A high ropes course and ministry [aka Thanks, Todd Bussey]

I’ve shared this story on several occasions in several different ways. I don’t think I’ve ever shared it here. Todd Bussey might be tired of it. But I’m not. And I’ve decided that it is altogether fitting to share it today as we wish Todd countless blessings as he begins the next chapter of his ministry life.
Todd Bussey with me before my wedding, 1998

There I was –

some 40 feet in the air. A helmet was strapped to my head. A harness was firmly fastened around my body. I was safe. But I was stuck. I wasn’t going anywhere.
It was one of my first years as a Boy Scout and we were participating in the high ropes team building course the National Boy Scout Museum in Murray, Kentucky. The climax of the afternoon was climbing a giant tower and then walking across a high wire from one tower to another. I could choose to take one of thee routes to this second tower. I chose the path that was most difficult.
Of course I did. I had to look cool in front of my friends, didn’t I?

I chose the path called The Hourglass.

The Hourglass is made up of a single wire to walk on a wire to hold onto. As you’re walking across the wire that’s suspended among the treetops, the wire that you’re holding onto is gradually sloping downward. Once you’re in the middle of the path, the wire that you’re holding onto has descended enough that it is actually attached to the foot wire.
How high did I say this course was? Forty feet? Felt like 75.
So there I was, 125 feet in the air, squatting down on a wire, holding on to another wire for dear life. Behind me was another wire that was attached to the wire at my feet. That second wire slopes upward and leads to the second tower at the end of the course.
There was a trick. One I didn’t expect. There, in the middle of the course, 235 feet in the air, I had to let go of the wire in order to adequately turn my body and grab hold of the other wire and make my way toward safety.

 Let go.

My head knew what I needed to do. I think my heart even knew. But my body? Not so much.
Let go?
That was crazy talk. I was hanging 376 feet in the air. That cord at my feet was my only lifeline. And I was supposed to let go? There was no way I was letting go of that wire.
So I squeezed harder. My knees started to shake. The wire I was standing on started to sway. Sweat ran down my brow and started to sting my eyes. I was in bad shape. Things were looking bleak.
I was certain I was going to die up there. I just wasn’t sure how. Maybe I would shrivel up and die from dehydration. Or maybe I would just shake myself into oblivion. Or maybe my safety harness would wear out and I would tumble 563 feet to my doom.

So I stayed there and waited for my certain death. At least I had my safety helmet on, so when I finally fell to oblivion, the staff could sweep up all of the pieces into my helmet, wrap it up, slap a sticker on it and send me home on my way.

Friends down below were shouting encouragement. “Just let go with one hand! Everything will be OK!”

Of course, every time I tried that, the tightrope would shake. I’d panic. And then I’d find myself gripping the wire even tighter.

After an eternity, which was probably no more than five or six minutes in realtime, something unexpected happened. I heard a familiar voice from the tower.

“Matt,” the voice said. “I’m coming to you. We’re going to finish this together.”

It was Todd Bussey, my youth minister. He had come with our Troop on this camping trip, and had already taken his turn on the high ropes course. He had strapped on the safety equipment and was already making his way towards me on a nearby obstacle.

It only took a few seconds after he came out to me. He calmed me down. He coached me through the next steps and encouraged me as I let go of the wire and grabbed the other one. The rest was a piece of cake.

I survived the Hourglass. And I owe it all to Todd Bussey.

Todd is wrapping up a ministry at my home church that began back in the 1980s. He’s moving his family to Florida to write a new chapter of ministry with some new church work.

I know.

Florida.

Tough life, huh?

But he’s going to help turn the region upside down. Perhaps he’ll even shock the world. Because that’s what Todd does. It’s what he’s always done.

Todd Bussey at the Welcome Back sign at Philmont Scout Ranch, 1990

Todd baptized me. He co-officiated my wedding. He ordained me. And if something unfortunate were to happen in the near future, I hope he’ll bury me, too.  We went on our first Philmont trek together. And he coached me through some important merit badges in Scouting, including Communication and Citizenship in the Nation. Of course, he was also a spiritual mentor of mine. We have some pretty great memories from five Summers in the Son together. Oh, and we were the Summer in the Son volleyball champions of 1990, even though we were the clear underdogs. And he even introduced me to A-180/Audio Adrenaline.

His story has been wrapped into my story for the past 30 years.

And I share this story about the high ropes course because it’s a nice little illustration of what he has done for me over and over and over again.

As a ministry coach, a spiritual advisor, a pastor, and a friend, Todd has always been there for me. He was there when my dad had a heart attack. He was there when I needed a listening ear after I left my first professional ministry. And he helped guide me through preparing for my first funeral as a preacher.

Just like when he was there for me 722 feet in the air, I have always been able to count on Todd Bussey to be there for me. And I know there are many other people who feel the same way.

This leaves a large hole in my home church’s leadership. Shoot, it leaves a large hole in the entire Tri-State area. But Evansville’s loss is going to be Jacksonville’s gain.

