the seven-year cycles of my life to date
0-7: I lived the first seven years of my life in India in a ~400 sqft home with 7 other people with no indoor plumbing, minimal electricity, and an open sewer running outside my front door. And I was happy.
At some point, perhaps I’ll right something of a memoir of that time. But probably not.
7-14: I lived the next seven years of my time on the planet navigating life as an immigrant in America at a time and in a place where everyone and everything was as foreign to my sense of “normal” as it was possible to be – and at a time and place where I was as much an Other as it was possible to be. We lived in 7 different places, all within a 10 mile radius, during those 7 years, ever staying just one step ahead of immigration and economic collapse.
This period would probably also make for good memoir material. And it will also likely never happen.
14-21: I lived these seven years diving deep – very, very deep – into religion, philosophy, music, and literature. During most of this time, I also dove into not-so-occasional experiments in the awareness-expanding potential of various naturally occurring substances. I very much don’t advocate it for others but I also very much don’t regret it for myself. School was too easy, too boring, and far too grounded in other people’s certainties – and no one was terribly interested in new questions, only shoving old answers into my head. I realized early on that fighting it was a waste of energy and that I could eliminate the friction by simply getting great grades. And then, on my own time, I created my own curriculum. After graduating High School, and after a slight “incident” at the first university I attended (again, great memoir material that’ll likely never see the light of day), I met the first adult who ever got what I was interested in and how to help me manipulate the world’s agenda in a way that would allow me to work on my own agenda. Ralf Carriuolo was a professor at the university I graduated from and without his influence, I’d have likely traveled a very different, and very less productive, path than I have. It was during this period of my life that I read the three books that served as the foundation for everything else I would focus on: Carse’s Finite & Infinite Games, Pirsig’s Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintainance, and the The Tao Tse Ching.
Carse in particular blew my world apart. The book had just been published and that first edition copy I read and reread until it literally fell apart. I’ve given away many hundreds of copies of that book to friends, clients, and students over the years and I revisit it very regularly. It, like all else sacred it seems, has recently been gobbled up by one of the current crop of hack commodifiers and exploiters of wisdom and no doubt exists for many people as yet another business-philophy-of-the-day. But, an extended investment in the original text is something I can’t recommend highly enough.
21-35: At 21 or 22 years of age, I found myself with a thoroughly fulfilling but thoroughly useless degree in World Music and Sound Engineering. So…I went to work for a corporation. Because why not? I needed cash and, at the time, the only path to a career in music production – other than hardcore connections, which I definitely didn’t have – was sweeping floors in a studio for a few years in the hopes of getting a below-survival-level job doing something even remotely related to actual production. And, it turned out that if you can effectively engage with people and know how to thrive in times of change you could do really well in business – even if you don’t know the first thing about business. The next 14 years (a double cycle of seven!) I spent as a text-book “high potential”. Before I hit 30, I had run a business with 100+ employees and $40MM in revenue, developed a reputation for being able to turn around failing business units and, with a few partners, grew a global consulting firm into something that some massive, global holding company wanted to buy.
I had made some money, seen a good chunk of the world, learned about almost every aspect of business and across many industries (though I still didn’t care much about the business of business), and, most importantly, had put a whole bunch of the philosophies and theories that I had been playing with in my teens to the test in real human and organizational contexts.
[there’s a lot of really critical stuff that happened in my personal life in this phase: marriage and the birth of the great love of my life, my daughter Sara, being at the top of that list. But the personal life in this, and following, phases I’m putting aside for this website and will include in a longer essay I’m working on. The reasons for this are many but the short version is, I want to ensure that, a) that part of my life and the people in it are properly honored and, b) that I’m doing a candid and thorough self-dissection of the my experience as a “family man”. There is much about modern life I’ve learned from how I engaged, and even more from how I failed to engage, with that part of my life and my sense is that it would be of benefit – to me if no one else – to be as open and thorough as possible.]
