Tag Archives: inspiration

Joy of Life

The most important lesson I have learned in half a century is that there is joy in every day. I can have a horrible day at work but come home and have a dance party with my kids. This lesson took years to understand, and takes strength to accomplish. I have to leave the bad day at work to fully enjoy dancing with my kids.

I know that this list will not surprise anyone who reads my blog on a regular basis, I’ve touched on these in different ways through the years. But hopefully this post will remind you of the things that bring you joy. 

Number 5

I love learning. School was my escape from all the craziness I was going through. Even when I was the new kid so many times growing up. Each school provided opportunities to grow. For the last couple of years I have participated in the challenge to read 60 books in a year. I don’t get to 60 every year, but I spend the year learning and I love that.

Number 4

When I thought about the role walking has had in my life, I thought back to all the times my best friend and I would walk by the river. How, especially in junior high, we walked all over town. And how I was the only senior that had to walk to school everyday… the consequence of me wrecking a car my junior year. Walking is good exercise, but the joy is in sharing with others. I take the girls on snack walks, we have nature walks, there is a certain joy to sharing the moment and world with others as I walk.

Number 3

One of the best parts of being a dad is watching my kids in activities: elementary concerts, basketball, soccer, and science fairs to name just a few of the activities I’ve spent enjoying, my wife at my side, and sometimes a coffee in my hand. It matters to me, in part because my father never saw me compete in anything. I swear I tear up every time one of my kids sees me in the crowd and they wave or nod their head at me.

Number 2

I park the minivan facing the lake. My wife and I people-watch as we enjoy a Blizzard. Cookie dough for my wife. I usually will try the special flavor of the month. These small moments intertwined joy into life. And if we pay attention, not getting lost in the routine of life, every day is filled with these small moments. Talking with my kids before bed. Letting them help make blueberry muffins. Holding hands with my wife as we watch Miami Vice. Yes, I believe joy is the thread that determines the way we live.

Number 1

This is no surprise for anyone. Writing brings a level of joy that ignites my soul. When the thoughts in my head and feelings stirring in my heart find their way to the page, I feel powerful. I feel complete. I feel vulnerable because the words I write are honest reflections of who I am. 

Thanks for sharing your time with me as I start the next half century. Do something that brings you joy today… because if we are not here to feel joy, to love others, to sing badly to our favorite songs… then I don’t know the meaning of life.

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Walking in Circles

Did you know that we walk in circles? Without a visual reference to follow, we will walk in circles (“We can’t help walking in circles”), research has proven it. I learned of this fallacy in boy scouts. On the first weekend camping trip our Scout leader instructed us on how to use a compass, but also informed us of the tendency to walk in circles. Especially if we got lost and panic set in. 

One of the reasons we walk in a circle is because of the imperfections in our gait. I personally know that my left foot hits at an outward angle greater than my right foot. Another factor that contributes to us walking in a circle is not having a clear visual cue to follow and adjust to. This was an important factor when I was in boy scouts and we would go hiking in the woods.  Hard to see the sun, and the trees started to look the same, especially when we would be in a dense part of the woods. A compass was an important tool but we also learned how to use the landscape around us to stay on track.

I’ve been thinking about this phenomenon because I’ve noticed we can walk in circles in emotional and mental ways, too. I see it in students, adults, and the culture. Walking around and around, just repeating the same thoughts and emotions. People are in motion, so they feel like they are getting somewhere, but in fact all they are doing is covering the same ground. When nothing changes, panic sets in. Anger and frustration sets in. And then things just get worse, and someone can spend years, decades, covering the same ground, over and over and over.

The most important factor needed to keep from walking in a circle is having a clear visual cue. This allows you to adjust your path. The same holds true for our mental or emotional paths. These markers can be developed in different ways. My family decides on a word each year. I have constructed a vision board before. Or simply writing down a goal on a 3 x 5 card and taping it to a mirror is a cue. It allows you to adjust your path.

The marker has to be visible, though. Too many times we simply state a change we want in our mind, or we know we need to be a better person, yet we just keep that in our hearts. And then we walk in circles because we have no visual cue to help us adjust our steps. 

Without any guidance we all walk in circles. Even if we are walking with someone. Our lives are meant to be traveled across the landscape. That is the beauty of life, the places we go and the scenery of the world around us. Same holds true for our mind and soul, for our emotions and wonderment. But we need a visual cue to keep us on track, whatever that cue may be. So find it, write it down, print it out, set it and start walking toward an incredible life.

