A Rooster on the HuntI’ve had the good fortune recently to have a great deal of space and time to myself living out in the country. If “time is money” in the city, then the country is fort Knox. Things move slower out here where things like the brute tango between a rooster and his chickens serves as entertainment. Living with nature has given me the luxury of a much needed step back from the incessant demands of life back in the city. I’ve been able to reassess my priorities, and recalibrate the value I assign to the people, places and things in my life. It’s remarkable how an open, natural setting after a long stint in a crowded city can reground us. I can actually hear myself think out here. For the first time, in a long while, I’m listening to my inner voice again.

Some of us have had the luxury of a much needed vacation on a remote beach somewhere, where there is nothing but empty space and time to indulge on our own inner voice. We get stressed and need vacations precisely because our daily demands too often do not align with that voice. Then, usually towards the end of the vacation, when we can finally hear ourselves think again, we resolve to keep that inner dialogue going when we get back home – only to lose it before lunch on the first day at the office. We may even hear this voice from time to time outside of vacations, but it seems to surface just in time for our phone, buzzing with a notification, to let us know what we should really be thinking about.

We each have a unique voice within us that originates from the natural flow of what’s happening in each moment. It isn’t the voice that imposes the ego’s expectations on life. Instead, it gives us brilliant insights to life’s biggest challenges, while serving the highest good. That is, if we can even hear the voice to begin with. You see, the voice that offers the best guidance doesn’t scream at us or demand that we listen to it. It doesn’t interrupt or boast like an advertisement or a salesman, trying to convince us that we don’t already have everything we need. It’s a quiet, humble voice. It doesn’t tell you to get more things, instead it helps you to let things go.

Stripping away the excesses that drown out our inner voice comes from living cleanly and simply. If you’ve ever done a cleansing diet that removes solid food for a time, you know the life-changing benefits of having a clean gut. Once clean, we can add foods back into to our diets one at a time so that we can more accurately identify the ones that cause us problems. It’s the same with our stomachs as it is with our minds. To truly thrive, we must set aside enough time to cleanse our thoughts. Only then can the smog of fear dissipate from our minds. And then, when we’re ready based on our own needs, we can rebuild by adding things back in one at a time. Without this process of deep cleansing for our minds, we might never find what’s holding us back from realizing our life’s true purpose.

My heartfelt wish is that every one of you and the people you care about can find a way to create the space and time you need to hear and heed your own inner voice. I know it feels impossible sometimes. But when things are the craziest is when we most need to take a step back and reassess. We don’t need more people selling us solutions to our problems, we have no shortage of that. What we need are more ways to help ourselves find enough silence to hear our own voices again. I found mine out in the country and it said to write this post. Where will you find yours?

Success is not final. Failure is not final. It is the courage to succeed that counts. – Winston Churchill.

I’ve failed more often than most people I know. I’m actually proud of that. It just means I’ve taken more risks and learned more along the way. Still, it doesn’t mean that learning is easy. On the contrary, learning is damn hard and admitting failure is even harder. But I believe that if we can admit to our mistakes, we can turn them into lessons that help us avoid them in the future.

It’s easy to take credit for our successes, attributing them to internal factors like hard work – that way we can talk ourselves into believing that we deserve it. But failures, well those we’d rather blame on external factors like luck. So for the purposes of personal growth and a desire to help others learn from my experience, I’d like to share what I consider to be my top 7 hard won lessons learned (to date) as an entrepreneur.

