The War will be won on the Western Front

…or at least that’s what we’re counting on.

Some friends and I are playing a game of Axis & Allies: WWI 1914. We started about 10 days ago and we’re probably half way through the game.

Axis & Allies: a 1914 - Eastern Front

The early stages of the Eastern Front

I’m playing as Russia and the US along with my other Allies—France, the UK, and Italy. In the beginning of the game, the US sat out (just like in WWI), so I was only responsible for Russia and the Eastern Front.

It was immediately clear that the Eastern Front was a big challenge for Russia. My job was to hold the line as long as possible so the US could enter the war and swing things in our favor on the Western Front.

Fortunately, France and Italy have been playing well and getting lucky, so things are going well for us over there. I’m pretty sure the Allies will win the war on the Western Front.

This game is a lot of fun because it’s a good mix of strategy, tactics, and luck.

The luck component seems a little frustrating at first, but it’s a pretty true to how things actually happened in WWI.

A few countries would send a bunch of infantry to a battle front and although they might have some idea what would happen, the outcome would be uncertain until the battle actually finished. Maybe one side’s tactics were stronger, or maybe the weather thwarted one side’s game-plan.

In the real War, there were several battles where hundreds of thousands of soldiers were lost and nothing really changed.

The same is true in AA14 (my unofficial shorthand). We do the math on the possible outcomes, line up a bunch of infantry and artillery, then roll the dice to see what actually happens. Sometimes there’s a big swing, and sometimes nothing changes at all as both sides lose a lot of infantry and artillery.

It’s important to have a pretty good overall strategy, but the key to the game is to adjust our tactics any time we get new information. If there’s a big battle that goes our way, we may have more options available to us. If we lose a big battle, we may have fewer options and it might make sense to change course or ramp up our risk tolerance.

Lately I’ve noticed that this is true in my business as well: I make the most progress when continually update my current plan to match the information I have and to maximize the opportunities available to me.

When I get stuck on a particular plan without incorporating new information, I often make mistakes. My business is growing because I’m making fewer and fewer of those mistakes—hopefully I can maintain this trend.

I scream, you scream, we all scream for…a 15-minute drive to get ice cream?

I bet this precise conversation happened 1,522 times here in Gainesville this summer:

“Have you seen the new Avengers movie yet? It’s great!”

“Nah, I just haven’t gotten around to it yet, but I plan to.”

“When you see it, make sure you go to the new theatre – it’s awesome!”

“Oh yeah? Ok, I’ll check it out!”

Other than a slowly degrading mall, we’ve never had much shopping in Gainesville. There have been rumors of a new Town Center circulating for years, but they’ve finally started building it and the buzz is building.

We all thought a Town Center was a good idea, but we weren’t sure where they would build it.

All the options seemed pretty bad because there just wasn’t space for a big development anywhere in the city. They would have to build somewhere on the outskirts of town, so people would have to drive a bit to get to it.

This is sort of a Catch-22: How do you build a big shopping center over several years if nobody is willing to drive that far to shop?

For starters, you would build at least one or two things worth driving to and use those things as anchors while the other things get built.

What would you build first?

In Gainesville, the answer was a fancy new movie theatre: a 10-screen Regal RPX theatre with comfy reclining chairs, huge screens, and great audio. It’s the first new theatre here in over 20 years and it’s lightyears ahead of our other theaters.

It didn’t take very long for all of my friends to find it and recommend it—now it’s our go-to theatre because it’s so much better than the others.

I’ve been out to “Celebration Pointe” (with a silent ‘e’ so you know it’s fancy!) several times to see new movies, but there was no way I would’ve gone out there to buy clothes or eat dinner.

But now they’re starting to open other shops around the theatre and I’m already acclimated to driving out to Celebration Pointe so it’s no big deal to drive out to shop or just hang out in the common areas.

Last week, some friends and I drove 15 minutes to get ice cream at Kilwins and then hung out and talked in a pergola for a couple hours. We never would’ve done that if they hadn’t been so intentional by opening the movie theatre first.

The big picture and overall vision matter, but so do the individual steps you take to implement your plan.

An amazing 4th of July

This 4th of July was the opposite of last 4th of July in almost every way. I won’t recap all of last year, but it was a harrowing experience.

This year, everything went swimmingly.

Getting down to Sarasota

We went down a little later this year and arrived at dinner time on the 3rd. We ate at a place called Pop’s Sunset Grill and it wasn’t bad. It was nice catching up with some friends I hadn’t seen in a while.

The view from Pop's Sunset Grill

After we dropped our stuff off at the house, we made a run to Kilwins. This is a nice tradition, but it’s not quite as special now that we finally got a Kilwins in Gainesville a few months ago.

That being said, I ended up with the largest single scoop I’ve ever had (I described it as “a pint on a waffle cone”) and it was delicious.

