This Should Have Been A Love Story

Pop culture tells me I ought to love myself and thrive but my imprinted degenerate prefers self-loathing to survive.

So instead of offering you a heartwarming love story, here’s yet another cautionary tale from yet another dysfunctional dreamer. I do promise, in my telling, to refrain from all woe-is-me-isms, both general and specific gnashings of teeth, and bro-hemian style sausagry of any kind. What you have here is just a simple serving of the facts with a side or two of retrospect baked in for anyone craving deeper nourishment, petulant as it may be.

The relationship could be summarized with four basic strokes: it began with a brush stroke, then some key strokes, followed by a bunch of breast strokes, and culminating in one abrupt back stroke.

I’ll explain more below, but suffice to say here, I loved her from the first and, in fact, still do. So much so, I fell to pieces and pushed her away. Hear me out, I know it sounds dumb, but let me explain, I bet it’ll be instructive or at least entertaining.

Returning to the self-loathing I mentioned above, it’s not just imprinted, but insidious as well for when the sun shines brightest, most subtle then are the shadows. What I mean is, my demons dress like daytime deities and soothe like sirens. So the sweeter life starts to look, the more happiness I’m stacking, the more them demons really get to schemin’.

for when the sun shines brightest, most subtle then are the shadows

Like, for example, when I fall in love. Right when it starts getting momentum, that’s when the feelings of anxiety, inadequacy, and insecurity creep in claiming she brought them. Gnawing away at the edges of my confidence until I’m convinced the best thing to do for both of us is to break it off (back stroke).

Spoiler: as it turns out, you can’t project deep-seated internal narratives onto other people, cut those people out of your life, and hope the narratives don’t bother you anymore. My Christian history should have taught me this as even the salvation equation requires an ongoing relationship in exchange for mercy.

you can’t project deep-seated internal narratives onto other people, cut those people out of your life, and hope the narratives don’t bother you anymore

But I’m now a couple strokes ahead of myself.

So what happened was, she stole my heart with her art. No, seriously.

It was a late afternoon in early autumn when I saw a painting of an old friend of mine on Insta that looked like it knew him better than I did (brush stroke). Bonus: the artist was tagged in the post, single, and smokin’ hot. That was more than enough for me, I needed to know her, or at least know that she knew how talented she is.

Into her DM’s I dove (key stroke). Surprisingly enough, right back she responded. We exchanged a few messages and even set up dinner and an art show later that week. I was stoked. Unbeknownst to me, my baggage was about to begin unpacking itself in a full force feindish frenzy.

She arrived at my place precisely two minutes ahead of schedule in a dress I’ll never forget. But it was her eyes that sealed my fate. Somewhere between green and blue stirred a sea of wonderment breaking hard against all attempts at composure. Then she smiled and I exhaled, realizing too late that I was clammy and the vibe awkward. ‘Come on in,’ I managed while leading her to the dinner table, buying time to collect myself while shifting the focus to highlight my homemade handiwork.

Perched on the table was a less than memorable meal of more-than-bite-size beef stew, crusty cornbread, and a crème that wouldn’t brûlée due to failure of the culinary torch (likely operator error). She was graceful. We joked and took turns teasing each other until my cheeks were sore from smiling. Two hours passed as effortlessly as the levity in our laughter. Time to hit the art show.

Perched on the table was a less than memorable meal of bigger-than-bite-size beef stew, crusty cornbread, and a crème brûlée that wouldn’t brûlée

I don’t remember much from the show aside from how sweet the fruity pebble cocktail we shared at Glacier Chocolate was and how natural it felt to take her hand in mine. We walked and talked and didn’t look at a single piece of artwork. Nothing could draw our attention from each other. At the end of the evening, I closed my eyes and went in for a kiss, which landed, and sparked a physical chemistry that would prove electric (breast stroke).

A couple of weeks later we made it FB official. A few days after that we held each other close and exchanged, ‘I love you’s.’ This was the first time these words had passed audibly through my lips in over seven years to anyone other than my three children. I fell hard and I fell fast.

She had recently taken the plunge out of corporate America to focus 100% on two things: her art and her daughter. That was crazy sexy to me as I was contemplating something similar with my writing but was still too scared to launch. We started to imagine a future together with our kids crawling over canvas’ in a country homestead, her painting, me writing, no one fully dressed. I remembered what it felt like to not be alone. A problem I hadn’t even realized I had seemed suddenly solved. We planned a weekend getaway to Broken Bow to celebrate our new relational wealth. Life was all heat and light, at least for a hot minute.

We started to imagine a future together with our kids crawling over canvas’ in a country homestead, her painting, me writing, no one fully dressed.

Insert insecurities. I told myself that it was for the best, but the reality was I lost my cool with my boss who turned me over to HR, first for a suspension, then separation. For the second time in as many years I found myself involuntarily terminated without a plan. You could say the universe was helping me into the entrepreneurial world, which helped to make me feel better but did little to pay the rent. The funk had found it’s way in and wouldn’t fight fair going forward.

To my credit, I did push back a little against the demons. For a while at least. The experience was like playing catch with a boomerang, only the boomerang is outfitted with a running chainsaw that explodes if you hold it too long or put it down. For example, I would notice myself in a funk and, rather than blaming her, would evaluate my environment. Often one of my support legs would be broken, like my diet or workout routine, at which point I would work to repair it before the funky boomerang came back and chopped off another one.

The experience was like playing catch with a boomerang, only the boomerang is outfitted with a running chainsaw that explodes if you hold it too long or put it down.

After several rounds of this behind-the-scenes battle, I began to slip into a suspicion that it was the relationship itself that was doing the damage. Not my employment situation, mood disorder, or traumatic history correlated with this time of year. Instead, I began to entertain the doubt, ‘Maybe this isn’t my future?’ And, ‘Haven’t I got into trouble in the past when ignoring my gut?’

Looking back from my current vantage point and given the self-work I had yet to do, it feels like it was always destined to fail. Like the demons just gave themselves a sixty-day handicap to make more of a sport out of it. Whatever the case, the lesson landed, which was, ‘Your ass belongs to us.’

75 days after our first date I succumbed to a feeling of utter powerlessness and quit, over text.

Young Pablo

Not that it always has to be that way. In the future, I could work a program in cooperation with my partner, much like the one above where the couple stands to get stronger, not weaker, during tough times.

You both wholeheartedly agree that loving each other incredibly well and healing yourselves should be your top priority

Since it’s still fresh I find myself yet digging, but I think that’s the real lesson my demons didn’t see coming.

Relationship work happens in real life, not in my head and no matter how strong the demons feel, their only staying power is that which I concede in isolation.

I’ll sign off for now, but drop this heavy heart a healing line and let me know how your relationship handles conflict. Let’s get some ’22 momentum rolling in the right direction.

Dearly Departed – Lessons in Love For Anarae on Her Birthday

Queen

ANARAE – you have been on my mind, as you always are, this time of year. Sadly, we can’t spend your 29th birthday together, so I have chosen to type out my thoughts and, even if I can’t hold you while you read them, perhaps they will wrap themselves around another, warming them in hope or help or healing, as you were so apt to do, in even the most unlikely of moments.

I love you Anarae.

I don’t mean in the conventional, familial, expected-because-we-share-blood kind of way. I don’t mean it in the sappy, manufactured, Hallmark way. Nor in the distant, 1000-yard-smile way that you probably remember from your childhood as I, a decade older, ran off to chase girls my age leaving you behind to work on your chess game. And most definitely not in the sentimental, ‘love-what-you-can-no-longer-have,’ kind of way.

