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As a semi-retired DJ, I’ve always known the high that comes from the right music at the right time. Music really is like a powerful drug. It can take you back in time where a particular song anchors memories from the past. It has the power to transform ordinary moments into special events. And this affective influence can touch the heart, the mind as well as the body.
Some of my favorite songs not only make you feel good, they’re good for you. More than words, there is harmony between [lyrics with substance] and [melody that moves].
Here are some samples. No prescription needed.
Antidepressant or Stress Relief
“I, recommend getting your heart trampled on to anyone, yeah
I, recommend walking around naked in your living room, yeah
Swallow it down (what a jagged little pill)
It feels so good (swimming in your stomach)
Wait until the dust settles
You live you learn, you love you learn
You cry you learn, you lose you learn
You bleed you learn, you scream you learn
I, recommend biting off more than you can chew to anyone
I certainly do
I, recommend sticking your foot in your mouth at any time
“So basically all I need
Is to be everything but me
And some implants
Somehow that don’t make much sense
I must be out of my head
If I think, that I am governed by material things.
So I decided I’m
The definition of fly
And if you want to know why
I know what money can’t buy
Don’t go believing the hype
There’s no runway in the sky
And no way you could be fly
Not if it costs you a dime.”
“You can be amazing
You can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug
You can be the outcast
Or be the backlash of somebody’s lack of love
Or you can start speaking up
Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way that words do
And they settle ‘neath your skin
Kept on the inside and no sunlight
Sometimes a shadow wins
But I wonder what would happen if you
Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave”
“Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find
Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions
Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten”
“Now better men, than me have failed
Drinking from that unholy grail
(Now check it out)
I’ve got her, and she got me
And you’ve got that butt, but I kindly gotta be like
Oh baby, no baby, you got me all wrong baby
My baby’s already got all of my love
So nah nah Honey, I’m good
I could have another but I probably should not
I’ve got somebody at home, and if I stay I might not leave alone
No, honey, I’m good
I could have another but I probably should not
I’ve got to bid you adieu
To another I will stay true
(oo oo I will stay true)
(who who I will stay true)
Oh, I’m sure ya, sure ya will make somebody’s night
But oh, I assure ya assure ya, it sure as hell’s not mine”
“Young mom on her own
She needs a little help got nowhere to go
She’s lookin’ for a job, lookin’ for a way out
’Cause a half-way house will never be a home
At night she whispers to her baby girl
Someday we’ll find a place here in this world
This is our temporary home
It’s not where we belong
Windows in rooms that we’re passin’ through
This is just a stop, on the way to where we’re going
I’m not afraid because I know this is our
“I know sometimes you’re feeling lost
It’s hard to find your place in it all
But you don’t have to fear
Even when you mess up
You always got my love
I’m always right here
Come what may
Don’t look back forget yesterday
It’s not where you come from
It’s where you belong
Nothin’ I would trade
I wouldn’t have it any other way
By love and you’re wanted
So never feel alone
You are home with me
Right where you belong
Don’t matter where you’ve been
You’re here for a reason”
— Kari Kimmel, Where You Belong
“I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.” — Billy Joel
Mixing and Sharing Medication
Even if you’re already feeling pretty good, music can amplify that. When I DJ, the desired effect is to mix music that lifts your spirits and makes you move. When I’m in the zone, I can alter your frame of mind, enhance your mood and get you dancing instinctively. The right songs act as a catalyst. As everything comes together just right, we share the high. The act of sharing the experience — grooving and dancing together — can bridge differences between time and space, language and culture.
JT sums up the feeling quite nicely…
“I got this feeling, inside my bones
It goes electric, wavey when I turn it on
All through my city, all through my home
We’re flying up, no ceiling, when we in our zone
I got that sunshine in my pocket
Got that good soul in my feet
I feel that hot blood in my body when it drops, ooh
I can’t take my eyes up off it, moving so phenomenally
Room on lock the way we rock it, so don’t stop…
I can’t stop the feeling
So just dance, dance, dance
I can’t stop the feeling
So just dance, dance, dance, come on
Ooh, it’s something magical
It’s in the air, it’s in my blood, it’s rushing on
Don’t need no reason, don’t need control
I fly so high, no ceiling, when I’m in my zone”
Now that you’ve had some samples, here’s your prescription:
Assess your mood, pick a theme and create a soundtrack. You may even share your playlist on Spotify. (There are links to my playlists at the end.) For whatever ails you…cue up your playlist. Plug in. Take a lyrical hit (or two). And call me in the morning.
