Exercising my Demons

Seven years ago, almost to the day, a seemingly minor incident triggered a series of events that continues to shake the foundations of who I am. Sometimes life shifts so subtly, over such a long period, that we can’t see any change. Psychologists call this change blindness. Other times, an event demarcates where our old self starts to fade, and the possibility of a new self presents itself. Not subtle. An inflection point.

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Journal – Day 3

Well, I missed yesterday’s journal entry, but I’m going to be gentle with myself about that.

Continuing my work and thinking about love as I go about my day, this study popped up on my Twitter feed a week ago.

So I’ve decided to reach out to some of the men that have meant so much to me over the years, men who changed me for the better, men I love. And I started with a call to one of my dearest friends last night.

Let me start by admitting that I suck at distance relationships. I just can’t stay in touch for very long. But when I work up the courage to reconnect (my brain can berate me for weeks leading up to this – “Why didn’t you stay in touch, you loser?” “why do you think he’s care to hear from you? – brains suck), the intervening years just fade away, and sometimes it’s like no time has passed at all.

The call was wonderful. An hour passed like 5 minutes, and I was reminded of the love I feel for this wonderful human.

Life is short. Time is precious. It doesn’t matter how much time has passed; all you have is this moment. Call today.

May you be happy. May you be free from suffering. May you be at peace.

Love,
Shawn

Journal – Day 2

Some people might question the impact of sharing a joyful moment on social media. They might worry that others are having a hard time and that it seems indulgent to celebrate their experience. They might worry about any number of ways that they might be perceived, but I want to tell you right here and now that your joy is contagious and it can change the direction of someone’s day. Shine your sunshine everywhere. Bask in that stuff. Lots of people will feel joy for you and that can change someone’s day for the better.

I awoke to this tweet this morning and let me tell you that it put a smile on my face and made my morning meditation into a celebration of two extraordinary souls.

Yesterday I mentioned that I’m trying to cultivate love this year. I want to find more and better ways of growing it and overcome whatever it is that holds me back from expressing it. I know that Jodi and Chris have worked hard to get here and love blooms in my heart for them today – although this blog might be the only way I have of articulating it right now.

Congratulations Jodi and Chris! ❤️❤️❤️

That’s it for today. May you be happy. May you be free from suffering. May you be at peace.

Love,
Shawn

Journal – Day 1

These journals will be quick, unfiltered, and random. I reserve the right to rethink any and all of this. There are no answers here, just life, questions, and thoughts.

I’ve spent the past week recovering from a foot injury that’s been bothering me since late last year, so I’ve been walking much less and unable to enjoy London’s beautiful Thames Valley Parkway as I normally do.

In lieu of walking, I’ve doubled down on my mindfulness practice, sitting in a meditative state in our backyard for extended stretches. I’m working on two things when I’m “on the cushion” the first is to develop the ability to pause when negative emotions arise, specifically anger. This has been a major issue for me throughout my life, it’s proving to be a tough nut to crack but it feels like I’m gaining some traction on it.

The other thing is love. Since I started on this personal journey six years ago, I’ve been increasingly feeling like I can’t express my feelings of love well. This year I’ve been reading a lot on the subject, especially where it involves masculinity and patriarchy (a word that was triggering for me for many years). Something inside of me catches when I have an urge to express love to my friends, family, and even occasionally my wife. I don’t know why this happens. Maybe years of introversion and maybe/probably it’s caught up in my struggle with the black dog. It’s not likely to get fixed tomorrow, but I’m finally putting real effort into it. LovingKindness meditations have helped a lot (although I need to do them more of a habit).

One thing that could potentially help with both of the above is something radical (for me) that I’ve been revisiting lately, a second attempt at a psychedelic experience.

A couple of years ago I went on an ayahuasca retreat that didn’t work out well – it wasn’t a bad trip, just not a productive one. Looking back now I can see why it went poorly and I’m tinkering with the idea of giving it another try. While some understand this desire to tinker with a guided journey, many of the people closest to me give me strange looks when I discuss it. After all, the use of psychedelics for the “betterment of well people” is not something that’s widely discussed or accepted in society.

As one small step on the path, my wife and I have been watching Michael Pollan’s new Netflix series (based on his books How to Change Your Mind and This is Your Mind on Plants) and it’s helping her to understand why this has a such a strong appeal to me. I can’t recommend this series strongly enough.

Many have told me that meditation can eventually get you to the same place that an intentional psychedelic experience can and, in spite of my relative beginner’s status on the cusion, I’m quite sure that it can be a portal to an awakened mind. The problem is that it can just take a long, long time and let’s be real, the road ahead of me is shorter than the road behind. I’m willing to take a leap to overcome the things that are holding me back from a better, fuller life.

That’s it for now. May you be happy. May you be free from suffering. May you be at peace.

