Focus

Newmarket, Auckland NZ 2010 (photo credit: Christian Espinoza)

I tend to go down rabbit holes from time to time. I become obsessed.

At the moment, it’s a new camera that I must have. A few months ago it was learning a new business skill, and a few months before that it was Johnny Cash’s concept albums from the 1960’s.

Before I enter down the various rabbit holes I find that I am first intrigued, curious, and that quickly develops into an obsession to find out more. I must step through to the other side and see for myself just what is waiting there. It is an addictive trait, and luckily I have not developed one for drugs, alcohol or chocolate (coffee, maybe), but it leads me to focus all of my energy and attention to it for as long as it takes.

Although I have always been like this, it is only recently that I have picked up the pattern and analyzed the behavior. In the past I have tried to teach focus with little success. I figured that by doing one task repeatedly for a long period of time it would be a meditative experience and, like meditation, would ultimately lead the person to a greater state of focus. But it’s not the Karate Kid and sometimes people get bored before they get focused, and give up.

Focus is an extremely powerful state and when followed by action, it can create new worlds for us. There is no prep involved, but you have to move towards it.

If curiosity develops, follow it to see where it leads you. Venture into the unknown, as scary as it may seem.

Just don’t get trapped down the rabbit hole forever.

Hospitality

Amantani, Peru 2008 (photo credit: Christian Espinoza)

Where there is a wall, build a door.

When people seek shelter, share your roof.

When they are hungry, feed them,

If they are lonely, listen to them.

If it is cold, provide warmth.

When times are tough, come together.

If they are falling, help them up.

In times of despair, fill them with hope.

Be a gracious host to all people, and give without asking in return.

Friends

Ethan and Nathan, 2017 (photo credit: Christian Espinoza)

The times I hear Ethan laugh the hardest, is when he is with his friend Nathan (or Nate, as we call him).

These two have been thick as thieves since they were really little. From ice creams at the playground, to the school dance social, I have seen them grow up together.

This year Ethan and Nate started high school, except we enrolled Ethan into a different school than all the kids in his class, including Nate. So, the times they hang out are fewer and far between. Regardless of frequency, the minute they get together, out comes the hysterical laughing… and the mischief.

Most recently they’ve been doing these Missions. Essentially I drop them both off downtown, give them some cash, and they have to stay out until just before it gets dark, then they can come home. There are some basic ground rules that they repeat back to me for reassurance, but once they’re out of the car, the mission begins. They really love this, as they can see and do whatever they like, and without parental supervision.

I am always very glad that Ethan and Nate found each other. It’s been fun watching them grow up, and hopefully we get to see them experience more milestones together, and maybe enter into adulthood.

I think friends, like most everything else in life, should be about quality not quantity. Embrace your true friends, laugh hard with them, cry with them, but don’t forget them.

Getting Serious

Rainbows End, 2015 (Photo Credit: Christian Espinoza)

At what age does seriousness kick in?

As a child I thought that one day I would be a grown up and I can make big decisions. The notion of having seriousness didn’t enter my thought process, I was too busy watching Hulk Hogan wrestle Andre the Giant, this was serious enough.

Fast forward to my teens. Suddenly everything made sense! I knew everything, and best of all I was invincible. This was great, all I needed was to ignore this overpowering sense of peer pressure and the incessant need to be liked. Still though, I was living my best life, I had my friends all around, and 90’s music ruled. Now all I had to do was wait for the seriousness to kick in.

University was like a new age of discovery for me. Suddenly it was fun to learn, not like high school. We played Hacky sack (aka footbag), developed coffee addictions, and on occasion handed in assignments and you know, did some work. I waited for it, but still no seriousness.

Then I stepped into… the real world. Not the MTV reality show (for those who may not remember: THIS) but the actual real world. I got a job, then another job, and then I went traveling, came back and then got another job, met a girl, inherited a son, got married, started a company, traveled a bit more, and suddenly I started to feel it. I think I caught the seriousness, and it lingered.

Fast forward another ten years. The now. I am an adult, my son is a teenager, I am well removed from what is now considered to be cool (it’s not 90’s-level cool though), and I think I’ve lost the seriousness again. It’s nearly all gone now, which is great because I can breather easier, I don’t have headaches anymore, and I can go out and have fun with my friends. It did leave a few grey hairs and lines on my face though.

So what I noticed is that the seriousness will come, stay for a while, and then you get over it.

Why so serious?”

Heath Ledger as The Joker

Are you Funny?

