Thursday, March 14, 2013

Oh Hey. Have you been here the whole time?

We wouldn't worry so much about what others think of us if we only realized how seldom they actually do.― Eleanor Roosevelt

Ain't that the truth. I've spent a large majority (pronounced "all") of my first 36 years making decisions based upon what I thought others might think. It was like I had a peer-pressure seeing-eye dog sitting in my head that would play out the scenario of what I would assume would be other people's responses then this dog would not only guide my next move, but it would talk a pretty good argument toward whatever would be the most accepted... not even acceptable, but merely accepted. I would use this tactic in nearly every decision making opportunity. What will they think if I start dancing? Should I wear jeans and a t shirt around this crowd or trendier clothes? What music should I play while driving down the street with my windows down? Who is in this meeting and do I have the clout against their pay grade to speak out? 

 And here is the kicker; no one dictated any of this to me. The determination of what was accepted by others was defined only by me. The same brain that defined it was crushed under the scrutiny of it. It wasn't like a coworker took me aside and said "you know, you should only use 2 metaphors in any given meeting or it will be perceived that you are trying too hard". My wife never said "I would find you much sexier if you didn't tell so many stories during dinner" (far from it, actually). But that was what my brain was projecting that they would say. I was deciding what other people wanted of me, changing my behavior to align with it, and then assuming (as dear Eleanor stated) that they actually noticed. It is a tango between insecurity and narcissism.

One day, I was asked "What are your passions?" Strip away the "shoulds" and expectations (both self imposed and perceived) and simply state what makes my heart sing. I'm not sure if the sound in the room was more of a needle scratching across a record or more of a jackknifing 18-wheeler after all of the tires fell off, but I believe the guy running the jackhammer a few streets over turned to his buddy and said "Dude, was that you?". It was monumental. I realized that I didn't know my passions. My god, what DO I love to do? to be? to follow? to champion? I was flabbergasted and quickly developed a desperation to discover those answers. That was an "a-ha" moment that have made Oprah say "whoa". 

 Just realizing that I don't know what makes me tick because my decisions were always guided based upon what I assumed others thought (remember, almost never did anyone else actually set these standards) was huge yet only the first step. I had 36 years of momentum behind me. An aircraft carrier with that path behind them doesn't u-turn on a dime. However, over the past few years, I've worked hard on shedding expectations - both those that I impose upon myself and those that I may (or may not) actually receive from others. Its not easy and requires a strong practice in bravery to put myself out there, disregard the opinions of others and simply rely upon my best intentions, which fortunately are usually enough to get by on where experience can't take you. 

 Its funny how all of these life-lesson themes seem to tie together. Looking back at some of my other posts, this one linked to "shoulds", "Its all about me", and "living in the moment". Through navigating this core issue that I honed those lessons. Its like the whole arm-chair psychology section of the bookstore are just different chapters of the same book. Maybe it is a conspiracy among the therapist-come-author community where they know there is just one major convoluted issue and they split it up so they can all publish a paperback. I'm on to them. 

 It has been a slow peeling back of those layers of "should" but they are sloughing off, sure enough. I am trusting in it more and discovering what it is that makes me tick. Sure, it is scary to put myself out there and risk the scrutiny but you know what? It hasn't backfired on me yet.

Monday, March 4, 2013


I am not a stranger in this world
I am not some uninvited guest
I will take my place at the table
and shine

What keeps us from being the best, uninhibited and vibrant version of ourselves? What stops us from shining?  We all have the capacity and we all have the talent.  For some reason, we grow an internal  'governor' that  brings in doubt and second guessing. And sometimes, it feels good.  There is a warmth of second guessing ourselves before going out on a limb. A comfort. You start to wrestle with the risk of pushing your limits and all of a sudden, the safety of being conservative can feel appealing. We can cloud our path with a search for the 'right way' than choosing with our soul and jumping in with both feet.  True, jumping in against the current is scary, risky and often against the societal norms, but when you lead with your raw passion, you have the best hope for success - however you define it, and your brightest shine.  

We need not fear judgement nor wonder if we are 'good enough'.  "I am not some uninvited guest" - we belong here, where ever we might find ourselves in that moment, and have just as owe ourselves the pursuit of our "shine" without inhibition.  In that pursuit defined by your passion, and not society, you will create the  loudest shine that your soul can muster. Your truest shine. The perfect shine for you. 

Know you belong. Following your instinct to your glory.  Take your place at the table.  

Sunday, January 27, 2013

“How to Make the Most of Life” From Every-day Religion, 1886 By JamesFreeman Clarke

Some persons make a great deal of life; others very little. To some it is intensely interesting; to others, very vapid. Some are tired of life before they have begun to live. They seem, as has been said, to have been born fatigued. Nothing interests them. This is a species of affectation with some persons to whom it seems a mark of genius to be weary of life. They think it argues an enormous experience and that they have exhausted everything. Wherever it is an affectation it is a very shallow one. Noble and manly natures seldom fall into this pit of satiety. They are full of hope and energy. To them life has inexhaustible charms. It is ever more rich, full, and varied. Each day dawns with new expectations, and closes with fresh hopes for to-morrow. And it is these living men who keep the rest of us alive. Whenever we meet them more sunshine comes into the day. Let us only share their enthusiasm, and we too cannot help making a great deal of life.

