Just Married!

I just got married recently.

It’s not the most conventional marriage. And you’re about to be pretty surprised when I tell you I married myself.

A couple months ago I realized that I had been struggling with depression (see Moustaches and Mental Illness).

Tracy McMillan has a TEDx talk worth listening to where she describes her personal relationship with marriage and her evolving relationship with herself.

<see below>

Tracy and I don’t quite have the same story, but she shared an idea about how important it is to build a relationship with yourself so that you’re whole that I really connected with.

It makes perfect sense, right? Totally intuitive, yah?

Well, there was a period of time where I lost myself. I struggled with my identity – who I was and what exactly was I doing. And I was operating with much less than my whole self.

Tracy has a line in this talk that really speaks to the reason why I’m talking about this difficult stuff in such a public way, “The places where you have your biggest challenges in you life are the places where you have the most to give, if you do your inner work.”

Regular, focused, writing was such an important tool to help me do my inner work and it made such a difference in helping me to find the road back to myself. I was reminded what a powerful compass writing can be.

And that’s why I share as I have most recently on Finding My Voice Here. Maybe this helps you think about the relationship you’re having with another or the relationship you’re having with yourself?

Tracy touches on several vows in her talk. And I’ll let you watch the video to hear what she has to say on that, but the big takeaway for me about marrying yourself is that you become able to love in this whole new way. Loving people right where they are, for who they are, just the same way you are loving yourself.

And that’s how I feel today. It’s an incredible feeling to love myself in this way, again. And to be able to share this same love with others. These days, I am sharing the love, as much as I can, wherever and with whomever I am.

I’d like to think that I was married before, but went through a tough spot. For better or for worse, in sickness or in health, I was given another chance. And I came back, a better lover than ever before, eager and excited to share more love with you.

The person you really need to marry | Tracy McMillan | TEDxOlympicBlvdWomen

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I Never Thought a Dog Would…

My Dog Bro Oliver Hangin

I didn’t grow up with a dog. Pets were not a big part of the ecosystem in which I was raised.

When the idea was suggested that a dog would be coming to live with us last summer, and that we would be taking care of it for 3 months, I wasn’t exactly, um, well, thrilled… is the word, I think.

It was presented to me as something to discuss. But it was never to be a discussion. It was a unilateral decision. Minds were made, and plans soon followed. It didn’t exactly feel so good.

I arrived home a couple days later after a month on the road to meet my new housemate. His name, Oliver.

He was white, fluffy, and though he had just arrived hours earlier, Oliver seemed to have already made himself right at home.

[If you’re up with dog lingo, we’re pretty sure he’s a mini poodle meets bichon frise mix.]

My Dog Bro Oliver First Meeting

[And by the way, this shot is from the first day Oliver and I met and is the very first picture I took of him. Sometimes there’s value in going back and starting again from the beginning. It’s there where you can find things you might not expect, which you won’t find anywhere else.]

In the days between the gauntlet being laid down and my arrival back home, the narrative in my head went a little bit like this, “I’m not a dog person. I’ve never been a dog person. I’m not in favor of this arrangement. Why does my opinion not matter?”

And then, I decided to change my tune.

I love a special lady. She loves dogs. I’ve never had a dog before. Maybe I can love dogs too. What would happen if I turned my frown upside down, threw myself into the world of being a dog daddy, and chose to love him from the start?

And you know what? I made the change and did just that.

It’s amazing what you can do when you choose to change your attitude.

And you know what? The experience was incredible.

I grew to love the little guy. Oliver and I became bros. In fact, we had a surprising number of similarities, so much so that I feel like we have the same spirit, just different bodies.

We love people. We love to hang out. We both like to work from home. We find ways to easily amuse ourselves. We enjoy going running in the morning. We eat when we need to. We like to try new things. Explore new places. Bark infrequently – usually when we don’t get the chance or enough time to meet new people. And we both have a soft spot for the lady of the house.

My Dog Bro Oliver and Salimander

[Here’s a nice shot of Oliver amusing himself, playing catch with himself with his little friend the once-upon-a-time-was-stuffed salamander.]

Now, a common question I would get after sharing my story about Oliver:

“Wow, so are you a dog person now?”

My standard answer: I’m an Oliver person, though I’m not sure if I’m a dog person.

But here’s the thing. I might be a dog person. What if I am and never gave myself the chance when it mattered?