Love,
Shawn

Different Roads

If there’s a virtual equivalent of punching each other in the face, Mike Sloan and I have gone a few rounds on social media. We’ve both done that more than a few times with other people as well. We blocked each other a long time ago and our attentions have been elsewhere but recently I’ve been thinking about Mike.

I have been doing a lot of reading over the last few years trying to understand why I act and speak rashly and why I am so quick to anger. I can be a decent enough guy sometimes but I can also say and do some pretty stupid things too. So I’ve been reading a lot about consciousness, behavioural psychology, evolutionary psychology, philosophy, cognitive neuroscience and more in an attempt to get a handle on my demons and I think it’s put me on a path to understanding, accepting and examining my darker self. That said, I’m still carrying around a lot of baggage and I’m occasionally thousands of miles from being calm, thoughtful and reasonable … but I’m trying.

In thinking and feeling my way through all of this dark stuff I am also looking hard at my relationships, the people who I embrace in life and the people I have locked out.

Until recently, I never really put much thought into existence and how we became the people that we become but, after reading a small mountain of books and following some of the smartest people in the world on Twitter, I’ve come to the place where I realize that most, if not all, of life is luck.

I am the straight son of loving, white, middle-class parents. I’m physically healthy. I survived an aborted suicide attempt in my teens but my mental health issues are easily manageable now. On the career front, I managed to break into an industry in its infancy and skated through 30 years in a profession with only a high school diploma. None of my stupid decisions have tanked my life yet. I have a small group of smart, kind, patient, loving friends.

And every bit of that is built on luck. Go back and change any one of those things and my life changes radically. What if I was born with a brain defect or gotten a concussion? We’re all fragile beyond belief. What if I was born gay and came out in the 80s? The community I was living in certainly wasn’t as accepting as it is now. What if my mother didn’t instil in me concern for other people’s feelings? Would I have steered out of the way of that transport truck to save that driver a lifetime of seeing my mangled body? What if I didn’t pick up that magazine and read about this new field of IT? I’m not saying that any of these things would have been had a negative impact on my life but they certainly would have changed the trajectory of my life radically.

We have no meaningful control over any of the things that brought us to today and today I am lucky enough to have a loving wife in a beautiful home in a perfect neighbourhood with two adorable, a–hole cats.

Why does Mike Sloan figure into my mid-life, existential breakthrough and why now? Well, Mike is dying. Mike is dying from cancer.

Mike wasn’t nearly as lucky as I was. From everything I have heard, Mike has had an exceptionally challenging life, a life that most of us could probably never truly comprehend. It might sound simplistic (it’s anything but simple) but Mike had more than his fair share of terrible, tragic, luck. We all act and react the way we do based on thousands of events, big and small, that have illuminated or obscured the path ahead. The paths available to Mike weren’t anything like the choices that I had – and those possibilities make all the difference. People don’t wake up in the morning and decide to inject drugs or steal out of cars or attack people on social media – we have all arrived at this point in our lives through a long, complicated road that nobody else can truly understand.

Everything lies on a spectrum and the distance between any two of us isn’t nearly as far as any of us thinks it is. We have to stop judging people when we have no knowledge of their path … and I’m as bad at that as anyone else. We have to listen more intently, we have to practice more patience and we have to respect each other’s story.

We’re are all flawed humans and we’re all just trying to survive by making the best choices for our circumstance. Some of us get second and third and fourth chances and some of us get cancer after a long, hard road. It’s not fair, it’s not right, it’s just opportunity and chance.

Mike, you’ve faced down a lot of terrible stuff in your life and I hope you continue to find strength and courage as you walk the path ahead.

A Note to Future Shawn

Four months ago, after years of sitting on the fence, you finally became a vegetarian. You dragged your ass on that decision for far too long, try to be a little more decisive in the future would you?

You made this change because you couldn’t reconcile the prolonged suffering of sentient creatures for your momentary satiation at dinner time. You did it because this kind of farming is devastating to the planet.

You may reach a point where you will consider switching back to eating meat so I’m writing this to (hopefully) give you pause. I’m writing this down so maybe these reasons will stick in your head. Next year when this pops up on your Facebook feed (assuming Facebook still exists) I hope it will serve to act as a reminder that you did this for solid, carefully considered, ethical reasons. And if you need a reminder of these reasons go back and check out Sam HarrisYuval Noah Harari and Peter Singer.

Your life was undergoing a lot of change in 2016 and 2017 and you’ll almost certainly be a different person when you read this again but I hope you’ll have the strength to carry on with this decision. Maybe by next year you’ll be eating cultured meat and maybe another year or two later society will be embracing it as well. You can’t change the world Shawn but you can keep trying to give it a nudge.

