We Need You To Be Awesome

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The other day I was speaking with a client whose last name was, literally, “Awesome.” I half-jokingly remarked that with a name like that, her career path was pretty much set: she was destined to do something incredible.

After the call I kept thinking to myself what it means to be Awesome, and how we could all point ourselves in that direction. Not many of us have it written into our names, but we all have it etched in our hearts.

  1. Be relentlessly, pro-actively optimistic: You’re always making life better.
  2. Keep learning, and learning, and learning… and share what you learn.
  3. Combine these two, and you’ll be on your way to newfound superpowers.

There have been times when each of us has felt the sting of anxiety and bewilderment. The kind that comes with thinking we’re not good enough / smart enough / fast enough or even “enough” of anything that matters to do what we need to thrive. One negative thought leads to another, and pretty soon we’re running away from Awesome at full speed.

Let’s all give each other permission to slow down, stop, and then start walking back towards the light. Do you see others panting, bent over double gasping for breath like they’ve just escaped from a man-eating tiger? Lift them up and walk with them. Give each other the strength to start running once again.

Think running is too hard? Perhaps you might prefer to stroll towards Awesome instead. Or perhaps…

Hugh Herr lost both his legs to frostbite in a mountain climbing accident when he was 17. From that point on, he changed his life in amazing ways that will forever touch everyone on the planet. From the moment he woke up there was no pity, no regret… and no stopping him.

Awesome is a moving target. We can never hope to arrive by taking our time.

Run for your life.

 

When I was rock climbing regularly, I used to wake up at 5:30 to make it to the gym by 6:00… where I would climb for an hour before driving to work. Exhausted yet giddy, I usually made myself a smoothie similar to this one by Wellness Mama. The egg yolks and gelatin are crucial here; I would recommend this to anyone after a workout or recovering from injury.

Smoothies_compressed

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Reality, Before It Was Virtual

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It all happened so quickly, and we haven’t even really begun.

Our interconnectedness through Social Media has mirrored a growing disconnect with our immediate environment. Faces bathed in a familiar blue glow are no longer the exception. Jokes about someone Tweeting someone else’s Facebook status are more than a passing meme.

It should be easier than ever to stay in touch with people. It should be more efficient, and we should be able to spread our ideas more effectively. But do we?

We have known for a long time that our primary means of communication are non-verbal. The importance of body language and eye contact in establishing trust and understanding are immeasurable. This is where communication begins.

Digital media does away with this. Technology attempts to make up the difference, but will this gap ever close? Do we want it to?

There is another aspect of social interaction that technology has recognized and helped encourage for a long time: Serendipity.

NetFlix, Amazon, and Facebook have attempted to quantify, predict, and promote serendipity. If you like this movie, we can guess with a fair level of certainty that you’ll also like this movie. Or product. Or friend of a friend. We’ll casually suggest it to you and you’re left feeling pleasantly, gratefully surprised.

But real serendipity always goes beyond surprise, approaching astonishment. You haven’t seen someone and have hardly thought about them for over ten years. Suddenly you see them and you experience a waterfall of emotions in an instant. Long absence paired with the body language and eye contact inherent in a face-to-face meeting… that’s serendipity.

We simply cannot replicate this experience by secluding ourselves behind screens while we bang away on our keyboards thousands of miles away from one another. Be close to people, be confident, introduce yourself, smile with your entire face and lighten up. We were meant to be social, not virtual.

That’s why attendance at live events – sports, music, and otherwise –  continues to grow, despite the proliferation of in-home options. You’re not just seeing the game, and you’re not just feeling the pulse of the bass. You’re there to witness everything, just as the performers are there to be fueled by your energy. Even if Virtual Reality headsets could conjure up the sights, sounds, and smells of a live sporting event, would you still strap one on if you knew no one was there? To be surrounded on all sides by a spontaneous, improvised community… topped off by the possibility of serendipity… that’s where reality turns into humanity.

We cannot rely on technology to create serendipity in everyday life. Serendipity is not a matter of chance, but only the sum total of the number of times we’ve been completely aware of our surroundings. If it might happen, it’s a certainty. If you leave it up to algorithms, forget it.

Make a gift of yourself. Be present.

 

It’s more fun to make a recipe together, to share the experience with someone you love. But for some special foods, it’s essential. Enjoy this recipe for tamales from Mexico in my Kitchen.

