Uncharted

sara-bareillesThere are points in our life that we find ourselves on a precipice, teetering back and forth. A battle ensues between the rational mind and the impassioned heart. Step back toward solid ground, implores the sensible intellect. Take the leap, begs the courageous soul. Back and forth the maelstrom intensifies, leaving our physical presence stagnant. Disarray, chaos, and confusion suffocate what seems like the last breath of fresh air waiting to be exhaled from our lungs. Until the tiniest of nudges sends us over the edge, tumbling into uncharted territory. And suddenly it feels beautiful.

I pen these words in a moment of faith and hope. It has been less than forty-eight hours since I was coaxed into the dark abyss of the unknown. I want to give these emotions time to evolve, to come of age in my soul. I feel them intensifying. I don’t want to bring them into this world before their time. And yet, neither do I want to lose the rawness of those same emotions. I have decided that now is the time, the perfect time.

Traveling north on the interstate, my destination is St. Augustine Amphitheater for the second time in as many months. I have a peculiar habit of listening to the music I am going to hear live while driving, a concert before the concert, if you will. Streaming from the speakers in shuffle mode is a combination of perfectly produced studio recordings alongside the imperfections and subtle nuances that can only be captured in a live recording. The anticipation of a concert experience I had been looking forward to for months had me wanting to press down on the accelerator of my Mustang with a little more enthusiasm. This was one of those times where I am pleased that my rational mind prevailed.

As the ambient lights faded, an energy surged through the crowd as evidenced by the deafening pleas for the featured artist, Sara Bareilles, to appear. The electric blue lights illuminating the stage lit a fire inside that began what turned out to be a magical and breathtaking evening. The two hours from my seat in section 202 passed in the blink of an eye, the infusion of inspiration closely guarded and carried with me as I take a leap of my own.

There are singers. There are performers. And there are artists. Sara Bareilles is an artist. She takes the words, lyrics, and melodies of a song, one that you have heard a hundred times before, and transforms them into something new, like a song that you are hearing for the very first time. It’s a brush with genius that words cannot convey. It must be experienced to fully appreciate the significance of its impression. I heard many of my favorite offerings by Sara: Gravity, Chasing The Sun, Brave, King Of Anything. There were two songs, however, that moved me into an unexpected state of enchantment.

she-used-to-be-mineFor the past eighteen months, Sara has been working on the musical score for a Broadway show set to premiere next year, Waitress. As the opening notes of her song She Used To Be Mine carried towards the ears of her audience, they bypassed the physical senses and headed straight for the soul. A heart-wrenching, introspective, and incredibly powerful love ballad brought tears to my eyes. I don’t even know why it is that those tears materialized. I don’t know that I was either happy or sad. To be honest, I didn’t care. I was just moved. We don’t always need to understand why it is that we feel a particular way. We just need to decide to feel. That is enough. A true artist has the power to kindle that emotional reverberation. With the final note of this spellbinding performance, I came to the realization that I was not alone in my sentiments. In unison, three thousand other fans, connected by a riveting rendition of emotional portrayal, found themselves standing in awe and appreciation. It was a moment, maybe the moment.

Compare where you are to where you want to be, and you’ll get nowhere. ~Sara Bareilles, Uncharted

I have listened to this song time after time: on the radio, on my copy of Kaleidoscope Heart, on my Sara Bareilles Pandora station. It wasn’t until I experienced it live, however, that it finally hit home. Maybe it was the surge of emotion washing over me at this point in the concert. Maybe it was a connection to the fear, doubt, and uncertainty conveyed through the vocal chords of this gifted musician. Whatever it was, I found myself ready to enter uncharted territory of my own.

I won’t go as a passenger, waiting for the road to be laid. Though I may be going down, I’m taking flame over burning out. I’m already out of foolproof ideas, so don’t ask me how to get started. It’s all uncharted. ~Sara Bareilles, Uncharted

little-black-dressInspire and be inspired. It is my mental anthem, my guiding principle. I have been inspired in a very unique and compelling fashion. I may never grasp the breadth of influence that was provided to me on this special evening. That doesn’t mean, however, that I can’t aspire to inspire the world, one person at a time. It’s all uncharted after all. And that’s what it makes it so incredibly beautiful and wonderful.

 

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True blue

be-yourself-emersonFrom the surface of the ocean to the boundless limits of the sky, the color blue prevails. Representing intuition, imagination, inspiration, and sensitivity, this color has remained a constant fixture in my life. Psychological studies have unveiled that the varied hues of blue help to nurture balance and self-expression. Considering the alignment of these influential characteristics with my personality, it is no wonder I am innately drawn to its energy.