These days I’m much closer to knowing the answer because I said yes to a relationship with Oliver.

Yes to pushing myself outside of my comfort zone.

Yes to doing something I would not have done on my own, but am now so grateful to have had someone give me that initial push.

How do we know if something won’t work out if we’re not even willing to give it a go?

Oliver’s stay with us was 3 months, 90 days. Not short, but also not that long. And a lot can change in that amount of time. A lot did change.

With all the goodness he brought, it’s equally important to note that Oliver’s presence in our lives was not without its challenges.

Which got me to thinking, and what I realized about Oliver, about dogs, and about myself is that it’s not that I’m not a dog person, it’s that I’m an extreme people person.

Actually, some of my biggest fears came to light while living with Oliver.

There were a healthy amount of extra logistics involved, especially when headed anywhere away from New Haven, or the house, for more than a certain number of hours. He took up a fair amount of time that could have been focused elsewhere. At times we made choices that favored Oliver over people. And that, especially, was very hard for me.

However, there were some incredible benefits to having Oliver around.

First and foremost, we should start with the fact that I love him. I can’t help myself. And he loves me.

There is something about the love that a guy like Oliver can give that is so innocent and much less complicated than the love we sometimes exchange as humans.

What’s not to love about someone who is always happy to see you when you come home?

And that’s the biggest lesson Oliver taught me about being in a relationship.

There will always be tough times. There will always be logistics to work out. And life will not be perfect.

But with all the things we fight against on the outside, if we can come home at the end of the day and show unbridled love to the person that matters the most to us in the world, then we are going to completely change how they feel in that moment.

All of a sudden that day might just get a little better. For them. For you. Or me. For us.

Oliver changed my life.

Never could I have imagined that I would say this about a dog.

Never would I have thought I would be bros with a poodle.

Or even know that a bichon frise is a dog and not a type of cheese.

Or talk to a grandmother in the bus station on the day before Christmas about her third and fourth “grandchildren.” i.e. two dogs. Bentley is a Morkie (a maltese + yorkie aka yorkshire terrier) and Bailey is a Cavachon (half king charles terrier spaniel, half bichon frise).

But now when I see dogs, I see unconditional love. I see a relationship between two beings that matters and makes them both so happy. And what could be wrong with two beings choosing love, care, compassion, mutual interest and affection, … over the alternatives?

A dog is not what I wanted. It was not my ideal outcome.

But I had a choice to proactively participate. And I’m so glad that I did. And it became an ideal outcome.

Because, ultimately, Oliver pushed me out of my comfort zone, he got me thinking about someone other than myself, and he helped me on the road to be a better man.

I wouldn’t be the person I am today without my relationship with Oliver. A lot can change in 90 days. Sometimes, even more than you think.

Beyond just thinking about Oliver and his needs, it got me thinking about why someone special in my life would have such a love for dogs and animals in general.

Seeing how she would light up around Oliver. Seeing how much pleasure she took in taking care of him. It reminded me how wonderful she is at taking care of those she loves. How she’s such a great daughter and sister and aunt. Friend and colleague and boss. And teacher and mentor to her students. It also made me feel how wonderful she would be as a mother.

If you talk to a lot of pet owners or lovers, most of them have had a pet growing up. I’d be very curious to know how many who do not grow up with pets have pets as adults. My non-conclusive research to-date indicates few. It’s easy to be disinterested, and to say no, in these situations.

Besides, most of the time we say no to lots of things we don’t have experience with much more than we say yes, particularly when there is work involved.

But through this experience I was opened me up to this other side of myself. A side that loves animals too. All that work? It sure was worth it.

Though, along with that work, introspection and reflection helped me to realize how important it is to find the right balance with my human relationship needs too. But I believe that middle road is easily found, especially since now we know the why behind those feelings.

When it comes to the stuff that’s hard – the stuff that we’re afraid of, or perhaps just a bit concerned about – fear or concerns don’t mean, “No”, even though that’s often the first thing that comes out of our mouths.

Instead of an obstacle, we can look to these feelings and actions as more information. And given more information we have a better idea on how to work out any issues. Again, because we know the why. And that why helps us to make it happen.

When is your next chance to stay open-minded to something you think you’re so uncertain about?

Oliver was a catalyst for quite a bit of new thinking for me. He helped me to see a different side of others, as well as myself.

