How To Master Your Email Inbox

Boomerrang Gmail

Inbox zero is a fantastical goal; a mythical mirage that is desired by many but acheived by few. After nearly two decades of battling, and losing, to my inbox I almost admitted defeat. I simply allowed the “unread” number to creep up into double digits while the “read” emails stored in inbox soared into triple digits.

But then two years ago I found Boomerrang, which has become my secret to inbox victory.

Email As Water Metaphor

I’m the type of person that is easily persuaded to check my email constantly throughout the day. Responding to an email makes me feel productive, when in reality it was the busywork of moving some (virtual) pieces of paper around. In my quest to avoid the stressful feelings associated with an overflowing inbox, I invested hours every day trying to keep my inbox clean and tidy. Many times, this would overflow into the night while I lay in bed. I would even start my days responding to emails, often while still in bed, trying to “get ahead” of the mid-morning email surge.

That’s when I realized that email behaves like water. When you make space, more will flow in. Some books on email management state you should respond to emails ASAP but this is terrible advice! The faster you respond to emails, the faster people will respond to your emails, often resulting in a type of ping-pong instant chat via email. And the more you process emails, the more emails you will receive as others realize this is the most effective way to get your attention.

But if you invest all your time doing the busywork of responding to and processing emails, when do you have time to focus on actual productive work?

My Email Secret Weapon: Boomerrang

How do you stop an inbox flooding with emails? Simple: you block the flow of emails.

  • Start your day first attending to productive tasks instead of the busywork of answering emails. Consider this a type of “pay yourself first” philsophy; invest first in your needs & committments before you attend to the new needs of others.
  • Instead of answering emails immediately upon arrival, only reply to emails during specific, time-limited sessions. Sure, this means you won’t get through all your emails, but email etiquette allows for at least 24 hours for a reply. If this lack of instant response causes you stress, send a quick reply that you have received the email and when you expect to be able to reply.
  • Control the flow into your inbox. Use Boomerrang’s Inbox Pause add-on module to control how often emails are allowed into your inbox. Personally, I only allow my inbox to receive emails at 10am and 3pm. The morning check is so that I can first attend to my day’s top priority; the afternoon check to allow me some time to process any remaining emails before I go home for the day.
  • Pace my reply. Boomerrang enables me to schedule my emails to go out early the next morning or another time I specify. Because of the delay in response, emails don’t devolve into ping-pong email chats. Also, the scheduled delivery ensures my emails aren’t time-stamped with my sometimes odd hours of reply.
  • Automatic email reminders. Boomerrang allows me to email myself reminders. Rather than trying to remember to follow-up with a prospect or client in 1 week, I can have the email added back to my inbox. What’s more, I can limit the “boomerrang” emails to occur only when the recipient doesn’t reply.
  • Schedule important emails in advance. With Boomerrang scheduling birthday emails in batches just got that much easier!

I can’t recommend Boomerrang for email management enough for both Gmail and Outlook. There is a free version, which includes up to 10 boomerrangs/month. If you want more, the current listed prices are $5/mo for personal Gmail, $15/mo for Google Apps (gApps), and $30/one-time for Outlook.

Advertisements

MARTA during Atlanta’s Snowjam2014

Atlanta's Snow Jam 2014

This is what Atlanta’s roads have looked like for the past 16+ hours. Thousands are still stuck in their cars after spending the night in sub-20 degree weather. Many have abandoned their cars on the side of roads, either out of gas or out of patience, and headed to schools, gas stations, and retail stores to sleep on the floor. SnowedOutAtlanta, an open group on Facebook, surged past 40,000 members as people tried to share their cold stories or offer warm assistance for those that could get to it.

All this makes me wonder: Where was MARTA during Atlanta’s #snowjam2014?

Well, Atlanta’s meager light rail system was just fine and dandy! In fact, it was perhaps a silver lining in the cold clouds that hung over Atlanta Wednesday and into Thursday.

Understandably, MARTA bus service was cancelled as the streets were a standstill, but rail service was operational albeit slightly delayed by 20 or so minutes. If someone could get their car parked within 1 or 2 miles of any MARTA station, they could have relied on the system to get them to any other MARTA station. They could have stayed at a hotel near a station, which there are many. They could have had a friend pick them up from a station that was accessible by car or walked home from that station.

