Angry From Manchester and the Good Life

EPSON MFP imageRecently, I was reminded of something which happened 15 years ago, it made me chuckle so I’m going to share.

At the time I did some work for an outdoor clothing manufacturer. They had received a letter and thought that I ought to read it. “Angry from Manchester” had invested some real time in penning this missive. She obviously felt strongly. She had seen a brochure that I was involved in creating and wished to tell readers that  it was unrealistic.  She went to great lengths to say that no one smiled this much, no one had this much fun, no one looked this good and no one really did these things. She also went on to suggest it was immoral to use fantasy to sell clothing.

EPSON MFP imageMy laughing more and more as each sentence unravelled did nothing to assuage the concern of the gentleman who had given me the letter to read. Eventually he asked what I found so funny. At this point I felt I ought to come clean and so I asked if he remembered calling me asking if I knew any models that they might use. I had queried if they had a plan for the brochure and photoshoot and when the response had suggested that they did not I had seen an opportunity. We had talked about their first popular jacket being called the Torridon and how this might be a good location, we had then discussed how the mountains on the island of Skye were iconic and finally to round things off canoeing on some remote Scottish loch would provide balance to the imagery. He thought this sounded great and did I know of anyone who might be able to do it. I told him I did. What I did not tell him was that this was the vacation my then girlfriend and I had planned.

EPSON MFP imageLet me tell you being paid well for going on holiday is living the dream. Handing your expenses over to an accountant to repay is wonderful. Swopping out a tent for hotels because someone else is picking up the tab is sublime and then being given some R&R time in the most amazing hotel after the photographer has left is genius. “Angry” was never going to know just how real this brochure was. We were smiling and having fun for a reason; we had chosen to. I do not want to assume too much, however, I am guessing that “Angry” fails to understand the practicalities of this simple idea, consequently she misses out.

EPSON MFP imageWhat I have come to realize and yet sometimes forget is that when I know what I want then others will often help me achieve it. When I look for opportunities for mutual gains (win-win scenarios) we create an incredible “happy energy”.

As I look at friends on Facebook who still live “the dream” I am thankful the tradition lives on. Time for me to start spell making again and bring some more potent magic into our current good life. What are you doing to make your “good life”?

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Thoughts inspired by a hut trip: 10 ideas to steer us in the right direction

Let me start by saying I have a tendancy to be a martyr and this selfish post is a series of thoughts that I need to remind myself of regularly. 

Last week I went on a hut trip, something I love and used to do fairly often, yet I easily find excuses not to now that I am a husband and father. Do you know what I am talking about all you parents out there? Well Kimberly helped me overcome all those fanciful obstacles I erect in my mind and made me go. Thanks Kim! So here is what I was reminded while nestled in a cabin in the mountains.

Firstly, what is a hut trip? Well most places you find mountains, snow and affluence you will come across purpose built cabins that serve as shelters for those so inclined to tour between on skis, foot or bike. In my part of the world, there is a host of them inspired by the exploits of the infamous 10th Mountain Division. Following the Second World War a number of those soldiers who returned from impactful active service in Italy set about amongst other things developing the ski industry in the US. Naturally, they were drawn back to the mountains surrounding their training base of Camp Hale near Vail. Now these gentlemen approached peace in the same way they did war; with liberal amounts of energy and determination along with a sprinkling of fun, cameraderie and an appreciation of a natural world that soothes the pains of hard work and trauma. One result is a chain of well appointed cabins, all placed in incredible situations; most are eyrie like with views to die for. They are simple and yet extremely elegant with everything you need to live comfortably and nothing extraneous. These places are magical because by removing the superfluous they are a reminder of what is actually important in life. As an indicator of how passionately we feel about that last statement, Kimberly and I were married at one.

What was I reminded about?

Good views are gained when you are on top. The best are the result of hard work:

The approach to the Jackal rises straight out of Camp Hale, in the winter there is little trace of the camp that once housed 15,000 men, a host of mules and the various vehicles required to service mountain soldiers both in summer and winter. The only tell tale sign is a large artifically flat valley floor that inspires sightings of imaginary ghosts and their hustle and bustle as you ski over it. After this flat you climb and climb (from 9,000 to 11,600 ft in about five miles). When you finally bust out of the trees there is the most gorgeous shelter, the quintessential log cabin whose windows oversee peaks throughout the Holy Cross Wilderness and the Sawatch and Mosquito Ranges.

