Moving Forward then Looking Backward

 

“You should call me beautiful,” Lindsay said with a smile, “you always used to call me that.”

“Yeah,” I replied, “back when I was in high school and I had zero responsibilities other than keeping my grades in the safe zone, writing you love notes, and lifting weights.” I shifted my gaze to the floor. “Now all I seem to focus on is making as much money as possible.”

Then I made a statement that she did not necessarily agree with, but I believe is true for most guys who are like me:

In high school we do nothing but look forward to what is next and how to get there.

In our adult life, once we have aged 10-12 years from graduating high school, we try to determine how to create the time we had in high school while maintaining the income we and our families have come to expect and need.

In high school I was hardly making any money. I always hustled at something, but the money was never in massive payouts. In high school I had a lot of time.

I was rich in time.

Fast forward 12 years since graduating and I hustle just as hard, make a lot more money, but have little to no time. Now I am rich in money, but poor in time.

Time is what we all want (ok, maybe not all of us, but a majority of us). A longer life, a longer day, a longer time having coffee chatting with someone special to us, more time to read that good book, etc.

More time.

And now, in our adult lives, the only way to create more time is to first create more money.

More money, if created wisely (i.e. in a way that is creating passive and residual income streams) will afford us the opportunity to spend our time the way we want to spend our time.

For me, this means looking backwards.

In high school, in my late teens, I feel and believe that I had hit the sweet spot in my personality, character, and being. Sure, there were some aspects that were off, and they were corrected, but, for the most part, my late teen years are years I long for.

Why?

Time.

I had time to create. To think. To read. To love. To write.

It was also a time of simplicity. A time where the K.I.S.S. principle was in full effect for me (Keep It Simple Stupid). And that KISS principle allowed my mind and body to be in a place of extreme vigor, to which I desperately want to return.

And that brings me to the simple and silly exchange I had with my wife at the top of this post.

I do need to call her beautiful more often (that’s what I called her in high school instead of using her name) and I certainly don’t need to wait until I have created more money to do so.

But the line of thinking, of stopping to think why I don’t call her beautiful more often, brought me full circle to what I have been working so hard to do for the past year and completely validated the time (and money) I am spending now so that I can have more time (and money) in the near future.

To be frank, I am trying to think of a take away for you, as the reader.

I don’t want to be one of those writers that only writes to self-examine, but I do think that there may be times when that is just as valuable as a more direct approach to writing directly to you.

Because at the end of the day, I write because I need to write. And I hope, that through my writing, you will find something of value that you can take away and use to make your life better, funnier, happier, or all of the above.

Question and Answer (in the comments)

Maybe I’ll just ask a question, and let the words above make the point, whether directly or indirectly. What is something you want more of in your life? And as a follow-up, what daily actions are you taking to achieve that?

Click the like button below if you enjoyed this, leave a comment if this inspired any thoughts, and certainly share if you think this would be enjoyed by someone you know.

But, most importantly, have an awesome day!

Being a Parent Sucks

I don’t want to sugarcoat this, because I feel like it is sugarcoated all to often.

Being a parent sucks.

It is hard. It is frustrating. It is overwhelming. It is not rewarding (at least not at the moment). It is uncharted territory for each new mom and dad (and no one can provide the adequate heads up that is needed).

We have a very active 3 year-old boy. His name is Mozzie. And he is crazy. Maybe not literally, or clinically, but he is all over the place. Some days he is a gem, other days, seemingly for no reason at all, he is a terror.

The past few days have been a roller coaster of his good days and bad days. And to be frank, it hasn’t been fun at all. For me as the dad, or for my wife, as the mom. Neither one of us enjoy this particular stage of his life.

Well, she may more than I do. She’s the mom. Moms have hearts. Dads just want their kids to listen and do well. At the age of 3, just listen to what I tell you to do and you’ll be off to a great start.

So it is probably more me than her. But I still want to write this, and will publish it so that other dads out there who are in their low 30’s with one or more kids under the age of 4 can know they are not alone.

And if you are a dad who thinks life is great and you always wanted to have kids, don’t say anything. You are truly lucky to have such a bright outlook on parenting. Good for you. Drink your wine and keep quiet.

