November 21, 2022

Are you a strategic leader?

Do you know the number one reason that businesses fail?

It’s poor decision-making.

Bad decisions, inconsistent decisions, late decisions, no decisions… they all have a way of literally mucking everything up.

And this isn’t just a “business” truth. It’s a Life truth.

And it is an idea that I have been pondering for weeks now. Actually, for months. Well, honestly I have been pondering it for years.

Except lately, I have been hyper-focused on a subtopic of this theme: the execution of strategy. And the idea that poor decision-making is the number one cause of poor strategic execution is still just as true as the original maxim about business failure.

Why am I highlighting this?

Because I believe that the number one reason that organizations are struggling – that maybe even your organization is struggling – is poor decision-making.

It’s not the war in Ukraine. It’s not disruptions to supply chains. It’s not the lack of access to the right people or resources.

It’s the decisions we are all making in the face of those factors.

Let me explain it another way. According to dictionary.com, a strategy is “a plan, method, or series of maneuvers … for obtaining a specific goal or result.”

This is wrong. Or, to be generous, it is incomplete.

I prefer Henry Mintzberg’s guidance instead: strategy is a pattern in a stream of decisions.

In other words, strategy is a real-time, moment-by-moment decision-making science to achieve results.

And therefore, the execution of that strategy is all about decision-making. It’s not about creating complex plans or memorizing tactics to execute according to an artificial schedule. It’s the decisions we  – and our teams – make as new information is learned or reality bends away from our expectations. Plans are only as good as the moment they were created. They can literally become obsolete within hours.

But here’s the interesting thing… a barely adequate strategy, executed really well, will produce amazing results. Conversely, an amazing strategy, executed poorly, will produce unacceptable results – and unintended consequences.

This means that we, as leaders, have a responsibility to change how we define strategy for our organizations. We must shift away from any sort of over-rotation on planning and shift toward providing the clarity and empowerment our teams need to make great decisions.

Yes, we still need to provide a desired result or outcome. And yes, we can provide guidance and input that the team will need to factor into their decision-making as they work toward the desired outcome (like insight on potential obstacles, clearly communicating required expectations, and so forth). But we have to ensure that we are looking into the future BEYOND the delivery of marching orders. 

We have to think about how to increase the speed of proactive thinking.

We have to think about our agility for re-prioritization and the re-allocation of assets.

We have to think about how we recover from mistakes instead of constantly trying to avoid mistakes entirely.

This is what it means to be a strategic leader.

Which is almost impossible to do if we are personally addicted to success, significance, and/or control.

You see, once we allow the intense desire for personal success, significance, and/or control to become attached to our strategy, we limit the capacity of our team to make decisions. Their decisions are no longer focused on the desired outcome or result. Their decisions become focused on something else. Their decisions become focused on stroking our addiction(s). 

Which often has the nasty effect of our teams injecting their own potential addictions to the desired outcome or result. And the strategy eventually becomes a house of cards, waiting to collapse.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can choose to execute strategy differently.

We can change the rules of the game from “following the plan” to empowering great decisions. To resourcing those decisions. To holding people accountable for their decisions in a robust and healthy way. To leading by example. To learning from mistakes and being transparent – even when we are the ones making the mistakes.

What kind of strategic leader do you want to be?

I mua. Onward and upward.

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October 17, 2022

Who are you becoming?

In my last blog, I dove into the idea that success is truly about one single idea: bringing our BEING and DOING into full alignment. It’s an ancient idea and one that deserves more than a philosophical overview.

Maybe it’s because I am at a major crossroads (having recently decided to go back to independent consulting and coaching). Maybe it’s because I am having multiple discussions with folks who want their businesses to have a genuine purpose. Maybe it’s simply because I have this macabre desire to maximize the time that have left in my life.  Regardless, I am genuinely intrigued by the power of living authentically, of giving everything that I have to only the essentials (and ignoring the non-essentials as much as possible).

If you are equally drawn into this idea, let me ask you a question: Who do you want to become, and what do you need to do to move in that direction?

Like I said, it’s an old question. But do you have a ready answer?

I know that just a few months ago, I didn’t have a clear answer. To be honest, my answer is still being worked out, but it is much less vague.

