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Profit and Passion

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

-Robert A. Heinlein, Time Enough for Love (via Annie Mueller)

Once we can divorce profit and passion, only then can we find passion in any profit and truly profit from our passion. The idea being that it is not the thing that is the passion, but something deeper. That the thing is simply a clear path to a feeling… A place.

I’ve had a lot of disparate jobs in my life. Bagging groceries, working front desk at a hotel, managing video rental stores, writing customer service letters — the list goes on. A common thread I found in all of my jobs and roles, both past and present , is “helping people”. Every job I’ve had or volunteer opportunity, this is not only the common thread but what “filled me up” about it. And, if I can simply identify the way in which whatever I choose to do helps people, I then can be filled up doing just about anything.

Once I discovered that my real passion wasn’t the various jobs/titles/work I’ve done in my life but, instead, was the common thread that ran through all of them, I found that I didn’t need to do a particular job or a thing to experience the joy of my passion. I found those roles were simply a catalyst and that I could find my passion doing just about any job or thing.

If I were paid to dig ditches, I would discover that the ditch is for a water line to a new house that means someone gets clean water. Once I think it through, I can find my passion in the ditch digging.

My friend, the storyteller Kevin Kling once said to me, “A story is always about two things; What it’s about and what it’s really about.”

I think this is the really behind “pursuing your passion”.

Now I am a Writer, Technical Consultant, Circus Rigger, Home Restorer, and Mental Health Advocate (Not to mention a Husband, Father, Son, and Friend). The title field on my business cards reads, Master Generalist. If you ask me what I do for a living, I’ll answer “I help people. Sometimes, money is involved.”

I discovered that I don’t need a specific career, job, hobby, etc. to be able to “do what I love” or get “paid for my passion”, I could stop chasing it and start realizing that I already have it (or could choose to). Not only have it in one specific thing, but could have it in just about anything.

I’m not OK (and that’s OK).

This has been a hard week for me mental health wise.

One of the ways my mental illness manifests itself is shame. I’ll be walking or driving or sitting or thinking or whatever and suddenly I’ll remember something I did wrong or not enough or something I said that was mean or hurtful or inappropriate or maybe it was something I did that was so or… And maybe it happened just a few moments ago or yesterday or last week but more likely way in the past like last year or maybe ten years or twenty years ago and that’s the trigger. I cringe or curse myself under my breath or, increasingly, out loud to anyone nearby or no one and it feels like I imagine Tourette syndrome must feel because I can’t seem to help or stop just yelling out “No!” or “Damn it!” or “Fuck!” or “Argh!”as the shame wells up and grips me. It may sound crazy because it is, or at least feels that way. The Piggyback Guy has been sitting on me for weeks now.

And lately, it seems, I’ve just been unintentionally adding to that pile of shame. Things I’ve said, done, or even thought or even the now near constant fear and paranoia of what people I care about or even strangers think about me whether accurate or not. I feel deeply shameful almost constantly these days and I keep having fantasies of a freak illness or accident rendering me mute as that would have the dual result of both stopping the involuntary vocalization of my shame but also one of the primary engines of it’s creation.

Trust me, there is nothing anyone can say to hurt me more than what I hear in my own head dozens, perhaps hundreds, of times a day. Who needs enemies when I’ve got me?

So, if you ask me if I’m OK, I am not. I’m not OK. And I need to say that. I need to say that because I’m a mental illness survivor and I believe by being open and honest about not being OK it might help others be open and honest too. I know that the moment I stop letting people know I’m not OK I will be even more not OK. Saying I’m not OK is one step I know I can take to being more OK.

Yes, I’m working on it – I really am. Yes, I’m trying to keep it all together and tell myself nice things and remember (believe) the things I do right and the people that love me despite my numerous faults and the good things I know I do and say. It’s just more difficult these days.

But I’ve lived through days and weeks and months of not being OK and I know that I will continue to do so as long as I focus on trying to be as OK as I am for just one day more. I know where to get help when I need it. I know I’m not alone in this. I know that there are thousands and thousands of people right now who are also not OK. We may be not OK for different reasons or in different ways but that’s OK. We just need to find a way to be a little more OK today. We need to know it’s OK if we don’t. We need to feel OK in being OK as we are.

