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Adventure, Hiking, Leadership, Presence of Mind

Why We Are All Meant to Be Climbers

March 3, 2017


After sitting most of the work week and being inside for so long, I knew I needed some time outdoors. I can sense it when my energy gets pretty low, and my surroundings start to feel too confined.

 

That Sunday morning, I drove down to Crowder’s Mountain. The moment that I stepped out of the car and I smelled the pine and saw the trailhead, I felt myself begin to relax. Oftentimes at this point, I feel the urge to snag a picture or adjust my music. But, this time, I left my phone in the car.

 

I set out on a run. I set out on a climb.

 

As I ran deeper onto the trail, I started to see some rocks and boulders. Running on rocks is almost meditative – as much as they make me pay closer attention as I climb the trail, navigating their natural puzzle, they always seem to relax me.

 

I looked over my left shoulder. The morning sun was beginning to come out over the mountaintop.  It was a beautiful view through the trees and I started to lose track of time.

 

I was about halfway up the mountain when I felt my body and mind settle into the pace of the run. That felt about right; it usually takes me just about 20 minutes to settle into it and then see what’s around me – the greenery, the path, my dog running ahead looking back with that “this-is-so-awesome-Dad-let’s-keep-going” face.

 

I approached the top. The trail got steeper. And my run turned into a slower hike.

 

As I hit the last few steps to the summit, I could feel the air on my face. It was much colder. Almost out of breath, I started to see the view from the top.  The sky was so open and so clear and so blue.  There was nothing but open space in my view. And, in that moment, an overwhelming sense of wonder hits me.

 

That sense of wonder turns into a sense of possibility and excitement.  I wonder what else is out there; I wonder what else could be?

 

This wasn’t simply a Sunday morning run. This was a climb – a purposeful move into and out of a confined space; a shift from the thick of a forest to the open view of a mountain’s summit.

 

I think we are all meant to be climbers; not social climbers or actual rock climbers. Climbers as in seekers of open space.

 

There’s clearly great power in the climb but as much as we think our work is the actual climb, there’s a step before that. In order to climb, we must identify the confined space in which we find ourselves.

 

For me, I am inside a lot during the day. So when I have been sitting for a long time and I feel the natural urge to move I know immediately what my confined space is – the office – and I know what I need to do – get outside, run, explore, climb, wander.

 

During the week, I find being outside on a run, bike ride or hike keeps me centered. But what seems to feel really impactful is a weekend climb up the mountain and a view of a wide open vista.

 

I climb for a few reasons. To feel that sense of freedom, curiosity and wonder. To feel more alive and in the moment. To see new possibilities and open up my thinking. But, also to feel more connected to what’s important; what’s simple. Those are all the things that will get me out of any confined space.

 

As I make my way down that mountain many times I find myself laughing out loud like a little kid.  I think I laugh at how something so simple can also be so profound.

Adventure, Hiking, Leadership

Why it is important to have great people on your climb

February 2, 2017

I think one of the most important things in life is to have great friends and mentors who challenge us and push us.  One of my good friends Peter Lowry does that for me.  Whether it was climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro or getting across this snow wall below, he has also been there to keep me going.

 

However, when I first came up to this snow wall I wanted nothing to do with it.  I really wanted to turn around and below were some thoughts on how I got through it.

 

What I got to see instead of turning back…

Thanks Petey!

 

 

Exercise, Hiking, Leadership

What made climbing Kilimanjaro so memorable

February 29, 2016

Summit day. 3am wake-up. We were a mixture of nervous and excited as we talked quietly over some warm oatmeal. It was very cold and pitch black dark. We had 4,000 ft left and 7 hours to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Step by step we were making progress up the mountain. It was very hard to see except for a few feet in front of you. I was breathing pretty heavy and intently focused on my steps. All the while wondering would I make to the top? Would my body adjust to the steady altitude increase? With my attention on the ground and in my thoughts, I almost forgot to look up. When I finally did I saw the sunrise to my left.

