Beginnings

*** DISCLAIMER: Ramblings ahead. I woke up thinking the first line and wanted to let it come out, dragging a magician’s string of handkerchiefs behind it if it so desired. But I did want to publish it because that adds some reality that I couldn’t afford it if the bits and bytes that recorded these thoughts stayed locked away inside a digital den like so much treasure hoarded by a greedy dragon. ***

I sometimes think that my life didn’t really begin in earnest until I reached college. Specifically when I began attending Bradley University. It was then that I actually began to experience a tremendous amount of growth as a person – a trajectory which I would continue to see (grow and change) ever since.

I remember very clearly a moment when that growth was mentioned to me sometime in my second year. I was told by an acquaintance in Alpha Phi Omega that they thought I’d grown a lot in the last year and they were really impressed.

It was almost the first compliment I remember receiving that I had actually believed and taken pride in. (Sarah compliment) I don’t know if it was that moment that catalyzed the change I would continue to see in myself or if it was just a moment that would stick with me until now and hopefully for many years to come. But I do know that changing and growing has become more and more a part of me that I am proud of and focused on.

While I have many things about myself that I choose not to focus on out of fear or prioritization, there are many others (mostly internal perspectives and thought processes) that are constantly being re-evaluated and modified.

But these aren’t things I’m focusing on and then modifying. It’s more like being at the gym and working with a personal trainer where they are focusing not on the weights you’re lifting or the exercises you’re doing but on the form and movement of your body. (training with Khaled)

You start developing better habits around those movements by having awareness of where your body is out of alignment. It’s the awareness of things I want to do better in my life that helps me change.

The only issue I’ve run into that I have the most difficulty dealing/struggling with is that the more someone ELSE wants me to bring awareness to something and the less it was MY idea, the less likely I seem to want to change it.

A great example is biting my nails. I was never a hugely prodigious nail biter. I didn’t usually bite them down to the quick or have a lot of bleeding fingertip moments, but I did bite them quite a bit. I know I recognized the negative impact of biting my nails, but it continued on until sometime in 2011 or 2012 when I was taking guitar lessons. I wanted to learn how to finger-pick and that required having longer nails, so I stopped biting them.

That was it. No one asked me to stop biting them, or told me that I had to. It was just a question of “yeah, you’d probably be able to pick better if your nails were longer.”

Same thing with biting my fingers – I just decided I wanted to stop and while it’s been a much harder thing to quit, I find myself sticking to it more.

Ditto with smoking. I smoked from 1997 to about 2001 with a few months off around 1999  when I was trying to quit for my girlfriend at the time, (Jen). I recognized the negative aspects of smoking but they didn’t really stick in my head, nor the importance of stopping sooner than later.

I’m tempted to say something about how when you’re young you think you have all the time in the world, but the reality is that we’re always young, so that’s simply not a valid hypothesis. More accurate would be to say that our lives without focus and intention are not lives at all, but a string of experiences washed over us by an ocean of possibilities.

Someone posted on FB recently “vacation is having nothing to do and all day to do it in.” That was my life until college. And it’s not that it changed instantly that year and everything was different, but it was then that things began to shift.

And it took about 10 years from then for the shift to accelerate to where I am now. Somewhere in 2012 is where I started really living with intention. Focusing enough of my energy every day on living with intention that I felt a shift from experiencing life to living life.

It really is a subtle shift, but it’s an important one. And that doesn’t mean I’m in control of my life now any more than I was before – you can’t control the world. But you can impact how you experience it.

I say impact because I don’t believe you can control yourself any more than you can control the world. You can influence both but you can’t control either. It’s really just a question of living with intention at the time and truly believing afterward that you did the best you could.

Because doubt truly is the mind-killer. It shifts our focus implicitly into the past tense and does a really good job of keeping it there.

“I wish I’d been …” is evil. It goes against not only the natural order and the laws of space-time (as far I understand them) but also against who you are. Because you are the sum of the experiences you’ve had and the choices you’ve made. So if you were to change ANYTHING in your past, you wouldn’t be EXACTLY who you are today.

And if you don’t want to be exactly who you are today then how can you begin to become the person that you want to be tomorrow? More importantly, how will you ever be able to believe that you’re doing your best?

