Why You Need to Embrace What Makes You Different

I’m starting to think that the ultimate goal (and challenge) in life is learning to truly embrace what makes us different. When we are young, most of our teachers, families and even Sesame Street tells us that we are special. Then, we grow up and have to contend with a world that tempts us with comparison. Every day, we have a choice to compare who we are, how we look, and our contributions to the world. Unfortunately, this is where things can become toxic.

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Daddy, I Am NOT Eating That!

It is important to pay attention to the world around us and keep a close eye out for the clues and crumbs that lead us to an understanding of how to better navigate the world. I love a good life lesson. That’s what this blog is all about! However, as I live life, I am learning that a great life lesson is not always learned the hard way or even through great struggle. Sometimes, life lessons are found in the silver linings, the fumbles, and even the humorous. It’s fun to find lessons in odd places because it keeps us laughing, positive, and optimistic. I learned two valuable life lessons when my father was tasked with making me and my brother a sandwich when I was around 9 or 10 years old.

Ok, so my father is literally the most innovative and ingenious person I know. This guy can fix anything, with anything, in any place. The most amazing part about it is that he does not have any sort of formal engineering degree but can still solve a problem like no one I have every encountered. The end product may not always look beautiful, but it is functional and normally working again. The man is a genius and can solve mostly any problem he has ever been presented with except this one small task my mother left for him to do– to make my brother and I a sandwich!

It was a Saturday and my mother had gone to work for the day. One of my brothers and I were going to be the only kids in the house for the day. My mother didn’t have time to make food in advance like she normally does, so she asked my Dad to make us a sandwich for lunch. Now it is important to note that my parents mostly ate home-cooked food and rarely ate out when I was younger. My mom would branch out and experiment, but my Dad… well let’s just say he liked what he liked and American deli sandwiches were not high on his list back then!

I waltzed down into the kitchen for the yummy sandwich that I had complete faith my Daddy dearest was capable of making. He is generally a good cook, so I was pretty excited. Upon entering the kitchen, the four slices of bread were already neatly assembled on the kitchen table– two for me and two for my brother. So, he began to make the sandwich. Peanut butter… jelly… cheese…

Me (in shock and horror): “Daddy, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”

Slightly annoyed and startled, he replies, “What do you mean? I am making you a sandwich?”

Me: “Daddy, NO. That’s disgusting. You can’t put cheese with peanut butter and jelly! I am NOT eating that.”

To my shock, he was not done with his master sandwich! To the peanut butter, jelly, and cheese, he added lettuce and deli meat! (I am sure I am leaving out at least one ingredient. Nonetheless, all I know is that the ingredients he assembled were sure to break some kind of record for nastiest sandwich). So, the debating began…

Me: “Daddy, that’s disgusting! Are you serious right now?”

Dad: “What do you mean? You guys eat this stuff all the time! Doesn’t Mommy put this in the sandwich all the time?” he yelled.

Me: “Yes, but not all at the same time Daddy!”

Dad: “Well, whatever! It is all going to the same place anyway! You either eat it or not. I am not making another sandwich!”

In the hopes that my father would understand the difference between sandwich contents, I called my brother down who is 3 years old than me. Well, he too was shocked and tried to talk some sense into the sandwich slaughterer, but it didn’t work. He was convinced his sandwich was gourmet and we were certain it was certified gross! In the end we didn’t eat it. I munched on a few snacks until my mother came home to rescue us from the nastiest sandwich any human had ventured to assemble! I cannot stop laughing every time I think about this story because my father is truly hilarious for this one. And trust me, I remind him of it every time I remember it.

Lesson 1: Do not be so quick to copy some one’s actions or life choices if you don’t know all the details of how they arrived there (and the consequences they endured getting there). Do you know my father’s reason for making this disgusting sandwich? He said he saw my mother use those ingredients all the time when she was making sandwiches for us! Are you kidding me? Well Daddy, you needed to pay closer attention buddy because she clearly never put those ingredients together at the same time in one sandwich! But isn’t his mistake much like ones we often make in life? We see other people’s success or we watch what they have achieved; then we just try to duplicate it without first doing our research to see how they got there in the first place. Do we know the details of their journey or are we blindly imitating them in the hopes of creating a masterful sandwich? Exactly. Then we are surprised when no one wants to eat our sandwiches. Sorry Dad, epic fail. Do your research before you start trying to blindly copy Mommy– the master cook of the house.

