The Blog of Robin P. Zander

How Do We Make the Most of the Time We Have?

Early in high school, I discovered what Tyler Cowen calls a “quake book” –  a book that fundamentally alters my world view and how I live. Tuesdays with Morrie is a book about death, and it has changed how I view, and talk about death, ever since.

When my best friend was diagnosed with breast cancer almost a year ago, I re-read Tuesdays with Morrie. I began to have a lot of conversations with my friend and her spouse about death, dying, grief, and love.

Even beyond the breast cancel diagnosis, this year hasn’t been exactly mellow. My little company Zander Media had an epic year, and that growth came, in equal measure, with a lot of challenge. My aunt died in August, and my car was totaled on the freeway driving home from her memorial in October.

I’m returning from a week in Vieques, Puerto Rico, where my best friend has lived for the last few years. As we ever do, we spent the week talking about taboo topics and trading “lessons” – gentle, somatic movement – and swimming in the Caribbean. Six weeks after my car accident, I’m through most of the shock.

I’ve finally begun to slow down after the marathon-sprint that has been the last year.

In “Tuesdays with Morrie” the author, Mitch Albom reconnects with his old teacher and mentor, Morrie, who is slowly wasting away from Lou Gehrig’s disease. Gifted with a dozen brief visits, these two men resume their friendship and discuss a myriad of facets of life. The book ends, of course, with Morrie’s passing.

My friend and I have talked ever day for 15 years. I’ve always assumed we’d have 30 more years together. Now, I don’t know how much time we’ll have left.

I’ve learned, again and again this year, that we never really know.

With my friend, with myself, and with everyone I love – I intend to make the most of this time. As young as I feel at 36, I’ve realized that these lives we are given are short and fleeting. I intend to live fully, but not go too fast. To love fiercely without holding too tight. I’ll also be back to Vieques to see my friend, very soon.

On the Shortness of Life

I was driving home after my aunt’s memorial on Saturday afternoon when my car was hit by someone pulling onto the freeway.

My car was slammed across two lanes of traffic into the median; airbags deployed, and my Prius totaled. The other driver’s SUV spun nearly 180 degree; airbags deployed, front axel broken, and his car, too, is what’s called an “expedited total loss.” Miraculously, we both walked away. Severely shaken, but for the most part unscathed.

The entire weekend, beginning with the family memorial and ending with drive home from Southern California with my parents, has me reflecting on the shortness of life. On where we choose to spend our energy. On the limited amount of time each of us has remaining.

I’m know to be intense. An ex- calls my “thorough.” I routinely do bonkers things like start businesses with no experience or do handstands on stage. But my energy, my intensity, comes at a cost. I say “yes” to meetings with strangers; I’m constantly pushing myself to do more, to take on additional responsibilities. I’m not great at delegating or asking for help. As a result, throughout this last year, I’ve spent 70 hours a week working, and not enough time prioritizing actually connecting with the people I love.

In 36 years full of intensity – and more than my share of close calls – this is the most intense near-death experience I’ve had.

And while I’m still processing the experience – doubtless will be for quite some time – here are some of the things I’d like to do differently with however much time I have left.

Slow down

I was driving at the speed of traffic, when the collision occurred. But I like moving fast, in many aspects of my life. I eat fast, I talk fast, and I change my mind, sometimes, too quickly. (Sorry, Mom.) That’s all fine, and fun – right up until someone gets hurt.

I’m reminded of the phrase, coined in the SEALS: “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.” That’s the kind of fast I’d like more of.

Less drama, more love

I put up with, and, if I’m being honest, manufacturer a lot of drama. I like drama! Most of us do. Why else would we rubberneck at a car accident, as everyone did as I limped past them across the freeway.

I used to bike down steep San Francisco streets at 45 miles per hour. On a bicycle. In traffic. One minuscule misstep… And while I don’t do that crazy ride anymore, that thrill-seeking boy remains with me.

At my best, I’m intense, but also intensely kind and gentle. And I don’t like quite that much cortisol. I think better, perform better, and love better, when I’m not living on the edge.

It can wait

I didn’t have a device in my hand in that moment of the accident – but I have done.

I’ve gotten pretty comfortable texting a colleague, changing the music, checking directions while

I’m driving. And while “fault” isn’t much in question in this case… I can’t help but wonder if I might have been able to swerve out of the way. Maybe not, too. Life’s like that.
But I intend to take this near-death experience as a ‘shot across the bow.’ We got lucky, and I’m not going to bank on that, again.

Focus your attention

My time this year has been scattered, fractured, and intense. I’ve been frenetically building my company, Zander Media. I take meetings 8 hours a day, then do actually work for a handful of hours. And I’m still trying to find room for my own creativity, my art. Not to mention things like a relationship, my family, and my dog.

An old teacher used to say: “What you put your attention on, you make bigger.” When I look back on my calendar from the last 6 months, I’ve been putting my attention on every damn thing.

