Today I sat on the beach for a couple of hours watching the waves pulse against and fall away from the accumulation of seashells, sand, and tourists.
I’d gotten the opportunity to step away from the ho-hum and accompany my cousin to a mini-vacation that was stuck right in the midst of one of the busy weeks; full of obligation, guilt at being unable to attend to them all, and unease about if any of these things were moving me closer to the life I wanted.
On the way up we bounced the beach ball of conversation onto a couple of different topics. We started with how we were each, everyday, chipping away at the life we were given. We were constantly becoming. Constantly creating habits that would either make our sculptures more beautiful or letting the chisel slip and create details that we did not want in the final product.
We talked about how being comfortable could be a type of ambition anesthesia that allows time to slip away unnoticed, not capitalized on, and unappreciated. I started to think about what creature comforts I needed to remove from my life in order to give myself the nudge towards doing something different. Was it Netflix? Facebook? My Television? Tinder?
I watched the waves build, crest, and then crash into the beach. They reached as far as they could then reluctantly were drawn back into the ocean, never to be seen again in exactly the same form.
I realized that my time here on earth was very similar. My time was very much like the waves. I don’t know when I might be asked to return back to the ocean. I don’t know what rocks I may crash against. However, I do know that I have some choice as to what I want to pursue while I have time.
What came to me while I was watching the waves lick at the beach, was that I wanted to create as much as I could while I could. I want to leave my mark in as many realms as I am interested in. I don’t want to waste any more time.
Practically this translates into a desire to create something new everyday..An essay, a piece of music, a new muscle, a skill, something that is additive. Ideally this is something that I can look at the next day and feel that exhalation of satisfaction in putting my heart, and nerve and sinew to the tasks of building something new.
Me and commitment have had a rocky past. And this apprehension around commitment isn’t limited to the romantic arena. It has bled into mundane day-to-day decisions. I’ve been giving myself time to think about a my life and where I am as I approach my 33rd birthday. I’ve been trying to give myself undistracted time to evaluate the roots and fruits of some of my actions.
My struggle with commitment is definitely something that is preventing me from reaching my full capacity.
My mother is my hero. She and my father raised us in the middle of some pretty rough areas when they were a young couple with 4 kids. Unfortunately, because of the environment that we were raised in, the friend pool wasn’t always the most wholesome. As a result, my parents often resisted us getting too close to the “American’s” we were surrounded by. There was often the implicit suggestion that opening us ourselves to trusting the people in our immediate community would lead to pain and regret, because of the vastly different value systems. Couple this implicit suggestion about how to interact with others with my own devastating heartbreak in college, and I think I know the roots of my hesitancy around personal commitment.
Unfortunately, these lessons stuck. I have a hard time really letting people in. I tend to be super individualistic outside of my family. My good friends are longsuffering and need to nominated for early sainthood.
One of my friends says I have an alter-ego whom she named “George”. George is a catastrophist. He’s always thinking of worst-case scenarios. He’s a saver, in case the rainy day arrives earlier than expected. He’s a planner because lists make him feel safe. He prefers inaction because inaction is more predictable. George is in many ways the polar opposite of an inner child.
I think my early experiences around love and interacting other people actually led to me distrust my ability to make good decisions in these areas. It also allowed irrational fear to grow around making a bad decision. Recently I’ve been having to affirm to myself that no matter what decision I make, I’m capable of dealing with the consequences and that I have to learn to trust the self that made that decision. I can’t let my (worried, doubtful) self second-guess my (confident, intuitive, courageous) self, and thus undermine my self-confidence.
My track record of figuring out what kind of people I can trust has (of course) gotten better with more experience. I have to continue to trust that the reason’s behind any decision I make were made with love and intuition. I can’t let my inner “George” steal the spark that makes life enjoyable. The spontaneity, drive, and risk-taking that makes a life remarkable.
