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Family Traditions – Keeping What We Give Away

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When I was growing up I don’t remember that my family had any traditions beyond activities associated with the major holidays of Christmas and Easter.

My wife and I are doing something different for our family. We have incorporated many traditions and activities into our year. One of our favorites is on New Year’s Eve, when we’ll walk through each month of that year and recall the highlights, the achievements, and some of the challenges. It’s a wonderful way to recap and appreciate the many gifts of the year.

Another tradition for New Year is that when we’re at our cabin in McCarthy I’ll blow my conch. It’s a massive shell with a hole drilled in the side that when blown into creates a resounding and beautifully deep call that echoes up and down our valley.

What’s so special about getting to blow the conch for New Years isn’t so much the fun of making a joyous noise, although that’s surely a big part of it, but the opportunity to tell again the story of how I came to be the keeper of the conch.

When I was growing up the conch was one of the few possessions of my stepfather and I used to love to take it outside and bring to life its resonant bellow. My stepfather was a rambler living in a converted school bus when my mother first met him. We lived with him for about 7 years and after their less than amicable separation we moved from the remote mountains of Northern California to the urban expanse of the Bay Area.

We didn’t see or hear much from him over the next few years, but one day he showed up as he was passing through town. At one point he invited us out to his car and after opening the trunk he pulled out gifts for my brother, sister, and me. They were each special and unique treasures, things that were meaningful to him that he wanted us to have to remember him by.

To my surprise and delight, out of that trunk came the conch and he handed it lovingly to me.

My stepfather’s act of giving was deeply touching and a first step on the long path of reconnecting with his kids (me included!). It was made more poignant by the fact that during the trip his house accidentally burned to the ground and he lost everything that he owned.

Everything that is except for the few dear possessions that he had given away to us that day.

So the conch holds many things for me … fond memories of childhood … connection to an important man in my life … and the very real lesson that we keep what we give away.

And to bring us back to the point of this story, the conch is an important part of my family’s New Year tradition. When the clock hits midnight we all take turns blowing the conch to raucously ring in the new year. And as part of that tradition I tell the story of how I came to be the keeper of the conch, sharing stories of my childhood and the important lesson of how we keep those things that we freely give away.

As we step into the new year, what traditions will you or your family celebrate in 2018? What makes them important to you?

Find Your Breath And You Find Your Life

By | Masculinity, Mortality, Relationships | No Comments

I love participating in workshops. If I didn’t live up in Alaska, which is unfortunately a workshop wilderness, I’d probably be completely broke from being a workshop junkie. Here’s the thing, what I love about them is the opportunity to step out of the chaos of my householder life, settle into my own rhythm for a few days, and reconnect with myself while making new connections with others.

I don’t like “talky” workshops; I want interactive, engaging, and experiential.

And that’s what I got this past weekend at a breathing and mindfulness retreat. For those that want the punch line here are the two big takeaways:

1) proper breathing requires filling the belly and literally breathing all the way down through your pelvic floor

2) the breath is the center of my universe, with the space between the inhale and exhale being the connection to consciousness and experience of Oneness.

For some of you this might sound pretty airy fairy. That’s okay, you’re released to move on to the next blog or return to your Facebook feed.

For those of you who are serious about upping your midlife game and stepping into the most powerful tool I have yet to encounter for shifting into unlimited possibility, stick with me.

I’ve known for years about the importance of proper breathing and how it can be the portal to great knowing. The problem was that I only really knew it intellectually. I needed to get it into my body through an experiential retreat in order to truly embody this ancient wisdom.

The challenge is that most of us don’t really know how to breath. We take in the breath unconsciously, we fill our lungs by expanding our chest, and we often keep it pretty shallow. That’s not really breathing, that’s just surviving.

If you want to deepen your breathing you’ve got to get your belly involved. That can be a challenge for many western men because we’ve been taught to keep our gut sucked in, abdomens clenched and forever battle ready. But being tight in our abdomen forces us to breath in our upper body, which keeps our breathing shallow and forced. Sometimes shallow breathing is okay when we’re doing it consciously, but rarely is it good when it’s part of our regular, autonomic breathing pattern.