This…is the first rule for making the most of life: Forget yourself in some interest outside of yourself.

He who is turned inward, thinking of himself, admiring himself, complaining that he is ill-treated; he who thinks he ought to have more of the rewards of life—he is the one who does not begin to live. Life is born out of communion—communion with God, Nature, man. “We only live,” says the profound thinker, the philosopher Fichte—”we only live when we love!” How true that is! We must be interested in something in order to be alive, and no one can take a great deal of interest in himself. Looking in the glass is an unprofitable occupation. Socrates, indeed, taught, “Know thyself;” but the self-knowledge which he advised did not consist in minute self-inspection, but in testing thought and work by that which other men think and do. Socrates did not occupy himself with self-study, but went about the streets of Athens taking an interest in all that was thought, said, and done. He was interested in others—in the condition of the State, the progress of truth, the diet of the soul, the stimulus of goodness, the restraints on evil. How men could be made better and wiser—that was what engaged his whole thought, and this made his life one which has been the inspiration of mankind.

But, you may say, we cannot all be inspired apostles or great philosophers. No; but the motive, the principle which made their lives rich, we can have in ours. This principle is, to be interested in something good; to have an object, an aim, a purpose outside of ourselves.

In the great storms which have lately swept over the north Atlantic, a steamer from our shores discovered another, dismasted and rudderless, drifting before the gale, its decks swept by terrible seas. The sailors volunteered to man a boat, and go to save those on the wreck. The labor was appalling, the dangers frightful; but they succeeded, and saved the lives of their fellow-men. Which has made the noblest use of life, the self-indulgent epicurean, who amuses himself with a little art, a little literature, a little criticism and a little vapid social pleasure, or these rugged, brave hearts, who bade defiance to storm and sea, and brought salvation to those in despair? To forget yourself is the secret of life; to forget yourself in some worthy purpose outside of yourself.

The poor steamer foundered because it drifted; because its steering apparatus was lost. The man who has no aim higher than himself also drifts; he has nothing by which to steer, nothing toward which to direct his life. Do not drift, but steer; that is the second rule.

These men, however, it may be said, were enthusiasts; they had enthusiasm for some pursuit, to which they devoted themselves. But most of us are of a more plain, common-sense, practical nature…

Then let us look at a man of another type, who certainly was not an enthusiast, yet who made more of his life, did more, learned more, than any man of his generation. I mean Benjamin Franklin. He was clear-headed and sagacious; but that is not the key to his remarkable career. I think the secret of his vast success was that he did everything as well as it could be done. He put his mind into his work. His motto might have been, “Whatever thy hand finds to do, do it with thy might.” He prized the present moment, and gave his whole thought to it. Most of us do a great many things mechanically, satisfied if we do as well as others, no worse than the majority, so as not to risk much loss or incur much blame.

The power of Franklin lay in this; that whatever his hand found to do, he did it with his might. He did not wait till tomorrow to do something, but did what his hand found to-day. It is surprising how little he had of what is called ambition. It seemed to make very little difference to him what he did, or where he was. He drifted to Philadelphia, but when there he did not drift, but steered. He took the first decent work which he could find, and did it with his might. The Governor of the Province proposed to him to go to London, promising to help him to buy a printing-press, that he might do the public printing. After Franklin had gone the Governor forgot his promise. But it made little difference to Franklin. Being in London, he went to work as a printer, and there he remained till some occasion sent him back again to this country. Prudent, economical, industrious, watchful, he could not help growing rich. But he does not seem to have cared much about that. What he wished was to find all the secrets of the work he was doing, finish it in the best way, and to teach others how to do things well. In his shop in Philadelphia, in a printing-office in London, ambassador at the court of Louis XVI., conversing with British statesmen and philosophers, he was the same—a wide-awake person, with his mind keenly fixed on the thing nearest him. He did not worry about possible future evils, nor torment himself about an irrevocable past. He put his whole soul into the present moment, the work just at hand. He gave as earnest thought to the methods of his society of young men in Philadelphia for study and discussion, as to a treaty with France or the formation of the American Constitution.

Each thing as it came, took his whole mind, heart, and strength. That was why he did so much. He lived, as has been said, in the whole. Most of us are very apt to live in the half. We put part of our mind into our present work; with the rest of our mind we are worrying about the past or the future, or imagining what other better things we might be doing. So we work in a half-and-half way. Do with your might what your hand finds to do; that is our third rule.