I heard a sermon (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RdtrwHuQrfk) where the pastor said the people who struggle most with commitment the most are usually the talented. Too often talented see commitment as a whittling away of possibilities; so often the talented will wait and wait and wait hoping that they’ll magically discover some cause, person, or organization that is perfect enough to deserve their attention and time.
They often end up waiting a long time.
The cost of getting to your greatness is commitment. Sticking with something through the thick and thin means allowing that thing to stretch you, change you, and mold you into something better. “Greatness cost what it costs” – TD Jakes.
Had a conversation with a good friend. I remarked that I was heading to the coffee shop to take a look at my current goals and perhaps re-work them. She stopped me and noted that the goals I’d set were fine, I just needed to be working towards them. It made me realize that I am oftentimes more excited by the setting of big goals then the day-to-day grinding to make them a reality.
That realization has helped me to make sure that I’m making steps towards my goals daily until I stumble over a completed goal.
I’m not sure what I want to impart in this particular post. I do know that you should trust yourself. Trust the dreams that are whispering to you. Trust the feeling that you are perhaps meant for more. Trust the inner child inside inviting you to play. Know that often your “adult” will have to come up with a gameplan and stand attention over the dreams to ensure that the child isn’t distracted. But while the Adult is attending to the details and creating task-lists..don’t let them get to talking down about your dreams. Don’t let your Adult sabotage your dreams. Don’t worry about the odds. Worry about your happiness. Worry about the story of your life that you want to tell your grandkids. Worry about dying with the seeds of dreams un-watered and un-acknowledged.
This month has been a very interesting one. One filled with a message that I seem hell-bent on ignoring. I’ve written before about my tendency to use money as a yardstick. This leads to a temptation to bury myself in my work due to it’s easy availability of meaning.
Work = Value created for somebody.
Work = helping other people
Work = More money
More money = More Freedom
Work is a win-win-WIN. Until it’s not.
One of my correlated interests due to my obsession with financial freedom is perusing personal finance website and poring over other people’s thoughts on finances, investing, and smart ways to tackle financial planning. As a result I follow a couple people in the blogosphere who pontificate on making smart financial decisions and ways to structure back-door Roth’s or use HSA’s as no-tax retirement accounts.
One of the people I follow was a young doctor who was in her residency but had managed, through levels of hard work I can’t even begin to imagine, managed to graduate medical school with no debt, purchase a home, and fully fund her retirement while also raising a child. To say I was impressed by her achievements were a understatement. All this was accomplished before her 32nd birthday.
Recently, I learned that she had passed. Possibly (unconfirmed), due to suicide.
For some reason, this death, although I did not know her personally, shook me.
I think, because, she was so far ahead of me in soo many ways. Although, she was younger, I looked up to her. Her work ethic and accomplishments were in many ways- a blueprint for the life I wanted.
So her death (and it’s rumored cause), naturally, threw a monkey wrench into my mental model. The biggest question to be born from it all is, am I living my best life today? If my life was to end today, would I be happy with the way I’ve been spending my days?
I think this has even been on my mind even more due to a couple conversation’s with some people who have known me for a little while.
One conversation with a former roommate. He asked me if I still made music, because he knew how happy it used to make me as a student. I used to get noise complaints weekly (yep – I was that neighbor) because I would spend hours crafting music simply for the joy of creating. My answer to him: No.
A friend of mine about a month ago not believing that I made music. Then daring me to create some right that second. I started and lost myself in the process. I looked up an hour later. Happier, although I didn’t earn any money, move forward on any goals, or create value for anyone but me.
It’s really also made me stop and look at the why of why I’m doing the things I’m doing. The last couple of months I’ve been working extra because my car was acting up in late December. I threw myself into work in order to be able to buy my next car with cash. However, the closer I got to my goal, the more tempting it was to move the goal post just a bit further so I could afford a car that was just a bit nicer, had just a bit more horsepower or just a bit nicer rims.
