I believe that nothing matters until you know your heart. It all starts in an Austin Session.

How Do You Become an Original Thinker?

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Steven Pinker: A contemporary example of an original thinker.

I had recently gave a breakfast talk to a group of finance/ops executives in Austin. The presentation was called “How You Lead is Your Brand” and it made the case that leadership and brand are directly connected. I proposed that brand is no longer just an external construct but the cumulative result of leadership beliefs, behaviors and standards. As part of my presentation, I proposed that we need a new kind of leader in this post-industrial age era we call the Human Age. One of the traits of this leader is to be an original thinker.

One of the attendees reached out to me and asked to meet for coffee. We met up this morning and in the course of our visit he asked me this question:“How do you become an original thinker?” I thought this was a great question so wanted to share my response to his question.

First, there are two primary indicators that you are an original thinker:

  • Original thinkers have original ideas. People frequently tell you “I’ve never thought of that before!” We live in an information-saturated world full of meme-madness and a parroting of books, “inspirational quotes” and the ilk — what I call being a karaoke singer. Original thinkers are not fans or followers of any particular thought-leader. Of course, they will be inspired and even admire certain figures, but they see themselves as peers not groupies.

The ideas of an original thinker are often heretical and threatening to the status quo, which leads to this trait …

  • Original thinkers are immune to identity politics and refuse to be jammed in to any particular box. As such, original thinkers frequently offend conventional wisdom, corporate institutionalists, political ideologues, religious dogmatists and politically correct “social justice warriors”. This produces an array of reflexive and under-thinking haters and trolls that will try to silence them or mis-label them.

Now back to my new friend’s question on HOW …

The first step is to go inward. When coaching people on original thinking, I/we start with three questions:

  1. What have you always known to be true? (What did you know that you weren’t taught)
  2. What idea or principle would you be willing to commit civil disobedience over? (I asked this in my talk)
  3. Who will you most offend? (See above!)

The second step is to pick up some specific skills — like learning to confidently speaking on your ideas, becoming a prolific creator/sharer of original content, learning to relate with every human that crosses your path, embracing the discipline of reading, becoming a master of personal growth and more.

The third step is to begin to express your ideas. This could be speaking up in a meeting, challenging a teacher in class, pushing back against dogma in a conversation. It could be starting a blog, writing a book, teaching a workshop. Regardless of format, just start expressing! Life will present you many opportunities to share your ideas, but you must be willing to do so.

Finally, an original thinker thrives on being uncomfortable through self-examination, skepticism and questioning everything. This includes being physically uncomfortable at times (it’s no coincidence that most original thinkers frequently take cold showers!) It is nearly impossible to become an original thinker by being in comfort mode — drifting through life with a maintenance mindset. All of which numbs the mind and the soul and robs you of original thought.

Many thanks to my new friend for sparking this with his thoughtful (and original) question!

I have a curated list of original thinkers across business, society, personal growth, spirituality, creativity and more. Send me a DM and I will send you my list!

When Did You Know?

By | Life, Self-Worth | No Comments

One of my LinkedIn contacts reached out to me recently. She wanted to visit with me about my mission, career, journey. We chatted recently and she asked me this question …

“When did you know?”

She wanted to know when I knew that I was on the right path with my life, relationships, career, etc. I stammered through some extemporaneous answers — but her question triggered a lot of thought (as good questions do!) so I decided to elaborate further here.

I would say there was no set moment when I knew. It was more of a dawning — an elimination of darkness, a clearing of the fog. And it was very recent. Just last month, I had this realization: the gaps between my relationships, work and personal growth were essentially gone. These gaps have caused a lot of suffering in the past years. But now I began to see a congruence; a flow that blended these three essential areas of a fruitful life.

My first attempt at knowing came in November 2010 on the heels of a mental breakdown. At 40, it was the first time in my life that I really begin to examine what made me happy, what I believed, what I wanted.

From then until 2014, I mostly experimented with different roles. I was a freelance brand strategist, then the CMO of a start-up, then the contract CMO of a consulting firm. I thought I was looking for the perfect job or role. I did not yet know that: a) there are no perfect jobs (at least not for me) and b)even if there were, it wouldn’t make me happy. I also reached out to mentors, advisors, other successful people to learn from them.

