Posts Tagged 'having it all'

John Assaraf Didn’t Do Anything For Me

About a year ago, I decided to join John Assaraf’s Having It All Challenge.

As I’ve documented before, I’d come to a point in my life where I felt stuck and directionless. I sought out some accountability for my actions, a person whom had achieved greatly to keep me on task.

Eventually, I figured out his involvement in my success would be minimal.

The curriculum consisted of one-hour conference calls in which lessons were discussed and questions answered by experts from a variety of fields. With the exception of a one-day trip to San Diego, there was little in the way of personal interaction.

It offended me.

I’d paid good money to figure out how to change my life and I continued to lumber along the same course with a restless spirit.

Same work.

Same results.

Same discontent.

Where was my miracle?

Slowly, I figured out the problem:  me.

His voice echoed through my brain with the resounding clarity of a church bell: “I can’t do your pushups for you.”

He would give me some tools. I would do the work.

The burden of discipline and strain is mine alone.

The rewards are, too.

I bring this up because I had another encounter with my loudest-complaining student last night.

I wholeheartedly confess the test I prepared was unfair. The questions were disconnected from the manner in which I have covered the material. As an instructor, I failed the class.

I admit that without reservation.

The same tired argument arose from the seat halfway back on my right.

“I do better when I can match up words with pictures.”

“Give us the answers to pick from instead.”

And finally, “It’s not that you can’t do it, it’s that you won’t.”

She’s right.

She’d rather have it her way instead of putting the work in to do it mine. She knows what is simplest for her and everything should accommodate that.

Life works in its own way.

Much of your results are determined by your willingness to adapt to situations. As the saying goes in boxing: “Everybody’s got a plan until they get hit.”

You can do two things when faced with a challenge:

Improve yourself or blame everyone else.

Which do you think gets you farthest?

The price of a victim’s mentality is the repetition of excruciating events over and over again, whether tortured by consuming addiction or an unrelenting professor. Sure, the circumstances may change, but the aftermath is the same:

You pointing one finger at the world and three back at yourself.

To change your end-products, adjust your attitude. Control the quality of your effort and take what comes to you. Whether you get what you want or not, refine your technique to be better next time.

I can only give you a shovel.

You must dig the well yourself or die of thirst.

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Running into God

I recently picked up a new book.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is novelist Haruki Marukami’s chronicle of a year spent examining the parallels and intersections of the two major disciplines of his life: running and writing.

As a deeply introspective person, I appreciate a window into a similar person’s mind.

Something about the rhythmic solitude of step after step points a telescope into the deep spaces of a person, promoting serious question-and-answer periods in the midst of rigorous physical demands.

In fact, I quit training for a marathon in the fall of 2005 because the long distances allowed my brain to ponder the unsavory experiences of a nasty breakup–cutting me to the bone again and again with every session on the road.

There’s something to be said, though, for the meditative nature of a run.

After reading ChiRunning by Danny Dreyer and Born To Run by Christopher McDougall, I’ve pushed myself out onto the pavement again. I’m rebuilding the daily habit of strapping on my Vibram FiveFingers KSO’s and–for the time being–working on refining my running style to be as efficient and effortless as possible.

Yesterday, I decided to take it slow.

Tuesday morning, I burst through the woods of a nearby park at a pretty good clip. I had a brief period to squeeze in a run before work and decided to increase my stride length to see if I could maintain the proper foot speed.

To put it plainly, it felt awesome. My legs seemed to be moving without much prompting from my head, sweeping me along faster than I’d anticipated.

However, since I had to get ready for work, I’d forgotten to budget a few minutes to stretch and I paid the price.

My tense calves groaned at me to go easy and cement my cadence further as I closed the front door behind me yesterday evening.

I focused intently on “one-two-one-two” very well for about 1.5 miles, aided by the metronome track I created using Audacity. I loped along unconcerned with speed, using short strides to perfect technique instead of racing the world.

After ten minutes, I shifted over to my “Rock Exercise” playlist.

My custom is to concentrate on keeping rhythm using my own tunes after a “mental warm-up.” I’ll run to music long before I’ll ever stride through a race with only a droning beep in my ears. And, regardless of the exercise, I always look for a thumping beat to energize me.

First up on the MP3 player was “The Little Things” by Danny Elfman, then eventually “Your Time Has Come” by Audioslave and “Elevation” by U2.

Inspiration struck.

I felt a pull to stretch my legs a bit and see how much ground I could cover as Bono blared in my ears.

I resisted at first.

I was intent on holding tempo and–being in the hilliest part of the park–concerned the terrain would upset my gentle “right-left-right-left” canter.