When we know what we are doing life falls easily into place:

Hut life is simple. You need to cut and stack wood to keep the cabin warm and collect snow to melt for water. You get up with the sun to capture the amazing light and make breakfast. You go out to ski. You come back to make dinner and spin stories with the other people sharing the space. You take more pictures making  the most of the evening light. You sit around the fire enjoying the company. Basically, it is blissful.

People who share our values amd work hard to make them happen are the most fun to be around:

Effort seems to be a filter when it comes to convivial company. I am yet to find someone that I have nothing in common with and whose company I did not enjoy in a remote setting such as this. I attribute this to the fact that you have to work to reach a place like this, it is a real decision. I believe being pleasant is also a choice. 

Removing the extraneous “stuff” lightens the load and makes us happy:

I hate carrying an unecessarily heavy pack and while I am prepared to invest in a few luxuries; wine and decent food seems to be worthwhile, the more I consider each item I bring, the lighter my load, the happier I am. The same is true of hut life. Ridding myself of the “stuff” from urban and work life, the lighter my load, the happier I am.

Leaving tracks regardless of whether we ski or snowboard is always fun. They are just more meaningful when they have to be earned:

Are you noticing a pattern here? When I have to climb for my turns they are more exciting, maybe its the exertion, maybe it is the variety in the snowpack that keeps me on my toes. This is the same reason why I prefer telemark over other forms of riding – it is so much more complex and takes much longer to master. When I look behind me and see an aesthetic representation of my journey I feel warm inside.

Spending time learning how to navigate accurately is time well spent:

Navigation is the act of matching a plan with reality and making adjustments as necessary. To “stay found” we need to know where we are, where we are going and what we are likely to meet along the way. While it is more engaging to walk where there is no map, we have to be ready to deal with the consequences. Most of the time using a map is far more efficient and means we can travel more safely and with confidence even in a place we have never visited before. Being open to changing our route as whim and the experience suggests provides more fun potential. Good navigation steers a good life.

Safety skills are worth acquiring:

Safety is a simple formula; managing risks is about recognizing the consequence and liklihood of any action. When travelling in avalanche terrain, knowing what the snow pack consists of will give us a pretty good understanding of the consequence. We manage the liklihood by choosing the pitch we are going to ride. 38° is the angle of repose of snow, so skiing a slope of 38° means there is a high liklihood of a slide if there is something to slide and a weak layer that can fail. The thing is we have to balance the risk of loss with the risk of gain. When safe, skiing a 38° slope puts the biggest smile on my face.

Helping others makes us feel good. Allowing others to help us is a gift:

The time spent doing chores from which everyone benefits makes me feel part of something bigger than myself. When I can be there for someone else I feel proud. How good is that? When I allow someone else to do the same for me then I am providing an opportunity for them to feel proud.

Nature truly is snake oil:

Being in wilderness is the one thing that can be gauranteed to lift my spirits and put me back in touch with myself. St Augustine said it best “solvitur ambulando” – “it is solved by walking” and this is a phrase that resonates with me. When I walk / ski surrounded by trees, birds and mountains the recovery seems to be that much more complete.

Good company, good views, good simple food and sweat; the residue of a good day out, really is what life is all about.

Well that is my belief anyway. Time in huts always brings it back to basics, remove computers, phones and tv and replace with conversation and a guitar, yet maintain the warmth of your home while swopping out the vista and it quickly becomes evident what we most enjoy. The family vacation by the beach, the shared Sunday meal, catching the sunrise on an early commute, the evening run through the park. These are the moments that lift us, bringing more of them into our daily life lifts our potential for happiness. What a warm fuzzy thought.

Where do you find your inspiration? 

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Reliving & Reminiscing

I recently recognized one of my biggest paradoxes as a male.