This most definitely is not goodbye, it’s “see you later.” In Florida. I can’t wait to see how God uses Him in this new chapter!

Thank you, Phil Gerhart. I’ll see you over the next ridge.

Mr. Gerhart and Crew on top of Tooth of TIme 1994I think it’s safe to say that I wouldn’t be the man I am today without the influence of Mr. Gerhart.* As my Scoutmaster, he invested his time and energy into young men like me. He showed us how to be servant leaders. If you look at the numbers, they speak for themselves. During his tenure as Scoutmaster of two different troops (Troop 412 and Troop 322), he saw 87 different young men achieve the rank of Eagle Scout (my brother and I are just two of those 87).  When you consider that only a small percentage of Scouts ever reach this rank, it is clear that he influenced several hundred young men over the years.

He saw something in me that many did not. For a variety of reasons, I did not reach my academic potential in middle school and high school. So I was not considered a good candidate for many leadership positions or leadership-related scholarships.**  But Mr. Gerhart saw something in me. He took me under his wing and showed me the true nature of a servant leader. Here are few examples of when he challenged me to grow as a leader and celebrated my successes…

“Matt, Jarod, remember this when you’re working here.”

Philmont Crew, 1990

During my first trek at Philmont Scout Ranch, we were met on the trail by one of our Troop’s graduates. He was on staff at Philmont that year, and we thought that was pretty cool. We’d spent a few days on the trail and we had grown tired of the re-hydrated dehydrated trail food that served as breakfast and dinner. All of a sudden, a watermelon appeared, courtesy of our friend the Phil-staffer.

Now, I’m not much of a watermelon fan, but this was the best tasting watermelon I’d ever had. It was like it had been picked from Heaven’s garden itself. It was a perfect setting. We were hot, sweaty, and dirty. And we were sprawled out in a small meadow in the middle of the Sangre de Christo Mountains in New Mexico, sharing slices of watermelon.

It really doesn’t get much better than that, friends.

Out of the bue, Mr. Gerhart looks my way and instructs me and my friend Jarod: “Don’t forget this when you’re working here.”

I was but a lowly underclassman in high school at the time. The thought of even attempting to get a job at Philmont was the furthest from my mind. But Mr. Gerhart planted a seed. And that was the first time I ever thought about spending a summer out at Philmont. At that point, it was nothing more than a pie in the sky pipe dream. But he planted the seed.

Fast forward…

Years later when I was working at Beaubien Camp at Philmont in 1995, I made a concerted effort to get my hands on a watermelon. My home crew, including my Dad and Mr. Gerhart, was due to arrive at my camp in a few days. I was almost frantic. I had to have a watermelon.

Alas, it was not meant to be. There was no watermelon available from the camp commissary. So I did the next best thing I could think of: I baked a chocolate cake for them. And I completed the challenge that I had accepted in that meadow several years prior.

As a mentor, you challenge. You inspire. And you might even plant seeds of a dream that won’t come true for several years. You keep the big picture in mind and play the long game.

He grew leaders

In our Scouting experience, Mr. Gerhart helped create an atmosphere where young leaders could celebrate their successes and learn from their failures in a safe environment. He equipped us with the tools necessary to become strong servant leaders. Then he challenged us by expecting us to follow-through.

Here’s what I mean…

Our Scouting calendar basically followed the school calendar. It began in September and ended in July/August, with Summer Camp and the subsequent Court of Honor serving as a transition time from one set of leaders to the next. Sometime during this transition (I don’t remember when – probably in June), the new leadership team, consisting of the Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, and Leadership Corps (older Scouts who were mentors without official leadership titles) would gather together to plan out the next year’s monthly themes and campouts.

Mr. Gerhart would set some parameters, like some non negotiable event dates. Then he would leave the room. The Senior Patrol Leader, as the youth leader of the Troop, was left to run the brainstorming session and the actual planning. An hour or so later, Mr. Gerhart would come back into the room, fully expecting a cogent plan for the rest of the Scouting year.

He could do this because he had equipped us. He empowered us. And he released us to do exactly what was expected. That’s what leaders do. They don’t manage. And they certainly don’t micromanage. They lead. Sometimes, that means they get out of the way.

And that requires trust.

Don’t get me wrong. There were times when I did some pretty boneheaded things. Like my “ax-ident.” But Mr. Gerhart expected me to learn from my experiences. And that helped us trust each other even more.

Mr. Gerhart showed me he trusted my leadership abilities during a time of crisis. It was during the Summer Camp when I served as Senior Patrol Leader. It was my last hurrah in that position, as the Senior Patrol Leader passes the baton in a peaceful transfer of power to the upcoming Senior Patrol Leader during the final moments of Camp.

Before that happened, we had to deal with a crisis.

A young Scout had mistreated an animal in front of the rest of the patrol. It was cruel and uncalled for and a clear violation of Scout rules – including the parts of the Scout Law that say a Scout is kind and a Scout is reverent.

