1885 Tall Ship Wavertree Plimsoll Mark

1885 Tall Ship Wavertree Plimsoll Mark

Cargo ships carry mysterious markings on their hulls’ midship. Turns out the marks are called Plimsoll Lines and they’re used for safety of the ship and her crew.

You see, the Plimsoll lines declare at a glance whether the ship is carrying a safe amount of cargo through various conditions. Overloaded ships are good for owners’ wallets but horrible risk to crews’ lives.

If the lines are visible, there’s a good chance the ship is seaworthy. Otherwise, you don’t want to board that ship until they unload some cargo.

Mark Your Life

It’s mission critical that we install and honor Plimsoll Lines in our own lives. Some might call them boundaries, or not-to-do lists, or rumble strips.

The specifics could be different for everyone. For me, it’s how I respond to frustration, how I relate to Wonder Woman Grace and the littles, or how little sleep I’m getting, or if eczema breaks out.

They’re signs that enable us navigate life and provide early warning indicators when we’ve surpassed our load-bearing capacity. Whatever stuff, projects, work is in your cargo hold, it’s not worth sinking the entire ship.

We need courage and faith to only carry what we’re called to accomplish on this leg of the voyage. We have to make difficult decisions about when we need to jettison weight — preferably before the storm hits, before you’re in panic mode.

Clear conviction and priority help define our Plimsoll Lines. It may even mean you should take a break, put anchor down in harbor port and offload any stowaways to avoid stubbornly pushing on and ending up as wreckage.

There’s no greater value than ensuring the sea worthiness of your vessel and those you carry on toward distant shores.

Beware of little expenses. A small leak will sink a great ship.

Benjamin Franklin, polymath, statesman, scientist, inventor circa 1750

Three quick action questions:

  1. What are your Plimsoll Lines?
  2. Where’s the water level on your Plimsoll Line today?
  3. What do you need to jettison to keep you (and your loved ones, your crew) above water?

(H/T South Street Seaport Museum)

 


Moonshots. Vision. BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals).

They go by different names, but they all require the same fuel.

You gotta believe. You gotta go big. All in. You must see what your eyes do not.

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, aviator, poet, and journalist, circa 1930

Of course there’s nothing wrong with small steps, quick wins, and slow progress or even staying still. These are not mutually exclusive.

Ignite True Courage

And counting the cost is the spark that can ignite true courage because you know exactly what you’re getting into. And still you go.

That’s because there must be a guiding North Star. A True North — to orient and calibrate the journey.

Not just for yourself, but for those around you. Your family, your friends, your community, your Church group, your business, your crew.

This will help you answer the questions that grow loudest when you’re stuck in the mud, or a crater smashes into your path.

Flak Jacket

The clarity and conviction forms a flak jacket around your heart when the enemy’s shrapnel explodes all around you.

“Why do I exist? Why do any of us exist? Why are we here?”

It is far better to reach high and flop than to be afraid and only stare longingly after those who fly.

Worst of all, we’ll never know who we were meant to be.

 

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Eleanor Roosevelt, diplomat, and activist, former First Lady, circa 1940

When it comes down to it, we need to trust that when we dare beyond ourselves, on the other side is the impossible made possible.

Planes are designed to leave the safety of the ground. And so are you.

Ships are designed to push out of the shallows. And so are you.

Man is designed to give his life in pursuit of the highest. He can’t do that if he’s shackled by fear.

Whatever roadblock. Whatever obstacle.

Whatever naysaying resistance you feel today: Be. Not. Afraid. Only believe.


My Favorite Complaint

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In New York, there are stores that pay people to walk around wearing large sandwich board signs that point them towards the store. The other day I saw a guy in a bright, banana-yellow jacket with a big black logo that covered the guy’s back entirely.

At first I thought it was one of those sandwich board signs. The logo was courtesy of a big outdoor gear brand. I won’t name names, but you know.

I felt bad for the guy. The sneakiest head fake in corporate branding is tricking people into paying out the nose for the privilege of looking like walking billboards.

Not you, though. You are a legend in the making.

The Jacket is Not the Hero

Not the watch, not the knife, not the pen, not the car, not the house you own — you are the hero. And by hero, I don’t mean some ego-driven maniac.

I mean a hero in the sense of combating adversity with courage and endurance. It’s someone who lives a life that leaves a story worth telling.

There’s a life in you waiting to break out. Break through.

It’s who you are becoming.

Your legacy is waiting, but it will not chase you down. You will need to shed that heavy shell of who you once were, in order to get agile, go light, be nimble.

You make it. You write it. You build it. You live it. Creating in the chaos. Day by day, hour by hour.

My Favorite Complaint

The funniest thing to me is the people who complain that our watch dials look too empty. Too Spartan. Too austere. Feels unbalanced.

We’ve been so trained into having some logo plastered on our watches that we can feel uncomfortable without them. It can make people feel naked. Kind of exposed.

Of course I don’t think we’d ever admit it, but it’s like we’re afraid to stand on our own. We hide behind the brands we flash.

But they don’t own a piece of my wrist. They don’t own my identity. I want to remember that I own my time.

So you’ll never hear us tell you to celebrate how long we’ve been around. We don’t have fancy brand ambassadors.

 

I want to find the poetry in things people find plain looking.


Martin Bergström, textile and product designer

We Amplify Good Signal.

Not celebs. Not bling.

When we check the time, we don’t need to see a logo, like a billboard on your wrist. They can keep their pretty ads with pretty faces and airbrushed bods.

Of course, we all signal a part of who we are by the things we buy. The cars we drive, the clothes we wear, the gear we choose.

And there are brands that I respect and have no issues rocking. But they’re subtle and understated. It’s like a wordless head nod. A sign of respect. You know the one. It’s a quiet fist bump that requires no fanfare.

One of my favorite stories is when one of our crew members found himself in the hospital, and when the doctor came in he was wearing a COURG. It was a shared moment. A bond in the crew.

That’s why we only sign our crowns and keep the brand stealth — even on the dials. You and I know it’s there, and we got your back, and we don’t need to broadcast anything.

We’re a crew that tackles missions.

 


The Problem With Free Snacks

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Do you like free snacks?

Back in my day job, we didn’t have free snacks in the office like other companies had.

But one day, vending machines appeared. And no money was required!

Free snacks! We’d arrived.

Everyone was so giddy and gleeful — at first.

Somewhere around a month later, the gift had turned into an entitlement.

“Where’s my lemon-lime seltzer?!”

“How am I supposed to make it through my meetings today without my M&Ms?!”

Some began hoarding their favorites: Twizzlers, kettle chips, coconut chips.

Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement, get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, theologian, philosopher, circa 1950s

If you’re reading this email, it’s likely that you — like me — are living in a veritable wonderland of opportunity and blessing. Not just in material goods, but most importantly in people.

I’m reminded to be amazed, humbled, stay hungry, and share.

Here’s today’s 3-minute challenge for you: 

Pause right now. Who are three people you kind of take for granted.

You know the ones. They’re just always there.

Just text them and say, “Thank you for being the amazing person you are in my life.” Add specifics as you think of them.

