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Invisible Fences

Fences.png

I love when different ideas collide in life.

A while ago a photo based blog post appeared in my WordPress reader, “Ghost Fence,” by Elan Mudrow. The next day my daughters and I took a walk in our neighborhood. They love to see all the dogs in the yards or on the front steps. There is one house on our route that the dogs come pretty close to us, but my girls never get to pet them because the owner has an invisible fence installed on their property. They have a few little signs and you can see the transmitter on the dogs’ collars. My girls love see the dogs up close. They know that the dogs can’t cross the invisible fence, and they know not to try and make the dogs cross the fence, either.

As I do, these two events got me thinking about our fences. Our ghost fences that keep us on our lawns without us even knowing it.

The first fence I thought of was habits. Our life, even our thoughts, are often dictated by habit. I’ll cover thoughts in a few minutes with another fence, so for this fence I’ll address how the habit of getting up, going to work, coming home and going to bed, keep us from exploring the world. Even our weekends are habits. I have them. We get groceries every Saturday morning. Now, habits are not a bad thing in and of themselves, but they can keep us in place without us ever realizing it.  Days, weeks, and then years, even, go by as we find ourselves wondering when we will do anything exciting. When will we pursue that dream?

Life habits are easy to change. You recognize the habit and make the change. Even if it is something as simple as changing the route you drive to work, you will notice the change in energy for the day. For bigger things, like finally writing a book, you will have to make some other changes in habits, like writing for an hour every night. But still, making that change is relatively easy… it is the other fences that are harder to bring down.

As mentioned earlier, our thoughts are habits, too. But many thoughts are built from another fence that keeps us from leaving the comfort of our front porch… fear, pain, and doubt. We have all failed. We have all been shocked when we have tried to cross a line only wanting to see what the rest of the neighborhood was like. That pain got us thinking, created thoughts that reinforced our deepest fears, and we just kept repeating them until those thoughts became our daily dialog with ourselves. So we never try to cross that line. We don’t want to feel that pain. We tell ourselves that the goal isn’t really worth it.

Here’s the truth, we don’t have a collar on us. Oh yes, we have a transmitter, it is that negative voice in our head, but there is nothing really keeping us on the lawn. The world, your goals, are sitting there just beyond the pain. Beyond the doubt. Beyond the fear. I can’t guarantee you success, but I know that pursuing your goals will bring you more joy than you know. And that joy will short out that transmitter.

There is one more fence I thought of… and it might haunt us the most. The front porch is just too comfortable for us to get off of. As I walked with my girls, thinking about the idea of fences and even self evaluating my pursuit of the dreams I have, I admitted that some of my dreams are unfilled because life is comfortable. I’ve been held back by an invisible fence that makes my property look nice and tempts me to stay because life is good. Now, for those who really know me and my story, they know getting to this point in life has been a battle. That I have overcome some crazy odds. Many of you reading this have overcome obstacles. You deserve the good life you have. But if you are like me, there is a dream that keeps nagging at you, that keeps driving you to get off the lawn to conquer the distance it takes to achieve it. The fence of comfort is the hardest to cross because life stays good, even if you don’t achieve that dream.

As I walked with my girls, I was filled with happiness. The sun was shining. We were laughing as we watched some butterflies. That’s when my littlest one said, “Puppy! Look! A puppy!” (Every dog is a puppy to her).

Coming toward us was a golden retriever, trotting on the road. I told the girls to stand still and to hold out their hands to let the dog sniff it. They all held in their excitement as they held out their hands to the dog. It sniffed each of us and then stood between the girls while they petted him. I could see a collar on him with a dog tag. I pet his head and was going to check his dog tag when he looked at me, barked, then turned and trotted away. My girls wanted to run after him, but I said to let him go.

My youngest hollered, “Bye, puppy!”

The other girls joined in with her, all waving at him. I swear he turned back at us and smiled as he trotted away. Just a dog enjoying the world beyond his lawn. I went home to jot down my ideas for a blog post I wanted to share with people beyond my neighborhood.

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Throwback: Walking

Walking.

My kids do not walk anywhere.

Now, part of the reason is based on where we live. Our neighborhood is bordered by a highway and a back road with a speed limit of 55 and no shoulder. Even though the lake and park are only about a mile away, it is not safe for the kids to walk there.

