This is the life we have been pre-programmed to live here in the United States…

– preschool at 4
– kindergarten at 5
– elementary school until 11
– middle school until 14
– high school until 18
– college until 22
– low-paying job upon graduation
– mid-level manager by 30
– executive by 40
– retire by 50
– second career until 70
– real retirement.. pina coladas and a beach house after that

That is the American Dream, right?

This dream began in 1765 when a little-known French general argued the need for a musket with interchangeable parts. If the parts from one musket could be used in another, he reasoned, repairs could be made more quickly and gun production could be cheaper and more efficient. Upon this premise, the Industrial Revolution was born. Artisans and craftsman soon took jobs in factories and all of us became cogs in the wheels of a production machine. But someone still needed to manipulate those cogs, to provide vision and leadership to the masses. The world still needed creatives, it still needed innovators, it still needed “players.”

Napoleon Bonaparte said, “In this life we are either [players] or pawns; emperors or fools.”

Pawn

Since I was a young boy, I have been intrigued by the game of chess. It is a game of strategy and wit. A game of endless possibilities within the confines of very limited options for each move. Unlike conventional artistic expression, chess gave me the opportunity to be creative without the eye-hand coordination necessary to paint, sculpt or draw. By manipulating the pieces, I could use my math and logic skills to create a whole different kind of art.

Recently, I discovered a beautiful parallel hiding beneath the black and white pawns on the board — a parallel that gave me insight into the “aristocracy of creativity” during the Industrial Revolution and the transition to today’s creative culture.

Pawns are people who reflect the status quo. Players create the status quo.
Pawns do what they’re told. Players think outside the box.
Pawns are replaceable cogs. Players are irreplaceable thought leaders.
Pawns are responsible for themselves. Players understand and harness the gifts and talents of others.
Pawns make a minimal impact. Players have a ripple effect.
Pawns are reactive. Players are proactive.
Pawns want to march across the board and become a queen. Players want to be a master.

Look closely at each parallel … which one are you?

The sad fact that stems from this parallel is that the American Dream, as described in the first paragraph, has become the life of a pawn — as dictated by the players. The exciting fact is that our ability and opportunity to become players is more prevalent than ever!

We must change this fictitious American Dream to meet our current realities or we will never be able to realize it. We will never have the autonomy we desire, the mastery we work so hard for, or the purpose we crave if we don’t leave the life of a Pawn and pursue the life of a Player. This means you cannot keep relying on someone else to tell you what to do. Difficult, I know… but it’s so worth it.

Here are a few additional insights for future discussion here on the blog…

1. There is no path on which the pawn can become a player by becoming a better pawn.
2. A player does not need to have been a pawn in order to understand their function.
3. Players must be led differently than pawns.

Image: Alan Cleaver under CC BY 2.0

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Lately I’ve become convinced that it matters very little what you teach kids, so long as you have a good answer as to why you are teaching your kids. Now, I’m not saying that teaching evil or foolishness to your kids is ok (it’s not), but I think parents spend a lot of time debating over which right things they should be teaching. The answer to that question, I believe, is to intentionally teach them what you want them to become. If you want them to be financially free, focus your teaching on money. If you want them to be kind, teach them compassion. If smart, then knowledge. If creative, then art or music. You get the picture.

The problem is, we want our kids to be all of these things, so we don’t intentionally prioritize anything. We give them heavy doses of everything and they become exceptional at nothing. I realize there is a balance and that well-rounded exposure is important, but how many of us have certain traits we are intentionally instilling in our children?

For my wife and I, we decided intentional parenting means just that, being intentional!  For the past month, we’ve been working on developing a series of values we want our family to be defined by. We are actively hashing out whether it is more important for our children to be intelligent or passionate, loyal or honest, compassionate or hard-working. We realize there are no right answers to many of these questions, but we believe there can be a prioritization in our family. So we have set out on a journey to establish the priorities of our home. To be intentional about what our kids value and what they could’t care less about. In this way, we not only learn what we need to be emphasizing but also what we should be intentionally downplaying. These discussions have been an incredible intentionality exercise with the potential for long-lasting impact on our family.