Rounding the corner on my morning walk, my gaze falls upon the pavement in front of me to find the most unusual of objects. Resting in the middle of the sidewalk, staring up at me with imploring eyes, is a tattered and well-loved baby doll. Caught in a moment of indecision, I carried forward, leaving those pleading eyes on the ground for the next passerby, hopeful that it would be reconnected with its rightful owner through a warm and tight embrace held within the innocent and loving heart of a child.

Along my familiar walking route sits a bench alongside the local bus stop. Seated on that bench, situated beneath the shade of a large oak tree, was a young mom. With a stroller next to her and a toddler delicately balanced on her knee, she was simultaneously searching for something in her handbag. As my short term memory connects the sight of that ragged doll with the young child before me, I momentarily interrupt my walk to catch the attention of the young mom intently searching her belongings. “Excuse me. Did you happen to drop a doll back a little way?” She looked up at me, quizzical expression on her face, and offers in a rather annoyed tone, “He’s a boy.”

After offering up a bashful apology, I continued onward posthaste. Initially caught up in the personal embarrassment of differentiating a boy from a girl, my thoughts quickly shifted towards her comment. He’s a boy. My very first reflection on her words: Yeah, he’s a boy. So what? The stereotype that boys only play with trucks and girls only play with dolls begrudgingly passes through my consciousness. Why do we do this as human beings? Why do we limit the breadth of our experiences with such hollow guidance? Why can’t we all carry the confidence to express ourselves without the limits imposed by society? Walking along that stretch of pavement beyond the bench, the distance between that young mom and me increased, along with my pulse, frustration and annoyance brewing inside.

I would never do that. This is what my voice silently speaks to me as I continue forward, one step being placed in front of the other. And it’s true, sort of. I have never and will never limit my son, my wife, anyone really, from pursuing that thing that intrigues them. I encourage everyone to chase their aspirations with fervor and passion for all to witness, regardless of what others view as stereotypically acceptable. And I mean it, sincerely.

Suddenly, my stride becomes shorter, my pace decreases. I come to a stop, right there on that sidewalk. The brakes are put on, both physically and mentally. I would never do that to anyone else. But, I seem to have a habit of doing just that thing to one person in particular. Myself.

My taste in music, movies, and books is decidedly skewed towards one end of the spectrum. Given the choice between a high intensity action flick and a tender love story, I choose the latter. I enjoy a heart thumping drum solo and guitar riff within a rock song as much as anyone. But more often than not, I will find myself listening to an acoustic piano performance, the powerful lyrics moving me more than a pulsating beat.

Regrettably, I don’t allow those feelings to surface. Car windows remain closed as I sing the lyrics of a love song to myself. The deeply emotional storyline eloquently shared between the covers of my book is carried on my hip, front cover facing inwards, hidden from the view of anyone who may sneak a peek at it. Even as I compose these words, I realize just how ridiculously foolish my actions sound given what is burning inside.

It’s so much easier to share these thoughts through the safety of the written word. Hiding behind the page, I am not exposed to the questioning glances, the hidden smirks that society throws in my direction. It’s in having the courage to face those possibilities, however, that I also have the opportunity to connect with those that share in my passions. It’s a connection with those closest to us that ultimately make life so much more fulfilling.

stay-true-to-yourselfToday you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You. Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind. ~Dr. Seuss

The advice of doctors is not always easy to accept, or simple to follow. This is no exception. When I know what it feels like on the other side of my ailment, however, I see that this is just the medicine I needed. Truer than true.

A new lenz on life

see-through-new-lensesBuried deep inside the pages of an old college physics textbook, yellow highlighting fading over the years, a description of Lenz’s Law was important twenty years ago for a different reason than it is today. Originally encountered as a scientific law required for the comprehension of electricity and magnetism principles, my second encounter with this idea carried with it a more magnetic force, an electricity on the inside filled with emotion.

Ask my eleven year old son the one place on this planet that is on his must see list. I can guarantee you that I know the answer. Switzerland. Not to trek through the Alps, not to taste the sweetness of Swiss chocolate, not even to journey on the rails through the splendid landscape. No, the object of his desire is contained within a four letter acronym, CERN. Located in Geneva, Switzerland, the European Organization for Nuclear Research is his dream destination.

Buried underground, beneath the rolling pastures filled with cows, hidden from the soaring peaks of the majestic Alps, is a scientific lab like no other, experiments being conducted to better understand and comprehend the most fundamental particles that comprise everything in the universe. As an international organization, CERN unifies the experience and knowledge of scientists from all around the globe. One of these organizations may be found in the heartland of the United States. Located just outside Chicago, Illinois, Fermilab is in attendance at the USA Science & Engineering Festival in our nation’s capital. And so are we. As we walk down aisle 3700, my son’s gait accelerates as he gets nearer to the Fermilab display booth.