After this event, I started to wonder about the wisdom of working harder to afford a more expensive car, that would mainly serve to shuttle me to work. I was about to willingly enter into a bit of a nonsensical vicious circle-jerk.
This death, as unfortunate as it was, has helped to pause my automatic decision making. It’s helping me (And I really do struggle) with pausing my knee-jerk reaction to solve problems with more effort, more hours pounding away at a problem, and to take a moment to consider surrendering control to God.
To ponder relaxing and happiness as goals worthy of achievement unto themselves.
To try to re-frame my relationship with money and work.
“To work to serve. To work to learn. That money is a tool” – DWM
Why hello! Long time no see! How’s life on your side of the computer screen? Life’s been a whirlwind on my end. I’ll see if I can catch you up with a ‘short and sweet’ update. Memorial Day weekend last year I went to a weekend seminar on Financial Freedom hosted by Gary Johnston. He talked about a myriad of topics – ranging from taxes to real estate, but he also challenged me to look at options I hadn’t previously considered on my path to financial freedom. As a result, I redoubled my efforts toward achieving financial freedom, and more specifically, starting looking for a real estate deal that would move me closer to my goal. So I started talking to mortgage brokers, agents, and started looking at houses that would be good investments. Over the course of several months, I saw pretty houses, ugly houses, and mediocre houses, but I didn’t really fall in love with any one property. Until..I saw a duplex fixer upper in a great neighborhood. It didn’t look like much at the outset, but it’s potential (to me) was as clear as the hope diamond.
Some of the things I liked about it:
1. It was a duplex in a good neighborhood – right down the street from my favorite coffee shop. The duplex would allow me to live in one unit and have the tenants in the other side pay off a good portion of the mortgage.
2. It was right down the street from my favorite coffee shop. This shop served a mean vanilla cappuccino.
Also..It was near a coffee shop that I liked to support. (They also served my favorite beer: St. Benardis)
The building itself definitely needed some work..The roof needed replacing, the yard was 80-120% weeds, there were holes in the walls, water spots on the ceilings, and the iron support columns for the front stairs were not grounded in concrete. [Yikes!] But it wasn’t so much work that it discouraged me.
After seeing the property online, I immediately emailed my agent to schedule a viewing.
My Realtor and I were scheduled to see the duplex the day AFTER I saw it come on the market, but unfortunately someone made an offer and just like that, the duplex was off the market. For what I thought was forever. I was bummed to say the least. I ate Ben & Jerry’s Moose Tracks in pajama’s, spent hours watching old episodes of Property Brothers, and drove by the property while blasting the same song that John Cusack played in Say Anything.
I went out and saw other houses, but it was kinda like dating after you’ve been with Beyonce, or right after a broken heart. No matter how cute, the other houses just didn’t do it for me.
Luckily for my real estate love life, the previous buyer got tired of how slow the bank was moving (it was a foreclosure) and decided to pull out. Which, via a series of strangely fortuitous events (Thank You Jesus), allowed me to slide in with an offer the day after it was put back on the market.
I’ll fill you in on more about the duplex later, but one particular thought hit me as I was doing some work on the duplex late one night. On this particular night I was trying to rip up two rooms of carpet and padding, in order to throw it away in the dumpster that was there for the trash from tearing off the old roof. Not the most fun work. In fact, because of how the type of staples the previous owner/handyman used it was downright frustrating.
There came a point where I attempting to roll up the carpet and doing mental calculations and visualization techniques as I was trying to figure out how to get the unwieldy, heavy carpet off the floor and through the narrow doorways and into the dumpster at the bottom of two flights of steps (see picture above) I tried tugging it one way, experienced some resistance, decided to try it another corner, and when that wasn’t any easier tried grabbing it from the middle. No one ways was really working great.
At some point, I realized I was bullshi**ing.
