Received a nice text comparing ScentTrail to messages in a bottle today. Never thought of ScentTrail Marketing that way, but see it now. ScentTrail tells my story. My writing is messy, a tad chaotic, fun, sad, happy and an ongoing search for a personal truth and meaning. I used to think of personal truth as individual and isolated. The quest seemed zero sum. Personal truth came only at a steep cost (usually to someone else).
Then I got cancer and hit fifty. Either one of those events changes you. Both events happening in close proximity resets everything. Truth is a mirage, a momentary illusion brought on by life’s only truth – change. If change is truth then immutable fanatical oppressive rightness is ego’s arrogance. Truth happens. Truth happens but it never seems true while it is happening. When, on a Friday at 4:00 several years ago, Hammering Hank called to say I shared more than a birthday with my father, I had his cancer too, I remember thinking three things;
- I need more time.
- I should have taken more risks.
- At least I won’t run out of money.
These were knee jerk reactions. Sometimes your knees jerk in helpful ways sometimes not. Today I am thinking more deeply about each reaction thanks to my “message in a bottle” text:
Need More Time
Time is relevant. You don’t get to do things twice. Later we think how different we would have acted. Nope, later is later. This kind of post hoc analysis is torture. We do what we do. We do what we did. Decisions are always made now. Looking back saying how much we would change a decision is a way of invalidating life. This kind of denial smacks of Kubler-Ross’s first stage of grief. Yes denial is more than a river in Egypt. There is always exactly the right amount of time.
Take More Risks
I left Choate to attend Vassar, married at twenty-five for love, left corporate America at thirty-five and started a company using my 401K as seed capital. The risk glass is half full (lol). I didn’t follow a typical start up route moving from one fledgling company to another. I’ve met start up nomads and respect them. I don’t envy the tough bark they’ve have to grow. No I’m glad I’ve followed this path as strange and seemingly random has its been (Martin Marty Smith on LinkedIn).
Not Running Out of Money
I’ve saved a little over the years. I made money early in my career working for M&M/Mars. I used to say M&M’s hires one person for two people’s job and pays a salary and a half. Everyone wins. I didn’t want to just keep working for “the Man” even if he made the best candy in the country. I wanted to create something. It was worth risking every dime to create Found Objects (that link goes to the archive showing the first web site I ever created). Then I lost every dime. Then I got fired from the company my savings started. Being unemployed and broke was scary and motivating. If I was going to eat and have a roof over head I needed a job.
As my friend T just told me, “then God sent the job.” At the bottom, when there was little gas in my tank and less money in my account I met Peggy, Susan and Phil and learned about The Sinclair Institute. Peggy and Phil built a company teaching adults how to have better sex. The idea for the company was intriguing and its product unique. Phil was also an author and one of the first to practice “social marketing” on a global scale. Phil had to create a successful company to do what he really loved – helping people in far off lands. Phil built a company to give it away. Phil, Peggy and Susan were people I could learn things from. Turned out Sinclair’s Better Sex Video Series was too little too late to save my marriage, but I could see how open honest information about sex could help others. I signed on.
When Hammering Hank informed of my ten-year life span, most patients with Chronic Lympocytic Leukemia live ten years, I started mentally shuffling my life’s cards. If there were only ten years I better start living. Good idea but not the way life works. When you hear cancer and your name in the same sentence you think of your death and you bargain. Remember Kubler-Ross’s five stages:
(in a book I read but couldn’t understand at Vassar, On Death and Dying)
I cycled back and forth morning a lost life, the one in my head but all to rarely lived. In my head life and the people were always gifts, precious beyond any monetary proxy and that is saying something considering I grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut. After a major diagnosis your life’s time frame is thrown off. Your life doesn’t pass before you in an instant. Instead it rolls by like an old home movie. You see pictures in your head. Graduations from Choate and Vassar, marriage, favorite people such as Stuart Brownstein, Charlie Purdy, Mike Wood, Doug Wheeler, Mary Kay O’Connor, Jim Kempland, Kevin Molidor and Tom O’Brien. I remembered friends such as Stuart Taft, Eric Marcus, Ray Galvin, Billy Sullivan and George Mandes. I remember past girlfriends such as Lori Chaplin, Sue Rush, Zandy Hillis, Dot Stites, Lisa Zurn and Jessie Jewitt.
