(Instant) Email Replies Are Destroying Relationships

A few weeks ago, I blogged about why I think people should spend less time on email.  I discussed some reasons why one could be spending too much time on email. I confessed my challenges with this at one point in my history. For me, it was about accomplishing something to demonstrate value and self-worth and needing breaks when dealing with complex challenges. I now check my emails less than five times per day.

Perhaps the reasons why one excessively clings to email did not resonate. Perhaps a belief that immediate responses are critical when dealing with clients and employees, and perhaps that belief trumps the causes. Perhaps one did not finish reading the post due to an audible ding indicating the arrival of a new email. I heard similar feedback when I gave this advice to the aforementioned panel.

Regardless of the reasons why one is always on email, there are numerous reasons to change. The financial and productivity reasons should be enough. Yet, it is not the most prominent reason to change.

It can destroy relationships. Period. I am not talking about reading email while at dinner with loved ones. I am talking about the relationships with the people on the other side of the email.

It comes down to reality, expectations, and commitments.

Imagine someone wants to send a package via FedEx. The package is not needed until Christmas which is more than two weeks away. She steps into a FedEx store and decides to send it via FedEx Ground. The package should get there within four days which is more than enough time.

After leaving the store, the agent and the entirety of the FedEx team size up the situation. They unanimously decide to send the package FedEx SameDay after seeing the holiday wrapping paper. FedEx never notifies the customer of the priority change. The package is getting there today, and they are not charging the customer for this upgraded delivery. The customer is ecstatic when she receives a call saying her package arrived the same day!

This happens repeatedly for every package the customer ships with FedEx. It continues through the holidays and for weeks afterward. The customer always chooses FedEx Ground. She always pays the price of FedEx Ground. Yet, packages are repeatedly delivered FedEx SameDay.

The customer eventually discovers this happening, and she is ecstatic. It is a deal for the customer, and FedEx never waivers or complains.

It’s reasonable to believe the customer would no longer select the truly needed priority when sending a package. FedEx never committed to anything other than four-day delivery. Regardless, it has always delivered same day. The customer has been trained to expect SameDay service.

That is the case until the one time FedEx a package must get there tomorrow. The customer now has a decision. Should she send it next day or ship it ground?

If she choses next day, she is now paying additional for the same service that has always been delivered at no extra cost. She may feel this is outrageous because she knows FedEx can do it for the same price as four-day. She may have the opposite reaction and feel this is acceptable as an insurance policy. Yet, I question if this is the feeling one wants a customer to have.

She may consider it financially foolish since packages have always arrived the same day. FedEx has never let her down – SameDay, every day.  So, she ships it ground and takes the risk. FedEx is not aware of the imbalanced expectation or the risk. If the package doesn’t arrive on time, the customer is upset and probably realizes she is at fault. It still negatively impacts the relationship because her expectations have not been met.

How did the situation get here? It was a relationship created with initial good intentions by the vendor. It devolved. The misalignment between services purchased and services delivered has created a relationship no longer based on honest expectations. That’s where the problem crept in and began to eat away at the core of the relationship.

Instant Replies == SameDay Service

As a format, email does not innately convey a priority or expected reply time. It does not even contain a requirement to reply. It needs to be explicitly stated.

If a recipient instantly reads and replied to an email, the tone and expectations are potentially being set for the conversation. When it repeatedly occurs over multiple conversations and is not based on committed priorities and time requirements, the expectations on the relationship between the parties is altered.

People are being trained to expect replies not aligned with committed response times. In customer service, clients are being trained to expect this level of service regardless of the contract or service level agreement. As a leader, teams are being trained this is the expectation of each other and from their leader. This is also the expectation when a customer emails.

Are you training your customers to expect messages read and replies faster than the commitment? Are you training your team that this is the modus operandi for customer emails? For your emails? Are you training your spouse that replies must be instant?

Each day is an Instant Replay
They say what we display is symptomatic of addict behavior
– Eminem “Love Song”

Relationships, Expectations, and Commitments

Respect in a relationship is built on met expectations and commitments. Unmet and unreal expectations are critically harmful to relationships. There is no need to create additional ones that will inevitably fail.

Finally, it is potentially insulting. It is about saying that you will set the priority regardless of the sender sending it via a mechanism that implicitly has no real priority. It is about you saying that you are smarter than the sender and will be the one to protect everything by setting this priority and replying immediately.

All of this adds up to being destructive. It can be destructive of your relationships with your team, your customers, your friends, and your family.

Get Off Your Fucking Email

I recently wrote about how I was a panelist for EO Accelerator. In that post, I discussed how there are times to share experience, and there are times to give advice. I finished the blog post with the advice I gave the audience that day – Get off your fucking email. I want to take a moment to explain why this direct and intentionally vulgar statement is subtle and critical.

I gave this advice because I used to be this person. I regularly answered emails within minutes of receiving them.

Email me asking to review a proposal due in 30 minutes? I replied within minutes.

Email me asking about plans for the weekend? I replied within minutes.

Email me asking if I have thought much about where our kids will go to college in 5 years? I replied within minutes. OK, maybe that took an hour. We are talking about a life decision. It deserves that extra time.

I would walk out of meetings with my phone in hand and digest emails. There was no time to process the meeting and its takeaways. There was no time to socialize and express gratitude for those in attendance. I thought I was doing well and fully present by not being on email in the meetings.

This behavior led people to email a second time if they had not heard from me within hours of the first email. They would ask if everything was ok. They would ask if I was ok. The answer is no because this is insane. This is majoring in minor things.

“A key point to bear in mind: The value of attentiveness varies in proportion to its object. You’re better off not giving the small things more time than they deserve.”
– Marcus Aurelius

Before discussing the causes and impact of this behavior, it’s critical to understand the concept around the size of challenges and an organization.

