Call the demon by its name

I’m OBSESSED with horror movies. I especially love the ones where a demonic creature possesses a human. There’s something visceral and disturbing about watching an entity take control of the person it inhabits.

You don’t get to be a high achiever without having control issues and this is the ultimate nightmare scenario of losing control.

In most of these movies the secret to expel the demon is to call it by its name. The discovery of the name is usually a turning point in these movies and gives the protagonist(s) a chance against this hellish unworldly foe.

I don’t actually believe in demons or demonic posessesion. I mainly love watching these types of movies for the entertainment value. But there is a part of it that connects to reality for me…

This year has been rough. And it’s finally catching up with me.

Where I’d normally be hustling on some goal or achievement, that part of me feels deeply weary, almost like it’s in need of a hibernation. 

When the pandemic started, I saw a clear opportunity to step up and lead – at work and at home. I was excited at the chance to hone my skills leading in uncertainty and crisis.

And, if I’m being honest with myself, I love being a role model. I had great teachers in my life and I saw this as an opportunity to serve others and pay it forward.

I showed up energized at the challenge.

I encouraged others to make self-care a priority, while making it a priority for myself.

I began this blog because I was compelled to use it as a vehicle to hone my creativity and leadership skills.

I made a point to be present with my wife and daughters – to find moments of stillness in the day-to-day.

I was obsessed with making time and space for the important things so that I could serve as a role model and encourage others to do the same.  

More recently though, I’ve noticed my desire to plan for the future and set goals has dropped off a precipice. It feels as if a central part of me has become dormant. 

I didn’t understand it at first but in the spirit of self-care and leadership, I gave myself the grace to accept this state. My hope was that by not resisting it, I’d be able to get through it quicker (and once again serve as a role model).

So, what does this have to do with demonic possession?

I’ve been so obsessed with playing a role, I got swallowed up in a perception I believed I had to project that I forgot the most central piece of self-care. 

It’s not enough to go through the actions, you have to acknowledge and let yourself feel these difficult feelings. In other words, I need to call the demon by its name. 

Calling the demon by its name – anxiety, exhaustion, sadness, loneliness – is the first step. The second step is reaching out to others. I may be a leader and my drive to serve as a role model may never go away, but it’s important to surround myself with people from my tribe who can help me through these challenges. 

So, I’ve started reaching out. And that act alone has created a noticeable shift in my emotional state. I’m trying to remind myself that I don’t have to serve as a role model for the whole world – I don’t need that heavy of a weight on my shoulders. 

And I’m trying to call the demon by its name, so that with the help of my tribe, we can exorcise it out. 

Take a pause

Sometimes the simplest things are the most beautiful and accessible. 

I wish it hadn’t taken a pandemic to completely interrupt our way of life to make me realize this.

But at the end of the day, life is what you make it. 

There’s always been and there will always be shit – injustice, corruption, inequality, death, etc. And we must’nt minimize our responsibility to push back against the shit that life slings and demand better. 

But life has to be more than our hardest challenges. Focusing only on difficulty leads us to believe that that is all that exists. It depletes us of our energy. 

I’m not sure what the next year will bring, let alone the next month. There is no doubt about challenges ahead – the ones we have to face together as a community, as a country, and as humans.

But for the moment, take a pause. I promise it’ll all still be there when you return. 

Find beauty in the simple things. 

Play. Take a walk. Reach out to loved ones. Listen to music. Get outdoors and connect with nature. Exercise. Get some sleep. Watch the sunrise or sunset. Volunteer. Perform a random act of kindness. Take time to tell someone how much you appreciate them.

These are the things that make life beautiful and worth living, worth fighting for. 

Beauty energizes and sustains us to face the challenges ahead with our best-self. 

Make time for this practice, even if it feels selfish. If airline safety instructions have taught us anything, you have to take care of yourself before helping others. 

So, please take care of yourself. 

Even God rested on the seventh day.

Beauty in the unexpected

I used to fear the unexpected. 

As a high-achiever, I naturally loved to be in control. And the unexpected cannot be controlled. 

Maybe I had been conditioned to fear the unknown. Certainty has a warm and comforting feeling to it. 

But recently I’ve found that the unexpected has another side. And it’s wrapped in sun-bathed sparkling joy (the type of joy that starts deep in your belly and extends outward, radiating through every nook and cranny until it lifts your spirits higher than any drug ever could). 

