Conquering the February Blues – part I

The beginning of another year can be a bit overwhelming and demotivating. The lights only just came down from the roof, while the neighbor seems to have already completed spring cleaning, trained for a marathon, and clearly doesn’t face the same credit card bills given the new car gracing the driveway. There is not a handicap large enough to make up that difference, so why even bother? We know that we should have high expectations for the year ahead, but by now it’s February and life is real and demanding and on occasion really difficult. Resolutions and personal development shrink to make room for other requirements of time and energy. So how do you motivate people who are facing another year of change, continuous improvement, and the always-growing stretch goals?

Last year I was fighting tonsil cancer.  I survived the torture of surgery and 6 weeks of radiation, only to be overwhelmed by the daily challenge of eating enough calories to keep my body healthy sans feeding tube. I would start the day with my treatment and then I would begin to climb “my mountain” as I called it.  The mountain of calories with a summit of 2,500, compounded by the bizarre radiation effect of tasteless food.  Just texture and temperature, no flavor.  How did I find motivation and how can the same principles be applied to propel you and your team through another successful year?

Some simple places to start:

  • Set short term goals and work your tail off to hit them.  Make them realistic and achievable.  You need a partner, friend, coworker or boss who knows your goals and will be ready to celebrate with you when you achieve them, and hold you accountable when you slip.  My wife was my cheerleader, cook, and she would be honest with me on my progress each day.  She had the confetti and air horn ready for my 2,500-calorie summit and was the first one to push me when my determination waned. (My kids would also help her in these tasks.)
  • Look past the obstacles of the day.  Now is the time to start dreaming about the family summer vacation at the lake, the goal of adding a pool to the backyard, or catching a game with a friend.  Make plans that include fun and are beyond the work.  We need to work to live, but we should not live to work.  Find a healthy blend of the two and do your best to separate them from each other.  Notice I did not say “healthy balance.” Balance implies equality, and they are not necessarily season-to-season.
  • Ask yourself a very important question each day. “What do I need to do today to stay motivated and hit my goals?”  Your brain is an expert at solving problems, and will apply its magic to this question lead you to rock your world.  Ask this question one to two times each day.  Do not confuse this question with. “Why am I not motivated and not making my goals?” This might sound like an interchangeable question, but one leads to solutions and an action plan. And the other to excuses. Do not fall into the trap of the latter.

 

To be continued next week.

-Lain Hensley

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Bad Day

Many Odyssey Teams programs culminate in a closing that involves Tipping Points. Participants are instructed to author an original quote to be dispersed to their team over the course of the coming weeks as a vehicle of continued learning from one another. Here at Odyssey, we have the privilege of reading each submission as they are entered into a database. And some of them are too good to not share.

“Millions of people in the world would love the opportunity to experience your bad days.”

This quote originated from an accountant that had just completed a Helping Hands program, in which participants receive a glimpse of what life is like for an amputee living in a developing country. It offers a perspective oft forgotten – that the challenges and hardships that we face pale in comparison to those lived daily by countless around the world. An anxiety laced deadline, an emotionally charged conversation, an unexpectedly poor performance review, an ill-timed empty gas tank are trivial when placed on a scale opposite the poverty, corruption, disease, and conflict faced by so many in our world. At the end of the bad day, we drive a car home, walk into a temperature controlled home, and open a refrigerator stocked with multiple meal options. A few minutes of the news ticker and all of a sudden a dropped account seems fairly trivial and TGIF becomes TGI Have A Job in light of staggering statistics of poverty. Bad days can be exactly that – really bad. But sometimes a littler perspective is the ideal antidote for a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

 

 

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The Loop

Despite the overcast morning, groundhog Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow this past Monday, predicting six more weeks of winter. Here at the Odyssey office, spring blooms are popping up all around, so we may have some doubts about our furry friend. While the marmot’s annual forecasts may be suspect, his celebrated role in American culture is undeniable. And Bill Murray’s 1993 film Groundhog Day only serves to further canonize the strange holiday. In the flick, weather man Phil Connors is begrudgingly sent to cover the Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney, only to find himself stuck in an eternal time loop. He awakens each morning to repeat the same day over and over again.

