Today I had some thoughts about doing everything with excellence.
There is an ironic expression in the restaurant industry called the Two-Second Rule. It means food dropped on the ground can be used as long as it is picked up within two seconds. I've even heard of the "Two Foot Rule," meaning you can still use it as long as two feet haven't touched it. I've heard and used these expressions many times in my pre-law school years managing restaurants. These expressions are ironic - nobody actually abides by them (that I have seen).
My philosophy in the kitchen, both in restaurants when I was a kitchen manager, and at home where I am the self-appointed Director of Culinary Operations, is that I never serve something I wouldn't eat myself. I wouldn't eat something dropped on the ground, therefore I wouldn't serve something dropped on the ground.
Tonight I heard an allegory by Les Brown while listening to an audiobook. He told the story of a burnt out general contractor nearing retirement whose employer directed him to build one final home. Eager to get the project completed and retire, the contractor cut corners, ignored subcontractors and knowingly used inferior products. When the project was completed the employer handed the contractor the keys and said the house was his. The shoddy home was his retirement gift. This story was used to explain how you should do everything with excellence, as if you were the ultimate beneficiary.
The story reminded me of the two-second rule. While there are few parallels between cooking and construction, you should strive for excellence in everything you do, imagining yourself as the recipient your endeavors. If you would not want to own the product you are creating, then start over or find a new vocation.
I apply the same philosophy with Eternal Roots. When I'm editing videos, incorporating photos and creating the transcribed book, I strive to create a quality product I would hand down to my own children, as if it were the last thing they would see from me. If you brought a similar ethos to your trade or profession, then that is part of your story to be preserved. Many people have deluded themselves into believing they led an uninteresting life, that nobody would care to hear their story. However, if you did your best with your God-given ability, then you have a story worth preserving.
Yesterday morning I saw someone I know on the train, and later passed him in the hallway. That afternoon he was on a stretcher, being lifted into an ambulance, suffering from a possible heart attack or stroke. We get wound up in our daily lives and little cares, and we are suddenly reminded of our fragile mortality.
I work in a law office downtown. Across the hallway is the district SBA office. They have a program called SCORE, which provides mentoring resources to small businesses. I have met with a SCORE counselor about Eternal Roots, and I am now working with SCORE to create a workshop for small business owners about legal concepts.
I commute downtown on the train, where I recently met a SCORE counselor, Jack. I started talking with him because our offices are right across the elevator lobby, and I am a small business owner myself. I showed Jack this website and solicited his feedback. We chatted about doing a law workshop at their facility. He is a nice guy with a warm personality. He introduced me to the director of workshops at SCORE, and they approved my curriculum. This will provide value to small businesses, while also being a resource for obtaining new clients. Jack opened that door for me.
Yesterday I saw Jack as we got off the train in the morning. He had a distant gaze in his eyes and didn't appear to see me. He seemed deep in his own thoughts, so I stayed a bit behind as we walked to the building. We crossed paths in the hallway later that morning, and he gave me a slight nod.
Around the noon hour I heard sirens outside, and saw a fire engine pull alongside my building. Sirens aren't an uncommon sound in downtown San Diego, and I didn't think much of it. An ambulance arrived moments later. I see homeless people getting picked up all the time, and figured there was an overdose (I've seen it before).
Yesterday afternoon I had a meeting with the SCORE director to review my curriculum. The mood was somber in the office, and the director said one of their counselors wasn't feeling well and was exhibiting symptoms consistent with a heart attack or stroke. He didn't feel up to taking the ride home, and they decided to call an ambulance. I asked if it was Jack, and he said yes. I offered to reschedule our meeting, but the director said we could proceed. During the meeting he recited Jack's feedback as we reviewed my curriculum.
I don't know Jack's prognosis. All I know is he was at work one moment, being carried out on a stretcher the next. I'm sure he had things on his mind, like the election or a to-do list, and the next instant he's solely focused on survival. Should he pull through, his life will be forever changed. Jack provided insight on this business and he helped me with my law practice, and never sought anything in return. He may or may not be alive today.
When something like this happens, you have to take a moment to reflect on your own mortality. Our time on this rock is short, and we need to make the most of our lives. I recently finished an audio book by Les Brown, called The Power of Purpose. If you haven't heard of him, definitely check it out. Les asked you to imagine receiving a terminal diagnosis, like a month, six months, or a year. If you knew you had a time certain left to live, what would you do with that time? Why not live your life right now as if you knew you had limited time left? We've all heard the expression that we should live each day like it's our last, but none of us do, and we prefer not to think about it and pretend we're immortal. Les caused me to ask that uncomfortable question of myself - what would I do if I knew I had six months to live? I thought if I preserved as many life stories as possible, asked the best questions and created the best products for families to cherish, then I could leave a positive mark on the world. That would be more meaningful than giving legal advice. Forget jumping out of planes and traveling to Paris - I would rather preserve your life story.
I now ask this question of you - if you knew you had six months to live, what would you do with that time? We don't all have the luxury of quitting a job, blowing through our savings/retirement and traveling the world, but what would you do with your time, given your current means? Would you keep working that job? Would you stay in that relationship? Would you mend fences with someone? Would you change or accomplish something, or would your life stay exactly the same?
