Wednesday, May 30, 2012


For many of us, frustration is a part of our daily lives. We become frustrated when things don't work well, when people don't do what we expect or even for no apparent reason. Frustration will often pop in to our day without warning, but once it hits, we are no longer able to do our best work.

Frustration saps our creativity and our drive to produce. For many, once frustration sets in, we become more and more frustrated. It shows up and we become surly and have a really hard time breaking out of the funk. Once we are in the funk, it becomes nearly impossible to do the work needing to be done until we can get our minds back on track. Frustration only leads to more frustration until we force ourselves to step back, take some deep breathes and relax. 

The problem is most of us become easily frustrated over stupid things and aren't able to easily to get out of the funk. Society has taught us to keep pushing forward, but sometimes the frustration is your body and mind telling you to take a break. We have to step away and break the hold the frustration has on us. This isn't always easy at work because many of our jobs are stuck in the factory mindset. We show up at a certain time, have prescheduled breaks and have to be doing work, come hell or high water, during the scheduled times. Because we aren't able to step away when we need to, instead of learning to eliminate frustration when it hits, we learn to keep doing things when our mind and body scream to stop.

This isn't always a bad thing, but until we learn to eliminate the frustrations as they hit, we are never going to be able to produce our best work. The mindset we have on the job often bleeds into the time we spend outside of work. We become accustomed to being frustrated and we see it around us all the time. The angry people in the store or road rage or neighbors yelling at each other. We feel it too, when the TV goes out during a show or the dogs aren't listening or people are being "stupid" or someone doesn't understand what we need.

We have to get better at listening to what our mind and body are telling us. Frustration shouldn't control who we are and what we do. It's difficult to remind yourself to take a step back once frustration hits, but this is the best thing you can do. Going through life angry and frustrated isn't good for you or anyone around you. The best thing we can do is learn to see the frustration and then learn to relax once it takes hold. Your going to feel better and the work you produce is going to much better. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Lessons from Joplin

One year ago, I was preparing everything to head to Joplin. While I thought I was preparing well, nothing could really prepare a person for the devastation, the heartbreak, the resiliency and the outpouring of support following the tornado.

When I returned, I wrote the following post on a work blog:

Joplin Tornado

The sign outside the Joplin Humane Society
It’s taken me a little while to sit and write this as I needed to get some rest and wanted to think about the experience before putting it on paper. I spent eight days (the Tuesday after the tornado through the following Tuesday night) working in Joplin at the temporary emergency shelter run by the ASPCA with help from HSUS and AHA.

The week was exhausting---physically, mentally and emotionally, but also exhilarating and meaningful. Most days, I worked with a group of amazing volunteers doing the intakes and RTO’s (return to owners). There were lots of tears from people who had lost everything and found their animals to people who had lost everything and hadn’t found their animals to people who lost everything and had to bring their animals in to the shelter for boarding. There were also the tears from volunteers while working with all of the above people. 
Two of the warehouses used for shelter. The third one (for cats) was just past these two.
During the eight days, we took in over 800 animals (dogs, cats, chickens, birds, snakes, ferrets, turtles) and over 200 animals were claimed by their human companions. Hundreds (if not thousands) of volunteers from all over the country spent time helping these animals. Many of these volunteers were driving over an hour each way to stay at a motel or were sleeping on cots at the Joplin Humane Society. These volunteers were happy to work long hours in hot and humid conditions to make sure the animals were shown the love they deserve.

Everyone who volunteered has an animal (or animals) they can tell you about; ones who touched their heart and soul. For me, he was a little dog who came in during the middle of the night. I won’t get in to the whole story here, but needless to say, he caused me a severe lack of sleep (due to getting up multiple times throughout the night), but in hindsight, the only thing I would have done differently is spend more time with him during that night.

