Love. Life. Practice.

Personal Development with Gray Miller

the benefits of scheduling & blowing it off

Yep, I make my own hours.
I can choose to work whichever 23 a day I want…
- any freelancer or entrepreneur, ever

The Freedom to Be Disciplined

One of the most useful lifehacks I’ve made in the last year or so was the decision to have a schedule. That may not seem to be much of a decision to most of you reading this, but understand something: nobody tells me what to do. There is no HR department to give me a dress code; no time clock to punch, no accumulated leave. I don’t have an accounting department working out metrics, an IT department scheduling upgrades or backups, and most of all, if I’m sitting at my desk zoning out, I don’t get paid.

Heck, some of the time that I stand at my desk and type furiously (like right now) I’m not paid either.

That might sound wonderful – and it is – but it’s also a burden and a responsibility to myself. I could (and have) just let the day bring what it would, taking time to exercise whenever I wanted (or not), choosing what projects to work on when, looking for new work when needed. I’ve done that, and it’s possible to get by on it…but only just barely. And I found that it didn’t really push my goals forward.

Aztec/Mayan Calendar

If google calendar looked like this, it might be more motivating…

The Calendar as Playground

I’m lucky enough to have an assistant who will do my schedule. I told her “I want to have this many hours a week of video editing, this many doing systems administration, time for working out every day, a half-hour for correspondence…” and so on. Certain weekly meetings, such as a sitrep with a partner on the left coast, are automatically scheduled.

Which means when I sit down in the morning to look at what I’m doing during the day, I get a few things:

  • I get something different – maybe starting the day with video, or with writing, or something else. She changes it up.
  • I get the same thing – I can see where I’m getting things done. I get the sense of forward progress on my goals, that yes, I am doing something meaningful.
  • I get to just ignore it completely.

That last part is probably the real thing I love about being self-employed. If my daughter calls me up and needs an Emergency Grandpa, odds are I can shift things around and be there for her. If I have a client that needs me to suddenly focus on a site or project, I can do that. I told my assistant early on that one of the primary reasons I want her to make me a schedule is so that I can have the pleasure of ignoring it completely.

You Will Have Fun Whether You Like It Or Not

I wish I could say that I used that “play” option as much as I should. Instead, it usually ends up more like this – a day when I have more writing to do than I expected, so I am cutting short my lunch break to get a head start on it. I also have yet to get over the guilt of not starting work until 9am (I’m usually done with morning protocols by 8) and trying to knock off by 6 or 6:30. And then not work into the night.

That’s what the schedule does for me: it is that soothing balm to my workaholism, so that at the end of my “free” days I can still feel as though I got something done. That’s more important than you might expect; one of the biggest problems with doing the kind of work I do is that unless I am doing it, I do not get paid. There is no salary, no secondary income. The result of that is a constant nagging worry that I could do more; I could be working right now, and besides, Gray, if you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?

HACK YOUR SCHEDULE

What is the point of telling you this? Hopefully it’s not taken as either bragging or whining; that’s not the intention. The point is to say that the reason the schedule helps me is because I make sure that it serves me rather than the other way around. Really all it takes is a bit of a perspective shift to make it go one way or the other; that job that you “have” to go to? It’s subsidizing some other part of your life that you value (at least, I hope it is). So it’s not the job – it’s the “home support activity” or the “awesome car payment system.” And you can schedule in the rest of things as well.

How about adding “lay in the grass and look at clouds” to your weekend for 1/2 hour? How about actually putting in your calendar “WRITE: 1/2 hour” every morning after you walk the dog? Too long? Try 15 minutes. Heck, try 5. Mornings not working? Try the evening. Take a smaller lunch hour.

The point is: change it up. We all have schedules of one kind or other. The question is, are we going to let them decide what we do? Or are we, instead, going to decide to do them?

For a different view of a similar subject, I highly recommend Chris Guillebeau’s “Dominoes” post.

don’t let social media trigger you

Loving Enough to Feel Unloved

Ah, the joys of Facebook. Through it, I got to see my cousin’s daughter dance a happy-birthday jig. I got to read about the crossroads of Must and Should. I know just how many people Like LoveLifePractice. I can suck on the Gravy Hose of status updates and UpWorthy and Salon all morning long, if I like. Has ever a tool been so effective at making us feel as though we are connected?