Life often throws us unexpected events that are gifts of possibility as much as it does challenges. 

I’ve found that even during our difficult times, life can still surprise us with one of these unexpected bombs of joy. 

Perhaps it’s reconnecting with an old coworker over a meal. And you unexpectedly realize that nothing nurtures the soul more than conversation and connecting with good people. 

Or mayhaps it’s going for a family walk and didn’t consider it could be a gorgeous shaded bike path under fall-colored foliage. 

Or it’s unexpectedly finding your tribe after taking a chance and willingly opting into something that you knew would stretch you but also felt scary.  

Or it’s your 5 year old daughter who decides she wants to put on a dance show to entertain you and your spouse because you’ve been unable to leave the house because you all got COVID.

But the thing about these events is that they are difficult to spot if you only focus on the bad. 

I’m working on letting go the need to be in control. To let the world unfurl however it may and enjoy the journey. I’m learning to control what I can control (spoiler alert: it’s not much) and live mindfully. 

Doing so has allowed me to become aware of the beautiful unexpected gifts that I once failed to see. 

I now see the journey ahead as one that is guaranteed to be filled with big challenges and an equal amount of unexpected joyous events worth savoring. 

I like living in this world of endless possibilities over the one where all I saw was fear not worth leaning into.

The Hidden Opportunity in Low Expectations

I’m a people pleaser. I care deeply about what certain people think about me. 

For a long time, I used to pretend, told myself, I was the type of person that didn’t care what others thought of me.

But anytime there was conflict or a simple criticism I would start to slowly replay it in my head to the point where I’d ruminate on what I could have done differently. It made me realize that I did care and I had been lying to myself. 

I’ve been working on embracing this trait.

Doing so has helped me stop fighting against it with self-deceit. It’s allowed me to learn how to harness it. So I can become aware of when to use it for the better or notice when it fills me with shame and helplessness and question why.

By leaning into this personality trait, I’ve found an endless amount of easy opportunities to make a difference in someone’s day. And being the social creatures we are, these are opportunities to build tighter bonds with the people in our community and tribes (and if I’m being frank, I love the feeling of knowing I have the power to impact someone’s day for the better).

It’s a power we all have. And it’s surprisingly simple.

All it requires is that you pay attention to the low hanging fruit around you. These are the opportunities that exist in our day-to-day where the expectation of a moment is so low, that a slight positive deviation from that expectation could lead to a pleasant surprise.

In a world of back-to-back video conference calls, no one expectes you to have a positive upbeat and energetic attitude. But doing so can completely alter the interaction for the better and garner greater engagement. 

When you speak to a call center rep, they don’t expect you to be delightful. Most people probably yell at them or express their disappointment. Imagine the level of service you’d get if you surprised them and talked to them as you would a dear friend; if you showed interest, excitement and a willingness to partner with them towards a solution.

Imagine being a co-worker or client in need of assistance only to get your automatic out-of-office reply. They expect the standard corporate boilerplate robot response. They don’t expect a message indicating you are at Space Camp or on a pirate adventure or something playful and farcical in addition to who can assist in your absence. But imagine if that’s what they got? Sure, you aren’t there to help them, but there is still opportunity to fold delight into an otherwise boring and unmemorable moment. 

There are many opportunities like these where the expectation of the interaction is low. These are the gems to look for, the opportunities that are ripe to transform an experience. These are the moments to create surprise and delight because neither are part of the expected outcome.

And it’s an opportunity to practice serving others from a place of joy. Not because you have to, but because you get to. It’s an opportunity to remind others that there are good things in this life and we all have the power to create these moments. 

It’s what makes us human. 

But what did you learn?

There’s no point in sugar-coating it. This sucks. We’ve lost hundreds of thousands of people to the pandemic. There’s still much uncertainty about what the future looks like or when normalcy will return. 

Many of us (parents especially) are juggling additional roles we’re not equipped nor prepared for.  

As the seasons change and we’re forced back indoors, we’re bound to start feeling even more confined. Holidays that once helped ease us into the colder months by giving us something to celebrate are bound to look different. 

There will continue to be disruption to life as we knew it and there’s no telling when it will end.

But what’s even worse than all of this is if we only focus on how bad things are and learn nothing from this moment. 

This is a time to find appreciation in the ordinary

A walk around the block.