As an entity grows, the challenges become more substantial.  Previously conquered difficulties are later done with ease. Most of us can walk across the room and perform basic mathematics. We engage our muscle memory and do not need to exhaust much mental capacity. The oddity is that very few of us can explain how we do these tasks with ease.

Watch an infant learn to walk or a child learn addition and subtraction. The struggle is visible and palpable.

The same growth of challenges and opportunities occur within organizations. The smaller problems are solved and create growth. As the organization grows, the quantity and volume of opportunities and challenges grow. Each takes longer to solve. For example, a buddy recently closed his 90+-year-old family business and opened a franchise in the same industry. That process took more than 20 months with tremendous challenges and opportunities along the way.

Leaders must grow to tackle these problems. They need to learn new skills and amplify current strengths. The Director of a 50 person company often requires different skills and capabilities to be a Director of a 500 person company. If a leader does not grow, the organization will outgrow him. If the leaders do not grow, the organization will cease growth and probably wither.

Let’s break this down regarding the potential causes of this mindset including what drove this behavior in me.

Procrastination

Procrastination is not inherently bad. It is sometimes the result of needing space for diffuse thinking. In Barbara Oakley’s course “Learning How to Learn“, she discusses how our brains need to step away from problems, especially when learning new skills. This is diffuse thinking mode. It allows our brains to create new connections and solve new problems.

Email can be the opportunity to step away and be effective procrastination. That’s not what I was doing.

I would often jump on email because I did not want to address the significant tasks at hand. They seemed daunting. I was afraid of where to start and being unable to tackle the challenges at hand.

The most likely cause of this feeling was a failure to manage my energy that day. I just didn’t reserve enough horsepower and capabilities to tackle the tasks.

The reality is that almost all work is like math problems. You often have to start and figure it out along the way. Yet, you have to actually start the work.

Self-Worth

I was most guilty of wanting to accomplish something by the end of the day. Considerable challenges often take a long time. I became acutely aware of this as a driving force of being on email during our transaction. It was not because there was a need for instant communication with the lawyers, accountants, and private equity teams.

We began our discussions with private equity in March. Our transaction concluded in November. I worked on the transaction every day. It consumed most of my time. We were merging three companies with similar but different cultures. We were bringing in a CEO. We wanted our PE firm to understand our customers.

Many of those days I felt I had done nothing as I walked out. There was no task crossed out that day. Many of our team probably thought I did nothing the same thing since most did not know about the transaction.

In the midst of a monumental moment, I would jump into email threads with replies. I was often included as a courtesy or by accident. I would reply to a customer would accidentally email me instead of their sales rep.

I later realized I engaged because it feels good to accomplish something. I wanted to walk out with a checkbox receiving a beautiful mark that screams “Done.” This was short-sighted and more about my needs than what our talent and organization needed. It was about my self-worth and feeling I had done something.

Self-Confidence

This is the nasty one. There are multiple ways this could be an issue of self-confidence.

Email is 7% as effective as talking. (We won’t even cover the social impact of other forms of text-heavy and non-verbal communication, such as SMS and Snapchat.) Email does not implicitly convey emotions. It also does not implicitly convey time sensitiveness. These need to be explicitly stated by the sender. In the case of time sensitivity, this would be with phrases such as “This is needed by tomorrow at noon”, “ASAP”, or “Oh, shit. I needed this yesterday.”

How is this related to self-confidence?

Being the person in the know is powerful. Being the person who solves problems is powerful. People express gratitude and encouragement to keep doing this. If the problem is smaller than one’s position, it’s can often be easy because it’s been done a thousand times. It’s a situation of minimal effort with maximum reward.  All of this demonstrates one is valuable and can boost self-confidence.

Yet, it’s also extremely selfish and destructive. It’s the concept of being the one-eyed man on an island of blind people. It tells others that one needs to step in because only she can do it. It tells the team that one can do their jobs with part-time effort and partial knowledge. It might be more subtle to send an email to the team saying, “Hey, I know you do the job full-time and consider yourself an expert, but I know best after studying the situation for a few minutes. It’s due to my infinite intellectual capabilities. All of that says here is what you should do.”

The harder and selfless option is delegation. When one does know more, delegation can be an incredible opportunity for development. Instead of replying to the customer who accidentally emailed, delegate to the sales rep and ensured her manager knows in case it is a development opportunity.

Frankly, I never struggled with this as a reason; however, watching people grow always provided a confidence boost. And that is the long game.

FOMO

Fear of Missing Out.

I struggle to understand this one. Logic overrides my emotions regarding FOMO. Perhaps it is my opinion that Facebook is the curated trophy case of one’s life and Twitter is a steam of people’s current context with minimal character. Perhaps it is the reality that human knowledge is doubling every 12 months. It could soon be every 12 hours.

There is no possible way to know everything that is happening – on email, on Facebook, on SMS. There is no possible way to care about everything that is happening. Regularly checking these is akin to hitting one’s head against a wall. (Pun intended.)

It’s exciting, causes an emotional reaction, and potentially creates brain damage.

Today

“Everybody wants to change the world.
But one thing’s clear
No one ever wants to change themselves.”
– “Do You Really Want It?” by Nothing More

Today, I mainly check my email 3-5 times per day. I never check it as soon as I wake up. I set reminders to check it. That is time for preparing for the day ahead.

All of this was a significant change. It’s made me a better person and a better leader of my family and the organizations in which I lead. I get more done with less distraction.

I changed because of the pain and destruction I was causing. I intend to discuss those in an upcoming post.

