Better or Worse (#188)

A few weeks ago, I took an Uber to downtown Boston for a meeting with a group of peers. About ten minutes into my ride, traffic stopped completely. A major car crash had occurred 100 feet in front of us after a car had come down the highway entrance ramp in the wrong direction. People were walking around wounded and it was chaos. It must have happened a split second before we got there.

I’ll admit, the initial thought running through my head was “If only I had left the house five minutes earlier.” When I let everyone know about the accident, their concern was first and foremost for my safety. This is when I realized I was looking at the situation all wrong. Really, I was lucky that I wasn’t there just sixty seconds earlier or I could have been among the accident victims. My timing wasn’t bad, it was great.

I was reminded of this experience during a bike trip my wife and I took across Croatia last week. Toward the end of the second day of riding, one mile from the top, she hit a pothole masked as a puddle and was thrown from her bike. Bloodied and battered, she got back on her bike and rode the rest of the way to get help.

At first glance, it did not look good. She was in a tremendous amount of pain and had pretty serious cuts and road rash. But as we cleaned up each of the wounds and consulted with some medical professionals on the trip, she’d fortunately escaped any serious injury or broken bones.

Even though we’d been looking forward to this trip for a year, there were two ways we could have chosen to handle this unexpected setback:

  1. Taken the “It could have been better” perspective which involves frustration and self-pity about getting injured during the trip and having to miss part of the experience.
  2. Taken the “It could have been worse” perspective which involves relief and gratitude that she did not have to be airlifted from an island to a hospital or have to return home and cut our trip short.

My wife was firmly in the “it could have been worse” camp. She made the best of a difficult and painful situation with a genuine sense of gratitude.

In last week’s Friday Forward, Blame Game, I shared an experience that a friend of mine, Jayson Gaignard, had that led him to decide on taking ownership for his misstep and how it developed into a teaching moment for his daughter, especially around the concept of control.  He’d written that he was trying to teach his daughter to “take 100% ownership of things you can control and have 0% attachment to things you can’t.”

We all face situations where it’s tempting to believe that the entire situation is beyond our control. In reality, this is only half true. What happens initially may be beyond our control, but how we react to it is not. What’s more is that our reaction to situations is often far more important.

How will I show up at a meeting if I’ve been stewing in anger during the hour leading up to it versus reflecting on all the things I’m grateful for and with perspective?

How might we remember a trip spent moping around after our spouse got injured and lamenting their “bad luck” versus telling everyone she is lucky it wasn’t worse—and truly believing that?

Our reactions to external events shape our mindset and our Emotional Capacity. They impact how we show up in the world each day and the energy that we give and take from others.

Could a situation have been better? Sure. But it can always be worse as well.


Quote of The Week

“Whether your cup is half-full or half-empty, remind yourself there are others without one.”


-Matshona Dhliwayo



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The Grind (#184)

Three years ago, inspired by Brian Scudamore and Cam Herold, I wrote a Vivid Vision for our company describing what Acceleration Partners will look and feel like by January 1st, 2020. It includes some very ambitious goals, most of which we’ve met or exceeded and a few that are within range. This Vivid Vision is shared with all new employees, prospective employees and partners.

As January 2020 approaches, I have been simultaneously reflecting on the journey and thinking ahead to our company’s future; what AP will look and feel like in 2023.

Serendipitously, in the middle of drafting a new Vivid Vision for our company, I had the opportunity to climb the Grouse Grind, a 1.8 mile hike up Grouse Mountain in Vancouver, BC with 2,800 feet of elevation gain and 2,830 stairs up to the summit. It’s affectionately called “Mother Nature’s Stairmaster” and is a mental and physical exercise in resilience.

As I made the climb up with a friend, I came to appreciate that the Grouse Grind trail is a powerful metaphor for any difficult challenge. Each quarter of the ascent also mirrors aspects of our company’s Vivid Vision 2020 journey.

The First Quarter

When we started up Grouse Mountain, we had a lot of energy and optimism. The reality of what lay ahead had not yet sunk in. As a result, our pace was probably faster than it should have been at the outset. I also drank far too much of my water too early. In retrospect, this reminded me how important it is to pace yourself and conserve energy when faced with a long, challenging experience as you may need to tap into those reserves when the going really gets tough. If your journey is going better than expected once you get past the halfway point, that’s the time to turn up the pace. But if you need reserves and don’t have them, believe me, you’ll feel it.

