Category Archives: Essays

The Gift

“Come, come, whoever you are. Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. It doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come, yet again, come, come.” Jelaluddin Rumi

Yes, the world hurts, but there is power in those hands of yours.

Yes, the world hurts, but there is power in those eyes of yours.

Yes, the world hurts, but there is power in that heart of yours and on those lips.

We are not helpless. We are, each and every one of us, here with a gift to share.

Even if we have broken our vows a thousand times, may we start over and share a smile with someone, use our hands to do something nice, use our eyes to actually see someone – in their eyes, and use our lips to lift someone up with a kind word instead of tearing down.

Sometimes when it seems there is too much to possibly fix, too much madness to possibly bear, remember that it’s okay to pull back in. It’s okay to not solve all the problems or block all the heartache. Sometimes all you have to offer, all I have to offer is the tiniest of gifts.

They’re not tiny. Your gift – that smile or kind word is exactly what is needed then and there. Please don’t dare keep it to yourself.

You have a unique gift that nobody else can give the world.

A gift that isn’t shared is not a gift. It is only a burden. It doesn’t become a gift until it is given.

So in the words of Rumi, ours is not a caravan of despair. Come, yet again come.

Will you share?

Mexican restaurant is a beacon in the cold & dark.
Mexican restaurant is a beacon in the cold & dark.

Should I quit my job?

This post is from my latest newsletter.

As I’m working on my book (round 2), I have begun to focus my efforts and my writing over at Prolificate.com.

I still plan to post here now and then, but this site is reserved for whimsy, random musings, and other inanity.

Meanwhile, I hope you’ll head on over to Prolificate and try my newsletter. You’ll be the first to get book updates, and you’ll have the opportunity to weigh in with your thoughts – you may even make it into the book. If you think I’m a complete idiot, tell someone! You can both have a laugh at my expense. Seriously, feel free to share.

I post about once a week about things like The Journey, Figuring out what you are really here to do, and tapping into the soul of your business to really make it great.

Here’s the article. Enjoy.

“Question: Is it better to stay in my soul-sucking job for the money and the security? My family is counting on me, and I do have some friends at this job and people that I like there–or should I quit and feel better, but give up the security and the money? Which is better–soul or security?”

I ask you the same question. Which is better–soul or security?

I left a six-figure salary almost 2 years ago for exactly this kind of reason. This year, I’ll be extremely lucky if I earn more than fifteen thousand dollars. The book I was writing turned out to be good practice, but the manuscript just wasn’t good enough or focused enough, so I threw it out.

Now I’m working on the chapter outline for a new book: Startups with Soul. It’s about the real secret to success–that secret sauce that some organizations just seem to have. That secret is soul. Just like an individual can have one, so can an organization. If fact, all organizations do have one. The best ones intuitively know this and embrace it.

Like my friend on social media, I knew that the jobs I’d held in the past weren’t me. They were perfectly good jobs–great even, at times, but while I made the big salary and the decisions for someone else’s company–someone else’s dream, I found that I was too comfortable. There was always a gnawing in my gut and a little voice in my ear that I tried hard to ignore. I filled my life with a hectic schedule, luxuries, and as many distractions as I could muster, but every now and then, when I was alone with myself and the background noise died down enough, I would hear that voice. The voice would say things like: “Come on, man, you’re better than this.”, and “Andy, the world needs the whole you–not this sanitized bullshit version that spouts off the same things everyone else spouts off about.”

I didn’t weigh in on my friend’s dilemma. I started to, but backspaced and deleted my response. It would have been just more spouting off about how important it was for him to listen to his inner voice and follow his dream.

Instead, I just read his post and smiled a knowing smile.

I can’t tell him what to do. Part of the process that I call finding your soul is about deciding when to fight like hell for your dream–for your vision, and when to just swim with the current and marshal your strength. He’ll figure it out for himself. I hope he does at least listen to that voice and hear it out. He can then make a conscious decision about how he will live his life. That–the conscious decision part–is the essence of the journey.

I’ll be rooting for him and cheering him on from halfway across the United States either way.

In the meantime, I’ll keep writing until the savings runs out or I crack this particular code. Either way, knowing you’re along for the ride with me is so very cool.

Someone please remind me of this when I’m on stage (Hopefully in the slot right before Seth Godin) giving my TED talk about Startups with Soul, Business with Soul, or how I lived for 2 years on rice and beans.

-What is your soul here to be?