Rules of Engagement

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Reflecting back on my post from two days ago, I thought you might find it handy to have a brief list of concrete actions you can take right now:

  1. Surround yourself with people smarter than you.
  2. Surround yourself with people more optimistic than you.
  3. Find out where these people gather, and be there every time they meet.
  4. ‘Why’ is more important than ‘How,’ is more important than ‘What’
  5. Start again from the top at #1

I don’t know about you, but too many rules make my eyes glaze over. However, there is one point that bears additional clarification.

When I say be there I don’t just mean “show up.” Listen with every part of your being, contribute something in the spirit of #4 only when you have something genuine to add (not just to hear yourself talk), and then go back to listening intently.

I’m curious to know your experience.

 

If you have the opportunity to meet with a dozen intelligent, optimistic people… don’t do it for the doughnuts. Save that for this recipe by Mark Bittman. Doughnuts require us to be there at every step. Enjoy!

My deep thanks to Simon Sinek, Nassim Nicolas Taleb, and Tim Ferriss for the motivation.

 

Constraints and Responsibility

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My wife and I recently returned from a trip to San Diego, and once again we loaded up our matching suitcases. We got these suitcases specifically because they were designed to fit “perfectly” in an airplane’s overhead compartment.

*Sigh*

What followed was hilarious. If the agent at the departure gate has even a hint of a hunch that your suitcase might be one linear inch too large in any direction, he’ll direct you to our society’s version of the Iron Maiden: “Sir, would you please fit your carry-on in the box to your right?” The proud and the bold will do whatever it takes to prove to The Man that their suitcase will fit in that slot, even at the expense of removing articles of clothing and striking the suitcase a la Whack-A-Mole. I, seeking to avoid public derision on Twitter and cautious about holding up the line, immediately asked to gate check our bags.

Constraints and Responsibility will always trump Advertising.

If I stuff my suitcase like a Thanksgiving turkey, no way will it live up to the manufacturer’s claim. I knew the Constraints of the product when I got it, and after that it’s my Responsibility to respect those limits.

Companies! Are your representatives failing to inform your customers of the basic terms and conditions associated with your product or service? Could that be why your sales team is spending more time putting out fires and less time qualifying?

Customers! Do you really understand your needs? If the product or service cannot meet some of needs, are you willing to adapt? Or perhaps this product or service isn’t right for you…. are you willing to look elsewhere?

The examples are endless, yet Success Stories only come when both sides are fully engaged. If either party fails to hold up its end of the agreement, both parties suffer.

Me? For my next flight I’m bringing a smaller bag.

 

Next time you bring your bag to the airport…. don’t be a turkey. Instead, go all out with an Ultimate Turducken, courtesy of Serious Eats.

 

How To Be An Overnight Success

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Relax, this isn’t an article where I drone on and force to you scroll for three minutes before hitting you with the sales pitch. The only pitch here is a fastball right down the middle, so don’t blink or you might miss it.

It first dawned on me in college, near the end of the academic year while I was taking a lesson with my French Horn instructor. I had battled my way through another difficult passage in the piece we were perfecting, and I commented, “Unbelievable! No matter how much I practice, how often I try your suggestions, there’s always more to improve. It never ends!” All at once I felt a tremendous sense of loss and anxiety. And my instructor, to his credit, agreed with me.

Though I’m sure, had he recognized it at the time, he would have challenged my despair. For it is exactly this constant striving that makes us successful. My instructor’s achievements in music were almost too numerous to count when we had this conversation more than ten years ago. And now I’m sure that he reached those lofty heights because he never stopped improving, even when the finish line seemed to be perpetually retreating.

Two years later, I stopped playing the horn.

My life kept improving, though of course I ran head-on into this lesson over and over again, in many different forms.

Do you want to know what it takes to be an overnight success?

Keep Working Through the Night.

Work even harder when others don’t, and work more effectively when others won’t. Learn what drives you, and let it!

Sometimes you’re sweating bullets just to stay in one place. Is this what you’re meant to be doing? If not, stop right there and find your “meant-to-be.” If it is, smile to yourself and keep going.

We’ve got work to do.

 

Ready for an all-nighter? There’s nothing better than pizza. The simpler, the better, courtesy of Food52.

Why I Write About Food

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I grew up reading my mom’s issues of Gourmet cover-to-cover. Forget the articles on travel and the fancy advertisements, for me it was all about the food.

