To Process or Not To Process

Process is important. 

Processes are efficient. They take tasks and make them repeatable, replicable, and predictable. 

Process thinking is important to sequence and optimize. Process cuts fat out. Process scales.

Process is really good for a lot of things.

But not all things can be made into a process.

And when you try to constrain and optimize that which is inherently messy, unpredictable and serendipitous to a process, you miss the point of it and strip the humanity away.

If you keep coming up against a wall, or feel like you’re spinning your wheels, you very well may need to refine your process. 

But other times a process won’t get you over the hump. Sometimes you just have to let things get messy and give them time and space.

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. 

The Thing About Conversation…

As a kid, I didn’t realize the weight of responsibility that comes with conversation. Real conversation – the good, the bad, the ugly. The stuff that’s messy and isn’t simple.

How could I? 

The amount of vulnerability and intimacy it requires isn’t something we’re emotionally mature to handle. We see it only in simplistic terms or equate it with casual conversation – the stuff without emotional heft to it. 

Real conversation requires us to show up with a willingness to listen AND share with an open-heart and open-mind. 

Without the arrogance that we know who the person is or what they are thinking. We have to be prepared to recognize that our perspective isn’t the ONLY perspective. It requires us to be brutally honest with ourselves; to see our own biases. 

Otherwise, how could we ever truly empathize with the other person? How could we ever see the world through their eyes? 

Real conversation allows us to see others and feel seen. It’s a moment to practice taking off the armor we’ve built around our hearts to keep us safe from pain and discomfort. 

And, in the face of these emotional risks, we intentionally choose to lean into it. Because it isn’t easy. Because it requires courage. 

If you’re willing to put in that much emotional labor, my promise is to show up ready to put in the work. 

Because it’s how I honor your courage to want a real conversation. 

We Need to Talk About Shame

I’ve been feeling shame without knowing it. 

I’ve been unable to concretely label it because I lacked the emotional literacy to properly define it. 

I started reading Dare to Lead by Brené Brown and it unlocked what I couldn’t define. It gave me the tools I needed to do some real deep digging so I could go shame spelunking. 

This feeling of shame started over the last two weeks and I wasn’t sure why. I now understand why. 

In April, I took part in Seth Godin’s altMBA. It was a magical journey (you can read about it here)

I had wanted to identify as a writer for a long time, but feared putting myself out there. For years, I shied away. The fear of being less than kept me from making the leap.

altMBA helped me through that.

I started this blog. I committed to writing and shipping three blog posts a week. It was a big commitment and it was scary. But I knew that the program gave me the tools to think bigger and lean into the tension. I took the chance on myself.

And it worked.  

I was unsure if I could do it. But I showed up for myself. And I’ve shipped a total of 44 posts to date.

It’s been a source of pride. I proved to myself that if I took a chance and showed up wholeheartedly, I could overcome that which I feared and do more than I thought I was capable of doing. 

So where’s the shame?  (It’s coming. Hang tight shame-monger.)

This breakthrough experience allowed me to tap into a well of creativity. It just flowed like a torrent. I couldn’t capture ideas fast enough.

But lately, something has changed. The last two weeks the tap feels empty. The ideas seem to have dried up. And I’ve lost the confidence.  

I had a streak for so long that I came to expect that as the norm. And that became my expectation. 

I wanted to be perfect and show the world (I have no idea who the world is in this situation, no one has any expectations of me for this creative outlet) that I could do it. I wanted to be someone they (again, the nebulous crowd appears) could point to and say “this guy is prolific, he’s so disciplined, so committed, so ambitious.” I wanted to do it for my ego. 

But creativity isn’t an all-you-can-eat buffet. It comes in spurts. It requires a lot of bad to get to the juicy, gooey, chocolatey center of great. It also has no room for the ego.  

I’ve been feeling shame and less than because I let my ego take over. What started as an exploration in what’s possible morphed into an unrealistic pursuit of perfection. I wanted to be a role model but forgot I’m human and figuring this out as I go.  

Brené recently did an episode on shame and accountability on the Unlocking Us podcast. She talked about how shame hates being named, it likes to hide. She mentions that to build shame resilience is to recognize when you are in shame and move towards empathy. She has a mantra she uses when she’s deep in shame to help her out of it: 

I’m not here to be right, I’m here to get it right.

I’ve been telling myself this a lot lately.

I write to explore. Sometimes that exploration comes to a dead end. That’s part of the process. Sometimes there are many dead ends before I finally pick the right path. And hopefully it leads me to something beautiful and vulnerable and that connects with others. And when it does, it’s art and it’s a gift.  

My journey began as a goal to push myself and prove I could do more than I thought possible. I leaned into the fear and soldered on. I took great pride in it. That pride turned to perfection. And when I failed to see the false allure of perfection for what it was, I felt less than and shame took over.  

Any assumption of perfection is an empathetic miss.

Brené Brown (Dare to Lead)

The quickest way out of shame is through empathy. 

Perfection got in the way of self-empathy. And when we don’t make room for empathy, shame takes over. 

