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Self-Worth

Ego, What is it Good For?

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“War (What is it Good For?)” was a famous anti-war song during the Vietnam War era. Originally written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong for The Temptations, it was first a hit for Edwin Starr. It was made even for famous when it was covered by Country Joe McDonald at Woodstock in 1969 (image above).

The first verse …

War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again, why’all

This song and these lyrics came to mind recently after I expressed to a friend that it seems as if there’s a daily war between Ego and Soul — both internally and externally. This got me thinking about Ego and it’s purpose.

What is the Ego good for? Well not “absolutely nothing”. Ego has a specific purpose. As I posted the other day in one of my musings, the Ego wants us to be safe, not happy. It is an extension of the evolution of humans and our remarkable tenacity. It is designed to protect us. It craves form, identity, a role. I often refer to my Ego as a “herd dog” because it just needs something to do, something to protect, something to give it purpose.

It appears that the Ego has at least four specific purposes in helping us function and survive as humans.

  • Cataloging — The Ego has an enormous database and details-obsessed memory. The Ego helps our brain catalog experiences, sensory input, interactions. We quickly refer to these files in unexpected moments or dangerous (perceived or otherwise) situations. As an evolutionary tool, the Ego helped catalog what to eat, where to find food, what animals and plants are dangerous, where to find shelter — and most importantly to survival of the species, who to reproduce with. The main issue we have today with the cataloging feature of the Ego is our strong tendency to mis-remember things — that manifest in over 300 biases. We have also over-saturated and over-stimulated the cataloging function which causes our mind to go in to reactive state (another survival mechanism). In short, cataloging makes us stop thinking and only react — i.e. road rage.
  • Compartmentalization — The Ego is excellent at shutting down, walling off and otherwise protecting the core self from outside danger. Compartmentalization is a feature designed to help us survive severe trauma and protects us through horrific situations and condition. It makes us efficient and deadly fighters, productive workers and even contributes to the role of parenting. The main issue with this feature for many of us is that most compartmentalizing is unnecessary. For example, “leave work at work and home at home”. It most certainly doesn’t work that way unless in a truly high pressure, dangerous job. Yet many people build these false walls between their professional and personal lives. This split life can cause a deep disconnect from meaning; leading to depression, anxiety, addiction.
  • Comparison — All comparison is of the Ego — something to remember the next time you hear “should / shouldn’t” chatter in your head. As the only creatures with true Free Will, comparison is a necessary element for maintaining and using our power of choice. We can’t remember everything and we can’t choose everything. So we have to create a decision-making hierarchy — which runs on comparison. In addition, comparison was a necessary element for survival — for ourselves, our families and our communities. If you had more than me (food, weapons, status), the comparison drove me to achieve and acquire. Often by going to war with you! The issue with comparison today is that it is hugely manipulated by social pressure — especially in advertising and marketing. It is an extension of the “Keep up with the Jones’s” syndrome that grew out of the post-World War II expansion of the middle class and suburbia. Unless you are in a true survival situation, comparison will just make you work hard for things you really don’t need or want.
  • Competition — This one is essentially a composite of the above three but bears mentioning separately. The Ego wants to win. Its in its programming. Winning is an evolutionary trait that gives the Ego a sense of achievement and the identity of “winner”. People will say “I’m not very competitive”. If you have an Ego, you are competitive — just in different ways. Competition permeates all hierarchal systems — which pretty much includes every living thing. The hierarchy creates status, opportunities for power and wealth, tribal dominance and clear difference between “winners” and “losers”. As a libertarian-in-all-things and a free speech, free market advocate, I have no issue with competition. I do have an issue with the Ego’s tendency to use competition to hurt others, mis-use authority and fuel a if-you-are-not-cheating-you-are-not-trying culture in business and sports. My reminder to myself is: compete for what matters.

