Reflections on my 2018 Father’s Day.

Almost Fatherless

This past week, my twin daughters took flight as they went to Washington DC as part of a post-eighth-grade right of passage for many middle schoolers.  Although my wife and I barely heard from them all week, I was able to watch their progress as I stole multiple glances of their physical location via the sharing services of Google Maps.  I wasn’t motivated by fear in doing so or any sense of missing out, but rather by the utter joy in trying to imagine their sense of wonder as they took in the symbols of our great democracy on a trip which is the longest they will have been away from their parents.  I suspect it’s this latter aspect of the trip, not the Liberty Bell or Declaration of Independence or Holocaust Museum which will end up having had the most impact on their futures.

So leading up to today’s Father’s Day, I was mostly fatherless, although our 3rd daughter, Autumn, had a great week as being a deeply enriched singleton for a few days.  And at 1:30 am on Father’s Day, I stood in a dark parking lot and welcomed back into my life my first two children. Their smiles were broad and heads seemed held a bit higher upon their return.

As my daughters lay asleep at 7 am on Father’s Day, I headed out for my weekend ritual of disappearing for 5 miles into the East Bay hills on a trail run.  And my companion was The Ted Radio Hour’s podcast from this past week, an episode entitled The Person You Become.  As usual, Guy Raz masterfully wove together snippets of Ted Talks into a collage that spoke about people making transitions in their lives that redefined themselves, sometimes by design and other times by accident.  It was an enthralling episode and the timing couldn’t have been more appropriate given the celebration of today and my week leading up to it.

Defining Ourselves

I ran a bit longer this morning as my head was swimming with these concepts of who we’ve been and who me might become.  The summary of my LinkedIn profile tries to capture my essence as…

C-Suite, Start-Up Junkie.  Also proud and committed father, spouse, citizen, reader, liberal, Californian and aging athlete.

And I think that’s a pretty good synopsis of who I see myself as and maybe even a start for a future gravestone epitaph.  But although I think that summary does do a good job of explaining what I am, it’ doesn’t explain how I’ve become those things.  It’s the difference between WHO vs. HOW. The ‘how’ is what I’ve been thinking about this past week with my daughters taking their first flight outside the safe nest my wife and I have created for them.

Which leads me to the real story I wanted to tell today, that of another aging athlete who made his way from South Africa to surfing barrels all over the globe.

Waves and Will

I had the unexpected pleasure of meeting Shaun Tompson two years ago at a retreat planned by my good friend, Craig Harris of HG Data.  Craig was getting the entire company together in a dusty and hot canyon north of Santa Barbara for a day of planning and introspection.  And I wasn’t looking forward to it. I’m not one for group hugs and rah-rah sessions of empty commitments that are forgotten before you crack the office door the next day.

So when Craig mentioned a surfer as our speaker, I secretly dreaded it would be a waste of time.  Over the past 3 decades, I’ve heard so many famous folks speak at corporate events, I’ve become numb to the silliness.  The wonder of being in the presence of greatness morphs into the excitement of hearing intimate details of his-her life followed by the commitment to apply those lessons to our average existence and finally….leads to nothing.  The sugar high of promised action is quickly followed by the crash of reality and business as usual. So even as Shaun was taking the mic in his Patagonia shirt, shorts and flip flops, my expectations were low and I was reduced to telling myself…just enjoy being entertained.

And that’s when Shaun started to blow me away and changed my life.

Shaun was certainly entertaining – have no doubt.  His stories of being a big wave pioneer in the 1970s were fantastic.  Although my physical-challenges-of-choice are more mountain oriented, I could translate mountain-to-ocean and rock-to-wave in a fashion that made his stories relatable.  I was also enthralled by Shaun’s stories of apartheid. As a South African, Shaun’s budding career as a professional surfer was greatly impacted by the social and political framework of that country’s attempts to grapple with it’s institutional racism.  With the world condemning the country and trying to force change, I found it fascinating to hear of Shaun’s dramatic decisions to try to make a career navigating these metaphysical dangerous waters.