To the other dads, the dads like me, who are struggling with being a parent, hear this: it doesn’t get easier. Not in my experience. Hang on. And hang in there.

Today, for example, Lindsay was making a sheet of simple Christmas cookies.

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Great idea. What a treat on a cold November day, Christmas cookies!

Then Mozzie burned his hand on the stove after hitting it in a fit of rage because I turned the oven light off.

The burner was hot, because it was used a few minutes earlier for making lunch.

So he burned his hand when he hit it.

The cookies were finished 7 minutes later. But now I had the very pungent smell of peppermint on my hands because we were trying all sorts of remedies to help take the burn away from his hand.

Go figure.

Christmas cookies and all of the drama that they bring with them.

So yes, at the moment, being a parent sucks. Maybe it will get better in the future, but for right now I am resigned to the fact that it will get worse before it gets better.

Happy Holidays 🙂

The Man in the Black Trench Coat at the Post Office

His life was boring. His hair was blond and messy. His doctor told him he was overweight, which may be true, he thought. His girlfriend never called, which he found to be suspicious. His parents never called, but they did call all of his other siblings, and his job had him traveling from town to town. Every town in the state for three years and counting. The reason for traveling, they told him, was to meet with the shoe makers in every town.

“Shoe makers?” he asked his manager three years ago.

“Yep, shoe makers.”

“But,” he paused, looking at his shoes, “does every town have a shoe maker?”

“Probably not,” his manager took a sip of his coffee and glanced at his computer monitor.

“Then why do I need to go to each town to find the shoe maker?”

“So we can update our shoe maker database.”

So that’s what he did. Traveled from town to town, looking for the shoe maker, so his company could update their database.

Someone else may have enjoyed all of the traveling, but he did not. The company car was outdated, his suitcase was too small, and the motels were never comfortable.

He was miserable. And bored. And standing in line at a post office.  Which added to his boredom. The girl in-front of him was chewing what sounded like ten pieces of gum, and the guy behind him kept grunting. Bored and stuck between two annoying people.

Bored until the man in a black trench coat walked into the post office.

He was standing in line, facing the sliding glass doors that separated the boring line to the counter from the lobby. The man in the black trench coat walked into the post office lobby and turned right. He has a P.O. Box, he thought to himself. He found people who owned P.O. Boxes to be suspicious people, up to no good and all of them contract killers.

The man in the black trench coat walked past the first section of boxes, then turned left, out of sight, into the second section.

He imagined the man in the black trench coat inserting his key, pressing his thumb against the finger print scanner that appeared once the key was verified, and then swinging the locked door open to get his next mission.

He was looking for smoke to appear from the message self-destructing, when the man in the black trench coat came into view again and went straight to a high table that was set against the wall.

The man in the black trench coat was standing still now, so he was able to get a better look at him. The man in the black trench coat had black hair, a black trench coat, black dress pants, and black shoes. Even his phone was black. Definitely a contract killer.

The man in the black trench coat proceeded to tear a few letters in half without opening them (I guess even contract killers get junk mail). All but one piece of mail was thrown into a blue container. The one piece of mail that was important was slid into an inside pocket of the trench coat or maybe a black suit coat he had on underneath the trench coat. Whatever it was must have been important.

Instead of turning to leave, he went to the third section of PO Boxes. He has two PO boxes! He was out of sight for a few seconds, then returned to the same table and placed a large envelope on the top. The envelope wasn’t flat, but had a noticeable bulge running down the middle.

The man in the black trench coat opened the package. Took out the object, quickly examined it (a white tube…), and shoved it into the side pocket of his trench coat. He threw the envelope into the blue container, and turned to walk out of the PO Box area of the Post Office.

The man in the black trench coat walked into the lobby, stopped in the center, and looked directly at him. The line hadn’t moved, so he looked back. The man in the black trench coat reached into the left pocket of his trench coat, He’s got a gun!,  and pulled out a packet of cigarettes. He watched as the man in the black trench coat put a cigarette into his mouth, and returned the packet to his pocket. Then, the man in the black trench coat reached into a pocket on the inside of his trench coat, now he’s got a gun!, and pulled out a gold Zippo lighter.

