the practice of leadership: leading self in choice

I work in retail.

That is you can see about my job. I manage our inventory, update our budget tracker, and help create promotional plans that ultimately assist in our product sales. 

What you cannot see about my job are our conversations in the back room are centered on setting and working towards personal goals and our monthly staff meetings take place on yoga mats. Issues between co-workers are resolved with in the moment feedback instead of inter office memos. Our most audacious dreams and plans for our store are given breath and life by an endless stream of managers and supervisors who remove barriers for us rather than act as insurmountable gatekeepers.This is not “yo momma’s” retail job.

More impressive than anything else is the emphasis placed on developing us as entrepreneurial leaders capable of leading self, leading others, and ultimately leading organizations.

Put simply: we are taught how to become leaders. 

Before you can lead organizations you must be able to lead others and before you lead others you must be able to lead yourself.

According to our training in leading yourself there are seven different keys: choice, communication, integrity, personal responsibility, possibility, self knowledge, and vision & goals.

I want to discuss the key of choice. The statement that accompanies this key is “I have the power of choice in every moment.”

“I have the power of choice in every moment.”

This means that no matter what happens, good or bad, I have the ability to choose what happens next. I can choose to be happy or I can choose to be miserable. I can choose to take steps towards a future I desire or I can choose to sit where I am in the present moment and never progress or regress. I can even choose to live my life out of the perpetuation of my past, continually repeating my mistakes and enjoying vintage victories. 

I have the power of choice in every moment. 

As I learned how to lead myself I learned how to choose what is genuine. After years of trying out different sports, arts, studies, styles, and even personalities I realized that choosing to be genuine meant choosing the friends, activities, places, clothing, hobbies, and jobs that made me feel closest to my heart’s “true north”. 

I choose to lead myself in a direction that most closely resembles who I want to be for the world, not what the world desires me to be. This choice of “genuine” resonates in my faith, my doctrine of outdoor ethics, my relationships, and as of most recently my career choices. 

I have the power to choose being genuine in every moment.

Turns into…

I am genuine in every moment.

Progresses into…

I am genuine.

We progress from a place of choosing to a place of becoming. 

Genuinely, so.

the maxim magazine argument

the maxim magazine argument

Let’s talk mental health. Let’s talk insecurity. Let’s talk Maxim. Last night my partner let me know that he was offered and recently chose to purchase a steeply discounted subscription to Maxim magazine because he picked through one at a … Continue reading

ragnarök

ragnarök

Sport climbing is my jam. Endurance sport climbing competitions are my number one jam. 

After scouring the internet late one evening I was bummed to find that only two outdoor endurance sport climbing competitions exist here in the southeast region of the U.S.

One is the well known 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch in Jasper, AR and the other is the just-getting-started Ragnarök at Foster Falls in east Tennessee.

I pounded at my keyboard searching odd combinations of “sport climbing”, “endurance”, “outdoor”, “competition”, and occasionally “crush”. “Endurance crush” yielded the most fascinating results…

After about fifteen minutes I realized that all I was going to find outside those two competitions were either A) at an indoor gym or B) bouldering (Disclaimer: nothing is wrong with bouldering. I enjoy bouldering. I am not bashing bouldering.)

Correct me if I am wrong about this. I would love to be wrong. I would love to have overlooked something in Georgia or in North Carolina. Perhaps even in Kentucky. I’m looking at you, Red River Gorge. As far as I can tell, the pioneers in the endurance sport climbing competitions are 24HHH and Ragnarök. 

Plenty is known about the former, so let’s chat about the latter. I’m going out to Foster Falls green. I’ve never climbed a single route on real rock in Tennessee and I certainly don’t know how to climb multi-pitch (which is apparently a potential part of the competition).

All that aside, I really dig what this competition is about. $100 for a team to enter with 50 teams in the running. The proceeds go to the SCC (Southeast Climbers Coalition) to maintain the bolts and anchors on needy routes at Foster Falls. You heard me. THE proceeds (as in all of them) go to conservation of the climbing area. 

Awesome.