  1. Don’t let failure make you less generous. I think of myself as a giving person, but at times, especially when my personal bank account suffered from company expenses, I found myself increasingly selfish. In only thinking about myself, I pushed business partners away and snuffed out good opportunities. Now I work to maintain my otherwise natural sense of abundance.
  2. Step off the emotional roller coaster. I’m a passionate, enthusiastic person and that usually serves me well, but in the daily roller coaster of emotion that is entrepreneurship, it’s kicked the crap out of me. I’ve blown both my wins and setbacks out of proportion. It’s made me lose my even keel and that has caused me to run out of gas when I really needed it. Now I find passion in success, not just my ideas.
  3. Don’t always react, but do listen. When people have told me that my products wouldn’t work, it just made me want it more. Entrepreneurs are contrarian by nature, but I found that not following other people’s advice shouldn’t mean not listening what they have to say. In reality, some of my products ended up being solutions looking for problems. Now I hear what trusted sources have to say and make adjustments accordingly.
  4. Always believe in yourself. Rejection and entrepreneurship go hand in hand. You’re trying to do something new that most don’t yet understand. I used to take a lot of that rejection to heart and lost self-confidence along the way. Without confidence, things fall apart. Now I’m better prepared for the rejection and don’t take it so personally.
  5. Be naive, but not too naive. To some extent, entrepreneurs need a little naiveté. Truly seeing the immense amount of work ahead causes most logical people to run the other way. However, too much naiveté and our assumptions are almost certain to crumble in the face of adversity. Now I invest a lot more in due diligence before diving head first into an industry.
  6. Find a complementary partner. I’ve thrown myself at ideas and pushed relentlessly to make them a reality. In that process I’ve worked with several consultants, advisors and vendors, but not with enough true co-founders. For me, finding a great technical partner has been my biggest challenge. As I’ve ridden the emotional roller coaster of entrepreneurship, I’ve also wished that I had a partner that I could lean on when things seemed bleak. Now I don’t act like a cowboy and never go it alone. 
  7. Don’t lose your patience. I’d like to say that I’ve lost my patience, but the truth is that I’ve never had much to begin with. Looking at events only from my own perspective, I expected others to have my same sense of urgency, which they often do not have. There’s a fine line between determination and annoying the hell out of people. Now I see the line more clearly and am less likely to cross it again.

By no means is this list exhaustive! I’ve made plenty of other mistakes and learned a ton along the way. It’s true that entrepreneurship has sometimes challenged my otherwise positive thinking. Then again, realizing that we have challenges and having the courage to solve them is the very definition of optimism. 

Solutions can be elusive. Sometimes my mind feels like a desk piled high with print outs – presentations and research papers and analytics reports. Rather than painstakingly plow through it all, I find it so much more effective to just toss it wholesale into the circular file. Enter yoga.

When seemingly intractable problems become obstacles, I walk them into a yoga studio. Some yoga instructors will say to check your problems at the door, but that’s not always possible for me. When there’s something nagging at me, I walk into my yoga practice with an intention – to find a win-win solution that serves the highest good. I’ve yet to be disappointed.

I’m the kind of person that mentally wrestles with a problem and then beats it beyond recognition. I really hate not getting what I want when I want it. Here the critical voices derive from my frontal lobe, where reason and logic and ego reign. Some call this phenomenon, “Monkey Chatter.”

One of the great lessons from my yoga teacher training is that no pose is ever perfectly expressed. Like life, each pose is a dynamic tussle between opposing forces. So when an instructor says to press down through your figure tips in down dog, you’ve then likely lost focus on pressing back through your heals, or some other part of your body in the pose.

But here’s my takeaway: all those verbal cues from the yoga instructor aren’t just meant to get you in physical alignment. They’re also using your body to distract you from the world beyond your mat and focus instead on the moment between its edges. It’s a trick for physical and mental alignment. Here’s where the magic happens.

Recently, I walked into my yoga practice with a nagging thorn: a girl who’s all wrong for me, but somehow had consumed weeks of precious mind share. Hardly the biggest problem, but that mental space could be put to much better use. I was well into class and beyond my chatter brain – amenable to suggestion – when the instructor said, “Release what doesn’t serve you.” At that moment, I realized that I hadn’t been able to gracefully let go of something that obviously wasn’t meant for me.

And beyond that, what did this infatuation reveal about my relationship to women? I peeled back another layer of the onion.  As I flowed through class, I let those thoughts simmer and from it arose a mantra: Release what doesn’t serve you. And be grateful for what it revealed about you. My desk had cleared. 

Truly great teachers don’t teach. They are sculptors of the soul.

We are born into the world as a block of marble. Somewhere inside of that block exists our highest self, the raw potential of our destiny. If we’re open to it, the Universe presents us with experiences that work away at that block to reveal who we’re meant to be.

