True North- Chapter 9: The End (9 months of “life” on 1 page)

I am a believer that everyone on this planet has 3 critical elements to their “being” and these elements are; mental, physical and spiritual.  It is also my belief that it is quite rare to find the person who has achieved a harmony or balance with each of these critical life elements.  In early 2011 I set out to learn a bit about the mental component of my life, an internal psychology experiment of sorts, which drove me to explore thoughts, actions, behaviours, fears, challenges and frustrations, so at the end of 9 months of writing, I was able to condense each month into a theme and then streamline those themes into articles that precede this post.  Eight valuable life lessons that I hope to pass to my children and lessons that I hope you enjoyed reading over the last two months too.

I discovered something through this exercise that I now refer to as my “true north”, which is the internal compass that guides me through life.  Although it isn’t a compass in the traditional sense of the word, it is a compass based around feelings and intuition and something that you have to look inward to find.  Each of us will have our own bearings and our own direction in life, so I learned that “true north”, for me, motivates my soul and keeps me pushing through the challenges in life, helps to navigate my relationships and enables me to create impact on those around me (sometimes for the good and if I’m not careful, for the bad too).

I am closing my first “blog” book with a summary of last year’s monthly themes and I’ve recently started journaling on a new topic, so I can begin sharing my experiences with the second “critical element” of my life, the physical.  I’m turning 40 in November and I want to work on finding ways to become sustainably healthy and to better manage the physical elements of my life, so I can prep myself for another 40 or 50 years on this planet (God willing).

To my kids…I hope you enjoy reading these lessons and I hope that I’m able to put these same lessons in motion more frequently in my own life too.

 

Chapter 1Where it all comes from: For years I have been hyper-emotional and have been willing and able to show and share thoughts and introspection more comfortably than most people.  It hit me in April of 2011 that hiding from this willingness to share feelings shouldn’t be accepted, so I decided to become even more open about my life experiences and I began using this “gift” to help other people become more comfortable with sharing (authentically) what they learn and experience while travelling through life.

Chapter 2There’s a creature in the basement: Don’t enable fear to paralyze you from accomplishing something you have set out to accomplish in life.  Expect situations, through life, that will create a fearful response and learn enough about yourself to be able to anticipate when those situations will “pop up” and be willing to continue pushing through life regardless of what comes at you.  If you let fear paralyze you, you’ll struggle more than necessary.

Chapter 3Everyone’s a genius: Our society puts labels on everyone and everything.  We all learn at a different pace and in very different styles.  Some of us are masters at the mechanical and others in the theoretical, so learn to appreciate the genius inside of you and don’t let others define what that genius is.  You define it (by listening to your internal voice and acting on those things that inspire and motivate you every day). And if I jump down your throat about choices you make in the future, please remind me to read my own writing.

Chapter 4Stand up and applaud: As we age (and gain more adult responsibility) I noticed I tend to forget to appreciate the little, miraculous, occurrences that happen all around us.  We should “stand up” and applaud more often instead of looking down life’s road with frustration about what we might not have.  Yes.  I’m telling you to appreciate a sun set, the sound of rain, snowfall, the roof over your head, the food in your home.  Those are things worth applauding.  Don’t let the rest of the world convince you that money, titles, cars, status and “things” are worth praise.

Chapter 5Don’t wait for the “right” time to do somethingDon’t procrastinate.  If you want to accomplish something, plan for it and go after it.  It doesn’t help to expect time or other people to take care of our lives, we need to live our lives, appreciate our lives and respect that we have a finite amount of time on this planet.  If you don’t like a job (move on), if you want to visit another country (book the travel), if you see someone in need (help them) and…if your family is close to you (spend time with them).  Live your life with purpose.

 

 

Chapter 6- This stuff can kill you:  Please don’t let the act of impressing other people, seeking the attention of other people or looking for approval from anyone else create stress in your life.  This has been one of the most challenging aspects of my short life and I’m growing more certain that the stress created by hoping, chasing and seeking other people’s approval will lead to an early death (of sorts).  Instead, be free to acknowledge learning curves, grow comfortable saying “I don’t know” and be willing to find and learn the answers to questions you might not know.

 

Chapter 7- A one way street:  When it comes to interacting with other people.  Love and respect people unconditionally.  If you are willing to spend more time concerned about loving people versus correcting or fixing people, you’ll generate some really positive energy for all of those you come in contact with.  Loving and caring should be something that we, as people, do without the expectation of receiving in return.  If all of us do this, it would be a pretty comfortable world to live in (and I bet we’d end up receiving more in return that we thought we might).