I realized that no matter what method I tried, it wasn’t going to be easy. In fact, it was going to suck no matter what. I realized that the most important thing at this point was horsepower, not mental agility. After that realization I gritted my teeth, lifted from my legs and pummeled the two rooms of carpet and padding through the doorways, out the exterior door, down the steps and finally down and into the dumpster.
It made me wonder about what else I’ve been BS’ing about. What else have I been trying to ‘figure out’ instead of just powering through. I started to wonder what my life would look like in certain areas – If instead of giving 25% in order to see if the idea is sound, I gave 110% and adjusted only as I encountered true resistance, not ordinary difficulties.
Going to try my best to keep that in mind as I keep trucking.
..It all started or came into fruition during a conversation with my mother over breakfast. These are one of the favorite parts of my rare day’s off. My mother is an early riser and can usually be found in the kitchen listening to Nigerian worship music whipping up something savory for the family to eat or enjoying a cup of coffee while poring over her morning devotion. I’m the other early riser in the house and so I’ll usually meet her while getting ready to head to the gym or running some errand that requires me to be up and about.
Usually these conversations touch on a familiar array of topics. God, family, When I’m going to get married, finances, and any other recent revelations either of us has experienced. On this particular occasion we happened to discuss money.
So..Money. Me and money have a interesting history.
First, our backstory: I was born to first-generation African parents who came to this country with 1 child (me) and Nigerian work ethic, a smattering of siblings scattered across the southern/western states and a desire for a better life. So needless to say, I had a front row seat to my parents growth from a 2 bedroom apartment on Memorial drive to a much nicer house in the suburbs. However, some of my formative years were spent watching my mom fly financially by the seat-of-her-pants and God’s grace. As a result, there were of course some opportunities that I felt I missed. This gives me a bent toward looking toward money as my security. Which, from what I observe is a common American phenomenon. However, as I struggle to get know God and myself better- I’m realizing (over and over) that Money can’t be my security- it’s not dependable enough. It comes and goes. Courts and politicians can take it away with a squiggle of the pen, illness can steal it, A boss’s ire can strip it away for months. However, making the mental switch from money being priority #1 to God being #1 takes intentional effort and if i’m not careful the love of money is insidious and will stage a coup d’etat in my heart to regain it’s #1 spot.
My current situation: Today I make more money than I’ve made for most of my life. So there is a constant temptation (Which I often I give in to) to put my list of priorities (if I’m honest) in the following order: 1. Work 2. Investments/Creating financial freedom 3. God 4. Family. I have a bad case on most days of prioritizing the gifts over The Giver.
Back to Mom: Somehow we started to discuss money and I bemoaned our family’s seeming inability to gather enough money to cover all our debts/needs/wants. She promptly reminded me of a couple things, and let me in on a secret that I’ve heard before but I guess one that I was finally ripe to internalize. “Your being financially blessed – Its not about you.” Which, can be taken one of two ways. As an insult: “you mean, i’m not as a smart, disciplined, and good-looking as I like to think? My money isn’t a result of God loving me MORE than others?” or as lifting of a burden: “You mean, God might have had a bigger purpose than just satisfaction of my personal desires when he blessed me? Whew, I was worried, because honestly who would worship such an arbitrary God.”
Things to consider: What if it’s bigger than you? What if God gave you money, talent, discipline, intelligence to be used for more than just your personal fulfillment? Conversely, what if those with less than you were not intrinsically worth less but rather serve as a mirror for you; how do you respond to those in need? What stories do you make up about the people who look a little less well-off? Are they all drug-addicts? irresponsible? lazy?