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A New Foundation

I love it when life inspires me with dots. For my regular readers you understand, if you’re new to this blog, dots are moments in life that connect to reveal a theme or idea that I share in a post. Yesterday, life provided two dots to highlight an important aspect I had been thinking about.

In the morning I was reading the book, Dragonwings, by Laurence Yep, while waiting for my wife to complete her doctor appointment. I read through the part of the story when the earthquake devastated the neighborhood except for Miss Whitlaw’s home. “‘Papa always built well. He said he wanted a house that could hold a herd of thundering elephants -’ … No one had constructed the houses along the street as well as Miss Whitlaw’s father had built his” (pg 157).

At the time, I was just enjoying the story, not connecting any deep life themes. Until about an hour later when we headed out to get groceries.

I know it is hard to see, but this house is having a new foundation built underneath it. You can see how the ground underneath of the house is being dug out, you can see sunlight toward the back of the hole. They have half the road blocked off for the trucks and the excavator. There are temporary supports in place. Putting in a new foundation looks like a lot of work, but it can be done.

As I am prone to do, the metaphor of a foundation connected in my head, maybe because I have used it before in a blog post about parenting (“Trust Your Foundation“). However,  this time I connected the metaphor to our personal foundations, which are built with the help of our parents in our younger years. If the foundation is strong at the beginning, like in the book, we can withstand an earthquake. It doesn’t mean the house isn’t damaged, but we will be standing after the storm.

Not everyone has that strong of a start. People can feel lost in this life. They can feel like they can’t withstand the troubles life brings, but the second dot makes an important counterpoint. With some hard work, any house can have a new foundation. You have to dig deep, find the support you need, then take the time to build a new foundation for your house to rest upon.  

Our foundation is the base of our everyday life. The foundation supports our goals and provides us a stable home to live in. Our foundation will be tested in this life, there will be storms. We will stand or fall based on how well we built our base–even if we are older, working on a new foundation.

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Move

Sharks have to move to stay alive.

This is mostly true (Must Sharks Keep Swimming to Stay Alive?). For most species they have to move to push water thru their gills to breathe. So, to stay alive, they must constantly swim, be in constant motion.

What about us?

Do we need to move to live?

I say, yes.

And not just physically. We need to move mentally and emotionally. Living is moving. One of my dadisms is “We are all works in progress.” I know that we can stop growing, but we shouldn’t. Yet, there are too many things today that hinders us from moving in our lives.

The obvious factor is smart phones. I see the effects of this device as a dad and as a teacher. 

My students get restless when we take notes, but if I give them some down time with their phones… the room is quiet… and they just sit there looking at the screen. I see this with my daughters, too.

The way we use our smart phone gives us a false sense of motion, of living. An interesting TED Talk, “Why our screens make us less happy” by Adam Alter, highlights the fact that many of the apps, social media, and games have no “stopping cues”. Moments that allow us to consider moving on to something else, like the end of a chapter in a book. So, we scroll through Twitter or Instagram because we can, it feels like moving. It keeps us scrolling because the feed is moving, too. There is nothing that cues us to stop. Of course tools like this don’t want us to stop.

Adam’s talk also highlights why this can be an issue. In his talk he visually shows how much time we have in a workday from three different years; 2007, 2015, and 2017. The blue sections indicate work, responsibilities for family, and eating/sleeping. The white space is our “personal time” and the red area overtaking the white area is how much time we spend on a screen.

Chart from Alter, Adam. “Why are screens make us less happy.” TEDTalk. April 2017.

Life is moving. We are not moving when we hold a screen in front of our face. It’s not just the physical aspect either. If you think about it, much or our life is lived in our hearts and minds. The way we think, what we feel, our motivation affects how we move about in a typical day. 

We need to move in this field of our lives, too. Screen time is not the main hurdle in this area, attitude is. As an English teacher I have to fight the belief students have that reading is stupid. Understand, I teach seniors, so their belief about reading (and writing) is hard to break through. Reading is one way we can learn, but we can learn from others through listening to their stories and perspective. Social media is not the place for this, especially at this moment.