I have never seen a group of people welcome an eleven year old boy into their realm with such open arms. In a world where age restrictions limit participation in activities that are most interesting, these individuals transcended the bounds of societal expectations. Just like their forays into pure science research, these people understand that only through challenging the norm do we advance in science. And as a human race.

Inviting my son to help participate in the education of attendees at the festival, he was provided an official t-shirt and lanyard. He was a member of the team, helping to demonstrate Lenz’s Law to kids and adults alike. Whenever I see that signature grin on his face, I know that something has touched him at his core. Yep, it was all over his face.

Playing a virtual game of hide and seek, my wife and I are just out of view. Peeking around the corner, cinnamon dolce latte in hand, we alternate glances toward the presentation being conducted by our son. I never could have imagined that physics would provide such an emotional charge within me. As I watch him carry out the experiment, using his hands and voice to help explain the scientific principles behind the demonstration, I cannot hear his voice. But, I can see the invisible field of energy around him. And so can his audience. He is in his element, living a dream.

My wife and I recently spent an evening watching The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty. We have both regarded this as one of our favorite and most influential movies to date. The film is eccentric, sometimes unconventional in its portrayal of the alternate realities in our mind. The other, more important characteristic of this movie, however, is that it is real. And deeply inspiring.

We each have these seemingly far-fetched and ludicrous ideas running through our heads. We keep them to ourselves because exposing them to the public would be too risky. Our emotional well-being may be challenged when we fail to adhere to those well-defined societal norms. It is in accepting ourselves and our ideas as worthy that we find true growth and opportunity. An opportunity to see the world. A chance to see behind walls, both literal and figurative. The possibility of drawing closer to each other. To feel with deep and authentic emotions.

The things that flourish are those we choose to nourish. Whether it’s the notion of writing a book from a cafe in the tree lined streets of Paris, the vision of owning a charming bookstore on a sleepy cobblestone street, or the dream of helping to explain the role of fundamental particles in our everyday life, we are called upon to push those ideas out of our head and into the world.

walter-mitty-quoteThe cliche states that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. We’ll never know, however, unless we decide to jump over that fence and see what’s on the other side of the wall. To explore, to draw closer, to feel.

Walking down the hallway on the final day of the festival, my son’s face carries that signature grin once again. “I’ll never forget this”, he says. As a telltale grin of my own appears, my smile silently speaks the words from inside. Yeah buddy, me too.

Just keep swimming

courage-is-not-the-absence-of-fearSitting cross-legged on the floor of my son’s room, I stare at the pile of cards nestled in the palm of my hand. My pile is but a sliver compared to his, but that does not concern me. I always have a firm grasp on hope. The next card from our individual decks reveal a stalemate, a two of hearts versus a two of spades. As if flipping cards rapidly will conjure up the winning one expeditiously, three cards from each of our hands go face down. Snap, snap, snap. Revealing my final card face up, the mischievous grin across the battlefield seals my fate. Another game of War is in the books and I have been conquered yet again. It seems that my son always has the upper hand when we play this game, quite literally. I understand what it means to have the cards seemingly stacked against you. As it turns out, I would discover a lot more on this particular subject.

Life has a mysterious way of drawing parallels between an entertaining game and real life situations. Like that card game, battles rage around and within us. In a somewhat callous fashion, the world delivers a stage where these conflicts become the focus of our attention. The unfolding drama of these productions tug at the emotions of our heart like a puppet string, pulling one moment on the strand of melancholy, and the next instant on the thread of joy. I felt like Gepetto’s creation this past weekend, experiencing the pull on each of these strings within a twenty four hour period.

sunset-cocoa-beachWith our son out of town on a scouting campout, the weekend ours alone to define, my wife and I seized the opportunity to do something off the cuff. Fat Kahuna’s is a restaurant on Cocoa Beach, tiny in size, but reputedly big in flavor and atmosphere. With a half hour wait on this Saturday evening, we strolled out to the beach, admiring the breathtaking performance being choreographed between the sun, sea, and clouds. It was a carefree and relaxed atmosphere that we carried into the restaurant. The entire experience, including the meal comprised of calamari, seared ahi tuna, and coconut shrimp, was simply delightful. Sitting across the table from my wife, I had a view of carved tikis along with pictures of the South Pacific islands. Her line of sight faced the window, looking out to the street. We were less than four feet apart, but looking into two completely different worlds.

