Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Nuts and Bolts

"We rise to great heights by a winding staircase."
-Francis Bacon

What do you dream you could do with your life? Is there something you believe yourself incapable of that you wish you could do? If only you had the time, the patience or the money, right?...Everybody has a perception of fulfilling their dreams and the methods by which they will do so. But when we get down to the nuts and bolts of the operation, it's not as glamorous as it always seemed it should be.

For example: I love music. It's one of the numerous cornerstones of my life. So I decided a while back that I wanted to learn to create it, as opposed to just reaping the benefits of other people's creativity. I was so motivated my junior year of high school that I asked for a guitar for Christmas...and got it! I expected to be banging out a song or two within the month.

I lost my motivation within the week...

I let it sit in its case for a while...a while being a year. Because I learned something as I began to strum my cords and pluck my strings: learning to play the guitar was hard! Switching between cords and playing opening riffs to the "simplest" of songs wasn't all cheese and crumpets! Stairway to Heaven didn't sound so cool when I mis-plucked every string in the intro. When a guy can't get past the first riff in one of his favorite songs, it doesn't take much to get demoralized. It's those nuts and bolts that had to be assembled that took me down a couple notches that winter. Every passion or skill set should come with a disclaimer on the box reading, "Some assembly required."

I knew I had to practice a hell of a lot more if I was going to get as good as I hoped to be. John Mayer looked lonely on that stage all by himself! And I'll have you know, practicing can be frustrating enough, let alone not seeing a bit of improvement. But the perception was that I was going to train hard, practicing all the time until I got wicked good on the guitar! By the time I was 22 I would know every song anyone could name. I'd be able to stand on a stage and jam with the best of 'em, Phish included. And I would own six or seven guitars so everybody who came over could see my passion firsthand!

The experience was a bit different than I anticipated...

That's how it is with almost anything in life, though. Everybody always has this perception of where they want their destinies to lead and who they want to become. But when you actually walk down the road of life you realize it's more a path than a road...and it's bumpy and obstacle-filled...and it's a bit more uphill than you anticipated...

Someone dreams of getting in shape, having that coveted six-pack and buns of steel. Then, after they go to the gym for a couple weeks or a month, they start taking days off - just here and there! But watching the favorite television show they TiVo'd, or going to the bars to have a few drinks with friends begins to take more priority. One six-pack becomes a bit more important than the other, and the goal is lost. They fall off the path.

The nuts and bolts...

How many times have you started a solid workout routine and found that you'd rather be doing something else other than ellipticals and countless sets? Everybody always seems to see what's in the distance before they see what's right in front of them. They see the six-pack but not the 10,000 crunches. They see the song but not the cords and the riffs that constitute it. They see the book, but they don't see the 350 pages that need to be written first...

Perception vs. Experience - we've all seen the battle. We've experienced its effects. I don't want to sound completely pessimistic or downtrodden, though. Because many times the experiences do lead to the previously perceived goal. Dreams do come true. You hear about them all the time. A teenage boy finally catches the eye of his soon-to-be high school sweetheart. Carrie Underwood wins Female Vocalist of the Year at the CMAs. A parent sees his kids go to college and get an education. They've all braved the experience and gone on to what they initially perceived their life could be. Sometimes it meets expectations and sometimes it doesn't. But before you can find out if your dream will measure up to what it could become, you've gotta brave the nuts and bolts. You have to push yourself harder than you ever have before. Because what's an accomplishment with minimal effort? Sure, from another perspective it looks like you've accomplished something noteworthy, but you know the truth. You know what went on behind closed doors. If you put "just enough" effort into it to get by, is that really fulfilling, or are you just playing the role assigned to you?

We can't just lie in wait, stagnant, tepid. We can't wait on happiness - that's not how the often-elusive emotion works. People always tell themselves they can be happy after they've climbed that hill or after they've rounded that bend. They wait for milestones in life and decide that's when they can become happy! To be cliche, the grass isn't always greener on the other side.

"Once I've graduated from college and escaped the grip of my parents, THEN I'll be happy!"