I think you’ll be amazed as I was, and maybe even slightly embarrassed at the riches we have all around us in plain sight.

Best part is there’s no money required in the priceless unexpected gift you give your friends this way.


Lightkeepers

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Thank you. I just want to say thanks for what you do. Thanks for the work you do, at the job, in your family, with your church, community.

You matter. What you do and who you are matters. And I know we often don’t get thanks or appreciation that’s important to hear.

Lighthouse keepers had a mostly thankless job.

Alone, in the Dark

Day in, night out — the lightkeeper had one mission: keep the light on. Trim the wicks, fill the lamp oil.

Through the darkness, no matter the wind or rain, the task remained for the keeper: Shine.

He usually lived at the base of the lighthouse. His home, his life, plunged in darkness but dedicated to the light.

While everyone slept, he was up through the dark night. Often in isolation— out in remote areas.

Sometimes it was a family mission. The job was shared and often passed through generations.

Passed By

And it’s not as though lightkeepers received thank you notes. Ships they served, just passed in the night. Yet their faithful work saved lives and averted disasters.

He would never fully know the difference he made. But he knew he must shine on.

And so must we.

We have to do what we do, and man up to the duty to show up every day. Regardless of whether or not anyone notices.

Whether or not there’s applause. Whether we know if people have been helped.

Best Kind of Head Fake

This reminds me of Michael Faraday‘s famous lectures about the Chemical History of a Candle, which he gave to spark the scientific curiosity of young people in Victorian England.

Faraday explained the wonders of chemistry through a simple candle, but in the end it was about more than the chemistry — it was the spark for more.

All I wish is that you may, in your generation, be fit to compare to a candle. That you may, like it, shine as lights to those about you; that, in all your actions, you may justify the beauty of the taper by making your deeds honorable and effectual in the discharge of your duty to your fellow-men.

Michael Faraday, experimentalist, chemist, physicist, circa 1848

(Faraday later worked tirelessly into his 70s to translate his electrical discoveries into improving peoples’ lives. He traveled all over England to install electric light bulbs to enable lighthouses to shine brighter — and ease the lightkeeper’s burden.)

Highest Contribution

Since lighthouse keepers were the only people around, they also rescued people fallen overboard or boats overturned from storms or faulty navigation.

On those days of rescue, their highest point of contribution was to jump in the water or row a boat to rescue people before they drowned. Undoubtedly, their lighthouse stayed lit during the rescues. But they didn’t stop at trimming the wick. Or say, I should go fill the oil right now.

Saving lives was the ultimate expression of their truest purpose.

Recently, I’ve been asking myself a different question instead of, “What’s my most important task today?” Assigning importance can be relative and often quite selfish when left to my own devices.

Instead, I’ve started to ask myself, “What is my highest point of contribution to the world today” — to enrich the lives of other people, my family, friends, crew … and you?

I find this a much more immediately clarifying and illuminating way to evaluate how I tend the flame and hopefully shine some light for anyone who may venture by.


Sometimes we get under a boulder. We carry it. Shoulder it. Drag it around. Trying to make progress.

But all the while it just feels heavier and you’re getting crushed under the weight. Sometimes it feels like it would be easier to just lie down and let it smash you.

But the boulder is not meant to crush you. It’s not meant for you to carry.

It’s meant for you to climb. But first you have to drop it. You have to understand that your own strength will only get sapped. You’ll only falter and stumble. And all the while, you’re thinking,“Woe is me. Why is this so hard?”

But when we see it was meant to give us a foothold to a higher realm — to get beyond our own limited sight — we begin to really see. When we use that rock, not as something to carry, and not as something to just go around, but as something to climb — suddenly we can reach further, we can see further.

You don’t climb mountains without a team, you don’t climb mountains without being fit, you don’t climb mountains without being prepared and you don’t climb mountains without balancing the risks and rewards.

And you never climb a mountain on accident – it has to be intentional.

Mark Udall, former U.S. Senator, mountaineer

But we have to make the first move.

First, we have to drop the boulder — the stress, the strain, the self-absorption. I’m not talking about giving up.

I’m talking about the strain and tension of striving. I’m sure each one of you has your own way to invigorate.

For me, I go for a walk. Pray. Meditate. Exhale. I have a fellowship of friends, a band of brothers to walk with. And I’m thankful for the crew. We’re in it together.

Second, we have to find a foothold for traction and start the climb.

And a funny thing happens. You find that the muscles you were trying to use to lug the rock around are actually much better suited for climbing.

When you climb rock, you can’t only rely on your arms and hands. You’ll tire out immediately, and fall off the face of the rock. You need to find those footholds and use your legs.

The boulder is a step stool. It’s a call to the higher life.

 


Storm tossed. Toil. Violence. Sweat, blood, illness, fears, and tears. Far from comfort.

Back in the 1700 and 1800s, whaling boats, military, and merchant ships crisscrossed the ocean. The crews needed to work tedious and monotonous jobs together. So, they chanted songs to build a rhythm for work and combat boredom — a roughriders form of whistling while you work. Sea shanty songs lifted spirits, gave a sense of community, camaraderie, and identity.

We all need a good sea shanty now and then (especially now) to get into flow state. And while we won’t be singing songs together, we can at a minimum spur each other to carry on.

Here’s three thoughts for how we can reap lessons from the sea shanty:

1. Tension is Rocket Fuel

Sea shanties expressed tensions and followed similar themes. A longing for the deep blue ocean. Port calls. A longing for home. A tension. They were often call and response.

We all live in that tension. We’re on the way. Pushed out of the comfy harbor and out into the wild unknown. Yet we also yearn for the joy and comforts of sanctuary and loved ones. The best, of course, is when we’re all in it. No one left behind.

Rather than struggling or regretting the tension, we need to see this is where we’re meant to be. Sure, we could choose to sit on the couch. Watch some more TV. But we all know we’re meant for more.

Mission is written into our DNA — at the core of our being. We’re made for adventure. When we deny that, or numb out, it can be disastrous and poison our lives.

A resentment can brew that we don’t even understand sometimes. Resentment at ourselves, our circumstances — our inertia becomes bitterness aimed inward, but often smashes into innocent bystander loved ones and family.

But that tension is there to propel us into problem solving and taking things to the next level. Making things right. Better.

2. What’s Your Story?

Sea shanties usually included a story, a narrative thread that would bring the crew together with shared understanding and mission.

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the people to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast endless sea.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, aviator, poet, and journalist, circa 1930

We’re an expeditionary force. There’s a calling on each of our lives, but it isn’t just for ourselves. It’s for one another. It’s when each of us shows up and delivers, that we’re greater than the sum of our parts.

Often it’s easier to make excuses. We have all kinds of reasons for not doing the work. The bed was just too comfortable. The chips were just so crunchy. I just needed to veg out. Just one more Instagram scroll.

This isn’t about the power of positive thinking or the stoic just-grin-and-bear-it.

3. What Fires You Up?

It’s about finding who and what lights you up. Sometimes it takes work and real awareness to recognize how to go beyond just survival mode.

