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    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.

    ONWORDS: On Passion, Lady Gaga and Vulnerability

    ONWORDS: On Passion, Lady Gaga and Vulnerability

    There’s a pretty amazing story about Lady Gaga making the social rounds. It talks about her ability to live a life of passion by unabashedly and unapologetically being herself. (I’ll refrain from using “authentic” here, as I fear it’s starting to get overplayed and lose its intended meaning.) The piece ends with a question:

    Who would you be and what would you do if you weren’t afraid?

    I love this question. If I totaled all the time that I’ve spent thinking about this question, talking about this question, asking it to other people and meditating on it, I should be an expert (based on the 10,000 hours to master a craft). And yet, after all that time…I’ve never had an answer. EXPERT, MY ARSE!

    But the truth is that I do know the answers. It wasn’t until I read this article for the third or fourth or 50th time that I accepted them. I know the answers. I’m simply afraid of them. The fear keeps me from accepting the answers and instead creates the easy out: “Wow, ummmm, those are really great questions. I don’t really know. I’d have to think about that.” Or “I’d be (insert famous person here).” In an age where vulnerability is still defined as weakness and not courage (read Brené Brown), this is a perfectly acceptable response. Especially if this exchange is followed by uneasy laughter.

    Okay then, who would you be if you weren’t afraid?

    I’d be myself. There I said it. I don’t want to change. I don’t want to be something I’m not. I just want to be comfortable, finally, in my own skin. I want to be me. I want to be vulnerable and crude. I want to be compassionate and sarcastic. I want to be fearless and considered. I want to be collaborative and alone. I want to laugh and cry. I want to be apples and pickles. Hippie and Hip Hop. Because these are traits that make up who I am. (Okay, maybe not hip hop. Can’t really pull that off.)

    Doesn’t seem like it should be much of a challenge, really. On the surface, I think most people might see me this way. But I don’t. I’m not comfortable being all of those things. I feel like a walking contradiction and that makes me uncomfortable. I need to be one or the other. Pick one: Compassionate or Sarcastic. Pick one: Collaborative or on your own. Pick one. Pick one. Pick one. The Lady Gagas of the world don’t care about the contradictions. They all just get put into the blender to create this one amazing, passionate life.

    And that’s where I stumble. I think that in order to live a true life of passion, I need to accept my contradictions. I need to celebrate them as part of a unique concoction that is simply…me. If I consider my “traits” (and contradictions) only as one-off ingredients instead of honoring them as parts of a bigger recipe, a true passionate life will continue to elude me. If I continue to just “pick one,” I can’t be whole. And wholeness is where the good stuff really, truly happens.

    I’m not only vulnerable, sarcastic, considered and funny. Those bits alone won’t make up the whole me. I need to accept that I’m also crude, collaborative and pig-headed. On my own, I genuinely like the whole me—even with several cups full of mistakes and pain. The voices of fear and unworthiness, however, are constantly whispering in my ears, “You can’t say that,” or “You can’t show them that.” What if you’re not perfect?” “They’re not going to like that part of you.” And I believe them, which is what has kept me from ever accepting that I know the answer to this first question. I’m answering it now. Demons be damned. After all, if I don’t accept the whole me, I won’t ever be able to answer the second question.

    What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

    My stock answer to this (and one that I believe) is “I’d find a way to earn a living running A Day Well Lived.” I know exactly what it wants to be. I know exactly where it needs to go. I even know exactly what I need to do. And yet? Here I am answering that question again instead of actually doing anything about it.

    Why?

    See the first part of this post. Those whispers. Those voices. “What if it fails?” By keeping A Day Well Lived somewhat in a fantasy state, it can’t ever fail. I protect myself from falling short. It allows me to tell people about what it is and what I plan to do without ever having to do it. It allows me to get the “oohs and aahs” and “wow-that’s-really-cool” responses, which gives me a boost of worthiness.

    That’s hardly the recipe for a passionate life, though. Passion isn’t found in the plans. It’s in the actions. So why do I hem, haw and hesitate? Because I’m not allowing the “fearless” and “risk taking” ingredients to be added to the recipe. I’m cherry picking what goes in and what stays out in an effort to “protect myself” from disappointment. (I can hear the line from the movie GOOD WILL HUNTING, “Well, I think that’s a super philosophy Sean…”)

    And this is where the demons and voices really go to work. They sense weakness and they attack. Now they start to mock me for listening to them in the first place. “Seriously? Aren’t you just the biggest p*ssy on the planet?!?”

