August 30, 2014

Running Past Our Limits Update (Part Five): A Random Idea Gets Scientific

rhodesIn the video I told you about a couple weeks ago, a friend of mine (his name is “Angel Vigil” — no kidding) describes my workout routine as “his own self-invented alternative treatment to keep the nerves and his muscles and everything working as long as he can, and fight the progressive, debilitating nature of MS.”

Angel didn’t know it, but he was summarizing two neurological concepts that underlie what I’m doing. The first is neuroplasticity: our brains rewire themselves when we learn. The second is myelination: if we use those new neural pathways often, our brains coat them with a substance called myelin, which acts as a learning and skill development supercharger.

Developmental molecular biologist John Medina describes neuroplasticity this way in his book Brain Rules:

Eric Kandel is the scientist mostly responsible for figuring out the cellular basis of [the process of how the brain learns]. For it, he shared the Nobel Prize in 2000… Kandel showed that when people learn something, the wiring in their brain changes. He demonstrated that acquiring even simple pieces of information involves the physical alteration of the structure of the neurons participating in the process. Taken broadly, these physical changes result in the functional organization and reorganization of the brain. This is astonishing. The brain is constantly learning things, so the brain is constantly rewiring itself.

Myelination got a huge popular boost from Daniel Coyle’s 2009 book The Talent Code. As the Amazon book blurb says:

Drawing on cutting-edge neurology and firsthand research gathered on journeys to nine of the world’s talent hotbeds—from the baseball fields of the Caribbean to a classical-music academy in upstate New York—Coyle identifies the three key elements that will allow you to develop your gifts and optimize your performance in sports, art, music, math, or just about anything.

These three elements work together within your brain to form myelin, a microscopic neural substance that adds vast amounts of speed and accuracy to your movements and thoughts. Scientists have discovered that myelin might just be the holy grail: the foundation of all forms of greatness, from Michelangelo’s to Michael Jordan’s. The good news about myelin is that it isn’t fixed at birth; to the contrary, it grows, and like anything that grows, it can be cultivated and nourished.

Put neuroplasticity and myelination together, and you’ve got brain flubber. Both are at work in our brains all the time, whether we know it or not. My approach is to harness them consciously and intentionally. Technically, what I’m after is re-myelination — when damaged neural pathways get rebuilt. I need that because MS has a destructive effect on — you guessed it — myelin. Therefore, in neuroscience terms, my exercise routine is an attempt to use neuroplasticity and re-myelination to restore my MS-damaged neuro-pathways.

Just like Angel said.

I didn’t know any of this three years ago when I began my “self-invented alternative treatment.” I just had an idea. Turns out I got the idea about the time neuroscientists were hot on the myelin trail. Apparently I somehow got on somebody’s memo routing list.

Now that I do know about these things, I have a new goal in life: to become a lab rat.

More on that next time. 

Seven years ago, Kevin Rhodes left his law practice to start a creative venture. His reflections on what happened next appear in an article about law career exit strategies in the August issue of The Colorado Lawyer (here’s the introduction, and here’s the article). His new ebook, Life Beyond Reason: A Memoir of Mania, chronicles his misadventures and lessons learned, and is available as a FREE download at iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Scribd, or wherever else you normally get ebooks. Or follow this link to the distributor’s page, where it’s available as a FREE download in all formats — phone, Kindle, as a PDF, etc. You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

Running Past Our Limits Update (Part Four): Running Just Because

rhodesAnd sometimes you run just because.

Forget the inspiration, the challenges, the training techniques, the goals.

Forget researching neurology for scientific support. Forget constantly recalculating the odds, feeling like they get worse every day, wondering how much life this experiment has left in it.

Forget all that. This morning, just be that 12-year old racing a friend home after a Friday night small town football game, suddenly noticing that his feet aren’t even touching the ground and he’s leaving the fastest kid in town far behind.

Or just be that 17-year old running wind sprints on the football field and coming in just a few yards behind the fastest kid ever to play running back in your town, the holder of three conference championship records as a sophomore, and all the coaches are looking at their stopwatches and saying, “Who’s that kid in second place?”

Or just be the kid the varsity track coach pulls aside one day and says, “You’re built just like Jim Ryan — we should make a miler out of you.”

That conversation never went any further. Every now and then I wonder what might have happened if it had, and I always end up being glad it didn’t, because like Jim Ryan I might have walked off the track in the middle of a race one day.

But never mind any of that, not now. Just be who you are, right here, right now: a kid’s soul living in an adult’s body. Step on the machine and you’re out of that body, running like your younger self, running for the pure joy of it. All the struggle and trying to figure things out fade and fall far behind, like the fastest kid in town who couldn’t keep up with you. There’s nothing but the movement, nothing but the stride, over and over, churning up the invisible ground under your feet. Machine metrics? Who cares? Moving is all that matters.

