Using the right tool

I was about to make what’s become a regular breakfast: peanut butter on a toasted English muffin. Disappointment struck when I realized I’d used the last of the peanut butter earlier this week. I remembered my frustration trying to get the knife blade to scrape the remnants off the sides of the jar, trying to avoid ending up with a handle — and hand — full of peanut butter. I threw the jar back into the pantry even though I knew it was “empty”.

I really wanted my PBM this morning, so I grabbed the jar — and a spoon. The large curved edge of the spoon easily scraped the sides of the jar clean and provided me with a large enough dose to satisfy my craving.

Made me wonder how often I end up wasting resources at my disposal because I’m using the wrong tool.

The perfect white guy

A while back when I was talking to a female friend (who’s an avowed progressive) about the possibility of running for office, she looked at me very seriously and said,

“You’re the perfect white guy.”

What she meant was that I did a reasonably good job of standing up for people that aren’t straight, white, and male while looking very much like I wouldn’t. A donkey in elephant’s clothing, I joked.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about this since that day, and have realized that there are a lot of straight, white men just like me. We understand the advantage inherent in who we are. We welcome diversity of culture and opinion into our lives. We intervene when we see overt injustice.

But, yet, in today’s world, we’re also seen as the root of all problems. The oppressors, the 1%, the privileged. That creates an almost untenable conundrum in how to navigate our current progressive political culture.

I don’t intend this as any sort of sob fest for straight, white guys. Far from it. I know exactly how good I (and we) have it. It just makes me wonder how effective it is to amplify the far left’s “white male privilege is the root of all evil” mantra when there are plenty of white men who are standing squarely on the side of justice.

Perhaps it’s time we cool down the rhetoric and ideology and start engaging each other as individuals instead of labels.

Intention, every … single … day

Some days, the 1900 calorie limit sucks. Some days, the endless parade of meetings and projects wears on me. Some days, my ambitions feel suffocating. Some days, the veneer of life threatens to crack. Some days, the pieces of the puzzle flicker in and out.

It’s those days when I rely the most on intention. What do I want this day to be? How do I want to feel about myself and my accomplishments? What do I have to do to make it so?

Intention, every … single … day.

Honoring our past, fueling our future

I can remember those days as a kid when I’d get to light a candle in church. The small white votives flickering through red and blue glass. The wooden sticks we’d light from one burning candle and then eagerly decide which new candle we’d bring to life. I’m not sure we always had the proper reverence for lighting a candle in memory of someone no longer with us, but it’s one of my most vivid childhood memories. I can still smell the blend of wax and wick like it was yesterday.

I still love to light candles, still feel a bit of awe as the match comes in contact with the wick and instantly starts to glisten the wax. The flame flickers and then stands tall. Warmth. Light. Two necessities of life. It’s no wonder we burn candles in memory of life lived … and lost. They bring us back, reignite our memory for a few moments, and honor our past. It’s those people and experiences that become the wisdom and fuel for our future.

Stealing back the week

“In every organization, some employees spend an inordinate amount of time on tasks that don’t really matter.” — Robert Pozen

We’re halfway through the work week — the time I try to do an assessment of how my time spent aligns with my objectives. Wednesday morning provides a great opportunity to steal back the week if it’s gotten out of focus.

Choosing what to focus on

My apartment’s kitchen faces east so I enjoy this time of year when the sun and I rise about the same time each morning. It frustrates me sometimes that the windows aren’t clean and I can’t get a clear shot of the dawning day. But this morning I found that if I focused on the condensation on the glass rather than the sunrise, a new kind of beauty emerged. Goes to prove that changing what we focus on can make a real difference in our perception.

Reminding us of our possibility

I watched Wonder Woman with breakfast and coffee this morning. Combined with last week’s Black Panther, I’m heartened by the different looks our superheros are getting in today’s pop culture. Both movies did a great job at exposing our human imperfection and history of violence — but also our unending optimism that we can rise above it. Perhaps that’s why superhero movies strike such a chord with us. They remind us of our possibility.