In my Scouting experience, no one had ever done anything like this before. We were in uncharted territory. But Mr. Gerhart had faith in us. He told me to gather up the Leadership Corps and come up with a proper punishment. And he would help us carry out whatever punishment we deemed fit.

It was much like the planning meetings we had, except this had a much more heavy feel to it. Mr. Gerhart showed us that he trusted us by leaving in the cabin to brainstorm, deliberate, and come up with a plan. It was kind of like a final exam. And our teacher had prepared us in ways we couldn’t have imagined.

When we reached an agreement, we shared our conclusion with Mr. Gerhart. He agreed with our decision. And in what was probably the second-most difficult leadership moments of my life up to that point (the first was when I was called out on a mountainside in New Mexico), Mr. Gerhart sat behind me in support as I issued our team’s decision to the Young Scout.

Our decision was bold, but fair. I think it included a loss of rank and maybe a certain amount of probation. It was a devastating punishment, but it could have been worse. I think we showed a measured amount of grace. We could have kicked him out. But we didn’t. Because we knew how transformative the Scouting experience could be as part of our Troop. That, of course, is another testament to Mr. Gerhart’s guidance and leadership.

We could issue such a bold, fair, and graceful punishment because we knew Mr. Gerhart had our back. He trusted us. And we trusted him.

A servant leader has to trust AND be trusted. Mr. Gerhart did both.

Pointing the spotlight.

Mr. Gerhart lived out his faith every day that I saw him. He encouraged us to study creation as we were on our monthly campouts. Because he knew that as we studied creation, we would see the hand of the Creator at work. He encouraged us to take our faith seriously and live it with boldness. And he showed us that faith and scholarship are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they work together hand in hand.

He saw Scouting as an arm of our sponsoring church, reaching out to new families and encouraging young men in their faith. He took this role seriously. And I guess it was pretty effective. I mean, it got me and my brother to become active members of that church.

In addition to introducing me to Cullen Avenue Christian Church, Mr. Gerhart has another prominent place in my faith story. Shortly after mom and I had a discussion about how it was time for me to finally take ownership of my faith through the act of baptism, she set up a time for me to talk with Todd, my Youth Minister. Mr. Gerhart asked if he could sit in on our conversation.

I still have a few mental “snapshots” of this meeting. I don’t remember most of the words that were said. But I do remember knowing from that meeting that Mr. Gerhart took his faith very seriously and he was happy to know that I wanted to take my faith seriously, too.

The Apostle Paul instructed the believers in the church at Corinth to “Follow my example, as I follow the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:1). That was Mr. Gerhart. He urged us to follow him as he pointed to Jesus. That’s what servant leaders do. They don’t point the spotlight on themselves.

They point it beyond themselves.

“It’s just over the next ridge.”

When hiking at Philmont, Mr. Gerhart and his friend, Mr. Dawes, would have a saying to encourage each other. The rigorous terrain was a struggle for them, but they insisted on pushing on. They would encourage each other by saying that our destination was “Just over the next ridge.”

Of course, the end of the day’s hike usually wasn’t “over the next ridge.” It was usually five or six ridges away. But this was a good way to break up the hike into manageable legs. And since good leaders know that words matter matter and that you don’t climb a mountain in just one step, this was a fitting saying for them to share.

During long drives while my kids were younger, I found myself saying similar things. “Let’s get past this curve.” Or, “Let’s wait five minutes and see.” And, of course, “It’s just over the next ridge.” It helped break the monotony of some long trips. And it certainly helped me keep my sanity.

That’s not a bad way to approach life. Yes, we live in the present. And it’s healthy to have goals. But in order to achieve those goals, we have to break things up into manageable pieces. Each mini goal that leads to the big goal is a ridge that we must conquer.

This is one of the many leadership lessons I learned from Mr. Gerhart. It is not uncommon that find myself using many of the lessons that he lived out. He was a great leader, teacher, and friend. I will miss him. Dearly. In fact, I already do.

“Happy trails, Mr. Gerhart. Thank you for the impact you made on my life and the lives of countless others. We’ll see you over the next ridge.”

 

Endnotes

* Phil Gerhart was a highly-respected professor of engineering at the University of Evansville. Because of his PhD, it was altogether fitting that we call him Dr. Gerhart. In Scouts, he had us call him Mr. Gerhart. I don’t know why he did that, but that’s what we called him. That’s what I will always call him. I saw him at the end of 2016 when he and his wife came to the Viewing before my Grandma’s funeral. I suppose I could have gotten away with calling him “Phil.” But I didn’t. He always was and always will be Mr. Gerhart to me.

** By the time I was a Junior in high school, I had leadership roles in Band. I know my band director had something to do with that. But I credit the preparation for those leadership opportunities to Mr. Gerhart. He certainly paved the way.

5 ways Crater Lake prepared me for life

5 Ways Crater Lake Camp Prepared Me for Life

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Twenty years ago this month, I loaded my backpack, laced up my hiking boots, and boarded a bus that was bound for an Amtrak station. On that day, I said goodbye to what might have been the most memorable Summer I’ve ever had. After my seventh visit* to Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimmaron, New Mexico, I knew that a significant chapter of my life was coming to a close.