Ultimately, our Ego and Soul are intended to live in harmony. One needs the other. The Ego is needed for survival and the Soul is needed for happiness.But for similar reasons as to why we have a civilian commander-in-chief, the Ego makes a great employee but a terrible boss (unless you are in an actual life-threatening situation, then let the Ego do it’s thing so you don’t die!).

 

Things I No Longer Do

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This is tofu disguised as bacon. What’s more pretentious than that?!

The past 4+ years have all been about change. Massive changes. Tiny changes. Entering this new era of me has been a painful and mighty challenge. Each change turned the wheel of evolution; revealing new things and leaving some things behind. And there’s been so much new that I haven’t spent much time on thinking, habits, etc that I used to have; things I used to do.

After some examination, I found a few things I no longer do. All of which defined- in many ways — the last era of me. Some were personality based or motivating forces. Others were about survival and a craving for identity. Whatever the reason, I simple don’t do them any more. I’ve outgrown them — emotionally and spiritually.

  • Posturing — I had a boss in the early 2000s that once told me, “Justin, you’re always working an angle.” That was true. I did want something from most people. Whether it was making a sale, validating my existence, affirming my value. I didn’t have the confidence to just be — I had to go get these things from other people. My posturing was a combination of flattery, insincere sincerity, self-deprecation and outright lying. I called it being “relatable” — when really it was about survival-based manipulation. I was using my God-given ability to connect with people for my own gain.
    No more. Sure, the old triggers and responses are still there. But each time I feel that urge to posture, I remind myself that I don’t have to be anything for anyone. And also, you can’t love people and also use them.
  • Pretense — I had a vivid and lively imagination as a child. One that got me through violence, boredom, loneliness. But it wasn’t until I was in my mid teens that I learned to pretend. I pretended to be confident. I pretended like I had my life in order. And back to posturing, I would pretend like I liked you if I thought you could do something for me. The more I pretended, the larger my imposter syndrome would grow. Because I was an imposter. I was pretending to be happy. Pretending to be successful. I was good at pretending — especially when social media came around. I had a good sense of image and perception — and how to pretend in order to build the image I wanted everyone to see. No more. I am me. No acting. No pretending. Which, deliciously, has brought back my childhood ability to imagine and think creatively. I will extend a few minutes of grace to a situation — but if it’s not for me, I give myself permission to simply leave rather than pretend to be there. This includes many social settings, small talk, closed society gossip.
  • Primal Dominance — I was a dichotomy. In many ways, I was a wuss. In other ways, I wanted to drink from the skulls of my enemies. Especially intellectually. I wanted to intellectually dominate you. To show you who was smarter. The same boss told me “You are way too quick to show people how smart you are.” I was always insecure about my not having a college education, so if I came across someone with a lot of schooling — especially from a prestigious university- I would preen and proclaim that my “street” education was much more useful. I was also insecure about my perceived lack of athletic ability. So I would show off how smart I was on sports, working out, physical challenges to overcompensate for my lack of worth in these areas. No more. Sure, there’s a time for decisive leadership. I still consider myself an Alpha but a secure, awake, contemplative one.

When these three things fell away, I noticed additional changes. I no longer give advice. This is a fairly new epiphany, but most advice I was giving was related to one, some or all three of the above. My advice was all of the ego — even if well intentioned and typically factually correct. Secondly, I no longer identify with any groups. I am a human man, that by citizenship, is an American. That’s it. When I removed posturing, pretense and primal dominance from my behavior, I no longer NEEDED to be in a group. Finally, I have learned joy. The joy of genuineness. The joy of discipline. The joy of suffering. The joy of empathy. I have learned that when you connect to the soul and its creator, your primary emotion is joy. And joy doesn’t need to posture, pretend or dominate. Joy just is.

80% of Freedom is Internal

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Nelson Mandela’s cell

I believe the natural state of all humans is freedom. Anything less than freedom is on the spectrum of tyranny. I also have come to learn that 80% of freedom is internal. Whether it be a person, a family, a business, a community, a state, a nation, a global movement. Which leaves 20% as external conditions or circumstances.

