A Year in Review: 2015 – 2016

Around my birthday, I take time to reflect on the past year and my life so I can make changes to make the next year better.

I spent the past year reflecting, reconnecting, and learning. I needed to step back and stop the trajectory of my life. I felt tired and broken. My restless spirit yearned for me to be and do more. I wasn’t honoring this gift of life I was given. I didn’t feel fulfilled. Something was aching inside of me to do something. It wasn’t the life I wanted to live. I needed to do something. I needed to reacquaint myself and do something.

I decided to stand still. I invested the time to reflect and learn. I forgot who I was and who I wanted to be. Too many well meaning people put their hopes and dreams on me. They were dreams that I did not want. So I looked inward. I needed time to myself so I can look at the rock that I want to sculpt and create an idea of who I am supposed to be. I needed to spend time with the stone that I wanted sculpt the person I am and who I wanted to be.

Slowly, I stripped away the layers added every moment of my life that made me feel unrecognizable to myself. I unloaded the baggage that was tossed on my shoulders. I began feeling like myself. My original dream is clearer. I remember that beautiful plan I had for myself.

I read books and attended seminars. I flooded my mind with various ideas, thoughts, and images to improve my mindset. I spent a lot of time carefully restoring parts of me that were missing. I started to take action and do the things I wanted that put it off in the past. Last summer, I started taking lessons in an activity that I’ve always wanted to do. I went on a modified solo road trip I’ve always wanted to do. I gained knowledge about myself and acquired the tools that I needed.

I embraced who I am. I learned to change my perception of things and my perspective. I began embracing who I am now and reframed the past. This is where I am supposed to be. I currently have all the tools I need to be successful at this moment in my life. All I have to do now is focus energy and prioritize to create and build momentum so things can grow automatically.

There isn’t much I want to change. I wish I filled my time with more life than squandering it into the abyss. I wished I had the courage and confidence to go after what I want and need. I’m still a work in progress. It was a great year. I did more last year than previous years to live an amazing life. I walked up to the edge of my comfort zone and looked over to see what’s on the other side. I want to push against the borders of my comfort zone and expand it.

Although I want to travel more, I’ve decided to stay closer to the Chicagoland to focus on a few amazing things that will improve my life. I learned a lot in the past year. This is the year to build a strong foundation for an amazing and beautiful life.

There are three goals I want to focus on this year.

  • Build a body for a lifetime of love, service, and adventure.
  • Increase my income by creating a business around my interests and skills.
  • Share what I’ve learned to my friends and family so they can craft a beautiful life.

I am focusing on my physical health because I want be more physically capable to do more. Addressing my health enables me to control some of the variables that affect the length of my life. There are things out of my control but there are things in my life I can do to prevent early death. I’ll feel better and think clearer. I can do and achieve more in less time. I am very sensitive to how little time we have. We have to make the most of it and use it well.

Certain dreams require certain resources and I need to increase my income to achieve some of my goals. Money can’t buy many things but I does open up opportunities and options. It’s just another tool to use as long as I respect it and treat it as just a tool. I have many options to increase my income.

Finally, I want my friends, family, and people I reach to be successful and happy. Life’s too short to be miserable. Happiness and success is infectious. I want more of that around me.

Taking the time to reflect, reconnect, and learn about myself transformed my life. I learned so much about myself that I’m ready to build an amazingly beautiful life. Sometimes we need to pause so we make large strides.

Travel Internationally by Staying Home

Exploring Chicagoland and the Midwest

We don’t have to travel to distant lands to find uniquely amazing things to experience and discover. We just don’t realize how beautiful our surroundings are and the people in it. Your hometown is a foreign land to someone else. The culture, environment, and experiences are different that their norm.  Unfortunately, we undervalue what’s around us and dream of traveling to other countries and experiencing new cultures around the world all the while we haven’t appreciated and immersed ourselves in things so close to us. During this year of metamorphosis, I’ll be exploring closer to base camp and investing my time in the Chicago area and Midwest.

A lot of us get caught up in the seemingly endless busyness of life and we forget to stop for a minute to appreciate what we have. I lived my entire life in the Chicago area but haven’t spent much time with her.  I had a lot of excuses. I had to go to work.  I needed to finish something for school. I couldn’t find someone to go with me.  I always said to myself, “Another time.  The timing is just not right. I’ve got other things more important to do. I don’t have the resources.”