But I don’t think this generation walks much. Again, I recognize that the culture has changed. As I write this a line from Train’s song, “Calling All Angels,” comes to mind:

When children have to play inside so they don’t disappear

Two years ago in my town, some seniors from a local school thought it would be funny to drive around in a black car, and wearing the mask from the movie, Scream, try to snag little girls playing outside. At least that is what they said when they got caught, that it was just a joke. No, they didn’t actually get any of the girls into their car, but for almost two weeks someone was outside when our girls were playing.

And this makes me sad.

I remember, especially in junior high, walking everywhere. I walked to friends’ houses. I walked to our mini-mart to play Street Fighter or to buy a Mt. Dew to drink as I walked. On Saturdays, we would all walk to the library to play Dungeons and Dragons. Or we would just roam through the town. Maybe playing basketball at the elementary school, the nine-foot rims! We even stopped by our teacher’s home to say hello.

Sometimes we even had some deep conversations that helped us through tough times, and strengthened our friendships.

I miss those days. It saddens me that my kids don’t get to experience that freedom of childhood. But I’ll take a walk with my girls this weekend… we will laugh, take too many stops to drink water, and give them a sense of freedom… to be a kid.

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The Work it Takes

The college is replacing the light poles in their parking lot.

I have written about building a foundation before, in different ways, but as I walked past the hole the workers created, a different thought came to mind.

We can’t actually build a foundation until we have done the work to prepare to build it. For the workers, they had to remove the old foundation, remove dirt, and deal with the wires. Then they had to dig the correct sized hole to build the new foundation.  Let’s use this process as a metaphor for our own development.

What is the work we need to do to create the space for our new foundation?

What dirt do we have to dig into? The first step is dealing with emotions. Fear, doubt, and even anger have to be dug into. Addressing what emotions are involved is an important step. It doesn’t mean you will eliminate them. And you shouldn’t try to remove emotions, but you should address them. Talk about them with someone. Understand how those emotions are affecting your actions. By addressing them you can build your plan, which is the second step.

I believe a working plan is the best. Meaning that we have goals or milestones to reach but we need a plan that is flexible so that we can adjust as our lives change. Even as a father, I have a plan this year to make sure my oldest son is ready for college. There are milestones we want to cover with him so that he has a strong foundation for next year. Some of those include budgeting, servicing his car, and other aspects of being on his own. Having a plan is important because of the last step, dealing with expectations.

As I pondered about writing this post, a deeper insight emerged. Whatever foundation we want to build, we have to dig a bigger hole so that we can build that foundation. That means we have to deal with emotions, plans, and consider more of our lives than just that foundation. We have to dig the right size hole to fit our new foundation. If the hole is too small, we might be able to get a foundation built, but it will not be as strong as we need it to be. If you dig the hole too large, the foundation can be built as planned, but our life is affected. Sinkholes will appear. We will spend more time fixing those, instead of building our foundation.

There are a number of foundations in our lives. As time goes by we build new ones and have to replace old ones. Just remember the work you need to do before you construct a foundation: deal with your emotions, plan how to build, and dig out the correct space to build your foundation.

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The Balance of Fatherhood

Person standing on wood planks above a city

I am going to state up front that this blog post will challenge you. Plus, it will not provide any answers to help you, but I hope to provide an opportunity to spend time reflecting on the importance of your career and of fatherhood. The balance of both of these responsibilities is at the center of our everyday life. This balance deserves an opportunity to be talked about, to spend time thinking about, to find the correct balance. So, I am going to ask you to watch a TedTalk and listen to a podcast as we look at this balance. Ready? Let’s start with the video. This a great TedTalk, but pay close attention to the ending, at about 8:55 to the end.

First, let me agree at the moment with Larry Smith. He is correct that we can hide behind human relationships. We mask our own fear with the idea that we are at least being good people. He is also correct about that mask being false. How can we have great relationships if we are not being our authentic self? And our jobs, our careers, our passions are one of the ways we express ourselves to the word. So, Larry is correct in challenging us about pursuing our passions… but hold on. I’m not done challenging you.

I want you to listen to the podcast, “Family Snapshot” from the memory palace. The podcast is based off of Charlie Duke’s book MoonWalker. (Which is on my reading list.)

Next time you are outside at night, look up at the moon and think about how cool it is that there is a family portrait on the moon. I will admit, as a dad, that idea is cool! But at what cost?

Now, the focus of the rest of the post will center on the balance of fatherhood and careers. I will state my opinion a little later, but want to work through the idea first. So let’s connect a few dots here.

