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    ONWORDS: On Hustling, The Fourth Quarter and My One Thing

    ONWORDS: On Hustling, The Fourth Quarter and My One Thing

     By Todd Lieman

    I set out to write a post about finishing the year strong. About goals. I was feeling blustery and powerful and inspired by the start of the fourth quarter on Monday, October 1st. Monday, a new month AND a new quarter all rolled into one day?!? Let’s crush it! (Insert virtual chest bump, high five, bro hug and “Hustle” t-shirt here.) But as I wrote more and more, it became clear that my basic premise was terribly flawed. Then a friend posted something profound on Instagram and well, my whole original intention was blown to hell. And I’m so glad it was. That said I’m going to start at the beginning. I’m going to start with my original thought.

    If you’re like me (or many people we probably all know), you set a few goals for yourself at the start of the year. (I’ll refrain from calling them resolutions.) Mine were fairly simple. I had allowed myself (read Sabotaged myself) to get ridiculously out of shape (again) and set out to achieve the following:

    • Run 500 miles
    • Row one million meters
    • Lose 40 pounds
    • Run a ½ marathon
    • Finish my book

    I’ve kept a Google spreadsheet to keep myself accountable (something I’ve never done before). I’ve logged my workouts, weight and notes about my progress and feelings. And for most of the year, I’ve been killing it. I got down 50 pounds. I signed up for a race. I was truly appreciating my miles and my workouts. I was even meditating more. I felt kind of amazing. (Even if I wouldn’t let myself admit it.) And then the wheels started to fall of the wagon. Slowly at first. And then completely.

    I hurt my back. No idea how. Just one of those freak things. I tweaked it and it simply didn’t get any better. So I didn’t run at all in September. In fact, I barely worked out. I started eating horribly again (old habits die hard) and while I’m still down a bunch of weight, it’s not anywhere near 50 pounds.

    At this moment, my history dictates that I give in and give up. I failed a little (even if I didn’t), so why not just fail all the way? My history dictates that I beat myself up for hurting my back (even if it wasn’t my fault). My history dictates that I start berating myself for eating like crap and adding few pounds. My history dictates that canceling my race registration is a massive failure and I must really suck. For years, I’d yo-yo up and down. For years I’ve said, “I never lose weight. I just misplace it until I find it again.” My history dictates that if I screwed up my goals…it was time to fall into a black hole.

    This is where I started writing about October 1st marking the beginning of the fourth quarter. This is where I started to use the requisite sports metaphors and point out that if my year were a basketball game, I’d say that I’ve been leading most of the game, but have allowed the competition back into it. Who’s the competition? Demons. Doubts. Myself. Doesn’t matter. Then I was going to write something inspiring like, “I’m putting the wheels back on the damn wagon, dusting myself off, stretching my back and am setting out to consciously finish the year strong!” (Come on, more high fives bro!) Or maybe, “Not this time! Because history also dictates that maybe the old way of doing things hasn’t really worked.” And, then I’d go in for the kill: “Let’s finish strong. Together.” (Cue dramatic music)

    This is where I also started to realize the cracks in my original premise. And then I saw the Instagram post. A friend from a few lifetimes ago (someone I don’t know well now) posted that a super close friend of hers had died. She was understandably devastated. Through her tears, she looked up toward the sky and asked her friend for a sign that he was okay wherever he was (and here’s where I get goosebumps). Twenty minutes later the guy delivering her Chinese food arrived wearing a t-shirt with the logo of the company her deceased friend. She asked where he got it. She said someone gave it to him randomly. It was his favorite shirt. She told him the story and they hugged and cried together. (By the way…This isn’t like Google or Microsoft. It’s a smaller company.)

    This is where the light bulb appeared above my head and I thought, “Dude. Finish Strong? Finish what? Maybe this isn’t actually the end of anything.” Who cares about October 1st? Why do we need to care about any dates on the calendar? December 31st is just the day before January 1st. Maybe this is all about starting something.

    We aren’t promised anything. What if I remove (and release) the false pressures, false deadlines and false expectations to achieve some arbitrary thing by some arbitrary date? My goals aren’t about a number on a scale or miles entered into a spreadsheet. Those are the results of something altogether different and deeper. Those numbers are just, I’m not sure what the right word is, a cairn. Maybe they are just are trail markers to remind me where I want to go. And where I’ve been.

    Like that scene in Mr. Mom, I can just hear those inner voices saying, “Dad, you’re doing it wrong!” Running the race, finishing my book, or any of these goals don’t mean anything if they aren’t coming from a place where I can eliminate the massive swings (of mood, of productivity, of everything). That kind of life can only come from a place of truth. Or wholeness. Or healing. Or the heart. If the goals are coming from hurt and wounds, it won’t matter what dates I circle on the calendar, they will never be achieved. Even if they are achieved, the goal won’t have been accomplished authentically. And therefore, the results won’t last. This is why I’ve lost and gained and lost and gained and lost and gained and…forever. I wasn’t trying to lose weight because it made ME feel good. I was trying to lose weight for the same reasons I gained it in the first place…to cover the pain.