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I was so focused on getting to the top that I almost missed it. The beauty of the mountain had slowed me down, and I began reflecting on why I was on this climb. I was surprised a few moments later when I started experiencing some pretty strong emotions. I remembered all the people who had been part of “the climb” to get here – but also in my life.

I thought about my grandfather who passed away six years ago. He was the one who inspired me to be more active and live a healthier lifestyle. I thought about my family, close friends and colleagues who encouraged me to go on this trip when I struggled to make a decision. I thought about the clients and the work I care so much for. They were part of this journey with me. I was climbing for them.

I felt connected to my most important values…living with purpose, connecting with people, stretching my limits and feeling energized by possibility. I was able to do this with an awesome group of people that included some of my best friends from school. In just six days, we had also formed some special friendships with our amazing Tanzanian guides and the porters (the guys who helped carry our stuff up the mountain).

When we reached our last stop before the Summit at Gilman’s Point (18,562 ft), the taste of salty Pringles was amazing. I ate some more sour patch kids, and we all fueled up for the coldest part of the climb and our first snow.

For the first time the skies became very cloudy, and I was worried that we may not have a view at the Summit. Then as we made the ascent up the last few hundred feet, the clouds cleared and the sun came out. The air was cold, I was out of breath and my heart was pounding – I was feeling more alive that I had been in awhile.

As we walked up the last few feet to Uhuru Peak, I marveled at the sight of something I had never seen or felt before. 19,341 ft and the highest peak in Africa. For the first time in my life I could see across an entire continent. It was a special moment, and I smiled once again thinking about all the people who made the climb so memorable for me.

Below are some of my favorite highlights from the trip.

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The view

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Getting some air at the top!

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Our friend Jeff proposing at the summit to Angela…she said yes!

Our crew

Our crew on the first day

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Some kids I wanted to steal on the way up 🙂

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With our lead guide Joshua…this guy was amazing!

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Giving my boots to Felix after the trip…after seeing his ripped up shoes I figured he needed them much more than me

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Our whole crew (7 of us, 26 porters and 3 guides)

“If you want to fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.” – African Proverb

Dancing with our porters on the first morning…it seems everyone speaks Michael Jackson 🙂

How you climb a mountain is more important than reaching the top.” Yvon Chouinard (Patagonia founder)

 

 

 

 

Exercise, Hiking, Leadership

The mindset it takes to make it up the toughest climb in the world

February 10, 2015

19 days on a vertical rock wall. Sleeping in a tent hanging on the side of a mountain. Pulling yourself up on ledges that are two credit cards thin. It was a climb that many said was completely impossible.

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And having failed to make it to the top of this climb five times previously, what kind of mindset would it take to accomplish something like this?

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Meet Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson who were the first two climbers to “free climb” the Dawn Wall on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. Their story has captured the hearts of a nation and even had President Barack Obama tweeting about it. Read more details of their incredible accomplishment here.

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I started to follow their journey for several reasons but mainly because of an INC interview I read in October of 2013. It was about Caldwell teaching a course with Jim Collins (Author of Good to Great) to a group of cadets at West Point.

At that time Caldwell had already made three unsuccessful attempts at climbing the Dawn Wall. Collins and Caldwell discussed the challenge that this climb offered when Collins asked, “Why do you keep throwing yourself at this? All it does is give you failure upon failure. Why go back?”

“Because success is not the primary point,” Caldwell said. “I go back because the climb is making me better. It is making me stronger. I am not failing; I am growing.”

As stated in the article, “Caldwell viewed failure as an essential part of his search for the outer reaches of his capabilities as a climber.” “To find your limit and experience the most growth, you have to go on a journey of cumulative failure,” Caldwell said.

“Even if I never succeed in free climbing the Dawn Wall, it will make me so much stronger, and so much better, that most other climbs will seem easy by comparison.”

I thought Caldwell’s response was incredibly inspiring, and it definitely re-shaped my thoughts around ‘failure.’  The word ‘failure’ itself carries a negative stigma for many people in our society and can also stifle the best innovation within our organizations. When we start thinking about new ideas or our goals the potential for failure can sometimes overwhelm us and might hold back from pursuing our biggest aspirations as a result.