Larry Smith makes a great argument about why we need to pursue our passions. I agree, but I think he simplified the father-son/daughter relationship to a moment of giving advice. Which I agree with, too. Fathers (and mothers) are the first examples for their children about pursuing goals. We also help them deal with failure and a range of things that deal with careers, but a relationship is more complex than that moment, and a father-child relationship may be the most complex relationship in this life.

So, that brings us to Charlie’s story (at least what is shared on the podcast), an absent father that walked on the moon, who in a unique way, will have his family live forever in a picture on the moon.  Imagine when someone finds that photo, thinks about the people in the picture, standing and smiling, a happy family. Another type of mask. Charlie’s relationship with his family was tested, if not actually present.

Balance

Responsibility

Goals

Career

Family

Fatherhood is a balancing act. Yes, I do believe you can pursue your passion, reach your personal goals. Yes, I believe that nuclear family relationships are the most important relationships we have. What is the balance? How do you find it? I don’t know. If I did, I suppose I would be the famous author I dream about. But I hope that this post got you thinking, reflecting, and moving forward toward your goal, and when you come home your children run up to you with a hug, glad to have you home because it is a beautiful day and they want to play outside.

Let me know your thoughts in the comment section. Share this with anyone who would enjoy it.

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Open Letter To My Younger Self

I have become a fan of The Players’ Tribune. A couple of my favorite essays are from Danny Woodhead and Ray Allen. (Not to mention the recent essay from Isaiah Thomas, but his doesn’t fit this blog theme). Danny and Ray write a letter to their younger selves. I wrote a blog similar to this idea, “Staying True To My Younger Self,” but it focused on my writing.

I’ll turn 46 in a few weeks. And this thought about what advice I would give my younger self keeps storming my heart. So, I thought I would get the idea out onto paper…

Dear Younger Me,

It is amazing to think that I am just over the halfway mark of this life. The first half seemed to take so long to happen, all the change and growth and heartache that has occurred in these 46 years is crazy to think about. But, the years seem to be gaining speed, and life is going by way too fast. The oldest son is a junior in high school and the youngest daughter just turned four. I have had five different professional positions. We have a minivan with almost 100,000 miles and still a few months to pay it off!

Be ready, you are going to need to work on a few things. This letter is going to be tough to write, I hope you understand it when you read it.

First, forgive them. Everyone. Do it now because if you don’t, each day adds weight to your heart and it becomes harder to forgive. In fact I still haven’t. I can’t seem to let go of the pain and disappointment and the what ifs. Ironically, part of the problem is the work you will do to create a better life for yourself and your family. I’m not father or husband of the year, but the dinner table is often filled with laughter. There are hugs and bedtime stories. Movie nights with too much candy and simple moments of joy that take my breath away. But I haven’t forgiven certain people. You know who I mean, so forgive them as soon as you can. You can still live your own life without them, but your heart won’t be burden with the weight of anger and pain.

Second, I hope you read this in time, but don’t quit football. Don’t make that mistake. It will be your greatest regret.  Also, write more, push to become the writer you have always dreamed of since elementary school.  I’ve learned that the door of opportunity only stays open for so long before it closes. And when you choose to close that door, it can get locked and you have to let a dream die. Football. Other dreams can still be achieved. Writing. But you have to find an unlocked window to climb through. And sometimes that window is on the forty third floor. You have to struggle more than if you would have truly pursue your goals when the door was open.

Third, tell people thank you and that you love them. Let them in. Not everyone. But the people who are helping you, sometimes believing in you when you are not. You might think you will have time, but you won’t. Mr. Holt will pass away before you can tell him thank you for believing in you. There are others, like the Hudsons, Scott, and Mrs. Lane, who you will take for granted while you grow up. Let them know you are grateful, today. “Thank you,” might be the hardest thing to say in life because it reveals how you were affected by someone else.  For that moment you allowed someone into your life with an open heart and you are letting them know that by saying thank you.

And finally, stay true to who you are. I know you will do this at times, you will make hard choices because deep down you listened to the quiet but strong voice. Other times you will feel lost and hurt and wonder why life is so dark. That happens when you lose your focus, when you let others decide your future. Your path will be clearer if you continue to make choices that align with who you are (and what your goals are).