Ralph Waldo Emerson is another striking instance in our times of a man who made the most of life. He proved the truth of his own saying, “Let the single man plant himself on his instincts, and the huge world will come round to him.” He had two leading ideas, by which he lived, and which he taught to his age. One of them was “Self-reliance,” the other “God-reliance.” Trust in your own deep and permanent convictions, though the whole world insist that you are wrong. “Call a pop-gun a pop-gun, though the ancient and honorable declare it to be the crack of doom.” He believed in that which was highest, and did that which was nearest, following the suggestive lines of Wordsworth :—
“The primal duties shine aloft like stars;
The charities which soothe and bless and save,
Are scattered at the feet of man like flowers.”
Pursuing his own way quietly, trusting in the intuitions of his soul, saying his own words, not those of any one else, accepting the present moment with its immediate inspiration, and believing in an overhanging heaven and an infinite spiritual presence, Emerson did with his might what his hand found to do, and saw the great world come round to him. Trust in God and your own soul, is the fourth rule.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Failure is Not an Option... It is a Requirement

**This isn't new ground, but it has been at the tip of my keyboard for some time now. 

For most people, the time of failure is the most important time of testing in their lives. Margaret Thatcher once said that “Failure is not an option,” by which she meant to imply the inevitability of success, but the truth of the statement transcends even her own meaning: we do not willingly choose failure, but our moments of testing and maturity will be determined by how we choose to deal with the failures that are inevitable. We might say that where there is failure, there is life; and it is failure in life, as in science, that will help us to redefine what success is, and what success can be. 
- The Good Life (Peter Gomes)
Although certainly not the first to say it, Ed Harris brought this phrase into pop culture when he was demanding the best of mission control to bring home Tom, Kevin and Bill.  

"We have never lost an American in space and we sure as hell aren't going to lose one on my watch.  Failure is not an option" - Ed Harris (Apollo 13)
Hot diggity damn! Let's do it for Ed.- This is Ed's demand of success.  He calls to inspire and to impart the ddefinition of option as: the power of choosing? How much more powerful does this phrase become? It isn't that failure is not an option because of Ed's insistence on success; that is, failure isn't one of the choices on the table so don't even consider it. Rather, failure isn't an option because failure is not something that we have the power to choose or, moreso the power to NOT choose.  Truth be, failure is inevitable. It must happen.  It will happen.  And it is most powerful when embraced.

Not only is it inevitable, but it is truly a necessity and it is a requirement for growth. Be thankful for it as it is from failure that we create new pathways and expand our true options.  Failure builds the texture in our lives that make it rich. It is only through failure that we can truly define what success. 

Unfortunately, we have developed a stigma around success and failure that prohibits us from accepting this paradigm. In general, I don't believe it is a lack of acceptance of failure by others, as I have found that most people are accepting and compassionate to others when they fail to achieve their goals and overall they honor the effort and intent. However, the rub lies within ourselves with our own failures. We don't let ourselves off the hook that easily. When you fall short, miss the goal, overshoot the deadline, or have to decide to stop because success seems unlikely, do you genuinely (be honest now) swell with pride because you gave it your all?  Don't get me wrong, commitment and effort are qualities that we do commend, even within ourselves, however they don't bring glory. Those qualities usually serve to justify that we aren't complete failures - delineating the difference between not achieving a goal and a definition of our own character.

We aren't born with this fear of failure, we develop it over the years. It is a learned condition. Generally, young teenagers (especially boys) hardly know failure and therefore aren't afraid of it. They often have a sense of invincibility, which is why they do some ridiculously stupid shit sometimes, but they step up to do that really stupid shit because they aren't afraid of failing. But as we age and as we have more experiences with failure and the self-inflicted shame associated with failure, those failures define parameters within which we operate.  They become limits that stake out our realm of possibilities, or at the very least, teach us to operate with care when broaching them.

As with most struggles, overcoming the fear of failure comes down to perspective. Let's take this ideal of winning every time as the measure of success and let's put a spin on it.  Rather than equating failure = bad and winning = good, rather than falling into the trap of defining ourselves and worth by our most recent success, rather than each goal being the top of it's own podium, let's look at these challenges as defining stepping stones that shape a single story; a succession of experiences and lessons that let us grow and transform into a stronger versions of ourselves. The wins and the losses are equally rich in this single story and create lessons to draw upon for all of the other experiences to come. These swings in the pendulum of life's challenges broaden us and make it all so much richer.  Plus, it gives you great material for dinner parties.

When asked about all of his unsuccessful attempts at making a light bulb work, Thomas Edison replied, "I have not failed a thousand times.  I have successfully discovered one thousand ways to NOT make a  light bulb." 

So, go on... fail.  Put yourself out there and fail big. Accept that it will happen and embrace it.  You'll be a better person for it.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Get it Quiet to Get it Loud

I'm sorry, do the noises in my head bother you? 

Lordy, Lordy - our brains are pretty magnificent.  Think of all it does; computing and calculating (not easy), autonomic activities (breathing and such), thinking (whoa), and perhaps the biggest wow-factor - learning (whether it chooses to, is another story, but despite some evidence, it does have the capacity). But that is not all. It has one more ability that is often overlooked.  The brain can do MAGIC.

The brain has no ears or vocal chords of its own, no speakers or microphones, not even the ability to create grunts and clicks without the help of other body parts, however it can create so much noise that it not only drowns out the rest of the world, but makes it seem like nothing else in the world even exists. It is only about 6 inches in diameter and displaces a liter or so of liquid but, man, it can crank up the volume enough to fill Candlestick Park.

