Wolves and Sheep Dress Alike

There’s an amazing video entitled How Wolves Change Rivers (found here) that demonstrates how the reintroduction of wolves at Yellowstone National Park not only changed animal behavior, but the behavior of the landscape. It’s truly remarkable, and in just four-and-a-half minutes, you learn everything you need to know about what it looks like to be a leader and what true leadership means. You might have the initial reaction that since the focus of the story is the behavior of wolves, and wolves are often synonymous with fear, that their tactics mirror what we think of when we envision bullying archetypes. Nothing could be further from the truth. Communication in the form of language is a burden we humans bear, and as a result, we feel the need to use our words to express our expectations. That’s how we tend to lead: telling, asking, demanding, suggesting, advising, coaching, etc. We lead through language – Wolves lead through presence.

Without ever uttering a word, they changed the entire environment around them. Even if they could speak, they would only be able to speak wolf. Assume even the brightest of wolves may know a few other animal languages; they may be fluent in deer, bear, elk and know some colloquial squirrel and a few phrases of beaver. Even so, they would be unable to communicate with any species of birds, fish, plants, flowers or trees. In reality, they are outnumbered and unable to communicate through anything other than what they know; how to behave as a wolf.

Just by showing up, their presence over time improved the well-being of an entire national park. Wolves being wolves, helped deer be better deer, bears be better bears, beavers be better beavers, etc. And this, in turn, helped bring in new forms of life and allowed for older forms of life to thrive again. And this, in turn, helped the vegetation be better at providing nourishment for all this new life, and the river itself changed to be a better wellspring.

By now, the pessimists are thinking about all the death that naturally accompanies such bountiful life. In all life there are both predators and prey. The difference is that in nature, animals are acting on instinct. Animals are not murders; there is no evil intent. Life feeds on life.

Leadership is showing up and being what you are. If what you are holds value where you happen to be, then positive changes will happen simply as a result of you being there. How you choose to live will always tell the truth. Be careful with what you choose to say, however, because that will always reveal the lies you tell yourself and others about how you think you live. Your words will never be more powerful than your actions. Your silent actions have the capacity to bring about tremendous change. The only problem for humans here is that when you succeed, you’ll never be aware that you were the root cause. You’ll never get credit for it. Humans struggle with this idea, because our worth is often so tied up in what we own or accomplishments we can add to a résumé. Wolves don’t know or care about that. Wolves, just being wolves, put humans to shame, and are better leaders than we will ever be, but you’ll never hear them bragging about it.

Sudden Depth

We’re all guilty of using the logic that once we either obtain or attain something, then our lives we be better. When I get that promotion, I’ll start being able to show everyone how great a leader I am! When I get that raise, I’ll start saving money! Come New Years Day, I’ll start my new exercise regimen! When I get some time off, I’ll start reading more! When I get some peace in my life, I’ll start meditating! When we get Eddie Van Halen in the band, we’ll finally be able to make a triumphant video! When we make a triumphant video, we’ll finally be able to get Eddie Van Halen in the band! The list goes on.

We all know this logic is flawed and, for lack of a better word, is bullshit. Back in college, a friend of mine once jokingly said in passing, “If bullshit were liquid, we’d all be drowning!” It’s certainly funny, and I’m certain he didn’t mean it to be profound. However, that saying has stuck with me all these years, and what’s truly funny is how something so unintentional and seemingly meaningless, has become something I still ponder quite regularly some twenty years later. Why? Because it challenges our perspectives, and because of its inherent truth beneath the facade of humor. Perspective is one of those things that can we can never “attain,” but we can obtain from time to time. Having perspective is something that’s not universally applied. You may have profound insight and perspective on one or more matters, but be completely blind to your own blindness in a multitude of other areas.

Perspective holds great power. Just one moment can completely shift someone’s way of living and/or thinking. Sometimes just for a while, but in some instances, forever. A 180-degree turnabout is possible for anyone, anywhere, at any time. And, can be done so without needing to attain anything new, but by simply introducing a new way to look at something as a means of receiving profound enlightenment. The truth is that the only thing that needs to change in that moment isn’t even you, but rather how you look at something. In return, you change completely. Take for example 3D Hidden Art. Those posters that were all the rage at mall kiosks back in the 90s, where you stare at a sea of color and confusion, and eventually some image magically emerges from within. For some, the image comes into focus rather quickly. For others, the struggle is real. The point is that everything you need to see the image, you already possess. You don’t need to be any taller, smarter, older, wiser, etc. You just have to look at it differently. More importantly, you have to allow yourself to be open to seeing things differently. We may think we see something at first, and instead of accepting that what we see isn’t right, we dig our heels in and try to protect our viewpoint – to protect our ignorance. The image itself is what it is and cannot change, just as truth cannot change. Truth is not subjective. Once you are open to seeing beyond your stubbornness, because your stubbornness is a comfort to you, it’s almost impossible not to see what you strained so long to see in the first place. That’s perspective! It’s sudden depth.