So, I’m not OK but that’s OK.

Handy

When people ask about the work I’m doing on The Hague House Project, they often ask where I learned to do that kind of work and if I always considered myself handy.

The fact is no. In fact, if you would have asked me 15 years ago, I would have said I’m not very handy at all. I grew up mostly living in apartments. My family that did own houses were professional people who hired for any work they needed done. I had no role models doing this kind of work and no idea where to begin myself beyond pulling out a phone book and making some calls.

“So, how did you end up learning how do to that kind of work then?”

In 2011, my wife and I purchased a house for $7200.00. It was vacant for a long time and in need of a lot of work. The thing is, when you buy a house for $7200.00 you can make a lot of mistakes — expensive ones even — and not have to worry too much about it. You can just dive in and try things. A house that cheap removes the greatest barrier the “not handy” people like me have about such things… Fear.

That house taught me a lot. It taught me that if you don’t know how to do something there are a lot a ways to learn. These days, for anything you might not know, there’s probably hundreds of YouTube videos and dozens of books one can check out of the library. You likely have a friend who is handy or, at least, has done that same something before. Maybe a local organization teaches classes on such things. You could even talk to a professional, explain that you’d like to hire them not to do the work, but to teach you. To walk you through the process so you can learn. Even if the extra time such a thing may add to the job increases the cost, the money will be well spent because knowledge is almost always worth the price.

With a lot of trial and error and effort, that house is the one my Dad lives in.

After a while, you learn that most of this stuff just kind of makes sense. Once you take apart a rope and sash window and see how it works, it’s easy to figure out how to put it back together by reversing those steps and then you know how to fix any other rope and sash window you encounter.

If anyone asks, I now can confidently say, “Yeah, I’m pretty handy.”

I’ve come to realize that this approach, removing that barrier of fear and approaching things with the goal of learning, translates to many other things.

When it comes to technology, my knowledge largely comes from my lack of fear over trying new things and pressing buttons just to see what they do. My consulting clients ask me where I learned how fix that thing that they called me in for – even if I may not have encountered their specific issue before. I explain that the main thing is my lack of fear. That I’m willing to just try things to see if I can figure it out. Push buttons just to see what they do. And, in doing so, I can now fix that problem should I ever encounter it again.

I’ve found the more I just get over my fear of trying new things and just dive in, it is more often that I’m successful and learn a new skill. It is rare that I run into something that I can’t find a way to solve.

Perhaps, you’ll find the same thing if you try.

The Unexpected Writing Group

My family went to a friend’s new house for dinner tonight. During the meal, her alarm went off to remind her of a Zoom writing group she participates in usually at that time. She said they normally meet briefly, the moderator posts a writing prompt, then they go off and write for 21 minutes, log back on, and everyone reads what they wrote.

My wife, daughter, and I thought it sounded like a blast. “We’d totally do that with you!“

And, so, we did. The other participants were welcoming and loved our esprit de corps about the whole thing. The prompt (about the end of summer) resulted in such wonderful and diverse contributions. It was so much fun and not at all how we were expecting to spend the evening.

A reminder that sometimes the universe offers up unexpected opportunities. Take them.

Some thoughts on the good stuff…

While working on the Hague House Project today, these thoughts arose as I opened the above can to paint some trim for the powder room.

  • The good stuff usually costs more. Way more. Like “How does anyone get away with charging that?” kind of more. The kind of more that stings just a little bit when you pay it; which, you will have no problem doing because you want the good stuff.
  • If it doesn’t cost more, and doesn’t sting just a little bit, it’s probably not the good stuff.
  • The good stuff usually is a bit harder to work with, because it’s made for professionals.
  • The good stuff will work better and last last far longer than anything else.
  • If it doesn’t work better and last longer, it’s probably not the good stuff.
  • You use the good stuff where it matters most.
  • If using the good stuff does not matter where you are using it, you probably should not be using it.
  • It takes practice, time, and skill to know where using the good stuff matters and where it doesn’t.
  • That said, if you don’t know if it matters or not, use the good stuff. Your pockets will be lighter but you’ll never be wrong.
  • Most people will never notice if you use the good stuff when you could have used the cheap stuff. People in the know will always notice when you use the cheap stuff when you should have used the good stuff.
  • Those who know what the good stuff is will recognize it — the attention to detail and care such a choice reveals. They will appreciate that you did.
  • Those that don’t know what the good stuff is will benefit from the quality and durability just as much as those that do.