It is powerful. It can not only carry on conversations with itself and consume its owner with whatever is at it whim, but most powerfully, it can manifest its own reality despite any evidence or common sense that would normally prevail. It has so much capacity and power... magical power. And with great power comes great responsibility because the power of your brain and the noise it creates will not only drown out other noises but it will create its own world, it's own reality that may or may not relate to truth but will send you down one hell of a rat hole. The only way to find that "real" is to quiet that powerful brain, if even for just a bit. The first step in finding the peace around the issues that launched the noise in the first place is to squelch the chatter, dialogs and diatribes.

Of course, it is much easier said than done - that noisy brain is not only loud, but it is consuming. Convincing. Perhaps a tad manipulative. And to make matters worse, you can't even attack it logically. You can't start this quieting by thinking "I need to be quiet" because your brain is already overrun with thinking - that is what got you into this perdicament in the first place. No, you can't think your way out of this, you have to will yourself out. Quieting the noises in your head takes willpower, as much willpower as fighting as resisting the urge to scratch a mosquito bite, put down the cigarettes, stay away from the pint of Hagen Das in the freezer downstairs, or holding your tongue because the kids are in the room. I find it to be a combination of activities to activate this will power to be able to suppress the noise. At times it requires a flexing of what I call my "squelch" muscle. I've never been able to find it in an anatomy chart, but based upon the sensation I feel when working it, I would say it connects the back of my throat to a few sphincters near the exit route. Other times it feels like the only way to will away these noises is to hold my breath and suffocate the little bastards into submission.

Methods for quieting the noises will differ as each person finds that balanced prescription for finding their own quiet. No matter how you piece it together, developing this skill results in the start of a mediation practice. It can be formal meditations; a la lotus pose, palms up, incense, and a concluding chi gong. Or it can be some other distraction that clears out the busyness; running, knitting, driving with the top down (either yours or the car's). Finding it requires experimentation and making it work takes practice, but regardless of how it s=is achieved, it is paramount for finding the peace..

Once you find your quieting strategy and techniques, you can squelch the brain-induced noise and allow space for the right kind of noise to come along. The answer. The unmuttled understanding. The clarity that deflates the all of consuming woe of the day. It wont likely come immediately. In fact, it may feel like a ridiculously long time for the effects to kick in, but it will come. All of a sudden you will realize that the noises are muted and some of the wars you were battling in your brain have resigned. Perspective will be won and clarity achieved. Your path will lay out before you... loud and clear.

I've heard a number of metaphors for this practice:
- Mud settles in still waters
- You can only see your reflection in the lake without ripples
- A cow with no nostrils is free ...(WTF did he just say? - no shit. It is a real one.)
- Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity.... ok, that one is grasping at straws, but it is one of my favorites.

Regardless of the Buddhist flavoring rubbed on it before grilling, the message is the same. In order to gain the perspective, sift through the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt), and find the answers to the instigators, you have to quiet the noises. The only way to hear it loud is to get quiet.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