Growing takes emotions and thinking. Feeling all of our emotions allow us to understand ourselves. This takes courage and a willingness to face our own shortcomings. Thinking through our emotions and our perspective makes us better people. Also, this type of moving allows our everyday life to be lived on a deeper level, to have a fuller, more joyful life. We stop taking things for granted because our hearts and minds are in constant motion. We are moving. We are living.

Maybe Ryan Bingham (character from the movie Up in the Air) was right…

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Reflections Jan 27, 2021

The girls are settling down. The house is becoming quiet. My headphones are playing some of my favorite songs as I build a writing playlist on Spotify. Earlier I wrote a poem for my personal challenge to write a poem in 100 different forms. It was poem 81, a haibun titled, “A Father’s Gift.

But the writing muse is still burning. I am not sure where this post will end up, but it should be good (it will be musical).

I am tired. I am tired on so many levels, from the perpetual cycle of hate expressed in our culture, to the perceived apathy of living from people around me. I could link to any number of news articles to reveal how much pure negativity there is in this world, but I am tired of viewing those stories. If I took a random picture anytime during the day, it would show people staring at their phones. As if the height of living is text messages and photos saturated with filters.

In some ways, life is pretty simple. It is who we are and what we do with our time. A simple concept, yet filled with possibilities. Maybe it is because I am just months away from my 50th birthday, but time is a constant force in my thinking. I swear I can hear the grains of sand when all is quiet. I still have goals and aspirations I want to accomplish… the time to complete those is running out.

Again, maybe it is because I’ve been living for 50 years but I know that love works. I do believe that we have the choice on who we are. We are in control of how we treat people. What I don’t understand is how we keep thinking hate and pain make this world a better place. What saddens me the most is how deep this has gone. How many kids aren’t loved by their parents. How mean we can be to someone sitting next to us. How easy it is to tweet venom.

I have faith, though. Love is more powerful. Love is strength. I know I can’t change the world, but I can build my world, my home, my life with the foundation of Love. That is a start.

And then there is the pursuit of dreams… if I could figure this part out… Would I like to make a living from writing? Yes, I would. Will I? I don’t know. Money is not the main goal of my writing aspiration, respect or recognition is. To know that when someone says my name, they consider me a writer, a poet. I understand that most of that falls on my shoulders. How I present myself to the world. I know I am a good poet. My words do make an impact for readers. Yet, I feel like the world views me as someone who has a nice hobby. And I don’t know how to change that…

A final note as I wrap up this informal and somewhat musical blog. Even in these troubling times, this life is wonderful. There is pain, troubles for us to overcome. That is what makes the next day better than today. Tell your friends and family that you love them. Have a good cup of coffee and turn up that jam and dance.

Because when it is all said and done, today is the only day you have. It’s worth living for.

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100,000 Words

It Is All Connected. My little corner of the internet where I have spent seven years writing about life. I hope I have inspired readers, made them laugh, and maybe think about things at a deeper level. In a few lines I will hit a crazy milestone; 100,000 words on just this blog. (I do have two other blogs.) I know it is cheesy, but I wanted a certain word to be that 100,000 word, while also reminiscing about my writing journey. I have about ten words to that milestone, the word is…

WHY

There it is.

I considered lots of words to be the milestone word. Words that reflect what I believe, what I do, who I am. But, in the end, the word WHY reflects a central idea to my life. Answering the question, understanding my reasons for doing things has given me a clear, yet still difficult, path to follow in my career, family, and personal life. Now that I have passed that milestone, let’s look back and discuss WHY I write.

This blog has been an adventure. 2012 was the second year of this blog and the highest word count: 21,183, yet only one like for the whole year. Last year, 2019, was the highest year for likes: 281. In one way, not very impressive. I only have just over 8,000 views total for my blog. In our social media culture this means I am an unknown. Yet, I know that people have read my posts.

  • There are 105 different countries that have read my blog.
  • For the last 5 years someone has read a post I have written every single day.
  • Over a thousand times, someone has found my blog because of a search engine result.
  • My “National Honor Society Speech” is the single most read blog post.

So, why do I write? 

First, I just have to. Writing is the lens I see the world through, especially my poetry. (You can read all my poems I wrote for the Poetry Month Challenge at my creative writing blog.) I have notebooks filled with poems. I understand the pain and joy of this world through the written word.

Which then brings me to the second reason I write, to connect with people. Every writer wants to know that someone has enjoyed their works. It means that a part of the writer has made an impact with another person in this world. That is a powerful thing. I hope my works have inspired, moved, enlightened others. Simple as that.