You are going to make it. At the halfway mark of life you will be amazed at how far you’ve come (and that you have driven two minivans as a dad). It won’t be easy, but I hope you take my advice so that when you arrive here you would have experienced more joy than heartache. But even if you don’t take my advice, you will look ahead to the second half of your life and you will know, even though the years are speeding up, that they will be filled with love.

                                                                                             Sincerely

                                                                                              You at 45

P.S. Remember this song?

 

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Why Love: Joy

Two hearts with confetti

Do you remember the first time you fell in love? Or had your first serious heartbreak?  Both of these moments highlight the second answer to Why Love, and that is Joy.

Without getting too deep, I am going to touch on the magical aspect of love but also reveal the importance of why choosing love allows us to feel joy.

So let’s go back in time to that heart pounding time when that certain someone made you see the world in a whole new light. Falling in love. Do you remember how your priorities changed? How even rainy days were awesome? How you were awestruck by their eyes and totally lost any sense of time when you were with them? Life was so good.

Just for a second, let’s deal with the heartache. How dark and painful it felt. I know the argument that love breaks your heart, but that is wrong. People break your heart, not love.

Quote with roses on rocks

Falling in love and sadly the pain of heartbreak reveal the strength love has in revealing joy in our life. I use romantic love because many of us have been through this roller coaster of emotion. But joy comes from all aspects of life. My children have brought me to tears of joy as I watched them play with bubbles. I have lost the sense of time sitting on my patio with a cup of coffee. I have jammed out to a favorite song on the way to work. Life has been so good.

And yes, life has beaten me down. I have had serious dark days… but that is the crux of this answer. I believe that when we choose Love, it allows us to see the real beauty of this life. By seeing and acknowledging that beauty leads us to feel joy.

No, Love does not remove the hardships of life. Two years ago I wrote about the strength it takes to feel joy. This reveals how connected the choice of Love is in our life. Love brings us success in our life, it builds strength, it brings us joy. It is a cycle that creates an awesome life that can handle the hardships we encounter. But in the next post I am going to reveal the most important reason to choose Love. And I read it in a book…

Below is the song that I quoted earlier in the post.

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Why Love: Success Part 1

Title with hands on a high bar

Before you watch the following video of Gina Auriemma talking about athletes he tries to recruit, pay attention to his use of the word Love.

“Recruiting kids that are like really upbeat and loving life and love the game and have this tremendous appreciation for when their teammates do something well..”

I recently blogged about how my sons have felt the sting of failure, but also how it was important to feel that pain because it meant their heart was in it and that they would eventually have success in their activities (Losing Hurts and that is Good).

Success.

That is the first reason or answer to the question: Why Love? As I mentioned in my blog, and if you follow the UConn Women’s Basketball team this year, you know that you can still lose even if you play with heart. But that ability to play or live from Love gives you the strength to handle setbacks.

There are two ways Love helps us succeed.

  1. Builds Strength
  2. Is the foundation to successful characteristics (for next post).

Building Strength

Let’s do a mind experiment. Think back to a time you were frustrated, angry, or felt lost or sad. There are a million ways we handle these emotions, but at the base of these emotions was a sense that the situation and feelings were imposed on you. That you had limited control or choice. I what you are thinking, and yes, I’ll quote the cliche: You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control your attitude toward what happens to you… (Brian Tracy).

And I use the word cliche because we have all heard this before. But which attitude should we choose? I can choose anger, or fear, or any attitude I want. But when you choose Love you are building strength to become successful.

OK, stay with me as we take this a step deeper. Go back to the mind experiment and the negative reactions. Now think about control with the idea of strength. An easy example, have you ever said something in anger that you really didn’t mean? Or at least thought it? Yes, we all have. How does that happen? We lose control because we are not centered (or strong enough at that moment) from a stance of Love (the choice to care about a person, thing or idea, and to act accordingly). So we internally, or worse, externally say something we don’t really feel. Yes, at the moment we do because those emotions are controlling our hearts and therefor our minds and mouth. Love gives us the strength to choose a different outcome.

It takes time and practice to operate from Love. Each time you do, you become stronger, you become more in control of your life. Nothing… Nothing stops the pain and tragedy of life. Love is the factor that helps us move past those moments to build a successful life. We will still lose games on last second shots, that’s life. But who wouldn’t want to be a part of a team with 11 championships or a 111 win streak? Or better yet, laughter at the dinner table, friends and family at Christmas, and Love.

The next post will look at the second part of success, how love is the foundation of successful characteristics.

Quote with a single star and last sun rays

 

 

 

 

 

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