As we departed the establishment, our focus swiftly changed course. Away from the charming experience we had just savored, and towards the homeless man who had humbly entered the restaurant, offering to clean dishes in exchange for a meal. My wife shares “No one deserves to be hungry, let’s go offer to buy him something to eat.” Without a moment’s hesitation, I said “Let’s go.” With a purposeful gait, we trimmed the distance between us. “Excuse me”, I called out to get his attention. He turned around, somewhat confused. Upon offering to buy him a sandwich, he just nodded, with a questioning look on his face, as if to uncover our ulterior motive. Once we entered the adjacent Subway restaurant, he opened up, sharing his name and story, always interleaving words of sincere appreciation for our thoughtfulness. I remember being called upon as two little angels, for providing a hot meal on an evening that wasn’t even his birthday. When a foot long steak and cheese sandwich from Subway looks like a gourmet meal, when you learn that the same sand between your toes will serve as both a bed and a pillow for another human being on this evening, you gain an entirely new perspective on the term compassion.

Perseverance, secret of all triumphs. ~Victor Hugo

On the following afternoon, my son finds himself slipping into the aquatic pool at the local YMCA. I take for granted that I know how to swim. Learning to do so at such a young age, the ability to swim was always present, like the ability to breathe. My son was not afforded that same luxury. Beset with numerous ear infections and surgeries throughout his younger years, he was refused admission to enter the world below the water’s surface.

Now, as an eleven year old, he is undertaking a Herculean task. Coordinate movement of arms and legs. Take periodic breaths. Swim in a straight line. And forget all about the fact that you are in water that stands taller than you ever will. If there ever was an accurate depiction of jumping into the deep end, this would be it. In so many different ways. Less than a month ago, he was anxious if his head was underwater. Today, he is in a pool next to his Scoutmaster, bravely preparing to attempt the swim test required for advancement to the rank of second class scout.

Rolling over onto his back, he tentatively begins the backstroke. Although his goggles obscure his eyes, I can sense the battle raging inside. With one stroke, he exudes fear and uncertainty. In the next stroke, sheer determination to triumph. I never completely understood why my parents were more anxious than me throughout the pursuit of my personal endeavors. I know now. I could have cared less whether my son earned second class rank on that day. What I cared about was his desire to overcome fear, to vanquish those internal demons, leaving them in his wake as he determinedly took one stroke, one kick, then another, over and over again.

Within a few short strokes of the finish, my wife exclaims in a trembling voice, “Dave, he’s going to make it!” In that moment, my heartbeat fluttered. As his hand reached back to touch the wall, he stood on his feet and looked around, almost surprised at where he found himself. The far side of fear, the near side of personal pride. The beaming smile on his face etched an indelible mark on my heart.

Just-Keep-SwimmingAs I think back to these two experiences over that twenty four hour period, I could scarcely fathom just how different they were from each other. One person fighting to survive, another one wrestling with personal achievement. And as disparate as these struggles are in principle, a common thread emerges. The desire to prevail. We all find ourselves, at times, adrift in the sea of adversity, metaphorical waves crashing around us. This past weekend awakened within me the notion that the best we can do is to take a deep breath, swim one stroke, and then another, and then one more. Just keep swimming.

Walk in the woods

clearest-wayThe snow drifts, layered like a deck of stacked cards during this unrelenting winter season, are finally succumbing to nature. Or so I am told. The frozen north is slowly transitioning from snow and ice to puddles of water, maybe more like small lakes. The anguish of prolonged indoor confinement is being replaced with the hope of fluttering butterflies, budding blossoms, and the warmth of spring. Hope springs eternal, in different ways for different people. While our northern compatriots are yearning for a rise in the mercury, I am clinging to the last few days of cooler weather before the heat and humidity settle in for the Florida summer.

It’s Saturday morning. Sitting on my back porch, I look into my coffee cup, steam rising through the dollop of whipped cream floating on the top. I inhale the scent of fresh java and feel inspired. This may be one of the final weekends of the season to enjoy the delightful weather that Mother Nature reserves for the winter months in Florida. Today, I decide to commune with nature through the majestic pine trees of Welaka State Forest.

Historically, I have a propensity to plan. Like, every single hour of the day. Thankfully, my spurts of spontaneity are becoming more frequent and leak out just when it is needed the most. The location of today’s expedition carries me two and a half hours north of my home base. The very loosely defined plan is to hike about three miles into the wilderness, towards the undisturbed shores of the St. John’s River, and camp overnight.

Upon reaching the trail-head, I anchor the thirty five pounds of necessary gear in my backpack around my hips and over my shoulders. As I set forth on this solo adventure, my mind is perpetually hunting for the next orange blaze painted on the trees to insure I remain on the right path. With more focus on staying the course, per se, my mind is tangled in the logistics of the hike instead of the captivating displays of nature surrounding me. The ironic thing is that being alone out in the forest allows one to recognize this preoccupation. One deep breath of crisp forest air persuaded me to let go, exhale, and utilize my five senses to consume everything bestowed upon me.