Even when we really aren’t?

Case in point: a friend recently called me, wisely reasoning that I was a “safe” call to make before she made the one she wanted to make. She’d just read on Facebook that someone dear to her was about to go on vacation – and that vacation was NOT to visit my friend.

She’d always said she wanted to come see me. And now this! She’s going to freakin’ [REDACTED] instead! Now I see just how much she cares about me…”

There was a lot more to the rant. It was, in fact, quite an impressive rant. It included the valid recognition that she’d just stopped smoking, and therefore was mad at everybody. As I mentioned, she’s a smart cookie; I was the safe call.

To be honest, I was careful in how I talked. Those Quitters can be scary in the first few days…

Taking It Impersonally

As we talked, I managed to help her remember some things she already knew – namely, that there’s really no logical relationship between “I’m going on vacation” and “I love you.” Especially when it wasn’t personally directed – it was just a “Yay! I’m going on vacation!“ status post, a shared joy intended to increase the smile quotient of the world by some fractional percentage.

My friend realized that she was choosing to be furious over the situation – which is not necessarily wrong (I’m furious about Chief Justice Roberts recent ruling, for example, and that’s entirely justified). But there’s a big difference between choosing to be angry and believing that someone is making you angry.

I got to watch a beautiful thing: I got to watch my friend choose not to be angry. I got to watch her recognize the chain of logic that had led from Vacation to Unloved was made of tissue paper. I got to see her recognize that really, what was underlying the whole thing was that she loved that vacationing Facebook friend a whole lot, and missed her.

And then it got better.

The Lonely High Road

Fine, I won’t be mad,” she said. “But I’m gonna talk to her. I just want to hear her say it. After she promised to come visit me, I want to hear her say that [REDACTED] is more important than me.”

Do you really think that’s fair?” I asked. “Is that really what taking that vacation means?

My friend realized that she was looking for some acknowledgement of her pain, some way to share it, because shared pain is lessened. That, in fact, was why she called me, and yes, it helped. But calling her friend for any reason other than saying “Have fun!” would be selfish.

Sure, it sucks when you can’t see people you care about, and you see them going off other places. But we’re all adults; we get to go where we choose, and that’s that. There’s no super-agenda. There’s no nefarious plot to ruin your day. There’s no hidden significance to choosing to go on vacation, especially as it relates to how you feel about your friends.

In the end, my friend took what I called “the High Road.” It’s a lonely road, because few people take it. In fact, to be honest, we figured that the Facebook Vacationer would almost certainly not have taken the High Road. But because my friend is powerful in her love, she was able to rise up to those lonely heights and just Let. It. Go.

It was impressive. I, myself, have a hard time taking the High Road as often as I could.

But my friend?

Damn, she looked good up there.

too much or just right connection

The Augmented Self at Rest

Credit where credit is due: I first considered the idea of the “Augmented Self” during a conversation with my good friend J.P., a stage manager extraordinaire from Toronto (among other things). He and I were discussing how often we are carrying on simultaneous connections through various media – the instant gratification of a face-to-face conversation with various other kinds of gratification extending outwards via chat, text, or email (in order of delay). At the time (and forgive me, JP, if I misquote) he said something along the lines of:

It’s not that I need to be connected all the time. It’s just that sometimes, when I’m connected in the right way, I can feel more myself than when I’m not.

I’ve always loved that phrase: “I can feel more myself…” That’s what personal development is all about, right? The tools we use to connect over distance – from the pen and paper through Google Hangouts – aren’t evil in and of themselves, they are simply tools, and can be used (at least, in JP’s case) to enrich his life by keeping him connected with others.

Like me. Many’s the time he and I just suddenly pop into each other’s lives, like a virtual Kramer/Seinfeld, just to share some thought or question. He’s at the airport, I’m I my desk. I’m at the airport, he’s backstage. Quick connection, say what we want to say (or just hang out) and then disconnect.

But What About Being Present, Gray?