The timing is never right because I never made more time to spend exploring Chicagoland and the Midwest.  I didn’t take the time set aside the resources to do the things I wanted to do. I didn’t explore because money is always tight and I thought I needed to save for retirement.  I was being penny wise and pound foolish with my time, money, and energy.  I didn’t have a quality day or weekend of recovery.  Instead of feeding my brain with experiences it needs to thrive, I allowed it to become frustratingly lethargic. I saved money that would in theory gives me the luxury of working less in the future. I became slow and less productive.  I spend more time completing things. I can’t wait for people anymore.  I deferred too many experiences because I didn’t have a buddy to explore with. Life is so short and fragile.  I can’t wait anymore.

There’s so much to see, experience, and do in Chicagoland and the Midwest!

Natural wonders abound. Chicago and Milwaukee’s front yard meets with an inland freshwater sea.  Four National Lakeshores (Apostle Islands, Indiana Dunes, Pictured Rocks, and Sleeping Bear Dunes) line Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. Canyons cut from rock due to years of erosion is found at Starved Rock, Matthiesen State Park, and Camp Sagawau. Debris left by ancient glaciers leaves its mark with rolling moraines and kettles scattered in Wisconsin.  Remnant and restored prairie and forests witness the changes in history and are testaments to human’s ability to heal the earth.  There are a large number of things to do in these natural spaces such as hiking, cycling, cross country skiing, paddling, and ice climbing.

The diversity of cultures fill the area. I can travel to Thailand, China, India, Pakistan, Mexico, Poland, Greece, Africa, and Korea in one week by visiting the many ethnic enclaves in Chicago. I can taste their food, hear their accents, and experience their culture.  Within a two mile walk of base camp, I have my choice of Pakistani, Indian, Korean, Mexican, Polish, Middle Eastern, and American food.  The church I grew up in has a wide spectrum of skin tones and ethnicities. I am truly blessed to be living in an area with so much diversity.

Outside of Chicagoland, there are other cultures to experiences.  Life in Chicagoland (and other urban areas in the Midwest) is different than rural Illinois. Iowa has amazing people hosting their signature event, RAGBRAI. Northern Wisconsin and Minnesota show off their European heritage in their food and events like the American Birkebeiner.

While I prepare for the next leg of my journey in life, I am spending more time with the region that raised me.  She formed who I am despite not actively spending time with her. She shaped the goodness in my heart.  Why do I think of exploring other countries and cultures when I have haven’t built a deeper relationship with the Midwest? This year I’m wrapping my arms around her, hold her, and give her a warm embrace just like the lake and the skyline gave me a warm embrace for so many years.

Everyone’s home is special but we under appreciate it.  We dream of exploring distant lands yet we don’t spend the time to explore what we have at hand. Instead, let us appreciate what we have around us and see how beautiful it is by making time to explore it.   Even at home, we can have an adventure, learn something new about ourselves and the world, and find a new perspective.

What’s unique and beautiful about the area you live in? What would you showcase to an international visitor or someone outside of your region? If I visited you, what would you take and show me to get a taste of your life? Leave a comment below to let me know!

2016: A Year of Transition and Transformation

2016: A Year of Transition and Transformation

 

I neared the end of that section of the journey I’ve been in for so many years. I rend the layers that hid my authentic self. I sought to reclaim the pieces of me that I lost over the years.  I don’t know which road I need to take on the next leg of my journey and what it will present to me. I want to be prepared for any trial, struggle, and opportunity. I am using this year transition into the next leg of the journey and transformation and transform myself into the person I want and need to be. This is year will be my version of the Valley Forge winter encampment.

The winter encampment at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, USA transformed a rag-tag group of volunteer colonial soldiers into an effective force during the American Revolution. They came together and bonded as one group, and learned essential skills from Prussian (now German) immigrant Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben.

I am reflecting on the previous segment of my life’s journey.  There’s a reason why I had to struggle in the darkness all those years.  I seek to appreciate it for what it is and not look at it with frustration and regret.  It is a journey I had to take.  It formed me like a sculptor roughing out the stone.  It’s a journey of understanding and discovery what’s beneath.   The idea of who I am exists but it is deep within many layers.

There are days I wish I didn’t go down this path but it was necessary. People I met along the way seem to be fully formed early in their life and did the things I wanted to do. Instead of going out in the world.  I had to go within myself.  It gives me a unique perspective on life.  I listen more than I speak. I am more patient. I believe I am more understanding. The road I took strengthened my faith in the good in this world. I am more comfortable in performing acts of love and charity without the judgement or  admonishment of others. It was a necessary journey to form me into who I ought to be.