I’ve experienced times when the daily grind seems to just barely chisel away at my block. And other times when huge chunks of marble get broken off. I prefer the latter, when I feel like I’m making huge strides towards becoming my highest self. And few times in my life sculpted me more than my first semester of college, when I walked into the classroom of Dr. Charles W. Spurgeon.

To say that I was a block of untapped potential when I met Dr. Spurgeon would be a euphemism for saying that I was dumb and aimless. But over the course of a semester, he presented me with ways of thinking that turned into north stars of my existence. Through Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, and Jiddu Krishnamurti, he gave me a gift of value beyond measure — a sense of destiny.

In the play Thomas Becket, T.S. Eliot presents us with the historical Archbishop of Canterbury, who, like the story of Jesus, knowingly sticks to his beliefs at the expense of his own life (martyrdom). He had an immutable sense of destiny, no matter the consequences. In Hamlet, Shakespeare asks us to contemplate “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” And the great Indian philosopher Krishnamurti teaches that “truth is a pathless land.” In other words, there’s no one way, except your own way.

Those of you that have read my blog know of my personal struggles, especially those with my sick wife. During the worst of those years, I never seriously contemplated leaving her. It pushed me to the brink of insanity at times, but my sense of destiny strengthened me and helped me push through. And while I am no Thomas Becket or Jesus, in my own way, I emerged reborn and stronger because of it.

Earlier this week I met with Dr. Spurgeon for the first time in almost 17 years. I’ve thought about him often, but never managed to find him. We met at an English Pub near Marymount College, my old school. I finally had the opportunity to tell him all the ways he helped to shape my life. As he nears the final years of his career, and as he contemplates all the struggles and time wasted on so many oblivious students, our lunch helped to reinforced his own sense of destiny. I took his gift out into the world and returned it at a time when he needed it most. We completed one of life’s cycles — where a teacher goes from sculptor to sculpture.

If you haven’t, read Part 1 first.

Laurie the day Sky was born. She never looked so beautiful. - Mary Birch Woman's Hospital, San Diego, CA

Laurie the day Sky was born. She never looked healthier or so beautiful.                                       – Mary Birch Hospital, San Diego, CA


Laurie had been on birth control for more than 12 years. When you consider that there’s a 1 in 200 (99.5%) chance of getting pregnant on her birth control, we couldn’t help but believe that we were witness to a miracle. We had experienced a few miracles in our lifetime, but getting pregnant with all the odds against us, was the greatest miracle of all.

Laurie didn’t figure out she was pregnant until month two. Had she taken those chemotherapy pills that she intuitively rejected a few weeks earlier, her pregnancy would have to be terminated immediately. I learned never to underestimate a woman’s intuition.

Over the 7 months of her pregnancy, Laurie never felt better. She was swimming and walking and doing all the things she wished she could do before her pregnancy. Later I learned that it’s not unusual for a sick woman’s hormones to push her disease into remission. It was a beautiful time filled with love and compassion. Her pregnancy brought us even closer. It was bliss.

We discussed a few names. Laurie, being the consummate New Ager suggested we name her Earth Song. We had a good laugh over that one. But then we remembered that sad poem I wrote for her 12 years before. Sky Meadow Harms was born premature at 28 weeks (just 4 pounds, 7 ounces), but she was absolutely perfect and healthy. We were home three days later, hopelessly in love with our little miracle that we were told, and Laurie believed, would “never” be born. Cradling Sky in her arms, Laurie looked at me and said what every husband wants to hear at least once in his lifetime – “You were right.”

A weakened Laurie picks up her energy for Sky after several nearly fatal surgeries with Sky at Cedars Sinai.

A weakened Laurie picks up her energy for Sky after several nearly fatal surgeries.            – Cedars Sinai, Beverly Hills, CA.

Laurie lived for another two and a half years. She witnessed Sky’s first steps, her first words and got to see her fledgling personality shine through. Although six months after Sky was born, Laurie experienced the most violent two years of her disease, she fought to be Sky’s mom for as long as she could. It was as if her disease had given her a break (finally) to have a healthy pregnancy, but then returned to same degeneration after Sky was born.