We wrapped things up by playing Pictionary (my team got destroyed) and then Taboo (my team won easily). Word games are my bailiwick, but I’m terrible with drawing and visual stuff.

The 4th

We took our time getting started on the 4th, hanging out and drinking coffee until 11 AM or so. We had a big group this year, so we split into two and decided to do shifts on the wakesurfer.

My group was on the beach first, and we played some bocce (my team barely won) and goofed off in the water while the first wakesurfing crew had fun in the Gulf.

After a couple hours, we did a pretty quick shift change and had to change locations because the Gulf got too choppy. We made our way to the water sports area and got to work.

Wakesurfing

The thing about water sports is I have never done them and I don’t particularly like water. I mean, I went tubing a couple times as a kid, and would occasionally find myself on a lake, but that’s about it. So I’m terrible at them and it takes me a bit to get the hang of them.

And so it is with wakesurfing. I tried for quite a while last year and could never even get up on the board, so I had a pretty clear goal for this year: Get up on the stupid wakesurfing board at least once.

I almost got up on my first try, and then failed probably eight times in a row. I was getting pretty close to just calling it quits when everything fell into place and I got it. I quickly got up four times in a row and got that monkey off my back.

Me, wakesurfing

That’s the good news. The bad news is I never really had a good run, so I still haven’t really experienced the fun part of wakesurfing. But I guess that’s a goal for next year.

The festivities

When our shift ended, we headed back to the house for a traditional 4th of July cookout. There’s something comforting about grilling burgers and hotdogs on the 4th. And the desserts this year were phenomenal—some kind of frozen lemon pie and a delicious blueberry cobbler.

The skies looked pretty good before we got on the boat to head out into the Gulf, but they looked ok last year too. I think we were all a little nervous that we’d get caught in another lightning monsoon even though all signs pointed to good weather.

It was cool and breezy the whole time and we got to see an amazing sunset.

Sunset on the Gulf

The beach and Gulf were significantly less full than last year, and there was hardly anyone on the water for the fireworks.

I think part of it was that the 4th fell on a Wednesday, and part of it was people shying away from another run-in with a lightning monsoon. The end result was basically a private fireworks display for our crew and it was amazing.

Fireworks on the Gulf

Fireworks on a boat

We didn’t make it back early enough to get Kilwins so we just jumped straight to games instead. This time, we played Mad Gab first. We only got through about half a game before we quit because it was too easy and our scores were basically identical. We audibled over to Taboo and my team pulled out the win.

Everyone turned in surprisingly early this time, probably because we were all pretty tired from the day’s festivities.

Heading home

Our return trip was pretty uneventful. We rolled out around 10 and just headed straight home. It was nice to have a super easy day after a pretty busy couple of days in Sarasota.

A great week in Boston

A couple buddies and I went to Boston and it was a ton of fun. We did exactly the right amount of stuff so we had a great time without feeling burnt out.

Day 1: Travel and dinner at Carmelina’s

Our travel there was pretty uneventful, which is always great. We got lucky in Orlando when they pulled us out of the regular back-check line and moved us to the fast lane since we were likely to miss our flight if we stayed the course in the regular line.

By the time we actually got to our apartment in Beacon Hill, it was around 5:00.

We were already hungry, so we decided to head to the North End with a hope and a dream that we could get a table at Carmelina’s. A couple of us had heard that it’s a great place to eat, but it’s typically booked out.

I actually tried calling ahead to try to get a last-minute reservation, but they were basically booked solid for the next few days. I made sure to tell the host that my buddies and I were in town for a few days and were hoping to try Carmelina’s while in Boston so he would remember us and have pity on us if we talked to him later.

Sure enough, we walked over and managed to get a table on the sidewalk because they had a no-show. It was a good meal and a great way to ease into Boston.

Our view from Carmelina'sCarmelina's meatball appetizerAll of us standing in front of Carmelina's

We all split a meatball starter and a few entrees—the carbonara was the best one.

Afterward, we walked across the street to Mike’s Pastry, which we’d heard was a must-visit place. It did not disappoint. I got a caramel pecan cannoli, and my friends had to sort of lure me out of the place because it was chalk full of delicious-looking treats.

Mike's Pastry box of treatsMy caramel pecan cannoli

We took our cannolis to a table at The Greenway to watch the sun set and enjoy the Boston weather. It was like mid-70s all week, which was a nice change of pace from the Gainesville summer.

Rick looking at something on the Greenway
We were already pretty tired and full of carbs, so we headed back to settle into our flat and call it a night.

Day 2: A whale of a time

We heard that whale watching tours are fantastic in Boston this time of year, so we got on a boat to go see the whales.

I spent the first 45 minutes feeling progressively worse until we finally got to the viewing area. Although I felt terrible, I was determined to see at least a couple whales for my trouble, so I forced myself to stand, posted up on the rail and waited for a couple whales to pop up.

Technically, I saw some whales.

