I’m not sure how old I was when it dawned on me that I had more past than future. It was awhile ago. And it gave me a heightened sense of urgency.
Some older people talk a lot about regret. I wasn’t so smitten by regret as much as I was driven by a looming deadline. Heavy emphasis on the “dead.”
A couple of weeks ago I had my 6th surgery. Six surgeries and no broken bones. Go figure. When I was in high school I had to have surgery on my nose. That was surgery number 2. The doctor asked me when I had broken my nose. I said, “I’ve never broken my nose.” He said, “I think you have.” So that’s one broken bone I guess.
Growing old is a daily, subtle elevation. It’s not like waking up one day to a pain you never had. It’s more like waking up with a pain you always remember having. Hard to explain. The toll life takes on your body is just the price you pay for gaining experiences. The aches come with the territory. Some days you notice them a lot. Other days, not so much.
Within 2 hours of coming out of recovery, I started walking up and down the halls of the hospital. Determination has a lot to do with healing. I speak from experience.
I made fast friendly acquaintances with the nurses. They’ve got a tough job and I didn’t want to make it any harder. I’m not one of those “hey-wait-on-me” kind of patients. My pain levels were very tolerable. No reason to complain and make my life – or anybody else’s – miserable.
I kept walking and moving. I knew it would help the healing process. Besides, it made me feel better!
A day later I was home and the day after that I hit a wall. If you’ve ever had surgery, you’ve likely experienced it. You hit a dip where you feel worse before feeling better. Day 2 and 3 after the surgery were wall days. It’s during those times that you simply make up your mind to grind it out. The pain, the aches, the discomfort – they’ll rule your life if you let them. I tried not to.
No pain meds. Other than Tylenol. Nuff said.
On Monday I had my follow up office visit. They shot 2 x-rays to make sure things were looking good. I’ve never looked so thin.
Pretty amazing, huh? No, I don’t know how they do it either. I don’t even how they figure out how to do such things, much less to actually do them. I’m just thankful there are skilled surgeons capable of such feats. My surgeon is a rockstar. So are the folks who work in his practice.
My next appointment is in 4 more weeks. In the meantime, I can’t lift anything over 15 pounds and the doctor said I needed to “take it easy.”
But this isn’t really about my health update. Well, not entirely. So let’s move on…
Richard Pryor, playing the role of an old man named Fishbone, said, “people may call you an old fool…but you don’t get to be old being no fool…” Fishbone was wrong. There are plenty of old fools roaming the earth. Always have been.
The human spirit is resilient. So is the human body. You know this if you’ve ever watched a terminally ill person die. The body lingers and fights for every breath long after consciousness.
Back when I was running a retailing company I’d pass a number of homeless people on the way to my office. They’d be on busy intersections holding cardboard signs begging for money. Day after day living on the streets of Dallas. Living under overpasses. Night after night in the summer heat and winter cold. Weathered by their circumstances they’d persist. The lines in their face show the hardness of their life.
The lines and creases account for something as we grow older. What, is up to us!
I suppose every age has been an age of discontentment. It’s the plight of all men to be dissatisfied. What with all the encouragement to push harder, go faster, endure longer…it seems our best is never good enough. Besides, somebody else is doing it and making us look like an amateur. All those creases, wrinkles, aches and pains that got us this far just don’t quite seem good enough to get us there. Wherever there is.
We’ve all got a story. Most of us have way more than one. Or it could be our story is as meandering as a public speaker who has no idea what he wants to say, or how to say it. Sometimes our lives ramble on like that. No direction. No strategy. Just getting by.
Discontentment took a turn by the time the Internet became widespread. The explosive growth of the world wide web between 1995 and 2000 brought with it many fine things, but as with most things – it weren’t all good. Since I was 15 I was part of the consumer electronics industry. By the time the VCR was invented and video was beginning to toss hi-fi aside like a red headed step child, we all knew that the porn industry was largely fueling the growth of the VCR. Sinful industries are among the industrious on the planet. They can seize opportunities for making money long before most of us. Time shifted recordings of TV programs was pretty terrific. But it came at a price. Porn was now able to enter the home in ways never before possible.