Who or what might be your Oliver?

And when it comes, will you not only open up your mind and say yes, but will you also open up your heart and share your love?

My Dog Bro Oliver and Me

—–

The photo immediately above is my favorite picture of Oliver and me. Ollie was never all that patient when it came to looking at the camera. Photo credit to a very talented photographer (AH).

The photo at the very top is a popular break time position for the little guy. As usual, he’s giving and sharing the love from a cozy and comfortable curled up position on the couch.

And when I was looking to find the spellings for all these dog breeds I have heard of, but never seen in writing, I came across this interesting article on the next generation “perfect” dog.

So, about those crates. Also, Socrates

notebook_2014_writing

2014 has been the most uncertain, hardest, intense, and illuminating year of my life. And with a few hours to go, we’re not even done with it yet 😉

I have grown in ways I could not otherwise have imagined or anticipated.

And it’s been the best year of my life.

Some people live their entire lives, never having the opportunity to know themselves.

I felt like I’ve had a pretty good understanding of myself, for awhile.

But the past 19 months, and particularly these last 12 have enabled me to see much more of myself.

I was looking at a lot of surface stuff for far too long. Taking stock in what I thought I saw, rather than what was behind all of that. And asking and answering questions that didn’t matter.

It wasn’t until I started to give myself time and space to think, that I started making progress. And it wasn’t until I started to focus my writing, daily, that the speed at which I progressed increased multi-fold.

When I was in high school, this thing called the internet was all the rage. Thanks to email and AOL IM, my sister and I inadvertently produced more than our fair share of busy signals for people calling our house.

At the time I also started to write on a BBS/message board (hosted by the Section 2 Harrier site, created and moderated by a nice guy named Jon Broderick) that kept (and continues to keep – go Jon!) all cross country / track and field fans in our corner of New York State apprised of important news. It was also a very cool forum where some decided to talk trash. I took it as an opportunity to share ideas and reflect on things I was seeing, and I was exposed to a new way of developing meaningful relationships.

I have given credit for awhile now to email, instant messaging, and the section 2 harrier message board for helping me to develop my writing voice at that time.

The hours I poured into emails and online conversations enabled me to develop my identity and to engage in meaningful conversation with others.

Writing was my outlet to the world.

I finished out high school with a healthy understanding of myself, ready to move forward.

And I continued writing in the early days of college.

Until I slowly turned my priorities elsewhere.

Though a move back to America last year (May 2013) was a natural segue* into a return to regular writing dates. From the beginning, I came down with a serious case of “writer’s block” or was giving into my perfectionist tendencies in those early days back in America.

Maybe I should have accounted for that after a decade away of sharing writing like this with others?

It was then I realized I needed a new space to find my voice. Here, a new blog, seemed a worthy spot to do so.

Not long after my irregular blogging began, during my time at the East-West Center‘s Asia Pacific Leadership Program (APLP) in Honolulu to close out 2013, we all had to put together a portfolio, a collection of mostly written reflections – thoughts about the past, present, and future. It was time to make something with a real timeline, deadline, and commitment. 4 months and 100 pages later, I was working off a bit of momentum.

But 2013 ended and 2014 began in the midst of uncertainty. Uncertainty doesn’t need to be a negative thing, and hindsight is 20/20, but much of my problem was my choosing fear over love.

Sure, it was masked by “uncertainty.” But I was still a bit uneasy about my identity. I was trying to please someone I loved, but how could I please her without communicating, without pleasing myself, and by not even being me – that guy she loved. I was going about it in all the wrong ways.

I knew there was a problem. Actually, I was drowning, but it looked like I was a pretty good swimmer.

I was doing my best to figure “it” out. And I was failing, miserably.

Ultimately it just looked like I was a problem that needed fixing, not there was a problem that we needed to fix.

It takes two to tango, but I’m not sure either of us really knew how, we didn’t really practice, and we had no teacher. I felt very alone. Maybe she did too?

I tried to reach out. But my message must not have gotten through to her. And her messages? Well, I wasn’t getting them either.

Missed messages like ships passing in the night?

I knew I couldn’t solve old problems in the same ways  and I thought I was doing everything that I could. But it wasn’t working so I had to keep trying.

I was lost, but I found trust in my notebook and bic pen. It went far beyond my regular note-taking, by taking notes of deeper thoughts and feelings and fleshing them out until I could better understand whatever was on my mind.