I was not going to return to Scouting Paradise in 1997. I was already committed to taking a Summer class at Milligan. 1998 was out, too. I was already on track for an internship that Summer. And who knew what was going to happen beyond college, but I was 99.99% sure that spending another summer on staff at Philmont was not going to be in the proverbial cards. I knew that my stint as a member of the 1996 Crater lake staff was going to be my last hurrah.

And I was going to make the most of it.

I couldn’t have asked for a better team to work with during that final Summer. Andy, Ron, Karl, and Jon were some pretty great guys. They still are. Sometimes, I felt a bit out of my league as their teammate. They were hilarious. Creativity oozed out of their pores. You know how everyone talks about the Magnificent Seven from the Atlanta Games in 1996? I believe the 1996 Crater Lake crew was just as magnificent. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that I was in the presence of greatness the Summer of 1996.

There are a lot of great memories that I still carry with me from that Summer: getting pelted by golfball-sized hail, climbing on the roof of our cabin to gaze into the vast expanse of stars every night, throwing a loaf of bread across the dinner table any time someone asked for some bread, and the hundreds of Scouts we taught how to climb a spar pole, just to name a few.

Spar Pole Climbing at Crater Lake in 1996

The Summer of 96 was life-changing for me. I became friends with an amazing group of guys. I made some amazing memories. And it prepared me for the rest of my life.

5 ways serving on staff at Crater Lake at Philmont Scout Ranch prepared me for life:

Continue reading “5 ways Crater Lake prepared me for life”

A worthwhile pursuit

"Nothing worthwhile was ever accomplished without the will to start, the enthusiasm to continue and, regardless of temporary obstacles, the persistence to complete" - Waite Phillips

Is there really anything else that needs to be said about this quote from Waite Phillips?

“Nothing worthwhile was ever accomplished without the will to start, the enthusiasm to continue and, regardless of temporary obstacles, the persistence to complete”

Waite Phillips should know. The oil tycoon turned philanthropist is the benefactor of Philmont Scout Ranch and his generosity has impacted millions of young men and women around the world. And I’m one of them. I learned a lot about life, leadership, and perseverance during my Philmont experiences. These lessons set a foundation for the rest of my life.

Thanks to the generosity of Waite Phillips, I have several dreams. And I’m not going to give up pursuing those dreams – even when it seems impossible. Because sometimes things are supposed to be hard. Life is hard. Obstacles can be difficult. That’s what makes them worth pursuing. And that’s what makes the achievement even more rewarding. Right?

I’ve got this. We’ve got this.

What are you dreaming about? Do you have any big, hairy, audacious goals?

Feel free to share your dreams and goals in the comments below. Let’sl work together to encourage, challenge, and support each other as we pursue our dreams. Because the dreams might be yours, and they might seem impossible, but you know what they say…

teamwork makes the dream work.

We’ve got this. No dream is too big. No dream is too silly, either. Let’s work together to accomplish our dreams. That’s how we’re going to make the world a better place. And it’s through this process that we discover what we were made to do, what we were made to be. And when we’ve discovered that, it’s when we truly start living.

So no more excuses. No more delay. It doesn’t matter how difficult things are. Let’s start working together to see our dreams become a reality.

X is for X-Wing

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FandangoNOW

I know what you’re thinking.

“Really? An x-wing? What does that have to do with Ethiopia?”

I promise. There’s a legitimate connection. But even if there wasn’t a real connection, you really shouldn’t be surprised that X is for X-Wing. During my first endeavor into the Blogging through A to Z Challenge, I announced that X is for X-Wing. And that it will always stand for x-wing, no matter the theme.

While I was in Ethiopia, The Force Awakens was in theaters around the world – including Addis. I even had the opportunity to go to the cinema housed at a nearby mall and watch the long-anticipated and much-hyped Star Wars sequel.

Edna Mall in Addis

It would’ve been a pretty interesting experience, watching Star Wars in a foreign country. And it would’ve been fun to share this experience with the missionary friends of mine who suggested that we go watch it together. It’s always memorable to watch a movie in a different place.

StarWars_BannerAds

I remember watching A League of their Own with my family when we were in the Southwest. I remember watching Apollo 13 and Batman & Robin in the same night in Taos, New Mexico. I also watched Independence Day in Taos the following year. That was also the year I wound up looking down on the fireworks display, but that’s another post for another time.

It was certainly tempting to watch the movie in Ethiopia. I really didn’t want to have to wait any longer. But I had a commitment to watch it with Aiden. And I was going to keep that commitment. I’m glad we have that shared memory together.

Obligatory “We’re about to watch #StarWars, y’all!!!” pic.

