Startup Life – Not What You Think

This is a longer post about working for a startup. For those with the mettle for the job, I highly recommend it; however, if you’re looking for a 9-5, Monday to Friday with ping-pong and bean bag chairs, stick to the cubicle.

Startups are not for everyone.


An example of a typical conversation when I meet someone new:

“What do you do for a living?” asks the person I just met.

“Oh, I work for a startup that focuses on patient engagement in the healthcare field. How about you, what work are you in?” I respond, cordially.

“A startup, wow! That must be exciting! I just work in HR a large company XYZ. But, you, you work for a startup, you must have fun all the time, right?” the new person I don’t really know responds while smiling and digging for their phone so we can swap contact information and they can later ask me to recommend them for a job with a startup.

Inside my being, I die just a little bit each time this scenario plays out. It boils down to the old saying, “Be careful what you wish for”.


Okay, let’s get down to brass tax:

Startups are HARD!

Big surprise, right? Amazingly, due to the romanticism of the Silicon Valley startup scene, people somehow believe that working at a fledgling company is all late night parties, ping-pong, and bean bag chairs. A joyous celebration of collaborative work punctuated only by the exultation of success day after day. Bright sunlight bringing nothing but glory and success to the underdog.

Reality check, television and movies very rarely give you the whole picture – watch them with a grain of salt.

Working for a startup is hard. It takes a certain amount of grit, determination, and masochism to work for a startup. Oddly enough, once you do it once, it gets easier to do it again and again.

When interviewing for my current company (which I love and will continue to full heartedly dedicate myself to until after we achieve “full success”), the CTO (Chief Technology Officer for those unfamiliar with the acronym) asked me, “You’ve worked for one startup, why the hell would you want to go through that again?” My answer was simple, “I enjoy the challenge and don’t mind the workload – every day makes me better even if it comes with a bit of pain” (this is paraphrased, but you get the point).

To work for a startup, you have to be able to endure the pain. Now, pain can come in many different forms, such as:

  • Sleep Deprivation – Weeks, if not months, of 12-18 hour days to deliver work normally performed by 3-4 people before getting a respite of some kind (usually sleeping in for an hour or two).
  • Time away from friends and family – This one has never been too difficult for me (I love you Husband! You know I do!) but can ruin marriages and relationships in short order.
  • Unrealistic expectations – Near impossible deadlines, unrelenting operation’s tempo, and never enough resources to accomplish half of it all.
  • Minimal benefits – Depending on when you start with a start-up, the upstart may not have medical, dental, or vision insurance; definitely no 401k; sometimes a salary is dependent more on the risk you are willing to take than your actual skillset.
  • Never enough time – Speaks for itself.

I think I’ll write a series of separate posts about the myth of work-life balance and what it takes for an average person to be successful at a startup (not merely survive).


ME - ABQ Airport - Oct 2018
Ready to fly out for the 4th week out of the past 5 weeks.

Another old saying goes something like this, “Tomorrow is a better day”.

Guess what? Tomorrow, at a startup, will only be harder than today was and half as hard as the day after tomorrow. It doesn’t get easier until the big VC (Venture Capital) investment or, more likely, acquisition occurs – either can mean the quick end to your tenure with that particular company.

Rare is the day that you walk into the office (open floorpan, of course) or shared workspace or garage and say, “Awesome! I get to take it easy today!” If this is what you’re looking for, seek life elsewhere. Taking an easy day at work is the same as saying, “I feel like putting myself two days behind! Let’s do it!” There is no payoff in taking it easy.


One of the best (and scariest) things about working for a startup is the difficulty of hiding your weaknesses.

In a large corporation, a person can work for 20 years not having done many things. Living as a number in a system; collecting a paycheck every two weeks; always in the right place at the right time to avoid displaying a weakness to his/her coworkers.

Maybe a middle-manager pawns off their presentations on their employees so the employee can take the blame when it is fouled up. Maybe it’s a paperwork shuffle that pins mistakes on an unwitting scapegoat in order to preserve some pension that isn’t likely to survive 10 years. Maybe it’s gross incompetence wrapped up in a sycophant who avoids responsibility through sheer kiss-assery.

In a startup, there aren’t any walls to hide behind. Your coworkers and leadership will see every mistake and every weakness. You can’t hide behind someone else, you have to take responsibility. And in a startup, there is no lengthy HR process to save you – the end is typically abrupt and comes with a handshake.

Now, there is a huge positive in this: you have the opportunity to identify, create a corrective plan, and overcome your weaknesses.

How do you do this? It’s pretty simple: be vulnerable and talk it out with your peers and leadership to develop yourself for the betterment of the company. Of Course, the learning curve is steep and expectations are real so don’t take this opportunity to improve lightly. Dive in and commit to change and you just might make it out the other side.


Would you like to see more posts about startup life in the real-world? Drop a comment below and let me know. Also, feel free to share your startup stories with me on Facebook or Twitter (the links are on the right!).

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September 11th – Our Day of Infamy

At this point, you’re social media feeds have been packed with #NeverForget, #NeverAgain, #AlwaysRemember, and American flags all day long. Good! Events like September 11, 2001 should not be forgotten for fear of history repeating itself. Anyone who thinks the evil of this world is suddenly going to throw their hands up and quit preying on the innocent is a bit naive.