Your heart swells, you’re just so grateful you can do this.

Jim Ryan had the perfect stride. I’ve studied it frame by frame. I visualize it when I run on the machine, patterning my brain, telling it, “Make me look like that.”

This past Sunday, I looked like that for two hours and ten minutes. It was only during those last ten minutes that I noticed the machine was telling me my heartbeat was up in the “high performance” category, that my right foot was starting to spaz out and turn sideways, that I was feeling tired.

It didn’t matter. I was running. My long legs were put on this planet to run; there’s no other explanation for them.

And so, this past Sunday, that’s what I did.

I ran.

Just because.

Seven years ago, Kevin Rhodes left his law practice to start a creative venture. His reflections on what happened next appear in an article about law career exit strategies in the August issue of The Colorado Lawyer (here’s the introduction, and here’s the article). His new ebook, Life Beyond Reason: A Memoir of Mania, chronicles his misadventures and lessons learned, and is available as a FREE download at iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Scribd, or wherever else you normally get ebooks. Or follow this link to the distributor’s page, where it’s available as a FREE download in all formats — phone, Kindle, as a PDF, etc. You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

Third Annual Running Past Our Limits Update (Part Three): Mission Impossible

rhodesA friend who’d been involved with making a documentary film got interested in my running regime. We shot a video one fine day last October. It’s short: 7:15. Go ahead, we’ll wait while you watch it.

The video begins with me challenging our conventional notions of what’s possible and what’s not. “Impossible is just a label we put on things,” I say. “It’s state of mind. There are people doing impossible things everyday. I think it’s time we all stop believing in impossible.”

The idea that “impossible” might not be hack-proof was first embedded in me at a Cirque du Soleil show called Varekai, which premiered a year and a half after 9-11.The Varekai story is loosely based on the Icarus myth: the manmade wings and failed flight too close to the sun, the familiar parable of the human race outstripping its own aspirations and crashing down in its pride.

Yes, humans can’t fly like birds; we all know that. But Varekai went beyond the myth and ended in triumph. Pride was forgiven, love and courage restored the fallen, and the joy of aspiration and the magic of the dream were reclaimed. The impossible became possible.

Dominic Champagne, writer and director of Varekai, began his program notes with these words:

Puisque les temps sont fous Since these are crazy times
Et que nous avons le devoir And it is our duty
De ne pas abandonner le monde To not surrender the world
Aux main des nullités Into the hands of fools
Je fais le vœu que ce spectacle soit pour vous I wish that this show may be for you
Comme il a été pour moi As it has been for me
Une célébration A celebration
De la rencontre des fraternités Of the coming together of friends
Et de la joie des dépassements And of the joy of challenging limits
Pour dire au monde In order to tell the world
Que quelque chose d’autre est possible That something else is possible

 

I put those program notes in a frame that still hangs on my wall. I live them everyday. They inspire me, keep me centered, keep reminding me that something else is possible.

We want things that appear to be impossible. Maybe they aren’t. Maybe the only reason they’re impossible is because we haven’t done them yet. Okay, so we ran a search of our brain’s memory data base and it came up “no match found.” No big deal. That doesn’t mean what we want is impossible on some grand cosmic level; maybe it’s a possibility waiting for us to make it happen.

I feel that way about my personal impossible of overcoming MS with exercise. I’m sure the other people in the video felt that way about their impossibles, too. And yet they did them, just like I intend to do mine.

The video ends with a series of questions: How about you? What’s your impossible? What would you be like if you did it? What would our world be like?

If you haven’t done it yet, go ahead and watch the video now. You’ll be inspired, I promise.

To be continued.

Seven years ago, Kevin Rhodes left his law practice to start a creative venture. His reflections on what happened next appear in an article about law career exit strategies in the August issue of The Colorado Lawyer (here’s the introduction, and here’s the article). His new ebook, Life Beyond Reason: A Memoir of Mania, chronicles his misadventures and lessons learned, and is available as a FREE download at iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Scribd, or wherever else you normally get ebooks. Or follow this link to the distributor’s page, where it’s available as a FREE download in all formats — phone, Kindle, as a PDF, etc. You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

Third Annual Running Past Our Limits Update (Part Two): A day (and Week) in the Life of an MS Athlete

rhodesSomeone told me about MS Fitness Challenge. Great organization; you should check them out. The founder David Lyons is in showbiz, so they get a lot of celebrity endorsements. David did a terrific interview of me for his blog. I just looked at it again, and it gave me the idea for this post.