A photo posted by Matt Todd (@mattdantodd) on

Of course, I’m looking forward to the release of Star Wars: Rogue One this December. It’s another memory I’ll be able to share with my boys. Shoot, I’ll probably share it with my whole family. Because the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I became a Star Wars fan at a very young age. And I’ve done my best to pass on what I have learned.

Maybe there will be some x-wings in this new installment. I mean…Rogue Squadron had a pretty strong connection to x-wings. But who knows if Rogue One is actually connected to Rogue Squadron in any way, shape or form? There’s part of me that hopes there isn’t a connection. But there’s also part of me that does.

That way I’ll already have my “X” entry for the 2017 Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Of course, at the rate I’m posting for the 2016 challenge, it might be 2017 before I finish posting!

3 life lessons I learned on staff at Beaubien Camp at Philmont Scout Ranch

Beaubien Staff 1995

Some college students dream of working at Disney World during their Summer Break. Others work as camp counselors or lifeguards. Some spend the long, hot Summer days working at a part-time job.

Me?

Colfax County New Mexico Wall Map
Map of Colfax Couny, NM – home of Philmont Scout Ranch (*affiliate link*)

I had the opportunity of a lifetime. During the Summer between my Freshman and Sophomore years at Milligan College, I had the opportunity to live out my own dream. It is also the dream of many others who have been involved in Boy Scouts over the years. I was a Backcountry staff member at the summit of Scouting: Philmont Scout Ranch.

I had already hiked five different Philmont treks during my Scouting experience: four as a Camper and one as an adult Advisor. My love for Philmont ran deep. It still does. During my first trek, I had decided that I wanted to work in the Backcountry at Philmont. That’s not unusual, though. I would imagine that at least half of the thousands of Scouts who stream through this high adventure base have this same thought.

There is one event that solidified this dream for me. Continue reading “3 life lessons I learned on staff at Beaubien Camp at Philmont Scout Ranch”

7 Leadership Lessons from Climbing Mountains

7 Leadership Lessons from Climbing Mountains

The pictures have been flooding my facebook timeline and my instagram feed all week. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just search for #Philmont in one of your favorite social media platforms.

The staff at Philmont Scout Ranch is ready. They are about to be invaded once again by Scouts from around the world. Lives will change as these young men and women ascend the Summit of Scouting. Philmont does that to people. It teaches you about life. It teaches you about friendship. It stretches you in ways you cannot possibly imagine. And it makes you a better leader.

This summer marks the 20th anniversary of my final trek at Philmont Scout Ranch. Over the course of five different adventures as a Camper or an Adviser, I hiked well over 400 miles. Each year, I climbed at least two different mountains. I saw the sun rise from atop a 11,100 foot peak. I’ve eaten more Squeeze Cheese for lunch than most people could even imagine. I have looked down on the world from the top of places like Baldy Mountain, Comanche Mountain, Mount Phillips, Uracca Mesa, Wilson Mesa, Deer Lake Mesa, Schaefer’s Peak, Bear Mountain, Big Red, and the Tooth of Time. Later, I also added Trail Peak to my list of conquered mountains.

While I’ve never climbed Mt. Everest or Mt. McKinley, I’ve been around a mountain or two. Some of these journeys felt next to impossible. Others were relatively easy. Looking back on my mountain climbing experiences, there are some key leadership lessons that I learned while climbing these mountains.

1. No one gets left behind.

Hiking at Philmont is hard. It’s physically demanding. It wears some people out quicker than others. But the strain eventually catches up to everyone. This is even moreso when you’re hiking up a mountain together as a crew.

As a crew.

That’s key. You hike together. No one gets too far ahead and no one gets too far behind. I know. It’s tempting to just let the fastest and strongest just forge the path ahead, leaving everyone else in their dust. But that’s not teamwork. There is strength in numbers, so it is advantageous to keep your team close together.

Climbing Baldy Mountain at Philmont Scout Ranch

At Philmont, that meant there were times where the slower hikers would be put up front. They would set the pace. Not only did this keep everyone closer together, but it gave the stronger hikers a chance to encourage those who were struggling.

It just makes sense. If you’re going to be a team, you have to do things to encourage teamwork. Sometimes that means putting other people ahead of you. Some criticize this and call it leading from behind. I call it servant leadership. And since I witnessed first-hand how this helped keep a team together, I firmly believe it’s a key to building teamwork. Allow others to set the pace sometimes. And no one will be left behind.

#2. Listening to others can save your life.

In a great example of horrible decision-making, I made a choice that negatively impacted my health during my second trip to Philmont. I failed to pack a jacket of any kind. The only thing I had was a sweatshirt. I did have a poncho, but the warmest thing I brought for myself was a gray sweatshirt.

“It’ll be OK,” I thought. I didn’t really need my jacket last year.

And for most of the trek, I didn’t need it. I did just fine with the sweatshirt. I knew I should’ve brought a jacket. Friends had reminded me that I needed a jacket. I just didn’t listen to them.