In a way it comes down to a simple statement which I think you can either accept or reject: “I am the best version of myself that I can be and I intend to continue as such.”

If you accept that statement completely and permanently, then you will never doubt your choices and you will have a firm foundation upon which to build every day of your future.

And that’s the blissful part of life for me. The thing that really keeps me going and moving forward at what can sometimes seem like they would be break-neck speeds. (skateboard)

I don’t doubt or waver or question myself – just do the best I can. That doesn’t mean I always know what to do or what will yield the “optimal result”. But it does mean that regardless of the result it will be optimal.

I had a great conversation with David S and a few others a while ago that was around the duality of the reality of life. Specifically that you have no control over what happens but you have complete accountability for it. I can’t control the things that happen to and around me, nor can I control the results of my actions. But at the same time, I create the world I experience and therefore the things that happen to and around me, and every result of my actions.

In most conversations I have with folks there’s an implicit assumption that either they have NO control over life, the universe, and everything, or they have FULL control over the same. The latter tend to be fewer in number, but the “manifestation” crowd is definitely growing.

I’ve also met a very small number of folks who speak about the third option – BOTH and NEITHER. Jack Butler was I think the first person to introduce me to this concept in a workshop that he did on being a conscious change agent.

I still remember seeing a chart on the board (enneagram?) that had four quadrants which I believe were segmented based on varying degrees of your influence over reality and reality’s influence over you.

One quadrant was the victim – no influence over reality or its influence over you, just stuck experiencing the world as it’s handed out. There was also the author, who on the opposite end of the spectrum influenced everything around them including (albeit passively) the color of the sky and the firmness of reality.

Then there was the shaman. This quadrant assumed a fluid ability to navigate and adjust their reality. Accepting the influence of the world on the self and the self’s influence on the world as equal in measure and importance. This is the quadrant that I was discussing with David et al and referring to above.

There was another quadrant but I don’t believe we ended up talking about it and I’m not sure what it would be. Reality has no influence over you and you have no influence over reality … hmm … I imagine a leaf. A phantasmal leaf forever blowing in an unsteady wind – unable to change, only to observe. It feels like a lonely existence.

Guest Post for LastingVow.com

I was recently asked to do a guest post for LastingVow.com about my and LuAnne’s relationship. Looking for some writer’s de-blocker I read back over an old post from my old blog and … honestly I just felt like that was the story I should share.

So here it is. 5 points if you get the title reference ;-)

Girl in the Sea

I don’t really tell this story. It’s one of those things I sometimes doubt anyone will believe – but I guess this is one of those times I just don’t care.

The first time I met LuAnne was in a dream.

It was the summer of 2004, while i was spending a trimester abroad in Guadalajara. I can’t nail down the exact day or time, or anything like that. What i can tell you is that it was on the second floor of the UAG (Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara) main building, in a corner room with a wall of windows looking into the cavernous center of the building.

I was studying for some test or other when i dozed off and had a vivid dream of one of my fellow students, a girl with curling blond hair, running into the room excited and ecstatic. In the dream I watched as she jumped into the arms of a man who I believed to be another student who was her real life boyfriend. Caught up in her joy, he spun her around – although it was more like her energy and happiness is what caused them to twirl.

It was a movie moment. The kind of thing you expect to exist only in Hollywood. And what was really strange was that although the other person had initially looked like her boyfriend, he felt like me. And even stranger, she didn’t feel like her, she felt like “the Girl of My Dreams”.

I’m not sure how to explain it any better, but ever since i was a child, i had dreams where i was loved and appreciated by this idyllic girl in my dreams. It might have been a nightmare we were fighting to survive together, or a utopia we shared for the space of a few hours before i woke up. But regardless of the circumstances, or what she looked like, it was always that same ESSENCE.

Anyone who’s ever said “it looked like so and so, but it was actually this other person” when talking about a dream knows exactly what i mean.

Now like i said, i’ve had dreams about this girl for almost as long as i can remember dreaming, though the first dream i can actually bring to mind was some time in the 7th grade or so … maybe earlier, maybe later. The point is that I recognized her in that dream. The difference was how much i wanted it to be real! I mean, of course I’d vaguely wished upon a dream before, but this was different. Maybe it was because i had only been dozing, but the dream felt so real that i was almost convinced I could have reached through the sheer veil of dream and pulled it into reality.

