Facing Dragons and unexpected gifts

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So I did a secret presentation in the San Francisco studio of CreativeLive last week, just before my publicly broadcast 2-day presentation. I was invited by the staff of CreativeLive to do a "20 minutes of Genius” talk, just for them – no cameras. That was a bit intimidating. “Genius?” I didn’t feel qualified to fill those shoes, but I knew I could share something meaningful with them, nonetheless. 

I decided I needed to share some things I’ve never publicly shared. I asked them all to agree to keep everything I said private, and I was actually pretty nervous – and I don’t usually get too nervous anymore before a talk. I gave my talk and felt really good about it. One of the things that I shared near the end was the realization that we don’t always know where, when, or how the “reason” or result of our actions, or f#¢k ups, will manifest or make themselves known. I believe there always is a gift, or lesson, but it can take years for the realization to hit – sometimes. Occasionally, the gift is quite immediate and may even try to sneak by you.

My live program on creativeLIVE last week. You can still  get the 2-day business class!  at a great discount right now.

My live program on creativeLIVE last week. You can still get the 2-day business class! at a great discount right now.

Fast forward a couple days and I’ve completed my 2-day live course. Everything went smooth and I had a wonderful studio audience that I really connected with, and felt I had truly impacted. I was very grateful for the entire experience – including the amazing team at CreativeLive that constantly blows me away with their professionalism and genuine caring. This was enough of a gift already.

We had our little wrap party, with some wine, beer, sparkling water, and edible treats – some green and some red. I said goodbye to my students one-by-one, hugging them as they bid farewell. I was finishing my drink with my host, Jim, and my broadcast tech, John. The song, “Closing Time” played on my internal turntable.

At the end of my live program, I had mentioned some of my favorite books – readings that had significantly influenced my personal and business life and success. John said this made him think of his all-time favorite, and recalled the book, The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield. 

“Have you read it?” he asked me. "It rings a bell," I said, but maybe that’s because I was thinking of the classic, The Art of War, by Sun Tzu – which I have read. 

“Wait here.” he said as he ran out of the kitchen, leaving me hanging. I polished my sparkling water and burped. 

Seconds later he returned with a fresh copy of the book in hand. “I keep a stack of them on my desk to give people whenever I think they’ll dig it.” 

I took one look at the cover and knew that I had to read it. It was speaking to me already. I thanked him sincerely, and accepted the gift.

We finished up our drinks and packed up our bags. I headed back to my cozy airbnb and contemplated going out with some friends to dinner. Being the introvert that I am, (yes, that seems contrary to the qualities of a public speaker, but that’s another story) I was feeling like I just needed some down time to recharge and reflect. I also wanted to try this delicious looking Nepalese restaurant that was down the street. I found out they delivered, so I phoned in my order and sat down to read, The War of Art. 

The food came before I knew it and I tried to keep reading while I answered the door. That didn’t work well. I gave my full attention to my friendly delivery guy, tipped and thanked him, then plated the chicken curry and momos. I can’t remember the last time I ate with one hand and held a book with the other, but it had a very erudite feel to it. 

When dinner was consumed, I plopped down across the couch and continued to read until the book was completed and fully digested. Fortunately, it is a quick read. I think the eloquence and directness of the writing, mixed with the brevity, made it particularly poignant. I could not wait to read it again. There were passages I wanted to underline. There were words in there that moved me, and I knew they were worth scribing in my inspiration notebook. 

“The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more resistance we will feel towards pursuing it.” – Steven Pressfield.

This smacked me in the face.

“We’re facing dragons too. Fire-breathing griffins of the soul, who we must outfight and outwit to reach the treasure of our self-in-potential and to release the maiden who is God’s plan and destiny for ourselves and the answer to why were were put on this planet.” – also from the book.

Gulp. I love dragons. How did he know? I have a little toy Dragon on my nightstand – my Dragon of Fear. It reminds me to face those fears when I fear them the most. I brought my Dragon for show-and-tell at the private talk earlier. He was now sitting on the desk across from my couch.