For years as a young man I pushed my limits in terms of safety; doing dangerous things allowed me to figure out who I was and what I was capable of. These activities defined my sense of self concept. Then as a new parent I felt an overpowering urge to be safe and to make sure that I was on the scene for my son for the long haul. Since that time I have struggled and this has seemingly been reflected in a reduction in creativity and productivity. Now I have to tell you that I love being a parent, it is the single most adventurous and stimulating activity I have ever encountered and I throw myself into it wholeheartedly. I have though struggled as I do not always feel I am being all I know I can be. This is dangerous terrain; while I am thinking about what was, I am not focusing on what is.

The major difference between reminiscing and reliving became very apparent a few weeks ago. Kimberly made it possible for me to take a few days off and go and do something. I elected to take off into the mountains and camp in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. It has been many years since I have taken a trip just for me and by myself. I normally find that it becomes a walking meditation and I start by being very focused on the present and as I experience this, I can then focus on a single event or issue and give it my total attention. Walking alone is one of the best tools I know for solving any issue. On my way to the mountains I stopped in a climbing store in Boulder to pick up some tent pegs. Sat on a table were a number of Welsh and Scottish climbing guides and I was quickly sucked into reading them and thinking about trips and routes from my youth. This is reminiscing, contemplating what was and while I can harness this energy, if there is good in the situation it is a by-product.

Later on that day I was wading through knee deep snow, I was working exceptionally hard for my relatively sedentary body and I was renegotiating my plans with myself. I had initially intended on a backpacking circuit that took me up one valley along a ridge and down into another, knowing that I was going to have to get up really early to pick Cai up from school at lunch time on the third day. I was impressed with my residual fitness and yet I realized that if I wanted to make it in time for Cai, I also did not want to cart a backpack while flailing through deep snow. Then there came a flash of insight into what I am. While I do not do it so much these days, I like to be on high ground looking down and gaining the perspective this affords. In that moment I decided to climb a peak the next day; one I could see from my campsite, and then walk part way out along the route I came in and thus take advantage of my ready created trail.

So the decision was sparked by “reminiscence” however the true good of the situation came out of the action of “reliving” my past. The following day as my body was stretched with the effort of altitude, gaining height and floundering in the snow it occurred to me that this is my essence. As I constantly had to talk myself into going further – there was no one there to do this for me – I saw how I live resilience and determination. This in turn serves as a metaphor that I can use as a reminder of who I am.

What do you reminisce about? How do you relive your youth in a productive way?

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Finding Your Brave

Cai and I went climbing last Friday. What interests me is that he did not really want to go; I had to work hard to encourage him. This sometimes happens, the thing is that once we find ourselves outside he loves it. Watching him move over the rock on a beautiful, sunny fall day in one of my favorite places in Colorado was pure bliss. The smile that covered his face was one of a person fully engaged in the moment and loving it. Watching my boy enjoying doing things that are special to me in places that are special to me ranks as one of the best feelings I know. Learning the tools to make them happen is therefore important.

The first thing I have to come to terms with as I learn my ways of motivating Cai is that he is often a mirror of my actions. I am known to sabotage my enjoyment because I think something else is more important. How can I expect my son to be any different from the example that he sees? So yet again it seems that teaching starts with empathy and compassion and then requires a healthy dose of making the changes I want to see in my students in myself first. I also fall foul of not allowing myself to see the pleasure that is available in the situation at hand, I almost imprison myself in a preconceived mindset. That day as I watched Cai embrace the rock and sunshine, as he allowed himself to ignore the emotions he predicted he was going to experience I realized it was he who was doing the teaching.

So I now have a big note to self. I am going to make sure that we get outside more often. The more we allow ourselves to find the fun and beauty in a moment, the more we are going to find that same fun and beauty in every situation and this is a lesson I want both of us to live.

That evening following an afternoon of climbing and watching trout swim in the shadows of the creek I had a familiar feeling; one I do not allow myself to feel enough these days. It is a warmth and satisfaction that comes from having an optimal experience; the same concept as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls Flow. It comes from being brave enough to surrender completely to the moment. It is most easily found when doing something one is passionate about and yet it can be found in the most mundane occasions if we allow ourselves to be truly present. The topping on Cai’s and my cake was that we both slept the sleep of warriors, content and spent. Finding our brave may be one of the most beneficial things we can do. How do you find yours?