This is exactly what several of my friends did. They ditched their cars and instead of spending hours in them through the freezing night, they walked to a MARTA station and had a family member pick them up.

Atlanta, we have to get over our obsession with commuting by car. A snowstorm shouldn’t make Atlanta look like a panic-stricken scene from the Georgia-based TV show The Walking Dead.

The Walking Dead SnowJam Atlanta

Atlanta can only grow so big if we are tethered to the roads our cars can travel upon. Commuting by car everywhere and everytime is not a viable option for our city’s sustainable economic growth. Traffic jams cost every Atlanta driver over 44 hours and $1,000 annually and we aren’t even the worst congested city!

Atlanta traffic jam ranking infographic

Atlanta already has many commuting options; we just need to embrace them and make them part of our daily behavior.

I will not lie, it may be less convenient in the short-term. Being able to jump in a temperature-controlled car and be a few miles away in 15 minutes on a whim with no advanced planning or thought is a nice benefit. But is this really the case? Does it really only take 15 minutes to go a few miles when everyone else is doing the same thing? Do we really avoid advanced planning with our daily commute or do we already plan our commute around traffic jams and congestion? And is it really more convenient to sit idly in a car on a hot, humid highway when we could be sitting on an air-conditioned train reading a book, texting, talking on the phone, or watching your favorite TV show on your mobile device while speeding along to our destination?

Ultimately, Atlantans need to invest in Atlanta and make our city more connected. Below is a dream MARTA map. Imagine if this was an option for us in the next inevitable #SnowJam.

Future MARTA map

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, the eyes of the world are on you.

(Don’t) Do What You Love

Do What You Love

Do you consider the Jobsian phrase “do what you love” to be sage career advice? Would you give it to another stranger? Would you give it to your own child?

You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

At first glance, I thought this advice from Steve Jobs in a commencement address at Stanford University in 2005 was sound, albeit inspiring. I would repeat it often when younger minds asked me for my advice on their careers. I calculated that since so much of my own life would be spent working, that that time should be as enjoyable, and fulfilling, as possible. What I didn’t really consider at that time, however, was that at the root of that decision were the numerous options before. I had so many blessings in life in addition to natural gifts to call upon that I forgot it was privilege to have so many options from which to select. Rather than my risk in choice being one that left me hungry and homeless, my risk was picking one that was not as fulfilling as as the other. That’s a pretty nice problem to have!

But when did work become something that needed to be fulfilling? When did the value of work change from a way to earn a living, to a way to earn fulfillment?

This discusson arose in the open Facebook group called the Coffee House, which is “dedicated to sharing ideas as we once did in coffee houses”. One of the recent posts was an article in Slate: “In The Name of Love”, which asks if the “do what you love” mantra of the creative class devalues work and hurts workers.

DWYL is a secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment. According to this way of thinking, labor is not something one does for compensation but is an act of love. If profit doesn’t happen to follow, presumably it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient. Its real achievement is making workers believe their labor serves the self and not the marketplace.

Ok, so I didn’t see that coming when I repeated the bumper-sticker worthy phrase “do what you want, the money will follow”. I never meant to offend! When this new perspective was introduced to me, I begin to realize how “do what you want” is probably some of the worst career advice I could give.

And from an entrepreneurial perspective, doing something you love doesn’t mean you are good at it. And if you aren’t good at it, the market may not be willing to pay for it. And if the market isn’t willing to pay for it, then you might not be able to sustain a living wage from it. When viewed from this perspective, “do what you love” may be terrible advice! The Onion’s “Ridiculous Small-Business Plan Encouraged By Friends” further captures the phrase it full, satirical glory:

In the past three weeks, Sabin has given out nearly 60 dog biscuits and sold almost twice that many, all to friends. By conservative estimates, unless she experiences a 4,000 percent increase in sales, Sabin will be forced out of business before the end of the year.

But she is doing what she loves, right? Perhaps, but she is also doing something that isn’t marketable or scalable. Doing what you love won’t feed, shelter, or cloth you, no matter how much passion you burn for it.

And the darker truth is this: “do what you love” may be repeated be entrepreneurs because it is a way to pay their workers less for a lot more effort and risk.