The Middle of Somewhere

Who can find a fantastic brewery with great food in the middle nowhere Montana? Bethany can!

I recently posted the photo and caption above to Instragram. My wife posted a similar one with a caption also saying we were in the middle of nowhere.

But that was not the truth.

The truth was we were in Cut Bank, Montana which is historically part of The Blackfeet Nation. Which has been a somewhere long before The United States was an anywhere. Hardly “nowhere”.

And, I think this is important to remember. Because words mean things. The easiest way to erase a people and a place is to do so with language. To say “no one” lives there or that it is in the “middle of nowhere”. Yet, we use such language all the time.

I pledge to be better about this.

Because, to the people that live there, it is not only somewhere — it is the center of the universe. The middle of everywhere. And this is true for every human being in the billions of places we live. Every place is somebody’s somewhere. We need to honor and acknowledge this.

Tonight, I’m resting on the stolen ancestral lands of The Blackfeet Nation. I’m in the middle of somewhere. And, for me, tonight, it is the center of the universe

Thinking About Friendships

This past Saturday, one of my closest friends and personal mentors had a heart attack. It has really shaken me. He’s only a few years younger than me and one of the healthiest people I know. He’s a runner and was on mile 9 of a 14 mile marathon training run when it happened. Luckily, he wasn’t running alone as he often does. He was with someone and that someone knew CPR and was able to keep him alive until the paramedics arrived. The tiredness and fatigue he’d been feeling these past few weeks that he’d written off as long covid turned out to be a 60% arterial blockage. They put in a stent and cleared the blockage. He’ll be fine and the prognosis is good but it really has me thinking about some things…

Here is someone I consider one of my closest and most important friends yet, I haven’t seen him in months. Not since this past summer. Why? He lives less than a 15 minute drive away!

So that has me thinking a lot about friendships – especially amongst guys. We tend not to prioritize them. We tend to think that to get together there has to be a reason involved. We have to have an event or some purpose to it. A run or a round of golf. Making a batch of beer or building a deck. Or we need to get the families together, let our partners talk and kids play. Dinner or a barbecue. Often, we guys never seem to think of getting together “just because”. For no reason at all other than to connect. Have a chit chat about anything under the sun. Or, sit in silence together and just be.

We are too quick to let life get in the way. Make excuses. Put our friendships off for another day. We’re still young — at least that’s what we of a certain age group believe in our hearts and heads. We still feel as good as we did at 25 or 35 (despite the fact we are 45+) We have all the time in the world, right?

Even worse, messaging a friend to get together for no reason at all often doesn’t even occur to us as an option. We have some open time in our self-important schedules and in the myriad of things we could choose to do, we don’t even think about spending it with a friend. Friendships, and the time they require for nourishment, never seem to enter the equation. They don’t even make it on our to-do lists.

Like I said, I’m thinking a lot about this and plan to make a concerted effort to not only prioritize my friendships but to make thinking about them as an option a habit. To be intentional about giving time to the people I love.

Raising Travelers

I love this recent post by Derek Sivers about how travel is best with young children and couldn’t agree more with all of the points he made but I feel one very important one was left out:

When you travel with young children they learn how to be good travelers. This makes all future travel with them so much better. Very little whining and crying. Next to no “Are we there yet?” They grow up with it as something normal that you do and that there are certain and appropriate ways of being and expectations in those spaces.

When my wife Bethany and I were first discussing having children, I was a full time Dad to two teens. I was not able to afford to travel with them as they were growing up. I love to travel myself and grew up doing plenty. I was looking forward to their soon becoming adults, being out of the house, and my wife and I having the “freedom” to travel. I didn’t want more kids.

But, my wife had no children of her own and wanted to give it a shot. So, the agreement we made was that if we had a baby it would not stop us from doing all we had planned to do. Travel, expensive restaurants, amazing experiences — the kid would come along for the ride.