You have undoubtedly been inspired by a piece of music either because of the lyrics or the melodic composition. I’m always looking to take another hit and add it to my playlist. Please share in the comments section.
It’s been a while since I’ve written. I’ve read that when it comes to writing, it’s important to write even when you’re not inspired. To write even when you think there’s nothing noteworthy. To just “show up.” I haven’t done that consistently for the past month or so, at least not publicly. Although not everyday, I’ve been writing my morning pages more often. This is done in the Journey app and is my private journal. (If you’re interested in keeping a journal, I highly recommend this app.)
I’ve been focused on other things so I don’t regret taking a break from my public posts. After a couple months of regular posting, I started to feel like I was forcing topics and spending too much time in front of the keyboard. To regain some balance, I intentionally walked away from it to spend more time with the family for a while. Now I’m feeling the itch again. This time I’m going to adjust my approach a bit based on things I’ve picked up during my first dive into blogging.
Here are some things I’ve observed about my approach and what I think could be areas of improvement…
Even if I don’t publish a post regularly, it’s important to write my morning pages every day. Morning pages don’t need to be polished. They don’t even need to be coherent. Since the journal is for me to unload and clarify my thoughts, it serves that purpose well without having to take too much time. To improve, I’d like to shoot for one public post every couple of weeks on average, and to write my morning pages every day.
The stats behind each post can be addicting. I tend to be overly concerned with the numbers and the outcomes rather than just enjoying the process. This seems to corrupt my creative spirit as I become overly concerned with what others might think. While the statistics and analytics provide some useful insights, scheduling a weekly or monthly analysis would probably be enough.
While it seems to be a good practice to re-post the same article across multiple channels, it’s become obvious that some topics are just better left where it better fits the audience. At the very least, it’s important not to copy and paste. I’ve found that making adjustments to the intro or context, depending on the audience, sets up the same article to be better received. Similar to public speaking, it’s critical to speak to the interests of the specific audience. No matter how universal I think the topic may be, I still need to frame it a little differently from channel to channel.
Blogging is more fun as a conversation. I used to write like a monologue. If anyone commented, the most I would do is “like” their comment. After taking time to actually respond thoughtfully to each comment, the entire experience has become a lot more rewarding.
I write best in the early morning when everyone in the house is still sleeping. There are very few distractions and my mind is still fresh. It also helps when I get enough sleep (for me, that means 7-8 hours) and when I read a good book before bed the night before. The challenge for me has been to consistently sleep enough. When I’m trying to write on 6 or less hours of sleep, the right flow just isn’t there.
I will adjust my approach moving forward to validate or disprove any of these initial observations and thoughts.
This day means different things to different people. Resurrection, life after death, hope, and miracles are first to come to mind. On the secular side, it’s an observed holiday that allows us time off work to spend with our family and friends. For me it means a little of all those things. It also got me thinking about something we don’t often connect with Easter…creativity.
When I think about it, creativity is a very subtle part of the holiday. It’s below the surface but it’s there. For example, there’s a creative aspect in the Lenten practice of giving something up in order to make room for something new. On a more common level, kids tend to be very creative when it comes to coloring Easter eggs. Then, of course, there’s the dramatic story of new life and hope that gave birth to a whole new religion.
I like to think of days like today as a day of quiet reflection. A day to be grateful for your blessings and to appreciate the everyday miracles around us. A day to take stock of who we’ve become and the kind of person we want to be…then make conscious decisions on how we’d like to bridge the gap. A great example has been set. If a humble carpenter can change the world, how can we follow in those footsteps? I don’t see a need to be as dramatic, or to expect transformation after only the third day. It’s a process and you can feel good about taking a single small step in the right direction.
Let’s take a break from the hustle and bustle of the everyday routine. Maybe make an effort to unplug. No checking email, Facebook or Twitter…self-contradictory as this post may be. Be with your family and friends. Be present and enjoy the moment. New life is embodied in this simple act. Happy Easter everyone!
I’m at a good chapter in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Currently on “Week 8: Recovering a Sense of Strength”. There are several sections talking about the creative process. Some statements that stuck with me are as follows:
“At the heart of the anorexia of artistic avoidance is the denial of process. We like to focus on having learned a skill or on having made an artwork. This attention to final form ignores the fact that creativity lies not in the done but in the doing.”
