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?

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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.

 

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!