Halfway Point

Similar to many endeavors, the halfway point is a great time for reflection and assessment about how you’re feeling and what your supply situation is looking like. It can also be a time to mentally readjust to get through the remainder of the climb based on the reality of the first half. In our case, we realized that reaching the time goal we’d set for ourselves wouldn’t be possible. So, we set a new one.


In relation to both our climb and AP’s path to reaching our 2020 Vivid Vision, the three-quarters portion of the journey typically comprises the greatest challenges. On Grouse Mountain, the three-quarters section was the steepest part of the climb. Fatigue set in and I became too focused on each step; I lost perspective of the fact that we were 75% of the way to the summit. This same phenomenon often presents itself in one’s business, especially when progress goals are high.

The Summit

There are numerous studies on the burst of energy that people get in the last leg of a race or upon seeing the finish line.  I certainly experienced this on my hike. Even though I was exhausted, as soon as the summit came into view, I began to sprint. The desire to reach the goal overrode how my body felt.

This made me realize that the most dangerous part of a difficult endeavor is the point in between the three-quarter mark and the finish; when you are mentally or physical exhausted, but don’t yet have the top of the summit in sight.

Upon reaching the summit, I made a video for my team to remind them that the finish line for our Vivid Vision was only a few quarters away. This is something my leadership team had been asking me to do as my sights were already on our 2023 Vivid Vision. As someone who spends a lot of time looking ahead, I had failed to understand that my team is still in the three-quarters section and has been feeling the strain of the steepest part of the climb without seeing the summit.

My advice for both a tough climb and a big goal is this:

  1. Start slower than you think you need to.
  2. Reassess and adjust halfway to your goal.
  3. When you reach the three-quarters point, remember to look forward and
  4. Last, but not least, make sure to keep that finish line in sight.


Quote of The Week

“The best view comes after the hardest climb.”


-Author Unknown



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Four for the 4th (#183)

This week’s Friday Forward falls over the July 4th holiday, a time when most people in the U.S. are on vacation, including me.

Although I have never skipped a Friday Forward, I thought that I would honor the spirit of vacation by re-sharing some of the most popular Friday Forwards related to travel and vacation.

Many of the posts below were published when the Friday Forward community was much smaller. For some, it will be the first time reading them. For others, including me, these posts will serve as helpful reminders about the value of travel, getting out of our routines, and family time.

The Rewards of Travel: An extended trip to Australia with my family reminded me of the many personal and business benefits of travel.

18 Summers: This Friday Forward affected a lot of parents. Many wrote to tell me that it inspired them to make similar plans with their family.

RV Reflections: 9 lessons learned about life and business from a 10-day RV trip with my family through Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.

BS of Busy: Being busy has become somewhat of a status symbol and cultural crutch, but it doesn’t make us happier or more productive.


Quote of The Week

“There is virtue in work and there is virtue in rest. Use both and overlook neither.”


-Alan Cohen



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Purpose & Pain (#182)

Last week, I attended a mastermind dinner in NYC on the topic of work-life integration. The host had hired a sketch artist to create a visual representation of our discussion so that each attendee could have a unique and interesting reminder of the discussion to take with them.

Intrigued by her skill, I asked the artist how she’d gotten into this line of work, to which she replied: “My purpose is to allow people to be fully seen and heard.”

Struck by the clarity of her answer, I asked her if that purpose came from a personal place or from her childhood (prefaced by saying that it was fine not to answer if she felt my question was too personal). Without hesitating, she replied that she’d had a severe stutter as a child and struggled to communicate.

Based on the extensive research I’ve done for my upcoming book, Elevate, specifically around the topics of spiritual capacity and core purpose, I was not surprised by her answer. In hearing many high achievers talk about why they do what they do, the consistent pattern I’ve perceived is that one’s purpose often stems from a formative life experience, and commonly a painful one.

For example, someone who had a difficult time learning to read as a child might be driven to become a champion of literacy. Or someone whose family suffered a major injustice is more likely to become an advocate of the law or human rights.

