Sunday, October 16, 2016

Reflecting on 20 Years After Cancer

It’s literally difficult to recall the specifics of that fateful day 20 years ago when I heard those dreaded words, “You have cancer.” So much has changed since then: I’ve had careers in the USAF, the cancer space, professional cycling, and now the amazing Parkinson’s community. I’ve been in the worst and best physical shapes of my life, had multiple post-cancer surgeries, lost more friends to this disease, welcomed grandchildren, and have had several relationships end with blame on both sides. But through it all I’ve remained mainly positive; no, truly positive. Why is that?

While it’s certainly cliché to say it, I think for the most part being happy really is a choice, clinical and situational depression aside (and I’ve been situationally there, too). And regrettably it’s far too easy to see the negative side of things, especially as the news media focuses on its “If it bleeds it leads” mentality.

The movie “Happy” is one of the most reaffirming documentaries about not just having this positive attitude, but also how to as well. Here are the main points and some ways it’s applied to me in the last 20 years:

We need to play / exercise regularly
We are a social, active species. Our bodies and minds crave interaction and activity. These are not desires, they’re needs, and so carving out time in our busy lives for play and exercise must be a priority; after all it’s the “life” part of the “work / life balance” credo that we all say is so important. I can look back over the last two decades and clearly see when things were not so good, neither was my physical fitness and/or my social life with family and friends. It’s just math and also striking: if we dedicate one hour a day to play or exercise that’s 4% of your day. Make it happen.

We need to seek out new experiences
The #1 advice I give to young people is just one word: travel. And I would offer that for older people it’s really important too. I’ve been blessed to have seen a lot of this world and travel has changed my life. It reshaped my political, spiritual, and social views dramatically. It made me question not just what I believed, but more importantly why. But new experiences don’t have to be in some far away destination. It could be doing a random act of kindness for a stranger, or getting off the couch and doing a 1-day road trip, or finally chasing that dream you’ve kept shuttered away all these years. I think play, exercise, and seeking new experiences are so interrelated that you basically can’t help but feed these passions.

We need family and friends
Well here’s your Duh of the Day, but remember we’re talking about being happy here, and relationships can be hard and testing at times. So what is the key? I’d offer love. We need to do more of it because it’s one of the only things we have that the more we give it away, the more we receive. I had a great mentor who offered me the simple advice, “Remember, Chris, in order to have friends you must first be a friend.” So love your family and friends, forgive when you need to, and keep moving forward with those who are good for you.

We need to do meaningful things
I recently went to my son’s USAF Basic Training graduation. For 10 weeks he had drill sergeants not just teaching him initial military concepts, but strongly emphasizing the ideals of duty, honor, country and being a part of something larger than yourself for the greater good. We can all live a life of service to each other in some capacity. We all have causes and concerns that are very important to us. And like the topics above, it takes some effort, too. So I would challenge you to literally make a list of the top things you care about, and then some actions you will do to help out. You won’t regret it, especially after you take those actions.

We need to appreciate what we have
While I certainly agree with all of the above, this is by far the #1 key for me to being happy. In this time of mega consumption, the pursuit of more is far too often the focus. We’ve even designated the day after we pause to give thanks as Black Friday so we can consume even more. How sad is that?! We’ve all had times of prosperity and need; for me that pendulum has swung several times in each direction.

So what’s the best approach?

I’d suggest adopting the proverbial attitude of gratitude. We can actively look for things to be thankful for, and note them. That could be an internal or external action, but much like giving away love, I would offer that sincerely thanking someone has benefits on both sides. Internally we can focus on what we have – and be grateful! – and not on what we want or desire.

Years of working in the cancer community has taught me many things. It has also brought me very close to many people, some of whom are no longer with us. When I think about people like Robin, Jim, Brienne, Ruben, and Brian (and so many others we’ve lost) it’s actually hard to be grateful for the 20 years I’ve been afforded, but I am. Because it’s not the quantity of time that we have on this planet, it’s the quality that matters.

Thanks for reading this, thanks for 20 amazing years, cheers to seeing what the next 20+ years will entail, and thanks for all you do! – Chris…

* PS – you can watch the trailer here…

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

My Next Chapter

I have learned, that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. - Henry David Thoreau

* So here’s the long and short of it: After a truly amazing 17+ year ride, I am leaving the LIVESTRONG Foundation, effective mid June 2015, and joining the Love Hope Strength Foundation.

I’ve been fortunate to have several significant chapters in my life, each one building on the next. I’ve been blessed as each phase has had a beginning and end, and yet cursed for the same reason – saying goodbye is never easy. From my early days in the restaurant business, to military life, and my most recent years in the cancer / cycling communities, each stage has surrounded me with outstanding people and amazing opportunities, and I’m happy to say the process continues.