As we work to finalize the last few concepts, we are also developing a family crest that pictorially emphasizes our priorities as a family. We hope for it to to be a source of inspiration for ourselves and our children for decades to come.

In fact, we have already started reaping the incredible benefit from sowing intentional thoughts, prayers, and discussions into our family.

May God richly bless you and yours as you seek His will for your family!

Being intentional,

Curtis

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Thomas Edison tried over 10,000 different ways to make the incandescent light bulb. Although neither of the concepts surrounding the invention were new, the proper combination of the concepts was still to be discovered. One of the well-known scientific ideas was the fact that when you run electrical current through a a wire, the friction causes the wire to become hot and create light. The problem was that Edison could not find a way to keep the wire from burning up. In other words, he could create the light he wanted, but it was not sustainable. The other concept was seemingly unrelated until Edison made the connection: the Charcoal Principle. This principle is the basic idea that if something is burned with very limited oxygen, it can continue to burn without burning up, leaving charcoal. He also realized that without oxygen at all, there could be no combustion. Once he combined these two ideas in his mind, he sucked the air out of that first lightbulb and sealed it. Once the vacuum was created for his experiment, his first bulb burned for over 8 hours!

Now, what intrigues me about this well-known story is two fold. First, he never gave up. I know if I try something new a few times and it doesn’t work, I am very likely to see it as a failure. I may learn from it, but I will definitely move on to a new project. Edison approached something he knew was possible and continued to improve upon it until it became a reality. How did he do it? PERSEVERANCE!

When I think of innovation, I think of creative ideas and brilliant execution. I rarely think of struggle, disappointment, and failure. But when I look at great innovators, I can’t help but notice the incredible number of times they failed before reaching success.

The second lesson I uncovered was Edison’s unashamed reliance on PREEXISTING IDEAS. If Thomas Edison used the ideas of others to create new concepts, what makes me think I have to come up with something novel all on my own? When I think about starting a business or ministry, I often try to imagine things that have never been done before instead of taking advantage of the millions of business owners and ministry leaders who have gone before me. Declining the wisdom of those who have gone before you is unwise at best and downright foolish at worst!

BOTTOM LINE:

To persevere is to believe in the God-given gift between your ears.

To build on the concepts of others is the only way to take your innovation to the next level.

Image: Éole under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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This 10 day trip was absolutely phenomenal!  I had never traveled to France or Morocco before and I would highly recommend both. Below are a few pictures I took along the way. Enjoy!

I also wrote a narrative of my most exciting night in Morocco HERE too!

Arc de Triomphe

Eiffel Tower

Rabat, Morocco

Rabat, Morocco

Djemma El Fna

Palais Badia

British and Australian friends I met via hostel life

The making of argan oil

The docks at Essaouira

My kids in their new Moroccan garb!

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“Our goal with the redesign was simple: make all major functions accessible within two taps.” – Evernote

Now that, my friends, is a legitimate SMART goal!

Specific
Measurable
Attainable
Realistic
Timely

The only thing I am unsure of is the time frame they were working with, but I’m sure they were as concise in that area as they were with the rest of this very well-written goal.

And the result is beautiful! A brand new interface with bolder colors, cleaner lines, and increased functionality!

For a company with so much popularity and so much growth in the last few years, I am thoroughly impressed that they continue to improve a product that is already years ahead of its time.

But what resonated with me as I read about their new launch of Evernote 5 was THE GOAL. With such well-developed goals, no wonder their company is expanding by leaps and bounds!

I’m used to hearing goals like: “streamline processes”, “improve sales” and “increase profits”. These goals are not only boring, they are not specific and they are difficult to measure. Even a relatively good goal such as: “create a new user-interface in the next 3 months to reflect the growing demand for increased functionality” is lame and wordy compared to “make all major functions accessible within two taps.”

This inspires me to reexamine some of my own goals, personally and professionally, and make sure they are as SMART as possible.

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I stepped off the train in Marrakech, Morocco and the giant analog clock on the platform at the train station said 554pm.

