Record Players and Remembrances

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My dad and I had a nightly ritual when I spent weekends with him. We’d turn off every light in the house, crawl into bed, and listen to records. Our favorite was Nilsson’s “The Point.” If you haven’t heard this creative album, it’s the story of a boy and his dog that venture through foreign lands to learn “the point.” The lyrics explore the commonality of human experience. Since it tells a story, it’s a pretty kid-friendly album…but has music that’s fun for adults too. I doubt they make rock CDs like this one anymore…but I sure wish they did.

I associate record players with my dad. I also think of him every time I hear music in the dark. He taught me the beauty of depriving your other senses and listening with your entire body. He taught me how to listen with every pore of my being, and to pour myself into the music. He also taught me that music could fuel my dreams, could enrich my spirit, and could create light in the darkness.

My father was a dreamer. It was one of his best qualities, and he inspired me to dream as a child. It was probably his greatest gift to me…

I occasionally still listen to Nilsson’s “The Point” — it hasn’t aged well, but it still brings back my happy memories. And somewhere in the Universe, I hope that my dad is singing along with me.

Are you sleeping? Can you hear me?
Do you know if I am by your side?
Does it matter if you hear me?
When the morning comes I’ll be there by your side

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Bike Ride

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I had a moment of epiphany today. I’d been feeling like life was an uphill battle that I was losing — that I had too many challenges, too little time, and too little energy to make the changes I want to make. I’d started to give up, just a little…taking small shortcuts and really starting to disbelieve in my plan. It happens in little bits, I think. We get used to losing or struggling and we forget how to win.

This morning I realized that I was through the worst of the past two years of stress, and I was coming out on the other side. That I wasn’t losing. The worst was behind me. In front of my lay an opportunity to have the life I want, and to build a new vision for myself that would be just as compelling as the old one. I realized that I had permission to start over, and that I’d laid a solid foundation to have a most excellent future. That it was time.

Every day is an opportunity, and a choice to have something better. To be the person I want to be. To volunteer and give back to the community, to be successful at work, to have a strong and enduring relationship, and to be in the best physical shape I can achieve. The journey started today. There will be uphill periods, but there will be flats and downhills too.

The Velomenati have it right. As I get stronger, it won’t get any easier. I’ll just go faster.

Drum!

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One of the activities we had in Atlanta was a team building exercise where we each performed our parts to “Twist and Shout” on a percussion instrument. I chose to perform a melody line on the xylophone…which was tons of fun and quite a bit harder than I’d anticipated.

It’s been too long since I read music. I’ve almost forgotten how — which is shocking considering that I was once familiar with all three clefs. And I was nervous about using a percussion instrument — my hand eye coordination was never the greatest, which always made me shy away from anything requiring actual rhythm. But the funny thing was that the score gave me time to have fun…interact with others and even jazz things up a bit…in a way that I never got to do when playing a wind or stringed instrument.

Maybe Animal on Muppets is right. Drumming really is more fun. I wonder if our new house has room for a drum set? Would the neighbors hate me?

I’ve been thinking a ton about that afternoon, and about how picking up new skill sets is so much harder as an “old” person than it used to be…but that I had a ton of fun, and maybe should consider some other new experiences in my life. Maybe the adoption of new skills and stretching experiences is actually the best way to stay young and relevant throughout our increasingly long lives. Maybe it’s time to think about going broad in skill set rather than deep, and trying some new stuff. And if I’m bad at it, so what? The fun is in the experience.

DRUM!

Unfamiliar Things

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At what point does the unfamiliar and new become common? I’m sitting here, trying to learn to use my mouse with my left hand, and this question occurs to me. My motivation is simple — I’ve done something to irritate either the ligaments or nerves of my right hand, and the pain is excruciating. The more I use my mouse or type on my phone, the worse it seems to get. And so I’m learning to mouse as a leftie, in the hopes that some rest for my right will alleviate the problem.

My mom likes to remind me that I wasn’t always a neat freak, and that I was actually quite messy in high school. Per seems incredulous that there would ever have been a time where the least little item out of place didn’t drive me batshit. It’s become a bit of an obsession, I admit…I like knowing that there’s a sense of order to the world, and that what I put down stays precisely in that location. And I know where that particular obsession started: in college, my Sophomore year, Rana and I lived together in a single room, about 10 x 14 sft, with a single bed and one dresser. I moved into his space, and was his guest, and sometimes an imposition. I never felt my position was secure, so I learned to clean and organize and make my stuff small. Thus a neat freak was born.

I’ve had a bunch of new habits to learn over the past couple of years, and many new habits will form in the coming months. As I work to break some unhealthy habits and replace them with new ones, it’s challenging. It requires work and focus, in order not to snap back into my original state. New habits require concentration and commitment…and it’s better when you have something like an aching hand to remind you why you’re trying.

I guess it’s evolution, that Darwinian process that screens out the dedicated and focused from everyone else.

