respect and self-discipline to show up and do their job. Fear and Intimidation was the only way.
There is something in between, of course … there always is. Treating people as fellow humans does NOT mean treating them as children – that’s the patriarchy we’re finally coming to see clearly as the bane of our current system.
To accept that we humans are really all the same, regardless of our station, is to accept an equality between us as individuals: that a billionaire is NOT a better human than someone living on the streets. That silver spoon in your mouth does not make you better than me. It’s just a spoon. Understand that our differences are used to pit us against each other through man-made (i.e., illusory) social constructs – they’re not REAL! But they do have very real, very negative consequences for a multitude of people throughout our community when they aren’t acknowledged or understood…
Once we accept that we’re all the same:
That we all make meaning of our experiences through thought
That we are all innately perfect bundles of mental health, if not for our thinking
That there is no ‘them’ … only ‘us’
Then we can begin to not only accept what we see as differences between us but get curious about what makes us different. To seek to understand how and why we see things differently (and how what we ‘see’ as different, isn’t really all that different). This approach only happens from a place of presence, of living life where life is lived; in the moment. Where curiosity resides. From a place of love. Because it’s a lot harder to wield the blunt instrument of Fear and Intimidation when you understand someone enough to feel love for them. And when we feel loved, when we feel valued, when we feel like we’re part of something bigger than ourselves, we’ll achieve more than you’ve ever seen us achieve before.
At least it’s worth a try, right?
So, how does this story end? Well, I had intended to wrap with two reflections:
One about The Reciprocity Collective, an incredible nonprofit I work with that provides basic human need and employment support to the unhoused community. TRC is a model of modern nonprofit management, with all stakeholders represented throughout the organization and charged with treating each other with the same humanity as we do our constituents. It’s been very successful in making an exponential impact.
And the other about the entire keynote being an exercise in how reframing can lead to a positive mindset and a successful keynote (so much for that!).
Instead, the Q&A devolved into an argument amongst the crowd about where the 4-million Americans who supposedly vanished from the workforce were hiding. It got to the point where the senior person in the room had to commandeer the microphone and say, “Thank you Jeff, that will be all for tonight, have a good evening everyone, goodbye.” I didn’t even get to show the final slide with my contact information … perhaps a blessing, in hindsight.
I guess they weren’t ready.
I’m still baffled that we could spend so much time commiserating about the abusive management behavior we had all been subjected to and yet still argue to support it. That they couldn’t quite see that all humans walking Earth are the same, are equal, and deserve to be treated as we would all like to be treated, and that in doing so, the outcomes would be exponentially better. That said, I did get a sense that the younger folks in the group were biting their tongues, that they may have agreed with the perspective I was promoting and were just biding their time. That keeps me hopeful.
There’s still hope that what’s best for us as a species will prevail. There always is.
*If you or someone you know is suffering from Fear & Intimidation Management, I can help – it’s what I do (firstname.lastname@example.org)
I spoke to my dad for the last time this past Father’s Day. He died three days later. As I imagine is the case with most men, my father had a tremendous influence on my life. What may be less typical is that I had a fantastic, close relationship with him for nearly all of my 52 years. That final conversation with him was probably the most heart-wrenching experience I’ve ever had. I’m so grateful to have had it.
As I mentioned in the opening of my last post, one of my favorite things about backpacking is all that time to think, yet one of the most challenging things can be what I say to myself with all that time to think…
What I didn’t mention to my good buddy, Dan O’Brien, as we drove out to climb Mount of the Holy Cross, was that I was looking forward to taking advantage of four days in the Colorado wilderness to work through my ongoing relationship with my dad, just a few weeks after his passing. I knew he’d be out there with me and I was excited to see how he’d show up. I was most excited to learn how I’d deal with it.
As with most of these multi-day adventures, there’s a fair amount of nervous excitement at the trail head: changing into hiking shoes, last-minute gear checks, final sips of coffee, hiding the car keys. All of that falls away as we take our first step on the trail and I remember saying quietly under my breath, “Here we go.” I realized as I said it that I wasn’t talking about Dan and me but my dad and me. He was with me from the start and I was thrilled to show him my life in the woods. I loved that.