The Tale of Two Journals, One Marriage, and Four Lessons

A few years back, I attempted to write one thing per day that I appreciated and loved about my wife, Courtney. This would remain a surprise until Christmas morning. Then, on that glorious day, I would see her opening it. I would explain what the journal was. She would smile and maybe even shed a tear.

A few months in, we hit a moment when the world was allowed to bleed in. The foundation of our marriage was rock solid. We were just covered in too much crud. I allowed it to impact me. The journal became a burden. I surrendered to poor judgment, and I stopped. Even worse, I told her about the journal and stopping.

That decision has haunted me for years and remains a huge regret. I knew our relationship was strong. I could feel the strength of our relationship. It did not truly reflect our marriage, my commitment to her, and the inexhaustible list of her incredible qualities. It did not reflect how I felt about her. Yet, I stopped, and I did not truly know why.

On January 1, 2017, I quietly began a new gratitude journal for Courtney. One day, one entry. It took two journals in all. She received those on Christmas morning.

The obvious question is “What changed?” The answer is that I changed.

The better and truer question is “What did I learn that caused this change?”

Purpose and The Journey

I later realized that the original attempt was a journey that began with the wrong purpose. Beginning with the wrong purpose would have been acceptable if allowed the option of anything else.

This was all about my aforementioned vision for Christmas morning and how I would look. I wanted to quietly but triumphantly nod to myself like the superhero of Christmas. It was about my story. It was selfish and vain.

This changed with the simple act of writing in the journal. The days when we didn’t click? I wrote in the journal. The days when the world was perfect, and I didn’t want to let go? I wrote in the journal. Days spent away from each other and days when everything was just ordinary? I wrote in the journal.

Pissed off at your spouse? Write down three things you love about them. Don’t use words like “but”.

This changed the purpose somewhere along the way. It became about honoring her and our relationship. This caused the journals became the greatest gift I could have given myself. There were no more visions of grandeur for her opening them. They allowed me to see Courtney in a positive and appreciative light every day regardless of the circumstances of the day.

Thus, I learned that purpose often comes on the journey and to be skeptical if it comes before.

Failure Is A Painful, Fearful Option and Often A Course Correction

Startups and entrepreneurs love to talk about failure should not be feared. Past failures are considered badges of honor or a rite of passage. This completely misses the point.

Failure typically comes with damage and destruction. At a minimum, it destroys the currency of time. One should fear failure. One should not be proud of the failure itself.

It’s what happens after the failure that matters. Failure can be a seed of growth. This is the growth of a person, a team, a family, an organization, and a relationship. That growth can often reimburse and replenish the failure’s damage.

It took failing for me to get here. It was a course correction for me. I grew from failing the first time around. I approached the endeavor this time with the correct priority and commitment.

Be A Firefighter

Describing a role as a firefighter conjures images of danger and treacherous situations. That’s not the daily reality for firefighters. Calmness reigns over most days. Actions are not dictated by a crisis because there often is no crisis. They remain diligently prepared while conserving mental and physical energy. It’s boredom bookended by crises.

When the fire does happen, they run into it fully prepared together as a team.

This was the mistake made my first time around. The outside world caused a fire in the midst of calmness and bliss. I wavered between running away, running in ill-prepared, or going alone.

Courtney and I are peers and partners in this relationship and this world. We do not need to go it alone, especially when it impacts the relationship. The right response would have been to open a dialogue and communicate. This gives time, options, and support.

I learned to enjoy the bliss and to be prepared for the moments when called to action. Once called, battle the blaze with heart and as a team.

Make Your Children Blush

The kids knew what I was doing. I did that because I often wanted their thoughts on what they saw in Courtney. It also created this vibe and excitement as the year went along.

I began to believe that one of the greatest gifts a parent can give her/his child is the true image and story of herself/himself. This also includes the reality of relationships. I want them to see that we love each other and our relationship is not all roses and unicorns. It’s real.

Leave something your children will smile reading when you are gone. Leave something your children will learn from (but not idolize) when you are gone. And also leave something your children will blush reading when you are gone.

Finally, I believe that our marriage is imperfect yet a loving and relentless commitment to each other. We each make a decision every morning and every night that our relationship and the other is important and that each is 100% responsible. Thus, we each commit to improving and growing our individual selves and the relationship.

For me, this is a fairly easy commitment to make when your other truly is your better half and brings you joy. Don’t believe she is? She has two journals put together over one year to prove it.

Want to Help Others? Default to Experience Sharing & Cross That Line

A few days ago, I was on a panel for early-stage entrepreneurs. This was for the EO Accelerator program. Each of these entrepreneurs has a business with revenue between $250k and $1MM. Each is wanting to grow their business which inevitably means personal growth.

I love serving EO Accelerator. It is a program near and dear to my heart. I was a member of the program more than a decade ago and became the first Accelerator graduate across the global program. I refer to myself as a product of mentors and peers. That started in Accelerator. Thus, I owe it a lot and more than I could ever give back. It’s a blessing to have the chance to try. Furthermore, the energy from these entrepreneurs is incredible and inspiring.

One of the questions asked was a deep reminder that our language protocols matter. Language protocol often matters more than the content.

When I am mentoring or speaking to a panel, I typically default to experience share. This stems from being in EO (Entrepreneurs Organization) and YPO for over a decade. Both organizations are peer-based and use a language protocol that is focused on sharing experiences. It’s referred to as Gestalt.

Experience sharing is done for a multiple of reasons. Frankly, as a peer-based organization, it should not come as a surprise that peers do not like being told what to do. A bunch of mostly Type-A personalities telling each other what to do and how to solve their problems sounds horrible and hostile. Yet, let’s look at the psychology of this.