All MS athletes share symptoms that would stop us if we let them. The trick is to make them irrelevant. Well-meaning people at the gym sometimes ask how I’m feeling, whether I’m having a good or bad day. I’ve learned to pause and explain that I don’t think in those terms. They aren’t helpful. If I paid attention to how I feel, I’d never show up, and I sure wouldn’t keep going when it gets tough.

And it does get tough. You do this, you suffer. Not whining, just sayin’.

The MS symptoms create practical challenges beyond the workout itself, too — like getting off the machine when I’m done. I can barely walk; it takes all my focus to cross about 20 feet to sit down. I drag myself along and hope nobody is noticing, and one time I took a facer. Lately I’ve been wondering if I should just bring my cane. Same thing with walking down the stairs to leave the building. These days I mostly take the elevator.

I work out 5 days a week on average, with goals for every workout and for the week. I alternate strength, stamina, and speed workouts, and something I call “heart elasticity” training. (Did one of those yesterday. Two hours all out. Looked like I was standing under a rain spout, which is something for a guy with MS, because one of things you lose is your body’s ability to cool itself. Guess my training has reversed that.)

The differences in workouts are a matter of metrics: varying machine settings such as stride height, length, and resistance, and watching how they interact with body metrics such as stride frequency, target heartbeat, breathing pattern, even how much I sweat. On stamina runs I can zone out, but the other workouts require constant attention, changing the machine settings and monitoring body metrics.

Daily workouts are a couple hours, weekends take longer, but training is really 24/7. It’s a whole, integrated practice embracing details like how much I sleep and when and what I eat. Mostly, there’s an action/recovery cycle to be observed. Cut corners, you suffer. Like I said…

The weekly cycle culminates in a major weekend workout. This past Sunday I went three hours, in one-hour segments. The first was for speed, the second (my fastest, as is usually the case) for combined speed and strength, and the third for stamina. Around 2:50:00 I hit the point where my right foot spazzes out so entirely it turns out like a ballet dancer’s. I’ve learned to pull it back straight by sheer focus, and can keep it there for 20 minutes; on Sunday I only had to deal with it for the final 10.

The Open Stride machine is stingy about mileage: best I can tell, it credits just under half what a regular elliptical machine gives you. Sunday it gave me 15.35 begrudging miles — not much to show for 3 hours and 2,000 calories. Curiously, when I go that hard that long, my feet and legs often work better than they do after a shorter workout. That was the case yesterday.

So I took the stairs instead of the elevator.

To be continued.

Seven years ago, Kevin Rhodes left his law practice to start a creative venture. His reflections on what happened next appear in an article about law career exit strategies in the August issue of The Colorado Lawyer (here’s the introduction, and here’s the article). His new ebook, Life Beyond Reason: A Memoir of Mania, chronicles his misadventures and lessons learned, and is available as a FREE download at iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Scribd, or wherever else you normally get ebooks. Or follow this link to the distributor’s page, where it’s available as a FREE download in all formats — phone, Kindle, as a PDF, etc. You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

Third Annual Running Past Our Limits Update (Part One): Time to Get Personal (Again)

rhodesThe past two years, I’ve taken a summer break from topics like lawyer career satisfaction and legal entrepreneurship, and instead have gotten personal.

The first year, I worried about doing that, but justified my departure from objectivity by telling myself I’d stumbled onto something so powerful it could change the world. Honest. I was using it to meet a challenge in my own life, but thought it was much bigger. (Actually, I still do.) The series told my story, but also talked about believing in ourselves, finding our internal “coach,” doing the impossible, and other inspiring things. A couple readers said they thought it was my best series ever.

Changing the world wasn’t the focus last year, mostly because I’d learned that the challenge I face goes by the big hairy scary name “MS.” I focused not on changing the whole world, just my world with MS. Still, getting personal was okay because there were plenty of lessons to extrapolate to other kinds of challenges, and again readers liked it.

At a recent CLE seminar, I got one of those intuitive hits to share some of my Running Past Our Limits story. My departure from the script paid off: it was an energizing moment (right after lunch!) that drew several comments on the evals.

Do something once, it’s a novelty; do it twice, it’s a tradition. So here’s the Third Annual Running Past Our Limits Update.

If you like, you can get caught up by going here for the 2012 and 2013 editions. Briefly, this adventure started because I was frustrated with what I thought was an unresolved injury rehab issue. I’d tried pretty much everything to no avail, until one day I got the idea of using an elliptical machine to reprogram my body into moving again. (Where do we get crazy ideas like that, by the way? We’ll talk about it.) In the first year, I ran several marathons on the machine, some at world record speed. By the second year, however, it was clear my rehab theory wasn’t proving true: the faster and further I ran, the less I could walk. I went to get checked out, and found out I have MS. Immediately I went into denial, determined to fight the disease (if I even had it, which I wasn’t willing to admit), and doubled down on my workouts.