[Reblog] NUTS! Why Remembering Christmas 1944 Can Change Your Life


Last Monday I crapped in a plastic bag.
There is no nice way to say that. No genteel or sanitized way to describe the experience.I’d just started taking a new medicine to combat a spastic colon, which I’ve battled on and off for ten years. The medicine promised to do remarkable things.
Instead, it made my condition worse.
En route to an appointment, I was gripped with a sudden, urgent, and uncontrollable need to use the can. There were no exits from the freeway on that stretch of road, no public restrooms or gas stations for miles in any direction. I wasn’t going to make it. So I did the only thing I could think of. I pulled onto the shoulder, set my hazard lights, and did what needed to be done.
I tell that story for a reason.
In this day and age of Facebook personalities, it’s easy to start believing another person’s life is as problem-free as described in an online bio. In my case, I’m a New York Times bestselling author. I’ve got a master’s degree. I’ve got a great wife and family and have travelled all over the world. If you know me only by my bio, then I’m an enviable man.
But here’s the fuller version of the truth. There’s one tiny area of life—in my case, a medical weakness—that I can’t seem to conquer no matter how hard I try.
I bet that you, in your most honest moments, could say something similar about yourself. You’re a capable and confident man. Still, there’s one area of your life where you’re hurting or weak, where you lack control, or can’t seem to overcome. Even Superman had his kryptonite. Achilles had his heel.
Maybe it’s a broken relationship. Or an incident of grief or illness or financial trouble. Maybe you’re grappling with anger or meaninglessness or hopelessness or you’re suffering from an addiction or you’re depressed or tired or you can’t get a job, or you work too hard and get paid far less than you’re worth. Maybe you’re simply stressed out and need a break.
Here’s hope. When I pulled off the road last Monday, I was genuinely miserable. I was sweating and cursing, and feeling embarrassed, and worried that a motorcycle cop was going to come along and ask me what I was doing. I was hating my life.
But in that moment, one word flashed through my mind. It’s a word weighted with determination, and it reminded me not to give up, no matter what life threw at me.
Here’s the story behind the word.
In late November 1944, Allied soldiers were charged with holding the line at a small Belgian town called Bastogne. Word flew in that Hitler was pushing hard and fast, making a last-ditch effort to swing the tide of the war back in his favor. Bastogne proved strategic due to seven crossroads that snaked through the town, roads vital in the transport of troops and ammunition.
If Hitler controlled Bastogne, he would win the war.
The Allied soldiers were rushed up to Bastogne in trucks. They hiked out into the forest in the mud and freezing rain, made a perimeter around the town, dug foxholes, and waited. Food, winter clothing, medical supplies, and ammunition were scarce. Some men didn’t even have boots. They wrapped their feet in burlap bags to stay warm.
The enemy made a larger ring around the Allied troops, dug in, and also waited. Snow began to fall. The temperature plummeted. It became Belgium’s coldest winter in 30 years. The Allied soldiers guarding Bastogne were surrounded.
Then the shelling began. Blood ran. Men on both sides took bullets, lost limbs, and died.
Weeks wore on with little progress. Christmas neared. The two armies were positioned so closely to each other that at night Allied troops could hear their enemies across the line—they were huddled in their foxholes singing Silent Night in German.
On Christmas Eve, 1944, General Anthony McAuliffe, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, issued a flier to his men. It was headlined “Merry Christmas,” and the general wrote, “What’s merry about all this, you ask? We’re fighting. It’s cold. We aren’t home.” He went on to praise Allied troops for stopping flat everything the enemy was throwing at them. Then he described a story that happened two days earlier.
On December 22, the commander of the German army had sent word to McAuliffe. The enemy commander had painted a bleak picture of the Allied position, and insisted there was only one option to save the Allied troops from total annihilation.
When McAuliffe read the demands, he fumed, then sent back to the German commander a reply of only one word.
When the messenger asked for further explanation, he was told, “It’s the equivalent of saying, ‘Go to hell.’”
So, how does remembering Christmas 1944 change your life?
Yesterday evening I went to the mall with my family to do some Christmas shopping. We went into The Gap, and I noticed on the wall a recently-released poster of Michael J. Fox and his wife Tracy Pollan. They were doing a promotional piece to advertise the store.
Michael and Tracy were poised in a warm embrace. Tracy’s face was turned away from the camera, but Michael was staring straight into the lens. There were lines underneath his eyes. Some lines from age. Some from laughter. Some from experience. Some from fighting.And I stared at that poster.
I stared at it a long time.
Michael J. Fox, like Muhammad Ali, has been battling Parkinson’s disease for years. At present, it’s still an unwinnable disease, and its symptoms have only increased in Michael over time.

But here was Michael on a poster in The Gap.

Still working.
Still loving his wife.
Still fighting hard.
Still saying NUTS!
No matter what weakness or problem you’re battling, a dark option always exists to crumble under life’s hardships. When you feel miserable, you’re tempted to quit under the weight of the difficulty.
That’s why remembering Christmas 1944 can change your life. It reminds you that even when life hits you hard, even if you’re fighting in a frozen forest, even if you have Parkinson’s, even if you’re crapping in a bag by the side of the freeway, you keep on going.
You refuse to surrender.
You say, NUTS!
When faced with a difficulty, what ways have you found to persevere through?
Marcus Brotherton. Read his blog, Men Who Lead Well, at:

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Living in the Moment

Living in the Moment - Jason Mraz

It is so easy to get caught up in the yesterdays; wondering "if only I would have...", or picking at festering regrets in that achy spot just to the right of your heart, or compemplating "How did I get here?"

Or just as easily (although probably when you were younger) daydream about the possibilities of the future - from nudges in direction to visions of granduer, losing yourself in the clouds to the point they are consuming.

But if you live for right now, the prize is right there this moment.  Live in the now and discover the gems in every single opportunty whether good or bad. In this moment while you are reading this you are likely consumed in your screen, however there is a world of life to experience around you.  Take a moment to look up from your screen and explore the tree outside the window, feel the warmth of the sun, listen to the words of the song playing in the background, watch a mother lovingly tend to her child (if you are in Starbucks), or listen to the noises inside of you - you might learn a lot.

The beauty of this approach is that as soon as the experience of this moment is over, there is a whole new one to explore.

Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
~Ferris Bueller

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Faces of Death

As I am entering my late 30s, I feel I am an anomaly in how relatively little death has crossed my path. Like most, I've survived the passing of aging grandparents and of acquaintances whom I have not seen nor spoken to in years, but in my first 37 years I am blessed (for lack of a better word) to have never lost someone who has been an integral part of my daily life. Others close to me have certainly experienced death intimately and I have tasted the breadth and depth of its impact upon them, but I have been limited to that vicarious perspective of how the grief of death can touch us all.

However, I have new perspetive on death, mortality and grieving as my family and I have been touched by death three times in the last two months. In as much as each of these deaths have similarities that come with a conclusion of life and the strong emotions that follow, each of these deaths are just as much remarkably different in the conditions of the death, the life story of the deceased, and the impact to those left behind.