It’s time for me to dream and be inspired again. I haven’t dreamed beautiful new dreams in a long time. However, a gift I received in the darkness was learning the essence of my dreams.  The outward physical parts of my dream can change but the values will be the same.  It’s time to create beautiful big dreams that has the magic that stirs the soul.

To put those dreams into action, it is necessary to transform myself into the person I want and need to be, my authentic self. There are skills that I need to sharpen. Some skills need to be acquired through learning and practice.  I hope these newly developed skills will make the next section of the journey easier to navigate.

I am transforming my body to be stronger and more capable.  I want to live longer and better. As a late bloomer, I need to create more time to make the positive impact I want in this world. The last I don’t know what is ahead.  There are a lot of variables in play in our world. I want to be prepared for anything.  My body might have to fight off sickness.  I want to be able to get myself in and out of trouble. I want to get through or around any obstacle. Who knows, I might want to climb mountains and sail the roughest seas to reach that special someone.

As I get closer to the end of this one year period, I’ll be transitioning into the next leg of the journey. I’ll be investing more time testing and fine tuning my skills, mind, and body.  I’m really excited to see the finished product at the end of the period.

How’s your journey been?  What things would you like to learn, create, or build to make your journey better?  I’d love to hear from you!  Leave your comments below.

–Mark–

PS – Are you wondering why I have image of a carrot instead of Valley Forge? I find it fascinating that the carrot can grow back after having it’s leaves and most of its root taken away.  I think it’s a great symbol of what I’m trying to accomplish this year.

 

Thank You 2015

ThankYou2015_Website3Thank you 2015.  You were a great year. You were the first time in a long time where I was my real self. I was able to be myself for myself.  I didn’t do things for other people’s dreams. I did things because it is who I am not what others want me to be.  I began stripping  away the layers varnish that dulled the brightness, color, and texture in my life. I reconnected with parts of me that I thought I had lost. I challenged myself to do something I’ve always wanted to do.  The year two thousand fifteen was the year I started trusting my heart and spirit.

I stripped back the layers of paint and lacquer added every year by various people and groups in my life. It has been a slow process but last year was the first time I saw the beauty beneath.  I lost it a number of years ago. Although I recognized it, it seemed foreign to me.

It felt uncomfortable looking into his eyes but I kept stripped away the layers.  I found pieces of a dream buried inside his eyes.  My hands sweat with excitement.  I couldn’t remember the last time an idea excite me so much. I wanted to hurry the process to see what’s underneath but I reminded myself to be patient. Extracting something so delicate and beautiful takes love and time.

My parents saw me walk up to the stage at commencement.  I don’t have to go to school for someone else’s hopes and dreams. I can finally go back to school for myself. The burden has been lifted. I can learn to learn. I can do it for the love of learning.  I remember the times in high school when I walked through the stacks at the public library and immerse myself in a book to learn about history, finance, economics, and art. I loved learning. I miss that feeling.

Instead of learning from books and about the outside world, I focused learning about myself and reconnecting with a person I barely know anymore. I had to explore inwardly after battling the darkness for so many years. I wanted to do things I couldn’t do earlier in my life.  I began taking dance lessons because I’ve been curious about it. I took a road trip out west.  I learned a lot about myself and how other people affect my life.

The road trip ended up not being the trip that I originally envisioned.  However, it was the road trip I needed to take.  My original plan was to do a road trip from New York to San Francisco via the Lincoln Highway.  My plans changed the closer my departure time came. I trusted my heart and changed my plans.

I headed to the Pacific Northwest. It was a great trip, and my only two regrets were minor.  First, I wish I gave myself more time and resources to roam.  Second, I wish I had more space to help fellow travelers. The road trip stripped away the clutter for a brief time to reveal how my life should feel. There was no external influences second guessing my judgement or gut instinct.  There were ups and downs during the trip but I felt my best self.

I challenged myself to do something I wanted to do when I was a kid.  I wanted learn how to dance. Years ago I saw ballroom dancing on PBS. I found it to be intriguing. The movement of the human body could be beautiful outside of sports.  The guys look pretty badass making their dance partners look good. So… I started taking dance lessons.

I didn’t know if it’s something I’ll like.  How can I know unless I try it? It’s a low risk affair. Ten lessons gave me a feel for it. After these basic lessons, I learned something useful so I can survive a wedding.  I ended up  enjoying the struggles of learning how to dance. Thankfully, I had a good private instructor. I probably would have let go of the idea if I didn’t get paired with her. Besides exercise my mind and body, dancing reconnected with music and art.