While there are certainly more free societies, the government does not extend freedom. Because it can’t give what’s not its to give. It can protect the structure of freedom but is far more inclined to restrict freedom.

Religious doctrine also doesn’t extend freedom. It too is far more likely to restrict freedom. The freedom that Jesus (and others) spoke of was not a dispensation. It was a re-awakening of understanding the freedom we already contain within us.

A career rarely leads to freedom. The term “wage slaves” is painfully true. Consumerism and comparison also saddle us with soul crushing obligations and attachments. Which makes sense … you can’t purchase freedom.

I arrive at this 80/20 ratio through my own experiences but also studying the lives of others — especially those that have endured great suffering. Many survivors of suffering report a deep sense of freedom. A sense of meaning that extends far beyond the mind’s coping mechanisms. Noted psychiatrist, author and Nazi concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl said, “In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”

In any situation, no matter how dire, we control our behavior, our language (inner and outer) and our responses. The level of sovereignty in these three areas is essential to re-claim inner freedom. To achieve inner freedom (which is actually re-discovering what’s already there) takes a series of courageous and often sacrificial acts.

  • Re-claim your identity. Our ego’s need for identity and form creates deeply unhealthy attachments. Most common is an attachment to the identity of “victim”. As I shared recently, victimhood is the easiest cult to join and the most difficult to want to leave. Martyrdom is also an identity that our egos love to attach to. But you are not your circumstances, your conditions, your experiences. You are you. You are the you in you that infinitely powerful.
  • Change your narrative. Our words form our realities. If we are using negative language, then our reality will become bleak. This doesn’t mean to be delusional or naive. It means that we must measure every word we use — first in our heads, then out of our mouths. When you begin to speak encouraging, positive, affirming words, the narrative changes. This may have zero impact on outside conditions, but you will still re-awaken freedom within.
  • Listen to the right voices. The voice of the soul is never wrong. It can’t be killed, squelched, muted. But it can be drowned out by darker voices. Our ego contains a dark shadow of self-loathing, blame, self-accusation. This same voice also breeds resentment. Which inevitably leads to violence. Nelson Mandela on his long awaited release from prison: “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
  • Practice radical acceptance. There is a freedom and clarity that comes from fully accepting current circumstances or conditions. Without this acceptance, we remain in a comparative, should/shouldn’t mindset that creates false hope, expectations and assumptions. Freedom and truth go hand in hand. So lying to yourself about the reality of the circumstances actually contributes to your suffering. It’s also important to radically accept our feelings about a negative situation. It’s a fine line. We want to acknowledge these feelings as a form of truth — but we don’t want the negative ones to define our mindset and behavior. A common phrase in the military is “embrace the suck”. This exemplifies the radical acceptance of both conditions and the feelings we have about them.

I will close with this thought …

The best and highest another person can do for you is to change the 20% — liberate you from circumstances. No other human can give you the 80% of freedom that is inward. Only you can do that.

You Are Here to Create

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We all start out as followers. Out of necessity for our survival and then for our identity, religious and political beliefs, career and to participate in society. Many of us stay in the role of follower — just with a different rank or slot on the hierarchy. Think a CEO is all powerful? Unless a CEO is the majority shareholder, even he/she is a follower.

I am more convinced than ever that being a follower was intended to be a temporary state of being. Books like “Iron John”“Wild at Heart” and “12 Rules for Life” emphasize the psychology and mythology behind the evolution of being; of the rites of passage of maturity.

Many a grown up hasn’t actually grown up. They are just aging followers — or as I say in my book “Human Bacon” about many Gen X and Boomer men, “they got old without every growing up”. I have some compassion for why this is. When you apply hard work with a clear role, you produce a lifestyle. This lifestyle is funded and sustained by being a good follower. Rocking the boat, speaking the truth, asking for what you want, etc are all a threat to the follower’s life. Thoreau said it more eloquently … “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”.

