Sunday, June 26, 2016

I Feel Like a Fake

I wrote this blog as a public declaration of what I suspect haunts others, privately, in hopes that all of us can find an emotionally comfortable place to manage these emotions in a positive way; and as a record for my young daughter and son so that they can hopefully find comfort knowing that their father struggled with many of the same things that they will probably struggle with, too.  By the way, I'm not hoping to alleviate the emotional struggle described below, only manage it effectively and positively. I never wish for the relief from hardship, because hardship makes me stronger. I only wish for the strength that comes from it.

By most measures, I’ve had a life that has been blessed with an abundance of adventure and experiences. My LinkedIn profile summarizes the professional adventures, but doesn’t mention the many personal adventures and experiences that have come my way, which, to me, are equally full of blessings and personal growth, if not greater. For the most part, I think my contributions to life and the lives of others has been generally positive. There’s no doubt that I’ve stepped on toes and made my share of offenses, but most of the time, the wake has been constructive.  You'd have to ask others to get the real truth. Many of these opportunities, and whatever success I had with them, had nothing to do with me or my skills. They were simply the luck of life and opportunity placed within grasp; so I grabbed them, just like anyone else would. 

You would think that I could just accept all these blessings and be thankful for them… try to share them with others... and hope that they keep coming and that I can keep giving back.

But, I can’t… or at least I can’t without struggle.

Quite often, as was the case yesterday, I’m asked to give lectures and speeches that, for the most part, always end up being a summary of my life’s lessons learned, up to that point. They are a mixture of my professional and personal observations about life, usually centered around a particular topic. Yesterday, the topic was “Machine Learning, Big Data, and Population Health Analytics.” A mouthful of buzzwords, for sure. My goal with that lecture was to inform the audience of mostly healthcare executives and physicians so that they could make better decisions about the technology that is having such a big impact on their lives and careers.

All of these lectures are about advice and guidance. I’ve given over three hundred of these in the last 30+ years. While I’m always honored to give a lecture or presentation, and share my life’s lessons, it pains me to do so. I’m a nervous wreck-- before, during and after. While lecturing, it’s not uncommon for me to nearly faint from nervousness-- I manage to avoid it and hide it from the audience.  If anyone approaches me after the lecture to offer a compliment, I break into a nervous sweat. On the one hand, I am enormously thankful for their compliments, but on the other hand, I feel enormously undeserving. Of course, I’d much rather have the compliments than the alternative, but no matter how many compliments I might receive afterwards for a lecture, I always feel undeserving and false, and the more compliments I receive, the worse I feel, emotionally.

These emotions are all rooted in a duality of confidence and insecurity. On the one hand, I can acknowledge the accomplishments and experiences in life that are, on some level, unique and some would say impressive. For example, not many people have had the responsibility of turning keys to launch all 1,000 nuclear ICBMs in the US arsenal. That's a pretty big deal and it's fairly common for people to be interested in learning more about my experiences in that realm. But on the other hand, the older I get, the more I realize that there are countlessly more impressive achievements and responsibilities that people who are never recognized... never complimented... accomplish every day. And if they were trained and placed in the same positions as mine, they would do exactly what I've done, and probably do it better.

Though I have confidence in the knowledge that life has bestowed upon me, there is nothing about me that is particularly wise or capable. I’m one of the most average, bell curve people you’ll ever meet. The only thing that might not be average is the enormously good luck and diverse opportunities that have come my way.  I feel disingenuous to receive compliments from people who have worked much harder, and have much greater lessons, knowledge and advice to share than me. Who am I to stand in front of an audience and portray my life or knowledge as anything noteworthy?

I keep going back to the well, again and again, trying to find the water of comfort with this awkward situation…trying to find a way to be comfortable with simply sharing the blessings of life’s experiences that have been placed upon me, in hopes that the sharing will inform and inspire others. I keep trying to be comfortable with all of it, but the older I get, the more I realize how much I don’t know, and the less deserving I feel. The older I get, the worse the emotions and feelings trouble me.