Money, cars, clothes, things. They are a means to an end. With the end being God’s relationship with You. Yes, they are nice, but if you are living with them as your yardstick or measurement of worth then you will always feel unfulfilled. Why? Because these things aren’t designed to fill you. They are designed to temporarily satisfy an appetite. But the thing about appetites is ..they can never be fully satisfied. Don’t believe me? Let’s take your appetite for recognition – not a bad thing, but if you were to think back and count up all the times you’ve been recognized/appreciated what would that number look like? All the times your parent’s nodded at you and said good job? All the trophies, medals, hand shakes, pat’s on the back, congratulation emails, likes on Facebook, mentions on twitter, #winning tags? Could you go the rest of your life without any other recognition? Maybe you say?…if your life was only slated to continue another 24 hours. Right! Appetites are temporarily sated. And oftentimes only partially sated.
So where does that leave us?
In a sentence: Seek God – b/c the outer (physical things) are just tools to either move us closer to God or further away.
So. Life has been happening and things have made themselves known. Most notably my weaknesses. Now I know that the usual advice is to strengthen your strengths and delegate or find someone/something to buffer your weaknesses. Usually I think I would follow this advice but I think there are some foundational aspects of my life that I need to get in order. This of course spawns some new goals..and also moves some previous goals to the bottom of the list.
1. Integrate my life. There was a sermon by Andy Stanley – that talked about becoming wise. (http://justaskit.org/hold-my-hand/) And in it he talked about how when we’re (men) weak at something or fail at it, we have a hard time looking for help or even moving towards that area of inadequacy. There is a huge issue in my life that continually reminds me of my inadequacy in handling it. So this year I want to focus on that area..recognizing that my emotions will be mostly negative and painful, but also recognizing that the things I most like to spend time on now..are things that I’m good at and that I became good at those things via time spent on it.
2. Learn French and Igbo – enough to have a conversation by the end of the year. So this year I am really focused on learning and accepting myself. My nigerian heritage is becoming more and more important to me the older I get. However, speaking igbo (my tribes language) has been an area that is usually met with some feelings of defeat – b/c my pronunciation usually leads to laughter – which makes me feel ashamed/like a failure..which leads to decreased efforts. But I’m going to use this realization that in order to get good at these things I’m going to have to expect failure and maybe ridicule ..but I can’t let anyone steal these things that I want from me. Fuk em. Its my life and the time for letting other people dictate my growth is over.
The addition and prioritizing of these goals may mean some of my older goals get pushed back..namely the BCPS exam, which is fine with me lol.
Debt Reduction Goal: So I put an extra $900 towards my student loan – bringing the total spent on loans for the month so far to $1249.86. I also plan to transfer $1500 that I had sitting around in a forgotten about savings account so that I can put that towards my student loan. Hopefully that’ will happen in time for the next week in review.
Creating Music: There have been a series of unfortunate events that have conspired against me. 1. A snowstorm that has stuck me at work for approximately 3 days. 2. Someone close to me undergoing surgery and requiring (or me wanting to give) my presence at their bedside. Still managed to create a beat with some feedback that a friend gave me. My friend pointed out something that I had kind of noticed – that some of my recent music sounded similar – mostly b/c the groove bed that they laid on (drums) were kind of getting the short end of the stick. I usually dont get the oppurtunity to spend as much time as I would like and often kind of give each beat the best of my ability for 1-2 hours. Then I leave them. However, the best music requires edit after edit after rearrangement and tons of restructuring, retrofitting, etc. I think going forward I will focus not only on putting together a cohesive beat but after february – focus on spending 2 sessions per beat instead of the one. I think now I’m just focused on making music consistently and learning to express myself easily (while fighting the resistance).
Travel: Spoke with my cousin about a possible trip to Martinique – for some reason this feels like the right first trip to take. Its to a french-speaking carribean island. I know right! – Which inspires me to refocus on my french practice..which to be honest has been getting little to no attention in the last 2 weeks. My cousin has friends down there and I will be putting in my request for PTO right after I finish this post.
Being Brave: The hardest thing on the list- and while I did semi-pull the trigger on something that had scared be for a long time – I also realized that It wasn’t worth it to me to fight for it in the way I originally planned. This I’ll continue to think on and have a definitive objective for the month (and complete it!) before the end of the month.