The one with Maslow

I knew a pastor who started every sermon with “This is hard.” Ouch, I was counting on him to help make some sense of life for me.

Working with an actress in a dramatic scene, I told her to enter the room and loudly proclaim her opening line. She looked at me and asked: “What is my motivation?” No, it wasn’t good enough to say: “Because the line is in the script.”

In a business meeting, I outlined a perfectly reasonable option for the client, only to have them drag their feet and want to study it more. What was going on?

Life is complex and every day we experience a range of different physical and psychological needs and emotions. In ourselves or as expressed by others. At first glance, a person’s actions may not make much sense at all to an observer (or even to the person himself).

A number of models have been introduced seeking to make sense of needs and behaviors. Abraham Maslow proposed a multi-level model in 1943, dividing our needs into 5 levels: physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem and self-actualization.

Sometimes there’s actually an additional 6th level in his model: self-transcendence. This final, top level is often left out of representations of Maslow’s pyramid. Possibly since it is about finding actualization in a higher goal outside oneself, such as altruism or spirituality, and so harder to apply to everyday cases.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:

Physiological needs
This most basic level is about human survival. Air, water, food. Clothing. Shelter. It’s about survival.

Safety and Security
Once the physiological needs are met, we are concerned with safety. Physical, economic, health, protection against catastrophic accidents/illness

Social Belonging
We all need to belong, be connected with other humans. Tribe, acceptance, social connection, sexual connection. We need to love and be loved.

This is about the need to feel respected, esteemed, valued. Maslow made note of a lower and higher level of esteem: The lower is being respected by others, the higher is self-respect. It’s his thinking that self-respect takes priority over respect by others.

We’re talking about a person meeting his or her full potential here. As the Army recuiting posters once said: Be all that you can be. To Maslow, for a person to understand this level of need, the other levels must first be achieved and mastered. Expressions here can be inventions, art, athletics, personal achievement.

Finally Self-Transcendence: Reaching a level of self-actualization where it’s no longer about me at all, but about reaching a higher goal outside myself, where the entire focus is on others, expressed in altruism and spirituality. Like I noted, many representations leave out this level because it’s rather intangible.

Maslow's pyramidThese levels are often illustrated as a pyramid, with physiological needs at the base and then moving upward towards self-actualization. The idea is that each level builds on the previous levels. Maslow certainly recognized that needs and motivations are very complex and there will be overlaps, but as a general observation, if physiological or safety needs are not met, we’re not going to be looking at spending time on self-actualization by painting stunning pictures or setting a new 100 m dash record.

So what does all this psych mumbo-jumbo have to do with me, you might ask? Isn’t this the stuff of Psych 101 or Human Behavior 101. Basic, and ignored because while Frasier and Niles might delight in it, it doesn’t apply to regular people?

And yet it does. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is useful in many places where we look to understand behavior and motivation — our own lives, to make sense of how others behave, in business interactions or to flesh out characters when writing a book or movie.

What if it can help us understand ourselves and others better? For instance, if James looks at his behavioral motivations through the lens of these levels, he might notice that time and time again in key events in life, his behavior is governed by a particular level on the pyramid. If things are turning out for good, that lets him build on that response and build healthy habits. If this response is limiting him, he might do some digging to find out what’s missing in this level and be able to address that.

We could look at a person with a chronic health condition and dismiss them as lazy or unmotivated when they don’t display any drive to get better or set goals for themselves. But what if the reality is that due to the demands of the health condition, all that person’s energy goes to focusing on the physiological needs and safety/security. There’s simply no energy left in that person to pursue social relationships, build self-esteem or even think about doing something creative or reaching a goal.

There’s no right or wrong answer here. This is about understanding.

As with the actress looking to know her motivation in order to deliver her lines more convincingly, in real life it’s also helpful to understand what motivates us and drives us, so we can make more intentional decisions going forward.

In a coaching program, we went through an exercise with Maslow’s pyramid and our past experiences to help find our main motivation for why we do the things we do.

The exercise involved mentally going back over my life and look at peak emotional experiences from different periods. Once I wrote down the event, I then determined the dominant need (level on the pyramid).

Finally, I tallied up and found out which level(s) appeared most in the list. That gave me a top and secondary need that most of the time motivate me.

Here’s the exercise for you to try yourself:

Download the worksheet

For each decade of your life, write down 1 or more peak emotional experiences. Think about what happened and what made it so emotional. Then refer to Maslow’s pyramid of needs to determine which dominant need covers each peak emotional experience. There may be a secondary need involved as well.

