Friday, December 27, 2013


I met Scott Barron in a museum near Laoying, China in November 2011. We had finished looking at the exhibits & bumped into each other on a rare bench in the atrium. After a 20-hour trip overseas, we were surprised to discover we lived no less than 4 hours away from each other in the U.S. 

Later that week, we meet in a hotel lobby in Beijing. Scott had this little book in his hand:

In a few minutes, I listened in fascination to Scott's story behind the book & why he brought it to China. The story goes that at 42 Scott wanted to change the direction of his life... 

The Yabwi Tree tells the transformative story that changed Scott's life (which you can find below):

The Yabwi Tree resonated with me because I had just finished a stint in my educational career and had closed the full-time portion of my school. That was my 40th year of life. The stresses were insurmountable. The sleepless nights endless. The emotional tension taut. Ever since reading The Yabwi Tree, my life has diversified in ways I could not have imagined.

Here is the question: for whom does The Yabwi Tree make an ideal gift? The answer is: for people in transition. I have given out several copies of The Yabwi Tree to...

-worn-out professionals
-stressed entrepreneurs
-nervous high school graduates
-exhausted thought-leaders

What's magical about this gift is that you don't wrap it up. What you do is find a few free moments where you both can sit undisturbed...

And you read it to them.

When was the last time anybody read you a story? A parable? A fable? A fairy tale where in the end the monsters are defeated and the good people thrive?

Because, according to The Yabwi Tree, that's your story.

*YABWI comes from the hopeful phrase Yeah, But, What If?

Monday, December 23, 2013


Several months ago I received a gift that literally dumfounded me: a Wingard painting (the regal lion in the photo above). While I've admired art in galleries and museums in the United States and abroad (my favorite is the Metropolitan in NYC), it never occurred to me to actually own an art piece. 

Receiving a valuable gift like that brought back memories of all the awkwardness I've experienced when receiving gifts from others.

In December of 1994 I ran out of money at college & was unable to return for the spring semester. I stayed with an elderly widow in Fort Walton Beach, Florida for that winter (I couldn't afford to visit my home in Germany), and she learned about my situation. The day that I was to head back to college to clean out my dorm room, she gave me a blank check. 

"You're an honest man, Robbie. Fill in whatever amount you need. We can work out the details later." 

To this day I can't believe that I wrote it for only 1/4 of what I needed! Somehow I felt I was doing her a favor by not receiving the gift like she intended. Because of that, I struggled with college payments for the next two years.

The rule for me seems to have been The higher the value of the gift, the more unworthy I am to receive it. But why should I feel unworthy when it's not my gift to give but only to receive?

Maybe ...

-my being perceived to be in need is a scourge
-my taking is an admission of inadequacy
-my receiving is a form of slavery

Would you agree that everybody is needy at one time or another? 

If so, then is it true that people who are needy HAVE NOTHING OF VALUE? 

Here is a picture of my youngest child. She has no job, no money, and no experience in any field (other than being herself). Yet I will bend over backwards to make sure she has shelter, clothing, food, and love. I will make sure she's safe and happy.


And you know what? She doesn't apologize for taking the time I'm only too happy to give her. She doesn't shrink herself as small as possible because she's self-conscious about being cared for. 

What is most difficult to believe is that while our PERCEIVED VALUE might dip when we are in need, our TRUE VALUE doesn't.

Do you want to know your true value?

Just click on the link below...

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Sunday, December 22, 2013


Above is a picture of me worrying. I can tell by the set of my jaw and the furrow of my eyebrow. It's a little ironic, isn't it... my carrying my youngest daughter on my shoulders, her being oblivious to it all? 

But there were reasonwhy my brow is furrowed and my jaw is fixed. There were YEARS of reasons...

-I was struggling to keep my fledgling school a-flight in a merciless economy
-I was "upside down" in my house in a ritzy community
-I was grossly behind on several payments.

I could go on. In fact, when I think about this day, I don't really even think about it. 

feel it.

Here are a few other things I was doing that day:


Washing the kitchen floor...