I hear you! Doesn’t this idea of having a virtual connection take away from the Good Buddhist practice of being present fully in the moment? Isn’t that what we strive for?

Yes, but – I am hazarding a guess that you don’t necessarily always need to be fully present with whatever’s right in front of you. For example, I don’t need to sit there and watch the task bar change color bit by bit as a video is rendering. My mind can be more usefully engaged – and before you say “use the time for some personal reflection” (which is something I would probably say, too) let me put forth the idea that if you shift to “personal reflection” that is no less a distraction than “outside connection.”

Further, let me make another suggestion: if you have significant connections with people, places, or events that are far away, and you have the tools to still be present in some manner with them – aren’t you actually being more present as your authentic self if you maintain that connection?

Let Me Give an Example (or two)

I was a horrible person a long time ago when I was engaged to a lovely young woman. I had actually proposed to her after dating for a year, and wisely, she had said no. She then proposed to me a year later, and wisely I said no. But after three years of dating, I wanted to make sure that my next proposal was going to work.

So I played a very dirty trick. At Thanksgiving Dinner – with my father, stepmother, sisters, and daughters all there – I planned to pull out the ring. Not only that, I put my biological mother on speakerphone in order to have her “present” when I popped the question.

Now, here’s the question: was the moment made better or worse by that virtual presence? Ignore the emotional manipulation involved in putting my poor fiancée on the spot; as I said, I was horrible. But with all the facetime, video conferencing, etc that goes on – are we really worse off?

In another instance, I was part of a performing troupe here in Madison and we got a great gig. Then we got another great gig in Chicago the same night. We realized that we could do both gigs if we split the troupe up – but it was the first time we’d done that, and one of the gigs was a bit of a step up for the whole group, and we were nervous.

I remember that night exchanging many text messages with my fellow performers both here in Madison and in Chicago as both gigs were triumphantly done with outstanding skill. I remember the sense of exhilaration and pride I felt as not only the people I was with but my friends hundreds of miles away all made our art. I felt more connected thanks to the immediacy of things than I would have if I’d heard about it later.

How Much is Enough?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t unplug – by no means. In fact, tune in next week for an essay on just how much I think we need to unplug at times. What I’m saying is that there is a power to choosing what to focus on – whether that’s choosing to watch TV, text your friends, skype your daughter, and surf YouTube all evening, or spend an evening in a sensory deprivation tank with everything but your ears turned off, listening to Peter Gabriel’s Passion.

It’s all a matter of degree, and the only person who can truly decide whether you are augmenting or distracting from what’s important is you.

So pay attention. As much as you can afford to, anyway.

when your practice fails

Control Issues

Now that you’ve all read about my Morning Routine (both here and in other places) it’s obvious that I’m on the fast track to enlightenment. Why, if you squint slightly you can see the beginning of a halo forming around my head (it helps if the sun’s behind me). And obviously if I have the temerity to write a personal development blog, I’ve already got the personal development down, right?

In case you missed it, that entire sentence was written in what we professional designers call “sarcasm font.”

If I didn’t think it would be counter-productive (and somewhat self-indulgent) I would list for you all the ways my personal practice has failed me over the last week or so. The engine of my practice has been sputtering like a muscle car with water in the fuel line – it looks pretty, but it doesn’t seem to be getting me where I want to go very efficiently.

Stressmonkey, Ho!

The "William Blake" Instagram Filter makes for some interesting selfies...

The “William Blake” Instagram Filter makes for some interesting selfies…

I recently had a change in the medication my doctor prescribed to deal with some thyroid issues. The pharmacy tech asked if I was aware of possible side effects, and I rattled off a few of them that I knew of. She nodded, and I felt pleased that I was a self-educated patient.

Except: what I’d actually rattled off were the symptoms of what could happen if I didn’t take the medication. Weight gain, depression, fatigue. Hey, I’m a middle-aged self-employed male on the tale end of a Wisconsin winter – those three things are what I cope with all the time, no problem, right?

Over the next few days the slings and arrows seemed to fly fast and furious: I’d be triumphant about work, then suddenly exhausted at the mountain of to-dos. I’d miss friends and loved ones terribly, but want to be left alone. My partner seemed to go out of her way to say and do things that just infuriated me, and even during some of the good times like going to a movie the feeling of her holding my hand almost drove me out of my mind with don’t touch me!