DWYL reinforces exploitation even within the so-called lovable professions, where off-the-clock, underpaid, or unpaid labor is the new norm: reporters required to do the work of their laid-off photographers, publicists expected to pin and tweet on weekends, the 46 percent of the workforce expected to check their work email on sick days. Nothing makes exploitation go down easier than convincing workers that they are doing what they love.

Many entrepreneurs I know state they are fueled off the passion for their work; that it is revolutionary and meaningful. That makes a lot of sense for them perhaps but what about their workers? You know, the people that are executing the dreams and passion of the business owner? The reality is that even in an insanely country like the U.S only 38% of American workers report being fulfilled by their work. Ouch.

Do American Value Their Jobs?
According to Salary.com’s survey, in 2012, about 48 percent of employees said they work extra hours just for sheer enjoyment—but that number fell to 19.5 percent this year.

What do you think? Is “do what you love” sound career advice for anyone or the ill-considered mantra of privileged elitism?

What the SNAP?

SNAP in GA

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, provides food-purchasing assistance for low- and no-income people living in the U.S. It is formerly known as the Food Stamp program. It is the largest food safety net program in the US costing $76.4 billion in 2013 to provide 47.6 million Americans an average of $133/month of food assistance.

Take that monthly benefit, divide by 4, and you have about $33.98/week. That’s why I only get $33.98 this week to eat – I’m walking in the shoes of what 47,600,000 other fellow Americans face every day.

Who SNAPS?

“SNAP recipients are lazy, fraudulent welfare queens”

Living in the conservative South I have heard similar lines like that before. Whenever I hear the subject of food stamps come up it is usually to disparage the recipient’s work ethic, honesty, or character. Rarely, however, have they ever met an actual food stamp recipient. Or, if they have it is a story about fraud. When I press to ask if they approached and shamed the person for their fraudulent behavior, it has always been revealed that the story was through a friend of a friend (of a friend). What kind of friends are they keeping?!

What I rarely hear, unfortunately, are the far more likely successes of SNAP. Whether those shameful stories are fact or myth, what is reality is that there are millions of daily successes.

The 47,600,000 characters of all these stories rely daily on the assistance offered by SNAP to help them meet basic nutritional needs.

Snapshot of a SNAP recipient

What does a SNAP recipient of $4.50/day, or $1.50/meal, really look like?

  • 83% percent of SNAP households have incomes at or below 100 percent of the poverty guideline ($19,530 for a family of 3 in 2013). These households receive 91% of all SNAP benefits.
  • 83% of SNAP benefits include a child, an elderly person, or a disabled person.
  • The average SNAP household has about 2 people, with a gross monthly income of $744 and countable assets of just $331.
  • Participants must also meet work and citizenship requirements.
  • 90 percent of SNAP benefits are redeemed by day 21 of the benefit period – meaning most SNAP benefits are not enough to last recipients all month.

To bring it to a more local level, what does a SNAP recipient in Georgia look like??

  • 87% of households receiving SNAP have income below the poverty line (about $22,000 for a family of four in 2012), and 46% of households are in deep poverty, with income below 50% of the poverty line.
  • Nearly half of SNAP recipients are children, and nearly 1/4 are adults living with children.

The reality is that in a few days my grumbling stomach will be fed well. I won’t be hurt from years of malnutrition. I won’t have to feel shameful about needing some help. The reality is that in a country as wealthy as the U.S, no one should.

Eyes SNAP’ed Wide Open

A week of SNAP food

The photo above captures $67.73 in food (including sales tax!). That’s a smidge under the $33.98 each my wife and I get this week in our Virtual Food Stamp SNAP Challenge.

The grocery shopping experience of buying $67.73 in groceries for two for an entire week was rather eye-opening. Below are 8 Eye-Opening SNAP Grocery Shopping Observations, a list which assuredly compares in infotainment value as 7 Struggles Every Pale Person Can Understand.

