Skip to content

Archive for

Never Cross a Glacier with a Weak Team

I’m currently training for a high altitude trek in the Andes mountains of Peru, the Salkantay trail to Machu Pichu.  I’ve done treks like this before including the Davidson Glacier in Alaska, Mt. Everest Basecamp trek in Nepal and the Machame Route to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa.

Mountain climbing and glacier trekking require superb conditioning and precision teamwork.  When tethered on a dangerous slope or when crossing a snow blown field of ice your very life may well depend upon who is sharing the rope with you.  You must feel confident that, should you slip into a crevasse or lose your balance, your teammates will be able to hold on and pull you to safety.  Likewise, you must be able to save someone else and to … literally … pull your own weight.  Once, when crossing a glacier in Alaska, I was on a line with a young riverboat captain from Juneau who was dogging it all afternoon.  Continually, I could feel tension on the line and when I turned around, sure enough, the rope was taut and I was dragging him up the slope or across the valley. Considerably older than my riverboat companion and doing my best to drag my own weight, I turned to him after several urgings and warned that the next time I turned around I would have my Swiss Army blade out and would cut the line.  He picked up his pace and I never had a problem the rest of the day.

5 Questions:

  • Would you cross a glacier with your current team?
  • Could you save someone if he or she fell into a crevasse?
  • Would they be able to save you?
  • If necessary, could you use your Swiss Army knife?
  • Or, better yet, can you improve your selection and qualifying process to minimize the need to remove members of your team during critical moments of your mission?

If you answered “No” to any of the questions above, you may wish to consider finding a new team…


Perhaps You are Merely Lost in Mid-Sentence…

I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, Sir, because I’m not myself you see.

–   Alice, “Alice in Wonderland”

You are both the author of your biography and the protagonist in a work of fiction.

Although some would argue that our story is already written and that we are simply walking through our pre-determined roles, I’m not among them.  That being said, when it comes to the choices we make — how/why/what we decide — I’ll concede a portion of the “Free Will is a Myth” argument. It’s impossible (foolish) to dismiss the impact and minimize the complexity of the genetic, biochemical, social, environmental and physical determinants that create circumstance and feed the decisions we make.

At this very moment, now, this mostly carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen mass of neurons, protons and electrons called, “Michael” is the sum total of his (its) atomic experience.  Okay, got it.  What about the next moment?  Is there a point in time where there is an “I” and “I” gets to call the shots?  How about a moment where I get to take the stage for a solo performance while giving a tip of my hat or the back of my hand (depending upon the performance) to my supporting cast of ancestors, butterfly wings, travelers, dopamine surges and neuron receptors?

In this cosmic story, am I (Michael) a word, a paragraph, a punctuation mark, an independent/dependant clause?  Perhaps I’m merely a work in progress, a partially written sentence created by a multitude of causes put into play before this form of “I” arrived.  That being the case, perhaps I am both an evolving and expanding causation particle in a collective universe as well as a solitary effect innocently stumbling in mid-sentence — pen in hand, tasked with completing the line — doing the best I can and trying not to get too lost along the journey?  Yes, I am both.  And — so I believe — are you.

I find myself in this uncomfortably comfortable camp of supporting a philosophy of limited free will and limited determinism.  This allows me to have a firm moral compass based on the belief that the events preceding this moment (many completely out of my control … birth, gender, race, flapping butterflies, etc.) may have determined this moment HOWEVER the proximity of now gives me — and you — the freedom and the RESPONSIBILITY of choice.


“So long as a man imagines that he cannot do this or that, so long as he is determined not to do it; and consequently so long as it is impossible to him that he should do it.”

– Baruch Spinoza


The Scar…

I am pleased to announce that I have been invited and I have accepted an invitation to give the Keynote address for Breast Cancer Focus, Inc.  The event will take place on May 6th in Anchorage, Alaska.  The mission of Breast Cancer Focus, Inc. is to forge a cohesive team as a catalyst for obtaining funds to support advocacy, education, research and compassionate giving in Alaska and to help eradicate breast cancer.  My talk will be “Beyond Survival…Living a Life of Thrival.”