I am writing this post while flying from Portland to Los Angeles then to Albuquerque on an American Airline’s plane. I’ve seen a number of threads on social media asking “Where were you when…” or “What were you doing when…” and it felt appropriate to share in a post written while flying.

At the time of the attacks, I lived in Midland Texas and was a stereotypical rebellious “goth” teenager. I made a point to play devil’s advocate whenever possible and bucked against the establishment simply to test boundaries. I balked at the military and shared my far-left anti-establishment politics with anyone around me (whether they wanted to listen or not). I was a senior in high school and felt more than ready to take on the world.

On the morning of September 11, 2001 I found myself in bowling class (yes, bowling class, the alternative to traditional P.E. – because, goth). We had just arrived at the bowling alley when the second plane hit the South Tower. The class took notice and paused all conversation, trying to figure out what movie the alley was playing. It only took a few seconds to realize it was all too real.

No one rolled a ball that day; no cheers for a strike; no smiles could be found on the two dozen kids in that class nor the three adults who worked at the lanes. Any talking was hushed whispers as all eyes were glued to the television screens which normally showed repeats of past bowling tournaments and advertisements for bad nachos and over-sweet sodas. Life felt like it had stopped.

It was fairly obvious to me that the world changed that morning. America wouldn’t be the same, the world wouldn’t be the same, , my generation wouldn’t be the same, I wouldn’t be the same. Having grown up in relative peace (all American conflicts had been low-grade combat operations that hadn’t lasted all that long – the Gulf War being the exception), I knew it wasn’t impossible for a full-scale war to occur in my lifetime, but it did seem unlikely until that morning.

At the appointed time (after all civilian air traffic was grounded, the Pentagon had been hit, and Flight 93 had crashed in Pennsylvania), we all loaded the bus and returned to school. I remember going to my parked truck instead of my next class and another student walking by and asking “Why you pissed off?” I couldn’t believe it, I wanted to ask him “Why aren’t you pissed off?” I couldn’t really reply other than to tell him to watch the news.

I left school shortly thereafter.

The attacks of September 11th weren’t a primary influence in my decision to join the Army nor did I suddenly hate all Muslims or form a negative opinion of an entire region because of the actions of a few, but, I can say it helped push me to be an Infantryman. Male pride and ego played into this decision as well, but knowing that we were attacked as a nation that day sure didn’t hurt my motivations.

I can only hope that we, as a country, never have to experience an event like this again; however, history is bound to repeat itself when we forget the lessons we have learned in the past.

Where were you? What were you doing? How did you respond to these attacks?

6 Tips for Getting Through Airport Security – FAST

This morning I flew from Albuquerque New Mexico to Portland Oregon via a very brief layover in Phoenix Arizona. I was astonished when, in Albuquerque, two people in front of me in the security checkpoint (it’s not the largest airport) held up my progress for longer than when I stand in line for an hour tryng to get my boarding pass checked.

It is 2018 and commercial aviation has been in full swing for nearly a century, yet when you are in an airport, people don’t seem to have any clue what they are doing. Confusion abounds at the security checkpoint, milling individuals and groups block pathways, and loading a plane sometimes comes across as a disorganized disaster. How can this be?

The security checkpoints, run by the TSA (love them or hate them), have a purpose – attempt to prevent any lethal or damaging objects accessible to a passenger into the airport or the airplane. Granted, some of the restrictions on allowable items are a head scratcher (finger nail clippers and tweezers come to mind as past examples), but learning which objects are banned is pretty easy.

Let’s start with some resources. When you book your flight online (as a majority of people now do) there is a screen that lists out all the banned items you shouldn’t bring to the airport, let alone try to take on the plane in your carry-on luggage. This page has pictures and words and requires you to acknowledge their existence. Okay, so most people breeze through this page without reading it. Fair enough.

Confused about what you need to do at the security checkpoint? Confused as to what your children need to do at the security checkpoint? Here’s a lovely 2-minute video for adults and a separate 2-minute animated video for kids – if you are confused, scared, or just don’t know then take the 2-minutes to save yourself some time and hassle while reducing the frustrations of everyone behind you. Slowing down the process because of your own ignorance is one of the most irritating experiences for the people around you.

I typically travel with two laptops, an iPad, cell phone, Apple Watch, Bose Bluetooth Earbuds Charger (lithium battery requiring removal from my bag), and all the standard items that go in one’s pockets. Left to my own devices (and barring an issue caused by a passenger in front of me), I can go from having my boarding pass and passport checked to all my items in the bins and through the full-body scanner in about 45 seconds. That’s less than a minute. Less time than it takes to order a pizza or smoke a cigarette.

