Crossroads

Is it time to leave, in order to find success and sense of worth?

Last week, I attended a going away party. In the midst of the fun and the enjoyment, a long-held thought crept into my mind again. It was hard to dismiss it.

My gear is stuck in neutral. I’m at the proverbial crossroads of what the rest of my life will end up being.

Everyone around me, friends and acquaintances, are landing new jobs, careers, getting married, starting families, you know, all of the good things that we celebrate. I celebrate for my friends when great news arrive, and I’m there when bad news hits the door.

Then there’s the feeling of “why is it that everyone is having the best year of their lives, and I’m going nowhere?”

I’m a positive person for the most part. I try not to let anyone in on how draining and depressing it is when you feel that no one understands how much you struggle to survive each day. There is no such thing as living life to the fullest, because life isn’t perfect.

It never was perfect.

Is it that everyone is afraid to understand, because they don’t want to “feel” the emotions that you are experiencing? Are we doing all we can to deny being vulnerable to these feelings, because we have to suppress them, to appease everyone?

When someone asks me about my job search, I tell them my current status. Then, they conclude with “…well, I’ll keep my eye out on anything (for you).”

Please do me a favor: stop doing it.

Most of you will never keep an eye out for any job openings for anyone, not even for a friend. No one is willing to risk their reputation and credibility if they recommend a friend.

Someone I know said “it’s not who you know, but it’s who knows you.” The people in my age group, and the non-profit/volunteer world, knows who I am.

The business community doesn’t know who I am. To most of them, I’m a 37-year old Generation X single professional male, who is “invisible” to them. I’m not the superstar up-and-coming vice president, account manager, event planner that they can groom to be the new leaders.

I’ll never be picked to be in the class of Forty Under 40 or be profiled in dsm Magazine. That’s reality. I’m willing to accept that as fact.

I have done everything to build identity capital: volunteer, network, being active in different professional and social circles. As Meg Jay pointed out, “identity capital begets identity capital.” (Note, Jay’s talk isn’t just for 20-somethings. 30-somethings need to watch this too.)

After nearly four years of doing this, the result has come up empty.

In my personal life, time is running out on me to find and start a family, and establishing “solid” roots in the community. I’m 37 years old. I shouldn’t be single and lonely. I don’t mind doing things alone, but loneliness is a silent killer.

It infuriates me when friends and acquaintances blindly utter the “if you don’t think about it, it’ll happen” line when it comes to seeking a mate. If I “don’t think about it”, it will never happen.

From my standpoint, it’s the worst advice ever to offer to a person. It tells that person several things:

  • You don’t think they are worthy of dating or having a mate. They’re not worthy of love.
  • You’re discouraging them from trying, intentionally or unintentionally, and
  • If they did find that person they choose to be with, you would be jealous as hell.

Saying that I’m better off single is an insult, if you want my honest opinion. I don’t tell you that being married or dating is a waste of time or a huge mistake. The time to pick my family (importantly a mate) is now. I don’t have the time to “take as much time as I need” to find someone to be with.

Everyone’s “got the right to love”, right? Why deny anyone that?

There is a point where I have to ask the inevitable: should I leave Des Moines, in order to find success personally and professionally?

Because I feel nothing is going to positively happen for me here. I’ve been patient and have kept my sanity in check long enough. I’m tired of being the one to see someone get a new job, watch someone walk down the aisle, and get noticed for business achievement.

When will my “best year” happen?  Today? Tomorrow? Never?

“Let Them Own It”

Recently, I’ve noticed how people are obsessed with getting revenge or demanding their recourse over things that have happened to them, or something that was said to them.  They feel the urge to respond to everything angrily and emotionally. 

No wonder why we’re on a one-way trip to a nervous breakdown. 

This week, a 2 minute video clip has made re-think how I feel about reacting to everything that is being said of me negatively, also how I was treated or had something done to me.  I would listen to it a few times, in order to fully understand the point. 

Let them “own it.” 

You don’t have to reply to everything that’s being said, demand something, or expect anything.  Let them “own it.”  Why?  As ESPN’s Colin Cowherd explains in the video clip below, they’ll feel guilty about it (mentally, and do what they can to hide it).  Secondly, on that same psychological line, you will get your own satisfaction and peace. 

Once you have discovered that, you have moved on.  No need to ask for recourse or compensation.  What’s done is done. 

Mentally, by walking away and letting them “own it”, you break free from obsessing about it, ruminating and being angry about it. 