Once I saw them, I sat back in my seat and didn’t move for the next two hours or so trying to keep it together until we could get back on land. I’ve never been seasick before, and I do not recommend it.

Seasick on a whale-watching boat

I don’t think I really got right again until a couple days later.

Once back on land, we made a beeline for a local market where a couple of us got lobster rolls for lunch. They were tasty.

Boston Harbor from the boat

Then we headed back to the flat to recover and get ready for the highlight of our trip…

Fenway

My buddy Rick is a lifelong Red Sox fan, but he didn’t attend his first game at Fenway until this trip. We saw a satisfying route of the Angels, including several home runs and some great defensive plays.

Fenway Park entranceRed Sox game at dusk

Aside from a random business guy loudly talking about his business behind us (we all wonder what will become of his COO Gary, who he mentioned several times), it was a fantastic game and a great time.

We did it right, dropping some coin on concessions for dinner and Rick even got a new hat to replace his old well-worn hat that probably should’ve been retired a couple years ago.

Classic Allen face

I have a lot of “Allen makes this face at a sporting event” photos

And of course we got the full experience with “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and “Sweet Caroline”.

After the game, we walked back to Beacon Hill. This was probably our best walk of the trip, clocking in at nearly an hour and taking us through several great neighborhoods.

We got back pretty late, so we turned in to make sure we were ready for a big hiking day on Wednesday.

Day 3: The Freedom Trail and un-split lobster tails

The main event for Wednesday was the Freedom Trail. But before we got started, we spent some time at Boston Common and the Public Garden.

It took some searching around the Frog Pond , but we eventually found the bench from Good Will Hunting. It was surprisingly hard to find—we all expected some sort of memorial for Robin Williams or something—but it was just a bench by a pond.

Good Will Hunting Bench at the Frog PondThe Freedom Trail

Then we set off for The Freedom Trail.

This was the hike that everyone told us we had to do. We found a podcast that had little two-minute blurbs about several of the stops on the Trail, but I was jealous of the tourists with guides telling them all about each stop.

The Freedom Trail

If I did it again, I would get a tour guide or an audio tour or something to make sure I learned a lot along the way. Visiting the sites was great and seeing so much of Boston was fantastic, but I didn’t learn as much about the history as I would’ve liked.

Paul Revere

Still, it was a fantastic hike that took us all over Boston and lasted about five hours. There’s something really cool about standing in spots that are well-known pieces of American history while looking around to see the hustle and bustle of the modern world—a fun juxtaposition.

The USS Constitution

After we finished the Freedom Trail, we walked over to the USS Constitution, which is the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel that’s still afloat.

The USS Constitution (and a random dude)

Although it’s called Old Ironsides, its hull is entirely made of wood, which makes it a really beautiful boat. Some of the crew told us about its history and pointed out some of the unique characteristics of the ship while we bobbed and weaved between the low-slung beams and around the columns below deck.

It was really neat to actually walk around and feel what it was like to be below deck surrounded by cannons in such a tight space.

Below deck on the USS Constitution

We were all pretty much exhausted by this point (we had been walking for six hours or so), and we headed back to the flat to recover before heading out to dinner.

Lobsters

For dinner, we made our way to Yankee Lobster in South Boston. Rick and I got the twin lobster and it was really good. This was my first time breaking down a whole lobster and it was quite an experience.

They didn’t split the tails for us, so we had to do some work to get to the good stuff. I prefer to work as little as possible when I eat my food, but all the work was worth it in this case.

Lobsters from Yankee Lobster

As an added bonus, Joan Jett, Styx and Tesla did a show right next door while we ate. So we got to eat delicious lobster and take in a free show to boot. (I’m pretty sure we also helped some people sneak in through a back gate near our table.)

Drink

After lobsters, we walked to Drink, which is a small bar where the bartenders make you whatever they think you’ll like. It was a great place to relax and catch up since we hadn’t all hung out in a long time.

Back to the flat!

Day 4: A small excursion

By Thursday, we were all starting to get a little tired. We had been walking everywhere pand I still hadn’t quite recovered from being seasick, so I was happy to take it easy all day.

Night Shift Brewing

We got a late start and headed to Night Shift Brewing out in Everett. We each got a flight and then just hung out talking for several hours.

It was a really cool space and surprisingly cozy for such an industrial building.

Although this his probably the easiest possible tourist activity, I struggled to stay awake and was pretty happy when we decided to head straight back to the flat and chill until dinner.

Trattoria Il Panino

For our final dinner in Boston, we found our way to Trattoria Il Panino, which was amazing. This was my favorite meal in Boston by far.

We started with a charcuterie board (who doesn’t love a good charcuterie board?) and again split a few entrees. All three entrees were fantastic: Veal Saltimbocca (veal medallions), Ziti alla Amatriciana, and Ravioli con Aragosta (lobster ravioli in crab sauce).