There are many great resources out there on the importance of proper breathing so I won’t make this a how-to. Here are a couple of resources I’ve come across recently that you might want to check out:

Dan Brule’s book Just Breathe. Dan is a member of the Midlife and Thriving FB group so we’ve got a local resource!

This interview of Belisa Vranich is a quick tutorial on the right way to breath and the importance of having a proper breathing technique.

Once you’ve got good technique, you’ll find that the breath is intense. Working with my breath over the weekend I found that I was able to quickly center myself in challenging situations, I found moments of deep clarity about my life purpose, I tapped into a deep source of wisdom and information to help bring answers to long-held questions.

Want to figure out how to make an important decision or handle an issue? Breathe, ask your question, then listen.

Want to know what’s really important in a situation and how to create an outcome in alignment with your values? Breathe, then listen.
Want to know how to regain a feeling of connection when you’re feeling isolated and alone in the world? Breath.

It’s like having your own internal Magic 8-Ball. You know the ones where you ask your question, shake it up, then wait for the answer to come mysteriously floating up through the dark purple liquid. Sure, sometimes you get an initial answer of “Ask your question again.” But if you stick with it, focus on breathing and letting go, the answer will arise – maybe from your heart, maybe from your gut, maybe from your mind, or perhaps even from pure consciousness.

Metaphorically the breath connects us to so many things: the expansion and contraction of the Universe, the cycle of death and rebirth, the ebb and flow of the tides. The All is contained within us through our connection to the breath and how we experience it in each moment. 

Ease, internal sense of peace, and connection are just a few of the experiences and sensations I had over the weekend and that I am taking with me back to the chaos of my householder life. I’m also returning with an embodied knowledge that conscious breathing creates an infallible connection to the deep wisdom of my body and to the present moment. Both are powerful tools for my continuing midlife transformation and growth.

To step into a deeper experience of self and your unlimited potential you just have to get into your breath and focus on the space between. It really is that simple and you can start doing it right now.

How are you breathing today?

In Midlife, Sometimes the Hardest Words Are “No Thank You.”

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How we can use our multiple brains to make difficult decisions

I’ve been wracked with needing to make a decision about something for over a week. I’ve been struggling to reconcile multiple parts of my decision-making network in order to come to a conclusion. The process was so taxing on my system that my inability to make a decision literally made me sick.

But getting sick was actually what I needed in order to get out of my head, separate my ego from the decision, strip away the emotional aspects, and get to my core.

Literally, my gut.

Our gut is the place of our enteric brain, the neural network that decides what we take from our environment, or allow to pass through our bodies, which literally makes us what we are. The enteric brain and the guttural ecosystem select what we keep to sustain our bodies, and what we let go and return to the environment. It’s one of the first neural systems created during embryonic development and when fully formed has the neural mass approximately equal to that of a cat’s brain.

From a mechanistic perspective of the body (which is an old and frankly dangerous perspective) one might mistakenly believe the gut’s function is simply to perform the act of digestion. But what we know from a growing body of research and many esoteric wisdom lineages, is that the gut, with its enteric brain, is a powerful place of protection, a source of wisdom, and information.

For example, over 80 percent of the cells in our bodies that help to regulate immune function are located in the gut … protection lies therein.

The gut’s prime functions are around self-protection, core identity, and motivation. I learned a lot this cool stuff from an excellent book by Grant Soosalu and Marvin Oka, called “mBraining – Using Your Multiple Brains to do Cool Stuff” Check it out.

Back to my story.

I got sick with a head cold and I could no longer “think clearly.”

And actually, getting sick was exactly what needed to happen because part of my challenge was that I was trying to logically figure out something that was not inherently a logic-based problem. I couldn’t “think” my way to a solution and thinking about it was just causing me to get stressed out because there were no real answers using the brain in my head. Sure I could do cost/benefit scenarios using logic-based decision-making processes, but that would only arrive at part of the answer.

Part of that was the challenge of quieting the ego, which was calling me a complete idiot for even thinking of saying “No thank you.” And we all know how well things turn out when we allow our egos to make important decisions.