Here’s to standing at the top of the pyramid and reaching that self-actualization. Maybe, just maybe, that could become a habit too.

Expanding Again

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Sometimes my world contracts to a place where my only mission is survival. We’re talking metaphorically…no one has a gun to my head. During these times, I’m more focused on just getting through the day than making a life. I’m concentrating on achieving minimal success, rather than self actualization. We all have those times, and I know I’m not unique.

The funny thing is, when it happens I really am not aware it’s going on. I don’t make a conscious choice to hunker down, although it happens at some fairly predictable times. Like a job change, or a move, or a divorce. But this time, it’s been almost two years and I’m still hunkering…and I almost don’t realize what self actualization looks like. Or perhaps, more accurately, my vision of self actualization has changed during the past two years and I need to find a new one.

I have a ton of work ahead of me in the next 60 days, but I don’t feel comfortable punting any longer. No more hunkering, even if I do have a move, and some travel, and some other more complicated stuff on the short term horizon. My motto must be carpe diem, and I am resolved to work to expand my world in small ways, and lay the foundation of a larger revolution this fall and winter.

So what will I do? Read more — at least 30 minutes a day, reading business or technical or news writing. This activity will expand my brain. Eat better and exercise lightly every day, and heavier on weekends…which will strengthen my somewhat wobbly body. And volunteer – I’m starting a new project with Edgewood that I’m really excited about, and I’ll make sure to give back monthly (which starts tomorrow).

Awake and expand — that’s the motto for the next two months. It’s like warm up calisthenics for the marathon that is life.

Feeling Safe

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I am not the kind of person who sits in a chair all day and is happy. I like to move, to be outdoors, and to experience the world around me. It’s the reason I really don’t watch TV — I’d rather take a walk. It’s a huge negative for me in my job — I’d make a better house painter or hunter than I would a salesperson, because I get antsy when I have to sit in a chair all day. I’ve always been this way. Even as a kid, I hated to sit…and as I’ve gotten older, my coping mechanisms have gotten better and I’ve figured out how to manage my energy and frustration.

I walked around Atlanta all week. I walked in the morning and late at night (sometimes after midnight). I walked to and from most of our venues, which were sometimes a few miles apart. And in general, I walked alone because I couldn’t seem to find others that were interested in walking, or who were coming and going at the same times. I preferred the night time walks to the afternoon walks, because they were far less sweaty…but I probably logged between 4-6 miles daily while I was there. Sometimes I even skipped a session because I had to get out into the (not-so-fresh) air and (blazing) sun.

And I felt safe while walking, even at midnight. I had several random street conversations with locals. I had fun and I enjoyed every walk, although Atlanta isn’t a particularly scenic or clean city.

I was very surprised to learn that Atlanta is a “dangerous” city, as I was informed on my last night in town. One person mentioned extremely high crime rates, and most everyone else chimed in with their stories of MGX events past, where they’d been harassed, robbed, pursued, and other horrible experiences. One of my team mates explained that he’s been chased and threatened on Thursday night, right near our hotel.

Imagine my shock — all those days and nights out walking alone, and I’d been just fine. Did I project an aura of invincibility? Was I invisible? Did I simply not annoy others? Or was I lucky? I suddenly felt less safe in a city that had welcomed me all week, and it tarnished my memories of some relaxing walks.

It’s funny how perception impacts reality. I’m much more willing to take a walk alone in San Francisco than Atlanta thanks to some research. Which makes me wonder if I can truly trust my perception of safety again.

Not that I’m going to stop walking, mind you.

Re-Inspired

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I needed MGX more than I knew. It’s amazing and sad at the same time — that we can forget what makes the people around us so special, and what makes the company we work for so unique and irreplaceable. This week, I have rediscovered my passion for Microsoft, its people, and our mission. It’s made me vow to be a better ambassador for Microsoft, and a better internal advocate for our programs and people.

We aim big, and we invest not only to win, but to transform the world. So many of the innovations I saw this week weren’t directly linked to license or service revenue, but instead were additional features to existing products that people will get for free. We add the stuff that makes people’s lives easier, and that makes businesses operate more efficiently…I saw numerous examples of how small businesses, health care, the US government, and consumers used Windows and Office and Bing and Surface and Windows Phone to make their lives easier and better and more well-connected.

But I’m not going to convince you of the value of Microsoft products and strategy if you’re not a believer…many more competent folks than me can speak to the innovations we release. I was more struck by the quality of the people, and how much they believe in our company.

Steve Ballmer cried in front of 15,000 people as he gave an award to Kurt DelBene today…because Kurt was his friend, and they had worked together for almost 20 years, and Steve was truly going to miss working with him. It was one of the most real and touching moments I’ve seen a CEO have on stage. I learned that a manager in my group flew to a team outing the day after his father died, because it was important for him to be with his team that week. I learned that one of the people in my group “took one for the team” by spending a huge part of the year working on an initiative that did not benefit her role at all, because it was the right thing for the company.