I remember this exact feeling when I wanted to start my own ‘climb’ which meant shifting from a career in commercial real estate to leadership development. It definitely delayed my decision for awhile as I was afraid it wouldn’t work out or I would fail.

But what if we saw ‘failing’ on the pathway toward a compelling personal or professional vision as a growth opportunity? What if it was just a necessary step in the process. It might shift our thinking from why it won’t work out to the thought of what might be possible?

“For me, I love to dream big, and I love to find ways to be a bit of an explorer,” Caldwell said in a recent NY Times article. “These days it seems like everything is padded and comes with warning labels. This just lights a fire under me, and that’s a really exciting way to live.”

On December 27, 2014, Caldwell would start his sixth attempt at the Dawn Wall with Jorgeson. Many continued to believe this route was not possible. But I believe for Caldwell, success was not always about making it the top. It was more about following his passion and stretching the limits of his potential along the way. He accepted that failed Dawn Wall attempts were a natural part of the process and had been planning for this climb since 2007.

After 19 grueling days and 7 years of work, they made it to the top. What a moment.

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It was certainly time to celebrate with a toast. It had been more than just a ‘climb’ for Caldwell as he shared with National Geographic. “For me the Dawn Wall is the perfect venue for some of the most important values I want to show [my son] Fitz,” said Caldwell… “Optimism, perseverance, dedication and the importance of dreaming big.”

Tommy/Kevin, thanks for inspiring us with your dream. You remind us that when we stretch the perceived limits of our potential, it might just be true that anything is possible.

I think this is why so many people around the world could relate to their story. As Jorgeson explained for the NY Times, “I hope it inspires people to find their own Dawn Wall, if you will. We’ve been working on this thing a long time, slowly and surely. I think everyone has their own secret Dawn Wall to complete one day, and maybe they can put this project in their own context.”

As you reflect today, what is something compelling that you want to go after? What is your Dawn Wall?

 

Energy Management, Leadership, Productivity

Four key steps to take before you set your goals

January 8, 2015

How on earth will I ever achieve that goal with what’s already on my plate? I often find myself asking this question and my first solution is to figure out how I can “fit” something else in. However, this rarely seems to work well and often leads to more frustration and overwhelm. This made me start to think about what I wanted to do more – or less – of as I prepared for 2015…

Then I stumbled onto a book called “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.” The author defines his approach this way: “Essentialism: only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make the highest contribution to the things that really matter.” This idea inspired me to start thinking differently about how I could energize my days and elevate my impact.

As you start to think about 2015, where do you want to make your highest contribution? What is compelling and inspiring to you? I put together four key steps below that can serve as a guide as you start setting your goals and look at where you want invest your time this year.

Step One: Define your highest and best use as a leader. What is most important for you to make the greatest impact at home and at work?

Step Two: Make a list of all the activities and tasks that are not connected to your highest and best use or drain your energy – this can be related to people too. Now make a second column next to it with two options…stop or outsource/delegate.

The first choice relates to low-leverage tasks and the answer for you may simply be: Stop Doing It. Why are you on that committee that you dread going to?  What other tasks seem to wear you out?

The second option is to outsource/delegate. Which items on your list must get done but frequently seem to get put on the back burner? Which ones can you request others to do to free up the space you need? For example, if you are looking for more time and you find yourself dreading spending your Saturdays mowing the lawn or cleaning your house, get someone to handle those chores for you. It can be conflicting at first to pay someone for tasks that you are used to handling, but if it is not connected to your highest and best use or it drains your energy, it could be a good investment in the log run. It might help in the early days to remember that something that might drain your energy is the very thing someone else loves to do. I highly recommend reviewing Tim Ferriss’ blog and listening to some of his podcast for ideas. Below are a few to get you started:

Outsource/Delegate Ideas:

House Cleaner/Laundry Help

Lawn Care

Scheduling/Logistical Support/Project Support – could someone on your team help? Or try a virtual assistant. I have used Worldwide 101 with much success.