In short, while I was meditating twice a day, journaling, exercising regularly, and doing well with my diet (including a carefully-managed splurge at an ice cream shop) I was one Big Ball of Stressmonkey.

“The Unknown Unknowns”

Bless Donald Rumsfeld and his way with words. You already guessed, right? Turns out that the web is full of people asking WebMD and other sites what they should do about their “sudden mood swings”, “irritability”, and “hypersensitivity to touch” that often accompanies the kind of titration of this med that I’d just had.

Of course, I found this out as I was cooling down from losing my temper over a pretty ridiculous mishap. I had at least had the presence of mind to remove myself from the situation, before my mood caused more collateral damage. But sitting there, reading on my phone about all these similar situations that other people had experienced, I felt betrayed.

Not by my doctor; they had given me a list of possible side effects. Not even by my own loss of control. No, I felt betrayed by my practice. I meditate, I exercise, I’ve even been doing damned yoga; and now, right when I needed it, a little 250 microgram change in medication sends it all out the window? What’s the point, if that’s all it takes to send me off the rails?

“Practice makes perfect. But nobody’s perfect, so why practice?” – George Carlin

One possible explanation is that I’m not practicing correctly (“Bad Buddhist! No cookie!” as one old friend used to tease me). However, that kind of puts us back in the whole achievement/never-good-enough kind of loop that is pretty antithetical to practices like zazen and yoga. There aren’t Zazen Sit-Offs or Yoga Smackdowns.

Instead, perhaps the perspective to take is this: how much worse would I be if I had no practice? And does knowing both the feeling of practice and (now) the feeling of those mood swings happening give me better tools for dealing with it in the future?

The answer is yes, it does. But even that’s not the point. The point of practice is not to get better at anything, or for life to improve, or for that stylish aura to appear around your head. No more than the point of my meds is to make my mood swing wildly, my body to sweat uncontrollably, or for me to suddenly look remarkably like Jared Padalecki.*

The point of both the meds is to make me healthier. The point of practice is to recognize life as it is – not as it could be, not as I want it to be, not as it was. Life as it is. Yes, some people also experience calm, joy, serenity, a thousand-mile-stare and a tendency to eat more fiber from sitting – but your mileage, and mine, may vary.

When your practice fails you, it might be worth it to check your expectations. And then do some yoga, pull out your journal and a nice pen, or just sit there for a while.

“People imagine enlightenment will make them incredibly powerful. And it does. It makes you the most powerful being in all the universe- but usually no one else notices.”
- Brad Warner

love thy neighbor

Attack of the Rapturists

So first of all, if you haven’t already watched it, you should take some time out of your day to watch this video:

I confess to being a little embarrassed to admit it, but I cried when I watched it. I still don’t know exactly why. Something about the amount of care that this woman was getting, not just from the people doing the prank but from her teachers, her co-workers, her friends. They all speak of her in this video with such love and affection and respect. Maybe it was the way she never seemed to feel entitled to the good fortune – going so far as to insist on splitting the $1000 tip with her co-workers. Seriously, who does that?

Maybe it had something to do with the fact that she existed in this sea of love – even with the crappy car, the hard job, the struggles of teaching yoga (you all know how I feel about yoga) and helping others recovering from eating disorders. I don’t know why exactly the tears came to my eyes, except that it was such a beautiful series of events for her, all occurring one after the other.

Is there a point to be made here? Maybe not. Maybe it’s just the old Spider Robinson adage of “Shared joy is increased.”

But wouldn’t it be awesome if we could all create days like that for each other.

Be a rapturist – the backward of a terrorist. Commit random acts of senseless kindness, whenever possible. – Spider Robinson, “Off the Wall at Callahan’s”

what is your battle cry?

Come on, you sons of b****es! You wanna live forever?”
- Daniel Daly, Motivational Speaker

I'm in the upper left, making my War Face, circa 1989.

I’m in the upper left, making my War Face, circa 1989.

