There are some defining moments in your life you can pinpoint to the exact time of clarity and reason they happened. I had one of those epiphinal moments this week.
As a child my family would frequent the White Mountains of New Hampshire for our summer vacations. One key and recurring memory of those trips was visiting Franconia Falls. We would take the long, beautiful walk along the Wilderness Trail following the Pemigewassett River to our destination. Franconia falls was about 3 miles in. About a 6 mile walk total, with the return trip included. As kids, we could have sworn it was 20, but you know how that works. At the end of the flat train trestle that was the Wilderness Trail (It’s now called Lincoln Woods, and think rail trail without the asphalt), we would take a sharp left to reach the falls, just around the corner.
If you were to continue straight ahead, across a wooden bridge, that’s where the real wilderness lay. As a child, I could only picture the trail leading to the end of the earth, the certainty of getting lost, and a place only the super daring, ultra-experienced, and super-confident tackled. People simply didn’t go out there. I knew I sure as hell wasn’t. The only thing harder or more impossible than going beyond the falls trail to that unknown wilderness would be hiking the 48, 4,000 footers. Those would certainly take a lifetime to do…
Fast forward about 35 years... and hundreds of hikes later. I finally decided to just do the 48 – 4,000 foot peaks. I never really wanted to “officially” do them all, but the timing just seemed right in my life. Sure, I had hiked most of them, but never kept track, and as some of you will attest too, I couldn’t even remember if there were peaks I had actually done. I also decided to do them in a little under 3 years and hike them all before I turned 50 years old.
With some occasional foot dragging, procrastination, and overall dilly-dallying, I just about have them done. The last few months, I’ve hiked like a man running out of time on his goal (and I was, my Birthday is December 19th, and will be 50 this year). I think at last count I’ve done 18 in the last 3 months. Most were tedious, rushed, and exhausting. No matter how much you hike, the sometimes 8 total hours of driving, and 12 mile slogs just catch up with you. The mountains were burning me out, and that was one of my fears in taking a goal like this on. The mountains have always been a place of rejuvenation to me, not of misery.
The good news about a goal like this is how much these hikes have taught me. My confidence level has skyrocketed on the trails. I’ve found many of the difficult, and formerly impossible (in my mind) trails were, well, no big deal. I’m not saying that to sound arrogant, but many, if not all of these trails were totally do-able. Not always done quickly or perfectly, but all pretty easy, in the grand scheme of things.
I now officially have 3 trips left to complete them.
Last week, I decided to tackle Owl’s Head. The 18 mile hike that follows an unmarked slide up to a peak with no views. As with a lot of these hikes, I got up at an ungodly hour to drive the 2 ½ hours to walk 18 miles until my legs ached, then drive the 2 ½ hours back home again. The Goal… Almost done… Must finish…
In order to get to Owl’s Head, you need to head out on Lincoln woods (formerly the Wilderness trail), and when you get to the end, where I used to turn left to the falls, you need to cross that bridge.
This is where the epiphinal moment kicks in… Instead of dismay, horror, and fear over crossing “that bridge”, my exact thoughts were, well, “meh.” No big deal.
And with that… I decided to take a left instead and head to Franconia falls, where I had so many fond memories as a kid. I laid on the rocks for hours in the warm sun, and just listened to the rush of the river. It was at that moment, where I decided to take that left, when I realized that life is not a destination to keep running to, but a journey to be enjoyed at every moment. This is actually pretty obvious advice, and something I always said I believed in, but now it hit me. In my bones hit me. Why am I rushing through this? Why am I rushing through life in general? SLOW DOWN.
I’ll be finishing my 47th peak shortly, and would have had plenty of time for my 48th by the time I had turned 50. I think having that knowledge is as good as completing them. Then again, who cares, because it’s my goal and my race anyways.
With that said, I’m leaving Owl’s Head, as my 48th, for whenever I want. No more turning friends away for hikes I wouldn’t do because I had another peak to do, or I had already bagged that one. No more killing myself to get these done, and no more slogs to places I don’t want to go.
I am so grateful to the friends who have joined me on this journey, and so grateful for the lessons that this goal has taught me (a book is in the works).