 

Chapter 8 – Patience and Persistence:  Probably the simplest lesson I learned over the last year.  People, who exhibit patience and persistence, tend to be well balanced, comfortable and accomplished in life.  Trust me and anyone else who tells you…life will throw enough at you that it can’t hurt to be willing to show patience through life and anytime you want to accomplish something, persistence comes in real handy too.

 

 

 

The End…

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True North-Chapter 8: Persistence & Patience saved my…

Let’s pretend, for just a minute, that we are able to flash forward to January 2030.  I’ll be 57, my wife 56 and my kids will be…27, 25 & 22.

It’s hard to believe that I’ll ever get to that time in life, but it’s also hard for me to digest that I bought my first mini-van 8 years ago (don’t kid yourself, I still look “solid” driving the mighty Town & Country), so I’m accepting that life will continue to motor on at a feverish pace (just like our parents and grandparents said it would).

I was married at 25, so it’s also not much of a stretch to think that my children could be prepping for their marriages in or around the 2030 time frame (Jillian- please wait until you’re at least 30 to get married…thank you for your consideration with this matter) and in the spirit of thinking ahead 18 years, I would like to share a lesson about marriage with my kids, which surfaced during my most recent re-read of the 2011 journal.

I hate to consider what the divorce rate is going to be in 2030, knowing that, in 2012, more than 1/2 of all marriages end in divorce.  As I read some passages from 2011, I noticed a regular theme about how my life, my introspection, my career and my decisions impact my wife, Deena.  For those who don’t know us as a couple, my wife and I are very different people.  I am impulsive, she drags feet on decisions, she is meticulous, and I tend to rush through things.  I’m 20 minutes early to most events; she is not early to any event…

In short; we are very different people (opposites in a number of areas) except for one; our persistence as a couple and our common belief in the life goals each of us has set for the future.  In addition to those important pieces are the shared passions for relationships with people and the willingness to fight to keep each other on track as it relates to our life goals.

If I had to tell my children what to look for in a spouse…a matching level of persistence toward achieving goals coupled with a shared patience for the time you’ll spend while getting to those life goals are two traits that can help when you decide to spend your life with someone.  Additionally, finding someone who can compliment you, which I have done, has been instrumental in keeping me sane (and…I won’t lie; being patient comes in handy again when the act of “complimenting” one another, which is really a code word for the act of passionately disagreeing with your spouse, presents itself).  Continuing down the path of sharing too much information for my wife’s comfort (why stop now, she’s already going to be frustrated that she is the focal point of this article)… I also forgot to mention that I like to share feelings and emotions with the entire world and she doesn’t quite feel the same way.  As our marriage unfolded, we had NO clue as to the situations we were going to find ourselves in later in life.  After 16 years together, Deena and I have lived, first hand, almost everything a couple could see (financial strain, birth defects and repair surgeries for one of our children, tough career choices, poor parenting decisions, taking each other for granted and all of the other good, bad and indifferent choices that can strain a marriage).

Why do I include this information in my “life lessons” project?  I’m sharing this information because I received some news from a group who Deena and I have been working with since the crescendo of our “2008 financial challenges” and the information I received made my soul smile for the first time in 4 years.  In lieu of going “belly up & bankrupt” in 2008, I’ve already written about the decision Deena and I made to repay a significant sum of money, which was debt tied to a futile attempt at becoming SE Michigan’s next real estate baron.  The repay decision, which was scheduled to be paid, monthly, for 5 years…put more than a little strain on our personal financial situation (and our lives together).  Deena was patient as I moved careers to protect the income we needed to meet our agreed upon obligations, we supported each other as our life style had to drastically adjust and the two of us were forced to learn, quickly, what it was like to really become “adults”.  You’ve read about my education through this process (forced humility and an increased appreciation for what life has to offer sans the material things in life) and, finally, what I haven’t written enough about is the level of appreciation I should express to my wife for the way she handled this experience with me.  She was the definition of patient and persistent as we worked to manage the life changes and the stress that inherently came along.  No drama intended with this next statement, but she could have left…I could have left…instead; we chose to stick around and keep fighting.  Back to the information I received…I was notified that in 45 days we will have repaid the last of our obligations and we’ll have cleared one of the largest obstacles encountered in our married lives.  I’m sure we’ll have other obstacles to deal with in the future, but this 4 year experience (we repaid ahead of the program by a year) has taught me the importance of patience and persistence and it gave me a whole new appreciation for “balanced” decisions.  To my children…I hope you can learn from my mistakes and won’t have to learn them on your own, but in case you opt for the option your Dad typically takes (touching the stove himself to learn that it really is hot), when you are faced with adversity…please remember to be patient, to be persistent toward your end goal and to stick around and fight for those goals you’ve set for yourself.

