Letting Freedom Ring…

me22bMartin Luther King Jr. Day will always hold a special place in my heart, as I have some amazing memories associated with that very day.  Additionally, I have always been a fan of Dr. King and his contributions to our society.  So, it only seems fitting that I publish this month’s article on MLK Jr. Day.

I recently took some time to re-read the transcript of Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech.  I am amazed at the power this speech still holds with me – over 50 years after it was originally delivered.  If you haven’t read the text in a while, I certainly recommend spending a few minutes to review Dr. King’s words.  Regardless of your point of view, background or situation, there are three key items I feel we can take away from the “I have a dream” speech:

#1 – Appreciate & Take Advantage Of Our Freedoms

Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech makes references to the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the United States Constitution.  One thing rings true at the core of all of these references … freedom.  Countless individuals have spared their lives protecting this concept of freedom for our nation.  Honestly, it is probably the single most valuable attribute of the United States of America.  Let Freedom Ring!

With this in mind, I stress that we always appreciate our freedom and take full advantage of the freedom that has been given to us and preserved over the years.  Find ways that you can use your freedom to make this world a better place.

The adoption of my son is a direct benefit of the efforts made by Dr. King.  I cannot imagine going through the process in a world stuck in 1963 ideals.  So, I truly appreciate everything that Martin Luther King Jr. did to improve our society in such a way that I can experience the amazing emotions of being a father to my son.

#2 – Equality for All

Dr. King’s main focus in his speech was to resolve the issue that no person should “be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.”  That everyone deserves an equal opportunity – building upon the freedom by which our country is based.

This is probably the easiest item to apply in our daily lives.  If we simply treat others in the way we wish to be treated, we will naturally be more apt to provide a stance of equality and avoid introducing any unnecessary judgement.

In my lifetime, I have been blessed with the opportunity to collaborate with a diverse group of individuals – both in my career as an Information Technology professional and in my personal life.  Truly, I believe this has been a blessing – with the results of such interactions far exceeding the otherwise-limited accomplishments.

#3 – Dream like Dr. King

The world of 1963 was a far different world than 2014.  Dr. King had a dream that his children and their children would not have to experience the same world of 1963.  So, he wrote a speech – speaking directly from his heart – on how he hoped things would change.  While his dream and views ultimately led to his death, his contributions and sacrifice did play a huge role in the improvements that have been made in today’s world.

I believe we should all have dreams and strive like crazy to reach them.  If you are not happy in your current situation, figure out what really makes you happy and take that leap of faith to get there.  Sure, it will be scary and certainly there are unknowns, but no dream or goal comes without some form of risk.  However, when that dream is reached, the feeling of accomplishment and success is second to none.

Thus, on the day we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, I challenge you with the following:

  • remember to appreciate the freedom that has been given to us
  • always treat others with respect
  • search deep inside your heart and soul in order to find your dream
  • figure out how you can make a difference – with yourself and those important to you – to ultimately make the world a better place

Happy Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. day, everyone!  Let Freedom Ring!

Have a really great day!!!

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Taking Mary’s Approach …

me17bWith Christmas approaching and the year 2013 coming to an end, I thought it would be appropriate to dedicate this month’s article to Mary and the challenges she faced – without hesitation – in following the will of God.

If we put things into perspective, nothing could have been worse for Mary – to become pregnant out of wedlock.  By today’s standards, such a situation is far from uncommon.  Back then, however, the emotions that Mary felt and pain she endured were certainly the most challenging of her lifetime. Nothing could have impacted her more, than to walk this earth for nine months carrying a child without the baby’s father standing by her side.

But Mary did not let these things get to her.  Instead, she simply put her trust in God.

Through these last several weeks of the 2013 holiday season (which I will admit have been challenging to endure), I have meditated over the following points to give me strength:

  • God is Respectful – He wants to bring (and keep) dignity into our lives.
  • He is Eternal – God’s promises will last forever … and never be broken.
  • Trust in God – we should always trust in Him … even when we don’t understand.

I will likely not post another entry before 2013 ends, but I will admit that I am not sad to see 2013 drift away.  This year has been filled with quite a bit of pain and sadness, broken promises, and situations that I don’t know if I will ever fully understand.  While I often feel like I am in a similar position as Mary – I know that I am nowhere close to the pain and suffering she endured.  However, I am going to follow Mary’s lead – take her approach – and put my trust in God, even when I don’t fully understand everything that is going on in my life.