35-42: At around 35, after five, seven-year cycles of taking whatever came at me and turning it into opportunity, I was done. Like, DONE. I dropped out of the business I was in. I believe the general consensus was that I was being impulsive, stupid, etc. We had just been acquired and I was offered a fairly dream assignment post-integration. But, as I said: I was done. I signed a non-compete, packed a box and never looked back.
Professionally, the following couple of years were…rocky. I had a “rebound girlfriend” in terms of business (i.e., I jumped right into a new partnership). That was a mistake – but one I rectified fairly quickly. I then set about the work of codifying all of the work I had been doing “in the background” and figuring out how to bring it into the foreground. Said another way, I had always been doing Trojan horse work: delivering something to clients that was what they asked for but had, hidden within it, the work I actually thought was worth doing. In this phase of my life, I started getting very open and public about the real work. Words like authenticity and relationship are now part of the throw-away culture of consulting ideas and social media memes but, back in the first decade of the 2000’s, they were a fairly radical basis from which to build an executive / organizational advisory business. But, that’s the work that was always at the core of what I did and so, I made that the headline.
In parallel, I wrote a very small book that was really a transcription of a keynote that I started doing and that got a lot of traction in client circles. That body of work was – at the risk of being an arrogant jerk – a decade ahead of it’s time (the broader body of work, not the book, which was always intended to be a very brief intro/overview). While it got me a lot of speaking gigs and a few very productive and long-term client engagements, I’m not sure some of the core messages were things the world could hear at the time. Or now for that matter. [And perhaps it was and is simply the case that I was not an effective enough carrier of the message.]
So, during this phase, I had a small number of very profitable and very impactful client relationships and we did some really amazing work.
And, during this phase I met Mel Toomey, with whom I’d lead an M.A. in Leadership program for the next….well, forever actually. Or at least forever was the plan. Mel passed away very recently as I write this and “his work” (a phrase he would have disliked greatly) is out of my hands. But “my work” in Human & Systems Development and the work he and I created together inform much of what we do at DAE.
42-49: Shit had gotten weird. During the previous phase, while I felt I was pretty much doing the work I wanted to be doing and was called to do, somehow I had let myself become abstracted, a “brand”.
Within a certain professional community, small-in-the-scheme-of-things but significant in depth and scope, I was something of a “celebrity”. A guy with answers. A guy with wisdom. A guy who’s shit was to-ge-ther. This was how the career was supposed to evolve right? This was good. Right???
I hired a marketing firm to design a website for my private practice and the Advisory company I had at the time. Prior to then, I had a simple site up that provided the basics about me and my work. The marketing agency built something that was beautiful and cool and had awesome tech-y features and integrations so that every update and blog post would instantly be sent out via all of the various social media channels that they had set up for me.
It was a perfectly polished image to the world of my work and it’s value.
It was a monument to a dysfunctionality that had snuck into my work and my life: I was perfected. I was a finished product that the marketplace was supposed to consume and celebrate.
I recognized this in my early 40’s and the better part of this phase of my life was spent dismantling. On the surface, I was moving along as always: working, teaching, etc. But internally, I was breaking out of the all of the certainties and fixed notions of who I was that others – professionally and personally – had formed around me based on what they valued in my contribution to their work and their lives.
The clearest way I know how to communicate it at this point is as follows:
I started out life as an artist and a philosopher and I spent my time and energy on inquiring, experimenting, and creating. Somewhere along the line, what I contributed to the world had me be engaged with as an Expert and I was expected to spend my time solving, fixing, and solutioning. Well paid, well regarded, and well domesticated.
And now, you’re up-to-date on me and my journey. If you’re interested in what I’m up to at this very moment, that’s HERE.
P.S., This current site is inspired by Derek Sivers' site. Oddly enough, I knew nothing about Derek other than the very short First Follower video he posted years ago and which I've used regularly in teaching work for at least 7-8 years. I honestly assumed from that video that he was some guy at TED who had a clever idea and they let him sneak it in between full TED Talk presentations. I stumbled onto his site in 2019 and found a format that was as perfect a fit for me as I'd ever seen. So I