Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Degrees of Freedom

On this I think we can all agree
The secret isn’t found in a degree
Embracing challenges each day brings
Provides us with many interesting things
It’s Living while Learning that sets us free

We had an enjoyable weekend motoring south to Corvallis to celebrate Cody’s graduation from OSU on Saturday. We met everyone at The Original Breakfast in Albany at 7:00 AM and beat the graduation rush before consuming a weekend’s worth of calories. We all parked at Cody & Amy’s place and strolled over to Reser Stadium for the ceremony. It had rained on us on the way down and lightly misted for a half hour as we were settling in to our seats, but the weather improved as the morning went on and we were unlayering by the end. The graduation speakers covered the usual turf successfully and succinctly: the student body president open with the Helen Keller quote ”When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us”; the Alumni Association president reminded everyone of the network available as alums, which set the tone for the keynote speaker, Jen-Hsun Huang, founder and CEO of NVIDIA. He offered 3 wishes for the class of 2009 – Love your work, Embrace failure (don’t play safe), and Think like a Child, which echoes Einstein’s quote that “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
I ‘m proud of Cody’s accomplishments and was glad to be in attendance with family for the celebration. I know he and Amy are entering an amazing phase of life with plenty of possibilities, and I look forward to watching things unfold.
It’s the 34th anniversary of my Stanford graduation and I was reflecting on the differences and similarities of graduations 3 ½ decades apart. Like now, the country was dealing with an ill-advised military entanglement and had just seen an out-of–favor President leave office. The Dow Jones was languishing in a bear market at 858 and inflation was 9.2% Oil had just recently rocketed to $13/ barrel resulting in gas of more than 50 cents/gallon. A stamps was 10 cents, but leaped to 12 cents on New Years Eve 1975. Minimum wage was $2.10/hr and I was soon to start a job @ $1200/month and my rent was $165 for an apartment overlooking Washington Square. Tiger Woods and Angelina Jolie were born during the year and the big inventions were the digital camera, laser printer, and the dueling formats of Betamax & VHS for video recording. This was a time of typewriters, turntables and 8 track tapes. Jobs and Wozniak were stil two years away from introducing the Apple II – the hot technology was calculators from HP and Texas Instruments. My senior project with Vince was working with the first programmable calculator the HP-65 which cost $795 (the average new car cost $4500) so when HP introduced a $150 unit, much of my early paycheck went toward that.
I graduated on a Sunday June 15th, drove to Medford on a Monday, woke up to a phone call inviting me to interview with FMC in Portland on Thursday ( where I was headed to a Gordon Lightfoot concert), and found myself starting my job on Monday June 23rd. I then get a call enticing me to come to Reno to work for Bill Harrah & Bill Lear (of Lear-Jet fame) as a workforce planner for the Casino for 50% more pay. I thought it would be bad form to quit after 3 days and I never could imagine myself as a “casino” guy. This just points out that I had no clue as to the opportunities that would show up once I headed out into the real world, and still don’t have firm control of the steering wheel of life – thank goodness for metaphysical GPS….

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

C'mon Get Happy!

It’s not caused by McCain or Obama
Nor passed down from Papa & Mama
Connection and fun after a fashion
And a purpose that stirs passion
Yields true happiness, says the Dalai Lama

Our current book reading is based on David Wann’s “Simple Prosperity: Finding Real Wealth in A Sustainable Lifestyle” ( ) Taking a page (leaf?) from the Slow Food movement, we’re using the Slow Read method, reading a few chapters per month of this book and bringing in related articles to discuss. Our first session, with required potluck, introduced to the book and posed the questions, What is true wealth, and What is Happiness, and why do people crave it? We had the opportunity to see the Dalai Lama when he came to Portland a few years ago, and his message was that the one thing all people want is to be “happy”. They just disagree in how to accomplish that.
Psychologist Martin Seligman, author of “Authentic Happiness” postulates that happiness contains elements of pleasure, engagement or connection with others, and meaning, such as altruistic or service related activities. Modern consumptive societal patterns tend to wade in the shallow end of this pool, trying to find happiness in “stuff” while deeper and more resonant results come from connecting with others and using your unique gifts and talents to benefit more than just you.
This topic came up in another context when I heard about the 72 year longitudinal study of Harvard students which was seeking to find the secret to what makes a “good life” 268 Harvard underclassmen, including many powerful people such as Ben Bradlee of the Washington Post, and JFK were interviewed, measured, and recorded throughout their lives and a review of the archives is fascinating. George Vaillant was the long time director, and his personal story shows the challenges of trying to find a simple answer to the question of what can we do to be happy. In the end though, it shows a mechanistic view of happiness or life in general can't explain the mystery ( )

I reflected on these things after a number of relevant events in the last week. Dianna & I spent a thoroughly enjoyable Memorial Day weekend at Oceanside with Ted & Meg & Rick. We had great food; great weather, and great company. Rick & I even assisted Ted in some productive work. (You can see our "Pathway to Happiness" in the photo above)
I also got to see Sean and his band before they headed off on their 5 week 20 performance tour of the country and was reminded once again how pursuing your passion is priceless. Also, last night, I co-taught the last class of The Center for Earth Leadership's “How to Be an Agent of Change In Your Circle of Influence”, and was inspired by the creativity and enthusiasm of the participants. We went to see "Star Trek" tonight and the same message of fun, connection with others, and a higher purpose played out with great special effects and a clever nod to the memories of those of us who grew up inspired with Star Trek ideals....
I think among all the events, I had plenty of evidence to validate Seligman’s hypothesis.

In coming weeks, I’ll share more on any insights that come from our readings or any other randow nudges I get.