“Focused on process, our creative life retains a sense of adventure. Focused on product, the same creative life can feel foolish or barren.”
“…creative life is grounded on many, many small steps and very, very few large leaps.”
“One of our favorite things to do―instead of our art―is to contemplate the odds…In a creative career, thinking about the odds is a drink of emotional poison. It robs us of the dignity of art-as-process and puts us at the mercy of imagined powers out there. Taking this drink quickly leads to a severe and toxic emotional bender. It leads us to ask, “What’s the use?” instead of “What’s next?”
From The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
Creativity―like human life itself―begins in darkness. We need to acknowledge this. All too often, we think only in terms of light: “And then the lightbulb went on and I got it!” It is true that insights may come to us as flashes. It is true that some of these flashes may be blinding. It is, however, also true that such bright ideas are preceded by a gestation period that is interior, murky, and completely necessary.
We speak often about ideas a brainchildren. What we do not realize is that brainchildren, like all babies, should not be dragged from the creative womb prematurely. Ideas, like stalactites and stalagmites, form in the dark inner cave of consciousness. They form in drips and drops, not by squared-off building blocks. We must learn to wait for an idea to hatch. Or, to use a gardening image, we must learn to not pull our ideas up by the roots to see if they are growing.
Mulling on the page is an artless art form. It is fooling around. It is doodling. It is the way that ideas slowly take shape and form until they are ready to help us see the light. All too often, we try to push, pull, outline, and control our ideas instead of letting them grow organically. The creative process is a process of surrender, not control.
Mystery is at the heart of creativity. That, and surprise. All too often, when we say we want to be creative, we mean that we want to be able to be productive. Now, to be creative is to be productive–but by cooperating with the creative process, not forcing it.
As creative channels, we need to trust the darkness. We need to learn to gently mull instead of churning away like a little engine on a straight-ahead path. This mulling on the page can be very threatening. “I’ll never get any real ideas this way!” we fret.
Hatching an idea is a lot like baking bread. An idea needs to rise. If you poke at it too much in the beginning, if you keep checking on it, it will never rise. A loaf of bread or a cake, baking, must stay for a good long time in the darkness and safety of the oven. Open that oven too soon and the bread collapses–or the cake gets a hole in its middle because all the steam has rushed out of it. Creativity requires a respectful reticence.
The truth is that this is how to raise the best ideas. Let them grow in dark and mystery. Let them form on the roof of our consciousness. Let them hit the page in droplets. Trusting this slow and seemingly random drip, we will be startled one day by the flash of “Oh! That’s it!”
From page 219 of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron:
“The morning pages and artist dates must be experienced in order to be explained, just as reading a book about jogging is not the same as putting on your Nikes and heading out to the running track. Map is not your territory, and without reference points from within your own experience, you cannot extrapolate what the morning pages and artist dates can do for you.”
Observing My Creative Process
Since I stopped spending so much in the office and working outside of normal hours, I’ve had a chance to reconnect with my creative side. I got back into mixing music and acting out my other side – DJ ReCreator. I took the leap and started publishing my writing. This blog is one example but I’ve also built up my confidence to share some of my posts on LinkedIn Pulse. Experiments in the kitchen have also been fun though it’s been more scripted by other people’s recipes and not my own creations.
All these areas have been creative outlets for me and have brought more balance to my spirit. I’m happier now. Less and less, I’m not displaying what I learned is the “angry artist” that arises from being stifled and held back. I don’t like being grumpy. Caro and the kids don’t like being around me when I am. Who can blame them. I’m just glad they’ve been patient with me as it took me a long time to find my way “back home.”
Anyway, while I’ve been spending time on my creative projects, I take mental notes of my process and try to get a better understanding of what brings out my best. I also note habits that seem to undermine the process.
It really is more about the process than the product. When I focus too much on the product and the recognition I hope to get from it, I lose my way. Enjoying the journey and not worrying too much about the destination is where I’ve been most myself. So here are some observations regarding the process from my own experience (They seem to reflect the truth in Julia Cameron’s words):
I’ll occasionally have bursts of inspiration where the ideas or words just gush out and I almost can’t keep up. This usually happens during free association or when I’m writing my morning pages. More often, though, I get an idea that feels like a good seed, so I plant it and let it grow at it’s own pace until it’s ready to blossom.
