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!

Advertisements

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.

 

A little known part of my life…

Many people who know me would likely describe me as a grounded, practical, hard-working, no fun kind of guy. To a great extent this is true. I have always been more serious than I need to be; I have always defaulted to a frown or grimace over a smile; I have always worked hard in life for what I have.

However, there is another, lesser known, side of me that I am finally ready to share with the world…

I am a gaming geek.

<Heavy sigh and deep breath in> That feels good to get off my chest. For most of my adult life I have suppressed my creative endeavors in favor of practical life progression. I have found that this suppression actually hinders my practical nature. Without an outlet for the creativity my mind wants to produce it negatively impacts my daily grind work product due to distraction and unfocused blocks of time. In essence, it has the opposite affect than what I intended.

Thinking about this deeper, my writing of this blog was a practical attempt at releasing my creative captives in order to improve my day-to-day existence. Up to this point, my posts are grounded in reality and have a deterministic flare to them, but underneath these are attempts at creative outlet. The original execution has become secondary to the original intent.

World of Warcraft Orc
Nargaterst – My Orc Warrior who just wants the quiet life, but duty calls

With my confession in the wild, I can now let my creative efforts loose on the world. My primary conduit for creative release is through role playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons and (on specific servers) World of Warcraft. It’s not that I want to be a fantastical beast or race in reality, but the break from reality is a recharging point for me. It is a freeing feeling to downgrade my intelligence to act out a scene as an Orc guard or charge into battle as a Blood Elf warrior with no concern for my safety.

Sitting in front of my computer to level up my characters on World of Warcraft is as fulfilling as a hike on the Rio Grande.

Reading about the creation process of a character and writing an origin story for that character in the Dungeons and Dragons multiverse releases the same endorphins I would have received form a 5k run.

All of these actions clear the clutter from my mind and allow me to focus more on my day-to-day work without compromising my personal growth. In fact, these creative elements expand my capacity to fulfill my obligations to the startup I work for at the moment. I have also noticed that embracing these creative outlets help increase my critical thinking and problem solving for my clients. When creating a character’s backstory, you have to think of every possible nook and cranny of their personal history that helps explain why they are doing what they are doing now. This isn’t much different than when you take on a new project at work and need to get up to speed quickly – you have to think outside the box, gain knowledge quickly through pointed questions, and lay out a plan to meet your commitments.

With my internal geek standing proud now, I am certain I will have more gaming and geek related posts in the future. These will all be filed under the category “Gaming” or “Geek Culture” so be sure to check them out in full.

What is your creative outlet? Is there a side of you that you don’t share with a majority of people who know you? Do you have an inner geek screaming to be let out? Let us know in the comments and don’t forget to like and share this post where ever you find yourself online!

It’s been a while..

I am living the stereotype of a blogger right now. Sitting in a quiet, local coffee shop with my computer taking up half the table while sipping on sun brewed iced tea is the picture of a millennial blogger in my mind. Glancing about to see well-oiled beards and mustaches, couples whispering sweet nothings into each other’s ears, and groups of seniors enjoying a midday coffee and water. Is this the college experience I missed out on? or simply the feeling of freedom my daily grind doesn’t typically afford me? Who knows, but I should make a point to be the stereotype more often because this is the quietest and calmest I have felt in quite some time.

So, what’s been going on? Why the long delay between posts? I could make up some excuse (it’s not like any of you could fact check me) about how life is overwhelming and work is crazy and the kid broke his leg (to be clear, I don’t have any kids), but, instead, let’s try a little honesty in this online world of fake news. Are you ready? Here it is:

I’ve been too lazy, distracted, and/or not focused enough to put together a coherent blog the past couple of weeks.

There it is. Simple and straightforward. No fluff or extended reasoning behind it, just simple truth.

However (you knew something was coming), I have noticed an uptick in productivity while at work throughout the week which isn’t related to not pushing out a blog post, but is interesting. I work at a tech startup in sunny (and hot) Albuquerque New Mexico. The short description of the primary product is: a patient engagement platform that utilizes secure messaging, surveillance, and automation to get patients prepared for or recovered from an acute medical event (think surgery). My role is effectively relationship/project manager which means I work directly with hospital staff to implement our product within their team and improve their human processes to accommodate/embrace our product. On a daily basis, I am good at my job, but there are days when I do not have the motivation or focus to push through a list of tasks. This has not been the case recently.