Lesson 2: Don’t allow ANYONE to make you physically, emotionally, or mentally ill– even if they are your dearest friend or family. There was no way on earth that I was going to eat that sandwich at that time. If I was on Fear Factor and it stood between me and $1,000,000, then gobble, gobble, gobble! However to eat it at home after I dreamed of a yummy sandwich all morning, absolutely NOT. I figured out a plan B and waited until my mommy came home. That sandwich would have made me vomit; and in the not vomiting versus not making my Dad feel bad about his epic fail of a sandwich game, I chose to not make myself sick. I love my Dad very much. He is one of my favorite people on the planet, but there was no way I was going to make myself sick just because he’s my Dad and I love him. Are you allowing someone you love (family, friends, acquaintances) to make you physically, emotionally, and mentally sick in the name of love, kindness, friendship, etc? We are little good to ourselves and those we love, if we are not at our best. I am sorry, but being emotionally and mentally sick because we keep eating crap (figuratively) from other people is ridiculous, not to mention poisonous. It is important to recognize that some times people are not intentionally trying to hurt us, but ultimately they are. It is our job to know our self, know our limit(s)– and with the help of God– know what’s best for us. That nasty sandwich was my limit. God bless my Dad’s heart, and I know he wasn’t intentionally trying to make me sick, but I would still not eat that sandwich.

Life is not always this big bad wolf that wants to blow our little house down. It wants to laugh with us, dance with us, and show us that life is all about growth, love, learning, and laughter. All there is for us to do is keep our eyes opened for sandwich slaughterers like my Dad trying to feed us the yuckiest food on the planet. Keep your eyes open, your heart receptive, and remember, DON’T EAT IT!

Lesson from Stuart Scott: Live.

I am not going to lie. My first reaction to Stuart Scott’s passing was “he didn’t deserve to die.” I didn’t venture far enough to blame God, but I was initially baffled. “But he fought so hard with such fortitude and faith, if anyone deserved to beat cancer didn’t he?” I thought about his ESPN ESPY Award acceptance speech and the two beautiful daughters that he leaves behind. It would have made the ultimate fairytale story – father beats cancer three times to live to hear his grandchildren say “Boo-yah” (one of this infamous commentating expressions). For me, it called human mortality into question: What’s the rhyme and reason to all of this anyway? How and whom decides who lives and who dies? In the first minute after hearing of the passing of someone that appears so full of faith, so full of life, so full of legacy, promise, and love, all of these thoughts went through my mind.

Then, in the next minute I started reflecting on the graceful way that Stuart lived after his cancer diagnosis. I thought about how he kept exercising, working, loving, traveling in a time in which I probably would have been on my knees begging for life, mercy, and healing from God. Or, I would have been in total denial about death and probably became some radical zealot that spent my entire waking time believing that God had already healed me. Okay, maybe I wouldn’t have handled it like that, but I am not sure I would have been as strong as Stuart; I want to believe I am that strong, but I really don’t know how I would handle being faced with death in that manner.

Then in the third minute, it suddenly all made sense. The feeling of defeat went away and I started to feel a sense of victory and honor. It was exactly what Stuart said: “When you die, that does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and the manner in which you live. So live. Live. Fight like hell.” Yes Stuart! You freaking lived man. You WON. Period. End of story. Guys, he won! Despite the trials of life (in his case, cancer), his outlook remained one in which he used every last moment to live, love, laugh, learn, and leave a legacy! What an honor. How many people can say that they made a positive difference in this world? How many people can say that their legacy is meaningful? I don’t know about you, but that’s something I think about sometimes – what will my legacy be when I die? Will I have touched people’s lives in a meaningful way? Will I have accomplished what I was created to do? I am not God, so I cannot judge how Stuart lived or if he fulfilled his purpose, but goodness gracious he sure set the bar high!