    I fear that I’ve gone far astray. Off trail. Because this post really has nothing to do with weight loss. It’s just the easiest, most relatable goal that we typically have. (I think?) This post is about this scene from the movie, City Slickers:

    Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is? [holds up one finger] This.
    Mitch: Your finger?
    Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don't mean shit.
    Mitch: But, what is the "one thing?" 
    Curly: That's what you have to find out.

    This post is about my one thing. Our relationships. Regardless of the day, week, month or year. The only thing (goal, whatever) that matters to me now, the only thing that I’ve set for myself with no deadline is just this: Build better relationships. The importance of healthy relationships is scientifically proven. The studies done at places like Harvard and Stanford are irrefutable. Still, we’re conditioned to hustle. To lose weight. To make more money. To work harder. Longer. To achieve, achieve, achieve. I’m not here to suggest we stop doing that. I’m just here to remind myself that, in the end, we’re going to always remember the time spent with our friends. We’re not going to remember hitting our sales quotas. We’re going to remember the dinners, the vacations, the laughs and the tears. Even as I close my eyes now and think about the slide show of my life…it’s all people. (And dogs. Lots of dogs.)

    If my relationships are healthy and intact, if I have intimacy in my life (real intimacy: feeling safe to share who I am and how I feel) and the right people around me, well, the weight (that registers both on the scale and on my shoulders) will take care of itself. Finishing my book. Running a race. All of these things will take care of themselves. We can’t protect ourselves from the heartbreak that my old friend is feeling. But we can reassure ourselves that we were grateful to have a friendship like she had with her late friend. We can focus on the memories that will stay with us as long as we’re around. And depending on your spiritual, universal, soul thoughts…maybe even longer. 

    Now go kill it in the fourth quarter…

     

    ONWORDS: ON FUNERALS, PERSPECTIVE AND A LIFE WELL LIVED

    ONWORDS: ON FUNERALS, PERSPECTIVE AND A LIFE WELL LIVED

    By Todd Lieman

    Funerals are always at the top of any “places to find perspective” lists. 

    As we listen to the eulogies, tell stories and remember, it’s easy to get lost in a thought, “Am I living my best life?” Or even, “I wonder what they will say about me?” So profound is the funeral experience that it’s often been suggested that we write our own obituaries to help figure out our purpose. While spooky, this exercise is supposed to guide us to a clearer, soul-level understanding of what really matters.

    For example, if we imagine our loved ones sharing stories about the hours we spent writing the epic books we published, but in the here and now we’re not actually writing . . . perhaps that’s a Grand Canyon-sized clue about what to do next with our time. The theory goes that by writing our own obituary, we gain some serious perspective that maybe it’s time to respect the calling with which we’ve been playing hide and seek. More bluntly, maybe it’s time to get off our ass. Time isn’t promised and nowhere do we learn that more vividly than at a funeral. Perspective.

    Still, I’ve never written my own obituary. I can’t get over the creepiness of it. I can’t get over the energy and message that such an exercise sends into the Universe. What if I’m not clear and the Universe misunderstands my intention to create a more meaningful life and instead interprets my words as planning for my death? I can’t risk sending that energy into space. I can’t risk the confusion. All of this was top of mind at a funeral this week. Perspective.

    It was top of mind as my cousins told countless tales of their dad, Victor, and the importance of family in his life.

    It was top of mind as I remembered decades of Thanksgiving dinners spent together.

    It was top of mind as stories of Victor’s passions for writing, community and the Navy were told to a sea of nodding heads.

    It was top of mind as Victor’s favorite jokes were shared. And to the collective groans that always followed.

    And it was especially top of mind as I considered the true spirit and definition of a life well lived.

    Victor’s life certainly had the look and feel of someone who did it right. My cousin’s daughter (my second cousin once removed!) told a great story. When she first pierced her nose, she stopped by her grandparents’ house. In the course of their visit, Victor and Florence, managed to say nothing about the piercing. Just before Sara could leave, Victor knocked on her car window. Sara rolled down the window and Victor said, “I hope you realize how cool your grandparents are that we didn’t say a thing about the metal in your face!” 

    As for me? Well, I used to stop by, unannounced on my drive home to LA from UC Davis. I would purposely take the long route so I could barge in, make myself at home and get caught up. I ran the risk that they wouldn’t be home (and they often weren’t), but the surprise and anticipation was worth it. When I moved north long after graduating college, I still took the long way home.