The first of the three stories sounds more like the teaser of an episode of Dateline that was literally ripped from the headlines of a small town about 40 miles away. After dropping off her son at school one morning, a 25 year old woman disappeared. Two days later her car was found burned in field with no signs of her inside. By the weekend, her body was found in the home of a family friend after a nearly 24-hour standoff with police and, as expected, with much speculation. The story made news headlines across the state from the get-go, and she and her family were in the public eye in what was undoubtedly the most tragic time of their lives. The victim turned out to be the daughter-in-law of my daughter's 4th grade teacher. Being the small faith-based school that it is, the entire school community rallied around her and held vigil for the lost daughter-in-law. The affect on the students was profound as, through their beloved teacher the darkest faces of mankind, the very things from which we all hope to shelter them.

The second death to touch us was at the nearly opposite end of the spectrum. In her 90's, my wife's great aunt had been battling cancer for the last year of her otherwise healthy and full life. Her body slowly succumbed to the disease and with the support of family was able to place her affairs in order, address the impending end of her life, and discern some peace with her passing.

Then came Steph. Stephanie was a 33 year old mother of two with whom we shared in raising our kids, trained for races and vacationed for the last 4 years. She had been battling a rare form of breast cancer for the last 2 years with a vengeance and with a spirit that forced jaws to drop in awe. Despite being a penetrating energy of strength and hope that was palpable in any room she entered, she succumbed to the cancer knowing that she was leaving her 9 year old and 4 year old behind.

Wow, indeed. Amidst the overwhelming consumption of death and grief, of which I did not have deep experience, I was struck with the imbalanced wave of death we were facing in such a short amount of time. Death sets normal life into such a spin under usual circumstances, and here we were facing it three times within a narrow window. Of course, all three brought floods of emotion that would be considered seemingly usual; sorrow, disbelief, reflection, empathy, pain, peace, to just name a few. However, it was the differences between these three instances of death that caught me by surprise. It wasn't just that there were differences, but how breadth of how these experiences fell so widely across the spectrum that captured me.

The headline death was the least personal but the most shocking. Being 3 degrees removed and not having any personal relationship with the teacher's daughter-in-law, the grief felt was out of pure empathy - the pain, bewilderment and sheer sorrow that her family was suffering was unfathomable. My heart went out to my daughter's teacher and I offered my support, which while sincere was also with the understanding of how my relative distant relationship with family was great enough that it was unlikely I would be called upon. This death rocked our world, but mostly because of the sensationalism of the story, not because of any personal loss. Subsequent to our own pains we experience from a story like this comes the pain of watching the layers of innocence being stripped from your children. I'm not speaking of death itself, as death is an important and key component of all life that we can guide our children through in preparation of the many other losses they will experience throughout their lives. However, this death was wore a mask of some of the darkest faces of mankind that not only bring tragic grief, but challenge them with issues of trust, safety, and faith in humanity. These are struggles from which we hope to shelter our children so they can navigate thier childhood without fear.


The emotions of the great aunt's death did not differ in the level of emotion, however the range of those emotions were drastically different. There was sadness surrounding her death, but none of tragedy or unfairness of the first story. She lived a long life - which is an interesting statement in and of itself. We tend to carry an assumption that having lived a long life makes death justified and therefore more bearable. Her death was relatively textbook and uneventful - starting with a diagnosis, moderate amount of treatment and then a resignation into a predictable path of her life concluding. She struggled with her mortality but I believe she was able to navigate it to a point before her passing with the guidance of her hospice nurse and my mother-in-law, who was by her side for the last 3 weeks of her life. The news that she had finally passed was met with a head bow and a nod in acknowledgement that the inevitable had finally come and she was now at peace. With it also came a sense of relief for my mother-in-law who placed her life on hold to sit with her aunt during her final days and provide for her until the end. It was equally painful to watch my mother-in-law endure this as it was to understand her aunt's struggles with facing death.

Empathy - for more than just the deceased.

Stephanie's death was not headline news however, although predictable, it was horrifically tragic. Without intending on contrasting the grief felt among these three deaths, Steph's death broke my heart. The path of her journey that moved from fear of a diagnosis, to hope of treatment, to exhaustive disappointment, to acceptance that death was likely, through death being imminent was a natural course occurring over a two year span. I would have thought that this seemingly gentle progression of the disease and her prognosis would have tempered the degree of the tragedy. There was time to prepare emotionally, say goodbyes, and try to find some peace in the sadness of it all. However, the tragedy was nonetheless tremendous and consuming. The tragedy was not from shock of the news or the circumstances of it, but tragedy was defined simply because of the implication of her death. First and foremost, she was leaving behind her children. Her 9 year old daughter is just at the age where she can start to understand the concepts and finality of death and the fear of not having her mother in her life will consume her. The youngest only knows that he misses her and doesn't understand why she is not there, however his 4 year old brain is only capable of holding on to the memories of his mother for a brief time. Eventually, his mother will be come a collection of mere stories and anecdotes to him rather than memories. Secondly, in as much as the great aunt's death is more tolerable because she was in her 90s, Stephanie's death is that much more intolerable because she was in her 30s. She had a lot of life in her and a lot of living left to give her family, friends, herself and this world. Losing her at the age 33 was a travesty.