I have a guilty pleasure, which I can cheerfully lay at my Dad’s feet. I enjoy some pretty violent movies. I was raised on spaghetti westerns, weaned on Dirty Harry and cut my eyeteeth on Arnold and Sylvester. I’m not the only one; there’s a reason my older younger sister used to practice in a ballet studio with a large portrait of John Wayne on the wall.

And I’ve done my share of passing it along – as I armed my middle daughter years ago to go and participate in the live-action-role-playing Ring Game (a re-enactment of Lord of the Rings done every year here in Madison) she asked me if I had any advice. “Come back with your shield,” I told her, “or on it.”

Huh?” she said, quite legitimately, and I explained that was the way Spartan mothers had said goodbye to their sons before they went off to battle. She was inspired enough to actually be named one of the most “hard-core” players that year (that windy, cold, rainy year…). In fact, they gave her whatever role she chose the following year, which is why I can claim to be the father of Arwen. Which either makes me the lead singer of Aerosmith or the star of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

Fill Your Hands, You Sonuva -”
- Rooster Cogburn, Equestrian

But enough pandering to the film geeks amongst my readers. The point is that I went to a very bad movie, one that was embarrassingly filled with glorified action sequences of violence and brutality painted over with a thin veneer of honor and duty and then dusted with a fine gloss of historically inaccurate heroism and sadly inadequate feminism. I won’t even honor the movie with a name; it would be like describing the last time I ate a twinkie. There’s really nothing redeeming about it.

Except. There was this one part, a climactic scene, in which the leader of one of the armies watches her troops engage their foes. She sees some fall; she sees some triumph; and finally, she’s had enough, and she draws both her swords and screams:

“I am not here to be a WITNESS!”

…and charges into the fray.

That, frankly, made the entire movie worthwhile. Because I leaned over to my partner and whispered “That is a good battle cry.” Not that I have anything against witnesses, mind you. But just imagine saying that every day, before you walk out the door. Before you go to your job, before you enter that classroom, before you open up your computer. Imagine, as the bard says, taking arms against a sea of troubles and oppose and end them.

There are lots of great battle cries – Stan Lee’s “Excelsior!” comes to mind. Some are not so good – “Remember the Alamo!” pretty much relies on the fact that you actually won’t. “Confusion to the enemy!” and “Dum vivimus, vivamus!” are two of my favorites from the realm of science fiction. Ok, yeah, and also “By the Power of Grayskull!”, but I’m kinda biased.

What’s the battle cry for your life? What gets you to charge into the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune? Trust me, you need one. Because, as both Sergeant-Major Daly and Marshal Cogburn will tell you, fortune is a…

Well, you get the idea.

 

fine-tune your morning routine

I’m very excited about April 2. On that day, the web site “MyMorningRoutine.com” will be featuring yours truly! It’s truly an honor to be selected…I believe I actually had to survive a rigorous vetting process (probably consisting of them actually opening my email when I sent it to them). I do hope that you will enjoy that site; meanwhile, it provides a good chance to take a look at the practices I’ve added to my morning routines.

The Perfect Gray Morning

  1. Wake up naturally, at a time when my body is feeling rested. Failing that, wake up to the gentle sounds of Rise.
  2. Stumble to the kitchen, have a cold glass of water and take my Gray’s-Getting-Older pill.
  3. Open up the shades, trying to get as much natural light as possible into the room.
  4. Do about 15 minutes of ^%$#@ing yoga. Including balance poses that are embarrassingly hard for someone with a B.S. in Dance.
  5. Sit zazen for 15 minutes.
  6. Pour a cup of coffee (my partner has set the timer for me the previous night, so it’s fresh) as a reward as I pull out my journal.
  7. After 2 pages of writing, have a breakfast of toast and fruit while watching a TED Talk or RSA Animate or similar stimulating and inspiring video.
  8. Then begin the day’s tasks.

How often do I get Perfect Gray Mornings? Maybe 60% of the time. Part of neglecting it is traveling, but really it’s not so much the travel as the self-consciousness of doing these kinds of rituals around other people. Other times I will get a rare opportunity to sleep in with my partner (who normally is out of the house before 6am) and the routine goes out the window.

Yes, But Does It Work?