One of the shelters...this one is for stray dogs.
We all worked long, hard days while we were volunteering, but no one seemed to think twice about doing it. The weather never really wanted to cooperate--cold and rainy one day followed by hot and humid the next. There were hiccups along the way and things that probably could have run a bit more smoothly, but this was a disaster situation and things had to come together as quickly as possible. Many of the staff from the ASPCA came in from other disasters, the tornadoes down South and the floods in the boot heel of Missouri. I met tons of amazing people (I consider many of them close friends) and helped take care of people’s cherished animal companions, for some, this companion is all they have left. I laughed and cried and worked my butt off, but I have an experience I will not soon forget. 
The intake area of the shelter.
A woman I worked with in the shelter, who has responded to many disasters and who has become a dear friend said it best: "I walk away in awe of the strength of the people of Joplin, the size of their hearts and their love for their animals. An amazing community. We are always touched by the animals, but to be brought to tears over and over again by the people of Joplin was a powerful lesson in humanity." 
A map of the actual area struck by the tornado.

This post captures some feelings I had when I came back, but doesn't really scratch the surface when it comes to the impact this event had on all of us. The outpouring of support from around the world was awe-inspiring. I volunteered with people from across the nation and I guarantee, each and every one of us has a memory from our time in Joplin that constantly pops in our head. We worked long, hard hours, but everywhere we looked reminded us of why we were doing what we did.

It's hard to believe it has only been a year since this tragedy. When I returned to Kansas City after my eight days, I was emotionally exhausted and drained. It took me a couple of weeks to return to my normal self, but I don't think I ever returned to being the person I was before I left. This experience changed me and continues to remind me of the importance in each and every day. We are still going to have our ups and downs and we are still going to laugh and cry, but, for many of us who were there, we remember to hug our loved ones a little more and try to not let the little things get us down.

If I could only take away one thing from this experience, it's remembering how precious life is and how quickly it can change. None of us know how we are going to react in such devastating circumstances, but if we can live our life with passion and vigor, we can take anything that happens. We never know what is going to happen and I, for one, don't want to leave any cards facedown on the table when the game is over. 

I was only there for eight days and I didn't have to go through what the people of Joplin did. I only came down to help out with what I could and never imagined how much the people and animals of Joplin would touch my heart. I think about them all the time and know, after meeting so many residents, that Joplin is stronger after what happened. There is still a huge scar across the city, but it is healing and the people I met will never let this scar take away their spirit. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

What If?

What if? I constantly catch myself thinking these two words. What if I had finished law school? What if I had a different job? What if I had more money? What if I lived somewhere else? What if I had done things differently in college? What if I had stuck with a past job? What if I hadn't bought this house? What if I had been offered the job in St. Thomas? What if I did more? What if, what if, what if? All of our "what if" questions fall in to two categories, things we can change and those we can not.

If you are thinking about the past and wondering what if, stop. You can't change the past and there is no reason to think about it. The decisions you made have led you to this point in life. As with everyone, there is good and there is bad. You will never know what would have happened if you took another path, so thinking about it is of little use. Yes, things might be better or they might be worse. You could have more money, but you would have missed out on meeting the people and doing the things you did on this path.

You may think life would have been better, but you just don't know. Any other path is no longer there. Yes, you can go back and do things you didn't do, but this would only start a new path, not pick up from where you left off. You may argue these are only daydreams and they don't matter, but many look back on these decisions with regret. The thoughts bring us down and keep us from focusing on the things we can still change. Think about all the good things that have happened since then and remember these wouldn't have happened in the same way on a different path.

The questions about things we can change are different. These can be good and they can lead us towards new dreams and goals. What if you had a different job? Would you be happier? Would you feel more fulfilled? What would you want to do? These questions can help lead us to make life-changing decisions and the answers can drastically change our path in life. These are the questions we should be asking ourselves every day. These are the important questions.

Too many of us spend all of our time thinking about what would have happened in the past and ignore the questions about the present. We think our life would have been better if (insert whatever your if is) and blame what we have now on that if. Instead of thinking about the better job if law school had been finished, focus on finding the job you want. If that means going back and finishing that degree, then do it. If that means taking a chance on something else, then do it. Too much of our time is spent thinking about what we have no control over instead of taking control and doing what needs to be done. We wish we had something different, but instead of actually doing something about it, we blame the decisions in the past. We take the easy way out, throw up our hands and say we have no control over it.