Then I felt an instinctive push to “Let it go.”

Thankfully, I trusted the impulse.

My body kicked into gear and just went. Whatever happened would happen and I was content knowing so. My mind became a jockey riding a thoroughbred body at full gallop.

My soul began to sing.

I hit a chorus and nearly screamed “El-ev-a-tion!” at the top of my lungs, barely holding back so as to avoid disturbing other visitors.

I cut through the park like a flash of lightning through a Spring sky.

Tight corners were negotiated easily. I waved cheerfully to every lifeform I sped past. I simultaneously smiled brightly as my eyes welled with tears.

I felt “one” again.

The first time, in December of 2006, I’d been overcome with emotion at St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. I walked through the doors and meandered around until my heart suddenly swelled up.

I had managed to wander into God’s presence.

In an instant, I became fully aware of a long-forgotten truth. Unlike any church before or since, I was fully “in His house,” no longer alone or hurting.

It shook me to the core.

I stepped outside and wept as I typed text messages to close friends and family about “the most beautiful building” I’d ever seen. As undeniable as the sun rising in the East, I reconnected ever briefly with what created me.

I can only describe it as a boundless and timeless ecstasy.

In all its power, it brings forth immediate and disembodied humility. You understand with utter certainty the complete failure of your frail little form in representing your immenseness.

I believe the French call this joie de vivre, the unending and uncontainable happiness of life. It is being–the thundering outflow of the eternal force of love and creation.

It’s an unforgettable spiritual homecoming.

And for a blissful minute or two yesterday afternoon, I was there again, playing like a child as I flew along the sidewalk.

I went out for a run and dissolved into the wind.

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Staring Death in the Face

I flipped through the email on my BlackBerry and saw my starting salary would be just over $32,000 per year.

That’s not a whole lot in the Midwestern city I’m from, let alone in a place 30 minutes north of San Francisco, where the rent is literally twice as high. To boot, it was less than half what my younger brother was earning from his job in Silicon Valley and he hadn’t gone to school for eight years or spent $200,000 getting his education.

I headed to my laptop to inform the apartment complex near my future employer that my income would not initially meet the standards they had for occupants and, as I wasn’t sure when my bonuses would kick in, I didn’t want to continue to hold an apartment.

I had to surrender a $300 deposit–money I couldn’t afford to waste–made when I interviewed, confident the promise of “grossing $10,000 per month” (a miscommunication on the owner’s part, to say the least) would be more than adequate.

The familiar jingle of an incoming call interrupted me.

My mother asked if I could come change her flat tire. Quite frankly, I needed a few minutes to cool down, but I told her I’d leave as soon as I finished the email I was typing.

I climbed into my Saturn Ion and got moving towards downtown, then began to feel something familiar. Once before in my life–shortly after leaving my bankruptcy attorney’s office three months before–I noticed a peculiar tingling in my cheeks. I can only describe it as seeming like oxygen wasn’t making it to the muscles any longer. My face tightened up and I couldn’t open my mouth very wide as the ache became more pronounced.

I breathed deeply as I drove, trying to brush aside the fear and convince myself I could handle this setback. I mentally stacked all the success literature I’d ever read into a tall, thick levy strong enough to contain the emotional flood. I let out a primal scream at the top of my lungs and pounded the steering wheel, thinking it would help.

For a few moments, it did.

Speeding along at 60 miles per hour, the tingle began to spread. I started feeling it in my legs, my arms, my abdomen and the rest of my face.  I screamed again, hoping to release the built-up steam from my internal tea kettle.

I got worse.

Millions of tiny snakes slithered beneath the skin of my torso.  My calves cramped up with a similar sensation, as did my forearms and hands.  Despite attempting to with all my might, I couldn’t extend my fingers.  My hands were curling in towards my body.  I cranked the air conditioner up and took deeper breaths.

No help.

I had to get off the highway. I’d become a danger to other motorists. I took the next exit and pulled into the first parking lot I could find and my education began running through my head.

The phrase “a feeling of impending doom” from a lecture on heart attacks sprung to mind. Coupled with the severe numbness and tingling on the verge of engulfing me from head to toe, the diagnosis might have been made. I was 28, though, and in pretty good physical condition. The chances were very slim.

Then I asked myself a stunning question:

“Am I going to die right here?”

In attempting to process the torrent of terrifying thoughts running through my mind (“How am I going to do this?  I can’t live on so little here, how can I do it there?  How did it come to this?  Will I ever achieve my dreams?  Was I foolish to believe I could?”), my brain couldn’t keep up. It grabbed any and all oxygen it could in order to survive the overload of emotional information, forsaking non-essential parts.