The essay below will help explain my dedication to this cause.  It was requested by the British medical journal “The Lancet” and was published on February 16, 2006.  My guess is that the “Author’s Note” at the end of the posting will resonate with many of you.


The Scar.  I look in the mirror and there it is. A diagonal line, about 8 inches, it stretches from my right armpit to my sternum. It’s always there. The scar. It’s always there.

April 8, 1999. It’s tax time in the USA and that means a last minute dash to my accountant’s office where I am both nervous at the prospect of owing the government more money and anxious to get this annual torture behind me. The office looks the same as it did last year, and the year before, and the year before that. The secretary is as friendly as always and the coffee is as bad as I remember it. As I walk down the hall to my accountant’s office, I reflect for a moment on how quickly time passes. Wasn’t I just here?

Same wrinkled white shirt, same tie askew, same papers piled high on his desk. Yes, it’s tax time, all right. Standing up with outstretched hand, Rod smiles his big Irish smile as he greets me. Same old Rod, friendly and inviting. But, he looks tired. Really tired, and, different.

“How are you?” I ask with more than the usual, everyday, courtesy tone. “Are you alright?” “Actually,” he says, “I just finished my second round of chemo and I am a bit out of sorts.” A quick tilt of my head tells him that I didn’t know about the, what? Cancer? “Yes.” He says, reading my face, “I had a modified radical mastectomy in January.”

Too much to process. Not only was Rod sick, he has cancer. And, wait a minute, what did he just say? “Modified radical mastectomy”? Breast cancer? Rod? A man? Breast cancer? Again, my expression speaks for me as I stare across the desk. He’s seen this look before, I can tell. “Surprised me, too!” he says with a small, thin smile and raised eyebrows.

The tax part of the visit goes quickly as we talk more about IT. How did you discover IT? How is the family dealing with IT? How are you handling IT? One thing is clear: neither of us thought that IT could happen to men. After about an hour of this, we stand up, shake hands; I give him a hug and tell him I’ll pray for him. He says, ‘Thank you” and smiles his big Irish smile but, this time, a little less big.

I walk out of Rod’s office, down the hall, out the door, down the stairs, out onto the sidewalk, and walk toward my parked car. As I reach for my keys with one hand, I puzzle about how we allow the small things in life to steal our time when time goes by so quickly. With the other hand, I check out my breasts. First the left one, then the right one. Then, I stop dead in my tracks. Behind the right nipple, hard as a rock, about the size of a small pea, I feel something. No pain, but definitely, something.

I smile at the power of suggestion. I mean, what are the odds, right? I just saw my accountant, he shares with me that he has breast cancer; I check myself over and find a lump. Come on, now. What are the odds? What was the likelihood that I, too, had invasive ductal carcinoma? Breast cancer. In a pathology report issued June 2, 1999, I got my answer: SAMUELSON, MICHAEL,M 51 YRS, DIAGNOSIS: BREAST (RIGHT): INVASIVE DUCTUAL CARCINOMA. On June 14, 1999, like my friend and accountant, Rod Byrne, I had a modified radical mastectomy. What are the odds, indeed.

When it comes to breast cancer, men are more likely to die from embarrassment than they are from the disease. In general, men do not like to talk about their health or go to the doctor. And, trust me on this one, most men don’t like to even think about having breasts. Pecs, maybe, but not breasts! So, they often ignore the early signs of breast cancer until too late. If my accountant hadn’t been comfortable enough to tell me about his cancer, and had I not taken the initiative to seek professional help, it is unlikely that this article would have been written. Given the fact that I had a Grade 3 tumor (very aggressive growth) the odds are I would have died.