When I’m focused too much on the product versus the process, I get tempted to share something prematurely. I’m learning that my best outcomes are a result of nurturing over time. Maintaining environments and conditions conducive to growth (i.e. balanced and inclusive of all the right elements).
By letting things simmer and rest, I’m able to go back with fresh perspective. This allows me to refine and fill in where needed.
If I’m ever afraid to express something, I remind myself that it doesn’t matter if some people don’t like what I’m doing. If the process serves it purpose and I’m the only one who benefits directly, that’s enough. Worrying about what other people will think is self-sabotaging. Actually, it’s when I don’t worry about putting my true self out there, that I seem to connect with others in a more magical way…at least based on the feedback I’ve received in those instances.
My gut has been a good indicator of whether or not something is ready. Going against it has rarely been a good idea.
Quotes on Creativity
‘Trust that still, small voice that says. “This might work and I’ll try it.”‘
― Diane Mariechild
“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
― Albert Einstein
“Man can learn nothing except by going from the known to the unknown.”
― Claude Bernard
“I cannot expect even my own art to provide all of the answers–only to hope it keeps asking the right questions.”
― Grace Hartigan
“Art? You just do it.”
― Martin Ritt
“Satisfaction of one’s curiosity is one of the greatest sources of happiness in life.”
― Linus Pauling
“The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless.”
― Jean-Jacques Rousseau
“Remember first that everything you think, say, and do is a reflection of what you’ve decided about yourself; a statement of Who You Are; an act of creation in your deciding who you want to be.”
― Neale Donald Walsch
“Intelligence looks for what is known to solve problems. Creativity looks for what is unknown to discover possibilities.”
― Simon Sinek
“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”
For a while I believed I was exempt. I had already survived several mergers and acquisitions over the years but then it happened. Where and why doesn’t matter here. This is about the process that followed. Some career breaks are planned. This one was not.
“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”
First, there’s the shock. For some it’s expected, but as I mentioned, I thought I was immune. Like falling off a ladder, it hurt. My ego was bruised.
“The fall from low to lower hardly hurts; the fall from middle to low is devastating.”
– Adam Grant, Originals (p.83)
Insecurity set in. Questions about the future felt overwhelming. Looking back, how I decided to respond made the difference. I put my psychology studies into use and self-administered some therapy…
Get Over It
Easier said than done, I know. My first reaction was to immediately get back in the game and lock in the next gig quickly. I decided to be methodical in my approach. To measure my efforts, I kept a log of everything related to the job search and the results of every interaction. Every call with recruiters, every interview, every resume submission…all of it. Months of calculated effort were only leading to wrong turns and dead ends.
Depression eventually caught up with me. Anxiety prevented any restful sleep, no matter how exhausted I felt. I was spiraling downward and couldn’t break the funk. Then I made a concerted effort to slow down and pause.
What you choose to pay attention to can dramatically alter your experience (the whole “perception is reality” thing), so I chose to focus on right now instead of dwelling in the past or worrying about the future. Some days were easier than others, but I kept exercising a skill that had atrophied in recent years – my ability to choose rather than fly on autopilot. It wasn’t long before I crawled out of my hole.
Time heals all wounds. I just didn’t want it to take too long. Sitting around feeling sorry for myself wasn’t doing anybody any good. It was time to move on, ready or not.
Look in the Mirror and Then Out the Window
Looking in the rearview mirror, I took a good chunk of time to reassess how far I’ve come and the road that got me here. Then looking at myself, I was no longer sure that I was happy with what I saw in the mirror. Who had I become? What would I have done differently? How could I correct course? Where am I headed now? Is it time to go in a different direction?
At least, I felt I was asking the right questions.
I had become a workaholic. Developing the discipline to work long and hard hours was a badge of honor for me. Getting up every morning at 4:30am, working 12-14 hour days, and not sleeping until after midnight eventually led to burnout. Promotions and financial rewards fueled that fire for many years but towards the end, I burned up any remaining mojo and was only running on fumes. All the while, I failed to realize―or maybe I was denying that―I was trading off important things for all those work hours…time with my family and time for myself.
Now was my chance to slow down before I ran myself off a cliff. To find balance instead of working all the time. To remember what was really important to me. As I looked ahead, the fog began to clear and I hit a fork in the road.