  1. Meat, cheese, and dairy are out. They are simply way too expensive, even though 63% of U.S. food subsidies go toward keeping meat & dairy at a fraction of their actual market price. Our only dairy was almond milk, which was $2.50 for a half gallon (vs. $1.63 for a half gallon of whole cow’s milk).
  2. Protein will be a struggle. The average male should consume 56g of protein daily; pregnant or lactating woman should consume 71g. At least 10% and no more than 35% of their calories should come from protein. Our main sources of protein are from various types of beans, peanuts, peanut butter, and potatoes.
  3. Organic is being cut out. The pressure to buy organic and pay 2x more is a rich person’s problem; it isn’t happening here. While I would love to eat food that is better for the environment, grown with less pesticides, and without hormones are antibiotics, I simply can’t afford it. Also, it would be nice to be able to buy some more leafy greens. The bulk of my produce are potatoes, apples, and spinach.
  4. Buying off-brand (Kroger-brand) is required. Branding and advertising is expensive, so it is a luxury I can’t afford. Thinking about it again, I probably should have gone to Walmart instead.
  5. Shopping is NOT a pleasure. Grocery shopping took nearly 3x as long, and was frustrating and unpleasant the entire time. I had to compare the $ per ounce signs on every product and count up *each cent*. I had to think out every meal for the week in advance, considering serving sizes and every individual ingredient. It was tiring.
  6. Coupons are king. While I didn’t have any coupons, I could see how the existence of a coupon could decide whether or not I could afford a product any given week. A Kroger plus card is required; it saved me nearly 10%.
  7. Empty calories are out. I wish I could afford bread, cereals and potato chips! But I can’t afford to waste my limited cents on nutritionally empty calories. That isn’t to say I wasn’t tempted to stress-buy a bucket of cheesy-poofs. They have protein, right?
  8. I need to buy in bulk to really save. While I’d love to visit a Costco or SAMS’s Club and really pile on the buy-in-bulk savings, SNAP doesn’t allow me to spend money on such memberships. If I was participating for a full month, I’d focus on buying oils, rice, and dry beans in bulk to squeeze out every cent.

For the extra curious, you can view a line-item list of pricing and quantity of our grocery bill.

Oh SNAP – I’m eating on $33.98 this week!

We accept SNAP benefits!

My wife and many members of her Lead Atlanta Class of 2014 leadership development group are all eating on $33.98 this week, and I’m joining them. We are participating in the Virtual Food Stamp SNAP Challenge.

Why $33.98? Because that is the the average weekly SNAP benefit per person for one week in Georgia.

You have probably heard about SNAP increasingly. That is because the U.S. Congress is in the middle of, er a year late on, deciding the fate of the Farm Bill, which is the primary agricultural and food policy tool of the federal government. The bill, which originated in 1965, has been renewed on about a 5 year cycle. This time around the bill would cost an incredible $500,000,000 for another 5 years. That sure is a lot of zeros! To put that number into perspective, The Department of Defense (DoD), which accounts for about 96 percent of defense spending, received $580 billion in funding … for the year 2013 only.

Who cares about this bill? How about 314 million Americans who eat food. You know, you. Like it or not, the Farm Bill affects you every time you spend money on food. And it *really* affects the 47 million Americans who face low or very low food security. SNAP is the main way these American’s are able to get a semblance of daily sustenance. SNAP is also the most expensive, and contentiously debated, title of the United States farm bill.

Join us on our journey!

You are welcome to join us on our journey on this blog or my public Facebook profile. Please feel free to:

  • Comment on our posts with advice, ideas, tips, and encouragement
  • Send us links to articles on SNAP and other issues related to food including the Farm Bill
  • Send us your own stories about both hunger and plenty; what have you learned from your own experience?

A Year of Veganism

Vegan for a year

Has it really been a year since I started my dietary vegan experiment? What started as an impromptu 21 day experiment has turned into an eye-opening, waist-reducing dietary overhaul. Looking back, the hardest part wasn’t the willpower to avoid certain food but rather the willpower to make time to shop, chop, and cook at home.

Oh, and I wasn’t really vegan. Yeah…about that.

Vegan-ish

Dietary fundamentalists, those that require absolute and strict adherence to the principles of their selected diet (at that time), are the religious zealots of the dietary world. Both vegan and non-vegans alike have their acolytes. Think “Paleo”. So, the fact that I still purchase and wear leather products, consume honey, and enjoy shellfish banishes me from ever holding a V-card. At the same time, because I avoided all other forms of mammalian and aviarian flesh, eggs, and dairy flesh-eaters branded me a dietary freak. I had no home, so my wife and I invented the term “Seagan”.

