Christian Chernock:  Designing a Life|Building for the Future  

Christian’s success in residential development is built on lessons he learned while training as a professional golfer.  From mentors like Hank Haney and ‘Psycho Dave’ Esterbrook, he learned how to set and achieve goals, practice with intention and how to work hard.  His professional golf plans were shattered due to a back injury when he was 28 years old.  In this interview, Christian shares his journey to his current and very fulfilling life.

Season 1   |   Episode 4   |   August 21, 2019

Show Notes

Passion is the result of a good life design, not the cause.

Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life


I knew that Christian’s story would be interesting because while he was building his residential development business he also finished a Masters degree in Transpersonal Psychology at Naropa University in Boulder, CO.   This all came on the heels of an existential exit as a professional golfer as a result of a career-ending back injury.  Let all that sink in!

He now owns and operates Christian Chernock Properties, a design + build firm in Dallas that focuses on the revitalization of historic and conservation districts.  His intellect and focus on sustainable and future-focused design pushes the edges – and some local residents’ buttons, too!

Christian’s background as a high performing athlete and his ongoing commitment to ‘leave it all on the field’ have been instrumental to his success.

Here’s what to listen for in the interview.

  • How Christian integrated the concepts of Lifestyle Design, self-awareness and professional support to move him through this critical life transition.
  • Lifelong passions as clues for living a fulfilling life.
  • The importance of finding and giving oneself over to the right teachers and to committing to deliberate practice in service of your greatest desires.
  • Reduce overwhelm and build confidence by breaking big goals into manageable milestones and do-able steps.
  • The challenge of architecting an environment that elicits pride 100 years from now while also addressing historic preservation, increasing density, rising rents, and building codes. Generating an evolutionary future that respects the past and protects the sense of place is a tall order!

The Details

Designing a Life: 

Unbeknownst to me, there is a term for putting intentional thought and then creating a strategy for realizing it:  Lifestyle Design.  Tim Ferris coined the term in his book, The Four-Hour Work Week.  I have always called it ‘visioning’ and do ‘visioning’ work with individual clients and with teams and organizations.  In fact, clarity around what one is expending time and resources towards is important, especially as it evolves.

Stanford professors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans have written a fantastic book that applies design thinking principles to life and career:  Designing Your Life:  How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life.  Check out their Designing Your Life website, read this article on LinkedIn or as Christian says, “just google lifestyle design”!


Self-awareness means that you are conscious of various aspects of yourself:  your thoughts, your feelings and emotions – including emotional and physical responses; your moods; your capabilities; your beliefs and biases; and the impact your behaviors and actions have on others, and more.

Self-awareness is a foundational skill in development and change.  Christian’s sports psychologist, ‘Psycho-Dave’, gave Christian the practice of moving golf tees from one pocket to the other each time he had a negative thought.

Try these self-awareness practices:

  • Do a daily ‘mood check’. Bring awareness to what mood you’re currently in.  Find descriptive words better than good, or fine. For example: try hopeful, joyful, anxious, resentful, excited, etc.  Leaders (all types) have an exponential impact on the mood of their organization, so it’s important that you recognize yours.  You can’t change something you’re not aware of.
  • Set a reminder to take 30 seconds – one minute several times a day to notice if/where you are carrying tension in your body and relax it. We all have our favorite places!
  • Notice what you pay attention to. Do you find more things wrong or right with people and situations?
  • Like Christian, notice negative thoughts (especially victim-oriented ones!) and move a piece of jewelry (watch, ring, bracelet) from one hand to the other.  You can also copy Christian’s practice of moving an item(s) from one pocket to the other.  Your mood and emotions (and relationships!) are influenced by your thoughts.

Finding Flow, or Timeless Awareness

  • When faced with the rest of his life ahead of him and previous plans shattered, Christian asked himself where he found passion. Since childhood, he would get lost in designing and building things, first with Legos and then through architecture classes in high school.
  • From Wikipedia: “… a flow state, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one’s sense of space and time.”

Questions to ponder:

  • During what activities do you find yourself in this ‘timeless awareness’?
  • Do you remember experiencing these times during childhood? If so, what were you doing?  If you don’t remember, maybe someone close to you does.  Ask them.
  • Do you know what contributes to your sense of flow, and can you craft an environment that promotes this feeling?

Deliberate Practice and Using a Coach

  • The term, deliberate practice, was coined by Anders Ericsson. Basically, he makes the distinction that practice alone won’t result in improved performance.  We all know about having to unlearn ineffective approaches.  In order to reach a level of mastery, or expert performance, one must engage in practice with these components:

Aspects of Deliberate Practice:

  • Grounded in a well-developed field where people have reached expert levels of competitive-based performance (most sports, music, chess, dance).
  • Requires a teacher who can provide practices designed to help improve performance.
  • Effective training techniques have already been established.
  • Demands stretch – moving outside of one’s comfort zone.
  • Based on well-defined, specific goals.
  • Requires a person’s full attention and conscious actions.
  • Feedback – first from an expert or coach, then from self-assessment.
  • Mental representations – what something looks, feels, sounds like when a goal is reached.
  • Typically involves building on existing skills; fundamental skills are important.

Strictly speaking, most of our professional lives aren’t a good fit for a ‘perfect’ deliberate practice. However, a person focused on developing their effectiveness could follow the same guidelines and get fantastic results.  I found Christian’s advice on how to use a coach spot on! I would extend this to most approaches for improvement.  Commit to a path, practices and instructions to get the best results.

Breaking Down Goals

  • Christian’s description and examples of breaking down a vision into smaller goals may be the best I’ve heard. Here’s how it goes:
  • Goal: Play in a PGA Tour (starting with the goal and working your way down)
    • Play a Junior Tour
    • Become a top amateur and collegiate player
    • Become an All-American
    • Win a tournament
    • Finish top 5
    • Finish top 10
    • Improve driving and five-foot putts (Deliberate Practice)
    • Hit ‘x’ number drivers; practice five-foot putts for ‘x’ amount of time (Deliberate Practice)
    • Get instruction (Deliberate Practice)
  • Goal: Develop a Multi-Family Project (working from bottom-up)
    • Manage small renovation projects
    • Volunteer at Habitat for Humanity
    • Learn specific skills from people who already do this well
    • Manage larger renovation projects
    • Small single-family new build project
    • Large single-family new build project
    • Small multi-family new build (4 plex)
    • Medium multi-family new build (8 plex)
    • Small apartment complex (20+ units)

Luck and wishful thinking don’t make achievements like this happen. We’ve heard of the saying, An overnight success that took 10 years.  Look at any level of sustainable achievement and a process like this goal-breakdown and some semblance of deliberate practice underlies it.

A Perspective That Creates Space

Admittedly, I have been one to want to keep the neighborhood where I have recently re-located quaint and community-focused.  The first time I met with Christian he provided me with a new perspective on density, human migration and how to design the built environment for the world we live in today and that will support us in the future.  He expands on this during this podcast.

The era when the historic Oak Cliff neighborhoods were built has passed.  Even as new homes are built in the old style, they are designed with today’s lifestyle standards in mind. Our focus and energy are much better placed on the positive mark we want to make – the beauty we want to create and the modern communities we want to establish.  We can do this while honoring the sense of place we love while also preserving the best of the beautiful and historic places.

And we’re back to managing polarities, see the Show Notes from Episode 2 with David Spence

As always, I’m curious about what you learned from this conversation.

Elevate Your World,



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