Thinking about your death is not a bad idea. It provides perspective. One thing I came to after almost giving up the ghost (Read Why Are Republicans Trying To Kill Me? For more on why I consider every day in the bonus now) is all of life is in every moment. There is no special “cancer life” to be lived. My mind hasn’t grasped this realization yet, may mot as I write this, but it is an important realization. People say you should live every moment as if it is your last. This is not realistic. You have to go to the grocery store, dry cleaner and office whether this moment is your last or not. Some magical thinking did occur such as:
Do what you love and do whatever you are doing with love.
If you can’t bring the love to what you are doing, do something else. I think leaving a job is a little like leaving a relationship (read my Case Against Divorce). Often we leave job’s thinking leaving will change who we are. We change an external thing thinking it will change internal things. Take it from someone who almost died, life doesn’t work like that.
We are pattern making and pattern recognition machines. We repeat our “love” or “work” patterns with some regularity. And at each repetition we are amazed when results turn out the same. I love people because we, believe me I include myself in this tribe, are so STUPID. Too harsh by half, but leaving something doesn’t change who we are. The only thing we can’t leave, despite commercials to the contrary, is our selves. The harsh inner voice honed from years of criticism moves with us.
Love Yourself, Love Others, Love Everyone.
People are more important than any “thing” and achievement all too often is a thing. Running after carrots you will never catch leads to disappointment, anger and regrets. Achievement is important. Achievement is how we build things, but no one achieves ANYTHING alone anymore ever. Life is too complicated. The lone genius is myth so don’t fall into its trap. Always let credit flow away from you. A job well done with a team you care about is reward enough.
Time is almost too precious to give to humans.
We take time for granted. We misuse time. Any abuse of anything or anyone including self is a misuse of time. Maybe God is a time cop who creates things like cancer to punish those who’ve abused time. I took so much of my life for granted. Saying I wasn’t living my life is a vast understatement. It is almost impossible to understand and adjust to a special moment. A better strategy is treat every moment as special. Anyone in those special moments with you will feel your appreciation and recognition. Nothing is mundane. Nothing is routine. All of life is in every moment no matter how trying and innocuous it seems. This is the close as I can come to, “Live every moment as if it were your last.”
Honesty is when internal voice and external actions are in harmony.
We think we are apart from others. We hear this voice in our heads and we see “them” and “us”. No such separation exists ever. CBS Sunday Morning discussed how a lawyer and a homeless man started a book club. Always care about what someone else is experiencing, thinking and feeling. Your internal voice and mine are chanting the same Koan’s in our inner-ear. We want to understand life’s meaning. We want to know why we are here. We want to love and be loved.
We are all sinners and I don’t mean this in a religious way.
We fail our aspirations because if we didn’t we would be God. We are allowed to touch God’s face when we see flaws and aren’t crushed by them. When all of life is in every moment, redemption is more than possible. Redemption is our ability to escape our ego’s earthly bonds and help a homeless man read a book, an Indian couple plan a family ( as Phil does at DKT International) and getting my old, fat butt across this great country on a long bicycle in 2010. We redeem our life when we care about something other than ourselves. EVERYONE wants to experience altruism so complete our actions and the greater good are one and the same.
I met Nicholas Sparks, author of Message In A Bottle, at a book signing in Durham more than ten years ago. Nicholas created himself. When publishers rejected his work he found other work. He kept writing. His first book, The Notebook, written in his spare time, was serendipitously plucked out of a publisher’s “slush pile” by literary agent Theresa Park. Park secured a $1,000,000 advance for the book. Nicholas was between The Notebook's film release and Message In A Bottle's film when he read passages from Message at what was then the only Durham Barnes and Noble. Sparks took care. He answered questions well beyond his reading time. He shared his story even as he may have cut the crust off the tough rejection sandwich he had to eat before Ms. Park decided the world needed romance again. Nicholas wasn’t attended by anyone that night years ago. He was doing what he loved and it showed. It is a great honor someone reading my blog compared it to messages in a bottle. I can only hope....