    The thing about perspective, however, is that (at least for me) it’s proven easy to find and difficult to keep. I’ve been jealous of people who have had near death experiences, the ones who were given a real second chance. I figured it must be impossible to fall back into old patterns, or continue to feel the pain of master wounds in the face of defeating death. But then I had one of those experiences and it did nothing for me. At least at the time. My experience in the Sea of Cortez has always been a great story to tell, but if I’m really honest, I fucked up the storybook ending. I could have written the perfect hero’s journey with what I learned (and I tried to convince myself that I had), but instead I still allowed years of my life to slip through my fingers. Perspective.

    Funerals are also notorious for “I did not know thats.” It goes without saying that with all the stories flying around, we’re bound to learn a few new things. Things like how Victor and Florence met (blind date when she was still in high school and he was in the Navy) or when they got married (one week after he graduated from the Naval Academy). Victor recently won a short story contest and was the inspiration for my cousin Rob’s passion for photography. I didn’t know either of those things. So in between thinking about my own memories of Victor and wondering what I could learn from his life, I found myself wanting to make sure that I both learned and told the stories in life. Perspective.

    I think Victor was the first person I ever knew personally who wrote and published a book. I remember going to the bookstore and buying a copy of NO NONSENSE MARKETING. I remember asking him to sign it on one of those surprise visits after I had graduated college. The last time I saw Victor, we talked about the books we were writing. He suggested that we trade chapters. I was too intimidated to send one of mine. Back then it was undeniably raw. First draft raw. Really bad raw.

    Of course now I wish I had.

    Perspective.

     

     

    ONWORDS: ON STORY ADDICTION

    ONWORDS: ON STORY ADDICTION

    My name is Todd and I’m an addict.

    (Hi Todd)

    I’m not addicted to drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, shopping or any of the other addiction types listed here. I’m an addict of a different kind. I’m addicted to my story. (Wait. Please understand that I’m not making fun of addiction. I feel the need to state that right up here in the front. At the top. Everything seems to offend someone. Not my intention.)

    I recently spent a weekend in Sedona with a group of brave souls who traveled to the Vortex in what we thought was a writing retreat. My expectation was that we would write. And write. And maybe write some more. I thought we’d write dialogue, description and character outlines. We wrote a little, but mostly . . . we exposed our addictions to our personal stories (some were recovering addicts and inspiring as all get out).

    I won’t betray the incredibly personal stories others shared, but I can share mine (which is a far cry from incredible and is in fact really quite boring). Mine goes something like this: I struggle with depression on some level of the spectrum. I struggle to consistently live in the authentic direction of my soul. I’ve always sought permission before making any major moves in my life. I watch other people do the kinds of things that I want to do and struggle with the jealousy it brings. I’m afraid of my gifts. I blame. I wear a variety of masks in an effort to…well, you get the picture. I’ve crafted a tale that gives me the excuses I need. Anytime. Just reach into my Official Bag of Fooling Myself, sprinkle a little Sabotage Dust on (enter situation here) and cue the darkness. Being addicted to my story meant I could avoid taking any real control of my life.

    But what I realized this weekend is that’s not how it has to be.

    This is where it’s natural for me to think, “Duh, dumbass,” and start berating the f*ck out of myself. That’s easy to do. But then, that’s just part of the story, isn’t it? That’s what I’ve always done. That’s the addiction. That’s where I go eat some horribly unhealthy meal, make myself feel like shit, lather, rinse and repeat. All the while my Demons are laughing their asses off. So not this time.

    As we studied the different character/personality archetypes the question was asked, “What if you don’t like your archetype?” Or as it relates specifically to me, what if I don’t want to keep falling into the hands of the Saboteur? The response was swift and simple: Change it.

    Story Addiction takes many forms. It can be the thing that keeps us from getting up early to workout (“I’m just not a morning person”) or not expressing ourselves artistically (“I don’t know how to [insert art form]”) to you name it and there’s likely an excuse attached that is part of the story. I’ve gained and lost the same 30 (40?) pounds more times than I can count. Every time I lose it someone proclaims, “Wow! You’ve lost so much weight!” I tell them, “I haven’t lost it, its just misplaced. I’ll find it again.” I get laughs. It becomes part of my story. And I gain it all back. (And then some) We all have our own versions of Sabotage Dust. Believe me, there’s no judgment in that. See it. Honor it. And if you want to join me . . . change it. (So, when I lose this 30 pounds--again!--and you tell me how good I look, I’m going to say “Thank you,” and tell you how fun it was.)

    So this is me virtually looking out upon the majestic red rocks of Sedona (as I sit on a couch in my family room) changing my story. I’ve entered a kind of Story Addiction Rehab. This isn’t a rebranding, either. I’m not covering up anything. I’m uncovering everything. This is owning and telling the story that is really, truly mine. Authentically.

