What’s Your Red Paper Clip?

For want of a nail, a shoe was lost.. for want of a shoe, a horse was lost.. for want of a horse, a battle was lost..

We’ve heard different versions of this story before – it’s human nature to focus on that missing tooth, or that scab from a recent scrape..

But what about our successes? What about the good in people?
You know, those “Pay It Forward” moments that were made famous by the Haley Joel Osment? (Recently I learned more about the book and author that inspired this movie.)

Now Kyle Macdonald had a crazy idea. He asked “What if I played a real life game of “Bigger and Better”?

Like many creative folks when they started their entrepreneurs journey, Kyle realized that it wasn’t his dream job to deliver used appliances. So, when he came up with a bunch of crazy ideas, Kyle found himself torn between choosing work for the money and actually trying some of them.

A friend reminded him of a game they played in high school where Kyle and his friends would continually trade up items to see what they could get. So Kyle thought maybe he could do this just starting out with one red paper clip.

Well, he did – you can follow his red paper clip journey here.

Ultimately, Kyle ended up with a house, being a mayor for a day and along with his girlfriend citizens for life!

People on Quora ask me all the time about how to get started in business..? What does it take to start your own company? On and on..

Just start with your red paper clip.. be curious.. look for ways to help others.. Like the shepherd boy in the Alchemist see where the journey takes you.

Years ago, I had an idea to start my own business. I made plenty of mistakes but kept asking questions and learning. This led to adventures in real estate and helping folks to buy / sell businesses before leading to commercial field inspections and ultimately teaching others how to start their own home businesses..

So who you were got you here to this point, who you’re becoming will get you where you want to be!

That Day We Lost Our Soul Mate


Soul Mates via Unsplash

Monday began like any other. After my morning ritual, I paused to briefly scan social media before getting back to work. What’s this?

Someone commented about Scott Dinsmore. I remembered him mentioning going off-line for a bit. Then began that bubble in time where the rest of the world continues in a muffled blur while you gather the facts in “surreal time.”

This felt all too familiar. Years ago I watched the news as rescue workers pulled the body of my on-wing (your assigned mentor until you solo in flight school) out of Corpus Christi Bay. Some time later someone called to tell us that my younger brother had been airlifted off a ski slope in the Poconos.

Each of these reminded me of how I felt watching the footage of jets slamming into the World Trade Center played over and over again. It just doesn’t seem real.

It’s now Thursday. The past few days have been a haze of doing what needed to be done. I’ve commented a few times, sharing some my thoughts and feelings. And only now do I feel a little more ready to add my voice to the conversation in the wake of Scott Dinsmore’s death.

What’s strangest to me is that I’ve never met Scott or Chelsea. Sure, we bantered a bit on Instagram or via email. We live in an age, of course, where we can connect in so many ways without ever being in the same place.


Chelsea & Scott Dinsmore via Instagram

Yet, these token moments are opportunities to touch each other’s lives in ways that no one can ever predict. This butterfly effect reminds me of my favorite film, It’s a Wonderful Life where the main character George Bailey gets a chance to see what life is like if he hadn’t been born.

At a pivotal moment the angel turns to George and points out how the nightmarish alternate world reflects the void left by his absence and all the ways that he didn’t get to touch the lives of others.

Some of my personal online mentors shared their thoughts as well – many of whom I had no idea that they were even connected to Scott in any way. And that’s what I see – a life that touched so many others in so many ways.

  Gone Too Soon: My Friend Scott – Jonathan Fields

  When Friends Die: The Clarity & Confusion of Grief – Jeff Goins

  29 Ways to Live Your Legend Now – Tribute to Scott Dinsmore – Natalie Sisson

  Sudden Loss, New Beginnings and Three Simple Words – Sean Ogle

  Scott Dinsmore, I Miss You Bro – Jonathan Mead

  Scott Dinsmore, I Miss You Deeply – Leo Babauta

  Scott Dinsmore, I Will Miss You Forever – Corbett Barr

More tributes to Scott’s legacy on the Live Your Legend website.