In many ways, I feel like I just had a wonderful meal at a gourmet restaurant, and I’m just saving the last bite on my plate. I’m delaying my gratification and saving having desert, if you will, for just a little longer. I’m just extending the journey for as many moments as possible. One day I’ll finish. Or not. It doesn’t matter.
It seems like I’ve taken some serious time off between blogs and newsletters. I’ve even taken a break in my regular writing time for books. Quite a bit of time actually. A little of that was misplaced priorities, to be honest with you. Most of it was to dust myself off and take care of me though. All too often, we don’t take the time to put aside what we’re doing to take care of ourselves.
If I took time to take care of myself, was I doing ok? Yes. Great, as a matter of fact. I think there is a misconception that we need to start taking care of ourselves when we are way out of balance or sync. For many, it takes the classic “giant wakeup call”. You hear about them all the time. The heart attack, crumbling relationship, deep depression, or financial ruin. The truth is, we should be taking care of ourselves long before that, when we actually feel good. At the very least, we should act better on taking care of ourselves when we are beginning to teeter on the edge of not feeling good. What do I mean by that? The warning signs are usually there if you look closely enough. Here’s some that trigger me off: when you’re more tired than usual, your appetite either increases or decreases, or you find yourself isolating more. You don’t do the things you enjoy, ignore meaningful relationships, find you never have enough hours in the day, or even if you’ve found that you haven’t had a good laugh in a while. Those are usually the red flags that tell us we’re on a path that isn’t correct for us at the moment. When those symptoms occur, it’s an indication we need to start nurturing our balance. We need to start taking care of ourselves better.
This subject comes up, because I’ve been working hard on finishing some hiking goals. Some of the parts of this goal have helped me to gain confidence, self-discipline, and an overall better understanding of my physical limits. Many days I’ve forced myself to get up early, drive 3-4 hours, hike 10 or 11 miles, then drive back home the 3-4 hours again. This Sunday I was due to do the same thing, and recognized that my time was better off sleeping late, spending time with family, and re-assessing some things that needed it. I will hike another day. There is indeed a fine line as to walking away from our goals too easily, and accomplishing what needs to be accomplished, but if we listen carefully, we can usually separate the two to come up with a logical reasoning that is the best thing for us in the long run.
We can start to correct that balance using a number of different tools, and changing a few habits. Let’s look at a few:
An old rule for me, that I forget to use all too often, is to ask yourself the simple question,
Is this a good use of my time, energy, and resources?
Another shortened version I’ve used more recently is:
Is this a good thing for me?
You’d be surprised in asking yourself that simple question how many detrimental habits or activities we could avoid.
As for the future? I always ask myself the question
What’s the next right thing to do?
Again, I’m often surprised and well guided by the answer.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us”. ~Marianne Williamson
I’m not a big fan of putting myself out there. Being introverted in nature, I just don’t feel I belong out there. That’s the place successful, cool people hang out. It feels unusual and horribly uncomfortable essentially promoting, well, me.
Writing, and more specifically promoting a recent book, put me to that test. Facebook posts, author sites and blurbs all about myself, revamped websites, asking for reviews, asking for readers, asking for buyers… Scary stuff. For me anyways. Definitely a comfort zone issue going on there.
I have, on the other hand, come to firmly believe in the concept of creating yourself versus finding yourself. And in creating ourselves, we need to put ourselves out there. In order to shine, to influence, to impact, and to re-create ourselves and others, we need to put ourselves out there.
Out there doesn’t always mean in the bright spotlight, but it still means placing a trust in our abilities and letting whatever talents and gifts it is we have shine in the presence of others. It’s impossible to positively impact those around you, if you never interact with them in some way.
In putting myself out there, I’ve discovered a few key things.
1. I needed to work past the fact that my name and face are being plastered everywhere I could find. I had to remind myself that the book was part of my re-creation, and part of my overall purpose. Putting my book, face, and name out there are a positive part of that plan. Uncomfortable as hell, but necessary.
2. I needed to ask for help, another thing introverts don't always like doing, and was overwhelmed by the response. Overall lesson here? People want to help. You just need to ask.
3. Not everyone was cool with what I did. I’m ok with that though. Not everyone is going to agree or support you in what you do. When you finally realize a higher goal involved, you can quietly ignore the folks telling you that you can’t, won’t, or shouldn’t do something.