In two days, I am going to start a new tradition on Christmas day.  I will ask everyone celebrating with me to state one thing they are thankful for that has happened over the last year.  Perhaps, this can be part of your Christmas tradition as well.

On 01/01/2013, my Facebook post was “Happy New Year!!!  Hoping your dreams and wishes become realities.  Have a really great 2013!!!”  I truly meant everything I wrote in that post and was excited for the days ahead.  For 2014, I am going to try again, with the same thought for 2014.  I do hope for better results this time … and with God’s help, I believe that will be the case.

Thank you for reading this article and my goal is that you can gain something helpful by reading my thoughts. 

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!!

Have a really great day!!!

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Being Thankful …

me16bAs I prepare my “amazing turkey” this year, I find myself struggling with just how different my life has become compared to the plans and goals that I thought had been set.  While things have gotten better, I wouldn’t be truthful if I were to say that the consequences of those events no longer affect me.  Instead, I have accepted the fact that I will continue to deal with those emotions – which I believe are the result of the level of love and admiration that I will always maintain.

However, my focus with this article is being thankful.  Since I very much enjoy lists, I thought I would provide a bullet-list of the items in which I am thankful for this year:

  • My amazing son.  I can’t express how much Eric has blessed me by being introduced into my life when I held him in my arms for the first time 5,006 days ago.  It is hard to believe he is 14 years old now.  He is simply amazing and has inspired me more than I ever would have imagined.
  • Family.  When my new reality unfolded earlier this year, it was my family who stood by my side and helped me when I needed them the most.  You certainly don’t get to pick your family, but I honestly feel like I hit the jackpot with them.
  • Friends. A pure extension of my family is my network of friends who have been at my side.  When my best friend slipped away, I saw current friends, new friends and friends I had lost touch with over the years reach out to help bridge that gap.  They listened and have endured the challenges with me and I will always be forever grateful.
  • Those who protect our freedom.  I must thank everyone who has given their careers and even their lives protecting the freedom that exists in our country. Without them, it is likely I wouldn’t be able to perform the simple task of maintaining this blog.
  • My health.  I am certainly thankful to maintain a very good bill of health.  You are only as old as you feel, which still keeps me feeling like I am in my 30’s … if not younger.  (grin)
  • A wonderful career.  I could not ask for a better career, especially working at E-gineering.  They have been a tremendous blessing on so many levels – far above a simple job and corresponding paycheck.  Honestly, the group at E-gineering are a subset of my friends and family – for the same reasons noted above.
  • My God-given gifts.  I am modestly thankful for the ability to perform music, which has led to some memorable moments and individuals being lead to Christ.  I am also thankful for the ability to capture my thoughts and emotions on this blog, as it has been quite a therapeutic medium.
  • Mags.  I am very thankful for my Golden Retriever, who has always been the definition of unconditional love.  I know it may sound crazy to some, but I really think she understands at times – especially when she will do something to make me laugh, just when I needed to laugh more than anything else.
  • God.  Last, but not least, I am endlessly thankful for our God.  He has been on the receiving end of each and every prayer I have spoken, which has been quite a bit in 2013. He has directed me to the right scripture when I needed inspiration.  He has given me peace and helped calm me down when I needed it the most.

At the top of this article, I indicated that my life is different from the plans and goals that had been set.  While I will tell you that I believe those plans and goals were set with God in mind, I am certain God either has another set of plans and goals for me, or He is not ready for those plans and goals to be put into place at this point in my life.  I am thankful for God and will continue to put my trust in Him.  In the meantime, I promise to not lose sight of all the wonderful things in which I am truly thankful for this season!

“give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NIV)

Happy Thanksgiving to each and every one of you!  Have a really great day!!!

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Overcoming Rejection …

me15The feeling of rejection is an unfortunate emotion that everyone will likely endure in their lifetime.  Unfortunately, some will even encounter this misery more often than they probably deserve.

Rejection is often introduced at an early age when being the last one picked for an activity. During that same time period, it can also be unintentional when others simply elect to not include you.  Regardless of the mechanism which triggers the situation, the feelings associated with rejection are the same.  Fortunately, this kind of rejection doesn’t typically last a prolonged time period – nor does it typically lead a lasting impression on a young child’s life (all horror movie plot lines excluded).

My focus here, however, is the type of rejection that is experienced after completely devoting your heart and soul to a given situation.  This differs from the childhood example above, because you have invested yourself completely and received signals or assurance that your focus was with merit prior to the rejection occurring.  So, when this form of rejection arrives, it is met with a heartbreak and sadness which doesn’t seem to pass quickly.  Basically, you feel abandoned … which is a valid assessment … and the emotions that accompany the situation seem impossible to overcome.