In Eat, Pray, Love Elizabeth Gilbert writes,

“People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that’s holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention.”

Scott often joked that after talking one-on-one with him, 8 out of 10 people quit their jobs. And he was proud of this.

People come into our lives for a time.. a season.. a reason.. often in shapes and sizes that we never imagined. Who could guess that a frat bro demigod flashing his brilliant Apollo smile was really a Yoda in disguise that forced you to look at your choices? Not me.

But this wasn’t just some guru or therapist, Scott lived this himself. He shined that same light on his own choices and stepped into his own truth.

What makes me saddest about Scott’s untimely death is how it leaves so many questions unanswered.

What was he thinking? No, not in the sense of “why did he try to climb Mt Kilimanjaro? didn’t he know it’s dangerous?” That’s something my parents would say. Scott went into things fully aware of the risks and embraced them.

What last thoughts did he have and what is left undone?

What could he have done if he were still alive?

So many questions but the biggest one is.. where do we go from here?

Years ago a friend of mine said that the reason why some souls leave this earth sooner than others is because their work is done.

Maybe so. It just sure doesn’t feel like it.

People tend to use words like “freak accident” for things like this. What’s made Scott’s passing even more gut wrenching is that it came so soon after the loss of someone else who touched so many lives, Dr. Wayne Dyer.

One of his favorite sayings is “there are no coincidences.” And, no, the irony of all this isn’t lost on me as I’m reading the chapter in his memoir, I Can See Clearly Now  where Dr. Dyer talks about the effect that losing President Kennedy had on him and his own work.

“It was no longer just about my impending career as a teacher. I began to think in terms of how I could impact the consciousness of the entire planet. I saw myself from that day forward as a man with a voice of compassion for a higher good. I didn’t know how or even what my role might be, but I knew that one person with a conscience could make a difference and I was that person.”

Each moment is a chance, an opportunity to touch the lives of others – to live your legend. Scott knew this and taught us most by living his. Now he’s given us a chance to live our own.

Connecting the Dots

This post was actually inspired by my friend, Scott Dinsmore of Live Your Legend where he invites us to “Choose Adventure.”


Connecting the Dots – Steve Jobs

Like Scott, I’m a big fan of Paulo Coelho’s beloved classic, The Alchemist. In fact, I recently wrote a LinkedIn post via Pulse about why I consider it required reading for entrepreneurs and almost any business bookshelf.

As both Coelho and Dmitri Martin (see his sketch “What Success Really Looks Like”) each show in their own way, often the straight line success stories are actually full of twists and turns. One of the things I like to say is that “life is what happens while we’re making plans.”


What Success Really Looks Like by Demetri Martin, This is a Book

When I look back on my tango journey, it’s definitely been full of unexpected twists and turns – but I’ve always been glad to have taken the “road less traveled.” Besides lessons in being more creative and dancing everywhere from Brisbane, Australia to Amsterdam and Nijmegen I’ve met incredible friends and enjoyed memorable moments like improvising tofu parmigiana in Berlin.

Recently, I came across the idea of the Hero’s Journey. Joseph Campbell said that “in the cave you fear to enter lies the treasure you seek.” That’s why myths and legends have always resonated with us as much as today’s blockbusters. Deep down we realize that from the moment the first cave man faced his fear of fire not only his life was made better but the lives of the rest of us as well.

I had no idea how far down the rabbit hole tango was going to take me. All I could do was follow my heart and see what happened. As I get ready for the next phase, I’m just doing my best to listen to the music and hear what it’s telling me to do.


Mosquito Sunset

Happy 4th of July!

Some folks know about my military service. This is a repost of an article from a previous blog where I share some of my Navy experiences.