While most of us likely do not plan our spring skiing weekend around the predictions of a large rodent, we can all relate on some level to Phil Connors’ predicament. Our lives can sometimes seem to be as repetitive and suffocating as his time loop. Get up, work out, meeting, deadline, conference call, traffic, eat, sleep. Rinse and repeat.

Here at Odyssey Teams, we participate in the loop alongside you. Our scuffed suitcases are evidence of the many hours spent in airports, taxis, and hotels. The boxes of prosthetic hands donated are the result of thousands of quality checks performed at our office. Retired ropes are proof of the many participants that we have harnessed and belayed as they balance on wires and jump from platforms.

But rarely do we feel the strain of the repetition. For us, the distinguishing characteristic is the people. Each time we deliver a program, we have the incredible opportunity of connecting with new faces. Event planners, participants, ten year-olds receiving bikes, the grandma seated in seat A on the plane. The people we have the privilege of interacting with, learning from, and building up, serve to differentiate one program from the next, and make each day spent on the road more than worth the repetition. We so hope to be the break from the norm for you and your team this year. If you’re finding yourself bogged down by the redundancy, give us a call. We’d love to be the exception to the rule that provides perspective to the loop.

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The Climb

Dust rose from beneath my boots as I stepped from the parking lot onto the rock path that would be my guide for the next five hours. I could already see the glow lights of my fellow climbers stretched far ahead. The voices of the lead climbers and the sounds from the line of students that followed blended into one chorus of laughter and singing. The sound of my own breathing became more difficult as the thin air was already taking its toll on my body’s ability to oxygenate my blood.

I could not have done more to prepare the students for the climb ahead, it was up to them now. It was out of my hands and up to each senior to make the difference for each other. I had my own challenge to overcome and I would need their help if I was going to make it. I trudged ahead leaving the parking lot in the distance and embracing the mystery of the full moon and the night ahead.

Thoughts of my 12-year-old nephew, Cody, began to enter my mind and I was comforted to have his memory as my companion for the long hours ahead. I took one look back at the parking lot which was now one half mile behind me. I looked forward to standing on top of this pile of rocks and feeling close to my God, close to my fellow climbers, and close to Cody’s spirit. I missed him so much, but I would have to go on with only his memory.

In memory of Cody Richardson, my nephew and my friend.

January 15, 1988 to September 23, 2000

-Lain Hensley

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Helping Hands — Build-a-Hand Teambuilding Kits in England

Odyssey Teams, Inc. is excited to announce that we are looking for the right person or organization in England to be our exclusive distributor of the Helping Hands – Build-a-Hand Teambuilding kits in that region. To date, this program has resulted in over 17,000 hands built for people who have lost a limb in developing countries while simultaneously providing a profound experience of team and leadership development to over 1,000 companies in developed countries. The program has been featured in Entrepreneur magazine, Fox Business news, and numerous TV/Media publications/outlets. It is making a dramatic difference inside and out of companies around the world.

If you, or someone you know, has an established training/facilitation practice in England that might be interested in leveraging their training/facilitation services through the use of the Helping Hands – Build-a-Hand project, please have them contact Bill John — bill@odysseyteams.com or 530-342-1650 (US). We will be making our selection in April, 2015. For information on the program including press/media/videos, et. al. please go to www.build-a-hand.com, or to our main site www.odysseyteams.com.

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Into the New Year

At the end of the year we tend to look at the twelve months past and pinpoint the highlights. We reflect on a milestone reached, the once in a lifetime vacation, a major purchase, or even heartbreaking tragedy. The short list of momentous occasions becomes the marker for the year. And looking forward, we expectantly search for the next one.