Quality time with family.

Playing with your kids.

Moments of quiet in the stillness of the early morning.

A mid-afternoon nap.

A great workout.

Conversation with a good friend.

An evening reading a book. 

These have always been accessible but often got buried among the myriad of activities we thought were important. 

And now with many of our options removed, what better time to learn how to savor the little moments that life gifts us. Gratitude is a practice, so why not start practicing now.

Because normalcy will eventually return and if we haven’t practiced, we’re lying to ourselves if we think we’ll make it a priority then. Who’s to say we’ll even be around when normalcy returns. 

Don’t squander the opportunity of the moment. No matter how bad life gets, there’s always opportunity for growth.

Life will always be rife with difficulty and suck – we’re really good at noticing these moments. Start noticing the good in life. Stop putting things off for a later date and stop taking things for granted. 

Life is short. It can be disrupted. We can lose everything. But, our ability to enjoy it and find appreciation is entirely within our control. Appreciate it while you can.

Live now, not later

Why would I think about missing a shot I haven’t taken yet?

Michael Jordan (The Last Dance)

“The Last Dance” was a fascinating look into what is arguably the best sports team in history. Love him or hate him, Michael Jordan was a master at what he did. One thing he did really well was to focus on the moment. It didn’t matter if the Bulls were up or down in a series, his focus was on the moment because the future wasn’t written yet.

This pandemic has shown us this reality. The future isn’t written the way we may have hoped for. Life can completely be altered in the span of a few months. Every dream and hope we’ve built for the future can crumble.

The incessant worrying and planning of the future is a waste of time and energy.

This has probably been the greatest lesson I’ve taken from our current state. 

I’ll be the first to admit that I have a well-worn butt groove in the worrying & planning chair.

Things can change – quickly, drastically, unexpectedly. We have no control over any of that. 

It’s important to have a vision for the future, but the challenge is not to be married to the vision before it comes to fruition. 

We are not entitled to our vision of the future. 

The future arrives only by living in the present moment and every present moment thereafter.

The Skateboard and the Velociraptor

I used to hate walks. Found them to be pointless. 

Why walk when you can go for a run and get more done – more distance and more exercise in less time. 

In my mind, a walk was the equivalent of mailing a handwritten letter. WHY would anyone use such an inefficient and outdated method to accomplish an end.

The pandemic changed all that. 

I’ve come to love walks. My wife and I make it a point to end the workday with a family walk. It makes for a nice transition from work mode into family mode. And it’s been an opportunity to slow things down and live in the present.

But, my unhealthy obsession with efficiency still creeps in from time to time…

Just the other day, we were getting ready to go on a walk. 

My daughter decides she wants to bring her scooter instead of walking. The scooter is disassembled. I ask my daughter to bring me the handle and the board so I can put it together. 

My daughter takes her sweet time, as 4 year olds are wont to do. (How is it that a length of 25 feet can stretch to be a marathon’s distance when a 4 year old has to traverse it?)

As she nears me, my daughter realizes the bottom half of the scooter, in its disassembled form, looks like a skateboard. This realization interrupts her current task. She’s forgotten she is in the process of bringing me the scooter to assemble and instead wants to try and ride the “skateboard.”

But, she’s four. She has no idea how to ride a skateboard.

That doesn’t stop her.

She puts her feet on it while keeping her hands on the ground and begins to rock it back and forth with her feet. 

All the while I’m getting frustrated. What should have been a 30 second task to assemble the scooter is turning into what feels like an Odyssean journey. 

It doesn’t take long before the “skateboard’ slips and she kicks it far away. 

At this point my frustration is turning into an agitated velociraptor. It thinks she’s purposely stalling and wasting time. It has to wait even longer for her to go get the errant “skateboard.”

I lose my cool and snap at her, tell her “Don’t do THAT! Just bring me the bottom half”

Without missing a beat, my daughter replies, “…but then it wouldn’t be fun!”

That instantly disarms the velociraptor. 

And I’m reminded to not take life so seriously. 

There’s a time and place for efficiency. But NOT everything needs to be on a schedule or reach an end goal as quickly as possible. 

So, I laugh at my daughter for her astute observation. I assemble the scooter.

We go on a walk.

And, I enjoy it for as long as it lasts.

Because, the journey is the end goal. 