So there’s typically bad with good. I could sense it with the Internet. We became globally connected. People from all walks of life could use this new technology for whatever suited their purpose. Some of the most successful people online today began as spammers, seizing the opportunities to send sales messages to every email address they could find. Many morphed into more legitimate enterprises as time went on. But don’t you ever wonder about the person who began in illegitimacy? I wonder why some of us seem wired to look for opportunities, unfazed by any argument about right or wrong. We simply chase the money. Or fame. Others of us, we’re careful. More than that, we just don’t think of it. It never crossed our minds to spam…or a host of other things that unscrupulous people do.
Fast forward to 2014 and today it’s the success stories that harm us most. Make us discontent with being responsible people doing responsible things. B-O-R-I-N-G!
In the last 5 to 10 years it’s about entrepreneurship. It’s about never being satisfied. It’s about always taking the thing up a notch. Any notch but here will do. Then you can quickly fix your gaze to the next notch. And the next. Always be chasing. The elusive dream.
So our hands grow increasingly creased. Our brows more wrinkled. Our vision more blurry. Our gate slows. Our backs bend.
And these things will happen no matter the state of our contentment. Or lack of.
This past weekend in Dallas the 2014 Podcast Movement conference was held. The first ever. I was rather pleased it happened right here where I live. I was even more pleased to get in on the Kickstarter campaign where early supporters could help launch this thing and save big money to boot. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend much of it. Fact is, I wasn’t going to go at all, but when Saturday morning rolled around and I kept watching the #PM14 Twitter stream I grew increasingly discontented with not being there. What a waste, I thought. Right here, mere miles away and I’m not feeling terribly great, not supposed to drive…blah, blah, blah.
Around noon I got dressed, took off the neck brace, fired up the hot rod and headed that way. I had a list of about 6 people I really wanted to meet, if only to shake their hands.
I parked the car, grabbed by backpack and walked up to the 3rd floor where all the action was. I loitered in a room where Cliff Ravenscraft (PodcastAnswerMan.com) and Chris Brogan had been on some panel discussion. The discussion was long past and a line of people were gathered to speak with each participant. The seats were all empty and I sat a comfortable distance back and waited. Cliff is a guy I’ve listened to since the beginning. I was producing online audio for private work when Cliff started. I wasn’t podcasting because the audio I was producing wasn’t for public consumption and it wasn’t syndicated (meaning you couldn’t subscribe to it). But like Cliff, I was and still am an audio snob because my roots were in the consumer electronics business. Cliff was an insurance guy working in his family’s firm, but dissatisfied with that life. Today, he’s a new media rock star. This was an opportunity to finally meet him face to face. We’ve known each other online for a lot of years.
I waited about 15 minutes and ambled toward him as the last visitor seemed to be winding down. When she walked away, I extended my hand, introduced myself and got a bro hug from him. Suited me fine. I’m not a guy uncomfortable with such acts. He said he didn’t expect to see me because he had seen my Tweets about my surgery. I told him I just had to make the trip, but didn’t plan on staying long. It lasted just 5 minutes or so as I patted him on the back, congratulated him on the new house and all his success. “I know you’re completely beaten down by alot of this, so I’ll get outta here,” I said. We shook hands, reiterated how good it was to finally meet and I was off.
Like so many others Cliff is a guy who let his discontentment fuel his drive to succeed at something different. It’s the positive use of discontentment. But somebody else was at Podcast Movement. Somebody I don’t typically follow. A guy who has been at it for a lot less time than Cliff. Two years ago nobody heard of this guy, but today he’s the 900 pound gorilla in the world of podcasting. He was once Cliff’s student. In sheer revenue, it appears he’s left Cliff (and all the rest of us) in the dust. Good for him.
But envy, jealousy and “that’s not fair” ranked pretty high as emotions during such times as a conference on podcasting. At least among some.