Laurie said our love kept her fighting to stay alive after her first major surgery, but now she was fighting to stay alive for Sky. Sky gave her life the meaning she longed for. Even though her countdown had begun, she would leave me a gift with worth beyond measure.

Today, Sky is an extremely smart, sweet, funny, well-mannered, beautiful little girl. Her name is a daily reminder of a time when I foolishly believed in Never. Despite all the struggle, eventually even losing my soul mate, Sky gives me the feeling that it was all worth it – that in the end, I came out ahead. Having this beautiful creature depend on me, helped me to quickly pick myself up after Laurie died. I had to move forward with my life for the both of us.

Laurie believed that in the spiritual plane, Sky had chosen us to be her parents. She also believed that Sky was born to change the consciousness of the world. On this Earthly plane of existence, Sky gave Laurie the satisfaction of knowing that her life had purpose. And even in death, through Sky, her spirit would live on.

Just like her mommy, Sky hams it up for the camera on an impromptu  photo shoot at Grandma’s beach house. –  Algarrobo, Chile


IMG_2806 IMG_2819

Sky in Chile posing for the camera.

Never is a useless word. Highly unlikely, I’ll concede. But my pathological optimism is at odds with certainties like Never. I cringe when I hear the word. It also motivates me. Most people say it because they believe that Never actually exists. Convincing you to believe it too is a way of validating their own defeatism.

When I was 19, I was deeply in love with a girl named Laurie. One of the reasons why she requited was because, like her, I was a romantic and a poet. She fell in love with me when she saw me reciting poetry to a table I was serving. We were romantic twins. Even at that tender age, we were contemplating what life would be like as a married couple. We even named our future first child – Sky.

So when she broke up with me to avoid the angst of a long distance relationship (I was leaving for a new University), I turned to poetry. I wrote a long, sad poem for her titled, Now Sky Will Never Be Born. We broke up for three years and only ran into each other once during all that time. But within two weeks of graduating, we saw each other again and never looked back.

Laurie was already suffering from the disease that eventually killed her when we reunited at 22. After a 13 hour marathon surgery that her neurosurgeon said would be a 9 out of 10 difficulty, he gave her just two years to live. I refused to believe it and the next day asked her to marry me. She had a good recovery and lived for another 9 years. We were happily married for eight of those years, but there was something that Laurie believed that ultimately threatened our marriage – that she could not and didn’t want to have a baby.

Her doctors had confirmed that getting pregnant would threaten her life. Though I had always felt that being a father was a part of my destiny, I conceded that it would now be highly unlikely. But that she didn’t want to have a baby, and that we would never have one was something I struggled with.

On this one issue, Laurie decided to believe in Never. I remember calling my mother and sharing how distressed I was and that a part of me wanted to leave because she was so adamant that we would never have a baby. Though I didn’t share that sentiment with Laurie, she told me that she would understand if I wanted to leave her to be with somebody that could make me the dad I deserved to be. She loved me so much that she was offering me an out of all the hospitals and stress created by her illness.  We didn’t come to an agreement on the issue, but I stayed because I couldn’t imagine a life without her. I told her that I still refused to believe in Never.

Me worshiping Laurie's pregnant belly at a perfect sunset in Del Mar, California.

Me worshiping Laurie’s pregnant belly at a perfect sunset in Del Mar, California.

Years later, after a few years of relative peace, Laurie’s disease returned with a vengeance. After two rounds of radiation, her doctors were at a loss. After all, for diseases as rare as hers (3 in a billion) there are no known treatments. Pharmaceutical companies understandably don’t develop treatments for markets that small. So her doctors threw a hail mary: an experimental take home chemotherapy pill they believed might help, though it had never been given to a patient with her disease. After much ado with our health insurance, they approved her $7,000 a month treatment. When the pills arrived in the mail, Laurie surprised me because she had an intuition that she shouldn’t take them.

