All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
— The opening line to Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.
I still have a holiday gift I got in December of 2009 from the design firm Ziba. They created six brochures on trends for 2010: me, we, happy, human, old, and … ugly. (1)Design companies like to create beautiful and provocative gifts. For example, Thomas Heatherwick’s delightful Christmas gifts were featured in a museum.
Someone recently asked me, “Why do you write this blog?” As I didn’t have an answer ready at hand, I figured I’d write it out on this blog.
I’ve always viewed blogging as my own personal publishing platform, putting out my best material to the world. This might come from my history as a magazine writer. I want to avoid writing for an imaginary audience who maybe isn’t as smart or curious as I’d hoped. So instead, it’s written it for me and for my friends. And by “friends” it’s everyone from the people I live with to the people who just like what I write online.
When we switch to and from Daylight Savings Time, I start to question reality. I realize that things that we take for granted, like what it means to be “5 o’clock” can be changed by fiat. It reminds me that things that I see as solid and unchangeable are just human constructions.
My wonderful mother-in-law was having a milestone birthday last month. In normal times we could have flown down to visit her, had a big party, and celebrated in style. But obviously, we can’t do that. So we needed to figure out a different way to celebrate her big birthday.
These days I’m sitting at home thinking about jetting off to Florida and entering the fantasy land of Disney World. We could walk around meeting the characters in Toy Story, travel to the past, or visit countries from around the world. Of course, these experiences are not the real thing but theme park adaptions of them. While we can’t have the real-world experiences of Disney World, there’s a new, and in some ways better, version of theme parks that I can experience at home.
When I was the Head of Banking at Amazon Web Services, I was able to peek behind the curtain and learn how Amazon really works. While there are some things Amazon keeps close to the chest, I was surprised that many of the most wonderful things about Amazon are available to the public.
This is a guide to the open secrets at Amazon that you’d hear during orientation or at a high-level customer meeting. Amazon makes these things public to build stronger relationships with customers, and since almost everyone is an Amazon customer, you can find them all online. But you’d only know about these things if you had a friend at Amazon. So I invite you, my friend, to examine some of my favorite secrets.
When we got to the JetBlue Terminal at JFK I was feeling really good. I’d planned this awesome trip for my wife Abigail and two kids to go skiing with our friends in Breckenridge Colorado. We’d been planning this trip for months. I even found an affordable rate on the flight to Denver during Christmas week which was quite an accomplishment. Even though it landed at 2 in the morning, but we were going to be fine. That night we were staying at the Westin right next to the airport. As we sat down to eat our overpriced but surprisingly tasty cheeseburgers, my wife Abigail said, “What’s the confirmation number for tonight’s hotel?”
I’ve always thought that free time was the best thing in the world. What could be better than staying at an all-inclusive resort and sipping margaritas with nothing to do? But free time can be painful if it’s in the wrong context. Don’t believe me? Think about your last trip on an elevator.
Here’s one of my favorite speeches. It’s the story of how a woman named Amelia Earhart flew around the world. You may think you’ve heard it before but it’s unlikely.
I haven’t been posting much because I’ve been focusing more on refining my speechmaking with Toastmasters. You can see many of my speeches along with video. If you’d like to join my Toastmasters group, contact me.
Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.
― William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
In 1937 Amelia Earhart was the most famous aviatrix(1)Aviatrix = female aviator. in the world. She was the first female passenger to cross the Atlantic by plane, the woman who’d flown higher than anyone else in the world, and whose solo flight across the Atlantic made her into female Charles Lindbergh. Then, on July 2, 1937, Amelia’s plane disappeared on its way from Papua New Guinea to Howland Island.
So imagine my surprise in 2018 when I was watching TV with my sons. A woman named Amelia Earhart told us that she just finished her flight around the world. This, of course, was a different Amelia Earhart. Amelia Rose Earhart was born in 1984. Her parents told her she was a long lost relative of Amelia Earhart, wanted to give her a strong female role model, and figured that no one would ever forget a woman named Amelia Earhart.
It was hard growing up with the name Amelia Earhart. If I were named Charles Lindbergh I bet people would spend a lot of time making flying jokes like, “Have you flown over the Atlantic any time soon.” And I would spend a lot of time saying, “Ha that’s funny. I haven’t heard that one before. I am Charles Lindbergh the dentist.”