I don’t remember the accident, itself. But I remember walking away from my car, the airbags deployed and smoking, limped across the freeway, stared into the stunned faces of the cars driving slowly by. The other driver was sitting, remorseful, his head in his hands. He was worried about his son, who was just then in the hospital. He was in shock, even more than me. The bystanders who’d stopped, took pictures of the scene at my request. Someone called the California Highway Patrol. We both felt terrible, scared, shattered.

A few days have passed, and I’m better. Achy and shaken up, but walking around. Damned grateful. My digestion, which was all bolloxed up for several days, has slowly begun to improve. But when I think that my parents, who drove me away from the scene, might have seen the mangled body of their son… . I feel a reverence since the accident. A gratitude that I can’t quite put into words.

I’ve been offered Grace.

I’m writing this, and publishing it, so that I can hang on to the experience. So that I don’t take my dog Riley for granted, but keep precious the gratitude that she wasn’t in the car with me. Life is short, precious, and can end – abruptly – at any moment. Tell someone you love that you care for them. Slow down a little bit, and love more.

Thanks for reading,

A Day in the Life of Robin P. Zander

This video is a day in the life building my company, Zander Media.

We’ve experienced a lot of growth over the last few months, and I’m learning to navigate the company through that change. Today’s video shows the blend of personal and professional that makes up my daily life; everything I’m doing to build the business and integrate that with the rest of my life.

Every day, I do a lot of the same things. I drink tea, journal, and exercise. And I take a lot of meetings! I’m so excited for the journey I – and the entire Zander Media team – are on, and I’m glad to be able to share a glimpse of it with you!

The Future of Work Needs to Invest in Itself

My guest today is Allison Baum Gates, a General Partner at SemperVirens Venture Capital and a lecturer at the Business School at Columbia University and the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley.

Allison got her start working in finance and investing, but quickly saw that technology was changing everything about her work and our world. So Allison decided to go into technology, and to focus on investing in the technology that would be doing the disrupting in 5 or 10 years.

She spends her days talking to startup founders and cultivating SemperVirens’ ecosystem of forward-thinking startups. Allison is making an incredible impact with the companies in her portfolio, and her passion for people and growth is clearly a guiding force in her work.

It was a real pleasure to hear about how Allison is trying to make the future of work a reality.

You can listen to it on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you listen!

A Student of Ido Portal and Moshe Feldenkrais: My Movement Practice

In almost 3 decades of maintaining a rigorous movement practice, I have often struggled to define myself as a mover. 

Classical ballet, surfing, Brazillian jiu jitsu, juggling, trapeze, Capoeira, gymnastics – I have done all of these and more, but no term truly fits or encompasses me fully.

At 21, having recently landed on my head on a trampoline, I met a woman named Anat Baniel, who was a student of the world famous movement practitioner, Moshe Feldenkrais. For the next 6 years, I embarked on an extremely rigorous course of study in a modern variant of the Feldenkrais Method. The principles of this work are simple: move slowly, with attention, and practice variation in movement slightly beyond your usual patterns.

Then in 2017, I met Johnny Sapinoso, who was a mentee of the world famous movement coach, Ido Portal. I immediately became obsessed with Johnny and the movement community he was building, as well as Ido’s teachings. This community provided the intense, physical counterpoint to the softer, more internal work of my Feldenkrais practice. And for the first time, I found a community of practice that brought together techniques from the dozens of different modalities I have studied over the years.

These two practices – The Feldenkrais Method and the teachings and community of Ido Portal, form the basis of my movement practice today.

This is my movement story.

Lessons Learned from the Last 35 Years

I’m turning 35 today and thought I would take a moment to write some of my lessons learned from the last several years.

Move everyday.
I’ve always had a pretty thorough movement practice, but among the most positive changes in my last 5 years is the fact that I now move every single day. I’ve found that one of the biggest, simple changes anyone can make is a routine to get your body in motion. What’s interesting to you? What’s a thread, an exploration, a discipline of study that you’d like to pull on? Go try it! These bodies of ours are meant to move.

Find work that you love. Keep looking until you do.
I enjoyed much of what I did professionally 5 years ago, but that pales by comparison to the amount of delight I get from my work today. As someone who has had more than 40 different jobs in more than 15 different industries, I can tell you that it’s really tempting to settle. You don’t have to settle for good enough! Keep looking.

Work with people you love.
While the work matters, doing it with people that you love matters even more. Among the most positive characteristics of my work today is that I get to spend my working life with people I enjoy. Find those people that you are proud to work alongside, and build your professional life with them.

Fear is a good guide.
I’ve often gone towards fear, but it’s only in the last year that I’ve recognized, specifically, that fear can be a useful guide. It’s natural that we move away from things that we are afraid of. That’s fine: it keeps us safe. But sometimes, it can be useful to go towards the things we are fearful of, instead. There’s a lot to be learned in those shadows.

Everything takes the time that it takes.
As somebody who prides himself on his ability to move quickly, patience with myself is a hard won feat. In the many years that I was dissatisfied with my work, I was constantly pressuring myself to have already found my perfect career path. Over many years of wanting a family member to take better care of himself, I was always wanting him to change more quickly. We don’t get to decide how quickly or how slowly things change.