Most of it seemed so exotic to my limited suburban experience. As an eight-year-old, I couldn’t imagine who would drink a different glass of wine with each course of a six-course meal. I mean, six courses? Really? (Many ‘adult’ behaviors are lost on an eight-year-old, but this was the kind of question that puzzled me no end).

I realize now that many of the reasons I enjoy working with food are the same factors that make a great business.

Make it Easy To Understand

This was what first captured my attention. “Waaaaiiiit… you’re telling me that if I follow these simple steps I can make something as awesome and delicious as that?!?!” Though I didn’t use words like “awesome” when I was eight, that’s about how I felt. A recipe that can fit on a 3 x 5 card has the power to soothe, to calm, to excite, and above all, to nourish.

Can your business do that?

Engage All The Senses

A good recipe will instruct you by sight smell touch sound… and taste. Anyone who has ever made gomasio or whipped egg whites into meringue knows this by heart. Next to simplicity, this opportunity for full-sensory stimulation captivated me. A good recipe asks that you be engaged on all levels at all times, since the experience is so much richer.

In business, this has never been more true than now, when discussions of “multichannel strategies” are everywhere. If you don’t continuously cultivate a rich experience for your customers, pretty soon they’ll head somewhere else.

Know Your Audience, But Never Be Afraid to Experiment

There was one recipe for Maple Cheesecake I’ll never forget. The recipe began “Serves 20,” though at the time it was just me, my sister, and my parents. Yet I was so curious I made it anyway, just to see what would happen. What happened is that everyone else politely tried one slice and then I got annoyed that they didn’t help me by eating more.

Don’t let this happen to you! In business we’re never “stuck” with just one audience, so don’t reach out to the wrong crowd with the right message. If I had to do it over, I would have created 24 mini-cheesecakes in two muffin tins, and frozen any that weren’t eaten in the first two days.

Your idea may be spectacular, but if your regular customers don’t think so, how will you pivot?

Never Stop Learning

I’ll read anything related to food. The ingredients are usually the same, but at every meal we have an opportunity to create something incredible. Three times a day! Don’t forsake your chance to learn something new.

How this relates to business… almost doesn’t merit a comment. See my take on engagement above. Your customers are always changing, your competition is always changing… why wait? Inspiration can come from the most unlikely places.

Give 100x More Than You Think You Can

I remember one article about a young Sushi Chef in Tokyo, a rising star. With a mixture of shock and reverence I read how he worked 18-hour days to stay on the cutting edge of innovation… before he fell asleep in his bathtub thinking of new flavor combinations… and then woke up four hours later to start it all over again.

Don’t give 110%. No matter how strong our competition, no matter how good we think we are, we all have a tendency to slow up just a touch as we near the finish line, when victory seems assured. In business there is no finish line. Consistently give 1000% of yourself on the right behaviors, and 0% of the wrong behaviors, and you’ll never lose again.

 

You knew this was coming, right? Lemon Meringue Pie is the perfect summery treat. Try something new, know your audience… enjoy.

Blood, Sweat, and Fears

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“Do something every day that scares you.”

Over the weekend I donated blood with the Red Cross and then, a few hours later, I went to confession with my parish priest.

When we are called to serve, how often do we excuse ourselves or put if off for another day? When we stumble and fall, how often do we hide it inside, for fear that others would think less of us?

I’m putting this out there because I’ve failed both of these tests many times. But today’s my day. Will you make it yours?

Be willing to sacrifice your comfort, your strength, your self for something greater.

Get comfortable being uncomfortable.

 

No pain, no gain… right? Tell that to yourself as the sweat just pours off your forehead, thanks to Habanero Salsa from San Diego Chef Deborah Schneider. Personally, I’d switch out agave for raw honey, but either way… be careful.

Build Strength In One Step

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Doubt is a killer.

We constantly ask ourselves “what-if?” and fill in the blank with a negative. If we hesitate to cast our situation in too-positive of a light, though, we reassure ourselves and call it “protection” or “playing it safe.” We’ve all experienced that sinking feeling of barreling through a decision by only considering the positives. No one likes to be burned a second time.

But if the downside is failure, then we’ll have to find a far higher upside than “playing it safe,” if we ever hope to achieve anything.

No one likes to fail, and everyone likes to win. Right? But if you insist on never failing, you’ll always find a million reasons to avoid starting. If we listen to the what-ifs and hold off acting, then we are only building our doubt muscles. Our tendency to be reluctant becomes stronger, our risk-taking muscles grow weaker.