Keep walking, keep meditating, stay vegetarian, be kinder to people, be kinder to the earth, be kinder to yourself, and try to live a good life. Be a better Shawn. And give Jodi a kiss for me.

Begin Again

Last year, after 15 years working at a place that I loved and helped to build, I knew it was time to move on to something new. Most folks get a grip onto something new, something safe, before they let go of the familiar but that wasn’t in the cards for me. It was time to let go so I let go.

Now I’m letting go again but this time I have a hold on something meaningful, something special to me, something that I’ve been close to for a long time (before it was even a thing really). So I’m announcing that I’ll be joining my partner Jodi at her business CityMatch. We’ve been talking for a while about how her business could navigate the fantastic growth that she’s been experiencing so a few weeks ago we got methodical and sat down to look at the gaps that need bridging and how to effectively scale and manage this growth. When we looked at the areas that needed help: strategy, marketing and project management. We both agreed that I would be a natural fit with the added bonus of knowing the business intimately.

Now leaving a new business that Chris, JP and I have been building since last December isn’t easy either, after all these aren’t just business partners, these are longtime friends, close friends. But unlike CityMatch, our partnership didn’t have gaps that needed filling, as a matter of fact we had really great overlap. You see JP has years of experience with marketing so he’s in an excellent position to backfill my skillset so as I step away JP will step in.

It’s a day of mixed feelings but it’s a day of new possibilities for everyone too. It’s hard to let go of of an idea that’s so filled with challenge and potential but I’ve been on the road with CityMatch since it was just an idea and I’m seriously chuffed about lending my talents to support Jodi’s growing business (and luckily for me, so is she). I’m a big believer in meaningful work and have loved watching Jodi bring all her passions and talents to make newcomers feel truly at home here. This is great work that will make me happy to get out of bed in the morning.

Chris and Jean-Paul are starting anew so we’ve agreed that I’ll take the Wyrd brand with me. I will continue to do digital marketing work for special clients, it’s a passion that I just can’t walk away from completely. Recently I had a lot of fun working with the team at Polishuk Camman & Steele and I hope to be able to participate in more collaborations like that. There’s real joy in that work for me.

I’m really looking forward to the road ahead. It’s going to be a lot of work and it’s going to take a lot of patience as Jodi and I find a groove working together but I can’t wait to get started. Thank you Chris and JP for your energy and support, I can’t wait to see where you go from here!

All In My Head

My old life is six million seven hundred thousand steps, six thousand kilometres, fourteen months and four pairs of shoes behind me now and I don’t know if I’ve gotten closer to any answers. If anything I have more questions, a lot more questions, than when I started.

Walking saved me when I needed saving.  Everyone knows that sunshine, fresh air, exercise and spending time in nature are all positively correlated with better overall physical and mental health, right? I never gave any of it much thought but now I was going to be off work for a while and I needed a new way to occupy my brain. Fortunately the office was participating in the Global Corporate Challenge and that was the shove I needed to get out walking.

For the first while I stuck close to home and listened to music on my walks but the novelty of that wore off pretty quickly and I pivoted to fiction audiobooks like The Martian, American Gods, Ready Player One, World War Z, The Shining (and its sequel) and the Mr. Mercedes trilogy.

I never considered listening to business books on my walks but I was feeling the need to dive into something serious and I soon started dabbling in Cal Newport, Steven Johnson, Malcolm Gladwell, Simon Sinek, Adam Grant, and Ori and Ram Brafman.

It was the listening to the last four of these authors that started to spark my interest in deeper subject matter; genetics, neuroscience, behavioural economics, behavioural and cognitive psychology, and philosophy. I started chewing up Daniel Kahneman, Siddhartha Mukherjee, Stuart Ritchie and Yuval Noah Harari.

This is all pretty heavy stuff for me so when I was in the mood for shorter form brain food I switched to podcasts like You Are Not So Smart, Hidden Brain, Invisibilia, Philosophy Bites, Revisionist History, Waking Up with Sam Harris, Freakonomics and, my personal favourite, Very Bad Wizards.

Now I find myself waking up before 6:00am every day hitting the Thames Valley Parkway for a ten kilometre walk with the brain trying hard to absorb all the information coming through my headphones. I’ve overcome some of my self consciousness and gotten used to laughing out loud as strangers walk past (Very Bad Wizards is as funny as it is deep). I occasionally lose track of time (and my location) but I’ve gotten a new appreciation for the beauty of my city along the way and to top it off I’m feeling more intellectually stimulated than at any other time in my life. I’d walk four hours a day if I could.

I set out with the intent to keep my black dog on a chain but my feet have taken me to this wonderful, unexpected place. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t purport to be any smarter than I was at the beginning of this journey, I’m still a big dummy where most of this material is involved. After all I’m living with a 48 year old brain that just doesn’t process these concepts like a 20 year old brain would, but I’m loving it, right here, right now.