We first traveled with Beatrix when she was three months old. My wife had a conference in Denver that she needed to attend for work. She was the food source and so Beatrix and I had to go too. While Bethany was at the conference all day, and Beatrix would only take Mom’s milk from a bottle, I had a wonderful time exploring the town with Beatrix. We spent a whole day at the wonderful Denver Art Museum. I’m convinced that cemented in her the love of art museums she has today, 14 years later.

We took her to Norway at 6 months old. Mexico at 9 months. In her 14 years she’s been all over the United States and the World. Dozens of cities and towns. She’s had tea at Kensington Gardens and blown bubbles from the top of the Eiffel Tower. She’s rafted down the rivers of Costa Rica to El Salvador and floated in hidden hot springs in Iceland.

But, most importantly, she’s learned that getting to do these amazing things sometimes takes time. She knows that new production on London’s West End involves a 8 hour plane trip. She knows that New Orleans is a two day car ride and an overnight stay at some random hotel outside of Saint Louis away. She knows that we may leave some extra time in between to see the ducks in the fountain of The Peabody in Memphis on the way there or stop at our favorite book store on the way back.

She knows that amazing experiences are worth the journey. That travel involves, well, travel. Beatrix is an AMAZING traveller because she has spent her life traveling.

So, for this reason alone, if you have the means to do so at all, you should.

My Life in 3×5

I run my entire life off of a single 3×5 card using my Dash/Plus system. I wrote a post about it several years ago but it could use some updating.

Basically, on the front of the card I write down the tasks I’d like to get done today (and really believe I can get done). On the back of the card, I capture any incoming tasks that pop up or things I need to write down — like a scratch pad (i.e, things that won’t get done today but I’d like to keep for some other time). As I get stuff done, I mark it done. Things that don’t get done either get moved to the next day’s list or deferred for later. I notate all of that using Dash Plus for each task at the end of the day.

So, what do I do with all of those “later” items and other tasks that do not make the daily list? And, where to those daily items come from in the first place?

I keep everything on a “Master List” I keep in my journal. I compile this list every 2-3 weeks or so. I open up the next blank two page spread in my journal and use a GTD Guided Mindsweep that a David Allen Co. coach did on Twitter many, many, years ago (attached). While I don’t follow GTD specifically anymore the Mindsweep is very useful for triggering taks/porojects I might not otherwise think of.

The done tasks get copied into my Daily Log as I complete them. Anything undone gets moved either to the next day’s card or Master List. I rip the card in half and throw it into the recycling bin after everything is copied to where it needs to go.

When The Mask Mandates End

As the Omicron surge recedes and we continue to see a sharp decline in positive COVID cases across the country, many places are dropping mask and vax requirements. When the mask mandates end, you’ll likely see me still wearing one in most public situations. There are many reasons. Here’s some off the top of my head…

  • Compassion. When I wear a mask I’m acting in compassion for others. Keeping those I interact with safe. Keeping those they interact with safe. Keeping my family safe.

  • Health. This is not just about COVID-19. I’m someone who normally catches at least one flu (regardless of getting a flu vaccine) and several cold/cruds over the course of the year. The last two years, I’ve not been sick with any flu, crud, or cold at all. First time in my memory that’s been the case. This means I also haven’t spread a flu, crud, or cold either. Part of this in due to my mask wearing (and yours, thank you).

  • Warmth. I used to be fairly hearty against the cold. But, as I’ve gotten older I’ve become less so. My head, especially, gets cold quickly. I actually like wearing a mask outside in the winter. It keeps my face warm.

  • Respect. When I enter a store, restaurant, or even a private home, I may not know what the owner’s preference is. Therefore, out of respect, I’ll default to wearing a mask unless I’m told it’s OK to do otherwise and then I’ll make my own choice based on my level of comfort. It’ll likely be the case that I’ll opt to keep mine on and I similarly expect the same respect in return.

  • I don’t mind it. I have lots of nice well-fitting masks in colors to match what I’m wearing. Because they fit well they don’t fog my glasses (and, if yours does, that’s because it does not fit and, therefore, you are less protected).

My approach this entire pandemic has been to try to sit with the idea that, without any mandates at all, most will take the precautions they feel most comfortable to them. That shops and public spaces will present their terms of engagement in good faith and we all can choose our comfort with that; with non-engagement as one of those choices. I may not agree with it but I at least have to accept it (Because what else can we do?).

Wearing a mask in most public situations makes me comfortable.