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Short and Sweet Thoughts

Deconstructing Labels

For decades, I coasted on the labels bestowed upon me by others: smart, intelligent, talented. I could extrapolate to pad my ego and call myself gifted. The question I have to this day: At what?

I chased my curiosity with a blatant lack of regard for facts and reality. I knew nothing. People were around to tell me, but I didn’t listen. Why should I? I was told so many times what I would be and I liked what I heard. Why listen to the naysayers?

The truth about labels is they hold you back. They are the expression of blessing in the face of fear that you might not succeed: “Please god make my kid successful so I won’t have to accept the fact that I fucked them up with my nature and lack of nurture.”

Welcome to the middle of your life. No one cares to label you anymore. The old ones have crumbled with overuse; childhood’s one hit wonder. But overcome you must, even though it’s hard, because you never needed the labels. You knew who you were then, you know who you are now. You know what you want. It was the others who needed to label you, so they wouldn’t have to get to know the real you. To see you. To experience who you’ve become beyond the labels of youth.

It is the later years when labels reemerge to rewrite our history. The sweet lie we tell ourselves, on repeat, so one day we can die in peace.

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Reflections Short and Sweet Thoughts

Take your time and enjoy the process

I get a lot of emails from the local business newspaper celebrating the latest round of 40 under 40. I’m glad some people found success in their 20s and 30s. But that’s not my story, and it’s probably not yours either.

I’m proud of what I have accomplished. As I approach my 44th birthday in a month, I realize that I will never be on the 40 under 40 list—or any list in reality—but I can look myself in the mirror and know I’ve done what I’ve wanted to do.

If you are struggling to be seen, validated, and heard, I understand that and feel you. I hope you won’t make decisions based on lists and recognition. I’ve disrupted my journey enough to know it’s not worth it.

In the meantime, let’s get back to work and keep building what is alive in our imaginative souls.

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Reflections Short and Sweet Thoughts

Searching for the truth in conversation

I take interviewing people seriously because I’m searching for the truth and looking for wonder. Someone once told me during an interview to relax; it’s not 60 Minutes. True, it’s not. I’m not a journalist. I’m a soul explorer.

In every pound of pain and joule of joy, I’m looking for pure human expression in all its glory. Identifying the connection between meaning, purpose, voice, and craft is art and alchemy. When two people come together to share the stories that have shaped us, we have the opportunity to form a new narrative in the present for a better future for everyone connected to us.

That is the power of pure conversation.

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Reflections Thoughts

Addicted to Infinity

It took longer than usual to recognize a significant problem that took root in my daily routine over the last few months: I’ve become addicted to infinity.

Instead of spending time in the morning reading books, I was flinging birds at pigs and bubbles—over and over—until I completed the daily tasks or ran out of lives.

Sure, my skill in digital bird throwing was increasing, but I recognized that what was once an enjoyable break from the stress of the day quietly became an addiction. I was numbing my emotions, checking out of the present, and opening myself up to advertisements so I could get more lives, gems, and a semblance of pride.

The digital world is lovely; the pros are as endless as the cons. And that is the problem. Unless I make an effort to construct boundaries and limits, I will constantly be refreshing algorithmic infinity instead of creating an actual future with images, words, stories, and curiosity.

What was I hiding from in the addiction of infinity?

Choice.

I have chosen, and now I step into digital withdrawal.

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Randomness Reflections Thoughts

Give change a few days

Day one of my four-month journey to write my first book. I planned to get out of bed at 5:30 AM to make coffee, get settled into the couch, and begin capturing what’s in my mind.

The alarm greeted me at 5:30 AM after an interrupted night of sleep. I stumbled out to make coffee. Measured the beans and poured them into the grinder. Just like I’ve always done for years. Pressed the grind button and something was wrong. It didn’t sound right. Was the motor burnt out?

*Sigh*

I made some tea and got to work. Once I finished my hour of writing, I went to the store and bought a new coffee grinder. I chose a different brand because it was five dollars cheaper than the brand of my previous grinder.

Walking to the self-checkout, I was joyful, “How exciting, change is good! Yay coffee!”

I got home, gave the grinder a slight clean and preceded to fill it with coffee beans. It was significantly smaller and didn’t hold my usual amount.

While grinding away, I started wondering about the best way to get the coffee grounds into the filter. The setup was fundamentally different than my old grinder. I tipped the unit upside down, removed the lid, and got some grounds in the filter with a healthy amount on the counter.

Messy.

Grumpy.

Need coffee.

*Sigh*

“I hate this coffee grinder,” I told myself.

“It sucks,” I whined while the coffee brewed.

“It doesn’t do what I want it to do,” I lied to myself.

Then a different thought emerged, “What if you tried another way to make coffee?”

Change is hard. It requires you to look at life in a different light with a new lens. Give it a few days, it will be okay. In the meantime, clean up your mess and drink your coffee.

Categories
Ideas Reflections

Willingly embracing the identity of student

When we are young, we are labeled and identified as “student.” It is thrust upon us, forcing us to fit into a mold that we spend our formative years of life escaping from; we have no choice.