When a person is corrected or specifically told to do something, it activates the reptilian brain. This is especially the case when someone has been vulnerable and transparent. The reptilian brain takes a defensive stance for protection. In addition, the left cortex begins to tenaciously cling to what it believes to be true and correct regardless if it is.

To further muddle our innate reactions, we look at our own personal actions, challenges, and problems as contextual. Yet, we often look at other’s as representing (a flaw in) character. Sharing experiences rather than giving advice helps stop the judgment of the person’s character. No one wants to be vulnerable to peers and share a challenge or opportunity to then be judged.

Even if one person can withstand that, would anyone else want to head into that potential firing squad?

In contrast, experience sharing lacks this judgment. It comes with context, actions, and results. Every one hearing it, including the person presenting their challenge, has the potential to learn from each person’s experience share. Each can draw out how it applies to her/him. I have learned more from the experience shares to other’s challenges and problems than perhaps they did. That respects my time and talents.

I love and prefer experience sharing. Yet, it is not an absolute.

Got some questions that I got to ask
And I hope you can come up with the answers
– 50 Cent

The panel was asked the question, “How do you focus on your strategy?” This was a pivotal and probably the best question of the day.

As a panelist, I take the role as a serious obligation. I am deliberate in my content and delivery, including language protocol. I will typically default to Gestalt. It is the rule, not the exception. Yet, I intentionally did not for this question.

Certain questions do not need experience sharing. For example, let’s say an entrepreneur shares her challenge of getting people to return every day. Then, she shares her challenge regarding whether she should give those people compensation, such as a paycheck. I can absolutely state that she should probably pay her people. There is no experience share needed.

These are absolutes. Yes, you should pay your people. Yes, you should pay your taxes. Yes, you should treat people fairly and with respect. No, you should not discriminate based upon gender, religion, sexual preference, hair color, skin color, preference of cats vs. dogs, etc.

(There may be details of these questions, such as what, how, when, etc., that are potentially worthy of an experience share. For example, bi-weekly vs. monthly paychecks?)

My answer to the strategy question was absolute. The answer I gave was “Get off your fucking email.” It was that direct and that absolute. It was intentional. I will detail why this was my answer for most entrepreneurs, especially early stage, in an upcoming blog post.

In the meantime, get off your email.

 

Feedback, Thoughts, and Q&A From “Oh, And I Have Multiple Sclerosis”

When I posted “Oh, and I Have Multiple Sclerosis”,  I had one hope – to share my story in an authentic and honest manner. I did not have any expectations other than a few people reading it. I did not know if I would receive any feedback or responses. Yet, I have been overwhelmed and blessed with responses of support. Many of them have been directly from friends and family. Some of them have come through those same people.

I can not thank everyone enough. The responses represent the best of humanity. They have been surprising, heartwarming, and, at times, heartbreaking. I have especially appreciated the thoughts of support for Courtney.

“WHAT?”
– Lil Jon (On every song)

Buried in the responses were a few questions. I wanted to share some responses and respond to some questions.

Question #1: What has surprised you most since the announcement?
Answer #1: I am surprised by the people I heard from and the stories they have shared. This includes a few people who I don’t personally know. I am reminded that we never know the burdens people carry and the stories they hold.

Question #2: Why don’t you raise money for MS (instead of CFF)?
Answer #2: I have always disliked the pictures of people holding big checks with amounts they have given to a charity. It has always seemed self-serving. The exception is if the picture will inspire someone else to write a bigger check.

I believe charity should be done because it’s the right thing to do. These should be selfless reasons. It is about helping others. The MS charities feel a little too close too home. It may sound weird, but it feels somewhat selfish because it could or will be helping myself.

For now, I remain committed to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation as my primary charity. This may change one day.  I occasionally ponder if this the right response.

Question #3: Is this related to you being gluten-free/celiac?
Answer #3: 
Who knows? Celiac and MS are both autoimmune diseases. Consuming gluten appears to increase my chances of a flare-up. Plus, who doesn’t love rice flour seasoned with a pound of sugar? Or beer made from sorghum?

Question #4: Did your MS have anything to do with the investment in  Contegix and your departure from day-to-day there?
Answer #4: Wow, no. Absolutely no. I actually did not even mentally connect those 2 events until someone asked the question.

We took the investment in Contegix to further our mission and to push our commitment to our core values. Craig and I are committed to the Rapid Accelerated Growth of our talent (their personal development), our customers, and our stakeholders. We wanted to build and expand our Go Beyond philosophy. Our industry is ripe with companies that do not care about the customer. Contegix is something different, and I am incredibly proud of that. It’s why I remain a shareholder and am on our Board.

We could have continued as-is, but we found a partner who concurred with and supported this mission. It allowed an acceleration, and I see the benefits of this decision every day. Contegix has achieved FedRamp certification. We have continued to hire and grow our people. It’s truly a joy to see it.

As to my stepping away from day-to-day operations, I am drafting a blog post regarding this, but it had nothing to do with the MS. Many people have heard me talk about this topic – Know Your 100 Miles. I hope the piece helps other entrepreneurs, leaders, and founders do what they do best. In short, Contegix needed a CEO who could take on the next phase of our mission, and we have one. I have an opportunity to observe, guide, and lead from our Board.

Finally, I will call out the elephant in the room.  While this post and the last one were about MS, this blog will not become focused on MS. It will be what it always has been – my random thoughts. Sometimes, that means MS. This blog will not be defined by MS just as I am not be defined by MS.

 

Oh, and I Have Multiple Sclerosis

I am a (doting, loving) father. I am a (faithful, nightly cuddling, giddy) husband. I am an (intensely loyal) friend. I am an entrepreneur. I am a (math and computer) geek. I am a mentor and a mentee. I am an ultra marathoner. Oh, and I have multiple sclerosis.