The problem was, I couldn’t get it to stop.

The calming thoughts I tried to shoehorn into my consciousness could not slow the raging river and I struggled to breathe in any sort of controlled manner. Everything was spinning and there was no end in sight.

My vision clouded as I convulsed against the spasm of my horror.

I made a snap decision to change my breathing, switching from in-the-nose-and-out-the-mouth to the simplest of breathing meditations. I used all I had to set aside everything going on and focus on the air passing back and forth through my nostrils. For several moments, I fought with myself until my mind finally cleared with a few simple words:  “You must be committed.”

Somehow, that thought—from a video I’d watched the night before—managed to shout loudest at the perfect time.

Finally, I was calm.

The storm clouds cleared over the next couple of minutes. I sat still a little while longer to settle down further before completing the drive to my mother’s office. I changed her tire with a few residual symptoms, wobbling a few times as I stood, yet remarkably normal. I drove away bewildered by how eerily easygoing I felt after believing I might die a short fifteen minutes before.

Staring at death, I had managed to choose life.

This is the first of a two-part series concluded in Looking at Life from the Threshold of Death.

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Working to Build Your Fire

I wonder if I’ve ever worked hard.

I’ve put considerable energy into certain things, for sure. My body has ached after a day bursting at the seams with deadlines. Once, I was on the clock for almost 27 straight hours with only 45 minutes of rest the entire time.

What fits the description?

Is there an answer? How can one measure the toughness of a task objectively?

I’ve gained a new perspective recently, which has raised the questions.

The conclusion I’ve come to? I didn’t know how much work it took to succeed at anything.

I thought I had a clue.

I chose to look over my entire life, sorting the whole of my 30 years into “requires a shift” and “serves me going forward.” Over the course of several days–or weeks, at the most, I figured–I would have peeled back the layers of the onion, discovered problems and made repairs. I’d then move on quickly to a life of greater contentment, or so I thought.

I underestimated what it would take to strip my mind to its foundation.

To really delve into the buried past, it takes a tremendous amount of persistence. From the very start, I encountered stubborn resistance from a bull-headed jackass: myself. In the beginning, I was unable and unwilling to face dive into the cave of my own past. Even scratching the surface took quite a bit of focus.

It took me a while to realize this is natural.

Changing infuriates a brain that reveres predictability and order. Even with my unquenchable thirst for knowledge and understanding, I initially refused to drink from the well containing the patterns of my own behavior.

My first looks were superficial, but I kept at it.

I poked and prodded, dug and discarded. I pushed on into the darkness, despite the weary cries for rest or retreat.

I found things out.

It’s the most challenging and rewarding thing I’ve done. Stepping inside myself and looking at everything I’ve ever done allowed me to realize something:

I believed succeeding was merely the result of talent fused with intelligence.

I’d been able to get by with minimal effort in many areas because of the blessing between my ears. My photographic brain required fewer hours of studying to pass tests than most, how could life be any different?

I was misguided.

I was certain I was doing enough…and I failed.

Why?

I have all the ability in the world and can be great at anything…but I drifted off course.

Why?

It is about work ethic?

No, I’m willing to push myself to the limit.

What is worth busting my ass for?

Finally, I’d asked the right question. I discovered I lacked true motivation. There was “one thing” for me to do and I had yet to locate it. (To be honest, I’m still figuring out what “it” is.)

Awaiting fuel for my fire, I stalled. I’d searched this way and that, finding only a few twigs and small branches for three decades. I had picked up very little to keep the flame burning, which meant I had to seek out more and more all the time.

What would make it blossom and last? Where could I find logs of bright-burning wood?

Every day, I pick and blast deeper, looking for the entire purpose to dedicate my life’s effort to.

I’m growing into it…

…but it’s working.

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289 Words To Start

363 Words To Finish

You give everything weight. Every experience, every possession, every relationship has a certain mass in your life, ultimately chosen by you. Each piece of material, whether physical or psychological, is given a value based on significance and emotional impact. The birth of your children and your first kiss tip the scales more than some order you placed at Starbucks or being cut off on the highway, yet all of them have a designated place and load.

Day by day, mostly without making a conscious decision, you accumulate this stuff.

Very slowly, I began asking myself questions. It is unlikely any of us will ever fully discard our past, barring severe retrograde amnesia, and it’s debatable how beneficial it could be (regardless of how appealing the thought). Without my past, I’d be unable to look back over the peaks and valleys of my life to see how far I’d come.