With the list done, tally how many times each need appears. Which need or needs top the list? What does that tell you about yourself? What implications could that have for your future? For your interactions with other people?

In doing this exercise, I discovered that a majority of key events in my life involved Belongingness and love needs as well as Self-actualization. Come to think of it, that probably explains why I’m writing this blog and working on a novel.

– – –
Disclaimer: I’m not a medical professional and don’t play one on TV. This is not medical/psychological advice. Your mileage will vary. While doing this exercise was helpful for me, it may not be for you. Enter at your own risk.

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Riding the train across the USA: Part 2 — Museums, trains and friends

The Washington, DC, Union Station is one of the busiest in the US, being both a rail station and a shopping destination. Hard to think that this building was at one point boarded up because of plaster falling from the ceiling and mold growing. That was in the early 1980s after decades of neglected maintenance. Fortunately, Congress found funds and the station was restored. The “new” Union Station opened on 9/29/1988.

It was perhaps indicative of the times that much of the station was turned over for use as a shopping area, rather than returned to use as a place for travelers. Instead, the real travel concourse is at the back of the station building, closest to the tracks and by now woefully overcrowded. Amtrak however has plans for a new concourse to alleviate the situation.

I’d read about the restoration project with great interest both because I like trains and because I like to see old buildings preserved and put back to use. A year or two after the renovation I was in Washington, DC, and was able to get over to Union Station for dinner and to explore its new grandeur. I was duly impressed.

Now I’m back in DC, having come all the way from Little Rock, Arkansas, by train. While in DC I stay at a guest house (B&B) in the Kalorama Triangle. My meeting is in early afternoon. So that leaves the morning free.

First thing, I drop my backpack off at the luggage storage at Union Station. It’s kind of hidden away near Gate A on the train concourse, but a life saver since I now won’t have to lug the backpack around all day.

For a long time I’ve wanted to visit the National Air and Space Museum, especially since they have the Apollo 11 and a Lunar Lander there. Delightful way to spend a morning, exploring air travel’s infancy.

Poster map showing combined train - plane route across the US in 1929Did you know that airlines and railroads worked together at one point to offer a combination of train and plane for crossing the US? In 1929, you could start in New York in a sleeping car on the Pennsylvania Railroad. Next morning at Port Columbus, Ohio, climb aboard a noisy, bone-rattling passenger airplane of the Transcontinental Air Transport (later TWA). Several stops later you got to Waynoka, Oklahoma, where you boarded a Santa Fe sleeper for an overnight trip to Clovis, New Mexico. From there another plane ride to the coast (Los Angeles or San Francisco).

After the museum, a Metro ride to Georgetown where my meeting is. Afterward, the Metro back to the Mall. I have time for a visit to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden at the Mall. Every time I’m in Washington, DC, I try to catch some other part of many possible sights and activities along the National Mall.

Finally, it’s time to go catch the train. Tonight I’m heading to New Brunswick, New Jersey, and friends from back in college.

The Northeast Corridor is the rail line Washington, DC – New York – Boston. It carries Amtrak’s fast premium Acela trains that stop in the main cities, the Amtrak Northeast Regionals that make more stops and many regional trains shuttling passengers to and from work and city. The line is electric and has 2, 3 or 4 tracks for all the traffic. Even so it’s at capacity and there are plans for a true high speed line Washington, DC – New York – Boston that really is needed yesterday.

I’ve timed things so that I am on one of the few Amtrak trains of the day that actually stop in New Brunswick. The alternative would have been to change trains at Trenton and take New Jersey Transit for the last leg. But you can’t beat a one-seat ride from Washington, DC, to New Brunswick.

The Amtrak Concourse at Washington Union Station
The Amtrak Concourse at Union Station at an only moderately busy time of the day
The Amtrak Concourse at Union Station is packed late in the afternoon. Throngs of people getting on the MARC Commuter trains to head home after a day’s work. Then there are various Amtrak trains heading north and south as well. I head toward Gate K, the announced Gate for my train. There’s a long line in the open area outside the Gate areas. I wonder what they’re in line for. When I get closer to Gate K, the quarter drops: Still plenty of time before the train leaves, but that long line… Yeah, it’s for my train. So much for being able to get on right away. I backtrack to the end of the line. Somebody needs to seriously increase the waiting area by each Gate.

After a while, the line finally starts moving. I eventually get on the train and even though it seemed like at least 2 million people were ahead of me, I find a window seat. The backpack goes on the overhead luggage rack. I had wondered about the regional Amfleet cars that are built more for business and local travelers than for people with serious luggage. No problem. Plenty of space.