I walked into the terminal, spent a few moments getting my bearings, and decided I better get going if I wanted to find a place to stay for the night before it got dark.

As a reasonably savvy traveler in a new city, my first mission was to exit the train station in search of the nearest big hotel. Hotels near train stations and airports always have free maps at the front desk and helpful personnel who can point their guests to all the major attractions nearby.  Although not a guest, I took advantage of this service and got myself pointed in the direction of the Medina.

Throughout North Africa, most metropolitan areas have an “Old Town” area called the Medina.
Historically, the Medina was the walled portion of the city where citizens could find protection from invaders. Today, the crumbling walls are only relics, but the Medinas remain home to winding, narrow, maze-like streets and never-ending markets, called souks.

Since this seemed like the best option for a cultural experience in Marrakech , the Medina seemed like the place I wanted to stay.

After following the directions I received from the hotel and walking about a mile, I found myself walking through through Bab Doukkala (the Doukkala Gate) into the Medina at 627pm.

The visual signs of the third-world were ever-present.  Motorbikes everywhere.  Traffic and people swirling through the streets in patterns that reminded me of a giant ant hill.  Shopkeepers peddling their wares to any passersby – textiles, rugs, and live chickens next to barbie backpacks, spiderman pajamas, and cell phones. The underlying pungent scent of urine and garbage intermingled with the wonderfully magnificent smells of the evening meal being cooked by street vendors and tiny store-front restaurants. The sound of the early evening call to prayer could be heard blasting over the loudspeakers and a nonstop hum of Arabic conversation swirled all around me. It was now 703pm.

In another stroke of traveling genius, I noticed a tourism shop amidst the endless rows of storefront shops inside the Medina. I figured that English was the most common language of tourism and so I was likely to find someone inside who spoke English and could help me find a place to stay.  My suspicions were correct and 10 minutes after I walked up the stairs to the shop, I was getting on the back of Abdullah’s motorbike with a hostel near the city-center as our destination.  We rode for about 10 minutes through the most winding set of streets and passageways I could have imagined and parked the bike near a narrow corridor that wasn’t conducive to motorized transportation.  We walked down the corridor, turned right, and stopped in front of a large wooden door on the left.  We were greeted at the door by a man named Mohammed.  He was the manager of the hostel and could speak decent English too — score!  After a brief tour and visual confirmation that the place was safe and legitimate, I said goodbye to Abdullah, found a place to lock my stuff, and decided to explore the Medina a little further.  I looked at my watch as I stepped through the wooden door out into the narrow corridor. 757pm

As I walked away from the hostel, I instinctively made a mental note of each significant turn point so I could find my way back… white arch, blue sign, dress shop, orange juice stand, huge market…

This market was unlike anything I had ever experienced before!  There were rows of white tents housing food vendors with open-air picnic tables.  The steam from hundreds of grills and skillets rose above the square like a fog bank rolling in off the ocean. Street performers and musicians brought the sound to a circus-like pitch while salesman made their presence and their merchandise known to every passerby as well.  Branching out from this square like the tentacles of an octopus was an endless maze of shops, food stands, and and an intriguing thousand-year-old culture.  I was fascinated.  I was drawn-in.  I wondered how far these incredible sights, sounds, and smells went before I would leave the tourist trap and find neighborhoods where the locals lived, worked, and carried out their lives.

At about 835pm, I decided to head north, winding my way through narrow passageways that were brightly lit by the vendors and shops on either side. After each turn, I was lured to go just a little bit further to see if I could find the end of this maze.  I looked at my watch at 852pm when I started noticing shops closing their doors and putting away their merchandise for the night.  Instead of making a 180 and heading back the way I came, I assumed my navigation skills were up for the challenge and I could make my way back another way and see a bit more of the Medina before returning to the hostel.  Besides, it seemed like some of the shops and passageways I had used were already closed, and going back the way I came would probably be impossible.