“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” ~Lao Tzu
I think when we finally find the courage to pursue who we really think we are, or should be, the magic happens. When we put ourselves out there for the world to see, in a humble and well-intentioned manner, we start to brighten, and the harder we work, things start to fall into place effortlessly. I wonder (myself certainly included) how many people wished they had started earlier, or stopped worrying and just started working instead. Working toward their dream, or goal, or purpose.
Sometimes the work is as simple as adjusting your attitude, or finding the resources to do so. Sometimes it means getting out of bed and doing anything. Often times it just takes us admitting or sharing our vulnerable moments or weaknesses in our lives to let other folks know they aren't so alone.
What action can you take today to start getting yourself out there?
In case some of you didn’t know, I wrote a book. Not a bestselling, New York Times kind of book, but I wrote one, nonetheless.
It’s for sale, if you’d like to purchase it ($2.99 Kindle eBook – click on link below).
Writing a book taught me a lot. More than I thought it would, actually. So here’s some takeaways from the experience:
I was reminded of how incredibly blessed and lucky I am to be surrounded by such wonderful friends and family. Honest, I mean that. If this book has any success, it was because of them. WE can all share in a sense of happiness and achievement together.
Writing a book took way longer than it should have. I say that, but I’m reminded of the Pablo Picasso story where he doodles a drawing on a napkin, and a lady who sees him do it, asks to purchase it. “Sure”, Picasso says. “$5,000”. “What?” the lady says in shock “It only took you 2 minutes to draw that!” "No", Picasso replies, "It took me 60 years to draw that.” Granted, I’m no Picasso, but I guess the book took as long as it needed to take. In hindsight, it really took me 49 years to write.
Writing is hard, and often tedious. Because of that, writers notoriously procrastinate a lot. I learned to start applying self-discipline more than I ever had before.
I wasn’t as good a writer as I had thought, and the editing process reminded me of that. It was a wonderfully humbling learning experience. I have a long way to go.
I made a LOT of mistakes doing this book, both in the writing, and marketing. I loved every one of them though, they all helped me to grow, both as an author and a person.
I guess the experience didn't sullen me too much. I'm already looking forward to my next one!
This just in; Life is not perfect.
This also just in; Life doesn’t always go your way.
Those are tough pills for many to swallow, but necessary ones to take in order to enjoy life more fully.
Often, we base our expectations of life on how it should all fall into place just the way we want it to. We frequently have a fluctuating attitude in life, determined by “as long as everything goes according to plan, I’ll be happy.” Or the classic “I’ll be happy when ______” trap. I’ll be happy when I get that promotion, perfect mate, lose 10 pounds, or when I hit all the traffic lights just right. To be honest, if that’s your attitude, you’ll be happy when your dead.
What a way to let yourself down. You may as well invite disappointment over for dinner and ask it to hang out for a while.
So much to enjoy, but we choose to stay disappointed and disgruntled because we don’t have the foresight to see that life is going to happen the way it wants to happen, whether we want it to or not.
Are there certain aspects and events of life we have control over? Well, we have that illusion anyways. We also have the ability to sway the odds in our favor for certain occurrences happening the way we’d like them too.
Ultimately, we have no control over any of it though.
Before I hear you sigh “Oh, crap”, I want to inform you that knowing you ultimately have no control over the final outcome of events in your life can be one of the most freeing feelings and pieces of information I could give you. Living a life that is free of the expectations of the way life “should be” allows you to simply stand back and experience it for what it is. It’s okay to experience emotions for the way life “is”, and to embrace and allow all the happiness, sorrow, anger, and grief to happen as a result. We just don’t need to create those feelings unnecessarily if we don’t have to. It takes away from observing things as they unfold, and in doing that we see life for what it really is. Wonderful.
So relax. Nothing is under control. Enjoy it today.
For years I wandered through the Southwest deserts, walked endless beaches seeking the wisdom of the ocean, and climbed many mountains on pilgrimages to find out who I was. I thought, and thought. I searched, I prayed. I tried to figure the answer out. Then I thought some more. No go. Then I discovered something.