And lastly, there was the potential complication of a relationship, a good friend who I wanted to work with and deepen relationship. Saying “No thank you” might have a negative impact, which I didn’t want. My heart brain (yes, there’s a neural network and center of intelligence there too!) was feeling conflicted. But I was clear that making this decision purely based on relationship was not an intelligent thing to do.

You see, there was still a disquieting in my gut.

So that’s where I found myself last night. Focused on my gut. And what getting sick was forcing me to do was slow down and listen.

When I am having a challenge I often go and take a steaming hot bath in what I call my Water Temple. I put on some quiet contemplative music, light a candle, and quiet the mind(s). And that’s exactly what I did, shut everything else out and focused on just my gut, that center of core identity and motivation.

And here’s what I got in touch with. What was proposed wasn’t in alignment with who I am at my core. It wasn’t in alignment with how I want to be as a transformational leader in my work with men. It wasn’t setting up the conditions under which I believe that I’d be successful in the long-term.

It would be an excellent opportunity for some men, but not for me.

I had to say “No thank you.” And so I did.

That was the core identity piece.

Another piece that I connected with in my guttural conversation was about motivation. I still felt compelled to DO something. I am a man after all, and we are typically action oriented.

If I said “No thank you” to one opportunity, then what would I say “Yes” to?

Stay tuned.

Waking Up at Midlife – It Could Happen to You Too

By | Masculinity, Mission, Relationships | No Comments

I spent much of my adult life living under the spell of a deceit. I thought that I was being myself, living my truth, living life on my terms …

The adventure begins

When I was in my mid-twenties I packed all of my worldly possessions into the back of a Toyota pickup truck and headed to Alaska in search of my fortune. I didn’t have a job and I only knew two people who lived there, but I had $800 to my name and all the time in the world. I was a free agent making my own decisions and carving out a life for myself through adventure and a trust that things would work out because the Universe always provides. It was intended to be a journey of discovery of self as much as exploration of wild new lands. And initially it was …

Fast-forward 15 years and I’m married with two kids, an Associate Vice-President rising up the ladder at a high-ranking national engineering firm, making a six-figure salary, and sharing time between a lovely home and two modest remote vacation properties. For the most part I was content with life. And why shouldn’t I be? I was creating the American Dream, my way.

But as I was rounding the bend of 40, something inside wasn’t quite right. I had a lot of freedom in my work. I was managing multi-million-dollar projects for multi-national clients and was considered an expert in my chosen field. I was continually given the keys to the kingdom and could have kept right on climbing as high as I wanted, but something wasn’t sitting well.

The midlife dip really sets in

On the cusp of midlife it was like there was an internal burr or a disquieting feeling that just wouldn’t go away. Sometimes it was an irritant and sometimes just a sense of emptiness or a hole.

When I’d ask myself the question, “Who AM I?” I couldn’t really answer. And worse, when I looked up the ladder at who I would need to be at the top, the single question that crossed my lips was, “Who IS that?”

I had noticed that my life was taking on a life of its own. I began not recognizing myself and noticed that much of my life was spent just going through the motions of what a life could be, not what it should be for me. It was as though I had become a character in someone else’s story.

It was someone else’s story: my wife’s, my boss’, my clients’, my banks, and the list went on.

Where once there had been desire for adventure and exploration, a settling for safety and consistency had slowly crept in.

Where once there had been desire to know myself and to live at my growth edge, a settling for stagnation and living up to others’ expectations had slowly crept in.

It wasn’t as though my work sucked or my marriage was in shambles or that my health was in the toilet. But clearly something wasn’t right and I sensed that if I didn’t attend to it I would have major regrets later in life. If I didn’t course correct, then one or all of those aspects of my life would unravel in the coming years.

Enough is enough

One day while on my commute I realized I’d had enough.

Enough of the settling
Enough of living someone else’s blue print for a life
Enough of being inauthentic with myself and with others
Enough of not living at MY growth edge and living MY purpose in the world.

Even though I didn’t have a clear idea of WHAT my purpose was, I knew that I wasn’t living it and so set out once again to carve out a life for myself through adventure and a trust that things would work out because the Universe always provides.