Looks like I'm being productive, doesn't it? In retrospect I can honestly say that each of these activities were DIVERSIONS from the acid that was slowly eating away at my soul. 

Acid? Eating away? Soul?

At the time of these photographs, I was reflecting on almost 13 years of investing in a community of people who in very damaging ways ended up not being what they projected 13 years before and all along. In reality, they were petty, grasping, devious, and effectively deceptive in convincing me that I had a place with them for as long as I lived.

But I'M the one who believed it. So I forgive them.

But should I be stupid again? 

I mean, aren't we supposed to trust? Isn't that what cultivates a genuine sense of safety and ease among people?

Yes, it does. But I was missing a basic element that my HEART was telling me throughout those 13 years but my BRAIN was conditioned to suppress: I was told that thinking about myself FIRST was selfish.

This hit me like a ton of bricks about a year ago on a flight from Baltimore to Nashville. I've heard it dozens of times from air stewardesses, but this time it finally made sense: 

In the event of an emergency and oxygen masks are deployed, put YOUR MASK ON FIRST. Then put your child's mask on. 

When do you get "selfish" like that?


-Have you ever wanted to tell your boss exactly what you think about him or her, but you refrained from it because you could lose your job?

-Have you ever wanted to tell someone who cheated you in business WHERE THEY COULD GO, but you refrained because it could jeopardize your clientele?

-Have you ever wanted to tell a caustic neighbor how petty they are, but you don't because it could cause you more problems?

Of course, you have.

Do you have others depending on you?

Of course, you do.

Do you want to know how you can put your heart first in every important decision?

Click on the link below.

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Saturday, December 21, 2013


The Christmas season in Germany was beautiful and enjoyable for children... if you ignored the part called The Naughty List. I'm not sure how other children around the world took Christmas, but we took it with what I could only call unnecessary pangs of conscience. On the one hand, Christmas represented family, gifts, and expectancy. Nice things. On the other hand, Christmas resembled the Day of Judgment. No matter how naughty you were from January to November, the first day of December found you recounting all the naughty words, all the naughty deeds, and all the naughty thoughts you indulged in like a reprobate ragamuffin. And the DAY OF RECKONING eventually rolled around with all the contrived regret and gratuitous repentance my little child's soul could conjure up. 

I remember once being put on The Naughty List close to Christmas (the tree was already up). As best my six or seven-year-old memory can recollect, it was for a homework infraction (or maybe several... and maybe for several other things, I honestly can't remember). I remember thinking There is no way for me to make this right before Santa comes. I mean, I needed to do enough good things to make Santa forget that I had even made The Naughty List. I had never heard of anyone who made the The Naughty List unmaking that list. I was screwed.

I remember more than one Christmas going to bed on Christmas Eve with the trepidation of an imminent Rapture. I was so frightened that I put my head under my covers and faced the wall, knowing full well that Santa would be in MY house that night. My head was full of the carol...

You better not shout
You better not cry
You better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town...

I heard the song as more of a threat...

You BETTER not shout
You BETTER not cry
You BETTER not pout
Or else...

See, Santa knew if I was fake sleeping. Either I was really asleep or really awake. There was NO in between. And if I prayed to God, I prayed to Santa, too, to give me a genuine desire to sleep. But it didn't come in enough time before I heard someone moving about the living room, making his way into our hallway, and stopping right outside my door. It wasn't Santa Claus. It was Satan Claus.


Now, I am being completely honest when I say that in some places in Europe Christmas Day is like the day of reckoning. In America being on The Naughty List means fewer presents. In Germany, being on The Naughty List meant that you had your shoes filled with coal & switches. Which meant that you sucked.

Few children outside these European traditions understood that Santa had a helper... and he wasn't an elf. His descriptions varied, and none of us children really knew what he looked like, because he was typically levied as a threat to keep us in line. But we knew a few things. We knew that an enormous Santa entered normal houses through the chimney, but was never dirty upon arriving. Because he was good.