How do I accomplish this amazing feat? It’s simple, I do the following:

  1. I remove my belt and everything from my pockets BEFORE I get to the security checkpoint. Since I travel with a single carry-on (most of the time), I put my belt, wallet, keys, change, cell phone, Apple Watch, and wedding ring in my bag. This means I don’t have to fuss with it while being pressured by a long line of fellow travelers waiting for me to push my bins down the pass.
  2. I have my boarding pass and passport ready for inspection BEFORE I get to the person who needs to check it. This is a simple one, you need both these items in order to get into the checkpoint, don’t bury them in your purse or bag.
  3. I don’t chit-chat with the TSA agents beyond a friendly “hello”. Some of you out there are genuinely nice people, got it…stow it until you’re on the far-side of the checkpoint. Travelers are trying to get to their aircraft and the TSA agents have a job to do so be polite but keep the process moving along.
  4. I know how many bins I need to accommodate all my belongings. This one is a bit more difficult for first-time or infrequent flyers so it is probably the most forgiveable delay in security. Here’s a hint: ONE bin for your electronics (assuming they all fit without any overlap), ONE bin for shoes and everything else you may be wearing + toiletries (again, assuming it all fits in a bin without overlapping). Bags (briefcases, purses, backpacks, rollers, etc.) don’t need to go in a bin!
  5. I follow the directions provided by the TSA Agents. This is a no-brainer for most people, but some travelers want to argue a point (as if that is going to help anyone) or give an attitude to the Agents that is typically unnecessary. I worked security for many years, sometimes in environments similar to( but much lower volume) an airport security checkpoint. It’s a thankless job but vitally important to safety – deal with it and get to your plane.
  6. I make sure I don’t have any food or drinks in my bags! I get very irritated when people hold up the line to ask a TSA Agent, “Is this liter of water okay to take through, I mean, it’s only water?” No, no, NO! It may be water or it may be something else that looks like water, toss it and let’s move forward. “Wait, do 12 bars of Toblerone count as food?” Yes, yes, YES! It is food, toss it or don’t get pissed off when you have to stand around for 20 minutes while an agent wastes their time wanding every bar.

In closing, remember that you are not the only person in the airport, you are not the only person stressed out about catching a flight, you are not special when going through the airport security checkpoint. We are all trying to get somewhere, try not to be “that guy” – it’s not funny and no one is laughing when you muck up the system.

Here’s a picture of a pretty fountain at my hotel, I hope you enjoy and safe travels!

Portland_Radisson_hotel
A pretty fountain outside the Portland Airport Radisson Hotel.

Expect the worst and hope…you planned enough!

Just about anyone who has met me, worked with me, or is a friend of mine would likely describe me as “negative” or “always pointing out the worst”. To be honest, I won’t deny such claims. I do focus quite a bit on those things that can go wrong and less on the things I hope go right. It’s also accurate to say that I am not quiet about voicing my concerns.

Am I just a pessimist who can’t be happy with any given situation? Do I have this need to shit on other people’s ideas or potential opportunities?

In short, the answer is a resounding “NO” to both those questions. So what’s up with the bad attitude?

I learned a long time ago, before the startup world, before contracting, before the Army, before I moved out of my parent’s house to expect the worst possible outcome and plan to counter any hurdles that can be identified at the start of an idea, change, or action.

The classic saying goes something like this: Hope for the best but expect the worst. Here’s the thing, if you are hoping for the best then you are likely not putting as much effort or thought into the worst. This sets you up for failure before you even start. In the end, you could probably look back and identify multiple issues that arose which could have been headed off from the beginning with better planning.

Tunnel Rat - WEAPONS COMP - oi (4)
Clearing a drainage tunnel with a 9 MM pistol and flashlight – do you think I had a sunny disposition going in?

In the Army, my thought process was reinforced with life and death situations. When you are a leader taking X number of soldiers on a patrol, ambush, or overwatch, you don’t approach the task with a sunny disposition. The default position is along the lines of: “We are going here to do these things and this, that, and everything else is likely to go wrong…this is how we mitigate risk and reduce the threat preemptively”. Sounds pretty grim, right? Well, it is! Real world combat operations aren’t the party Hollywood makes them out to be.

With a few modifications, this mindset is easily translated to the business world. “If we don’t get Update X out by this date then a high probability of losing 50% of our customer base and having to lay off 75% of the workforce exists.” What do you do? Quit? Hang up your hat, have a fancy cold brew, and let it be? HELL NO! You work with the team to make sure the engineers have what they need to produce Update X; you get the team to volunteer additional time in an effort to extend the deadline; you prep your customer base by setting proper expectations; you get to work.

A lot of people accept the concept of quitting. Life was unfair, I quit. My boss was a dick, I quit. The client wasn’t nice, I quit. It’s too hard, I quit. Here’s the problem, you can’t quit life! Life doesn’t care that you are at rock bottom; life isn’t going to stop while you wipe your tears off your face; life isn’t going to apologize for hurting your delicate sensibilities. Life is going to continue kicking your ass until you realize it’s up to you to change it!

Expecting the worst will help set you up for success. Think about it this way: I’m ready for everything up to and including the worst situation possible, anything short of that is easy.

One last thing, try to tackle the worst possibilities with a smile – it always seems to help the people you’ll end up working with throughout your life.

 

How do you handle planning? Do you start with the best possible situation and work your way to the worst? How do you achieve the end goal? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. Don’t forget to like and share on your favorite social media platform. Thanks for reading!

Reflections on the past and a better tomorrow…

A classic time traveling sci-fi premise has been the ability to go back in time and change something that you did or happened to you in the past. Think the Butterfly Effect without Ashton Kucher.

Here’s the rub: you don’t get to change it back and you don’t get to try again.

Now, a lot of people will say, “I love my life, I wouldn’t change a thing.” That may be true, at least, until I point to the death of someone you were close to, that decision to go down this path instead of that one, or any of the flaws in your perfect life. I think the same people who say they would change nothing actually want to change everything (or close to everything).