It would likely not be easy, most things of real value rarely are. It would not be as simple as packing up all my belongings into the back of a pickup truck and hitting the road.

Reality was that living someone else’s life wasn’t easy either. In fact, it was really freaking hard and it took a lot of energy to maintain the façade.

Seven years later after much internal and external exploration, and hard work, I am clear on my values, clear on my life’s purpose, and I am doing work that I absolutely love.

My relationship with my wife is stronger than it’s ever been in our 17 years of marriage.
I’m as fit and healthy in my late 40s as I was in my late 20s.
I have also created an incredible network of relationships that feed my soul, keep me connected, and continually push me to my growth edge.

How did I do all this?

Slowly and thoughtfully,
With care for myself and for others,
By changing paths without burning bridges,
By keeping the long-term vision without holding the outcome of that vision too tightly.

Can I get some answers please?

There were four things I learned in the process that were critical to my success.

Be curious about YOU – Know thyself. You need to be an expert on YOU. If you want freedom you have to understand your intrinsic motivators, what makes you tick and gets your juices flowing. It’s critical to identify what has real value and what is a must-have and cannot be compromised. Also, get crystal clear on what is ego and what is soul and don’t confuse the two.

Be bold – Leap and the net will appear. You have to get to know your shadows and what scares the crap out of you and head in that direction. Be ready for changes within you to be uncomfortable and get really comfortable with that change. It’s a learning edge for a reason; growth occurs where the known and unknown intersect. Learn to trust your inner voice of “Know thyself.”

Get good at relationships – Treat others as you would have them treat you. Acquire tools to help you communicate clear boundaries and what you need, without making what others want wrong for them. Getting good at relationships requires that you get good at being compassionate and to practice the rarely used art of forgiveness – on yourself and with others.

Be relentless – Show up every day. If it’s hard, show up. If it’s uncomfortable, show up. If it’s joyous, show up. If it’s boring as hell, show up. It’s only a battle if you want it to be; your mindset determines your experience. It’s your life, show up every day willing to take the next step, and then the next, into the life that’s waiting for you to simply show up.

A Midlife Awakening to a Grandfather’s Gift

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How Tales From the Past Spark Adventures of the Future

Last night was probably the last night I will get to spend with my grandfather. We sat at the dinner table as we often did in the evenings during my visits. He in his seat to my right, in front of the bookshelf that stores many of his treasures, the props used to spark memories and kindle stories of his life’s adventures.

I would sit for hours listening to his tales of travels as a salesman throughout the U.S.; hunting trips in Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico; river trips down the Rio Grand or the Pecos or the Colorado. He had done so many things and had so many adventures.

He was a great weaver of long stories with dramatic pause and em-PHA-sis (as he would say), which would keep me spell bound for hours. It’s part of the reason I’m such a good listener. Listening was my part in the magic of our relationship.

But during this visit his well has run dry. Those memories are no longer in him. His nearly photographic recall of those stories is gone. Many pages of his grand and adventurous life are blurred or just blank.

No more fountain of stories.

No more images of the American West when it was still wide open enough for the imagination to run wild and there was still wildness in it.
The first couple of nights during this visit it was quiet, something had shifted.

Clearly something was missing.

And then I realized what it was.
And then I realized our roles had changed.
And then I realized …

It was now my turn to tell stories, and that I had some that needed to be shared, for me and for him.

So I spun tales of my trips above the Arctic Circle during my time as a wilderness guide, of bounding across the vast, open tundra and running its wild rivers.
So I spun tales of my adventures exploring the great glaciers in the icy realms of the Wrangell Mountains.
So I spun tales of adventures flying white-knuckled through Alaska storms in single-engine planes and swimming naked in the Pacific Ocean while a lone wolf loped along the beach.

It turns out that I too have many stories to tell. I too have adventures to share. I too have lived a life adventuring in the last great reaches of our country’s wilderness.
He sat there quietly enjoying each telling, swelling with pride at my adventures, as listening now became his role in the magic of our relationship.

I realize clearly, with this shift in our relationship, that my grandfather’s stories were part of what got me to the wilderness. His stories had lived in me as the seeds of my own adventures. His courage and yearning to live a life of exploration was an example by which I would live mine.