However, his more sinister side (who was covered in soot)... the one who took care of Santa's Naughty List) didn't care about his appearance. He would slide down chimneys and emerge with the switches (broom) he used to clean the chimney, dirty from head to toe, and trailing coal behind him. These fiery images were none other than the Devil. 

Now, what was so interesting was that ultimately we all enjoyed a Happy (Merry) Christmas. But it came with a cost: unnecessary pangs of conscience. After waking up to stockings on Christmas Day, opening up presents, staying in our pajamas, and stuffing ourselves with treats, the more sinister aspects of Christmas were forgotten. And within a few days we were back to our old antics.

Having run my own school for 13 years, I've dabbled in methods of motivating students to do the things they ought. When I first opened my school, I wanted to offer students opportunities (a concept not unique to me) to advance in their studies. But these opportunities were only opportunities if they didn't come with consequences for not taking them. And I was consistent with that. 

I've been a part of several designer communities (Look for my blog on LARPing... coming soon!) these last few years that sell themselves on benefits of "authentic living" and "belonging" and "organic community." Because most of us lack this kind of utopia in our lives, it's an effective lure to get us to take at least a peek inside. But once inside, almost each and every one of them have their own set of consequences, imposed upon the dabblers, the members or congregants if the opportunities they offered were ignored or spurned.

Subjecting oneself to communities like this, one's moral compass can get grossly misaligned and those special pangs reserved for true moral guilt are artificially engineered to be triggered more and more frequently. I knew someone who attended a private school who eventually left the community because he didn't agree with some asinine, medieval interpretation of some theological point that is moot in most of the world. On the one hand, he qualified to be in the community. But once in, he didn't really qualify because he refused the up-sells (They were true choices, weren't they?). 

There were consequences for not taking those opportunities, for not going above and beyond, for not willingly wearing more pieces of flair than required...

And do you know what those consequences are? Unnecessary pangs of conscience if you stay. And no Christmas presents if you go.

For me, screw the Christmas presents.

(Here is a real opportunity below!)

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Friday, December 20, 2013


I've been through it one hundred times: paying a late bill. But by the time I pay it, the water or electricity has already been turned off, my card has been dinged with an extra fee, or the administrator of my children's private school has handed me a personal reminder to pay tuition (which is two months late). 

After a while, paranoia sets in. You begin to wonder if it's worth it to go to the grocery store because you might run into someone to whom you've obligated yourself. Or you find answering the mail nerve-wracking because you're used to getting weekly reminders of your delinquent accounts. Once when I was pulled over by a police officer on my way home, he sat in his car for so long that I was CERTAIN he somehow knew I was late on my taxes.

All of these humiliations eventually made me angry, so I decided to do something about them. I began to cut everything out of my life within reason that represented an unnecessary expense or repeat failure. So I stopped the Melaleuca orders. I sold the cars. I sold the house. I pulled my children out of private school. I terminated quite a few brokering deals. That was MUCH better. But there was something else I needed to do. Now that I had rid my life of the unsustainable, I needed to STRETCH MY INNER LIFE.

As a gymnast, I knew something about stretching. When you first begin to stretch, your muscles don't comply. They resist. Because they aren't used to that motion, they equate the discomfort to a "bad" feeling and signal your body that something "bad" is happening. But if you hold a stretch for several minutes, your muscles begin to think "Oh, s/he means to do this. Well, then, I suppose that is ok." And they give in. 

Of course, the benefit of stretching yourself is that it increases your range of motion. In my personal life I wanted to increase my range of awareness related to my financial responsibilities. So I sat down and preempted a budget. I found out the total of my debts, found out the averages of my utilities, and identified all of my recurring bills. I even found out what times of the month or quarter those bills were due. In the end, I had such a hold on my financial situation that I no longer was plagued with the fear that I was going to be sucker-punched with the unexpected when I walked out in public.

Eleanor Roosevelt said "You must do the things you think you cannot do." And she was right. We each need to be stretched beyond our regular range of motion in order to enjoy the unexpected twists and turns of life with ease, agility, and, most of all, enjoyment.