Here’s the truth, however …

You are here to create.

The timing of moving from follower to creator is different for everyone. I have seen toddlers that are all about creation and have little interest in following. But I’ve also seen the transition from follower to creator happen with the elderly. The point is the same: there will come a time in life when you will be called to move from follower to creator. This calling could come in many forms. It could be a whisper in your soul. It could be a catastrophic event. It could be a spiritual awakening.

Most ignore this call. Repeatedly. And maybe it goes away and you remain a follower the rest of your life. Again, I have compassion for those that choose (and it is a choice) to ignore the calling. It’s terrifying. It often requires a massive change in how you do things. Answering the call to create can separate you from family. It can end marriages. It can end careers. Being called to create threatens everything your ego created around your identity, value and status.

If you choose to answer the call, know this: your way of creating will be unique and different from anyone else. All creative endeavors advance humanity and put a dent in the universe. But yours will be especially yours and no one else’s.

What you are here to create can be found at the convergence of three things:

  1. Your Mission. The thing you are here to do that only you can do.
  2. Your Beliefs. Not your adopted beliefs but the intrinsic beliefs that are part of your being.
  3. Your Talents. The combination of your natural gifts and learned skills.

Where these converge an artisan will be found. The artisan in you may not be recognized by others. But you recognize it. It was you as a young child. Before you became a full-time follower. When you lived by imagination. When you made art without fear of rejection. When you ran with the wind in your hair.

The (re)emergence and (re)acceptance of this artisan will bring with it fresh eyes. It will make your soul more nuanced. You will be sensitive about wasting time, shallow conversations, pretense, the trivial. You will see people differently — including even seeing their hidden artist that’s dormant and trapped beneath their follower persona. It will help you re-discover your inherent human super powers: choice, perspective, action, intuition, awareness — and creative energy.

When you embrace your becoming a creator, you will find that your creative purpose becomes an organizing principle in the chaos of the world. It will change your relationship with time and resources. It will become the most important and sacred part of being. And many of those that saw you as merely a follower will fall away. As will every aspect of the follower’s life you once led.

If you are still at the following stage, that’s ok. I encourage you to listen to the voice of your soul. It is never wrong.

If you are now a creator, what are you creating? I truly want to know.

What the Hell does “Let Go” Mean?

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Credit: Ronald Binge

You know if a phrase starts to appear on Instagram feeds, casual conversations and as coffee shop/Christian bookstore/strip mall yoga studio chotchkies, it’s become a cliche. Such is the the case with the now reduced-to-pablum phrase of “let go”. “Let go” has joined the ranks of “everything happens for a reason”, “YOLO!” and “follow your arrow”.

“Let go” is often well intended but poor advice (as most advice is) that encourages the recipient to suppress emotions and experiences — all in the name of “moving forward”. But you can’t let go of memories. Our brain doesn’t work that way. You can’t let go of feelings. Our heart doesn’t work that way.

Of course, I get the intention of “letting go”. We shouldn’t hold on to things. It’s part of being human. But “letting go” has also contributed to the mis-understood concept of non-attachment. Non-attachment is also humanly impossible. Like wearing wool socks through a sticker patch and not picking up stickers. We attach to people, ideas, things, beliefs, symbols. (The solution is aware attachment — but that’s a different post).

So what the hell does “let go” actually mean?

Let’s introduce a metaphor that will help explain a healthy, realistic type of letting go …

The physical world is made up of solids, gases and liquids. Metaphorically, universal truths are solids. Everything produced by the ego is gaseous. And feelings are fluid. In their liquid state, feelings follow the same laws of fluidity as in nature. When held on to, water becomes first still, then stagnant, then toxic. Feelings are the same way. They are meant to pass through; to flow. But we hold on to them (that whole attachment thing, again).

