The Dangers of Being Successful

One of the greatest challenges that I have is being taken seriously. Or too seriously. People have told me dozens of times over the course of several years that they are never sure whether or not I’m joking whenever I make a sarcastic remark. While in some ways, I embrace that ‘quality’, I can see the cons of that. Accidental severance of friendships could occur. Sounds like a warning label on a prescription bottle.

In another fashion, I demand to be taken seriously. For example, with my career. I know that, especially in my particular place of employment, I’m very young to be in the position that I’m in. In the course of me climbing up that ladder, there have been several people who have objected, and I have proven every single one of them wrong. I’m not trying to boast. It’s fact. So when there are still people who believe (whether or not they want to admit, either aloud or to themselves) that simply because I’m the younger person in my position within my work place, my words, thoughts, philosophies or ideas have any merit.

Does this mean that I can’t handle opposition? I can handle it quite well and with more grace than certain situations would deserve. However, the fact remains.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. I would not trade it for anything in the world. But my love, my respect, my desire to continue to go to work and exceed my job requirements on a daily basis stems from the case that I have earned my position. It was not given to me. I literally started at the absolute bottom and two and a half years later, I’ve reached the top faster than most other people. That alone gives me the motivation and satisfaction that I need to continue doing a phenomenal job.

My final thought is this. There are going to people who want to drag you down simply because they’re not used to you. In the workplace, they aren’t used to your leadership, your way of doing things. And any amount of redirection is going to irritate them and only remind them that you aren’t who they want you to be. These people (again, even if they don’t/can’t admit it) will have certain prejudices against you. It’s an uphill battle. It’s isolating. You return home every night after an 11-hour workday feeling like you should give up, feeling disappointed, overwhelmed. But you have to understand that in most cases, it’s these types of people that leaders like you need to inspire. The hardest part of any managerial position is managing people. Paperwork, procedures and deadlines are pieces of cake compared to managing people.

And of course, by ‘you’, I mean myself.

So I especially look forward to days where these people look to trip me up. Because not only do I step over their metaphorical foot, I turn and tell them to retract it. 

Power trip? No. 

Just taking care of business.

#hashtags

What is the deal with hashtags these days? Perhaps I just don’t understand it, but this new fad of ‘categorizing’ your Facebook status with hashtags in order for it to come up when people search for that hashtag… I don’t really know, nor can I pretend otherwise. I suppose it all started on Twitter, which makes a tad bit more sense, but not by much. And then Facebook started making it popular and that’s where my confusion started. Or should I say continued? If I wanted to make my thoughts public, I would announce them on a street corner or slap them on magnets and drive with them on my car. Furthermore, if you want to make your statuses known to more people, then perhaps turn your private profiles to public profiles. It saves us the headache of trying to read your statuses through forests of hashtags. You might ask, “Why do you bother reading my statuses if my hashtags bother you?” Well, put it like this… I feel that I’m trying to give you the benefit of the doubt. I’m making the effort in trying to be more interested in your life and your happenings. But according the hundreds of hashtags you have between the first and last letter of your sentence, you don’t seem to have much of one because you had all of this time to type out this ridiculous looking statement. For me, typing a sentence without any spaces is very difficult to me. I actually have to go back several times to delete the spaces I subconsciously put in (yes, I have tried hashtags in the past, don’t judge me). It’s damned near impossible. Even then, I’m staring at it for so long upon completion because I’m afraid that since there are no spaces, I must have made a spelling error. There can’t possibly be proper sentence structure and punctuation in… Nope, wait! No punctuation is required! That’s absolutely right! As human beings, we completely negating the hundreds of years perfecting the English language into something that apparently makes communicating on the internet much easier. Easier. That’s a loaded word. Lord help me, I’ve gone off the deep end with this rant.

#Icanthelpit

#doIuseapostrophesinhashtags?

#whataboutquestionmarks?

#arehashtagsevensupposetobequestions?

#Ithinkthiswillbetheendofthisrant 

Stories

One of my favorite authors wrote the following quote in a recent book of his:

“The thing about death is that it reminds us that the story we’re telling has finality.”