Listen, I am happy with the person I have become, the people in my life, and the life I have lived thus far. I have done more in my first 34 years of life than most people will do in their entire lives. I have seen pure joy and innocence while internalizing the experiences of the worst parts of human nature. I have loved, laughed, hated, fought, and worked to become who I am today and I am immensely proud to have survived this long. 

However, it can be a good thought exercise to contemplate what could have been. It may motivate you to be a better person than you are today or to pursue that thing you passed on a decade ago or to make changes for the better (though, statistically, I guess it has an equal possibility of turning out to be a bad thing).

How many of you reading this would change something, big or small doesn’t matter, one decision, one action, one event changed?

Aeros - Post Hodges Blast (3)
A lonely road littered with bombs (think life metaphor)

I won’t lie to any of you, I would make a change or two. The changes wouldn’t be for fame or fortune, a “better” life, or any obvious material gain. I’m not a Buddhist or some wannabe saint with no materialistic motivations, but I have already learned that money, property, and physical possessions come and go, who we are stays with us until we die. My modifications would involve slight improvements to me as a person. One less mean comment here, an extra hug for my father, or a more open mind at a younger age to things I hadn’t yet experienced. Small tweaks that could have a positive ripple effect across multiple lives.

Obviously, none of us can change the past and dwelling on the good or bad of yesterday will usually keep us from being better in the now and future. One of the reasons I have studied history throughout my life is because it was said “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (George Santayana). I know I make a conscious effort not to repeat my mistakes (I don’t always succeed), but I also want to do more than I did yesterday. It sounds cliche, but I want to be better tomorrow than I am today.

Since I can’t change yesterday (or a night 16 years ago that I impulsively moved out of my parent’s house without a plan), I choose to remember the past for what it was and move on into the grey unknown of the future.

 

Do you find yourself thinking about the past more than you would like? Do you think you can make up for mistakes of the past with actions in the present? Share your thoughts in the comments below. Don’t forget to like and share AverageLuke on your favorite social media platform. Thanks for reading my ramblings!

My (first) coming out story…

I just finished watching the movie “Love, Simon” (it’s really good and should be watched by everyone). It is amazing to watch a movie about coming out as a gay teenager today and compare it to my own experiences in life. Times have changed so quickly; instantaneous sharing with the world via the internet was a thing when I was young, but it was in a fledgling state. We had Yahoo! Instant Messenger and AIM which provided us with seedy chat rooms where we could be ourselves behind a curtain of anonymity. Today, kids live their real world lives in between visits to their virtual profiles. It is remarkable how fast rumors, stories, and life events are read and spread by the masses today.

I have done the big come out no less than 5 times in my life. I know, you’re thinking, “wait a minute, I thought the big coming out was a one time deal?” For most people, that statement is true. For me, I have made my life more difficult and complicated than has been absolutely necessary so I have found myself in the closet multiple times since I first came out when I was 17 years old. My other coming out stories will be shared in future posts. Also, it is worth pointing out that non-heterosexuals are constantly coming out – every time they meet someone new, start a new job, move to a new city, interact with new people at work, etc. It’s a never ending ordeal that (hopefully) becomes easier throughout life, but most people only want to talk about the “big coming out”.

Let’s flashback to 2001…<cue mystical chimes and a wavy fade out>…

The terror attacks on the Twin Towers hadn’t happened yet, the world hadn’t been dropped on its head, and Americans were enjoying a relatively calm existence. MySpace, Facebook, and Gmail didn’t exist yet. A majority of people only had land lines for phones and texting required dexterity and the repeated slamming of your T-9 Nokia cell phone (something I didn’t have access to).

Me...in high school - Don't judge too much.
Me…in high school – Don’t judge too much.

I found myself in Midland, Texas having moved away from New Mexico (and all the friends I’d ever known) the previous year. I had established myself in this small West Texas town as “the kid that wears all black, all the time.” Yup, I was the stereotypical goth kid when it came to my wardrobe. Black jeans, black boots, black t-shirts, silver chain from my black leather wallet to a belt loop above my front right pocket, silver chain around my neck, dark, spiked hair, and a permanent grimace on my face. However, I would break the goth exterior whenever someone talked to me – responding to polite “hello”s and “how are you”s with a smile and an appropriate response.

When my mother, step-father, grandfather, and I moved to West Texas, I had internally decided I was going to be the real me. I had known I was gay for years, but couldn’t bring myself to come out to my friends in New Mexico. I didn’t want their opinions of me to change. I didn’t want to be “the gay kid”. I didn’t want to deal with all of it. I just wanted to be me and be happy.

Side note for those of you reading this who are 25 years old and younger, being gay in 2001 is not like being gay in 2018. I am the first to admit that being gay in 2001 as nothing like being gay in 1990, 1980, 1970 or before – those generations definitely had it harder than any of us post-2000 babies have had it. However, I remember watching the Ellen coming out episode in 1997 and the utter destruction that followed for Ellen’s career. The AIDS and HIV epidemics were very much alive and well with a deep seeded stigma associated with these diseases being tied to being gay. It was a scary time (as I am sure many still feel today) and I was in the west end of the bible belt surrounded by politically and religiously conservative people.