Handedness: The Sharknado Identity Crisis

One of the most existential crises we experience in life is trying to figure out: Who am I? The philosophical approach asks a string of questions that only lead to more questions, never coming to a truth. The scientific method leans closer to the truth; we can test hypotheses about ourselves, form theories and these theories can evolve and get close to becoming scientific law, but that’s pretty rare. As the saying goes, “the only constant in life is change.”

Handedness is defined as “the tendency to use either the right or the left hand more naturally than the other.” When we’re young, our handedness reveals itself. Only 10% of people are left-handed. In a world with something like 7.6 billion people, that equates to roughly 760 million lefties. My wife, my daughter and I are all left-handed, so our house proudly boasts a 100% left-handed population. That said, speaking from experience, lefties often compensate for living in a right-handed world, and adapt to things that are not made for us. Other times, we unknowingly learn things before really discovering our handedness. For example, my father plays drums and guitar and as a result there were drums and guitars in my house growing up. I started playing drums when I was three and aped how he played, which was playing as a conventional right-handed drummer using a matched grip. At three, I didn’t know that drums could be set up or played any other way. There are debates in the drumming world to this day about the supposed conventional method of playing and the modern-day use of traditional grip, but that’s not where this is headed. Same goes for guitar. At 3 years old, I didn’t know you could play the guitar any other way let alone know they actually made lefty guitars. My grandfather, a lover of baseball, also started showing me how to bat at an early age, and he batted righty, so I too batted righty. However, when it came time to throw, my left-handedness became apparent. Handedness is one of the few things we believe about ourselves to be true. But, then philosophy rears its ugly head once more: the Sharkado Identity Crisis.

Watch out! A sharknado is tearing through your town. You can’t hide. Alas, just when you thought it was safe, a shark storms through your makeshift shelter and attacks, biting off your dominant hand. It takes years, but over time, you learn to adapt to this new way of living and your non-dominant hand becomes, by necessity, your dominant hand. One day, you’re on a conference call for work. There’s a big project in the works, and the sharpest minds are assembled from office locations all over the world. All hands on deck as the casual expression goes. Whilst waiting for all the callers to get on the line, people are making small talk. The talk somehow turns to handedness. Perhaps someone that’s lefty mentioned scissors, and references those weird green-handled scissors lefties were given in grade school, and asks the group: “Is anyone else left-handed?” It is a common superficial question. These are colleagues that know you in name only, so there was no malicious intent when this question was posed. They don’t know about the trauma you experienced in the sharknado. They don’t know anything about all the painful years of learning how to adapt. So, how do you answer their inquiry? To use myself as an example. Do I say: I am left-handed – I am right-handed, or I used to be left-handed but there was an accident so now I use my right hand? How would you answer?

The reality is that this situation is a reality for some (obviously not as a result of a sharknado). This existential crisis is very real and is also simultaneously metaphorical. For others still, perhaps born without hands or arms, how do they answer? Or if an accident claims both limbs, how would they answer? The casual superficiality of asking something so seemingly innocuous as “Are you righty or lefty?” suddenly has tremendous depth.


You Can’t Spell Integrity without “grit”

Grit is literally embedded in integrity. Grit is a personal growth buzzword. Wellness too is a buzzword, along with mindfulness, accountability, ownership, etc. All the things this blog is essentially about. When words become buzzwords, their meanings get watered down and are more easily dismissed as being an attempt at altruism, because they often become more about someone trying to prove their selflessness. This approach can veil the arrogance or the insecurity of the author and the intention. Creating content for the sake of monitoring clicks and followers. I acknowledge the irony as I will shortly post this on social media. With this acknowledgment, I will no longer request others to share and follow. I will notify of its release, and let it live. My intention was to make this blog to create accountability in my life. It wasn’t about gaining an audience so much as it was about making a promise to myself to write more, because when I commit to making something public, I am more likely to follow through. I also know that when I follow my morning routine, I have more productive days, which helps me be a better version of myself. That said, I still statistically fail more than I succeed each and every day. I can be a better father, a better husband, a better son, a better co-worker, a better neighbor, a better musician, etc. The first is most important to me. I have a tween daughter, and I’m not handling this stage of her development well. I realize that I am in some mourning cycle over losing my little companion. My mini-me is blossoming into an independent young woman and I’m not processing that reality to the best of my ability.