The man in the black trench coat tilted his head down, breaking eye contact, and lit the cigarette with his gold Zippo lighter. Bringing his head back up, the man in the black trench coat snapped the lighter shut, looked back up at him, and winked.

The Urge to Create

If I take five second of time, and think back to the first time I felt a desire to create something, I only go back twelve years.

Approximately twelve years ago, maybe closer to eleven, I was a junior in high school. I was in “honors english” and loved to read and write, which holds true today. That five seconds of thinking takes me back to a night that I couldn’t sleep. I had an idea. A story. And nothing I did to try to sleep was working. I had to write, otherwise I wouldn’t get any sleep before my alarm went off the next morning.

I had a desk in my bedroom, located at the foot of my bed sometimes, or somewhere else, in a different arrangement of the furniture, at other times. That night I rolled out of bed, shuffled over to my desk, turned on my desk light, pulled out a spiral bound notebook and a pen, and began to write. I’m not sure how long I stayed up writing that night, but I wrote what I had to write, closed the notebook, turned off the light, and laid back down in bed to sleep, which came quickly.

The next morning I remember waking up with a foggy memory of the previous night. After getting out of bed I went over to the desk and flipped open the notebook, reading the first few lines of what I wrote. It wasn’t that bad, actually. Not for writing it on a whim.

That week I would spend time at school and after school cleaning up the story. Adding details, removing details, and going through what I thought was an extensive editing process. Once I had it cleaned up I came up with a title, Freedom Shot, and a subtitle of One Shot. One Man. One Country’s Freedom.

My english teacher, Mrs. Neis, loved it. She would always cheer my fiction writing, and criticize my analysis of Shakespeare. I turned the finished product in for extra credit (103% applied as two test grades) and for her red pen. This is the one and only copy I still have. The soft copy might be on an old hard-drive somewhere, but finding the hard drive may be difficult.

This is a time that I remember having an urge to create something. An urge that I could not quiet until acted upon.

The story I wrote did not stop there. In the same manilla office folder is another story called Freedom Shot. It has the same subtitle, but instead of saying “A Short Story” it says “A John Gloove Adventure.” Apparently I wasn’t finished with the story. This too was turned in and graded. And also marked up with Mrs. Neis’ red pen.

Maybe Freedom Shot and John Gloove is an adventure that will be revisited. Maybe not. The point is that something was created. And that’s all that really matters.

Say Thank You and Good Job

There is something to be said for positive reinforcement. Especially when you are a hard worker.

You give every task 110%. When you are finished it is perfect. You genuinely feel as though you have completed something (which is a great feeling to have) and present it to your boss or client.

Once you present whatever it is, there are two possible outcomes. The first, and worst, is you receive nothing but criticism. You didn’t do that, forgot to do this, I don’t like how this looks. Why did we hire you? You better not bill me for this. Stop wasting my time with this, it’s not even finished. Etc.

Motivating, right? Makes you want to revisit everything to please someone who can’t be pleased. I don’t think so. But, you’ll eventually cool off and get back to work, hating every second of it.

The second, and more encouraging outcome, is praise mixed with constructive criticism and honest dialogue. You hear words like “thank you,” and “I appreciate your time.” Questions are asked, looking for honest answers, not insinuating or accusing anything or anyone. Both parties move in the same direction at the same pace trying to hit the same target. It isn’t you against them, or them against you. Even though they pay you, or are your superior in some way, the current conversation is approached as equals. And they say, “thank you, I appreciate your time. I can tell that you are working very hard on this and appreciate all of your effort. Keep up the good work.”

You go back to your desk, and no matter what it is you have to do next, you feel excited, encouraged, pumped, high on life, and happy. You begin to work immediately and love every second of it.

I heard those words the other day. And it was amazing. To hear those positive words was worth more than any payment that could be received. Knowing that you, and your time, are genuinely valued and appreciated is priceless.

If you work with other people, other human beings, whether they are “above,” “below,” or “equal” to you in whatever organization it is, say Thank You and Good Job. I guarantee that they will smile and will continue producing awesome work for you. Do this today.