The seats are closer together than on the Superliner cars I rode coming here. Still very comfortable and so much more space than on any airplane.

Soon the train glides out of the station and zooms along towards Baltimore and Philadelphia. I mix enjoying the view of passing cities, suburbs and countryside with writing on my computer. Everybody on this train seems to be busy with their computers, mobile devices, reports or reading a book.

In just a few hours, the train closes in on New Brunswick. Grab the backpack, head for the vestibule and I’m ready at the door, as the train slows down and stops.

As the train pulls out of the station to continue on to New York, I’m head down the stairs to street level. There’s a corner across the road where it’s easy for my friend William to pick me up, turn right into a small street and get back out towards where he lives without going through a major intersection. I dodge cars on the busy street to get over there.

As I look for William in one direction, I hear my name called. I look back across the street. There he is, at the curb, just where I came down from the platform. He was trying to save me a few steps. I was trying to save him circling through the town.

A few minutes later, we’re at his house and I catch up with him, his wife Gisela and a couple of their kids. Okay, it’s been 6 years. Those little kids are definitely not little any more.

And this is a big reason I’m doing this trip this way: To be able to stop in and reconnect with friends I haven’t seen for a long time. We enjoy a leisurely dinner and it seems hard to believe that just a few hours earlier I was in the middle of the nation’s capital. So serene on a deck in suburban New Jersey.

William and Gisela in their gardenOne thing I really appreciate about William is that he’s a deep thinker. So hanging out with him, you never know where the conversation will go. Awesome.

The next evening he offers to take me kayaking. It’s been years since I went canoeing last and he’s told me about kayaking around Manhattan on the Hudson and East River, so I’m a little apprehensive about where we may be headed. But sure, I’m up for the challenge.

We end up at a long lake in the area. Put in and paddle down along shores with magnificent houses on them. Very still evening. Birds coming through, Everything is peaceful. I like this. A quite refreshing way to spend some time together.

Next morning I’m packed again and ready to go. After breakfast, we say our goodbyes. William heads off for work and Gisela takes me to the train station. A New Jersey Transit train will get me to Manhattan. Get a ticket at a ticket machine and then up to the platform. Soon an train sweeps in, 10 or so double decker passenger cars with an electric engine pushing. I find a window seat upstairs in one of them and the journey is on again.

New Brunswick, incoming train with another train in the back
Train station in New Brunswick, NJ, with an incoming New Jersey Transit train headed for New York and on the far track an outbound train for Trenton.
I’ve been here many times before. Still enjoy watching the urban areas fly by outside the window. Then come the Meadowlands, low lying areas close to the Hudson with the ruins of forgotten industry dotting them. Finally, the train ducks into the tunnel under the river and we’re in New York City. There’s a short glimpse of daylight, concrete retaining walls and tall buildings before the train again is under ground entering Penn Station.

Penn Station was built by the Pennsylvania Railroad in the early 1900s and provided a magnificent entry into Gotham. That all ended in 1963, when the great railway station was torn down to be replaced by office towers and Madison Square Garden. Essentially, everything street level and above was razed and replaced. The labyrinths below street level and the tracks even further down are still here as before. So rail travelers today scurry down stairs to get into the station from the streets around it.

Vincent Scully Jr. compared the old Penn Station with the current Penn Station like this: “We used to enter the city like gods, now we scurry in like rats.”

It seems no matter how many times I come here, I still get confused once I’m at concourse level. Often I just head for an exit as it’s easier to get oriented once out on the sidewalk. I just arrived in Manhattan, but I’m not staying. The friend I’m visiting lives in Queens, so I head for the right subway line.

After a few tries, I find my E Subway and am off on another ride under the city. Stations zip by and I get off at Jackson Heights/Roosevelt. When I come up to street level, I’m at a very busy intersection in Queens. People are everywhere. Small stores in every possible and impossible space. The subway below and overhead an elevated line.

This place is hectic any time of the day I’ve ever been there. The bus stops are right by the subway station and I get on the Q49. Ride it to the last stop. By that time it’s passed blocks of tall apartment buildings, more blocks of tightly packed single family houses and duplexes, turned about 180 corners, The stop is a stone’s throw from Flushing Bay and not much further from LaGuardia. I walk down a tree lined street with old homes along it.

I catch up with my friend Rachel for a while. It’s nice to have arrived, even if this trip wasn’t very long at all.