To my grandfather, I will always be grateful for the life of exploration that your stories sparked in me. Grateful also that I got to thank you for your gift in my life and the important part you played in instilling adventure. And so too my sons should be grateful for a great grandfather’s contribution to their lives of adventure in the wild places of this beautiful world.

A Glue That Binds – Strengthening Men’s Relationships in Midlife

By | Brothers, Masculinity, Relationships | No Comments

It was a powerful weekend, the third retreat for my men’s group this year. With each retreat it feels like I reach into new layers of understanding and push through more of my self-inflicted fears and shame.

In my circle of men I witness the real power of the masculine. The power that comes from doing the life-affirming, gut wrenching work of wrestling with our own humanity. We share the scars and battle wounds of our childhoods, the re-enactment of these wounds in the challenges we face, and the subtle seduction of our internal saboteurs that keep us stuck in smaller versions of ourselves.

These men that I call my brothers continue to amaze me with their wisdom, their trust, their authenticity, and vulnerability. They are courageous and strong, doing battle with the real demons of hubris, self-deceit, shame, and isolation. They are also loving, supportive, and a hell of a lot of fun to be around.

Doing this work with them I ask, “Damn it! will there always be more layers to peel back? Will this work never be done?”
My Wise Self assures me, “No, even with the last breath there will be yet another layer waiting for you to release into, to push through.”

And so we show up again, committed to doing the work, consistently pushing forward one step and one day at a time,

~ with love
~ with reverence
~ with humility.

And part of what makes these weekend retreats so powerful is the time we give each other.

The time to drop out of the warp speed of our daily lives and slow the hell down.
The time we create to dig deep, and deeper still.
The time we give to really see each other, and also to really be seen.

It’s about the space we create, which allows us all to drop our masks and allow others to see us for who we are … there … hiding behind the mask. It’s the more complete picture of who we are, the one we don’t really allow others out there to see.

I’m still processing much of what was revealed in me this weekend, and imagine that I will be for some time. The richness of the work has given me such great gifts and things to contemplate as we head into winter, the season of going inward, of releasing and letting go.

And thanks to my brothers I am much better prepared for the death of those parts of me that are no longer in service to the man that I AM continually becoming.

It’s Not Her, It’s You

By | Mirror, Partner, Relationships | No Comments

Midlife relationship

Are you being truly seen in your relationship in midlife?

Is your partner understanding who you are, the man that you are?

If not, why not? Have you been holding back your true feelings and needs, afraid to let her in, to see you for who you really are?

If so, you’re not alone. I used to be like that too. Afraid to share my desires, my needs, my true self. I thought that my needs were not worthy or would drive her away, or make her think less of me.

And so I held back, not ballsy enough to really be vulnerable, not strong enough to stand up for who I really was and what I knew to be important to me. I withheld who I was and resented her for not giving me what I needed. And worse, I blamed her for not knowing WHAT I needed even though I was the one holding back what I truly wanted.

How screwed up is that?

But I finally figured out that:
the pain of not being seen,
the pain of not getting what I really needed,
the pain of blaming instead of being responsible for my own happiness
was worse than the POTENTIAL discomfort and pain of speaking my truth.

So I started to reveal.
I started to ask.
I started to speak my truth.

I made it about me and what I needed, NOT ABOUT HER.
I made it about what was important to me, AND WHY.
I also made it about us … as in how NOT speaking my truth was INFECTING our relationship.

So if you’re tired of not getting what you want in your relationship in midlife, look inside and see what you might be keeping hidden. Then take whatever first step toward freedom you need to speak your truth. Do it lovingly, do it without blame, do it for yourself.

Be brave, and know that you can do this and that it’s worth it.

How losing track of your values can screw up midlife, and how reclaiming them will give you control

By | Masculinity, Mission, Relationships, Work | No Comments

midlife manBefore I became a coach for men in midlife I never gave much thought to my values. Don’t worry, my internal conscience, Jiminy Cricket, has kept me morally on the straight and narrow. By values I don’t mean morals or virtues. I’m speaking here about the deep-seated motivators that make us unique and who we are at our core as men.