See, love has taken on an entirely new meaning in my life of late. It feels as if a fortress of stone has crumbled down from around my heart, opening me up to a new type of existence, one defined by gratitude, peace, and joy. My entire being has begun moving into this space as if it were a seasoned traveler taking a new trail in an ancient wood. As I feel my way through fresh, yet familiar surroundings, I have begun to taste the reality of all you have taught me, of how you have cared for, even carried me through, so much darkness over the eight years since your passing, a darkness that I all too often blamed on your untimely departure.

But, as you know, nothing which happens in the past can be at fault for actions taken in the present. I am sorry for carrying so much pain and heartache in your name for so many years. I know now it was your presence, your spirit, and your compassion that, through it all, was gently and patiently warming the cold embers of my heart inside a healing hearth.

Today, looking back with eyes you helped open, I struggle even to see the sorrow separate from the saving.

I love you Anarae.

I love you through and through. I love you raw – unguarded, unfiltered, and unapologetically. I love you with the same love that created the universe and moves it still – day, night, heaven, hell, pleasure, pain, and everything in between. And, even though we fell short of consciously sharing this bond while you were still here, I need you to know I feel you now.

game changer

But more than my feelings about you and life as a whole, I want to share back what you’ve taught me, my top three transformative takeaways if you will. Call it my moment to admit a small but rewarding defeat as if to finally throw my hands up and say, ‘Yes Anarae, I hear you.’ See, even this stubborn ole mule can grow up for the better, despite, or rather because of, your unrelenting nagging. So, for your birthday this year, I give you my top three, attempting yet again to take credit for your work while throwing but a few sparse accolades back in your direction:

1. acceptance is not surrender

2. the destination is the journey

3. hope is happening

top 3 transformative takeaways over the 8 years since your passing on to a new plane
getting together

acceptance is not surrender–

Anarae – you are the most accepting person I have known and that is not just my opinion, everyone agrees. You had a way of drawing out the best in people and, like a self-fulfilling prophecy of awesome, pointing to it and saying, ‘See, I knew you had it in you!’ This was most especially annoying when you did it to me despite my best efforts at resistance.

Maybe it was the ten-year age gap, but in our years together, I had a different relationship with the concept of acceptance, one which seemed to be hardening like petrified wood as I ‘matured.’ So, it would be fair to say neither of us were surprised by my hesitation to embrace you dating anyone, much less an ex-con whom you were convinced was on a path of reformation, one whom you believed you were chosen to support. You accepted, I resisted.

Harder yet to accept was the ‘I-told-you-so-reality’ of his taking of your life less than a year later, a pill so alive with hatred, agony, and utter despair it took several years for me to fully digest and almost swallowed me whole more than once.

Back then, I had yet to learn that you become the ideas and emotions you swallow, the spiritual equivalent of the old adage, ‘You are what you eat.’ I was clinging desperately to my idea of justice, as well as the emotions of what should have been had you just listened to me, had the bar not let you in as a minor, had the cops acted more quickly, had the world been a better place. And on and on. I felt righteous, believing that if I simply held on tighter to my version of what should have been that I could actually change the past. If only I just kept pushing.

So push on I did. I pushed my wife of eight years to divorce me, I pushed away from my three young children for almost a year, I missed my brother’s wedding, went broke, and landed in jail for DUI. Hatred of my history was eating my future from the inside out. I needed to change my diet, it was time to let go of my resistance and begin exploring the acceptance that came so naturally for you.

‘Hatred of my history was eating my future from the inside out.’

It wasn’t easy, especially as stubborn as I am, and as wounded as I was, but I began to let new ideas and emotions in which lead to new experiences, new beliefs, and in time, the new way of being I describe above. So much so, that a month ago, on the anniversary of your death, I finally accepted the man who took your life, and fully forgave him.

No more hate. No more agony. No more despair. I could breathe again. I was both lighter and stronger than before. Strong enough to accept that the differences between Shavelle and me (pictured above) pale in comparison to the likenesses and that only love has the power to heal us both. Turns out, accepting a difficult history and forgiving the man who took so much from our family wasn’t surrender at all. In fact, it may turn out to be the greatest triumph of my life for never again will darkness be able to gain such a footing on my heart.

Accept your past, fall in love with it even, lest it limit your future

–the destination is the journey

Anarae, you mastered chess at a very young age and stuck with it, going on to compete nationally and racking up an impressive array of hardware in the process. But it wasn’t the trophies you were after. You loved chess itself, checkmate being just a passing mile-marker on the road of endless games, growth, and gratitude.

The irony being that the most celebrated masters of any discipline tend to be the ones who, rather than obsessing over the podium, relish in the repetition of relentless practice, and focus on the gritty day-in-day-out grind and the lessons it has to offer. You mastered this approach not just in chess but in life as well.

When you were tutoring younger kids in math or chess, you focused on the relationship, not the test result, working to ensure the student felt safe and secure enough to succeed. It was the same with sports and musical endeavors, you innately sought out and nurtured the tender moments, surfacing the sweet from the sweat of struggle. You knew how to work hard and have so much fun in the process that, from the outside, it looked like you were hardly working.

‘you innately sought out and nurtured the tender moments, surfacing the sweet from the sweat of the struggle’

I, on the other hand, was more apt to sprint to the finish line only to start another race. School was about the shortest path to the highest marks, sports about earning the letter, friends more about what circle they ran in over who they really were, work was about the money, and on and on. In fact, I remember at a job interview in my early 20’s, not long after moving back home from college, a total stranger after speaking with me for only a few minutes, interrupted me to say, ‘I don’t think you in this role is a fit for either of us at the moment and if I had one piece of advice to give you young man, it would be to SLOW DOWN.’ I always had a suspicion that you had secretly set up the interview and told him to say that.

Whatever the case, fifteen years later, I am beginning to listen. I am teaching myself to cook and how to laugh and learn through all the delicious missteps. I am back in the weight room, this time for the enjoyment of pushing myself more than the muscles. I am reading and writing almost as much as when I was a kid and for the same reason; because I enjoy it. I am even letting Max and Christian teach me how to skateboard at age 39, mainly as an excuse to get to hang out with them all day at the park, but also to show them that it is ok to suck and keep trying.

It must be that at some point not long ago I accepted the fact that the roses are going to smell good with or without me, so I might as well slow down enough to add that small joy to my life. That working hard wasn’t worth it unless I could find the fun and share it with others. And that each goal, dream, and destination is just the starting point of the journey to the next one. Or, to summarize, moving slow and steady down an endless, uncharted, but chosen path is infinitely more likely to produce happiness than sprinting along the provided public pavement.

‘each goal, dream, and destination is just the starting point of the journey to the next one’

–hope is happening–

A former leader of mine, whom I very much respected at the time and still do, once introduced himself to an auditorium full of hard-working, blue-collar machine operators, technicians, and floor leaders by saying, ‘Hope is not a strategy.’ He then paused, instinctively waiting for the moment to land, and land it did, to snickers which grew into a swell of uproarious laughter.

He knew his audience; masters of the moment, skilled tacticians well versed in solving real-world problems under duress where abstract ideology and flowery philosophy fail to turn hardened steel crankshafts and 450 horsepower motors.

This was my clan then, and for as long as I can remember stretching back to my early days of 40+ mile bike rides, 10k+ runs, and early mornings in a canoe on the MN river with my dad from age eight to when I graduated to baseball, basketball, football, track, and various hard labor jobs shoveling rocks and wheeling wheelbarrows uphill; in all these endeavors I learned you either put up or shut up. Words were nice but they didn’t get the job done, and if you couldn’t outwork me, I didn’t care what you had to say.

It was as if I was working the writer right out of me. The questions I hadn’t answered, or much less asked were; why I was working so hard? To what end? What was it all for and where was it taking me?