To the right, was the continuation of the road I had already been traveling. I could get back into life as a corporate executive and continue my climb up the proverbial ladder. It was a toll road, and at what cost, I could only imagine. To the left, looked like it might take me back home but I could see the route might be a bit bumpy.
…Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
If you’ve already read the post about my colorful career path, you know I chose the road less traveled. Once I made that conscious decision, I simply started by making a few promises to myself:
Remain true to who you are
Live in the present and use good judgment
Leave it better than you found it
“To thine own self be true.“
Over the past few years, I got a little lost and lost myself in the process. I became increasingly insecure about who I was and found myself trying too hard to be what others wanted me to be. For example, although I’m an introvert, I pretended to be an extrovert. I thought that was the only way you could be successful as an executive. I do believe it’s possible to “fake it until you become it.” That said, I just didn’t like it. It wasn’t me. I wanted to be myself. Being myself also meant doing things at my own pace. As an executive, I often felt rushed and pressured to deliver results quickly. In most cases I was able to adjust as needed, but lately I saw more and more that quality was being sacrificed for the sake of speed.
After reading Quiet by Susan Cain, I began looking at introversion in a new light. I became comfortable in my own skin again. Another book, In Praise of Slowness by Carl Honoré, helped me slow down and appreciate ‘tempo giusto’ – what musicians use to refer to the “right speed.” (Used in reference to living life with balance…fast when needed and slow when called for.) Moreover, this respect for time translated to better appreciation for the present. The gift of now.
“If you presence doesn’t make an impact, your absence won’t make a difference.”
Ever since childhood, I’ve found it difficult to live in the moment. The exceptions were times when I was absorbed in activities such as blending vinyl music with 2 turntables, choreographing a hip-hop dance routine, or pushing out one more rep in the gym. My usual MO was to dream about the future or worry about the past. I found it hard to enjoy the present because my mind was always elsewhere. If there were only one important change I could make to my approach from here on out, it would be to live in the here and now.
(This usually requires an inside-out approach which begins with yourself. To some, this is misconstrued as selfish behavior. Important to get past that stage. I’ve learned that living in the present is much easier when what you focus on is self-less rather than self-centered.)
Here’s how I see it: The past is past so no sense lingering there. No one knows what the future holds and life is rarely linear. The best way to set yourself up for a good future is to do the best you can with what you’ve got today. You don’t have to be perfect. You just need to use good judgment and make every effort to leave everything better than before you found it. That includes every action and every word spoken (or unspoken). At the end of the day, you’d be surprised how big of a difference you made to the people and world around you. All those thoughtful actions, no matter how small, add up.
Oh, I promised myself one more thing. Never take for granted the blessings you already have.
There’s really not much more to say about this. I just realized that more is not necessarily better. By appreciating all the good things already in my life, I’m learning to be happy with less. I drive a Prius and I’m cool with that. I live in a modest home, have great neighbors and live comfortably. It’s almost 20 years later and I think my wife still loves me ;). Honey, I’m good. Three beautiful children to kiss goodnight. I am blessed.
I believe that everything happens for a reason. In the moment, it may not make sense, but it often does in retrospect. What felt like an imposition turned out to be a blessing. I was forced to reassess my life to date and what was truly important to me. This was what I needed. I was so obsessed with achievement and accomplishment that I was taking for granted my family and losing myself in the process. The break in my career gave me time to realize that, before it was too late.
“Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast―you also miss the sense of where you are going and why” – Eddie Cantor
In Praise of Slowness: How a Worldwide Movement Is Challenging the Cult of Speed by Carl Honoré
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
I Don’t Have a Degree I get e-mails every day. “I’d like to work at Google but I don’t have a degree,” Or, “I’d like to be a success but I don’t have an MBA.” And it’s not just degrees. I get e-mails from people who think they need yoga teacher certification. Or a medical degree (you can be a healer without writing prescriptions). Or any flimsy piece of paper that ultimately is no indicator of value. Google’s head of HR has even announced that graduates’ GPAs are a waste to look at. And that more and more of their hires have no college degrees at all! It’s just another way the world is changing, and you have to grasp it now. It used to be that a stranger knew he could cooperate with you if you had that stupid piece of paper. Come up with ten ideas on how you can escape the trap of the degree and demonstrate you still have value. Ideas for the company you want to work for, or the person you want to work with. Or just go get a camera and start making movies without a film degree.