Realizing I would always carry these things, I decided to make them lose weight.

I wrote letters. Ex-girlfriends, ex-bosses, any situation which I gave undue negative emotional importance got a note of some kind. I explained how I felt and why, then acknowledged my responsibility (no matter how little) in allowing these things to affect me and expressed forgiveness as I released these “excess pounds.”

It was liberating to finally unpin and throw the grenades bouncing around my head and let the explosions create acceptance of unchangeable past…and shape the foundation for glorious future.

Standing quietly in the photo gallery of my mind, I looked around the room for connections between the images and the present day. This is where the inquisition gained momentum. “How does this snapshot relate to that older one?” Each “breakthrough” was, in actuality, the next nesting doll which had to be opened to reveal an event further back.

This process of “personal archaeology”* was necessary to determine how I got where I am and what’s useful for the future. “Temet nosce,” as the Oracle says. By figuring out which experiences unconsciously shaped my values, I am exchanging noxious for valuable and buttressing the helpful.

This is a solid base for growth…and the point from where MeBuilding will move forward.

Uncovering The Foundation

*Copyright 2010. (I’m half joking. I like the phrase a lot.)
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470 Words To Continue

You must understand your life will have eras of ascension and decline, punctuated my “high” and “low” experiences. Some say they’re ordered like seasons. It’s important to figure out what creates those cycles, both internally and externally.

Sometimes you need help.

I decided to avail myself of John Assaraf’s Having It All Challenge a few weeks after the breakup. I had grand ideas of what it would bring me: more income, a better outlook and the accountability to achieve the myriad dreams that stream through my head. I ventured into the six-month process with little in the way of defined targets for any of these fantastic goals, save one. I remember distinctly telling myself I would be satisfied if I could feel better connected to God.

I’ve been a person of faith all my life, though my family went through fits and starts when it came to regular attendance on Sundays. God has been a part of my belief system as I’ve grown up, though I will admit to asking a lot of questions. I have traced a winding, inquisitive path marked by what I perceived as a lack of faith when it comes to building a relationship with the Creator. I realize now it was simply a lack of understanding.

In that way, I consider the Challenge a raging success.

Throughout the program, participants are bombarded with content on all fronts. There’s much to do and learn. Shifting a mindset developed over years–or decades–takes a lot of time and effort, more than I conceived of at first. The toughest lesson to grasp, one which I feel I’ve only come to really comprehend in the last few weeks, is sometimes you must go back to move forward.

Bursting at the seams with confidence and hope in May, I hit July with less energy than a cyclist pedaling past the halfway point in a Tour de France mountain stage. Churning with all my might, I seemed to be hovering in one place–unhappy with a job rumors surfaced I’d be fired from, feeling my mind partially disconnected from my body and wholly frustrated. What the hell was wrong?

Mercifully, something clicked.

I was on a weekly conference call, trying desperately to listen to something I knew was important. My mind was elsewhere, remembering a conversation I’d had earlier in the day with a coworker about “the one that got away.” (Or, to say it the way I’d acted for seven years, “The one I kick the shit out of myself for screwing up with.”) As the gentleman being interviewed, Jeff Gignac, went on discussing the importance of choosing our words and realizing the impact of the stories we tell ourselves–something I firmly believe in–I finally asked myself the right question…

“Why are you still carrying this stuff?”

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289 Words To Start

This is not the beginning, it’s where I’ve chosen for you to start. It is not the root of the tree, but the fork, where my life diverged from the path I had selected to that point. In time, you will learn of “before,” so that you can understand “during” and “after.”

You can remember some things perfectly clearly. The tone of voice is absolutely pristine, saying more than the words themselves. During the moment, learning you’re breaking up with someone is tough enough. You think of the time you spent together, instances you could have seen it coming–or trusted your instincts to get out–and how a foreseeable future with someone you really cared about vanished into thin air.

You are faced with a difficult change. You know something just isn’t right. You decide to look within and grow.

I have been on a long path of self-examination for nearly three years now, beginning when I opened my mind to meditation after reading No Time To Lose by Pema Chodron just weeks before I closed my business with bankruptcy looming. Closing my eyes and focusing on my breath as it passed through my nostrils was the only way I could calm my brain enough to sleep. (In retrospect, it helped me handle the destruction of all I’d worked for with calm “professionalism,” as an acquaintance wrote.)

When that breakup occurred, I chose to push further. I decided to search for the answers to my questions, seek the truth about myself and move forward. What I thought required a few tweaks instead generated a true me, built from the ground up.

Just how far down does the rabbit hole go? MeBuilding tells you what I’ve found and how.

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