I suppose there is a fine line between completely letting go and remaining at least peripherally aware of your surroundings. After two hours of lightheartedly placing one foot in front of the other, I looked on the ground to find a most familiar sight, my own footprints. After three miles of carefree trekking along this tranquil forest path, I had come full circle, quite literally, walking in a complete loop to my point of origin.

With the sun slipping closer to the horizon, there was no longer enough daylight to safely make a second attempt in finding the primitive campsite by the river as intended. Disappointed, and slightly embarrassed, I lumbered towards my car for a return trip home. Once en route, however, a peaceful sort of feeling washed over me. I didn’t accomplish what I originally set out to do. Did that mean my experience had to hold any less significance? Do we always need to achieve what we intend in order for it to make a difference?

I reflected on my mood throughout the day. I had thirty five pounds on my back, but I felt as light as a feather. I was caressed by soaring pine trees on either side of me as I navigated farther from civilization. The stimulus for my senses was subtle, yet revitalizing. The crunch of fallen pine needles beneath my feet, the flash of red as a male cardinal crosses my path. The kindly visit from serendipity as I watch a young doe prance across the trail aptly named Deer Run.

wander-lostSometimes we need to follow a well-charted path. And more often we need to wander, into nature and within ourselves. Over the course of those two hours, I hadn’t taken a single thing out of my backpack. And yet, in the end, it felt lighter. Like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost. Wandering through that forest, getting lost while meandering gently through the depths of my mind. It may not have glittered, but it certainly was golden.

Olympic spirit

The Olympic Cauldron is lit during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics,The thrill of victory. The agony of defeat. These words echo from my television during many a Saturday afternoon of my childhood. Cozy under a warm blanket, fire blazing in the hearth, I watch with intensity as skiers accelerate to speeds exceeding 60 mph. Approaching the take-off point, a precise combination of speed, gravity, and a timed leap all come together at the moment of truth. With a margin of error not exceeding one tenth of a second, the decisions made will push one closer towards victory, or defeat.

Long before American Idol, The Bachelorette, or even Survivor, reality television established its roots in programs such as The Wide World Of Sports. I have always been fascinated by the allure of winter sporting competitions. There is something about the speed of a luge run, the agility of a slalom skier, and the finesse of a figure skater that combine with the snowy backdrop of a mountain village to provide an eclectic mix of skills and landscapes.

Every four years, as a child, I would countdown the number of days until the winter Olympic Games opened. For those two weeks in the middle of winter, I’d wake up faithfully each morning before school to peruse the sports section of the local newspaper, tally the current medal count, and review the event schedule for the upcoming evening. Nothing has changed since those childhood days. Well, almost nothing.

Local newspapers have been replaced by internet websites. Grainy picture quality on a twenty inch screen has been replaced by a fifty five inch widescreen high definition image. And now I have an eleven year old son with whom I can share this magic.

Over the past two weeks, we have watched individuals succeed. And come up just short. We have caught many glimpses of tears rolling down a cheek. Some of joy, others of anguish. Showing pride in his home country, my son initially began cheering for the United States contingent alone. And Switzerland. But, that is a topic for another day 😉 As I began to share the training regimen, work ethic, and dedication required by each Olympic athlete, he began to adopt my tendency to applaud each and every performance.

We learned that curlers must release a stone before crossing the hog line in an attempt to put it closest to the button in the center of the house. And before these two weeks, that last sentence would have been nothing more than a string of random words with no intelligible meaning. Although still lacking complete comprehension, we have gained a lot of respect for a sport that is often viewed as chess on ice.

With its Norwegian ancestry, we witnessed one of the most closely contested biathlon relay events in Olympic history. Being a delicate dichotomy of adrenaline and quiet nerves, we acquired a deep appreciation for the mastery of skills required to excel in this sport. We enjoyed the delicacy of ice dancing, the unpredictability of snowboard cross, and the speed of skeleton, luge, and bobsled.

Celebrating the history and culture of the host nation, the opening and closing ceremonies were magnificent. And even before they were scheduled to be televised, my son had the DVR set to record them, just in case. In his eyes, they were not be missed. I watched him sit on the couch, absorbing every available minute of the artistic presentation with the same attention given to the 85 mph runs that earned the United States bobsled team a bronze medal.

I am saddened on the morning that I pen these words. I have come to the realization that my son is eleven years old. Four years ago, he was seven and unable to hold the same appreciation for these games as he does today. Four years from now, he will be fifteen, an age when the Olympics may or may not hold the same interest level. It is in this very narrow time slot of the past fortnight that I have been given the opportunity to share with him the beauty and interconnectedness that we have with the rest of the world through the Olympic Games. I have enjoyed it thoroughly, but the words spoken by my son echo my own sentiments, “I am not ready for the games to be over yet.”

olympic-creedOn the final day of competition, my son found himself playing outside at a friend’s house. With a surfboard perched atop a skateboard, each future Olympic athlete was taking a turn navigating the imaginary course down the driveway. For some it was a luge, for others it was a bobsled. For all, it was a time for fun, for dreams, a spring of eternal hope.