My partner and I have a goal of 50 routes in 12 hours. I haven’t shared this goal with him yet, but he’ll know eventually. I have a personal goal of not freezing my tail off and remembering to drink plenty of water. 

Oh, right. I would also like to “crush” as the saying goes.

Wish my team, “Rock, Chalk, and Terrell”, luck as we go support climbing in my home state!

And, yes, I most definitely plan on making some new scars.

i’ve got a plan

It occurred to me early last week that I don’t know why I’m writing this blog. I go to strange lengths to find wifi at a local coffee shop or bakery, figure out what has recently inspired my mind or touched my heart, and then I spend an hour typing out and editing it on my laptop to publish a piece as often as possible.

For what?

I have no “target audience” or “following” and I’m not motivated enough to find out who that might be. I do not receive any pay or other tangible benefit from doing this nor do I really feel overwhelmingly more balanced or peaceful because I use this as a creative outlet.

There is no longer glamour in the act of the written word. No fame in pontificating on daily life. If I wanted fame or glamour then I suppose I would start a YouTube channel. Or become a BuzzFeed contributor. After all, we are a culture of TLDR (too long, didn’t read). 

The conclusion I came to about why I write this blog is simple: I need the practice.

I have ideas of myself as someone who will one day have something published and I am slowly navigating that challenging world as I see many of my friends, writers far better than I, receive polite rejection letter after polite rejection letter from assorted clearinghouses. I know I need to grow my skill and establish my talent and determine what my narrative voice truly is.

So I write this blog. About not too much at all. I have an idea, though. I would like to devote a day to a topic that I have plenty to say about and the days look like this:

Monday- Climbing

Tuesday- Health Goals

Wednesday- Leadership Lessons

Thursday- Life Past or Present or Future

Friday- Friendship Stories

Sunday- Spirit Stuff

I left Saturday out so that I could be lazy. I anticipate this format changing and I will update it as I see necessary but for now this is what I know, so this is what I write.

eating cheap + eating clean = food fad of the season: whole30

eating cheap + eating clean = food fad of the season: whole30

No: sugar, legumes, grains, white potatoes, and alcohol. Yes: vegetables, fruits, unprocessed meats, and nuts. That is the name of my meal game from now until February 17th. I have never been one for trendy food fads. “Superfruits” are lost … Continue reading

letter to ex-boyfriend #2

Hey, man!

How’s it going at Council? Is that new guy treating you well? How’s the re-vamping of your program? Run through that two million dollars yet? 

How’s camp? Is Andrew making us proud? Does he need any support? How does he feel handling program director responsibilities? I hope he’s better than either you or I could ever be.

Of course, you’re the toughest act I’ve ever had to follow in that regard. That’s not a whiney sideways comment. I’m so grateful for the years of opportunity I had with you to grow and develop myself as a more gentle and compassionate leader.

But, you! Holy cow, man! YOU! You have grown and developed beyond even YOUR wildest dreams! Your diligence and patience with criticism after you dropped out of college inspire me and your bravery in pursuing your auto mechanic degree keeps me on track when I have doubts about my dreams.

Not to mention strength of your conviction in choosing to sacrifice and stay in Memphis and continue the good work with your Scouts when the love of your life moved to Seattle. 

I am so deeply and undyingly proud of you. 

Years ago when I hung up the phone after a marathon conversation with you and suddenly it rang again with your shaking and bashful voice on the other end asking for a date I never could imagine the remarkable impact we would have on one another.

Life changing doesn’t even begin to cover it. 

We went through so much together and you held my hand and my heart the entire way. From the birth of an ill advised journey into law school to the birth of my current journey into the career in outdoor education my heart truly desires, you’ve been there. Sometimes rolling your eyes and sometimes throwing your hands up in the air but always keeping me true to myself and my word.

I apologize with every fiber of my being for the ugly and dark things I did and said to you. I already know that I am forgiven. You never withheld that from anyone and you still never do. Just one more reason why I consider you one of the best men I’ve ever met and one of the best friends I will ever have.