For me, the simple process of clarifying and understanding core values has given a greater sense of freedom, personal well-being, and deeper relationships. I would also argue that a closer connection to one’s values can give men in midlife greater choice and freedom than options sometimes sought through the stereotypically poor decisions associated with the midlife crisis.

Values vs. virtues

Looking back on my life I always thought of values as understanding the difference between right and wrong. You know, the basic moral compass stuff that most parents try to pass along like don’t lie, cheat, or steal; always keep your word; treat others as you’d like to be treated. Or perhaps values were those moral and intellectual virtues like courage, temperance, liberality, understanding, and wisdom received as part of one’s spiritual or philosophical upbringing.

So if we’re not talking about values as morals or virtues, what are we talking about?

I refer to values as the personal drivers, the core motivators, and deeply held beliefs that make us uniquely who we are. They are the words or terms we would use (as opposed to the external expectations or projections of others) to answer the question:

“Who am I and what’s most important to me?”

For many men in midlife this is THE question that heralds the primary midlife transitions: in our careers, in our marriage or significant relations, in our public personae, in our over commitment to pursuits that no longer bring contentment or a sense of satisfaction.

Our values inform all of our decisions. They are often working at a subconscious level, especially when we haven’t taken the time to identify and clarify what they are. These values, or intrinsic motivators, have been a core part of who we are since our teenage years.

I’m kind of needing an illustration of what the heck you’re talking about here …

Okay, here’s a quick example … early in my midlife quest I identified my top five values as Integrity, Community, Adventure, Impact, and Compassion. Actually, I identified over 40 and narrowed them down to a solid dozen. But these five were the primary values that motivated me and informed the decisions I made and significantly impacted my sense of who I was and how I showed up in the world.

The importance of clarifying values – especially in midlife

When aspects of our lives are out of alignment with our values, things just don’t feel right. We can experience a deep sense of dis-ease and internal or external conflict can show up. When we are living in alignment with our values we have a greater sense of contentment, engagement, and life satisfaction.

Why is understanding our personal values important? It’s important because if we don’t know what our personal values are we can feel adrift on the sea of unmet expectations, lost in midlife meanderings, and experience a hollowness inside suggesting that something is amiss.

Hmm, kind of sounds like my midlife malaise …

More importantly, when we don’t know what our personal values are we are unable to articulate, let alone begin to effectively address, those aspects of our lives that are out of alignment and keeping us from being content at a most basic level.

Once I articulated my values I began to examine aspects of my life through the lense of these values. For example when I looked at my then-career through the lenses of Integrity and Community, I found that the people I worked with and the company I worked for also had a strong commitment to Integrity (in part defined by doing the right things for the right reason) and Community (a robust network of outstanding professionals). The alignment with these values were strong reasons to stay in that career.

However, I was not able to fully realize my internal sense of Integrity (as I define it through my ability to express my full self) and also was not able to live into my value of Impact/Change (as I define it by the ability to push boundaries and unleash greater consciousness in the world). It was these two unexpressed values that were really at the heart of my growing discontent with that career.

My inability to live in alignment with my values of Integrity and Impact/Change began to shake the foundations of my previously enviable career path. Choosing to live through them more fully supported my conscious transition to leadership coaching. This career transition allowed me to live my primary values more fully and ultimately brought me greater professional freedom, engagement in a more fulfilling career, and significantly more life satisfaction.

Hey that’s great, but my midlife crisis isn’t about my career …

I then began to use my values to examine my marriage, my relationships with my two sons, my sense of being over committed in other areas of my life, sibling relations, you name it. While many are still a work in progress, being in alignment with my core values has consistently resulted in deeper connections and greater contentment.

So that’s a simple example of how unconsciously denied values, when explored and identified, led to a successful career transition. Had I not clarified and articulated my values I likely would have continued in my previous career, feeling okay but not truly satisfied … and that unanswered gnawing could have resulted in a serious midlife meltdown and ruined my life.

Are you interested in better understanding how your values may be unconsciously impacting you and how to shift to greater choice in midlife? Grab a spot on my calendar for a Midlife Meetup and let’s see what’s possible!