"Once we get married and cross that threshold, I'll be so happy!"

"Once I get a job I can finally relax!"

"I'll be so happy when this is over!" (a common one)

If you live like that, half of your life will be empty. You'll be a walking shell, whether you realize it or not. Do you really know what it's like to live, to truly live, walking around like that? If you ask me (which you didn't, but I'm telling you anyway), happiness is in the nuts and bolts of life. The stuff that normally may not register with your conscious mind until you realize in your old age what you missed...

The small fights a couple has in their first years of marriage.

The mis-steps you take in pursuing your dream.

Getting back up to persevere in your endeavor.

The friendships you make that you know won't last after college.

The friendships you make that will.

An encounter with a complete stranger who treats you with respect instead of mild neglect.

A quick smile thrown your way.

You don't need to have the means of bathing in money to be happy. You don't need to be a hero to be respected. It's the day-to-day living, it's the mild memories, it's the obstacles overcome, big and small - it's the nuts and bolts. These all combine with millions of other facets of "living" that make up your life. Open your mind and don't forget about what's right in front of you. Some of us are too far-sighted for our own good. You never know...what's right in front of you may be the secret to your happiness., whether that happiness lasts 60 seconds or 60 years. Don't be afraid to open your eyes a bit more to the small wonders this life can hold...you may be surprised.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Revelations

I've decided to start each post from now on with an inspirational/quirky/insightful quote. For no good reason other than I want to, so bug off. Here's the first quote, one that I've found will help me in my profession - even in this cubicle-infested environment - and almost anybody in any profession. It sounds cliche, but you'd be surprised how many people don't live by it or take its advice - on the other hand, maybe you wouldn't be surprised.

"Fortune sides with he who dares!"
-Virgil

Beginning my fourth week on the job, I can't help but be filled with a sense of accomplishment. Today definitely helped lift me to that pedestal, seeing that I was able to get more done today with one of my projects than I feel like I've been able to do for the past three weeks. Perhaps it's a misguided sense of accomplishment, seeing as though I still have three months to screw things up, but a sense of it nonetheless. Here's why:

1.) I was placed in charge of an Hispanic outreach program for one of our major clients, and today alone I solidified three contacts in Florida, Texas and California through which we will coordinate our efforts. After three weeks of zero feedback and zero contacts, this was a major breakthrough. I was ecstatic and treated myself to a Mountain Dew (not that I really need a reason to get my fix, but that's beside the point).

2.) My immediate supervisor is going out of town for a few days, leaving me in charge of another hefty project where we target those crazy Canucks up north. In three days I have to compile a mailer that we're sending to 30 fire stations in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto; this includes writing a press release, a letter to each fire station, creating a redemption code and packaging everything. This sounds incredibly boring, but you wouldn't think so when you realize how much they're entrusting me with responsibility!

That's basically the big theme of the week - more responsibility. And I love it. It shows they trust me. I must be doing something right!
Here's the agency. A nice shot from the front (left) and the receptionist's desk when you walk in (below). You can't see it, but off the left of the first picture is downtown, Columbus and Nationwide Arena. It's a prime location - we're not smack dab in the center of downtown, but we're close enough to reap its benefits of bars, eateries and the oh-so-reliable Arena District.

But the main purpose of this post is to reveal some of the revelations I've had concerning life in the real world...or rather, life in an office setting. White collar workers the country over seem to abide by similar codes of conduct and standards to which they - we - hold one another. Allow me to elaborate...

1.) When you work late, people who leave on time always tell you to go home. Something along these lines, "You work too hard! Go home!" When really they're happy that someone so dedicated is working with them. They'll never tell you to work late, but they like to see you taking time outside of the 9-5 to get some more work done. Either that or they think you're a kiss-ass who wants to be noticed...take your pick.

2.) Someone waking up in Boston is going to work at the same time as someone in Detroit. Is that really fair? People in Detroit have more daylight left at the end of their day than do people in Boston, whereas people in Boston wake up to a brighter morning. Who wins, honestly? That was random...