Sometimes you’re the windshield.. sometimes you’re the bug” – lyrics, Mary Chapin Carpenter song

Standing in formation at dusk outside the hangar, I felt the rivulets of sweat pooling into the delta small of my back. Lines of dungarees – half powder-blue, half blue jean – lined up in neat rows behind me. As the sweltering heat finally gave way to limp stickiness clinging to our skin, the floodlights finally flickered on – and so did the mosquitoes’ taste for blood. Yet, at first everyone seemed to just “grin and bear it.”

The commanding officer (who reminded me of Ned Flanders from the Simpsons) droned on about something that seemed important enough at the time to announce in front of the entire squadron. Meanwhile these flying syringes poked through our starched poly-cotton uniforms to draw blood with their hydraulic pistons, punctuating the agonizing minutes.

What Happens on Deployment, Stays on Deployment

We were well beyond two TACAN’s away from our home base in San Diego. The “two TACAN rule” was that once you were outside of the range of two of these military navigation aids, anything goes.

Such was the “wink-wink, nudge-nudge, need I say more” behind the veneer of Navy “family values.” It was an excuse, of course, for guys to get away with whatever didn’t leave permanent traces that flowers or penicillin couldn’t cure stateside.

At the time all this only mattered a little to me. Only 3 or 4 months ago my marriage had begun to unravel in the middle of our squadron’s West Pacific (WESTPAC) deployment aboard the USS Constellation.

I vaguely remember thinking at the time how radically different my life was turning out from the wife / house / 2.5 kids “fast-track to the space program” life that I envisioned for myself.

Maybe the most surreal moment was seeing our ship on CNN, patrolling during the Chinese missile crisis with Taiwan. Yet, instead of being an ending, somehow it was the beginning – the beginning of how I came to understand that

..life is what happens while you make plans.

Somehow, in the midst of feeling utterly small and alone in a steel city of five thousand, I discovered at the same time a much bigger part of myself.

Funny how there in what Navy pilots describe as little bigger than a postage stamp when landing at night, I realized that in your darkest moments there is grace – a quiet connectedness, even as you lay in your bed wondering what you’re doing in the middle of nowhere. This must be how future travelers will feel shuttling among the stars.

Slowly, it became more and more evident that it was acceptable to break rank and swat your neighbor’s tormentors. Military standards dictated that in formation you were supposed to stand at attention, unyielding as the ceremonial guards keeping watch on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. (be sure to watch what happens at 4:48 – VERY UNUSUAL!)

Yet, somehow by some unspoken consensus we all agreed that, while it was bad form to relieve yourself of the torture inflicted by these tiny Weapons of Mass Annoyance, it was acceptable to swat those around you.

One or two pats gradually mushroomed into what became a flurry of mercy beatings like the popping of bubble wrap at Christmas until at last we were dismissed. Sighs of relief mixed with bursts of laughter and disbelief, as we made our way back to the shelter of the hangar bay. It felt like a comic scene out of some old war movie, except this was no Hollywood fiction. No, we were far from some South Pacific island, fighting some epic battle for our lives.

End of an Era, Beginning of New

Instead, it was 1994 – the Cold War had ended with the crashing debris of the Berlin Wall, signaling the end of the Iron Curtain era. Reagan’s proud 600-ship navy had been reduced to maybe half of its former glory. To justify its piece of the budget pie, the Navy turned to unorthodox missions like the counter-narcotics operation that brought us here to Ciba, Puerto Rico.

Night after night, our squadron launched the E-2C Hawkeye, otherwise known as the Navy’s AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System,) on sorties to coordinate various agencies that in theory intercepted the drug runners as they landed their contraband on nearby shores. While occasionally we would hear about a successful bust, it seemed like only days later there would be another story about a bigger bust stateside.

Were we really making a dent on the war on drugs? Any more than the “Just Say No” campaign? Who knows.. Some days you believe you’re making a difference. Then there are others you wonder who is really doing the swatting and who is just buzzing around.