Let me answer a couple of obvious questions:

- Why am I leaving?
The simple answer is I’ve felt called to lead an organization for some time now, wanting to apply all that I’ve learned here and help another organization grow and succeed. I feel the timing is right: LIVESTRONG has emerged from its rocky timeframe and is now on solid ground with outstanding leadership and vision. But I couldn’t leave to work with just any organization or business; I had to feel as passionate about the mission and opportunity as I have here and in the other chapters of my life. And I’ve definitely found that shared passion in the people involved with the LHSF mission.

 - What is the Love Hope Strength Foundation,
   and what will I be doing?

LHSF is a cancer organization that I first became acquainted with back in 2009 at the LIVESTRONG Global Cancer Summit. We have two primary missions: saving lives one concert at a time by registering potential donors to the national bone marrow donor registry, and creating international cancer projects through life-changing treks. I am honored to serve as their next President and CEO and will work with an incredible team that truly saves lives in everything they do.

When I told a close friend and colleague about my decision, she told me that the news was “bittersweet,” and that’s the perfect word to describe how I’m feeling. I am so proud of all that LIVESTRONG has accomplished and will continue to do in the years ahead, and I’ll miss being a part of that. I leave the organization knowing that it’s in great shape with one of the best staff in the nonprofit industry. And I cannot wait to help make a difference with a new team that provides hope to so many on both the domestic and international cancer frontlines, and have a lot of fun along the way!

Looking back and looking ahead, all I can think to say is, “Thank you!“
  • Thank you to my family for being there through thick and thin and my many times away on the road.
  • Thank you because when I said I am indebted to LIVESTRONG for the experiences I’ve had, I hardly know where to begin. The organization gave meaning to my life following some of my darkest periods, including my own cancer experience and the passing of my brother and so many other close friends to this dreaded disease.
  • Thank you to all the LAF / LIVESTRONG people who’ve made this chapter so significant, names like: Lance, Garve, College, Karl, Rita, Marion, Renee, Mitch, Willy, Dave, Tina, Kim, Allison, Brooke, Betty, Doug, Brendan, Phil, Morgan, Helen and the many other staff, Board, and volunteers I’ve worked with along the way.
  • Thank you to the groups that have meant so much to me, in particular Cyclists Combating Cancer, Team LIVESTRONG’s RAGBRAI crew, and the LIVESTRONG Leaders.
  • Thank you to Mike, James, and the Board and staff of Love Hope Strength for trusting and believing in me. And thank you to the incredible LHSF partners, sponsors, and volunteers for your tireless efforts to save lives in the cancer community! I promise you I will give you my best and am honored to serve alongside you.
  • And finally thank you to the LIVESTRONG supporters and the people we’ve served. You have taught me so much about life, and what it truly means to live strong.

I’m a blessed man for many reasons, and as this chapter closes the next one looks to be even more exciting - I hope you’ll want to be a part of this one, too. As always, thanks for ALL you do - ciao for now - and we’ll talk soon – Cb…

Monday, December 1, 2014

Making Your Own Wind: In Memory of Steve Hed

I had the honor of spending quite a bit of time in Steve Hed’s presence, and I can honestly say all of the adventures and misadventures I experienced with him were time very well spent. I’d like to share a story with you that I think reflects both his genius and ability to teach, not only with elite professional athletes but a layman like me…

A few years ago Steve asked me to ride some of his new HED Jet aero clincher wheels on a day-to-day basis, looking for feedback on what a “larger” rider experienced with them. I got the wheelset at the beginning of RAGBRAI, one of Steve’s most beloved events, riding often with Team Roadkill but in later years with our Team LIVESTRONG. After a couple of days of riding the wheels I found him and told him I loved how durable and fast they were, but felt that they were susceptible to “flying” in a crosswind (being pushed sideways), especially when descending.

He listened, paused, and grabbed his chin, looking down at the ground in both comprehension but clearly mulling what I had said over and over in his mind.

Steve then looked up, straight into my eyes, smiled, and said with his classic exaggerated excitement, “You’re not making your own wind!”

I replied with a matter-of-fact, “I have no f*cking idea what you’re talking about,” response, but that only lit his fire further…

He asked me (in a way that clearly expected compliance) if I had a metal coat hanger and some yarn. Being in the middle of a campground in Iowa, these items were not readily available, and he was visibly disappointed. No worries though, and he launched into a description of the experiment they had done in overcoming crosswinds with speed.