As simple as the wording is in this sentence, the meaning behind it rings deeply within my heart. At the age of twenty-six, I realize that I have seen lots of death in my life. Not necessarily within the family, but also friends and associates. Death to me is an extraordinarily saddening occurrence. Anytime I hear about someone losing a loved one or a friend, I am genuinely empathetic. The feeling of having something removed from your life, creating a void so large that it seems impossible to fill in, is something that I wish people would never feel.

The above quote is taken from a point in the book where the author is talking about a death of an uncle. He was close to the uncle and goes on the explain the history of their relationship up to the point when the inevitable phone call took place. Everyone in the family is feeling sad of course, but the author raises some really interesting points. While the physical removal of a loved one is frightening and depressing, it brings a note of finality. And while there is a conclusion, the untimeliness of this final note is where the truly deep despair comes from. This is why most times the death of a child or young adult brings about more shock then that of an elderly person. The latter has been given the chance to live out their life, tell their story, and teach others what it means to be alive. Children and young adults, whose lives are just beginning, haven’t had a chance to tell their story. So there is no natural sense of finality.

I am reminded of great story, the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy. For those of you familiar with the story, you know that it’s a massive adventure that spans not only within the three books, but also throughout supplementary books that were published after the original three has been released. At the end of the trilogy, the band of companions who had been traveling together pretty much the whole time are now faced with different paths that will split them apart. While at face value the sadness of not seeing each other is very real and present, there is an even stronger underlying satisfaction that the story has been completed.

While none of us are hobbits, elves, or dwarfs, we can still relate to that feeling somewhat. When my grandfather died some time ago, I was terribly upset, but I could not deny that he lived a great life and told an even greater story.

Every good story, while we don’t really want it to, has to end. If there is no end, then there is no satisfaction that allows us to appreciate the contents of the adventure.

Just as death is a natural part of life, a conclusion is a logical part of a story.

I say all of this to point out that we owe to ourselves, to each other, to our loved ones (both current and forthcoming) a good story. Let’s live each day as if we are the Riders of Gondor, blazing across fields with massive banners displaying our colors. Let’s perform our daily duties, whether it be school, work, or whatever our lives call for us to do, with a sense of adventure. Let’s get ourselves on the path for a phenomenal conclusion. We all can do it and we can support each other as well.

Happy adventuring, everyone, and I look forward to reading each and every one of your stories!

It takes a village…

One of the greatest gifts that I could have ever received was the ability to work with kids. While I consider myself still young and I have no desire for children of my own, I love working with them. To me, they are too funny. Things they say, their actions, their reasoning behind their actions, etc. 

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, and as always, schools loaded up my kids’ bags with more candy than any normal person can eat in a week. Naturally, these children were on a mission to eat everything in one sitting. My co-worker and I decided that after about an hour of watching them gorge themselves closer and closer to sickness, these kids needed to take a break. It was hilarious to see the sugar withdrawals they were going through. One kid even came up to us and asked if we could let him just look at his candy, not eat it. This poor boy was so emotionally attached to his bag of sweets that just the mere privilege of touching it all would temporarily curb the desire to polish everything off.

If it weren’t for situations like that, situations in which all I can do is shake my head, this job would be in the dumps. I was put into a position to help guide these children on a journey through their childhood. This means correcting them when their wrong, praising them when they are right, and laughing with them in between everything. These days, one can’t simply expect the parents to teach their kids everything they need to know, not only how to dress themselves and wash behind their ears, but also about life. Social skills, life skills, and problem solving are just a few of the things that kids these days learn outside of the house. Teachers, counselors, church leaders, community leaders and more should come to the aid of these parents. 

I hear on the news all of the time of these rogue children going around and committing crimes by the age of 14 and being in jail by the time they turn 18. Our first reaction is to start blaming the parents. Where were the parents when it was time for homework? What were the parents doing when the child was playing explosively violent video games? While I agree that parents are an integral part of kids’ lives, they are not the only influence as we all well know. Other role models are surrounding them on a daily basis. Where were the teachers? Where were the community leaders? Where did the kids hang out after school? Were there any type of positive role models there?

In my situation, I see kids every day that have some sort negative behavior. Instead of sitting back and pointing fingers at the parents or teachers, I try to correct the mistake(s) myself. If everyone started taking responsibility for these kids instead of pawning them off on the next available host, then they would have a better chance at growing up to be decent human beings. 