Living a Life of Healthy Uncertainty…

Author Note:  After my surgery, I became certified in technical climbing at the Alaskan Mountaineering School, trekked to the base camp of Mount Everest, climbed to the summit of Mt Kala Patar in Nepal, and hiked across the Davidson Glacier in Alaska. In addition, I reached the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro in Africa in 2006.   In July, 2011 I trekked over the Salkantay Mountain Pass in the Peruvian Andes on my way to Machu Pichu.  Why? Well, in part because I moved out of the village of Someday. You know the place; it’s where we put off living life because of the Toos. Too old, too poor, too busy, too out of shape. Now, as I look in the mirror and see the eight inch diagonal line that stretches from my right armpit to my sternum, the line that’s always there—the scar—I often smile with the realization that the only Too I know for sure is the fact that life is too short.


Happiness is the Journey…Not the Destination

Sustained Well-Being (success, happiness) ensues from the honorable and enjoyable pursuit of meaningful goals. Quoting Viktor Frankel, “…success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success…”


When it comes to motivation, the investigative and clinical work of  Robert Sapolsky, Dan Pink, Ed Deci, Carol Dweck, Al Bandura, Tal Ben-Shahar, Malcolm Gladwell and many others in the field of brain science support the theory that the motivating impact of the projected trappings of success (often as defined by others) — money, trips, cars, big houses, fancy clubs — are transitory at best and often counter productive.  Certainly this applies to the flip side of the coin, as well.  The threat of loss or pain will motivate behavior but at some point the physical and emotional toll is devastating and everything grinds to a halt.


  • Accept and respond to the fact that carrots and sticks are not equal. In hierarchical organizations, retention and acquisition of key members requires esprit décor, personal satisfaction, a sense of purpose, humor, a level of meaningful control, and contribution to a cause.  These heart and soul engagement conditions are the key factors needed to overcome stressful events while advancing personal well being. External factors may help initiate behavior (extrinsic motivation) but internal subjective engagement is necessary for healthy sustained change (intrinsic motivation).  The primary focus of management is to keep the doors open…the primary focus of the individual is to advance personal well being.  The great news: With attention to detail, this is a mutually beneficial relationship.
  • Take a formal inventory of your culture including senior staff attitudes, physical plant, access to healthy eating, removal of “junk” food, healthy competition with team recognition, focus groups, wellness committees, etc. Every time you name a feature of your wellness/primary prevention plan, ask yourself…So What? And, take it right down to the individual’s intrinsic needs.
  • Survey your members regarding what is meaningful to them.


Sharing the Stage with Alan Webber & Bridget Duffy


For the past thirty-five years I’ve been most fortunate to make a good living while pursing my passion for all things related to health promotion and disease prevention.  I’ve built companies, written books, lectured at prestigious universities, asked a lot of questions and — most important — paid attention!  You can find detailed information on my website, however, here is where I’ll post my quick thoughts related to the professional field of health and wellness and where I will recap my most recent field trips.  For example, last week I had the honor of sharing the stage in Washington DC with a brilliant and passionate physician, Bridget Duffy.  Our audience was 4,000+ physicians and nurses representing the Department of Defense Medical Health Systems.  Our moderator was the equally brilliant and passionate Alan Webber, former Editor-in-Chief of the Harvard Business Review and Co-Founder of the Fast Company magazine.  We spoke on the issues of leadership and building a strong medical health team to serve the needs of today’s military.  While focused on the military the comments are relevant for any employer group.  If interested you can view the video at:

Just move the time bar to the 49:00 mark to begin the discussion.

I then left DC and gave the opening remarks in San Diego at a boutique conference dealing with behavioral economics (why smart people do stupid things) and sat on a panel with my old friends and colleagues Dee Edington and Larry Chapman to talk about the future of health promotion … kind of a “best practices to next practices” session with three guys with a combined time in service of over 100 years.

In the coming weeks I’m scheduled to give talks in Ann Arbor, Manitoba, Alaska, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Texas and Florida on topics including cancer awareness, leadership, peak performance, health economics and — once again — the future of the health and wellness industry.  Specific dates and topics will be listed on my website.

Stay tuned…Oh, and a signed copy of my latest book goes to the first person who identifies the “CI” in my signature block.