In my mind he died too young (age 49). I still have that underlying belief that people are supposed to live to see old age. However within that I ask, what is life if we live to be old and still accomplish nothing or very little? I am not sure but I still desire to live to be very old. Despite it all, death never seemed fair to me, yet the more I live and grow is the more I see that death is actually one of the only fair parts about life. Everyone dies. Everyone. The rich, poor, kind, mean, healthy and diseased, we all have a moment waiting when we will pass on. Yes, “pass on” because “death” seems too harsh, too finite. Since we probably live a life after earth (my hope), then death is just passing to another world where our loved ones are waiting to say “what the heck took you so long? It’s freaking awesome over here.”

I am not happy that Stuart’s journey on earth has ended, but I am happy that he lived such an amazing life. As of this point in my life, I cannot say that I understand the concept of life and death. If lacking the full comprehension of such a simple matter is not confusing enough, losing three students within the last year to tragic accidents (as recent as four days ago) has left me even more stunned about death. I am quite certain that if I were to ask each of those students how long they thought they might live, they would have said pass the age of 18 or 30 years old. After these losses, I have pondered a new question — for which I do not have the complete answer — what is more important, the quality of life or the quantity of life? I do not know, however, I believe that the two ideas are not completely separable.

In it all, there is one thing I know: how we live seems to be central to the concept of a fulfilled life. If we can make each moment matter and find meaning in each moment — even the good and the bad are lessons that lead us toward mastering and conquering life — maybe we too can win. Still alive? Then there is still time to live the life you were created to live. Haven’t been living? Then there’s no better time than the present, right?  In the words of Stuart Scott, “have a great rest of your night and have a great rest of your life.” In my words, Stuart Scott, I think you might have just beat the game of life without a game guide or a cheat code. This is what I call “Life Me.”

You Matter.

Sometimes we become overly concerned with wondering if we matter to other people. Do I matter? Does anyone care about me or what I do? Am I insignificant in the grand scheme of life? We can become so preoccupied with our level of significance to others that we neglect assessing our own value as worth much.

I had to remind myself that I matter to me and am important to my own story. If I neglect the importance of my own role in my own life story how can I ever expect the story to be complete? Often times, we wonder why our lives don’t feel complete; maybe it has something to do with making how much we matter to other people more important than how much we matter to ourselves. Stop looking outside of yourself for the assessment of your value. Once YOU start valuing yourself, you will see that your life feels more complete. And, you will start to pursue happiness and success more for you than for the wavering validation of others. How will you ever be complete without YOU in the equation? You are the entire equation.  You matter.

Shining in Dim Light

After (1) living in the world, (especially) post-teenage years, (2) working in a professional setting, and (3) interacting with diverse groups of people on a daily basis, sometimes it can begin to feel like the world is more negative than it is positive. Fundamentally, I don’t really believe that; or better said, I don’t want to believe that. When I look around at nature and measure the human race as a whole, I really believe that the world is a beautiful, forgiving, creative, and positive place. This being my honest view of the world, I wonder why I often feel like the world is dimly lit.

Well, as much as I don’t want to admit it, I think I already know the answer to my question – people. Yes, people with their personalities, experiences, neuroses, and personal attitudes can make it seem like the world is dark, gloomy, hopeless, and in need of serious salvation. In most cases, we have a choice in the people we surround ourselves with, and in those cases hopefully we choose wisely. However, when we leave our homes for work, school, or public places, we often lose control over the people we must interact with daily and/or we lose control of our ability to distant ourselves from negative people as they are our employees, bosses, teachers, leaders, and even sometimes family. In those instances, after constant exposure to these people, the world can begin feeling rather hopeless. Sometimes, feeling like our light is too bright, too valuable, too good – and in other cases because we are simply tired of enduring the subtle attempts to destroy our light – the thought crosses our minds to distance ourselves from those people.

Ultimately, however, allowing the negativity of the world and others around us to dim and weaken our light is not the answer, neither is removing our light completely from the situation. Yes, it can become very difficult to be one of few around you brightly shining, but you must find purpose in the fact that you were (1) created so bright and that (2) someone around you needs your light. If we shine, the room cannot possibly be as dark as it would be without us. I am not condoning you remaining in negative jobs, relationships, or situations because you want to be a positive light. Rather, as long as you are there, shine as bright as you were destined to shine and do not let anyone try to dim your light on account of their discomfort, insecurity, or weakness.