Pause. I feel like I need to offer a simple framework for anchoring our discussion. Let’s use ikigai, the Japanese word for your own personal sense of purpose. And at risk of translating a complex concept into social media-friendly talking points, let’s use the four main questions that are associated with defining ikigai today:

  • What do you love?
  • What are you good at?
  • What does the world need?
  • What can you be paid for?

Look at the first question: What do you love? Let me start by quickly calling out one very important idea – the question does not add “doing” at the end. That is significant. Because what we may love could easily be an ideal like beauty, faith, or even truth. And what we love could easily be translated into who we love – which would suggest that we love relationships, community, and/or even intimacy.

But I caution against answering this question with a verb. I have found that it leads to feeding the success addiction. It leads to that driven state so many of us know, where we pursue one achievement after another, constantly “doing” yet never fully satisfied.

So, what do you love? What makes you feel both intense satisfaction and also the desire to pursue and protect it more? Stop now and write it down. Seriously. Write it down before we continue.

Now, let’s look at the second question: What are you good at? And by good, I mean better than average. Maybe even far beyond better than average – as in exceptional (or you have the potential to be exceptional). These are your gifts and abilities that you can easily make even stronger. And to be fair, many of these things can be developed more through dedicated practice than through genetic blessing. We just have to commit to doing the work. Hint: include the things that you do exceptionally that might not show up in your work life. Again, write it down.

Look at the third question now: What does the world need? And by world, let me simply offer that you can define “the world” as the one you can interact with. Is it your community? Your nation? Or beyond? What needs do you see in that world? What unfulfilled opportunities exist there? Your answer could be small (like a better way to plan the use of time at work) or huge (addressing poverty in developing countries). If I may, gently limit your scope to the things that tug at your heart. Write your answer down.

Finally, let’s tackle the last question: What can you be paid for? I personally struggle with this last question, especially as I look at approaching the age where I simply want to work without the need for compensation so that my time is truly focused on only the essentials – but we all have obligations to cover, yeah?

So, how can you turn your efforts into revenue? And don’t lock yourself into just what pays a paycheck from an employer. There are many ways to make money that don’t involve a boss (self-employment, seasonal contract work, fund-raising, managing your financial assets, etc.). But if you were to find a way to monetize your contributions so that you could be paid to do what you love to do, what could you be paid for? Write it down.

Stop.

Mirror moment: How hard is it for you to quickly write down answers? Do they rush forward from your subconscious, or does your brain go silent as you struggle to make something up that at least sounds like a decent answer? Have you already given thought to reflect on these ideas, or is this the first time in a long while (perhaps the first time ever) that you have tried to wrestle with your truly authentic purpose?

THIS is the reason I am writing this post. If you are finding this exercise hard to do, I strongly encourage you to let the next sentence you read sink into the depths of your soul…

Your life has purpose.

You exist for a reason. Do not let your current situation define you. It is simply part of your life story. Just like your past does not define you. What defines you is who you are on the inside – and the beautiful potential that it holds. What defines YOU is who you choose to become.

And I hope that knowing your passion (what you love), your talents (what you are good at), your opportunity (what the world needs from you), and your assets (what you can be paid for) inspires you to dream even bigger about who you can become. Because once you know who you want to become, you can take the steps to make it happen.

Or as Epictetus once said, “First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.”

I mua. Onward and upward.

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September 29, 2022

Is your definition of success generating failure?

Success is a deceptive word.

On one hand, there is the exhilaration of working at something – especially something that is extremely hard – and achieving success as the final outcome.

On the other hand, there is the moment that comes afterward. One month later. One year later.

You see, the exhilaration of success fades over time.

Last week’s personal high loses its glow.

Last year’s career achievement becomes a story we mention in passing.

And so forth…

Yet we still pursue success, don’t we? We still look for that next mountain to climb, that next milestone to achieve, that next outcome to deliver. One more achievement to come after the last one. Success upon success, over and over and over again. Which creates the kind of stress that we actually don’t want.

At least that is how it goes for those of us addicted to success.

Which begs the question… why?

Why do success addicts climb the difficult mountains? Why do success addicts push so hard? Is it simply for the rush, the moment of peak emotion that we know will come once we succeed? Are we simply looking for a new experience to feel good?