The end result is a satisfaction that words can’t describe.

True North-Chapter 7: Maybe it should be a one-way street

If you know me, you’ll appreciate that ideas are typically not in “short supply” because I love to think and think and think.  Eventually, something I think about or talk about will make enough sense to put down on paper.

In December, I thought about pulling all of my major themes/discoveries from the last year into a 10 chapter collection (9 life lessons and a summary chapter) that focused on the experiences I had in 2011.  As I finished the 6th chapter I felt comfortable with where I was headed and I began the process of visualizing what these chapters were going to look like in book form.  See, I’m going to self-publish these life lessons into a coffee table book with some pictures of the family and I’ll be sharing the book with the kids, hoping they enjoy learning from their Dad’s life exposure. 

I guess the biggest challenge has been trying to keep my articles “fresh” while the underlying tones and themes of my journal have been a bunch of repetitive topics.  As I read from April-September/October (again), I became more and more frustrated by the writing process and I couldn’t get a grip on something that really felt like a good experience to share.  This is where I typically start to force my writing and the reason I can start typing at7amand have to continue the re-write process at10pm.  I continued to peruse my journal from the last year, in search of an elusive “nugget o’ wisdom” and as I laid the journal down, my pen happened to land in the fold of the journal and ironically highlighted a passage that I had forgotten about.  Bingo, we have a topic, so…off to another week of pontificating with LT Furlow.

Generosity (and the aspiration to have more of it in life) is a theme which is peppered throughout my journal.  I wrote, last week, about how important it can be for people to learn to appreciate life through self awareness and the art of being focused on decisions from one’s core; not motivated or inspired by other’s opinions or judgement, so this week I’d like to take that one step farther and a bit deeper too.

Here is what my pen landed on: I hope my children will learn to love unilaterally.  Now, this will probably spark some comments about the negativity associated with loving out and never learning how to accept love, but that’s not what I mean and it is not my point or intention for my kids either.  The concept is deeper than that.  I’m not going to try and raise martyrs, I promise.  The definition of loving unilaterally, in my opinion is a “one-way” street of sorts, right?  Bear with me here.  I want my kids to learn that loving, showing generosity, caring and showing concern for people generates power and energy, especially when they don’t “expect” anything back in return (it’s the not expecting anything in return that defines my one-way street) and I think is the most self-less form of love.  If they can learn to love, respect, appreciate and show compassion (regardless of the situation they may be facing in life), I think they’ll be OK.  Too many times (and especially in the last year) I have noticed journal entries that led me to the conclusion that I’ve experienced frustration with certain people in my life because I had the “expectation” that I did something nice for you, so YOU now do something nice for me. I realized that I wasn’t or hadn’t shown love or appreciation to certain people, places or experiences for the purpose of making others feel loved.  Quite the contrary, I was showing love and offering of myself in order to get something in return and that’s not fair to do to people.    

From my journal in September:

“I haven’t been good at the whole “loving unilaterally” thing…and this might be where some of my frustration with life comes from.  I’m going to try to focus on loving unilaterally, without the hidden “strings” of expectation.”

I’m not going to claim that I have some how mastered the ability to love or do kind things without anything back in return, but since my discovery in September and my rehashing of the point today, I’m going to work harder at achieving the ability to do this.  The lesson for my kids and for any of my readers is the hope that we explore what it’s like to really offer of ourselves, to truly love the people around us and to fully love and engage with our careers, acts of generosity in our communities without expecting anything back in return.  In order to do this, we’ll need to be comfortable with whom we are as people and it will help to know our personal “True North”.  Once done, I think the experiences we will generate in life will be outstanding and would be rooted in an incredibly positive space.

Wrap your arms around what it would be like if everyone you knew was hyper concerned about pushing out love, care, generosity and concern for others.  It would be a pretty cool place (tee up John Lennon’s Imagine as background music right now and I’m sure you’d have a dramatic moment). 

As utopian as it might sound…I guess it’s worth the try.  I’ve been “the nice guy” all of my life, so why not work harder at spreading some of that around.

True North: Chapter 6- Be Careful…this stuff could kill you!

I started my new internal transfer (HR Manager) this week and had two major projects to facilitate by Friday, January 6th at5pm.  These projects created a couple of7am-9pm days (not what you’d like to deal with coming off of a long holiday break) and yes, they added a little extra stress to my life, but in the end…it all worked out.