Quoting as best as I can remember, he said, “What we did was we took a wire coat hanger and looped it on one end tightly around a bike’s handlebars, and then stuck the other end out about a foot parallel to the ground. We then tied a piece of yarn at the end and let it hang, like a windsock. As you might imagine, whether the bike is sitting still, or in motion, the yarn will point opposite to the direction the wind is blowing. Except…” – and he looked at me with a notable spark in his eye, letting me know that the magic was about to be explained, and continued.

“Except that there is a point where your speed will overcome the wind, no matter what direction it is coming from, and you can literally see it because when you hit it, the yarn starts to rotate until it is pointing back towards you! So, so, so basically, you’re making your own wind,” he said with great conviction. (This conversation then quickly transitioned into one where we designed, in theory, a wattage estimator app based on rider weight, bike speed, his database of drag counts & wattage, the angle of your cell phone, and a pitot tube attachment - yet to be designed - but that’s another story for another day… and an example of how his mind worked!)

Steve customized this bus for Team LIVESTRONG

I’ll admit my initial reaction to “making my own wind” was one of basic understanding coupled with guarded cynicism. In my mind I was thinking, “Right, Steve. I’m going downhill in spandex and at around 35 mph I’m being pushed across the road. And the answer is to stay off the brakes and go faster – potentially right into a ditch or another rider!”

Sure enough, the next day there was a big descent and as I sensed the start of flying sideways I found myself reaching for the brake levers. But as I did, I could envision Steve looking me right in the eye with his conviction (and hanger / yarn), and so I trusted him. I got down in the drops, dropped my head further and shot forward. The buffeting initially increased, as did the sideways push and my pucker factor, but then soon after everything changed. The push and shaking disappeared, the bike was on rails and I rocketed down the hill as if the wind was at my back – I had made my own wind.

When I saw him later at camp and told him about the experience he listened and approved, much like a parent does to a young child when they have “discovered” a universal truth for themselves. The proverbial teacher and his student.

I still ride those wheels regularly and think about the lesson he taught me often (especially when descending). But with Steve’s passing they now have a special place in my heart as a reminder of the gentle genius and the times we spent together. Rest in peace, my friend, I’m a better man for knowing you – Cb…

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Is Your Elevator Speech Going Up or Down?

It’s not an uncommon expectation to be told you need to have an “elevator speech” for whatever it is you’re trying to pitch / represent. While I certainly agree with this, I think it’s important to view this as a building block for a potentially more comprehensive discussion based on the circumstances. And like most things in business, it takes a little planning to get there.

*** For those not familiar with the phrase, an elevator speech refers to what you could tell someone about something in the normal time you would be an elevator together, so think 30-60 seconds.

What it is: a succinct, confident summary of the overall mission / objective.

What it is not: a hesitant set of details relevant to the mission / objective.

I believe in writing about what you know, so I’ll use the example of my experience at the LIVESTRONG Foundation.  When someone asks me, “Who do you work for?” I can say:

"I work for the LIVESTRONG Foundation. We’re a charity that helps anyone with cancer, right now - for free - and that includes the patient, family members, and friends. We know that cancer research is important, and thankfully lots of people are working in this area.  But if you’re diagnosed today with something like lung cancer, being told there might be an effective treatment for you in about 10 years isn’t much help. So we focus on what can be done right now, in multiple ways."
That’s about 20 seconds of time (yes, I checked) and summarizes our mission and differentiates our organization from others. That could be the beginning and end of the interaction, and the person who asked now has a very basic understanding about the LIVESTRONG Foundation. Hopefully it sets the stage for wanting to learn more, and this leads to the concept of the elevator speech being your foundation for more information.

*** During my military career I worked for a Colonel who told us that when it came time to brief him, be prepared to be at least 3 questions deep. He wanted us to try and anticipate what he might ask; not only making us more efficient in the briefing process (vs. saying, "Sorry, sir, I don’t know that but I’ll get back to you ASAP.") and also getting us to think like an executive.

Using my previous example, some questions to anticipate might be:
  • What are your key programs at LIVESTRONG?
  • What’s your annual budget, and how much of that goes to services?
  • Why don’t you fund clinical cancer research?
  • Whatever really happened with Lance Armstrong?
  • What’s next for the Foundation?

And having thought out the answers to these questions, you can also use them for a more proactive approach / structure if the person or group wants to know more, such as in an interview or giving a speech:

Overarching theme:
The LIVESTRONG Foundation helps people with cancer, right now.
  • Point 1 – Survivorship and Navigation services
  • Point 2 – Where the money goes
  • Point 3 – Our future partnership with the UT Medical School

This idea of having an effective elevator speech is necessary in practically all facets of business, from sales / fundraising, to conferences / presentations, and communications / marketing. But it is not enough on its own; it’s your foot-in-the-door building block to having a more engaged and meaningful conversation.  Good luck, now get out there and practice! Ciao for now – Cb…