Charcuterie board

Entrees at Trattoria Il PaninoThis would’ve been the ideal time for a final stop at Mike’s, but we were all so full we couldn’t drag ourselves over there. I regret this now.

It was starting to get late and we all needed to pack up for our travel day on Friday, so we walked back to the flat.

Day 5: Heading home

Our flight wasn’t until around 3:00, so we had time to see a little more of Boston before we took off. One of my favorite parts of this trip was that we were in Beacon Hill, a beautiful neighborhood where everything is very walkable.

Beacon Hill

The view from Starbucks

We decided to head back to Boston Common and split up for a couple hours so we could each do our own thing.

I found a shaded bench by the Frog Pond and spent a couple hours reading and listening to music to decompress and take it easy after a good week.

Reading by the Frog Pond

Our travel home was pretty uneventful except that the Chick-Fil-A we built our homeward route around ended up being closed for renovations. This was easily the saddest moment of our trip. But we all managed to overcome the adversity on the field by enduring a trip to a futuristic Wendy’s run by giant iPads.

Our drive back to Gainesville from Orlando went by quickly as we listened to NBA podcasts and talked basketball most of the time.

All in all, this was an amazing trip with great friends and I think we did it right.

How salary negotiation coaching is like cooking a tricky pasta recipe

My favorite Italian recipe is technically called Penne allo scarpariello, but I just call it “the penne dish”.

A couple of friends brought it back with them after they spent a year living in Salerno, Italy. I was hooked the first time I tried it, so I asked them for the recipe.

Here are all the ingredients:

  • Penne pasta
  • Campari tomatoes
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Butter
  • Salt
  • Red pepper flakes

And here’s the basic process to make it:

  • Cook the tomatoes in butter
  • Remove the peels when they break
  • Add salt and red pepper flakes
  • Add grated parmesan and a little more butter
  • Cook the pasta
  • Mix the pasta and sauce
  • Eat

The penne dish

It’s delicious! And the process to make it is pretty simple…assuming you know what you’re doing.

As you can see, there are only six ingredients, and yet I ruined it the first couple times I tried to make it on my own. Both times, I missed something small that ended up being a big problem.

So I went back to my friends and asked them to show me how they did it.

I immediately realized where I had messed up: The first time, I had the heat just a little too high, and I overcooked it; the second time, I had the heat a little too low and the cheese didn’t melt properly so it had a funky, gritty texture.

Now I can make the penne dish in my sleep and it’s perfect every time. My friends love it and I love making it.

But when I share the recipe with other people they never try to make it. Even though there are only a few ingredients, it’s too intimidating knowing that there are subtle things you have to get just right in order for it to work.

So I always offer to show them how to make it—just like my friends showed me—pointing out the subtle things along the way. Then they get it.

Salary negotiation is exactly the same way

I wrote the book on salary negotiation—it’s called Fearless Salary Negotiation and thousands of people have read it and used it to make more money.

It’s a detailed recipe with a few simple ingredients for getting paid what you’re worth. And it works for a lot of people who have used it to earn a lot more throughout their career.

But sometimes there are more nuanced situations where a subtle tweak here or there can have enormous benefits. And sometimes, people just prefer to have someone else—an expert—do the work for them.

My very first paid coaching client already had a copy of my book, but she still reached out and asked if I would help her with her salary negotiation. I was a little surprised that she reached out, but I knew I could help so we got to work.

We were able to improve her job offer by several thousand dollars, and I was really happy for her. But I couldn’t quite understand why she reached out and asked to pay a steep fee to work with me rather than just buy my book.

I had to know why she hired me instead of trying a DIY approach, so I asked her, “Why did you hire me instead of just reading my book?”

Her answer gave me everything I needed to know to build a thriving coaching business: “I just wanted you to do it for me.”

That’s why I offer one-on-one full-service salary negotiation coaching for experienced software developers. For those who just want someone to do the work for them, and for folks who can stand to make a lot more money with a subtle tweak to my salary negotiation recipe, salary negotiation coaching is an amazing value.

I recently worked with J.B., an experienced Software Engineer who had a strong offer that we turned into an amazing offer:

Testimonial from J.B., a Software Engineer

And the best part is that I love negotiating job offers, so it’s a lot of fun for me while being valuable for my clients.

If you or someone you know might benefit from salary negotiation coaching, here’s where you can learn more and apply for a 15-minute intro call:

>> Learn more about salary negotiation coaching

My first ski trip since high school was awesome

The Monte Carlo at Breck

I lay on my back, staring up at the blue sky. I assume it was beautiful, although I can’t really remember because I was desperately trying to catch my breath at 11,000 feet above sea level.

I looked past my feet, up the mountain to find my ski. My friend had already found it and was bringing it down to me.

“I. Don’t think. I’ve. Ever. Been. This tired.” was all I could say.

Our group had just accidentally gone down a Blue run, which we later found out was basically a Black, and it had not gone well. I tried my best to maintain control, but I had gone down the un-groomed part of the run, which meant I was basically skiing down a black on ice.