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Meal Service Providers – If you struggle with cooking or fitting them in with your schedule, try ordering meals online or getting them delivered. I have tried or heard good things about Simply Fresh to You, Nourish, Mod Paleo and Blue Apron.  I am not a Paleo diet person, but I am loving the Mod Paleo meals.  They are very healthy, taste amazing and have a great variety of meats and veggies in each meal.  They also source their ingredients from local farms, so I like the idea of supporting farmers close to home.

As you look at options for outsourcing or delegating, at times there will be trade-offs. Maybe you watch less T.V. so you can spend more time on that project that really inspires you, or you give up cable so you can get a house cleaner. As stated in the book, “Essentialists see trade-offs as an inherent part of life, not as an inherently negative part of life. Instead of asking, “What do I have to give up?” they ask, “What do I want to go big on?”

Step Three: Make a list of all the activities and tasks that are connected to your highest and best use and also raise your energy. What are the things that inspire you or get you out of bed in the morning? Make a second column next to this list with ideas for how you will do more of these activities. What new habits will you commit to? How will your schedule reflect this? How will this be reflected in your goals?

Step Four: Share your lists with key people in your life at home and at work. Get their suggestions for what you should do more – or less – of. Remember there aren’t really any rules to this so keep experimenting. If you feel that tug to hang on to something remember that when you say “yes” to something you are saying “no” to something else.

As you plan for 2015, I also recommend a tool one of my colleagues put together on “Creating a Breakthrough 2015.” Enjoy your goal and vision planning. Keep me updated on what is working for you or any other ideas you have for outsourcing or delegating. So as you start the new year, what will you go big on in 2015?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leadership, Uncategorized

Leading, Lifting and Inspiring: A Message to Educators

May 18, 2014

Last week was Teacher Appreciation Week in Charlotte. Below is a message I wrote to all the teachers and principals I have worked with this past year.

In high school, I was going through a pretty tough time and was thinking about dropping out of a special program I was in.  I will never forget the day that changed it all for me.  I was in history class and making a joke about a question in front of the class.  My teacher, John Burton, looked at me with a puzzled stare.  I was once again not taking his class seriously, and Mr. Burton wasn’t going to let that happen.  He let me know I had more potential in me that I wasn’t seeing.  He took a stand for me.

I was inspired that day to get to work and in the process I developed a real love of history.  It was the first subject I really excelled at in high school.  I ended up staying in the program because of his inspiration.  I am not sure where I would be without him.

As educators, each of you have created thousands of stories like this for your students.  You get up each day even when you are tired, and bring love and care to your students.  You inspire kids to do amazing things and allow them to create their own life.  You lift kids out of difficult circumstances and disrupt generations of poverty.  Because of you, our community and our world is a better place.

Your commitment to making a difference is profound.  And is just downright inspirational.  I wanted to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the work you do.  But most importantly for the person are and what you bring to work everyday.  I appreciate YOU.  Have a great weekend.

Energy Management, Leadership, Presence of Mind, Productivity, Uncategorized

Embracing Minimalism

March 30, 2014

I had stuff everywhere. Every shelf was full, closet was packed, furniture in every corner and I found six travel toothpastes. If there was a bit of white space on the wall, I put something up on it. In the course of a recent move, I realized I had way too much stuff and way too much clutter.

I didn’t really notice this until I was inspired after reading a fantastic blog about Minimalism. Two guys named Joshua Fields and Ryan Nicodemus tell the story about getting rid of unneeded possessions and demoralizing jobs to free up space for a more meaningful, fulfilling life. The posts on this blog are like brain candy, and I couldn’t read enough of them.

The minimalist movement is fascinating to me with some people living with less than 100 things. Not sure I will go that far, but the concept of reducing the number of things in life that weigh us down has produced some amazing results for me.