In fact, on vacation when nearly all meals are from dining out we found it easier to simply adopt a pescatarian diet. It is pretty challenging to find a restaurant that serves dishes or uses all their ingredients without eggs or dairy free. And when being invited over for a home-cooked meal we found it was less intrusive to simply let the host decide what we were going to eat, even if that meant we would have to stomach some digestive pains after.

In all, over the past year and 1,000+ meals I can count on two hands the number of times I have consumed animal flesh. That puts me at a 99% “success” rate. Those meals stand out in my mind not only because of their relative rarity but also because they were deliciously appreciated, albeit sometimes digestively upsetting. How can I forget the Ostrich Medallions from the restaurant Tantra on October 11th, 2012? My digestive tract certainly did not.

Vegan Surprises

Another surprise was the lack of support I received from friends and family. If I had a family member or friend that wanted to change their lifestyle to improve their health, I’d support them without questions. I, however, received constant questions that seemed more focused on trying to trip me up than support my decision, or invitations to dinners where there were absolutely no meat, dairy, or egg-free options. I’m still amazed how often I attended dinners where plates never saw a single plant other than processed wheat. If there was a plant, it was covered in a creamy layer of butter or cheese.

Over time, however, I learned that this wasn’t backlash or lack of support. Rather, most of my friends and family simply didn’t know how to cook or eat meals that were meat, dairy, and egg-free. It simply wasn’t part of their culinary lexicon, as it wasn’t part of mine when I first started. Think about it – how many dishes do you know how to cook that are absolutely free of animal flesh, dairy, or eggs? Do you even think about if your meal has animal flesh, dairy, or eggs in it?

There were indeed some memorable attempts by friends to support my experiment, including by my mother who prepared a vegan, gluten-free Christmas dinner. This meal was even more impressive when one considers that she is an immigrant from a country that holds the record for the highest beef consumption per-capita. Uruguayans probably come in second place for pasta or bread.

The biggest surprise, however, was how much I’ve come to enjoy vegetables. When they are the primary food on my dish, I don’t feel sluggish or tired after a meal. Instead, I feel…refreshed. It is hard to explain, but a plant-based diet simply “feels” good. Not a delicious “pat-my-belly-from-satiation” good, but rather an energized “I’m-not-going-to-regret-this-at-all” good. While this may be the norm for some in how they relate to food, it was an appreciated surprise for me.

Did Veganism Improve My Health?

Yes.

As a reminder, the root of this experiment turned lifestyle change was health-related. I have a challenging relationship with how I process food both genetically (e.g., family history of cardiovascular concerns) and emotionally (i.e., I “stress” eat…and eat). What’s worse, before I started an annual check-up indicated higher than desired cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood glucose levels. It didn’t help that I had already gained back 50% of the hard-won 20 pounds I had lost from an earlier dietary and exercise overhaul in 2011.

Today, my health metrics are top-notch. My cholesterol is in a healthy range, my blood glucose remains steadily below levels of any concern, and having lost 18 pounds I’m at my lightest weight in over 7+ years. What’s more, even when I fall off the horse and exercise less than I should for a few days (and sometimes weeks), my weight remains relatively stable. It is fairly challenging to gain weight from eating too many veggies (although fried potatoes, corn tortilla chips, and milk-free chocolates are another story).

My Dietary Experimentation Continues

Ultimately, the 12 months have been an exploration of my culinary needs, wants, and values. I’m mindful; I’m thinking about everything I consume (healthy) while avoiding becoming obsessive about the “right/wrong” of the action (unhealthy).

I’ve enjoyed the journey.

I have also discovered that this is very much a personal journey, and a journey that can be afforded due to the relative wealth in which I live. Gathering, cooking, and eating a plant-based diet is resource intensive in both time and money. As such, I do not expect this dietary lifestyle from everyone. If a fellow human is scrounging for sustenance, I get it – eat that cow, chicken, whatever. Chances are it wasn’t raised in an industrial fashion, either. But even if it was, I get it. Enjoy.

For me, however, calories are not precious. I have an abundance of food choices at my beck and call. I’m fortunate enough that spending more on unsubsidized plant-based foods won’t break my bank. It’s a luxury that I have; I understand that not all share that luxury.