Along one side of Baldy Mountain is an abandoned mine. It’s the Aztec Mine at French Henry Camp. The day before our journey up Baldy, we made a stop at the camp and toured the mine. It was a cool, misty day and touring the mine was a welcome reprieve from carrying our packs uphill all day. As we lined up our packs and prepared for the tour, I took off my sweatshirt and tied it to the back of my pack. My pack cover was on, so I figured my sweatshirt would remain dry.

I was wrong.

When we finished the mine tour, we refilled our water bottles and grabbed our packs in preparation for the final leg of our journey to our camp for the evening, I discovered that my sweatshirt was pretty wet. I don’t remember if it had rained while we were in the mine or if the mist was heavier than I’d thought, but the sweatshirt was not anywhere near dry. It might not have been soaked, but it was more than just a little damp.

I didn’t really think anything of it, really. Stuff dries pretty quickly when you’re in the mountains of New Mexico. Unless, of course, you’re walking through a cloud. Then? Not so much.

We made it to our destination and set up camp in relatively quick time. With the down-time that we had, we decided to play a quick game of Spades. Or maybe it was Hearts. I can’t remember, but I’m sure it was one of those two games because we always played one of those games during our down-time.

My sweatshirt was still damp. But it was getting a little bit chilly, so I put it on. The game continued and we worked hard at one-upping each other with our taunts as we played our cards. Ultimately, I said something pretty snarky and my friend, Jeff, shouted…
"Shut up Blue Lips!"

“Blue lips?” Really? What kind of insult is that, I thought. Then it hit me. Maybe my lips really were blue.

He was laughing, proud of the insult he’d just hurled at me. “OK. Seriously. Are my lips really blue?” I asked.

“Well, yeah. They’re turning a nice shade of blue.”

In preparation for the trek, we went through all kinds of First Aid training. And one of the things they stressed was the signs of hypothermia. You had to get hypothermia under control because if you didn’t, things could get really bad. Blue lips, of course, is a sign that I could’ve been battling a case of hypothermia. And there was no way they were taking me off the trail for that. So I did everything I could to get warm in my sleeping bag. I only came out that evening for a bowl of hot food. I think it was spaghetti. And then I went back to bed.

Jeff didn’t realize I was showing the signs of hypothermia with my blue lips, but there’s still a lesson here. You might not be able to see what’s wrong with you, but outsiders can. Especially your friends. Don’t be so arrogant to think that you have all the answers and that you have it all figured out.

Real leadership involves listening to others – even if they tell you something you don’t want to hear. Don’t surround yourself with “yes men.” Make sure you have people in your life who will call you out for having blue lips. And listen to them. It just might save your life.

#3. Sometimes the view from the top ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Me and my Dad on top of Mt. Baldy.

The next day after being called Blue Lips, we hiked to the top of Mt. Baldy. We were still in the middle of the cloud. The view was…less than stunning. In fact, it was pretty horrible. The vision we had of climbing Baldy and seeing miles and miles in every direction? Yeah. That didn’t happen.

Sometimes reaching the goal we’ve set doesn’t really achieve the results we think it’s going to achieve. So we need to evaluate and re-evaluate and celebrate the wins and learn whatever lessons we can from the experience. The view from Baldy was awful. And climbing up the mountain in the middle of a cloud was awful. I was cold. And I think my thumb was frozen in a thumbs-up position.

But I climbed a 12,441 foot mountain. And I did it with my dad.

The view might not have been worth celebrating, but the experience surely was.

#4. Sometimes, however, the view is breathtaking.
The view from Mt. Baldy

A few years later, we were able to return to Mt. Baldy. It was breathtaking.

Need I say more?

#5. Morale matters.

I got called out while leading a crew once. And it was probably one of the pivotal moments in my life. All of us were pretty miserable at this point. Over the past two days, we had hiked something like 20 miles and were in desperate need of a break. The day’s hike was short, but we needed to get over a mountain ridge in the process. My friend, Jarod, and I were Crew Leaders that year. We were hanging out in the middle of the pack, singing songs and joking around, trying to make the best of the situation.

Suddenly, Jack, Jarod’s dad, pulled the two of us aside and encouraged the rest of the crew to go on. We’d catch up with them shortly. It was a bit of a break in protocol, but I’m glad he did this in private.

Because he ripped into us.

As leaders, we needed to know that everyone in our crew was miserable. They were exhausted. Some were struggling to make it up the ridge. Others were dealing with some serious injuries. Thinking back, we were a pretty miserable sight. But Jarod and I just kept on hiking and joking around and seemed pretty oblivious to everyone’s situation. And Jack let us know that how we were acting as leaders of this crew was completely unacceptable.

“Shut up and lead”

That’s how he finished the lecture. And I got it. That moment is burned into my memory like very few others. In fact, we hiked that same ridge a couple of years later and I stopped to reflect on that moment. Yeah, I felt pretty horrible that Jack had torn into us like that. But it permanently shifted my understanding of leadership.