Time: Quality over Quantity

“Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.” (H. Jackson Brown Jr.)

This quote has cost me hours of silent questioning, and sometimes doubt, over the course of my life. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard of time as an equalizing factor among people. Hypocritically, I have also preached the essence of this quote to others during many of my inspirational convulsions. Most times, I was simply restating what I had been told and aspired to do while subconsciously wishing that practice makes perfect, or in this case “words have power,” might transform my words into ways. At the end of some days I am left asking myself…

  1. Why didn’t I accomplish more?
  2. What is wrong with me?
  3. I did many things, but did I accomplish enough?

From the Nelson Mandela’s and Einstein’s to the Steve Jobs’ and Jefferson’s, most of the people to which we compare our 24 hours of time are those that have in some ways had great impact on the world or those that we deem to be more productive, successful, or more well-known than ourselves.  Some days the greatest impact that I feel like I have is changing my clothes, exercising, laughing, having a solid work performance, and on a great day, maybe inspiring a person or leaving a footprint in someone’s life. And after a day, I then, in the back of my mind, compare my daily feat to that of others both dead and alive and question whether my time was really spent doing anything that really matters, because then again, I didn’t change the world like everyone in the quote. Why are passing days not more like the Michaelangelo’s of the world? Better yet, am I even supposed to be like the Michaelangelo’s and Mandela’s? In reality, the only question I probably should be asking myself is if I am using time to the best of my ability to produce the greatest version of myself. Maybe my hard work is changing the world in different yet just as meaningful and memorable ways as that of the “great ones.” But, of course I am human so the societal pressure to be a superhero or die forgotten overtakes my over-analytic mind.

On the pendulum of emotions, feeling like Mother Theresa one day and an ant the next, I think I’ve discovered something about this quote on time that might grant me some mental peace and freedom from comparison to the “heroes” of the world. It is impossible to do all things in one day, even if you never sleep. It is true that everyone has the same 24 hours in a day, however, everyone does not have the same life, purpose, skills, resources, attitudes, health or goals. Since these factors prevail, it is therefore impossible and foolish to continue to toss this concept of time around as a reason that everyone in the world should and can achieve what looks like the same greatness.

But seriously, how are “they” able in one day to exercise, cook, clean, study, read, respond to all emails, stay informed, plan, work, pray, take care of family, talk to friends, start and finish a new project, maintain and build intimate relationships, change the world, and make a list for how to do it all over again before I have even finished half of that! The truth is that most of them do not complete all of that in one day. They prioritize, organize, take small steps, take huge steps, fail some days, and succeed in others more than we care to notice. We tend to look at the picture without acknowledging the pieces of that picture. It is most likely because we are human and do not enjoy the process of success, but I digress.

I think will try to stop condemning myself for not producing a masterpiece at the end of a every day and start spending more time examining if my time was spent purposefully and productively for my given goals, dreams, and life’s work. Instead of expecting to do the same amount as others, I think it better to analyze if I spent my time as meaningfully. In this case, meaning is sometimes found in quality over quantity. After weighing your personal differences and goals, make sure each day is filled with things that will productively allow you to die having few regrets. And when looking at the moguls, heroes, and highly successful, examine how they find ways to complete tasks more efficiently and steal (or borrow) that idea/practice and then consistently give the same dedication and discipline as they did/do. That my friend is a good use of time.

Eat Your Heart Out

I like pistachios. You like…

I like dreaming. You like…

I rather run than walk. You rather…

I enjoy my own company. You…

I love laughing, especially with friends. You…

I love to think. You…

Sometimes, I love to wander alone. You…

And the list goes on and on…

Maybe you share some of my same interest. For others, you may be exactly the opposite. Simply put, our taste buds for life and love may be the same or quite different. I guess the more important discussion in all of this really is why the heck we end up caring so much about what other people like and why we think we must change what we like because someone else does not like it. I say, eat your heart out.