As such, I will no longer tell people that I’m “vegan”. I’ll still avoid mammalian and avian flesh, eggs, and dairy, but that decision is a personal one that will be exhibited through my actions, not a label. If a friend offers me a meal that conflicts with my dietary preferences, I’ll appreciate their generosity and break bread under their terms. Consuming that particular meal won’t kill me (hopefully). If a friend wants to meet for a meal, I’ll no longer steer them toward a vegan or vegetarian restaurant. I have discovered that there are always wonderfully delicious options for me to consider, especially if that means a snack of only fried potatoes. I could do far worse.

Thank you for reading this blog series on my year-long plant-based dietary experiment and being part of that journey for the past year. While I may still post about some delicious plant-based recipes I discover or mindful reflection on what I’m eating, and why, I’ll no longer push “The Vegan Agenda”.

Bon appetit!

Marriage Equality Evolves

Jon Stewart Charts The Evolution Of Gay Marriage Acceptance
Jon Stewart Charts The Evolution Of Gay Marriage Acceptance

Many of us learn in school about landmark Supreme Court decisions like Marbury v. Madison (1803), Brown v. Board of Education (1954), or Miranda v. Arizona (1966). Well, today we can add United States v. Windsor (2013) to that list, which found that section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional.

This.is.epic.

Think about it — the battle for equal rights for Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender individuals (LGBT) in the U.S. began substantial inroads in the 1970s. A notable figure was Harvey Milk — the first openly gay man elected to public office in the United States (n.b., Kathy Kozachenko was the first openly homosexual elected to public office 3 years earlier, but patriarchy knows no limits). Eleven months later Milk was assassinated along with Mayor George Moscone in front of City Hall by the prior San Francisco Supervisor Dan White…who was only found guilty of manslaughter instead of murder thanks to the now infamous “Twinkie Defense“. White only served 5 years of a 7 year sentence, and committed suicide 2 years later upon his release.

Over the next 20 years, millions of Americans would come out publicly including notable figures Barney Frank (first U.S. congressman to come out as gay), Rachael Maddow (first openly gay or lesbian American to win an international Rhodes scholarship), and Ellen Degeneres (first openly lesbian actress to play an openly lesbian character on television).

Also, popular culture embraced boy-bands like New Kids on the Block, N’Sync, and Backstreet Boys. Just saying it’s a notable correlation, folks. No homo.

But the 1990s also saw legislation that stripped many citizens of any hope of federal rights and recognition. In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed DOMA into law, which explicitly defined marriage in federal law as a union of one man and one woman. Of note was Section 3, which codified the non-recognition of same-sex marriages for all federal purposes, including insurance benefits for government employees, Social Security survivors’ benefits, immigration, and the filing of joint tax returns.

DOMA wouldn’t be challenged in federal court until 2010. Since, there have been five different requests by the U.S. Supreme Court to hear appeals. Today — 17 years later — in a 5:4 decision the U.S. Supreme Court found Section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional.

While Section 2 of DOMA remains intact — which reserves powers to the state in how they decide to recognize marriages in other states — the landscape has changed measurably. As of June 2013, twelve states have legalized same-sex marriage — Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington as well as the District of Columbia and five Native American tribes. At the same time, seven states – Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wyoming — prohibit same-sex marriage by statute and 30 prohibit it in their constitutions.

We all know what that means next for America — CPAs are going to busy amending tax filings.

Seriously, this decision is a pretty big deal. It has been many years in the making, citizens have been killed in defending their fight for equality, and the wonderful checks and balances of the 3rd branch of the the US Government has ruled the legislation of the Legislative and Executive branches of government as unconstitutional.

This decision is a very big deal for some of my closest friends. Many are in some of the most inspiring, committed relationships. Several already are raising kids together; others are in the process of starting families. Yesterday, they were at risk of not receiving the same rights as other families. Today, many of them are that much closer on the road towards equality.

Our federal government will now recognize that witholding rights from these loving, committed families is no longer something our society wishes to do; that if a single state decides marriage in their jurisdiction is between a consenting human and a consenting human, that the federal government will recognize and ensure the rights conferred to them, as it has with the millions of families before them.

No longer is it simply in Defense of Marriage. Today it is in Defense of Family.

