As cool as I try to be sometimes, especially when it comes to my musical taste, I have to admit, I really tend to be behind the curve. This is best demonstrated by the fact that I just now got into Mumford & Sons. Not that I hadn’t heard them before – in fact my kettlebell trainer used to play them during our sessions sometimes. It’s only this past month or so that I’ve come around and decided to give their first album, “Sigh No More” a listen.

I suppose it’s a timing thing, and it all has to do withe general level of melancholy.

So here’s a public admission – I am currently seeing a counselor, pursuing EMDR therapy. The past couple years have been exceptionally rough, between career upheaval / failure / beginning fatherhood, I’ve had to admit I’m currently a mess. Beyond that, I have to admit most of my adult life has felt this way. I’m always feeling like I fall short, mainly of my own expectations. Over the years, I’ve developed some unhealthy patterns in dealing with hard things, and that’s built up to the point I can’t handle it anymore, hence the therapy.

So here’s where the title comes in – it turns out that admitting how sad you are and how messed up you really are is really very therapeutic. It also turns out that some good, bittersweet music, like the whole “Sigh No More” album, can help you get in touch with that – at least that’s how it works for me. It turns out the type of sadness that can break your heart usually holds the hand of the deep joy that does the same thing.

So here’s a short list of things I’ve learned so far while getting in touch with my own sadness

  • Life is full of emotional trauma of one sort or another – no one escapes this
  • Struggling with finding my place in life, especially when I was just entering adulthood, is not a sign of failure, it’s actually quite normal
  • I’m not doomed to always being sad and overwhelmed

So my hearty recommendation is to pick up something like “Sigh No More” or the soundtrack to “Once” and go ahead and have a good cry.

I’ll be adding more about my experience with EMDR as appropriate, and as I process through it. So far, I can say it’s worth the time and money.

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As I write for the blog tonight, for the first time in about 9 months, my wife is in the other room, watching her Gilmore Girls DVDs for the ump-teenth time – finishing up Season 4, to be exact. I’m sure Anna will be thrilled to know that I found an episode that speaks to my heart – enough, in fact, to get me writing again. Season 4, Episode 20, “Luke Can See Her Face”

To quote the summary from Wikipedia:

The least-likely person to buy self-help tapes buys self-help tapes. And what do you know? They help. Thanks to the voice from the boom box, Luke finally realizes who will make him happy… Lorelai Gilmore. Feeling better, Luke completes his journey by handing over the tapes to a flummoxed Jess, who still loves Rory.

If you’re a man in your late-20s to mid-30s, either married or otherwise romantically attached to a woman between 2000 and 2007, you know Luke. In fact you probably identify with Luke. Luke is you. Luke is me. Luke hates the fact that he lives in Stars Hollow, doesn’t always express himself well (expect when he’s angry), but deep down, he knows what he wants. He wants Lorelai Gilmore. In this episode he also admits he needs help – self-help, in fact. And as the summary says, it actually helps. Most of what the voice on the tape says is cheesy and ridiculous, except for one very valuable exercise for the single male listener – picture the face of that one woman in your mind who you never mind being there. Who would you want there to tell about a new promotion or a successful refinancing, the voice asks. And it helps. Luke knows what he wants.

And that’s where you and I come in. I learned a little while back, mainly with the help of David Stark, my pastor and friend of 14 years, that it often pays to take the advice of people who are doing things you would like to do better yourself, especially when their advice seems contrary and unnatural to you.

The fact is, that most of us, like Luke, need help to point us to things we already know in our hearts. As Jon Acuff put it in his book “Quitter”, finding out what we’re made or is more an act of recovery than discovery. I think most of us have a suspicion of what we’re made for deep down, but we all need reminding, and usually constant reminding. The things that help the most often come in the most unlikely packages.

It pays to always be open and teachable. For instance, I personally have a hard time with Zig Ziglar’s mode of communication, but I’ve learned quite a bit about the deep importance of hope and deep optimism from his materials.