My partner and I are doing well. I didn’t know I could love someone more than I loved you, but I do. I remember you telling me that when you finally made it clear to me that we wouldn’t be getting back together.

I asked through my desperate tears and shaking breath, “When does this stop hurting?”

You, with wisdom you don’t even realize you have, answered, “When you fall in love again.”

It stopped hurting before I fell in love again, but the love I now have for my partner is galvanized and made to endure from the lessons I learned from us. I’m working to make this one last.

I wish you more than the best. I wish you the world. My advice to you is this:

“Don’t you dare let anyone take advantage of your life.” You have the power to change the world around you as well as every person you touch. I am a living example of such. Do not allow this power to be taken from you and used for someone else’s desires. Follow your own.

With all the gratitude, admiration, and love of a lifelong friend,

-Erin

p.s. Meet a nice girl sometime soon and marry her so I can tell bad camp stories at your wedding. Also, crank some pointy eared babies out immediately thereafter so I can teach them scary climbing things.

dr. martin luther king, jr. and jacqueline smith

The first name is iconic. The second name is generic.

Late one evening after salsa dancing at a nearby club and gorging ourselves on greasy “Soul Burgers” of Ernestine and Hazel’s fame my partner and and I walked my running route on Main Street Memphis.

I always chose to run south on my route as there were more businesses and more people out and about during the times I would run. There was also more to see.

Plodding down the middle of the trolley tracks I could easily avoid sidewalk traffic and keep a pretty consistent pace between traffic lights. It also allowed me the luxury of paying attention to my surroundings instead of avoiding bumping into tourists and busy pedestrians.

I enjoyed peeking down the street at the neon lights illuminating Beale while taking a sidewalk detour to hop from star to star in the concrete in front of the historic and elegant Orpheum Theatre. The smell of gumbo emanated from Pearle’s Oyster House and I would keep going until I met the end of my stretch in front of the scantily clad mannequins of the American Apparel.

I would return to the front door of my apartment on the east side of Main which led me past my favorite part of the run. Skipping down the tiered man-made slopes of grass I would come to an abrupt stop and stand in somber silence in front of The Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.

In the vastness of the National Civil Rights Museum that now occupies the space where this great man last stood you almost miss the makeshift campsite off to your right. Stretched between an old couch and a folding table are several tarps and sitting in a folding  chair next to it all is a slight African American woman dressed in a track suit and draped in scarves.

Her name is Jackie and she has been living outside and protesting the existence of the National Civil Rights Museum for the past two and a half decades.

We sat Indian style in front of her on the sidewalk that night and listened intently to her reasons behind her length protest. At first she was hesitant about speaking with us, wary of our intentions and suspicious of my partner’s camera. She had every reason to be. Her run ins with the local police and with people who questioned her sanity were frequent and intense.

Eventually she opened up to us and shared warm stories about her life as a first soprano opera singer and talked blues music with us. A grin and laugh spread across her face when we didn’t recognize one of the late greats in the genre.

She applauded our youth, our compassion, and our fearlessness and we walked away from the three hour meeting bathed in the pale grey light of indecision. A grab-bag of feelings that we couldn’t quite reconcile.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was one man who changed the world forever with his defiant adherence to truth and justice. Jacqueline Smith is one woman who is lambasted and forgotten on a dirty street corner with her defiant adherence to exposing the lies she sees and the injustice before her.

King’s legacy lives on and his fingerprints are seen all over civil rights law, education reform, and religious teachings. His words can be heard spoken from the same spot on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial by nostalgic tourists determined to continue to live by his requests. His spirit is present in each triumph for human rights and we are all capable of recognizing the lasting impact he has made.

But what about Jackie?

Draw your own conclusions. Below are some links to articles written about her and the museum as well as the link to her website.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/at-the-scene-of-a-tragedy-national-civil-rights-museum-preserves-history/2011/07/26/gIQAW3NyRJ_story.html

http://geography.arizona.edu/sites/geography.arizona.edu/files/u122/The%20Street%20Politics%20of%20Jackie%20Smith.PDF

http://fulfillthedream.net/pages/mlk.new2.html

my life in 10 years

The company I currently work for suggests we plan personal, health, and career goals for ourselves in 1, 5, and 10 year increments. They provide us with a well thought out and inspiring framework for how to come up with and successfully execute the steps it takes to achieve our hearts’ desire.