Let’s examine this further with common emotions and feelings …

When suppressed or contained:

  • Anger becomes resentment. And by my observations and internal wars, resentment is the most destructive of human emotions.
  • Desire becomes destruction which becomes shame or regret.
  • Hate becomes apathy which becomes violence.
  • Pride becomes loathing which becomes arrogance.
  • Envy, fueled by comparison, becomes greed.
  • Worry starts off as control and becomes anxiety.
  • Loneliness begets isolation which begets madness (and extremism).
  • Boredom produces numbness which then leads to the death of joy.

Even positive feelings are meant to pass on through …

  • Happiness trapped in a holding tank becomes lost expectations.
  • Reverence retained becomes idol worship (and when given a business model becomes a literal or figurative religion).
  • Gratefulness gathered becomes unworthiness.
  • And love (not Love, that’s different) can become obsession.

So a much more accurate use of “letting go” is this …

Feel it all.

But don’t hold on to the feeling.

Let go of the holding on to the feeling.

If it’s a negative feeling, it will pass. If it’s a positive feeling, another one will soon come.

Thoughts on Anxiety

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The title of this post is intentionally ironic. Considering that thinking is exactly what causes anxiety. None the less, this is an important topic because anxiety effects roughly 40 million Americans over 18.

I am one of them. I didn’t know what to call it until later in life, but I’ve dealt with anxiety as far back as I can remember. Varying from gripping panic to the constant hum of unease, anxiety has been a frequent visitor. I remember having panic attacks so severe that I would pass out. I’m certain that my anxiety comes from being born into a situation that constantly immersed me in hyper-threat alert mode.

So I don’t arrive at these thoughts on anxiety lightly and without experience. I have been my own lab, my own research project, my own source of empirical data. To be clear, these thoughts are what have been of help to me and those I coach and mentor. They may not work for you. I am not a therapist, psychologist or any other sort of mental health professional.

  • Anxiety is yours. You own it. And if you begin thinking it’s someone else’s responsibility to fix it, you become its slave.
  • No one or no thing actually causes anxiety. Anxiety is entirely an inside game; a construct of the mind/ego. As I overheard recently, “the ego believes all of its stories”.
  • Anxiety is trying to protect you. It comes from thousands (maybe millions) of years of evolutionary biology to protect, to survive. But it doesn’t mean something is actually wrong. True danger triggers several responses, but anxiety isn’t one of them.
  • You are not your anxiety. In Internal Family System (IFS) behavioral theory, anxiety is a “part” that your psyche created to protect your core self. As I mentioned above, this is why it is trying to protect you. I call this part of me “The Parameter Dog”. On occasion, it still barks at perceived threats — but mostly he just works (once understood, anxiety becomes a fairly decent motivator) or rests like any herding animal.
  • Anxiety’s only cure is action. You can’t think your way out of anxiety. That’s why when dealing with anxiety or apanic attack, you’ve got to move. This includes sitting/standing up straight with your shoulders back and your breath even. Or push ups. Or a punching bag. Just move.
  • Anxiety comes from the same part of the brain as addiction. So anxiety can fairly easily trigger addictive behavior — especially an addiction to coping mechanisms. This could be relatively benign coping mechanisms like NetFlix binging. Or highly destructive and corrosive mechanisms like drug abuse, excessive consumption of pornography, excessive shopping, excessive eating… to name just a few business models that rely on anxiety.
  • Anxiety is heavily influenced by our attachment style. This includes the spiritual aspects of attachment that were taught by Jesus and Buddha as well as the emerging psychological science of attachment. In essence, we have a pre-disposition to either anxious, avoidant or healthy attachment styles. Anxiety plays a major role in the lives of anxious and avoidant attachment styles. If you are interested in learning more, I highly recommend this book.
  • Remember this mantra: Ownership > Anxiety. This loops back to my first thought I shared. You don’t choose anxiety but you do choose how you react to it. Own that you have anxiety. Own your current reaction to it. Own the action you want to take. Own the search for the root cause. Own how it effects how others interact with you.