Writing was no longer an outlet to the world, but an inroad into my soul.

Have you visited lately? It’s a pretty deep place.

Terrible one-lines aside, these deep conversations that extended into the depths of my soul, mediated through writing, have been a significant reason why I’ve had an incredible year.

I’m sure it’s not for everyone. And it won’t necessarily help you in the same way it helped me. But at a time when I needed greater clarity, it was the writing that was there for me.

No person, no matter how close they were to me – my parents, my sister, my closest friends – could help me. This one I had to start on my own before I could get back to a place of confidence, a place of greater understanding, a place where I had regained my identity.

It’s the easiest thing in the world to hold yourself back. It harder to realize that you are usually the one doing the holding.

Whether it’s beliefs, behaviors, or certain actions that are self-limiting, we can do a number on ourselves often thinking that if external circumstances would change, things would be better.

How might you make a difference in the lives of those that matter to you by starting with yourself?

When will you set aside some time for a constructive and thoughtful conversation with yourself? Find that time and space to work out your thoughts? To rediscover – perhaps even discover – things about yourself you haven’t seen in awhile (or have never seen)?

What questions are important to think through? What questions should you be asking of yourself? What suggestions might be made?

Be the sounding board that you need the most. But remember, it will only work if you choose to be honest, to lay it all out there, and to lead with love, not fear.

When it comes to the things (or thing) that matters most right now to me, I’m certainly not out of the woods.

But these days I know myself more than ever before.

And, as a result, I’m much better prepared to deal with the uncertainty.

So, goodbye 2014. Thank you for being so good to me.

And 2015, I’m eager to see where we go together.

—–

*So, when segway came up as a misspelled word, I did a little investigating on how to write the word that I know to indicate something related to a transition. Apparently this word is an Italian derivative and thought pronounced “segway” is written “segue.” You can take a look here to see what some have to say about this.

Today’s photo comes from my personal collection – the notebook and the pen that started it all this year.

This notebook actually dates back to my first year at college. I gave up notebooks in favor of recycling wasted computer paper from the libraries to make homemade “notebooks.”

I thought it was about time to make sure this one went to good use. It served me well in the early writing days this year – from ideas to The Oliver Chronicles and beyond.

The Business of Relationships

JQA_With_Persevernce_Obstacles_Vanish

A friend recently lamented to me that she wished men could treat relationships like they would a business deal.

In business, is it common practice to talk nice with a potential business partner over the course of a few dates then vanish into thin air?

When you’re not interested in the deal, you’re honest and upfront about it. No need string anyone along.

Besides, stringing someone along in a business context, choosing to act without open and honest communication, could be bad for your reputation.

And future business.

The world is small, whose to say though today’s business deal didn’t work out, there isn’t an opportunity for other ways to collaborate down the line?

But my friend has encountered a number of guys who apparently aren’t in the business of open and honest communication.

What happened to meaningful cliches like honesty is the best policy? Or the truth will set you free?

I can’t blame her, though, in our relationships with the potential “one”, it’s easier to stick our heads in the sand or to run away than it is to be honest about how we feel and work through those challenges together.

I’ve done it. Actually, I’m a repeat offender.

This was actually what my 21 days of writing in November evolved into. It was the first time that I did not stick my head in the sand, or run away.

It was the first time I sat down with myself and faced my fears deep within myself for an extended period of time. It was not a one-off conversation, I made it my business for those three weeks. And I committed to making a habit of being vulnerable.

It was the first time I was able to be completely open and honest with the “one” about all my problems.

And trust me, I have a handful.

But as long as we’re being open and honest with each other, I know you do too. We all do.

I suppose the only thing that sets us apart are the people who are honest with themselves about their issues and those that aren’t.

But that’s too easy isn’t it?

Let’s step back for a second and re-think for a moment. How many types of us are there?

First, there’s the people who are honest with themselves AND with others about their issues. A rare breed.

I wonder how much of us actually reach this nirvanic level of self-awareness, self-understanding, and vulnerability?

Second, there’s the people who are honest with themselves, but may not be confident enough to share this with others.

Third, there are the people who know their issues, but may not have found all of them. Or maybe they have yet to realize just how those issues affect them.

This number three speaks most to me, that’s where I was earlier this year.