If you enjoyed this story, subscribe to my newsletter to get more or follow on Twitter @tangovagabond


Education vs. Creativity

For some time I’ve followed Sir Ken Robinson and his crusade to reform our current education system. If you haven’t seen his TED talk, here is a short RSA version:

One of his main points is that the school system was designed for a post-agrarian industrial system. That is, schools are designed to crank out workers in a factory assembly line fashion. Some rise to the top and become office workers. Others who can’t hack the academic standards become laborers.

Traditionally, it was the artists that suffered. There is no room for creativity in a system that values conformity and mass produced results.


In fact, Sir Ken talks about a girl who is brought in to see a psychiatrist about her learning disorder. Luckily, the perceptive doctor said the problem wasn’t with learning; she needed to be sent to dance school.

But here’s an even bigger problem. As James Altucher points out in Choose Yourself, the days of go to school, earn your degree, get a job and retire are long gone. Yet many still cling to the belief that this is the way to go.

Here’s some of what I believe schools should teach –

1) how to prioritize & time management – Stephen Covey’s 7 habits should be mandatory reading! But more important is learning how to develop your own sense of what you value – not based on what you’re told; again, following others is a factory mindset

2) how to sell – no matter what you do in life you need to learn how to be persuasive or get across your view, whether it’s applying for college or getting a raise (not even talking about your own business)

3) how to connect – social media is now a fact of life; understanding how to play well with others isn’t just a maxim – it’s now life & death!

4) how to collaborate – it’s only in the traditional school system that teaches working together is “cheating”; in the real world this is essential to success

5) how to be creative – as mentioned.. even Albert Einstein said, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

6) most of all, how to learn – this may seem to be simply a meta idea but it goes beyond an academic idea; pass / fail is an industrial concept; today’s economy needs more entrepreneurs, and the essence of the entrepreneur’s mindset is try, learn, repeat

No wonder we have a hard time figuring out what we want out of life. Recently, I read Jeff Goins’ Art of Work. He shares not only his own journey but also that of several other ordinary folks who made extraordinary choices.

Basically, Jeff offers that you can live a life of not only with passion, but also with purpose. But it takes the courage to ask some difficult questions – made more challenging by the fact that your current friends not only don’t know the answers but wouldn’t dare ask themselves.Luckily, there’s a community of like-minded folks willing to support you on your journey.

For some time I’ve wondered about this disparity between what we’re taught and what need to learn. It’s been a long road to fill a lot of the gaps on my own. And I wouldn’t say that I have all the answers on what my purpose is.

But I do feel that I have more sense of the direction of my path. And that makes all the difference. So if you’re ready to ask some of these questions, you can grab your copy here.

What do you believe is missing in today’s school systems?

[Post-note: This blog post inspired me to launch a new blog dedicated to creative entrepreneurs on their hero’s journey – http://butterflyformula.com/

You can also follow some of my thoughts on Quora here – http://entrepreneursjourney.quora.com/]

Here’s what tango taught me about creativity.

Sunday Thoughts (03/08/15) – Master the Dance of Creativity

Ok, I’m realizing that procrastination has been masking itself as a desire to get this blog post “just right.” Normally, I believe in launching just before you feel totally ready, because that’s likely to be your best work. But I think this time I’ve gotten caught up in fear disguised as perfectionism.

Sure, tweaks later on always improve things but over-editing can happen as well. We’ve all heard that it really pays in the end to “go with your gut,” because it’s true.

Part of my motivation is joining this challenge of Live Your Legend.  Check it out. If you’ve been putting off sharing your voice and joining the online conversation, then maybe it’s time to take your own first steps into a larger universe!

Well, here goes nothing..

Recently, I joined a Google Hangout to discuss how we want to have more creativity in our lives. Whether your work is already considered creative like graphic design or freelance content marketing, we still want more freedom to work on our own creative projects. (These can be for personal, business or some combination of both, of course.)

In Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard (affiliate link – thanks for your support!) the Heath brothers start with the analogy set out in The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt which points out how our emotional side is an Elephant and our rational side is its Rider.

Perched atop the Elephant, the Rider holds the reins and seems to be in charge.
But their control is shaky at best, because the Rider is so small relative to the Elephant. Let’s face it. Anytime a six-ton Elephant and its Rider disagree about which direction to
go, the Rider is going to lose.

creativity, success

Unless we master dance between Elephant and Rider..

creativity, success, entrepreneur

the Rider is at the Mercy of the Elephant!


We’ve all given up on new year’s resolutions – year after year. In fact, the road to hell is really paved with ANALYZE THINK CHANGE.

Instead choose SEEFEELCHANGE.

In short, using the Heath brothers’ approach to bring more creativity into our lives, we have to:

  • Direct the Rider
  • Motivate the Elephant
  • Shape the Path

Direct the Rider

1. Follow the Bright Spots

As the Heath brothers tell us: “Investigate what’s working and clone it.”

We all want to be more creative, but don’t feel like we have time for our personal creative projects.

What are you currently doing where you feel creative? When do you feel more creative? Who do you feel creative around?

Are there places or spaces that feel inspiring? How can you get more of this without
feeling guilty? ..then how can you take what appears to be a negative and turn this around?

Maybe you feel like your work is uninspiring. How can you find ways to do it more
creatively? or more efficiently so that you get to a creative task?

2. Script the Critical Moves

“Don’t think big picture, think in terms of specific behavior.” Saying “Be creative!” – is about as useful as “drive safe!”. Give yourself specific steps you can take to start on the path of change – turn on your alarm clock for an earlier time, plan a trip to an inspiring spot, create the space for yourself to be more creative.

Michele Alise first inspired the Hangout event by inviting others to have their own Creative Friday – a chance to practice allowing more creativity into our lives.

In the Artist’s Way Julia Cameron suggests having Artist’s Date – a weekly solo expedition to explore something that interests you. The key is to woo your Inner Muse the way you would date a potential mate.

3. Point to the Destination

“Change is easier when you know where you’re going and why it’s worth it.” Rather than talk in the abstract (“creativity,” “art,” “success”) be clear what these mean to you. For example, right now completing this blog post is one way I plan to be creative today. Later, I plan to do at least one sketch. This week I may dance some tango.

Philomena Timberlake:
“Since new year I’ve been trying to get up very early.. and I have initial time for
prayer and affirmation, trying to visualize as well. Then I have 1 or 2 hours set aside –
this is before any business or email.. I find it very encouraging because in the past I
tried to do everything else first, and I’d get to the end of the day.. and I’m tired. I
don’t want to sit down and learn or do something creative at that point.”

Willpower is a limited resource. If we don’t tackle the Big Rocks first, we’ll never get
to them.

B. Motivate the Elephant

1. Find the Feeling

“Knowing something isn’t enough to cause change. Make people feel something.”

Too often we set goals like “write 1000 words” or worse yet something vague like “spend more time being creative” But as the Heaths point out – the Rider has very little real control over the Elephant.

This is the key – what you put energy and intention only grows. Whether you use some of these strategies or continue to get frustrated and beat yourself up about it, you will
only get more of either.

One of the other Hangout participant, Philomena remarked, “..every day I manage to achieve this, I feel better for it.. there’s a snowball effect.”

Finally, she noted: “Every day I manage to achieve this I feel better for it!”

2. Shrink the Change

“Break down the change until it no longer spooks the Elephant.” This is a key lesson from the book!

One of the challenges echoed by everyone on the Hangout was that we all want to be creative but don’t feel there is enough time. By taking baby steps we get the Elephant moving in the direction we want, rather than running amok and exhausting the Rider in struggling to steer Her!

Too often we end up feeling guilty and discouraged. “I *should* have it more together,” or I *should* be better at this.” Beating ourselves up is not only discouraging, it can be more
than counterproductive. After a while, beating up the poor Elephant does nothing.