And this past, third year? (Take a deep breath.) Even though I’m not in denial anymore I’m still not ready to give up, although to be honest it gets harder all the time, but there’s some cutting edge neurological research to back up what I’m doing, and in the meantime my workouts and what I’ve learned from them have turned into a whole new way of approaching life that has made it better in ways I never could have imagined, not to mention giving me all kinds of new insights I regularly use in this blog and in my workshops… and did I mention that some people have gotten inspired by what I’m doing?

Against that background, the real question for me at this point is:

And I’m supposed to be okay with that?

Seriously, am I just making lemonade because life gave me lemons, reaching for the consolation-less consolation prize I warned you not to accept in a post not long ago? And what’s the difference between conceding defeat/failure and the practice of pivoting I’ve been talking about? And how DO you move from denial to acceptance without giving up?

Good questions. Let’s tackle ’em.

Seven years ago, Kevin Rhodes left his law practice to start a creative venture. His reflections on what happened next appear in an article about law career exit strategies in the August issue of The Colorado Lawyer (here’s the introduction, and here’s the article). His new ebook, Life Beyond Reason: A Memoir of Mania, chronicles his misadventures and lessons learned, and is available as a FREE download at iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Scribd, or wherever else you normally get ebooks. Or follow this link to the distributor’s page, where it’s available as a FREE download in all formats — phone, Kindle, as a PDF, etc. You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

Enlightenment Made Simple (Part 8): Is It Worth It?

rhodesWe want purpose, meaning, autonomy, happiness, and all the rest of what career and personal enlightenment have to offer. We also want getting them to be safe, easy, and certain. We don’t want to rock the boat. We want to be able to look around and know where we are. We want to be able to do the things we’ve always done, think the way we’ve always thought, but just be happier about it.

In other words, we want enlightenment to be different, but we also want it to feel as safe as the life we’re trying to leave behind.

Where in the world did we ever get such an idea? From ego. From the survival instincts lodged in the most ancient part of our brains. From our brains’ embedded practice of maintaining status quo. And from the collective expressions of those things in the organizations, cultures, firms, and other institutions that make up the milieu of our lives.

Challenge all that in the name of greater satisfaction and happiness? Better think twice. It’s not going to go well. Status quo gets old, but so does constantly having to create our chaotic new lives in the name of making them better. It’s fun at first, but eventually it feels like all we accomplished was to trade one kind of stress for another. It’s possible to get past that point, but a lot of people never do, it’s just so entirely demoralizing.

For some crazy reason, life is set up so the pursuit of enlightenment is optional. We can get it, but it’ll cost us, and the cost is high: we have to end the reign of ego. Most people won’t do it. Most people probably shouldn’t. Better for them if they don’t turn pro in the enlightenment game. Better if they keep the day job, don’t cash in the 401k.

That’s not cowardice. Nobody says you have to do this. After all, ego and status quo are effective: they get the job done, pay the bills. We challenge them at our own risk, and the people who do aren’t exactly good role models.

Ever notice that so many of the people we admire live unbalanced lives? It costs a lot to do be who they are and do what they do. They’re the creative fringe, the radical, aberrant few. They left the safe center of the bell curve behind long ago, and now they’re statistically irrelevant, three or more standard deviations out. They’re out there on the edge, delusional by any standard of normalcy. They’re no longer productive citizens — at least not as status quo measures it. They take irrationality to new extremes, become a danger to themselves and others. They think “getting a life” is overrated. They work too hard and don’t know when to quit. They’re often not likeable or fun or safe to be around.

They’re also the creative leaders we’ve always needed in our world, and need again right now.

And who knows, you might be one of them.

Kevin Rhodes has been a lawyer for nearly 30 years, in firms large and small, and in solo practice. Years ago he left his law practice to start a creative venture, and his reflections on that topic will appear in an upcoming article in the August and September issues of The Colorado Lawyer. His new ebook, Life Beyond Reason: A Memoir of Mania, chronicles his misadventures and lessons learned, which are the foundation of much of what he writes about here. Follow this link for a FREE book download (available in all formats — phone, Kindle, as a pdf. etc.). You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

Enlightenment Made Simple (Part Seven): Micro-Brewed Bliss

rhodesThe last two posts in this series were about pivoting. A few decades ago we would have talked about guerilla marketing. More recently, the topic would have been the nimble organization. Nowadays, you probably know about the microenterprise movement, you’ve noticed all the Colorado microbreweries and wineries, and you’ve probably seen stuff online about micro-housing. Long before any of that, we had Small is Beautiful. Plus variations on the theme along the way.