Okay, now that the scene is set a bit better, I started living life shortly after we arrived in Midland near the end of summer 2000. I started school and, after a brief period of setting up a quiet reputation, I found the group of outcasts, freaks, geeks, and goths that would end up forming my inner circle of friends in town. Life was going well. In October 2000 my grandfather passed away. I didn’t know the man very well despite his living with us for a few years (he suffered from dementia and alzheimers so he wasn’t really there most of the time) so his death didn’t affect me all that much. The night he died was the first night I got to drive without an adult in the passenger seat which is likely the most memorable thing from that night.

Once my grandfather died, I found a job as a server at the Golden Corral restaurant in town. Between school, work, and the stops at the local bowling alley after work to play pool, I wasn’t home very often. My activities outside of school and work allowed me to explore who I wanted to be rather than the image I presented to those more conservative environments. I didn’t go wild, but I also wasn’t shy. Parties, clubs, meeting new people, dating, and so on led to a reputation in town amongst the gay scene which bled into the straight scene in short order.

At some point in the Fall of 2001, I found myself in a health class with a bunch of Sophomores (I was a Senior) trying to fulfill the minimum requirements to graduate in Texas. This is about the time I experienced first-hand what it was like to be publicly outed without my permission.

New Mexico
High School Freshman Me

The dozen or so Sophomores in the class sat in two rows of desks immediately in front of the teacher’s desk. I sat in the desk next to the door on the opposite side of the classroom. This left 4 rows of empty desks between me and the gaggle of 14 and 15 year olds. I was happy with this arrangement. I didn’t know any of the Sophomores and I didn’t want to – they seemed to be okay  not knowing me either.

One day, we all walked into class to find a substitute standing next to the teacher’s desk. My mind immediately went into “easy day” mode and I started writing my bad teenage goth poetry in an old composition notebook I carried around with me at all times. The sub read off the assignment for the day: Write a personal ad for your perfect boyfriend or girlfriend, include as much detail as possible. I wasn’t sure what the hell this assignment had to do with health class, but it was an easy assignment so I didn’t care.

From across the room, a young woman I had seen a couple of times outside of school called out to me with a question: “Lucas, are you going to write it for a boy or a girl, cuz, you know, you’re gay?

My ears began ringing instantaneously. As I looked across the room, I saw the substitute standing with her mouth open, staring at me in disbelief and no idea how to handle the situation. All dozen or so Sophomores were staring at me, no one was laughing or pointing or looking at me in a disgusted manner, just staring in shock as I reacted. The young lady was looking at me with a purely inquisitive look on her face; To this day I am certain she had no idea the complete and utter inappropriateness of her question. I felt anger crawling out of me. I wanted to scream. I couldn’t believe this is how this was happening.

In the two seconds it took for me to lock eyes with the naive and oblivious young lady, I had repressed my anger and decided to run with the situation she had created. “I’m going to write it about a guy, because I’m gay.” I swear to all that is holy, there was a collective gasp in the room (including the substitute teacher). I just smirked since I couldn’t launch into the monologue I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs.

The substitute quietly said, “get to work” and sat down at the desk where she picked up a magazine and didn’t look at the class again. This is when the questions started.

“So, you’re gay?”

“When did you know?”

“Have you had sex…you know, sex?”

“What’s it like?”

“Aren’t you afraid you’re going to hell?”

“Do you try to convert straight guys?”

“Are you actually a girl?”

“How can you stand being a fag?”

After the third question being shouted across the room, I grabbed my belongings and moved to the nearest empty row by the Sophomores. I spent the next 45 minutes being interrogated, answering their questions (no matter how embarrassing or inappropriate they were), and not doing the assignment. Despite the obviously rude, bigoted, and nasty questions this small group of kids were asking, I chose to answer them all in an effort to start changing opinions.

Life lesson: people won’t change their opinion/way of thinking if all you do is get angry, stomp away, and stop listening.

By the end of the class, I was exhausted and couldn’t wait for the last two classes of the day to finish so I could get the hell out of there.

Unfortunately, we don’t always get what we want.

By the time my last class started, people were looking at me sideways in the hallway, snickering and pointed fingers followed me, and looks of disgust met me at every turn. This was not paranoia, this was what was happening – the word was out, “the kid in all black, all the time, was a fag”.

The final bell rang to officially end the school day. I grabbed by stuff and darted out of the classroom. I was halfway across the practice football field (which was also about halfway to my truck) when I heard more than one person running up behind me. “This is it, it starts now,” I thought to myself. I waited until the thudding steps were within a dozen feet of me, dropped my bag to the ground, and turned on my pursuers, ready to fight.

It was two of the guys I hung out with at “Smoker’s Alley” (where I parked my truck and illegally smoked cigarettes). They both came to a stuttered but fast stop. Both of them put their hands up in a calming “we’re not here to fight” motion.

“Hey man, we heard a rumor today…” one of them started.

“It’s true, you guys have a problem with it?” I cut him off, still ready for a fight.

“No, no, no, we wanted to let you know, if anyone gives you shit about it, let us know, we’ve got your back.”

I was blown away. Just because I was friends with the people the mainstream had rejected didn’t mean that those people were open to being around gay people. This encounter helped me regain a little hope in humanity.