This moment was one of many that we would later call the #VailFail, and it was definitely a low point. But around this low point was a week of high points and a lot of fun.

Skiing for the first time in a long time

Last week, I went skiing for the first time since high school. All of my previous skiing experiences were terrible, so I wasn’t expecting to have much fun.

Fortunately, my friends insisted I try skiing on real mountains with real snow, so I went to Breck to give it a shot.

I had an amazing week and really enjoyed skiing. It was a lot easier than I expected and I picked it up faster than I thought I would.

So this will be more of an old-school day-by-day recap of my trip, mostly for posterity.

Day 1: Traveling there

A few of us rented a car and drove from Gainesville to Orlando, where we flew Southwest directly to Denver. Then we rented cars and drove from Denver to Breck. Everything was entirely uneventful, which is how I prefer to travel.

Once in Breck, I immediately felt the altitude and got winded just walking up stairs and doing other simple things. I also got a low-level headache that persisted for a couple of days despite all the water I drank.

We rented a ridiculous three-story house that slept 13 people. “The bunk room”, which I shared with three other guys, was crowded but fun.

That first night, we got our ski gear, settled in, and went out for our first crepes of the trip.

A picture of a giant crepe

These crepes are delicious and enormous.

Day 2: Lessons and getting settled

Everyone I talked to said, “You should definitely take lessons on your first day. It’s the best way to learn the basics.” This was great advice, which I think they learned to give after other training methods failed.

For example, I think they used to teach newbies how to ski using a sort of Scared Straight methodology (“This is a blue run. You will fall a lot, but by the time you make it to the bottom, you’ll be ok at skiing.”), which probably isn’t the best way to learn.

So several of us split into groups for snowboarding and skiing lessons. There were only two of us skiers, and our instructor was Dave. There were two other folks in our group, which meant Dave only had to work with four students—that was great for us.

My first ski lesson

We gradually worked through the basics, and I felt pretty good right away. Skiing was already less awful than I remembered. By lunch time, my friend and I had progressed past our two fellow students and were quite a bit more comfortable with the green runs we were doing.

Just before lunch, Dave took my friend and I on a couple runs while the other two members of our cohort took a breather (they were very tired and frustrated, and I think Dave correctly assumed the best thing was for them to rest so they didn’t get hurt). We did our first blue and it went pretty well—we could see that we were making real progress already.

After lunch, we did a few more runs, worked on some more advanced (for us) techniques, and officially graduated to “Level 4” (of 5?), which felt pretty good.

We finished the day by meeting up with most of our other friends to ride up and do the 4 O’Clock Home run (which is mostly green with a little blue up top).

One of the nice things about the awesome house we rented was that we could almost ski in and ski out. It was super convenient to walk for three or four minutes, put our skis on, and hit the lift. And it was even more convenient to ski down the 4 O’Clock, pop our skis off, and get home in about 5 minutes.

Our only in-house group dinner

After we finished skiing, some of us headed off-site for some hot-tub time while others went shopping to get supplies for our only in-house group meal of the week. I sautéed asparagus for everyone, which meant I got to hang in the kitchen and meet new people as they passed through to see what we were up to.

This was probably my favorite meal of the week and I’m hoping we do at least two of these next year.

Body Body Body

After dinner, we played Body Body Body, which is like a live-action version of a game called Mafia. I’ve always liked Mafia and I like Body Body Body even more.

There were about 10 townspeople and 3 mafia members. Once the mafia members have identified each other, we turn the lights out, crank up spooky music, and wander around the mansion in the dark. Mafia members kill townspeople by mock-slashing their throats. Once a townsperson has been killed, they stop walking and drop to the floor. The game continues until someone finds the “body” and shouts “Body body body!” so that everyone can turn the lights on and run to see who died.

Then the game moves to the more typical “Mafia”-style game where everyone talks things through and nominates a couple people they think might be in the mafia. Eventually someone is voted out and the game resumes unless the mafia have all been discovered. The game ends when either the mafia are all voted out or there are equal numbers of townspeople and mafia remaining.

The game is a lot of fun and we played pretty much every night. My only regret is that despite playing 10+ games, I was never mafia (which is the most fun part of the game) thanks to a series of unfortunate events that culminated in our narrator tilting and skipping one game, causing some logistical snafus that caused us to redraw for spots the one time I actually drew a “Mafia” card.

C’iest la vie.

Day 3: First normal ski day

Lessons were physically and mentally exhausting, plus I was still feeling the altitude, so I was admittedly not super stoked to hit the slopes again.

Fortunately, a couple of experienced friends, who arrived later than the rest of us, were heading out for their first day on the slopes and offered to take me along and help me slowly work up from Greens to Blues. (Shout out to James and Jen for being awesome teachers.)