I have done two big things in the past couple of weeks that could be positively impacting my work productivity. The first is remaining hydrated. I am not a fan of water. It is plain and boring. Other than when I am obviously dehydrated, water just isn’t my drink of choice. I prefer sugary, sweet sodas, coffees, and teas over water. But, drinking upwards of 100 ounces of water a day (just under a gallon) led to a couple of positive effects:

  1. I found myself in the restroom a lot more frequently – obviously.
  2. I haven’t been suffering from the mid-afternoon lull that usually knocks me down.
  3. It’s been easier to wake up in the morning (as early as 5:00 AM).
  4. I feel better overall

I highly recommend that everyone try drinking more water and less soda, coffee, and tea to see how it positively impacts your life.

The other thing I have been doing is scheduling all of my time. Now, this can cause some people stress and be a negative thing to do. I have found it pushes me to fill my time with productive activities instead of making it up as I go. Going into a day without a plan leads me to binge watch television, sleep, or generally lounge about for longer periods of time than I should. My productivity is linked to what I know I need to do within a single day; anything above and beyond what I need to do is simply icing on the cake.

Time block your day on your Google Calendar or iCal and see what happens.

Now that I have broken my 2-week drought for blog posts, I am going to sip my iced tea, chat with The Husband, and enjoy my Sunday afternoon – I hope all of you do the same!

What leads you not to accomplish your goals? How do you increase your productivity? What methods have you found to stay motivated? Let us all know by leaving a comment! Also, don’t forget to follow this blog!

Why I Deleted My Facebook Apps

Facebook Logo
Facebook logo obtained from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:F_icon.svg.

Facebook has been in the news recently for its complicit behavior towards Cambridge Analytica’s use of their API to data mine tens of millions of users. This sparked a #DeleteFacebook campaign (for which, I am sure Twitter was very grateful for) to protest the social media network’s handling of user data and its apparent unwillingness to regulate third-parties accessing that data.

With that brief synopsis out of the way, this most recent situation is not why I deleted my Facebook apps from my phone. Anyone who does not understand (through common sense, the terms and conditions, or privacy policies of social network companies) the data you put into these social media systems can be used for just about anything the company wants to use it for. These are content companies that do not create content because the masses are willing to do that all by themselves. Anything that goes into “the cloud” or on a social media site is free game for these companies. I accept all of these facts as necessary evils of the “online world” and do not have an issue with what I put online being used to profile me (after all, I put it there willingly).

However, I have been noticing a pattern of behavior over the past several months that I realized had been there since I got my first iPhone. I was spending an inordinate amount of time scrolling through my Facebook news feed and on Messenger. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular and my friends are not avid post makers; I was just scrolling through it to see if I had “missed” anything. Hours and hours spent staring at my iPhone 7 reading headlines and click-bate.

A few Saturdays ago, I realized I spent 4 straight hours staring at my news feed. I had tapped on a number of entertaining items, but I hadn’t internalized any of the information (makes sense since none of the information was worth remembering). My eyes hurt from staring at the small, high-definition screen. My body was achy from being in the same position on my couch for so long. The day was shot due to my apparent inability to get out of Facebook and off my phone.

There have been a number of studies conducted that show people spending hours on social media sites (primarily from their smart phone). We aren’t addicted to the technology (whether it be the code of the social media site or the phone itself), we are addicted to wanting to be “the cool kid” who sees the next viral meme first and shares their insight on the best meal in town or the next “hot” event.

I am 34 years old – I was never the cool kid and I haven’t had the desire to be the cool kid in over a decade. So why was I spending so much time scrolling through Facebook?

Passive entertainment. It takes zero effort to scroll through a news feed and very little conscious drive to tap a thumbs up button indicating you liked someone’s content. Unlike a hike or run, you get a pleasure from the content of your news feed on Facebook that is so easy to acquire you don’t want to do anything else.