I’d like to offer 2 thoughts that I’ve been pondering.

The first thought is this: the success addict is not pursuing success. Rather, we are trying to please our past.

In other words, we have convinced ourselves that every success is somehow a salve for whatever sense of loss or failure that we experienced in the past, often buried deeply within our mind. That somehow the success of tomorrow will satisfy yesterday’s gap. The bigger the loss/failure, the bigger the success that is needed to feel “good.” And it gets more complicated when no single success can be big enough to heal the past.

Here’s the main problem with that approach: the past no longer exists. Shucks, the person that we once were no longer exists. We are constantly changing, evolving, and (hopefully) growing. Why should we expect the future to somehow fulfill the past?  It is an illogical belief – but one that success addicts grip tightly like a syringe full of hope.

If this is describing you, let me offer the advice that I am learning/applying to the narrative inside my own head. Make peace with yourself. Make peace with your past. Whatever pain or loss that you have experienced, accept it as part of the journey and accept that you have the power to give it purpose. Make it part of a grander lesson. Part of a better story. A story that has tremendous meaning and depth.

If you (and I) do this, we weaken our addiction to success. We release the expectations that we have placed on ourselves and we release the expectations that we have placed on others. And in turn, we throw open the doors to the kind of soul-feeding freedom that we have been craving.

The second thought (and this will likely require a second blog post to go further) is this: define “success” differently. Success is not about achieving anything else but one thing – bringing our BEING and DOING into full alignment. In that order. Decide who we want to be, and do what takes us in that direction.

Here is where it gets tricky.

Deciding who we want to be requires deep thought and self-awareness. We should not become anything other than the best version of ourselves (as opposed to becoming a clone of someone else or becoming a false ideal). However, how many of us even have a clue of what that person looks like?

Candidly, we all know the worst version of ourselves. And we likely shudder to even think of those flaws. But can we remember the best version of ourselves, when we behaved in a way that reflected our true potential? Now, take it one step further. Can we imagine taking that picture and making it even better? This is who we want to be.

With that clarity, we then must put it into action. We must bring it to life. How do we do that? We must find the short-term and medium-term achievements that will reflect the journey we are committed to. In other words, we need to ask ourselves the two-pronged question of what do we need to achieve this week/month (short-term) to deliver this year’s goal (medium-term)? Then, we must exercise the discipline of now. The discipline of this immediate moment. And take that single step toward the direction of our desired doing. And, ultimately, the direction of our desired being.

So, let me ask you again… Who are your trying to become? And what are you doing about it? I propose that these answers are your true definition of success. Everything else is at best a distraction. At worst, everything else is an effort that generates waste – and eventually generates failure.

Ponder that for a moment…

As always, if this post resonated with you, please reach out to me directly. We are in this together.

I mua. Onward and upward.

PS Note that I have changed my email for contact (it is now Tim@TimOhai.com). If you keep track of such things, please update your information accordingly. Mahalo.

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August 17, 2022

Information is control. Or so the myth says…

A couple of months ago, I received a “positive” test result for cancer. I was referred by my doctor to a specialist who would need to do further tests and offer a proper diagnosis. “Don’t be worried,” I was told. “This could be nothing.”

Now, after going through the cancer journey with my wife, you can imagine what my initial head/heart response was. It was genuine panic. And a rush of questions.

  • What does this mean?
  • What will I do if this gets confirmed?
  • How will I take care of my kids if I have cancer?

And on and on and on…

But I was able to stop myself and practice the principles that I’ve been learning. 

Breathe. Focus on the present. The only reality is now. Get neutral. Maximize the moment I have.

Did it make the situation better? Nope. But it certainly made my response better.

And it did a funny/unexpected thing.

I found myself releasing the need for information. I didn’t “need” the answers. This was especially significant because I couldn’t get to the specialist until early August any way. 

Why do I call this out this detail? Because there is a saying out there that says information is control. And I’m calling that a complete and utter myth.

Information may give us a sense of control, but it’s artificial at best.

The information may be wrong and the outcome will be nothing we expect. The information may be right, and the outcome can still be unpredictable. The information may be evolving (unbeknownst to us), and the outcome will very likely change.