Initially, you want to react, reply, and attack everything in your path, but eventually you have to free yourself mentally.  We’re big boys and girls.  You know how to move on with your life.  You should move on with your life. 

If you don’t walk away, that’s a you problem, and you’ll never move on. 

A Puzzle That Doesn’t Fit

“You know who you are.”

That phrase has been circling in my mind since Christmas.  That line is like an image of a tiny little puzzle piece, with no where to fit into the picture.

I know that I’m human, left-handed, a good listener, and a genuinely nice guy.  I also know that after little over a year in the employment free agency, I may little choice but to return to the very thing that everyone dreads:  cubicle world.  As someone who has worked in a one particular industry for nearly 11 years, the past year has been one of reflection and searching.

The problem is, two fold:  reflecting that I have limited experience in business, social media, marketing, and other things.  The second is that searching for something new, has become a futile crusade, at least that’s what my mind tells me.  I looked at a career in non-profits.  The non-profit world has no room for me.  I investigated possibilities into social media, which I am a fan of.  I don’t have a marketing background.  Without that, I don’t have a box to stand on.  It’s all about showing businesses how to use social media.

What about the consumers and people who use it for other means that are non-business?

I knew that the industry I used to work in was a career that I never felt comfortable in.  But I kept hitting my head against it’s sturdy walls and ended up with a splitting headache and unrealized hopes of advancing.

I’ll be blunt:  networking has been a daunting task.  I worked on making it an advantage for me, but it has devolved into nothing more than a social affair among my peers.  People want to know you as an individual as a means to socialize or discriminate, not as a source to help you get to where you need to go.

Today, I’ve decided to start searching for work in the “old” industry again.  The “old” is what I was doing until late 2009, when I decided that it wasn’t the right place for me.  Despite the efforts to segue into something different, there is nothing out here to fit what I can offer.  It’s seems as though I have to fit what the job is.  Frustrating isn’t the right word to describe when people look at my resume and skills, to be told they have no clue where I would fit in their puzzle, outside of hammering a keyboard telling you my thoughts and feelings every other day.

I just turned 35.  This is the “mid-life” crisis for me.  On that point, the mere idea of a “mid-life” crisis happens throughout our lives, not just in our 40’s.

The term that keep popping up is “late bloomer”.  I finally got around to getting a laptop recently.  Everyone has had one for over 3 years.  I never dated.  Everyone else has or is now starting families.  I finally realized that what I was doing wasn’t the right fit.

But I can’t seem to catch up with everyone else. Where can the odd-looking piece fit on the puzzle?

With trepidation, I’m preparing myself to return to the world that I walked away from.  Not that I want to.  I have to if I’m going to survive out here. I know what I am:  someone who wants to work. It’s wrong to say that, but what else is there to say, beyond being a “Twitter” star and a good guy?

That’s why I’m envious (in a good way) for a fellow twitter colleague.  Someone noticed his passion and his talents.  He landed in a new place.

I have yet to get a hit on the radar screen.  Those chances are running out each day.

Everyone I know have achieved their dreams, the right career, and the lucky breaks.

If I get through one more day, would it be worth it?

“The Breaks”

Sometimes, in sports or life, you get the breaks that help you succeed.  In contrast, a couple of bad breaks can be dispiriting.

Many of you knew that Iowa’s schedule looked favorable, if a few things went their way.  That is not the case this season.  Right now, many of you are still in denial over what has transpired.  Injuries, lack of depth, and wear and tear of the Big 10 season has made this a tough stretch for the Black and Gold.

Today, you are calling them a “disappointment”.  They are not in the business of making you or I happy.  Their jobs is to play to the best of their abilities and play as hard as they can.

The only individuals who should be disappointed is the team themselves.  They felt short of their goal(s), not yours.

If they win, that’s sweet.  If they lose, it hurts, but you move on.

It’s too bad that a small faction of Iowa fans, are starting to act like the apocalypse has arrived because their “expectations” did not come to fruition.

You have to be lucky and good. Just being good may not help you succeed.

Sometimes you get the lucky breaks, like last year, and sometimes it doesn’t go your way, like this season.  Fans over-react and not see the picture for what it is.

No one expected what was going to happen to Iowa, Wartburg, or even Dowling Catholic before the football season began.  Dowling Catholic won the Class 4A state title.  Wartburg won the Iowa Conference title, but were upset at home in the Division III playoffs.  Iowa’s struggling to stay healthy and keep fresh legs on the field.