I thought about that dream a lot. I may have even blogged about it … though it’s doubtful considering certain other circumstances in my life at the time.

That summer a movie called “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” opened in theaters and made its way fairly quickly to the theater in the mall about a half mile from the apartment i lived in with my roommate Marianna.

I walked to the theater alone and ended up meeting a friend from class there. We watched the film together, and walked out to a torrential downpour. We waited a bit for the storm to calm down (as they usually did) and briefly chatted about the movie. It was a pretty big eye-opener for me to hear him say that he didn’t really enjoy it, and that he didn’t really get it. (or at least parts of it)

I had thought it was a perfect metaphor.

No, it’s not that … It was what I wanted. As foolish as it may sound to wish to have the life of the main character – fighting a losing battle to retain the memories of his “Tangerine” – i found myself feeling as if it was the most noble and undying kind of love there is.

You have to watch the movie, i think, to understand why the circumstances which bring the two people in it together might be considered amazing, or even enviable.

When I finally said farewell to my classmate and walked home in the not-so-diminished rain, I walked home with a barely audible question crossing my lips almost frequently enough to be mistaken for a mantra: “Where is my Tangerine?”

The question brought my dream to mind, and all my previous encounters with my “dream girl”, but it yielded no real answers. The only thing i knew … more intuited than anything, was that she was out there. She was out there and if i didn’t find her that wouldn’t make her any less real.

It was several months after that that I had the most important dream. I’ve told a few people about it – always with the same embarrassed look and downcast eyes that people reserve for the confession of some horrible secret that they almost want to be taken as a joke.

I wrote down the details as soon as i woke up, and though i can’t find that piece of paper right now (i hope i haven’t lost it) I’ll tell you what I wrote on it.

The first part of the dream took place in a wide open space, but with people around. I remember red bricks on the ground, and the feeling of some kind of loose gathering. People were there for a reason, but they weren’t obligated to stay … more like the crowd in a central area of a shopping mall than one at a concert or meeting.

I don’t remember seeing her at that point, but i remember being aware of her. The dream shifted in that subtle way dreams have. It was almost like the dream was painted on top of another one, and the paint of the first started running off the canvas until only the other dream remained – only the canvas was sideways and the first dream was running off in rivulets to the past.

In the second dream she was with me in a large white room – a new apartment or home. It felt more like an apartment though because the whiteness of it was that stringent cleanliness that only rentals seem to be able to have. That smell and look that almost dare you to do anything other than walk in and sleep in the middle of the room without touching the walls or ruining its great emptiness with your petty furniture.

We were on the second floor – i knew that much. I remember seeing her standing in the apartment with me. Tall, but not a giant. Her hair was dark, but not brown, though that seemed more due to the baseball cap she was wearing than anything.

I think we were having a conversation, but i don’t know for sure. I only remember walking up another set of stairs, and that part of the dream ending in a kind of movie-script scene change where the next scene quickly drops from the top like a shade dropping in front of a window.

This next part I’ll tell, but I’ve never quite figured out what it meant or where it fits … if anywhere. We were at another crowded place, but it was more like being at a stage with sound equipment and projectors set up. Like a mix between a rock concert and a CEO press conference.

On the screen there was a video that almost became the dream itself, where I was chasing my little cousins (Tyler and his sisters) around their parents house in New England.

As the dream pulled back from the video, I remember walking over to my car, which was parked in front of the stage. My recent ex was sitting in the driver’s seat of my Explorer, and i knew that she was leaving. (presumably with my car) She had recently moved out, but this almost felt like my guarantee that there was a definite conclusion to our relationship – a kind of finality which i may have needed to supplement my outer strength with a more solid inner one.

This is where the dream ended. I know there were probably a lot of pieces that i missed by not writing them down fast enough – or maybe i missed them because they didn’t matter.

What matters is that a month or so after having that dream, i was helping the ASU chapter of Alpha Phi Omega raise interest and attract new members at the Activity Fair. There were many students coming and going, but some lingered long enough to make the air feel crowded and full.