My friend, Pete Vargas, shares that he founded Advance Your Reach, the leading company for people who want to publicly share their message from a stage, because as a child he’d gone to see a speaker with his father, an experience that led to their first real emotional connection.

Many of us are held back because we don’t fully recognize or lean into the pain that transformed itself into our core purpose or passion. Instead, we avoid or deny a reality because we don’t want to place blame on others or be seen as a victim.

For example, consider someone who creates an award-winning afterschool program because they’d had a single parent who worked two jobs and wasn’t around much. That person’s ability to appreciate that their parent did the best they could to provide for them is mutually exclusive from honoring how being alone so often made them feel.

In a discussion with Phillip McKernan, a world-renowned clarity coach, he imparted that we each have a truth and we need to honor that truth and our formative life experiences without making excuses for those who were involved or absent.

If we fail to truly acknowledge how these experiences impacted us – positively and negatively – we may actually be holding ourselves back from greatness. Understanding and honoring our truth is about understanding and honoring ourselves, not anyone else.

The relationship between purpose and pain also implies that pain is an important ingredient in our personal and professional development. Today’s leaders often struggle to let their employees make mistakes and experience discomfort. For example, I know many new managers who got far more serious about refining their interviewing process after making a bad hiring decision. It was a necessary part of their development and a learning they will likely carry with them throughout their career.

The tragedy of this avoidance of discomfort and pain is that it’s ultimately robbing the person of experiences that could lead to their greatest transformation and discovery of their core purpose.

This week, reflect back on your childhood or career. Is there an experience(s) that has been driving you consciously or unconsciously for years?

Maybe it’s time to use that to your advantage.


Quote of The Week

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”


-Mark Twain



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Second Chances (#176)

“What would it be like if you were known only for the worst thing you had ever done?”

This question was how Cat Hoke, founder of multiple prison reform programs, started a resignation e-mail that she knew would destroy her career but save the Prison Entrepreneur Program (“PEP”) she had helped start in Texas and cared deeply about.

For over a decade, Hoke has been dedicated to helping incarcerated inmates have a second chance at life.  In fact, she’s the founder of Hustle 2.0, the program I took part in and dedicated two Friday Forwards posts to my perspectives a few weeks back.

Hoke’s also been the beneficiary of several important second chances of her own.

A surprise divorce led to a dark period in her life. During that time, she crossed personal boundaries with formerly incarcerated inmates who had been part of her program. The “sex scandal” that ensued led to her ouster from PEP in 2009 and the resignation e-mailed noted above. What followed this experience were days of self-loathing, loneliness and severe depression.

Shortly after sending the email, people who’d known and cared about Hoke reached out, offered support and helped her get back on her feet.

Although it took time, Hoke was eventually able to rebuild herself, her career and her purpose, launching two new organizations (Defy and Hustle 2.0) that are now helping to improve the lives of tens of thousands of prisoners and their families. She’s also written a book titled, A Second Chance, that features a forward written by Sheryl Sandberg.

The interesting thing about purpose is that it tends to stem from a painful or formative life experience.

On the surface, Hoke’s choice to work with inmates was highly unlikely.  When she was 12 years told, her good friend was brutally murdered by two 16-year-old boys. One boy was sentenced to five years in prison and the other was sentenced to ten, both of which she felt were gross injustices compared to what they had done. Understandably, she was a hard-liner when it came to crime.

Years later, at 26-years-old and a rising executive at JP Morgan, Hoke began looking for more to life than “dying with a big pile of money.” When a colleague suggested she join her at a prison in Texas where she was doing volunteer work, she initially resisted. Her judgement of the prisoners, clouded by her own experience, was that they all deserved what they got and didn’t deserve help from volunteers.

Her friend, however, was ultimately able to persuade her into going. When Hoke recollects this experience, she shares how her very first conversation with a prisoner “changed everything,” including her viewpoint on incarceration and second chances. She even cried for days when she reflected on how ruthless she’d been in writing people off as being less than human.

In today’s “always on” news cycle, we are quick to judge mistakes in real-time and castigate those who we don’t know. It’s a “shoot first and ask questions later” philosophy. Too many take a position of superiority, pointing the finger at someone else for being different and “less than” based on a single poor decision they made.