I think the Oatmeal’s Matthew Inman says it best with his comic The Gay Marriage Debate in 50 Years.

Have You Played Today?

Runner's rage
This is how I ran the San Diego Marathon. The entire time.

Recently at my Entrepreneur’s Organization forum meeting, my forum completed an exercise called “What are your values?”.

  • Everyone shares in creating a master list of possible values.
  • Individuals select their top 10 values that are most important to them.
  • Individuals then remove the 3 least important, leaving them with 7.
  • Individuals then remove the 3 least important, leaving them with 4.
  • Individuals then remove the 2 least important, leaving them with only 2.

We then went around and discussed if these two remaining values, which we declared were our individual most important values, were reflected in each of our lives. Do we make time for them on our calendar? Do we fund them with our money? Would others agree that we uphold and represent these values daily?

My Two Most Important Values

My two most important values, in order of importance: #2. Curiosity; #1 Joyfulness.

Curiosity, to me, is the value of being interested enough in the world around you as to explore, learn, and investigate it.. It is the never-ending questioning of ideas, and open-mindedness to accept that your prior conclusion was incorrect. It is how I try to go out and engage the world everyday.

Joyfulness, to me, is the value of finding the humor, levity, and happiness in all aspects of life. It is the acceptance of, and comfort in, the knowledge that we are so very insignificant; that nothing is to be taken too seriously, not even death (or taxes). It is how I choose to perceive the world and all the things it thrusts upon me.

Today, I realized that these two things that are the core tenets of the concept of play.

In psychology and ethology, play is a range of voluntary, intrinsically motivated activities normally associated with recreational pleasure and enjoyment. Play is most commonly associated with children and their juvenile-level activities, but play can also be a useful adult activity, and occurs among other higher-functioning animals as well.

The concept of play is easy to understand for children; it is even expected. But the only type of play adults seem to be allowed is the perverse type (not that that isn’t enjoyable!). What about humor, games, roughhousing, flirtation and make-believe fantasy?

Research is that animals on the lower strata of their hierarchy of needs — that is stressed and starving animals — generally do not play.

Which brings us to the photo that started this post. Recently I completed my first marathon — the 2013 Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon. Even though it was probably one of the most uncomfortable, tiring experiences of my life, I always tried to introduce play into it. Even during my many hours and miles training, I kept my mind focused on finding puns and jokes in the conversations around me. And for the race, to the suggestion of my wife, I was able to uphold my values of Curiosity and Joyfulness in full power as TuTu Much — the sidekick to the Purple Phantom (n.b., my superhero also shares the #2 value of Curiosity).

Have you played today?

Play Inspiration

A pioneer in research on play, Dr. Stuart Brown says humor, games, roughhousing, flirtation and fantasy are more than just fun. Plenty of play in childhood makes for happy, smart adults — and keeping it up can make us smarter at any age.

Stuart Brown’s research shows play is not just joyful and energizing — it’s deeply involved with human development and intelligence. Through the National Institute for Play, he’s working to better understand its significance

I Ran My First Marathon

Posting pre-marathon
The Purple Phantom and TuTu Much pose pre-marathon.

When I first started training for my first (and only to date) olympic distance-ish triathlon in 2007 — I remember thinking how absolutely idiotic it was to even consider running a half marathon. This made sense as this triathlon event only required 8km of running, or just a little over 5 miles. The most I had ever run before in a single day was 8 miles, and that was when I was fresh out of college in tip-top shape, or at least my best impersonation of said shape. Running a half-marathon, or 13.1 miles, was quite the stretch.

And then in November 2011 I finished my first half marathon — the inaugural Savannah Half Marathon. Even though it was over a year and a half ago, I vividly remember the pain and discomforts of all sorts (note: do not change your race-day feeding plan on a whim, especially with cytomax). Toward the end of the race, I recall there being a ramp-off for the marathoners to go on with their, in effect, second half-marathon. I thought they were absolute idiots. Sure, I would go on to run in 5 more half-marathons over the next 19 months, but a half-marathon was “manageable”; a marathon? Manic.

And then this past week I finished my first marathon. In other words — I became one of those idiots.

If it helps, I’m far from a hardcore idiot. My embarrassing finish time of 6:29:57 was in the bottom 4% of marathon finishers — 6249 out of 6494 (and that’s rounding up). So yeah, I am one of those idiots, but at least I’m a not a manic idiot. Those are the worst.