But the vast majority of life happens in the meantime. Significant events occur and their gravities pull on our hearts and lives. But we are formed by the days, months, and hours of the in between. The Tuesday morning headed to work and sitting in traffic. The Thursday evening coming home to a sink of breakfast dishes needing to be washed. Conference calls, deadlines, lunch dates, grocery shopping, and miles logged on a treadmill. Not very flashy or noteworthy, but that’s where life happens. And there is meaning in it all. Those conference calls broker a deal that trickles down to deserving clients. That stress-inducing deadline means a valuable product reaching the hands of customers. Lunch dates establish friendships with colleagues and office mates.

Here at Odyssey Teams Inc. we look on the year past and celebrate some rather notable occasions. But we are also thankful for the day-to-day routine that brought us to where we are now. Looking to the year ahead, we are excited to join you and your teams for the average-Joe Wednesdays. We hope to give the normalcy purpose. To partner with you as we all seek to find the why of our work, the meaning behind the mundane. And perhaps at the end of 2015, you’ll look back and find that an afternoon spent with Odyssey Teams was the momentous occasion that added value to your in between.

Season’s Greetings

From the twinkling lights strung along roof lines to the ornament laden branches of firs propped up in the window, it’s clear that the holiday season is upon us. While major retailers had the jump on holiday spirit – with decorations hung and inventory stocked since before Halloween, the rest of us are now catching up. Packages are dropped off on the front porch and favorite sweets are popped in and out of the oven as we brave lines, battle wrapping paper, hang greens, and gather in friends and family to celebrate.

We hope that your holiday season is marked by joy. We know that the holidays are not always easy, and can serve to highlight the pain and messiness of life. But we hope that wherever you are in life’s journey – whether skipping along higher than the Nutcracker ballerinas or plodding from one day to the next – that this month you experience joy that goes well beyond circumstance. May you find reason to celebrate, even if it takes above average effort to search out.

Here at Odyssey Teams we have abundant reasons for celebration. We are in amazement of all that has occurred in the past year. Changes, improvements and recalibrations for our staff, facility, and programs. Hundreds of bikes and thousands of hands built and given away to those that need them most. Hours spent in trees and on wires high above the ground in our ropes course programs. Miles upon miles logged in planes as we fly across the country and around the world to deliver programs and connect with companies and individuals. We joyfully celebrate lives changed – by a first ever bike, a second hand to carry groceries, or a new perspective on life and work and the relationships found therein. And we look forward with hopeful expectation for what is to be in the year to come.

We have a lot of things planned for this next year, and we sincerely hope that we will have the opportunity to join and assist you in your own odyssey.

Thanks

Gratitude. Not always the easiest emotion or attitude to evoke. There are momentary glimpses – thankfulness in response to a grandiose gesture, a major life event, or a meaningful gift received on a special occasion. But gratitude for the small things is more difficult.

We take for granted that this morning we woke up, took a breath of air, and got out of bed. We forget the blessing in opening a refrigerator of food, and the reality that even if the milk was spoiled, there is a grocery store just down the street with gallons more. We fail to be thankful that while brushing our teeth at the bathroom sink, we turn on a faucet and clean water comes out – at whatever temperature we desire. Sideline the big things – the little ones are abounding.

But when the full reality of life is occurring all around us – the ups and down, the stressors, busyness, and the mundane – it can be difficult to default to anything even slightly akin to thankfulness. Fortunately there is November, with the fourth Thursday dedicated to the elusive action-feeling of giving thanks. This week, here at Odyssey Teams we take advantage of a coached opportunity to be grateful. We have no shortage of reasons.

We are thankful for a new building and new team members. We are grateful for the incredible programs that have occurred across the country and around the world these past months. We give thanks for the hundreds of hands, bikes, skateboards, and playhouses that have been built and donated by the remarkable companies that we have the privilege of working alongside. And we are beyond grateful for the friends we have made within companies near and far, who catch our vision, encourage our dream, and allow us the opportunities to do what we love. Thank you for inviting us into your teams, companies, and schools. For stepping out of your comfort zone, for giving time to build something for someone else, and for joining us in this journey. We are grateful.