Dave Hopkins, 2012 (photo credit: Christian Espinoza)

I am not funny, I will tell you this much. In fact, the night before my wedding I wrote my speech, with the sole purpose of making it so funny I would have the crowd on the floor laughing. Half way through reading it, people were getting the Kleenex out to wipe the tears from their faces… in sorrow. I had somehow managed to write the most sombre toned speech that night, even the MC (my brother in law with a great sense of humor) was crying.

Being funny is not easy… to someone who is not naturally funny, that is.

In my house my wife is the funny one, I don’t argue this, it’s fact. She can dish out one liners that will have you in hysterics. Her stories are engaging, moving, and above all, filled with laughter. If she ever writes an autobiography she should call it Coping with Humor. So how come we’re not all funny as well?

My observations of naturally funny people are that they have a genuine love to see others laugh, because when they laugh it brings out the best in them and they feel really good as a result. It’s a blend of spontaneity, wit, timing, and empathy. Note, I am not referring to stand up comedy, which is planned, rehearsed, and delivered with fine precision. Same intent though.

Having a sense of humor, knowing what is funny, and being able to harness that is a beautiful gift. It cures the blues, it gives hope, it fills your body up with endorphins that just make you feel great. There is nothing like it. My wife loves to remind me “if you don’t laugh you cry”.

Choose laughter.

Look, I don’t want to wax philosophic, but I will say that if you’re alive you’ve got to flap your arms and legs, you’ve got to jump around a lot, for life is the very opposite of death, and therefore you must at very least think noisy and colorfully, or you’re not alive.

– Mel Brooks

Attention

Kingsland, Auckland NZ 2012 (photo credit: Christian Espinoza)

In 2019 it seems the greatest asset to have is attention.

I sometimes find myself in direct competition with others people’s mobile phones during a conversation. That’s not a gripe, just a common observation. I have taught rooms of people, conducted training camps, given presentations, given talks on stage, and performed to audiences, and if I ever spot anyone on their phone I know instantly that I have lost their attention. It is the single most obvious indicator that they have lost interest or, better yet, found something else more interesting to give their attention to.

I went to see Gary Vaynerchuk give a keynote speech last year at the Cordis Hotel in Auckland, and he described the notion of attention as being the new currency in business (and in life). This reminded me of something similar, as I had recently read Oren Klaff’s book Pitch Anything. In the book, Klaff delves into the psychology of delivering a high stakes pitch, in particular how to immediately excite the attention of the person or people you are pitching to in order to deliver the content you have to them. Without first cutting through the ever present defense mechanism inherent in all of us, what we have to say or show will likely fall on deaf ears.

In our everyday lives we experience constant forces pulling at our attention, in both a digital and physical sense. If you don’t know a world without technology at your fingertips then you might struggle to gain and regain focus.

Give boredom a try. It will likely force new ideas to light. If you’re on your regular commute, on the bus or the train, and you don’t know what the view looks like along the way, try paying attention out the window instead of your phone. Who knows, it may inspire you to create something.

Practice

Ethan’s streamline, 2012 (photo credit: Christian Espinoza)

When Ethan was 7 years old we enrolled him into swimming. At first he couldn’t swim or keep himself afloat, and found the practice quite tedious and frustrating. Fast forward 7 years and many lessons later, Ethan is now in the Mini Squad team at his swim club, and will soon need to make the decision of either progressing into the competitive swim team, or surf life saving.

Those 7 years in between however, were not easy for him, and I watched as he fought his own learning. He couldn’t make sense of the movements, he was having difficulty keeping his stamina up, and with every lesson he grew more resentful. For a long time he did not understand why he wasn’t getting better, or faster. I watched the resistance every step of the way and I saw the defeat in his eyes at the end of his lessons, but I convinced him to stick with it.

It wasn’t until I signed him up for an inter-club competition a few years back when I saw the turning point. Ethan had been swimming in isolation with his coach, so when placed next to other children at his level he finally gained some perspective. He blew his competition out of the water! Ethan is a big 13 year old, at 6ft and 85kg, he tends to stand out (which I am sure does not help with his self esteem at times), but in the pool his stride and kicks propelled him on every race. A taste of victory, this changed everything, and his willingness to keep going soared.

We are all fragile, vulnerable beings, easily breakable despite our best efforts. Our own self awareness and ability to understand that and somehow overcome failure, defeat, and loss is what sets us apart in this life.

At some point we all need encouragement to keep going. Practice on its own may feel empty, so we look for challenges. We need to believe that the seeds we plant today will someday grow to become greater than ourselves. Persistence and practice is the way, belief is the key.

If you want to be the best, you have to do things that other people aren’t willing to do.”

– Michael Phelps