Every week someone asks if I’ll start a running routine but walking isn’t in my body, walking is all in my head.

A Year of Learning

Back in January I remember looking back at 2015 and thinking how crazy the year was and how I was looking forward to putting life on cruise control and really letting life just settle down for a while.

Clearly that never happened. This has been a year of radical change, reflection and personal development.

Here are a few of the things that I learned in 2016:

  • I need to read more. I consumed a bookshelf full of books this year and my brain is LIT UP. I’m loving it.
  • I love walking, a lot. I walked over 2500 km in 6 months and can’t wait to get started again in the spring.
  • Exercise, fresh air, nature and sunshine do wonders for my state of mind. I’ve no doubt that I would have slipped into a deep depression without them this year.
  • 183 lbs is overweight for someone of my height and frame but walking alone can chop 30 lbs off of that.
  • Audiobooks are an amazing way to enjoy a 2-3 hour walk. It passes by in a flash and I can consume a book in less than a week.
  • How dopamine, endorphins, serotonin and oxytocin impact our behaviour (and how endorphins make walking so enjoyable).
  • Why the notifications on your phone are so addictive.
  • The LRH project showed me that I need to focus more of my energy on things that are less ephemeral.
  • While I had a sense of purpose in the things that I did outside of work Pints, Urban League, LACH, etc I had lost my sense of purpose at work.
  • Not having a sense of purpose at work wasn’t something that I could just sweep under the carpet, not for long anyway.
  • I can live without a lot of things but I can’t live without a sense of meaning. I will spend my time chasing fulfillment, not happiness.
  • Trust, love and respect aren’t finite resources, the more you give the more you get.
  • Management and leadership aren’t the same thing and have very little overlap.
  • Trust is the cornerstone of leadership.
  • A leader’s most important job is to develop other leaders.
  • The roles of initiators, supporters, observers and blockers in organizations. While I do three of these things with varying levels of effectiveness I really need to work on the observer role.
  • How incentives trump altruism.
  • The language that we use to convey ideas can be really exclusionary.
  • Neuroscience fascinates me to the point where I’ve considered going back to school to learn more.
  • The day that you were born can have as much to do with your success in life as anything that’s under your control.
  • Mission, vision and values aren’t complete bullshit. They’re important for finding your tribe and staying on course.
  • I need to hold onto my strong beliefs a little more loosely.
  • I really need to be a lot easier on myself.
  • I’m surrounded by people that will break my fall.
  • I need to tell people how much they mean to me.
  • I need to hug people more.
  • I have the courage to start again.

I’m ready for you 2017, let’s dance.

Time Enough to Start Again

Yesterday marked my 15 year anniversary with the amazing rtraction team, today marks my last day with the team as today I start writing the next chapter of my life.

I could write a small book on my time at rtraction, the fact is that my life today in no way resembles my old life. The people that walked the road with me have radically changed my life – for the better. I can’t even begin to recognize all those people in this blog but you know who you are.

I had always intended to stay for the full ride – stick with it to the heights of success (or the depths of failure) but that changed last year with the move to the London Roundhouse. When I first stepped into the old Great West Beef I couldn’t have guessed that a project that brought so much purpose, passion and meaning to my life would result in an existential crisis at the end. While I was just a small part of the project it had become my life and my passion for 2 years and with the project complete I was lost.

Back in May I made the decision to change a bunch of stuff to try to break out of my patterns and try to find a new direction. I was hopeful that when I found “it” that I’d see another opportunity to bring something of value to the team but there was a little voice in the back of my mind telling me that the change would be profound.

I shut down the “noise” that kept me from facing the change that I needed (video games, social media, etc). I went on a crash course of radical self-care and that seemed to do the trick, I gained focus and started to find my purpose. Once you find your purpose there’s really no sense in fighting it, no matter what the consequences. And my purpose is going to take me down a different road from the team that I love.

So it’s time to start a new chapter.

If you gave me the chance to go back and change anything in the last 15 years I would politely decline your kind offer. No regrets. I have only love and appreciation for all those people who walked this road with me.

What a ride it’s been. Dave, Josh and I have been through the wars, three guys thrown together out of necessity that ended up making pretty damn good business partners. We might not have done it the way anyone else would have but we built something remarkable, a business with a heart and soul. I’m a better person for having known Dave and Josh. Thanks guys for all your patience and support. I’m proud of this beautiful thing that we built together.

I have to thank Jodi for supporting me emotionally through all of this, she’s a treasure and I love her more every day. Thanks baby. xo

So, what’s next? I’m going to spend a little while building out an idea with a couple of good friends. It’s going to be a scary time but we have an idea that we’re really passionate about and we think it can make a real impact. Time enough to start again.