That adds up to four decades of thought leaders telling us the same thing: our world isn’t supporting monolithic monuments to status quo anymore. There’s just too much change going on. Centralized, formalized, institutionalized “corporate cultures” can’t stay relevant and responsive. Globalization has paradoxically both homogenized world culture and shattered the “market” into a gazillion shards, where it’s indie-this and indie-that, micro products delivered to micro markets.

What does all this have to do with our desire to live fulfilled and meaningful and satisfying lives? Lots, actually.

For starters, it’s evidence of a systemic pivot that’s running through human existence — an evolutionary neurological adaptation playing out on billions of micro-stages. Consider this quote from a blog post entitled “Nimble: The New Big.”

We define organizational nimblenessas the ability and willingness to make smart and timely decisions about core organizational strategies, resources and actions based on real-world dynamics.

Consider what mind scientist John Medina says about human history and our ability to adapt:

“How, then, did [humans] go from such a wobbly, fragile minority population to a staggering tide of humanity 7 billion strong and growing? There is only one way. You give up on stability. You don’t try to beat back the changes. You begin not to care about consistency within a given habitat, because such consistency isn’t an option. You adapt to variation itself.”

Less stress and more peace, freedom, autonomy, meaning, satisfaction, fulfillment, purpose, and whatever other qualities of experience we put in our enlightenment bags aren’t about settling down, getting low and slow. Not so in a world where a single new product announcement can wipe out a whole industry, and dealing with “Big-Bang Disruption” is part of a CEO’s job description.

If we want personal and career enlightenment in the year 2014, we need to “adapt to variation itself,” which means staying light on our feet, nimble, ready to pivot. We need to go micro, create meaning in small, powerful doses, while simultaneously sticking to “core organizational [and personal] strategies.” In other words, we need to embrace chaos while staying centered.

That’s a lot to ask the human race. We were just getting comfortable in our evolutionary recliners. (“Hey, grab me some more self-actualization while you’re up, would you?”) And it’s especially a lot to ask the sector of the human race that makes its living in the legal profession, where precedent is our shared genome. No, we’re not all hidebound — as we’ve seen in past blogs about “disruptive innovation” in our profession — but most of us aren’t exactly early adopters either.

Is the prospect of enlightenment worth all this chaos and disruption? How do you find peace in the midst of chaos? Even Bob Dylan had his reservations: ““I accept chaos,” he said, “But I’m not sure whether it accepts me.” Are those dreams of enlightenment more trouble than they’re worth? How bad would it be to just hunker down into ego and enjoy a decent paycheck and let the Avant Garde do the crashing and burning for the rest of us?

Good questions. We’ll tackle them next time.

Kevin Rhodes has been a lawyer for nearly 30 years, in firms large and small, and in solo practice. Years ago he left his law practice to start a creative venture, and his reflections on that topic will appear in an upcoming article in the August and September issues of The Colorado Lawyer. His new ebook, Life Beyond Reason: A Memoir of Mania, chronicles his misadventures and lessons learned, which are the foundation of much of what he writes about here. Follow this link for a FREE book download (available in all formats — phone, Kindle, as a pdf. etc.). You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

 

Enlightenment Made Simple (Part Six): More About Pivoting

rhodes(For more about entrepreneurial pivoting, check out The Art of the Pivot in the May/June 2014 issue of Inc. Magazine.)

We rarely seek enlightenment and the things we want from it — peace, meaning, fulfillment, and all the rest — for their own sake. We’re not in the habit of doing nice things like that for ourselves. Instead, we justify our quest by embracing some noble and idealistic and altruistic vision. We’ll make life better for ourselves, but we’ll also help someone else while we’re at it. Thinking that way gets us off the dime, makes us willing to defy the odds and the gods.

It’s a good way to start, but it won’t sustain us, especially when the resistance we meet makes it obvious why we haven’t done this before, or why we failed when we tried. Not that there’s anything wrong with wanting to make an impact in the world, but those ambitions take their cues from outside ourselves: we’re focused on changing something, instead of changing someone — namely the person who lives inside our own skin. As long as we maintain that external orientation, our status-quo-loving and change-resistant brains will be quick to turn tail when things turn tough.

And they will turn tough. Enlightenment is an inside job that’s harshly unsympathetic to whether the externals are lining up to support our grand visions. In fact, it’s usually the case that we’ve barely taken a few baby steps when the path to Paradise plunges us into the cavernous muck where ruined dreams rot.