-Andy

p.s. My friend later deleted that post. Letting the world really see you is a scary thing.

p.p.s I do also enjoy the occasional cold beverage in addition to rice and beans. A man’s got to retain some semblance of dignity, no?

This moment: Friendship

This post is an installment in my 30 day writing project called “This moment” – where I put pen to paper and write whatever comes to mind starting with the statement This Moment… If you want to know more, this post explains a little more what I’m up to.

This moment.

This moment I am thinking of you, friend. How our friendship is like a dance. The way you dance with me. Unsure of each other, yet kind and knowing it so we continue to walk trusting that each will step when it’s time to step, stand when it is time to stand and sway when it’s time to sway. Friends are like Ansel Adams cacti on the landscape. All around with arms stretched wide so to catch me when I fall, but not without their thorns. Precious few at times, but they let me give voice to the scary bits, never judging, always knowing they’re there. The warmth of their presence reminds me that all is well with creation, with the universe. I honor the arms and I love them for their thorns that make be bleed.

And what is this universe, if not a web of friendships? Relationships at least, but who is the judge of a relationship and its name? I say, I am friend to that mosquito who just took my blood so that she may walk her path as I must mine. The tree that shades my Florida house in the relentless July sun? She is my friend. The Sun is my friend too, I need her, but have been hiding when she comes to call. Too much, I say. Overbearing. Oppressive her friendship. I’ll need her again though, so I take her call though it pains me.

The man who hurts me – is he friend too? I think yes, though I feel the thorns more than the arms. What about tougher stuff? Fire? Rapists? Can we be friends? Space that is vacuum and inhospitable to me would blow me apart. Is it my friend too? What is my relationship with all of this?

I think that I am here in this form to learn something, to accomplish something. I am in this body so that I may have arms to catch someone else falling. Who shall I lift up? Myself? “Charity starts at home,” the saying goes, but my elbows are wrong for that. These arms are made to hold another, not their owner. Is there a god? If so, would She be so cruel or so loving as to create us with arms that only bend to hug another? I can touch and pat my own back, but it isn’t the same. A dance with you, my friend, always feels right.

I’ve stepped on toes as I’ve danced, I’ve stood and sweated and smelled and made bad conversation while life’s music played. My cactus arms are thorny as any. I’ve been clumsy dance partner to many. Here I am though–Black tuxedo, navy blue socks, pilled white shirt and a smile – ready to dance with you. Will you dance with me? It may be our last chance, though I may see you again as a cactus. Will you remember me then? Ansel did.

The strong, silent type

Fathers.

You are enough.

Your mind is full of your shortcomings, might-have-beens, and obligations.

But you are enough.

You spend lifetimes quietly punishing yourselves for what you should have done better. You think no one notices.

Look in the eyes of your sons and daughters, THAT is unconditional love.

We admire you. We know what you’ve done for us.

You warned us about fire and we got burned anyway.

You worried about whether we would decide to graduate high school or go down the wrong path, or just find a way to be happy in this world.

We made my own choices about all of those things, but still –

You are enough.

Mothers worry about other things.

But the world mostly never knows about your self-questioning.

Do I earn enough? Why can’t the doctors fix this? What if she grows up blaming me?

Men are a different breed all their own. Most will never really know one.

If you’re lucky, you might someday catch a glimpse of the burden he carries for you.

Or maybe not. That’s okay too. That’s the way he intended.

Forever the fixer, defender, and guardian – the job done best is the one finished quietly, without fanfare. Some of the hardest things he’s done for you, you will never know.

The greatest things I’ve ever learned were given to me by my father most without his saying a single word.

He didn’t have to.

He’s a father.

 2013-08-29 20.27.25 HDR

Life is what happens when…

Have you ever heard the saying, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”?

The bitter taste of failure and disappointment is still fresh and nearly overwhelming as I write this from St. Petersburg, Florida back in the US.

If you’ve been reading my posts, you know that I decided, along with my wife and 2 daughters, ages 7 and 16, to leave our longtime home in Cincinnati, USA to travel and explore the world. We bought one way tickets to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and set out to travel Southeast Asia for an indeterminate amount of time.  It turned out that “indeterminate” proved to be shorter than I’d hoped.

Because not everyone in the family was able to adapt to the traveling lifestyle, we were forced to change plans after a little more than a month and look for something different.