What is kind of funny is that I moved from 700 sq ft to 880 sq ft, however I probably got rid of a 1/3-1/2 of my stuff. Here are some of the things I did to experiment:

1.  I reduced the amount of furniture in my living space to keep things more open with less clutter.

2.  I gave away over half of my clothes and shoes away to Goodwill. I only kept 10 button ups instead of 20. I realized I mainly only really wore about 5-6 pairs of pants, so I got rid of a bunch. I just have my favorite shoes and clothes now. I only keep one suit and two sport coats out and put the rest in storage to see if I really needed them. I realized that someone else could probably use a lot of the stuff I wasn’t wearing as much.

 

3.  I gave about half of my kitchen stuff away. I only kept the things out I use all the time. I realized I had four wine openers, 8 serving platters, etc. all of which I barely used. One of the concepts I love that Joshua and Ryan talk about is the 20/20 rule. Don’t hold on to anything that you don’t regularly use that you can replace for less than $20 in less than 20 minutes.

4.  I only put my favorite things up on the walls. I resisted the urge to fill up all the space.

5.  I went from probably 50 spices in the kitchen to 11. I had spices I hadn’t used in years and it was distracting when I only really use a few of them. If I need them for a recipe, I will just go get them again.

6.  I am now almost entireless paperless with my files and use Evernote and Box for all my files. This allows my office to essentially be anywhere I sit with my laptop, so I don’t need a separate office/desk area now.

Here is what I am noticing so far about embracing my own version of minimalism:

I feel like I have more time for myself.  This is my first blog post since November.

The clean physical space creates a sense of freedom, and I feel more creative and energized when I work from home.

I am spending less money because I am not worried about buying anything that isn’t essential. Now I spend my money on things that really add value or I enjoy.

I spend less time looking for things or organizing.

I am spending more time with good friends and doing my favorite things like doing a Madabolic workout or hitting up Atherton Mill Market and Luna’s Living Kitchen.  It was actually a friend of mind at Madabolic who first posted the article on Minimalism that inspired me. I generally just feel lighter and happier.

I definitely laugh at myself more about some of what I used to hold on to. I no longer keep trinkets from conferences :).

I have been applying these ideas to other areas of my life and plan to share those in the near future. Until then, I didn’t want to clutter up this post :).

So as you look around at your space and the things you own, what could you let go of? What is getting in the way of more freedom, productivity and being able to spend time on the things that matter to you?

So my challenge for you this week is to see where you can embrace your own version of minimalism. Experiment with works for you and see what you notice.

Energy Management, Exercise, Gym, Leadership, Presence of Mind, Productivity, Uncategorized

Is exercise the access to greater performance?

November 3, 2013

A few months ago, I noticed I was starting to slack on some of my workouts. I had been running but not really putting the time in for some of my workouts at the gym. I would try to squeeze in 10 minutes here and 20 minutes there and always validated reasons to cut it short. Did I really have time for a whole hour????

However, this all changed when I joined a gym called Elite Wellness with a trainer named Jason Boudrie who puts together some amazing group interval workouts. After the workouts, I immediately noticed I was more focused and my energy levels were through the roof into the afternoon.

On one particular day when I did a really tough workout, one of my colleagues said my some of my work was the best she had seen in several months. I could tell my heart rate was up more than ever during Jason’s workouts. And lately, I have I started doing some fantastic group interval classes at Madabolic. Not only is it a great workout, but I leave feeling refreshed by the sense of community and comraderie.

What I have noticed over the past few months is that I am able to get difficult tasks done quicker and with better outcomes than usual. My concentration levels and general sense of well-being and aliveness have been great.

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What I experienced is that making my exercise a priority is the access to greater performance. A noted Harvard Medical School professor and brain science expert named Dr. John Ratey outlined these ideas in a fascinating book called “Spark.” Dr Ratey’s research showed that “the real reason we feel so good when we get our blood pumping (through exercise) is that it makes the brain function at its best…building muscles and conditioning the heart and lungs are essentially side effects…the point of exercise is to build and condition the brain.” This has some interesting implications for leaders that want to tap into greater creativity and innovation in themselves and others.