The final reason is that writing, creating, is fun. I love the process of creating a blog post. Creating a header, finding a video, deciding on the layout. It brings me joy, even when I write about the hardships of this life.

Here is to the next 100,000 words. And thank you, to you reader. Whether this is the first post you have read, or the hundreth, I am glad we could connect.

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I’m Not OK

It was a tough day.

I learned about the song, “comethru” from a senior for an assignment last semester. I like incorporating music into my lessons. It allows me to see a different aspect of my students. This song was shared during our study of the book, Night. In chapter 6, Juliek plays a last “concert” for the prisoners with his violin. The students had to share a song that lifts their spirits when life gets rough.

Life is rough right now.

This morning the students were allowed into the school to get their stuff and talk to teachers about how their classes would be handled online. They were allowed in by grade every hour. At one point I had about 20 seniors in my class. They were laughing, enjoying the chance to be together… maybe for the last time as seniors.

“Five More Minutes” by Scotty McCreery was a song submitted as a poetic song for our poetry unit.

A classroom, a school, is an intense snapshot of life. Everyday is filled with the full spectrum of emotions. Of victories and heartbreak. Personal growth and steps backwards. Each student has their own journey, yet it is shared with everyone in the classroom. Some of the fears are the same for every student as they walk the path to graduation. But right now, we are all sharing the same fear and anxiety of the present moment.

For a few moments, I felt OK this morning. After everyone left, a senior came back in, hand out toward me. “I need one more,” he said. And we did our handshake that we do everyday in class…

I’m not OK now… But again, I should listen to my students… Another song submitted for an assignment.

 

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The Power of Together

I bet you have heard the word Synergy before.

Or maybe have read about how two horses can pull three times the weight of one horse. If you add in the factor that the horses were raised together, they can pull four times the weight. This is the example many people use to show the power of synergy.

But synergy is not just for horses, it is an important element to our lives. There are a few aspects to understand about the synergy concept to gain the most from it.

One, the idea of synergy is often renamed depending on the environment. In sports we call it team. In life it is family and friends. In business it has been labeled tribe and team. At the heart of the matter, it is the idea of everyone working together. Working together for a common goal. That is the second aspect.

Horses don’t just pull 30,000 pounds around the field for fun. It is work and there is a destination for the load. No matter the situation: a basketball season, a happy family, reaching a sales goal, there has to be a unifying destination for the work. A WHY. Simon Senik’s book, Start with Why, is a great resource for diving deeper into this part of synergy. At the surface, though, it means everyone working toward a common goal.

A hard truth here, synergy has always been used to highlight the positive. The truth is that synergy can also destroy. In real life you can have a group of people who build momentum in their negative attitude and destroy a team. Destroy the culture of a business. So called friends that bring you down from accomplishing your goals. Synergy is about how much a group can accomplish together. That means both positive and negative outcomes. This truth highlights the importance of the destination. It also explains the importance of the third factor, the right team.

The example of how much weight horses can pull has an interesting twist. As the story goes, a single Belgian draft horse can pull 8,000 pounds. Two Belgian draft horses that are “strangers” can pull over 20,000 pounds. But a pair of horses that are raised and trained together can pull over 30,000. Consider that idea for a moment.

A team that has been together over time, who have gone through the same training or life experiences, has the greatest outcome. I hate to bring it up again, but that means both positive and negative outcomes. It is important to remember as we deal with changing things for the better. Back to the idea of a team that has grown together and the work they can accomplish.

This is powerful. This is a factor in an outstanding life. At the moment of writing this blog it is state basketball time. Eight teams in each class have made it to the state tournament. Teams have grown together over the season to reach this goal. You will hear the word “team” in the interviews, from both the winning and losing coaches. It might be a cliche in a way, but it is true. It takes a team to get to this level. A group coming together for a common goal. Synergy in action.

The same happens in our personal lives. Our friends, our family, are part of our personal synergy. The difficult part is that there is not always an end goal with these relationships. Sometimes the reason, or the why, of our relationships is lost. Then we feel like we are drifting. Relationships feel shallow. Understanding and working for the WHY of our relationships is paramount. A strong marriage or friendship takes work. There are many ways to do that work. One example from my life is our tradition as a family for each person to choose a word of the year, then displaying that word in a unique way in our home (Living by One Word). Throughout the year we check-in on how we are doing with our words. We grow together.