With stops in Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, we lived our goal of traveling slowly, staying in places that allowed us to see things through the eyes of those who live there. This is either a laudable goal, or a laughable one – maybe both. The more we traveled, the more I realized that it’s difficult, if not damn-near impossible for a westerner to really live like a native Khmer from Cambodia, or anyone who has grown up living in a developing country. We could get close for a short time, but growing up with luxuries I didn’t even realize were luxuries has made me soft. Staying in inexpensive guesthouses and a few even more modest digs gave me a whole new level of respect for those who have no other choice.

I’m trying to tell myself that I knew when we set out that there was no guarantee of success – no certainty that a family of 4 people would all be so in-tune that we would be able to function in a dizzying world of constant change and the randomly interspersed moments of ecstasy & boredom, of gritty discomfort and stunned amazement that are a part of long term travel on this earth.

Dealing with a teen who was not doing well with all the turmoil was a challenge I just could not overcome. The thing about being a parent is that – no matter what – it’s your job to make sure your kid is ok.

Imagine: The one thing you’ve wanted most for as long as you can remember turns out to be the thing that wrecks the confidence and emotional well-being of one you love dearly. My desire to go out into the unknown and explore the world firsthand was something that was simply too much for one whom I am sworn to protect and nurture.

The conflict and turmoil I am feeling right now is overwhelming. I wasn’t up to the task. I couldn’t overcome the obstacles. I failed at my goal. There it is.

Nevertheless, if there was ever a situation I was cut out for, it’s dealing with a defeat. So, here we go.

As a parent, part of the deal is that no matter what, your kids come first. Their long-term needs trump your short-term plans. Every time. They deserve our love and support. They deserve the very best us we can give them, so we’ve tried our best to make some lemonade out of this particular lemon. Though we could have continued to parent and do the best we could alone, we found that our emotional reserves had been depleted (silly in hindsight that we didn’t anticipate this), and we knew we needed some support around us.

Like a quarterback who finds his offense ill-suited to execute the play that was originally called, we’ve changed our plan midstream – called an audible, if you will.

We headed back to the US, and to St. Petersburg, Florida, which has a (for us) magic trio of a walkable urbanism, access to ocean beaches, and soul-replenishing sunshine. We are still proudly car-free, and have stumbled on an amazingly flourishing homeschool community. We hope to become a part of this community and contribute to what is an emerging creative class here. We don’t know how long we’ll stay – only that it feels right here for the moment, and that is enough.

There you have it. As a writer, I try to highlight the best and brightest of what I see, but sometimes life isn’t what you plan for. It isn’t always good or all that bright. Sometimes life, uncaring and ruthless, hits unexpectedly. So we get back up, wipe off the dust, patch the wounds, and move forward. Always forward. Where else is there?

Make no mistake, our travels yielded some amazing discoveries, beautiful moments, and good memories that will last forever. I’ll tell some of those stories and post pictures of some of those sights as I move through this process. I need to heal a little. I think sharing more of the experience will help with that.

In the meantime, I know that many of you have faced challenges and setbacks that make mine seem laughable. I honor those defeats and setbacks. I honor the courage and strength it has taken for you to face them. Only if we embrace the setbacks and struggles, do we earn the privilege of savoring the victories.

Here’s to the shitty view from down in the valley.

Here’s to the amazing view from atop the next peak.

What say we all meet there over a drink and talk about the climb up?

Notes from rehab – day 4

This is part of a series I’m writing while in a self-imposed digital detox program. I’ve struggled with attention span, and lack of direction (or rather too many directions at once). These are my actual journal entries.

Observations from digital rehab: day 4

My thoughts have returned to me.

I didn’t realize they were gone until I went on this regimen: When I force myself to just sit – just BE – without stimulus, my brain begins to work after awhile.

It’s slow and painstaking…. actually painful at times. I’m not kidding. My mind has nearly forgotten how to produce its own thoughts. Oh, thoughts appear and rattle around, but they’re only reactions…. reactions to someone else’s thoughts. Words from an article, a news broadcast, a tweet, a Facebook post all make me react.

But react is different than act.

My mind got to the point where it only knew how to consume someone else’s content, to recycle it.

How weak I have unknowingly become!

I’m meditating again and it feels great. 5 minutes is all I’m doing at present, but it’s enough to start. It helps me center, and makes me feel that I’m okay with whatever direction the day takes – though now I do know more clearly what I want to do with my time.

There is a comforting feeling of intentionality.

I hope to continue this morning routine when we begin our travel.

We’ll see!