Part of creating these goals involves writing a “vision” of our future lives and writing it in present tense in order to make it feel more “real” and “attainable”. Here is my vision written this last November, not only for myself, but for the world around me. This is my heart’s desire:

“I wake up and roll out of my hammock, my feet dangling just inches off the unfinished wood floor below. I slip into my travel worn Chaco’s and stretch my hands to the ceiling where slivers of warm morning light shine through. My skin is chilled by the still present dew and I choose to make some tea on my gas camp stove.”

“After adding honey and grabbing my peanut butter and trail mix I walk out onto my porch and survey the staff: my friends, my family. They exit the circle of plywood and grass hatched huts. We quietly and with smiles gather around the embers of a still burning fire from the previous nights and eat breakfast in quiet contemplation of the day.”

“One team volunteers to go into the city to replenish supplies while another accompanies them to pick up the group of teens from the inner city. The remaining team stays behind with me as we gear up to go set the routes and rappels for a climbing and caving exercise intended to teach our teens team building and self reliance. I report in to my base camp funding organization and excitedly explain that we have discovered another group of fingers to the cave and have begun our expedition plan to map them.”

“I end my call with a note about the two additional routes we plan on bolting for the teens later in the day. I return to my crew and ask them all, “How’s your heart?” as mine fills with warmth and love, knowing the work we set out to do is the work of changing lives forever.”

“We carry on down a trail, our gear bags clinking along.”

graduate record examination

I bought the Kaplan GRE Premier 2014 book with accompanying CD to the tune of $34.99 to begin preparing for my end of March attempt at scoring something high enough to warrant acceptance and maybe even scholarship at one of the four schools I am considering for my Master’s in Outdoor Education.

My hesitation to begin a new academic path shouldn’t shock me as much as it does. When I quit law school I was met with some pretty angry appraisals of my attitude toward higher education.

“Don’t kid yourself, you’ll never go back.” “You’re too lazy to try again.” “So what the hell are you going to do with a Bachelor’s in Psychology? When are you going to realize you need a money degree?”

More hesitation and even more opinions mounted when I proposed an Outdoor Education degree.

“That’s recreation. It’s not a real job.” “That’s pretty useless unless you go to the right school.” “Are you sure you want to do that for the rest of your life? You don’t think it’s just a phase you’re going through?” “So what the hell are you going to do with a Master’s in Outdoor Education? When are you going to realize you need a money degree?”

Ultimately I settled on the notion that I should filter out all the noise and well-meaning advice surrounding my decision to change paths. If I listen to any of it I will be paralyzed in indecision concerning not only my future career choice but my past career choice. I will live in an unproductive and miserable limbo of what I “should” or “shouldn’t” do with my time trapped in an average life surrounded by people who have average things to say about decisions that produce average outcomes.

I don’t care for average. I care about passionate failure and elated success. That doesn’t mean I will enjoy days full of either/or and nothing in between. I will have and am currently having my moments of in between. It simply means that I strive to live my life defined not by the average but by the outliers. Those moments of wonder that statisticians throw out to keep a neat and clean set of data that is easily controlled and manipulated.

I want my life to be the exception to average. I want it to be the unexpected opportunity to see a miracle in motion that like the first in an intersecting collection of dominos tips the universe just enough to set off a chain reaction of millions of miracles in motion.

My decision to apply to schools for my Master’s in Outdoor Education is yet developing. My reasons behind preferring this over a geology degree, finishing my final year of law school, pursuing a promotion within the amazing company I currently work for, or finding my “money degree” are growing clear over time. In all this fog of uncertainty and growth I know one thing to be true:

I seek to live a life extraordinary not for myself but so that extraordinary things have even as little as a mere chance to occur for the world.

That, my friends, is what I desire to do. Stay posted to see how that develops into a reality where average is unacceptable and miracles abound.