Nothing Is Guaranteed

“…Before this year, I probably would’ve overthought when to release this music at the ‘perfect time,’ but the times we’re living in keep reminding me that nothing is guaranteed. My gut is telling me that if you make something you love, you should just put it out into the world. That’s the side of uncertainty I can get on board with.”

Taylor Swift

This year has reminded me that nothing is guaranteed.

The entire world can upend. The things we took for granted, that we never fathomed could be taken away, were suddenly halted. 

We’ve had to alter the way we interact as a society. Rethink and retool. It’s very possible some of the things we enjoyed most about daily life won’t be coming back for a long time. 

And on its face, it seems dire (it is). But, it’s always dire. 

Nothing in this world is certain. It never has been. We’re just getting a healthy dose of reality at this moment. 

And you can lament (it’s OK if you do), but if nothing is guaranteed, at what point does it become counterproductive?

What if instead, you practiced acting indifferent?

There is power in learning to be indifferent. 

You aren’t married to a particular outcome. But, you also enjoy what you have when you have it because you realize that it won’t always last. 

You learn to enjoy the present without needing it to reamain as it is. Because, change is inevitable. 

So, instead of waiting for the perfect time to do something worth doing or sharing your gift with the world, you just do it. Because, the world could turn upside down overnight. 

With nothing guaranteed, you’re challenged to strengthen youreself, to recognize the need to work on skills that help you endure and be resilient.

But that doesn’t mean you actively hope it gets worse, rather you find appreciation in the beauty of now. The fact that it’s fleeting and impermanent means it is something that requires your presence, because you know it won’t last forever.

But, there is no sense in lamenting change – doing so robs you of the present. And when things change, you are indifferent, because you know that it too is impermanent.

So, yes, it’s dire right now. And will continue to be. 

But, there’s opportunity.

To endure.

To be resilient.

To find moments worth living in the present for. 

Because, none of it will last forever. 

Magic in the Little Things

One of my favorite things to do when I’m at my wife’s family lake house is to take the kayak out. 

There’s a portion of the lake that shoots off into channels and ventures into the woods.

As I paddle deeper into the woods, the water becomes thick with bright green algae. The entire scene becomes a tapestry of shades of green in a woodland paradise.

This particular route is my favorite because as the canals meander into the woods, they go deep enough to give the illusion that I’ve ventured off the grid.

Just me, the kayak, and nature.

I’ve done this route dozens of times, and am always guaranteed to see wildlife. This most recent journey paid off handsomely and I saw them all – birds, deer, turtles, frogs, and river otters.

But, I also saw something completely unexpected and magical on this particular trip. 

My normal route requires I cut across the larger lake to access a particular entry point to the canals which takes me for a big loop and brings me to the canal mouth by the house.

It was particularly windy on this day. The water too choppy to cut across the lake. Instead, I decided to do my normal route in reverse. I entered the canal by the house and made my way towards the woods.

As I approached the section where the water turns to green slurry and the woods thicken, I noticed something peculiar off to the side in the canal. As it came into clear view, I found myself doing a double take to make sure that I hadn’t gotten a contact high from the bog odors. 

Someone had constructed a fairy wonderland on an exposed section of a tree that was half submerged in the middle of the canal. 

I had so many questions – questions of wonder:

  • Why was this here?
  • How on earth did someone do this in the middle of the canal?
  • Who would do this?
  • Who would spend their time meticulously arranging all of this? 

Nevertheless, I soaked up this gift and enjoyed the feeling of wonder it had given me. 

I reached my turning point in the route, which would have been where I’d normally enter the canals had it not been for the windy day, and turned to return the way I came. 

As I approached the fairy wonderland on my return, I realized it was much harder to spot from this direction. It could only be seen if you knew to look for it.

I would have completely missed it had it not been for the series of events that forced me to abandon my normal route. 

And while the route may have been the same, I noticed that my awareness was heightened doing it in reverse. I was seeing with brand new eyes because the perspective of it changed. 

There’s magic in the little unexpected things life gifts us when we’re open to receiving them. 

These gifts are all around us but are hard to see unless we nurture our curiosity and allow it to wander outside the boundaries of routine. 

More importantly, we also have it within us to be the artist that creates these gifts, these unexpected moments of wonder.

We have a chance to share our art with others, not because we want recognition and praise, but because it’s our gift. 

It’s the magic we make of the little things.