That evening, as Rachel is at work, I head back into Manhattan. The goal is Grand Central Terminal. There are 2 major passenger rail stations in Manhattan. Penn Station which is a ghost of its former self and Grand Central, which might have suffered the same fate, except for everyone waking up to preservation after the destruction of Penn Station.

Grand Central Terminal main hall
The Main Concourse at Grand Central Terminal – a vital space full of people and activity that once came within inches of suffering the same fate as the Penn Station
One of the people instrumental in preserving Grand Central was Jackie O. So we now have a wonderfully restored and very much in use Grand Central Terminal (with an Apple store overlooking the main hall, just in case you need a computer while passing through).

My first train journey in the US, in 1978, was on Amtrak’s Lakeshore Limited, leaving from Grand Central Terminal for Chicago. Tomorrow I’ll repeat that trip, but now Amtrak leaves from Penn Station and Grand Central is all regional trains on Hudson Valley and Connecticut service. More busy than ever.

Grand Central Terminal was the station from where the 20th Century Limited left each evening at 6pm (track 34) for Chicago. Passengers were greeted with a red carpet. This was New York Central’s premier train and it made the trip, non-stop, in 16 hours. Today Amtrak makes a number of stops on the way and is scheduled to take 19.5 hours.

I haven’t been at Grand Central Terminal since the major renovations so I enjoy just taking in the building, including the zodiac painted on the ceiling in the Main Concourse.

Brunch in Astoria with Rachel
Brunch in Astoria with Rachel and Rebecca
The next morning Rachel takes me to brunch at a small café in Queens. Old building, raw brick on the walls, doors open, so half indoor, half outdoor feel. I thoroughly enjoy the time visiting.

It’s time with friends like Rachel and William that make this trip special and so worthwhile. When else would I get to drop into their lives for a day or two like this?

My plan is to take the subway back to Penn Station. Rachel insists on driving me over to the subway. 7 is right here, but E would take me straight to Penn Station. So off we go. Then there’s a missed turn, a car in the other lane and before we know it, we’re on the Queensboro Bridge and next in Manhattan.

In the end, Rachel drives all the way to Penn Station. It’s been a very quick visit. Already I’m back at Penn. The next leg of the journey is about to start.

When you visit a city, do you prepare a list of things you want to see and do there?
When you visit far-away friends, what’s the most important for you in your time with them?

Other parts in this series:
Find all the posts in this series here
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A season for all seasons

Evenings get darker earlier. The smell of smoke from fireplaces. Apple picking. Drying apples for eating later during the winter. Pumpkin patches and hay rides. Long walks on days that are cooler, with a carpet of yellow and red leaves swishing around the feet. Deep blue skies. The occasional day that warms up really nicely for Indian Summer.

Foggy days when the entire world is suddenly only 50’ in each direction. Everything very still and damp. Sounds become scarce.

A time to gather and collect, store up for times ahead. Reap the fruits of long months of labor.

I’m talking about Fall or Autumn, the season that roughly covers the months of September, October and November in the Northern Hemisphere.

The word Autumn traces back through Latin to the ancient Etruscan autu- that has connotations of the passing of the year. In Germanic languages, the word for this season of the year is connected with harvest (German Herbst and Swedish höst). The term “fall” for the season appears derived from phrases like “fall of the leaf”.

Spring is planting and anticipation, trees budding and flowers blooming.

Summer is deep, lush greenery, leisure, long days and a season many people want to be in forever.

Winter is the season when days are short, everything is dark and cold and trees are bare.

But Autumn is a rich time when the world yields its fruit, not just for our enjoyment right now, but to store for coming months, ensuring our survival through seasons with no harvest ahead.

I grew up at the edge of town in a farming community in Sweden. My parents both came from farms. So the plant-grow-harvest cycle of farm life is part of my DNA.

The holiday in Autumn in Sweden is Mårtensafton, celebrated on November 10, prior to the beginning of the fast before Christmas. Actually observing a fast before Christmas is long gone, but people still celebrate Mårtensafton with a feast, featuring goose on the menu.

At that point, the harvest was over, storage barns full and there was plenty to eat and enjoy. Think of it as a Swedish version of Thanksgiving Day. Except with goose instead of turkey. And no football.

The idea is the same though: We worked long and hard to grow and produce all this bounty and now we’re going to enjoy it and be thankful for another harvest.

Fall/autumn, path through forest, leaves changingBut back to Autumn and why it’s my favorite season of the year. It has everything to do with seeing the results of long labor. There is so much of life where we work hard to build up and get things in place and then along come the moments where we get to see mission accomplished. There’s a reward in Autumn that’s missing in other seasons of the year. A sense of completion and fulfillment. Even contentment.