‘It was as if I was working the writer right out of me.’

Losing you caused me to start asking these questions and begin digging for meaning.

Helping me along was a deep, unshakable hope that wouldn’t give up on me which, like a still small voice, kept urging me forward through it all. It was a hope that the real me, long ago buried by various hurts and hangups, would be rediscovered, revived, and gradually re-emerge from the depths made stronger by weathering weakness. It was a hope that would do whatever it needed to in order to get me to listen, travel down whatever path, refusing to quit prior to manifestation. It was the same spirit that animated your life and breathes life into these words.

This hope may not have been a strategy as much as a lifeline, but without it, I wouldn’t have made it. The way I see it, in your final exhale was a gust of hope that was carried by a steady breeze of which I inhaled just enough to begin my rebirth.

And now, on your birthday, after eight long and winding years of struggling through the re-birthing canal, I find myself feeling more and more at home in my own skin. With what was once a thin wisp of hope for a better future, now filling my chest with confidence that it will be. Confidence that I can live out and up to your legacy of love in action for all of my days to come. Hope is happening, I am home.

Anarae, I love you.

Rest in peace lil sis.

Transforming Trails Of Trauma Into A Future Focus

Grab ‘n Go Version

On the transformative journey, we often wander through the halls of our histories, yet do not dwell on where you have been or even where you are, what really matters is where you are headed

Storytime

My dad was incapable of being a great father because he never overcame his own trauma. Instead, he ran from it, quite literally, leaving his first wife and three kids at age 26 to become a marathon runner. For him, the running was a form of penance where the more suffering he subjected himself to, the more balanced the scale would be. He ran barefoot through the city. He ran in subzero temperatures through Minneapolis, returning home often looking like the abominable snowman. He ran his age every year on his December birthday from 30 until he was 50. Unfortunately for him, reconciliation in human relations doesn’t work at a distance, and as a result, he spent most of his adult life either transmitting his still unprocessed trauma to people who would accept it or overcompensating around people who wouldn’t. Avoiding pain is how it is spread and he discovered this reality the hard way.

mini-lesson:

if we do not transform our pain, we transmit it

He wasn’t malicious, just hurting and misguided.

His and I’s relationship was shaped by his mood which, from a very young age, I internalized as my responsibility. I learned that whether he was happy or sad or anything in between, it was my fault. As I grew older I started to desire recognition from him for all the great work I was doing to keep him happy. He withheld, I worked harder. He got angry, I worked harder. By my misguided calculations, I deserved the punishment when I failed, so I should, by the same logic, deserve the recognition when I triumphed. Spoiler: it didn’t play out according to my contrived formula and, hence, my striving escalated well into my adult life.

This strategy was successful in many ways for surviving childhood, but left two lingering programs running on a loop in my head which I would have to unpack later in life:

  • I was not important
  • I was not good enough

Embarrassingly enough, until well into my thirties, nearly everything I did was designed around earning HIS validation or scorning it; my life was not my own. At some level I understood this was not a healthy dynamic yet was unable to articulate it and, hence, my anger, resentment, and shame for not being myself got buried deep down. My conscious, internal wiring was dominated by this programming.

Until one day not long ago, after dozens of failed attempts over the last decade to clear the air, I finally found the right words at the right moment to say to him. It was as if a 39 year old chasm opened up inside me and an outpouring of deadly truth bombs came busting out, each with father-destroying heat seekers programmed in. My verbal ‘justice’ spewed out for no less than 5 min when, finally, he looked me in the eye and said,

‘I hear you.’

Instantly, I calmed down, sat down, ceased yelling, thanked him for enduring the onslaught, and apologized for being so yelly. I went on to explain that it was simply a long-buried part of me that needed to be voiced, but that it was over now and it was safe for us to resume normal conversations. I was excited about this exchange for many reasons and couldn’t wait to tell my therapist about the break thru:

I had finally received some validation from my father!

The following Saturday, I sat down in Andre’s chair with the whole story laid out, rehearsed, and ready to go. I drew it out in spectacular fashion, hit all the right notes, and delivered the punch line flawlessly. At which point I paused for his feedback as if he were to applaud or something. He looked up from his notepad and uttered a three-word question,

And now what?’

I was baffled. He was persistent and noticed I wasn’t following. So he clarified, ‘And what if you went thru all that and he hadn’t said anything? Do you really think the message in your rant was for him, designed just right to get just the right response from him such that it would fix all your problems? I mean what do you think the odds are of that? Isn’t it more likely that the message was, and always has been, to you?’

He continued, ‘Look, you are important, you are good enough, but the problem is that YOU don’t believe it, not that your father doesn’t. Nothing he, I, or anyone else can say will change your beliefs, only you can do that for you.’

I wept.

I had spent over ten years analyzing my past, in therapy, in rehab, and in various hospitals and institutions, trying to find the key that would free me from my prison, the balm that would heal all the wounds, the medicine that would make it all right.

But now I know my father is not my jailer, I am, my wounds have long ago scared over, leaving powerful reminders of healing lessons, and I never needed medicine for I was never sick.

Maybe none of what Andre was telling me would have made any sense if I hadn’t gone thru the 10-year struggle. Maybe digging thru the past in an effort to find the right keys was a necessary activity to unlock a clearer vision for the future. Maybe it is indeed a requisite requirement of a full rehabilitation to touch all the historical pain points. I guess I will never really know.

mini-lesson:

know your history, live in the present

All I know for sure is what’s important now, and that it’s all out in front of me.

Breathing Gold: My 3-Step Method to Free You From Decision Prison

Ever found yourself imprisoned by indecision in a pivotal moment with your heart and mind playing tug of war over which direction to go? Perhaps, you’ve walked a path of decisive action, following your instincts with gusto only to now be wondering, ‘What if?’ Maybe you’ve adopted the role of spectator and can no longer shake the question, ‘Who is really living my life?’ If any of these scenarios apply, or if you are simply interested in a new approach to decision making – specifically momentous, life-altering decisions – you are in the right place

‘…if you are [simply] interested in a new approach to decision making – specifically momentous, life-altering decisions – you are in the right place.’

I am going to introduce my 3-Step method below, but first we are going to set the stage by traveling back in time to the birth of this blog and the OldSchoolMillennial’s origin story for some helpful context. Buckle up, this Delorean is taking off.

When I started this blog over three years ago I had no idea what I was doing, only a vague sense that I needed to write. I was traveling back from a weekend in D.C. where three of my favorite thought leaders had all taken turns speaking and fielding questions from a colorful collection of 500+ action-oriented event attendees. As the night carried on, I became intoxicated with the energy in the room. These folks were moving the world. I, on the other hand, was living life in my head, where I would meet big ideas with a steady stream of, ‘Yeah, but…,’ excuses – reserving action for the small and familiar.

‘I…was living life in my head, where I would meet big ideas with an assault of, ‘Yeah, but…,’ excuses – reserving action for the small and familiar.’

Somewhere around midnight, four hours into this electricity emersion, it hit me: for the better part of 36 years my mind had been avoiding the doldrums of life by escaping to clouds of interesting, but isolating abstractions, a self-made outsider, and now, finally, I had found my tribe. Their most striking characteristic was that each had traveled back from the clouds, pushing through the re-entry resistance, and landing their visions decisively in the real world. People of this caliber and in this number had not existed in my life prior to that moment, but I knew then with absolute certainty that I could never go back, not really, to the world of the, ‘Yeah, buts…’

However, I now had the question of how to get off the sidelines of my own life. I had no idea what to do, just that I felt as if I now needed a solve to this problem more than any other I had ever encountered.