While I normally pride myself on my ability to navigate during the day time, I incredulously underestimated my skills in an urban environment, at night, in an unfamiliar city, amidst winding passageways with no way to identify cardinal directions.  Without the moon or stars to guide me, I probably bit off more than I could chew. But still not wanting to give in to the idea that I was in over my head, I picked up my pace a little bit and started to look for familiar landmarks.  I made a conscious decision to look like I knew exactly where I was going so I wouldn’t appear to be a lost tourist (a perfect target for muggers and pickpockets).  Unfortunately, the further I walked, the more lost I became.  Since there was no way to go in a single direction due to the winding passageways, it only took me about a half hour of speed walking before I was completely disoriented.   To clarify, I am not a man who has trouble asking for directions, to be sure, but I had 2 major obstacles preventing me from that simple solution: 1) I didn’t speak Arabic. 2) I didn’t know the name or location of the hostel where I was staying.

The first obstacle could be overcome easily enough, but the second one really threw a wrench in my recovery options.  If I didn’t know where I was going, how could I ask for directions?!?

I decided to take a short break under a street light to asses the situation and see if the map in my pocket could shed any light on my predicament.  My watch read 940pm.  Unfortunately, I didn’t know where I was and I didn’t know where I was going, so the map wasn’t all that helpful.  My only hope was to keep walking and hope I could find a major road that was on the map.  After about 30 minutes, I did just that and figured out where I was. Now, if only I knew where I was going!

Returning to where I started seemed like the most logical solution so I located Bab Doukkala where I originally entered the Medina and retraced my steps to the tourism shop. CLOSED.  Bummer.

It was 1035pm and I was running out of options. On foot in a foreign city with no idea where I was going led me to believe I would have to find a hotel and figure out a new plan in the morning.  Darkness.  Confusion.  Frustration.  Fear.  I was starting to feel overwhelmed.  My last ditch effort was to try to retrace the path of my 10 minute motorbike ride earlier in the day from the tourism shop to the hostel.  After wandering around in the dark for another 45 minutes, I realized I just didn’t pay close enough attention to all of the twists and turns we had made earlier.  Plan failed.

But just as I was about to give up, I walked by a European couple who happened to be speaking English.  With the number of French tourists in Marrakech, seeing Europeans by no means meant they would speak English, but this British couple was a godsend.  I knew I couldn’t ask them about the hostel because I didn’t even know the name of it, but I asked them about the huge square I had experienced when I first left the hostel.  They weren’t sure about the details I described, but they showed me on the map where there was a big market they had visited earlier in the day called the Djaama El-Fna about a mile away. I figured it was a kind of a long shot because I had been told that these markets were all over the place, but what did I have to lose?

About 20 minutes later, I made my way to the Djaama El-Fna and I was instantly relieved as I stepped into the large square.  Even at 1135pm, the square was still alive with the sights, sounds and smells I had experienced earlier in the evening.  From here all I needed to do was remember the landmarks I made note of when I first left the hostel.  Orange juice stand, dress shop, blue sign, white arch… small corridor, right turn, brown door on the left.  I made it!!  Unbelievable!

As I laid down for the night, I penned these words… “Only when you have been so unfathomably lost can you truly understand gratefulness in being found.”

What an adventure!

——–Pictures to Follow———

No matter how important a particular aspect of my life is, there always comes a time when the importance of “now” trumps the importance of my priorities. You know what I mean? The priorities in my life look very clear and concise in bullet format but more closely resemble a train wreck in reality.

Here are my priorities on paper:

1. God
2. Marriage
3. Family
4. Friends
5. Job

Here are my priorities on an average day:

FamilyGodJOBFriendsMarrJOBiage

or perhaps

GodJOBMarrFamilyFriendsJOBiageJOB

Unfortunately, my JOB tends to play a more a significant role in my life than it probably should. But why? If I don’t want it to dominate my life, why do I let it?

3 reasons why my JOB is dominating my life and what I plan to do about it.

1. I need to put food on the table.

No matter how much I try to prioritize my time, I will always be limited by my need for survival and, more importantly, the survival of my family.