If you’re a leader and things are going tough, you can’t remain aloof. You can’t just pretend that everything is OK. I think that’s what Jarod and I were trying to do. You have to get in the trenches and be part of the people you are leading. As a leader, they’re following your example. They need to know that you care. Because they’re looking to you for a morale boost. Morale definitely matters.

#6. Words have meaning.

 photo scan0003.jpg

There was one time where we had to carry our own water up a mountain. I was given the task of strapping one of those 5 (or was it 10? It felt like 500) gallon water bladders to the back of my pack. It was one of the worst experiences I had while climbing a mountain. Yes. Even worse than my first Baldy experience (but not by much).

As we were hiking, people kept trying to encourage me. They kept telling me that it was only half-full.

I wanted to punch them in the throat.

In a nice little twist, half-full reminded me that there was a lot of water in that bag that was strapped to the back of my backpack. It was pretty easy for me to focus on the bag being “full,” even though it was only halfway full. In this case, it was much more optimistic to say that the bag was half-empty.

I know. It’s weird. But it worked. It definitely helped. Because what we say matters. Words have meaning. And leaders’ words are magnified tenfold.

So watch what you say. People are listening. Probably more than you realize.

#7. Climbing a mountain doesn’t happen in one step.

It’s true. Climbing a mountain is a journey. It helps when you break the journey up into smaller, more attainable steps.

Because Baldy is so steep and so rocky, we had a special system in place. Most of the time, it’s most beneficial to keep going when you feel like stopping. You don’t want to kill your momentum while climbing mountains. So you usually push on.

Not so with Baldy. We broke the climb up into smaller, more attainable climbs. And when we’d get to that smaller goal within the larger goal, we’d celebrate with a swig of water and a lemonhead or a cherry drop. We didn’t stop for very long before pressing on.

We had the larger goal, I guess you could call it our vision, in focus. And we broke it up into smaller, more attainable goals. Each goal was challenging, but they were still doable. And then we’d celebrate each little victory. On the outside, it might’ve looked silly. But we conquered that mountain because we worked at a team. And together, we were able to achieve far greater things than we could have if we were all working alone. Successful leaders showed us how to get to the mountaintop as a team.

One goal at a time.

One step at a time.

The selfie to end all selfies

The news world is all abuzz with the announcement that the folks at Oxford Dictionaries have decided that “selfie” is the Word of the Year for 2013. I guess it makes sense. I’m sure you’ve taken one. I’ve taken one. I even took one at the IU game over the weekend.

But it’s not like this is a new phenomenon. Shoot, I was taking selfies back in 1995. Of course, we didn’t call them selfies back then. And duckfaces definitely weren’t involved. Back before the days of the Internet, my ugly mug was in many a home thanks to my incessant self portraits. I sometimes wonder how many random strangers have pictures of me in their Philmont photo albums. And then I get a little creeped out. But that’s OK. The people with my face plastered all over their Philmont memories are probably a little creeped out, too.

I’d like to say that I’m a trend setter. Wouldn’t be the first time that I’ve set off a nationwide trend, after all.  I’d like to say that the whole self portrait phenomenon is all because of me. Of course, we know that’s not the case. I was just a decade ahead of my time. Yeah. It’s a hard life being that forward-thinking.

But now self portraits are everywhere. And now that the word “selfie” has earned its rightful place in the American lexicon, I think it’s time we stop. Because nothing will ever compete with this astronaut’s selfie.

astronaut selfie
Image via @BuzzFeedAndrew

Ever.

So let’s just quit while we’re ahead. Congratulations, Mr. Astronaut from Japan (you can see the flag on his left shoulder) with the reflection of Earth in your face plate. You win.

 

The art of picking your seat at the movies

We went to see Turbo at the dollar theater on Saturday. OK. It’s more like the two-dollar theater now. But we still got everyone in for the price of one ticket at a regularly priced cineplex.* I’m glad we went. There are certain movies that must be seen on the big screen. I think I believe that Turbo is one of those movies. It sounds like most people missed out on this amazing opportunity to see the larger-than-life Indianapolis Motor Speedway highlighted on a larger-than-life screen.

That’s their loss.

I think the only way this movie is worth watching is on the big screen. The movie screen is the only medium that’s large enough to come close to capturing how giant and special the Indianapolis Motor Speedway really is. I have to admit that I had some goose bumps pop up when they entered the Speedway for the first time. It was a pretty cool site to see.

Kinepolis cinema hall

I love going to movies for the larger-than-life experience. It helps you get lost in the film’s world when the images fill your sight line.  I didn’t realize that until I saw Apollo 13 while I was on Days Off at Philmont. Dan, Trigger, and I had decided to drive to Taos for opening night. The theater was packed. The only open seats were in the very front row. So the three of us sat in the middle of the front row. Of course, the movie was great. But I believe I was even more engaged because the giant screen was right there in front of me. It helped suck me into the movie even more.