But how does one answer a question that has never been asked before? Once answered, how does one know if the path chosen is the right one? For me, in what felt like the most pivotal moment of my life, where the entire universe seemed to be urging me to a new level of being, I was utterly overwhelmed by the onslaught of thoughts and emotions assailing my consciousness, I had no idea what to do.

‘…I was utterly overwhelmed by the onslaught of thoughts and emotions assailing my consciousness, I had no idea what to do.’

What happened next was akin to a bolt of lightning that struck me with similar 1/500,000 odds: I was going to start a blog.

I can’t take credit for the idea as it hit me more than I worked it out, and I had very little reason to believe it was plausible, much less possible, as I had never published anything of import, had no idea how to design/manage/market a website, and had absolutely no vision for what I would write about or why anybody would care. But, in that moment, all those concerns paled in comparison to my need to do something, and, alas, I had no better ideas. Hence, the OldSchoolMillennial was born into a storm of uncertainty; naked, shivering, and alone.

Image credit: https://blog.noodle.ai/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/shutterstock_1069268519-1200×675.jpg

Yet, three and a half years later, I’m still here, pushing the idea forward, building the airplane on the fly so to speak, all with a growing level of certainty that I have indeed made the right investment of time, tears, and talent. It’s as if the decision-making process has played out over a long, drawn-out series of micro-decisions rolling up and supporting the over-arching, largely unknown, trajectory as it gradually crystallizes in my mind. The level of paralysis and indecision reducing as the story unfolds at the cost of daily outlays of faith and will to stay the course. I am sure if you have read this far, you can relate.

In the quiet moments, I have often wondered at the possibility of pulling the decision-making horizon from the distant and uncertain future into the present, as I long for a method to manifest a key of sorts that would open the cell of decision prison in real-time. The primary benefit being the liberation of precious energy from the effort of continually re-convincing myself I am on the right path for input into the actualization of the vision itself. I can’t help but imagine where I would be if all the competing thoughts and super-charged emotions fighting for my attention were actually aligned within me in one clear, purposeful direction.

‘I can’t help but imagine where I would be if all the competing thoughts and super-charged emotions fighting for my attention were actually aligned within me in one clear, purposeful direction.’

But enough wondering. Now that the stage is set, let’s dive in and find out. I promised three steps, here they are, we’ll go deep on each below:

1. Breathe

2. Receive

3. Begin

Three steps to decisive freedom

1. Breathe

Human life begins with the breath and can’t continue without it. From the moment we emerge from the womb, we are hard-wired to pull air into our lungs, extract the oxygen we need, impart it to the blood, and pump it to all our vital organs and systems, thereby animating our hearts, minds, and bodies. This ingenious design is automated to where it runs in the background so reliably that we expend next to none of our attention managing or maintaining this most essential, life-giving, and sustaining function.

In this sense, it is the breath that is unconsciously woven into the truth of who we are more integrally than any experience, idea, action, or feeling we might possess at a conscious level. After all, it is the breath alone that has been constant in our lives since the beginning and will be with us until the end, steadfast in its support for every bit of change and growth we may undergo along the way.

This is helpful because it is the truth that we are after – our personal truth. The single idea that is wholly who we are. This truth is the key out of decision prison. The key which lies inside and has been with us since the beginning, since our first breath, and there it yet remains.

I know we just covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time, but the gist of what I am asking you to accept is that the process of self-discovery is one of uncovering something you already possess moreso than one of discovering anything external. Just as the breath has been with you since the beginning, so has your truth, even if only at a mostly unconscious level. The task at hand is to consciously surface both.

From this vantage point, we can now follow the breath back inside to our deepest, oldest self, and let our decisions be guided by what we uncover there.

To answer the question of how to get started on this journey, I would point you to any one of many conscious breathing exercises, but the method I have personally had the most success with was designed by the Ice Man himself, Mr. Wim Hof. Of his many books, documentaries, and online videos, I liked this audiobook the best as a colorful introduction to man and method. But, if you are just looking for a concise overview of the breathing exercise itself, I have summarized the main points below with enough content to get you started.

And that is it, simply build thirty min of conscious breathing into your morning routine and you have mastered step one.

On to step two.

2. Receive

If you are anything like me, as you get started with your breathing routine, you will, in short order, notice the absolute absurdity of thoughts intruding on what would otherwise be a quiet and relaxing sit. The simple act of attempting to focus on your breath and associated bodily sensations may become exhausting, frustrating, even anxiety-provoking – stay with it, your conscious mind just isn’t used to being quiet enough to listen, not yet anyway. Think of it like any exercise, you will get better with effort and repetition, the mental muscle of intentional bodily focus getting stronger over time.

‘Think of it like any exercise, you will get better with effort and repetition, the mental muscle of intentional bodily focus getting stronger over time.’

As we get stronger, we learn to just listen to the breath, we are simultaneously learning to quiet the conscious mind, opening up a space to receive a deeper form of knowing from our true self.

The process I am describing is not new, as it is akin to the many forms of mindfulness training which are at least as old as the Buddhist tradition, stretching back over 2500 years. However, ancient does not equate to extraneous as the fight for our attention in this age of information overload offers no shortage of opportunities for cluttered thinking. So, if you find yourself struggling here, you’re not alone, literally nothing in our post-modern culture has prepared you for this. Don’t quit, there’s gold yet to mine.

Thankfully there are a plethora of qualified guides who have charted well-worn courses through these murky mines. My current favorite is Michael A. Singer and his book, The Untethered Soul. What I appreciate most about Singer’s work is how thoughtfully he articulates the idea that you are not your thoughts, differentiating them from a deeper knowing. He goes on to explain how this deep knowing is accessible to us all if we can learn to receive it.

Conscious breathing is the process of learning to receive. Let me attempt to illuminate by sharing a recent sit with you.

It was a hot Saturday in Oklahoma and I had woken up later than intended, so I had to skip my breathing exercise in order to make my therapy appointment. At the end of another insightful session, my therapist asks me how the podcast is coming. Having not remembered him asking previously, I responded with, ‘What podcast?’ Quickly attempting to cover my insecurity with, ‘But I have always liked that idea!’ Undeterred, he fired back, ‘You have a lot to say, feels right for you,’ knowing an observation of this variety would usher me into a silent contemplation.

I am making my way thru the parking lot where the heat from the asphalt is thickening the air in dense, visible waves, when my phone goes off. I wipe my sweaty thumb on my shirttail and unlock my phone. It’s a message from a good friend thanking me for some recent advice and encouraging me to start a podcast.

A chill ran thru me as I drove straight home to my cushion in search of a deeper knowing.

I have been consistent with my conscious breathing practice for almost two months at this point and have achieved a modest level of mental muscle. Even so, as I settled into my sit, my conscious mind was abuzz with activity. ‘You should buy such and such a microphone.’ ‘Title the show such and such.’ ‘Have such and such guests.’ And on, and on. I keep breathing, let the thoughts pass while thanking the mind for its enthusiasm and bringing my attention back to the breath.

I make it to my fortieth breath and inhale deeply. My mind has quieted and I am able to fully feel my blood circulating thru my body carrying with it a deep sense of gratitude for the peace and plenty it supplies.

And then a deep blue washes over me. It’s more than a vision, it’s more of an immersion that lasts as long as my breath, roughly three minutes. I exhale, inhale and hold my recovery breath for a full fifteen seconds, then start on the next forty.

Inhale. Hold. Gold. Again it’s a full-on immersion of sensory overload to the extent I am even tasting gold for every bit three minutes. I keep going. On each successive fortieth breath a new experience: a thickening tongue which filled my mouth to the brink of bursting, a devouring hunger akin to have never eaten in all my 39 years, and, finally, my three-year-old Australian Sheppard nestling in my lap.