By lunch, we were doing Blue runs and I felt pretty comfortable. They were a little fast for me, and I didn’t quite have the control I wanted, but I was able to move down them pretty quickly, mostly maintaining control, and without falling. All in all, a pretty big win.

By the end of the day, I felt comfortable on Blues, which was pretty remarkable considering I had taken beginner lessons the previous morning. Some of the group took a short Black to finish the day, but I skipped it. I was super tired and just didn’t want to risk hurting myself with two days left to ski.

Mi Casa

We went to a local Mexican restaurant for dinner, and it was pretty good. Although… my stomach didn’t take too kindly to it. Normally, this would be no big deal, but an upset stomach plus altitude meant Day 4 at Vail would be challenging.

Assume there was hot-tubbing, Body Body Body, and probably crepes

The evening routine was pretty consistent. Here was our view from the hot-tub:

Hot Tub View

Day 4: #VailFail

This brings us full circle to the beginning of this post. We decided to make a day trip to Vail, which is about 45 minutes from Breck. At first, it was a smaller group, then it expanded to be almost everyone. In theory, the skiing is better at Vail, plus we could get an awesome group picture at a famously beautiful spot on the mountain.

But, all the best laid plans…

We arrived at Vail and easily got onto the mountain thanks to some great planning by the more experienced members of our crew. Our first order of business was to rendezvous at the top of Lift 37 for the infamous picture, and then we could all split off into groups based on experience level.

Our plan was to take a long catwalk to another catwalk that would drop us at Lift 37. But a Vail employee convinced one of our crew that there was a better way: We could cut out a lot of catwalking by taking an easy Blue after the first catwalk.

“We have a lot of beginners. Is that Blue going to be ok for beginners?”
“Definitely!”

We knew we were in trouble pretty much right away. The entrance to the first catwalk gave a lot of folks serious problems. I made it down to the catwalk without falling, but it was a dicey run.

Once we eventually got across the first catwalk, we stopped to regroup before heading to the beginner-friendly Blue we had been promised. But first, we had to wait out a pretty serious windstorm that made me thankful I brought my balaclava since the wind-driven snow felt like a sandblaster to the face.

Another ominous sign.

At last, we all get around to the entrance of the beginner-friendly Blue and we realized… this was not beginner-friendly. It was super steep and icy—not good for beginners. I tried my best to take shallow angles and control my speed, but I just wasn’t good enough to manage it. I fell over a few times—nothing serious—before heading to a part that another skier said was probably a less-steep way to get down.

Turns out I was heading for the most steep part of the run, and a more experienced skier in our group later told me, “I saw you heading over there and thought, ‘He needs to turn back the other way or this could get really ugly.'” I did not turn back the other way. Things got pretty ugly.

This is the part where I wound up sliding head-first down the mountain on my back, losing one of my skis in the process. Ironically, this may have been the best outcome for me once I chose this particular path.

We later found out from another Vail employee—a friend of the group—that this was basically a Black run and that beginners had no business being on it. There was a groomed section, which they considered a Blue, but most of us had not taken the groomed section. (This might be my only regret of the trip—if I had known about the groomed section, I may have gotten down with little trouble.)

Exhausted from accidentally attempting a Black run, I caught my breath and chugged half a bottle of blue Gatorade, then made my way down to the second catwalk. As I worked my way across the catwalk, the wind picked back up—it was getting worse.

Most of us met up at a natural stopping point before heading down to Lift 37. Bad news was waiting for us there: Lift 37 had been closed because of the wind; only Lift 36 was open; there was no way to ski down.

A few of us had made it onto Lift 37 before it closed. Some of us were stuck waiting for Lift 36. And others had been so far behind that they were blocked from the catwalk and could not even make it Lift 36. We were now scattered all over the mountain.

The lift line at Vail

They had also been slow to close the catwalk, so people continued pouring in as the line backed up. We waited there for over an hour, totally exhausted and dehydrated.

By the time we got off Lift 36, it was after 1:00 PM. We had been on the mountain for over three hours and had almost nothing to show for it. We finally made it down to our next rendezvous spot where we were able to regroup and get a less-spectacular version of the picture we had been chasing for the past several hours:

Our group at Vail

And here is where we coined #VailFail. We had been on the mountain for about four hours and had almost nothing to show for it. The back side of the mountain had been closed, we had done like 1.5 runs, we didn’t get the picture we were chasing, and several of our crew were wiped out from the initial “Blue” that we descended.

We split up by experience level and managed to get a few runs in before calling it quits and meeting up at The George for an early dinner. Even the Greens at Vail were pretty steep and challenging—some of them harder than the Blues I had done at Breck.

After the high of making such quick progress the day before, this was a pretty serious low for almost everyone. I was glad the day was over and that we would be back at Breck for the rest of our trip.

Day 5: Redemption

This would be our final ski day, and I was really happy to be back at Breck. I spent most of the day doing Blue runs, which all felt really easy after the runs we did at Vail.