We need to pivot in order to move on from that place. In physical terms, pivoting is rotating around a still central axis. In entrepreneurial terms, pivoting is what we do when we find out the market doesn’t want our brilliant ideas. In enlightenment terms, pivoting is what we do when we find ourselves wallowing in the mess we created in the name of doing something awesome with our lives. Entrepreneurial and enlightened pivoting rotate around the center of what we’re really after and who we really are. The externals spin and blur, but not the core.

Our enlightenment quest takes us to that core. Along the way, we detach from ego, which is necessary because, if truth be told, our plans to save the world were probably just a spiffed-up version of ego. Ego is immobilized down in that creepy chasm; it becomes dead weight we need to jettison if we’re going to make it through. And often, when we get rid of ego, the vision goes with it.

That doesn’t mean our grand visions won’t ever come to fruition. They might, but you can bet it won’t be the way we originally envisioned, or because ego wrangled them into being. If they come to pass at all, it will be because they resonate deeply with our core selves. Find that core, and pivoting is both possible and powerful: execute that one swift, nifty move, and suddenly we’re unstuck and unleashing whole new worlds of creativity that make surprising things happen.

Then another wonderful thing happens: enlightenment hands us our bag of swag, full of peace, freedom, and all the rest. And we find ourselves living the truth of that inspirational saying that it’s not about making change happen, it’s about becoming the change we wish to make.

And by the way, was that a paraphrase just now of something Gandhi said? Or was it Thoreau? Or maybe Nelson Mandela? If you’re wondering, you’ll enjoy this article about what they really said, and where those inspirational sayings really come from.

Kevin Rhodes has been a lawyer for nearly 30 years, in firms large and small, and in solo practice. Years ago he left his law practice to start a creative venture, and his reflections on that topic will appear in an upcoming article in the August and September issues of The Colorado Lawyer. His new ebook, Life Beyond Reason: A Memoir of Mania, chronicles his misadventures and lessons learned, which are the foundation of much of what he writes about here. Follow this link for a FREE book download (available in all formats — phone, Kindle, as a pdf. etc.). You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

 

Enlightenment Made Simple (Part Five): Pivoting on the Path to Paradise

rhodesWhen we start down the Path to Paradise, we lay our “Life Capital” on the line: we stake what we’ve been and done and have on a dream, a vision of what could be. It’s a bold, risky, scary venture. We’ll run into big time challenges, and to meet them we’ll need to stay light on our feet, be adaptable, flexible, resourceful. And we’ll need to do that without compromising, rationalizing, or otherwise losing the essence of what we’re after.

How do we do all that? By learning to pivot.

Pivoting is a term borrowed from the entrepreneurial world, where the idea is to create continuous feedback loops that monitor market response to innovation. You want to know what works in real time, and you want to find out before you blow through your startup capital.

Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, describes pivoting this way in his blog, Startup Lessons Learned:

In a lean startup, instead of being organized around traditional functional departments, we use a cross-functional problem team and solution team. Each has its own iterative process: customer development and agile development respectively. And the two teams are joined together into a company-wide feedback loop that allows the whole company to be built to learn. This combination allows startups to increase their odds of success by having more major iterations before they run out of resources. It increases the runway without additional cash.

Increasing iterations is a good thing – unless we’re going in a circle. The hardest part of entrepreneurship is to develop the judgment to know when it’s time to change direction and when it’s time to stay the course. That’s why so many lean startup practices are focused on learning to tell the difference between progress and wasted effort. One such practice is to pivot from one vision to the next.

So how do you know it’s time to change direction? And how do you pick a new direction? These are challenging questions, among the hardest that an early startup team will have to grapple with. Some startups fail because the founders can’t have this conversation – they either blow up when they try, or they fail to change because they are afraid of conflict. Both are lethal outcomes.

I want to introduce the concept of the pivot, the idea that successful startups change directions but stay grounded in what they’ve learned. They keep one foot in the past and place one foot in a new possible future. Over time, this pivoting may lead them far afield from their original vision, but if you look carefully, you’ll be able to detect common threads that link each iteration.

Pivoting is disorienting because when you do it, it’s hard to tell if you’re still moving toward your vision or if you’re giving up on it. The key to “learning to tell the difference between progress and wasted effort” is to stay in touch with those “common threads that link each iteration.” In enlightenment terms, that means staying anchored in the purest distillation of what you’re really after, and allowing the rest to fall out as it will.

To be continued.