But even when we find it, we have to decide. We have to choose. Roll up our sleeves and take action. And then the wholehearted pursuit.

Best part of the recent sea shanty redux is that the musician who sparked it never saw it coming. Nathan Evans, a musician who worked as a postal worker, loved to sing so he shared pop music covers on TikTok. He just kept going. Kept sharing. He did a sea shanty or two for fun.

But his relatively small group of fans requested more sea shanties. So he listened and sang the Wellerman.

Then, boom. Eight million views and counting. Now, he’s quit his mailman job and is in full pursuit of making music.

We all need a good sea shanty to help keep our shoulder to the stone, bind us together, and focus our force on the mission. For me, I’m reminded of why the worship experience is so powerful. For you there might be other meaningful rituals.

To calibrate us and remind us of why we do what we do. Day in. Day out.

And dare I say sometimes to have fun, or at the very least poke fun, at the drudgery we all grind through — hopefully with more grit and grace in the sharing.

p.s. VALOR:

VALOR

 


Stop Moving Your Goal Posts

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The best feeling during a race is crossing the finish line. And that climax is giving it all you got right to the end.

Cranking your legs just a bit harder. Pumping your arms. Whatever propels you faster.

A nightmare would be kicking hard to smash that finish only to find the finish line keeps moving just out of reach. Almost there, but always further.

In that nightmare, some would just give up. Despair.

But not you. Not me. We get harder on ourselves. Feel like we’re doing something wrong. Failure.

But it’s not even close to reality.

The word I hear in my head a lot is, “Idiot!” What about you? Whatever it is —

IT.

ISN’T.

TRUTH.

A lot of that burden of achievement gets boiled down to expectations. I expect that it will turn out some certain way. That when I reach that goal it will be like XYZ.

Often it’s not even explicit. It’s just something subconscious I haven’t even realized.

But also, a lot of it is me moving the goal post.

For example, in years past, waking up around 7 was fairly standard for me. Last year I began waking up at 6. But then I felt like I could do better. I need to be up at 5. And then it became, I get so much more done when I’m up at 4. And suddenly waking up at 6 is failure.

We do this with so many things. Whether it’s that bonus, or number of followers, likes, promotions, sales.

Most of these measures are really meaningless at the end of the day. What counts is growing. Maturing and sharing life with everyone you encounter.

We need to count the wins along the way. We need to learn to celebrate.

Not as a way to hide in the past or numb ourselves with nostalgia. Not to stagnate. Not an excuse to get stuck in the status quo.

To recognize when you’ve grown and count that win. To recognize if and when it’s time to set the new goal post.

To take a moment to linger and savor your wins, which will set you up to propel forward.


These 11 pieces of gear keep me running (and riding my bike) through the winter. I rock and roll in everything except ice/snow (because I have a history of twisting my ankle, which sidelines me for weeks).

Thankfully, most snow doesn’t last more than a few days on the streets here.

This setup has kept me in fighting shape down into below freezing temperatures +/- windchill.

I actually used to hate running. It was my least favorite part of triathlons, and I dreaded the pavement pounding.

Trail running is a different animal, and I wish I could do more of that. But these days I’m rediscovering city running as part of my daily minimum effective dose of exercise regimen.

I don’t track mileage. I just run for the fun of it. The way that gives me joy.

  • Switched from heel strike to toe strike.
  • Reduced my stride length.
  • Breathe only through my nose.
  • Became more aware of feeling the rhythm rather than constantly wondering why I was running.

Which means a quick-paced run of a mile or so finished off with a few sprint intervals. 20-25 minutes. Fires up the endorphins and sets me up for the day.

Especially when it’s cold out and there’s no one else out. The sharp cold is invigorating. Like a Scottish shower.

Many of of these items earn usage everyday. Good gear is good for momentum.

 

1.Pearl Izumi Ride Pro Lobster Gloves

I dig these because the provide the warmth of a mitt format, but with as much dexterity I need usually. They have nice grippy palms.

Plus, the thumb are is a soft area perfect for swiping away any moisture/sweat with built in wipes.

My only hack on these was to sew on little buckles so they could snap together when I need to stow them together and not lose one.

2. Outdoor Research Versaliners

Two-in-one double layer gloves. These ingenious glove design comes with a waterproof shell that stows away in a pocket.

Good for autumn and cooler rainy days.

These also pull double duty as an additional inner layer inside my Pearl Izumi gloves.

3. Columbia Rebel Roamer Pants

I break these out in the really foul weather when it’s raining. These have always kept me warm and dry.

My version is packable, which is handy for days when you head out and the weather may turn nasty but not yet.

The velcro closures on the bottom are a nice touch for getting the pant cinched up around boots.

They’re also an integral part of my snowball defense armor haha.

4. Cap Comforter aka Commando Cap
Redux Commando Cap / Cap comforter

This is from my cabinet of curiosities. I made this from a military surplus wool scarf.

It’s modeled after one of the longest-serving pieces of military gear that’s been in action since WWI and originated by the British. They called it the Cap Comforter and was standard issue for soldiers. However, commando units adopted wide usage of these because of its versatility.

Commandos before the Hardelot Raid

There’s four layers of wool to fend off even the coldest winds, and also avoids the prophylactic look of most caps.

The original ones were meant to also double as a scarf, but I knew I’d never wear it as a scarf, so I trimmed it to make it less bulky. But I left enough so that it can ride higher just at the ear tips or I can pull it down when I need more coverage.

The pin is from the U.S. Army signal corp. The 124th battalion enlisted Commanche Native Americans in radio communications to befuddle German code breakers. This crew became one of the first troops to assault the shores of Normandy and provide intel for awaiting forces.

 

5. Smartwool Merino Wool tee

This is the baselayer. It also gets worn every day for my morning workouts.

As you can see I love wool, especially merino. I love that it doesn’t hold stink like synthetics, holds heat even when wet, dries quickly.

Also, zero itch factor and I’ve had mine for years and it shows no signs of giving up.

6. Smartwool Merino Wool Longsleeve

Modulates body temp so I’m never feeling too cold nor too hot. This is my go-to sweater most days.

Good for a run. Good at the office. Good always.

7. Eddie Bauer Microtherm 2.0 down jacket

Thin and light but mighty warm.

8. Montane Featherlite Shell

Ultralight and windproof helps cut through any wind. It does a great job of not adding almost zero bulk but blocks out the chill.

It’s also breathable so I’m not accumulating moisture and wetness as I run.

9. Altra Escalante 1.5

This shoe was a game changer for me. The wide sole and toe box changed my gait and reduced knee pain.

10. Smartwool PhD merino wool socks

Once you go wool, you can’t go back.

11. LED light belt

Weighs next to nothing and assures you and I won’t get run over. USB rechargeable, so no annoying battery changes.

I wear it crisscross my torso from my shoulder.

And green is proven to be higher visibility than red. So much more effective than those little bike lights.


Gain Momentum

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Sometimes there’s a lull in the action after you’ve started something new.

It could be anything that you’re working on. New habit, new project, new team.

Yet after the initial adrenaline rush, there are times of discouragement. You were expecting to accomplish so much. But now you feel stuck. In a rut. We all know this feeling.