Love,

Andrew

Notes from rehab – day 3

This is the 2nd installment in my series about my struggle to regain control over my addiction to technology.

Digital Detox: Day 3

I’m writing this in the early morning.

Last night was rough.

I can’t believe this is affecting my sleep this way. I’ve been irritable for the past several days.

Snapping at everyone.

Started off eating well, good diet yesterday, but binged on cereal and  half a bag of cookies at like 9pm. Woke at 3am. Big headache, up until 5am. I feel like shit.

This is really unbelievable. All-consuming. It’s like I’m possessed with this spirit that keeps egging me on – telling me how much I must be missing online. Of course when I give in to the temptation and actually check email or Facebook, there’s nothing – just like always. There’s never really anything there. But there MIGHT BE, right?

Today I’m going to physically turn off the router so as to remove the temptation to cheat. Just telling myself I wouldn’t log on wasn’t enough.

The rules are: 1 hour per day of unrestricted internet access, and an additional fifteen minutes for emails in the evening.

Even this is proving difficult. I am focusing on the basics.

My mantra:  I am a writer and a business consultant. If I write every day and use technology to support those efforts, I should be able to gain perspective. 

Should.

Try again.

I’m an addict – notes from rehab

Hi.

My name’s Andy and I’m an addict.

As I write this, I’m in rehab trying to get my life back. I know this may come as a shock to some of you, but I owe it to my readers to let you know about my story – the good AND the bad.

Today was particularly rough. It was my first day in the program and I cheated. Twice. Ok, maybe more than twice. I can’t help it. Once you get hooked, you don’t realize just how much you need the stuff. One day you’re living your life, you think that you can spice things up a little, so you try it. It’s fun – just as advertised. You seem to move faster, your mind works at warp speed. It’s like you can be everywhere at once.

Then one day, you find yourself in the basement sneaking it. Or in the bathroom. Or at a wedding. What the hell? When did I become this person?

Today, my wife walked in and caught me. I felt ashamed and weak.

Tomorrow, I’ll get up and try to do better.

I’m talking about the internet, by the way.

— oh — and I’m serious. Nothing I said above is untrue. It just isn’t about drugs or alcohol.

I’ve been feeling like I’m overly scattered for some time now. I have umpteen projects started but can’t seem to get traction with any of them. I’m a writer, but I haven’t been spending much time writing. I’m a consultant and financial advisor, but I have several projects waiting for me that aren’t moving like I want them to.

Yesterday, I asked for some help. I helped my wife with a goal-setting session a few months ago and it worked wonders for her — Together, we helped her put together a list of what is important to her. She’s on track and does something from that list every day. She’s built a routine around the list, so she’s guaranteed: no matter what else happens each day, no matter how much the day goes to hell in a hand basket, she’s spent a half hour first thing in the morning getting her mind right and centering herself. I can see how it helps her.

I asked her to help me do the same thing, so now I have a list. Today was rough because I didn’t do much from the list — but at least I have one. 

To help me get started, I’ve bought Courtney Carver’s micro-course called Creating a Meaningful Morning Routine. It’s worth way more than the ten bucks Courtney charges for it, but I’m so glad it’s available.

For the next few weeks, I’ll be less available online. I’ve limited my internet access to one hour a day, plus an extra 15 minutes at the end of the day to check on any pressing emails from clients. While I’m doing that, I expect to focus mostly on writing every day, building a website that’s been dodging me, and catching up on client projects. 

It sounds kind of funny — and I’m so thankful that it isn’t drugs, alcohol, etc., but my internet habit has me good and angry with myself for not being able to control. In the meantime, I’ll be writing everything offline and then posting during my 1 hour window tomorrow.

I can do this.

I can do this.  

 

Save yourselves!

I remember when we used to have warm, balmy nights like the one in this picture above.  Back then, we had so much.

Disclaimer: This is a silly post, written amidst a very long, gray, and unusually cold winter. I admit, the weather has put me in a bad place (read: overly dramatized, a bit hopeless, and in no way does it reflect the person I hope I am — most of the time).

Dear Mother & Father:

I love you. It is for this reason, I think your decision not to drive here for your granddaughter’s performance of The Sound of Music is sound.

I know you probably feel torn. You love all your grandchildren, this much is certain. For you to even plan on making the 12 hour trek from your beautiful home on the southern Chesapeake – where nights below 40 degrees are rare and extremely cold – is a big deal. In your place, I don’t think I’d consider it. You did, and for that I applaud you.