When dealing with this type of rejection, I have found myself stuck in a cycle which revolves around the following components:

  • Sadness phase – the sheer heartbreak associated with the rejection/abandonment leads to sad emotions dominating the heart, mind and soul.
  • Analysis phase – retracing the events leading up to the rejection in order to try to understand how/when/why things went wrong.
  • Hopeful phase – finding something from the Analysis phase to cling to in order to give hope that maybe the rejection will be short-lived and will be met with reconciliation soon.
  • Re-analysis phase – trying to figure out how and when the situation will be reconciled, which convinces you that things will be back to normal soon.

Unfortunately, this cycle can prove to be self-destructive, because the Analysis phase feeds the Hopeful phase – which, in turn, drives the Re-analysis phase.  Then, when the realization is reached that the Hopeful phase was driven by false hope, the cycle repeats itself and the Sadness phase returns.  What makes it worse is that you feel rejected again each time the cycle repeats itself … which is why I referred to the cycle as being self-destructive.

So, how can this situation be avoided?  I can honestly tell you that someone telling you “Dude, you have to get over it” or “Dude, you just need to move on” neither provides much help.  However, the following points have proven to be helpful to me:

  1. Give yourself time to be sad, upset and even angry.  It is no fun being abandoned and the sadness factor increases with every broken dream, plan and goal that was set and ultimately tossed aside.  Find your place to release these emotions. Don’t be surprised if more than one trip is required, as it can take a while to push through this part of the healing process.
  2. Realize that you are not the only one being rejected.  Sadly, there are probably tens of thousands of people (if not more) suffering this same fate at any given time. The situation might not be exactly the same, but the emotions being felt are very similar.
  3. Believe that you will be happy again.  I know it can be impossible to believe it, but you will be happy again.  That is not to say that the sadness from the rejection will go away forever.  Honestly, there is a better chance that you will still have to face those emotions each and every day … just know it won’t be as hard as before.
  4. Face the fact that you were rejected and there is nothing you can do to change that reality.  In the cycle above, I found myself trying to figure out how/when/why the rejection happened.  Honestly, if you are affected by the rejection in a major way, there is a very good chance the core reason wasn’t because of you at all. Here, you have to realize the rejection is out of your control and there’s nothing you can do, but walk away.
  5. Pray and be thankful for what God has given you.  Remember, everything outside of your heart, soul and relationship with God are merely a source for temporary happiness.  I know that can sound a bit harsh – but what God has given us will always exceed whatever we believe we need in our lifetime.  Even better, by putting your faith in God, He will make sure you are on the right path … you just might not realize it right now.

Others have suggested that throwing yourself into work-related tasks or even a hobby are good things to help fend off the emotions associated with rejection.  However, in my case, neither helped me.  Even when I would be fully entranced with work, the emotions from being rejected still overwhelmed me to where I needed to escape, take a walk and let the tears flow.  When attempting to focus on music-related items, the memories of life before the rejection caused a sadness that was triggered just as the first note played reached my ears.  These might be suggestions to aide your recovery, but did not work well in my situation.

A song that has really helped me through all of this is “Busted Heart (Hold On To Me)” by King & Country.  The lyrics below really put things into perspective for me:

I am the wandering son
Enough is never enough
I keep chasing the wind
Instead of chasing Your love
I’m screaming out Your name,
Don’t let me fall on my face
I’ve got a busted heart
I’m in need of a change
Yeah, I’m desperate for grace

Broke Your heart a thousand times
But You’ve never left my side
You have always been here
For me

You never let me go
You never let me go
Don’t ever let me go

My goal with this entry is to complete a series of thoughts found within the following blog entries:

I truly hope these articles were insightful, helpful or enjoyable to read.  If nothing else, they helped me work through some very challenging emotions that I really wasn’t prepared to face at this phase of my life.  (Not that anyone really is ready for this kind of thing, right?)

I am planning to go a different direction with future blog entries … just not sure which direction I plan to go at this point.  I certainly welcome your comments, if you have any ideas or suggestions.

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Taking A Chance …

me14I recently participated in the annual E-gineering golf outing, which was held at the Golf Club of Indiana.  The weather turned out to be excellent for spending the day with my fellow co-workers and friends of E-gineering.