Race Day Recap

My wife sent me an article on analyzing my race performance as a learning tool for future races. Apparently she knows me well enough that I’m so unsatisfied with my time that I’m going to try again (in due time; I had 5:30:00 as my goal). So let’s start analyzing. I want to focus on the experience itself — the feelings (pain) and emotions (sadness) that encompassed the event.

The race started early, if one were to define a 4:00 AM wake-up early. We were told by others that this early rise shouldn’t be a problem, as this was the west coast and we were still on east coast time, which would put us at a 7:00 AM wake-up really. These were, sadly, lies. What is important to remember is that the night prior to running a marathon, you will not be able to sleep. Your body knows what you are about to do to it, so it goes all pre-emptive on you.

I was admittedly concerned about the race-day weather. I have had too many lost battles with heat (e.g., passing out in gym locker rooms). While the ideal running temperature for many is 56 or so, I prefer it to be in the upper 40s. San Diego weathermen predicted a cool low 70s, which mathematically speaking is slightly higher than the ideal upper 40s. Ultimately, I was fortunate — low to mid 60s with cloud coverage the entire race. I didn’t even need to wear sunscreen, which I forgot to apply in my 4:00AM morning fog.

At 6:15AM, we were off. By 8:30AM, the first marathoner would cross the finish line. I, however, would take much, much longer. Maybe it was the zydeco dancing my wife and I did around mile 5, or the rave dancing we did in the tunnel complete with colored lights and techno music. Whatever the cause, despite feeling like the first 11 miles just flew by at their on-target 12:30 min/mile pace, by mile 14 my body and mind abruptly gave in — I had to start walking.

Now, bear in mind that I’ve seen far more miles in my training — 18 and 20 — and I didn’t *need* to walk. But on this day — the day I would aim for 26.2 miles — my legs decided to check out after less than 3 hours of running. I would be more accurate to say I shuffled a marathon than ran one.

While the first half of the marathon was all running glee and happiness, the next 3 and half hours were miserable. Ugh, just typing that makes me feel bad — 3 and half hours of walking after running 3 hours.

Granted, it was a fast walk — 16:00 min/mile average. And to be positive, the weather was enjoyable enough, I stayed properly lubed, my Larabars were a godsend in keeping me out of to porto-potties, I partook in some quite delicious salt packs, and drank a lot of refreshingly lukewarm water. I don’t, however, ever want to see a watermelon-flavored sports jelly bean ever again in my life. They are dead to me.

I’m not going to lie — realizing that I only had enough strength in me to walk for the next 12 miles was terrifying. I did the math, I knew what it meant. When I got to the 1.5 mile hill that started on mile 20 my heart sank as did my my pace; it was reduced to 17:52 for that mile.

But on the last mile, the Team in Training mentors all joined me and my wife to finish slaying this marathon beast. My pace picked up to at what the time felt like a sprint, but was later to be revealed as a mere 13:000 min/mile.

I finished a marathon.

After The Race

After the race as friends congratulated each other, I wobbled around drinking 12 ounces of Jambajuice (*awesome*) and snacking on two small bags of Cheetos — it’s the small things, folks. I limbed back a mile to the hotel and enjoyed one of the most pleasurable showers in history. After, a big group of the Team in Training folks walked another mile to Fred’s Mexican Cafe. I enjoyed cheese dip and a carne asado for the first time in, oh, 10 months — it was delicious. Some of us imbibed way too many subpar dirty-water looking margaritas. It made the walk back tolerable, however.

The next day we walked a mile to a brunch at Cafe 21 that, ultimately, took 3 hours. I enjoyed a rosemary lamb sandwich with mozzarella that left me with heartburn for the rest of the day. But it didn’t matter — we were still giddy, basking in the sweet post-run glow of endorphins that flowed through us. That afternoon we walked 2 more miles (enough with the walking already!) to Coronado Beach, where over the roaring waves of fighter jets landing in the nearby military airport, we played Cards Against Humanity. We finished that evening off with an early dinner at Leroy’s Lounge where I consumed more fried food in one day than one should consume in one week. By tequila margarita two, this marathoner was ready to cab it home and call it a night.