I do like long walks in Autumn when the world is ablaze with color, all shades of yellows, reds, and browns. The air feels fresh, often with a hint of cool in it and it all makes me see possibilities ahead. Because even as the leaves fall, there are other things starting for next season.

Winter wheat and rye is planted, fields are being prepared for next season’s growing (but first a rest over the winter to gather energy for all the growing to come).

Harvested field, woman walking into thick fogOther days in Autumn are cloudy or foggy and the world shrinks. It’s like a wrapping put over a world that is increasingly bare. Day by day, more leaves are gone. Fog and mist covers the nakedness of the trees. That’s time for reflection, for looking inward and seeing if all is well with my soul. It’s time to mature and find what we are really made of.

Sometimes we talk about life as having seasons. There’s the Spring of youth, growing and learning, Summer is the middle of life, family, career, child rearing. Autumn is when we are a bit older. The kids have flown the coop. There may be grandkids. We have established careers and for some the excitement of building that career is long gone. I think the old “mid-life crisis” fits in here, considering 60 is the new 40.

For many it’s a time to reevaluate their career or start a second career. It’s a time when many of us have more capacity to give back to others around us of time, money and maybe most importantly, life-wisdom. Let’s face it, when you’re 50 or 60, you’ve seen a thing or two come and go in this world and have experience that no 20-something will have for another 30-40 years. That’s incredibly valuable.

Maybe responsibilities and the need to provide for a growing family kept us from going for broke on some goals we had earlier in life. Now might be the perfect time to do so. Or to fall in love with a spouse of many years all over again when there are no dirty diapers and no kids to ferry around to all kinds of school and after school activities.

Many men and women reach their greatest accomplishments in the Autumn of their lives. As if everything up to that point in life was merely a precursor and they were being prepared for such a time as this:

  • Henry Ford was 45 when he created the Model T car and as we all know, that was only the beginning.
  • Julia Child was 50 when Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published, before she was in all our homes on TV.
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder published the first of the Little House books when she was 65!
  • Anna Mary Robertson Moses (Grandma Moses) began her painting career at 76!
  • Colonel Sanders was 62 when he started Kentucky Fried Chicken.

That only goes to show that life is full of possibility, at any age. And that the autumn of life may be a perfect time for us to pursue what will become our greatest work and legacy.

For some people autumn (the physical during the year, as well as the period in our life span) is however all about decline. They just see Winter ahead, full of coming darkness. Truly though, nothing lasts forever. In the physical world we can try to move to a place with no seasons, where it’s summer or summer-like all year long. Still doesn’t change the fact that time goes on. I enjoy 4 distinct seasons in the year. The changes are good as are the different focuses of each season and the fact that there are different seasons makes me appreciate each all the more.

Trees in fall, leaves on groundAnd that brings me back to a day in autumn when I can walk through that carpet of leaves of all colors, marveling at the spectacle nature puts on for us. There is a comfort in seeing all that has been accomplished during the year and knowing that because of that, we’re in good shape for dealing with things that lie ahead.

What is your favorite season of the year? What is it that you like about it?
What season in life are you in? What can you do to make the most of that season with the resources you’ve been given?

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Riding the train across the USA: Part 1 — Little Rock, Arkansas — Washington, DC

The waiting room is open and lit, an island in dark night. A few people huddled outside in the dark, warm humidity (July in Arkansas). Inside, rows of solid wood, high backed waiting room benches.

As the clock ticks on, the waiting room fills. Clearly there are a bunch of people taking this train tonight. Parents with young children, older couples, young men looking disaffected. The poor, the middle class. People with time to take it a little slower to get to Chicago or any other town up the track. Blacks, whites, all mixed. The kids are doing well for it being almost midnight. Maybe it is all a big adventure to them.

“Train will be here in 10 minutes.” The ticket agent walks around the waiting room making the announcement. Everyone forms a tidy queue on the walkway to the platform. A conductor comes through and checks passengers off against a list on his mobile device.

The train comes in, bells clanging, slowly rolling along the platform. It stops. Checked luggage is exchanged at the baggage car. Passengers get off.

Then finally, a go ahead and we walk down the platform towards the coaches. All I have is a tag that says “CHI”. No seat number. No car number. Wonder how this will work out, with lots of memories of boarding overnight trains in Europe, pushing into half-full compartments with sleeping inmates. I make it to the appointed, next to last, coach. Waiting behind a group of people loading their suitcases into the already mostly full lower luggage area, I decide to take my chances finding space for my backpack upstairs.

