There was no way I could avoid this thought on Easter Sunday morning:
What makes me come alive?
Well by now I know those things exactly. I’ve known some for a long time, or I have known a few others but struggled mightily in accepting them or making room for them.
This is a central question in my life now because I heard it expressed numerous times as what is life-giving to you? What made your heart leap for joy today? Sometimes we are so entirely unfocused that we don’t even notice the life-giving things that happened in a 24-hour period.
But the issue I know I am attempting to drill at more so is how do I maintain what makes me come alive?
There are many a cynic who will be quick to say life isn’t about doing what you love (it’s because they stopped doing what they love years ago).
There are many who say life is a grind (they let their loves flicker out).
And there are others yet that equate being fully alive with childish ambitions that don’t recognize the toughness of the real world (they stopped playing a long time ago).
What I am pointing out on Easter today is how I really got caught in the wonderment of prioritizing the things that make me come alive more than any other things. I acknowledge, it truly is a fight to guard your time for those things.
I think this is the case though because of the point of view I carry more than often, a view that says what nourishes my soul should be rare and only done after responsibility.
But I think that our responsibilities, our duties, our entire lives are enhanced when we safeguard an abundance of our time doing and learning what makes us come alive.
The next time you get excited over something, and someone notices your excitement, don’t just take note of it. Ask yourself, how can I pursue more of this which excites me? The thing you nerd out over more than others. The challenge you want to pursue that others don’t want to touch with a ten foot pole.
I was freshly laid off. Having moved into my grandmother’s house only a month prior to help care for her as she was living alone. The long term plan was to also save up for a down payment for my own home in a year’s time and then move out.
But I was laid off. A month after the move.
What followed I can’t explain as some sort of seven step guide. It’s merely my story. But in the immediate months that followed, almost the week right after, I started down a path I am forever referring to as my next education.
My initial jumping off point was I knew I didn’t want to do what I was just doing as a career. I knew I had to pivot. I knew things weren’t going to be the same.
This lead me to reading books by Jon Acuff,James Altucher, Jeff Goins and many more. Books I never dared to read before because I thought they were too self-helpy/salesperson/’I can help you but first pay me money!’ I was only interested in scholarly books or theological books. But the career driven, make your own path, exit the Matrix and do things different books? They were never on my radar.
Until they got on my radar because of the strong desire to pivot.
Well, one thing led to another and within a couple months time I was reading a library copy of Tim Ferriss‘ The 4-Hour Workweek. And I have wrote about this story in particular before, but what I want to detail this time around was having exposed myself to a line of thinking and problem solving and paradigm shifting I had never considered before, I found myself doing mini experiments and exercises in finding what matters most to me and how I can daily change for the better regardless of being suddenly ‘stuck.’
The self education just snowballed into reading more and more similar books, listening to podcasts of the same nature and more. What happened immediately was a thirst for knowledge.
Next came following through with all this knowledge into action. The advice of several of these authors were implemented into daily practices, routines, or otherwise one-off challenges I had again never considered. Birthed out of this time frame was the formation of practices I have maintained in some fashion to this day which have greatly leveled me up.
not only to get the toxic stuff out of my head onto paper, but also, not surprisingly, to greatly improve my writing skills.
A more structured eating and gym regimine,
as I had already been on a journey where I lost 30lbs prior to the lay off. I have since been told by several people given the situation I was in, I had all the excuses in the world of letting a few things go in those regards. Sit around and play video games and eat unhealthy. But I did the exact opposite because having tested out new ways of doing things and seeing the positive results, I trusted learning and implementing whatever someone who has been there and done it has to offer in regards to diet and exercise. This lead to the next 50lbs being lost. And a completely new way of treating food as fuel and exercise as stimulation for the mind.
Reading on top of reading on top of reading.
I remember after graduate school being burned out with books and assigned class reading. But with a new sense of freedom I was looking forward to recreational reading on my own terms. Well, five years would pass by before I got serious about recreational reading. The lay off gave me time to sit down and read masterminds, folks who are so much more in the know than I am, who offered wisdom through their years of being there and done that. It become intoxicating and was leveling me up more.
There are countless other improvements which were made during this knocked off course time period.
What is standing out to me in the period of time the globe is finding itself in at present are the two streams I see daily on the social media feeds.
One stream is fueled to take this time to improve themselves.
The other stream is fueled by panic and fear.
I am once again realizing, having gone lax on some of my own daily regimens, that pregnant in this moment is the opportunity to regain some disciplines all over again. To better myself. To complete a couple trajectories I was on just prior to the events in the world going on right now.
And more importantly, I realize it’s not just time for me to better myself. It is time to help others more than ever.
Because now in the midst of our situation at hand we didn’t plan for, we can pivot, we can improve, we can change, and it can be for the better.
The chorus from the song Cardiff Giant by mewithoutYou contains a sentiment which has played through my mind a lot.