Fourth, there are the people who have figured themselves out, and everyone else out. It can be such a challenge to wait for others to figure themselves out. Life will be better when that happens.

Who did I miss?

So this friend of mine has been sending me these great articles on marriage that I’ve been totally digging.

The one that kept me up last night and has me still thinking today you can find here.

It’s an absolutely brilliant read, if you choose to read with an open mind.

Here’s the skinny (i.e. the first three reasons Why We Will Marry the Wrong Person):

One: We don’t understand ourselves

Two: We don’t understand other people

Three: We aren’t used to being happy

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

All of us are crazy in very particular ways. We’re distinctively neurotic, unbalanced and immature, but don’t know quite the details because no one ever encourages us too hard to find them out.

A good partnership is not so much one between two healthy people (there aren’t many of these on the planet), it’s one between two demented people who have had the skill or luck to find a non-threatening conscious accommodation between their relative insanities.

The problem is that knowledge of our own neuroses is not at all easy to come by. It can take years and situations we have had no experience of. Prior to marriage, we’re rarely involved in dynamics that properly hold up a mirror to our disturbances. Whenever more casual relationships threaten to reveal the ‘difficult’ side of our natures, we tend to blame the partner – and call it a day. As for our friends, they predictably don’t care enough about us to have any motive to probe our real selves. They only want a nice evening out. Therefore, we end up blind to the awkward sides of our natures.

One of the greatest privileges of being on one’s own is the flattering illusion that one is, in truth, really quite an easy person to live with.

With such a poor level of understanding of our characters, no wonder we aren’t in any position to know who we should be looking out for.

This problem is compounded because other people are stuck at the same low level of self-knowledge as we are. However well-meaning they might be, they too are in no position to grasp, let alone inform us, of what is wrong with them. Naturally, we make a stab at trying to know them. We go and visit their families, perhaps the place they first went to school. We look at photos, we meet their friends. All this contributes to a sense we’ve done our homework. But it’s like a novice pilot assuming they can fly after sending a paper plane successfully around the room.

If the title wasn’t enough to reel me in, then I can definitely confirm I was hooked after the first line. And I couldn’t stop reading after reading why we don’t understand ourselves – or others.

But, please, before you go any further with what I have here, please open this up in a new tab and read from start to finish.

I wish I could say that anything I write beyond this point could match the level of, “How We End Up Marrying the Wrong People.”

I regret that might not be possible.

But I won’t stop without trying.

This selection got me back to thinking about my friend, business, relationships with the “one”, and the business of relationships.

Having learned much of what I know in business much like how I’ve learned the most important lessons in life – trial by fire – I’ve come to know that before we get too far into the conversation, the best business deals I’ve done include an early conversation about all the bad stuff that can, might, and/or will happen.

Funny, in romantic relationships we don’t want to touch this topic with a 100 foot pole.

And why not hit these challenges head on?

Knowing what I know now, this is probably one of the most informative and intimate conversations you can have with a potential “one” and could do incredible things for mutual understanding and empathy with such a proactive approach to problem solving.

I’m having a hard time imagining a conversation that could be more meaningful.

Even if we are super self-aware and think of ourselves as highly empathetic, it’s a lot easier to express empathy when you have more information than less.

It’s also a lot easier to express empathy while calm, cool, and collected rather than under stress and duress.

This may come natural to some of us, but I’ve only been able to improve through preparation and practice.

So if you haven’t already, Read This. And share it with someone that matters to you. I’ve already shared it with my family.

And now I’m sharing it with you.

I’m curious, what do you think?

—–

And if you’re already tired from reading, take a look at the video below (4:00), it’s almost (or equally) as excellent.

—–

This was my first time on The Book of Life site. I’ll definitely be back for a return visit some day, sooner than later.

At first I had a different picture in mind, but then I got to thinking about vanishing. I came upon this quote by John Quincy Adams from this page on Pinterest that seemed to put a twist on the relationship between patience and perseverance,  disappearing and vanishing.

The running away model of vanishing cannot hold a candle to how difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish when one is patient and perseveres with what and whom matters most to them.

21 days of writing taught me that. And it’s remarkable how the difficulties and obstacles of yesterday almost no longer seem relevant, even exist.

Think I’m crazy? Give it a try yourself. A true, concentrated effort. You might surprise yourself. I know I did.