The best way to eject from the rut?

  1. Look back to where you were before. Sometimes we get so hard on ourselves, we forget where we were and how far we’ve come. Tell that inner critic to settle down.
  2. Look forward to where you want to go. Keep your ‘why’ — your vision — clear in view. It’s so easy to get distracted by urgent and newfangled.
  3. Take the next simplest step.

But taking the next step can seem monumental and scary. You might feel paralyzed and don’t know what to do.

When you feel that way, shift your weight forward. Shift your perspective. Anything you can to lean towards what’s next.

Stack everything in that direction. And don’t worry about the mess.

Sleep in your workout clothes. Write the first sentence. Cut the leather. Ask a friend to keep you accountable. Sign up for guitar classes.

Show up.

If you don’t know what the first step is, ask: What if? What if I tell people my dream? What if I share my work? What happens if I do what I’ve always done?

Once you have enough of your weight leaning in that direction, your feet will follow. It will feel good to gain some traction and push off the ground.

And the next step will help build that momentum as you get in motion.

Speaking of momentum, check out these 11 pieces of gear that keep me running (and riding my bike) through the winter.


3 F-Words to Destroy Distraction

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Lamborghinis, McLarens, and other exotic cars grab all the glory. Sleek, low to the ground. They speed across smooth, well-paved roads like the autobahn.

I’m not sure how your roads are, but here in New York City, the roads aren’t smooth and gentle.

Cobblestone. Potholes. Torn up asphalt. (Not-so-) neighborly cars bump, ding, smash, and dent those fancy paint jobs.

The exotic cars attract attention to themselves. All eyes on them.

But it’s the unglamorous tractors that pull the weight to break up the hard ground, to sow seed, to harvest the crops.

You know, serve others. It’s the beast of burden that’ll drag fancy cars out of the mud.

The tractor sports scrapes and dings from fieldwork as badges of honor.

The opposite of distraction is not focus. It’s not productivity.

You could be hyper-focused, crazy fast, super production … going in the wrong direction. And in the end that focus could send you hurtling into distraction.

The opposite of distraction is traction. And traction requires three things: Friction, Force, Formation.

Too little of those and you’re stuck. Too much and you’re spinning out of control.

As in the field, we need these three elements in our lives to defeat distraction as well. Especially with the off-road conditions we’re living through these days.

1. Friction —

Sometimes we feel stuck. Inertia. Mud and muck.

But we need to recognize that it’s that very friction that can help us get that first step in. The friction gives us a foothold to exert momentum.

Often, the friction is our mental state. “I’m too tired … too busy … too poor … too old … too young … too depressed … too _etc._!” And it’s frighteningly easy to drown in that morass.

You can break the spell quickly but you must be aware of it first. Listen to that inner dialogue.

“Why am I feeling this way?” Being self aware is not being selfish.

It is being sure you bring the best to people in your life. It’s making sure you don’t leak out your issues and make destructive friction.

Thoughts are not truth. Emotions are not reality.

A minimum effective dose of movement can spark a fresh insight. A few minutes can work wonders. Physically move.

Do something, anything, that gets your body moving, your heart rate up. High knees, jumping jacks, pushups. It doesn’t take long.

The posture of our bodies links with our mental condition to fire off the signal, “Ok, we’re moving, we’re in motion.” And it primes our hearts and opens our thoughts to see past oppressive lies sneaking through our minds.

That’s how I’m wired. But for you, a spark could be prayer and meditation. Could be that you’re actually hungry (but are you really?) — or much more likely, thirsty.

I know others find blasting worship music or singing a meaningful song resets their souls. I have a friend who jumps in the shower because that’s where he can drop all distractions and think best.

Sometimes I’m just not getting enough sleep and a power nap (25-30min,) is a game-changer. Even a quick walk outside can overcome the friction for me.

Figure out your spark plug. And use it.

Just like a tractor needs a spark to get that fuel firing. We don’t just expect that spark to happen by luck.

2. Force —

This begins with seeing our identity clearly. But it’s more specific.

It’s about translating your identity into the story you live into each day. It’s also the way we fight off the lies and resistance that often cause us to default to distractions — because distraction is the easier way than to plow into the work.

“You’re not good enough.” “You always fail.” “No one will like your work.” “Everyone else does it better.”

That’s not your true story. That’s not who you’re really becoming.

The good news is that the truth is usually hidden just on the other side of the lies.

“You’re good enough.” “Be. Not. Afraid.” “People need and enjoy your work.” “Your work is singular and unique.”

Force is the torque of courage and endurance to bear weight and turn our gears.

For me it begins with faith and how I relate to people in my life. For you it might be family, or philanthropy, or public service.

3. Formation —

You need to formulate a plan and system for your mission. Weigh the budget, constraints, size, weight, deadlines.

You know. Things like, you’d better harvest before the frost kills your entire crop, etc.

These limits feel like they dampen my fun. But really nebulous projects feed my unhealthy FOBO (Fear Of Better Options).

It’s these boundaries that really help elevate design and identify problem-solving opportunities.

Formation gives shape to your tire treads that adds friction to force, and multiples that into work done.

Otherwise you could head in this direction or that and never really get anywhere.

You’ve got seeds to plant, fields to harvest. Come wind, rain, or storms, you keep doing the work, day in and day out.

This enables us to persevere no matter what grit and rubble and potholes litter our road.

What works for you to combat distraction? What are some tactics that help you show up like a tractor?


Making of a Mountain

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A seismic Cenozoic collision crushed the Rongbuk Formation beneath, and thrust the North Col Formation upward.

Unless you’re a geologist, that probably doesn’t mean much to you.

But you’ll recognize its other name: Mount Everest.

Sometimes, long after a cataclysmic event what’s remembered most is what still stands.

Epic world-shaping shifts birth giant mountains. In the case of Mount Everest, millennia of slow-moving impact. Mountains formed this way are smashed upwards or sometimes the earth’s crust bends and folds into new shapes.

Now is the time. It’s a different world now.

The ground slides beneath our feet and paradigms shift beyond recognition.

The pressure built up can produce different reactions in us.

There’s a groundswell of potential energy. The question is what shape will that energy turn when it goes kinetic?

  1. We can shiver like an earthquake knocks everything over and rocks anything built on sand, breaking homes apart, leaving us grasping a pile of rubble. “Why me?!”
  2. We can repress like a volcano, the pent up pressure explodes molten lava and spews blinding ash and noxious gas … lots of hot air that blocks out the light and poisons those around us. “It’s your / their (always someone else’s) fault!”
  3. We can hitch a ride on that tectonic momentum. We grab hold of the shift and bend with it not as a way of compromise but as an opportunity to see things new again. We plunge a stake into the ground right where we are. Get clear about our values, anchored in our purpose — ready for action. “Let’s go!”

And you climb a mountain not because it’s easy but because you want to summit. The view. The clear air.

The grandeur of seeing the world from higher ground. We want to be those shoulders that allow others to breathe fresh air, see further, more clearly, and climb higher.

 

Without change, something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken.