Yes, actually, it does. I think of this time as time spent “sharpening the saw”, as Covey fans would put it, though the real revelation came during my Simple Man of Peace Retreat, when I first realized that if I had a “perfect” then I felt sharp. But I’ve also used the journal and the sitting to work through anxieties, to address issues that get lost during the hubbub of the day.

Much as it pains me to admit it, even the yoga has worked well to make my joints ache less. I take the stairs up to our apartment more easily.

More importantly, there have been days when I have woken grumpy or unmotivated and found that forcing myself into the morning protocol helps alleviate some of the lassitude. That’s the thing about having a protocol; sure, it helps keep you in line when you want to stray, but it also functions as a support when you don’t want to continue.

Messing with Habit

Charles Duhigg, in The Power of Habit, talks about how every habit has three parts: the trigger, the action, and the reward. Based on that theory, it’s easy to see where some of my morning routine could use some tweaks. I love that first drink of water, so it makes it easy to remember the medication. Similarly, the coffee has become associated with journaling, and I’ve got notebooks full of my whines (ahem, I mean) reflections for the edification of my progeny when I’m gone.

On the other hand, while the yoga mat in the living room is a great trigger, there has yet to be a good reward for the yoga. Sure, I mentioned the benefits…but those are not immediate enough to really function as a habit-reinforcement. Sitting, on the other hand, has been something that I’ve been doing since I was 18, and so that has not only become an easy morning habit, I’ve expanded it to a short evening session as well.

You might think that the “dull” feeling I get when I don’t do the protocol would be enough to get me up…but unfortunately, that’s not the case. In fact, I’m more likely to slack off on those mornings to the point where I feel rushed with my to-do list, which just exacerbates the “See what happens? guilt trip I put myself on.

So if you have any suggestions for rewards for yoga, I’d love to hear them.

Meanwhile, what’s your morning protocol? Everybody has one; it’s just a question of whether it’s intentional or not. And if yours isn’t…then who’s dictating it for you?

And how is it shaping you?

loving who you are rather than wish to be

Owning My Story

This whole post was inspired by a well-intentioned comment on Facebook. I had posted a link to my new Patreon page which included one of my favorite pictures of myself:

Gray writing while watching the San Francisco bay at sunset and smoking a cigar

from “Waking Dreams” by Michele Serchuk

It combines so many of my favorite things – writing, water, San Francisco, my hat, a cigar, a nice pen & moleskine. It was taken by a dear friend whose work I love to support and was honored to participate in.

But…CIGAR!

I have written in many other places why I enjoy cigars. I’m not going to do that here. Suffice it to say it was not a vice unintentionally or ignorantly embraced; I suspect that I am far more educated than most about the potential risks and hazards of the practice. I am also more aware of the benefits, and would love to discuss them with any readers…off the blog.

However, the fact that I had put up a picture of myself smoking a cigar made a relative unhappy. She wrote to me,

Hate to say this, but that picture won’t be in a scrapbook. Not a grandfather’s example. But it’s your problem and we don’t love you less. ♡♡

I thought about that for a long time. “That picture won’t be in a scrapbook.” A scrapbook, presumably, about me. About remembering me to future generations, even. And yet something that I enjoy, something that means a lot to me, would be edited out…because it didn’t fit the image of what “Grandpa Gray” should look like to that person.

I’m well aware of the tendency of people to remember just the good parts of people they want to love and admire (I think the word for that is history). But I am curious at the idea that a “grandfather’s example” has to be perfect – or, at least, has to be without certain vices.

Even if it is a “problem”, why shouldn’t Grandpa have a problem or two? Why should he not be remembered not only for the good things he did, but also the bad? I know that many of my ancestors did horrific things – including the ones who I was raised to revere. I found out about them when I dug a little deeper into their histories, wanting to know them better. I can tell you, finding out what was hidden from me was not pleasant, both in terms of what it was and in terms of what it meant about what I had been taught.

Darth-Princess1So I prefer that my progeny know about my foibles as well as my fortes. I would prefer that they ask “Why did Grandpa smoke a cigar?” and investigate the facts and make up their own mind. Think for yourself is never a bad idea. I would also hope they would use it as an exercise in compassion. After all, if we can giggle at toddlers wearing images of imaginary genocidal maniacs, surely we can forgive our progenitors a vice or two.