Our foursome ended up +4 on the day, which is not anything to brag about in the standard Florida Scramble format.  Of the 76 shots that comprised our score, I would guess I ended up taking about 62 strokes throughout the day. Thus, for our entire foursome, close to 250 shots were made.

When I wasn’t the one taking the shot, I would often stand at a distance and observe my fellow golfers as they first took a few practice swings and finally their actual swing. What I consistently noticed was the difference between the last practice swing and the actual swing made by the golfer – which made some form of contact with their golf ball.  Only in rare cases was the last practice swing worse than the actual swing.  Certainly, the pressure from actually hitting the ball introduces factors that are not apparent during the “practice swing” phase.

The obvious difference between a practice swing and an actual swing made me wonder how this same analogy applies in other aspects of our lives.

One easy example, still using a sports theme, is often found with the field goal kicker for a football team.  By attending a football game it is easy to see this same phenomenon at work.  Watching the field goal kicker during pregame will often result in very high success rates – even at long distances.  However, when the field goal matters and the result of the game is on the line, the pressure from actually making the field goal introduces factors that simply do not exist during the pregame warm-up session.

Stepping away from sports and focusing on the human emotion side, I believe this same phenomenon exists.

Consider the situation where a major decision is about to be made.  Prior to actually making the decision, the “practice swing” phase is in play as the mind begins to comprehend the situation and try to plan for a world on the other side of the decision.  At this point, things are pretty much stress-free as the individual can explore the possibilities with very low impact on their life or the life of others potentially impacted by the decision.

Just like in golf, the time between the last practice swing and the actual swing is when things start to get complicated.  The human mind naturally begins to introduce stress and additional factors (perhaps fear, uncertainty, doubt, guilt, etc.) into the decision – which did not exist during the “practice swing” phase of the process.

In the sports examples provided above, the golfer ended up taking the shot and the field goal kicker ended up attempting the kick, but with human emotions there is an alternative path – which is to simply not make the decision and to abandon the decision process all together.

Depending on the amount of time and effort that has been invested into the “practice swing” phase of the process, abandonment of the decision is a short-term solution at best.  When this happens, the mind has helped convince the individual to give the current situation one more chance.  That perhaps maybe everything isn’t as bad as originally thought, that the decision will impact too many people (so it is just best to leave things as they are), or maybe both are valid in the mind of the individual facing a decision to make.

While abandoning the decision might seem like it is the path of least resistance and something that can be tolerated, all the reasons that drove the individual towards wanting to make the decision in the first place will soon re-emerge to the forefront.  That not too long down the road, the individual will again face the crossroads of having to make that same decision again.

Two quotes that I wanted to share:

  • In the end, we regret the chances we didn’t take, relationships we were afraid to have and the decisions we waited too long to make.
  • A chance not taken is an opportunity missed.

The second quote truly applies to the golfer and the football kicker above.  The reason they actually take the swing or attempt the field goal is because they believe their attempt will be successful.  Additionally, if they don’t make an attempt, they have no way of knowing the result.

So, applying this to the human emotion side and the major decision example, it is important to keep in mind the conditions that led toward the “practice swing” phase of the process in the first place.  It is far easier to walk away from the decision and pretend that the world will be just fine without having to go down that path. However, doing so abandons the opportunity to have a better life experience. And all the other individuals, whom the individual thought were being protecting by not making the decision, could also be missing out on a far better life experience as well.

Taking a chance often includes risk, fear, uncertainty or other not-so-great emotions. However, not taking a chance can include these very same emotions … but also introduces the regret of not knowing how much better things could have been.

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Be Positive …

20130801_122238[1]As human beings, we are blessed with the ability to process emotions. This can be an amazing attribute when realizing the rewards of falling deeply in love, experiencing the magic of a new born baby or spending an awesome time with loved ones.  Of course, it can be a not-so-amazing thing when dealing with a broken heart, losing someone from your life or facing the fact that planned events are no longer going to happen. What further complicates matters is that (more often than not) aspects which are out of our control help determine which emotions we actually receive.

For quite a while, I have tried to maintain the outlook to “be positive” with each situation that I face.  That whole idea of the glass being half full instead of half empty.  Of course, this viewpoint is only as strong as the most challenging test.  In other words, it is quite easy to “be positive” when everything is going exactly as expected.

The concept of an acid test originated as a process used to differentiate gold from base metals.  Over time, the term has been further adopted to refer to a severe and conclusive test which determines overall quality, genuineness, worth, etc.  So, an acid test for my “be positive” outlook might be to see how it holds up against a scenario centered around those not-so-amazing emotions listed above.