Lessons Learned from Cancer, Radiation, and Coming Back to Work

Entrepreneurs are famous for being self-taught business minds who relentlessly learn new skills. We read business books and attend conferences. We seek out mentors and develop new skills. But sometimes earth-shattering lessons — ones we could never learn from a book or a fellow entrepreneur —upend our world. They feel more like catastrophes than education. But they teach us the deepest lessons of our lives.

Over the last 23 years, my business partner Bill John and I have built a teambuilding company called Odyssey Teams, and developed a well-recognized brand in our industry. We differentiated ourselves by incorporating service projects into the classroom. We called it philanthropic teambuilding and the term stuck. To date we have given away about 20,000 bikes and about 13,000 prosthetic hands that had been distributed in more than 74 countries.

This success meant a lot of travel, flying across the country to deliver corporate training events. Last year, I was off on another business trip, driving to the airport to catch a 7 a.m. flight to Milwaukee to deliver a keynote speech to 1,000 Northwestern Mutual employees. I was living my dream and, frankly, at the top of my game. A slight hint of arrogance had developed in me as I experienced a level of financial and personal success I had only dreamed about as a kid.

I was still drowsy from the early hour, and I rubbed my face to keep awake. Then, while running my hands over my neck, I felt a strange lump on the right side of my throat. I immediately flashed back to years earlier when a friend of mine described the day he discovered a lump in his neck and it turned out to be cancer. It was almost totally silent as I sped along at 65 mph. It was just me and my imagination wondering about my fate and calculating how soon I could call my wife.

During the drive, somehow I knew in my gut that something was wrong and a battle I had felt looming since I was a teenager was upon me.

Fighting was not new to me. As a dyslexic kid I fought my way through high school and then through six years of college. I fought my way through collegiate tennis matches, and I fought my way though the early years of my business. My father taught me the value of work and that fighting for something you really wanted is just part of the deal.

My wife is a registered nurse and I called her from my layover in Denver. She was anxious to assess me when I returned from the trip and we agreed to just watch the lump until we got back home from our vacation cabin.

When the lump in my throat did not go away, we followed through with a doctor’s appointment. They ordered a biopsy and days passed as we waited for the results. I had my phone with me and my family and friends knew I was waiting for the test results. When the phone finally rang, my doctor told me it was cancer. I wrote the word “CANCER” on the sheet of paper and told her to call my wife. I hung up the phone and the emotion overwhelmed me. Cancer, cancer, cancer. I wept with disbelief. The time had come, and although millions of people have fought the same fight, I felt alone.

I went home to be with my family. I walked into the house and could hear my 13-year-old and 10-year-old daughters crying in their room. After a long embrace with my wife I peeked in to see my girls. We clung to each other in a way I will never forget. My 8-year-old son emerged from his room to give me his brand of love. I had cancer, but they would all need to go through cancer with me. It scared us all.

The next few weeks were a medical blur — test after test and some hard decisions. I had my tonsils removed and a radical neck dissection. They removed 23 glands and a bunch of neck tissue. The cancer had spread to one of my lymph nodes, and I realized that I was a speaker who might not speak again if things did not go well. I began six weeks of radiation.

Work was put on hold. I was a mess and I leaned hard on my team to make it through. The business was growing, but it would need to go on without my leadership. I had to step back and let go of control. Any gaps in the system, any areas I was holding up would need to stand on their own. It was not going to be easy, but we really had no options, and I was ready to see if they could do it. No matter how much I loved my work I did not have the strength to do anything more than fight for my life.

My wife was my rock. When I could not go on she and the kids carried me. The ego and arrogance from my success? Gone. It was just me, 2,500 calories a day and another 24 hours of fighting. I was stopped. The man who always had enough energy and was always ready to take the lead was being carried.