I am reminded that it’s not about the thrill of victory. It’s not about the agony of defeat. It’s about taking part. It’s about putting your best self forth in everything you do and being proud of your unique contribution to the world. The Olympic flame in Sochi, Russia is now extinguished. It will be another four years until it is burning brightly again in PyeongChang, South Korea. For now, however, the spirit of that flame is burning more luminous than ever in at least one boy’s heart. And his dad’s too.

Face to face

face-to-faceFace to face. Inside these three words lie the promises of cramped seats in a commercial airliner, layovers in crowded airport terminals, unfamiliar alarm clocks awakening you in a foreign hotel room, and rental cars that easily get lost in a parking lot because you don’t remember which one belongs to you. Yet, these perceived negatives are more than offset by the positive effects of being able to sit across the table from your business colleagues, face to face.

As I compose these very words, I am seated at a dimly lit desk inside my hotel room near Portland, Oregon. The snow on the ground and sub-freezing temperatures outside my window are rare for this part of the country. But, it is a novelty that I willingly accept for it is yet another experience that adds to my life story. Traveling from my home airport in Orlando to the Pacific Northwest has carried me more than 2500 miles from my home, my family, and the balmy sunshine of Florida. The 100 mph headwinds encountered during my flight reinforce my resistance to this expedition.

Naturally, the first question my eleven year old son has is “Why do you have to go?” There is certainly a touch of emotion wrapped into this inquiry, not looking forward to my absence over the three days that I will be away from home. But, there is also a more perceptive aspect to his question. Why can’t you just have a video conference? What about Skype? It is difficult to explain to an eleven year old that Skype didn’t always exist, let alone the internet. And if you think that is difficult, try explaining that every phone used to have a cord attaching it to the wall.

I suppose the entire face to face concept established its roots in the era before teleconferencing and inexpensive long distance calls. From a task oriented standpoint, technological advancements have allowed us to achieve so much more via collaboration. And although it is important to meet deadlines, close action items, and supply deliverables, it is not enough on its own. A key ingredient that is missing from the equation has been lost in the rush of technology. It is the quality of a relationship. In one word, trust.

The great myth of our time is that technology is communication. ~Libby Larsen

There is an intangible benefit to sitting across from a customer or colleague and sharing ideas. The same knowledge may be conveyed over a telephone wire across the span of a continent, but the totality of the communication is not the same. The opportunity to make eye contact, to share a cup of coffee during a fifteen minute break, to have dinner together. You learn more about the person you interact with on a daily basis. You come to realize that you share common interests outside the workplace. That is priceless. It establishes a connection beyond the necessary requirements of business. Or perhaps, in the end, this is a necessary requirement. These are elements that are impossible to transmit across a telephone line or through the most advanced video conferencing software.

I spent close to an entire day traveling to and from my destination in order to sit across the table from my colleagues for a time totaling the same. Although the use of this time may appear inefficient, the return on this investment far exceeds the costs present on any expense report. On so many different levels.

return-homeThe same headwinds that hindered my travel time outbound will be expediting my return trip home. I am headed back to the sunshine state, back home where I have another important face to face meeting scheduled. As I unlock the front door to our house shortly after midnight, I am greeted with a kiss and hug from my wife. Tiptoeing into my son’s bedroom, I find him peacefully asleep. Yep, this is one meeting on my schedule that I have been looking forward to since my departure. Enlightened by my travel experience, I am indeed home.

Share your story

tell-me-a-storyI tread on a slippery slope as I compose these thoughts. In the publication of this post, I may alienate some readers, or I may attract others. Either way, these words are inside me waiting to escape. This topic is tugging at me to be contemplated, in both my mind and the minds of others. Be true to yourself. Sometimes the words that are most difficult to write are the ones that need to be read.

I didn’t think that I would be producing this post today. Not in the way you think though. It’s not like I had some premonition of impending doom or anything like that. It is actually quite a bit simpler and much less melodramatic. You see, I begin a lot of things. I take on new projects, too many to count. And often, they sit. Unfinished, unresolved, collecting dust. It’s both a blessing and a curse. I love to explore new realms, open new doors. I just tend to not spend a lot of time in the room once I get there.