You don’t get to control people. (And actually, it is none of your business.)
Years ago, my friend, Dana Casperson, told me “you don’t get to control people, and actually, it is none of your damn business!” This has been hard feedback for me to receive, and I’ve repeated that quote to myself many times over the years. I’ve often derived meaning from trying to “help” (control) people whom I love. We don’t get to. Practice letting go of the desire for control.

“You’ve always been a little bit slow.”
Something my Dad said to me on my 30th birthday – jokingly, but with a grain of truth: “Robin, it’s okay. You’ve always been a little bit slow.” I’ve accomplished a lot that I’m proud of in the last 35 years and some are things that most people don’t let themselves even dream of trying. But I also went on my first date at 19, years later than anyone else I knew, and am frequently the last person to recognize something new about myself that’s obvious to everyone else around me. While I have excelled in many areas in my life, I have also moved slowly in areas that my peers are much quicker. That’s fine. Going slow works, too.

Get familiar with grief.
This has been a particularly hard one for me, having gone through two substantial heartbreaks in the last 5 years. I haven’t found that grief gets any easier, but I’ve found that I can develop better toolsets to help deal with it. Endings, deaths, and partings are a natural and inevitable part of our lives. It helps to practice getting familiar with grief.

Relationships get better with time. “Make new friends, but keep the old.”
I was pretty antisocial until 19 and then turned a corner and learned the name of every single person in my entering class in college. I love meeting new people. (And a good thing too, since that’s most of my job today!) But novelty doesn’t hold a candle compared to my most intimate friendships that go back 10+ years. Relationships get better with time. Make room for that.

Leave room for introspection.
I’ve long had the tendency to distract myself by being busy when things get tough. It turns out, at least for me, that when I leave more room for introspection, growth happens more quickly and way more gently! I’m blessed that I have bandwidth in my life today for a lot of quiet introspection. But however you do it, leave room for yourself, too.

Read more.
Along with my propensity to get busy, I frequently don’t make enough time for reading. It feels like cheating – taking time for myself, selfishly, to learn. But in a world that is filled with distractions, I find so much delight in handling a physical book and diving into someone else’s world. So this advice is mostly just for myself: read more.

Play more.
Anyone who knows me knows that I can be very playful. Not usually childish, but frequently childlike. There’s a lot to take seriously in the world right now. Balance that with play.

There is such a thing as too much caffeine.
5 years ago I would have believed no such thing. Maybe I’m just getting old, but I sleep better at night if I stop drinking aged pu-erh after noon.

The last year and a half has been tumultuous for everybody. Beyond that, in the last 5 years, my personal and professional life have changed more than I could have conceived. These practices have become bedrock in my life. I’m going to spend the next five years deepening these and developing more. I wish you well in finding yours!

Community and Joy – An interview with Robin Zander by Nate Floyd

As part of the updates to this website and across the RPZ brand, I’ve recently sat down for a half dozen interviews with close friends. And instead of the typical “Robin conducts an interview”, I have asked them to interview me.

Today’s interview is with my dear friend, Nate Floyd. Nate and I have known each other for several years as members of SF Movement Practice. Beyond our shared physical practice, Nate is a salesman and a plant medicine guide, and over the years has become a close and valued friend.

In this interview, he asks me a wide variety of questions about life, meaning, and my personal approach to happiness. I hope you enjoy!

Unconventional Advice to Improve Your Relationships

What’s the old joke? “Why do my parents push all my buttons? Because they installed them!”

In 2019, at 33 years old, I spent 4 weeks traveling with my mother in Africa. And as much as I love my mother, she also can drive me crazy.

Whether in our personal relationships or at work, here are some lessons learned for having better relationships with people in our lives.

(Want more? Here’s the fully story about that trip.)

Gayle Karen Young Whyte, former head of People and Culture at Wikimedia, on Immediacy and Resilience

My guest today is Gayle Karen Young Whyte, former head of People and Culture at Wikimedia (the parent company behind Wikipedia). These days Gayle is very politically active and consulting with a select group of executives on organizational and culture change.

I’ve known Gayle since she spoke at the first Responsive Conference in San Francisco in 2016, and have followed her work ever since.

In this conversation, recorded in late 2020, we talk about resilience, inquiry, the COVID-19 pandemic, and what we can all do to rise to the challenges of these times. Gayle brings wisdom, simplicity, and kindness to the questions of how to continue learning, growing, and thriving as new opportunities arise in our lives.

Dr. Emily Anhalt, Founder of Coa, on the Mental Health Revolution

My guest today is Dr. Emily Anhalt (@dremilyanhalt), a clinical psychologist and the co-founder of Coa, a startup building virtual and in-person centers to practice and improve mental health and resilience.

Emily spoke at a Responsive Conference event that I hosted on Mental Health in San Francisco in November 2019, and I was so impressed with her presentation on stage that I’ve been wanting to sit down with her ever since to talk about mental health.

Now, more than ever, this conversation is needed and I’m delighted that Emily is leading the way and sharing tools to improve wellbeing. Her research into the psychological components of leadership is fascinating, and I learn a lot every time I listen to Emily.

I hope you enjoy this conversation!