When actor Andy Samberg was starting at Saturday Night Live he didn’t just huddle in the writers’ room with everyone else and try to come up with jokes. There was too much competition! Instead, he took a camera and with his buddies Jorm and Akiva went out and shot “Lazy Sunday,” which was the first YouTube video to get over 100 million views and became his first SNL digital short. He didn’t wait to rise through the ranks and hopefully get a joke or a sketch produced. He went out and produced it himself.
Before Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” got a billion views on YouTube, the rapper turned down every record label. He realized he didn’t need the validation they have provided to generations of artists. The distribution is there to reach the world no matter what your field is. You validate yourself now through your work.
Apologies to Mr. Altucher for taking that much verbatim from his book. I just read those pages this morning and it hit home.
The Trip Full Circle
I fall in the category of those who dropped out of college. While I had many an opportunity to finish, life went on and I eventually decided not to. When I’m having an insecure moment, I like to remind myself that I only had two classes to finish (and they were both freshman level electives!) so really, I earned pretty much everything I needed for that Liberal Arts degree in Psychology. I guess I just didn’t cross the finish line which could be perceived as inability to follow through. I understand and respect other perspectives. I just don’t personally see it that way. It doesn’t have to be a negative. I have worked very hard since then to show that it doesn’t have to matter if you don’t let it.
The Road Not Taken
…Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
– Robert Frost
It was 1991 and I was scheduled to graduate at the end of Spring semester. This was all the JET Programme (Japanese Exchange and Teaching Program) needed to know at the time I applied and interviewed. They didn’t actually ask to see my degree before it was time for me to board the plane that summer. By the time the University of Illinois notified me that I failed two classes (English 101 Introduction to Poetry and Classic Civilization 115 Mythology of Greece and Rome), I was already all set to leave for Japan. Although becoming an Assistant English Teacher (AET) had nothing to do with my major, it was a 1 year adventure abroad with all expenses paid as well as a monthly salary. I wasn’t about to pass on the opportunity unless absolutely necessary. That degree would have to wait.
I had lady luck on my side. After the year was over, I had the option to extend for another year and I definitely wanted to. The only catch – I had to renew my work visa and I was told they required a copy of my college degree in the process. I figured I had better start packing my bags but then again…why not just go through the motions and see what happens? Even if they sent me home, I already had my adventure. For some unknown reason, the Japanese government renewed my visa without any questions. One year turned into two and next thing you know 3 years later I was still in Japan. That was the maximum length that anyone could stay with the Jet Programme. As the third year winded down, a Japanese friend referred me to the CEO of a private language school under the Terakoya Group. They offered me a job and I had to go through the process of renewing my work visa for another year. Again, nobody asked to see my college degree. Surprising enough, the person in front of me in line was asked for his. To this day I can’t figure out how I got away with it year after year, but my luck lasted long enough for me to meet my future wife. Caro was on a 9 month work-study program and just happened to be assigned to Matsuyama City where I also lived. After 6 years in Japan, instead of calling it luck, I’d like to think it was serendipity.
Unlike I did in college, note that I wasn’t just sliding by while I worked in Matsuyama. Knowing that I didn’t finish school, I felt like I had to prove something and make my mark anyway. My second year, I was elected as the Ehime Prefectural Representative for AJET (The Association of Japanese Exchange and Teaching) and after 1 year at Terakoya, I was promoted to Head Teacher at the private language school.
Ok. The story goes on, but I need to pause here for now. The kids are awake and I’ve been writing since 5am.
[2/16/2016 4:38am] Picking up where I left off…
When I returned to the States in the summer of 1997, it was like “Oh sh*t, what do I do for work now? I don’t have a degree.” I was going on 28 years old and still didn’t have any solid plans for my career. I was back with my parents and when my Dad asked me what I was planning to do next, I told him I was thinking about starting a DJ business. I could sense his disappointment. When your parents go against all odds to earn their college degrees in the Philippines and then move the entire family to the Unites States so we can have a better life in the Land of Opportunity, I can understand why being a DJ might not be what they had in mind for their son. When I was still at the University majoring in Electrical Engineering, I think I was living up to expectations. We all imagined my future becoming an engineer like Dad and having a secure and well-paid profession for life…I guess I’d be disappointed with my DJ ambition too.