Just within the last two or three months, I have really grasped how influential I am with these kids. Some of the younger ones are starting to try to walk like me (much to my immediate amusement). Children are walking sponges, to use a metaphor I heard ages ago. Everything we say to them, everything they hear and see, everything we do, they will copy. 

Take responsibility for them.

Who knows, they could be taking responsibility for us when we’re old and gray.

Music

Music is one of the greatest gifts in the world to me. Being as I’m a musician and a music teacher, some might say that my opinion is a little biased. I’ll grant that idea, but I feel that even I weren’t a musician, I would still have a fascination and sincere appreciation for music. The journey from the composer’s head to paper to the ears of listeners is usually a long and grueling one. Not to mention the act of reading/playing music. 

I started getting really attached to music at a very young age. I distinctly remember during kindergarten, our teacher would put on some Mozart to help us fall asleep during nap time. Instead of sleeping, I would lay and listen to the gorgeous frivolity of harmonies and melodies winding around and through each other. Sometimes, my teacher would scold me for not sleeping, but there was a time in which I sat up and whispered to her that I wasn’t goofing off, rather listening to the music. I explained to her that the music interested me and I loved to hear it every day; it was my favorite part of the day! I can still see her face in my memory as I explained this. She smiled, patted my head, and stood up, allowing me to lay back down and listen to more of some of the greatest classical music ever written. Days after that, I remember her bringing in different composers rather than sticking with the same cassette. Beethoven, Brahms, Vivaldi, and Handel made appearances every week.

In second grade, I decided that I needed to start making music. This is when I picked up the violin, learning quickly. Pretty soon, I was playing more difficult music. By the fifth grade, I was on top of the world, fluently playing violin, cello and string bass. 

Once I got to middle school, I started to get out into the general public and playing at certain events. Our teacher then really helped us with the publicity of it all and we even earned a little bit of side cash! I remember being invited to play at an event that the Superintendent of Schools was hosting. During the event, we were approached by him and he thanked us for our time and talent. To a seventh grader, this was a big deal.

By the time high school rolled around, I decided that music was going to be an integral part of my life and career. I couldn’t go a day without playing my instrument and even my parents gave up trying to feed me on a regular schedule. To me, my music was more important than eating dinner promptly at seven in the evening. Along with high school came more homework. There were nights I would spend two or three hours just on biology homework, but I somehow found time to practice that night, sometimes well into the early morning hours. My family invested in a heavy mute after the first couple of early morning sessions so that I wouldn’t wake up the entire house.

Sadly, tenth grade brought a terrible tragedy to our school and, on a more personal level, to my life. One of the greatest teachers this world will ever in know passed away. We didn’t find out until after school the day he mysteriously didn’t show up to school. It was announced over the PA system in the classrooms: “Attention all teachers, this is to inform you that the orchestra and music theory teacher Jack Cunningham passed away early this morning…” There was more to that announcement, but I didn’t hear it. I was devastated. This teacher was the person who taught me how to play the violin at my elementary school. While I was in middle school, Mr. Cunningham decided to switch and teach high school orchestra at the only performing arts high school in the county. He was one of the biggest reasons I decided to continue what I was doing.

For a couple of days after this, I didn’t play. My overall mood was dark and gloomy. I was unable to concentrate on anything and people started noticing. I found out shortly after the day of the dreadful announcement that Mr. Cunningham actually died in a car accident on the highway right in front of my house, literally less than 200 yards from my front door. After about a week of watching me mope, my mom pulled me outside and asked me what was going on. I told her everything, even the part where I didn’t want to play anymore. It hurt too much. My mom smacked me out of that and informed me that music was what made me who I was. She reminded me of how passionately I approached music and the amount of my life it consumed. Something inside of me stirred. I realized my mom was right. Mr. Cunningham would not have wanted me to destroy everything I have worked for just because he wasn’t there anymore. He would have wanted me to continue and succeed in everything I worked for.