If you can’t do a whole Creative Friday, start with an hour or so. In the words of Arthur Ashe, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”


3. Grow Your People

By getting ourselves to make the small changes – we begin to think of ourselves as someone who’s capable of bigger changes..  Through seeing our new identity, rather than “that’s for creative people,” we start to see ourselves as creative.

That’s why the guy on the street yelling at the top of his lungs rarely works, while the born again sinner gladly surrenders to transformation in front of the congregation. Identifying with our peers and feeling a part of the group helps us to go with the flow.

Surround yourself with like-minded people – others interested in being more creative. ”
When we associate ourselves with creative people, rather than think of them as “weird artist types,” we learn to identify ourselves as a creative.

“A rising tide raises all ships,” is the phrase that John Lee Dumas has popularized.

A Rising Tide Raises All Ships

(photo courtesy of Norma Davey)

Shape the Path

1. Tweak the Environment

Once you have the intention to have more creativity in your life, it really is the little things that count. Smokers have been known to quit more easily on vacation than at home where they’re surrounded by all their usual cues.

By making adjustments and tweaks you can make it easier to build more moment. By far the best thing you can do is to clear your calendar for that block of time to practice your craft or go on that Artist’s Date that Julia Cameron talks about in The Artist Way.

Michele Alise: “I set email notifications and turn off social media.. I even scheduled a
coffee break with a friend.. That helps me set the tone for the rest of my Creative Friday.”

2. Build Habits

“When behavior is habitual, it’s ‘free’ – it doesn’t tax the Rider.”

We’ve already talked about willpower being a finite resource. [Success begets success.] Achieving a snowball effect in the direction you want to go is getting the Elephant on your side.

“Can we slim down with time tasks? look at our habits – unsubscribe some emails..” suggest Philomena.

Once friends, family, even colleagues and clients see that you’re committed to your creative time and space, it will no longer be a question whether you are willing to make an exception “just this one time.”

3. Rally the Herd

“Behavior is contagious. Help it spread.” Be the change you want to see in the world, as Gandhi told us. Without being a Creative Nazi or Jehovah’s Witness of Creativity preaching in the streets, show people that it can be done, allow anyone interested to ask their questions, and support those who are open to your ideas.

Surround yourself with people who are not only inspiring but encourage your creativity.
Avoid those who want to rain on your parade by suggesting that you are being selfish.
They are probably either closet creatives or those who feel inadequate in your light.


So, here’s a Quick Recap –


  • Follow the Bright Spots
    Find out what’s working and build on that. Big rocks crumble after the steady drip over time, not the waves crashing on the shore.
  • Script the Critical Moves
    Identify what new steps are going to where you want to go. Your current way got you here. It’s time to figure out a better way.
  • Point to the Destination
    Don’t pick some uninspiring big goal like “Be creative” that’s bound to leave the Elephant sitting in front of the T.V. with a bucket of rocky road, perfectly pleased with its “creativity.”


  • Shrink the Change
    Contrary to popular self-improvement wisdom, LOWER the bar. Make it impossible to fail. Small changes followed by small successes build on each other and ultimately lead to BIG successes.
  • Script the Critical Moves
    Identify what new steps are going to where you want to go. Your current way got you here. It’s time to figure out a better way.
  • Grow Your People
    By cultivating a new sense of identity, you stop thinking of being creative as something that others do and begin to see yourself as someone creative.


  • Tweak the Environment
    Again willpower is a limited resource. Make it easy on the Rider by greasing the treads so the Elephant starts down the path you want.
  • Build Habits
    Slowly but surely you’ll gain momentum with the small wins. Taking a moment to work on a personal project may lead to a Creative Friday. This may encourage to finally take that sculpting or dance class.
  • Rally the Herd
    Behavior is contagious. Spreading the message will to listen will not only help your cause but before you know it, your baby steps become the start of a movement.