There is no “control” created by the information. The only thing the information creates is a smaller sense of helplessness. We confuse that sense of lesser stress with the idea that we are somehow “now in control.” Somehow, we train ourselves to feel/think that acquiring information will provide the control we seek.

In other words, we seek information to either (a) shrink our sense of helplessness to a level that we can accept or (b) validate the helplessness we are feeling so that we can justify the fear-based decision that our amygdala is screaming for us to make.

Now, I’m not saying that information is bad or unnecessary. Information is incredibly helpful – and even desirable – to a point.

But what if we could untether our response from the information that is/is not available to us?

What if we could shrink our sense of helplessness without access to the information we are scrambling to collect?

What if we could slow down our stress response (maybe even eliminate it) and trust the journey to play itself out?

What if we could use information as just a snapshot through a soda straw (a tiny glimpse of only one portion of the bigger picture) and not the actual story?

What if indeed…

I mua. Onward and upward.

PS I completed the follow-up exam and got the results this past week. I was told “pre-cancerous growth” and I will have it removed next month.

PPS Mirror moment: Did you need that last bit of information? Did it somehow make you feel calmer knowing that I don’t have a cancer diagnosis? If you are saying yes, what does that tell you?

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July 13, 2022

What trauma teaches us about stress…

Sorry for the silence. I’ve been traveling like crazy (which incudes literally going around the world for business) and… I’ve also been doing some work on myself. Maybe it was subconsciously inspired by the concept of vulnerabilities that I explored in my last post, but I found myself digging into the extreme forms of stress that make me feel most vulnerable… namely, grief and trauma.

What is possibly one of the most powerful concepts I discovered was that the core feeling driving trauma (and I would offer both grief and stress are equally included) is the feeling of helplessness.

This is profound on so many levels (ping me if you want to spend some time going down that rabbit hole), but in order to provide a reasonable focus to this post, let me get to a very fine point: the root cause of our stress-inducing fears is when we feel helpless

More specifically, when we feel helpless to achieve success (or to avoid failure), we feel stress.

When we feel helpless to achieve significance (or to avoid rejection), we feel stress.

When we feel helpless to achieve control (or to avoid the unknown), we feel stress.

Good stress doesn’t leave us feeling helpless. Bad stress certainly does. And to make matters worse, stress (and grief) becomes traumatic when it passes the tipping point of our personal tolerance level of helplessness.

Here is where it gets really fascinating for me: the strength of that helplessness is going to be driven by what Martin Seligman called the 3 P’s:

  • Personalization: The belief that we are at fault
  • Permanence: The belief that the aftershocks of the event will last forever
  • Pervasiveness: The belief that an event will affect all areas of our life

In other words, our chosen beliefs drive our sense of helplessness. Which means that our greatest vulnerability to stress – and our greatest source of incredible resilience – is our learned mindset regarding helplessness.

If/when we believe that helplessness is “my fault” or will “last forever” or will “affect everything” – well… nothing good will come of it. We will become stressed and stay there. Reliving the stress/grief/trauma as long as we feel helpless about how personal/permanent/pervasive the experience is.

But if/when we believe that helplessness is simply a part of everyone’s Life experience, that it will regularly show up (and disappear), and that there are still positive, powerful elements to our lives beyond the junk we have to deal with – well… we become resilient as hell.

We rise above the situation.

Stress becomes a short-term experience, if we experience that kind of stress at all.

And we then have the ability to be the best version of ourselves.

Which is what the Journey is all about, isn’t it?

I mua. Onward and upward.

PS If this post triggered some deeper thoughts and/or feelings for you, please reach out to me directly. I genuinely care – and I would be honored to walk part of your journey with you.

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April 26, 2022

Aren’t you afraid of the risk?

I bought a car this past weekend. A brand new one. And the experience was almost perfect.

Except for one thing.

And I knew it was coming… the high pressure sales attempt at the end when the Finance Manager (aka the final sales person) pushes to sell a host of extra “protections.”

So, I listened politely to all of his explanations, then simply said, “no.”

And then the pressure kicked in. I stopped counting his manipulation techniques after 5 and simply said, “Thanks, but I decline. Do I need to sign anything to confirm that?”

He then said to me these classic words, “Aren’t you afraid of the risk?”

