We all reach a point where we feel like we’ve arrived. Adversity evaporates and we find ourselves comfortable in our day-to-day, lulled into a false sense of security. Our edges become duller and we stop assimilating new information. This effect is called calcification, and it hits us all sooner or later. I decided to break down this phenomenon into three familiar buckets (Personal, Professional, and Family) and share my own experiences in a bid to help others avoid it:
Music: I’ve been listening to new music as long as I can remember. I still remember my first new album — Michael Jackson’s Thriller. I played the hell out of that tape, obsessing over each song while trying to learn the “Thriller” dance. I kept going. Music became a passion. I got into my dad’s vinyl collection and started listening to Foreigner, Chicago, The Beach Boys, and Bob Marley. This was great music! I couldn’t understand why my dad loved these older bands so much but seemed closed off to newer music. I mean, come on, Huey Lewis and The News were rad! He looked at music through the rear-view mirror as a means of nostalgia while I stared through the windshield. This proved easy throughout my school years, including undergraduate. Youth culture and music are intertwined — all one needs to stay current is the willingness to shut up and listen to the never-ending stream of noise coming from any Top 40 radio station.
Once college ends, that all changes. We get jobs, we start to listen to the soft rock radio station at work. Maybe we weren’t that into music to begin with and it just served as a soundtrack to our formative years? In any case, many of us switch off our new music antenna in our 20s, allowing the inertia of honoring what once was to paper over the importance of staying current.
I found this calcification creeping into my system around age 38. According to a few online studies, the average age people stop seeking out new music is 33. I can see why. It’s hard to seek out new music and find bands in a world where the average day of a 33-year-old might involve changing diapers and, you know, earning money to pay for things like a roof or food. Unless there’s natural passion toward music, it’s not going to make its way to the top of, as my mentor Neal Lappe would call it, “the critical few.”
I found myself searching for new music blindly, but slowly started to find my way. Some of the bands I thought I knew, turns out, I didn’t know squat. I’d dabbled in the early years of Genesis, now I took a deep dive into all their early albums. This wasn’t new music per se, but new to me. Anything novel flips the brain into a learning state, so it didn’t matter that some of this stuff was published before I was born.
Now it’s 2021. I’m still listening to new music. I don’t like a lot of it. Some bright spots have crept their way into my world and help to tamp down any cynicism (calcification). Thanks Travis Scott, Harry Styles, Nathaniel Rateliffe, Goose, and many others. It’s getting harder each year to fight off the rear-view mirror and keep looking out the windshield, but I’m in this one for the long haul and will keep at it.
Also by Henry Clifford: What’s Your Ikigai?
Books: I subscribed to Audible. This might be the best anti-calcification move I’ve made. Hats off to Audible for a killer subscription model. Each month I get another credit to spend. One credit equals one book. After a few months, they stack up and you feel guilty about not reading or listening (I coined a new term: “ristening”). As a result, I now risten to one new book a month. I know about North Korea, how the atomic bomb was made, and every minute of the D-Day invasion all because of Audible’s monthly nudge.
Athletics: I was a fat kid. While I don’t recommend being a fat kid, I certainly am grateful for the experience. I learned at a young age that I can’t eat certain things without serious muffin-top penalties. The other kids could. Eventually it appeared that even those kids stopped outrunning their bad habits and strapped on a “dad pack.” Because I didn’t like being fat, I started running at age 17 and never stopped. Just like anything else, exercise can become notoriously calcified. Plateaus are a well-documented phenomenon in physical activity and they suck. Plateauing can make exercise feel painful and futile. Only by mixing things up (trail vs. road running) or changing activities (cycling or swimming vs. running) can we break the plateau. Adding activities can extend our endurance further. I added cycling to my regimen last summer and can now work out easily six days a week with only one rest day. Cycling is considered active recovery. If you told me this last year, I wouldn’t have believed it. My distance running body was used to days of pure rest to recover, not yet understanding the power of active recovery.
I perceive calcification on the athletic side to be tremendously detrimental to other parts of my life. As I sit here and write this, I’m high on socially acceptable drugs called endorphins. These drugs help me in all things, especially committing my thoughts to paper rapidly.
Hobbies: I decided to get my private pilot’s license a few years ago. I’d always wanted to learn to fly someday. As it turns out, “someday” can get pushed out quite a bit without a better definition. I did it because I love aviation and I knew it had been awhile since I’d been a true student. It was hard, but worth it. It’s a pretty cool feeling to park my car at the airport and take off into the wild blue yonder. The feeling of freedom is amazing.
I started my first company in 1996. It’s now been 25 years of entrepreneurship and, thankfully, the business world has always rewarded my unwillingness to sit still, while I’ve seen my fair share of calcified businesses go the way of the dodo. Technology changes constantly, and we have to reinvent ourselves every few years. If you told me Livewire would be offering outdoor lighting, high-end boardroom solutions, and 24/7 support in 2002, I wouldn’t have been able to picture it.
Parasol: The market is always shifting, and I’ve looked for underserved parts of the market where there’s acute pain. We wanted a way to deliver amazing customer service around the clock, and the only way to do it was to scale it nationally. So we did and now handle support for a global network of 300-plus dealers (including Livewire).
IntegrateU: Our industry always complains about lack of training. We invested in our own training products a few years ago and gave them away to our friends around the industry. We were approached a few years later by a large buying group that wanted to offer our online training program as a white-labeled amenity to its members. This led to the creation of a brand-new company dedicated entirely to training newcomers from around the United States to our industry.
Also by Henry Clifford: Finding People When There Are No People
Zoomification: The pandemic brought with it uncertainty for all of our businesses, but we knew that getting the technology dialed in was paramount. I’ve spent the last year learning everything I can about all of the major video-conference platforms and their associated peripherals. The result? We’ve created an incredibly elegant solution for conference rooms, huddle spaces, and family rooms that enable large groups of people to gather around a large display vs. huddle around a laptop with killer audio and video. I made new friends along the way and will be writing a feature article about it in an upcoming issue of Residential Systems.
Roses and Thorns: We try to eat together every night. When we do, each person gets a turn to talk about what went well and not so well during the day. It’s a great way for everyone to have their voice heard (we have three kids) and not feel left out.
Trips: We love to travel. While Covid has cut a lot of that, we’ve invested a lot of energy into planning upcoming trips and looking forward. My mother said, “Anticipation is the enjoyment of the before.” I fully believe that setting a trip date at the furthest point out maximizes that “before.”
Marriage: It can be tough to avoid calcification with three young children. My wife and I try to carve out time for each other, but I realized this area is where I have the most opportunity. Sorry, no heroic husband stories here. This has inspired me to recommit to not going on autopilot in my marriage.
Kids: Each of one my kids has his or her own personality and I try to make sure to spend time with them doing the things they enjoy — my son and I camp, my daughter Quinn likes to work with me in the shop, and Emily likes to snuggle, so we do that a lot.
We’re all calcified somewhere, but we don’t have to be. If we work at it, we stay sharp and experience life proactively vs. reactively.
What are you doing in your life to avoid calcification?