I lost my connection with art years ago. Hearing and moving to music rekindled my interest. I’m seeking out new types of music. I listen to past and current musicians.  I’m beginning to wonder around appreciating the art created all around me. I look forward to the day when I start sketching and drawing again. I’m excited to work with my hands again.

As the year approached it’s terminus, I began to see a clearer image of who I am and where I am to go emerge. I finally neared the end of a chapter I hoped to finish many years. I started setting myself up for 2016.  Last year was a year of stripping away what was un-necessary and discovering what’s underneath.  What is in store for 2016? It’s going to be something amazing.

Six Things I’m Thankful For

I have a lot to be thankful for this year that’s beyond the regular appreciation I have for where I am for life.  Here are six things I am thankful for.

1. I am thankful for friends and family members who stuck with me through the highs and lows in life. I appreciate that they stuck around and helped me out.  They didn’t have to but they did.

2. New positive people came into my life that changed my mindset and actions.  Without them, I still would be frustrated with my position in life and remain stuck in a rut.  I see the action in their lives reflects the words they say.

3. My new niece came home healthy with my brother and sister-in-law. She came out of the oven a bit earlier than we expected but she’s doing well.  It’s always a bit nerve wracking when a newborn is exposed to the new world. My family’s world revolves around her.  She’s an awesome bundle of joy.

4. I took the time and resources to fulfill part of my dreams. I rode RAGBRAI, I did went on two road trips, and I started seeking out a career path.  I didn’t do this in previous years because I felt like I wasn’t capable or I’m good enough to do this.

5. My parents teaching me to save and invest my earnings.  Without their guidance when I was young, I wouldn’t have had the resources to tap into today.  It gave me the flexibility and freedom to act upon achieving different aspects of my dream. I was able to go on my road trip to explore and sort things out with myself. I am able to pursue things that I am interested in.  It’s giving me the time to build a third stream of income I’ve always wanted to pursue.

Some may say that I was foolish to dip into my savings and investments now. I think it’s refocusing these resources to earn income so I can start actively investing again instead of just watching money I earned from high school grow.

6. Finally, I’m thankful for being in the position I’ll be able to help others next year. The past few years have been trying to claw out of the hole I’ve been in and save myself.  I feel like I’m in a position where I can help others live a better life.

I am so grateful that this has become one of my better years on this earth.  I look forward to what great things will come next year.

What are the six things you are thankful for?  Leave your comments below and Happy Thanksgiving!

Giving Back and Forward at the 2015 Chicago Marathon

Chicago Marathon F Corral

I have volunteered with various foot races events since I started running.  It’s only right for me to do so. Races of all kinds needs volunteers to function well and smoothly.  Without volunteers, races would either be too expensive to host or poorly executed.  As a runner (and cross country skier), I am grateful for the time and energy volunteers invest into these races.  As a volunteer, I am grateful for the positive energy I get from other volunteers and gratitude I receive from some of the runners.  I get a warm glow from this energy and knowing that I helped create a safe, organized, and quality experience for everyone involved in running.

This year the Chicago Marathon staff placed me at the starting line to help supervise F corral in Wave 2 with another supervisor.  My role in this orchestra is to help lead forty plus volunteers to ensure a safe environment for participants and volunteers, direct participants into their proper corrals, instruct runners and volunteers to race information, ensure a great experience for volunteers and participants, and tear down the starting line. I was lucky enough to receive great volunteers that were ready and willing to help accomplish these race day goals.

I’ve been fortunate the last three years to have a good volunteer crew. During the Chicago Shamrock Shuffle, I was paired with Beta Alpha Psi, Gamma Pi Chapter at Northern Illinois University.  Beta Alpha Psi is a scholastic and professional society for financial information students.  They did a great job Beta Alpha Psi did a fantastic job, they went above and beyond what I asked, and stuck with me until we tore down the starting line. They didn’t have to do more than what was required. They wanted to do more than what was required of them. For the Chicago Marathon, I worked with Alpha Sigma Tau, Delta Delta Chapter at University of Illinois at Chicago, an MBA student from Lewis University, a Cook County prosecutor, and a few random high school students from random Chicago schools. This day treated me to an even better volunteer experience than the last.

My past leadership and volunteer experience created a better experience on marathon race day. I knew volunteers are giving their time without any financial compensation. I attempted to make this experience positive. I didn’t want to be the a-hole volunteer raining on their parade but we needed to get a lot of work done eventually. I told them what the timeline will be and what our assignment was. I also encouraged them to take photos at the beginning of out volunteer shift so they have a photos to reminisce over. I gave everyone their roles and this race I tried something different. I delegated leadership to individuals in Alpha Sigma Tau.