I’ve also already broken my cardinal rule in today’s blog as I also wanted to refrain from speaking in the first person. The only reason I am doing so today is because I noticed the beginning of my ego coming into the fold. I was checking Instagram far too often to see if anyone had liked or followed what I had posted. After only six posts, I was already more focused on the possibility of external reward more than internal purpose. I had to check myself.

Back to the topic of grit and the watering down of words. What if we stripped them all away? Took all the words, subtracted them from our experiences. How would we know how to describe who or what we are? Without language, where would we turn to find ways to express how we feel? We we would turn to nature and wildlife. Though undefined, we would still be able to connect to emotion through our senses. We sense emotion. These things don’t need to be intellectualized. We don’t need poetry, iambic pentameter, fancy vocabulary or grammar; we just need to experience life and feel what we get from it. Grit comes into play because it’s essentially how we choose to react to our experiences, and that choice is to move forward…always! At an early age, you can choose to be afraid of life and never leave your home. You may “live” to be 100 years old by doing so, but it can be argued that you merely existed for 100 years, but never lived. Every experience would be vicarious, either through TV, movies, books, or looking out the window. Grit has synonyms and can be defined, but grit, along with other personal growth buzzwords, transcends definition. Grit is the constant state of getting there. Grit doesn’t care about being right or being true. Grit doesn’t mean not quitting; it means knowing the difference between how long to hold on and when to let go. Grit is surviving for survival’s sake, because it’s always about what happens next! Grit has no destination and no endpoint.

Addictions & Subtractions

Dr. Gabor Maté’s work in Compassionate Inquiry posits that addictions begin as solutions, not problems. The fleeting euphoria initially assuages pain via drugs, alcohol, food, shopping, sex, attention, technology, etc. Before long, the chase is on. We all know addiction. We’ve all flirted with addictive behavior. When behavior is driven by unmet needs, the driver is ego. That insatiable ingrate, the archetype of entitlement. Anyone born in the latter part of the 1900’s will likely remember the anti-drug commercial where an egg is displayed and then cracked over a sizzling frying pan accompanied by the tagline, “This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs.” Curious though where ego fits into the equation. “This is your brain. This is your brain on ego.” Perhaps there’s some truth in this statement as well. Eckhart Tolle considers the following idea: “If you’ve ever thought: ‘I cannot live with myself any longer.’ Who are you in that sentence? The ‘I’ or ‘Myself’?”

Brain and ego together make for a frightening duo. To quote the comedian, Emo Philips, “I used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this.” For all that’s been written about the ego, all the dust-covered spines that line the shelves of any Psychology section in any Barnes and Noble, that joke alone could be a best seller! That profoundly hysterical and/or hysterically profound statement sums up the ego’s grip on the brain, and demonstrates the degree to which our behaviors are shaped by our thoughts.

We live through our hearts! Or, at least we’re built to. This internal pulse beats with purpose and intention. The ego cannot control the heart: only the mind. The ego craves attention and starving the ego creates the space needed to gain awareness of yourself (your self). Starvation is subtraction: Removal for solution. The ego cannot discern between euphoria and gluttony. It only recognizes recognition. Positive change occurs when the ego is not fed, so that the decision-making process has clarity. Clear purpose! Non-ego moments, when we are not tethered to the desire to validate something that cannot be satiated, are the moments where we begin to see who we are at our core. At our core, we need very little. No matter how big a bucket we can buy, if it has even the smallest of holes, it will never be able to stay filled for long. We all have buckets, and they all have holes. Do we remain aware of them and do nothing? Do we remain aware and try to solve the imbalance of spillage by adding more holes? Or, do we patch the holes, knowing that fulfillment is an imperfect process, and not let ourselves get defeated by the fact that we’ll never be free from the hole-poker that is daily life? Subtraction is the key to fulfillment. Removal of the unwanted rewards organically through positive natural consequences. We often try to remove harm through addition. For example, sugar is bad for you.  We know this, but sweetness is also delicious, so we crafted artificial sweeteners. Chemically artificial sweeteners, along with all the other ingredients we cannot pronounce, are these additions proving to be solutions or are they creating bigger problems? The solution is to eat less sugar. To subtract the things that cause us harm and simplify our needs begets fulfillment.