There is a sense we all have of who we are, I mean, who we really are. Not the “I wish I was” version of ourselves that society or our family imposes upon us, but the God given version of who we were created to be like. I think that God given version is more of a guideline though than an actual destination. I don’t think there’s a “perfect you” ending point. I think the “perfect you” version is now. Right now. This moment. A non-perfect, mistake making, lesson learning, “it’s all about the journey, not the destination” version of yourself.
As I searched more, I found that I was creating my life, based upon the person I was created to be like, vs. “finding out” who I was. I sat down and decided to come up with a plan to simply become the man I wanted to be. The man I was created to be. I wanted to exude love, so I started exuding love. I wanted to help those around me and make the World a better place, so I started making the World around me a better place. I wanted to become a better mentor, and, well, you get the point… It sounds stupidly easy and simple, almost childish. But it is what it is, and it worked.
Without having to expend the energies involved with racking my brains over finding myself, I used that energy to proactively write my own story. In my old story, I was timid. In my new book, I was strong. I was happy, I was loving, I was, I was, I was… whatever I wanted to be. I help to create my life, and keep open to changes and circumstances that might put me in a different direction. I’m the author. I can do that. Really. I’m allowed. And so are you. YOU help to create your sense of purpose. The seeds have been planted from a higher source. Water them. Put them in the sun, and pull the weeds out when they need to be. When your harvest comes in, share it.
Who do you want to be? What new story do you want to write? How can you create your life starting now?
As I start going over some goals and plans for the new year, and what I hope to accomplish, I’m reminded of what really matters to me and what I think makes for a happier life. I figured while I was writing anyways, I would write some down as a form of a New Year’s Wish for everyone.
In this coming year, I hope everyone remembers to create experiences, lasting moments, and wonderful memories instead of simply buying more things. Travel, spend time with the ones you love, laugh, get outside, and take in all the beauty that surrounds you at every moment. Don’t look to see what you can get in life, but rather what you can get out of life.
Do something you’ve never done before, or you haven’t done in a while. Lay down to watch the stars on a summer’s night, see the sun rise at the ocean, or the sun set on a mountaintop. Step out of your comfort zone a bit more and challenge yourself to do things you never thought you could do.
Use technology and social media less. Put down your phone, and experience life on real terms, face to face with people, instead of the headlines they choose to offer you. You appreciate people more when you get to know all the bad along with the good. Social media all too often can be a collection life’s greatest hits, but to truly connect with someone, you also need to know some of their pain. Help those along who would benefit from your guidance, and don’t forget those who did the same for you when you needed it most.
Add value to the lives of others and by doing so, you will be adding value to yourselves. Love. Unconditionally. Do something for others daily with no expectation of anything back in return. Forgive others and forgive yourself, and for goodness sake, smile more. At others, and at yourself when you look in the mirror to comb your hair, brush your teeth, or see your reflection in the rear view mirror of your car. Smile. Often.
Do the right thing. When the opportunity to make a choice arises, always chose the right thing to do, not the easy, convenient, greedy, or selfish choice. Live with honesty and integrity, for the benefit of others and for yourself.
If you are reading this, consider yourself among the lucky. You are breathing, probably reasonably well fed, and still have the capacity to leave an outstanding legacy built upon love, compassion, and kindness. Don’t squander that opportunity. Don’t squander your valuable time. We all matter, and we all important. We are all amazingly, wonderfully created beings capable of so much more than we think.
May the new year bring peace, happiness, joy, and love to you. I hope you learn from all the events you experience this year, both good and bad, as positive things in your life. I wish you good tidings filled with blessed and wonderful experiences.
To those of you complaining about 2016 finally being over, and can’t wait for 2017, I have the feeling you said the same about years past. At the end of a “horrible” 2015, you wished for 2016 to be your year, because the previous year couldn’t get any worse…
I have some advice for you. Enjoy now. Not 2017, not just the weekend, and not only the summer. Start taking control over what you do with your time, and your valuable energies. Did bad things happen to you? Bad things happen to everyone. Take the time this year to ease your expectations of how life should be, and accept it as it is. Life doesn’t always turn out the way we want. It’s ok. Life is just life and does not obey your ego or commands.
Make 2017 a great year because you want to. Buy less junk, take more trips, learn what your priorities really are, and make the time to experience life instead of blaming it for your troubles and woes.