Three years ago today, Courtney and I walked into a doctor’s office. We left with what we knew was the outcome. I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, specifically relapsing recurring multiple sclerosis. It started with an MRI to check some neck and spinal issues. It was followed by Courtney ordering a full with and without contrast MRI. It culminated with the official diagnosis that day.

This will come as a surprise to many, including some very close friends and family. Please know that is a reflection of the situation rather than my love for you. We told very few people in order to limit the exposure. We wanted to protect our family and our children. We wanted to ensure we had the answers to our questions which would be their question. We wanted them to see how it has not stopped our family. We wanted them to all be old enough to know rather than have 1 or 2 hold the secret. We wanted to be able to prepare them for what others may say, think, and whisper. Time gave us that breathing room and allowed us to not live on the margins. We only recently told our incredible kiddos.

Graciously share, and help people be the best they can be.
– Bob Cancalosi

Why am I talking about this now? Because I am tired and angry. And neither of those are symptoms caused by MS.

When I was first diagnosed, I researched everything I could about MS. It painted a picture of a very difficult life. It was a life spinal taps, canes, wheelchairs, hospital beds, MRIs, pain, etc. Many of these were covered by the phenomenal organizations working hard to cure MS. I understand why. These stories and images create emotion, and emotion drives people to open their wallets and purses. They are working to ensure this disease is cured.

This is a noble goal, and I commend everyone working on it. I have already benefitted from their relentless commitment and will hopefully benefit from a cure. These stories are also the realities for many with MS. That can never be forgotten. I repeat – these stories are the realities for many with MS and that can never be forgotten.

Yet, these stories were scary for me. These are all I found when I searched online. They might be driving energy and money to find a cure. This will create tomorrows for those with MS and their families. Yet, they were destroying my todays.

I am tired of only these stories, and I am angry at only these stories. These cannot be the only stories and experiences. I believe they are having another impact, and it’s not positive.

I have been blessed to meet and talk with numerous people with MS. Too many have given up their dreams, goals, and lives to this disease. Some of it was because of the symptoms and realities of the disease. Some of it was because the disease emotionally and mentally stole it. I met a woman who decided against having children because of her MS. She has not had a relapse in nearly a decade. My nurse coordinator gave up cycling months after being diagnosed. She still had the strength and balance to ride. She told me her fear of the disease paralyzed her.

Bow our heads and pray to the lord
Til I die I’m a fuckin’ ball
Who Gon Stop Me by Kanye West  & Jay-Z

Since my diagnosis, I have completed the Contegix investment by our private equity firm. (Small side note – our PE firm was extremely supportive of my decision to become public. I can not rave enough about the team and their character.) I took an 87-mile jaunt through Leadville that was cut short by a torn hamstring (not my MS). I have given a dozen speeches on tech, entrepreneurship, and the future of Saint Louis. I have become scuba certified and completed over a dozen dives. I have logged thousands of miles running. I have made coffee for my wife nearly 1000 times. I have hugged my children too many times to count.

I have bad days. The most common issue is pain, especially something known as the “MS Hug”. I had one a few weeks back on a Sunday. Courtney asked me how my day was as we settled into bed for the night. I shared I had been in pain most of the day. She seemed very surprised and ticked off a list of things I had done that day. From picking up donuts for the kids and a sleepover guest to running 15 miles to taking the kids to lunch, I was in pain.

She then asked why I didn’t just relax and take it easy. I told her that I was going to be in pain most of the day regardless of what I did or what happened. That day, like every single day, is a gift. I was not going to waste a gift. Pain was going to be there, and I had enough strength to push.

I strive to live my life with integrity, authenticity, and grit. I am going to continue living my life the same. Every second is a gift to make the world better for myself, my family, my community, and the world. I believe this is only achievable by going after impossible goals and helping others do the same. My MS is merely part my journey.

Thus, I am going to share more in the hope it helps those struggling with achieving their goals, including those with MS. I am going after Leadville Trail 100 in 325 days. I am working on my next venture to fix a century-old problem. I will walk my daughter down the aisle one day in the far-off future. I have huge goals for myself and my family. I am going to set sights on the impossible. Oh, and I have multiple sclerosis.

In Defense of Daylight Savings

I have been thinking about daylight savings the past few weeks as it approached. Most articles, blog posts, Facebook updates, etc. will be around the idea that daylight savings is not practical. I wholeheartedly concur, but I do not think it is useless. I waited a few days after the time change in hopes that readers have recovered from this twice year inconvenience and will hear me out.

Before starting, I have to admit that I am obsessed with time. Our house has numerous clocks, including a giant one in our great room that hovers over us. At Contegix, we had a core value of “Respect People, Data, and Time”. I firmly believe those are the (only?) three things one can not restore once squandered. I grew up believing that being on time was considered tardy. For me, time is a currency that I withdraw from a bank account every second. Yet, I can never get an account balance of how much remains.
The benefit of this is that I remain diligent on where I spend my time. It allows me to unemphatically and respectfully say “no”. This has become critical lately as my free (defined as in “available”) time is often mislabeled as free (defined as in “not of value”) time. As the quote goes “Show me your calendar, and I’ll show you what you prioritize.”

Given this, why would I defend daylight savings, especially when it just took an hour?

Losing an hour is a reminder of how powerful 3600 seconds can truly be. I see people yawning through the first few days after DST.  The impact is not merely anecdotal. Traffic accidents go up the Monday following DST with tired drivers cited as the reason. In addition, a 2008 Swedish study found that the risk of having a heart attack increases in the first three days after switching to DST in the spring. (See https://www.timeanddate.com/time/dst/daylight-saving-health.html.)