    But this is bigger than what I might do for a living. What would you do if you weren’t afraid? I’d have big, difficult conversations. I’d put all of the ingredients into the blender without fear of what the result might be. I’d stop trying so hard to create the course of my life and let some of the pieces just fall where they want to fall. I’d follow my heart. I’d ignore perfection. I’d write. I’d let more love into my life. I’d stop looking for my worthiness in others and find it in myself. I’d smile back at the person in the mirror and wrap him in a blanket of acceptance and compassion. I’d keep trying to learn how to play the guitar and someday maybe even sing in public. I’d be even more vulnerable, more accepting and I’d answer the first question with a kind of swagger that I lost somewhere long ago. The real irony is that if I did all of these things, the second question and A Day Well Lived would take care of themselves.

    Looking again at the questions: Who would you be and what would you do if you weren’t afraid? The answers are actually found in the headline: I’d live the Life of Passion.

    ONWORDS: On Emotions and Bologna

    ONWORDS: On Emotions and Bologna

    I woke up this morning feeling anxious. Edgy. Unbalanced. I have a few things going on in my life that makes these feelings perfectly normal. Plus I have an ancient dog that is having trouble sleeping and he keeps me up for large portions of the night. His unrest and my “no rest” make it tough to be in peak form.

    I’ve been taught to be mindful of my feelings, however, so I meditate. I’ve learned to breathe through mornings like these. I overcome some of the anxiety with a good sweat, which then helps me process these feelings with the appropriate perspective. But I’m starting to have doubts about whether that’s the right thing to do. I’m starting to think that I’m turning my feelings into Oscar Mayer bologna.

    In other words, I feel like I’m losing any real benefits of my raw emotions by over processing them. Instead of being over seasoned like Oscar Mayer Jalapeño Bologna, my feelings are over reasoned. Like Oscar Mayer’s finest, however, the meditating, breathing, and sweating may make my feelings filled with artificially flavoring. My anger ends up tasting like patience when what I really need to taste is actual anger. My feelings become fake. Disingenuous. Inauthentic. They become total bologna. I think I’m ready for the raw emotion movement to catch fire like raw food. I need the equivalent of big, leafy green emotions.

    While “running” (not sure my pace qualifies) recently I overheard parts of three different conversations:

    The first couple was a young (younger than me) couple walking towards me. The woman was wearing the requisite yoga and workout gear that is the uniform of my town and the man (Boyfriend? Husband?) wore a ratty hoodie and cargo shorts. They were holding hands as he explained, “This is just what happens when I get angry. I want you to understand that…” and their voices trailed off as I passed them.

    About a mile later, two women appeared incredibly deep in conversation, “I guess first passion, then love and THEN sex” (her emphasis). I don’t know if she was answering a question about what she was looking for, or what she had, but more silence followed.

    Before long my knee started its all-too-familiar ache. I walked behind a man on his cell phone, “I just want to do something that feeds my soul.” He was wearing a suit. Talking to a recruiter? Job interview?

    Each of the conversations had that kind of exposed emotion that I love. They were so vulnerable. Even in the fleeting moments I experienced, they all felt so real. Raw. Big, leafy greens raw.

    I welcome the rawness. I feel as though the Demons have nowhere to hide when we’re our most exposed. So while I understand the need to process feelings and emotions in order to understand where they come from, I think the mistake I make is that I over process them to such a degree that I discount them. I get so focused on making sure that I couch (ironic choice of words, as that’s where I learned all of this!) everything with the right disclaimers (“I feel”) that the feelings almost take on less importance.

    Just because I know what makes me angry or sad doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t be able to feel that anger or sadness. I forget that part. Instead, I work out to make it all go away. If processing my emotions and feelings makes me forget them, I’m not doing myself any favors. I suspect the Demons actually love that. I can almost hear them (in their best Beavis & Butthead voices), “Heh, heh, he processed those feelings away. Let’s go in.”

    A therapist friend of mine recently told me a story about completely losing her sh*t. Normally one to take a step back before getting angry and consider where the anger was coming from, she decided to just “ride it this time.” As she explained, “I was livid. Cussing. Screaming. For a good four of five minutes, I just totally lost my head.” And then? “I kind of got bored with it and it just passed through me. Gone.” She said she wouldn’t recommend doing that all the time, but she also said that it was “freeing.”

    We’re so fond of offering, “just breathe” as advice. Sometimes, the situation may be better served with, “go outside and just f*cking scream.” So I guess the lesson for me is that there are times to process and times to lose my sh*t. But the constant is that I have to actually let the feelings happen.

