A Note to Graduates 

May 13, 2017


Dear Graduates,

The month of May is possibly my favorite. I love the weather — summer is trying to shove its way in with welcomed warm breezes, yet spring is holding its own, providing crisp mornings and pleasant evenings. Birds chirp outside my open window at dawn, and a late-inning baseball game glows on my television screen at dusk. There is a freshness in the air that makes me feel renewed. Life is grand.

Perhaps the best part of May, however, is school letting out for the summer. I think back to my own school days and can vividly remember the feeling of sheer excitement and joy as that final bell rang each year. Having kids of my own and working in a school now, I must admit I still feel it — maybe for different reasons — but there is still that sense of adventure that lurks at the start of each summer.

For you, this year truly is the final bell. It’s the endless summer. Social media is filled with photos of you in your caps and gowns. Smiles are plastered across your faces and invincibility twinkles in your eyes. Many of you are heading off to college, while some will opt to go find jobs. You will become our next generation of doctors, teachers, farmers, politicians, steelworkers, lawyers, carpenters, and accountants. The world needs all of these and one is no better than another — remember that. You “kids” will be taking care of the rest of us just a few years down the road. And believe me, kids, the years will go fast. So fast.

I don’t know much, but I’ve managed to figure out a few things along the way. I’d like to offer you some simple advice. I’ll keep it short, as I know you have better things to do:

1. Advance your education beyond high school. Whether it’s a certificate from a trade school or an advanced degree from a university, education gives you power and promotes the freedom to change jobs and careers. Do it now, because going back to school when you have a wife, kids, a job, and other responsibilities is really hard (trust me). Take your education seriously.

2. Happiness isn’t expensive. Yes, you need to make some money to reach a certain level of happiness and to give you and your family some opportunities. But be very aware there is much more to life than striving to “be rich” and possessing material things.

3. Despite everyone telling you who and what to be, please do what makes you happy. You may not even have a clue yet what you want to do with your life. That’s okay. You may think you’ve figured it out, then change your mind. That’s okay, too. Whatever you end up being, be a great one. Trying to be your best self will make your life better in many ways.

Look, kids, I know you’re not really paying attention. I’m trying to give advice to 18 year olds who already know everything. I used to be as smart as you all are… If nothing else, remember that regardless of our age, we are all writing our own stories. My generation has already written many chapters, and you may be searching for the right words to get started, but none of our stories are complete. No matter how much or how little we have written, no matter how many failures, hardships, and disappointments we face along the way — and there will be many — as long as we are alive, we get to keep writing. So make your stories long, fill them with love and kindness, include many crazy and wonderful adventures, and — most of all — make sure you keep writing until you are happy with the ending. It’s never too late for any of us to change our tale.

Now get out there and make a difference. Each one of you can alter the world in at least some tiny yet amazing way. We are counting on you. 

Sincerely,

A Friend

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I, too, sing America.

When I was young I sang loudly.
I learned what they wanted, minded my manners, recited the pledge.
My white friends and I pedaled our bicycles through suburbia, swam the summer away, and sat in our air-conditioned homes watching MTV when the heat was simply too much to bear — sometimes it was so hot.
Just living the American dream…

Two decades passed and I wasn’t sure what had happened.
I had a wife and a mortgage, two kids and two cars.
My pockets were full but my stomach felt sick.
I was sleep-walking through life,
Just living the American dream…

Then, one day, I turned into the wind and woke with a start.
Dirt stung my face as I walked our gritty streets.
I saw people with dreams of their own —
Like living in that big house on the hill,
And driving that big fancy car,
And wearing those nice clothes that the pretty people wear in the magazines left in the trash cans.
Like finding a bite to eat and a way to make their children warm again — sometimes it gets so cold.
Yes, we all have an American dream…

So while I lost my faith, I found some purpose.
And tomorrow I will continue to trudge along, singing my song and trying to make some tiny difference.
Because I, too, sing America.
And I’m wide awake.


I’m probably overreacting. It’s probably no big deal. This too shall certainly pass. Still, I’m genuinely concerned about the direction our country is heading. What direction, you ask? Increasing violence? Decreasing human rights? Social security running out? Healthcare in limbo? The economy? The threat of terrorism? These are all extremely valid concerns, but I’m most troubled by how we seem to be losing any interest in kindness and mutual respect, and seem to get off on being hateful. 