Got to get ready for work. I’ll continue later.
[2/16/2016 7:45pm continuation]
While I worked to put things in place for the DJ startup, I took a commissioned sales associate position in retail. Retail store positions don’t often require a college degree. I chose Bachrach, a men’s clothing retailer founded in Decatur, IL with locations all around the Chicago area. I’d always been into fashion so this would be aligned with my interests. Sales was not my strength, but it paid the bills and helped fund the DJ equipment and music I would need. For years, I tried to work both paths in parallel without any breakthrough success. I knew very little about operating a profitable business and everything I learned was from trial and error.
The DJ business wasn’t growing fast enough and we were getting deeper and deeper into debt. Thousands of dollars spent on music, lighting and other gear without enough gigs to pay for it all. When I found out that Caro was pregnant with León, I knew I needed to change my approach if I had any chance of providing for my growing family. I decided to focus on Bachrach and work my way up the ladder. We could stabilize our finances and buy me time to figure out what to do as an entrepreneur. Looking back, that was a pivotal point. After my motivation shifted from selfish ambitions to providing for the family, my career started to take off.
Within a few years, I went from Sales Associate to Store Manager to Director of E-commerce. (I’ll save my success strategy for a different post.) I worked in several locations and eventually had my own office at the downtown Chicago corporate headquarters. There were several rungs in between and along the way, but I won’t get into those details now. What happened with the DJ business? One thing led to another and it eventually led to the launch of ChicagoWeddingServices.com. Although small potatoes compared to other dot coms, it was a business model that made money while I slept and the site could often run on autopilot. It supplemented my income at Bachrach quite nicely. (For more details, see my post on Website Experiments Throughout the Years)
After 10 years at Bachrach, I had to move on. Too many acquisitions had taken place and it was no longer a fit. I began looking elsewhere. When I was offered a position at Dreams Retail in 2008, I jumped. Fortunately, during the interview process, my college education wasn’t a deciding factor.
I would have to say that my years at Dreams, Inc. have been the highlight of my career to date. Kevin Bates and the team he built created a work environment that brought out my best. I started off in an Account Management role but followed the same strategy I used to work my way up at Bachrach. I went from non-management to executive management with a team of more than 50 people to lead. I eventually got promoted to Director of Marketing and in less than two years after that, became VP of Marketing.
This too eventually came to an end. Dreams Inc. was acquired by Fanatics Inc. and I relocated from the Chicago area to the Jacksonville, Florida area. (The kids didn’t like the move, but we had a new house built in a nice neighborhood. It also helps that we live only a couple hours from Disney.) I was able to keep my position as VP of Digital Marketing but with so many changes during and after the integration period, it was the beginning of the end for that chapter. My time at Fanatics officially ended in January of 2015. Without having anything lined up yet, I spent 6 months in what I call “mid-career retirement” – a career break if you will. We didn’t have to worry about finances, at least for a while, so I had the luxury of time to decompress, reconnect with my family, and think about the next chapter. As scary as it can be to lose a 6 figure salary, I’m grateful for what I’ve gotten in return.
“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
– T.S. Eliot
Today, I feel like I’ve come full circle in a way. I’m back in fashion retail and am making about the same income as I did when I first started my career. I see everything through a different lense though. While money is still important, it’s no longer the carrot. It’s no longer about the prestigious title, but more about the unique contribution and value. Being hourly no longer has a negative connotation to me. It now means I have more work-life balance. Instead of thinking so much about what I want in the future, I spend more time appreciating what I already have and whom I’m with today. Things will have to change again I’m sure. Even though we’ve always lived below our means, our current lifestyle is not sustainable in the long run with my current income. Surprisingly, I’m not very worried though. We’ll figure it out. I know because we’ve done it before.
Regarding my college degree, or lack thereof, it has definitely made a difference in my career choices and the life I’ve lived. I’ve spent most of my career proving that you can succeed without a degree. When the competition was smarter, I just worked longer and harder to compensate. Most of my lessons learned were from the school of hard knocks. I learned the simple yet important lesson on how to make a positive difference…always strive to leave it better than you found it.
I’m content with what I’ve accomplished as a college dropout. I have no regrets.
