Friday, September 27, 2013

Meet, Plan, Go!

I recently attended an event in NYC organized by Meet, Plan, Go! (, a group that encourages people to consider a career break “to travel the world and have it be beneficial to your career.”  I love the vision behind this group and the type of people I met there – folks who are interested in new experiences and growth, and not afraid to challenge societal norms.

I give a workshop that was inspired by Meet, Plan, Go!  “Take a Radical Sabbatical” encourages corporate executives to think of their careers like a competitive marathoner.  Novice runners often make the mistake of training hard all the time, which usually results in injury and/or a sub-par performance on race day.  But experienced marathoners know that recovery is just as important as the hardest long runs.  It’s while recovering that our muscles grow stronger.  The analogy extends to our careers.  I think that building in breaks from a professional routine – creating the space to reflect and recharge – improves creativity and effectiveness.  It counters the likelihood of burnout and cynicism that is so common.

This week’s Meet, Plan, Go! event focused on ways to ensure that the break genuinely enhances your career.  Some of the panelists spent a year traveling and volunteering, then returned to their old jobs refreshed and recharged.  Others chose to find a new professional path after they returned, one that built on the experiences they gained while visiting foreign cultures. 

Here are some notes from the discussion:

-       One panelist had children ages 13 and 9.  For over a decade, he and his wife had talked about taking a dream trip around the world, but never found the right time.  They finally decided just to make it work and homeschooled their kids while traveling the world for a year.
-       A sales rep explained how he closed some lucrative deals in his job.  The extra money gave him the ability and confidence to take a leave of absence to travel around the world for six months.  When he returned, he was hired back by his company into a more senior position.
-       One panelist explained that she had a strong urge to explore different cultures, but could not travel as much as she would like because of her work.  When a close childhood friend died, she decided to take action and follow through on her dream.  Her friend’s death was a reminder of how precious each moment is.  Why spend the finite time we have unhappy and feeling stuck? 
-       One panelist said, “I'm the type of person who can roll into a town for the first time, not speak the language and figure out how to manage.  That’s a life skill that makes me more effective in any job I do.”
-       A common theme among the panelists was self-confidence, a willingness to take risks in order to grow, and faith in themselves to make everything work.

The panelists’ comments resonated with me.  When I took a 2-month leave of absence from my job at Intel to cycle the length of Japan with my 8-year-old son, I worried that the decision might hurt my career.  In retrospect, that trip freed me from a fear of being unconventional and gave me the confidence to embark on a completely new professional role, one that has been more challenging and rewarding than my old corporate job.  You never know what opportunities await.  The key is to decide what path you want to follow and take action.  So what are you waiting for?  Go out and create your own adventure!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Being Adventurous

I gave a 90-minute presentation yesterday at the IFC World Bank on the topic of “Being Adventurous.”

It was a great experience – the audience was engaged, respectful and asked a lot of questions.  I described my decision to leave the corporate world to become a writer and family adventurer, but made it clear that my talk was not intended to encourage people to quit their jobs!  Instead, we discussed ways to become more effective at work by adopting an adventurous mindset.

Being adventurous means opening yourself up to change, to challenge and growth, taking a fresh look at how you do things.  It’s an exploration of what is possible and requires letting go of excuses.  Being adventurous requires us to challenge our perceived limitations.  We all have limitations, of course, but I think many only exist in our minds. 

I shared lessons learned from the cycling trips I’ve taken with my kids across Japan, Iceland, Europe and the U.S.  While showing a celebratory photo from Lolo Summit, one of the mountain passes my kids and I cycled over on this summer’s Lewis & Clark ride, I said, “Can young kids pedal over the Rocky Mountains?  Yes, they can, because they just did!”  Another perceived limitation bites the dust. 