Imagine what you could accomplish if you lived your life with the intensity and urgency of someone who had six months to live. Then do it.
Last week I was interviewed by Ranch & Coast Magazine, and the interviewer asked a question I didn't foresee: How did your wife respond when you first shared this idea? I stumbled at first because I hadn't thought about it, but I had to candidly answer that Nicole's enthusiasm was muted at first. She may have been a little annoyed. She totally has my back today, but it took a few days for the concept to sink in.
Nicole already has her hands full taking care of our children while I'm at the law office. She runs a graphic design business and we have a side business with Nerium International. When we put the kids to bed she clocks out from one career and clocks in for the other.
The idea of custom documentaries occurred to me in a flash while driving home from the train station after work. Thoughts flooded my brain and I struggled to process it. I entered the house a little manic and talking really fast. I usually give Nicole a break when I get home and am generally in charge of getting our kids ready for bed. That night I went straight to our bedroom, shut the door, and got on the phone with an old friend to bounce ideas. Nicole was shooting suspicious looks at me when I got off the phone.
Over the days and weeks, Nicole warmed to the idea as I developed the concept. In the beginning this was solely my thing, and Nicole offered helpful yet distant advice as I struggled teaching myself video editing. (Probably wise of her to stay back as I learn most things.)
I remember the exact moment Nicole became actively involved, and this became "our" project. A couple weeks after the idea was hatched, we drove to Big Bear for a weekend in a rented cabin with her side of the family. I was driving up I-215, spitballing ideas about packaging the DVD (the book hadn't entered my consciousness yet). I said I wanted to incorporate trees into the imagery, maybe even sequoias. Here I veered clumsily into her territory. She's a graphic designer - she makes wedding invitations for a living. Am I going to sit passively while she lectures me on the law? She started churning innovative ideas, and I realized I needed to cede the floor to the talent. That was the moment Nicole became engaged in this project with me.
Before that day I had not settled on a name for the project. By the time we started ascending up the mountain, she had a working title. I forget the first word, but the second word was Roots. I swapped the first word with Eternal, and when I first said, "Eternal Roots," we knew found the name.
Since then Nicole has been my in-house graphic design department. I write all the content for the website and promotional materials, and she makes sure it looks awesome. She designed my business cards, brochures and book jacket, and she proofreads much of my writing. I am very, very fortunate to have someone with her talents on my team.
On October 8th I reserved an exhibitor booth at the bi-annual Successful Aging Expo at the Town & Country Convention Center in Mission Valley. I knew there would be a flood of people attending, and I needed help working the booth. She's the only person who knows this project like I do, and she has a vested interest in its success. She could also make the booth look beautiful, something that will attract people. The week before the expo was stressful. Nicole put her clients on the back burner and put me first. She designed the sign-in sheet, re-designed the brochure from the ground up, designed the image for a stand-up banner, and she framed some of our favorite Hume Lake photos with inspirational quotes. See the log risers in the photo above? Her idea. The greenery on the table? Her idea. Those ferns alone brought several people to the table.
I'll do a separate post about the Expo itself, but it was an unspeakable feeling to see Nicole interacting with people at the Expo, sharing the Eternal Roots mission. She has watched this project evolve from inception to present, and she's great with people.
If I can glean a lesson from this, if you have a passion project and want your spouse's support, find a way for your spouse to meaningfully contribute. Have her participate in a way that accentuates her strengths, and your project will bear fruit.
We've all heard the expression from Socrates that the unexamined life is not worth living. Anyone can pay lip service to that expression, share it as a meme on Facebook, then return to mind-numbing cat videos. We are so distracted and addicted to technology that it's difficult to find sufficient peace and quiet to meaningfully reflect.
When you go outdoors, whether it's a walk in the park, hike, camping trip or visit to the beach or lake, you are less likely to have your nose in an electronic device. When we are in nature, we're in the moment. This is known as "mindfulness."
This is one of the reasons I look forward to our annual camping trip in Sequoia National Park. I'm in the moment all week, focusing on things like the meal I'm making, the meal I'm cleaning up, keeping food away from bears, the sounds of the lake, separating feuding children, whether I should kayak now or in an hour, etc. One of my favorite traditions is to walk down the trail to Hume Lake around 10:00 p.m., recline my beach chair and gaze at the stars. You have an unparalleled view of the Milky Way, can see satellites in orbit and are guaranteed to catch some shooting stars. You can't help but ponder your existence and place in the universe.
This trip becomes increasingly important to me with each passing year. When I'm out in nature, especially when I'm in the sequoias, I gain perspective and reflect upon my life in ways that never happen at home. All the noise and clutter is gone and the senses are heightened. I take stock of the previous year: my growth, successes, failures and lessons. I recalibrate my priorities and direction, and descend the mountain with renewed focus. That is what reflecting on life means to me. My capacity for self-reflection enhances my ability to ask meaningful questions of you during the interview process.
During our last trip to the sequoias we took a ton of photos we are excited to incorporate into this project. The pic above is one of them. My wife Nicole took this photo at dusk, when there wasn't a soul on the water. Perfect reflections sure can make one reflective. I will be sharing these photos, with the thoughts they inspire, in the coming weeks.
About the Blog
Here I write about the evolution of this project, the act of preserving life stories and personal development. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it.