This defining moment has led to some big changes in my life and in my company. I realized that I had way too much of the company on my back, and I was not creating independence or accountability within my team. Many hard conversations came my way following my treatment and I can now see the gaps in my leadership that had been exposed in my absence. Today, my business partner and I are creating independent yet interdependent employees driven by the mission and values of Odyssey Teams, and not just by me. For things to grow bigger than me I needed to learn how to get out of the way more and empower people.

I could tell you about radiation and the after effects of the treatments and issues I am still dealing with today, but honestly, who cares. I am 47 years old, six months post-radiation, and 15 pounds under my normal weight, but I am alive. To really get started, I had to be stopped. I am cancer free and I am a better man, husband, father, employer, speaker and friend. It is not about me anymore or what I can accomplish or whom I can impress or what I can get done. I am temporary. But I can create and contribute to things that can’t be stopped by cancer, things that will live well beyond me.

-Lain Henlsey, Chief Operating Officer of Odyssey Teams

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a boy named Nobody

I was leading a ropes course program for a youth-at-risk high school group. One of the first things I asked kids to do was put on a nametag. Partway through the morning, I noticed a kid dressed in all black, looking disinterested and detached from the rest of the group. I walked over to greet him and noticed that instead of a name, his nametag said ‘Nobody.’ It was a perfect name to describe what he must have felt like in his life. I asked him a few questions about it, but mostly encouraged him to take a few steps beyond himself during the day.

I kept my eye on him throughout the morning and he remained around the perimeter. Not in, but not really out. As we progressed through the process of building conversations, increasing the level of heights and trust, Nobody kept choosing out. We applauded his choice not to climb or fall, and kept right on going with the next activity. In the afternoon, we got to the High V’s.

The High V’s event is built 30 feet up in the trees – strung between massive, beautiful, California redwood trees. There is a cable that wraps around one tree and runs horizontally to two other trees – forming a giant V-shape parallel to the ground. Attached to two separate belay systems, two participants climb side-by-side up the tree that stands at the apex of the V. Each climber steps out onto their respective cable – each of which heads off to a separate tree. As they move onto the cables, facing each other, they are only about two feet apart. The next step is to put their hands across onto each other’s shoulders, letting go of the tree that they just climbed. A tree that at one point looked intimidating now seems incredibly sturdy compared to the cables that they are currently balancing on.

Leaning against, and looking at one another, the two take their next step out onto the diverging cables. With each step, their feet get further and further apart, requiring one of two things: (1) they lean against each other – accomplished by standing up tall, not bending over the waist, and ‘falling’ inward towards each other – like an A-frame house where the base keeps getting wider. This inward lean gives the other person something to lean against – a source of stability in an otherwise, stable-less situation. It is the physical embodiment of synergy. Or, (2) they let their more self-protective instinct take-over and instead of leaning, they bend over at the waist. This begins the unraveling of relationship – entropy. Instead of standing straight and bringing the center of their own gravity out and toward their partner, they try to protect the little balance they have on their own cable by bringing the center of their gravity backward. With each successive step in this manner it gets worse. In order to maintain contact with their partner’s shoulders as they step, the only option in this ‘holding back’ position is to bend over at the waist, thus bringing their center of gravity further apart from each other which begs for more bending over at the waist which now restricts the ability to even look in each others eyes for strength.

Communication is lost. The only way to stay up, or take another step, is to pull against the other person. In relationships, and on the V’s, this is a mess that inevitably ends in falling. Not that the opposite keeps them up there forever, but it certainly enables them to go farther along the cables and in relationship. The energy is fueled by connection – synergy vs. separateness and entropy. We can choose either, whenever we want. However, the further apart we get on the V’s and in life, the more risk it takes to lean in.