That night, I wrote a letter to my mom explaining that I was gay, I didn’t want to talk about it, and I wanted her to hear it from me before she heard it around town. Her job required her to interact with over 200 women who sold beauty products which meant she would have heard it from one of those women if I didn’t tell her first.

The next morning, I made sure to grab my work clothes so I could go straight to the restaurant after school without making a pitstop at home. On my way out the door, I handed the letter to my mom and said I’d see her that night. I sprinted out the door – I felt like such a coward for not being able to have a conversation with her about being gay. I was 17, what do you want from me?

I made it through school, went to work, went to the bowling alley, and rolled up at home after midnight. My mother was awake and waiting for me. Shit.

“A letter, really?” she said, holding it up but smiling slightly.

“Yeah,” I replied, briefly making eye contact before finding a spot over her shoulder to lock in on.

“Are you being safe?” she asked.

“Yeah.”

“Okay, I love you and always will, now go to bed.” She went down the hall to her bedroom and closed the door.

A heavy sigh would have knocked me over. I was expecting so much more, not worse, just more. For clarification, I always knew my mother would be okay with me being gay (never a doubt in my mind), but I also thought she’d want to talk it out – nope, just a “be safe” and go to bed.

I would end up experiencing very little discrimination while in West Texas for being gay. I was a little surprised at first then realized that people already knew me for who I was, being gay was just another piece of information. I would repeat this pattern throughout my life with good results overall.

Are you gay? Having issues coming out or dealing with the stress of it all? Reach out to someone you know who will be supportive of you and talk it out. If you don’t have that person, send me an email at luke@averageluke.com and I’ll be your sounding board.

 

Happy Birthday Army!

platoon
Korea c. 2003 – I’m in front of the back row a few people in from the left. This was one of my first field problems as a Team Leader.

Today, the US Army turns 243 years old; Happy Birthday Army!

To learn more about the formation and broad history of the Army, you can check out the history site of the US Army for more information. I would like to add that I was a part of the oldest branch of the Army (the Infantry). Just another bragging right the Infantry has over the rest of the Army 😉

However, this post isn’t just to say Happy Birthday to the Army or play the “my branch was better than yours” game; I am using this post to say “Thank you” to the US Army and highlight other means of doing your civic duty.

When I joined this aging organization I was a cocky, annoying, know-it-all teenager with no real direction in life. The Army set me on a path to success in life through hard work, discipline, self-sacrifice, and old-school grit. I truly believe if I hadn’t served the sometimes grueling, often times exhilarating, and always proud years in the Army, I wouldn’t be anywhere near the person I am today.

I do not believe military service is for everyone; some people simply aren’t built for the lifestyle (physically, emotionally, or mentally). That being said, it wouldn’t hurt for everyone to spend time in government service more suited to their interests and strengths. If you love nature, go work for a couple of years in the Forest Service; more about helping people in need find housing, HUD is for you; want to give back to veterans who sacrificed so much for so many, check out the Department of Veterans Affairs. Live and learn within these organizations so change can be affected by the masses instead of being afterthoughts in the minds of politicians during campaign season.

What do you get in return? A few things:

  • A better understanding how these organizations are actually run on a day-to-day basis. We as a citizenry assume we know what is going on, but, in reality, so much of our government runs on policy and process unknown by the general public.
  • A sense of civic pride and national identity. People will feel a sense of ownership in their government again because they gave a piece of themselves to keep it going and improve it.
  • Maybe, just maybe, a program could be organized that after a minimal amount of service is completed, participants will receive funds for further education (you know, college or a trade school of the participants choice). Much like the GI Bill for the military, these funds are not likely to cover 100% of the cost of the education, but it would go a long way. And, no, you couldn’t withdraw the money to spend it on whatever you want.

Not sure if this “Civic Pride” idea will catch any fire, but it doesn’t hurt to share.

Happy birthday Army! Thank you for all you have done for me and I wish you many more years of proud service!

What are your thoughts on civic duty? Share your thoughts in the comments and don’t forget to like and share http://www.averageluke.com!

Vacation: To stay or to go, that is the question…

Meteor Crater Selfie
The standard couple selfie at Meteor Crater east of Flagstaff, AZ.

The Husband and I recently took some time off from work and called it a vacation. We had some friends from back East staying with us so we mainly stayed in the Albuquerque area to show them the sites. The exception was a day-trip to Meteor Crater and Flagstaff in Arizona (no Grand Canyon despite being so close to it). It was a fun week that broke the mold of the day-to-day grind of everyday life and we had a blast!

Leading up to our time off, I had coworkers, friends, family, and clients asking, “Where are you going? Where are you staying? What tourist trap are you going to check off your list?” To me, these questions made sense, but were a bit disconcerting. The logical assumption when someone says “I am going on vacation” is that they are actually going somewhere. However, times have changed and so has the meaning of the word “vacation”.

It used to be that American families would pack up once or twice a year for a two week road trip to a national park, amusement park, or other attraction somewhere within the United States. Wholesome family photos documented these treks across the open road; they showed enthusiastic children, disgruntled teenagers, tired parents, and natural backdrops. The Golden Age of family trips.