So how about you? Who or what have you learned from that you wouldn’t have expected?

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Levi & Me at the zoo

Levi & Me at the zoo

Relationships matter, as I’ve said before. And here’s a confession: I suck at relationships.

I’ve been shy as long as I can remember. That, by itself, isn’t enough to make me suck at relationships. In fact I’m not even sure it’s a major contributing factor. Maybe it is to the degree that I hold back.

Here’s the other part of me that’s really true though: I care about people and I care about changing the world for the better. It so often doesn’t come out though. I think people assume I don’t care, or even worse, that I actually dislike them – neither of which are true.

Here’s what’s generally been my problem: I’m deeply afraid of rejection. I think maybe most people are. I live in that fear and let it define me. I don’t speak when I should, and when I do, it’s too often a negative thing. In the end, I think I need to offer encouragement and affirmation. It’s always what I’m wanting for myself but never seem to get, so here’s where I’m going to set a tangible goal for 2012.

If I do nothing else, set and meet no other goals, I’ll be happy if I do the following: I will write one note of detailed affirmation and encouragement to someone close to me per month.

From there, the results are in God’s hands, but I honestly think this goal comes from Him, so I’m going with it.

How about you?

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The Schulte family

I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge Kevin Miller for his post on Convictions, as long ago as it was.

I actually had a pretty strong reaction to one of the convictions posted, and although I was initially just ticked off by what I felt were some particularly insensitive comments by one particular participant. I realize in hindsight that he was speaking freely, as he was asked to, and I probably overreacted. This is also probably because of the people targeted by the conviction – people who are overweight and don’t change their behavior to overcome it. I am definitely overweight and know how hard it can be to change, and some of my closest friends are overweight as well, and I know much deeper the issues go than simply not being willing to get off the couch. However, I realize that this interaction helped me realize a conviction I hold VERY deeply: More than anything else, relationships matter.

To put it another way, people matter. Anything that de-personalizes a person on any level is wrong. You can’t really have a healthy relationship with someone you think of as less of a person than yourself. This includes God. I think the number one way Christians go wrong is by either de-personalizing God or de-personalizing other human beings.

After all, isn’t that what Jesus said? The entire Bible rests on these two commands:

1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart 2. Love your neighbor as yourself

So this is my challenge to anyone reading, as well as to myself. Next time you pray, act like you’re talking to someone who actually hears you. Treat it like a conversation. Be honest and treat God like you’d treat anyone else you care about deeply. And next time you have the opportunity to take a chance and build real relationship with another person, even if it’s on a very low level, take it, and treat them like you’d like to be treated. In neither case can you really go wrong.

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I got an interesting phone call yesterday from a friend who read my partial review of “Quitter”. Her take was that some of what I said might not be so attractive to potential employers Googling my name. After thinking about it an re-reading the post, I’ve decided she has a point. At this point, I don’t think I should remove the post, but I will add a more complete review now to clarify some of what I said in the last post.Quitter by Jon Acuff (afiliate link)

Quitter by Jon Acuff (afiliate link)

Let me give the first disclaimer and note that I did say I’ve worked almost 12 years in a field I don’t particularly like. I will clarify in saying that MIS was not ever my first career choice. There are many extended periods of time I’ve liked – even really liked – the work. Usually what makes the difference for me is whether I made a difference for a person or not with my work. That would include a time when I was able to help gain a new customer for my employer. I was able to help give the client what they wanted and give my employer new business. I do really like that. I also for that same employer had times I hated that same job so much I wanted to scream. In my mind it came down to never being able to please the boss or the clients. It got to the point where every project was late before we started, with no end in sight.

I will fully admit my experience with that particular employer has helped discolor my whole career. I will also admit that I’ve really enjoyed the process of programming since leaving that job, when my skills and desires have been more aligned with my employer’s.

