Friday, July 29, 2011


I know that word is an oxymoron coming from me.

However, empathy is the prevailing thought this week as I consider 3 parallel minor meltdowns that occurred within my circle. Fortunately, not all 3 were from oblivious stupidity on my behalf, although I'm quite certain I didn't provide any sort of anesthetic either. Consider me an unintended participant, an accidental tourist perhaps, and in one situation, a deliverer of words that came out quite different than the desired sentiment.

Meltdown #1 occurred over the weekend and while I didn't play a direct role, it likely would have unfolded quite differently without my presence. Empathy here, and in the two other incidents as well, refers to lack of empathy, to not thinking about the impact of certain actions, however innocent or malicious they may have been. Start with a crowded bar, add some alcohol, shake it all up and out comes drama. Obviously not unexpected in any sense of the word. However, in this case, a bit of empathy on the behalf of everyone would have soothed some of the flames. It can be quite difficult in the moment to catch yourself while you are in the middle of a conversation and realize what the impact might be to someone else. I've certainly never been on that plane.

Meltdown #2 occurred during the week and is actually split into an A and a B component, both of which lay squarely on my shoulders. The takeaway has to do with word choice and the impact of certain words and phrases compared to their alternatives. At one point in time I used to think that word choice was the inherent freedom of the speaker or writer. Since then, I've come to realize that conveying thoughts in a manner that the recipient can appreciate, understand, and enjoy, is more important than the objective truth of any individual statement. So, while I despise political spin and while I have utter contempt for bs answers, there is definite merit in carefully constructed prose.

Meltdown #3 is sort of spread out over the last few days. I had a chance to peek inside the window today and see more of what I was worried I might see. The upside to this last bit is realizing that I can relate to all of the perspectives involved, that there isn't any black or white.

Empathy is surprising in its power. By being aware of the impact of our actions on others, we can adjust our words and actions to convey the desired sentiment, not some translated or undesired angle. I find myself particularly poor at this endeavor, and as a result, it has weighed heavily on my mind lately. Perhaps tonight is the beginning of a deeper understanding of the meaning behind the word.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Tonight I officially began a journey I've been contemplating in some form or another since 1986. This Fall will be my first experience as a coach, for Team Challenge targeting the Las Vegas Half Marathon on December 4th. I'm excited about all of the learning this new experience will bring, and also a bit intimidated at the prospect of giving advice and guidance to others. I simply couldn't pass up such a gentle way to get some raw experience with this angle of the athletic equation. The position comes with an extensive support network, there are 4 other coaches, 2 dedicated staff members who will I have a support network of fellow coaches, dedicated recruiters, and mentors who have been through the program before, and a good friend to ask questions of who will set the majority of the training plan and make sure it all works smoothly.

This year also marks my first experience with Big Brothers Big Sisters. Which has been a surprisingly normal experience. My little is just like any other 11 year old boy except that he doesn't have a father.

There are some definite similarities between these two efforts. The commonality I notice the most so far, from my initial and naive perspective, is how difficult it is for me to see the impact of my efforts. Obviously that isn't what any of this is about, it's not about what I get out of it, it's what I learn as a result of what I put into it. Just like yoga or even racing, the reward is in the sweat along the way. There is no magic moment waiting at the finish line, no emotional revelations to be shared at high school graduation, but simply put, the magic is spread evenly across the next few months and if all goes well, years.

All of this got me thinking about leadership in general, and specifically the leaders who have shaped my life, from parents to teachers, coaches, and peers. What are the specific qualities of leadership I admire so much? Why do I crave input from certain friends and mentors, but not from others? All of these thoughts fascinate me.

Leadership comes in many different flavors. Some of the most intriguing and fascinating people in my life are leaders in certain aspects and followers in other ways. I have endless respect for those who can seamlessly shift between those two roles. In other words, the leaders I admire most are those who can effectively and wholeheartedly follow when the moment is right. Because we all have many ways to learn and grow, we are all imperfect, we all crave understanding and enlightenment.

Yesterday, a friend and mentor of mine, who is also a mentor and leader to countless others, called out of the blue and offered to help me deepen my yoga practice. He recently moved and now with enough space to practice, his first thought was to reach out to others, those who have expressed interest, and share his knowledge and what others have taught him, freely, and without expectation of return. I was impressed, and humbled by his gesture.

I've seen my roommate, Trevor, leading various strength training workouts and watched how his confidence and overflowing charm put his clients at ease while pushing them towards their goals. I've enjoyed reading the recent exchange between Hillary and Alyssa about their coach/athlete experience and the respect they feel for each other and I'm impressed by the leadership qualities they both demonstrate. I've struggled with my previous manager because I felt he was not providing the necessary leadership qualities that his position required. I've had relationships where the give and take between leader and follower was one of the bigger challenges we faced. And I've recently enjoyed catching up on Breaking Bad which explores the nuances of leadership, respect, and complicated but realistic ethical questions.

I want to end with a description of some unusual leadership capabilities that Jeff demonstrated last weekend. It started with driving the entire stretch from SD to SF at which point we hopped out of the car, slammed a pair of pints at the speakeasy brewery, and wandered off to watch Cashed Out at the Brick and Mortar Music Hall. At 2:30 am, after a full night of drinks and dancing, including some fairly exuberant ring of fire moves, Jeff and I went off to get some pizza slices with the rest of the crew, and then managed about 2 hours of sleep before heading off to Rodeo Beach for the Headlands 50. Jeff proceeded to turn the screws on me over the first 10 miles, and successfully jettisoned my groggy, sloshy self after the second visit to Tennessee Valley at mile 12. Over the first lap, Jeff wound up putting 30+ minutes on me before the end of the first lap. At that point, Mike picked up escort duties and I shuffled off to the car to console myself with breakfast at the Dipsea cafe. Meanwhile Jeff proceeded to even split his 2nd lap, and fortunately Mike was able to keep pace just fine despite jokes about him dropping at the final aid station before the finish. Jeff wound up finishing in 7th place, in under 9 hours which was a significant improvement compared to his 11 hour TRT last year. He polished off the weekend by driving the entire way home so I could watch the second half of season 3 of Breaking Bad in the passenger seat. Apparently the only difficult part of the weekend for Jeff was surviving lunch at Denny's on the way home, he wound up taking a sick day on Monday as a result of what most of us already know, that you are what you eat :) And while none of these shenanigans are really the type of thing to make baby Maya a proud daughter, I have boundless admiration for what Jeff is able to do because I know just how difficult it is.