This writing thing? It seems much different. When I wrote and published my first blog post, I would have been lying if I told you I was sure to be committed to it eight months later. In my unspoken thoughts, I suspected it may just be another one of those transient pursuits, a fleeting passage through another door from which I would quickly run and escape, bored and unfulfilled. I was very wrong, and I couldn’t be happier that I was. That initial post was the first step on a lifelong journey. A journey that has no finish line, but one that I am happy to travel upon. One that will provide many eye-opening observations along the way, each important in its own unique way. Today, I share one of those personal insights with you.

I had no grand aspirations about my blog being read by other individuals aside from family and friends. However, when the first notification appeared in my WordPress banner indicating someone liked a post, a peculiar type of addiction was born. With the simple click of a mouse, my perceptions on writing changed course. Like an airplane being diverted from oncoming traffic, I felt rescued, blinded by the fact I was being redirected into a storm cloud.

Suddenly, the number of likes I received on each post began to serve as a barometer for my writing success. Not success in the form of monetary gain or anything material. Rather, success defined as my ability to put words on paper and have the mostly coherent thoughts make a difference to someone else in a positive way.

In the weeks and months that followed, each like, each follow, served to deposit a form of mental currency into my emotional bank account. And can we really blame ourselves for wanting that? I would be lying to myself if I said that I didn’t feel a rush of adrenaline with each of those mouse clicks that resulted in a new like or follow. Even WordPress nudges our excitement levels along by displaying the message ‘8 people have liked your post so far. Nice!’ We all want to be liked, to be appreciated, to make a difference with our contributions to the world. Whether they are for business, pleasure, or anywhere in between, we all want to be accepted.

But. There’s always a but. Being liked can be dangerous. For some, it can become a malignant growth that permeates your being in a truly viral nature, overshadowing the original intent of your offering. The euphoric feeling of swelling social media statistics blocks you from conveying your true intentions. I have been witness to many websites, many people, many attitudes that have been cultivated and nurtured based upon these seemingly innocent and harmless mouse clicks.

Special invites to like other pages, personal goals to reach a certain number of likes or follows, like me and I will like you mentality. It has evolved into a compulsive desire for some. As if coercing or convincing someone to click a button on your page will provide some tangible evidence of your worth or value. Without even realizing it, I was teetering on the edge of this precipice. In a somewhat hypocritical manner, I was outwardly chastising this behavior on one hand while relishing in my site statistics on the other. A fortuitous voice of reason spoke to me upon reflection of words that are very familiar to me. My bio page.

walt-disney-quotes-it-seems-to-me-that-we-have-a-lot-of-story-yet-to-tellDuring those moments of infancy as a blog author, I was also most pure, relatively unbiased by the feedback and opinions of others. And in the compilation of that page about me, I unwittingly defined myself, providing a personal mission statement to live by in the process. My four words, inspire and be inspired, have evolved from those initial thoughts.

I don’t want to be liked. I don’t want to be followed. What I want is to share my story with others. And to have others share their story in turn. What I want is to make a difference, to make our lives more meaningful. Together. A click is just a click, but a single word has the power to echo in our memories forever. Like me, if you wish. Follow me, if you dare. But first and foremost, share your story.

Simplicity

to-be-or-not-to-beTo be, or not to be. That is the question. Or is it? In the chaotic and restless world of today, we are encouraged to do, not to be. At a time of the year characterized by resolutions and goals, both new and revisited, it is the perfect time to take a moment for reflection. Reflection on what is ultimately important in our lives.

I perpetually fret over the same responsibilities. The things that appear big, but in reality are quite small. The sink full of dirty dishes. The hamper overflowing with dirty (or clean) laundry. The trash cans that need to be emptied. The jungle forming in the back yard. The three cats meowing for their daily ration of flaked tuna dinner. Okay, maybe that last one really is important 😉

We exert so much mental and physical energy attempting to keep up with the demands of daily life that we miss out on the simple things, the elements of our everyday lives that ultimately provide a sense of inner peace, a smile on our face, and a bounce in our step.

The scent of freshly baked bread in the grocery store. Listening to the caressing nature of spoken Hawaiian words. Pandora providing the perfect Disney tune at exactly the right time. The silky feel of the next page turned in a book.

sunriseThese often overlooked pleasures came to pass due to an extraordinary observation on an otherwise ordinary morning commute. As I turned south on to US-1, driving alongside the Indian River, my eyes caught sight of the good morning wish provided by Mother Nature. In that moment, every petty desire, every task on my mind, every anxious worry, was replaced by a single thought. I must find a place to stop. To gaze at this wondrous spectacle, for no particular reason other than to appreciate its beauty.

