Finding The Track

For those who know me, they may laugh at the metaphor I’ve recently latched on to. I am not a big “outdoors” person. Sometimes I joke with people who gush about camping or ocean kayaking that “I actually like the indoors.” Yeah, I’ve gone camping (hate it!), been dragged on hikes (“walking”), and even been sailing (man, that’s real work). While I appreciate that others appreciate the outdoors, and I know that “being outside” is critical for daily and general mental health, I prefer lounging on our back deck, cooking on the grill, maybe cracking open an ice cold one. Given all this, this post will be odd because it is about a very primitive metaphor, one I’ve never experienced first-hand (or may never in the future), and one that feels way out of my grasp — both literally and figuratively.

Before I introduce that metaphor, a few disclaimers. First, credit must go to Patrick O’Shaugnessy, who interviewed this guest a few times (and where I first heard about him), my dear friend Tommy Leep, who told me countless times to listen to pay attention to this, and to Jerry Colonna who was kind enough to have me on his podcasts a few times. Second, I am not trying to lay claim to these ideas as my own. I fully realize I am hitching onto someone else’s ideas (thank you!) and that my lack of outdoors interest will make me look like a poser here. Finally, third, the rambling here will likely contain a bit of cheesiness, but for me, I think it’s the one single metaphor that’s stuck in my head, incepted my own operating system, and renews my own energy to carry on with passion.

And with that, I would encourage you to listen to this interview of Boyd Varty by Patrick on his podcast. You can read about Boyd all over the Internet. He is an intrepid marketer. It may seem over-the-top, but when you hear his story and how different it is, and how he lives it, you sort of brush off all the marketing and focus on the core idea. You should read about Boyd on your own, but I’ll briefly summarize it here. His heritage is from South Africa. His grandfather purchased hunting land two generations ago near Kruger National Park. His father then befriended a naturalist who convinced the family they needed to restore the land, which turned the land into a reserve for safaris. Boyd, who grew up in this reserve, took “restoration” to the next level by committing his life to sharing the metaphor for how he grew up on the land — “tracking” wild animals, “restoring” the land — to help others find their way, to be present, to feel alive, and much more. (I know, that line is cheesy — but I think, if you bear with me, quite profound.)

I spent the last month listening to a lot of Boyd’s interviews, over and over again. I didn’t read his book, but rather listened to 4-5 podcast episodes and maybe 3-4 different YouTube interviews. The conversations left a deep impression on me for a variety of reasons. Boyd’s upbringing is so different, so unique; mine is just suburban, with a sprinkle of international travel. Boyd grew up in nature; outside of sports, I largely avoided nature. Boyd was trained to live in his environment by “tracking,” the art of observing, collecting, and synthesizing signals from the wild around him; I plodded my way through schools, jobs, summers, academic calendars, standardized tests, and more. Boyd, to this day, doesn’t really know what the future holds for him, and in that uncertainty he feels “most alive,”; my life is pretty programmed these days, with small kids at home, a career I love, and quarantined during shelter-in-place.

But, there was an uneasy period of life, basically my 30s, where I subconsciously was a “tracker” in my own life. By that part of life, on paper I had made it – married, premium degrees in hand, some hard-earned money tucked away. Then I moved back to the Bay Area, and wham — I lost the track. In Boyd’s metaphor, it is common “to lose the track” in the wild. He’s observed expert trackers, and when they lose the track, they stop, sit still, listen for new calls, and try to find the track again. During my 30s, it was basically a continuous search for “the track.” I didn’t know that’s what it was while it was happening. In the moment, it just felt like surviving. Living month to month. Building up a great deal of debt. Not knowing what the next few months or next year would bring. In the moment, it felt terrifying. Now looking back, I think Boyd would say, that uncertainty was actually being “alive.”

This isn’t a post to finally proclaim: “I’ve found the track!” On the contrary, now in my early 40s, the terrain is uncertain again. On paper, things look peachy – lucky with a family at home, safe and healthy; a career I love and could not have dreamed of; a group of close friends both in and out of my industry that I can call anytime of day. I am not looking over my shoulder weekly anymore. But, there are new uncertainties on the horizon. It’s cliche now to even reference “2020” anymore, but it is a turducken of stresses related to public health, public safety, and public finances.

We’ve all been thrown off our track, to varying degrees. Some, more cruelly than others. It’s easy to assume we can just find the track again on the other side of this, if there is another side. But in listening to Boyd over and over in August, I have a slightly different view. I think most of us will need to work really hard to rediscover the track. It may take years, in fact. It will require a significant amount of scenario planning, letting go of beliefs once strongly-held and/or accepted as immutable truths, a survivalists’ adaptability, and the willingness to be nimble and accept new environmental signals that may force us to make decisions we couldn’t have dreamed of just a few months ago. That’s why I find Boyd’s metaphor so powerful. This year will force me to be even more alert, move alive, more aware of the signals around me. By paying close attention, there’s a possibility to find the track again. It won’t just reappear, like someone flipping the switch back. Rather, I believe it is a new track, and it has to be forged from scratch. When this comes up naturally in conversations with friends or neighbors, I don’t go into specifics but hint at it — and I can tell folks view it as a more intense, more extreme interpretation of our environment. But, I don’t think it’s too extreme. It’s what I see around me, and even though it’s stressful (3 kids at home!), uncertain (many more months to go), and at times dark (our institutions crumbling around us), I do feel more alive, and for that, I am grateful. Thank you Tommy, Jerry, Patrick, and Boyd.