As Kurtis Blow put it “these are the breaks.”  It’s not the end of the world.  It’s how you survive and hang in there when you hit those bumpy and unforeseen potholes.  Listen to the lyrics from his biggest hit song to understand it.

We All Need “Coaching”

Jamarcus Russell

Recently, I watched an interview of former Oakland Raiders quarterback Jamarcus Russell.  Russell was the first pick in the NFL Draft several years ago.  Since the end of last season, Russell was released by the Raiders and was arrested in July for possession of a controlled substance known as “purple drank.”  NFL critics and fans are starting to consider Russell the “biggest bust” in the history of the NFL.

That’s a lot to say when the other “busts” have been Ryan Leaf and Tony Mandarich, among a selected few.

How can a player of Russell’s caliber be such a bust?

Is it because his coach didn’t develop him to prepare him for the NFL?

It leads me to believe that his college coach, LSU’s Les Miles,  either didn’t spend more time helping Jamarcus work on his mechanics and maturity as a quarterback, or Russell thought that he didn’t need to change his “game”.  Talent is a great thing to have, but you have to hone your skills and work on your weaknesses in order to be ready for whatever happens.

Jim Tressel aka "Sweater Vest" (left) and Kirk Ferentz (right)

Which is why Kirk Ferentz is respected and admired by the NFL community.  NFL coaches and scouts know that when a former Hawkeye joins their team, that player is ready mentally, physically, and prepared for the next challenge.

Just like in sports, “coaches” are everywhere and are available to help people work on a weakness, better utilize their strengths and skills, and help build confidence to tackle on life’s challenges.

There’s a “career” coach, “life” coach, and even a “motivational” coach.  There is a coach for almost anything that we need help in.

Following the trail of life

Life is a bike trail. You keep peddling until your "trail" ends.

On Wednesday night, Jan Thomas and her sons received the ESPY’s Arthur Ashe Courage award on behalf of the late Aplington-Parkersburg football coach Ed Thomas.  I saw the acceptance speech and I wasn’t worried at all.  I knew Aaron would knock it out of the park.  On a side note, the Becker family also deserve a standing ovation for being in attendance at the show.  They been through hell alongside the Thomas family.

I read with interest on how many people were “misty-eyed” watching the video tribute to Coach and the presentation of the Ashe Award.  I wasn’t “misty-eyed” or emotional at all.  I have seen, read, and listen to the AP story in the past.  Secondly, I had to use the “misty-eyes” and emotional components Wednesday afternoon for someone you don’t know.

Let me tell you about Kim Clayton.

He worked as an executive for American Administrators in West Des Moines.  He and his wife, Debbie, have two children.  Kim had a lot of hobbies and he was an avid Hawkeye fan.  Volunteerism was something he loved to do.  He served on numerous boards and volunteered his time and efforts.

On Friday, July 9th, he collided into the side of a SUV on his bike on a trail in Dallas County.  He was killed instantly. Wednesday afternoon was his funeral.

I’m not writing this to sway you from the attention Coach Thomas deserves to receive, but to tell you that Kim was an everyday hero like Coach Thomas.  He was no Coach Thomas or Mother Theresa when it comes to name recognition.  He didn’t rally a community to rebuild after a tornado or collected food to send to an earthquake-ravaged Haiti.  He volunteered to make his community a better place, in small ways.

Kim served on the American Diabetes Association board with me.  In 2009, we had a down year financially and facing a lack of local public interest in the the cause to find a cure for diabetes.  This year, we made a commitment, as a board, to find new ways to drum up interest for our annual walk & bike ride in September.

Kim was diligent and eager to volunteer in any way.  Sometimes, it was difficult for him when we hit a roadblock.  His facial expression was all I needed to see:  confused, puzzled, looking for a solution.  This spring, Kim found his “voice”, in contacting local companies that we never reached out to in the past.  He became comfortable in calling and asking if he could come out and give his pitch on why they should sponsor or help create and support teams to do our walk.

It was the same “voice” he had at his church, Lutheran Church of Hope, as an usher.  It was the same “voice” that was heard on the WestParks Foundation board as he worked with others to make the parks and the bike trails better and accessible to everyone.

It was that voice that was suddenly silenced on Friday.

As Ed Thomas said, we have to pick ourselves up and move forward.  It’s not that we have to.  We need to.  Life has no stopwatch and there is no button to play back what has taken place.

Life is like a bike trail.  Smooth and simple, bumpy and hilly.  We don’t know where our “individual” trail will end.  We keep riding it until we get there.

And at the end of the trail, hopefully, Kim will be waiting there for us.