I graduated high school with honors (fifth in my class) and continued my musical education at a prestigious university. This only deepened my appreciation, not only for music but also for teaching it. The thought of inspiring someone as much as Mr. Cunningham inspired me. When people ask me what music is all about, I have to stop and think. While music itself is genius and the composers who write it even more so, to me the power in music comes not from the crash of cymbals or blaring call of the brass section, it comes from the simple influence on emotions. Music is more about how it makes the audience feel. Back before television, people went to classical music concerts and listened to radios to be transported to alternate worlds. Music is what moves us up and down the emotional spectrum while watching movies. To me, music is more about how one feels than what one hears. And considering my life’s inspirations, music means a lot more to me.

Which is why I consider it one of the greatest gifts this world can bestow.

Wisdom

One of the greatest goals in my life is to attain some level of success in which people will see me as a wise person. I know I’m still relatively young, but sometimes I want that part of my life to come sooner rather than later. Before I can claim that amazing trait, I need to first understand what wisdom is.

When I think of a wise person, the first image that pops up in my mind is that of an elderly person who has seen it all. Perhaps a celebrated war veteran. A well-seasoned doctor. A college professor who has taught long enough to get a building named after them. But is that the definition of wisdom? To be old? To experience a lot?

Clearly someone who is wise knows a lot, so knowledge must have something to do with it as well. The above scenarios, the war veteran, doctor, and professor all must know something. Book smarts has a lot to do with wisdom in the way of application. One must know when to apply knowledge just as much as what to apply. Different situations call for varying responses and deciding between the appropriate responses calls for a definitive level of wisdom.

This brings me to the final aspect of being wise: judgment. Judging the correct responses to various situations is a way of showing excellent judgement. You can be the smartest person in the world and know a lot about everything, but if you can’t what’s best for anything, there’s no point to it all. A tenured college professor makes a judgement call when deciding what part of the curriculum he feels is outdated. A doctor who’s been practicing for decades must go with his best judgement when trying to decide which surgery is the best to start with on a patient who is riddled with complications.

Wisdom contains a multitude of levels. While each one seems easy on its own, applying experience, knowledge,and good judgement requires  healthy balance of all three. This is what a wise person is able to do.

This is the definition of wisdom.

2012

I’m sitting here, drinking a black cherry cola from Publix, on New Years Eve, thinking of everything this past year has brought me. Some of you might be wondering why I’m sitting anywhere alone. Well, to put it simply, I’m not really feeling all that well, so instead of going over to someone’s house and be a Debby-Downer, I figured I would get some chicken, throw it on the grill, drink some soda and wish everyone around a safe and Happy New Year. Don’t get me wrong, I would prefer very much to be with my lovely lady, however she’s 250 miles away and we both need to work on the 2nd, so it didn’t make much sense to either of us put all that money into gas just for a day. This doesn’t diminish the fact that I would love to be with her right now.

Instead, I figured I would do the next best thing: reminisce on what this past year has brought me and what the new year might have in store. 

2012 has brought me a renewed sense of purpose in some ways. My job has been more than fulfilling and every day I see the difference that I am making in my kids’ lives. On more than one occasion, people have asked me why I don’t work in a more financially rewarding environment. There have been times I thought about it myself, but I’m reminded of the joy that my kids bring me and, more importantly, what I can do for them. 

The most important gift that 2012 has brought me was the renewal in my relationship with my lovely lady. I have to say that I am more in love with her than I ever have been. We have spent countless hours together and have laughed twice what the normal person is able to. I am definitely happier in that department of my life.

Of course, there were some downs, many of the details I’ll spare you because I want my last post of 2012 to be a joyous post rather than a somber one. I will say this though: through those experiences, I have learned more about myself than I have in most other situations throughout my entire life. I realized that the support group that I have behind me is stronger than I anticipated and while these particular times were trying, I didn’t throw my hands in the air and give up. Instead, I learned from them.

Finally, as most of you already know, I ended the year with a phenomenal week in Costa Rica with some of the greatest people. Those who have been following my blog regularly, I know that you are waiting for posts/pictures of my adventures, and I promise I’ll get those up in due time. Just making sure I have everything that way I don’t miss anything.

That being said, I wish everyone a wonderful New Year. May your experiences bring you joy and wisdom. May life give you something to talk about, something to learn from.

Please, be safe! We want everyone back in one piece, safe and sound.

Happy New Year!