Others? They’re enamored by the star power or celebrity of such people. In fact, Brogan was reported to have referred to them as a “cult.” Welcome to the Internet Age where a cult following can be established (it’s not easy, but it is possible) and Pedro can make all your wildest dreams come true. No, it’s not likely. It’s highly UNlikely. But these are the things discontentment can do for you. Or against you.
I walk around the Podcast Movement and see my people, fellow podcasters. Most of whom I suspect are just like me. Wishing for bigger audiences. Wanting more downloads. Hoping to figure out some way to earn a few extra dollars to defray the expense. Or longing to find a way to make it a real business, a real money making endeavor. Most of us aren’t making enough to cover our expenses, but you’d never know that by our enthusiasm.
Like any group, we’ve got a pecking order. There is THE rock star who appears to be earning more money in a month than most of us earn in a year. Everywhere he goes, he’s grabbed, one selfie after another taken with him so people can brag about having touched the hem of his garment. Slightly more than 2 years ago he went to such an event in NYC and nobody knew his name. That’s ancient history now. Today, jealousy is raging. So it goes.
I spot a kindred spirit whom I’ve never met except online. I approach him, “Steve Kloyda, I’m a fan of what you do.” Steve isn’t a young pup. Like me, he’s weathered some storms in life. Steve is a sales prospecting expert.
Steve has some creases, wrinkles a bit more skin on top of his head than hair like some other brilliant people I know. And like me, Steve has a background steeped in selling. We’re a couple of old guys who are still hustling. We have a nice brief visit and I’m pleased to have met another person on my “list of people I want to meet at this conference.” I’m probably more pleased to meet Steve then he even realizes because he does do good work that I appreciate and I know the kind of work he does is never going to result in the BIG STAR parade. He knows it too I suspect. And I walk away knowing that life is not fair, but there’s nothing me or Steve can do about it. Just accept it and get on with our lives. So we do.
As I drive away from the hotel I pass areas of Dallas where people would view my life as that of a rock star. And the reality that the creases, wrinkles and lines of our life don’t necessarily define us as much they remind us.
Cliff built a brand new house. A house much larger than his last. His business success has afforded him a new lifestyle he’s not had before. I’m happy for him and his family. He’s worked hard, so why not? But I’m imagining that the people who live in some of these humble places I pass as I drive back home have also worked hard. Some maybe harder. Any rational person knows it’s not just about hard work. Cliff knows that. I know that. Steve knows that. And if the lines in my hands and the creases in my face have come as the result of learning anything, it’s this. The Bible is right. Always.
Eccl. 9:11 “I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”
I don’t know about anybody else, but I can only answer for myself. I know that whatever success life has afforded me isn’t entirely of my own doing. Sure, I made some smart choices along the way. And some monumentally dumb ones, too. Yes, I created some opportunities, seized some others and blew many more. And however great or terrific I may sometimes think I am, I know my life is a finite resource and the tank is emptying fast.
If your platform is just a single square foot of space with just a few family members listening, you’re blessed. If it’s a larger stage with professional sound and lighting, then…well, I’m not sure you’re quite as blessed. You may be cursed for all I know. I know you’re pressure and stress is elevated because the world expects more from you. The podcaster who’s earning 6 figures a month has another month coming up when September starts. He’s got to keep that ball rolling, creating more products, attending more conferences, taking more selfies with people. Giving truth to the adage, “Be careful what you wish for.”
I’m rather convinced these days that if people follow God, do the right thing, serve their family and friends and do nothing more – then those lines and creases represent a pretty good life. But God told us that all along.
1Tim. 6:6 “But godliness with contentment is great gain”
John Sebastian wrote it. Sang it. So did the Everly Brothers. And Jimmy Buffett. And Tom Petty. It’s a great song. More than that, it’s true. It’s all about the stories we can tell.
Donald Miller has built an entire career on that notion. He wrote about it in his popular book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life. If you want to live a different life – presumably a better life – then write a better story. Start living a better story.
Worry, poor health, obesity and hardship can make a person appear to be older than they really are. You can’t stay young forever. And no matter how easy and soft, or how difficult and hard your life is – you’re going to have the lines in your palm, creases in your brow and screws in your head to remind you of all the good and bad that has brought you to this point.