Daylight savings is an hour lost to the nothingness, but how many of us waste an hour on the trivial and simple? Mindlessly watching TV instead of reading the book that’s been sitting on desk for 6 months. Complaining about being overweight instead of doing the recommended daily cardio or meditate. Staring at a handheld screen waiting for the next Facebook update instead of embracing the loved one next to us or volunteering at a charity.

My defense of DST? Maybe it’s the reminder all of us need about how powerful one hour can be.

 

Leadville 2016 – Post-Race Report

We have a debt to those before us and an obligation to those that come after us. We maximize life and potential through heart, intelligence, and grit. We focus on our bond. We do all of this together because we are always stronger together. Mostest.
— Porter Family Mission Statement

In August 2015, I had the amazing opportunity to crew and pace a friend in the Leadville Trail 100 Run. It was a life changing experience, and one I previously wrote about with a commitment to return to Leadville in one manner or another. For those who want the short version, this is a 100 mile race on trails starting in Leadville, Colorado at 10,200 ft above sea level with climbs up mountains to 12,600 ft.  A racer must complete the 100 miles within 30 hours.

On December 1, 2015, the Leadville race lottery opened up, and I entered to return to Leadville in August 2016 as a racer. Fate was not kind and returned a “thanks, but no thanks” a few weeks later. It also returned an opportunity to attend Leadville Race Camp with an optional guaranteed spot in the race.

It was an opportunity I took. It gave me dedicated time in Leadville 6 weeks before the race and an opportunity to run every section of the course. It also gave me a coveted spot in the race for 2016 or 2017. I opted for 2016, and training began nearly immediately.

So, we will maximize life and potential through heart, intelligence, and grit.

Fast forward to the morning of August 20, 2016, I was in Leadville surrounded by my crew:

  • Twin Lakes Aid Station - Around Mile 40
    Twin Lakes Aid Station – Around Mile 40

    My wife – Courtney

  • 4 EO Forum Mates – Paul Bastean, Rick Holton, Jay Steinback, Joshua Stevens
  • 2 Former EO Forum Mates – Noah Lander and Corky Miller
  • An EO Forum Mate’s wife – Kristen Holton
  • The friend I paced last year who is an EMP classmate – Jeffrey Stukuls
  • A friend I met last year crewing for Jeffrey – Holly Turner

The day did not end as I had hoped. Regardless, it does not take away any of the effort by my crew or the support of my family and friends, especially Courtney and kids.

Sbazu-9210018omewhere around miles 8-10, the hamstring insertion point around my right knee started to bother me. The joint was fine, but the hamstring failed to lift and fire as it should. This occasionally caused a little bit of drag of my right toes and slowed me down.

Fast forward to ~40 miles, I left Twin Lakes and 10 miles later came into Winfield (the midway point) slower than I had planned after crossing Hope Pass which is the highest point of the race at 12,620 ft above sea level. Corky informed me that I needed to negative split the return. I had to get back to Twin Lakes faster than I had previously just done the section. Coming back is more technical and harder. Thankfully, I could now run with a pacer who could also carry all my gear, including food and water.

Jeffrey became my first pacer at this time. We flew into Twin Lakes. We passed dozens of runners climbing UP to Hope Pass (12600′ ft elevation). IIR, it took less than 2 hours. On the way down, we had to go fast. I was clearly favoring my left leg by this time.

Unfortunately, I tripped twice starting around mile 55. This was due to the drag of my right foot. At this point, I believe I pulled the muscles on my left lower back. We still completed the negative split, and I made cutoff! This remains my proudest performance in the race.

Left Lean Around Mile 70
Left Lean Around Mile 70

It was time for Corky to pace me – from Twin Lakes to Outward Bound. We made amazing time. My left lower back was beginning to become an issue. I was moving with a motion where I was twisting like being pulled left and back even when moving forward.

Noah took the following section – Outward Bound to May Queen. Despite the huge climb, I had enough time banked we could do these 11 in 24 minute miles. This would have been relatively easy in a healthy state. As we climbed Powerline, it became clear my back was done. The 90 degree lean and navigating on my trekking poles became a permanent fixture for the remainder of the race.

I ran for the next 3.5 hours hunched over at 90 degrees. I used my trekking poles to make sure I didn’t fall and to help continue to move forward. It was impossible to stand upright.. The pain of both pulled back muscles wrapped around to my obliques and abs. I stayed this way until it became clear that we would not make cutoff. I would have continued to be full 100 if I had time and would have been able made cutoffs. Yet, it was not fair to my pacer and my crew.

I ran ~86+ miles with most of the last 20 in severe pain and barely being able to stand. My crew had to carry me into the medical tent after I pulled out of the race.

Jay & Courtney with Leadville's Father Time
Jay & Courtney with Leadville’s Father Time

At every step, the crew was there helping me. Hell, they were still helping as my race was over and I struggled to move around. When I said I was doing Leadville, they jumped and offered to help. Two of the crew members were with me rather than celebrating wedding with their respective wives.

This was difficult for me to have people help. I don’t like getting people’s help. It’s not my ego. It’s not because I consider myself better than them. It’s solely because I never want someone thinking I want something from them EXCEPT for the friendship itself.

As I reflect back on that day two weeks later, I barely recognize myself from the actions and from the pictures in some ways. Yet, I think about our family’s mission statement as my desire to run Leadville stemmed from my prior experience and the mission statement.

I didn’t start running until March 2010. While I could not cover the 100 miles, my hope is that someone is inspired to achieve what many consider impossible. I hope I honored the obligation to those around me and those that come after us.