As kids went up the V’s with their partners, Nobody made his way to the belay lines to join the seven others holding the climber above them on the cables. It was a small step towards others. We sent pair after pair up the V’s and were nearing the end. All of the kids had gone or were in harnesses getting ready to go. I kept my eye on Nobody, wondering how he would play this out. Nobody had declined requests from partners to do the High V’s, and every one had already partnered up.

A few years prior to this group, I was delivering a program to another group of youth-at-risk and was really burnt out at the end of the day. I felt like it did not matter – any of the work, all of my energy, all of my desire. I saw ‘trout faces’ everywhere – where ‘lips move, but I can’t hear what you say,’ where eyes don’t blink to let you know life is present – just dull, disinterested affect from all these kids. An extraordinary opportunity – not taken by them – yet again, I presumed.

There was a probation officer at the program and I let my frustration known to him and he said, “Remember the law of 82: These kids need to hear the lesson 82 times before they decide to make a change. For some, today is the 1st time they’ve really heard it. For one, or perhaps a few, if we are lucky, it’s the 82nd.  Too many people give up on them because they don’t know if 82 will ever come. Don’t be one of those people that gives up on them because you never know if your message, your caring is the 82nd.”

Number 82 arrived. He was a boy that was really afraid to do the High V’s with his partner – and then did it. He came down from the event with so much energy and approached Nobody, knowing that he had declined others requests, but he asked again. Nobody said ‘okay’ – a genuinely reluctant okay. It was an ‘okay’ that included his guarded nature and his curiosity. Kids gathered around to help him get the harness on and soon Nobody was on his way.

As the last team on the last event of the day, these two boys embodied what it was all about. It was not about getting to a place of having ‘no fear’ or even getting over fear. Fear is just part of the landscape of greatness. It is impossible to have a life without it and this day was about creating energy for what is more important than fear.

They got to the High V’s and stepped out. And they just kept stepping. Kids on the ground went wild. With every step they leaned further against each other – one holding the other up only by the act of being willing to be held by the other. The V’s are built so that there is no finish line, no place to get to, no other side. Every pair eventually falls. Nobody and his partner kept going and the energy on the ground was converted into yet another step until they were practically horizontal, flat-out, pushing for each other. Their feet could not get any further apart, and they slipped from the cables on the next step and the belayers lowered them to the ground, holding onto each other. When they got to the ground, the others were all over them with every kind of high five and hand-shake and fist pump – genuine congratulations.

 

Tom Lutes, one of the people who taught me so much of this work, explained a simple circular model. Around the circle were the words vulnerability, inspiration, support and trust. You could start with any word in the circle and it would began to spin like a wheel with the energy you put onto that word – presumably moving in the direction of “success”. If you jumped in to embody/demonstrate any one of these words, it would have an impact on the next word. Vulnerability therefore would lead to inspiration, inspiration would lead to support, support would lead to trust and trust would lead to more vulnerability.

Some people need to have more trust before they are willing to be vulnerable (again). I say ‘again’ because we are all born this way – vulnerable. And ALL of us have been dropped, let down, cheated, ripped off – and some far too many times for one life. Nobody was among them. The boy who asked Nobody to do the V’s with him was number 82 and was the embodiment of support on the wheel that began to spin in Nobody’s favor. Nobody decided to risk again – to be vulnerable, to bring all of himself. Those of us on the ground were genuinely inspired, which led us to ceaselessly support Nobody and his partner. As a result, trust grew throughout, and in turn Nobody allowed himself to be increasingly vulnerable, and finally he saw that he could do this. And it was working out for him.

As we debriefed the day, each of the kids talked about their experience – what happened for them, how they made it happen, how would they make it happen again. As we got around to Nobody, he got up, walked over to the bag that held the nametags and sharpies and simply changed his name to Somebody. He patted it over his heart and onto his t-shirt, threw his old nametag away and simply sat down. He smiled cautiously. We all smiled back and moved to the next person.

-Bill John