I told the audience about Dan Berlin, who went blind in his 30’s from macular degeneration.  Rather than being shackled by his disability, he decided to become a marathoner and triathlete.  I also mentioned Charlie Plaskon, who has been blind since childhood.  I guided him in the New York City Ironman last year, and we’ve given talks together at schools describing the experience.  Charlie tells the students, “Nobody is interested in your best excuse.  Just find a way.”  Dan and Charlie’s endurance feats are really metaphors for a mindset of positive energy and adventurous exploration of what is possible.

The audience was full of people from the Portfolio and Operational Risk Department whose jobs are to analyze uncertainties in the IFC’s equity and debt portfolio.  They are paid to be risk averse, and a few asked me about how I mitigate hazards on my adventures.  My answer: I turn down the risk dial as much as I can.  For example, my kids and I pull over our bikes and stop if traffic feels too dangerous.  Or we ask locals about bear activity before free camping in the forest.  The key is to minimize risk without letting anxiety over what might happen hold you back.

I was impressed by how open this group was to being more adventurous.  In a large organization, it’s easy to feel shackled by the narrow scope of many roles, to be frustrated by bureaucracy.  The answer lies in the perspective you bring to your work.  Think creatively about what you can contribute.  Inject passion into your job.  Propose new ideas to improve how things get done.  Find like-minded people and collaborate, regardless of your relative positions in the organization.  Be. Adventurous.

Here are some pics:
 With Irina Likhachova, Senior Communications Officer at the IFC World Bank
(It was her idea to bring me in as a speaker) 

 Sunset on the train from Washington, DC back to NYC

Sunday, September 15, 2013

September 15, 2013 – Reach the Beach 200-mile Relay

I just returned from running the 200-mile Reach the Beach relay, the longest distance running race in the U.S.  

The course starts at Cannon Mountain in Franconia, New Hampshire, runs through the gorgeous White Mountains, and ends at the Atlantic Ocean on the soft sands of Hampton Beach.  I joined an 11-person team named Fox Chase 2.  Fox Chase 1 was there too, competing with us head-to-head from start to finish. 

Here’s how it works: each team has 2 vans with 6 runners in each.  There are 36 legs divided among the runners, which means we run 3 times before finishing (usually somewhere around 24 hours, give or take 4 hours).  Since we were only able to secure 11 runners per team this year, a few of us ran 4 legs.  The biggest mistake people make is running the first leg as hard as they can, then crashing and burning later in the race.  But even if you hold back somewhat in the earlier legs, by the end, you’re sore, exhausted from lack of sleep and stinky.  But you're in a good mood, happy that it's over.  If you have to ask why we keep coming back to do this race each year, you obviously are a perfectly sane human being. 

After reaching the beach and collecting our finisher medals, we celebrated with burgers and beer at Fox Chase, New Hampshire, our team’s namesake and the home of fellow runner Mark Loehr, an extraordinary entrepreneur and generous host.  It takes a special person to invite over 20 unwashed runners into your home, and he does it annually for this event.

Our team has been called Fox Chase for years, but we got a lot more attention than usual this time around because of our name.  In the past two weeks, over 30 million people have watched this ridiculously silly video, “What Does the Fox Say?” which comes from the Norwegian comedy show “Ylvis”

Throughout the 25+ hours we were on the course, random runners often screamed out “ring-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding,” smiling like fools and dancing like a rabid fox.  It may have been our own team members who did the screaming and dancing, maybe me too.  Not really sure.  After all that running and lack of sleep, I don’t remember much.  I do know this: all Ylvis needed to do was find a Japanese person, who could have told him that, in Japanese, a fox says “kon kon.”  That should have settled it without the need to go to all the trouble of making the video that went viral like a fox with rabies.

Here are some pics: 
Fox Chase teammates at one of the foggy early morning transition areas

Patrick Kaufer and Tom O'Brien with the secret to running a 200-mile relay: brownies for breakfast

At the end of my 4th leg, stiff, sore and ready for burgers and beer

Fox Chase Teams 1 and 2 after reaching the beach!

Monday, September 9, 2013

My friends Dan and Alison do Toughman!