3.) Proficiency over Efficiency: This is something I've realized crosses all boundaries of work. What's the point of efficiency if you put out a poor product? It's better to take a little bit more time with something and get less done than it is to get more done but do a sub-par job. Think of it like golf. You take your time lining up your shot, taking in all the angles and all the hazards, and then after what seems like hours of agonizingly painful waiting to the brightly clad group waiting behind, you take your shot. That's the difference between a bogey and a birdie. (I haven't golfed since I was 11 so I hope that was a decent analogy for everybody).

4.) It pays off taking the extra time to organize. I spent an hour today alone creating an excel spreadsheet that I now use to manage all my ongoing projects and tasks, as well as writing on sticky notes and memo pads labeling everything. I now know where everything is and can locate old, completed projects, ongoing projects or newly assigned tasks within the blink of an eye, literally. Before, it would take me a couple minutes to discover the note I wrote down a week before - all the while keeping a contact waiting on the phone who becomes impatient and less apt to want to help you the longer they wait.

5.) Waiting for other people sucks...I feel like the agency world is similar to the military in this respect. It's pretty fast paced, but in the end all I do is "hurry up and wait."

6.) When you have to call people to get something and they have no idea who you are, it's better to take no more than a minute to figure out your opening spiel. If you plot out every last word you plan on saying, you'll falter. Because the person on the other end of the line is bound to either interrupt you or ask a question you didn't anticipate. Then your flow is interrupted and you lose your train of thought. Thus, you fall flat on your face. I did when I was beginning that Hispanic outreach project. I felt like I was a drunk OU sorority girl wearing heels on Court Street - for those of you who've walked those brick roads, you know what's going on with that reference. So instead of taking too much time to plot out what I'm going to say, I just call. I rely on my instincts and my knowledge of my job and the product(s) to get me through the conversation. It's worked like a charm.

Those are my revelations. Not very deep revelations, but revelations nonetheless. Hopefully some of you can apply them to your jobs, or even daily living. And just to give you a little piece of my job to take with you wherever you go, here's me at my cubicle on an exhilarating Monday morning filled with research, phone calls and Mountain Dew.

Below is me after the effect of the Mountain Dew has effectively worn off. Yeah, that's more like me on a lazy Friday afternoon...no, not really. But seriously...





So all in all, the summer's going fantastically well. I've had no social life due to working Wed-Sat nights at the dirty bird, but that's OK with me (for now). Making some cash money, catching up on some much-needed reading - I've read eight books since graduation, no lie. And, more importantly, I have officially learned the value of silence!

Monday, July 07, 2008

The Circle of Life

Friday I got a call from my dad telling me that my grandma had gone into hospice. With fluid continuing to fill her lungs, she wasn't expected to last much longer.

Sunday morning I got another call from my dad telling me she had passed away. I found myself strangely unaffected by the news and fell back asleep after I got off the phone. I mean, I knew that it was coming soon - had actually expected the call. But I didn't feel much of an emotional pull. My grandma and I were never terribly close - outside of Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter I never saw her. If anything, I felt bad for not feeling bad. I know I'll feel more when I see her lifeless form in the casket on Tuesday, but for now what I'm feeling isn't sadness. I have not yet begun to mourn the loss of my grandma. What I'm feeling right now...can only be described as "drive". Allow me to explain...

The death of my grandma has thus far helped to give me a new perspective on death - not completely life-altering, but a unique mindset about it. It has also brought into perspective the unequivocal, and yet so elusive a concept as the circle of life: the never-ending, ever-repeating circle of life to which we are all bound, no matter what god, deity or universal energy you may believe to govern the world.