In the spring of 2014, I had my first true awakening. It was an awakening to my own value as a human (I call this “I met me the human). It was full acceptance of who I am and how I’m made. This was a huge awakening because I had been taught that who I am and how I was made are threats to my soul. Not true.

Later on in 2014, my mission began to crystalize as part of a greater spiritual awakening. (I call this “I met me the soul). I realized I’m here to teach self-worth to every one I meet. I am strongly certain that increased self-worth would be a world changer. This mission also manifested as a message:

Nothing matters until you connect with your heart.

I then began a combo that I continue to this day:

  • I read. A lot. I read about 75 books between 2014 and 2017. And countless blog posts and articles. The topics were about spirituality, personal growth, innovation, creativity, history, biographies and more. (If you send me a message, I will send you my book list).
  • I began to journal in earnest in late 2015. A practice I continue on 90% of my days. I keep three journals. One based on the booked “Writing Down Your Soul”, one that is more of a free thought journal, then also use Apple notes to capture daily ideas and concepts.
  • I created a personal ownership system that I tweak to this day. It’s based on something I created called “The 5 Pillars of Self-Worth”. It’s a system of accountability but also of freedom — all intended to keep me grounded in my soul, yet ever growing and learning.
  • I started going back to therapy in 2016 but it wasn’t until I experimented with several therapists until I found my current one. Her work with adult attachment style and deep psychotherapy has brought many hidden wounds to surface in order to heal.

Along the way, I learned how to understand the roots of my emotions, how to express them as feelings, how to ask for what I want (this is still a weakness). I learned that nature is a great spiritual teacher. I learned to be more vulnerable with those that I love and that love me. I learned to ask myself great questions.

All of the above — plus a series of life experiences — contributed to that recent dawning of knowing. I know I love my friends. I know I love my work. I know I love me. I know I love God. I know my mission. I know my worth. I know what to work on. I know to stay humble. I know to be present. I know there are flat days. I know I will fail, but I also know I will get back up.

I also know that I need friendships that run on truth, deep connection and a shared curiosity about life. Thankfully, I have been able to make a number of friends with these same standards.

I know there’s a “what’s next?” to knowing. I’m not certain yet of that answer. I know I need to work on visualization and imagination. I know I need to continue to work on my physical body (fitness, nutrition, rest). I know I need to continue to walk into my darkest corners with a spirit of curiosity. And when I get there, I know I need to let you know how it goes!

Trauma or Drama?

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(Photo credit: © iStockphoto.com/ Justin Horrocks)

Trauma and drama are two very different things.

Trauma is the violent, terrifying things that happen to you that you had no direct control over. Trauma’s impact is profoundly reveal and can’t be ignored. Trauma is pathological — meaning it must be treated as an injury.

Drama is how we react to things — especially situations or conditions that we created or attracted. Drama is psychological — meaning it is mostly in your head.

Here’s the great biological practical joke … our primal brain can’t tell the difference. Once fight/flight/freeze is triggered, its all treated as a threat response by our ancient mind. This mechanism is designed to protect us. But it also gives us a bias for seeing problems where they don’t exist.

It takes an intervention of wisdom and awareness to discern between the two. So here’s a helpful metaphor for that …

Drama is a mosquito in the tent. It captures all of your attention but contains essentially zero actual threat. We are flooded with how we feel about that *@#* mosquito! And that feeling determines our behavior. Pretty soon we’re swatting, flailing, swearing and the “problem” rarely gets solved. Because the real issue is our reaction, not the mosquito.

Trauma is a grizzly bear trying to get into the tent. This is a real and present danger! The very thing that our primal mind was designed to handle. Do I fight? Do I run? Do I freeze? What’s interesting is that you don’t feel fear — at least the kind of fear that you’re used to. Trauma survivors report being intensely aware and calm during an attack (the fear came later in the form of PTSD). Again, this is by design to clear space for the most effective survival response.

So try this …

The next time something feels like a problem, threat or otherwise negative disruption of your life, ask yourself its a mosquito or a grizzly bear. Unless you are dealing with some heavy shit, 99 % of “problems” are mosquitos. In that case, re-train your mind by giving it some action to take (thinking and fretting is not action) — belly breathing, take a walk, do some push ups. If you do this, you will be much more capable of handling the grizzly bears that inevitably show up in life.