** On September 16, I edited this post to remove the photos of my friend getting hit and the name of the guy who did it.  When I was shown pics of the incident, I was angry and wanted to let my friends know how much it upset me on what was otherwise an excellent day.  I did not intend for this post to get so much attention (naive of me, now I see) or to turn this blog into a forum for debating something best left to the triathlon governing body to decide.  

I did not have video footage of the incident when I wrote the original post.  I included the two photos I got from Alison's husband and his friend (taken from 2 different phones, hence the difference in quality).  Someone did capture the incident on video, and I understand that the footage has been sent to USAT for them to use in their evaluation of whether to punish the athlete.

My goal in this post was to celebrate my amazing friend Dan Berlin, who has become a marathoner and triathlete despite the horrible effects of macular degeneration; and to recognize my friend Alison, who completed her first 1/2 Ironman and crossed the finish line surrounded by her 3 children and 6 others who came to the race with their parents to cheer her on.  Alison spends much of her energy helping others and receives a lot of love in return.

If you'd like to congratulate my friends on their accomplishment, feel free to leave a comment.  I've removed all comments from "anonymous" -- there's no reason to hide your identity here.  If you're interested in reading about the experience of cycling 1,700 miles of the Lewis & Clark Trail this summer with my 6-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son, check out some of the earlier posts.  Of the many amazing moments from this 2-month trip, the best was experiencing the kindness of strangers.  I'll do my best to keep this blog positive and hope to turn the strangers who visit into friends.

(Written on Sunday, Sep 8, 2013)
I did the Toughman triathlon today (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run), serving as a guide to my friend Dan Berlin, who lost his sight to macular degeneration.  My friend Alison Berna did the race too, her first ½ Ironman (showing off her knowledge of the periodic table, she called it her first 1/2 Feman).  It’s a well organized event in a beautiful setting.  Here are some highlights & lowlights from the day: 

Most annoying part of the day: waking up at 3:45 a.m.  My mind: “Hey body, it’s time to wake up.”  My body’s response: [deleted for excessive use of profanity]

Most impressive: watching Alison breeze through the race, as if it were no big deal.  Dan and I saw her several times throughout the event, and she was always smiling and moving smoothly.  She even assisted a deaf athlete during the 1.2-mile swim who asked her to stay by his side, in case he needed help.

Most awesome: sharing the race with Dan Berlin.  He doesn’t let being visually impaired stop him from accomplishing ambitious goals.  He rocked the course and, no doubt, challenged the assumptions of perceived limitations held by the many people he passed during the race.

Most beautiful: the views of the glistening water and dramatic waterfall as we ran along the top of the Croton Dam during the race.

Most entertaining: as we drove out of NYC at 4:30 a.m., watching drunk revelers squeezing the last bit of fun out of the remains of the night.

Most anger provoking: An elite athlete was running hard as Alison was headed in the other direction.  Alison turned to wave to her cheering kids and got in his way. I've been in that runner's situation before and understand how frustrating it can be to have to dodge another athlete as you're pushing hard at the finish of a race.  I've yelled sternly, "Watch what you're doing!" or "Be careful!"  The guy chose to hit her hard with his right hand.

Alison’s husband and friends captured everything on film, and the race director has reported the incident to USAT, the governing body of triathlon races.  In an example of something good coming from something bad, Alison met Dr. Bill Begg.  A fellow competitor in the race, he saw her crying after she had been hit and asked if she was okay.  The two ran together for the next 8 miles.  The director of medical services at Danbury Hospital, Dr. Begg treated victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre and founded United Physicians of Newtown, a group of doctors that came together with a single platform on gun control after the attack.  Cool dude and now another of Alison’s many friends.

Oh, and for those of you who read the previous blog: to his great relief, Sho made the middle school soccer team.  I joked that now he can’t be like Michael Jordan, but he said he’s fine with that.

Here are some pics:
The Toughman crew: Dan Berlin, Alison Berna, me (Charles Scott)

Alison with Dr. Bill Begg