Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Midnight Rainbow That Fell From The Sky

In the summer of 2009 I was living in my truck.

A year earlier I had been a successful businessman with a big estate home and a picture-perfect family. Then it all unraveled.

As I was losing everything, I took what little was salvageable, selling off everything that I could, and set up my soon-to-be-separated-wife and our two young children with a furnished country home and a reliable Volvo station wagon. Then, I gave away everything but the absolute essentials and blew up a mattress for the covered back of my rusty old Ford Ranger (that was replacing my recently repossessed, leather-seated, German sedan).

With my business shuttered (ironic, perhaps, having only months before received my second consecutive nomination as business leader of the year), I found a job bartending and dropped off my tips every few days in Karen's mailbox. I was doing what I could, but felt terrible as she deserved so much more.

One evening, I finished my shift just before midnight and walked out of the air conditioned pub into a sweltering heatwave. I was grimy and sweaty and wanted a shower so badly. The YMCA was long closed and it was too late to drop in on anyone. Feeling a bit sorry for myself, I decided to drive to the lake and have a cooling dip before finding a backroad on which to park and sleep.

All alone, I waded into the shallow water, stopping a few hundred feet out from the sandy beach to lay back with only my eyes and nose above the surface. Unable to hear anything but my heartbeat, I gazed up at the shimmering stars and let my thoughts wander.

At first, I found myself focusing on all that I was missing. A soft bed. The incredible amounts of "stuff" I had worked so hard to accumulate over the years. The prestige and respect that came with being a community leader.

This list of woes continued to grow, but, before my mood could go into complete freefall, I caught myself and very consciously decided that I needed to take inventory of what I still had in the "plus" column.

Well, I was healthy. I still possessed every talent and skill with which I had earned my way to "the top" in the first place. I had magnificent children, and a loving, respectful friendship with their mother. I had a handful of close friends and family. In short, I realized that I had everything that mattered.

At that very instant, there was a colourful explosion directly above me. It was so spectacular that I recognized it right away as fireworks. But fireworks as seen from the inside of a 360 degree mirrored bubble, as my eyes were perfectly positioned to take in the reflection simultaneously.

I would later discover that a family had brought their leftover Canada Day pyrotechnics to the beach for a midsummer treat, but for now I didn't worry about where this show came from. Instead, I remained acutely aware of what a unique and magical opportunity I was experiencing, as burst after cascading burst enveloped me in a kaleidoscope of colour.

By being absolutely present, the few minutes felt like a lifetime - a lifetime during which I renewed my gratitude for everything I'd ever had and would ever have again. And for this miraculous moment that could never have happened had my life not unfolded exactly as it did.

Once the last rocket had burst in the midnight sky, I stood up in the waist deep water and walked in to shore. The family, gathering their blankets to head home, was startled to see me, as they had no idea I had been directly beneath the falling embers. As they started to apologize, I cut them off with a heartfelt "thank you" and explained how it had been an incomparably beautiful show, the likes of which would almost certainly never be repeated.

Today, four years later, my life is completely different again, filled with opportunity and travel and adventure and love. I am closer than ever with my children, and still best of friends with my erst-while wife (who has built a magnificent world of her own with a beautiful log home, a dream job, a small business, and a fantastic boyfriend).

With a blossoming (and perfectly portable) new career, I have replaced very little of my material possessions, choosing instead to travel light and remain ever available for whatever serendipitous satisfactions life brings my way. 

Because there is always a miracle hovering, whatever the circumstances. Sometimes you just have to get out of your own way to see it.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

How do I want to spend my last 45 seconds?