If you didn’t like 2016, then your reaction to the events that occurred during that time frame needs some adjusting. Life didn’t let you down in 2016, you did.
Hero: an individual that is admired for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities - Google
I’ve had many heroes in my life, none which have yet to wear a cape. They’ve come in all different shapes, sizes, genders, and ages. It’s funny, for as many times as I’ve searched for a hero, I’ve had a hard time finding one. They often pop up when I least expect them, in the most unusual places. Their timing seems to be impeccable. Sort of like a “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear” scenario. I guess heroes are much like teachers as well then, aren’t they?
I don’t view a hero as others might in the traditional sense. I think facing the fears that can plague any of us are heroic. People who dare to speak about things that nobody else will, or who can put their emotions out there for the world to see can be brave. Courage comes in many forms, it’s not always glamourous and it isn’t always leaping over tall buildings. For many, it can be simply leaving the house, or making a phone call.
In addition to tackling what scares us, I believe any act of selflessness, or kindness without possibility of repayment can be heroic. I think an individual who can make us see the potential in ourselves is a hero. I know, I’m afraid there’s no damsels in distress, no carrying a cool weapon by your side, and no superpowers. Sorry. I know Hollywood would have us to believe that heroes are incredibly physically beautiful, athletic, and beyond charming, but they aren’t. Most are noble though, and you certainly don’t need a pretty face or six pack abs to fit that bill. As a matter of fact, you’re probably a hero to someone and you don’t even know it.
Would you change the way you act, react, or respond to circumstances in life if you knew you were a hero? I would say most of us would never consider ourselves to be of that caliber, but think about this another way. Are you a mentor, teacher or leader? Not all of those are necessarily heroes, but the good ones are. Heroes not only save us from burning buildings, but also save us from something potentially far more devastating. Ourselves. Most of my heroes have saved me from myself more than once.
Heroes, in my opinion, are there to lift us up when we fall. To offer an positive example, encouragement, or a kick in the butt when we need it. They offer the unconditional, non-judgmental love that humans should be affording each other in times of distress or need. They lovingly guide and take the necessary time, nurturing us to grow. I think that’s something we’ve all done for someone at one point or another, and has been done for us.
We’re all quite capable of changing a life for the better, including our own. There’s not necessarily a uniform or outfit necessary (although if you want to wear a cape, I won’t stop you). So what can you do today or tomorrow to be a better hero? I say a better hero, because you honestly already are one. Stop thinking of yourself as helpless and start thinking of yourself as helpful.
Help, dare, encourage, save, and teach yourself and the others around you.
Please hero freely and hero often.
I’m no Doctor, but I just wanted to publicly share a few of the things that helped and have guided me through my darkest hours during depression. Hopefully a few of these things may help you. Please feel free to share, or to add to the discussion at hand if you’d like.
Some random thoughts, in no particular order:
1. You are not your thoughts. This may sound obvious, but maybe not to someone who’s thoughts are their own worst enemies. Take a moment to let that sink in and realize that the mind that’s constantly narrating life around you, casting judgments, and creating it’s own ruminating reality, is not you. The person who sees those thoughts bouncing around is the real you. Smile at those thoughts, and let those them float freely by, observing them as an outsider as you do. Thoughts come, and thoughts go… Learn how to meditate, if you don’t already.
2. Depression just doesn’t “go away”. And that’s ok. It will lift, and you will feel better, but it never really goes. Once I learned that, I was cool living with that knowledge. Most days are great, some days aren’t. Just like we all fight with a loved one sometimes, so it goes with depression. I have to be careful to avoid triggering moments that might put me in a bad place, but I still extend myself out of my comfort zone when I can.
3. You are not your mistakes or failures. Again, separate entities and events than who you really are. When you make a sandwich, are you a sandwich? A circus is an event, so is filling the car with gas, and so is making a mistake. The same reasoning applies to yourself. When you fail, you are not a failure. If you make a mistake, you are not one yourself. Take that burden off of yourself by again greeting any mistake with a smile and a realization that any opportunity to learn is an opportunity to grow. The tough lesson in this one? Failure and mistakes are good form us. Make mistakes, it's ok. Just stop ruminating on them.