Stop doing this. If you wonder, wonder about something you have control over. Try something new. Find a new job. Sell the house and move to another state. Travel. Take a chance. Do what moves you. Find what you want and grab hold. Stop letting decisions you made in the past haunt you today. When you catch yourself thinking "what if", make damn sure you are wondering about something you can change. If you want to, change it. We have a finite amount of time to do everything we want to do, don't let anything stand in your way.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Difficult Conversations

In this age of technological innovation, I think most of us have forgotten how to and fear having difficult conversations. We can see this in our professional and personal lives. We resort to text messages and e-mails when we should be having face to face or phone conversations. We find it easier to get everything down in writing because an actual conversation is much harder to do when emotions are involved. This is a prime example of doing something because it is easier, not because it is better.

For many of us, when we think about having a difficult conversation, our stomach drops and our imagination runs wild. We picture the worst happening during the conversation and our fear holds us back from doing what is right. Instead of talking to the person responsible, we may shoot off an e-mail or bitch and moan to a friend or co-worker about what we think is right and what the other person did that is wrong. We don't have the entire story because we are too afraid to discuss it with the other person (or people) involved.

This is a terrible way to treat any relationship. We let things fester and continue to bother us to the point where we can't control our emotions about the situation. We convince ourselves that we are right and work to get other people to think we are too. In most cases, we could have solved the issue with the person involved, but instead have built up so much emotional baggage we can no longer see any other side to the story besides our own. This can cause schisms in teams and will ruin relationships.

A difficult conversation will involve emotions, but the only way to effectively have them is by keeping these emotions in check. We can talk about how something made us feel, but we need to do this from neutral footing. Going on the attack is not helpful and will only make the other person become defensive and more entrenched in their view. Most of the time, there really isn't a "right" or "wrong" solution...there are many shades of gray. We may not have liked what happened, but not liking something doesn't automatically make it wrong.

In any situation we find upsetting, we always assume the other person had the same information we did and chose a different path. While this may be true, often it is not. We owe it to the other person to find out why they did what they did before we jump to judgment. By having a conversation instead of firing off an e-mail, we can get the whole story before making a decision. Being constantly frustrated by others is no way to go through life. Just dealing with it is also no way to go through life. If we constantly ignore the issues instead of speaking to people about them, we allow the frustration to build up until we burst. Yes, many times we need to deal with the fallout from the things that happened, but before becoming frustrated, we owe it to ourselves and other people to get all the facts.

We can't do this via e-mail, at least not easily. Pick up the phone, schedule a meeting, do anything to have the difficult conversation. It won't be easy, but once you start having these conversations instead of letting technology muddle the issue, you will find it becomes easier and easier to have them. Don't let your imagination run rampant and stop feeling as if people are doing things just to spite you. By giving the other person a chance, both can walk away from the conversation with a different perspective and usually a better understanding. It won't always work, but by having the conversation, you have done the best you can do.

As I have found through most of my life, the easiest way to do something is rarely the best.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Be True To Yourself

I have spent most of my life walking along a knife edge, not quite happy, but not quite unhappy. Like most everyone else, I have had my happy times and I have had my sad times. The rest of the time, I was in a stage of discontent, not ever sure of what I was doing or why I was doing it. This discontent stemmed from living my life in ways I thought would please other people instead of living the life I know I should.

As far back as I can remember, I would make decisions I thought other people would want me to make instead of really thinking about what I wanted. I was trying to be a peacekeeper, but often, what I thought other people wanted wasn't actually what they wanted. By trying to please other people, not only was I not pleasing myself, but I wasn't actually pleasing other people, either. I was leading a life of discontent because I forgot (or hadn't learned) the importance of being true to myself and leading the life I needed to live.

You will always have people around you, some trusted and some not, who think they know how you should lead your life. They will tell you the things you need to do to be happy. They will tell you how to be a better spouse or friend or employee or manager or leader or writer or artist or entrepreneur or any other type of person you want to be. They have their opinions and they will be forthcoming with them. Even if they are someone you value or someone who seems to have it all together, you don't always have to take their advice.

This doesn't mean you should ignore everyone. This is your life, so you need to live it in a way that makes you happy. We are all very different people with very different motivations and goals and dreams and beliefs and thoughts. One person's road to happiness will be a road to despair for someone else. Some people can give up family time in a quest for their career goals, but others will be better off giving up the career for the family. Some people will do what they love on the side and others will quit everything in a quest to match their love with money. Some people will plant roots and stay in one place, others will become nomads and move from place to place searching for something, even if they aren't sure what that something is. Some people will have careers and others will have a series of jobs and others will do their own thing.

