Monthly Archives: December 2015

When you realize you may be lying to yourself

In the last few years, I’ve been thinking about the possibility of moving back to my home (or close to it) in southeast Kansas/southwest Missouri. Every time I go home, there’s this strange siren song that calls to me: “Come back! You can make a difference here! You can share your vision to help rebuild and people will follow you! Come back, Eric! Come back!”

The thing is, we live far away from most of our family. Sometimes I think I’m doing my children a disservice by being so far away from our relatives. The kids are always talking about going for a visit, but it’s such a huge undertaking to get a family of five out the front door — let alone packed for an extended visit — that it doesn’t happen nearly as much as I’d like. When I was growing up, I was no more than 60 minutes (give or take) away from my furthest grandparents. I got to know my maternal and paternal grandparents very well. As an adult, our family is spread all over the state of Kansas. Currently, it is impossible to think my children will have the same type of relationship with their grandparents (and other family members) as I did with mine, and I find that unsettling.

My 20-year high school class reunion was last year. I took my family and we had a good time. At some point, the conversation turned to how the area really wasn’t like it was when we were growing up. It’s not just the fog of nostalgia; long-term data shows the area I grew up in is one of the poorest in the state. The county I grew up in often lands on the top five of least healthy counties in Kansas. Jobs are scare, cities are dying, and to really put the icing on the cake: the Walmart in my hometown closed this year. When even Walmart can’t do business there anymore, then you know things are bad.

Or as one of my former classmates who lives in nearby Kansas City said, “I’d love to move back here, but I like making money, too.”

trampolineTo put things in context, outside the True Value hardware store in the city of my birth (the hospital there closed decades ago), hangs a trampoline. Rather, it’s half of a trampoline weathered from years of exposure to the elements.

There was a time when it had a sign on it with a price. I presumed they didn’t want to take the whole thing down because it was at least showing they had the item in stock if someone wanted one in a box (you definitely didn’t want the “floor model”). During one visit, my wife and I were discussing the trampoline, and she said it had been in that condition for at least the entirety of our marriage — to date, 12 years. She even believes it looked like this when we were dating.

That stupid trampoline reminds me every time I come home of the siren’s call. I could show these people how to regain a sense of pride in their hometown. “I could bring my plan (yes, I have a detailed plan in my headabout how to fix a broken small town and restore it to some sort of greatness. I could people find the dignity they lost in a world that has forgotten them.”

I can hear my speech in my head: “True Value, tear down this trampoline!”

For years, I’ve had job search websites looking for openings around the Joplin, Mo., area with the thought that I would pack up the family and move back home. Those searches have mostly come back empty, a testament to how few jobs in the tech industry there are down there (at least any that I would be competent at). For a time, I thought that I would try another approach: I would get a job somewhere that would allow me to work remotely, and then make the move. But I found problems with that plan. “If that job didn’t work out, could I find another remote job? What if I couldn’t find another remote job in a reasonable timeframe? With not many tech jobs in that area, what would I have to do in order to make a living?”

And yet, it was a recent conversation that made me realize a hard truth: perhaps I had been lying to myself. I was talking about most of everything said in this post to a friend. The reply? “If you really wanted to move back home you would have found a way to do it by now.”

Wow. Smack me upside the head with a shovel.

I have been thinking about this a lot, and I still haven’t came to any conclusions. But the question is starting to eat at me: Have I been lying to myself?

I’m reaching a point in my life where I want to make some long-term plans for my future. I have dreams and ambitions and goals, or so I think I do. Maybe my ideas aren’t really legitimate. Maybe what I think are dreams, are instead me pining for a past that is long gone causing delusional visions of what could be.

Maybe it’s time to really re-examine a few things. This would be the week to do it. Soon we’ll pack up the kids and a minivan full of clothes for a visit to home once again during the holiday break. We’ll eat too much food. We’ll spend time with some of our extended family. I’ll even go to yet another funeral for the dad of a friend from the area (this will be the second “funeral for the dad of a friend from back home” this year). After it’s all over, I’ll think about all these things yet again during the three hour drive to where I live now.

And I would bet a crisp Benjamin that stupid trampoline will be waiting for me when I get there.

In review: 2015

You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength. – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Another year, another annual “year in review.” Oh boy, where to start? How about all the things I didn’t get accomplished?

Setbacks

  • Total health reset – Nope. I got back into the gym for three months, but that was about it.
  • More minimalism – Nope. Things seem more out of control than before I started this journey. Every bit of progress made, was met with two steps back. I’d clean out the garage, and the kids would find a way to trash it. I’d pack away bins of toys, and the kids would drag them out after they found them. I’m really at my wit’s end with the lack of progress on the minimalism front at the house.
  • Write more – This is my fourth post of the year for this site, so no.
  • Start a podcast Sigh. No.

Accomplishments

  • House projects – I worked my tail off on the house this summer. I got a great farmer’s tan as well. I painted about 75 percent of the exterior, got sod for the backyard lawn, fixed some damaged boards on the front of the house, and replaced a broken front porch post. I was really happy with what I got done on the house and look forward to wrapping it all up in the coming months (after it warms up a little).
  • Changed jobs – More on that further below.

Goals

Looking ahead at 2016 … You know what, let’s talk about goals for a minute.

