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A Brief, Imperfect Guide to Cultivating Gratitude When Nothing Is Going Right

Self

Three months on the road changes a person. That's fine. That's expected. What I didn't know when I packed my bike, Voodoo—the world's fastest production bike—and headed off into the unknown for three months, was just how much it would change me.


Only a week into my epic journey, Voodoo and I were getting more and more comfortable with each other. Every bike has their own personality, and I was learning to love hers. She loved to push the limits, to power into corners and accelerate out of them. She loved the challenge of tight, torturous switchbacks and was never happier than when she was traveling at full throttle. Kind of like her owner.

My relationship with Voodoo was settling into a rhythm. However, my relationship with myself was still erratic. I was looking forward to this journey to heal the emptiness I was feeling inside. But the journey wasn't making my healing easy, exactly. It was often a journey of contrasts—one day I felt high on freedom and adrenaline, the next I dived deep into frustration and confusion. My emotions were a continual roller coaster as I tried to make sense of everything I was learning.

Maintaining my hard-won serenity was like trying to hold custard. I could hold it for a moment, but before I knew what was happening, it would slip through my fingers.

On day six, I rolled into Banff National Park and felt a precious sense of serenity. But by the next morning I was restless, disoriented, and more than a little petulant. The start of my day hadn't gone to plan—I'd had a latte spilled on me (vegans hate smelling of milk!), my meditation had been rained out, and my run had been nixed because of the threat of bears. And so, in one of the most awe-inspiringly beautiful places in the world, I was sulky, sullen and surly. How had that change happened so quickly?

Nursing a cup of black hot water which vaguely passed for coffee, I opened the notebook of quotes and affirmations I'd written before I'd left, hoping they'd inspire me on my journey of change. My journal fell open to just what I needed to see— a gem I had heard from my favorite Zen master, WuDe:

A lot of suffering comes from wanting to be what is not, and wanting not to be what is.

Now that was a slap, and it was just what this miserable, grouchy diva needed to hear—although I had to read it a few times to really work it out. To me, it meant that we spend so much of our lives wanting things to be different instead of truly appreciating the joy and beauty we already have.

The message struck me to my core, as did the realization that my frustration had mainly been caused by my inability to control situations. It was shocking to realize I actually couldn't control everything that happened around me. However, I could control how I reacted to it. I could choose to be bad-tempered in the face of first-world adversity, or I could choose to accept the situation and still find joy in the day.

There are lightning-bolt moments in your life where messages are shocked into you, and there are other moments where the knowledge just seeps in. Like an intravenous drip, the lessons were slowly starting to trickle through. About time!

Consciously Finding Gratitude Through Journaling

In this place of incredible beauty, I thought about gratitude; instead of complaining, how about I be thankful? I'd heard that even your worst day changes with gratitude. It was worth a shot. So I started to write.

It was hard at first, but after about ten minutes—once I'd been grateful for the obvious—the faucet opened and everything flowed out. I couldn't stop with just writing. The power and emotion were so strong that I texted my family and friends, thanking them for being in my life and telling them how much they mean to me. I poured my heart out and got beautiful messages back from all of them—including one from my business coach. His reply read, “Thanks. That's great...but who is this?" I'd forgotten I was unidentifiable on my cheap Canadian SIM card. Even better! There's nothing like the power of anonymous gratitude.

In an unusual place of deep peace, I loaded a feisty Voodoo, and together we made the short, lazy 60 km ride to Lake Louise, which was perfectly timed for me to squeeze in a hike up into the glacier before nightfall.

Without a doubt, Lake Louise is another one of the most beautiful places in the world. With its impossibly serene turquoise lake encased by proud, imposing mountains and spectacular glaciers, it literally takes your breath away. And that was just what I needed—to be completely immersed in spectacular nature so my happy heart could continue singing.

That was the plan. Sadly, the old competitive warrior in me had other ideas. Despite hiking amidst incredible forest beauty—crystal blue waterfalls, sparkling streams, tiny, brightly colored wildflowers—I saw virtually none of it.

Old Competitive Habits Die Hard… But They Do Die

I couldn't be content with a peaceful, gentle walk. Instead, I needed to turn my hike into a speed march where the biggest competition was myself. I powered up the side of the glacier—never missing a beat, pushing at breakneck speed, overtaking everyone in my way to get to the top as fast as I could. I saw nothing but my own feet all the way up.

With a lemongrass tea warming my hands, I sat in the sun on the veranda of a tiny wooden tea house perched at the top of the ridge. I'd annihilated everything and everyone in my path. As the cool breeze started to dry the sweat on my back and chill my bones, I sat in bewilderment. What the hell was that all about? What is wrong with me? I couldn't even hike in one of the most beautiful places in the world without it becoming a competition. It's bad enough that I need validation from other people to feel good. But why the continual need to compete with myself? What was I trying to prove?

I had no answers. I decided I wasn't going to leave the tea house until I'd found them. Eventually, the cold and the realization that mentally smacking myself wasn't a good option either forced me back down the glacier.

Still, five cups of tea had shown me something: I might not have the answers, but the first step in finding them was to see myself as I truly was. I didn't necessarily like who I saw at that tea house. But in recognizing that competitive warrior, I knew I could change her. Gradually, with time, patience, and kindness.

I had plenty of time left in my helmet to make those changes, but today, the self-judgment had to stop. Heading down the glacier was a very different story. I slowed to a crawl. I stood mesmerized by the intricate beauty of tiny flowers. I smelt the richness of the damp, moist earth. I felt the cool breeze on my skin. I listened to the small gurgling stream as I walked slowly beside it. And I remembered—as I'd forgotten so many times already on this trip—it's about the journey, not the destination.

It wouldn't be the last reminder I'd need, but at that moment, it was enough. As I tucked Voodoo up for the night, I smiled. I was getting better at holding on to the custard!

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8min read
Politics

Do 2020 Presidential Candidates Still Have Rules to Play By?

Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.


When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.

2016: What rules?

Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.

Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.

And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.

And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?

Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.

Digital policies for 2020 and beyond

While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.

Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy

Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:

  • If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
  • While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
  • If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
  • Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
  • Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?

Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.

Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply

The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:

  1. Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
  2. Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
  3. Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
  4. Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
  5. Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
  6. Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
  7. Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
  8. Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.

Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles

Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.