It’s been years since you lived here in Cincinnati, and I know you remember it fondly. Findlay Market glitters like a gem amidst the bustle and construction of a redeveloping Over the Rhine. Charming hills, quaint restaurants and shops welcome you when you visit. Beautiful parks, world-class arts and entertainment, and smiling happy people await you. (Oh, and your loving family, don’t forget that)

Just not now.

Let me explain.

You’d hear a line like this in one of those bad post-apocalypse movies you rent from Netflix

……………………..it’s all …………gone.

(At least until spring)

Driving to the Midwest from your mild home off of the southern Chesapeake Bay would be like paddling a tiny rowboat into a floating field of shipwreck survivors. I’ve heard that lifeboats have sunk after turning back toward shipwrecks to try and save a few more souls. The noble aim becomes futile – even counterproductive – as panicked survivors pull themselves aboard, only to swamp the boat and ruin it for everyone.

It’s easy to see this happening to you, even now. Imagine the looks on the strained faces of the local populace when they see the Prius. Imagine the flicker of hope when they notice it’s missing the telltale multiple layers of icicles and grime – just a thin, single layer of glittering, crystalline salt over paint that has never known real suffering.

They’ll know.

As surely as if you’d shown up in tropical shirts and flip-flops, they’ll know you come from somewhere warm.

They’ll sense the hope and optimism radiating off of you right away – because it’s different than the kind they know. It’s not the kind of hope that comes from knowing you’ve got a second set of long underwear on, or that you’ve just figured out that if you coat body parts in Vaseline, they don’t freeze as easily.

Yep. Though I applaud you for the intention, and the effort, you’ve recognized that the better part of valor really is discretion sometimes.

Stay in Virginia. Take care of the dogs and the homestead. I just checked your weather: fourteen degrees is darned cold. Especially for Virginia. It’ll be back to forty there soon, though. Like the survivors in the lifeboat that managed to stay afloat – stay away.

The Prius would be surely swamped by hopeful Cincinnatians the moment it was spotted. Just like one of those zombie movies.

Only the zombies would all have last names that sound like yours….

Nothing Ever Stays The Same.

I’m part of a group of friends that’s been together – more or less – for 30 years. We’re all very different people – different tastes, likes, etc. For some reason, it’s as if this group has been suspended in time. At one point, we all spent lots of time together, complete with parties, group trips, weddings, the works.

Thing is, lately things have been less great. We do this weird thing where we don’t stay in touch for long periods of time, and then (say, 18 months later), a call goes out for some event that’s supposed to bring everyone back together.

The uncomfortable part is this weird expectation that we’re all supposed to fall back into the same exact roles we once had.

These are all great people in their own rites – they work hard, have hopes and dreams, families and responsibilities.

[That awkward moment when you realize your friend is a flaming racist]

[oh, and that means you used to sound like that too]

I love these people – every one of them. But the years have changed us. Time does that, no? It’s taken us from a once-close group of personalities and scattered us to the winds. We all have warts, me more than most, but coming back together this way is like finding a dusty old kaleidoscope in the attic.

[Oh yeah, I DID have that country music phase, didn’t I? Wow.]

Once the kaleidoscope was familiar, colorful, and exciting. But now funhouse mirror seems a more apt description (and damn, those are some big warts)

There’s a doctor, a carpenter, a couple of finance types, a union guy, some salesmen, and one or two who have always tried on identities like new clothes every few years. Is it somehow supposed to be a revelation that we’re all pretty different? It kind of feels it.

[These guys convinced me that a mustache was a good idea? WTF?]

Here’s the thing. A wise man once told me that nothing in the entire universe – NOTHING ever stays the same. 

What say we accept this with grace, eh? I’m happy to see everyone now and again, but I don’t expect to have a ton to talk about. How can I be expected to appreciate what it’s like as you? Or as you? Or as anyone of the others who has done their own thing for so long?

Truth is – I have kept in touch with the people I wanted to. I hazard a guess that you have too. If you were interested in what I was up to, you’d know it without waiting 18 months to find out, no?

You must feel what I’m talking about, right? I love what we were, craziness and good stories abounded. You somehow talked me into that mustache. Thing is, that person you knew me as – that person does’t exist anymore. Like you, I’ve changed. Some of it (though not all) even for the better.

If you call me, I’ll answer. If you write, I’ll write back, but I hereby release you from the “you” that you were back then. Will you do the same for me? It’s ok. Really. This was supposed to happen.

Can I get an amen?