Life Happened for Sean Adams

Photo courtesy of AM 1300 THE ZONE‏ @am1300thezone

Austin media personality Sean Adams passed away yesterday at the age of 46. That could be one of those impersonal headlines that you see and think nothing of. For many people in the Austin area it is very personal. It is for me.

I recently wrote about change. Yesterday things changed for a lot of us.

Sean and I were not close friends, but we knew each other and liked each other. I went to church with him for many years and always admired him. There were many exceptional things about him. He was a great son, husband, father, and friend. He took all of those roles and responsibilities seriously. He was a man of faith, and he had a remarkable breadth and depth about him. He had talent coupled with a terrific work ethic. He and Chip Brown in the mornings were a special team discussing sports. There was true chemistry there, and it was great to listen to. It was a morning staple for many of us. It was about more than just sports – it was sports generously seasoned with wit and wisdom.

I had lunch with Sean a couple of times at his favorite restaurant, Cover 3. We talked about our families, business, and he encouraged me when I was writing my book. He was also an encouragement to our children. When I got the stunning news yesterday about his passing, I looked at my text message history with him. There is nothing profound there, but I will always treasure it.

My heart goes out to Karen, Damon, Alex, and Sean’s mother and siblings. I also grieve for Chip Brown, Mike Hardge, Mike Weigand, Anthony Williams, Thomas Graham, Geoff Ketchum, and all of the other many people who shared a close bond with Sean. He had a lot of true and genuine friends all across the country. You cannot say that about many people.

My lasting memories of Sean will be his faith and his heart for elevating others to higher planes. He was famous for the wisdom in his many sayings. They will stick with me.

Here are a few of my favorites:

  • “The dream is free, the hustle is sold separately. Go to work.”
  • “Do something good for the world today, because the people who are making it worse aren’t taking the day off.”
  • “Everybody dies, but not everybody lives.”

Photo courtesy of Enrique Garza‏ @goodstuffcvms

He and I also shared a perspective on the value of sports. He spoke often of the huddle. The huddle is sacred, he would say. It is the one place where northerner and southerner, rich and poor, black and white, conservative and liberal, come together, put their arms around each other, and bond for a common goal. They sweat and bleed together, and special things happen.

Sean often said: “Life happens for those who show up.”

Sean showed up.

Life happened for him.

Thanks for showing up for all of us, brother. Rest in Peace.

Changing Seasons

As we approach the end of summer with the autumnal equinox, I find myself appreciating the changing of the seasons. Here in Texas we usually have a hot spring followed by a scorching summer followed by a hot fall. Even here, though, the changing of the seasons is noticeable if you pay attention.

Moving into autumn the daylight is getting shorter. The morning temperatures are a lot cooler. The trees are starting to think about changing colors. The Friday Night Lights start to glow (in this region that is actually part of nature). Until I started gardening I did not pay much attention to the seasons. I now find myself feeling more tied to light, darkness, rain, temperature, planting, and harvesting. Just about the time I am getting tired of the long hot days, they start getting shorter and cooler.

The changing seasons are a metaphor for life as well. I have never met anyone who truly loves change, at least not all change. I tend to get set in my comfortable routines and find that any change or disruption to them is annoying, even if the change is ultimately better (which it often is). Even though most of us don’t love change, we have to make peace with it because things change. It is one of the few constants.

Since change is inevitable, I try to get philosophical about it. Perhaps just as I welcome the changing of the seasons I can also welcome other types of change. There are many seasons of life that people experience. We greatly enjoyed the season of life when our children were small. When they started school that brought many changes to our lives and routines. When they left for college we again faced great change. Now that we are empty nesters and see the gray hair in the mirror, yet more change. When we face changes to the seasons of our lives we try to look for the new and exciting possibilities. It is not always easy.

My practice of writing an annual Forward Story (detailed in my book by the same name) helps with this process of change. It actually empowers me to not only think about what changes are coming, but to take some level of responsibility about how I will handle it and respond to it. It allows me to embrace change as exciting and positive. It is a choice I make.

Sometimes change is thrust on us and is most unwelcome. This is true with the death of a loved one. We did not ask for it, but it happened anyway. Many of my friends have suffered change because of a hurricane and flooding that they did not want. Change is inevitable and comes in many flavors. We are in charge of the way we respond to it.

How do you cope with the changing seasons in your life?(leave a comment)

A Couple of Wuthering Observations

...on Wuthering Heights

Earlier this spring I made some observations about Emily Brontë and encouraged us to toss out youth as a barrier to the pursuit of any endeavor.

I have now read Wuthering Heights and want to make just two simple observations.