Game changing.

Under the single umbrella of death came three very different experiences - so differing that it is at times unrecognizable that we are talking about the same passage of life. It is representative of the unlimited paths a life can follow and stories that can be written. From birth to death, a life can be neither planned nor predicted and even seemingly similar experiences can differ drastically from neighbor to neighbor. Lives on similar paths will have varying details. The details of those lives will bring on varying experiences. And equally, those experiences will bring varying effects upon each individual who is touched by it.


Saturday, November 3, 2012

What I found while digging through my Facebook

Remember a few years back when Facebook was new and novel? In 2009, there was a call to action for all FB users to post "25 random things about them".  Reading these 3 years later, I find it interesting how much many of these hold true.

Note: this is verbatim original text, except for one comment removed out of respect for my bride.

Enjoy the rerun:

1. Kalyne and I have been together for more than half of our lives.

2. I like to do things for people without them knowing it was me or evening knowing that it was done.

3. My girls amaze me. I am so excited to watch them grow but wouldn't dare wish for it to not happen too quickly. The world is a better place because they are in it.

4. I grew up in a fairly conservative Jewish household; I was bar mitzvah’d, kept kosher (didn’t eat a cheeseburger until I was in high school), can still read Hebrew, and can tell the hell out of the Channukah story to a kindergarten class. 

5. Kalyne’s brother once took me to his high school English class as a “Jew” show and tell. His class was reading Diary of Anne Frank and when the sheltered Idahoans started asking questions about Judaism (not really a very strong Jewish community in Pocatello), Benjy raised his hand and said “I know a Jew.” Best question from one of the students: “Why are Jews so greedy?” Ahhh, silly sheltered closed-minded future Klansmen of South Eastern Idaho - so charming.

6. Most people wouldn’t guess the quantity and size of the tattoos I have.

7. I race a stock car (1989 Honda Prelude) at the local race track with three of my brother-friends. Look for 4 Brother Racing team to break into NASCAR in 2012.

8. I was Pre-Med in college and my first career was an EMT - from which I burned out by age 25.

9. I didn't graduate college until I was almost 30 and neither the completion of my degree nor my age when I finished it has had any impact on my professional career in the slightest thus far. I’ve achieved more by honing in on my bullshitting skills and learning when to shut up and nod - It is how I transitioned from gurney jockey to instructional designer consultant (without any formal ID training) to a senior program manager at a Fortune 50 company.

10. That said, I am seriously contemplating getting my MBA. 

11. I play piano – but I only play for myself. I don’t even like to play when the girls are home.

12. Olives taste like dirt. 

13. Kalyne and I agree on nearly everything… except movies, music and the aforementioned olives. 

14. I have some regrets about my college career choices and wish I had taken more advantage of the opportunities and freedoms available to me at that time, however I have a pretty fantastic life so I don't pine too heavily. 

15. Surfing is my sanctuary – not necessarily my only sanctuary, but a reliable one. It is a shame that I can't get out as much as I used to. It is cathartic, zen and grounding for me… and therefore keeps Kalyne from calling me words that rhyme with “Lucky Grass-bowl”. 

16. Now that we have lived in Santa Cruz for the last 8 years, living away from the ocean is a deal-breaker for me. 

17. I would love to someday build a house with my own hands. 

18. I’ve thought about running for public office but wouldn't dare do that to my family. 

19. Lip smacking/licking sounds are like nails on a chalkboard to me, which doesn't bode well for my girls when they are eating dinner or when my dogs have an itchy asshole. 

20. I believe in karma

21. “Terrible-Twos” is a farce; they aren’t so bad. “Throttle-Me Threes” makes me contemplate becoming a cutter. 

22. Kalyne says I was born to teach…and I can’t say I disagree. I expect I will someday be Professor Jay.

23. I am humbled and thankful for my amazing wife as my partner every single dingle day. 

24. Sometimes I think I am really fucking funny.

25. A perfect day would be:
  • Waking up when my body is done sleeping – not when someone/something else decides its time to wake up
  • Big meat-filled breakfast with kickass coffee, sitting with the girls in their PJ’s
  • Going for a two-hour surf session on a clean, head-high, southwestern swell day (70 degree air temp)
  • Take a long shower
  • Family head out for a fun beachside lunch or maybe Betty’s (if you haven’t yet, gotta try Betty’s Burgers on Seabright in Santa Cruz)
  • Go on an adventure with the fam
  • Come home to a Publisher’s Clearinghouse sweepstakes van at my front door
  • Delicious dinner for two with Kalyne
  • Meet some friends for a few drinks
  • Go home for some romance: candles, featherbed and a mountain of cocaine… just checking to see if you are still paying attention.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Its all about me

It seems I too have gone way of the casual blogger.  Let's check the stats, shall we?
June 2011 - 4 posts.
July 2011 - 1 post
.... and that's all.