Kevin Rhodes has been a lawyer for nearly 30 years, in firms large and small, and in solo practice. He has also been in and out of the practice more times than anyone can count, and his reflections on that topic will appear in an upcoming article in The Colorado Lawyer. He also plans to publish a book on that topic later this year. He’s a certified mentor with the Colorado Attorney Mentoring Program, offers career and performance coaching, and leads workshops for a variety of audiences, including University of Denver Law School, the CBA’s Solo and Small Firm Section, and the CBA’s Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group. You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

Enlightenment Made Simple (Part Four): Accept No Substitutes

rhodes“Something else is possible” is the simple, powerful, and essential belief that gets us into the enlightenment game. With it, we can move toward peace, freedom, autonomy, meaning, satisfaction, fulfillment, purpose… whatever makes up our version of enlightenment. Without it, we won’t get started, and won’t continue if we do.

Holding that belief isn’t easy, because ego doesn’t believe it, and as long as it’s in charge, we’re not going anywhere. That’s why ego has to go, like we saw last time. That’s simply said, not easy to do.

Our brains support our egos by creating and maintaining a “road most traveled” of neural pathways for our habitual thoughts and actions to run on. It’s a very neat and tidy and efficient system, until one day we come stomping in with our muddy boots on its newly-waxed floor and announce we just saw the light.

What happens next isn’t going to go well.

Ego trots out The List of All the Irrefutable Reasons why we can’t, don’t, and won’t get what we want. I’ve been asking for that list in workshops for the past four years, and it’s always the same. You can recite it with me: not enough money, it’s a bad time, I’m too young, too old, my firm/boss/spouse isn’t going to like it, etc., etc.

The. Same. List. Always. Everywhere. Every crowd. Every time. It’s ego-generated, and it’s a stopper. No matter how pumped we are about making change, once ego weighs in, the game is over.

Each of us thinks our list is personal. It’s not. The reasons are universal. Think about it, if it’s always the same list, then how could change ever be possible for anyone? It’s an obvious question, but we don’t ask it. We give up instead.

It’s not that we’re wimps, it’s just that reasons always win, and no wonder: they’re backed by fear. Fear of what others will think. Fear of failure. Fear period. We sense that, and we back off, rationalizing why it’s a good thing if they win the argument, forgetting that it’s ultimately an argument against ourselves.

Rationalizing is ego foisting cheap substitute goods on us. We accept them not because we want to, but because we believe we can’t have the real thing. Rationalizing tries to make a bad thing sound good. Consolation prizes are the most misnamed trophies in the world. They mean well, but they don’t help. There’s no consolation in them; not to our hearts, anyway. Maybe they placate ego, but we still feel lousy. We were in it to win, but we lost, and we’re hurting. Where’s the consolation in that?

No dream of what our lives could be at their highest and best should have to suffer that kind of indignity.

Ego is not an original thinker. Substitutes are all it has to offer. If you want enlightenment, then get it. Period. Adopt and enforce an Accept No Substitutes policy. Hold out for the good turtle soup, and forget the mock.

Just know that working with the recipe is going to require some tinkering. We’ll talk about that next time.

Kevin Rhodes has been a lawyer for nearly 30 years, in firms large and small, and in solo practice. He has also been in and out of the practice more times than anyone can count, and his reflections on that topic will appear in an upcoming article in The Colorado Lawyer. He also plans to publish a book on that topic later this year. He’s a certified mentor with the Colorado Attorney Mentoring Program, offers career and performance coaching, and leads workshops for a variety of audiences, including University of Denver Law School, the CBA’s Solo and Small Firm Section, and the CBA’s Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group. You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

Enlightenment Made Simple (Part Three): Why Ego Has To Go

rhodesEgo is why we believe what we believe and act the way we act. Ego is in charge of deciding what’s normal and possible, and one thing it knows for sure is that the kind of enlightenment we’re talking about in this series is neither.

Ego sounds authoritative, but feels a lot less so when you realize that, on a cellular level, it’s the aggregate of our brains’ most commonly used neural pathways. As we saw last time, if our brains can conceive of the idea of a life and a career filled with happiness and fulfillment, they’re ready to give it to us. Neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to rewire itself – can actually trump ego, and make impossible things happen.

That’s a hopeful thought, but it doesn’t make it easy to let go of ego. Ego got the corner office because of its track record. It kept us safe when we were kids, navigated us through adolescence, made sure we got things done when we grew up. No problem with any of that, but that’s actually the point.

Ego is our life regulator. As long as it stays in charge, it’s business as usual. If we’re not experiencing life the way we want, that’s because our ego structures aren’t buying into the idea. And guess what: they never will. Ego is a one-trick pony; it won’t and can’t learn; all it can do is execute its ideal of how things are and ought to be. If we want something new, we need new neural pathways to replace the ones currently in charge. The corner office needs a new tenant.