Having said all that, when I chose MIS as a major and as a career path, it was always a backup plan in my mind. I wanted to be a pastor at the time. Now, I can see how that can be fulfilled in many non-professional ways, and I have other dreams as well.

So now I come back to the parts of “Quitter” I found most valuable.

1. “Fall in Like with your current job” – I can do this, even if it means I always have to work as a programmer to pay bills. With the right fit, I can like a job very much, especially when I remember that people are the most important part.

2. “Wait on the main stage” – One of my potential dream jobs is full-time writer / blogger. Big surprise, I know. Having the luxury of being unknown while I get better at writing is actually a good thing. I figure I’m writing my worst stuff now. The best is yet to come.

3. “There Will Be Hustle” – I’ve figured out that sitting at a desk with work to do is better for my ability to get things done than sitting out here by myself, not having enough work. I can get things done on my own, but not quite as well when it’s a “like” vs. a “love”.

4. Learning to live one, consistent life is good for me. Work like and home life aren’t ever really separable. I can’t care for people I’m supposedly writing for while ignoring the people I work with everyday.

So in the end, wherever God takes me in this process, I’m going to be content and work hard. Thanks, Jon Acuff, for helping me get to this point.

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Oh dear...

This is one of those moments I got bit by the muse, or whatever she’s supposed to do, and I just had to write.

On Monday, my wife and son and I hung our with our good friend Mike Hylton and his daughter. While the kids were playing on the indoor mall playground, Mike shared the story he chronicles in his latest blog post. To sum up, Mike is a poet and a big fan of Billy Collins. He posted one of Collins’ poems above the mailboxes on Sunday night. As seen in the picture above, some kind, anonymous neighbor made his feelings known. So as you can see, Mike had a choice. Suck on that juicy life-lemon and get a sour face out of it, or take it, add some sense-of-humor-sugar and water and share something effulgent with all of us. And now that anonymous neighbor is anonymously famous, and the world is a sweeter place for it.

Bravo, Mike!

Back to work for me now…

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A Fork In The Road Today I had to make a hard choice. Choose a safe, long term contract with a large local company, or continue to press forward, being self employed, taking an opportunity to do some sub-contracting work part time for a smaller company – basically, another small entrepreneur like myself, with no guarantee of getting any more work after a month or two, with the advantage that it still leaves me time to forge a path, to find my way.

To be really honest, the initial choice felt easy, because I knew deep down what I wanted and knew it would make things easier on my wife, at least in the short term. But deep down, I think I know the only way to go with this is to go forward. I’ve spent close to a year now sticking to my guns, insisting that I would only take jobs that left me freedom to set my own schedule and work where I wanted. I started out thinking it would be easier than it was. I made some big mistakes, took on a couple clients that made things worse, lost my confidence, and lost my focus many times. I wish I could be funnier about this, but it’s still too close, and I’m still too raw.

On the other hand, I’ve seen God come through in ways I could never expect. I’ve gained courage and compassion I never had before and a burning desire to see others find their drive and find their heart. I don’t know what it means entirely, but I’ve met others along the way that are fighting just as hard as I am, that have something to offer the world.

For instance, Michael Pritzl of the band, The Violet Burning. He’s been around for over 20 years now, making some of the best, most heartwrenching and moving rock and roll in existence. Their latest release, “The Story of our Lives” has been playing almost non-stop on my iPod since I was able to download it a month ago. I listen because I hear God telling me not to give up when I listen. I’ve followed the band long enough to marvel at their ability to keep going as a relatively obscure band as long as they have. To quote one of my favorite songs off the newest album, “Rock Is Dead”:

Yeah, You left a song in my heart But no one was listening Rock is dead, Rock is dead they say No way, no way no way! – Michael J. Pritzl

It’s best to hear it though…

rock is dead from the violet burning on Vimeo.

All that said, I keep going back to a quote that changed my life when I really took it in.

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. – Howard Thurman

I believe that will all my heart, all the mistakes along the way be damned. I’m still fighting.

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Time to Start