We spend so much time in our lives either trying to explain (more like defend) to others why we are “different.” And some of us spend even more time throughout our lives trying to change what we like to fit what others tell us we should. Everyone has an opinion, which may indeed be valid, but then again it suits their taste buds.  Aren’t we all supposed to be as unique as a billion finger prints? Well, at least that’s what science tells us. So, why do we somehow formulate in our mind that we are somehow supposed to be like everyone else? Who am I to say what is yummy to you is nasty, good, or bad? As long as it doesn’t kill you, I say, eat your heart out.

I guess the real challenge is when those social and emotional taste differences collide and create conflict and incongruences. Herein lays a challenge of life: balancing our uniqueness among physical, emotional, and social norms of society while trying to deviate from those norms in a manner which still allows us to exist in, above, and around those norms. Go figure.

In most of my “incongruent” situations I realized that all the personal definitions of what taste “right” is often valid and warranted from experience(s) for all parties. So, over time I have to come to the conclusion that as long as the difference(s) don’t kill me, we could all be equally different, yet equally “right.” Just as we have an affinity to like different things, we are also different in our dreams, personalities, and beliefs. At the end of the day, I want to be me, not some twisted version of everyone else’s interest, taste, and ideas. You can eat liver and I will eat mussels. You can be an engineer and I will be my own version of an artist. You can say potato and I will say po-ta-to. Whatever it is, do not stop being yourself, liking whatever you like, and pursuing what you believe fits you. Because, if it fits your taste buds, and you are not harming yourself or anyone else (I am aware that this too is debatable), and doing it is what your heart desires, then it was probably meant or made for YOU. You might as well go discover why you’re as unique as your fingerprint says you are. And along the way, eat your little freaking heart out.


Lesson from my Ankle Surgery

Today marks two weeks since my ankle surgery. Two weeks of pain medication. Two weeks of sitting and laying with my foot up. And most challenging of all, two weeks without leaving the house! When I told most of my friends that I was having ankle surgery, they were utterly confused because I had no recent accident and I had been walking around seemingly normal.

*Rewind two years ago* One day I woke up and felt pain shooting through my ankle. Figuring that I slept wrong, I proceeded to get ready for work quite confident that the pain would go away once my body warmed up. Limp, limp, limp to the bathroom I went and limped some more to the car to drive to work. Long story short, three days passed and I was still limping around inch by inch and the pain was constant. Absolutely certain I had not recently done anything major to injure my ankle, I was left with no choice but to head to see the doctor. Looking back, my doctor must have thought I was lying, trying to hide something, or just crazy, because I reassured her that I had not twisted my ankle, fell, or even exercised on it. Well, after crutches, a temporary boot, and an X-ray, she discovered FOUR broken bones off my ankle. Say what?!

After a referral to an orthopedic specialist to deal with my mysteriously broken ankle, it was determined that the bones were likely from an old ankle sprain in my running days, a misstep off a curb, or from some other weird force of nature. The doctor decided that since the break was old the pain was probably ligament or tendon damage and proceeded to give me a cortisone shot in my ankle. Well, stop the pain it did! So, broken bones remaining and my newly numbed ankle, I was off to go bust it up some more for a year! I didn’t do it on purpose. The cortisone shot made me feel NO ankle pain, but it didn’t heal anything. Well, the shot wore off. I felt more pain. He gave me another shot. I ran and pranced on it for another year. The shot wore off. The pain was WORSE than ever and I now had MORE damage than ever. So, six days after my appointment, I was in surgery to remove broken bones, another bone spur, and repair ligament damage. Awesome….NOT.

Moral of the story: Fix things the first time! Don’t cover up painful areas of your life with figurative cortisone shots and other numbing aids. You may not feel it at the time, but trust me, it is in there damaged and eventually when it emerges from the numbed darkness, you WILL feel it. Whether it’s a painful physical injury that you’ve told yourself you can live with or an old emotion injury that you’ve resigned to live with, don’t let anyone encourage you to cover it up or MASK it. Be healed and recover once and for all. No pain doesn’t always mean no problem.