For the record, I’m not attacking or blaming any one group. I can point a finger at Republicans, Democrats, Christians, Muslims, Jews, athiests, jocks, freaks, nerds, and geeks. Oh, and even me. We all seem to be on the bandwagon of hate — even if we don’t see it, or worse, somehow justify it. Is this magnified and blown out of proportion by the media? Definitely. However, is it real? You better believe it. 

We live in a time when our president tweets hateful messages on a daily basis, religious leaders post discriminatory messages on Facebook, and the news media is on the constant lookout for any controversial, disappointing, or downright hateful news. We are possibly as divided nationally as we’ve been since the Civil War, and there is little evidence indicating improvement anytime soon. I truly fear that in the not too distant future it will be considered acceptable for bank tellers to look us in the eyes, smile, and say, “Thanks so much for banking with us, and go fuck yourself.” 

Despite our very serious problems, all hope is not yet lost. I know for a fact that there are great people doing incredible things every day. We may not all share the same political, religious, or economic views, but there are people putting kindness first. Every single day. It’s not sexy, it’s not popular, but it’s happening, and it needs to get noticed. It needs attention so it can gain traction. This matters — maybe more than anyone realizes. 

It’s not always easy to be genuinely kind and respectful. In fact, it’s damn hard. It’s far easier to lash out, to try to prove a point, to try to make someone feel small, while we make ourselves feel clever. I struggle with it regularly. Taking the high road is sometimes an agonizing climb, but I’m always proud of myself for getting to the top. What people forget — or maybe haven’t learned — is that it feels good to be kind, even to people you disagree with or simply don’t like. If we truly gave everyone a chance, we might just discover that we get along with far more people than we thought. 

I think I was born a realist. I know we will never see eye to eye on everything or be just like one another. Man, I’m glad because life would be awfully boring. I’ve chosen to be an optimist, partly because it just feels better, but also because it forces me work at being a better person. I hope we (and we includes me) can put an effort towards being kind and respectful, because we are all in this together. This is life people, it’s not a drill. Can we agree to stop judging those who are different? Can we let people — as long as they are not directly harming anyone — do what makes them happy? Can we not only accept those who are different from us, but actually wish them the best, and then expect the same in return? 

We all think our opinion is right. We all have beliefs we think others should follow. Many see this as conviction, a positive, the only way. I will continue to do my best to make my conviction kindness. When I’m kind and respectful I always feel like I’m doing what’s right. 

If we care about our nation’s well-being, I hope we will not just agree to disagree, but learn to sincerely respect each other and be honestly kind to one another. This isn’t easy and won’t happen overnight. It takes practice. It requires trying to see the world through the eyes of others, even if we don’t always like the view. We can choose kindness. Don’t jump ship — we can change our course — it’s not too late. However, it’s a big ship, it’s a pain in the ass to steer, and we all must have a hand on the helm. 

The Audacity of Patriotism

January 22, 2017

“All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to…remain silent.” – Thomas Jefferson


As our ‘indivisible’ nation embarks on a new era under Trump, we may actually be as divided as we’ve been since the Civil War. The presidential election process brought out the worst in those from both sides of the political fence. We called each oth names, pointed fingers, and dispised those who believed differently than we did — despite many saying they were simply supporting the lesser of two evils. Someone had to win, and now Donald Trump is our president. Some of us are very upset and scared, some are unsure what to think, and others are gloating. This would be no different if Clinton had emerged as the victor. I voted for Clinton, not as the lesser of two evils, but rather because I thought she was a good candidate. Besides her political experience, we share many of the same values and beliefs. Mostly, she seems to have some compassion for people, which I think is extremely important for a president.

I could go into much greater detail about why I believe Clinton was the better choice, but that isn’t why I’m writing…

Since Trump was elected, many of his supporters are asking the rest of us to give him a chance. “Take it easy,” they suggest. “Get on board and see what he can do,” they recommend. “Whatever happens, it won’t be that bad — just like it wasn’t that bad with Obama,” they insist. “Come on, be patriotic and support your president,” they plead.

“Be patriotic…” This is why I’m writing.