People talk about cutting the cord when it comes to cable television providers (opting for online services like Netflix and Hulu), but so few people talk about the negative impact on kids and adults alike of needing to be on social media. These sites prey on a person’s desire to be entertained and informed. They are not inherently evil for doing this (it’s a business model created by my generation after all), but I doubt they would apologize for sedating my generation and the generations to come.

With all of this in mind, I have deleted Facebook, Messenger, and my Facebook Admin apps from my phone. I do this not as an official form of protest, but as a way of saving myself from wasting any more time staring at my phone. I will still utilize the services from my web browser on my laptop (for some reason it is less engaging in this format), but will no longer burn through 60% of my battery simply scrolling.

Since logging out and deleting the apps, I have found myself with hours to fill with much more productive activity such as gardening, reading, writing, and spending time with people in the real world. It has been amazing so far and I plan on keeping it this way.

How do you all feel about social media and its use of our freely provided content? Have you #DeletedFacebook form your devices? Did you close your accounts completely? Share in the comments below and don’t forget to visit this blog’s social media accounts to like and follow for additional content!

In-Flight Reset

Post 10 - Railyards
Albuquerque Rail Yards

I have been absent from my blog for the past two weeks as I thrust myself into an experiment to prove what I am doing has been positive. Essentially, I tested whether my lifestyle before this year was actually a bad thing. Initial results: it absolutely was bad for me.

Early this week I had to travel to New Jersey for work which broke the routine I have been following since the beginning of the year. This lapse in commitment on my part led to the aforementioned experiment. I started to leave the television on for hours on end, my diet went to shit, and I haven’t been to the gym in a week. My energy plummeted, attitude suffered, and motivation evaporated. I found myself wasting hour after hour doing nothing of importance – I passed from relaxation into laziness.

All of this helps to highlight the fact that new habits and commitments to improving yourself are fragile. It doesn’t take much to backslide into your old ways and, if you’re not careful, stay there.

I did not set out to test my resolve nor did I anticipate such a fast return to my toxic habits of the past. Fortunately, I have been able to identify what is happening and fix the problem.

Today has been a more productive day (outside of the office) than any in the past two weeks. I am in the process of an in-flight reset to ensure I don’t lose all of my gains this year and push through this barrier as quickly as possible. To help with this, I am doing the following:

  1. Calendar Organization – I am blocking time out using my personal Google Calendar to help keep me on track each day. This is not granular enough to result in notification fatigue, but pings me with general guidance as to what I should be doing.
  2. Writing – This is helped by my calendar, but keeping this blog and my personal Dailies in mind at all times. Writing has always been a way for me to organize my thoughts and vent my frustrations before they negatively impact my day-to-day. This year is highly focused on building this habit and skillset.
  3. Three Goals Per Day – I use this technique at work to ensure I stay focused on what is important. I may complete 100 tasks in a day, but it only truly matters if I complete all 3 of my primary goals I set out with at the beginning of each day. These goals can be as small “go to the gym” or “write a Daily” anything that I want to make progress on in a particular day.

This post will likely read as a bit scattered. There is a simple reason for this: it is. I needed to jump start my writing and this post is what I came up with. I hope you get something out of it like I did.

What do you do to get back on track after a stumble? Are there any things you do to make every day a productive day? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

PTSD Does Not Mean “Broken”

Post 8 - PTSD
Me in Iraq, circa 2008

As I was running on the treadmill yesterday morning, listening to the band Five Finger Death Punch, my mind wandered back to the days of old when I was in the Army. The picture accompanying this post is of me in Iraq circa 2008. I was a Staff Sergeant, infantry squad leader, and on my third tour of duty in that particular country. The quality of life during that visit to Iraq was much higher than my previous trips to other parts of the country. We had clean water, secure base, relatively clean living conditions, and only one enemy contact (an improvised explosive devise that didn’t hit my platoon or squad). It was a quiet time in our area of responsibility in Iskandariyah and its surrounding area.