My new perspective on death is this: yes, mourn the fallen and feel the loss the lack of their presence inherently brings; but let the qualities of the fallen be imbued unto the living, the successors who helped bring meaning to that person's life, the successors who will ultimately become predecessors, themselves. And let that drive them! Let that become a reason for pushing beyond the normal limits of life, for transgressing the boundaries by which so many of us feel trapped! For example:

My grandma's most notable quality (to me, at least) was her indomitable will, her strength of mind. She was a very strong-willed person, unable to be kept down by anyone who had the mind to try. I remember two instances when my grandma most affected me. The first: my mom had told me to take my pillow from the staircase up to my room - I don't remember her saying this because I apparently didn't hear it. Grandma did, though. I was probably 6, and my grandpa was suffering from Alzheimer's, so they had moved in with us for a time. When Grandma took me into the living room and grabbed me by the shoulders, she forced her iron will upon me, sternly berating me for ignoring my mother's wishes. Looking back on that now, I realize her own children must have been too terrified to ignore their mother's wishes! As a youth barely into my first years of elementary school, I couldn't help but break down and cry at my grandmother's old-fashioned form of discipline. I'm surprised she didn't have Grandpa's belt or a 2x4 in her hand.

The second instance: instead of my mom telling me to take my pillow upstairs, she told me at dinner to finish what I had on my plate. I either wasn't hungry or didn't like it - probably a combination of both - but I still didn't finish it. Mom didn't notice, but Grandma did. She took me into the living room, much to the same effect as the first encounter.

While these two instances show a side of my grandma that could be a bit overwhelming, it also shows her raw spirit. Even as a 70-year-old grandmother, she was doing her best to instill her principles - and the 4th commandment - into me. These two stories are not the only instances of her showing her strength. Many more exist that I cannot name. So much spirit. So much raw strength in her core. I cannot let that die with her. Her strength and her spirit will persevere in this all-too-often unprincipled world, if not through her children, then through her children's children...although I can readily assure anyone reading this that her strength has already been imbued into her children more than she could have hoped. No, I do not think my grandma's strength will die with her her. Not a chance.

My grandma's death has also helped me realize the reality of the circle of life. Life doesn't end when one passes away. Many times it begins for others. Case in point: me. I graduated from OU not a month ago and started my first job two weeks ago. My life, in a certain retrospective light, is just beginning. I have officially begun to make my way into the professional world. It's not the beginning. But it is a beginning. And my grandma's death is not the end. But it is an end.

Survivors of death cannot let that void go on unfilled, though. We must fill it with our own passion. With our own indomitable will. Hence, why I say that I feel driven because of my grandma's death. I feel driven to fulfill my own dreams and aspirations with my grandma's strength to help me along. I wish I could have known her better, though. I wish I would have taken more time to get to know this incredible woman. That sounds completely cliche, but true emotions sometimes are.

As I write this another memory comes to me. Two years ago at Christmas my grandma had not been faring so well, having trouble breathing on her own - she carried a small oxygen tank around with her. It was time to leave and she wasn't able to walk out the door unaided. Some of us attempted to carry her in a chair. She would have none of it, though. She made us put her down. Standing up, she proceeded to the door unaided, unwilling to let her spirit falter. An independent woman, her amazing strength carried the day and she made it out to the car with only partial assistance, tank and all.

An incredible woman to say the least. That act inspires me now. I only pitied her at the time, but I realize she wouldn't want that - would in fact despise my pity. Now, though, I admire her for it. Her refusal to relinquish control over the course of her own life...some may say that is weakness. I call it strength.

I will use the strength she has given me through the actions of her life. I will use the beratement I received as a child to toughen my skin and straighten my backbone. I will use the independence she displayed that Christmas night to fuel my own drive for independence, to be able to accomplish it so well and so visibly as she. I will persevere.

Here's one thing I wanted to add on but couldn't find a place for it...I know, awkward segue.

I do not know if there is such a thing as God, such a thing that is ever-present and all-knowing, deciding whether we will spend our eternity past St. Peter's pearly gates or eternally tormented, paying the cost of our sins throughout our mortal life. I couldn't tell you the validity or falsehood of these claims, not knowing enough about it and not having the faith, or lack thereof, to verify any perspective. I do feel, though, that the spirit, even beyond death, finds a way to endure. Whether through reincarnation or some celestial form, I feel that the spirit does not die, cannot die, especially a spirit like my grandma's. Hence, why I feel my grandma's strength and drive in me, coursing through my veins and throwing another log on the fire that is my dreams.