Frank Herbert

 

In Colorado, there’s Mount Elbert.

They call it the Gentle Giant.

Because even though it’s the second highest peak on the U.S. mainland, the climb does not require inordinate technical expertise.

I like that. It’s a humble mountain.

As its namesake, I exist to equip and lift others up with encouragement — always grounded, I hope, with much humility.

What kind of mountain are you?

 


Breakthrough Life

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Check out my scenic view next door to “the office” — formerly known as my day job.
Tree hazardous waste

Nestled next to a chain link fence,

behind metal waste canisters, busting up through discarded metal poles, asphalt, bricks, car exhaust — a vibrant and vigorous tree thrived.
At first there was no visible sign of life. In fact if anyone looked, all they would have seen is wasteland.
But day by day, the seed put out roots. Gathered whatever light, moisture and nutrients within reach. And when it was good and ready there was no stopping the life.
Sometimes, we think we’d really win if we had a better year, a better place, a better job, a better team, a better childhood, a better _______. If only we had fertile soil, organic, non-GMO, hormone-free, hand-picked, fair-trade, gluten-free, shade-grown, free-range goodness.
“Yes, yes, when we get there, get that, we’ll thrive and grow. For now, let’s just hunker down and survive.”

We’re made to overcome

fear and devastation. No one wants death, but that’s the start of all life — from burned forest, from flooded land, from project flops — from a pandemic.
You’re planted right where you are not for comfort, but so you’ll tap into what you need and not just what you want. So we’ll dig deeper into what really matters.

If you are what you should be, you will set the whole world ablaze!

Catarina da Siena, circa 1300
We can allow the storm to paralyze us with fear or we can take the next right step and start the breakthrough.
This doesn’t happen overnight. Right now may feel like a wasteland. There’s so much that conspires to dull your mind, weaken your heart, and poison your life.
Whatever spot you’re in, seek the light. Dig for the hidden source of water. And fuel your life with the good.
Fire on all cylinders — spirit, soul, and body. Because life knows no other way but to breakthrough.

SCOUT Analog Digital

One of our new designs in the works is named SCOUT. The SCOUT design includes three modules: Analog, digital, and compass. They could be connected or used with other main watches.

The SCOUT design is inspired by the Seiko Field Master #1421-0140 (aka Contra) circa 1980.

It’s also inspired by my saddest day as a watch collector. That was the day my digital module went MIA — popped out of the Seiko Contra case during my bike ride home. Continue reading


Stop Counting Your Bullet Holes

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We can all feel a bit like this plane some days.

WW2 plane Survivorship bias

Lockheed PV-1 Ventura patrol bomber, Image by McGeddon

The Allied forces in World War II suffered heavy bomber losses to enemy gunfire. Planes that survived flew back to base peppered with bullet holes.

The U.S. Military inspected the planes and found the most holes pierced wings and tails. Armor is heavy and expensive, so they had to figure out the most optimal placement.

The plan was to add armor to protect those wings and tails from enemy fire. And so more pilots could fly back to base after a mission.

However, the Naval operations research team made a different conclusion. A mathematician named Abraham Wald flipped the idea upside down.

Wald realized that planes which flew back with bullet holes actually meant they could survive those shots. But the ones that crashed and never made it back for inspection were likely shot in the engines and cockpit. And that’s where the military ended up armoring the planes.

My friend died this week in a motorcycle crash.

He was 49. We grew up together. Even when he was a college student he’d still hang out with our ragtag church youth group every weekend.

He was a big brother to me. He introduced me to comic books, yo-yos, pocket knives, made incredible drawings, helped buy my first guitar.

I always looked up to him. He pretty much did everything better than me. He wrestled and played football in school. I wrestled and played football. He was varsity. I wasn’t.

We lost touch after he moved to the West Coast for work. We only got to visit him and his family once out there.

He restored a vintage car, owned a few motorcycles, set up a special room to practice judo with his sons. He volunteered at his kids’ local elementary school teaching music because the school had no budget — even after his sons moved on.

I heard through friends there were rocky patches. I know how that goes — we all do.

We all get hit by enemy flak.

It’s the knee-jerk reaction to wonder what if he had made different choices. Maybe things could have been different.

What were his last words — to his motorcycle buddies who rode with him that day, to his sons, to his wife, his siblings, his mom?

I am reminded not to count the bullet holes.

I am reminded to pay attention to what made him soar when I knew him.

His faith, family, friends. Those are areas that need bulletproof armor.

It’s not even about his choices or his circumstances and more about a wake up call to us.

Guard your engines and cockpit.

These are non-negotiables.

These are the vulnerable areas that will shield us from enemy fire and equip us to tackle our missions and survive to fly another day.

I’m not saying we ignore the pains and hurts, mistakes and regrets. I’m saying not to drown in despair and focus on non-critical damage.

Heal, recover, press on.

Of course one day we will all land for the last time. But today we write another page in our legacy. What have we written?

The measure of who we are will be summed up not by our bullet holes but by the way we flew. And all the more when we debrief back at mission control to equip new recruits.

Rest in peace, my friend.

Fly fierce, fly true — armor up, my friends.


Storm Hunter Inflight Checklist

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Hurricane Hunter NOAA42 Dorian Storm Flightpath

 

We are here. You are here.

You’re a pilot. And unlike an actual hurricane, you can’t fly around a storm system this massive. Hope your evasive maneuvers are navigating the turbulence.

Yes, there are circumstances and things beyond our control.

But you have choices. Choose your own adventure.

You could:

A. Ground the plane. Dig a hole, hug your bug-out-bag, eat canned beans until the vaccine arrives or you get abducted by aliens and/or the CIA.

B. Fly up and get above the storm. Flee to your vacation/country house in Costa Rica, lock down your nannies, butlers, security force, and stockpile gold, etc.

C. Cross your fingers and hope things don’t get too bumpy. Status quo. Numb out on Netflix, doughnuts, shopping, whatever your drug of choice is that drowns out fear, distracts you, and keeps you from getting too queasy.

Courage is knowing what not to fear.

Plato, philosopher, circa 400BC

D. Fly straight at and through the heart of the storm on a mission. Be a storm hunter. Learn as much as you can in the storm and blast out that intel. If you’re on this mission, here are just four preflight/inflight items for your checklist.

  1. Cut loose any extra weight. Chuck anything, entanglements, parasites that threaten the mission.
  2. Strap yourself down along with everyone and every instrument that is mission critical. You didn’t sign up for the sunset cruise. The turbulence will rock your flight, your mind, your resolve, like no other.
  3. Radio your coordinates to Mission Control and allies who will fly in formation with you and encourage your flight path.
  4. Go full alert mode. Learn the lessons, do the work. Invest time to be aware and amazed right where you are. And fly. Fly straight on through, and fly true. Enjoy the eye of the storm. Debrief.

It’s not about right or wrong answers. It’s your choice. It’s your adventure.

It’s how we answer “Who am I?” at the end of the day when we’re alone, and we’ve got one less day on earth. And we decide to live what we actually believe and not just what we say we believe.

Hunting the storm is not about frantic activity. It’s not about being a martyr. Hunting the storm does not mean you’re better, or fearless.