Flash forward a few decades and air travel has become affordable to the average family. Now it’s airports and destinations further away from the homestead. New Yorkers are in Los Angeles and Seattlites are wandering through Orlando. Vacations become shorter, dwindling to a few days to a single week. The Kodak moments are collected, everyone flies home on a TWA jet, and life settles back into its natural rhythm fairly quickly.

This brings us to today. We live in a world where we live vicariously through other people via online communities. From the comfort of our own couch we can peruse our friend’s pictures of Cancun, gaze up at the Eiffel Tower, jump out of a plane and

Steep Tea Shop - Flagstaff, AZ
Steep Tea Shop – Flagstaff, AZ

experience free fall using our Oculus headsets, and enjoy the nightlife of New York City. It’s all at our fingertips. We can jump on a plane Friday afternoon, experience a new city for 48-hours, and be back at work Monday morning without missing a beat. For many millennials, the concept of taking two weeks off of work is sacrilege (especially within the tech community). Sure, we could go other places for few days, but what are we really looking for in a vacation?

For me, the answer is simple: Break the cycle of my daily grind. It’s pretty simple, by not going to work on a Tuesday and spending my day working on personal projects around the house I have successfully reset myself. Taking a four-day weekend to do some long hikes or day-trip to an attraction within 400 miles of the house sets me up for continued success in my daily life. I, along with many others, don’t need to do a brochure-esque trip to Disneyland to unwind and experience life.

By taking time for yourself you have a better chance of managing your mental health and your physical health for that matter. You’ll be more productive when you get back to work and likely enjoy the attention of people interrogating you on all the little things you did while away. Sometimes a vacation doesn’t have to mean “going somewhere”, it can just mean “not doing what I usually do on a Tuesday”.

What’s your favorite way to break your daily grind? Share in the comments and don’t forget to like and share this post on Facebook and/or Twitter!

3 Reasons People Become Addicted to War

Company Mission - LUTAFIYAH - Hell (2)
Me during my third tour in Iraq (Iskandariyah ’07-’08) waiting on a company mission to kickoff.

Let’s be honest, any rational person reading the title of this blog post thinks it’s crazy for anyone to be addicted to such a horrible course of events classified as a war. However, these same rational people, when thrust into the dangerous profession of being a front line soldier are at risk of becoming addicted. It can happen gradually over an extended period of time or all at once. What cannot be disputed is that everyone is at risk.

So, why does this happen? What reasons would a person use to justify an addiction to war? How can a person be willing to do anything to get their next fix of something all civilized societies in the history of the world have classified as the worst part of human nature? Why are these addicts encouraged to pursue their addiction? What can be done to save these people before the inevitable results of constant exposure to high-stress, life-threatening events exacts the ultimate cost?

For answers to the questions above, you’ll have to keep checking in to this blog. This post will only attempt to shed light on the one of them: What reasons would a person use to justify an addiction to war?

Let’s get into it…

One: Belief in a cause…

This is the most obvious and the most prominent. When a person has such strong convictions in the reason for the war occurring in the first place it is easy for them to want to do everything possible to support it. This includes returning to the most dangerous places on Earth time and again to fight for that cause. Many service members want to be in combat because they feel like they are fulfilling their duty to protect their country from <insert enemy title> (think terrorists, communists, fascists, and other bad “ists”). A cause is a powerful thing and governments throughout history have created causes to lure their citizenry into voluntarily putting themselves in danger for the fulfillment of the cause.

Two: Adrenaline…

There is no feeling in the world like the pure adrenaline pumped into your body when another human being is actively attempting to end your life AND you have the capacity to stop them from accomplishing their mission. It’s the ultimate win. Athletes get a taste of this when they win a high-stakes competition; business leaders sample this feeling after closing a big financial deal; everyone savors it right after narrowly escaping a car wreck. No one but the front line combat troops (and law enforcement officers) truly understand this type of adrenaline pump. Addiction to adrenaline is in and of itself an addiction, but adrenaline from an engagement with the enemy is unique in my opinion.

Three: The simple life…

This one is likely to confuse some people, but I will attempt to clarify. For a young, single, no children at home combat troop, combat is the simplest existence on the planet. No utility bills to pay, housing (shelter is a more apt description) is provided, food is available…all the basic necessities of life are provided. Money isn’t worth much because there isn’t anything to spend it on (except cigarettes, dip, candy, gear, and hygiene products). The almighty dollar won’t save you in a firefight. Life is simpler with three objectives:

  1. Accomplish the mission
  2. Bring everyone else home
  3. Bring yourself home

Married combat troops – not sure how much this one applies to you, but I’m sure some of you would agree with this description.

This is just my take on the “problem” of addiction to war – feel free to shout me down in the comments!

Wait, why do you run towards the bullets?

It doesn’t make much sense to the average person why anybody would willingly run towards the source of a fired bullet. To be honest, from the outside, it doesn’t make any sense. However, this is exactly what every infantryman is trained to do and it is expected that they will not hesitate when the situation presents itself.

Getting shot at is a unique experience. Different people react differently to the situation. Some hide behind something that will stop a bullet (cover) and hope the person shooting at them gets bored and goes away. Others hardly register that they are getting shot at and move slowly to a safer place. While some charge in the direction of where the bullets are coming from in an attempt to get to the source before the shooters realize a crazy person just charged their position.