It was a little odd, at first, but I chose to welcome those thoughts in to see what would happen. I’d let feelings of grief, sadness, and longing go by and stay open to what came next. Early on, as my mind wandered, I had a vision of the two of us sitting at the dining room table when I was a kid and he said, simply, “Hey, Jeffer” (one of his many names for me). It was so clear and so direct that it was a bit uncomfortable. I let the discomfort pass and answered, intentionally, “Hi Dad.” This simple gesture of welcoming him in rather than freaking out or getting on the Grief Train opened the door and I felt my dad join me on the trail.
From then on, I talked to him without discomfort. There was no more grief or sadness to let pass, just the joy and contentment of having my father with me, exploring one of my favorite ways to live out my life. It was wonderful.
My dad continued to flow in and out of my awareness and thoughts throughout those four days. Sometimes I’d see something that stirred a memory with him.Every time I crested a ridge and was able to look out over the broad expanses above tree line, I was reminded of the incredible times we had spent on the long motorcycle trips we took together when I was growing up, racing through the desert. These memories made me smile. No reason to be sad over a good time. When things got hard on the trail and I questioned my ability to continue, I could feel his strength pushing me to soldier on (he never quit anything). When I came to an amazing view, I could feel him taking it in with me. I could sense the difference between looking out, alone, and knowing there was someone with me, his arm around my shoulder.
When Dan and I reached the 14,005′ summit of Mount of the Holy Cross, there were ashes scattered across the survey marker (see picture). It was a fitting reminder that my father was with me on that summit. His first Fourteener. I’ve since acquired a tattoo as a tribute to my dad, the ink infused with his ashes. I love it!
He’d always marveled at my backcountry adventures and now he was having one of his own. I’m so grateful to have shared this with him. He could see that I knew what I was doing, that there was no reason to be afraid for me, despite what he might have said when he was alive. He really seemed to enjoy it 🙂
I can’t express how grateful I am to my dear friend and coach, Jason Berv. Several years ago, he shared the understanding of our true relationship to our thoughts and how we make meaning of our experiences. Knowing that I can choose to take whichever of my thoughts as seriously as I want was a true blessing as I dealt with the grief of my father’s passing.I realized from this perspective that I could let the memories of my dad and the desire to reach out to him flow through me. I didn’t have to let them get me down. Instead, I could see the joy in those memories, appreciate my father’s love for me, and feel my continuing love for him. I came to understand that these thoughts and feelings were his energy flowing through me; that even though I couldn’t call him, he would be living with me forever.
I came away from this trip with a different perspective on my own death. I understand now, more than ever, that our essence is energy and that when our physical body gives out, our essence continues in the experiences of those we’ve touched. I’m no longer afraid to die but, rather, excited that my energy will continue to flow through those I love.
I love that. And I miss you, Dad.
If you would like to explore a different relationship with grief or sadness, I can help … it’s what I do. You can message me here or email me at email@example.com.
One of my favorite things about backpacking is the amount of time I have to think with such little distraction. One of the things that can get really annoying when backpacking is what I can say to myself – over and over, and over, again – with all that time to think… [up next, Part III: ”How to Continue a Relationship with Your Dad After He Dies…”]
Add in some pain and discomfort … or a LOT of pain and discomfort – like when my good buddy Dan O’Brien and I recently hiked the Halo Ridge route to the top of Mount of the Holy Cross – and you could find yourself spending several hours riding the fine line between pain and suffering.
That was me, dropping 3,000′ in 3 hours from the 14,005′ summit to our campsite below. With an arthritic foot and degenerating back, the pain actually started 5 hours before as we were leaving our first camp that morning. We had estimated the 3-mile ridge route to the summit would take about 3 hours. An hour in and only three-quarters of a mile covered, we knew it was going to be a very long day. That’s when my pain jumped the rail to suffering. Then I told my Ego to shut the ‘F’ up and just leave me with my pain. But he’s a tricky bastard so the dance began…
I tend to think of myself somewhat as a mindfulness expert. Heck, my consulting and coaching practice is based on it! I understand how we use thought to make meaning of our experiences. I understand that I can take the role of observer and choose how seriously to take my thoughts. From this perspective – and in this instance – I understand that suffering is the meaning I make out of the physical pain I’m experiencing and that if I don’t want to get on that train to Sufferville, I don’t have to. Pain and suffering are two different things. I don’t have to let the pain get to me.