Even the Best Days Skiing Can Be the Worst Days of Marriage

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IMG_2091
Three tools that men can use to recover from marital face-plants

I’m pretty sure that my wife and I got to the bottom of the mountain thinking that a divorce was eminent. Okay, I’m being a little dramatic here, but I found the situation ironic because we fell in love skiing. Amazing how unmet expectations can lead to a midlife marital blowup … even after 20 years of skiing together.

It was a blue-bird day and bitterly cold with the wind blowing temperatures down to minus 10 degrees. But we were out for the third weekend in a row backcountry skiing with our two young boys. It was the first time since our eldest was born that my wife and I had been on skis together for three consecutive weekends and we were both giddy.

Our 8-year-old is the weak link in our backcountry adventures. He’s still getting his mountain legs and tires just as the slopes start to get steep enough to be fun. On this trip he soon peters out, hits the deck, and won’t get up. I did my best to cajole him to press on, but he wasn’t buying what I was selling. So my wife was left to soothsay him to a recovery and back on his skis. But even she was challenged because he was headed toward a full-blown meltdown. I had missed out on the luscious higher slopes the week before because I had stayed behind when he was overcome by inertia in this exact same spot.

This time I ski on and catch up with our 12-year old who’s up ahead and has been shredding it on the telemark gear he got for Christmas. He’s waiting patiently but getting cold. So my wife and I agree that I will continue on with our oldest so I can get the turns that she enjoyed the previous weekend.

My eldest and I topped out about 20 minutes later, got an awesome view and the obligatory selfie, ditched our skins and pointed our skis down. Yeehaw! The snow was bliss and I was really enjoying the first true backcountry ski with my son. It was a winter highlight for me.

We soon rejoined my wife and youngest at mid-mountain. My wife was clearly agitated and her first words were a sharp “I didn’t expect that you’d be gone so long …” I heard accusation, disappointment, and blame in her tone. I felt attacked so I parried and the war of words began … it was a major marital face plant. And that’s how we ended up at the bottom of the hill far from the giddiness that started our day. But it didn’t have to go that way.

In my work with men in midlife I help men find ways to increase connection with their partners, kids, and even co-workers. On the drive home that afternoon I recalled the tools that could have avoided that mid-slope disaster. I share them with you here in the hopes that you’ll be successful should you find yourself in a similar situation.

Tool #1: Don’t Assume It’s About You

That’s often my first mistake … I take my wife’s disappointment and unmet need personally and then take responsibility for her feelings. ACK! Then I feel guilty and then I get angry, both at her for dumping her unmet expectation on me and at myself for immediately thinking I had done something wrong. Yes, she was disappointed, but remember, we had agreed that I would go up and get some turns with our oldest.

To diffuse it, I needed to recognize that her disappointment (and more importantly, what was underneath it) may not have even been about me. It turns out it wasn’t. And rather than get defensive or mount a counter attack, I needed to play the name game …

Tool #2: Name what you hear

Instead of taking it personally, I needed to reflect what I was hearing. Something like, “Huh, sounds like you had an expectation that …” Or, I could have named the tone, “I’m hearing a lot of frustration right now.”

Just identifying what’s in the space between the two of us could have diffused the situation by allowing objectivity, rather than defensiveness, to guide the conversation.

Tool #3: Be curious about what you hear

Once you name it, you can get curious about what it might be, and more importantly, what’s underneath it. So instead of defending I could have asked, “How did it go with the youngest?” Then “Oh wow, he had a complete meltdown and ranted for 15 minutes? Sounds like a nightmare! Poor you, I imagine that you must be tired/frustrated/exhausted/etc.”

From a place of curiosity I could have been much more empathetic and much less defensive.

Bonus Tool: The Repair

The repair is another great tool for marriage in midlife (or any phase!). Rather than stew on it (or avoid it), I broached the subject of our face plant during our drive home. I owned up to my part of it (immediately going on the defensive) and she, hers (forgetting to employ a soft start). We also explored what we could do differently “next time.” Thankfully we were able to repair the damages of our war of words and recover so that our family evening was salvaged.