I received a Facebook message a few minutes ago, thanking me for some advice I had shared a couple of months back. It closed with the question...
  • By the way, I remember you once posted that you never have a bad day. You might have a bad moment but you never let it ruin your day or even your hour. What is your secret?!
My reply was simply,

  • Johnny Waite

    You are most welcome brother.
    My "secret" is pretty simple. I try to take nothing for granted. If I can be grateful for every little thing, then when the occasional "bad" thing happens I am well aware that it is the exception. And when I have a bad minute, it is a bad minute and I let it go. Not very many actual events last all day, so THEY are not what makes our day bad - WE do, by rehashing them again and again. Car accident - split second. If you are alive, then you can start being grateful. Bad news in the mail - momentary. Etc. Even if something does actually ruin a day or a week or a month, it is still entirely our choice as to when we are going to shift our focus to all of the things we can still choose to be happy about. Even "the big stuff" is not exempt. Cancer - 90% of your time is NOT consumed by chemo and radiation, etc. So enjoy it. And it is likely even more valuable as you suddenly do not have "infinite" time left (you never did, but fooled yourself). I have said to my kids that if I am ever going down during one of my many flights they should know that I had a huge smile on my face because "why the fuck would I choose to spend my last 45 seconds sad and scared when I know full well they are probably my last 45 seconds??!!"
    Hmmm, that may just be a cut and paste blog post 

I do realize that I am fortunate to operate this way, and I have come to see where this sort of advice can actually come off as very glib. But all I can do is share my experience and what works for me. If you are not in a place where you feel it is applicable, then I still send you love and good energy in dealing with whatever is on your plate. And if someday it resonates better, then I hope it is still wedged in the back of your mind somewhere.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

a small silver circle

So, I got my nose pierced on Friday.

Why? Because I have always wanted to. I really like the look of a small silver hoop, and decided to get one.

I had always resisted this impulse before, because I saw where it could be an impediment for me - as a Realtor, during my brief foray into politics, etc. But now my life is set up in a way that I can't imagine it really mattering at all - coaching (I don't see any of my current clients caring, and actually view it as a good filter to make sure I am working with people with more to worry about than that), race management (non-issue), speaking (the audiences I am addressing would not mind, and I can always take it out for events where it could have a negative impact). Even officiating weddings - most of the couples who use me do so because I am different. And, again, it can always come out.

Back to Friday - I was driving home to Orillia from watching Katy's soccer tournament in Alliston, and I just decided to head right past town and continue up to Gravenhurst. There, a small piercing shop called Triple Sick Skin advertises "any piercing $20". I had been there with Katy and her cousins when they got their noses and belly-buttons pierced. I walked in, was taken straight to the back, pierced, paid and was back on the road in 10 minutes.

And I loved it. It looked exactly as I expected.

My next stop was meeting in person with a coaching client. We had a great conversation and the nose ring never came up. After that, it was to Kahuna Surf Shop to watch a skateboard movie with Jack. As soon as Jack arrived he said, "Did you get your nose pierced?" When I answered, "Yep", he added "Seriously??!". And then he shrugged.

Much to my surprise, my daughter was a different story altogether. She joined us after her dinner with a friend at Brewery Bay. Noticing right away, she immediately expressed her displeasure. Quickly, she worked herself into a bit of a fit, finally asking me for the car keys so she could wait for us there (taking her tattoo and multiple piercings with her). This caught me rather off guard. I expected my parents to be marginally upset, but I have lots of practice in dealing with that over the years. Katy's reaction, though, left me unsure of what to do next. When I dropped her at her Mum's we agreed to discuss it later and I promised to remove the nose ring if it still bothered her.

Saturday was a busy day - I was in Toronto for a morning funeral. I sat beside a prominent city lawyer and we had a great conversation about the deceased, about the church, and about my godfather who, it turned out, had been recruited many years ago by this very lawyer to work in his firm. Nose ring = non-issue. Then went for a trail run with my friend Paul. Nose ring not even mentioned. Then two Hot Docs screenings, where I fit right in, and a dinner conversation with the publicist for the films. Again, it never came up.