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt, 26th U.S. President, conservationist, naturalist, historian, Rough Rider, and writer, circa 1900

It’s a decision to turn what was meant for evil into good — not only for yourself but for others.

Numbing out is not going to get you through this storm in any meaningful way. The status quo is the worst way to navigate a storm. Ignorance is not bliss. It’s a dead-end abyss.

The storm is an opportunity to take stock of what you have, who you are, and where you’re headed.

Now, is a good time to choose your adventure and calibrate your nav.

 

p.s. Fly with the Hurricane Hunters to meet the storm. The moment they breakthrough the storm’s eye wall is epic. Only the U.S. Air Force 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron and NOAA fly into hurricanes.

 


Heartbreaks and breakthroughs.

Insane highs and lows.

Experiments and new rhythms.

Hell and/or high water.

Wherever you are in the turbulence, do not lose heart.

Be strong and very courageous.

I’m reminded that we need compassion not only for one another — but more than ever for ourselves as we navigate these uncharted waters

I didn’t fail the test, I just found 100 ways to do it wrong.

Benjamin Franklin, polymath, statesman, scientist, inventor circa 1750

A Simple Brain Hack. 3 Letters.

And if/when you feel discouraged, add the word YET.

As in, when you think: “I’m not good enough.”

What we really need to hear and say is, “I’m not good enough … YET.”

What do you feel discouraged about?

Add “YET.”

It’s not wishful thinking. Not a mind trick.

It’s speaking truth against the tyranny of stuckness.

It’s a declaration of independence from apathy, condemnation, and shame.

YET busts us out of despair.

YET opens us to finding new solutions.

YET roots our identities in learning.

YET calls for help.

YET means when you fail, recover and strengthen your brothers.

YET holds the “perfect plan” loosely.

YET looks forward, and doesn’t look backward.

YET invites you on an adventure not to a destination.

YET is the truth that can set you free from false limiting beliefs.

 

If you get a failing grade, you think, I’m nothing, I’m nowhere. But if you get the grade “Not Yet” you understand that you’re on a learning curve. It gives you a path into the future.

Carol Dweck, PhD, developmental psychologist, Stanford University, circa 2015

 

One of our fellow crew members couldn’t have children … YET.

In the depths of the pandemic, it seemed impossible.

But they kept at the mission — one step at a time.

And a couple months back after some miraculous circumstances, they adopted a baby son and brought him home.

While you have breath go at it.

Failure is not a definition, a state of being, or an identity.

Mistakes/missteps are just waypoints about how to improve next time.

Always on the way to better.

Add Another Critical Three Letter Word

As I mentioned last time, I bought an empty Fuente Fuente OpusX Bellicoso cigar box.

The wood box held my dream of a musical instrument.

But the box sat for 8 years. Taking space.

It found a secondary use, holding some stuff. But that’s not fulfilling its destiny.

At first, when I picked up the box to make a ukulele, I felt silly so many years had passed.

And then I heard Neil Gaiman explain how he had an idea for a story but realized he wasn’t good enough to write it … yet.

So, he put the story idea on the shelf.

Gaiman waited — practiced — before he took the story idea back out and crafted it into an award-winning bestselling book called The Graveyard Book.

How long? Ten (10) years.

Now, I didn’t make an award-winning best-selling ukulele. But I recognized now I wasn’t ready years ago to make this ukulele… yet.

I needed to learn patience, planning, and various tools.

I also needed a stronger ‘why.

Sometimes we’re not ready because we don’t want it enough… yet.

Yes, I wanted to make an instrument. But that wasn’t enough of a ‘why.’

But now, I made the ukulele to bond with my son — who wanted to learn how to play.

And it was important to me as well that he see me doing the work. Especially when I made a mess and I sent him sprinting down the hallway multiple times to get paper towels to wipe up glue.

He needs to see that there’s mess in the practice but when you persevere maybe you make something special.

Maybe you go from a box to an instrument. From taking space to making meaning.

 


 

Here are seven good books out of 20+ (also good) books I read this year — depending on how you count, some of these are trilogies / series.

Beyond the seven, I’ve organized the list in rough themes, some overlap of course.

Top 7

Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, John Mark Comer.

Don’t go back to normal. Go to better. Reduce hurry. Ruthlessly. This book was easily my top book that I keep thinking about even though I began reading it right before lockdown, and it was a perfect companion.
Favorite quote: “Hurry is a sociopathic predator loose in our society.”

 

Master of One, Jordan Raynor.

This book covered a lot of familiar ground for me, but it was a good kick in the pants to get serious about mastery and stop being so darned scattered. Not only the why, but also very practical how-to. Raynor provides a kind of roadmap so you know where on the path you can pickup and move further into mastery.

 

The Last Lecture, Randy Pausch.

You have a few months to live. What is your message to the world, and more importantly, to your young children (who may not remember you)? Randy spent his last moments on earth mulling this over and shared what he learned living out his childhood dreams.
Favorite quote: “The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”

Breath, James Nestor.

You — like me — probably think that you know how to breathe. Think again. I picked up this book thinking it might provide some helpful tips about breathing, but this could totally changed the way I breathe — especially during workouts and before sleep. Nestor digs through the counter intuitive science and millennia of lost ancient wisdom. (Learn the Navy Seals “Box Breath” technique they use during ops.)

The Dip, Seth Godin.

For any of you who are creators, entrepreneurs, or on a mission, you know about the Dip. It’s that place in the dark valley when you feel like giving up. This book provides a solid framework to navigate or even sometimes to quit the Dip.

 

Show Your Work, Austin Kleon.

I’m constantly second-guessing myself and even anxious about my emails and blog posts to you all. Well, artist-blogger Austin wrote a little pep talk for me. Perfect for my short attention span, finished it in half an hour and it shoots down my many excuses.

 

 

The Road Back to You, Ian Morgan Cron.

I know. It sounds like pentagram, or something woo-woo. I thought so too. Amazing Grace and I have been in deep dive on enneagram. We’re shocked how little awareness we had of our own interior lives, let alone one another. This book provides a thorough overview of each type, providing tons of insight from childhood development to understanding how healthy you are.

 

 

Other Good Reads

Non-Fiction

Rocket Men, Robert Kurson.

Apollo 13 gets all the glory. But the story behind the Apollo 8 mission rocked my world. These astronauts made the first flight around the moon, in a mission that ripped up methodical plan in favor of a crazy 4-month sprint. Kurson is a masterful storyteller and I’m so glad I discovered him through Shadow Divers, the story of how some amateur divers discovered a lost WW2 U-Boat.

 

Development (Personal, Business, and otherwise)

Tribes, Seth Godin. 

Redux has always been about finding a Tribe. What I didn’t realize is that it requires someone to lead. I don’t consider myself a “leader” in the stereotypical figurehead, big headed way.
Favorite quote: “Leadership … is about creating change that you believe in.”

 

Achievement Habit, Bernard Roth.

Roth is one of the founders of the Stanford d.school — D for design. This book is dense with ideas and creative ways to deploy design thinking towards a bias for action. Roth draws from his experiments teaching and learning with his students, and personal anecdotes. Think of this as a one year course from design school condensed into a book.