What does it all mean relative to any potential podcast in my future? For now, that is for me to know and you to find out in time, but, no matter, that is not the point of our present story. I am enumerating my experience with you in order to draw out the knowing process, to illuminate the stark difference between the way in which our conscious and unconscious minds communicate with us, My unconscious is very sensual and experiential, rarely speaking, rather offering full body meals for me to digest in due course. To discover how your unconscious communicates I suggest you get started learning to listen.

Think you got the idea? On to the final step.

3. Begin

As you settle into your practice, learning to listen to your unconscious, it will communicate with you. Fact is, it has always been trying to get your attention, to pull you back to your true path. It will always be your biggest ally in the face of life’s onslaught of trials, tribulations, and traumas. It has tried to get your attention in dreams and delirium, deja vu and visions, attempting to jolt away your awareness from the constant chatter of the ever-present conscious mind.

We just haven’t been listening.

What we are going to do now is invite our unconscious to take its proper place at the head of the table. We are going to let our breath be our maitre d’ as our oldest and greatest ally. We are going to feast on a five-star buffet of timeless wisdom.

Imagine having an all-access pass to on-demand dreams designed just for you.

So, what are you waiting for? Let me know how it goes in the comments below.

Teetering on a Precipice: Soar into the Golden Age or Slip into Darkness?

In their book, ‘The Fourth Turning,’ William Strauss and Neil Howe outline a predictive framework for the United States which is well summarized by the Michael Hopf quote:

‘Strong men create good times, good times create weak men, weak men create bad times, bad times create strong men’

G. Michael Hopf
Vote on the poll to see where you stand relative to the rest of the OSM community

Unpacking the idea we learn that every 20 – 25 years, as a new generation comes of age (referred to as a ‘Turning’ by the authors), there is a predictable shift in the national zeitgeist. Each Turning has identifiable characteristics rendering the theory ripe for extrapolation. The book, written in the mid-’90s, estimated that we would enter our next Fourth Turning (bad times) around 2008, the previous Fourth Turning kicking off with WWI, roughly 100 years ago. Strauss & Howe go on to describe, in general terms, a large-scale disaster that sets off a dramatic series of events, effectively pushing our society into a generation-long era of significant, irreversible change. To see us through, a ‘grey champion’ emerges as an unlikely and largely unsung hero.

Was the 2008 mortgage crisis and resulting Great Recession the event that kicked off a 25-year national rebuilding phase? Are we behind schedule and perhaps it is the COVID19 global pandemic? Will history recount Donald Trump or Joe Biden as the grey champion of our time much as Woodrow Wilson was in his? We can’t know for sure at present, but it would certainly be hard to argue that, as a people, we are experiencing anything other than a significant and rapidly changing cultural-political moment.

Tensions flare in the wake of 2020 US Elections amidst allegations of voter fraud

But let’s walk through the argument together to make sure we are on the same page, starting with the understanding that civilized society is held together by its shared culture, defined as:

The arts, beliefs, customs, institutions, and other products of human work and thought considered as a unit, especially with regard to a particular time or social group.

American Heritage Dictionary of English Language, 5th Edition

Borrowing a biblical allegory, if culture is the language we use to describe and navigate in the direction of our shared future, we are at the Tower of Babel, confused and dispersing. The more fractious the culture, the more prime the society for decay, revolt, and/or takeover. Or as historian Luke Kemp puts it in his 2019 BBC article:

Collapse can be defined as a rapid and enduring loss of population, identity, and socio-economic complexity. Public services crumble and disorder ensues as government loses control of its monopoly on violence.

Luke Kemp

And if scrolling thru twitter comments or tuning into any political commentary isn’t enough to convince you of the eroding culture, take a look at the current state of two of the most influential cultural players in the US, Government and News Media.

Image Credit: https://medium.com/trust-media-and-democracy/10-reasons-why-americans-dont-trust-the-media-d0630c125b9e

And while this moment of cultural decay isn’t entirely unique in history, the wealth, technology, sheer population density, and diversity sure are. Translation: the spectrum of possible outcomes, both constructive and destructive, is measurably wider than in the past. Therefore, we have both more to gain and more to lose than ever before; one might say we are teetering on a precipice of epic proportions.

Image Credit: http://www.macmillandictionaryblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/fulcrum-810×420.jpg

Staring over the edge and down into the abyss, we can imagine a darkening future where the worst elements of the current moment, enhanced by the greatest weapons, communications, and transportations technologies mankind has ever known, erupt on the scene and swallow us up, ushering in a modern-day dark age. I really don’t like delving into these types of doomsday scenarios as so many other outlets do, but do want to point out that it would not be the situation itself, rather our inability to communicate, compromise, and come together that would ultimately doom us to destruction.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. We could step back from the precipice, turn, and open the gates to the greatest Golden Age that mankind has ever known, fueled by all the same drivers. But what is a Golden Age?

The idea of a Golden Age first appeared in the Five Ages of Man, an 8th-century BCE creation myth composed by the Greek Hesiod, an epic poet the likes of Homer. Hesiod’s vision of the Golden Age – supposedly imparted to him by the Nine Muses while he tended sheep – describes a time when Man was indistinguishable from the Gods. In this age of peace and plenty, there was no suffering, no toil, no death.

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I’m not talking about immortality, omnipotence, or any other supernatural phenomenon, but I did grow up hearing that I could achieve anything I put my mind to and I can’t help but wonder what would happen if enough people did that collectively.

So how do we get there from the mess we are in now? Stay tuned for the next article but I’ll leave you with a hint: as you likely have figured out by now, I’m a strong advocate for the Jordan Peterson school of thought, ‘fix yourself, fix the world.’ Put another way, we can’t sit back and expect broken people to fix us, or blind people to lead the way.

Time to lace up our shoes, open our eyes, and get to work on our own Golden Age.

Addicted: The Long, Hard Road That Led Me to the Gates of the Golden Age

After weathering the first six months of COVID19 as a boots-on-the-ground, eye of the storm, essential worker, I now, like 12.6MM other Americans, find myself unemployed (this figure is down from the peak of 20MM back at the pandemic’s onset in March). So, although I know I am not alone, no longer having a source of income, a familiar routine, and a clear, prescribed sense of purpose hits different. Perhaps you can relate.

In this article, I will share the story of how I came to be unemployed for the first time since age twelve. As we dive in, I’ll use the lens of addiction to color what I’ve learned in the first three weeks, including a sneak peek at an exciting project on the horizon. So keep reading if you’re curious to learn how to tunnel thru addiction, heartache, and loss towards your very own Golden Age.

Let’s get started.

If you know me at all, you know I pour myself into my work, always have. It was no different when I started with Kimberly-Clark in January 2012 as a senior mechanical project engineer bringing with me eight years of prior engineering experience split across two separate industries. Over the subsequent nine years, I earned six separate promotions, each with increased scope and compensation, the third catapulting me from the technical world as an individual contributor, and into leadership, with my largest team comprised of over 300 members.

Behind the scenes, however, life took some pretty dark turns. In late 2013 I lost my baby sister. Twelve months after that, my eight-year marriage dissolved, quickly consuming every penny of my savings and estranging me from my three young children for over a year as I worked thru the grief. If that wasn’t enough, I cut ties with my parents and even landed on the news for DUI. Legal and medical bills pushed me far into debt. By Thanksgiving 2015, I had arrived at what the recovery community calls, rock bottom.