    And that other story? That’s not real. That’s not me. (Or, more to the point--I have no use for it anymore.) Somewhere along the line I started believing it was. Somewhere along the line (and if I’m super honest I know exactly when “somewhere along the line” actually happened), I discovered it was easier to sprinkle the Sabotage Dust than it was to fight for my soul. I found it was easier to be sarcastic than honest. (Which isn't to say that sarcasm doesn't have it's time and place.) I found it was easier for me to write that things sucked than to admit they were awesome. Somewhere along the line, I started living like I was learning a new language, as though whenever someone said something, I had to translate it through my story and then respond. I wasn’t speaking from fluency of soul. I didn’t trust myself. Because the story I was living told me that I couldn’t. I became my mistakes. I become the fear. I became the hurt I had caused. I became the addiction.

    I know . . . I’ve been here before. I’ve written things like this before. Repeatedly. It’s been written in a variety of ways, including my favorite, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” And, I usually say to my friend (whom I call the Rabbi) that “I hope this time it sticks.” And he usually responds, “There will be a time when it does. May as well be this one.” I can say, undoubtedly, it is this one.

    There will be haters. There are always haters. Always a couple who will make fun of the words, who will taunt the sentiments. And that’s cool. Everyone has their own stories that are at the root of their responses. I’m good with that. So, if the words start to seem a little different. If the thoughts start to feel a little different. You’ll know why.

    That’s my story. And I’m sticking to it.

    ONWORDS: ON GRATITUDE, FRIENDS AND FAITH IN HUMANITY

    ONWORDS: ON GRATITUDE, FRIENDS AND FAITH IN HUMANITY

    Some time ago, a leading inspirational Facebook page, one that I regularly check out, recently posted a link with a headline of something like “26 Pictures That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity.” And even though the picture associated with the link looked uplifting, I didn’t click on it.

    Why? Because I don’t need my faith in humanity restored.

    I think people are inherently good. I think people mostly mean well. And I think people want to do the right thing. I have lots of faith in humanity. Silly as it might seem, not clicking made me feel like I wasn’t giving influence to an idea that I needed my faith in humanity restored. Instead, I wanted to let the Universe know that I feel good about humanity on the whole.

    Do we make mistakes? Yep. Can we be mean? Absolutely. Is there hate in the world? Undeniably. Does that mean my faith in humanity is shaken? Hardly. In fact, the haters, bullies and mean boys & girls of the world only serve to strengthen my human faith. They make me want to be better. They make me want to inspire even more. And they make me want to show my son that good can triumph over evil. The older I get, the less I understand hate, but the more I respect the healing power of gratitude.

    I suppose it’s appropriate that I saw this link on the (nearly) eve of Thanksgiving. It’s natural to get reflective during the holidays and I’ve been thinking about how unspeakably grateful I am for my friends. I know. Duh. Who isn’t grateful for their friends? We all are. But, the truth is, my friends are the reason why I have such faith in humanity.

    I rely heavily on my friends. I’m far from perfect. Flawed. The last several years have been somewhat transformative for me, as I’ve moved closer and closer to finding a way to get “whole.” It’s a journey that is nowhere near complete, and one that has included plenty of one step forward, several steps back experiences. But my friends never seem to waver. In the words of Freddie Mercury, “and bad mistakes/I’ve made a few/I’ve had my share of sand kicked in my face, but I’ve come through.”

    And I’ve come through because of my friends. I get by with a little help from my friends. They help keep me positive. Focused on the good. Believing that I can do and be anything. When you have that kind of support in your life, your faith in humanity is never in doubt. So, now is the natural time for me to simply say, Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. I’m so grateful for all that you do for me.

    I think it’s unfortunate that the loudest cries often come from the most disparaging voices. I think it’s too bad that senseless crimes and stories of gore seem to generate the ratings. Schadenfreude confuses me. But none of this means that my faith in humanity is shaken. None of this means that I believe dark triumphs over the light. All of this means that we need to work harder to celebrate the random acts of kindness. That we need to be optimistic and grateful. And, more importantly, let’s not use negative headlines to draw attention to the positive.

    I know that the link and authors of the post meant well. I know they weren’t trying to be negative. Not in the slightest. I know I’m overdoing it and overreacting. I suppose I should have clicked on the link. Maybe I’ll go back and do that. But what I’d really like to do is rename the link. I want to save it and share it as “26 Pictures That Show You How Great People Are,” or “26 Awesome Images of Awesome People.” Or maybe, “26 Pictures That Show How We Get By With A Little Help From Our Friends.”

    Thank you, friends. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I can’t do any of this life thing without you.