Yet, we really aren’t all that different.

Show me someone who has never made a major mistake and I will show you someone who never put themselves out there. We all make mistakes to varying degrees of severity and, at some point, we are going to need a second chance. But first, we need to believe that we are worthy of one. As Hoke learned from her experience, sometimes the person we need to forgive most is ourselves.

If you can forgive yourself, you may find it easier to forgive others. You may even go on to help them as Hoke has done.

Perhaps the most powerful question you could ask yourself is the very question that Hoke included in the beginning of her resignation e-mail: “What would it be like if you were known only for the worst thing you had ever done?”

I had the privilege of sitting down with Cat Hoke in person on the Elevate podcast to talk about her own second chance and the thousands of second chances she’s gone on to create for others. I hope you enjoy our conversation.


Quote of The Week

“Sometimes life gives you a second chance, or even two! Not always, but sometimes. It’s what you do with those second chances that counts.”


-Dave Wilson


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Unlocking Potential (#171)

Last week, I wrote about my incredible experience visiting a maximum-security prison with a group of business leaders. I also shared three lessons that I took away from it.

I was touched by the notes I received from people around the world who vulnerably shared their reactions to that post and their personal stories related to incarceration – either through a similar program or with a friend or family member in prison.

Reflecting on my experience and their notes, here are three more takeaways from my volunteer visit to Kern Valley State Prison.

We Are More Similar Than Different

As I mentioned last week, one of the most powerful exercises we did was to line up along a taped line across from an inmate; we’d all step forward or backward depending on if our answer to a question was true or not. In addition to illuminating clear differences in our upbringing and support structures, this exercise also exposed significant discrepancies when it came to getting into “trouble.”

A major difference between many of the inmates and the volunteers is that, when the inmate got into trouble early in their life, their families did not have the resources to bail them out or make the problem go away. Rarely did the inmate or their family have the financial wherewithal to hire an experienced (and typically expensive) attorney. Instead, they had to rely on court-appointed attorneys, many of whom are inexperienced and/or maintain high caseloads. Even when an inmate had gotten into trouble in ways similar to someone in our volunteer group, they were penalized far more harshly for their actions. For example, one was first arrested at the age of eight.

This also has a compounding effect, but in the wrong direction. Some of the poor choices they made in their youth – or were forced to make by a family member or guardian – only led to increasingly bigger problems later on, with added prison time and more serious consequences. The vicious cycle of incarceration is very real.

Every Action Has an Equal and Opposite Reaction

Almost all of the inmates that we met had been in a gang at some point. There were many reasons for this, including being young and vulnerable when they were recruited; lacking a support structure and positive social connections in their lives; and for protection. Many of these inmates lived in communities where gangs have a stronghold and were regularly subjected to violence by rival gangs. Joining a gang guaranteed support and protection as an alternative to being unprotected in their neighborhoods.

Tough new laws targeting gang association had resulted in many inmates having their sentences extended by 10 years, even if they’d joined in their early teens. One gentleman I spoke with was sentenced to 17 years for robbery before he was 18 years old because he had a prior conviction and was accused of being part of a gang; his original crime only carried a five-year sentence.

I heard many similar stories that revealed the real human impact of this policy, which is clearly not succeeding in serving as a deterrent. Rather, it’s over-crowding prisons with inmates who have done their time, learned their lessons and genuinely want to be productive members of society.

Everyone Has Potential

Perhaps the most important lesson that was reinforced for me on this trip was that everyone has the capacity to be and do better. What they need is hope, the right support systems and someone to believe in them.

Not only is this the blueprint of Cat Hoke’s programs, it’s the same formula parents and business leaders should follow to inspire others to grow their capacity and take their life and/or work to a new level.

This does not discount the hard work that is required to actualize potential, but it goes a long way in setting the stage for success.

If a group of inmates can be inspired to want better for themselves and commit to living a more purposeful life within the confines of a maximum-security prison, just think about what you could do each day to lift up those around you.

The impact could be life-changing.


Quote of The Week

“We rise by lifting others.”


-Robert Ingersoll


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