If you deal with anxiety or love someone that does, I hope these thoughts are helpful. And if you have your own tips and hacks for anxiety, please share them in the comments.

Being in a Doing World

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For me, the gravitational pull of the extrinsic and external is my greatest source of anxiety. This sense of detachment from my inner self produces a sense of untetheredness. It makes me overly-sensitive, over-reactive. In this state, I tend to modify myself in order to get acceptance. I pursue what I think will make me happy — forgetting that I’m already happy.

In simple but true terms, “doing” is extrinsic and “being” is intrinsic. Doing is an external activity. Being is an internal state of consciousness.

Similar to the war on self-worth (a future topic), the pull of the extrinsic manifests in several ways in my life. Maybe some of these will resonate with your own experience.

  • I often find myself trying to see how others see me. This puts me in the doing mode of creating an image. I want others to see me as successful, attractive, confident, enlightened. So my energy is focused on doing whatever is necessary to create this image. To be intrinsic is to be your true self in any situation or any condition. There is no doing here. Just a sense of being; of connectedness to your own self-worth. This intrinsic place is fleeting for me.
  • I frequently attach way too much value to to my to-do list. It literally has the word “do” in it! While certainly things need to get done, I must be cautious of the highly addictive solidity of task. The mind loves the sense of meaning and value of getting things done. This is the essence of what it means to be a workaholic. There will always be something on the to-do list. But to combat it’s narcotic effect, I also need a “To-Be” list. This would include things like being connected to God, being compassionate towards others, being open to adventure. The list is endless.
  • I know I’m in a high state of extrinsic doing when I am worrying about what other people are doing. The irony is rich. I am making my doing about what other people are doing. In this place lies obsession, lust, resentment, judgement. It is a detachment from the humanity of others because doing detaches me from my own humanity. There is a place for being when it comes to others. This would include observation, curiosity, connecting. Being is looking beneath the surface of the behavior of others to understand and listen to their souls.

Like almost everything in life, the solution is awareness. And awareness comes from asking good questions. Like …

Am I grounded in my soul or grasping for attention?

Am I loving people where they are or judging them from afar?

Am I seeking the root or chasing the fruit?

Can I look into someones eyes — including my own?

Doing is ultimately self-absorption. This is sometimes necessary at a survival level. That’s why its gravitational pull is so strong. But there’s no growth here. The to-do list just changes.

Being is ultimately self-worthiness. It’s the surety of knowing that you are connected to permanent things like love, truth, goodness, creativity. Our soul is wired to need these things. And this is most certainly where growth is. The to-be list just expands.

 

The Bravest Coward

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I’m 6’3″ 250 now — but I was a frail kid. Migraines, fainting spells, anxiety — and physically a weakling. I was tall but skinny. I couldn’t do push ups, pull-ups (which I still can’t do!) and could barely lift the bar on the bench press was I was 16. So physical strength was not something I knew until my 30s when I started lifting weights.

I had daily reminders of my lack of physical strength and stamina. Slow and awkward at recess games. Unable to lift irrigation pipes, saddles, close wire gates on the ranch. Bullied at school by kids whose own insecurities seemed to be attracted to whatever kick-my-ass pheromone my little body was releasing.

That frail Justin remains in me today at nearly 48 years old. My first reaction to any physical activity or challenge is “I can’t do this” or “I’m going to suck at this”. When I do physical things in a group, I assume that I will be amongst the laggards.

The past few years, I’ve returned to my true self, the original me. Yet to get there has required me to examine these other parts. (For more info on this approach, check out this article on Internal Family Systems). I’ve avoided this frail Justin part because … well … I don’t like him. I’ve buried him so deep in me because I’ve been afraid he would come back. But he never left and I never took the time to get to know him until recently.