I hope my kids, my wife, and my friends see that I honored the commitment to maximize life. I gave my heart and did it with grit. Even when it hurt and I (literally and figuratively) fell down, I still got back up. All of us did it together because I can attest that I was stronger because of them, their selfless help, and our bond.

Contegix Volunteer Program: 16 in ’16

16 in 16Up until a few years ago, I had always disliked the charity pictures of a company representative, usually the CEO or President, giving a big (in physical size) check to a charity representative. It seemed the opposite of what I had always been taught about helping others. One helped for one reason – because it’s the right thing. I believed the big check was about the photo opportunity, the press release, or the kudos from peers for the company.

I missed something though. I mistakenly viewed it as a public stunt to benefit the company. The reality is that it serves the charity more. It gets the charity exposure. It encourages others to help or, at least, ask how and if they can help. The need to give exposure is why we purposely and purposefully change our approach to our involvement. Last year, Forbes profiled our commitment to the startup community. Providing exposure to how others are helping is only part of our change regarding community engagement.

Lives are busy, and very few people have the time to wake up every day to think about how to better serve their communities. Even fewer have the time to volunteer despite wanting to do so. Thus, in 2016, we’ve announced our “16 in ’16” volunteer program, to provide Contegians paid time off to serve their communities.

The decision and ability to do this stemmed from three key factors:

1. Our Mission – I am proud of how often we talk about core values which guide our day-to-day. Our mission guides the long term. Our mission is to empower those around us, specifically Contegix stakeholders. This includes our customers, partners, and members of the Contegix family. Yet, the stakeholders extend beyond our digital and physical walls. They extend into our community.

2. Our Success (Through Hard Work) – A core measure of our success is the growth of our people, specifically their skills, their knowledge, their personal development, and their impact on the community. Over the past few years, our individual and collective hard work has been rewarded. We have achieved significant success, and I have no doubt that we will continue to do so. I have always believed this success and growth is what delivers sustainable financial results. That’s the reward but never the goal.

3. “To those whom much is given, much is expected.” – I am reminded of this religious-inspired quote from John F. Kennedy. Regardless of religious or political affiliation, I believe this concept stands and is core to humanity. The selfless help given by many during the recent flooding echoed and demonstrated this.

With this in mind, Contegix will be engaging a company commitment to empower and help those in our larger community. Each Contegian will be donating nearly 1% of her time to empower and help those around us. Every Contegian is expected to volunteer for 16 hours in 2016. This is in addition to our current company-wide commitments of time.

As part of our core value of respecting people and time, every Contegian will be provided paid time off to volunteer at the following organizations:

“Do well by doing good.”
— Benjamin Franklin

Leadville Trail 100 Recap – Why I’ll Return to Leadville

IMG_5234Two weekends ago, I had the opportunity to crew and pace a friend, Jeffrey, making his second attempt to run the Leadville Trail 100 race, aka LT100 or “The Race Across the Sky”. For those unfamiliar with LT100, it is a 100 mile race held annually that was first held in 1983. This would be the 33rd running of this scenic out and back race that starts and finishes in downtown Leadville, Colorado.

During the race, runners cross through the heart of the Rocky Mountains. The highlight of the race is the climb up to Hope Pass at 12,620 feet above sea level which one gets to experience twice! Racers run unsupported the first 50 miles. Pacers are only allowed on the second half of the race. Runners must complete the 100 miles in under 30 hours to be considered a finisher.

When describing the finishers, Abby Long of Life Time Fitness, the company that operates the race, once stated, “They look like death coming in.” The motto of the race says it all, it takes “Grit, Guts, and Determination”. Yet, runners and crews keep coming back year after year.

I now know why, or at least, why I want to come back and eventually run it. This race is about humanity. It’s about our relationship with our respective selves, with each other, and with the world around us – and sometimes the struggle between those.

That clarity started with another friend, Corky (@CorkyMillerSTL), jumping in and crewing at the last minute. Corky is an alumnus of this race. He has paced twice and ran once. He is also the person who got me into running. He would be the only person in our crew who had either paced or finished Leadville. Corky has done both. He’s a phenomenal runner and someone I adamantly admire – for his running and how he lives his life with deep integrity and commitment to family and friends.

By coincidence, we had scheduled to have breakfast on Wednesday, 3 days before the race and 1 day before I left for Leadville. I mentioned to him that I was headed to Leadville and leaving in 36 hours. I asked if he could share any advice. Within a few minutes, Corky had shifted from giving advice to deciding to cancel his weekend plans and head to the race with me. He would miss his anniversary (with his wife’s support) to help me and a person whom he has never met.

Corky was not alone in his commitment to the runners. Everything becomes about helping your runner cross the finish line. Sometimes that meant physically supporting him. It meant logistically support him, and other times it meant emotionally supporting him. There are effectively two avenues to support – aid stations and pacing. For the aid stations, every member of our crew, including Jeffrey’s mother-in-law who came over from Japan, was there to support him. We were prepared for whatever Jeffrey needed irrespective of whether he knew what it was that he needed. We swapped his camelbacks with fresh water, fuel, and salt pills as he came into each aid station, often without stopping. When Jeffrey arrived at Winfield Aid Station (mile 50), we removed his shoes and socks knowing that he crossed the river 7 miles earlier. These were quickly replaced.

Corky, John (Jeffrey’s business partner), and I all served as pacers. LT100 is unique in that it also allows pacers to carry their respective runner’s gear. So, we carried as much as possible whenever we were passing, such as headlamps, jackets, and fuel. The pacers are mule, cheerleader, drill sergeant, nutritionist, and time keeper. It is about thinking for your runner when he can not think beyond taking the next step.