I wish I knew how to make sense of it all, and how to turn these emotions into something positive. Until I can figure it out, I’ll keep facing it down. 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Fathers' Day Tribute to Amos Doyle Sanders

He was born in 1920 and raised a cowboy-- a real cowboy-- in the panhandle of Texas along with his elder cousin, Gene Autry. At age 10, he worked in the fields at night with his brother, Ray, cutting hay, riding on the backs of a two-horse team, holding a lantern to light the way while Ray ran the mower. Uncle Ray would tell me later, "I was worried sick that your Dad would fall off those horses and I was going to run over him with the mower and cut him to pieces." At age 14, his family, our grandparents, lost their farm and ranch to the effects of the Dust Bowl and Great Depression.

At 18, he left home for the "Gold Rush of the 1930s" when the federal government opened large swaths of western forest to logging. He and his brother, Ray, worked in the logging camps of southwestern Colorado-- in The Glade-- and lived in Dolores and the now-gone logging town of McPhee.

He was an artillery and field infantry soldier in World War II, mopping up the Nazis in France at the Battle of the Bulge and capturing the world's largest underwater submarine docks at Keroman Submarine Base, Lorient, France. On Christmas Eve, 1944, he was crossing the English Channel with 4,000 other troops on two transports, while Silent Night played on the ships' loudspeakers. He would tell me later, "There wasn't a dry eye on those ships. I sure was missing your mother." The sister ship to his transport that night, the SS Leopoldville, following immediately behind, was torpedoed by a Nazi U-boat and sunk, killing over 800 soldiers, the second largest single loss of US life in World War II, behind Pearl Harbor. He would tell me later, "I guess it wasn't my time to go, but it sure was for a lot of other guys."

After the war, we was a private pilot, when flying small aircraft over the Rocky Mountains was not exactly commonplace or safe. He told me about a time when his wings iced-up while flying over Soldier's Summit, Utah and he was forced into an emergency landing on a dirt road. On that same dirt road at the same time was a farmer on a tractor, with his back to Dad's oncoming landing. Dad said, "Airplanes don't have horns, so I was barreling down on this old farmer with no way to warn him. I had my window open, yelling and banging my hand on the side of the airplane. At the very last second, he turned around and saw me and this airplane with its propeller turning, coming down on him, and he drove his tractor off into a ditch on the right side of the road. When he went into that ditch, my right wing went right over the top of his head."

He grieved the loss of a daughter at 18 months and a son at 18 years, and ultimately, he died of a broken heart. One of my most vivid memories as a young child of four years old, is crawling into his arms at the kitchen table, trying to console him, while he sobbed uncontrollably after learning about the death of our brother. I could not understand why Dad was crying.

He was a chronic explorer and adventurer, with zero lack of confidence... and his self-confidence was well-deserved, born and honed in his life's experiences. He drove a manual transmission, long-bed, two-wheel drive Chevy pickup with tire chains over Black Bear Pass, Colorado, three different times. He made Mom and me get out of the truck on the tight corners, "just in case." Actually, he didn't have to make Mom get out. She refused to ride and got out on her own, saying, "What are we going to do if you go over the edge, Doyle??!" to which Dad replied, "Pick me up at the bottom. And don't remarry."

He was a beautiful singer and whistler. He was a practical joker. He was a champion cribbage player-- the chess match of cards. He was an environmentalist and son of Mother Nature, made of her dirt. He could cast a fly to an unsuspecting rainbow trout with the grace of an artist's brush and precision of a surgeon's knife. He considered any other form of fishing as uncivilized and wouldn't let me fish any other way. One time, I bought a Zebco bait casting fishing outfit... and he made me return it. He was a "one shot" hunter. If he couldn't kill a deer, elk, or otherwise with a single, humane bullet, he wouldn't pull the trigger. And we was an expert marksman. I never saw him take more than one shot, including the times when he would shoot the head off a grouse for "camp meat" during elk and deer season, with a 30.06 rifle. Not exactly a bird gun.

He was a skilled poker player when gambling was still a mark of the Wild West. He owned the best bar and was married to the most beautiful woman in town. He served his country in the Air Force during the Korean War. He was involved in the Cuban Missile Crisis...the Vietnam War...the USS Pueblo Incident.

In retirement, we was a cowboy again, returning to the San Juan mountains he loved so much, in Southwestern Colorado. In death, his grave looks over those same mountains, the La Platas, alongside our Mom, the love of his life, and our brother, Gene, and sister, Linda Sue.

He was our father of six.


The Death of Risk, Adventure, and Accountability in Our Lives

This article , entitled, "23 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do", prompted me to pause and think. Here are the 23 things...