So, if you are reading this, I see you and thank you for your attention and time. Both are the most precious gifts we have to give to others. I apologize for writing from a place of ego rather than from heart.  

I’m still learning. I hope to reconnect with heart and purpose.  

Because this life is all we have. And what a beautiful way to honor it by trying to make a genuine connection with those we share it with during our brief time here. 

Shame kills that connection. 

Shame is something we all feel but rarely talk about.

This is me working to get it right.

Thanks for reading. 

In Search of the Perfect Story (A Journey of Grief)

The hints and clues are there. They pop-up in the periphery of my mind quite often, but I’ve done a good job of pushing them aside.

Because, it’s a hard pill to swallow. One I’m not sure I’m ready to take.

It’s a reality I’m not sure I’m equipped to handle emotionally – for myself, let alone my family.

It’s a reality where the realization is only the beginning of a long road that comes with multiple stages of grief.

The presence of Alzheimer chipping away at my dad is starting to become a visible reality.

For the last two years, since his diagnosis, it’s been a presence that would occasionally show up, much like a fly that finds its way indoors in the summer. It wouldn’t last long enough to make a lasting impression of its presence.

But that presence hangs thick now, a fog that fills the room and doesn’t dissipate.

I’m afraid to look. I’m not ready to accept a reality where my dad isn’t there.

And that’s what’s hardest about all of this. He’ll still be here, in physical form, for a long time. 

But the man I know, the one who showed me what it means to be a man, a father and a husband, who laid my foundation, that part slips away first.

That part of him is already slipping away.

Change is coming. 

Or rather it’s here.

And the time I have left with him is both heavy and diminishing. The elephant in the room and a tension to sit in the present and soak up every second and ignore the stupid fucking elephant. 

THE SEARCH

I sift, frantically, through my memories. 

Pace between the towering shelves in my mind that store the catalog of memories. I move quickly between the boxes, combing through them, desperate to find the right one. 

Time is running out.

To find a way to remember him as he was, a memory to give me solace as his present state deteriorates – when the weight of it is too much to bear. 

To find the one memory I can hold on to the tightest. To hold it high above all others. The one memory that gives me the precious gift of a story that beautifully captures his essence.  

So that I may tuck it away in a part of my brain to display it on a marquee. Put it somewhere to be prominently featured, ready to recall at a moment’s notice. 

A story that I may retell to my daughters when they’re older. When they ask about him because their memories have gone fuzzy, blurred around the edges.

A memory to recount with my brother and sister, long after he’s gone. A story that lets us travel back in time, if only but for a moment, and re-experience his larger than life presence. 

And we’ll laugh and feel joy, tinged with the bittersweet pain that comes from realizing we can’t stay in the memory. We have to return to the present day, and doing so means crossing the chasm of suffering where we exist and he no longer does. 

A story I recall when I need an ideal to aspire towards. When faced with a moral dilemma, to serve as the guiding star. The anchor in my mind, that points towards the choice that serves others with humanity and dignity.  

The story that flashes a memory of childhood. A lifetime of adventures colored by the optimism of a happy upbringing. A memory of him coming home from work and radiating joy, as if he’d been away for months, to see us. A cherished moment to recreate with my own daughters.  

An instance where he put his relationship with my mother first, above all other things. An act of selfless, unconditional love. An act of what a single instance of devotion to another human looks like so that I can apply to my marriage, ensuring it’s built to last.

There was also his commitment to never shy away from tough conversations. Even if that meant trapping a pre-teen version of me in the car en route to guitar lessons so he could talk to me about masturbation and all the awkward things that come with becoming a blossoming teen boy. If ever there was a time I wish I could have hit eject and jettisoned my body from a moving vehicle, that was it. 

THE REALITY

But, I realize the search is futile. There isn’t one flawless singular memory that can capture him perfectly. There is no story that fits neatly into a single narrative. 

Life isn’t a movie. 

There is no montage of memories scored to music that swells in sync with the groundswell of emotions as they peak. 

Life doesn’t happen that perfectly. 

Instead, I’m left to curate a folder of his greatest hits. 

So that his presence may remain long after he’s gone. And the stories don’t fade away. 

So I can remember the lessons I carry with me, the ways I live to honor him and he shines brightest through me.

And yet, I wonder (or fear)…will the image of the dad I have in these memories hold? 

Or will they be replaced by the image of my dad as he deteriorates – as his mind gives up on him and he can no longer care for himself? 

Will all these memories be marred by the hellish road that awaits us? The road I hope I’m strong enough to face.

Perhaps…

…but if there is one thing, one lesson that outshines all others, that I’ve learned from my dad, it’s that a life of purpose isn’t built when things are easy. It’s defined by the challenges we overcome. And we must never shy away just because something is difficult. 

So, I’ll lean in. For you, dad. 

At some point, the search for a life of purpose comes to an end of its journey and you’ve either lived with purpose or you haven’t.

Thank you for living yours beautifully. 

Thank you for the stories.

I hold on to them in hopes to do the same.