What you do with it now depends largely on you. You can create new creases and new wrinkles by doing meaningful work. Or you can run to more mischief and sin and you’ll still get the creases and wrinkles. They’ll just represent something vastly different.
Me? I’ve now got 6 screws in my head. So if one comes loose, I’ve got 5 more to back it up!
Bula Network, LLC is my company. It’s where I coach and consult. And I podcast there, too.
I don’t yet own one of these T’s, but I hope to one day. I didn’t even know they existed until Monday. Somebody asked me – for the umpteenth time – what “bula” meant and after I explained it I Googled it for the ballizioneth time. I must have inadvertently hit the “image” choice in Google and I saw this t-shirt. Well, not the yellow version, but I had to post a picture of it yellow given my propensity to drive, wear, paint and do other things involving the color. How can you not love yellow?
My recent neck surgery taught me a few things. You knew it would. I’m a guy who is always in search of an epiphany. When epiphanies evade me, I’m willing to accept some seemingly insignificant life lesson. Those tend to come in droves. Epiphanies hide better than a wall outlet behind a big piece of furniture.
Today’s show is about resilience, optimism and having a sunny outlook. But it’s not about just having a nice disposition. It’s about the real values and benefits found in always being sunny (at least as much as you can). Some people seem to be born with a sunny disposition. Others, well, they seem to be born on the dark side of the moon.
I wonder why optimism is sometimes called blind. Why isn’t pessimism at least considered near-sighted?
My experience is that pessimism is just as blind – maybe blinder – than optimism. Think back when you were a kid. The monsters under your bed and in your closet. We accepted no evidence they didn’t exist. Our pessimism was blind as a bat, but we knew those monsters were there. Pull your head out from under the covers and you’d have your head ripped off. Everybody knows monsters don’t mess with kids under blankets. That’s just how monsters roll. From then until now we see danger and failure everywhere we look.
Oh, this is gonna be bad.”
On the flip side whenever we had a hankering to go build a fort we knew – beyond any shadow of a doubt – that it would turn out to be SPECTACULAR!! What’s up with that? The same infantile mind that knew imaginary monsters lurked in the dark also knew the fort would be a million tons of awesome. What happened? We grew up. We got jaded. The world changed us. It didn’t make us better. Sometimes it just made us bitter.
While writing this post on Monday, August 11, 2014 news broke that Robin Williams had been found dead at his own hand. Today is Wednesday and Robin is everywhere. He’s riding the big wave of today’s news’ cycle. Robin is today’s celebrity face of depression. I don’t pretend to understand it from any clinical or therapeutic perspective, but as a person who can be given to melancholy moments…I suppose I have some notion of the loneliness. Robin’s death must impact a podcast with the title, “It’s Always Sunny In Bula!”
I don’t suppose there’s anywhere that it’s always sunny. It reminds me of the Mark Knopfler song, “Why Worry.” Here are the lyrics:
Baby i see this world has made you sad
Some people can be bad
The things they do, the things they say
But baby I’ll wipe away those bitter tears
I’ll chase away those restless fears
That turn your blue skies into gray
Why worry, there should be laughter after pain
There should be sunshine after rain
These things have always been the same
So why worry now
Baby when i get down i turn to you
And you make sense of what i do
I know it isn’t hard to say
But baby just when this world seems mean and cold
Our love comes shining red and gold
And all the rest is by the way
Why worry, there should be laughter after pain
There should be sunshine after rain
These things have always been the same
So why worry now
Why Worry Lyrics
Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group
Still, most people worry. Some more than others. Some, unable to get out of bed. Others visit darker places than the rest of us. Darkness can wrap any of us up, bind us tight and swallow us down. Are any of us immune? I don’t much think so.
Sadness and despair visit all of us. Sometimes they camp out in the spare bedroom and stay for awhile. Other times they knock on the door, scream in our face then vanish off to spend more time perhaps with another.