Favorite quote: “Don’t get caught up in how you’re going to get it just right. That’s what causes people to shut down and never get started. Avoid the desire for perfection right out of the gate. Instead, tell yourself that you’re prototyping your screenplay or your dress. The final version can come later.”

How to Have a Good Day, Caroline Webb.

This book is a neuroscience and behavioral science deep dive into a wide range of topics that might crush your soul from day-to-day. Webb tackles everything from how to boost energy and brain function to bringing out the best in others.

Favorite quote: “You make the most of your brain’s talents if you adjust for the limitations of each system. That means creating the conditions for your deliberate system to function at its best, and recognizing when to slow down and come off autopilot.”

Free to Focus, Michael Hyatt.

Actionable as always with straight forward pointers to learn to chop things out and make sure each day is maximized. But more than that it’s a roadmap for how to move towards a more meaningful life — and more rest on top of it.

Favorite quote: “If you design your life so that you spend most of your time working on things you are passionate about and proficient at, the discipline to do those things comes easily.”

 

Spiritual

Everyone Always, Bob Goff.

Bob is a crazy man who brings balloons to war torn Syria and desperate children in Uganda, and then somehow gets world leaders to sit together and talk. He’s also full of stories about how true love changes the world.

Favorite quote: “I had flown two thousand feet over the highest mountaintops because I wanted to be safe; these (fighter) pilots flew through the valleys because they wanted to get better.”

Renovation of the Hearth, Dallas Willard.

This is a deep dive into what it means to follow Jesus and how character formation gets worked out. It’s pretty dense reading, but Willard fills the pages with tons of insightful gems.

Favorite quote: ““A carefully cultivated heart will, assisted by the grace of God, foresee, forestall, or transform most of the painful situations before which others stand like helpless children saying “Why?””

 

Fiction

Forward Collection, N.K. Jemisin.

This is a collection of short stories where each one is based around a look at the future of technology. From quantum mechanics, to artificial intelligence. Each one is a mind warp and really fascinating to catch a glimpse of possible outcomes/consequences. Last I checked, it’s also free to borrow if you’re an Amazon Prime member.

 

Star Wars Trilogy, Timothy Zahn

I didn’t believe my nephew when he told me Disney ruined the Star Wars story line. He was right. This trilogy was originally part of the authorized cannon. But Disney disavowed them after they bought the franchise. These stories pick up five years after the first movies with the original crew: Han is married to Leia, Luke training Jedi, Chewbacca doing his thing. The main villain, Grand Admiral Thrawn is a much more nuanced character who is a ruthless and brilliant tactician that leads through attracting loyalty rather than outright Darth Vader style fear.

Favorite quote: “Concentration, focus, long-term thinking—those are the qualities that separate a warrior from a mere flailing fighter.”

Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien.

I’d read The Hobbit three times and loved it, but always felt I didn’t have time to wade through Lord of the Rings. I’m still boggled by the intricacy of Tolkien’s world making.

Favorite quote: ‘The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”

Trigger Warning, Neil Gaiman.

This anthology of short stories is a mind bending journey. It wouldn’t occur to me to call this horror exactly, not in the gruesome kind of bloodfest. But there’s much darkness, but not for darkness sake but for elucidating the human condition.

Favorite quote: “Where there’s a monster, there’s also a miracle.”

 

The Wholeness of Father Brown: The Complete Collection of Detective Mysteries, G.K. Chesterton.

Where Sherlock Holmes is about looking at evidence, Father Brown is about understanding the interior of the criminal’s minds. The priest-detective is afterall in the habit of hearing all sorts of confessions, so he has some insight into all kinds of evils humans are capable of. Sherlock is kind of flashy and prone to mood swings. Father Brown is even keeled, quiet, and unassuming. A very unlikely detective indeed.

Favorite quote: “You see, I had murdered them all myself…. I had planned out each of the crimes very carefully. I had thought out exactly how a thing like that could be done, and in what style or state of mind a man could really do it. And when I was quite sure that I felt exactly like the murderer myself, of course I knew who he was.”

 

Team Sport

I’ve also rediscovered that reading can be better as a team sport. Amazing Grace and I have read a few books together in the past.

However, during the lockdown, we’ve been intentional about reading some books at the same time.

This has been huge for a several reasons:

  1. We get to externally process the book and discuss stuff that stands out. Often the same points resonate, and that’s a great way to reinforce.
  2. Sometimes different things stick out to Amazing Grace, and that’s extra helpful because that adds depth to the experience.
  3. What if we’re not interested in the same stuff? That’s OK, take turns picking books. You’ll likely be surprised. There’s never any obligation to finish. No guilting or pressure.
  4. No more awkward silences at date night. Sometimes in the busyness of kids, work, and other daily grit, we might get disconnected from one another. And sometimes it might be difficult to actually find things to talk about besides the kids or work. Reading a book together provides a nourishing common ground and bridges the gap that can sometimes sneak into a marriage.
  5. Taken together, all these add up to a sense of nurturing one another and growth and progress in a marriage.

 

Thriving in Love and Money, Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn.

Finances can be such a touchy subject, and then especially sometimes a tripwire in marriages. This book is a culmination of years of extensive surveys to understand how best to communicate and strengthen marriages not in spite of but through better understanding one another’s’ values.

 

And if you’re not married, reading books together works just as well with a friend or two. A group of friends from our church group read Lord of the Rings together and it was illuminating to chat and even trade funny insights.

Family reading is fun and bonding as well. We read together a lot, starting with each morning and evening.

On weekend mornings we started reading novels together, and now it’s something special we all look forward to. We just finished:

Kingdom’s Dawn, Chuck Black. Knights, swords, quests, evil enemies, this book has it all. The story is well written, easy to read, and each chapter has a few discussion questions in the back to aid reflection, discussion and more critical thinking. Black is a former captain and Air Force F-16 fighter pilot and tactical combat communications engineer so he knows all about missions and adventure and weaves a wonderful story. Chuck is also a father of six kids, so he knows what it takes to capture attention. This series of six books grew out of his desire to share a parable that would captivate his kids. For those of you in The Way, the protagonist also serves as an allegory of Biblical narratives.

You , Me, We, Erin Jang.

This one’s not a conventional book. More of an invitation to creativity and bonding opportunity with your kid. Each book is actually two books. One for you, one for the little. You take turns filling out matching pages and then compare what you wrote/drew. Scout loves doing these together, and would have done the entire thing in one sitting. But I wanted to savor the excuse to just sit and have a good laugh with him.


Making noise to make some music.

Here’s a musical entry from my cabinet of curiosities.

I’m a 7 on the Enneagram. In brief: I’m always looking for adventure, afraid of being stuck, and always planning the next project.

This translates into many unfinished projects.

So, I vowed recently as we went into lockdown that I wouldn’t start any new projects until I finish my backlog. Felt like an ambitious goal, but I knew it was important for me to stop being so scattered.

Jack of all trades, master of none and all that.