Consider a situation where there were plans, ideas, goals and dreams which were discussed and maybe even put into motion.  Then, something unexpected causes the foundation to break down with little or no warning.  As a result, the emotions sway from being amazing to not-so-amazing at a rapid pace – leaving a great deal of emotional fallout to consume.

On the surface, it seems like a complicated process to quickly transform a persons emotions.  However, as noted above, (more often than not) aspects which are out of our control help determine which emotions we actually receive.  So, it can simply be the result of another decision that has been made.  Regardless of the validity of the source decision, the end-result can easily trigger a tidal wave of those not-so-amazing emotions.  Unfortunately, this is the perfect scenario for the acid test.

So, when faced with a scenario triggering those not-so-amazing emotions, I recently realized I have to ask myself the following questions:

  1. Did I try my best to lead/maintain the situation on the course that was discussed?
  2. Did I always keep my focus on the plans, ideas, goals and dreams that were set?
  3. Did I fight for the situation, without hesitation, in both the good times and bad times?
  4. Did I make sure to not give up on the situation, regardless of the circumstances?
  5. Did I reach out to God and pray about the situation?

If I can answer “Yes” to each of the questions above, then I know I did everything possible to try to avoid the not-so-great emotions.  In my heart, I can “be positive” that I did the very best that I could do.  Ultimately, the decision was simply out of my hands.  My only option … to walk away.

I won’t try to paint the picture that my “be positive” outlook is immune from those not-so-great emotions.  In fact, nothing can be further from the truth.  I can only remind myself of the reality that the source decision was out of my control and try to focus on the positives that were part of the overall scenario itself. 

Of course, just as easily as the emotions changed from being amazing to not-so-amazing, the reverse action is just as possible.  I believe that is where the “if it’s meant to be, it will be…” phrase comes into play.  My “be positive” approach certainly tries to keep this in mind – which leads to fostering hope that maybe this isn’t the final decision or the end of the story.  

While the source decision was out of my hands, I know there is God’s plan which will ultimately reveal itself when the time is right.  My goal is to not give up, hang in there and “be positive” in the meantime.

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3rd Time Often Is The Charm …

me10The expression “the third time’s the charm” references the concept of eventually reaching the *right* solution after a some unsuccessful attempts.  Believe it or not, the neurons in the decision-maker’s brain could be influencing the decision more than one might expect.

As an example, let’s assume that upon analyzing the current state of an application, you architect/design enhancements to resolve issues that either a) currently exist, b) may surface down the road, or c) both.  However, after presenting your ideas, the decision-maker decides to forgo implementation of the recommendation.

Now, let’s assume that over time the decision-maker receives similar (if not the exact same) recommendations by other individuals experienced with the application.  Often times this happens after the original architect/designer (“you” in the example above) has moved on to other tasks and responsibilities.  In more cases than not, the decision-maker accepts the recommendation after hearing the same suggestion multiple times.

Initially, I planned to focus on how often I have witnessed this scenario during my career.  (Keeping in mind, a majority of times that I have seen this happen I have merely been a casual observer.)  My goal was to relay the message that this situation still exists.  Instead, I decided to take things a step further – to try to see if I could figure out why this pattern has continued to repeat itself over the years.

Earlier this year, Tübingen neuroscientists concluded that decision-making processes are influenced by neurons in our brain.  They cited the simple of example of how the brain reacts when seeing someone on the other side of the street who resembles an old friend.    The neurons in our brain often use the memories of the relationship from the look-a-like friend to determine how we will react when our paths cross with the individual on the other side of the street.

In our example, when the decision-maker realizes that the same information is being presented, it brings up memories of the prior recommendations that were suggested.  These memories eventually alter the decision in favor of implementing the design enhancements.  As a result, your long overdue recommendation is finally about to be put into place.

During the course of my career, I have experienced being the person making the recommendation and also the person repeating past recommendations which were eventually accepted.  Interestingly enough, it seems like the original architect/designer often receives the label as being “on the bleeding edge” or maybe even “too aggressive.”  While, the individual delivering the recommendation on the time that it is accepted by the decision-maker seems to always receive the label of “hero.”

It is common to focus on the lost time and additional efforts required to convince the decision-maker to finally accept your recommendations.  However, stepping back and looking at things from a higher level, everyone involved should feel proud that the needed enhancements were eventually accepted.

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