What if I said that true patriotism doesn’t mean that we should always be proud of our country. It doesn’t mean that we should always support our leaders. It doesn’t mean that we should always agree to simply try to make the best of the situation in our country. What if I said true patriotism means we should do the exact opposite? A truly patriotic person should question everything that impacts their country. I think our Founding Fathers would agree. Keep in mind that the original Patriots were also known as Rebels and Revolutionaries. Not only did they refuse to make the best of the situation, they declared independence from their country (England), and many died rather than be forced to live under what they felt was unjust rule. I’m not suggesting that anyone should declare independence, start a revolution, or literally fight for their freedom — at least not right now — but when someone tells me that I should support the president because it’s patriotic, I have to speak up.

I understand that we have an election process and that my candidate lost fair and square (or something like that). Like it or not, Donald Trump is in fact my president. However, I will never blindly support him, just as I would never blindly support any president, regardless of their beliefs or political affiliation. I sincerely hope we can get through this term without reversing progress that has been painstakingly made over the past decades and even centuries. I hope we will show compassion for all of the different people who share this nation. Diversity is one of the many things that truly makes America great. I hope people are right when they claim it won’t be “that bad,” and I hope people realize they can act to help make things better. I hope we will protest peacefully and in a way that earns respect from those who believe differently. I hope we will question and debate Trump and his supporters in a respectful way, whether this respect is reciprocated or not. I recall very clearly not liking it when people were hateful to President Obama — and turnabout is not fair play. I hope that Trump is held accountable for his mistakes, and is applauded for any successes. Mostly though, regardless of who we cast our vote for, I hope we will all remember to be truly patriotic. If we do this, the rest should then take care of itself.

A Few Words on Blasphemy Day

September 30, 2016


Today is Blasphemy Day, an international “celebration” of speaking up against religion and religious laws. I am all for the separation of church and state. I’m against any laws based on religion — laws are made to protect citizens, not promote any agendas. I’m also very glad I live in a country that allows people to stand up for what they believe in, whatever those beliefs may be. However, I don’t like any religious ideologies being shoved down my throat. Similarly, I don’t need to have non-believers shouting about how ridiculous religion is, which is what Blasphemy Day has become in many cases.

Religion is probably the world’s leading cause of war, hate, fear, guilt, and anxiety. I can’t imagine a God who would willingly put His creations through the suffering that we humans are suffocated by on a daily basis. Are we all just some school project that the Lord is working on? Are we rats in a cage being tortured by a Master, seeing what lengths we will go to in order to receive a piece of everlasting cheese? I don’t think so, but it isn’t my place to criticize those who believe. It’s counter-productive. I have better things to do.

There’s a thought that’s been regurgitated by philosophers for thousands of years, which basically states: a wise man realizes he knows nothing. This belief is paradoxical and somewhat self-deprecating…and pretty damn perfect. Count me in.

Today, like every day, we have a choice. We can criticize those who believe differently, or we can accept it and move on to fight more useful battles. Some will put their faith in religious texts, some will put their faith in science. Both of these leave plenty of room for error and modification. I will choose to put my faith in those of any religion, or lack thereof, who use their energy towards making the world a bit better for everyone living in it. If there is a God — and I can’t say that there isn’t — I think it’s what He would want; taking care of each other and our world. Let’s be good to each other. Anything else seems like blasphemy to me.

Today is International Day of Peace. This year’s theme is “The Sustainable Development Goals: Building Blocks for Peace,” and emphasizes ending poverty, protecting the planet, and creating prosperity for all. These are nice, lofty goals, and I hope significant progress is made in each area.

However, today — and every day — I think it’s important to focus on what peace really means. What begins the process of ending poverty, protecting the planet, and creating prosperity? What makes people want to be better as a whole? What can you and I do on a daily basis to make a difference?

One of my favorite quotes comes from Mother Teresa: “What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” In other words, teach those close to you the importance of loving our families, our neighbors, and ourselves. Show kindness and respect to everyone. Take responsibility for our neighborhoods. If we all did this on a local, personal level, it would naturally start to take hold globally. Perhaps this sounds naive and over-simplified, but to me it makes perfect sense. Some are doing it already, and seeing results. But not enough.

When we tune into any news source, we are bombarded with stories of violence and hate. It’s true that the good news — and there is good news — doesn’t get the airtime it deserves, but there are a lot of bad things going on out there on this planet we must share. If everyone had been brought up being taught the need for kindness and generosity, would we have different newscasts today? If criminals had a parent or someone else tucking them in at night, saying “I love you,” would the world be a better place? If you and I made an effort to simply genuinely smile and say “hello” to the many different people we encounter each day, would it make a tiny impact? The answer is definitely yes.