At the grandest level, it comes from God. At the human level it comes from purpose. It’s always sunny in Bula isn’t about Fiji. It’s not about Bula Network either. It’s about why you live. Why you do what you do.
I’m a Christian. I obeyed Christ by being baptized for the forgiveness of my sins on July 17, 1968. And so it has been ever since. Mostly trying. Sometimes trying hard. Other times not giving it nearly the effort it deserves. But never doubting for a moment the validity of the creation story in Genesis. Nor wondering, “Why am I here?” I know the answer to that. And it may surprise that it’s the same for all of us. Nobody is anointed to some special calling or purpose. God created us in His image for His glory and honor. It doesn’t mean we all recognize it or understand it. It’s just how it is.
Beyond that, the rest is just details. Whether I involve myself in business, or art, or music, or education…well, that’s just the stuff I do to support myself and my family, to serve others and to influence people for good. At the heart of it all serving God. Colossians 3:23 tells us that when we serve men in whatever role we have – that passage speaks to servants or slaves – we’re really serving God. In the years of being a corporate steward, running businesses that I didn’t own, I was devoted to the men and women I served diligent to be a faithful steward of the responsibility bestowed on me. Most of them weren’t Christians, but I was. My obligations to God meant I had obligations to them.
All that matters because sunshine matters. Hope matters. And if I believed this life was all there was, then my view would be very different. Maybe. But there is life beyond this one. That changes everything.
So if you ask me of my hope, my optimism…it’s not based on global economics, national policy, technological trends or cultural shifts. It’s based on my belief that God is God and we’re here for His good pleasure. When we serve God He stands with us through the night.
Optimism matters. Sunshine does, too. Late Monday night Billy Crystal, longtime friend of Robin Williams, sent the most appropriate Tweet possible about the death of his friend, “No words.”
Sometimes we have to fight for sunny. I’m betting Billy Crystal is fighting today…along with many other people touched by the death of Robin Williams. Me? I’m doing my own bit of battling by watching Good Morning Vietnam again.
Your optimism makes a difference. I know. I’m a man who just endured some major surgery.
I arrived around 6:30AM last Monday. By 8AM I’m in pre-op and within half an hour I’m out. A few hours later I’m waking up without any memory of the helpful trauma. An hour later I’m walking the halls by the nurses station. No applause. No cheers. But I did get some encouragement. “Good. Keep it up.” Minutes later I’m back in my room when my nurse checks my vitals. I thank her for her service. She tells me it’s her job and she’s happy to do it. “I know,” I say, “but I also know some people can be really difficult when they’re not well, or when they’re in pain. I’m not one of those guys.”
She proceeds to tell me how important it is for patients to have a positive outlook about their recovery and improvement. We agree that people have the ability to will themselves to improve. Or endure the incurable.
Too bad it’s not as easy as just telling somebody, “Be sunny.” That’s like telling somebody to, “Get rich.” Lots of folks want to. They just don’t know how.
First, I think it requires faith, belief. People who lack sufficient belief in themselves and in the pursuit of a thing will be crushed. It won’t necessarily be due to their lack of ability. It’s likely going to result more from their lack of effort brought about by a “I don’t see any point” attitude.
The hospital patient who lays in bed bemoaning their pain isn’t going to put in the effort I did. I got my butt out of bed as soon as I could and never went back. In fact, I slept in the reclining chair in the room. Mostly because it was more comfortable, but also because I could more easily get up and down without any help. My heart was telling me, “This is your health. Take charge. Get better. Muscle through this because it won’t last long.”
I know that kind of self-talk isn’t enough for everybody. Some people need help…more help than just friends and family can offer.
Next, I think it takes a commitment. Sunny is hard. Hard takes a lot of work, but before any of us actually do work…we have to be committed and willing to do it.
When I was a kid I’d do some manual labor for my dad’s home construction company. The work began in my bedroom at some horrific hour. Dragging myself – or allowing somebody else to drag me out of bed – was job one. You may think, “Well, that’s not much commitment.” I’d argue you’re wrong. It’s exactly the commitment required. Maybe it’s minimal, but you have to get out of bed. I did. I always got out of bed. It was always hard. But it kept money in my pockets and my folks off my back. A win-win.