In re-examining my journey, I saw that frail Justin was the bravest coward I’ve ever known. Despite feeling weak, fragile, puny and cowardly, he did a number of brave things:

  • In a 6th grade football game at recess, I saw that Todd Chavez (one of the better athletes — and also a frequent contributor to my misery) was about to blitz. I moved over to block him. And I sort of did. In the collision, I received a black eye and concussion — but he didn’t get to the QB.
  • I spent hundreds of hours outside at the ranch. There were all kinds of ways to get injured (which I did frequently) or even killed. I remember each day making a list of all the things that might hurt me — with the most imaginative stories. Like imagining what I would do if I stumbled across a hive of killer bees. Or if a serial killer showed up and held my family hostage. Or the Russians invaded (Thank you, Red Dawn!). But I did it all anyway. I rode horses and got bucked off, I rode motorcycles and wrecked them, I worked as an adult, I broke bones.
  • My sophomore year in high school. Walking down senior hall, I was suddenly surrounded by a group of bullies straight out of casting central of an 80s teen movie. Mullets, acne, chew tucked in to their lower lips, all sporting t-shirts from heavy metal bands. They started pushing me around; shoving me from one to another in their circle. Then something in me snapped. For the first time in my life, I fought back. I remember thinking, “they might kill me, but I’m taking a few of them with me.” And I fought back like the cornered animal I was. Throwing an elbow into the balls of one of them that jumped on my back. Kneeing another one in the face. Punching another one in the throat. They all got suspended (one expelled from the school) and I was — for a few days — a hero.
  • My junior year in high school, I went out for football. I was 5’11, 125 pounds and ran a 6.85 40 (in case you were wondering, turtles are faster). I got destroyed in tackling drills, I puked during the conditioning — and when the season started, I played a grand total of 5 plays for the entire season. One day in practice, the head coach (more than a little crazy) decided to pit the bigger offensive/defensive lineman against some of the smaller kids on the team. One of them was Steve Woodcock. An 18-year who looked 28 with a full beard and mean temper. The coach yelled at Woodcock “If you let Foster tackle you, then we all run sprints”. Here he came. He outweighed me by probably 100 pounds so I knew I couldn’t take him head on. So I decided to jump on his chest. I wove my fingers into his practice jersey and held on. He tried to push me off but couldn’t. As we neared the goal line, I began to slip. Which caused him to trip and fall on top of me about one yard from the end zone. With a spewing of profanity and threats, we all ran sprints. And it was probably the only time I’ve ever run with a smile on my face.

There were many other brave things. Stories maybe for another time. But in my 20s, 30s and into my early 40s, I kept that Justin tucked away in a dark corner; a distant memory. A reminder of what I did not want to become ever again. I covered him up with size, strength, bravado, brashness. But he was still there.

And in the last year, he came out again. But I noticed something this time. He was still brave. Brave enough to move to an entirely new state and start over after 20 years. Brave enough to walk away from the church I attended for pretty much my entire life. Brave enough to start a (another) new business. Brave enough to accept my life-long partner/wife’s awakening of who she truly is. Terrified by all of this, he did it all anyway.

Yes, this Justin is weak. Thank goodness. I’m more certain than ever that our weaknesses are designed to make us ask for help, keep us humble. I would much rather have a powerful soul and a frail body than a frail soul and a powerful body. I would not have known this without my weaknesses. I would not have asked God for help. I would not have gone back to therapy. I would have not spoken the truth if not for these weaknesses.

Of course, there are parts of me that I’m very proud of: being a dad, speaking skills, coaching/mentoring, strategic thinking, owning a business, writing intellect, etc. These things have fueled my confidence for years. And they still do. But added to this is a growing acceptance and confidence of this frail Justin. The bravest coward I’ve ever met.

How Do You Become an Original Thinker?

By | Leadership, Self-Worth | No Comments

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!