Now, if they can figure out why I keep trying to be a writer for a living, or why I enjoy the theatrical oeuvre of Keanu Reeves, they deserve a Genius Grant. But either way, I will love them…and I hope they can find, in the memories of me, some compassion.

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
― Brené Brown

 

 

appreciate your present by writing to your past

A Letter From Me-Now to Him-Then

Graydancer6036

 A while back I started this exercise of writing an imaginary letter from myself at half the age I am now. You can read it here. It was a pretty harrowing thing to try, and I actually put off writing the second half simply because I didn’t know how to talk to Me-Then. The blog went on hiatus, then, and it was one devoted reader who told me that this was the one bit of unfinished business that made her feel a bit cheated. 

Well, we can’t have that, can we? So here we have the letter from me to the man I was back in 1992.

Dear Me,

I’m really glad you wrote me, even with a letter so filled with sad things. I forget sometimes just how hard that time was for all of you – M, the girls, and others you don’t know about. Watching the girls grow up and go through their own trials has given me an appreciation of how hard it must have been for Dad and others to see you where you’re at.

But hey, that’s some good news for you right there: I forget. It probably doesn’t help much where you are now, but it gets better. It gets amazingly better, in fact, in ways you can’t even imagine. But since I also hate hearing that kind of thing (if I can’t imagine it, why bother telling me?) I’m not going to dwell on it.

Instead, I want to tell you take that apology and stuff it.

You have nothing to apologize for. You are doing the best you can with the hand you’ve been dealt. The fact is, that hand is pretty strong. Right now it may feel that the Corps destroyed you, but it actually put the finishing touches on a resilience and resourcefulness that you’re going to need in the next couple of decades. You’re right, you and M aren’t meant to be, but that distance will eventually turn into a friendship and shared pride as you watch your daughters and (spoiler alert!) grandsons grow up.

The thing that you don’t realize, buddy, is that you are fighting hard for two things: one, your children, and two, yourself. You are facing the beginning of one of the worst economic times in U.S. history with no job skills valid outside Croatia, and you are focused on keeping that home secure for your daughters. It’s going to be hard.

But you still play guitar. You are starting to get interested in that medieval re-enactment group that will let you dance, sing, act, teach your children to shoot and throw sharp pointy things at bad people and play dress up. You’ll make wonderful friends, and that combination of creativity and fatherhood will give you an authentic voice to share astonishing beauty.

It won’t be easy. It will, in fact, truly suck for a long time and in ways that you can’t ima- wait, I said I wouldn’t say that again. Trust me, though, until you’ve actually smelled mouse droppings inside your oven when you’re trying to bake cookies…spoiler alert again, there. But basically, I’m not saying the worst is over. Not by a long shot. That would be silly to even suggest, even if I did want to cheer you up, which I really don’t.

No, it’s going to be hard, and painful. You’re going to screw up, a lot. The one good thing I can tell you is this: from where I’m sitting, it was worth it.

And that’s why, bucko, I’m not going to give you one shred of advice. Oh, believe me, it’s tempting. Don’t go out with her! That job looks good but it’s a Bad Idea! Ashlei isn’t really over at her friends, she went to that party! I made up that last bit (no I didn’t) but you get the idea. There are experiences ahead of you that I wouldn’t go through again for any amount of money.

But anything I tried to change – any experience I tried to spare you, any lesson I tried to teach you before you taught it to yourself through some mistake – runs the risk of changing where I am right now, sitting here writing you. Are you kidding me? I have work I believe in, I have people I love surrounding me while still giving me space, I have created and learned and still work on challenges that keep life interesting while not being desperate. If I tried to change your path, we might not end up here, and it’s not worth that risk.

Seriously, my dear self, would you want to miss seeing the incredible adults your daughters turn into? Do you have any idea just how awesome being a Grandpa can be? You are going to meet and love amazing, remarkable people, some of whom will drift in and out of your life at the most unexpected times. You know that trapped feeling you have now? You’ll end up traveling around the world, young man, so much that you’ll have to cut back just to give yourself a chance to feel home. You’ll have work that is fun, work that is meaningful, work that is rewarding, and occasionally you’ll have work that is all three. And let me tell you, that’s when you’ll really get tired.