“I often wonder if I’ve already died.“
I keep looking back to my late twenties and wonder if I died back then. I wonder if I squandered freedom.
Subliminally, I think I died.
Superficially, I obtained multiple degrees (family cheers), I got the start of a technically skilled career (society cheers), and I even materialistically helped stimulate the economy by buying a car with said start of career (auto-makers cheer).
Prepared during my late teens and early 20’s with my arsenal of bibles, books and blogs, I knew I was entering my late 20’s (and the rest of my life?) with Jesus centered ways pinned to my chest.
I had my worn down Blue Like Jazz book. I had my copy of Irresistible Revolution. My NIV bible had my notes in the margins and underlined verses. My blog roll was a who’s who of Christian blogging at it’s finest (and worst) of the mid-2000’s. Blogging’s golden years.
I put in the work I needed to position myself to be in the world but not of it.
Vocation would eventually line up, I kept telling myself. My degrees could be justified in several ways once I started doing the tough, missional like work in my field. And I was certain I would be volunteering for key places doing incredible community development work.
But I wonder if I died somewhere before.
Which death had I died?
A death for freedom? Or a death for fear?
Death is cunning because it just sort of slinks in and sits back. It really doesn’t have to do much after a nudge.
I didn’t account for cubicle sitting. Sitting and sitting and sitting. I realize in college and for the previous 25 years in my life there were things like recess or the end of the 45 minute class. Or even the class of physical activity in and of itself. The desk job life was nothing I prepared for.
Sitting at work all day and doing a job would lead me to medicate at the fast food line carousel. Enabled, ironically, by the payment received for sitting at the desk and doing work.
An additional 60lbs later, the outward manifestation of my death was showing.
I also didn’t account for brain drain and video game indulgence. I played countless hours of video games after coming home from work. The last thing I wanted to do was think more, so why not mindlessly button mash? Quick dopamine surges to the brain in the form of taking the imaginary hockey team you manage to the Stanley Cup playoffs for the third year in a row. Besides, healthier more put together people my age play way more video games than I do.
Another outward expression I had died at some point, pacified by a fake digital world.
I hardly needed to be coached about not buying a new car. Used will always be the best bet, if I even need a car at all. Financially it would make sense. But by the time I was done test driving the newest model car it wasn’t even logic anymore. New car it was.
More outward expressions I had died along the way. Shane Claiborne would be mad.
And there were the denials.
When leaving work early on a Wednesday a co-worker asked where I was heading off to. Instead of answering plainly “I’m heading off to worship band practice at the church I attend,” I would say “oh, off to something I got to do.”
Not only did ‘something’ satisfy the curiosity of my colleague, but it satisfied my dying state.
When writing up a meet the staff blog post about me, one of the interview questions was “Tell us something about yourself that would surprise us?” I said that I have been playing the guitar since the age of seven.
But why, over two years into this job, would something so central to my core be a surprise to my co-workers? Why would this be something I need to hide from people?
What a weird surprise. I had slowly killed the musician in me the more I justified the pursuit of a career.
I don’t think I have to wonder too much if I had died.
Right now death is pissed off.
I came alive again. I woke up slowly inside safe, small community talking about several of the above items, while they were happening.
Only when you are alive do you know how dead you were.
All that preparation ahead of time in my life prior to my late 20’s didn’t go for not. All that digging into who Jesus really is and how I am to navigate this world was deeply embedded in me.
The problem was I didn’t allow any of it to release. I was letting death deal blows while life suffocated inside.
But now I am alive.
I am alive because the fast food line doesn’t control me anymore. The 60lbs put on is now 80lbs I’ve lost over the past two years.
The guitar isn’t just back in my hands, it never left, but it is truly a mark of worship to the God who gave me the ability to play in the first place.
My down time isn’t spent playing video games to decompress, but to continue self educating myself with books I’ve always wanted to read.
And death hates this so much.
I often wonder if I’ve already died.
Well, I did die.
But now. Now. I am alive.
I leave you with what the singer of mewithoutYou has to say about this song, not only what I took from it. It’s a song off an album about a circus train derailing in 1878. Hence why he mentions the animals in the following interview responding to Cardiff Giant:
“That song is a dialogue between the tiger and the peacock, both of whom stayed in captivity for different reasons. The tiger was very deliberate in remaining because of his sense of internal freedom regardless of external circumstances, but the peacock just feels kind of stuck. And the first time it’s the peacock saying “I often wonder if I’ve already died,” meaning a sense of having squandered her freedom—she missed the opportunity to escape and she’s stuck in this life that has no purpose or growth. And then the tiger responds in the second chorus saying the same thing, but it means almost the exact opposite—the tiger is wondering if the ego has been annihilated, if the self has been totally surrendered, and the tiger has been taken to some new, higher level of consciousness or reality. So it’s taking the same exact sentence and flipping it on its head.“
I was the peacock certainly. Death had me trapped and was convincing me I squandered my freedom. Give up. You’re dead.