    When I was a kid, I loved bologna and cheese sandwiches (on Wonder Bread, of course!). Among my favorite memories is visiting the county jail with my public defender dad. The inmates were served bologna and cheese sandwiches and I could make my own, often piling it up with two or three slices of the fake, over processed “meat.” (It was nearly enough to make me consider breaking the law.)

    Now though? I’m way too old for bologna…

    ONWORDS: On the Meaning of Life Is Short

    ONWORDS: On the Meaning of Life Is Short

    I wonder when I’ll learn. I mean really learn. We’ve all heard it. We’ve all said it. But I wonder when I’ll finally start to believe it. I wonder when it will finally click – not for a moment, a day or a month, but for real. I wonder when it will become a lifestyle choice that sticks as opposed to the diet that I only do for a short period of time. I recognize the cliché, but I wonder when it will finally, I mean finally, hit me: Life is short.

    When I was a junior in high school, my friend Alvin was murdered by his cousin. He was a sophomore. When I was a junior in college, my dear friend Linda died in a rafting accident. Another friend lost his brother a few years later. My young neighbor died from leukemia. That’s only a partial list. How many reminders do I actually need?

    Life is short. Life is short. Life is short. With every single one of these tragic deaths, that mantra was repeated. Perspective was gained. And then lost. Motivation was found and action was taken. And then sadly not so much.

    I got a haircut recently. Instead of the usual, politically incorrect topics of conversation, my friend and I talked about his 51-year old buddy who died from a sudden heart attack earlier that week. Although I didn’t know the father-of-four, he was by all (and I mean ALL) accounts was an incredible man. A truly lovely man. The kind of man whose loss causes entire communities to mourn. And there’s the reminder again. Life. Is. Short. It just is. So here I am again wondering will I finally believe it?

    The thing is that I’m convinced I do believe it. I think many of us believe it. Maybe the problem isn’t that I don’t believe it. Maybe the problem is that I don’t know what it means to believe it. What are we, WHAT AM I, supposed to do when we believe that life is, indeed, short? How is it that we’re supposed to act? What exact actions are we expected to take?

    Years ago, I was living in Florida when a friend’s cousin was killed on TWA Flight 800. It didn’t take me long to pack my bags and move back to the west coast. I wasn’t happy in Florida. Is that what it means to believe that life is short? You refuse to live in situations that make you unhappy? What if you ARE happy, though? Does it then mean we’re supposed to take the risk we’ve been afraid of taking? We all have one of those, don’t we? I know I do.

    Maybe that’s my problem. By restricting the “life is short” definition/reaction to one that assumes I have to jump off the cliffs, I sometimes feel like I’m failing in my beliefs. I feel like death – especially the unexpected kind – requires us to act with big, meaningful changes in life. And if we don’t, we’re not honoring those who passed. We’re not honoring the very life is short mantra that we repeat ad nauseam. But it’s not always possible to make the throw-all-caution-to-the-wind-decisions because, “F*ck it. Life is short.”

    I think I’ve done reasonably well at taking risks in my life. I’ve quit jobs. I’ve moved across the country. I’ve started my own companies. But I know that deep down (or maybe even not so deep down) I sometimes don’t take the big leaps. The kind where you push all of your chips to the center of the table. The kind where you put it all on red. The kind that requires faith (in any variety of forms). And I recognize I’m not being totally fair to myself (or am I just making an excuse?). There are life realities and responsibilities that need to be met. It’s not like I can just drop it all and become a Cirque performer (if, you know, that’s what I wanted to do).

    So there has to be a happy medium. If the balls-out belief that life is short means I quit my job, sell the house, buy an Airstream and take the family on the road full time … well, maybe I need to give that dream a little haircut. If that’s REALLY the dream, maybe the life is short lesson means I can start with simply learning to tow.

    My challenge has always been one of zero to 100. When big life events happen, I sometimes tend to floor it. I feel like everything needs to change 180 degrees in 180 seconds. I respond emotionally. It’s understandable; death is emotional. It forces us to take stock. And there’s the real rub. I have to make sure that I do take stock. Honestly. Fairly. I have to make sure that I’m not using “life is short” as an excuse. It’s easy to do, but it isn’t authentic. Decisions made in that space won’t be properly executed. They won’t generate any real follow through. And they won’t last.

    Life. Is. Short. I know it. We all know it. We all say it. I beat myself up if I feel like I’m not living on the edge enough. And yet, I don’t really even know what that means! While it’s, no doubt, different for everyone, if I really believe it, the best I can do is to honor myself and live as true to myself as I can. I haven’t always done that, but I’m trying. I’m really trying to do that.

    After all … Life is short.