Okay. Hit the pause button of this story – because there is soooooo much to unpack here.

First of all, let’s define “risk.”

I recently heard an absolute gem of a definition on The Knowledge Project podcast from an interview with General Stanley McChrystal. He laid out this beautiful equation: Threats x Vulnerabilities = Risk.

You see, I had always considered threats to be the SAME as risks. But they are NOT!

The key to a threat being a risk is the vulnerability. Without the vulnerability, there is no risk.

So while a Siberian tiger may be a massive threat, if it is contained behind fortified plexiglass it becomes a zoo attraction. Not a risk. 

Conversely, a little honey bee can be something to watch with childlike wonder as it explores a blossom, unless the observer is allergic to the bee’s sting. The little bee suddenly becomes a serious risk.

Which then got me thinking about stress.

Threats to our success, significance, and control can only stress us out when we are vulnerable to failure, rejection, and the unknown.

If we take away the vulnerability, we take away the stress.

Which is what the Finance Manager was clearly hoping I would not do.

But I was buying a brand of car that is very well-known for its reliability. And I was buying a model that is very well-known for its ruggedness. The very idea of needing extra protection (in addition to the warranty that comes with a brand new car) was purely based on the idea that I was vulnerable – not the car.

Read that again. The key vulnerability is… me.

And that, my friends, is what I leave you with. What vulnerabilities exist simply because of… you?

I mua. Onward and upward.

PS I didn’t buy any extras. And when we got past that, the Finance Manager changed the conversation to talk about how great the car is. And then we started talking about how proud we both are of our kids…

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April 10, 2022

Something for leaders…

Leaders, I need to talk with you for a moment.

In the podcast that I shared previously, I brought up the idea that – as leaders – we are responsible to create an environment of peak performance, to build a space where our people can flourish and be their best and ultimately produce their best outcomes.

We destroy that mission when we push success, significance, and/or control.

Let me explain.

Success is a word we casually throw around. Is it desirable? Of course it is. Is it guaranteed? Not at all.

How often have we seen the goal posts move, the situation change, the stakeholders change their minds?

All we can genuinely promise is to do our best, right?

And yet, time and again, how often do we stress about the risk of failure? How often do we allow the fear of anything remotely off-target cause us to double down on better-than-perfect execution?

The same could be said about the significance/rejection trap and the control/risk trap. We eventually become so attached to the outcomes of success/significance/control that we – and our teams – stress as soon as they POTENTIALLY move out of our grasp. Sadly, this creates the temptation for us to lead out of fear – which is never good (and generates even more unwanted stress).

As leaders, we have to be different.

We have to drive confidence, acceptance, and trust into our teams. We have to make those three things the foundation of our culture. Because when we establish the primacy of doing our best, accepting ourselves, and trusting the journey, we minimize the fear that so often infects the most important decisions.

Pause.

This is a MAJOR point, so I’ll say it again. When we push success/significance/control into our teams, we allow the fears of failure/rejection/risk to have undesirable access to every decision we make. Especially when we are not in the room.

In this state, we teach our players that it’s better to make “safe” decisions, not the best decisions. We teach them that it’s better to avoid blame, than to accept opportunity. And ultimately, we teach them it’s okay to drag others down whenever others seek to do something “different.”

Now, hear me again, I am not saying that achieving success, being recognized for the effort, and having things go as planned are wrong or undesirable. What I am saying is that those things need to be the outcome of confidence, acceptance, and trust – not the other way around.

In other words, when we use confidence/acceptance/trust to make our foundation strong and level, we can build on it. But when we build without this proper foundation, we are only building something that will eventually fall over.

(PS – the exact same thing applies to us as parents…)

I mua. Onward and upward.

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March 20, 2022

Something a little different…

This week, instead of writing something, I am sharing an interview I did for the awesome people at Selling from the Heart. Larry Levine and Darrell Amy are two, high-quality human beings who are elevating the definition of what it means to be authentic in business. I was honored to join them as a guest on their podcast and dive into this whole stress thing.

Here is the link to the episode. If you want to skip the sales stuff, jump to the 11:00 mark and run til about the 33:00 mark. Of course, you can always listen to the whole thing… 😉

I REALLY REALLY hope you will give 22 minutes to give it a listen. I genuinely think it will be worth your time. And if you have any feedback (or even questions) about what I shared, please let me know!