1. Emily’s writing is beautiful. I am sure this was partly a product of the times in which she lived. The way they spoke and wrote is very different from the way we speak and write. Even though most of you speak English as your primary language, her English is different. Let me offer an example, even though I know I could have found a better sample with a bit more time. This excerpt is from Chapter VI. The narrator is the servant Nelly:

Heathcliff bore his degradation pretty well at first, because Cathy taught him what she learnt, and worked or played with him in the fields. They both promised fair to grow up as rude as savages; the young master being entirely negligent how they behaved, and what they did, so they kept clear of him. He would not even have seen after their going to church on Sundays, only Joseph and the curate reprimanded his carelessness when they absented themselves; and that reminded him to order Heathcliff a flogging, and Catherine a fast from dinner or supper. But it was one of their chief amusements to run away to the moors in the morning and remain there all day, and the after punishment grew a mere thing to laugh at. The curate might set as many chapters as he pleased for Catherine to get by heart, and Joseph might thrash Heathcliff till his arm ached; they forgot everything the minute they were together again: at least the minute they had contrived some naughty plan of revenge; and many a time I’ve cried to myself to watch them growing more reckless daily, and I not daring to speak a syllable, for fear of losing the small power I still retained over the unfriended creatures.

I do not write or speak like that. The impact of the language on me is to transport me into that older world. The language itself helps with the setting of the book in northern England in the early 1800s. It also gives me a great appreciation for the beauty of our language.

2. Reading old books is healthy. I tend to read a wide variety of books from the latest business works to the English classics.  I find myself wondering how modern readers, especially younger readers weaned on a diet of text messages and hastags, will be able to read and understand. I will admit that this could just be a concern from an older person, but I suspect that the wisdom of the ages may become virtually inaccessible to all but specialists who may devote their lives to such writings. It is a language and reading comprehension concern I have. I take it as a challenge to read some of these great books to see how well I can read and understand and to find out what all the fuss is about. I usually finish the old book completely understanding what all the fuss is about. I just wonder if we are losing our ability to do this. Where will we be in fifty years’ time in our ability to read and understand the classics?

Before I read Jane Eyre by Emily’s sister Charlotte, I just wanted to make these observations. It is a good thing to stretch ourselves with both the older language and with the themes explored by these classics of English literature. I am sure all of these same points apply to the classics of each language, and I find many of these same benefits when I read English translations of great books that were originally written in other languages.

Feel free to use the comments to make an observations of your own. What classics have made an impact on you?

I Don’t Have the Language for That

The Main Barrier to Understanding

Nearly every day I find myself in conversations where the main barrier to understanding is language. Every area of knowledge has specialized language that must be mastered to truly understand.

Let me offer some examples:

  • Medicine – “adrenocorticotropic”
  • Engineering (Mechanical) – “draft”
  • Engineering (Electronic) – “impedance”
  • Math – “quadratic equation”
  • Philosophy – “ontology”
  • Athletics/Cricket – “wicket”
  • Theology – “soteriology”
  • Software – “LAMP Stack”
  • Financial Markets – “derivatives”
  • Law – “habeas corpus”

If you will begin to observe the times that you struggle to understand something, you will notice that the problem is usually not that you are not smart enough. It is usually that the speaker is using a specialized vocabulary that you do not yet possess.

I say usually because there are some concepts and fields of study where the ideas themselves are abstract enough or complicated enough that rare intelligence is required. For everything else, though, I am arguing that language is the key to unlock the doors.

It may be that learning is really about words. It may be that education is simply starting with a very basic vocabulary based on the ABCs and then continually building that vocabulary. Of course, I am not saying that we must just learn words. The words that we learn must be understood, else they will produce no meaning and we will forget them. These words must be connected to concepts. The words are abstract symbols that stand-in for the concepts.

I recently sat in on a two hour meeting with electronics engineers doing a schematic review. I am not an electronics engineer (EE). Let’s analyze the situation. Three of the people in the room shared a common background and a common language. They all studied engineering in college and have now been working in electronics circuit design for decades. That common background includes immersion in math and science. It also includes expertise in electricity and micro-electronics. They all understand the computer-based tools they use to design their circuits, and they also understand the way the electronics will be manufactured. About the only thing I share with them is that I understand the manufacturing side. So I sat in that meeting for two hours in wonderment at how much I do not know. I had fun just trying to make a note of all the terms I did not truly understand. I was inundated with terms and acronyms that I could not define.

This leads me to appreciate that in any field of study that I want to understand, I must be committed to learning the language. However, it is not just leaning the lingo, it is actually understanding the words, terms, and acronyms. There is a recursion that has to take place to really understand a new term. Recursion means “the act or process of returning or running back.” If a new term is a specialized twig way out at the end of a limb, I need to use recursion (go back) to first understand the limb it is attached to. If I don’t understand the limb, I keep going back to the branch, then the trunk, then the roots. At some point I find the concept that I already understand. If that point is at the roots, then I start building back up to the trunk, branches, limbs, and finally to my specific twig. This is the way language and understanding builds.

This is the reason that I respect all disciplines. To function at a high level of understanding we all had to build our knowledge. Whatever your field of knowledge, you have invested time to master the language. If you decide to learn something new, it starts with language.

In recent years I have become unashamed to say to someone “I don’t currently have the language for that.” I then recursively explore the language with them to arrive at knowledge.

Do you have some examples where your field of expertise has specialized language that is a barrier to understanding? Have you run up against a language barrier that you had to overcome to achieve a goal? Please share these in the comments section.