The next morning I boarded my plane to head home and before they could say, “Please put your devices in airplane mode…” I had my new book out for a second read, notebook and pen at the ready. The journey was one of the shortest I’ve ever had, despite the 2 legs and 1-hour delay. 

As I lay comfortably back in my own bed that night, I wondered if receiving this gift of inspiration was the actual, deeper reason for my visit to San Francisco to teach. In my talks, I had proclaimed how we can receive these lessons and gifts in very unexpected ways. I realized once again that sometimes it takes time to realize the purpose of an encounter or experience, but sometimes it happens immediately. I may have thought I was going there simply to teach – but in the final moments, before I left the building, I was given the gift I came there to receive. 

One of the other things I challenged my students to do in the live class was to actually, really, track everything they do during a work day for 2 weeks. This helps us to see where we misspend our important time, or use it less efficiently. Often, the simple act of recording something can influence you to change or improve – like recording what you eat, or when you exercise. I have found that simply writing down the realizations I have about the unexpected gifts & lessons in my life makes me more grateful for them – which translates directly to an influx of more gifts. Funny how that works. 

One of those talks that gives you chills

A friend recommended this to me and I added it to my list of things to watch...someday. But, this morning I decided I would start the day with something interesting, maybe inspirational, and made a little time for this video. WOW. 

This is one of my favorite talks I've ever seen and I'm so glad I took the time to hear it this morning. What does it make you feel? Think? 

The meaning of life, at 50.

I’ve never been the victim of a surprise party before. I told Clare that we each get one per lifetime. 

I threw Clare one for her 40th and she still remembers standing in shock when she walked in the door, thinking, “I think I know that person, but they are dressed funny and they live on the other side of the country!” She was then immediately whisked off the floor and dressed in a tacky 80’s outfit we secretly picked out for her. Then she was shuttled to the dance floor to partake in our favorite 80’s music played by an amazing cover band. It took her a while to comprehend what was going on and enjoy the chaos – and the righteous outfits of her most beloved friends.

To this day she remembers the confusion and how long it took her to settle in to the party and enjoy everyone. Then, in a flash, it’s over. All her dearest friends are going home and she’s barely had time to talk with them all. Much too soon. 

Clare did a great job of keeping the secret from me this year. In hindsight, there were clues. Like when I walked in to my favorite restaurant, and their phone rings and the hostess answers it as I’m standing in front of her ready to order, “Oh hi, actually he’s standing right here in front of me! Do you want him to order some food for you? Oh…OK, yah, OK bye.” She hangs up.

“She must want a French Dip” I knowingly comment. 

“No. Nothing. Pocket call.” She says, with a nervous smile. 

I guess I was too hungry to rationalize that, so I just ordered. Clare always says I’m a bit oblivious. Sometimes I just trust people too much. 


We were to have dinner with a friend and her family at the neighborhood community center. It was supposed to be at their house, but at the last minute she changed it to the community hall. “They have a pool and hot tub,” she said, “the kids will like that”. It was a bit cold out, and going to be dark soon, so that didn’t really make sense, but, again, I just go with the flow.

We pulled in to the parking lot and it was full of cars. “Crap”, I thought, “it’s going to be crowded in there. I hope we have a place to sit and eat”. I didn’t see any people anywhere though. Our friends were sitting outside waiting for us. Again, a little odd, but maybe it WAS crowded inside and they wanted to suggest we go back to the house instead. 

“The kids are already inside!” She says with a hug, and leads us towards the door. Still no signs of people or noise whatsoever. Now my mind is actually starting to work. Too late. I’m at the door and there is a big sign adorned with old photos, “HAPPY 50th Kevin!!” Before I can even completely ingest it, the door is thrown open, and…

I think they all yelled, “Surprise!” But I’m not really sure. I was in shock. They could have yelled, “Meatballs!” and it would not have made any difference.

I looked around the room and started to cry like a baby. Good thing the room was filled with my best friends and family – people who fully expected me to cry at some point – just maybe not quite this soon.