I mua. Onward and upward.

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March 13, 2022

How to break the addiction of control

I cringe every time I hear the word “control.”

Of course, as any good non-conformist/independent thinker, I hate the idea of being controlled.

And while I may lie to myself and say that I need to be the one in control, I only have to look at my own past to see the many ways that my control has either hurt me or hurt others. Hail, Caesar, indeed…

The reality is that control is a myth. It does not exist. As I often say/rant, you can’t control the weather, traffic, your neighbors, etc. And if we are really honest, we can’t control our tongues.

But some will protest: “control the controllables!” I wish that were true. But we are as much the victims of Life’s currents as we are the navigators of them.

And that is the key. We navigate. We harmonize. We see what is most likely and take calculated risks.

And here is when the addiction kicks in.

If we have been hurt, especially by something (or someone) out of our control, we accept the illusion that if only we had navigated better, if only we had been looking for the risks, if only we had established better control…

Sigh.

The fear of risk becomes a wicked fuel for the unquenchable fire of control. And unquenchable it is. Once we commit ourselves to it, we can never have enough control – because risk will never completely go away.

And this endless control/risk cycle sparks anew the moment we are broadsided by the unknown.

What are we to do?

I have learned only one way to get out of the control/risk cycle. And that is to trust. Trust the journey. Trust that you have what it takes to navigate it. And trust that there are others who are in your corner and who want to see you thrive.

To the control addict, this is incredibly hard. How do you trust others when trust has already been broken? How do you trust your abilities when your own instincts failed you? How do you trust the journey when all it did was leave you shipwrecked?

I wish I could offer a guaranteed answer. But all I can offer is a simple choice: faith or fear?

Faith extends from the love abundance deep inside of us. And faith allows us to trust that love. Faith allows us to enter a serving mindset, where we serve our way through the unknown.

Fear extends from a different place. It comes from the love deficit deep inside of us. Fear capitalizes on that void and gnaws at us from the inside out. Fear drives us toward a survival mindset, where we push our own survival above everything – and everyone – else.

So, here’s the big question: Are you a control addict? What does your gut say to you? 

And here’s the bigger question: Can you allow trust to take over? Can you let go of the control you are desperately seeking and believe that the journey is good, that you have what it takes, and that there are others who are more than willing to help you?

Let me know if you want to talk through your answers. I have wrestled with the very same feelings/thoughts – and sometimes still do.

I mua. Onward and upward.

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February 20, 2022

How to break the addiction of significance

Of the three most common causes of stress – the fear of failure, the fear of rejection, and the fear of risk – which one is your biggest trigger?

For me, it’s the fear of rejection. Which makes it particularly tough to be truly vulnerable. And is a major reason why I have put off writing this post for weeks.

You see, my fear of being rejected causes me to avoid anything that will expose me in some way to negativity. It also causes me to do anything that will boost my significance. Most often, that is expressed in my professional life. I work really hard to “prove my worth” and “build my brand.”

Now, I’m not saying that positively contributing and having a solid reputation are bad things. But when you put them into the hands of an addict – well.

Fundamentally, I have come to learn that I will never be sufficiently significant. I will never reach a point where I can say, “that’s enough recognition.” At least, not while I allow my fear of rejection to have any strength.

And how am I dealing with this? I don’t know if it will ever go away, but I have found that my fear is shrinking dramatically as I invest in a completely different motion: accepting myself just as I am.

In other words, significance versus rejection is a false debate. Neither one of them really matters. No matter what I do, some people will think I’m awesome. And equally true, no matter what I do, some people will think I’m a jerk.

But people don’t define who I am. I do. And if I define who I am, then I have the ability to accept who I am.

If I choose to do this.

And what does that look like?

It looks like empathy for the journey I have taken. It looks like the recognition that no one is perfect and acknowledging that includes me. It looks like the peace that comes from fully loving myself because I have been fully loved.

When I do these things, I can accept myself. And my fear of rejection shrivels like a weed in the bright summer sun.

And then, I can fully accept others in a way I have never done before.

I mua. Onward and upward.

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