So where do YOU need to be stretched? Do you need to work LESS and be MORE present with your significant other, your spouse, or your children? Do you need to EXERCISE more  to INCREASE your stamina so that you you can bond over a variety of activities with the ones you love? Whatever your situation is, IT ALL BEGINS WITH YOUR INNER LIFE.

Watch my video below to find out how you can increase your range!

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Here is my friend, Deb. We went to high school together in Oxfordshire, England in 1986. When I left England in May 1987 I didn't see her again until October 2013. That's 26 years later. Of course, we had a lot to catch up on after that 26-year gap. Thanks to Facebook, I noticed Deb's facial features and limited profile a few years ago.

When Deb visited two months ago, I had one of those surreal moments where on one hand I had to pinch myself to make sure this was happening and on the other hand I doubted we had been separated at all. As we began catching up on the past, I noticed something about BOTH of our conversations. We were strategically editing what we chose to tell each other about those absent 26 years. 

From my silence, Deb perceived my adolescent years in England turned me into an over-brooding individual. From Deb's silence, I perceived a deep restlessness that found her in several difficult relationships (her last one being the most difficult of all). 

"But HOW DID YOU SURVIVE the things you won't talk about?" That's what we both really wanted to know! 24-hours before we parted ways again, we pushed and prodded each other about the silence. Walking down crowded MUSIC ROW in Nashville, Tennessee and sipping warm drinks at FIDO's on 21st helped us to speak in glitches: she about relational stress & me about my bouts of depression. The glitches spoke louder than words: when times got difficult we found ourselves speaking from a deep, strong place.

People like us want to make other people happy... sometimes at any cost. Before we know it, we are no longer ourselves. We begin to see ourselves through the affirmations and insults of those we would do anything for. Our survival instinct simply won't kick in until it's a matter of life and death, and we are often down for the count LONG before others finally say "I think s/he's had enough of it."

Why? Because we finally got the message through that WE NO LONGER CARED about what others think about us. We no longer cared about being ostracized, isolated, or shunned for saying what we want to say. We finally spoke from that VERY DEEP and VERY STRONG PLACE that is the mysterious root of individual personality. We are simply "graduates from the class of WE MADE IT":

You are a survivor just like Deb and me.

If you liked what you heard, click on the link below to hear more.

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I spent eleven years running my own alternative school. Starting a school is similar to founding a small country. You have a unique group who have rallied around you for this new venture, but the group doesn't have an identity yet. And it's YOUR job to help shape and articulate that identify. Like starting any business, that's a huge job.

For the first seven years of my school, I used a number of slogans, tried out a bunch of logos, and solicited hundreds of clients (and inadvertently chased off hundreds). In 2004 I experienced my lowest return from my branding and marketing strategies (I began with a deficit that year by losing my school building to a higher bidder and losing students to other schools. I spent one day courting investors who all declined. I remember sitting on the curb in the library parking lot, knowing I was ruined, and unable to go home to face my wife. The week before, all the stress produced my first white hair in my beard).

By the time I experienced some momentum after finally deciding on a logo, coining a slogan, and reeling in my customer base, and really REALLY knowing what I was doing, a wrench was thrown in the works. After all of that work, I now REALLY understood what I was doing and it WASN'T the thing I had FINALLY decided on!

I had been working on an algorithm for almost seven years that would help me decide 3 things about my customer. I wanted to know what my customer base liked about me, what they REALLY wanted from me, and what products and services they were likely to want from me in the future.

After several more years I finally realized something I had never noticed before. I realized that I wasn't really trying to understand my customer as much as I was TRYING TO UNDERSTAND MYSELF. When I understood that I was studying myself all along, my branding war ended. I realized that an important part of personality is 1) where you are, 2) where you were, and 3) where you are going. And those three strands were all wrapped up in the genetic code of my personality's DNA: me!

Click the video below to find out more about the 3 strands of your personality that I call your TRAITMARK.

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WELCOME BACK LAZARUS: Coming Back from the Brink Is Hard Work

Two years ago, I had a surreal experience. I thought that I had died.  That statement is suspiciously ambiguous, I know, but it...

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