There were friends from 20 years in Bend, wonderful new friends from the past year, a DJ friend from my days photographing weddings, armed and ready with his massive sound system. My dear Hawaiian friend, Bill Keale, who is an amazing singer/guitarist/performer and has played at nearly all our family’s major events since my 14 year-olds 1st birthday party, was surrounded by his guitars and ready to serenade us with enchanting Hawaiian music. 

My immediate family was there and it hit me that they were all in on it and how much work they must have done to put this together. 

Somebody came up to me and took the 6-pack of IPA that I brought to the “dinner party” from my still stunned and outstretched hand.

Music started, I tried to clear my eyes, then I began the wonderful job of delivering thankful hugs to everyone – one gratifying squeeze at a time. 

Clare had prepared a video montage to share, made from short videos that friends and family from all over the world had sent her. As we all watched, laughed, and cried (well, I did), it washed over me like a warm beach wave – I have amazing people in my life…and from all over the world! An immense feeling of thankfulness hit me, squeezing even more tears out. I’m going to need to rehydrate soon. 

Someone handed me a Bloody Mary, from the DIY Bloody Mary bar. Perfect.

We ate delicious Japanese food, topped with decadent chocolate coconut and banana cream pies. Somebody in my family also made Hawaiian/Japanese butter mochi for all to indulge, from our top secret family recipe, that could easily be classified as an addictive drug. (I’ll actually share it with you if you ask in the comments. You just have to sign a waiver that we’re not responsible for any addictions related to/or created by its consumption)

At one point in the evening, I was enjoying a conversation with a couple of friends, and one asked something like, “So what makes Kevin, Kevin?”

Had it not been for the events of the evening, I think I would have pondered that question a bit longer. However, it was genuinely obvious to me at this very moment in my life. 

“I have surrounded myself with amazing people for my entire life.” The answer led before I could even formulate the words in my head. 

I had to think a bit more about what just came out of my mouth. 

It was true. We are all products of our environments and even more so we are formed by the people we choose to spend time with and be inspired by. We are even formed by the people we choose to hire – as they are more than just “employees”, but become part of your family in many ways. 

I have never been one to have a ton of friends. I’m not a social butterfly. The friends I have are genuine and I would honestly enjoy hanging out with any of them, at almost any time. I don’t have friends that are downers, complainers, or afraid to embrace me in an enormous hug, or say, “I love you”. 

I’ve selected these friends because they enrich me. In the poignant paraphrased words of Jack Nicholson, “They make me want to be a better person.”

And there it was, my secret to a meaningful life, from the perspective of a half-century on earth. 50 trips around the sun. 1.1e-08 % the age of the planet.

Surround yourself with great people.

Scientific studies have even proven that people who surround themselves with people who are stronger or better than them, almost always rise to the occasion and do or perform better themselves. The opposite is completely true as well. I recalled a video that another dear friend sent me just a day prior – explaining this very concept. Was it coincidence?

My other friend in the conversation broke my contemplation, “Yah, I feel like I need to do that more myself. There are people I want to hang out with more, but I just don’t make the effort.” 

And there is the other part of “the secret”. We have to put ourselves out there. Great people will not usually just throw themselves at you, although occasionally they do. You have to act on the impulse to bring more of this person in to your life. Face your fear. Create the time. No answer is not a “NO” answer. Keep asking, keep trying. 

And, when you find that a person is not enriching your life, or is encouraging negative thoughts in your head, quickly move on. You don’t need to be rude, just move on.

More importantly, when you realize that someone really IS important to your life, share that with them. Tell them how much they mean to you. It will mean more to them than you can imagine, and will open another lane from the highway of your heart. Emotional traffic jams become much less likely – or at least you have more ways out.

I have realized and learned these things at age 50. That doesn’t mean I’m an expert at it all yet, but I know what I need to work on, and I’ve experienced the joy of being illuminated by beautiful, shining stars of people for most of my 50 years. 

I wonder what I’ll discover at my full century celebration? No surprise parties, please. That could be dangerous.