Don’t forget that it also requires dedication. By the time I got to the job site something else was necessary if I was going to make the day sunny. I had to actually perform. My commitment was demonstrated by just showing up. My dedication would be shown by contributing to the efforts that day.
I’ll applaud anybody for showing up, but not for just showing up. I know how hard it is to get out of bed. To me, that’s way harder than actually doing work once you get there. To arrive, then be slothful is way worse in my book. Better to not show up at all. Now you’ve added a burden to the work instead of contributing positively to it. You can’t possibly be sunny if you show up only to slack off.
Sunny takes dedication to get busy being productive once you arrive.
I think sunny also takes having a sense of accomplishment. Maybe you think of the mindless jobs of folks on an assembly line, but even those folks can find a sense of accomplishment in those repetitive tasks. That bolt on that bumper wouldn’t happen without them. It’s an accomplishment. An important accomplishment. If your truck was missing that bolt you’d be hacked. So would I.
Unfortunately there are lots of people who don’t view life like that. They’re constantly chasing some big thing because the little mundane, but necessary things just aren’t good enough to give them enough sunny. The problem isn’t their work. It’s their view of it.
Life isn’t filled daily with monumental, life changing accomplishments. It’s a phone call. An email. A sales call. A report. A website design. A logo created. Copy written. Tests run. Code written. Code tested. It’s the stuff we do a lot…every day. Even surgeons don’t do surgery every single day. Sure, on the days they do surgery you could argue they’re doing really big stuff. Ask them if it always feels like big stuff and you’ll likely be surprised at how routine it is. Because they’ve done it hundreds of times before.
Sunny requires us to view the bigger picture of our work and our life. We can see the overall contribution we’re making, even though at any moment in time it appears mundane.
Unless you’re in San Diego it’s not always sunny. Always sunny would be boring. We need some clouds and rain every now and again. It builds resilience. And it makes us appreciate sunny even more.
If it’s not currently sunny in your life, then have faith, commit, show some dedication and look for a sense of accomplishment. You’ll be in that yellow shirt in no time if you do.
Don’t give up on being sunny.
That’s her in the red dress. In the center of the picture. A location she deserves to occupy.
It’s been 39 years since we first dated. Here’s one of the first pictures of us as a couple. We had been on one date at this point. I was way cooler back then. 😉
We both claim instant love. And we’re not exaggerating. In about 3 years time we’d be married. This coming January 2nd it will have been 37 years. Like all old folks, we’ll talk your ears off about how time has flown. Speaking of ears, I once had enough hair to cover mine, but like time, my hair has flown.
But this isn’t about me. It’s about her. A girl with incredible character, integrity and industry. And determination. All the ingredients of virtuous girl hit my life in the summer of 1975 when that picture was taken. And it’s taboo in today’s world, but we were both virgins when we married because it was our conviction, our faith and our commitment.
She bore me a son in the summer of 1980, Ryan. This coming Sunday, he’ll turn 34. That’s him in that top picture standing to the right, with a little boy in his arms, Easton. It’s remarkable when your son has a son.
She bore me a daughter, Renae. That’s her standing in the sunshine to my right. Her two sons are those two ornery looking boys up front, standing next to their cousin, our only granddaughter. If she’s like her aunt Renae, the boys won’t have a chance during night time wrestling matches.
The years rock and roll. Our years have rocked just as much as they’ve rolled. Rhonda is a person mostly unfazed by whatever life presents. Not me. I agonize. Fret. Get melancholy. Strategize. Think. Think some more. Talk it out. Try to talk it out some more.
Meanwhile, in quiet solitude Rhonda just grinds it out.
She’s still the girl of my dreams, the mother of my kids and now the grandmother that any kid would love to have. It dawns on me that the power of a man finding a virtuous woman impacts an entire tribe. That’s my tribe in that top picture. And it’s why she’s at the center of it all.
I love her. And I’m proud that she loves me. Still.