My shorts are on, my shoes tied and my music ready. It’s time for a jog.
As I open the door, the brisk air hits my face, and I can almost taste the morning dew. Every muscle I have, brain included, is a bit sleepy.
As I head up the first hill, I give myself a chance to wake up. Turning left, I leap over an attacking sprinkler head. Still dry and now warming up, I pick up my pace. Down the hill I go before turning onto my favorite trail.
Leaving the predictable flatness of concrete, I step onto a rocky path. I slow it down a bit. Every step is different from the last. My right foot hits the edge of the trail, which sends me back at an odd angle to the left. I keep my balance and press on.
Dodging an overhanging branch, I regain my speed and spot a few boulders. Like a child, I jump from one to the other until I land back on the familiar trail.
After a while, it is too familiar. I decide to venture off onto a new path. There is nothing but overgrown weeds hiding what might be on the ground. My feet are true as always, and I navigate the new terrain before exiting the trail.
This is trail running. Every step is different from the last. It forces the body to make small adjustments the entire time. It engages the brain as well since there is no telling what the next step might bring. There can be obstacles forcing us off course. Or there might be tiny surprises, that force a sub-second response.
Now, let’s rewind the tape.
My shorts are on, my shoes tied and my music ready. It’s time for a jog.
I walk into the gym, find an open treadmill and type in the length of my run. Knowing I need a little warmup, the treadmill starts at a smooth 3 mph.
Before long, I am in the groove. Right foot up, forward, down. Left foot up, forward, down. With each step, the two-foot wide rubber mat whirls underneath, now at 6 mph.
I sneak at the time left, ugh, another 30 minutes. Right foot, left foot, repeat. My brain starts wandering, but my feet are on autopilot. If I’m lucky, I’ll get distracted long enough for this run to be over. I’m not, and I still have 25 minutes left.
With trail running, nothing is certain. No matter how many times we step foot on the path, each run will be different in some way. This uncertainty makes it exciting.
Compare this to a treadmill. Everything is sure from the terrain, the time and the speed. The experience is both predictable and boring.

The Birth of America

Life is uncertain, and that’s part of the fun. Stepping into the unknown can be scary. Life calls for small acts of bravery and in some cases big ones.
In 1492 Christopher Columbus set sail to find a passage to India, only to land on the shore of America. His fearless voyage set off a series of events that allowed me to stand here and write this letter.
A little over a hundred years later, settlers came to Jamestown. As the size of these colonies grew, it brought with it the desire to be free. In 1775 the Revolutionary War began between Great Britain and our thirteen colonies.
After winning our independence more and more, Immigrants set sail for our Country. They were all looking for hope, a better life, and opportunity.
In 1853, eleven of our ancestors set sail from Holland. This journey was anything but predictable.
First, they would have to travel by wagon, donkey or foot to even get to the port. Then they might have to wait days or months before a ship arrived and the paperwork was ready.
The two to four-week journey across the Atlantic was a nightmare. The conditions in those days would be a jailable offense today. In fact, ten percent of passengers didn’t survive the trip. But these brave Immigrants pressed on.
Landing in America wasn’t the end. It was the start of the next journey into uncertainty. Each new visitor had to set off to find work, a place to live and food.
For many Immigrants, they started heading West. This movement accelerated in 1862 when Congress passed the Homestead Act. This law gave every citizen and immigrant who asked for citizenship, the right to claim government land.
All you had to do was build a home, farm it for five years and pay ten dollars to record the deal. But this was no easy task.
Picture the Great Plains. There was land as far as the eye can see. What settlers wouldn’t see were trees. Without wood, they couldn’t build houses. The solution was to make them out of mud and hay.
The next problem was managing crops and animals. They needed fences, they needed fuel to cook, and they needed water. With every turn, there was a new hurdle to overcome, a new uncertainty.

Overcoming my fears of uncertainty

Life is a lot easier than it was in the 1800’s but it is by no means more certain. No matter how the world changes, uncertainty never goes away.
The unknown can be scary. It’s natural to think of all the things that can go wrong. When we do, our fight or flight wiring kicks in and will always try to keep us wrapped in a warm blanket of safety. Certainty is safe. Uncertainty is scary.
I like to plan. I like to prepare. I like knowing what’s next. But as Allen Saunders said, “Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.” Looking back on my life, I can tell you he was right.
After graduating High School, I planned to go to Northwestern. I was going to study Engineering and play on the soccer team. There was only one problem. I didn’t get in.
The good news was, I made it into Vanderbilt. I graduated with my Engineering Degree, I found my future wife and I landed a job that took me to Austin. This was not the plan I would have made four years earlier, but I’m sure glad the uncertainty of life took over.
My experience with venturing into the unknown didn’t stop with college. Since leaving school, I’ve had seven jobs. Each move meant leaving a job I’d done for many years. On top of that, it also meant tackling a new role that I’ve never done before.
I’ve been able to overcome my fears thanks to a belief in myself. We all have this ability. The bigger the risk we face, the bigger this belief needs to be.
It also helps to have the right team. For me, this team is my family and friends. Having support helps me stay positive when I’m faced with big challenges. A few encouraging words, an ear to listen all give me comfort and confidence to face the unknown.

Final thoughts

Throughout my life, I left what I knew, to step into a cloud of uncertainty. I left St. Louis to go to school in Nashville. I left Nashville to head to Austin. I moved from one job to the next, pursuing my dreams.
Each step created my life. I got married, had two wonderful children, made a home in Austin, developed great friendships, and built a life I wouldn’t trade for the world. And none of this would be possible without uncertainty.
This post is part of a series of letters to my kids. My goal is to reflect on and capture as many life lessons as possible. Here is the current list I am working from.