The people around you aren't vindictive or trying to force you off path (in most cases); they have honest intentions and think what works for them will work for you. They don't understand why you don't want to do the things they want to do, but that's okay. Many of these people believe they have your best interests at heart, but they just don't understand how different the two of you are. They are living the life they want (or the life they believe they want) and think you should be living the same type of life.  

You have to be true to the voice inside you, not the one that tries to keep you from doing things that scare you, but the much quieter one who whispers encouragement and keeps pushing you forward. Deep down, we all know what we want to do, most of us just let the voice of fear silence it. The first step towards truly living is to live your life, not the life other people want to live. Listen to the really quiet voice and figure out what is going to make you feel alive. Then go do it. Keep listening to this voice and be true to yourself. For the people who matter in your life, this is what will really make them happy.

Monday, May 14, 2012

A New Day

This morning dawns a new day. What happened yesterday can not be changed and what comes tomorrow can not be known. Today is the only day you have to leave your mark on this world. Today is the only day you have to do what you need to do. Today is the only day that matters.

We spend so much time running around planning for tomorrow or dwelling on yesterday that we never really enjoy today or utilize it to our advantage. To a person, we need to slow down and enjoy the times we have. We can't change the past and we have little control over the future. The only thing we can control is what we do right now, with the time we have.

I am as guilty as anyone with this. My mind constantly reminds me of the stupid things I have done in the past (and there are a lot of them). I constantly think about the future and what I am going to be doing next week and next month and next year. I spend so much time thinking about these two things, I often miss out on the wonderful opportunities right now. I rush through my day and spend too little time taking in and enjoying the moment.

We are surrounded by beautiful settings and amazing people, if we just take a second to look. Breathe it in and enjoy this moment. Slow down and take things as they come. Stop worrying about the past and the future and allow yourself to be in the present. Continue to dream, but don't fret over what you need to do tomorrow...embrace what you can do today.

Each life is made up of a series of moments. These moments matter. We don't know which moment is going to be pivotal and we should treat every moment as if it could be. We can't connect the dots of our life looking forward...the path we take only becomes visible as we look back. A chance encounter or a missed connection or a dreaded meeting could very well lead to a new direction in life. Don't walk by the door of opportunity because you are worried about the past or fantasizing about the future.

Each morning dawns a new day and a new chance. Today is the most important day of your life. What are you going to do with it?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Adapt to the Situation

Early this morning, I was driving to work to turn off the fire alarm caused by a faulty smoke detector and I was frustrated. At first, I thought I was frustrated with the alarm or the faulty detector or the fact that I was going to work at 3:00am instead of in bed sleeping, but after some thought, I realized I was frustrated because my routine was thrown into disarray.

As I have written before, I am a huge proponent of routines. I believe they help to get more done, be more creative and just make life a little easier to live. A good routine helps us to do more of the things we often put off. The more we get up to exercise in the morning, the easier it becomes. A routine is a little added motivation to help accomplish what we want to accomplish.

I have to get better at not feeling frustration when my routine is knocked around. Things are always going to happen. It may be a fire alarm in the middle of the night or a flat tire or anything else that can come up and change the direction of my day. Getting frustrated when this happens does no good and won’t change things. I must get better at allowing these swerves to happen without being affected.

Allowing ourselves to roll with the punches will open us up to more experiences and ideas. When we aren’t in our routine and okay with whatever happens, we never know what opportunities will cross our paths. While a routine may help us to get things accomplished, sometimes stepping out of the routine will lead us in a new and exciting direction we never saw coming Other times, it will just be a trip to work for a couple of hours, a little less sleep, a later than usual Friday blog and a change in routine. It’s not always going to be easy or fun, but getting frustrated isn’t going to change anything. When we are open to and accepting of the changes, how much more can we learn, enjoy or do?

What opportunities will we miss if we are blinded by frustration?

"You can avoid having ulcers by adapting to the situation: If you fall in the mud puddle, check your pockets for fish."  