A Story I’d Like to Tell

I had this idea a few years ago but never did anything about it. I was writing on a regular basis then, too, which is proof to me that this is something I want to write about.

My grandmother, on my dad’s side, is what I would call our “Family Historian.” She spends time on a regular basis going through photos, records, and other pieces of information and has amassed a small library of family history. Along with this information are stories. Lots and lots of stories, from an era long before my time, an era that I am fascinated by.

My idea is this: I would like to interview my grandmother, maybe twice a month, about the family history she knows. From the history she shares with me, I would like to write stories. Essentially add movement and dialogue to the history she tells. I guess this genre would be Historical Fiction, so we’ll call it Family Historical Fiction 🙂

My plan would be to record the audio of our conversations, and also capture photo stills. I think video would be too much, but the audio and photography should be enough content to help bring the stories to life.  After our conversations I would review my notes, listen to the audio, and pull out the parts that have more to be told. At that point I’ll come here, and share these stories with you. I have a few other ideas, especially about how I’ll share these stories with my grandmother and the rest of our family, but I’ll keep that to myself for now.

The reason I am publishing this idea is so that I have people to let down if I don’t do it. I told my wife last night and now I’ve told you. I realize this may not be as exciting for you as it is for me, but I hope that you’ll stick around to read the stories that are a part of my family’s history.

P.S. I have yet to ask my grandmother about this, but I plan to write a letter to her this week to share my idea with her.

Urgency Reserved for Life and Death Situations

When I look back at decisions I have made, or a chain of decisions I made, and attempt to identify one thing that may have led me to make those decisions, I land on Urgency.

“We need this now!”

“We cannot wait any longer, we have to make a decision today.”

“I know we took four months to make a decision, but we need you to implement by tomorrow.”

Etc.

The three examples above are all real life examples that I have heard over and over again for the past three years and will continue to hear for as long as I allow them. Six months ago I would have bought into the Urgency projected and would have adjusted my schedule and done whatever I needed to do in order to meet this Urgent deadline. Today, I’ll respond with “Let me check my schedule.”

Times Square, New York City
This is what your life will feel like when you let other people make your decisions and control your schedule.

Six months ago this caused a lot of stress. I’d have to move one thing on my schedule which would effect another thing and another thing and another thing. This one Urgent decision, that I allowed and bought into, has effected a month’s worth of scheduling. All because I believe them when they say the words like “need,” “now,” “today,” “have to,” and “cannot wait.”

To please one person I had to displease another. And I was doing this because someone else told me it was “really important.”

Well, I’m happy to say that the veil has been lifted, my eyes have been opened, and/or I have finally arrived at a place in my adult life where I now know for a fact: unless someone is on the brink of life and death, nothing is as urgent as it may seem.

Quiet street along a river
This is what your life will feel like when you are in control of your decisions and you manage your schedule. Also, when you stop believing that everything is urgent.

Not only do the decisions I make today effect what I can or cannot do tomorrow, but I am the one who needs to live with the outcome of my decisions. Not the person who is trying to tell me how important it is that I do X right now. 

We all, and me especially, need to be a little less flexible, a little less urgent, a little more devoted to the things we plan to accomplish today, and a little more relaxed about all of that.

Just like saying No will irritate people, so will your refusal to buy the Urgent BS they are trying to sell you. It will get under their skin and bother them and cause them stress and sleepless nights. That is their problem. You will accomplish that day what you intended to accomplish and sleep like a baby that night. Do this today 🙂

Making Small Changes that will Bring Big Results (Eventually)

An Update on Schedules and Time Management

A week or so ago we discussed sleep and how annoyingly important it is. In that post I shared this thought with you:

…I am inclined to take another look at my schedule. Move things around (again) and figure out how I can still do what I need to do, but finish the day at 10. Realistically I should finish the day at 9:30 so I can be asleep by 10. Just thinking out loud here.

Sleeping for Efficiency – Aaron Aiken

I have readjusted my schedule and gave it a test run last week, successfully for the most-part. Here’s what I did and then I’ll explain a little more of the thought process.