It’s far ahead of you. Frankly, the path from where you are to where I am is so twisted and unlikely I couldn’t guide you on it if I tried. But you don’t owe me an apology; rather, I owe you a debt of gratitude for taking on this challenge and meeting it head on in the decades ahead of you.

OK, fine, I suppose the least I can do is try and say some things that you could use right now. Er, then. Here’s a short list:

  1. Knowledge is power. Keep learning everything you can, because the most unlikely skill may end up being what puts food on the table.
  2. Don’t stress about your career. The job that puts food on your table now doesn’t exist then. See #1.
  3. I don’t wish I’d worked more, or harder. I wish I’d spent more time with family and friends.
  4. The time you spent with your family and friends is enough.
  5. When you make that horrible mistake that ruins everything – it didn’t. Put your head down and keep going.
  6. It’s ok to give up. To quit. To decide you can’t keep going. Just stop. And then put your head down and keep going anyway.
  7. Yoga sucks. Do it anyway.
  8. Stop reading so much about zen. Start doing it more.
  9. You will never know when you’re saying something – in words or example – that your daughters will remember for the rest of their lives. So stop worrying about telling them how they should act and just show them by being yourself.

By the way, don’t worry about saving that list, because even the stuff I knew when I was you (like #3) I didn’t pay attention to. That’s ok; like most truth, it’s true regardless whether either of us believes in it.

Thank you for what you are doing, and for what you’re going to do. You seriously rock, buddy, and I can’t wait until you get here with me and I can show you just how incredible this life is.

You,

Me.

So. Like the last entry, I ask you all: what would you tell your former self? Angsty teen or struggling young adult or 30-something, what kind of a conversation would you have?

Making Practice Easier by Making It Attractive

SEALs in my Ears and a Spring in my Step

I’m sitting in Boston Logan International Airport, looking out at the cool airplanes from the comfort of a nice wooden rocking chair. Thanks to several of the practices I talked about in the last trip, it’s been a pretty smooth travel day, including productivity like writing an article for a client on distance technology and relationship building as well as taking care of customers from other websites. But it also included listening to two of my favorite podcasts – Dan Carlin’s Common Sense and The Art of Manliness.

The latter had an interview with Mark Divine, creator of SEALfit and author of “The Way of the SEAL.” As you might expect, the guy is a former Navy SEAL, and does a lot of work bringing the SEAL forms of training into the civilian world. Interestingly, he also has apparently consulted with the Navy to bring several Eastern forms of training – meditation, aikido, and yoga, to name a few – into the intake process for SEALs, with positive results.

I Still Hate Yoga

And it’s for the usual reasons – as Jess over at Dirty Yoga would say, I can’t figure out how to win. But even though I’m a former jarhead, I admit that occasionally the SEALs have some pretty good moves*. Hearing that part of their situational awareness training designed for the most covert, the most dangerous, the most totally-outta-hand missions is to do some downward dog and camel’s pose while breathing deeply into their d’an dien suddenly has me impatient for my own next session.

While I am constantly a student of becoming self-aware, I am also a product of my culture, conditioned by my upbringing with certain mythic resonations such as the SEAL. When I was twelve, that meant I created “The Star Wars Workout” with Han Solo Pushups and Jedi Balance Moves and the like (my parents were quite indulgent). Now it’s a little more graceful and hidden, but you can bet that when I next lift my spine and try not to re-invent Fallen Tree Pose I will be, on some level, imagining that I am doing the same exercise that the fiercest warriors of my time do.

Whatever Works

Am I really going to become a SEAL doing yoga? Of course not. But I will benefit from doing yoga, and if imagining the SEALs doing it gets me on the mat, that’s a good thing.

So whatever that thing is you wish you did more of – writing, maybe? – try to find out who else does it. There’s probably some person, some career, some archetype that you can latch in on. You can borrow their strength to help you through your own personal journey, and the burden of building a habit will be that much lighter.

A Seal and a Yogi on the beach

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