But it wasn’t the talk that changed my life, but rather, it was the task he and Craig had planned for us that made this event so impactful.  You see, Shaun wasn’t just giving us a talk. He was outlining how milestones in his life had come to define his value system. Each time he was challenged on a wave or in his homeland or as a father, he was forced to look inward and make choices that confirmed his value system…his HOW.  Shaun even went so far to memorize these stories and lessons in a book called, The Code:  The Power of “I Will’.  Shaun describes the purpose of the book as:

This book is about many things – faith, courage, creativity, determination – but above all it’s about the promises we make to ourselves about the future. These stories will inspire you to believe in yourself and to believe in the power that each and everyone of us has to effect change through the power of ‘I Will.’ Once you do that, you begin to shape your future and achieve whatever you wish for.

The culmination of Shaun’s storytelling was an explanation that each story mapped to one of twelve values that defined his character.  Their combination was twelve statements of purpose that created his ‘code’ of life commitments that inspired him to live a life of meaning and with conviction.  He read those twelve “I Will” statements and you couldn’t help but be inspired. This concept of stories-to-meaning was impressive and created relevance in a manner I hadn’t seen in dozens of previous ‘motivational’ speakers.  So this guy can do more than surf, I remember saying to myself.

As Shaun was wrapping up his funny and inspiring stories and his “I Will’ manifesto, what none of us knew is that we were about to be forced to catch our own wave.  His stories and value system declaration had merely been an introduction, a proverbial warm-up. Because it was now our turn.

Our Turn

It was our turn to define our “I Will”.  Shaun passed on a piece of paper that had the title of “I Will…” followed by numbered lines one through twelve.  We were instructed to take the next hour to find a place to privately reflect on our convictions, the moments in our lives that have defined our character and write down our own creed.  Twelve statements, no more and no less, that boiled us down to our most cherished traits. Wow…I didn’t see this coming.

As someone who tries to live with purpose and spends lots of time processing impactful aspects of my life, you would think this exercise would have been easy for me.  But there is a difference between having a loose set of values swimming around in your head and being asked to organize them, declare them as your own and share them with others.  All 50 of us did share our “I Will” statements publicly that afternoon and it might have been the most intimate and personal few hours I’ve ever spent with coworkers.

Although I’m no longer at HG Data, one of my proudest accomplishments is the mural that now hangs in their lobby, with a single “I Will” statement from each of the participants from Shaun’s workshop that day.  It’s a beautiful collection of goals, fears, vulnerabilities and wishes that made me so proud to walk through those doors every day.

Your How

It’s been two years since I wrote down my “I Will’ statements.  I felt a bit susceptible was I declared them to my HG Data family that afternoon after Shaun’s talk.  And I have some trepidation as I list them below too. But they have been so helpful for me over these past two years that I am compelled to go public with them.  I pull them up 1-2 times a month in a quiet moment and read through them privately. I find that they’ve done for me exactly what Shaun intended when he wrote The Code.  They are a source of clarity for me in times of doubt and guideposts for how I need to conduct myself if I want my future to take the shape to which I aspire.

I Will…

  1. Show my love daily for my wife and children.
  2. Commit to continual curiosity and learning.
  3. Think independently, honor truth and be honest in all that I do.
  4. Be a great friend.
  5. Ensure my actions are louder than my voice.
  6. Embody gratitude, joy and say ‘thank you’.
  7. Live with no regrets.
  8. Continually seek summits, physical and metaphorical, with planning, risk management, teamwork, tenacity and resilience.
  9. Push my body in exploration until it fails me.
  10. Share my success with others who haven’t had my good fortune.
  11. Leave a legacy based on my relationships and conduct.
  12. Hold myself accountable to living in alignment with my values.

Inspired by Shaun.

Reflective thanks to Guy.

Stimulated by my local wilderness trail.

Reminded of my purpose after a week of stalking Google Maps.