Caro and I were married in 1998, not too long after I started at Bachrach. Although she has seen and experienced all the ups and downs of my career, she has never stopped being supportive. Even when she didn’t agree with all my choices, she has stood by my side and was always there to give me strength when I needed it most. I can’t imagine how things would have turned out without her. All these years later, I don’t worry too much anymore about climbing the corporate ladder or making lots of money. With her and our three beautiful children, I already feel successful. Together we’ll make life good no matter what comes our way.
To my band of brothers who joined me on my crazy adventure as an entrepreneur: That was an awesome ride, let’s do it again!
Grateful to the many coworkers who I had the privilege to work with, and my bosses/mentors who also shaped who I am and how I work today – they were some of my best teachers. To the organizations and hiring managers who took a leap of faith and gave me a shot, thank you.
I also want to give a shout-out to all my family and friends, near and far. You’ve never judged me and accept me for who I am, warts and all.
And special thanks to Mom and Dad, for always loving me even when I disappoint. From you I learned what is possible when you work hard. [2/17/2016 4:38am] Today is Dad’s 70th Birthday. I dedicate this post to him.
Essentialism /əˈsen(t)SHəˌlizəm/ (as defined by Greg McKeown)
The disciplined pursuit of less
Even though I specifically wrote down at the beginning that I would curb my smoking this past weekend, I didn’t. I think I actually smoked more than I usually do. I often blame stress as one of the main reasons I smoke. It helps take off the edge I say to myself. So when I work, I smoke due to the stress at work. You would think, then, that I would smoke less when I’m off work. For me that hasn’t been the case. At home, I smoke due to a different kind of stress. Being a parent can be stressful. When the children test your patience, or you feel non-stop busy running the kids around to their various activities, or just daily chores you feel obligated to attend to. Of course, it all depends on what you focus on, and your attitude towards it. When I find myself overly concerned with the things that I want to do, then everything else is a distraction, but when I catch myself doing that, I can often course-correct and start focusing on what I can do for my family since I’m home. This is my way of transforming the stress to joy.
Last Wednesday was Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Lenten Season. Growing up, I was always under the impression that we had to give something up during that time. That’s how my Dad stopped smoking. He gave it up for Lent one year and then never went back. In the last few years, I haven’t taken the tradition very seriously. This year, I had no real intention to give anything up, but then yesterday Sofia asked me what I was giving up for Lent. She noticed that I went out to the backyard to smoke and had already done it only about an hour before. She cautiously mentioned that she knew something good that I could give up for Lent. Smart cookie that one. Very subtle and sincere without leaving me feeling picked on. I didn’t feel angry like my knee-jerk reaction would have it. I felt guilty because I could see Sofia really cared and she said it with that childlike innocence that you just can’t get mad at. Normally I would get annoyed, whether it be at Caro or Mom, because I simply get bothered when the topic comes up. Everyone means well so I try very hard to keep my knee-jerk reaction in check.
Anyway, I was thinking about it again this morning. Giving up something aligns with the whole “Essentialism” philosophy I’ve been drawn to after reading Greg McKeown. I’ve learned from earlier attempts that promising to stop smoking would just lead to disappointment for everyone. What could I give up that was doable and be a good thing to let go of so I could focus on better things? It would have to be something challenging but that I would be confident enough to pull off. As I did a cursory mental review of how I spend my time, I thought of just the thing…watching TV. That would include Netflix and Redbox which I gravitate towards when I need an escape or comfort from the daily stressors.
This I can do. Even if the only side-benefit is to give me more time to sleep, that would be worth missing a night of Gotham or waiting a little longer to watch “The Martian” recently released on Redbox. We’ll see how it goes. Maybe if I can get a smaller win this Lenten Season, I’ll go for the bigger challenge of a smoke cessation program.
Although I prefer the whole abundance mentality thing, daily life can definitely feel like a series of trade-offs. Trying to do it all and have it all leaves most of us burnt out and still not satisfied. As pointed out in “Essentialism” by Greg McKeown, when deciding how to spend your limited time, it really helps to let go of the trivial many for the vital few. “Less but better.” In other words, find the discipline to do less of the unimportant so you have time to focus on what really makes a difference. Funny how we often choose otherwise.
So when it comes to Lent this year, I’m not giving something up for the sake of sacrifice. I’m exercising my ability to better choose how I spend my free time. Watching TV is now on my “to don’t” list, at least until the Lenten season is over.