As previously noted, being a pacer is about physical, logistical, and emotional support. This was most evident as a pacer. I had the chance to run 2 segments with Jeffrey as his pacer for a total of 24ish miles. The first section was 10.5 miles (mile 50 to 60.5) from Winfield to Twin Lakes. This is often considered the hardest segment of the race. This is the turnaround point and the start to climbing back up to 12,620 feet elevation at Hope Pass. This is a grit point. It’s either pull out of the race time or climb the damn mountain time. Jeffrey chose the latter.

This would be the farthest distance he had run. Managing his time up to Hope Pass and encouraging him to drink and fuel were my top priorities; however, it could not take a backseat to the awe in front of us – both the world below us and his commitment. At the top, runners are pleasantly greeted by a woman wrapped in warm coats as the temperature had dropped to below 40F. She was accompanied by a small generator, a Chronotracker, smiling words of encouragement for all, and an amazing view. It was hard to see the beauty come into view with every step. I felt part of my job as cheerleader was to ensure Jeffrey did not miss out.

From the top, we descended 800 feet to one of my favorite points – Hopeless Aid Station. IMG_5256How do you get water and supplies to 11,800 feet? Llamas, of course. Water is pulled from a stream, packed onto the llamas, and purified up at Hopeless. After the haul up to Hope, Jeffrey needed some time to recoup and fuel. It’s hard to do these while climbing; however, he came into Hopeless looking better than he did at Winfield. He was rehydrated and smiling. Back down from Hopeless and into Twin Lakes, we went.

Corky took the next segment from Twin Lakes to Outward Bound (fka Fish Hatchery) which totaled 16.5 miles. He pinned the needle with Jeffrey at times and helped reduce his time. Puking aside, this gave leeway in time for John and me to tackle the next two segments, including John and Corky climbing Powerline. John returned Jeffrey in great spirits and added even more time; however, he was spent.

We now had a little more than 13.5 miles to go of LT100. We had predicted this segment would take approximately 4 hours. If so, this would give Jeffrey 20 minutes to spare from the 30 hour cutoff. The first 3-4 miles, it was a combination shuffle and walk with an average pace in the mid-18s. My gut feel was that there was more left in his tank and that the sun rising would energize him. This was about supporting him. Frankly, at this point, I lied to Jeffrey about his pace and numerous facts. For example, I claimed he would have not finish on time if he didn’t pick up the pace. He would have finished with 10 minutes to spare based upon the mid-18s. When he asked for an energy gel to eat down the road, I “accidentally” opened it before handing it to him.

He picked up the pace after that a little bit. Something clicked at mile 5 though, and we were off to the races.

Jeffrey became a damn machine. We started passing runners and their pacers in handfuls. At one point, a pacer and runner started running with us. Jeffrey was in lead, and I was behind him. This pair was behind me with their pacer screaming words of encouragement. “We are a g*d damn freight train. CHOOO-CHOOO!! Roll on, mother f*ckers!” Leading this pack did something for Jeffrey, and he dropped the hammer.

I looked down at our pace. We were sub-10 min/miles. We clocked miles 95 & 96 at around 8:43 min/miles. We were flying and had already dropped the runners trailing us. As we ran past more people, I distinctly remember a female runner asking her pacer, “How the hell are they doing that?”

With less than four miles to the finish, I had to call our crew. We were coming in well ahead of time, but I didn’t know how much ahead. Unfortunately, I caught them at breakfast. They hadn’t received all of their food yet. Regardless, it’s about the runner. Food was abandoned, check was paid, and they were out the door to be there. He had completed the final segment in 2 hours 51 minutes 38 seconds (2:51:38). He slaughtered the expectation of 4 hours.

Jeffrey officiallyIMG_0547
finished with a time of 28 hours, 27 minutes, 19 seconds (28:27:19) to claim his first Leadville Trail 100 Finish with his wife by his side. This was her race, too, after a year of supporting and nourishing him.(Endurance sports are a selfish sport. Period. No discussion.) His crew was there to cheer him on.

Yet, we were not anything special in our commitment. (We did have the best driver, though.) Every crew operated in the same manner with their runners. And it extends past the crews. Like many, including the elites who had finished the previous day and most of the town, we waited around to see the remaining runners cross the finish line over the next 1.5 hours. Jeffrey finished 162 of 313 finishers. Another 161 runners would cross the finish line before the shotgun blast signaling the 30 hours cut off. This includes Rui Pedras, whom I have never met.

Rui came in at 29:46:56 for spot 307. What amazed me about his run was the last 150 yards. Every single step of the last 150 yards was heartbreaking. He could barely maintain keeping himself upright. It required the use of hiking poles that were splayed out at 90 degrees from each other. His legs would cross as he took steps. He looked like a first-time skier. Mental and physical exhaustion had pushed him to the brink.

The crowd was there every second cheering and encouraging a person whom they don’t know. He surged on their volume and words. It may have taken him nearly 20 minutes to cover the 150 yards, but he made it.

There’s something about seeing someone struggle, never giving up, and gritting down. There’s something about seeing strangers cheer and energize the spirit of someone they have never met and will probably never see again. It’s the commitment of one’s self, the crew’s to the runner, and the town to this race and its human endeavor against and with nature. It is the “Grit, Guts, and Determination” of all on display with humility and pride.

IMG_5261That is the essence and the spirit of Leadville – the race and the town. And that is why I will return.

FINAL THOUGHT

I previously stated that it was an opportunity to be involved. The reality is that it was more than that. It was a gift and blessing. LT100 has the potential to be life-changing if one lets it. For me, it was that, and that is not a phrase I use casually.

For more information about the race and this year’s results, check out the following: