The World According to Cb...

The World According to Cb...

Monday, January 31, 2011

Getting Personal with Responsibility

Just participated in a quick response on Tiny Buddha, the question being: How do you minimize drama in your life?  Many of the responses were focused on breathing, not being around negative people, etc.  But for me it came down to one of my favorite topics: personal responsibility.  Hence my reply:

I think it's not enough to just say you try to stay away from negative people / those who cause drama. The drama only comes into our lives when we let it. While it's easy to observe drama from a third party view, we have to take personal responsibility for when we let it into our lives.

It’s no secret we’ve become a blame-the-other-guy society.  Our litigious attitude towards anything under the sun is off the chart.  Your coffee’s too hot?  Time to sue.  There’s a hair in your soup? Where’s my lawyer?  I’d be afraid to deliver a pizza in over 30 minutes at the rate we’re going.

And it needs to stop.

Think how refreshing it is when we see someone in the public eye take responsibility for their actions, whether it’s fessing up to something wrong they did, or taking the heat for not accomplishing what they set out to do.  Think about that – we’re genuinely surprised by that, and feel good to see there’s a glimmer of hope.  That’s really not that good when you consider it should be the norm, not the exception.

For me it’s a matter of being able to look into the mirror and know that the guy looking back at me is responsible for his actions, good, bad, and otherwise.  In the military we refer to this as having honor, but it’s not a boastful thing, it’s just the right thing to do.  And it doesn’t take much, more so doing your best and then taking personal responsibility for the successes and the losses.  Like I said above, you’ll find you’re the exception – the honorable exception at that.

Ciao for now – make it happen! – Cb…

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Search for Service

Greetings from 38,000 feet, cruising from Vancouver to Dallas, the second to last leg of my South Australia adventure. I was honored to get to represent LIVESTRONG and Team RadioShack at the 2011 Tour Down Under pro bike race (reported at and but that's not the point of this blog.

It's about service. Customer service to be exact.

I'm a long time American Airlines flyer and to be honest, I'm quite satisfied with how I'm treated. And as the miles have racked up, so has the level of nicety in how I experience said travel. Seems logical, do more - get more, but as is often the case it only took a different perspective, arguably THE main benefit to traveling, to have me wondering: what has happened to what we think is good customer service?

- A bit of background, from 16-20 years old I worked in the restaurant business, primarily decent gourmet places, front of the house.

As I made my way to and from South Australia, a casual 36,000 mile round trip from Austin, I got to experience the gamut of modern travel. From economy seats to business class / private aircraft, Travel Lodge to a nice Hilton hotel. But at the heart of the experience was the striking difference at times between the levels of customer service.

The easiest difference was seeing how people were treated at the basic level, i.e. economy class (and how I usually travel). It seems to me that it starts with the company culture, is providing excellent customer service part of your core beliefs?

Good example of the positive side: the airline Cathay Pacific. Never heard of them? Me either until this trip. But I trusted my good friend and travel agent Mark Lester ( when he told me flat out that he thought they were among the top 3 airlines in the world. I now believe him. From the moment you initiate contact with them at check in till you walk off the plane, you feel valued. The seats in economy are in a shell with decent leg room, and when you recline you don't crush the person behind you. The flight attendants ARE attendant, regularly checking in with you, and the food / drink is solid and at no additional charge. Sure, if you're in Business Class you expect that, but your paying up to 300% more for that "privilege."

I also saw this in the customer service in Australia, where tipping is rare but that's because their culture is to pay more for a meal so the staff is able to be paid a livable wage (over $19 / hour from what I was told). Net effect: you have people taking professional pride in their work to one and all.

None of the good or not-so-good customer service experiences I had were dependent on anything else other than personal attitude. I think that starts with a core company culture to good service and then hiring the right people who reflect that vision, and conversely not keeping those who don't. And finally, we as a people should expect good service, rewarding those who provide it with sincere gratitude, but then also voicing our concerns appropriately when we don't. Make it happen, folks, see you down the road! Ciao for now - Cb...

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Aussie Attitude

Aside from the fact that it’s summer, the #1 reason why I like – no, love – coming to Australia is the can-do attitude of the population at large.  I’ve often said if Austin was a country it would be called Australia, but to be honest there’s a bit more to the Aussie spirit than even my beloved city’s make up.

Aussie’s are all in.  When they decide to do something, doesn’t matter what it is, you should not be in their way.  It’s full gas, from the gun.  Last year in Melbourne we were in a bar on Australia Day (shocking, I know) and upstairs was live band karaoke starting at 8pm.  Downstairs was fully packed, and then right at 8 sharp someone yelled down, “Oy – Karaoke is starting now!  You would have thought they were giving away free gold as the bar cleared out on contact and the party immediately kicked up several notches as everyone sang their hearts out, Aussie songs only.

When I walk down the streets here I can’t help but notice how confidently Aussies walk, they’re not afraid to look you in the eye and wish you a sincere, “G’day mate!”  It’s kind of a pride thing, but not in the wrong way.  They know who they are, and they’re completely comfortable with that – it’s that simple.

I think it all boils down to how they approach their lives on a daily basis.  It furthers my belief in my favorite saying: good feeds good, and bad feeds bad.  The people of Australia that I’ve met live that way daily, and then add to it with their great spirit and wicked sense of humor.  Drop bears, anyone?  Ciao for now – Cb…

Friday, January 14, 2011

Successful Significance

I got the honor of speaking to a great group of folks here in Adelaide that put on a bike ride benefiting a couple of great charities here.  Like many events it started out small, grew, and now is a major fun fundraising effort annually.  And that got me thinking about one of my favorite subjects:

Moving from success to significance.

I first read about this in a book that maintained men spend the first 40 years of their lives trying to be as successful as possible, then spend the rest of their lives trying to be significant.  While that may or may not be completely accurate, what I did take exception to was the idea that these are mutually exclusive values.  If they are, then that’s our fault for how we’re raising, teaching, and mentoring.

Philanthropy can be defined as “the effort or inclination to increase the well-being of humankind, as by charitable aid or donations,” but I don’t think it starts or stops there.  Being philanthropic infers you’ve become successful enough to be able to donate, but there’s also a mental shift that you’ve thought about life and understand that giving back is the right thing to do.  It’s significant.

We all have time, talent, and treasure – it’s what we do with it that determines our significance.  So think about that, and also how you’re grooming those around you to not just be the best they can be, but to make a difference too.  I’ll bet you’ll be glad you did – ciao for now – Cb…

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

All Hail The Almighty Checklist

Packing up to leave for a relatively long trip has got me to thinking about organizing and priorities.  When you’re faced with a big task – in this case, all the gear and clothing I’ll need for two weeks in Adelaide, South Australia – I find I literally have to fall back on my USAF flying days, and the importance of the almighty checklist.

Life within an aircrew basically revolves around the checklist.  Failure to use it literally a punishable offense, and in critical / emergency situations just missing one step can mean the difference between life and death.  But event within the checklists there are priorities, categorized as normal and bold face items.  For example, if you’re engine is on fire, you might see this as part of the list:

Shut off fuel supply to affected engine
Engage relevant fire extinguisher system
Check on safety of passengers
Communicate emergency info to HQ

Clearly there are things that need to be done, but there are also things that NEED to be done – or else.

I’ve found that when packing for a long trip there are similar items.  Bold face?  Passport, wallet with debit / credit cards, and iPhone.  If I have those three things and I can pretty much get anything else I might (read: will) forget.  From there it’s a laundry list of laundry and the all electronic gear necessary for life in the digital world. 

But then there’s also the list of things I had to do in preparation for the trip, and that is where the real organization part came in and the value of the checklist.  From making sure there’s food in the house to making sure there are people in the house (and big dogs – so don’t even THINK about robbing Casa Brewer, plz!) and all that needs to sustain that effort really made me think about just how much goes into our daily lives.

Many people talk about simplifying, getting back to just the things we need to exist, contribute and still enjoy life.  Maybe a checklist will help you with that, for me I know I’ll at least have my passport, that is, if I can remember where I put it.  Ciao for now, not sure where you’ll hear from me next, but it won’t be Austin! – Cb…

Monday, January 10, 2011

Old Schoolers Night at LAF

Tonight is a cool celebration dinner for some of the staff here at LIVESTRONG (AKA the Lance Armstrong Foundation).  The leadership here is recognizing those of us who have been on staff for over five years with a dinner at Z-Tejas, the local Austin restaurant where the idea for the Foundation was actually hatched way back in 1996.

I think it’s important to note milestones in life.  To be blunt, I think in life we simply don’t sincerely say “thank you” often enough.  But we take that aspect so importantly here that we have a stewardship section purely dedicated to making sure we’re doing what’s right by our donors, gatherers, and corporate friends.  Making sure the relationship is being well tended is really critical, simply doing a transaction is never the way to go.

The folks that are being thanked tonight have certainly seen a lot, a few of us even recalling our very first place we called home, a fittingly small yellow house just north of downtown Austin.  Back then almost everyone was a volunteer and our mission vastly different than it is today.  In 1996 we were a urological cancer foundation, putting on a bike ride and gala dinner, then taking whatever proceeds were left after costs and donating them to medical research.

Today LIVESTRONG takes its overarching mission of inspiring and empowering people affected by cancer through a two-prong approach: providing direct services and a platform for people to engage in the fight.  Our services may be programs we provide, like our brand new LIVESTRONG Cancer Navigation Center here in our HQ, or a partnered program such as LIVESTRONG at the YMCA.  And there are many ways to get involved, from our LIVESTRONG Leaders program to putting on an event on LIVESTRONG Day Oct 2.

For many of us here back in the day, it was programs like these that enabled us to first engage, ending up as a very meaningful career move in the process.  That may not be the case for you, but I hope it shows that doing something significant – however you define that – can lead to rewards and experiences you never saw coming.  Ciao for now – I’m thinking queso and a margarita! – Cb…

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Going Naturally High (Road)

I had an interesting discussion with a friend today at lunch (who knew there’s a really good French bakery in Bee Cave, TX?!) and one of the points we talked about was doing the right thing; taking the proverbial high road.

For me it was one of THE best bits of counsel I received in 2010.  And while doing what is right should seem natural, I think that – it being natural - is the actual key to making the high road a successful part of your life, not matter what the situation.

Consider this: is it better to do what’s right because that’s what you should do, or to do what’s right because that’s what you have to do?  I think most of us would fall on the “What you should do” side, but I am sure we’ve also come across people who fake it, too.  I would argue that if that’s the case, it’s actually “better” to be on the low road side of the house than pretending to be something you’re not.

Taking the high road is tough.  But a key to success is being able to look at a given situation from both a higher vantage point and a longer term.  When we’re on point we tend to be very reactionary, acting and reacting as things literally happen right in front of our face.  Think about the last argument or heated debate you were in and what you said.  Then, sometime later you think about the situation and come up with a list of what you wished you had said. 

Maybe if we just took a moment , took a good breath before that critical response, and thought about doing what’s right we wouldn’t have to have that moment of regret.  And hey, almost all of our discussions are rarely surprises – what about thinking about what the high road response should be BEFORE you came into the situation?

At the end of the day, taking the high road is what allows us to be able to look ourselves in the mirror and be happy with the person we see.  Doing what’s right is within all of us, it’s actually doing it – for the right reasons – that separates the herd.  Ciao for now! – Cb…

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Negative Energy: No

Remember the book, "Tuesdays with Maurie?"  I have Saturdays with Roger... to be succinct, Roger was recently wiped out in a motorcycle accident where someone in a car drifted into his lane and ended up with him losing his left leg below the knee.  I'll let you imagine what happened, and yes, it was that bad.

But that's not the point of this blog.  It's how he approaches his situation, and how I have been thankfully encouraged to face my own personal relationship break up.  The bottom line is that he refuses to expend negative energy.  Not towards the person who hit him, the doctors who couldn't understand his pain management needs, nor the life that he faces without a significant portion of his body.

He simply refuses to.

The reason is that he - and I - realize that when you do something like that, it's your choice.  You choose to go down a road that is dark, evil, and negative and nothing good will come of it.  "The sweetest revenge is success," he told me the other day, sitting in the sun with his amputated leg resting on a chaise lounge chair.

That doesn't mean he doesn't have pain, or great financial need, or new life challenges he never anticipated.  It's how he approaches.  I've been asked the same thing about my situation - why am I not bitter and trying to extract revenge?  What good would it do?  Get me in trouble, consume me with negative thoughts, and ultimately let the actions of a very few people control my life and future relationships: Hell. No.

Life is all about how you approach it, and I always fall back on, "Good feeds good, and bad feeds bad."  So what's in your life that is negative but you give it more attention than you should?  Let it go, and find something good - and focus on that.  Trust me, you'll be glad you do.  Ciao for now! - Cb...

Friday, January 07, 2011

Hotel Brewer, AKA The Dog Ranch

(FYI, I stole the title from my friend Jason Martin who coined the phrase and actually referred to his home as the Dog Ranch)

It’s no surprise to have guests coming and going at my place, heck, it’s one of the reasons I got a bigger place to start off with.  But life’s been more than a little unusual from a guest perspective at Hotel Brewer lately.  Mainly because they all have four legs…

I have two female dogs, a mostly black Lab and a mostly Blue Heeler (typical pound pups that I currently have “joint custody” with my ex – and that in itself is so weird).  Zoe and Sky are inseparable, we’re all a part of their pack, the Blue definitely the queen of said pack.  And they’re used to guests – two or four legged – but not so much like the most recent ones.  Boys.  Big boys.

Rex was the first holiday guest, and to say he draws attention wherever he goes is definitely an understatement.  About 90% Rottweiler and 10% Shepherd or something, he’s 110 pounds of confident, docile muscle.  He hardly ever makes a sound, but when he does bark I can’t imagine anyone that wouldn’t have the fear of dog put in them.  When he wants attention – and that’s often - he butts his 15 pound head against your side, and if that doesn’t work will lean in with the rest.  You will pet him eventually, that’s a given.

He doesn’t really care about any other dogs, either.  Like I said, he’s the cool, quiet type – more Steve McQueen than Cujo.  Until the rubber dog bone toy comes out.  His eyes light up and he’s bouncing off the walls.  You better be ready to go for a walk to the park, and to play for some time.  Like most dogs he wants you to throw it and play tug of war after.  Unlike most dogs he sounds like a horse running – an audible da-dump-da-dump-da-dump – as he flies after the toy, and then you truly have to watch where your hand goes when tugging as his jaws are simply vice-like.  Even if he only has the toy by his very front teeth, I could not win.  Ever.  A great dog all around…

And then came Obi.  Obi’s named after the Star Wars character, but since we’re in Texas it’s spelled Obi Juan.  Obi’s is a pure bred yellow escape artist that we’ve nicknamed “Shadow” due to his tendency to follow you.  Everywhere.  And if he thinks you’ve left, then clearly you forgot him and he must find you.  After two escapes on Wednesday we found that he’d used his massive lab head to push through two loose boards in the back yard fence, and he was off in search of around the neighborhood.

Like all great Labs he’s faithful to a fault, whoever he’s with, and cannot wait for you to get up and start the day – with him.  I usually wake up with this intense feeling of being stared at, roll over and the sound of a wagging tail on the carpet kicks in, and there’s a massive yellow head, chin down, eyes staring up pleading, at the end of the bed just knowing that you’re about to pet him, feed him, and generally enjoy the day.  We should all wake up each day with such great expectations!

Both guests will be gone by tomorrow and life will calm down for now.  Having an ever expanding and contracting pack is actually kind of fun, I just hope my vacuum cleaner is up to the job as Hotel Brewer needs a serious de-furring this weekend.  Ciao for now! – Cb…

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Around the World in 14 Days

Travel is top of mind for me today.  I basically don’t think we appreciate the capabilities we have and the opportunities that  are created by – relatively simply – being able to go places at a moment’s notice and with relative ease.

I’m truly blessed that traveling is part of my job here at LIVESTRONG.  Getting to talk about our mission, thank our supporters, and help tell the stories of the amazing events that help fund our mission programs is a great honor.  I’m off to South Australia next week, and getting there and back will be an adventure in itself.

In order to take advantage of my miles program, my amazing travel agent Mark Lester ( <=shameless plug for an excellent Austin business!) figured out how to get me there on time, under budget, all on either “my” airline or partner airlines.  But check out this 26,000 mile round trip!

Austin – Chicago – Toronto – Hong Kong – Adelaide – Hong Kong – Vancouver – Dallas – Austin

Thank God I still have a substantial amount of Ambien in the medicine cabinet…

But part of travel I don’t get is rush hour traffic.  I don’t really have a problem when there’s an accident involved and it’s turtle time.  Everyone has to slow down, look-see, it’s part of our curious nature, I get that.  But this morning it took me a solid hour to go eight measly miles on MoPac, one of our two main north-south arteries here in Austin.  An hour.  No wrecks, six lanes of roadway, and it was a freaking parking lot!  And then magically – poof! – it cleared out around midtown and I was on my way.  What part of traffic management theory explains that?  It just boggles my mind…

At the end of the day I think it’s really, really important to get out and about, meet new people and experience other cultures.  Not only does it make you a far more interesting person to talk to, but more importantly it gives you a real appreciation for other perspectives.  Unless it’s in rush hour traffic, and I probably dislike you and everyone else, at least until traffic starts moving!

Ciao for now – Cb…

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Remembering Jim Owens

Yesterday was the 2-year anniversary of the passing of my very good friend Jim Owens after a 10 year battle with brain cancer.  I was honored to get to speak at his memorial, here's some excerpts from that important day in my life...

In 1983, the writer Beryl Markham said, “That’s what makes death so hard, unsatisfied curiosity.”

I wonder:

-          What would Jim have accomplished had he another 40 years?
-          What advice would he have given us?
-          Who else would he inspire, had he had more time?

Regrettably, these are questions that will go unanswered.  But one thing I do know is that my friend, my teammate – my brother – Jim Owens defined what it means to “live strong.”

You know, I still can’t recall the first time I met Jim.  To be honest I feel like I’ve known him my entire life.  And as it is with the loss of my younger brother Robin, I can’t believe I’m not going to be able to get his counsel, or have yet another very long phone call as we talked about ways we could change the word, or cool places to ride our bikes…

I made a conscious decision that yesterday I would mourn the loss of my friend, and today I would champion him.  That in no way means my grieving process is over – far, far from it my friends.  But I feel it’s equally important to celebrate the man’s life we are honoring today, as well as to acknowledge our loss.

I hope you one day take the time to read the entire “Manifesto of the Lance Armstrong Foundation,” but today I want to share a passage that I think describe the Jim Owens that I know.  It starts off:

We believe in life. Your life.
We believe in living every minute of it, with every ounce of your being –
And that you must not let cancer take control of it…

That was the way I recalled Jim living his life.  Lance Armstrong recalled, "He was down at our LIVESTRONG ride a couple of weeks ago, and now it looks like this is the end as they’ve decided to stop treatment and enter hospice.  This guy has fought literally for the better part of a decade.  That kind of strength, to fight for five or ten years, you can’t compare that to anything else, not athletically, politically, or socially – it’s really inspiring.”

...In cycling there’s a term called “sitting up”.  It’s used to describe when a rider has given his all in a race, his energy is gone, he knows his day is done – and so he relaxes…

He left everything on the road and he gave it his best shot – no regrets whatsoever, and he is admired by his competitors for his effort.

My friends, Jim Owens has sat up, and what a fine race he had!

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

2011 - a New Year and a new chapter

I'll be the first to admit that I have tried and tried to start a blog and failed miserably.  Not bad for someone who's a writer by trade, ay?  But that doesn't stop me from trying, and so to rally around that 80's spirit: Here I Go Again...

For the first time in many a year, I am really vested in the new year being a new beginning as it really is a new chapter in my life.  My (surprising) divorce finaled yesterday - and while I will not go into detail about that publicy - it is both ironic and cathartic that things literally ended up ending at the start of a new decade.  My outlook towards life and all it has to offer is completely positive.  My personal catch phrase, "Good feeds good, and bad feeds bad," has been put to the test in spades these last three months, and I am happy to report I still believe in this mantra to the fullest.

It's also been very interesting in the amount of positive outlook that practically everyone I speak to has about 2011.  Maybe it was the economy, the BS political wranglings, personal things -a combination of lots of things more likely?  But regardless one and all have high hopes for things across the board.  As do I.

So let's see where this goes, I plan on it being a commentary on my life, views of what's going on, and hopefully some insight and inspiration along the way.  Thanks for reading, I'm just a guy in Austin!

 - Cb...

About Me

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Austin, TX, United States
A proud single dad, strong cancer survivor, and a guy who loves his bike, red wine, family and friends - the order is dependent on my mood...