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

I Quit

Dear World-

This has been a long time coming, but today, I quit.

Today, I quit taking things so seriously. Many of the things that frustrate me don't matter. I realize this and I still let them frustrate me. Does it really matter if a car cuts me off or someone gets angry or an employee causes problems or something goes wrong or I make a mistake or the food doesn't turn out right or something doesn't work the way I think it should or someone makes a snide comment or any of the millions of other things I let frustrate me? No. So, starting today, I am not going to let you bother me. Life is meant to be spent laughing and being happy and not taking things so damn seriously all the time.

Today, I quit caring what other people think. If I am living my life in the way I see fit, does it really matter what other people think? I am not going to worry what people think about my writing or my tone or what I wear or how I look or what I eat or who I am. I am going to be true to me and live my life in the best way possible. If you don't like anything I am doing, feel free to tell me, but don't get upset when I ignore you. I'm not going to stop listening to the comments and critiques, but I am going to stop worrying about receiving them.

Today, I quit allowing self-doubt to creep in. This is much deeper and much worse than caring what other people think. I am no longer going to listen to the little voice inside my head who says I am not good enough to do something or I shouldn't try something because I could fail or who questions every decision as if it is life or death or who convinces me to procrastinate or who convinces me to fear change. I am going to stop listening to the voice and celebrate the things I am good at and work on the things I am not. If this means I come across as being arrogant sometimes, then so be it (see the paragraph on not caring what other people think).

Today, I quit fearing failure. Why do I fear failure so much? Even the word has a negative connotation, but the truth is, I am going to fail more than I am going to succeed, if I am pushing forward hard enough. Everyone fails at some point in time, but if I take it as a learning experience and not negative, then it becomes a knowledge builder. Building knowledge is a good thing and not something to be feared. I am not going to get it right every time, but if I learn from the mistakes and failures, then I can continue on doing better the next time. As the old saying goes, it doesn't matter how many times you get knocked down, but how many times you get up.

Today, I quit living based on how other people think I should live. I must embrace who I am and live the life I want. I have control over my life. If I decide to quit my job and pay the bills doing something different (like writing), then that's what I will do. If I decide to embrace Minimalism, yet still have a large television, then so be it. If I decide I no longer want the house and the yard and the car and everything I currently have, then I will get rid of them. The only person who can decide how I live my life is me (and Leila gets input since it is her life, too). I don't need to embrace the American Dream or any other dream I don't think applies to me. I can choose to live the life I want to live.

Today, I quit putting things off. There are a lot of items on my to-do list that keep getting pushed to the back burner and I am tired of it. I want to do a lot and I have to start now. No longer will I allow the excuses of not having enough time or not having enough money stop me from doing what I want to do. If I need more time, then I will find more time. If I need more money, then I will make more money. I don't want to lose the chance to do some amazing things in my life and create the memories I will look back at when I am on my death bed. Today, I will start working on the items I need to accomplish to make my life the life I want.

Today, I quit. Won't you join me?

Monday, May 7, 2012

What's Really Stopping You?

If you could spend the rest of your life doing anything, what would it be? For most people, this can be a very difficult question because it opens up a new realm of possibility, if they think about it honestly. Another way to ask the same question, when you daydream, where to you see yourself going and what do you see yourself doing?

What's stopping you? Is it money? Your family? Don't know where to start? Think it is impossible? Afraid to lose family and friends over a "crazy" idea? Worried about what happens if it doesn't work out? Think doing these things are for younger people or older people or single people or couples without kids or people who don't own a house or any other type of person who isn't you? Have too many responsibilities?

Well, I am going to call bullshit on all of the above and any other excuse you can come up with. There are only two things stopping you from doing what you want: fear and laziness. We are really good at self-sabotage. For many of us, we would quit our job and do something we love once we have enough money saved up, but we don't focus on saving. We think we need more experience or a degree to do what we want, but we don't try to find experience or sign up for classes. We don't know where to start, but we don't do any research to figure it out. We convince ourselves our dreams are impossible because we are too scared to actually chase them. What if we fail? What if things go wrong?