The Plan: I am currently entertaining the idea that there are other ways I could put food on the table. I think another source of income may be in order. While I don’t have an excess amount of time, I am very interested in Speaking, Writing, and Entrepreneurship. Why have I been putting all of my eggs in one basket anyway?

2. I hate disappointing people

There are many people that I probably disappoint in the course of a day, but none are more vocal about their disappointment than the people I work with. While my wife often lets things slide because she knows I’m stressed, the pressure I feel at work is relentless.

The Plan: First, I need to relax. I need to learn to let things go. Second, I need to become more efficient. By planning ahead and staying focused, I can be confident that I gave 100% at work, and I can leave it there rather than bringing it home.

3. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

The tasks at my job are literally endless. No matter how much I do, there is always more to be accomplished. As such, I never feel “done.” My job “wheel” always seems to be the “squeakiest” and therefore it always gets the most grease.

The Plan: Change the wheel. While I can’t quit my job (the government frowns on officers who go AWOL), I plan to spend some time re-defining my role and what is expected of me. In this way, I can avoid some of the “squeaks” that are outside of my lane. In reality, there is little I can do about many of those extraneous “squeaks” anyway, but I still allow them to consume my thoughts.

What are your priorities and how are you fighting to keep them in order?

Image: add1sun under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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A month ago, I returned from leading a 4-man Air Force training team to Colombia to teach high angle rescue techniques to Colombian Air Force helicopter crews and para-rescue personnel. This is Part 12 of the chronicles of my adventurous trip to Colombia…

Day 12 continued … The Culmination Exercise

This afternoon was our culmination exercise!  The PJs decided to create a scenario to challenge the crews with some of the tactics and techniques we’ve been teaching. They called it “THE CULMINATION”. For this exercise, the entire class was broken into 2 teams, each with it’s own helicopter crew and Rescatistas.  Each team was given a series of coordinates where they were required to insert and extract their respective teams and equipment for time.  The ground requirements are explained in the photo captions.

The first task was to insert the team and necessary equipment to a specified location

The second task was to enter a building and exit out of the window with only the equipment they had when they were inserted

Member of ‘Team 1’ making a quick exit

The third task was to extract the team and the equipment.  This is Team 2 preparing for extraction

The last two members of Team 1 being hoisted to safety

The last two members of Team 2 giving me the ‘thumbs up’ as they complete their portion of the exercise

Team 2 waiting on their last member to get out of the building

Team 2 in a hover, silhouetted against the sun

Two members of Team 2 almost secure in the helicopter

In the end, Team 2 managed to complete the whole exercise in 17 minutes compared to 19 for Team 1.  We were extremely pleased with the level of participation and how seriously they took the exercise.

Here’s a picture I took of our whole class (minus me, of course):

Tomorrow we’re heading back to Bogota to close out our trip.  It’s been amazing!

Related Posts
1. A Night in Orlando – Colombia Chronicles
2. Arriving in Bogota –  Colombia Chronicles
3. SECDEF, the FARC, and Palanquero –  Colombia Chronicles
4. Helicopter Academics –  Colombia Chronicles
5. Urban Rescue Ops – Colombia Chronicles
6. Free Fall Skydiving – Colombia Chronicles
7. Snatch-and-grab – Colombia Chronicles
8. Helicopter insertion/extraction – Colombia Chronicles
9. Water Operations – Colombia Chronicles
10. Running, Night Fliying, and Missed Birthdays – Colombia Chronicles
11. Jumping out of a Blackhawk – Colombia Chronicles

A month ago, I returned from leading a 4-man Air Force training team to Colombia to teach high angle rescue techniques to Colombian Air Force helicopter crews and para-rescue personnel. This is Part 11 of the chronicles of my adventurous trip to Colombia…

Day 12 … Jumping out of a Blackhawk

Today was an absolutely brilliant day to fly.  The morning air was crisp and cool.  The majestic mountain backdrop donned unearthly shades of green while the sun burned off the last traces of fog and the scattered cloud layer.
We started the day with free fall and static line jumps, and this time I was ready.  My last set of skydiving shots (a few days ago) was my first attempt at that type of action photography.  It all happened so unbelievably fast!  This time around, I got a better position near the door.  What do you think?