A gentle sort of ruthlessness

Just came across the phrase, “a gentle sort of ruthlessness”. My first reaction was confusion. Isn’t that an oxymoron? The more I thought about it, I can see what the author intended. We can be steely in our conviction, but kind in our execution. I think we sometimes forget that.

Good things come to those who wait

Patience isn’t high on my list of character strengths. Ask my family, friends, and colleagues. They’ll tell you when I get an idea in my head or a goal in my sights, my next question is often why isn’t it done yet? I often see patience as procrastination. I have little tolerance for the latter — in others or in myself.

Patience is a virtue.

All good things come to those who wait. 

It will come, in due time. 

All phrases I was convinced were contrived by someone trying to get a head start in the race.

I find this impatience lurking even in my greatest joys. When I see potential in something or someone, I want that potential to be realized now, sometimes even yesterday.

K will look at me when I’m focused on the end of some timeline and ask why are you trying to rush it? She’s right. Nearly all of life is evolution, not revolution. Most things in life don’t need to be — or refuse to be — rushed. I’m learning to embrace this new approach, sometimes reluctantly, to allow things to unfold organically and without meticulous intent.

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Last summer while hiking in New Mexico, I captured this photo at the top of a ridge adjacent to our campsite. We’d just finished a strenuous ascent up a rocky path. Over the last mile, the wind strengthened and the sky threatened to open.

The trees on the ridge fell victim to wildfire years ago, now just lifeless scars. The scene felt heavy, and my Catholic heritage evoked an almost Gol’gothic visual in my mind. It was beautiful in its somber tones, but I was impatient for more. I knew the sun was setting behind the ominous clouds. I paced the ridge hoping they would part to reveal its glory.

They never did. The grey pall dissolved into night.

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The next morning I crawled out of my tent. The rising sun cracked over the ridge, bringing new life to the charred trunks, a vibrant green to the reborn understory. The clouds gave a hint of the blue sky above.

It wasn’t the beauty my impatience craved the night before.

It was more. It was greater than.

It was the good thing that comes to those who wait.

The juxtaposition of these two photos has resonated in me since I took them. My heart kept telling me there was meaning in the imagery, but my mind struggled to find the words to describe it. Every time I saw them in my collection, I knew I had to write about them — that they had potential. It frustrated me that their story would not spring forth, no matter how hard I squeezed.

I had to wait for the meaning. It had to come in due time.

As it struck me that these images were my lesson in patience, The Doors’ Waiting for the Sun crossed my consciousness. Morrison’s drawn out vocals, dripping with potential, demanding patience from his listener. Twenty seconds for just three lines. Masterpiece worth the wait.

Can you feel it
Now that Spring has come
That it’s time to live in the scattered sun

Patience will never be one of my greatest virtues, but I’ve learned to welcome its long-neglected place in my life — with the universe, those who intersect and inhabit my life, and myself.

 

 


From July 16-27, 2017, my son and I, along with three other boy scouts and two other dads in Crew 716-J-02, backpacked 84 miles through Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimmarron, New Mexico. These photos were taken at Elkhorn trail camp on Saturday-Sunday, July 22-23, trail days 7-8.

To be or not to be … yourself

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My Instagram feed is filled with affirmamemes, the embellished quotes that remind us to be kind to ourselves and not listen when the world insists we conform to some idealized notion of living. Many a day, they show up at the perfect time to provide a shot of emotional tonic.

They’re right — to a point.

We should live our lives as authentically as possible, and not let others define who we are or how we should live.

But taken to an extreme, the attitude they exude — this is me, take it or leave it — tips toward an arrogance that denies the possibility of a better version of us waiting to be created. We buy into their simple affirmations, feel good wrapped in their forgiveness, share them out into the ether as our flag planted in unshifting ground.

There’s a danger in drinking too much from the stream of affirmation, without taking a hard look in the mirror, having honest internal conversations, and making the course corrections we need to be better versions of ourselves.