My typical weekly calendar showing 11:30pm as "bed time"
My typical weekly calendar showing 11:30pm as “bed time”

My previous schedule had me working on my now part-time business from approximately 8pm-10pm, writing here from 10pm-11pm, and reading from 11pm-11:30pm. What would inevitably happen is I’d work on work from 8pm-1am. This happened due to a mix of terrible task management, mismanagement of expectations, and working at the wrong end of the day.

In addition to the terrible working hours, this schedule had me getting, on average, 6 hours of sleep each night. Do that for too many weeks without a break and your body will begin to fight you. Like it or not, you are human, and your body is a sophisticated “machine” that requires a certain amount of rest in order to function in the manner it was created to function (at maximum efficiency). Not allowing my body to get what it needed for rest was something I had to be honest about and meet head on.

So I changed my schedule this past week. Now, instead of working from 8pm-10pm, I work from 6am-8am. In bed by 8:30 without any screens on (thanks to reader Kyle Quinlan for mentioning this idea in the comments of Sleeping for Efficiency) and hopefully reading a book until 9pm, at which point I turn all of the lights off and set out to sleep. Alarm goes off at 5am and guess what? I scored 8 hours of sleep, and beginning at 6am will have two hours set aside to work on work.

My new schedule - Working on Work before Work in the Morning
The red blocks is the work that used to be accomplished in the evenings.

The great thing about moving this scheduled work to the morning is that I cannot work over that time by much without altering the entire day, and possibly week. 15 minutes at the most, that’s how much extra I can safely work. Working in the evening allowed me to say to myself, “I can stay up another hour and still get 6 hours of sleep.” I can’t do that on the new schedule. If I work an hour longer at home it means I have to work an hour longer at the office, which means I’ll get home an hour later, and the domino effect of this one decision carries on and on and on.

I Learned a Few Things About Myself

Mornings

First, when I’m home for the day in the evening I need to be finished working. Evening time is family time, relax time, rejuvenate time. I thought I was a night owl, and a morning person, but now I’m more inclined to say that I’m just a morning person (if I get 8 hours of sleep 😉 ).

Quality of Life

Second, even with this adjusted schedule working an extra 8-10 hours on work Monday through Friday is not something I want to do longterm. I need to continue doing it now to follow through on promises I made last Fall, but once those obligations have been met I plan to reevaluate quality of life compared to the money I’m being paid. Just being honest here.

Ideally I’d like to cut out custom website work entirely and focus solely on maintenance contracts. If I do this I can feasibly work an extra 4-6 hours Monday through Friday and not feel stressed or burdened by the extra work.

Just Be Honest

Finally, I learned that we are all different and need to be honest with ourselves about that. I need 8 hours of sleep. I wish I didn’t, but I do and will not sacrifice that time. Sleep sets the course for my day. I work better in the morning and not during the evening.

I am tired of constantly having to work work work. I’ve been doing this for far too long and the reward has not been great enough to continue. Due to this, I’ve learned that any other ventures I pursue outside of my full-time work need to require little to zero input from me on a day to day basis in order to operate and generate income. I’m not sure what that is exactly, but I am at least armed with the knowledge which will help me make informed and better decisions in the future.

I’ll close this by saying this is just the beginning of a new chapter for me. I have plenty more to share regarding this topic and will do so later. For now, I encourage you to take an honest look at your day to day schedule. Examine your quality of life. Are you happy with your schedule? Is your quality of life such that you are content? Answer those honestly and make small changes. Don’t change careers or quit your job. Work within your existing life and make the small changes that will help make larger improvements now and in the future.

Never Stop Asking Questions

“…just before Ibragim [Todashev] was shot—seven times, in two bursts, including once in the top of the head—he was about to write a confession implicating himself and alleged Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev in a brutal triple homicide that took place in Waltham, Massachusetts, in September 2011.”

– Susan Zalkind, The Murders Before the Marathon

Questions that immediately come to mind: Why was he shot? Why seven times? And, most importantly, why was he shot and killed before writing his confession? Continue reading “Never Stop Asking Questions”