Inside Anxiety

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Up until 2014, my life was primarily comprised of outer peace and inner turmoil. On the outside, everything was excessively “normal”. Make a living, have a good marriage, be a good dad, go to church, maybe take a vacation now and again. But inside, I suffered from severe and debilitating depression. This manifested in a number of ways — from mania, to crashing, to destructive behavior. It showed up in physical ways as well — primarily as crippling migraines.

As I’ve written about here before, that all begin to slowly change starting in 2011. It initially culminated in a big bang of a spiritual awakening in 2014 — which lead to stripping away all of the “normal” and getting to the root of who I am and what I’m here to do. In the process, I had less and less bouts of depression — to the point that I haven’t had a serious episode in over five years. Even the migraines have greatly been reduced.

In short, I moved from outer peace and inner turmoil to inner peace and outer turmoil. The outer turmoil was based around either the dismantling or evolution of these outer conditions and systems. A massive upheaval that has revealed a life that I had no plans on living.

One side effect of all this outer turmoil has been anxiety. From unease to screaming panic. Depression and anxiety are often lumped together. But not for me. When I was dealing with depression, I had no real anxiety. Depression robs you of pretty much all feelings. For me, anxiety came to me when I started feeling everything.

Depression feels like a permanent weather pattern. Like living in an air inversion or a fog bank. Anxiety feels like a submarine under attack. Dive! Dive! Dive! Do it now! Urgent, urgent. Panic, panic. Then it goes away. The outer conditions shift and anxiety disappears. Almost as if had never happened.

In working through anxiety, I’ve learned a few things that I felt compelled to share here. A strong disclaimer: I am not a therapist. I have no formal training in dealing with anxiety. These are just my personal experiences and observations.

  • I stopped treating anxiety like a disorder. Society, religion and pop psychology would have us believe that if we aren’t happy-dappy all the time, something is wrong. This is how I first responded to anxiety. “What are you doing here? Why are you threatening my happiness? Go away!” I was treating anxiety as an unwelcome guest. Then I realized this … anxiety is a signal. It can’t hurt me. It’s not here to hurt me. It’s here to provide a signal, a warning, a protection. Now when I feel anxiety, I consciously accept it. I listen to it. I often visualize it as a messenger sent to my door to warn me of something. Then, instead of treating it like a problem to solve, I treat it as a mystery to unlock.
  • I determined the triggers. If anxiety is a check engine light, it requires some investigation. This investigation is tracing anxiety back to specific triggers to understand the source of the warning. This was impossible to do when I was responding to anxiety as a disorder. Once I accepted it, I was able to follow the clues to reveal the triggers. Which are … 1) Fatigue. When I’m exhausted physically, mentally, emotionally, I see the world as a scary, threatening place, 2) Hunger. Again both literal hunger, but also a hunger for connection, for meaning, for spiritual bread. Hunger makes me desperate, self-absorbed, greedy. 3) Isolation. One of my greatest fears is to be isolated with nothing to do. This is different than solitude — which is isolation that I chose to create. This isolation is the confidence-eroding blend of being left out/left behind, boredom and waiting. In knowing the triggers, I can pre-plan, take ownership over what I can control. This is empowering and greatly reduces the length and severity of an anxiety attack (I don’t really like that word for it, but that’s what it’s called)
  • I heed the warning light. As I mentioned, anxiety is an alert, a warning, as signal. For me, this warning light almost always means that I am either A) Too attached to someone or something or B) I am anticipating future pain or suffering. As Buddha said, “All suffering is attachment”. This profundity helps me to see that anxiety is warning me that I am attaching my happiness to someone else’s behavior, the outcome of a situation, etc. Because of the systems upheaval of the past few years, my psyche is highly sensitive to future suffering. The only cure for this to be present. To be here. Right now.

In understanding these three areas and their sub-sets, I can now be proactive about anxiety. I know that when I’m anxious or uneasy, I tend to attach the alleviation of this feeling to someone else. This makes me modify my self in order to get attention, affection, validation. Which erodes my confidence. And if I don’t get those, I will create conflict instead. Because conflict is way better than anxiety (according to my ego). By taking ownership of anxiety, I can then take another pro-active step. I can tell someone that I love that I feel anxious. By expressing without attaching to them, I can use vulnerability to proactively thwart anxiety.

These are helpful tools and resources, but the #1 proactive ownership I can take is to work on my confidence. Self-love and self-worth are engines of happiness. If these are tuned up and performing at a high level, the warning light of anxiety rarely comes on. But if it does, I now have the awareness to pull over, pop the hood and understand the source.