No New Clichés

Why are there no new clichés? For some reason it seems that clichés haven’t caught up with the vernacular of modern-day. We’re still “putting carts before horses,” and “putting our ducks in a row.” However, when it comes to inspiration, we’re continually finding new ways to express ideas initially expressed 2,000 or more years ago. Thus, the progress of wisdom is horizontal. The progress of science, on the other hand, is linear. Scientific progress shapes and pivots via proving and disproving, and the evolution of that has been remarkable to watch from the periphery whilst enjoying its byproducts on a daily basis. It’s an ever-evolving, forward-moving timeline. To draw an analogy, some bands have linear discographies while others have horizontal discographies. The Beatles, for example, were linear. Their timeline began on one end as bubble gum pop and continually evolved as they explored new sonic territory that echoed their lives at a given moment in time. Other bands are horizontal. They create a sound on their first record or first few records that connects with an audience, and then spend the rest of their careers trying to either perfect that sound or recapture its magic on subsequent albums. Every effort is stacked upon the prior; regardless of whether it’s better or worse (that’s subjective after all), it never branches out. Neither approach alone is correct nor does it a good band make. It’s all about how it resonates over time. If you’re lucky, the appreciation of your craft and creative contributions occurs while you’re in that flow. The point is that anything can only be original once. After that, it’s some form of reinterpretation. In the world of music, that reinterpretation is called influence on one end of the spectrum and sampling on the other. Plagiarism lives here too! When it comes to inspiration, the reality is that humans understood human nature from the beginning. There’s nothing new to report. We can shapeshift words to our heart’s content and package it as something new, but the meaning has already been expressed elsewhere. We’re horizontal, stacking onto a pile of wisdom. If we’re lucky, we may sometimes stumble upon a combination of words that creates a “new” phrase that resonates. Maybe this makes us suddenly important. Maybe we can make a new career simply from expressing how we see the world. But, that’s only a perhaps. What’s more true is that wisdom is the most plagiarized commodity, and ultimately, it’s only words. Any positive result of wisdom has been through the actions of the person that took the words to heart and decided to live – to act – differently as a result.

The Corner of Insecure and Arrogant

It’s Saturday morning rush at a local coffee shop. Every table is occupied by an array of couples, families, friends and loners. Some feverishly type away on their laptops, some are deep in conversation, others deep in a book, while others are blissfully aloof. There’s a bell that chimes whenever new patrons enter, and, for a split second, the majority of the occupants glance briefly up at the door in Pavlovian acknowledgment before returning to their conversations, computers and books. The aloof continue to demonstrate their aloofness.

An insecure person is the next to enter the establishment. You are this person. The bell jingles your arrival, triggering the aforementioned Pavlovian glance, and in an instant, everyone is back to their business. However, those momentary glances toward the door trigger your insecurities. “Is my fly open?” “Do I look bad?” “I knew I shouldn’t have worn this shirt!” “They are all mocking me!” “People suck!”

Two minutes later an arrogant person strides through the door, becomes immediately aware of the glancing patrons, and pauses to bask in the glory of this immediate attention. You too are this person. You smile and think, “They all know what’s up! I look good, and they are drinking me in along with every sip of their coffee. A few weren’t lucky enough to see me, but that’s their loss.”

It may be easy to separate these responses into opposing categories of negative and positive, or fear and confidence. Neither would be true. Both internal monologues are rooted in the irrational. The truth is that nobody cares! That statement may sound harsh, but the truth is that the glances were a response to a neutral stimuli, not you. It could be argued that both insecurity and arrogance are both forms of vanity. Even if insecurity is painted with the negativity of self-doubt, it still requires the irrational idea that you are the focus of everyone’s attention, even perfect strangers. The truth is that nobody cares because they have their own lives to focus on. This is a liberating concept for the insecure person, and a humbling one for the arrogant.