One of the projects on my list for many years was a cigar box guitar. I had already commissioned a 3-string because I found a vintage cigar box I really didn’t want to mess up.

But I wanted to make one myself.

How hard could it be?

I quit smoking anything decades ago because I started racing triathlons and I always hated the aftertaste. Still, I always appreciated the designs on the boxes and labels of cigars. The rough construction, the typography, the handmade feel.

Plus, the quality boxes are made of nice cedar wood. I already had all of the parts, and just never got around to building it out.

I bought a Fuente Fuente OpusX Belicoso cigar box back in 2012. I intended to make a guitar. A six string. I even bought a guitar neck to install.

Well, eight years later all I’d done with it was stored some bonsai tools in the box.

I sat down to plan all the parts and quickly discovered that the salvaged guitar neck wouldn’t fit properly because it had just been an impulse buy, unmeasured, unplanned. At least I was able to take the tuners from it.

Project Pivot

Another thing I’ve been doing over these lockdown months is working with my son to help him learn to play ukulele. And, well, I had always wanted to learn to play as well!

I measured the box and found that it would be the perfect size for a concert ukulele.

I loved building airplane models as a kid. But I always built them raw. I never had the patience to paint the parts piece-by-piece before assembly. And I usually wanted to be finished all in one sitting. As you can imagine, I had lots of planes — in the unadorned plastic. Glue everywhere.

Decades later, I’m finally learning to plan out my projects (a bit more) and have the patience to go step-by-step.

I opted with a pre-machined neck and fretboard because although I have optimism bias, I am at least sober enough to realize I have neither the skills nor the tools for crafting a uke neck from a wood block.

Ukulele Fuente Fuente OpusX Belicoso Idea

I thought the fretboard would be already attached to the neck.

Nope.

In fact, it appeared that the neck was too wide for the fretboard by half an inch on both sides (You can see above in the photo). So, I sanded both sides down by hand as close as I could to match the fretboard’s width.

Usually, fretboards are left with a kind of tail that extends on to the body of the instrument, primarily decorative because people rarely play all the way up there (except if you’re Jake Shimabukuru). I decided to shorten the fretboard because I want the option to open the body again in the future if I want to add a piezo element pickup for amplification.

Curves Ahead

When I went to attach the neck to the body, I realized that the box edges are more curved than I realized. That meant the neck would jut off the bottom, because it had a straight edge.

So, I sanded that down to add a slight curve in the neck joint. I taped a piece of sandpaper to the curve and ran the flat side of the neck until it fit. 

I think I probably could have gotten away with gluing the neck and bridge in, but I was worried the tension from the strings might warp the neck joint. Also, the cigar box has a nice protective layer of varnish and stain on the surface, which I was worried might lessen the bond of the wood glue.

Cigar Box Ukulele Neck Curve

Too curvy

Cigar Box Ukulele Neck Attachment

I masked the areas off before applying the glue. What’s great about this cigar box is that it’s thick and sturdy.

At first, I had planned to just rely on the screw for the bridge and neck, but I was kind of paranoid that there might be too much stress, so I glued and screwed.

Ukulele Neck Sanded Area

Ukulele Bridge Sanding

Scout Donated His Purple Tape Because Scout Hates Purple And Won’t Use It

 

Tangent: Fuente Fuente OpusX Belicoso?

I was curious what kind of cigars came in this box.

Turns out there’s a really interesting backstory to Arturo Fuente, a family business that makes these cigars. Cigar aficionados “highly covet” these Fuente Fuente OpusX cigars because some say they’re even better than Cubans. They took a big risk over 20 years ago and are the only cigar maker in the Dominican Republic that grow a Cuban leaf used to wrap cigars

That explained why the boxes were so nice. The name of these cigars is an interesting mashup of meanings:

/end tangent.

The box held additional wood insert sidewalls. So, I didn’t need to add any reinforcements for attaching the neck, because they’re already there.

For the bridge, even though the lid is thick, I wanted to distribute the tension across the lid. I pulled out one of the wood trimmings from the sides — which wasn’t functional — and glued it to the area beneath the bridge.

Ukulele Bridge Clamping

The project required creative clamping because I don’t have any of the fancy wood clamps and don’t foresee needing those for other projects any time soon. 

Sound Hole Dilemma

I thought and sketched for a week about what I wanted to do about the sound hole. I wanted something distinctive, not just one traditional single hole. But I also had to work within my woodworking limitations. 

I worried I wouldn’t be able to make the avocado or other non-traditional shapes as well as I’d like. And maybe I’d get sick of an odd shape — or worse, ruin the box.

Ukulele Sound Hole Shapes

Sound Hole Shape Candidates

Ukulele Sound Hole Drililng

In the end, I went with a traditional circular sound hole with an added offset hole to hopefully open up the sound more. A bit of research didn’t reveal anything definitive about sound quality except tests with violin shaped holes, which I entertained for about one minute.

I borrowed a 2.5 inch bit and a 1 inch drill bit from my friend. The drill bits wobbled a bit and were not exactly straight. But I did my best to go slowly and stabilize the bits. You can see the 1 inch hole is a bit irregular.

Ukulele Sound Holes Rough

Ukulele Sound Holes, Rough

Ukulele Sound Hole Refinement

Ukulele Sound Hole, Refinement

I ended up with little piles of cedar and the cedar smells so good. It’s amazing how fragrant the wood smells even after almost a decade in my closet. I might have to make some cedar candles.

I didn’t want to add any varnish to the sound holes in case I wanted to edit them in the future. So, I used some wood oil to seal it up for now.

Cigar Box Ukulele FinishedTo finish the Fuente OpusX,  I chose some black string, and didn’t feel like fussing with tying knots on the bridge because I was eager to see if it would actually play and stay in tune! Next time I replace the strings, I’ll probably tie the knots though since the little beads aren’t great-looking.

Overall, I’m pleased with the ukulele and enjoy its mellow sound. Maybe as mellow as the smoke some cigar aficionados enjoy — just without the after-stench.

And instead, every once in a while I catch a woody musky gorgeous scent of cedar.

Cigar Box Ukulele and Guitar

Cigar Box Ukulele and Guitar

(I’m not sure exactly where I found this PDF, I can’ track down the original URL. But I found some helpful tips, and skipped bits I didn’t need in this build. I’ll leave it here in case you’re looking for more technical and legit instructions for making your own: How to Make a Cigar Box Ukulele by Steven Miller)


A quitter’s manifesto for non-quitters, join me?

I quit thinking managing better is the answer.

I quit trying to make it all cram into one day.

I quit having my attention pulled in too many directions.

I quit others’ priorities.

I quit a constant drip of emails and Slack messages.

I quit the excuses that a salary wraps a comfy blanket around inertia.

I quit being dragged here and there by the tyranny of the urgent, rather than driving at the important.

I quit feeling cranky and dismissive of my kiddos, and my Wonderwoman.

I quit the blur.

And here’s my why.

What’s yours?

 

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

Seneca, statesman and philosopher, circa AD 50

And friends, it’s not just about quitting, it’s about going.

Going to the Other Side.

If you’re interested, here’s where we’re headed (and why).