I understand that pain is the result of my body – my meat bag – signaling to my brain that it has sensed something has gone awry. If that signal is significant enough to attract my attention, my intellect grabs hold of it. This amazing analytical and computational tool we always have at our disposal then does its job and tries to make meaning of it. I’m presented with a thought: “Ouch!”
It’s at this point that you have an option.
Imagine the Present Moment (i.e., now) is a train station and that every train coming through is a thought your intellect is creating. In this case, the destination on the train’s placard says, “Your Back Hurts.” If you get on that train, you begin a conversation with yourself about how your back hurts. Maybe you’re taking a trip down Memory Lane and remembering prior experiences with back pain. Maybe you’re reminding yourself what an idiot you’ve been not taking care of it before and then promising yourself to make a doctor’s appointment the instant you get home. Regardless of the particular route you’re taking to Your Back Hurts, the energy of this conversation intensifies your pain. This will continue until you get off that train. This is suffering.
What many of us are unaware of is that we don’t have to get on that train at all. We can simply remain in the Present Moment Station and let that pain train go on without us. We have this option with any of the thoughts our mind creates. All of our thoughts show up as trains in the station and we always have the choice to get on or let it go. When that train door opens, we get a sense of what’s waiting for us inside. If we haven’t paid much attention to the thought destination on the placard, we can feel what we’re in for because the thought we didn’t acknowledge gets insistent by triggering a somatic reaction to gain our attention. We can welcome that feeling in, see what it does for us, and then decide whether we want to actually get on the train and go there.
The empowering beauty of it is, if we do happen to get on the train, we can get off whenever we want. Another station will appear and we can let the train go on without us. When we realize that this is how it works, we can get curious about riding trains. We have an all-access pass so we can actually play with the various trains our thoughts bring into the station. Ride for a bit, see if you like the conversation, get off if you don’t.
Living life from this perspective is the key to experiencing joy and contentment.
On the rocky traverse leading to the summit of Holy Cross, I am so preoccupied with each step moving through the boulders, loose talus and scree that I barely notice my pain. Don’t get me wrong, it bubbles to the surface regularly but is typically displaced by, “Watch your step!” The climb down is different. There is a meticulously maintained trail leading down to our next camp for the masses who take the standard route. I no longer have unstable rocks and trail finding to focus on, my path is clear in front of me. All I have to do at this point is deal with the pain…
I take the role of observer. I can see and feel the meaning I’m making out of my experience through thought and decide how to engage. It’s not a matter of pushing things aside, ignoring, or stuffing feelings. It’s being open to whatever comes and understanding that the nature of life, thought, and experience is fluid.
On the way down from the summit, I did exactly that. I’d let the pain in, get a sense of what was hurting, when. Maybe make a change to my stride or readjust my pack, and then take a breath and look out to see what would catch my attention next. I remember enjoying the view, listening to the wind, wondering which patch of trees below hid our camp, and marveling at the trail construction. I found that if I lingered in the pain too long, the suffering would begin. The pain would intensify, my breath would shorten, my head would tighten, and I’d start telling myself that maybe I couldn’t go on, I wasn’t in shape for this, this trip was a mistake. I found that when I first became aware of the pain, I could just take a breath and look around, get curious about something, and the pain would end. Not intensify and lead into self-defeating self-talk, but just fade away from my awareness.
Once I got back into the forest below tree line, the air cooled and the scenery changed dramatically. There was so much more to look at, hear, smell and feel. The final mile flew by on the gentle breeze and I soon heard voices, a sure sign that camp was near and I’d finally be able to stop, drop my pack, and change into my comfy camp shoes.
If you would like to fully enjoy life and minimize suffering of all kinds, I can help … it’s what I do. You can message me here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Well, we’re not going back THAT way,” my good friend, fellow Trojan, and current hiking partner, Dan O’Brien says, matter-of-factly. Dan was in from California and I was introducing him to the world of Colorado’s 14,000′ peaks. The primary routes for most Fourteeners are crowded with Peak Baggers so we chose to climb Mount of the Holy Cross by the much more difficult Halo Ridge approach and seemed to have it all to ourselves… This was the only way to view the eponymous cross on the east face and I wanted Dan to see the cross.
At the moment, we’re glancing across the long undulating spine of boulders we just traversed. We had reached the top of PT 13373, an unnamed peak noted only by its elevation. It was The Point of No Return – that point where it’s more dangerous to turn back than continue.