On one of the last days that i was working at the Activity Fair, the students who were supposed to take my place at the table skipped out and i ended up staying an hour longer than i intended. While i was waiting for them to show up, a table set up near me which was for a group called TGS: The Gamers’ Society.

Interested, I made my way over there once my replacements had finally arrived and introduced myself. I’ll cut my story a bit short, and just tell you that it was through this group of people that I eventually met LuAnne.

After we’d started dating i went to visit my mother in Florida for a few weeks. It was tough because we’d just started dating but it was nice because, as always, absence makes the heart grow fonder.

When i got back she helped me move all my things into the apartment i’d found in Ahwatukee. I have pictures of the day that we spent lugging things into the apartment … her baseball cap rarely came off as we spent the day talking and moving my things out of the U-Haul up to my new, sterile-white apartment on the second floor.

I can’t remember if i put two and two together on that day. I can’t even remember when it all fell into place for me.

There is one thing that i can remember as clearly as if it was yesterday. I was staying at LuAnne and Lucy’s apartment pretty frequently, especially since she was taking and teaching classes and I hadn’t really found a job yet.

So it was that one day when she came home from one of her tests I was there to see her run into the apartment excited and ecstatic, hug Lucy and tell us both about her test, then jump into my arms. As we spun around, more from her excitement and energy than my own movement, I knew that I’d found what I’d been looking for all along.

Putting it Off

“Procrastination is a real problem for me and I intend to do something about it. Starting tomorrow.”

Often the reason I put things off is related to a problem with knowing how to do something or feeling like it’s too big of an undertaking and I’ll somehow have more time later.

But that’s the obvious way procrastination manifests itself. In reality the problem for me is the more subversive procrastination that shows up as a feeling rather than a thought. That feeling can be described for me as fear – fear of not being able to do something as simple as find a place to put something away, or as complex as marketing my coworking space.

Or let’s take something a lot more current: writing my blog post about procrastination. I’m not kidding – since I started this post I’ve deleted one paragraph and started practically from scratch, thought about stopping to change the phone number on the Fuse website, glanced at the blinking notification light on my phone and reached out to check my e-mail. On my phone. With my computer open right in front of me.

Distractions are how we justify avoiding the things we are fearful of doing. They’re how we keep ourselves safe from that feeling – that nervous simmer in our stomach that feels like nervousness and smells of fear. It’s the feeling that is usually preceded by thinking “I really should do this” and followed by “I can take care of it later.”

Looking at myself and how/when that feeling shows up for me I’m reminded of this quote about how “Fear is an emotion. Danger is real.” I recognize that most of the time when I feel fear about doing something it’s because I either don’t think I’ll do it well or I don’t think I know how to do it.

There are certainly times when I don’t do something because I’d rather do something else, but those aren’t the times that I’m most concerned about. Those are times I could probably prevent with a little better scheduling or self-rewarding. But procrastination that comes from fear is something you can rarely reward yourself out of.

A friend of mine just suggested something she does: Structured Procrastination. As she explained it, the idea is that if you have something you’re really not wanting to do because it’s super important you find something else that’s even more super important so you want to do the first thing.

I feel pretty strongly about addressing issues head on, though, so for me it’s really important that I find a way to start doing things BECAUSE they’re important and I’m scared of doing them. So what I’ve been trying to do is really pay attention to how I feel every time I’m deciding whether to do something.

If the decision to not do something is based on some sort of logic, I let that slide. If it’s based on a feeling then I try to stop myself from making the decision until I’ve acknowledged the feeling. It’s kind of like shoplifting – statistics show that it decreases just by asking each customer if you can help them.

I guess that’s how I feel about procrastination: it’s shoplifting my productivity. So if I just pay some more attention to my decisions about how to use my time, maybe it will slink away with an awkward “Um … no thanks …” and walk out with empty pockets.

At least I got through writing the post on procrastination even though I feel like it’s pretty lacking … it’s a start.

Me – 1 / Procrastination 1 bajillion

But I’m trending in the right direction.

The More Things Change …

For a little while in high school I totally got the coffee bug. Over winter break in my senior year there was this girl I was dating and we would occasionally meet at a coffee shop.

Most of the time I sat there sipping on my coffee (until it was lukewarm, then drinking it WAY too fast) and making things out of those little stirry-stick things – whatever they’re called. Which may actually just be stir-sticks. Anyway the point is that the reason I was there was to see her (and make things out of sticks) and not really to drink coffee.