I’ve used this quote from Einstein before, but it’s so good, why not do it again:

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

He might have substituted “the same ego” for “the same kind of thinking.” Ego is embedded in our life experiences (including the one we’re having right at this moment, reading this). Want more of the same? Let ego keep its job. Want change – not little change, but BIG change? Then it’s time for the severance package.

We’d like ego to keep its job because we’re used to it and think it can change. Not gonna happen: the list of ego features that need to change is just too overwhelming.

  • Our intellect – particularly the different kinds of intelligence we do or don’t use;
  • Our approach to relationships at work and home;
  • The beliefs we hold about how life works, what’s important and what’s not, etc.;
  • Our sense of identity and meaning and purpose;
  • Our learning style;
  • Our decision-making style;
  • Our likes and dislikes, areas of knowledge and ignorance, competence and incompetence.
  • Etc. etc. etc.

When our quest for enlightenment runs into resistance, we blame ourselves, blame life, blame Fate, blame the gods…. Better to simply acknowledge that the brain wiring that supports ego is just humming along the way it always has. We can stay stuck in ego, or we can go ahead without it, but one thing we can’t do is teach it new tricks.

We’ll talk more about that next time.

Kevin Rhodes has been a lawyer for nearly 30 years, in firms large and small, and in solo practice. He has also been in and out of the practice more times than anyone can count, and his reflections on that topic will appear in an upcoming article in The Colorado Lawyer. He also plans to publish a book on that topic later this year. He’s a certified mentor with the Colorado Attorney Mentoring Program, offers career and performance coaching, and leads workshops for a variety of audiences, including University of Denver Law School, the CBA’s Solo and Small Firm Section, and the CBA’s Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group. You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.

Enlightenment Made Simple (Part Two): Evolution’s Case for Enlightenment

rhodesWe wouldn’t want enlightenment if we couldn’t have it. All those things we called “enlightenment” last time – less stress, more peace, more freedom and autonomy, more meaning, satisfaction, fulfillment, purpose – are there for the taking.

At least, evolutionary neurology thinks so. I found that out recently when I tackled a stack of books on the subject. The books weren’t exactly a beach read; they went back to the library mostly unread, but not before leaving me with two astounding bits of awareness.

First, creation evolves. That’s a fact – not a desire or aspiration, not a random shot in the dark, not a maybe or a guess, but a fact. Every created thing is encoded with an irrepressible urge for growth, change, improvement, progress.

Second, evolution is efficient. It doesn’t waste itself on what isn’t going to happen. It plays its hand carefully, places bets where the odds are good. No, it’s not infallible, but its batting average is enviable.

Put those two ideas together, and that’s why enlightenment is possible for all of us, not just for people who can sit in the lotus position. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” aren’t just political ideals, they’re an evolutionary impulse evident in the wide world and embedded in the human soul. That dynamic isn’t only in us, but in everything we create – personally, professionally, artistically, and otherwise. We were born this way, and we endow everything we create with the same energy.

Which is why we’re going to see more Star Wars movies.

You’ve heard the quote, “’Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” Napoleon Hill said that in his 1937 self-help classic Think and Grow Rich. I confess – that’s another book that went back to the library mostly unread. Maybe the book isn’t my cup of tea, but the quote is neurologically defensible: if our brains have evolved to the place where they can hold big ideas about how wonderful our lives can be, then they’re probably ready to take on the project.

We quickly dismiss our big ideas as pipedreams. We might want to rethink our practice, suspend our skepticism, and entertain those ideas instead. The notion that they might become reality isn’t just positive thinking, it’s a possibility supported by evolutionary neurology. Maybe we can’t get all the way to the top of the mountain just by thinking positively, but we can make a start, knowing the odds of getting there are probably better than we think.

If enlightenment is so possible, then why don’t we just grab it? Ah, not so fast, Grasshopper! Probably we don’t leap into the arms of bliss because we know it’s going to cost us. We talked a little about that last time. We’ll talk more about it next.

To be continued.

Kevin Rhodes has been a lawyer for nearly 30 years, in firms large and small, and in solo practice. He has also been in and out of the practice more times than anyone can count, and his reflections on that topic will appear in an upcoming article in The Colorado Lawyer. He also plans to publish a book on that topic later this year. He’s a certified mentor with the Colorado Attorney Mentoring Program, offers career and performance coaching, and leads workshops for a variety of audiences, including University of Denver Law School, the CBA’s Solo and Small Firm Section, and the CBA’s Job Search and Career Transitions Support Group. You can email Kevin at kevin@rhodeslaw.com.