A few weeks later, Laurie drove by a McDonalds and had a craving to eat a Big Mac. It was a bizarre craving since we normally don’t eat there. Laurie knew something was different and she drove directly to the pharmacy to buy a pregnancy test. Positive. When I got a call from her at work, I froze – total shock. On my way home, I had a most disorienting feeling of being both ecstatic about the potential of having a baby, while simultaneously feeling that my soulmate’s very life was at stake.

I didn’t pressured her either way, I was just there to help her think it through.  Three days later, and after much discussion, Laurie decided, despite the likelihood of a tragedy, that we were witness to a miracle. She would risk her life to give me the child that she felt I deserved. We would go through with the pregnancy – no matter the consequences.

Read Part 2 now, or wait for it’s official release Wednesday.

Have you ever identified with a character in a book? Most of us have. But have you ever thought of your Self as actually being a character in a book? It’s a distinction that has kept me preoccupied. I wrote a piece related to the subject for TED Weekends last week, but I still need to develop the concept further in my own mind. I say need, because it’s become the unexpected central theme of my book. I know that I can write about my past, but is it possible for me to use the book to write (create) my future?

Searching Google for answers, I found a fascinating (yet drably academic) dissertation on the concept of “Life as Art.” Nietzsche is central to the paper because he sees the self as a material to be produced, molded, and crafted along aesthetic lines – not as a stable subject. He called it, “autoaesthetics,” the self-conscious molding of one’s life.

Nietzsche assimilates the ideal person to an ideal literary character and the ideal life to an ideal story. He believed that one can live artfully, or autoaesthetically, if one actively engages in the process of understanding one’s life through the process of writing. In a literary sense, narrative self-formation is character formation: one is involved in the process of creating one’s own character through the process of dispensing with and creating a series of settings and relationships.

I haven’t posted on this blog in a while because I’ve been writing my book. After a lot of stress and self-doubt, the book is finally leading me instead of me leading it. During the process, I had an insight that changed the course of the story, both in my book and in my life. Somewhere along the way, my life became the book and my book became my life. In a literal sense, I’ve started to live my life the way that I want the story to be told in the book. Nietzsche might say that I’m living autoaesthetically. After wrestling with the idea for a bit, I think I’m ready to let go of my preconceptions going into this journey, and instead allow the process to take over.

After all, life is a process of self-creation.

I love a good story. I love them so much that I want my own life to be one. I want to follow my bliss, visit exotic locations, open the world to my daughter, get to know interesting people, and write it all down to share with kindred spirits. I want to live a life worth writing about.

On that quest, I also have a tendency to overlook some important details. I figure that I can overcome any obstacles with sheer will and positivity. Often times I can. But at what cost? In the long run, some details refuse to be overlooked.

Life is about decisions. I often write about the moment when I asked Laurie to marry me the day after she got two years to live. That decision set off a chain reaction that defines my life to this day. In my mind, I had a story that I wanted to tell. I wanted the story to be that our love saved her life.

I wasn’t thinking in these terms back then, but I wanted to be prince charming riding into the castle to slay the dragon and save my damsel in distress. I couldn’t control the medical reality, but I could control how I wielded my love for her. Love is a nuclear weapon. To a large degree our extraordinary love succeeded – just not happily ever after.

Laurie lived another 10 years, 8 more than doctors predicted, but she did inevitably die. No matter how much sheer will and positivity one can muster, some details are final. When she died, and even the two extremely difficult years prior, I was living with the consequences of my fairy tale-like fantasy.

Suffering during our final years together was relentless. And not just for me and Laurie, but also for all of our friends and family who chose to be there for us. They found our story compelling enough to write themselves into it.

Many of my struggles today are a legacy of the original love story I wanted so badly to come true. It didn’t turn out exactly as I planned – no matter how bravely I fought. But maybe I wasn’t really looking for a good or a bad ending. After all, unlike a fairy-tale, a good story must have both.

My life has been uniquely mine. No man has walked in my shoes. Starting with my first decision as an adult: proposing marriage to a girl who had been given two years to live by her neurosurgeon. Had I listened to reason or looked out for my own self-interests, I might have wished her the best and walked out the back door. Nothing held me back from doing so. Instead, I rejected the evidence before me and chose to believe what I felt inside to be true.