I used to like sitting towards the back of the theater. After Apollo 13, however, I haven’t been very satisfied by sitting so far from the screen. I might as well watch it at home if I’m going to sit so far away. Since I prefer not to have to look up the entire time, I generally sit a little bit farther back. As a rule, I aim for sitting in the front third of the theater. Any farther away from that, I feel like I’m not getting the full effect of the movie theater experience. I honestly don’t understand why people choose to sit in the back of the theater anymore.

Our boss has highly encouraged all of us to go see the movie about Steve Jobs. I’m hoping to go see it this weekend. Maybe even today. You’ll find me in the  front third of the theater.

Do you have a favorite place to sit at the movie theater? Where?

 

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*I had originally launched into a diatribe about how going to the movies has gotten way too expensive and why it’s no surprise that Hollywood movies are bombing left and right. But that wasn’t the point of this post. It might be a post in the near future, though. I definitely have some opinions about the current state of film.

The sun continues to rise

Sunset from Base Camp at Philmont photo SunriseatPhilmont_zpsbc936663.jpgI took this picture in July of 1994. It isn’t that great of a picture, but it’s one of the most special and most memorable pictures I have taken from any of my five treks at Philmont Scout Ranch.

I had just completed my final trek at Philmont. I thought this would be my last hurrah* at Philmont. Kevin and I had the amazing opportunity to hike down Time Ridge from the Tooth of Time together in a very cool moment of brotherly bonding. I was going to be heading away to college in a month and I knew that shared experiences like these were going to become few and far between. So I cherished that moment as much as a fresh-out-of-high-school kid could cherish.

Shortly after coming off the trail, our crew received all our mail that had been sent to us while we were in the backcountry. Kevin and I received an envelope that had been sent overnight to us, which seemed rather odd. No one had ever sent us an overnight package while we were at Philmont. It was a little too unpredictable (and expensive) to try to send something like that. So we opened the envelope, which contained a note from Dad: Grandmama was in the hospital.

We didn’t really have much time to dwell on this news because of all of the debriefing events that had to take place before we could head home. We knew we’d be calling home later that evening. It was Mom’s birthday and we had a plan.

After the Closing Ceremony, we grabbed as many people as we could and had them huddle around a payphone. As soon as mom picked up the phone, she was serenaded by a motley group of 15+ teenage boys singing “Happy birthday, dear Mom!” to her over the phone. As soon as the song was over, some of the adults from our crew led the impromptu Boy Band away as we continued our conversation with Mom and Dad.

“How’s Grandmama?” I asked, fully expecting to hear that she had already gone home.

I don’t remember what Dad said or how he said it because all I remember was knowing without him even finishing the first word that Grandmama had died earlier in the day – probably while Kevin and I were hiking down Trail Ridge together.

As I turned to try to tell Kevin what I had just heard, words totally escaped me. I hoped he could somehow read my mind because I could not find a way to make myself say the words, “Grandmama died.”

Then I felt it. It was caring and comforting and strong. It was a hand on my shoulder. Mr. G had stayed with us and was there for us. He had found out beforehand and was there to comfort us as we found out this heartbreaking news some one thousand miles away from home. I’m not sure how I would’ve gotten through that phone call without him being there for us.

I couldn’t sleep that night. I got up early and walked around through Base Camp. I remember seeing the vast sea of stars high above me and feeling extremely alone and sad. Then the sun began to rise. And I realized that even though things were dark and heartbreaking for me, there was still a glimmer of hope. The sun does still rise. The day does come. And the darkness is pushed away.

So I took this picture to remind me of that moment – to remind me that light is stronger than dark, even when I hurt deep deep down in my soul. When everything is falling apart and you’re completely isolated and alone….there’s still hope. Light still wins.

I thought of this picture yesterday as I was standing in a room with my colleagues, learning that our company was going through another reduction in force. This announcement was probably more difficult to hear than the one 10 months ago because I soon realized that many of the people I worked with very closely had become casualties of this “right-sizing.” And then I felt it again. It was the strangest thing. I felt this hand on my shoulder, much like I felt when Mr. G was putting his hand on my shoulder and telling me it was going to be OK. Of course, his hand wasn’t on my shoulder.

No one’s hand was on my shoulder.

But I felt it. And I wanted to go around the room and put my hand on everyone’s shoulder, telling them that things were going to be OK. We were going to get through this disappointing news. I wanted to find my colleagues who had just been let go, put my hand on their collective shoulders, and be there for them.

As I left the office after the announcement that day, I had decided that I was going to find this picture and post it with this story as an attempt to encourage my friends who lost their jobs that there is light at the end of this darkness and that I have confidence that all of them are going to go on to do some pretty amazing things in their careers. I have no doubt about that.

Then it became clear that Christy’s dad was not going to live very much longer. And I realized that this picture that I had been thinking of for the last 36 hours was really for me and my family.

There is light at the end of this darkness. There is hope at the end of this heartache. Life will continue to go on, even as we walk through the valley of death’s shadow.

Even in the midst of this devastating series of events, it behooves us to live, and live to the fullest.

*It turned out that this event was not my last hurrah at Philmont. I returned the next two Summers as a staff member.