The High Cost of Fear Goggles

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We humans are pre-wired with a heightened sense of fear — which is rooted in the ego. For thousands of years, this heightened sense of fear was a necessary element for the survival and advancement of our species. As we’ve become more “civilized”, these primal traits remain. Yet they are used for much less threatening circumstances.

Unless you are a trauma survivor.

For trauma survivors, these primal instincts are further amplified. In fact, recent breakthrough brain research shows that trauma triggers deep-seated survival components that are manifested in PTSD, depression and other mental health issues.

That’s the science. This is the story.

I have noticed in myself a marked increase in fear the past couple of years. I used to be bold to the point of recklessness and brashness. But now as I’ve experienced a deep and transformative awakening, I noticed a much higher level of fear. From low-grade unease to abject terror. To some extent this makes sense. When you awaken, you feel everything.

I tried to explain fear away — “It’s just past trauma”.

I tried to mantra fear away — “Fear is a liar!”

I tried to pray fear away — “Please take this cup from me”

It was only when I turned in to the fears that I began to understand them. In short, I discovered I’d been wearing “fear goggles”. My perspective was being twisted by past experiences and changing how I saw things. Not just in small ways but in destructive, tyrannical ways.

Fear goggles made me …

  • See everything as a problem to solve.
  • See everything and everyone with a threat level assessment.
  • Create little false worlds or situations that I could control.
  • Either idolize or villainize people — especially those I love.
  • See myself as a victim.
  • See people as objects.
  • Visualize the worst case scenario in even the most benign situations.
  • Assume that something was deeply wrong with me; that I was permanently damaged in some way.
  • Look back with regret or nostalgia.
  • Create conflict in order to feel in control or powerful.
  • Look forward with delusion, dread or anxiety.
  • Lose my faith and spiritual vision.
  • Try to get comfort from more information and more data.
  • Possessive and greedy.
  • Not trust anyone or anything.

In times past, I would occasionally exchange fear goggles for rose colored glasses — an irrational hopefulness and recklessness disguised as positivity and optimism. This inevitably lead to more trauma, more disappointment — which lead to more fear. And back went on the fear goggles.

My path to freeing myself of fear goggles began with awareness (seeing that I was wearing them) and then advanced to this realization: wearing fear goggles is entirely a choice. Fear is a primal response. And all primal responses can be over-ridden by the one thing that elevates humans above all other creatures: the power of choice.

Getting rid of my fear goggles frees me to see that there are real problems to solve and sometimes real fears to confront. But it also frees me to see all of my resources and assets. It frees me to see my own worth. It frees me to see others as humans. It frees me to use my natural gifts.

By choosing to remove the fear goggles, I can see … the truth, the reality and the mystical.


Is Your Brand Doing These Two Things?

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As I/we have often written about, brand and branding is not what it used to be. It is no longer an external construct based on perception and image. It’s not about demographics, campaigns, ad spend.

So what is it?

We say that a brand is how other people experience what you believe.

This means that your brand must successfully and consistently do two things:

Emit Love

Create Trust

Love is the ultimate “bacon” aroma that a brand can generate. It literally means triggering oxytocin in the people that touch the brand. But it’s so much bigger than that. Love makes your brand un-copyable, unbreakable, timeless. Love turns your employees into ambassadors and your customers into your shareholders. Love makes your competitors shrink – or rise to the occasion. Love can’t be bought with Taco Tuesday’s nor with discounts. Love is earned through the daily habits of an organization – starting with its top leaders. One of these habits is self-care – leaders that invest in the holistic well-being of themselves and the people they lead.

Trust is what happens when you consistently emit love. Trust allows you to fail, make mistakes and otherwise be a human. Trust shows up in a thousand ways – from empowering your employees to truly help your customers to proactively listening to the needs of your customers. Trust means using branding and marketing language and tools that encourage, invite, inspire and saying no to manipulation, persuasion and saturation. Trust means building your brand as a word-of-mouth machine – knowing that the more trust you generate, the more your brand will grow. Trust means always seeing the humanity in your decisions.

My question to all leaders is this …

If your brand doesn’t emit love and create trust, what are you asking your marketing team to do?


“I believe nothing matters until you connect with your heart.”



“I believe nothing matters until you connect with your heart.”