4. Tell society to take a hike. The competitive nature of society is sickening. All the ridiculous ways we’re supposed to un-naturally present ourselves. All the crap our egos are being beaten down with, like how we’re supposed to act, dress, and look. What we need to drive, or the house we need to live in. Society embraces a competitive nature, and although healthy competition is very good for us, unhealthy, is, well, unhealthy. Stop believing the crap you’re being fed there. Stop beating yourself up. Be yourself.
5. Stop living in regret. This is one of those easier said than done situations, but it’s the truth. No matter what happened in the past, let it go. It’s gone. Learn the lesson you need to learn, and be done with it. The day needs to be lived in the now, as in RIGHT now. It’s the only moment you can experience. Living in the past is just a recollection of thoughts (remember those? See #1 above). Recollecting thoughts isn’t living them, it’s just uselessly ruminating on them.
6. Do the work. This is an important one. It’s also one of the most difficult to do when you’re depressed. Do it anyways. Talk to who you need to talk to. Read the books you need to read on attitude, on loving, on giving, and on the scientific causes of your disease. Take the walk when you need to walk. Listen to the YouTube videos on learning how to overcome what you need to overcome. Suck it up and do the work, do the work, do the work.
7. Help others. We should all be doing this anyways, but for someone feeling blue, this can be a genuine life changer (or saver). Give yourself a sense of purpose by making the life of someone else easier. Even little acts of kindness will take your mind off of yourself, and boost your outlook.
8. Seek help if you need it. Enough said. If it’s professional help you need, seek it. If it’s a friend you need to speak to, find one. Bear in mind, not everyone will be overly receptive here, or will understand what you’re going through, but be patient, and spread the wealth. Putting all of your burden onto one person isn’t realistic for either of you.
9. Set some achievable goals. For me it was mountain hiking. It was a quick, achievable goal with a distinct beginning and end point, it was also needed exercise. For you, it may be something else. Even if it’s learning to juggle or paint, pick something.
10. Eat well and exercise. Feeling good mentally has more than you think it does physically. Stay away from the processed foods, sugar, and alcohol. Take a walk, and get some fresh air and natural sunlight on your face.
11. Eliminate the negative. Stay away from folks, TV shows, internet sites or situations that can trigger you. Not everyone or everything is good for us to digest. "Triggers" are small events that hook us into feeling blue or sorry for ourselves. Noticing these triggers can help us steer away earlier from a mental spiral.
12. Take a media fast. Stay off your computer, phone, TV, and social media for an extended break. You'll live, and feel better for it, trust me. Sometimes you're better off not knowing what everyone is up to or what their opinions are.
13. The mind can play tricks on you to make you believe you're much less than you really are. If you were talking to an innocent 6 year old child, would you tell them how unbelievably stupid, ugly, useless they were? Why do you talk to yourself the same way? Take a deep breath, focus, and remind yourself that you're ok. Give yourself permission to like yourself.
14. Stop complaining and be grateful. This is a hard one, for anyone, but especially much harder for someone who is blue. Be careful what you say, and careful what you think. It's perfectly ok to get some junk off of your chest, it's actually quite healthy. Being in a constant state of "never good enough" or picking every little thing apart isn't. You have a lot to be grateful for (and here's a hint, breathing is one of them - they all don't need to be six pack abs and a yacht in the Mediterranean...)
**For those of you dealing with a depressed love one, just a few words of note**:
Depressed folks aren’t looking for attention (most of the time, anyways), what we’re looking for is acknowledgement and recognition. We just need to know we matter or that you know we simply exist.
We will drive you crazy sometimes. We will haunt you and cling to you. My neediness sometimes made me sick, but that’s part of the deal. Be patient.
The offer that you’ll “be there if you ever need me” is a heartfelt offer, but bear in mind, to us it’s like having to beg for help by calling someone. Reach out if you know someone is in a bad place. Nobody should have to crawl for help.
I will add, that having depression was indeed the best thing that ever happened to me, hands down. I learned more about myself and others in that period than I ever had in my life, and I still am.
Be safe and be well!
Let me be your tour guide to life. I'm the author of "Learning to be Human Again", and just like you, I'm still happily trying to figure this wonderful life out.