The upstairs in the Superliner is very dimly lit. I spy empty seats down the aisle and quickly get my backpack stowed in the luggage rack overhead, before grabbing a window seat.

With no signal and almost imperceptibly, the train starts moving. Very gently it eases out from the platform and minutes later crosses the Arkansas River. Occasionally the horn blows way up at the front of the train as we wind our way into the night. People settle down to sleep. I have a nice big seat, with footrest and lots of space to the seat in front, and at least for now, an empty seat next to me. It feels good to be on a moving train again.

Amtrak operates a network of 15 long distance routes, from coast to coast, plus a number of regional services. Taking the train from Little Rock to Chicago does take longer than driving, but you’re not driving! You get there having spent travel time doing whatever you want to do.

Morning on a train somewhere in Missouri. Lots of trees and hills. Curvy, single track line. Houses dotting the landscape here and there. This is very rural. I’ve gone camping and canoeing here.

I slept good during the night. When booking this trip, I decided against the extra cost of a roomette in a sleeping car. Figured that if sleeping in coach worked for me years ago when traveling Europe with my backpack, it would be fine now too.

The seats in Amtrak coach are very comfortable. The back reclines (no, not like on an airplane — really reclines) and there’s a foot rest and a leg rest, plus plenty of space to the seat in front. So no need to feel cramped or stuck in one position. I brought a jacket that I use for a cover, and another works as a pillow.

Other passengers have brought full-size pillows and blankets to make themselves seriously comfortable.

The scenery changes as the tracks now parallel a very rain-swollen Mississippi River. The website says we’ll be 40 or so minutes late into St Louis. That means we’ve picked up a little of the delay from Little Rock. At least the train keeps moving at a decent clip. This seems to be a quite long single track line with no sidings for meets. I wonder how many freights are in the hole to let us through.

This is all Union Pacific territory, meaning that trains here are dispatched by people in front of computer screens in a converted freight-house complex in Omaha, Nebraska. I don’t envy them the challenge to mix a fast moving passenger train with much slower and longer freights that may or may not fit in sidings on the line.

St Louis, Amtrak's The Texas Eagle station stop, people on platform
Station stop in St. Louis – The Texas Eagle for Chicago is on the right, a River Runner for Kansas City on the left

The Texas Eagle has a long stop in St Louis. For some passengers that means smoke break, since there’s no smoking anywhere on the train. I take the opportunity to stretch my legs and check out the entire train.

Two diesel engines, baggage car, some sleepers, dining car, sightseer lounge car and a couple coaches. The train started in San Antonio and will end in Chicago. 3 days a week, it carries through cars from Los Angeles.

Across the platform is another train, waiting to head for Kansas City.

Back in my seat, I watch intently as the train moves again, onto an elevated structure that once held a number of other tracks, but now just displays empty girders where those tracks used to be. I can see the River beyond all the rusted steel. Soon we’re out on the bridge, crossing the Mississippi. The train pauses briefly before rolling on into Illinois.

Illinois farm country: a farmstead, fields and crossing a county roadSo I’m in Illinois now and the landscape has changed to flat corn fields, dotted with tidy farms and frequent towns shaped by agriculture. It feels like home to roll by farm supply dealers along the tracks.

The normal route from St Louis to Chicago is a straight speedway, but today we’re taking a scenic detour due to construction. The Texas Eagle winds its way northeast before heading due north towards Chicago.

On the way we pass many Union Pactific freights, all sitting on sidings to give clear way. When crossing the mainline from Champaign to downstate in Tuscola, our train has to stop to allow a freight to clear the diamonds. So far it’s been a good detour line, decent track, but all single track territory.

Computer on my lap in the sightseeing lounge carI do a bit of writing this morning. I decided to leave business projects at home. A break for a little while is a good thing. Instead I brought a novel I’ve been working on off and on for a long time, to maybe reconnect with it and see where it might go from where I left off.

Checking on Amtrak’s website tells me we’re going to be 1 hour 20 minutes late into Chicago. I’d prefer to be on time, but I’ll still have plenty of time to make my next train.

Out the window I happen to see a deer running through a field next to the tracks. Awesome.

Closer to Chicago, things slow down. We’re still on single track and end up having to wait to meet the southbound Texas Eagle. Then there are freights crossing our path and finally it’s Metra rush hour.

As we roll through suburbs, I put my things away and grab my backpack. The game plan is to not get stuck behind the horde of people who will all be downstairs trying to get their suitcases off the luggage shelves. By the time those folks come down, I’m already by the exit doors, watching the city roll by and catching the occasional glimpse of tall buildings in the Loop up ahead.