But it totally seemed like what I was supposed to be doing. I mean, everyone else was drinking coffee and jumping off bridges, so why not me? OK well the bridge part may have been an exaggeration, but you know how peer pressure is. You start thinking that if you don’t do something everyone else is you’re not being … right. You’re wrong. You’re broken.

So I would drink the coffee after adding a lot of milk and sugar, I would sit there chatting with this girl I was infatuated with, and I would make little houses and forts and crazy contraptions with what I shall henceforth call stirry-sticks.

Occasionally I’d end up feeling butterflies in my stomach or just overall nervous. After a while it was more of a place thing – it was a question of “OK I’ve crossed the threshold into the coffee shop so … I can’t really NOT order coffee.

Sometimes I’d get this thought like I shouldn’t actually be drinking coffee, but then I’d feel kinda awkward and just order it. Baristas can be intimidating.

A few years later when I was in college I started smoking for much the same reason – I was a theater major living in Manhattan in the late 90′s … it might have actually felt ILLEGAL to not smoke. Plus I thought it was the “mysterious and cool yet emotionally complex” thing to do. My lungs thought it was really stupid but I didn’t listen to them for a while.

In the mid 2000′s I went to a great business school and got my MBA. I got a good job at a good company, and I worked in corporate America for 5 years alternating almost every month between “I <3 my job!” and “SO UNFULFILLED!”

But that’s what I was supposed to be doing, right? Drinking the coffee! Doing big work for a big company and making big money! … well ok maybe replace the latter big with  “moderately proportionate to my experience level”. And yet every now and then I had a moment of clarity just like at the coffee shop, but then the barista would look at me funny and I’d just go back to work and pretend I hadn’t thought anything at all.

And then after a few years something snapped and I decided to act on my gut feeling that I didn’t really want to order that cappuccino. I just wanted a water, thank you. Maybe a beer.

So here I am, living my dream instead of someone else’s, trying to realize a vision I started piecing together almost a decade ago. I have full and complete control of my life and all the ups and downs in it. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think “Holy crap. Really? This is my life? I’m not dreaming?”

But you know what? When I walk into a coffee shop I still order a cappuccino. Small. Regular milk. Even if I really don’t need the caffeine or want a coffee.

Baristas can be intimidating.

Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

Ever since I was a kid I’ve occasionally had a kind of recurring fantasy: leaving everything and everyone I know behind and either surviving in the wilderness or moving somewhere far away and completely different.

Often that fantasy is preceded by recognizing some kind of lack in myself or something I want to improve. I like the idea of being able to go work on myself alone for a while. In fact anyone who’s ever gone on a retreat to figure out a problem or find a spiritual solution probably knows exactly what I’m talking about.

In “Imagine: How Creativity Works” there are a few examples of how changing your scenery or situation can spark a moment of ingenuity that enables you to overcome an obstacle or even just get your creative juices flowing. The idea is that if you remove yourself from your day-to-day situation you (at least temporarily) break free from the preconceptions and assumptions you have made about yourself, or that others have made and you’ve chosen to believe.

The problem is that eventually you have to come back to “the real world” and get back to whatever life you live. Hopefully you can start integrating some of the things you’ve realized or learned, though that’s certainly not always the case. There are a few great teachers out there trying to help people bridge the gap between these amazing realizations and how you apply them in day to day life, but it’s still a difficult journey.

continue reading…

The Right Time

It can be difficult sometimes to know when you should leave a job or a situation in life.

A friend recently asked me what he should do about his job. It pays well and the hours are great, but he’s not interested or engaged.

This friend (let’s call him Joe) had been running a startup mastermind group and had been working to leverage his passion and skill in teaching to create a sustainable income.

After a few months he just couldn’t make it work to pay the bills. Next thing you know he’s working a sales job and he’s put his dreams on hold.

But after a few months the routine is getting old. The initial interest in his new job (like any honeymoon phase) is waning and he finds himself wondering whether to stay or go.

“If I leave”, Joe starts, “I can go back to doing what I love. What brings me alive. I’m not sure on the details of what it would be but I know it would feel better than this.”

continue reading…