If we aren’t good students, then we become defiant and rebellious. Desperate to find another way, to reveal our truth. The master of our destinies.

If we are good students, then we conform to the expectations of others. We may step into who we really are or simply travel the path someone else reveals for us. They become the master of our destinies.

At some point in our lives, we shed our student identity and reject any external attempt to label us as students.

As we grow older, we have a choice to become a student again. We can submit willingly to learn from the wisdom of others. But we also can become students of ourselves. The dance between the external and internal world is awkward and beautiful.

It is in this embrace of being a student that we learn a new way of being. To be a student means:

  • You have teachers, externally and internally.
  • You are willing to admit humbly your ignorance and desire to learn.
  • You are open to correction, even if you don’t like it.
  • You accept the consequences of your action and inaction.
  • You embrace the learning journey, which looks a lot like the journey of our lives, as a trip with no end apart from death.
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Reflections

Becoming a better leader

I’ve been thinking about leadership for most of my life. From the early days of my life, I’ve been watching those around me make decisions for themselves and the family. Not to mention being a witness to the successes and failures of teachers and students through grade school into college.

I wouldn’t have called it leadership in my youth, but looking back, I recognize the signs: someone has authority over another person or group, leading them to a goal (stated or undeclared), for the benefit of a reward in the future.

I saw a lot of mistakes and readily judged everyone including the person who made the mistake and the people who “blindly” followed the leader. I told myself, “I would never have made THAT decision! What an idiot!” In my judgment, I became the worst type of leader: the never-wrong-know-it-all.

The way I learned about leadership was as a passive observer. I thought I learned what not to do, but really what I discovered was the fear of making mistakes and a desire to make everyone happy.

Over the past few years, I have been going through the transformative process of becoming a leader. It starts with a daily and painful pruning of what I learned being a passive observer of leadership. I cry out as the shears ship away my price and arrogance. Judgment becomes a question rather than an answer; an inquisition of self.

As I take shape through my daily pruning, I realize an important truth: Leaders have to make tough decisions that impact lives either through direct result or the ripple effects of their actions. The best leaders accept the consequences knowing that they are trying to do the best they can for as many people as possible.

What I know now that I didn’t know then, is that’s impossible to be a perfect leader. There will always be someone who is affected negatively by a leader’s decision. Criticism is readily available from the passive observers on the bench of life. But how the leader responds to the consequences and criticism says everything about their character.

Leadership begins the second we take ownership of our decisions and accept the consequences of our actions. Becoming better leaders is only possible when we admit we don’t know everything and will never be perfect, but do the best we can for as many people possible.

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Reflections

Nobody Special: Finding Relief in an Exhausted World

I just got back to the computer after taking a week off. I didn’t really go anywhere—other than the beach, the coffeeshop, and the far away lands present in the books I read—but I did travel deep within myself and come face-to-face with a fear.

Not just any old fear, but the deep kind Jay Shetty writes about in Think Like a Monk: Train Your Mind for Peace and Purpose Every Day: the root, not the branch.

There are so many words from various books echoing through my mind as I search for my own thoughts.

This morning, I was checking email and got an email from Barnes & Noble about new books. As I scrolled through the list of the latest and greatest works of non-fiction from the luminaries and celebrities, I felt triggered: Who am I? What do I really have to say, for I am nobody special?

As I typed those words—”nobody special”—into my notes app, I remember where and when I first encountered those beautiful words. In the middle of the night, several weeks ago, in a fit of despair about the meaning of my life, I went into the living room and opened up Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives by Wayne Muller. The title of the chapter was “Nobody Special.”

As I read and took in his words, I felt the immense glory of being nobody special.

Do I fear that I am average, mediocre, and truly nobody special? Yes, but as Shetty explains, this is a branch fear, one that reveals a deeper fear.

As I explore these fears and feelings, I dig until the words from Father James Martin in Learning to Pray: A Guide for Everyone allow me to stop searching. My root fear is that I want to be “loved, liked, and approved of.”

Can I still be “loved, liked, and approved of” if I am nobody special?

Perhaps the better question is: “Do I still need to be loved, liked, and approved of because I am nobody special?”

Considering the possible answers to that question helps me to find a sense of relief amid the weariness of the world.

Categories
Reflections Thoughts

Misinterpreting my weaknesses

I’m stubborn, obsessive, and opinionated; I always thought these traits were weaknesses. Year upon year, day after day, I hid them from others and shoved those feelings aside in order to fit into a box, a genre, a lane.

What I didn’t realize as I fought to find and blaze my own trail through life, what I didn’t truly understand at the deepest level of my being: these traits are not weaknesses, or even curses, but blessings.

Not because I am against anyone or anything who wants me to live up to their definition or expectation of me, but because the scales have fallen from my eyes and I see who I am and what matters to me.

I finally accept it all.

And that is how perceived weaknesses become superpowers.

Categories
Reflections Short and Sweet

Clarity is beautifully perplexing

When a question isn’t clear, the answer is equally unclear. You can replace “question” and “answer” with just about any word pairing and the logic remains true.

Problem and solution.

Process and outcome.

Life and death.

How do you find clarity?

Now that is a question.