Dr. Ratey’s research also showed how organizations can produce powerful results when their culture is built around wellness. A school district in Naperville, IL started educating students on a healthy lifestyle versus just getting them to play sports. At some schools they started using heart rate monitors to make sure students did some hard physical activity before their most difficult class. This was all designed to make sure the brain was ready for their most challenging tasks of the day. In 1999, Naperville district students scored first in the world in science on the Trends in Mathematical and Science Study (TIMSS) and 6th in Math.  By comparison, the rest of U.S. students ranked 18th and 19th respectively.

Unfortunately, many times our exercise is the first thing we drop when life gets busy or we just try to “fit in a few minutes” like I was doing. What could this be costing us with the performance of our organizations and our overall well-being? I know I feel like a new person every time I leave a great workout. It isn’t always easy to commit an hour to exercise, but the results are too strong for me to ignore. As Dr. Ratey points out, exercise is huge catalyst for greater performance and can also take us to the next level with our happiness, satisfaction and energy. Instead of trying to fit in exercise, what if our lives and organizations were built around when we exercise?

 

This was also posted on the blog for The Center for Intentional Leadership

 

Leadership

What would it take to win 21 of 31 NCAA Championships?

July 14, 2013

What kind of mind state would it take to win 21 of 31 NCAA National Championships?  I ran across this incredible quote from Anson Dorrance who is the Head Women’s Soccer Coach at UNC Chapel Hill and leads one of the most storied programs in NCAA athletics.

“The challenge for you as an individual athlete is to find a way to elevate your environment. This is not easy. You likely have to set your own standards of practice performance. You are part of a team sport, in which coaches and your teammates are critical for motivation. It’s tough to keep yourself on this edge independently. But this is what sets the truly great players apart. It is their capacity to do what I call “flame on” – to hit a button and just ignite. They can do this whenever, and with whomever.

There is no better example of this than our goalkeeper Jenni Branam. (As a sophomore, Jenni was an alternate on the 2000 Olympic team). What excited me about watching Jenni train in her freshman year was that when she was in goal, every single shot for her was the World Cup. That told me that she was only going to get better every year. And she has.

If you can train like every environment is the World Cup, take it to the most intense level, then your improvement is going to be remarkable. It will separate you from the ordinary.”

When I first read the quote, I immediately thought that Anson and his players are playing in a really big game.  It takes some serious intentionality to train with this kind of mind state.  It reflects one of the core values in our culture work at The Center for Intentional Leadership which is “Everything and Everyone Matters.”  Anson and Jenni demonstrated that championships happen through a collection of moments.  Yes, there are always those spectacular goals, shots, races or touchdowns but the foundation for these big moments happen when someone brings a championship mind state into everything they do.

As leaders who want to create a championship culture, we have to elevate our environment and be impeccable with our word in every aspect of our professional and personal lives.  For example, are you consistently delivering on what you tell people you are going to do?  What does your office or your locker room look like inside?  Is it tight and consistent with what you want to create?    This reminds me of a great story about my friend Paul Nichols who is the Head Football Coach at Davidson College.  When he took over the football program, one of the first things he did was have the team clean up the locker room.  Because he saw right away that it wasn’t consistent with a championship program. This is exactly what we mean by “Everything and Everyone Matters.”

Anson and Jenni give us a great example of the importance of establishing what we call a “Big Game” vision as the foundation of a championship mind state.  For Jenni it was deciding to play like every moment was the World Cup.  Once she had a vision of playing in the World Cup, she took intentional actions in every moment to cause this to happen.  I am sure there were days where she didn’t feel like practicing with a World Cup mentality.  But that didn’t matter because she re-committed to this vision every day…one shot at a time.  What I love about this story is that she ended up playing for the National Team from 2000-2006, so it sure worked for her.

So we can take a lesson from Anson and Jenni and tap into what ignites the flame in each one of us.  When we do this with ourselves first, we can inspire and influence others to see more possibility.  Leaders have the chance to make a huge impact on the people around them and the great ones help us separate from the ordinary.  Anson’s quote reminds us that it starts with every moment, every conversation and every message we send to others with our actions.  This kind of game certainly isn’t easy but it sure can be a game worth playing.  Why not go after something remarkable?