We all met for lunch on Peak 7, where there was a food court with a fantastic view of the mountain.

The last real run I did was Monte Carlo, which is a really long, fun Blue. A friend got some photos and video of the run so I have a record of where I was skill-wise after my first real ski trip. I felt much more comfortable than I expected, but can also see that I have a lot of work to do.

The Monte Carlo at Breck

I finished the day paying it forward: A less-experienced skier in our group and I did a couple of super-slow Blue runs to get down off the mountain. This gave me a chance to help someone the same way I was helped on Day 3, and also gave me a chance to really enjoy the views and reflect on how much I had learned in just a few days.

On Wednesday, I had no idea what I was doing and felt accomplished for scooting down the bunny slope without falling over. On Saturday, I was helping another skier get down Blues to get off the mountain.

Day 6: Traveling back

After a long week, I was ready to get home. But first we had to drive back to Denver, fly east for a few hours, rent a car in Orlando, grab dinner and drive back to Gainesville. We would be lucky to get home by 11 PM.

But on our way to dinner, we passed Andretti Karting and our crew couldn’t resist. Actually, I could totally resist—I was about 5 hours past my “have fun while traveling” limit—but the other four in our little group were all about it.

So after about seven hours of traveling, we stopped off for some kart racing. My only options were to just sit around and watch them race, or to join them and hope I could compete despite how tired I was. We warmed up by playing a reaction-time game and two quick-shot basketball games (I won two of three of the games I played) while waiting for our track to be ready.

The race was really fun except we were surrounded by terrible drivers who kept puttering around the middle of the track. All of us would’ve gone much faster if we hadn’t had to work around the slower drivers. I tied for 2nd overall, and I felt pretty good about that.

Our Andretti Racing crew

Then we finally started our drive home from Orlando, talking about the Oscars most of the way.

I finally got home around 1:00 AM and immediately crashed.

Planning for next year

Before this trip, I had decided I hated skiing. Now I’m looking forward to heading back out next year. My friends were right: I hadn’t really skied before, and skiing out west is much more fun.

Hopefully I’ll be shredding Black runs by the end of our next trip.

Where was this video BEFORE my first time skiing?

I couldn’t see through all the snow spraying me in the face, so I just closed my eyes and waited for impact. Another skier was trying to stop before he ran me over, and he barely missed me. I had fallen – again – and couldn’t get up.

This was my first ski lesson. It was not going well.

Even better, the skier trying to avoid me was my good friend and instructor, Scott. He was much better than I was and he didn’t have much patience for teaching a newbie how to ski.

I would just sort of point myself down the mountain and try to maintain some control while zipping down in a straight line. When I eventually got to the bottom, I would either coast to a stop or intentionally wipe out to avoid hitting anyone.

It was awful, and I was content to never ski again.

Then my friends convinced me to give it one more shot, on powder this time. So I’m heading to Colorado next week to try again. They insist it’ll be a lot more fun than I remember.

We’ll see!

It’s a big investment—time and money—for something that could turn out to be really un-fun. So I put on my “learn a new thing, even if it might be unpleasant” hat and started doing some research.

I found this fantastic video on YouTube—it’s exactly what I needed:

How to ski | 10 beginner lessons for the first day of skiing

What impressed me most is how the instructor anticipates almost every fear that I have about skiing. “How do I turn?” “What if I fall?” “What if I accidentally end up on a slope that’s uncomfortably steep?”

He’s been teaching for so long that he’s heard all of those concerns before. His list of “10 beginner lessons” probably came directly from hundreds of terrified students who have said, “What if I fall? How do I get up again?!” as they pictured themselves stuck on the side of a mountain, people zipping by as they struggle to stand up, for hours and hours and hours.

After watching that short video, I have enough confidence to give it a shot. I’m still going to take lessons the first day, but I’m a lot less worried about embarrassing myself than I was before.

Most people feel the same way about getting a raise. Maybe they tried it once before, but it didn’t go very well. So they gave up and decided to just wait for their next raise to come along whenever it happens to come along.

Sometimes, they don’t even get that far—the idea of asking for a raise and having to defend their request may be so daunting that they never even try.

Does that sound familiar?

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My first 15k race didn’t go well

I ran my first 15k (9.3 miles) this weekend, and it didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. The official race results say it took me about 1 hour and 20 minutes to finish with a pace of about 8:38 per mile.

At first, I was pretty upset with myself because I hoped to be much faster. I tried to go faster, and kept telling myself, “Ok, it’s time to start moving!”… but that extra boost just never came.

Then I talked to a friend of mine, and he reminded me of a pretty important detail: I was recovering from the flu, so I was probably dehydrated and of course I didn’t run a very fast race. I probably shouldn’t have run at all, so finishing with a decent time was actually a great result.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized there were a lot of positive things about the race, even if I didn’t run a great time. I ran the race with two friends, and it was fun to see them run well and to encourage each other. I ran further than I’ve ever run before, and I felt pretty good despite the flu. I even experienced my first “runner’s high”, which I previously thought was just a myth.