Ironically, I LOVED the pace and the little injection of stress that these projects created.  I’ve always had a bit of an addictive personality, so whether it’s food intake, exercise frequency, alcohol consumption, and hours at work or involvement with the kids, I tend to live by the mantra of ALL or NOTHING.  This “mantra” hasn’t been all that easy to manage through life, but it has made me interesting to party with, work with, train with and to break bread with.  I know that choosing more balanced behaviours and working to live a more moderate blue print would make more sense, so I continue to work toward ways that will create my “how to” list with respect to the various aspects of life mentioned above.  My personal struggles with imbalance led me to acknowledge that “balance” in all of the above mentioned areas of life will be critical for physical and mental well being, but I’ve also learned that balance is harder to grab a hold of in our times.  As I continue exploring a more balanced set of life choices, I enjoyed reflecting on how and why stress appeared to fuel me this passed week.  As I already mentioned, what I found oddly comforting is that I think I’ve been craving a jolt of stress and I want to know why and most importantly, I’d like to break my craving for that thing we call stress.  Yes, the pressure of the projects made me push a bit harder and I felt more engaged, but something didn’t feel right.

The eerie feeling I’m looking to curb has its genesis in a pretty disappointing place.  If I was putting in the extra hours to benefit other people or to make the lives I come in contact with better, then I’d feel more comfortable with why the stress was in my life, but I didn’t deliver these projects for those reasons.   I delivered these projects, as I do with most projects, so other people would think highly of me, plain and simple.  Why this bothers me is due to the frequency that I experience these feelings and the long list of other people who I witness, on a daily basis, living through the same damn challenges (only most of them won’t admit it, yet).  Most of the people I know who put in the long hours, earn the big money, deliver the top produce aren’t doing it for their own pleasure; they seem to be doing it to please or earn the support of a parent, a boss, a friend or a co-worker.  This is why I titled the 6th chapter of this project; “This will kill…”  First, putting the word kill in any title will generate a few more hits, but in all seriousness, the way stress can hurt is real (we’ve all heard about people who fall over dead from a heart attack at 45 because of long hours, poor diet, limited exercise of the mind or body).  Long runs of stress (especially stress induced for the approval of others) might not physically kill you, but it sure as hell will help kill a person’s spirit.  Stress rooted in the appreciation or approval of other people is beginning to show its head earlier and earlier in life too.  I have some good friends who have daughters that are sweet and adorable kids.  Both are bright, creative, polite and genuinely kind, so I found it sadly hilarious that their mom, Jean, threw a comment out on Facebook this weekend about their 7 year-old, Lily, saying over dinner…”Mom, you know, people just need a little more balance in life!”  When I read the quote, I had to call them and talk to this 7 year old “philosopher in training” to get her perspective on balance and when I connected with them, I was able to hear from Lily and her nine year old sister, Emily, about their perspectives on life balance.  We talked about school, friends, practicing recorders at recess, and a number of other perspectives that only 7 and 9 year old kids could come up with.  In short, the fact that these two “little ones” even understand the concept supports that our society is continuing to move way too fast (and won’t be sustainable) and I think that both of these kids are probably experiencing some early stress in the hopes of earning the approval of people in their lives too.

In theory (and in the perfect world), there shouldn’t be any stress in life.  Please hear me out as I jump on the “philosophical soap box”.  If we wake every morning and are with the people we love, go to a place that helps make the world stronger (call that the career) and we spend some time ensuring that the people in our lives are learning and growing with us and around us, then I would imagine stress would be relatively minimal.  If I told people every day how much they meant to me and how much I loved and cared for them, then when they “died” from this world, I don’t think I would have the same level of stress and sadness that I might experience if I lost someone who I kept a distance from.  If I lived, every day, with the thought of exercising my body, feeding my body and soul with healthy inputs and resting when I needed rest, then I would achieve the physical balance needed to eliminate those dreaded stress headaches, stomach pains and anxiety that so many of us have each day in this country.

And most importantly…If I didn’t focus on what other people were thinking and saying and could change my thoughts to be focused on living and learning from the experiences I’m given, then life should become more experiential and less mundane and repetitive (as I hear it described by so many).  You know the spiel, “What’s up? Uh, you know, the same old &^%$, just a different day.  I have this exchange with two or three people per day, so there must be some validity in what I’m writing.