We have great people. No, not all of them. But even the ones I often curse as idiots when I’m frustrated are better than the average workers in sister companies. And I need to remember that I can’t take that for granted. I also need to remember to say thank you more often to the amazing people I work with…and to strive to also be one of the amazing people that *they* work with. We live in the reality that we create, and I need to get more “real” about my blessings.

Microsoft dreams big, which means that sometimes we fail big (hello, Vista and Zune). But at least we dream and we take the shot — living without taking risks is not the life I want for myself. And I’m glad I work for a company that feels the same way.

Here’s to not forgetting this year, and living every proud moment.

On a Jetplane

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It’s been a good year, work-wise. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve had two different positions in different parts of Microsoft. I passed my five year mark with the company, and I won an award for customer satisfaction. I got a promotion. I’ve competed with Google and won every time. I’ve competed with Cisco, Dell, IBM, Oracle and others and won. I closed a deal with Yammer. I brought a last-minute bluebird deal in during June. And I had my best year ever from a goal attainment and compensation standpoint.

I know my business and I understand the Microsoft sales process very well. I know my customers and I have established relationships. I generally am pretty decent at doing my job. The new frontier is to work differently — get more efficient at leveraging Microsoft resources for my customers, have new ideas, be more creative, and learn more. As the “hockey stick” of my learning has slowed down, I need to find new ways to keep myself fresh and engaged and challenged in my role.

What will I commit to doing in the new year to keep me fresh? Here’s my commitment list: Join a Board of a non-profit to improve my networking and outreach. Mentor at least two new employees or group members. Take on an extended/strategic assignment that I’ll negotiate with my manager. And read: a new business book every month, and subscribe to the key tech blogs and read the key weekly news. It’s not enough, but it’s a start.

I’m on the plane to Atlanta right now, to go to our national sales conference. This week is about celebration and networking and renewal. The first week of August will be about being back in the saddle. Learning more, working differently, and growing as a professional. Here’s to Fiscal year 2014!

And…Everything Changes Again

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I want to have a box-burning party when I move in. I’ve been thinking about it, and moving boxes are the most emblematic reminder of my life over the past two years. I’ve moved…twice. I’ve also packed up a lot of “mental” boxes because I’ve changed jobs and many aspects of my personal life have also shifted. It’s not just the physical boxes I want to surrender, but they’re a good start. I have moving boxes I’ve been carting from home to home since 1998, the year when Procter & Gamble moved me from my college apartment on E. 17th Ave to Cincinnati.

I hope this might be the very last move in a long series of relocations. A place to hang my hat until I die. I know that might sound a bit morbid, but it’s also comforting to someone who has moved as much as I have. I’m buying the house I really want — the one I’d buy even if I had unlimited funds — and I’m going to live in it, and fill it with happy memories.

It may be that I don’t actually *die* in the house, and maybe there’s another move far down the line…but I’m not planning to move. I don’t anticipate an end to this relationship with my new house, and I don’t foresee my circumstances changing. I see a life of love and laughter and many wonderful times in this new house. And I’m sure there will be some sadness too, but it won’t be the sadness of moving or abandonment.

This time, it’s going to be different. This house will become my improvement project. Not for resale value, but for happiness value….at some point in the not-distant future, the house will be perfect for my needs, and it will evolve with me over the years. Here’s to the beginning of a wonderful relationship.

And yes, I really *do* intend to burn that pile of boxes. Unless I have any friends that would like to come and claim them.

Fireworks

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The Guerneville area has a nice plan surrounding 4th of July — every town has its own day of fireworks and they don’t conflict. I got to attend Monte Rio’s on Saturday and Guerneville’s on Sunday (skipped Sebastopol’s and Bodega Bay’s). The fireworks are closer to what I experienced as a kid — 15 minutes of beauty, with each firework set off individually so that one can enjoy it….which makes them last longer, given the number of fireworks purchased.

We’re literally burning money when we set off fireworks, and is probably one of the largest examples of a display of first world wealth I can imagine. We pay thousands of dollars for 15 minutes of fun…lighting up the sky. Causing pollution and putting hydrocarbon emissions into the atmosphere. Scaring pets in neighborhoods, and probably puzzling the heck out of the local deer and other wildlife.

But they also give me hope…that we can still create light in the darkness, and beauty. There’s an art to destruction that can be as beautiful as creation, and there’s local bonding within the communities as we enjoy these light displays. And sometimes I guess it’s just a little cool to burn a whole bunch of cash at once…

The fireworks through the redwoods I saw tonight were pretty awesome, and brought me back to those happy days of sitting on the Granville golf course admiring the display. Quality over quantity…with a beautiful green venue to enjoy it in. Life could be worse.

Happy birthday, America…from your bicentennial-born admirer. You sure lit up the planet.