We had a choice when Laurie unexpectedly got pregnant. She had been on the pill for 10 years without fail. Her doctors advised her that having a baby could have fatal complications. She might not survive. I also had someone very close to me try to dissuade me from going through with the pregnancy. The baby would grow up without a mommy. Everyone around us would have added responsibility and burden. Laurie and I discussed it. We decided that we were witness to a miracle. We rejected the facts and did what we were meant to do. In exchange, Laurie and I got a purpose for living.

Yesterday, one of my uncles pulled me aside. He was concerned. He said that I looked melancholy. For two days he’d heard me retell old stories about Laurie. He didn’t think it was healthy. I replied that Laurie has been on my mind more than usual because I’ve been writing our story. He explained that what I’m writing is about living in the past. I should be looking to the future. I should be focused on all the beautiful women around me and looking to create a new family. Leave the tragedy of what happened in the dusts of time.

I’ve never been shy about giving advice, but results have been inconclusive. Everyone’s life is uniquely their own, so how can I purport to know what’s best for anyone else? From my uncle’s perspective, what happened to Laurie is tragic. I don’t blame him for thinking it so. He’s also right that living in the past is dangerous. Over the next few months I’m going to be picking at scabs from old wounds. If I do a good job writing my story, I will have relived many of those painful moments a second time.

It’s true that life is best lived in the present. Still, I feel that before I can move freely into the future, I need an opportunity to release everything that happened to us into words – for my daughter and anybody else that may gain from it. Not to give advice, but to connect with those who can relate to my story. Perhaps even to find the strength to do what they feel is right – even when the people who care about them disagree. Even when those people are also right.

Controlling a candle flame with your mind is an insightful exercise. Laurie did it to reflect self-control over many areas of her life. She was able to move a flame to one side and then the other, minimize the flame and then raise it unnaturally high. Through deep meditation she could change the nature of reality within herself, which was then reflected in the candle flame before her. Prior to marrying a psychic, I would have been dismissive of the idea that one’s mind can directly control the physical world. But as any skeptic will tell you, seeing is believing.

For Laurie, it wasn’t enough for me to believe that she believed. She made it a point to present evidence to me over the course of our ten years together. Over time, she wore down my skepticism. She believed that each of us has a supernatural gift (a sixth sense), but we stop listening to it as we grow in society. She even helped me discover my own gift: the ability to picture a future state so clearly in my mind that I can actually make it a reality. She called it a “mock up” of the future. I now make a conscious effort to visualize my future before I create it.

When Laurie and I met she was just starting to discover her psychic gifts. At the time she had a brand new black Honda Accord. Eight years later we still had that same Accord. I reluctantly drove it to work sometimes. One day after work the car wouldn’t start, so I called her to come pick me up. When she arrived she sat in the driver’s seat and simply meditated on “grounding” the car. After about 5 minutes of meditation she turned the key and the car started right up. She repeated this feat at least four more times before we eventually sold it. Each time we looked at each other and smiled.

Laurie possessed a psychic talent. Like any talent, she believed that betterment required practice. She spent hours a day exercising her psychic abilities. She even attended a school for psychics, the Southern California Psychic Institute, where she found kindred spirits that helped her evolve. As Laurie strengthened her abilities, she weakened my assumptions about reality. When I watched her melt and impossibly twist a spoon with her mind, it opened me to a whole new world of possibilities.

Laurie once guided my mother, aunt and I through the meditation she used to make a hard metal spoon feel like soft, malleable plastic in our hands. We were to start by imagining a light energy from the center of the earth, moving up through the soles of our feet, and eventually through our entire bodies. My eyes closed in a long meditation. I remember feeling my hands move, bending the spoon with ease. To my surprise however, when I opened my eyes I saw that the spoon was unbent, exactly as it was made. Laurie went on to impossibly twist several spoons right in front of us. I kept one of those spoons for my daughter and posted a picture of it here.

Ironically, Laurie was able to melt spoons and manipulate flames, but she couldn’t heal herself. Perhaps there are limits. Still, she made a believer out of me and taught me how to be active in the creation of my reality. I will always be thankful for that. The unmeasurable world has enriched my life immeasurably.