I started looking into people who had unique names or uncommon names. I found this wonderful movie called The Strange Name Movie. They go around the country finding people with unusual names like James Bond or Harry Potter or Paul and Linda McCartney.(2)I’ve got pictures of all of them in the video. But many of these people, like Harry Potter, were going along through life when this giant truck of name Wizardry crashed into him. Now he can’t order a pizza without people snickering. But what about people that know what they’re getting into, like Donald Duck Jr. When he was dating his wife, he said, “Don’t marry me if you don’t want to name your first son Donald Duck III.”
Which brings me to Amelia Earhart. After people asking her for years “Are you going to become a pilot?” or “Are going to fly around the world?” In 2004 she started taking flying lessons, in 2011 she realized she could get sponsors to help her fly around the world, and in 2014 she flew around the world.
Some people looked at Amelia Rose Earhart and said that she was taking advantage of the name. But the Amelia Earharts are very similar. Both got women excited about doing the impossible. Both Amelias used the media for publicity and funding. But Amelia Rose Earhart wanted to do more. She started the Fly with Amelia Foundation to help 16-18 year old girls become pilots. While over Howland Island where the original Amelia disappeared, she gave out the first $120K of scholarships. And in a true finishing touch, Amelia Rose Earhart won the Amelia Earhart Pioneering Achievement Award.
So clearly she’s the heir to the legacy of Amelia Earhart. Plus, she’s the long lost relative of our initial aviatrix. But wait, there’s something I left out earlier. I told you that Amelia’s parents told her that Amelia Earhart was a long lost relative. About a year before the flight, she hired a genealogist and found out that they weren’t related.
She was devastated. She felt like her whole life had been taken away from her. She was thinking of just scrapping the whole flight. Why do it if she wasn’t related to Amelia Earhart. But then, after some serious soul-searching, she realized that the original Amelia Earhart could only take her so far. Having the same name got her to fly and she found out she loved it. It inspired her to take on this fantastic trip around the world. But now it was up to Amelia Rose Earhart to finish the journey.
Amelia Rose Earhart inspires me. We’re all born with gifts and challenges. Some things that look like challenges are can be made into gifts and vice verse. Here’s the story of a woman who started with a name that was incredibly hard to live up to and used it to inspire others. She grew into the name and surpassed it. She completed the goal of the original Amelia Earhart—the flight around the world—77 years after it started.
I’m a devoted husband and father to an awesome family. For work, I’m a Product Manager who looks at the goals of the business and uses technology to deliver those business and customer goals. I’ve driven transformational change at Citi, AIG, and Amazon Web Services. For more information about what I do at work, please visit my LinkedIn profile.
I collect stories. There are so many amazing things happening every day. I need to spend some time writing them down before they slip away. Some of these ideas are so powerful that they hit me like a bolt of lightning. It’s my job to capture that lighting and put it in a bottle to share it with you. I want to capture that feeling that Archimedes had when he had an insight sitting in the bathtub screamed “Eureka!” and ran naked down the street. I know that I’ll rarely if ever make it there, but that won’t keep me from trying!
I wanted a place to put all the stuff I think is awesome. Growing up, I always wanted to have a great library in my house. I remembered the excitement when I learned that I could buy the entire collection of The New Yorker in bound volumes and put them in my house. I’d imagined that I would collect great encyclopedias from the past to peruse whenever I pleased. They would live in mahogany bookcases that looked like they’d belonged to JP Morgan. Then I realized that a New York City apartment doesn’t have the space for a physical library. So I did the next best thing. I’ve created a virtual library that includes lots of the things I enjoy, like my favorite books, words, and humor. You can check it out on the menu at the top of the page.
My Time at Amazon
Six Amazonian Secrets You Can Use. When I was at Amazon, I learned some open secrets about the company, like behind the scenes view into its culture, great discounts, and real world tours.
Taking the Red Pill of Art. Here’s my love letter to art. It’s a story about the red pill and the blue pill, opening your eyes, and what art means to me.
The Joy of the Hunt. While I haven’t been outside on any new adventures in the last few months, I wrote about some of my favorite adventures, from finding a hidden castle on top of a library to discovering an old historical text from one of Yale’s secret societies.
Capture Better Memories Without a Camera. How technology is preventing me from building great memories and some techniques I’ve come up with some ways to use my brain to capture special moments instead of my phone.
My Ideal Retirement Plan. How I’ve realized that my goal in life shouldn’t be to retire early but to live well, now and through retirement.
Thank You for Being a Friend. Friendship is about being there for other people. Anyone can celebrate with you when it’s convenient. A true friend stands by you when things are tough and just be with you.