Jump forward to Sunday. I picked up Katy and Jack to take them to Canada's Wonderland for the day. Katy was over the initial meltdown, but immediately commented, "I see you still have the nose ring." I replied that we hadn't had our discussion about it yet, and reiterated that I would remove it if she still wanted me to. We had a fun day, and I dropped the kids back to their Mum's for dinner. I then went to a friend's to lead a guided visualization. She asked "Have you always had a nose ring?" I answered that it was new, and she commented that it looked good.

Monday, I picked Katy up from school and took her to Mariposa Market for a conversation. We talked about the trials and tribulations of being a teenage girl. I noticed how very much she was no longer a kid. She is almost 5'8" tall, very poised, and speaks very well. We talked about existential things - "what IT all means". We talked about her goals for university after next year (despite my urging her to drop out and be a surf bum, her 90+ average will likely lead to scholarships and a bright future in higher education). I was reminded, yet again, why Karen and I are both so proud of our kids.

I asked what it was that upset her so much about my nose ring. She said that it was ridiculous. That it is not something that a 45 year old man should do. That she will be embarrassed in front of her friends.

I was about to launch into my justification that we should not let other people's prejudices and "hang-ups" impact what we do. That you should do what makes you happy as long as it does not hurt anyone else. That this is just a small silver circle that doesn't mean anything. That this is a great opportunity to demonstrate to her what it means to really just be yourself.

Then, in a blink, I realized that there was a far bigger opportunity for me here. The opportunity to demonstrate to my daughter that her opinion does matter to me. That if this small silver circle really doesn't mean anything, honouring her feelings and concerns does.

So, as soon as I got home, it came out. And, when I woke up this morning, the hole had already healed over.

I am very glad that I got my nose pierced on Friday. Just not for the reasons I had expected to be.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Why not just forget that you can't?

(This is a note to myself that I just found. I wrote it on a plane from Denver to Durango last October, en route to run across the Grand Canyon and back - an incredible experience about which I still have not really written. Anyway, here is what I had jotted down to share - better late than never...)

I was reflecting today on some of the things that I "knew" a few years ago that I wasn't "good at".

I knew I was not a runner.
I knew I was not a photographer.
I knew I was not a blogger.

I guess that how I "knew" these things is that I didn't do them, and that was proof enough for me that I "couldn't".

Fortunately, somewhere along the way I forgot that, and started to run anyway, and post pictures to Instagram anyway and write a blog anyway.

And it turns out I CAN run, not particularly fast but really, really far.

And I love so many of the pictures I snap. Not with any fancy equipment, but often I see something that grabs my eye and pull out my phone to capture it.

And my blog posts have been read 42,000 times and counting (and I really enjoy writing them).

So, apparently, the only thing stopping me from doing all of these things was my belief that I could not do them, which came solely from my not having done them.

Do you see that same insane loop anywhere in your life?

Is there something you wish you could do but "know" you can't?

Maybe you even tried ONCE and weren't "good" at it. Surprise, surprise!

Maybe (actually, definitely!) the secret is to do it anyway.

Don't take it all so seriously.

Have fun being "bad" at it and keep on keepin' on.

Do it for the sheer love of doing it, and you will find that, inevitably, you will start getting better at it too.

Hopefully, you STILL won't take it all too seriously, because I believe THAT is where the real magic lies - in becoming good at something that you would do even if you were bad at it :)

What are the things I still "know" I am bad at?
Playing musical instruments.
Maintaining a website.
Managing my money wisely.

Maybe it is time I give up those "beliefs", and simply start doing them as well.

This is just me rambling as I fly from Dallas to Durango (well, the pilot is flying - I am just passenging).

Hopefully, if you've bothered to read this far (and I forgive you if you haven't, though, of course, you won't know that - haha), you will have looked at places in your life where you can let go of some "can'ts" and get doing it anyway.


*** Just for fun, here is a great 4 minute video that a friend put together for me, without even being asked, from pics and clips I had posted on Facebook.

Thanks again Mark Beers! (His email is included at the end of the video, if you'd like him to create something for you.)