Work was literally the only thing that worked for me, I clung to it like a shipwrecked captain to driftwood on a dark and stormy sea

Image credit: https://mustbethistalltoride.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/stormy_seas_by_bkhook.jpg

It was as if everything I lost at home, compelled me to dive deeper at the office. 60, 70, even 80 hour weeks were not uncommon. I was all in, whatever it took. The results and accolades started piling up, people were noticing, and who was I to say no – what else did I have to do? The question I wasn’t asking – much less answering – was, ‘Is this healthy? Sustainable?’

Let’s pause here for a definition and some additional context. I warned you early on this article would center around addiction, which, according to Dr. Donna Marks, is defined as anything a person keeps doing in spite of negative consequences. Notice the word anything broadens a more traditional definition confined to, say drugs and alcohol, to include everything from food to work, religion, sex, social media, status, exercise, and even recovery itself. The key to understanding addiction is that, fundamentally, it is not about the substance or behavior, but rather one’s relationship to the substance or behavior.

In her book, ‘Exit the Maze,’ Dr. Marks goes on to describe the underlying nature of addiction to be one of trying to fill an emotional void caused by prior trauma and/or dysfunction, most often occurring in early childhood. For the addict, of which Dr. Marks estimates there are over 100MM in the US alone, the substance or behavior starts as the solution, a much-needed, but only momentary, relief from the underlying pain. Over time, as the negative consequences of the addiction take root, a desperate wrestling match between relief and recovery ensues, in which sobriety is only the first step as the addiction will often morph into the next ‘drug’ of choice. This game of ‘whack-an-addiction-mole’ will continue until the emotional void is accurately named and eliminated.

Podcast with Dr. Donna Marks & Stefan Molyneux on, ‘Exit the Maze’

For a condensed overview on the nature of addiction, see the podcast above. For now, however, let us get back to the story at hand.

As 2016 kicked off, I committed to rebuilding but knew I had my work cut out for me. I decided to leverage the area of my life with the most success, my career, to right the ship and start making my way back to shore. This approach was effective in several areas as I paid down debt, built a support system of caring co-workers, and focused on consistent routines. With this momentum, I was able to reunite with my children and broaden my efforts into other areas of well-being, including a genuine commitment to cognitive behavioral therapy, diet, exercise, and creative outlets such as this blog.

Even so, as 2018 was coming to a close, more storm clouds were forming on the horizon. See, even though, on the surface, my life appeared to be improving, I was yet to truly name and eliminate my emotional void and, in turn, failed to notice the unhealthy relationship I had developed with several of my new behaviors and the turbulent emotional undercurrent gaining hold.

In short order, I arrived at an impasse with a new manager over differing visions for the team. Having errantly attached my identity to my vision during my rebuilding process, I struggled to compromise. In fact, I flat refused, telling myself to do so would be to, quite literally, die. Unsurprisingly, the situation escalated to the brink of separation. Desperately trying to avert disaster, I called in a favor and secured a transfer to a sister facility before I could be managed out of the organization. From a career perspective, this felt positive. However, it came at the cost of putting 180 miles between myself and my children, who remained with their mom in Tulsa, leaving me to commute.

It’s March of 2019 and the stormy sea of my still largely unconscious emotional void had washed me ashore in Paris, TX.

Not having fully learned my lesson from my recent bump up with management, I charged into my new work environment, eager to play hero and rescue a struggling operation (see link for a more in-depth account written in early 2020).

My vision was simple: One Roof. Essentially, no matter what uniform, crew, function, gender, ethnicity, title, etc., we were all going to come together under the same one roof to achieve our shared goals. What I liked most about this goal were the concepts of home and family embedded in the Roof mnemonic. One Roof was a clear reference, easily recalled, with nearly infinite depth of meaning to mine as appropriate. Simple to say yet hard to achieve, as anyone who’s ever worked in large, high paced groups will attest.

Two things escaped me which ultimately led to my downfall:

wrong moment

wrong family

Wrong moment because the established leadership team was too buried in existing cultural turmoil to seriously consider any additional risk. It was ‘batten down the hatches’ mode due to ongoing litigation and precipitous safety issues. The resultant leadership focus lying almost exclusively on policy adherence and structure. Cultivating interpersonal relationships was hard to measure and therefore low priority.

Wrong family because my subconscious was using my new team as a surrogate to repair broken relationships from my childhood. News flash: if you want to repair a relationship, you have to do it with the actual person, no substitute will do. Nonetheless, I forged ahead in search of the connection and validation I never got from my parents and still hungered for unknowingly.

Blinded by my vision, it was only a matter of time until the scenario imploded, and implode it did. Short of divulging all the gory details, my unchecked expectations, lack of awareness of the moment, failure to recalibrate my approach, and insistence on continually doubling down, lead to increasing frustration on both sides. Eighteen months into the assignment, I got the call that I was no longer employed. And that was that. Nine years boxed up and discharged in an instant.

But here’s the thing: I would have worked myself to death before ever considering walking away. And at what cost along the way? I had stopped writing, struggled to complete my MBA program postponing graduation several times due to needing extensions to complete my capstone project, even my relationships with my dogs were suffering. Not to mention the emotional poison – frustration & resentment – that were accumulating at work due to misdirected emotional energy. Long and short of it is:

Recreating dysfunctional childhood relationships in adulthood can feed an emotional addiction but not nourish a soul

So, in peeling back this layer of the addiction onion, two gifts have emerged for me: 1) clarity on where my next area of emotional healing needs to be focused and 2) clarity on where the next leg of my career journey needs to take me.

Which brings me to the Gates of the Golden Age, assuming I don’t starve to death first. What I mean is, without all the stress associated with solving the problems fed to me by my former corporate masters, I have an opportunity to funnel all my energy into solving the problems I decide are most important, most rewarding, most value added. I believe I have a long enough run way to launch my writing into profitability and maybe, with your help, turn a pastime into the life of my dreams, thereby entering what I call my very own Golden Age.

Image Credit: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/-sLVqc7DfR4/maxresdefault.jpg

Interested to learn more about my upcoming launch? Please enter your email and a comment or two into the form below and I’ll be sure to keep you up to speed. Cheers!

Staying Healthy During COVID19/Coronavirus Pandemic

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I live in an apartment complex and was at the dumpster yesterday taking out my trash. As I came around the corner, I saw someone else arriving with several bags. Looking closer, I noticed the items were mostly unused perishable food. My blood started to boil as my mind jumped to, ‘You’re throwing away food that others could use.’ My attack impulse was triggered.

But before I could open my mouth, I noticed a combination of fear and shame on his face, he wasn’t expecting to be seen. I shifted gears, ‘These are interesting times, you and yours doing ok?’ From there the conversation evolved into a back and forth about fear and what to do about it with one line from him especially resonating with me;

‘For me, my panic is worse than the disease itself.’

dumpster guy

Walking away from the exchange I committed to fighting and winning my own battle with panic and sharing my strategy with you.

Here’s my strategy compressed into a Top Four List:

  1. Stay Appropriately Informed – selective news sourcing and social media strategies
  2. Stay Physically Healthy – healthy bodies when health care unavailable
  3. Stay Mentally Healthy – mindset training and educational resources to weather the storm
  4. Stay Emotionally Healthy – enriching relationships while practicing social distancing
Image Credit: https://images.idgesg.net/images/article/2018/01/overwhelmed-man_stressed_analytics_information-overload-100745862-large.jpg

Stay Appropriately Informed – selective news sourcing and social media strategies

The starting point for appropriate action is always accurate information, but how do I get reliable COVID19 info without getting overwhelmed by contradicting reports, scorching politicization, ridiculous memes and/or misinformation? This is the first question we are collectively attempting to answer.