With each trudging stride on the treadmill, I remembered the long, grueling runs up and down the “Schoolhouse” route in Korea. This was a favorite route of many Team Leaders (including myself once I earned the position) for its steep inclines and seemingly disproportionately shallow declines that culminated in a beautiful school tucked away from modern civilization. I recalled my brief runs on the small airbase outside of Camp Fallujah in 2004 at the beginning of my first tour in Iraq. Back then I had dreams of Ranger School, Special Forces, and a life of hardship directed by the U.S. Army. My mind flashed forward to Fort Campbell and the near leisurely squad runs I oversaw each morning. I would run the squad in formation between 1 and 3 miles out then turn them around and let them free run back to the company area – requiring each member of the squad to get there before I did. More recently, in Kosovo I reminisced about the midnight run I did, alone, that consisted of, well, running. I simply put on shorts and a t-shirt with my running shoes and started running (very Forrest Gump style). That run lasted about 15 miles and a couple of hours; running up and down the dirt roads that circled Camp Bondsteel thinking about all the things in my life.

Running has almost always been an activity of calm for me despite the fact that I am an “ugly runner”. I don’t talk while running, I don’t engage, I simply run. Nowadays, I am running to lose weight, focus my mind, and (hopefully) prevent pure embarrassment as I tackle actual races throughout the year. I have never been the fastest runner nor the slowest, always existing somewhere in the middle. This is okay with me – I don’t think I ever dreamed of being a world-class athlete, let alone a gold medal winning marathoner. Running is my center and every time I stop running for extended periods of time, I find myself off balance which negatively impacts my life.

What does all this talk about running have to do with the title of this blog post?

Post 9 - Promotion
Me getting my sergeant rank pinned on by two very helpful squad leaders…

Well, I also remembered the sprint I made from a courtyard in Ramadi, Iraq to the wall surrounding a mosque while under readily identifiable enemy fire. For those that don’t know what that means: bad guys were actively shooting bullets from AK-47 rifles in my, and my team’s direction, with the intent to kill one or all of us. The distance covered was about 100 meters and required a slight elbow-like turn halfway to the destination (the scariest part since it required the slightest decrease in forward momentum to avoid falling on our asses). We were completely exposed to the enemy and any step could have been followed by a bullet to a softer part of our bodies.

I recalled the building-to-building bounding (sprinting from one place to another) in a hostile marketplace in the rural outskirts of southwest Baghdad while a sniper and gunman took pot-shots at me and my soldiers. The sky was overcast and a light drizzle was falling down around us, everything appeared gray and downtrodden. At one point, in a surrealistic moment,  I took cover behind a vandalized mural of Saddam Hussein in the middle of the open courtyard at the heart of the marketplace. The rain fell around me as I peaked around the edge to better identify where the enemy was firing from. Everything seemed to move in slow motion, my radio seemed quieter, and an odd calm took over the world. I was strangely at peace in the middle of chaos.

My mind brought to bear the memories of jumping out of a helicopter as it hovered a foot or so off the ground over a potato field outside an abandoned, half-built Russian power plant south of Baghdad. Once the bird (helicopter) dropped its babies it quickly rose into the air and peeled away into the jet-black night sky. I led my platoon (as point-man, not designated leader) out of the potato field, onto an asphalt road, across a bridge, and through the front gates of this abandoned complex. My squad cleared the main administrative building while the other squads peeled off to their designated clearance zones. Calling the building that reminded me of most small American schools “clear” (no enemy presence), my men and I moved to clearing the shanty town of plywood buildings that had been used for storage and living spaces that surrounded the admin building. All appeared clear of enemy presence. During this clearance, someone (I don’t remember who), found a “bongo” (snub-nose, typically flat bed truck popular in the Middle East) truck with a solid coating of blood on its bed. It was presumed this was the blood of the American soldiers we had been sent to look for after their abduction by enemy forces at a checkpoint a few miles from the power plant.

Many more of these memories found their way to my mind’s eye during my short run on the treadmill yesterday morning. I started thinking about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and how it seems that the American public expects every veteran to suffer from this problem. It can be seen in movies and television all the time: Agent Booth in Bones was traumatized by the loss of his spotter, Vietnam Veterans have been portrayed as “broken” since the war was actively in progress, and newer movies about Iraq (Hurt Locker (puke), American Soldiers, and others) always contain a large portion of its cast reliving their memories from “the shit”. I know, first-hand, that PTSD is a very real thing and different people have different thresholds for dealing with it.

But what about those of us who don’t actively suffer from PTSD? Are we the exception or are we broken in other ways?