The maintenance on these birds was phenomenal

Briefing the crews on Landing Zones and wind patterns

Everyone’s a photographer🙂 The scenery was breathtaking!

These were low-altitude static line jumps

The chute deploys almost immediately

The clouds were so majestic this morning. These guys are ready for business.

This was our 2nd round of static jumps

Free Fall from 11K!

Getting their formation situated

The color and clarity of these shots was amazing!

I decided to split up the post for today because I took so many pictures.  This morning was skydiving but this afternoon is the Culmination Exercise. This may have been the most fun I’ve ever had taking pictures!

Related Posts
1. A Night in Orlando – Colombia Chronicles
2. Arriving in Bogota –  Colombia Chronicles
3. SECDEF, the FARC, and Palanquero –  Colombia Chronicles
4. Helicopter Academics –  Colombia Chronicles
5. Urban Rescue Ops – Colombia Chronicles
6. Free Fall Skydiving – Colombia Chronicles
7. Snatch-and-grab – Colombia Chronicles
8. Helicopter insertion/extraction – Colombia Chronicles
9. Water Operations – Colombia Chronicles
10. Running, Night Fliying, and Missed Birthdays – Colombia Chronicles

A month ago, I returned from leading a 4-man Air Force training team to Colombia to teach high angle rescue techniques to Colombian Air Force helicopter crews and para-rescue personnel. This is Part 10 of the chronicles of my adventurous trip to Colombia…

Day 11 … Running, Night Flying, and Missed Birthdays

Instead of our usual early morning breakfast, today was a little bit more relaxed than what we’ve grown accustomed to.  We started the day late in anticipation of our night flight tonight.  I went on a 6-mile run with the colonel and took advantage of the opportunity to learn about the Colombian AF structure as well as his personal aspirations and some Spanish practice.

After lunch and a nap, we got ready for our night flight.  It was too dark to take pictures, so I just went along for the ride and enjoyed the cool evening air.  We came to a hover 50 ft above the jungle canopy in inky blackness and I had a self-realization moment.  I’m a 30-yr-old US Air Force helicopter pilot… in Colombia… in a Colombian UH-60L Blackhawk… at night… on Night Vision Goggles… with 2 pilots, 5 Rescatistas, 4 Flight Engineers, and an America PJ in the aircraft… doing rappels, hoists and stokes litter training.  How awesome is that?!   I thought of myself as a kid and couldn’t help grinning about how excited I would have been if I knew what I would get the opportunity to do when I grew up.  It’s humbling……

On a different note, my daughter turned 6 today and I was determined to figure out a way to tell her “Happy Birthday.”  After our night flight, I borrowed an iPad from the colonel I ran with earlier today and used his 3G connection to make a Skype call.  My wife was at a Bible study, so she gave me the babysitter’s number (happened to be our pastor, Rick Morrow).  After a few attempts, I was able to talk to my Anjali and wish her a happy birthday.  I’m grateful for the technology and the generosity of my new friend.  Here’s a pic of my birthday girl and I before I left:


Tonight we also found out that our visas expire on Saturday instead of Sunday, so we won’t be able to hang out in Bogota for very long on our way back.  Part of me is frustrated that we haven’t been able to see much of the Colombian culture because we’ve been stuck on base here in Palanquero.  Part of me is excited to go home and see my family.  I’m torn, but it’s not a decision I need to make so I’ll just roll with it.

Related Posts
1. A Night in Orlando – Colombia Chronicles
2. Arriving in Bogota –  Colombia Chronicles
3. SECDEF, the FARC, and Palanquero –  Colombia Chronicles
4. Helicopter Academics –  Colombia Chronicles
5. Urban Rescue Ops – Colombia Chronicles
6. Free Fall Skydiving – Colombia Chronicles
7. Snatch-and-grab – Colombia Chronicles
8. Helicopter insertion/extraction – Colombia Chronicles
9. Water Operations – Colombia Chronicles