I have learned that the reason why I don’t accomplish my goals, in part, is because they’re not really goals. A goal has a fixed moment in time you want to achieve something by, and I haven’t been doing that. These year-end reviews have mostly been good ideas instead of hard goals.

  • Finish my house projects – I will finish my house projects by May 1, 2016. This includes finishing painting the last 25 percent of the exterior along with some minor repairs to do, and re-painting the interior of the house. Our housing needs have changed, so we will be selling our home of almost six years no later than Aug. 1, 2016 and finding more suitable housing for our family of five. We really love our neighborhood, but the home isn’t a good fit for us now that we’re a family of five.
  • Have an awesome birthday – This year, I will turn 40. To celebrate, I would love to have a fantastic party with anyone who has ever been part of my life. Maybe go out on the town, and invite anyone who wants to come by and say hello. Since my birthday is in June, let’s say this will need to happen no later than June 11, 2016.
  • Reclaim my time – For several years now, I have volunteered my time in many different groups and activities. I have been happy to serve others, but now I need to take a break and focus on my family and my career. And so, by March 1, 2016 I will discontinue my involvement in most of my extracurricular activities and hope that someone else takes up the reins. The sad truth is, the Pareto principle states that 80 percent of results come form 20 percent of the causes. I’ve been part of the 20 percent for a long time, and it’s time for me to step down for awhile. I simply can’t sustain this anymore and I owe it to my family, and myself, to disengage for awhile.
  • Take a vacation – Aside from the time off I took after my son was born in August 2014, I haven’t taken a week off for myself since May 2014. And even then, I didn’t go anywhere with the family. We’ve been taking “staycations” for years, but I’d like to take an honest-to-goodness little trip away from the area with the family. I will accomplish this by August 1, 2016.

More about 2015

I’m going to be brutally honest as I can: this year was an absolute roller coaster.

After nine years, I left my work in government to go work for a marketing agency. On one hand, I left because an opportunity came up that was too good to pass up, and I really felt this was my time to give it a shot. But on the other hand, my former job became so unbearable that I couldn’t stay there. It started out as one of the best jobs I have ever had, and then morphed into what was easily the worst job I have ever had.

It was so difficult to leave, because the people I worked with — my boss, my co-workers – they were this great work family that I loved. But some in the organization were absolutely bent on total control, and it forced many people out. Some left by choice, some left by force. Fortunately, I was of the former. I hope you never have to sit through a meeting where everyone around you is openly talking about how the organization is going to outsource your position. It was absolutely the most stress I have ever felt in my adult life, made even worse because some of these events were when Amy was pregnant.

It took me months let go of much of the anger I felt from that time. Not that it’s all gone, but it’s mostly subsided. My new job is really fantastic. I’ve learned so much since I started in March, and I’m certainly much better at my craft. There’s a line from Star Wars: A New Hope when Obi-Wan tells Darth Vader, “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”

And that is exactly what happened. I never would have though that adversity could have such a positive outcome.

The rest of the year was filled with some pretty dark times. We went through (and in many ways still are going through) a dark personal tragedy against my family that I’ll never talk about online, and probably not even in person. It was far worse than the job debacle, but we’re getting through it.

And finally, our year with the boy  was especially difficult. Until a few months ago, he was a horrible, horrible sleeper. Amy and I were drained completely because the lack of sleep was taking a toll. Some relief came when we figured out he has eczema, and Amy’s internet research led her to Dr. Richard Aron. We have been using his protocol with our son, and it has had amazing, wonderful results. I can only hope that Dr. Aron’s methods can go mainstream; there are many in this world who suffer with eczema who could absolutely benefit from his methods. We are blessed to have found out about him, and to have physicians here in the U.S. who would work with an doctor overseas.

And now, here we are. It’s December. The boy sleeps through the night and his skin is looking great. The girls are doing great in school, and Amy and I have a pretty good relationship (with a few “aggressive negations” from time to time). I love, love, love my job, and I’m learning that I have power over my mind – not outside events. I am finding strength.

So what do I see in 2016? I see a theme of rebirth. I’m going to decouple some things from my life that need to go away, and I’m going to embrace some changes that I believe will be better for my family in the long run.

But most important, I’m not going to let another person have so much power over me that it makes me feel helpless and trapped. Eric is an Old Norse name that means “ruler.” I am free in so many beautiful ways. I will not be a slave.

Here’s to 2016!

Two books for vacation reading

The holidays are almost here, and you may find yourself with a little time to crack open a book. Here are a couple of suggestions that are both quick reads, but packed with excellent philosophy.

QBQ: The Question Behind the Question

Author’s website

Overview: This is a book about personal accountability both in work and in life. QBQ is one of my favorite books because it pings at your brain to always be thinking about the struggles you face daily. “Is there something I can do to make this better? What role can I play that can benefit a greater purpose? How can I own problem and turn it into a solution?” 

Warning: This book may give you a low tolerance for people who whine too much.

The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials Into Triumph

Author’s website

Overview: This is a fascinating book about the merits of stoicism. “How can I face adversity (without complaining) and see it as a benefit? What kind of person welcomes struggle?”  History is littered with examples of people who embraced stoicism and ran with it to change their lives and the world. Based much on the writings of Marcus Aurelius, the author invites you to look at the obstacles in your life and see them for tremendous opportunities to reach another level in your own personal development.

Please let me know if you end up reading any of them. I would love to know what you think.

Author’s note: I originally published on an internal blog for work, but I also wanted to share here also.