Plus, I went to Chick-Fil-A for my post-race meal, and I ordered enough food to feed a small family.

My post-race meal at Chick-Fil-A

There were a lot of positive things about the race, even if my time wasn’t what I had hoped for.

Sometimes the value in doing something is the thing itself.

I think this applies to our work, too. It can be tempting to look for “business value” or “promotion potential” behind every little thing we do, but that takes all the fun out of it.

Don’t forget to look for opportunities to do work that you enjoy, just for the sake of having some fun. Not only does that make it easier to finish the hard things, but you might find a whole new fun dimension that you can add to your work.

Using micro goals to achieve macro goals

Goals are my best tool for staying motivated. I have macro goals—big things I want to accomplish—and micro goals that support those macro goals—small things that give me easy wins while making progress toward my macro goals.

Before last January, I had never really been A Runner™. I had run before, but mostly as a social thing where I would join some friends for a run from time to time. I would also occasionally run for exercise, but that was rare.

That changed last January when a friend invited me to hop into a running group with a bunch of other friends. It was the New Year, and I was feeling that post-holiday sluggishness after eating everything in sight for the past couple months.

“Sure, why not?”

Running is hard, but it was especially hard when I first started. My body just wasn’t used to it, so everything hurt. The only way to keep myself motivated was to set some goals.

My first goal was pretty easy: Run and finish a 10k race with some friends in April. But as that race got closer, I realized I would need to adjust this goal to keep motivated.

I knew that if my only goal was “finish a 10k”, then I would lose motivation after I finished that race.

So I set a new macro goal: “Finish this same 10k race with a sub-8:00-per-mile pace.” Now I had one year to improve my pace by a little more than one minute per mile.

But that’s a pretty daunting macro goal, so I set some micro goals to support it:

  • MACRO: 10k (6.2 miles) – Sub-8:00 pace
  • Micro: 5k  (3.1 miles) — Sub-7:00 pace
  • Micro: 1 mile – Sub-6:00 pace
  • Micro: 400m (1 lap around a track) – Sub-60 seconds

All of these micro goals are challenging, but I don’t think any of them are out of reach—that keeps me motivated to keep training.

A couple weeks ago, I hit my macro goal, so now I need a new one. I haven’t achieved any of my micro goals yet, but training for them directly contributed to finally achieving my macro goal.

That’s the value of micro goals—you can win directly by achieving them, and you can win indirectly by achieving the macro goal they support.

So where do you start?

  1. Stop and think about your current macro goal for your career. If you have one, make sure it’s achievable. If you don’t have one, now is the time to set it. An example of a good career macro goal might be, “Become a people manager in the next two years”.
  2. Once you’ve defined your macro goal, support it with micro goals. These goals are related to your macro goal, but much smaller in scope, and thus easier to accomplish. Using that same example, some micro goals might be, “Take a leadership training course in 2018” and “Find at least one junior team member to mentor this year”.

When you set your macro goal and back it up with micro goals, then you can focus on smaller wins with those micro goals while still making progress toward your macro goal.

This isn’t working

Nick Saban did something truly remarkable on Monday night: He benched his starting quarterback and brought in a backup for the second half of the National Championship football game.

It’s hard to describe how crazy this is – it’s never happened before.

Football coaches are notoriously stubborn. They learn a system that they like, and they hold onto that system at all costs. And this often gets them fired as they start losing games to newer coaches who have figured out how to beat their go-to system.

But Nick Saban isn’t an ordinary coach. He’s probably the best college football coach ever because he’s constantly evaluating the situation and looking for opportunities to adjust.

In this game—the most important game of the season—he evaluated his game plan, said THIS ISN’T WORKING and switched to a completely different game plan at half time.

I call this “optionality” – maximizing the number of options available at any time, and having a plan to choose and execute the right option for a given situation.

This wasn’t some sort of knee-jerk reaction to falling behind: They had practiced for this, and they ran a totally different offense with their backup quarterback in the second half.

AND IT WORKED! His team, the Alabama Crimson Tide, came back and won the game!

Optionality and your career

You knew this tie-in was coming, right?

We can all learn a lot from Nick Saban’s strategy in the National Championship. If I had to sum it up in one sentence, I would say…

Always keep an eye out for new options and have a plan to take advantage of the best options when your current plan isn’t working.
An easy way to increase your career optionality is learning a new skill—a programming language, software tool, or soft skill—so you’re ready for an opportunity that might be available soon. A harder way is to earn an advanced degree (like an MBA) or certification.

This is a big shift in thinking, but it’s worth it: Instead of just waiting for new opportunities to present themselves, you can proactively look for new options to take advantage of them.

That’s how you improve the trajectory of your career.

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