As I pulled into the parking lot of a local restaurant and stepped out of my car, the sunrise simply took my breath away. The fact that it was 37 degrees outside may have played a small factor in that feeling. But, I never would have known it in the moment. I was simply consumed by the natural creation in front of me. The light of the rising sun almost lifting the clouds, providing a sense of hope and comfort for the coming day. I suspect that commuters zipping by in their vehicles would have seen one of the most genuine smiles ever present on my face. If they had also chosen to stop and appreciate the gift of this simple pleasure.

if-u-want-to-be-happyWith the flurry of activity and rushing about us, adopting an attitude of simplicity can often be the most complex thing we do. Once it catches hold of you, however, you will never want to let go. Free yourself from the frivolous white noise that distracts you from the simple beauty around you. Stop chasing everything. Focus less on what you want to do and more on who you want to be. Just be.

Castle in the sky

intuitionGoose bumps. Chills. Tears. Unbridled smiles and laughter. These are the external manifestations of past experiences that have inspired my fingertips to dance over a keyboard and share my story. Without any physical evidence or immediate cognition, a different force is at play in the creation of the thoughts that follow. Intuition. It is a sacred gift that often remains sealed in our own personal rendition of Pandora’s box. A seemingly innocent decision to dismiss the voice from within, its guidance remains untapped and its power is relinquished to the influence of the rational mind.

My childhood was played out in a house sitting on a half acre of land. My imagination overflowed with the most creative uses of this space. On one day, it was a medieval village requiring protection from the attack of invaders to the north. And on other days, it was the stadium where the seventh game of the World Series hung in the balance. There was one use of this space, however, that was never in my deck of cards. A tree house. We didn’t have a tree on our property that could entertain the grand plans set forth by the likes of Alfalfa and The Little Rascals. I don’t ever distinctly remember desiring a tree house. Looking back, however, I wonder if this wish was buried deep in the recesses of my mind. For, what I do remember is gathering up all the blankets, sheets, clothespins, and sufficiently tall chairs to conjure up my own secret fort.

Confined to the indoors on rainy days, bar stools were placed in just the right location. Bed linens were carefully measured and spread clear across the room forming the impenetrable roof to my fortress. The clothespins, holding adjacent blankets together, served as the basis of my unassailable security system. Within those walls, magic was present. Secret meetings were held (subjects which I am not at the liberty to discuss). There were no adults. There was no rain outside. There was only opportunity. I was in my own world of imagination where anything was possible.

creative-mindSomewhere along my path to adulthood, the desire to build these private hideaways waned along with my sense of imagination and creativity. It was replaced by a sense of responsibility, a firm resolve to find my place in the world, to become a well-functioning and useful member of society. It is paradoxical that I abandoned the very elements that would allow me to do just that. Sometimes, however, the universe is gracious enough to send us suggestive whispers that rekindle the flame of imagination and infinite possibility from our childhood. In the quiet flap of a butterfly’s wings, in the colorful hues of the setting sun, in the recollection of special childhood memories that have been suppressed by the adult mind.

That breath of inspiration spoke to me most recently through the work of Pete Nelson, host of the television show Treehouse Masters on Animal Planet. As stated in his bio, Pete strives to create private escapes for those with a passion to reconnect with nature and awaken their inner child, one tree at a time. The enthusiasm and dedication to his mission is clearly evident in his personality and creative energy. The show captivated me. It grabbed hold of my attention for several consecutive hours. As I watched, my childhood passions began to emerge from the depths. Each episode served to fan that flame of imagination and creativity with a bit more intensity, revealing what was truly important at my core.

Along our journey, we spend too much time looking in the rear view mirror or far out into the distance. Too often, we neglect to appreciate the here and now. Like, right now. As I write these words, I welcome the pleasure, the bliss, the inner peace, the quiet exhilaration that comes with sharing my thoughts through the written word. Like a carefully choreographed ballet in a ballroom, my thoughts dance between the words chosen on this page. This is me. This is who I am.

I have repressed this yearning in the name of conformity and societal obedience. However, it is in this form of self-expression that I come alive. And what the world needs more than anything is more people who have come alive.

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them. ~Henry David Thoreau

tree-house-retreatNestled in the supportive limbs of a towering hardwood, this humble castle reminds me of a breeding place for ideas and daydreams from long ago. Suspended between the solid ground of the earth below and the limitless possibility of the sky above, it is symbolic of the transition between superficial glimpses of reality and our vision of what could be.

Find your personal sanctuary, your own secret fort. Whether you find it in a canopy of trees, on a lagoon in a kayak, or burrowed beneath a carefully arranged set of sheets and blankets, visit it often. Give yourself permission to rest and listen. Deeply. In the moments of silence between your thoughts, intuition speaks. Welcome the voice that whispers to you. Whether it presents itself through a tangible experience or a deeply entrenched gut feeling, embrace it. Allow your dream to take flight and build a foundation beneath it.