I have been using this time to filter my social media feeds for content that is helpful, positive, and substantive. Crisis brings out the best and worst of us, both off and online, and in the midst of the madness I can’t afford the worst. I’ll leave you a sampling of what has survived my digital cleansing:

  1. For raw stats on the infections, deaths, recoveries and serious COVID19 cases, see this link: Coronavirus Dashboard
  2. Not a huge fan of government agencies, but there is a ton of good info on the CDC Homepage
  3. For an hour long episode of everything you need to know about the virus, check out Dr. Paul Cottrell’s YouTube Interview – for more on Dr. Cottrell, see his webpage
  4. Stefan Molyneux’s SubscribeStar feed has lots of coronavirus content and updates several times per week
  5. For a list of positive coronavirus happenings see my recent Facebook post
  6. For social media philanthropy, there is none better than Bill Pulte
  7. For uplifting memes and web content I like Kevin W
  8. For reminders on how awesome people can be check out People are Awesome on YouTube

Each of these links has actionable information that has helped to both keep me informed (I’m not hiding from reality) and active (I need productive things to do to keep my mind occupied). From a foundation of informed action I can build the rest of my practice.

Image credit: https://blog.mass.gov/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/179032177.jpg

Stay Physically Healthy – healthy bodies when health care unavailable

Our healthcare system is likely to be overwhelmed with patients and in some areas, already is. Test kits are hard to find and effective treatments still in development. Since I’m not a doctor, I will focus on prevention rather than medical cures and since hygiene and social distancing practices have been widely circulated, I won’t attempt to add to those conversations.

First and foremost, exercise. In most areas, gyms are closed but thanks to the advent of CrossFit, equipment-free core exercises are commonly known and readily available. If you’re like me and refrained from joining the movement, see the Seven Minute Workout video for a great daily routine that you can use to get your home fitness routine started. You’ll be amazed at how much of a sweat you can get going utilizing only items you already own. Physical activity while quarantined will feel good and help keep more than your body in good shape.

A close second, eat a healthy diet. Even though there has been a run on food items, I have still found most produce and common staples to be available. I would expect this to be the case throughout the pandemic as perishables are not good candidates for hoarding. Here is a list of a few recipes that convert fresh ingredients to meals that store well in refrigerators/freezers, mix and matched with various fillers (potatoes, rice, noodles, etc.) and taste great. Invite your kids into the kitchen to help you cook, make it fun.

A few miscellaneous items I’ll leave here for good measure include:

  1. Vitamin Regiment – this list includes both everyday health supplements as well as homeopathic remedies to carry inventory of in the case you become sick and health care isn’t readily available.
  2. Intermittent Fasting – this practice has helped me stay at my ideal weight for over a year, and will help ration food over a longer period of time. Not to mention that, if combined with basic healthy food choices, keeps you out of maintaining complicated diets and calorie counting. I prefer the 18/6 method described first in the article.
  3. Cold Showers – I’m not saying every shower has to be 100% cold, but the health benefits are plentiful. I’ve been doing them several times/week for over a year and can speak to almost every single one of the positive outcomes listed in the article.
Image Credit: https://blog.lafitness.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/MentalHealth.jpg

Stay Mentally Healthy – mindset training and educational resources to weather the storm

Your mind is an integral part of your health and garbage in equals garbage out. If the first couple months of this crisis are any indicator of how the rest is going to play out, rest assured that we will continue to be bombarded with negative news cycles, doomsday predictions, political infighting and all kinds of other mental poison. On top of that, we are likely out of work and home with kids, trying to stay positive and active with the outside world mostly shut down.

In no particular order, here is a list of content to keep your mind positively and productively occupied for months on end:

  1. A list of 50 of my favorite books, almost all available as ebooks or audiobooks
  2. The best mindset book I ever read because it was the most practical and easy to apply is Gorilla Mindset, and there is even an online Master Class
  3. Looking for good online self-work, see Dr. Jordan Peterson’s Self-Authoring Suite
  4. The always great Kahn Academy has partnered with Disney to create Imagineering in a Box if you’re looking for some supplemental online educational content for kids of all ages
  5. Piper company has posted a list of helpful resources for parents looking to try homeschooling either temporarily or for the long haul
  6. The man who introduced me to peaceful parenting and who has homeschooled his daughter since birth has published a YouTube video with several insights from his experience as a homeschool dad
  7. Tuttle Twin books are great reads for freedom lovers and have content for almost all ages
  8. If you are looking for classical Christian educational content, there is none better than Dr. Duke Pesta’s Freedom Project Academy
  9. And, if all else fails, try putting the TV on mute and turning on subtitles – at least you’ll be reading!
Facebook post: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1893054450828030&set=a.703318293134991&type=3

Stay Emotionally Healthy – enriching relationships while practicing social distancing

If you’ve taken any of the advice above and created some positive habits, you’ll be noticing improvements in your emotional health. Maybe, like me, you’ll be frequently surprised by positive emotions that sneak up on you like the gratitude I experienced for all the people who had come together to deliver essential food to my local Aldi’s in the midst of this crisis. Instead of scrambling through the store in a hurry to elbow out my fellow shoppers, I moved slowly through the store, gathering the items I needed and making casual conversation every chance I got. This was just the positive experience I needed to help prepare me for the dumpster interaction at the top of this post; who knows how that interaction would have gone without the positive setup. Without the dumpster interaction, I may not have written this article, and so on.

Thing to remember is that emotions are mostly an output of behavior, but also act as input into decision making. Keep your emotional energy positive, see below for a few examples that are especially applicable in this time of social distancing and sheltering at home:

  1. Write a letter to anyone you know in a nursing home, or call if you haven’t already
  2. Call a different loved one everyday and tell them 3 things you cherish about your relationship
  3. Create a gratitude journal and write one thing you’re thankful for in it everyday, post your favorites on social media – this growing list will help combat the negative news cycle
  4. Double down on your prayer or meditation practice – but as little as a few minutes each day can do wonders
  5. Spend quality time with those you are quarantined with – board games are a great option

That’s all I got for now, hope you found it helpful. Stay safe & healthy out there and leave your comments below.

Thank you.

Teams at Work

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image credit: http://mysportsmentor.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/MSM-815×380-sprintStart.jpg

2020 bolted out of the starting block and has not looked back. At the office, after nearly two months of productivity-killing but life-enriching vacation leave at 2019 year-end; the first six weeks of 2020 have included heavy ramp up for two separate multi-million dollar project launches, a site visit from senior leadership and a customer audit. 75% of our team has less than 12 months’ experience, not to mention our day to day workload is up 5% y.o.y. and getting more complex all the time.

The setting is a rurally located 24/7/365 Distribution Center for a Fortune 500 CPG company – blue-collar America at it’s finest. The operation is kept alive by 200 employees who work shoulder to shoulder, day in and day out to ensure high-quality paper products are delivered on time and in full to your favorite retailer’s rain, snow or shine. The work is demanding and the market highly competitive requiring continuous cost-saving, value-adding innovation to stay afloat.

I entered the scene at this location roughly a year ago taking a lateral move as a team leader in order to gain new experience and prove to myself prior success was something more than dumb luck. My philosophy was simple: business results are a bi-product of human relations. High functioning human relations are measured in units of trust, which act as a lubricant, reducing relational friction as it increases.

My approach was even simpler:

increase trust wherever and whenever possible

leadership 101

But it’s more personal for me than business. Rather, this business is personal for at least two reasons: my team lost a good man, friend, and grandfather, to a fatal workplace injury in late 2018 and I lost my younger sister in 2013. The lesson in both tragedies being that life is both too precious and short to be taken for granted. Plus, life is better enjoyed and more fun with others, even at work, and fun is only possible where trust lives.