Rivalry. It’s human nature to oppose one another. Look to any competitive sport from chess to MMA, curling to baseball, poker to football. Gamification is part of the fabric of our society. Reality programming depends on it (Chopped, Cupcake Wars, Storage Wars, Survivor, Guy’s Grocery Games, Flea Market Flip, etc.). We are a society that has taken mundane and leisurely activities like food shopping and going to garage sales seem skillful, glamorous and savage. In these situations, you are with or against, friend or foe. A soup can sitting on a shelf is worth $1.50, but if that one can is the final item needed to claim a grand prize, its value increases, and we will let our baser instincts steer our shopping carts to victory, plowing over anything that gets in our way. Victory is mine, not yours! We seek out rivalry, and yet we are also hardwired for connection. What binds the seemingly diametrically opposed ideas of rivalry and connection are the belief systems, more specifically, all-or-nothing belief systems. Belief is not truth. Imagine this scenario. You go to a friend’s house to watch a baseball game: Yankees vs Red Sox. There are 15 people there, you being the 15th, and the room was divided equally with 7 Yankee and 7 Red Sox jerseys. From the moment you arrive, which was later than everyone else, the trash talking is intense. The rivalry is real when it comes to this game! These people all liked each other…unless of course the Yankees happened to be playing the Red Sox. Wearing no attire to suggest any allegiance to either team, someone asks, “Who are you rooting for?” Without thinking, you blurt out, “I don’t really care, I’m just here to hang out and watch the game.” Then, something interesting happens. You become the target of all the trash talk. You’ve done something remarkable. You’ve connected the disconnected. The rivalry disappears momentarily for a greater cause: the desire to learn whether you are with or against. You hold the key to giving one side some advantage. You could tip the scales in favor of one team. Neutrality is unacceptable. When this need goes unmet, the two opposing sides join together because they know where they stand and there is comfort in that. There’s discomfort in not knowing where you stand. Obviously, none of what happens in this room has any impact on the game itself. There’s something powerful about choosing to not choose sides, in not pledging allegiance to things that can divide,  compartmentalize and distract us from what’s truly important. Connection.

“There’s no glory in setting up the machine.”

Stepping into vulnerability is akin to physically exerting yourself to the point of nausea. Nausea may be the reaction to the situation, yet that’s clearly not the desired result. A daily routine, the cooperative of behaviors and choices that make habits, lead to the desired outcomes and reveal the benefits over time. Once in the flow, it’s near impossible to pinpoint what specifically is the shining star. You can’t look in the mirror this morning and say, “it was that one particular set of push-ups Monday of last week that did the trick,” – “that one run stride during a 5k that took fifteen seconds of my time this month” – “that one healthy meal that made the weight come off” – “that one day I woke up early that increased my productivity this year.” Consistent effort drives transformation; never a single instance. Life is a Rube Goldberg machine. It can be simple or overly complicated. It can be as ugly, messy, quirky and clunky as it can be beautifully rhythmic and exciting. Nested within the contraption itself is the knowledge that in order for the machine to work properly, everything has to execute as it’s intended. It’s more important to know that the odds are in failure’s favor. You’ll naturally spend more time resetting and reworking than you will celebrating. And even when you’re celebrating, the afterglow is spent in harmony with the aftermath of effort. Taking the painstaking time every day to reset and examine what worked and didn’t work, gives you the insight of how to fix problems that cause flaws in execution because you understand why they happened.  It’s not glamorous. There’s no glory in setting up the machine. OK Go’s video for “This Too Shall Pass” is a massive Rube Goldberg machine. It’s a triumphant video and a perfect analogy for life. The final product is the closest they come to “perfection,” but you also get to see the mess of their previous attempts. Practice makes progress, not perfection. The room was only pristine once. To move the machine to a new room for every take would be unrealistic. Our lives are pristine only once – the day we’re born. Sometimes, even those days aren’t pristine.


Take one

For me, this is a step into something absolutely terrifying. Why a blog? Because my goal of writing a book seemed a lofty goal for someone that currently has no audience. I’ve always feared putting out original content, whether it be music, poetry or simple thoughts. For what purpose? Who the hell am I? Why would or should anyone care? Well, what a lovely excuse to ensure that I forever remain comfortable by avoiding discomfort. Stepping into discomfort, through the help of listening to the wisdom of likes of Brené Brown, Tim Ferriss, Seth Godin, Eckhart Tolle, Jocko Willink, Ryan Holiday, and the many great Stoics, has allowed me to grow exponentially in the past year. At the core of that growth is action. I’ve been known to quote quotes that were meaningful to me as a way to let people into what I believe or where I stand, and sure, there’s good in that. I turned 40 this past December, and I wouldn’t say that triggered some life crisis, but it did kick start what’s been eight months of rather deep reflection. With any luck, I’m at the midpoint of my life. I’m starting to consider mortality as a coming reality. My parents and in-laws are in the winter of their lives as are other relatives that always seemed to be older but naively timeless. I’ve witnessed the physical weakening and the body beginning to fail, but more importantly, I’ve seen that the lack of action only exacerbates the inevitable. As a result, accountability has become a priority in all areas of my life. My current mantra is: Reflection + Action = Normalized Accountability. I will do more with the time I have left, and I don’t want a future diagnosis or some unforeseen tragedy to be my catalyst for change. All I have to do is watch and listen to what’s around me to realize that there are valuable lessons to be learned from what others experience. And, what I know to be true, is that inaction – doing nothing while holding the expectation that something will change – leads to disappointment. Expectation is the root of disappointment.

“Reflection + Action = Normalized Accountability” – me