It sounds so easy and utopian to adjust life and wouldn’t it be an amazing flip of ideology to begin living for experiences, for learning, for the ability to share with others and to lead a more simple life?  Try it.  Whether you are 7, 9, 39 or 92…try living for you and try making decisions for you that will benefit others, not decisions coaxed by others that just make you stressed and frustrated.  When you truly make decisions for you, your energy will be that much more positive and you’ll be able to naturally help others around you.  You have all read my articles and know that I’m open to admitting that I have lived too long seeking the approval of others, but I’m also admitting that I have inadvertently conditioned my kids to start living for my approval, Emily and Lily are probably doing the same with their friends and family and hell, my 92 year old Grandmother even alluded to living her life for the approval of others (at breakfast yesterday) and those people she alluded to have all been gone for decades.

I know I’m not bringing up the next great psychological epiphany here, but something I have immense passion around is sharing these feelings (because others are struggling with this too), so be brave and admit if you live this way and work to change it.  It may sound inherently selfish to live for you, but I challenge you to begin experiencing and believing how truly connected you can become to the positive spirit and energy that all of us have when you turn those projects at work, the recorder practice at recess or the better diet we all want to eat to be about us, so we can help others.  When we start doing more of this, I think we’ll feel less and less of that stress that plagues so many.

True North-Chapter 5: Life needs GPS

What does true north mean to you?

True north is a term used by mariners, hikers & outdoorsmen alike.  It is typically referenced when discussing the difference between magnetic north (the earth’s natural magnetic pull and its effect on a compass) and true north, which is the place you might be navigating toward (which typically varies a few degrees away from magnetic north) depending on where you are standing on our planet.  Yes, a compass will guide you to magnetic north, but finding true north creates the need for a little extra work.  That’s why I call these first 5 chapters (and the 5 that follow), my True North project.  It’s my recap of the efforts to find the true direction I believe I am to head in life and my ability to deal with the challenges that will inevitably be presented.  My writing project has helped me realize that I had never authentically set any personal bearing in life.  In short, I was a bit lost and over the last year every month that passed presented a more uncomfortable feeling.  There were times of frustration, sadness and some downright scary emotional places.  This exercise drove me to experience what some might call a depression of sorts, always questioning if what I was doing was the “right” thing, staying focused too heavily on what other people in my life were concerned with and all of this thinking and analyzing took a toll on my psyche.  In the end, though, it has taught me more than I could have hoped for. 

I have an “internal compass” of sorts and I believe you all have one too.  Some call it intuition or gut feelings, but I refer to it as true north because I recognize that part of life is learning how to get back on course when life naturally veers you off course.  I’m not trying to suggest that once you find your “path” in life that all will work out and you’ll waltz through this journey.  On the contrary, I’m learning that the nasty, frustrating and down right shitty parts of life are what make the rest of it so freaking beautiful.  I’m expecting to feel lost and as I’ve defined what true north means to me, so I’m beginning to feel more prepared with how to deal with challenges.  Learning along the way has been a tremendous exercise too and when I do experience challenges and push through them, life’s experiences are that much more rewarding.  I’ve also learned that If you don’t have an internal agreement with yourself regarding a mental place of balance, integrity, strength, passion and vision I believe you’ll continue to feel lost, so please spend some time each day and reflect on the areas of life that make you smile, that challenge you, that make you want to get out of the bed in the morning and these are your true north principles.

I was conditioned to believe that one can’t put his or her “passions” into life holistically.  I believed that you needed to have passion for work and then some different passion for family and then for working out, so as I defined my true north, I realized that I was inventing a way to meld my guiding principles into my daily life and instead of having to find different passions for different aspects of life, I’m taking my life’s passions and am applying them more regularly to living each day.  That subtle change is creating a positive ripple with work, parenting, marriage, etc. The performance and enjoyment of my career is simply a by-product of a decision to live more authentically around that over referenced “true north” set of principles.  When I set my principles (effort around being more compassionate, being a coach to those around me and having a calm demeanour with people I come in contact with daily), I felt better.  In late October of 2011 I began “flipping the tables” on my old thinking and have begun to live a truer north existence and my life is reaping the benefits.  I had been sitting and waiting for various aspects of my life to give me opportunity and I appreciate that while I wait, time passes and I don’t want to get caught standing still. 

I urge you to work to define your true north and when you realize that it isn’t a place; it is a set of personal values, interests and energy generating passions then you can begin to apply your principles to the various aspects of life and I think you’ll see a more engaging path.  Remember, the fun of life isn’t getting some where; it’s keeping your eyes wide open as you travel through it.