Thankfully Daniel Coyle had, by that time, published a landmark study on workplace culture, what works, what doesn’t and why. In Culture Code, Mr. Coyle outlines the blueprint for successful groups in terms I could understand. Over the last 12 months I’ve worked to employ the principles in the book, measuring success according to the following characteristics outlined therein:

  • Everyone in the group talks and listens in roughly equal measure, keeping contributions short
  • Members maintain high levels of eye contact, and their conversations and gestures are energetic
  • Members communicate directly with one another, not just with the team leader
  • Members carry on back-channel or side conversations within the team
  • Members periodically break, go exploring outside the team, and bring information back to share with the others

The healthier the group, the more its members exude the traits above and the more individuals in the group feel safe to take risks, safe to make mistakes and safe to not get hurt. It is then we relax around one another enough to have fun, the paradox being that is the exact moment we are most productive.

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image credit: https://i2-prod.mirror.co.uk/incoming/article6447328.ece/ALTERNATES/s1200/MAIN-children-playing-outside.jpg

I call it focused fun, think children on the playground improvising a new game, simultaneously and spontaneously negotiating the terms, enforcing equality, competing fiercely, creating relentlessly. If you never had this experience in youth, it’s not too late to start.

Take one last nugget from Mr. Coyle before I wrap this up:

‘Individuals aren’t really individuals. They’re more like musicians in a jazz quartet, forming a web of unconscious actions and reactions to complement the others in the group. You don’t look at the informational content of the messages; you look at patterns that show how the message is being sent. Those patterns contain many signals that tell us about the relationship and what’s really going on beneath the surface.’

Daniel Coyle, Culture Code

It is with this perspective I embrace the many challenges that 2020 has in store. I look at them as opportunities to have fun with people I trust and respect. I look forward to celebrating both the successes and failures along the way, knowing that we are building greatness as measured in friendships and memories that will, doubtless, last a lifetime, if not longer.

Thanks for reading, let me know what you think in the comments below.

My Night Sky – A Devotional on Kanye’s Jesus is King Album

Image Credit: http://en.es-static.us/upl/2017/10/minnesota-northern-lights-e1506729594708.jpg

I am alone in the woods in McGregor, MN. It’s late, maybe 11:00p, and I am yelling up at the star-filled sky, ‘Why won’t you talk to me? What is wrong with me?’ The glow from the worship hall at Covenant Pines Bible Camp visible up the path from the clearing where my 9 year old self is lamenting. Seemingly everyone except me is full of the Holy Spirit, singing God’s praises with arms upraised, and I can’t tell if they are faking it or if something is wrong with me. Hence, under the guise of using the restroom, I make my way to a quieter place in search of an answer from above.

25 years later I would first hear the lyrics;

‘Yeah, you’re lookin’ at the church in the night sky; Wonderin’ whether God’s gonna say hi,’

Kanye West, Saint Pablo

The chorus bringing me to tears as I reflected on all that had transpired since that fateful night in my youth. It was only a few years before Saint Pablo, at age 30, that I had all but given up the search for God, taking the position that if He wanted me He could reveal himself, but I was no longer going out of my way to look for Him. I was, by all intensive purposes, an atheist. And yet, at 34, Kanye brought a tear to my eye and stirred a longing long buried, but not yet at rest.

Now at 37, Kanye has released his first gospel album, Jesus is King, and this unlikely disciple is again rustling my spirit against my will.

Album cover image credit: https://exclaim.ca/images/kanye-jesus-is-king.jpeg

See, back in the woods at age 9, I decided it was me. I decided I wasn’t doing it right and that God would reveal himself in His time. I hiked back up the trail, rejoined my peers and counselors in the pews, and resumed worshiping, intent to walk in the light until I found the Way. But, as I journeyed in the years that followed, my light dimmed and, try as I did to remain faithful, time and time again I wandered astray. My valley of the shadow of death was full of struggle, loss, heartache, bitterness and pain.

Not sensing the presence of a higher power to guide me through, I learned to believe in my own strength as well to draw from others immersed in the struggle. I leaned on the philosophy of Stefan Molyneux, the savvy of Mike Cernovich, the stories of Ayn Rand, the industriousness of Elon Musk, and the fearlessness of Kanye West. None of them saints, they all share at least two things in common:

  • an unrelenting pursuit of greatness
  • an uncompromising search for truth

Like me, my role models refuse to take short cuts or water down their reality. In short, we find freedom in the fight.

Image Credit: https://d2gg9evh47fn9z.cloudfront.net/800px_COLOURBOX1580110.jpg

Back when I was still in the church, it was these same attributes which I admired in Jesus. I was drawn to the story of His battle with Satan in the desert and His persecution from the powers that be much more than His resurrection. I dismissed the miracles and mysticism as pure parable, knowing that life didn’t really work that way. I was more interested in the practical wisdom, in continual search for some sort of pragmatic balm to soothe my perpetually wounded soul.

Yet, in my encounters with the purveyors of Christianity, I found a strong tendency to fixate on the salvation story and the riches offered from a faithful life. It felt like the theology of some great cosmic transaction, where the journey could be skirted and the destination was the reward. What I kept hearing was something like, ‘Just hang in there and it’ll get better,’ or worse, ‘It’s you, get your shit together.’ I didn’t find either message useful and both came off as dismissive. I continued to attend service, but at an increasing distance.

While the pastors would proclaim the power of the pending glory and sing hymns of redemption, I would search out the stoics and the story of Job. When I read of the redemptive joy espoused by St. Francis, it was as the result of traveling the long hard path, not the reason for taking it in the first place. As I left the church at age 30, I took with me the spirituality of Dr. Gerald May and Father Richard Rohr, who understand the dark underbelly of humanity, openly explore it and, like my secular heroes above, refuse to whitewash it. Bound and determined to find my own path, I committed to journeying for journeying’s sake and not for promise of future reward.

Merch from Kanye West’s #SundayService at the Fox Theater in Detroit: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/EFg-rIHXUAY6sNI?format=jpg&name=medium

Fast forward to last Friday, October 25th, 2019 at 2:00p CST. Kanye dropped his first gospel album, Jesus is King, his 9th solo album in his illustrious career as a rapper, in which he has been awarded 21 Grammys to date. He began work on the album in true artistic form with a full spiritual immersion starting in early 2019, as displayed in his Sunday Service performances in Atlanta, Jamaica, Detroit, L.A., Chicago, New York and many others. I was intrigued, something special was happening. The Prodigal Son has returned home to the Father 15 years after dropping Jesus Walks, millions of listeners on his heels with millions others up in arms.

The spirit of the album summed up on track 8:

‘All my idols let em go,

All the demons let em know,

This a mission not a show,

This is my eternal soul’

God Is’, Jesus is King

And for Kanye it’s more than the album. He’s giving it all to Christ; his music, his fashion, his business, his life. He tells BigBoyTV at the 27:00 minute mark in this 10/25/19 interview, that he wants to be a, ‘Christian innovator.’ He goes on to describe the journey, completely raw and unfiltered as only Kanye can. Not perfect, not scripted, not linear; both the interview and the album metaphors for a life fully lived, full of passion and the constant renewal of purpose. For me it’s a sermon I can relate to.

And, as I sit here ready to push publish on an article I’ve written and rewritten over a dozen times, I can’t help but think that I might have finally found the answer I’ve been looking for in the night sky. The answer that has always been there for every honest pilgrim, still and silent like the cool moonlight: God Is.

So as I close my eyes tonight, I hope you join me in the Prayer of the Journey:

Credit Deacon Allan Barrow, St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church, Tulsa, OK