What if they don't? As I get older, I am starting to realize I would much rather chase my dreams and not quite reach them than think they are impossible and not do anything. I have used all of the excuses in paragraph two and while they may make "logical" sense in my head, they are really bullshit. Chasing your dreams and plotting your own course is odd and a little too rare. People might think you are crazy and they might worry a lot about you. And? Do you really want to live your life in such a way that no one ever worries about you?

These excuses work for the little dreams, too. Things you say you want to do and still haven't. Do you want to travel the world? Eliminate the bullshit excuses and what's really stopping you? Do you want to write a novel? Eliminate the bullshit excuses and what's really stopping you? Do you want to move to another state or another country? Eliminate the bullshit excuses and what's really stopping you? Do you want to run a marathon, climb a mountain, hike the Appalachian Trail, bike across America, learn to surf, sail around the world, skydive, start a band or any other "crazy" idea? Eliminate the bullshit excuses and what's really stopping you?

I honestly believe we can do anything we want to do. We have to eliminate the bullshit excuses, stop allowing fear to run our life, stop being so damn lazy and figure out where to start. There are people out there who live their life by their own rules and I am sure they would be more than happy to help out. I wish I could say I am living a life like this, but I am on this journey with you. We're not getting any younger. I say we start calling each other on the bullshit excuses and start living the life we really want to live.

Friday, May 4, 2012


Things don't always happen the way we want them to. We don't always get the results we are shooting for. There are going to be ups and downs in all of our lives. We'll have arguments; we'll make choices; we'll do the unthinkable; we'll fall down; we'll get up; we'll make some great choices; we'll do something really stupid; we'll win; we'll lose. Such is life.

What we do in our life is important, but how we live is even more important. We can do everything in our power to stay away from failure and mistakes and hurt. Or, we can attack life with a reckless abandon, chasing our dreams and not letting anything stop us. Yes, we will miss some things and we will fail and we will get hurt and we will make mistakes, but if we continue to get up every time we fall and keep pushing forward, nothing will be able to stop us.

I understand the thought and reasoning behind being careful and trying to insulate ourselves from hurting deeply. I spent way too many years of this life hiding from pain and doing anything I could think of to stay as far away from failure. The only thing I accomplished was numbing everything in life and filling it with regrets. I took no chances and did little to excel. I focused on the things I missed and didn't notice the things I gained. Did I really gain them, if I never noticed them?

How we live our life is tied directly to our outlook on life. If you look around you, the people who are truly happy are also the ones who embrace life and take chances and do the impossible. They feel life, both the good and the bad, but they don't dwell on the bad. They don't spend time regretting the things they have done. They keep moving forward and anticipate the great things to come. These people are no different than you or me. The only difference is our focus.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Good Enough

How did we get so good at doing just enough work to get by? I see this form of self-sabotage all the time and often notice it in myself. We aren't pushing forward as hard as we can. We aren't changing things to make them better. We aren't holding other people accountable when they refuse to do the best work possible. Mediocrity is becoming the norm in every industry.

"Good enough" needs to be eliminated from our lexicon. This doesn't mean we have to strive for perfection in everything we do, but we should constantly search to improve what we offer. "Good enough" eliminates the need for new ideas and new ways to offer services. As we have embraced this idea of things being "good enough", we have seen the quality services and products offered decline. The exceptions to this are the outliers, the companies and people who realize "good enough" really isn't.

Making changes, pushing the envelope, striving for greatness...these are the ideas pushing innovation and allowing some people and companies to stand above the rest. When you receive exceptional service or find a breathtaking product, "good enough" never entered the minds of those offering the service or designing and building the product. They realized consumers will pay for the exceptional. In fact, even if we don't know it, we crave the exceptional. In the days of big box stores and large quantities of cheap crap proliferating homes, this may be hard to believe, but we do crave the exceptional.

Striving for the exceptional does not mean you have wait to offer your services or products until you know you have something exceptional. Stick you neck out there and see what happens. Learn from others. Figure out what works and what doesn't. If something doesn't work, change it. If something does work, see if there are ways to make it work better. Don't dwell on mistakes or causes of problems, learn quickly, think on your feet and improve things. You are never going to be perfect, but I am sure you can offer something better than what is out there now.

Do you really want to be known as "good enough"?