Alpha Sigma Tau was a great to work with. I gave the megaphone to Melissa so she can organize and get her sisters in line.  My co-supervisor Ecat (sp?) and I worked with the sorority’s group leader, Victoria, on assignments and the timeline. They were eager to help out.  I didn’t have a problem with them chatting too much or not working.  The women I placed at the corrals did their jobs well.  Some of them even attempted to be assertive and nice when we needed to move the participants to the front of the corral so we can fit as many people in F corral before shutting the gates.  When we were tearing down the starting line, they worked as hard as the guys I had from NIU. They were pleasant to work and chat with. I wouldn’t hesitate to work with these individuals or this sorority again. If or when I’m in a position to hire good and hard working people, I’d love to pick from this group. (If only I knew how to network effectively…)

One of my favorite aspects of volunteering as a supervisor is that I have an opportunity to meet new people and get to know them during this brief moment in our lives. Of the people that weren’t with the sorority, the person I remember most was Aaron. I really enjoyed listening to him. I wish the public would hear more stories about budding young men like him. If I remember correctly, he’s attending a Chicago Public School high school. It’s his senior year looking into colleges. His top choice is Tuskegee University. He participates in JROTC and appears to be trying to be a good person. As we talk, I can hear the respect have gives me in his words and the warmness in his voice. It gets stronger and more confident the longer we talked. I suggested that Tuskegee is a great school to pursue and a great environment to develop into a good man. I wish him the best and hope he finds a lot of success in his life.

Before tear down and clean up, one of the volunteers from another corral said to me while I was passing by that they wished that they were in my group after they saw how I treated my group. It felt really good inside that my approach can earn the hearts of people I didn’t directly with. I’ve always thought a good leader does more than manage people; they inspire people to follow them. It added evidence to my budding new confidence that I have the ability to go beyond management and lead.

I had a great time volunteering this year.  I look forward to another volunteering experience. I hope to get paired with a group of great volunteers like I did with Beta Alpha Psi – Gamma Pi Chapter, Alpha Sigma Tau – Delta Delta Chapter, and the individual volunteers that came due to the kindness in their hearts. They make the volunteer and race experience fun and enjoyable.

The Solo Road Trip

The Solo Road Trip

I embarked on a journey west of Chicago. I was at a crossroads. I needed to explore. I needed sort things out and determine what path to take in my life. Traveling alone gave me time to reflect and find clarity. It’s a place where influential  voices and opinions didn’t stain my thoughts. I headed west to explore lands on the other side of the Mississippi River and to explore myself.

The original plan was to take the Lincoln Highway all the way to San Francisco.  My heart had other plans. I listened and answered that call. I drove towards Oregon to explore the northwest corner of the lower forty-eight states. I took interstates, US highways, state byways, and gravel roads. I stopped when I was moved by something and curious to explore.  I pushed to the next destination because it was practical and necessary.  I think I am better for letting my heart lead the way.

I found joy and happiness on the road.  I didn’t expect this because solo travel can be lonely at times. Why did I find this warm feeling inside me even when I was alone? I owned my time and energy. It wasn’t shackled and controlled by other people. I had the freedom and flexibility to go any direction I want. I heard the joy and aspirations of people in good and bad situations. I met people who I would not have met if I traveled with a partner. I spent time with my brother when he came down from the mountain and hung out with Joe and Kelly, a couple of friends actively pursuing their dreams in Idaho. Most importantly, I had the ability to walk away from negative people situations and spend time with good people.

I experienced my best sleep on this trip. I woke up ready to explore and learn. I lost weight while eating a mix of McDonald’s and camp cooked meals.  I started to gain a sense of direction by understanding my internal map and compass. I began to piece together what I need to be successful. I know how a lonely happiness feels like.  (Trust me, it’s not a bad thing.  It’s a very good and pure feeling.)

It was a beautiful journey, a journey I wish I devoted more time to. There was so much to explore but so little time. The road helped me strip away the physical clutter and extraneous voices in my life In this short time. After a brief moment of clarity, I found a key piece of the puzzle buried under the other pieces. I have an image of success now.  I also know what I need to nurture the type of success I want.

The process continues at home but I don’t have  the road stripping the clutter away now that I’m back in the Chicago area. What is a guy to do? This guy starts living his life intentionally as he focuses his time and energy on living his life well.