Lesson learned: while repairs can be helpful, avoiding war in the first place is always less painful.

I hope that you found these tools useful! Have you ever found yourself regretting a response or headed pell-mell for a marital face plant? What did you do to recover? Share out in the comment section below!

 

 

Three things you can do to make America great … again.

By | Mirror, Relationships | No Comments

conflict-405744_1280Having difficult discussions with your fellow Americans can help close the rifts that keep us divided.

If America is broken, it has been for some time. Our need for safety on whatever side of the dialectic with which we agree keeps us from reaching across the aisle in our politics and across the fence in our neighborhoods. As societal complexity increases there appears to be an even greater need for an “other” on which to pin the blame for our national and global woes. We just can’t seem to understand why anyone would think “that way.”

In creating the “other” we conveniently create a scapegoat that allows us to shirk our own part in the great unraveling. I say, ENOUGH!

If we want to make America great again, we will need to stand together. We will need to roll up our sleeves and work side-by-side to uncover our shared values, understand what drives each other’s choices, and work towards a common good on multiple fronts. We need to shut off our computers, televisions, and radios and go back to a tool that past generations of Americans used to fight for truth and justice, for all.

What is that tool you might ask? A tractor? A gun? A sewing machine? No.

The tool I’m referring to is conversation, the kind that occurs face-to-face. Perhaps it’s only wistful thinking but it seems in times past that American’s used to have conversations with each other, around a kitchen table, or on a porch, or in a living room. Conversations with neighbors were about difficult subjects like slavery, taxes, war, or women’s suffrage; they’d have discussions even when opinions differed. American’s would share thoughts and ideas in common places where people could come together to talk, tell stories, and create relationships of understanding, even if the understanding was that there were agreed upon differences.

In a recent conversation I had with musician, author, and master of difficult dialogues, Libby Roderick, we explored ways that American’s can come together again as individuals to rid ourselves of the shadow “other.” It will require having difficult dialogues. It will require exploration of topics on which we may not see eye to eye. But this is the way to healing and the way to make our great nation whole again.

What does this have to do with men in midlife you might ask? A lot actually. As men in midlife we often hold leadership roles within our community, at our workplaces, within professional organizations, non-profits, and places of worship. As leaders we need to step up and initiate these conversations rather than stick to the safe talk about the weather or sports.

If you feel called, below are three things to consider when starting your own journey of understanding through conversations with your family, friends, or neighbors.

Clarify the ground rules

Before having a crucial conversation it is important to provide a set of mutually agreeable ground rules. Such rules increase the likelihood of civil discourse and reduce potential for an unraveling of civility. Having ground rules is an important step to build a safe environment for people to engage openly and fully. These ground rules can be developed prior to the conversation and can be found online (such as these excellent examples from New Hampshire’s Rye Public Library and LivingRoom Conversations). You might also begin a conversation by asking each participant to share a couple of things they need to create an atmosphere of trust and cooperation.

Share experiences, not opinions or positions

When having a potentially difficult conversation the goal is to get an understanding of how a person has arrived at their position or opinion. By understanding the unique situation of the other participants you understand their story and their human experience. You get a sense of their underlying shared humanity. The goal of conversation is understanding, not to convince others of your position or to convert them to your perspective.

Get curious

Seek understanding through clarifying questions. To be clear, “What the f*ck were you thinking?” and “Why are you such a spineless whiner?” are not clarifying questions. What is it about their family history, their social status, their life challenges that have defined their values and made them who they are? What is it about their unique life experiences that might unlock greater understanding of possible shared goals? This understanding might then allow for collaborative work towards mutual goals for common good.

The word “discussion” has its roots in Latin and means “to shake apart.” When we approach each other with curiosity and civility we can shake up our preconceived notions of the “other” and piece together a reality based on personal story and mutual understanding. Our country is made stronger by our differences, but only when they are understood as coming from our fellow Americans not some faceless “other” who can be easily vilified and condemned as an enemy.

Stand strong together America. Let’s start the discussion!

Have you ever had a crucial conversation unravel or succeed beyond your expectations? Share out about your experience, what worked and what didn’t, in the comment section below.