But I’m the tiger now. Death got me for sure. But it never got me internally. Death can’t trap me anymore. I am surrounded by too much life, life abundant.
…and my grandparent’s dedication to The Price Is Right.
It’s early November 2016. Somewhere between the time of 11am and 12pm. I don’t remember the date but I’m spot on with the hour block.
The Price Is Right is on, as it should be if all is well in the world. The channel is on CBS after all.
I wondered out loud “how did Drew Carey lose all that weight?”
This single question leads me to an inspiring article about him. The article mentions his love of Tim Ferriss, among several other inspirational, career driven authors.
This leads me to the library to check out Tim’s The 4-Hour Workweek(and Jon Acuff’s Do-Over, and a couple other career/self-improvement books based only on title or partial familiarity with the author). I find myself diving head first into an entire genre of books I cynically kept a distance from up till this point.
Which then leads me to the slow-carb diet on Tim’s blog. Before starting the slow-carb diet I already lost 30lbs in 11 months. However, I hit a weight loss plateau for the previous four months. Implementing the slow-carb diet doesn’t just get me moving on the plateau, it pushes me down, taking off an additional 40lbs in the next four months!
I followed through with something prescribed by these gurus of self-reinvention. And it worked, big time.
Which by then leads me into my natural state of intellectual curiosity. What else works?
Subsequently I’m consuming reading material by several thought and career leaders (influencers?) to find out what else is going on here.
I’m discovering common themes. A bit of an echo chamber. Echos of advice that work and are simply out there for any of us to subscribe to and apply to our lives.
Which leads me, well, here. Writing for you.
But to be honest, writing for myself because I have to. I have always had to. Somewhere along the line I stuffed a lot of natural skills and passions of mine down, smothered them slowly, ran them over with a bulldozer, and buried them.
The resuscitation began when I simply asked a question about a game show host out loud. The answer I discovered was more than I bargained for. The actions I’ve taken since are critical pivot points of complete reinvention.
Thank you for not letting unworthiness continue to define you, even though at one point little Drew did: “Carey has described himself as a nerdy loner who spent his childhood feeling unworthy of happiness or success.”
Thank you for having the courage to talk about your story.
Thanks for the enthusiasm you have in carrying forward a message of change.
Never would I have imagined my grandparent’s love for The Price Is Right would lead to actual winnings for me.
I’m so glad I am wearing that orange and blue shirt again.
For the past five years, I’ve tried to get back into it. It even became the shirt you have hanging outside the closet to remind you every day ‘this is why you need to drop some pounds, to get back into this shirt!’ It’s size large and represents one of the last large shirts I purchased.
As of yesterday, I just dropped below 210 for the first time in over seven years. 2016 was the year I was fed up. I’m down over 65lbs since November 2015! I want this to encourage anyone out there looking to take on a new year’s challenge. You really can do it. Whatever it is, if you dedicate yourself you can get there.
And this is where I don’t tell you how I did it, but more how I was capable of doing it at all.
The guy in the picture on the left would have told you I knew God loved me, I knew I had value etc. etc. Of course I know that, the bible tells me so! Growing up Christian and as analytical as I am by default it was a fact. If I were taking a test and had to answer “Does God Love You?” I’d circle in the yes answer. It’s something we’re pretty good at in Christianity, stating values and facts and outlines and creeds.
But do we believe it in our core how God loves us? In the middle of an argument with our spouse? Do we believe it when we are seeking revenge against someone who has done us wrong? Do we believe it when we have nothing (or too much of something)?
If you had gazed into my eyes three years ago and said “Jesus loves you, you know that right?” I think I’d start looking down, away from you and off into the distance.
It was inside a very close community of men doing an unusual take on the classic church men’s group where I first started to share how I’d hit fast food lines on the commute from work 4-5 times a week (in case you were wondering, there are generally five days in a workweek). As other guys would share ‘real’ struggles out loud, I always thought I was making something up, like it didn’t sound like that big of a deal. But what I know now is back then I was wounded and had no idea.
It was the consistent message in these groups about God’s view of all of us that turned the corner for me:
You are loved.
You just are.
Right now, as overweight as you are,
As drugged up as you are,
As depressed as you are,
As stressed out as you are,
As broken and wounded as you are, YOU’RE LOVED RIGHT NOW.
He actually loves you, not theoretically.
Then I changed. Then I picked up the pieces.
Safe community helps flush out things you either have a perfected way of covering up or had no idea you were concealing in the first place.
And your launching point, mine at least, is understanding change only happens once you know you are simply loved as you are. Knowing Christ loves me and it’s day five in the gym sustains me to day 15.
It’s a great paradox: ‘you are valued the way you are, now you are free to change!’
Not exactly a seven step diet and exercise plan, but it’s the only thing I know that’s true. Whatever it is you are maturing towards, whatever it is you need to breakthrough this year or this month or the rest of this weekend, just know you are valued. Burst into the new year knowing this. You are loved. You actually are.