It’s 5:20pm as I stand on the platform at Chicago Union Station. Instead of a layover of several hours, I’ll have just enough time to look around the station a bit. The Great Hall is awesome, as always, although restoration has made it really shine. I head up the stairs to the corner of Canal and Adams. This is the corner where I got my first views of Chicago back in 1978, having just come in on the Lakeshore Limited from New York. The Sears Tower (yes, I know it has another name now, but to some of us it will always be the Sears Tower) is still there, but so much is new around here. It feels really good to be back here.

Chicago Union Station, Great Hall
Chicago Union Station, Great Hall where people wait for trains in all directions

Shortly after 6pm the boarding process for the Capitol Limited for Washington, DC, starts. Passengers line up in the Great Hall and then we all walk together down to track 28 where the train is waiting. Seat numbers are assigned prior to getting on the train. Mine is an aisle seat, but in the window seat is a woman traveling with her 2 small children who have seats across the aisle. We both figure out that a trade would be a good thing: I get the window seat and she’s right across the aisle from the kids.

Yay — I’ve got a window seat on a full train and it’s on the interesting side, towards the lake as the train speeds out of Windy City, skirting Lake Michigan towards the Indiana border. The train left exactly on time. The next part of the adventure has begun.

Going through the area of old steel mills, I’m stuck at the window. Old industrial buildings that nature is taking over fascinate me. Plenty of that along here. And occasional glimpses of the lake.

I’m in the 9pm dinner seating, but they are running late, plus we crossed time zones, so 9 is really 10. Fashionably late dinner I guess. You get seated with strangers to fill a table of 4. My table mates are 2 women traveling together and a man from Colorado. We have a lively conversation about travel experiences and the meaning of life. (No kidding.)

Morning in southern Pennsylvania. The train snakes along a river surrounded by tree covered hills. I woke up around 7am, realizing I totally missed the stop at Pittsburgh during the night. Must have slept good.

Breakfast in the cafe care at the window as the train snakes along a riverThe dining car has both full dining as well as a café/lounge section. In the latter, I get breakfast: yogurt with granola, a bagel and orange juice. Pretty awesome to enjoy that at a table while watching the river outside snake by. Sometimes the curves are tight enough that I can see the engines up ahead.

After breakfast I make my home in the sightseer lounge. Comfortable chairs and panorama windows make the trip a delightful spectacle. We roll through small towns that look like time passed them by years ago. Some rock cuts we pass through seem close enough to almost touch the train. I’m not sure when we pass into West Virginia, but at some point we leave the river we’ve followed and eventually start descending on the other side of the mountains.

I get some writing done on my computer, but honestly, it’s hard to focus on that when there’s ever changing scenery outside. Martinsburg, WV, has an amazing new/old station building, combining recent construction with an old railroad hotel, from before the civil war. Across the tracks are the historic Martinsburg Shops built by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad as part of the early efforts to connect the interior of the country with the Atlantic coast. What was it like when the railroaders built the original B&O line through the Alleghenies in the infancy of railroading in the early 1800s?

The train rolls on and a little later we stop at Harper’s Ferry. That’s another place that I’ve never detoured off the Interstate to visit. Now I get to ride through it and watch happy rafters on the Potomac River below the train bridge. There’s history everywhere you turn around here.

Walking back through the coaches, I see a bunch of people still trying to sleep even though it’s almost lunch time. I think that says something about how worn out many of us are these days.

This train runs once a day, each direction, Chicago to Washington, DC and is almost full. So much for the idea that no one or only few take the train. If this route was upgraded to allow full use of 79 mph, wherever possible, travel time would be less.

Taking the train is already almost competitive with driving from Little Rock to Washington, DC, which requires 2 full days of driving and an overnight stay.

Real high speed trains would be a giant step forward, but that’s so far off in this country, it’s not even funny. So until we have stomach for that investment, I’d love to see continued incremental improvements to ensure trains run on time and with a bit higher average speeds.

Washington, DC, Union Station platform, passengers walking towards the station building
Arrival in Washington, DC – passengers heading for the terminal building
It’s an easy run into Washington DC. We roll into Union Station about 30 minutes late. Not bad at all. I walk through the concourse full of shops and people out in front of the station. The time on the train has been revitalizing. I’m starting to rethink my book-in-progress and getting more in touch with myself.

Later in the evening, I walk the length of the Mall, from the Capitol down to the WWII memorial. A nice evening stroll enjoying a summer evening. Tomorrow is the meeting I came here for, but right now I’m just soaking in being present in this place.