Security is an illusion, and stability is a myth. Forget couch potatoes, we’ve actually become doubt potatoes, more comfortable examining what-ifs over and over than committing ourselves to a cause.

What happens if we push through? Over time we learn how to harness our reluctance for more effective, efficient decisions and even more powerful outcomes. We see those second-guesses as evolutionary holdovers that no longer offer us useful information. Our confidence grows at the expense of our doubt, and we own our decisions instead of resenting our temerity.

 

The one step to build strength? ACT. Exercise your confidence muscles. Those are the only muscles that really matter.

 

What’s the best way to avoid that deer-in-the-headlights feeling?

Eat that deerWatch Michelle Cain to see how it’s done.

But please, hold the doubt potatoes. I’ll stick with asparagus.

 

new york strip steak topped with bleu cheese

More Than Meets The Eye

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What is common may not be unimportant. What is simple is not necessarily trivial.

How many people’s lives will you touch today? Think of every phone conversation, everyone with whom you exchange eye contact, all those emails, and everyone who reads your words – even though you may have written them months or years ago.

While you think of that large number, consider that every single one of them has a life as complex, awesome, and challenging as yours. Every. Single. One. Your co-workers and the people you manage, they do far more with their lives than come into work and do their jobs day after day. Your customers have genuine, legitimate needs beyond your momentary interaction on the phone or the blink-of-an-eye click on a website you helped create.

In all of these interactions we need to express the full essence of our humanity and honor the humanity of all those we meet, though our meetings be all too brief. This is not something to strive for in each moment, but a subtle redirection of our efforts and energies.

We cannot shape the waves, but we can learn to surf.

Treat people – all people – with compassion and respect. At any point in their lives they may become your customer, co-worker, or manager. And you theirs.

This message has been shared countless times before, and you will read it again in a different light many more times to come. If you think someone close to you needs to read this, do not forward it. Pick up the phone, or meet them where they are, and tell them in your own words how much you care.

 

There is no dish so subtle, and yet so complex, so ancient and yet so misunderstood, as Miso Soup. Anyone can make it but its preparation – and appreciation – both take a lifetime to master.

What distinguishes a great bowl of Miso Soup is what simmers just below the surface. What type of Miso did the Chef use? What kind of water did she use, and to what temperature was it heated? Behind such simple questions lay the ability to revive a weary traveler who has just spent hours trudging through the snow. A traveler who in that moment is more grateful for a simple bowl of soup than all the riches in the world. What is simple is not necessarily trivial.

Savor this recipe for Miso Soup with gratitude.

 

味噌汁

 

Sponsorship

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Who Is Your Sponsor?

A few weeks ago I was blessed to watch a film chronicling the many expeditions of Lonnie Dupre. ‘Watch’ is putting it mildly… ‘gaze in slack-jawed amazement’ is closer to the truth.

On screen, we watched Lonnie and friends kayak and dogsled around the perimeter of Greenland before towing 200-lb sleds across the polar ice cap to the North Pole. Not bad. But the climax was his odyssey to become the first human to reach the summit of Denali in January, alone, with no outside support.

It took him five years and five tries.

The victorious push to the top came only after he swore, after four unsuccessful attempts, that he would never try it again.

All of us exploded in applause as the film ended, and then I turned and realized he had been standing not five feet away the entire time. He had been reliving every bittersweet moment as we experienced his agony and triumph on the screen.

Professional athletes like Lonnie, Tommy Caldwell, and Ed Viesturs can train full-time, climb full-time, and spend all of their time outside planning their next summit attempt because they receive corporate sponsorship. They are attempting something so extraordinary, fantastic, and other-worldly that the brands they support want to be there when they succeed.

We simply must bring these two aspects of the sponsorship bond into our lives: The Attempt, and The Extraordinary.

So I’ll ask again, Who Is Your Sponsor?

All of us receive sponsorship every day, in ways that supercede a paycheck. And if we assume that we can simply “show up” and continue to receive sponsorship at the same level as before, we simultaneously risk everything and surrender the hope of gaining anything.

The Attempt and The Extraordinary are all that separate Lonnie, Tommy, and Ed from you and me.

Dare Greatly and you won’t have to ask for sponsorship.

Your sponsors will come to you.

 

Enjoy today’s recipe after attempting something extraordinary. Try making these with grass-fed beef brisket instead of fish.