But what happens when you get to The Point of No Return and you just want to quit? Backward or forward doesn’t matter … you’re done. Now what?
Due to the severity of the terrain, it was taking much more time than expected, which meant water would soon become a problem. We were experienced backpackers. We knew quitting was not an option past the Point of No Return. At that moment, we both knew that we would have to carry on and finish what we started. We were, in fact, going to climb one of Colorado’s most storied Fourteeners. Not just because that’s what we had set out to do. It was really the only way to survive. There was no quit. “I can’t” wouldn’t fly. No one would be coming to save us. And Dan couldn’t carry both of us. The longer we took to get to the water source waiting on the other side of Holy Cross, the less likely we were to make it. It was time to move. And it was going to hurt.
Now looking toward our target, our 2 1/2-mile path lay clearly in front of us:
Cross 10 yards of a 6′ wide catwalk (1,000′ drop on each side)
Climb almost 1,000′ to another summit at 13,831′
Drop another 600′
Climb the final 800′ to the 14,005′ summit of Mount of the Holy Cross
All over seemingly endless piles of car-sized boulders, unstable talus, and loose scree.
Did I mention we were wearing 40-pound backpacks? For me and my back, I knew I was really going to suffer on the way off the mountain, dropping 3,000’ in 3 miles to our next camp (stay tuned for Part 2: How to Ride the Line Between Pain and Suffering for 8 Hours…).
When we reached the catwalk saddle between PT 13373 and PT 13831, Dan and I stopped to catch our breath and grab a snack before our next big climb. We talked about Dan’s experience as a Troop Leader for the Boy Scouts (shout out to Culver City Troop 108!). In nearly 5 years of leading groups of all ages throughout the California wilderness, Dan’s had many a Scout declare they were done, finished, couldn’t take another step, regardless of how far they were from either camp or car. And yet, they managed to persevere and make it out of the woods (he hasn’t left anyone behind, as far as he knows…). Somehow, despite the “I can’t take another step” story they’ve convinced themselves is true, they’re able to take another step, and then another, until they’ve made it to the end.
When you’re convinced you’re done, how do you get over it and press ahead?
We often have the ability, in this modern ‘on-demand’ society in which we live, to quit things that we don’t enjoy or just don’t feel like doing. Personally, my arch-nemesis is the Cover Letter … I can’t stand writing them so they rarely get done. I always start with the best of intentions but it’s too easy to quit, so I typically do. Without significant consequence, quitting becomes too easy, too commonplace, and too simply forgiven. Some may even get into the habit of quitting, quick to exclaim, “I can’t” whenever things start to get uncomfortable in the normal course of life.
From my perspective, this is all about comfort zones. We each have imaginary borders at the edge of our experience, and the closer we get to that boundary, the more internal discomfort we feel. The more discomfort we feel, the more powerful the story our Ego writes about what’s going to happen on the other side. We’re now operating in fear and that fear is holding us back. When we are aware of the fact that our minds are just predicting something we don’t want to happen, we can become curious about what’s really on the other side of that imaginary boundary. From there, we can push through it, one step at a time.
What’s waiting for us is magic. No more self-talk about being afraid, inadequate, or small. No more self-limiting beliefs about what you can’t do. The joy, fulfillment, and satisfaction of getting over the hump to success. The awareness that you can do anything when you let those fearful thoughts go.
If this can be accomplished in the face of death (or at least significant pain and suffering), it can be applied to any situation we face when we start to get uncomfortable. Just let those fearful thoughts go and get curious about what you will learn. Keep pushing those boundaries!
Dan and I did just that. As we finally finished Halo Ridge – two hours behind schedule and out of water – we joined the main access trail to our final summit. We started seeing ant-sized people winding their way down from the top and every group we passed buoyed our spirits with, “You’re almost there!” One couple even shared some life-saving water. The last hundred feet of climbing seemed to float by on their communal support as we crested the final boulder and took in the 360-degree view. We shared stories with a group on top and reveled in seeing the entirety of the route we just completed. “You hiked THAT? With THOSE packs?” they exclaimed. I was finally able to stand atop Mount of the Holy Cross (and make it back alive to tell this story and plan for the next adventure!).
If you would like to explore the full potential waiting for you outside your comfort zone, I can help … it’s what I do. You can message me here or email me at email@example.com.