The senses can go a bit crazy when getting shot at – time can feel like it is slowing down or speeding up, sounds become very distinct or everything goes silent, the eyes can lock on specific things such as flying debris or blur everything at once, muscles can seize up or go completely slack. There is no guarantee that a person is going to know how their body and mind will react every time another person is purposefully trying to kill them. Training helps, but it is not an adequate stand-in for the real thing.

Stupid Smile Day
On patrol in Iraq – Likely in Iskandariyah sometime in 2007 or 2008.

Okay, let’s break all of this down a little bit because it is more complicated than the surface makes it appear.

DISCLAIMER: This is a hypothetical situation partially based on real experience but mainly fabricated in my mind to illustrate the title of this post – so keep calm and don’t Monday morning quarterback it too much.

First, let’s outline the situation many infantryman find themselves in during a deployment to a combat theater. A platoon (about 25-30 soldiers) is tasked with a “knock and search” mission within a designated area. Given the confines of the area’s layout, the HMMWVS and MRAPS aren’t able to provide close support and are left with a small detail of soldiers a few hundred meters away from the squads on the ground. To reduce the enemy’s ability to skip out of the back of a house during the search, each of the three line squads (likely 7 soldiers after leaving two with their vehicles) are on three parallel streets, searching houses in line with each other (i.e. each squad is clearing three houses next to each other so no squad ends up in front of or behind the others).

Suddenly, without warning, the distinctive cracking sound of an AK-47 splits the air as dozens of 7.62 MM bullets impact around the soldiers of the squad on the far left of the clearing area. Shouts from the soldiers now fill the air as they reflexively start firing in the direction they think the rounds came from – which isn’t very likely to be accurate. The other two squads pause, consolidate, and begin their game plan to close with the enemy and destroy them.

Unfortunately, the middle squad is now under direct fire from a second enemy position. The sound of an RPK on full cyclic is deafening as it lays down suppressing fire on the middle squad. An RPG impacts a wall close to the squad leader, knocking him down and causing momentary confusion amongst his soldiers. The middle squad is pinned down and cannot effectively move. It’s an old west box canyon made up of mud brick houses and walls – a death trap.

Welcome to an ambush. It is not your friend.

In the situation I have outlined above, you’re effectively fucked if your in the middle squad and not in a great place if you’re in the squad on the far left. The only elements that can maneuver effectively are the squad on the far right and the vehicles. Now, everyone will have a different way of handling this, but, inevitably soldiers are going to have to maneuver under fire (i.e. while getting shot at).

Iskandariya, Iraq
A typical street in Iskandariya Iraq – really, any town in Iraq.

Ideally, the vehicles would be able to flank around to the left of the far left squad and lay down covering fire thus allowing the squad on the ground to maneuver while the enemy is ducking. Meanwhile, the squad on the far right would be able to flank the enemy in the middle zone while the middle squad distracted the enemy with a heavy base of fire. Two flanking elements on opposite sides of an objective requires coordination and great training to accomplish with minimal risk, but it can be done.

Too bad the real world isn’t as clean as a basic tactics manual makes it seem.

The vehicles can’t flank around the left because of an irrigation canal. They can only try to maneuver down the streets the squads are on, but this will simply put them in the line of some very direct fire and result in becoming combat ineffective. Instead, they stage (positions themselves for a particular purpose) as the casualty collection point (CCP) and prepare for a hasty departure. Not ideal.

The squad on the right tries to flank the enemy position in the middle but run into barriers such as walls, ditches, and houses which slow their progress. The middle squad has two wounded at this point and their base fire is dwindling. “Talking guns” kicks in as the team leaders coordinate their team’s firing so there are always bullets going “down range” (i.e. towards the enemy). This helps keep the enemy behind cover (something that will stop a bullet) and not shooting at friendly forces. It is only partially effective on the best of days.

This has left the squad on the left with two options:

  1. Sit tight, return fire, and pray one of the other squads can flank the enemy.
  2. Coordinate their fire, maneuver to the enemy position, and kill them.

In my world, due to training, conditioning, and my own irritation with getting shot at, I always opted for Option 2.

With one team laying down suppressing fire the other team would sprint in short intervals up the street towards the enemy position. After each burst, the team that moved would lay down fire while the other team moved either on line with the team firing or to a position ahead of them. Rinse and repeat until you are at the enemy position. Once in the same place as the enemy an entirely different drill is used to get in the house, clear it, and secure the site – but that is for many other posts.

In the end, soldiers have made the conscious decision to move a distance (with or without cover) while an enemy is trying really, really hard to kill them.

So, just to put a bow on this post:

  1. You run towards the bullets because running away is very rarely an option (the enemy wins and that causes much bigger problems).
  2. Sitting still and waiting for help isn’t always an option because help might not be able to get to the enemy.
  3. From personal experience, the enemy does not respond well when insane soldiers run straight towards them instead of cowering in fear – this is an advantage over the enemy.

Not all infantryman who make it through training end up being able to do this in the real world. Are they cowards? Maybe. Should they be kept in their position within an infantry unit? No, but they will because barring gross negligence that is provable it’s a game of “he said, she said”. It’s unfortunate that there is not a better way of handling these situations. Again, this is for a future post.

Have you ever been shot at? How did you respond to the situation? Tell us all about it in the comments section and remember to like, follow, and SHARE this pot with all of your friends who wonder about getting shot at!