Creating positive synergy is a powerful element for any team. No matter what type of team you are on; basketball, sales team, or family.

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Our Gift is for Others

The hardest part of our gifts – of our talents – is that they are not made for us; they are made for other people.

Let me explain…

Yes, there is a payoff for our gifts for us. Our talents enrich our lives, brings us joy. In some cases we even become rich and famous from our talents. There is a payoff for us. But we can live our whole life without expressing our talents. We can be happy. We can even be rich and famous without spending a day working on or sharing our talents.

I am a writer, a poet, a blogger. But I could spend my time not writing and be fine…

Here’s the catch.

My gift, your gifts, are meant for other people.

We have a responsibility to give our talents to the world. This is where I am going to dive deep; the why of it all.

I’ll continue to use my writing as an example, but you can swap in your gift for the rest of the blog. Ready?

A void. There is a void in our lives and in the world if we don’t share our gifts. Yes, the world will go on. Our lives, as mentioned before, will go on, but there is a void. We and others will miss moments of joy and inspiration that can change the world. I know, you think I am using a hyperbole here. I am not.

You may have seen the movie, Coach Carter, where the above clip originates from. Or have read the quote, “Our Deepest Fear” from Marianne Williamson. Part of our light is our talents. Our gifts are meant for others.

One of my favorite moments as a poet was the night I attended an open mic in Omaha where I was able to meet a young poet who was inspired by my first book of poetry that I self published in college (And I Never Told You: 20 Year Anniversary Edition). His mom bought him a copy of the book at a local coffee shop when he was in high school. He is now a regular performing artist in Omaha and Lincoln. It was only because of social media that I got to meet him and know the story.

My story highlights a hardship of our gifts… knowing what happens after we give our talent to the world. Even if we become rich and famous, we don’t know how our talent helped someone.

Stephen King is one of my favorite authors. He knows his talent is appreciated by people because of the money he earns, by his popularity. But he has no idea how his books gave me an escape during some tough times. Stephen King doesn’t know the joy I’ve experienced sharing his stories with my kids. Taking them to see the new movie version of It. He doesn’t know… and that is OK because his gift was meant for me.

As a writer I know it is hard dealing with not knowing how my words affect the world. I am sure it is the same for you. I write something I think is awesome and nothing. No thumbs up, no like or love icon activated. No retweet. I have to be OK with that because my words are meant for other people. Writing brings me a sense of joy. It is awesome when a poem finds it way out of my head and onto the page. Then I must give that poem to the world for others to use. The same applies to you and your talents. If we learn how our gifts helped someone, inspired them, that’s cool, but usually we will never know. That’s not the reason for giving.

Do you see the void now? If you do nothing with your talents you miss out on a deeper joy in your life, but the world suffers more. When you share your talents you gift the world opportunities. Opportunities of inspiration. Opportunities of joy. Opportunities to change. Your talent is a gift… give it.

Image by Myriam Zilles from Pixabay

 

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What Happens When You Strive for Your Goals

Last Friday the country artist, Hailey Steele, visited our school to sing a few songs and to share an inspirational message about chasing dreams.

You may or may not recognize her name (I share a music video at the end). Hailey was part of the duet, The Line, on season two of The Voice.

Hailey shared part of her story with us in between singing some of her songs. She decided to drop out of college after her first semester to follow her dream of being a country music artist. She was only 19 when she moved to Nashville. You can learn more by reading her story at her home page linked above.

But that wasn’t the part that stuck with me. Hailey shared the advice we all hear, to follow your dreams. Which I agree with, but that is for another blog post. What stuck with me was when Hailey shared how pursuing her dream led her to opportunities she had never dreamed of. That by going after her dream she was able to do lots of cool things along the way.

Hailey Steele doesn’t have a number one song… yet. She is still working on her dream. But because she is working on her passion, her path is filled with moments that couldn’t be experienced if she had never went for her dreams.

Reaching our ultimate goal is never guaranteed. Not everyone wins. But reaching for our goals creates moments that enrich our lives. By working on our passion, by striving, moving forward, our paths take us to new opportunities we would never have had otherwise. Those moments should not be taken for granted… they are milestones for our hard work.

Thanks, Hailey Steele, for reminding me of that.

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