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Thinking Outside the Box

I used to work with a company called Sprayway. They make outdoor clothing and following a cheeky letter suggesting a mutually beneficial arrangement I proceeded to test product for them. The relationship developed when I went to see them to put a face to a name, it strengthened further when I convinced them to have their test weekends at the center where I was employed. Being known by all the managerial, marketing, sales and design team members was extremely advantageous and the “mutually beneficial arrangement” blossomed; you have to love being paid to go on the vacation you had already organized because it becomes a photoshoot, especially when the tent is exchanged for 4 star hotels and luxury meals are cooked for you.

My highpoint in the relationship came when I collaborated with the marketing team to think outside the box and brainstorm alternative ways of encouraging custom; center pages in national magazines are expensive. What we came up with was:

  • Most decisions are made while talking to a sales assistant at point of sales.

Assistants promote a product based on one of three factors:

  1. They have been asked to by management
  2. Commission
  3. A personal relationship with the product.

Based on this we decided to invest in creating relationships with sales assistants and making sure that they knew our products, brand and also our people. We started inviting 50 to 80 people at a time to the Conway Centre, we took them out to do outdoor activities wearing Sprayway products during the day and entertained and informed them in the evenings. At the end of the weekend we sent them home with a fleece and shell garment.

The bottom line is that sales went up and less was spent on the marketing budget.

How are you thinking outside the box? How are you taking a familiar situation and stamping it with your own flair?

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Overcoming Fear

Yesterday I went climbing with Cai; it was a wonderful time of movement, sunshine and bonding. It was particularly great to watch him work things out; be it figuring how to move over the rock or tie knots and create a simple anchor. I also gained a huge buzz from his desire to lead, especially as he is smart enough to know when it is safe and when he prefers me to give him a rope from above. It was interesting in that he actually was a little scared a couple of times and had to overcome this. As he ages this seems to be a more frequent occurence.

Now something I consider when I am teaching is that I believe it to be only fair that if I expect something of my students, I need to give the same of myself. It is one of the reasons I particularly enjoy teaching in areas that are new to me; it stretches me and keeps me on my toes – something I want the people in my care to experience as well.

Yesterday, for a second I pondered what I was doing to overcome fear that might match Cai’s, then it slapped me in the face like a sledgehammer. As I moved over easy rock 50 feet above him; something I do regularly when instructing I was hit with an overwhelming desire not to fall. My need to protect my son took me to a place emotionally that I never visit with students. Climbing easy ground is something I am so practiced at that it does not give me cause to think and yet yesterday, with the stakes being so big (in my own mind); I had to talk myself through what I was doing.

The great thing about this is that when I asked Cai about the fears he felt and what it felt like after he had accomplished a climb and dealt with these feelings, then I came from a place of empathy. Last night we both slept the sleep of warriors – in fact Kim said she was woken at 5.00 am by Cai giggling in his sleep. Sharing something so vital with Cai helps me to feel alive. What fears do you find worth dealing with? How does it make you feel.



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Haka, teams and energy

Haka of the All Blacks before the match agains...
Image via Wikipedia

As a way of helping my students learn each other’s name I often use an activity I know as the Haka. Have you ever seen the New Zealand Rugby team (the All Blacks) at the beginning of a match? They perform a Maori dance that certainly makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end and probably scares the living daylights out of their opponents. I usually show the students a couple of short videos to mentally prepare them for the experience, the first is a performance of a Haka, the second is of a Maori explaining the words and describing its significance. What I love about the second clip is that the Haka is explained as “a collective frenzy”, “a unified front”. As my students shout their name accompanied by an aggressive gesture their call is followed by the refrain of all their peers. We go round in a circle and an intimacy is created by sharing something that may be a little uncomfortable to some.

Last night I witnessed the same zeal; I currently work for a company that creates and harnesses this energy. The good news is that they choose to invest in their people’s development and the room was filled with more than 120 people all there on the company’s dime. For two hours we investigated our strengths and weaknesses using a framework of competencies. We were encouraged to take these findings and contemplate them in relation to where we wanted to go in the company, and we were shown and practiced how to give and receive feedback. All this was interspersed with a “collective frenzy”, clapping and hollering creating a “unified front”.

It is exciting to work / study somewhere that invests in ramping up the energy and helping their people to feel a group bonding experience. Are there times when you have felt this kind of frenzy and connection? What do you currently do to create unity?

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