Do you have a favorite mode of travel?
Is there a journey you’ve made that stands out to you? What made it special?

Other parts in this series:
Find all the posts in this series here
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My cup runneth over…

What happens when you put 275 or so writers and bloggers into a room for a weekend?

That’s what I experienced recently at the 2017 Tribe Conference in Franklin, Tennessee. I was there last year and coming back I expected great things. Some conferences are basically the same from year to year. Not so the Tribe Conference.

It’s organized by Jeff Goins, writer and blogger extraordinaire and over the weekend covers 4 key areas: Honing Your Voice, Establishing Your Platform, Expanding Your Reach and Going Pro. That said, the speakers this year were different from last year, so it’s all new content! And it’s not just a speaker or two. Jeff brought in 16 speakers who come from very varied backgrounds, each with their unique message.

Some of the speakers at Tribe Conference 2017: Crystal Paine, Jon Acuff, Marsha Shandur and Ryan Holiday
Some of the speakers at Tribe Conference 2017: Crystal Paine, Jon Acuff, Marsha Shandur and Ryan Holiday

A year ago I was in the midst of refocusing and rebranding my business of 10 years. This year I’ve changed the business name and launched new websites — for online platform building and business strategy products and services at ClaesJonasson.Design and for writing, including a novel-in-progress, at (where you’re reading this).

I’m doing more writing than I ever have, so Tribe Conference 2017 was extremely timely, exactly what I needed for the next steps. Because there is always a next step.

I also came away with a long list of ideas for blog posts for both my Design and Writing audiences. Yay!

Being in a place like the Tribe Conference is unique because of all the other writers around you. Before the Conference even started, there was a meetup at a local coffeeshop, then ample time during the conference to connect with people I already knew, had met online in workshops or on Facebook, or had never seen before. The sheer variety amazes and encourages me. Each person has a story.

On Saturday I had lunch with a pastor who has several Bible studies and devotionals that he delivers via email. What started as a chat over a bratwurst, ended up being a mix of business strategy and planning out a migration for him from one email platform to another and how that would improve how he delivers and manages his courses.

The next day, I had lunch with a musician (yes, it’s Nashville) who tours with Carrie Underwood, teaches music business at a college and is the cofounder of a Mastermind group in the Nashville area. It was an electrifying time talking about writing, creative endeavors and business and pushing ideas back and forth.

I went to Tribe Conference, having just passed a milestone in getting my rebranding done and being back to blogging again, which is exciting! (Yes, I’ve had several blogs in the past that for one reason or another gave up the ghost. I also produced a podcast for a couple of years.)

So I was looking forward, for the next steps. Not clarity, because as Jeff pointed out on Friday evening, we weren’t likely to find that there. (Clarity, though commonly talked about in branding, is at best elusive — a fleeting mountain top experience. Then you have to get down in the valley again and take the next step and the next and that’s where the real work is done.) Jeff did expect us to find 1 key thing to do to move forward and even to do it while at the conference so we’d be on a roll when we got home.

For me that one thing is to build up a regular writing time into my day. I’m now starting each day writing. 500 words, at least. Write new content today and edit yesterday’s content. Tomorrow, rinse and repeat.

Premium workshopThen there’s the elephant in the room. I mentioned a novel-in-writing. It’s been sidelined throughout the refocusing and rebranding process. Now it’s time to deal with it, lest it become a “someday book” that never gets written and into the hands of actual readers. So while at the conference, in our problem-solving workshop, I presented my challenge to the others around the table and came away with several good ideas for next steps to make sure the book makes it out of “someday.” On the drive home, I added to those ideas and for the first time mentally walked through the entire process from a first draft to printed book. Taking next steps.

One friend I met up with at the conference is an author from California. We’ve been in workshops online and have talked on the phone, but this was the first time meeting in person. She was so excited to bring the first copies of her new book to Tribe Conference and I’m looking forward to reading it and reviewing it. And holding her brand new book in my hand, the thought went through my mind: Next year that could be me!

So two and a half days of constant teaching sessions, meetups and one-on-one interactions are over. I’m back home. Was it worth the trip, effort, time and expense? You bet. In fact, I already have my ticket for next year.

Top notch speakers and training – check.

Opportunities to meet and connect with people from all around the US and other countries – check

Hanging out with other writers and bloggers who understand that every word you type is a little bit of your soul – check

Massive encouragement packed into a short amount of time – priceless

Jeff Goins and conference attendees dancing on the stage during a break

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