If you find that these things are difficult for you to do, I have to think that you may need to make peace with yourself. It took me many years to figure it out, but I can promise you that being kind will not only make a difference to those around you, it will also change your own life in ways you can’t imagine. Forgiveness is a breath of fresh air. Positivity trumps negativity every time. And, most importantly, loving feels so much better than hating. To any naysayers rolling your eyes and assuming I’m some kind of tree-hugger, I assure you that peace has nothing to do with being a hippie. Peace is about being happy, and happiness is damn nice.

So on International Day of Peace, please go home and love your family. Make it a priority to teach — and show — those around you the importance of love, kindness, respect, and generosity. These are truly sustainable goals. Spreading love in our own home is the first and best building block to peace. Pass it on.

 

Photo Credit: theartistsproject.com

 
The other day I had to run an errand. It wasn’t just any day, it was a Saturday. Oh, and it wasn’t just any errand…it was going to the DMV to renew my driver’s license. Put the two together and you are basically asking for it. Believe me, I was dreading it so much that I lost a little sleep the night before, but I got up early Saturday morning because I had a frog to eat.

Eat the frog. Many people have heard the phrase, but I find that equally as many have not. If you fall in the latter category, to “eat the frog” means to get the worst thing over with so that you may enjoy the rest of the day. I first heard it years ago when I was interviewing a potential employee at work. I was quite impressed, although I didn’t hire him because, upon checking references, I learned that not only did he apparently never eat a frog, he was probably allergic to them. Nonetheless, the phrase stuck. Mark Twain commonly gets credit for its origin, but a little research suggests that the idea actually came from Nicolas Chamfort, an eighteenth century French writer.

Regardless of the true source, it’s something that I’ve been making a conscious effort to do. It started as a way to be more productive, but it has evolved into something completely different. It has become not just a way to get something difficult or dreaded out of the way, but also a sort of challenge to make myself better. It is a mindset. Allow me to explain.

I think I’m a pretty good dude. I care about others and try to treat people with genuine kindness and compassion. I spend a great deal of time with my family and would do anything for them. I’ve never had a speeding ticket. I’m lucky to have a number of talents and skills, but I also have two big problems — I procrastinate and suffer from anxiety. These do not mesh well together, although I think they are commonly attached at the hip.

Someone smarter than me said that nothing cures anxiety like action. I’ve grown to believe this, even if the action consists of slow-motion baby steps. I’ve eaten frog and felt great about it, so I thought about the idea of finding a specific frog to eat daily, weekly, or even monthly. Usually my frog doesn’t actually cause anxiety, but is just something I don’t want to do (and tend to put off longer than I should) such as the visit to the DMV, home maintenance, or exercise. Getting these types of things done on a regular basis — especially when done early in the day — has made life much more enjoyable and surprisingly more fulfilling.

Sometimes, however, the frog is an anxiety producer. Maybe it’s seeing a doctor for that nagging health concern (despite feeling fine at the moment), taking the car to the mechanic because of that occasional odd noise (despite it running great), or calling a financial advisor to get a better handle on retirement investments (despite having plenty of money now). These types of things are unpleasant for many of us, so we don’t address them. Yet they linger in the back of our minds and we begin to worry. The more time that passes, the more we wish we would have done something sooner, then it becomes even more difficult to take care of the problem — which at one time was probably (and may still be) very simple to fix. I’m not saying this mentality is rational, but it is real. The simple solution? Eat the frog and get things done.

Perhaps the frog isn’t something that actually needs to be done, but is simply something that you’ve wanted to do (or have purposely been avoiding) for years. Public speaking, skydiving, asking that gal from the grocery store out on a date, changing careers, buying a home, getting a tattoo, traveling to some far off destination, going back to school, or joining a rock ‘n’ roll band. It could be anything, the point is that you are putting yourself in an uncomfortable position. Whatever the outcome, you will feel so good for going for it. Growth happens outside of your comfort zone, and committing to eating frogs is a trap to get yourself there.

Once you get a taste for frog you’ll want more. You will love how your sense of accomplishment swells, how your confidence improves, how your desire for adventure flows, and how your zest for life starts to ooze. Okay, maybe I’m over-selling it slightly, but if nothing else, a frog a day will form a habit of getting things accomplished. Trust me, you’ll love the liberating feeling that is a natural byproduct of this. There is more to life than anxiety, fear, dread, and wanting. Eat some damn frog before life eats you.