I don’t have nightmares. I don’t feel survivor’s guilt. I am not easily triggered into an “over-the-top” reaction to explosions, gun fire, or falling plywood. I don’t drive in the center of the road fearing there might be a bomb buried on the side of the road. I don’t drink heavily, trying to drown my memories and tears. Most importantly, I don’t relive my memories, I simply remember them and an appropriate emotional response occurs.

When I first left the Army, I did have issues with hyper-vigilance and over-the-top emotional responses (typically anger) to minor slights. However, this is more attributable to why I left the Army and the speed at which that happened than anything else (that’s a whole other long blog post). To help with this, I had three appointments with a psychologist at the VA in Tucson, Arizona. I think she found my telling of the stories (lack of emotion, more of a report than a story) more interesting than my reaction to them at that time. I was diagnosed with PTSD, but I didn’t seek any further treatment since I was (and am) fully capable of thriving in day-to-day life without pharmaceutical, therapeutic, or self-medicating treatment.

Despite these facts, it seems that non-veterans and veterans alike assume that since I was an infantryman who was in Iraq for 33 months during some of the worst fighting the country experienced that I should be broken, crying, and constantly talking about the medications I am on to keep me from being a danger to myself or others around me. It is despicable that people assume soldiers are broken simply because they served.

I guess what this overly long post is driving at is: Don’t assume I am broken and should be acting like that guy in that movie who drinks too much, can’t stop crying, and ultimately just needs a hug.

For those people who do suffer from PTSD, veteran or not, find someone to talk to, whether it is a professional or a friend or a family member or a dog, don’t let your experiences and memories run your life. Let it out and seek help sooner than later

Any veterans out there with an opinion on this matter? Anyone know of some good resources for people to use if they suffer from PTSD? Leave your thoughts in the comments section!

Happy Birthday To Me!

Today is my 34th birthday, it is also the day the US Government shut down for the 8th time in its history. I blame myself, a week ago I was in a really good mood, had a very productive day, and was optimistic about the future.

If you are interested in the shut down on President Trump’s one year anniversary in office you  can click that link or this one. However, if you are looking for political commentary or my thoughts on the matter, you will have to read another blog – I have no interest in sharing my political views here at this time.

This past week has been a dismal failure towards reaching my 2018 Goals. My husband was sick for the first half of the week and I ended up going down with a touch of a cold in the middle of the week. The television has been playing regularly in the background, I haven’t picked up a book since last weekend, and I missed one of my gym sessions due to the feeling of exhaustion. My personal journaling suffered and I felt motivation seeping from my pours with each conscious minute that passed.

Fortunately, I have regained my drive through personal reflection and discipline. Today, I nearly had to force myself to write a journal entry (what I call a “Daily”) but once I started the words flowed freely from me. It helped push me to write this blog post. It will help motivate me to get out of bed in the morning and go to the gym for a long run on the treadmill and some rowing work. The train may have slowed this week, but it has not been derailed.

It is easy to give up when life doesn’t cooperate with your dreams, but it is very fulfilling when you stand up and say, “I will not stop”. I have only quit a handful of times in my life and each of those times were major disappointments. I try not to hold onto regrets for my past decisions, but when I have quit (regardless of reasons) are bright shining lights of regret.

This weekend is my time to reset and focus back in on my goals. There is a lot of work to be done and plenty to occupy my time. Health, family, personal development, and so many other positive things in my life.

I hope congress can pull things together and get the government running again – my friends in the Army would probably appreciate it along with every citizen of this great country.

How do you remotivate yourself after a setback? Do you regret the times you have quit in life even when it was for a good reason? How do you move past those hurdles? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Emotional Distance and Overcoming the Reflexive “No”

This evening, my husband texted me about wanting to go to the memorial services of one of his closest friend’s dad. The services are being held in a small mountain town about 4 hours north of Albuquerque. The drive is beautiful and the emotional support for his friend, as well as his own closure, will be a positive experience for everyone. His initial inclination was not to go due to preexisting commitments; however, he changed his mind and asked me to help out by driving him to the services (which means participating in the event myself).

My immediate response was “no”. Before everyone thinks I am a horrible person and a worse husband, let me make my case. Read More »