Upon my deathbed, I will reflect back on the year prior to my first blog post as a pivotal point that changed the manner in which I live and view life going forward.  Not that there wont be more... in fact I welcome more, but 2010-11 is a sure-thin, locked-in chapter in my memoirs despite any of the adventures of the next 50+ years. Understandably, I emerged from that year with fresh eyes of the ways of the world and a deeper understanding my psyche.  Mysteries unraveled and the story of my life thus far made more sense.  I started to better understand not only who I am, but what makes me tick. Exciting and scary at the same time. Blissful ignorance certainly has its benefits too - e.g. it is easier to fall asleep at night if you aren't knocking on every locked psychological door that shows up once the room gets quiet.

With my new found "authenticity goggles", these flashes of undeniable brilliance needed to be shared.  I felt  a moral obligation to bestow these never-before-realized strokes of ingeniousness upon each and every one of my nearly six followers. We all have our callings to this world, and this was to be mine. FOR THE GREATER GOOD OF HUMANKIND!!!

... yeah, I know.  I don't buy it either.

Of course, there was a stroke of self-service in there too. I had always had an itch to write. I just never found the motivation, the platform nor the patience to make it a reality prior to this.  So under the guise of the focus of this blog being "others", I was scratching my own itch. Indeed, it was all about me.  And not that there is anything wrong with that - we should all pursue our passions, but perhaps I was fooling myself of the otherwise.

[Hold tight, I'm about to change lanes here without signalling]
Speaking of "Its all about me", I find it an interesting premise in and of itself.  Most commonly, this phrase has a negative connotation - inferring that someone is only concerned with their own best interests. It depicts narcissism and self-absorption, and ultimately portrays that person as somewhat of an asshole. It is easy to nod to ourselves and say "oh yeah, I know people like that", but truthfully this term has applied to each and every one of us at one time or another. It's ok... no judgement here.

However, there is another face of "its all about me" that isn't condemning, but rather a perspective about how we view interactions with others that can be clarifying and settling, yet empowering.  The tricky part of this outlook is that it requires tearing down your protective walls, perhaps walls you haven't even realized you have constructed, and requires a self-effacing honesty with yourself. [yikes].

You see, it IS all about me. Those usually negative things that I attribute to others usually have nothing to do with them at all. Picture a dear loved one - spouse, significant other, close family member, friend... generally anyone that you love wholeheartedly and then of course has the potential to push a button in you with little more than a pinky twitch. Imagine a casual conversation ensues about any poignant yet non-confrontational topic of your choice.  Then comes the "pinky twitch".  Perhaps it was a comment that you perceive as criticism.  Maybe it is tone of voice that sends you reeling or an action that makes you feel like the other person is uninterested.  Or even a non-action where you expected a response that you didn't receive.  Or maybe it was as benign as an eyebrow raised that made you say "what the hell is THAT supposed to mean?"

I know you can relate.  I have yet to meet anyone who is impervious to being triggered by a loved one.  And of course it is by a loved one, because if it were a casual acquaintance, you probably wouldn't care enough or have enough invested in their opinions to be affected.

Here is the deal... those actions (or non-actions, as they may be) have nothing to do with the other person.   Consider that your loved one may have that exact same response to another friend without recourse.    However, you have this festering hotspot deep within you that flares up when that loved clips one of those triggers.  It is all about YOU and your hotspots. That head tilt and doubting eyebrow raise that your spouse unknowingly injects into a conversation may be perceived as charming and interested by a third party... maybe even considered flirty and "kind of cute the way she tilts her head." However,when you receive the same gesture, you seethe. If you even recognize what it was that just shifted in you at that moment (sometimes it is a vibe you pick up that you don't even put words to), your internal narrator walks out on stage under a single spotlight and says "I HATE it when she does that. She KNOWS that irks me and yet she did it anyway."

But this is where it is the "You-ness" that is the object.  It has nothing to do with her eyebrow raise or he cutting you off mid-sentence.  It is you with the trigger just sitting there like a stubbed toe waiting to be grazed. As much as you would like to believe, your loved one is not trigger hunting with a bow and arrow (hopefully).  Now your response when your trigger is hit may spark something else in your loved one that subconsciously feeds some quest for power that they struggle with, but my psychology degree expired last week so I'll just leave this with my own observations.

I've spent some time watching my triggers and paying attention to what they say about me.  And what they say about me is volumes more than what they say about the trigger poker.  Being aware of them does not necessarily mean that I am impervious to them, but it is insightful into who I am at the core and is really a much more peaceful process in resolving any angst that comes from them.  This approach inherently removes blame from the equation because unless your  responses to your triggers self loathing, you will mostly likely come to your own defense and resolve the anger much faster than if you throw screams of disdain telepathically towards the "offender".

Give it a try the next time your buttons are pushed.  Take the offender out of the equation and ask "why does that piss me off so quickly?" or even "how come I have this stubbed toe that wont seem to heal?" Since it IS all about you... run with that concept and make it even more about YOU.